I owe my pal Kyle for turning me into a huge Jason Molina fan.
Yesterday, WXPN aired a hour-long special on the late and great Jason Molina.
The moment I learned of this, I stopped what I was doing to tell him. Now I am sharing this with you.
Last night, WXPN in Philadelphia aired the first of Folkadelphia’s Unsung specials of which Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia were the focus. The hour-long feature centered around a watershed moment in Molina’s career, specifically the time leading up to Didn’t It Rain, it’s creation, and the transition to Magnolia Electric Co. Host Fred Kittel guides us through the time period and explores Molina’s impact on a larger scale. The episode includes conversations with important partners in the creation of Didn’t It Rain as well as a compilation of Songs: Ohia covers by local Philadelphia bands. Stream the full episode, covers, etc via the links below.
Listen to Unsung Episode #1: Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain. Make sure you have some spare time on your hands as you are going to get sucked into this. It is a very interesting look into Molina and his time in Philadelphia while recording and those influenced by it.
Now comes the cool part… Some of those folk who were influenced by the late and great Molina have contributed to a very appropriate compilation.
It’s no lie, Tim Barry just dropped one of my favorite albums of 2014.
After hearing it just one time through, I had no choice but to make an immediate edit to my best of 2014 post. I was blown away.
Lost & Rootless, Barry’s fifth studio release as a solo artist, is the best thing I’ve heard from him to date.
The Richmond, VA folk crooner is one of the most talented music writers I consider myself a fan of and he just further proved that to me with his latest effort. To say he is on top of his game is a complete understatement.
Barry, on his website, said the sound to his latest release could be described as “Wooden.” He stated “that’s the feel that I was going for when I picked the songs. There’s violin, voice, a wooden resonator guitar…there’s a very subtle electric bass on one track, but otherwise I wanted to do a wooden record.”
“Wooden” is the perfect description when you think about it.
Hiding out in a backyard shed with his sister and pal Josh Small, Barry recorded Lost & Rootless with no time frame and no worries at all. The result is a tireless release that I have listened to over and over and found myself enjoying more so than the last listen.
One thing I adore about Barry is his storytelling abilities. In Lost & Rootless, Barry doesn’t hold back with his tales that do not necessary have a theme to them but certainly reach back to other stores of past albums. There is no concept to be heard and to be honest, I think Barry and crew just recorded whatever was on their mind.
Starting the album off was “No News From North”. This was actually taken from Barry’s Laurel Street Demos, but re-recorded just as he has done with other selections. I loved the rendition of this song from its original. It sounded so much more homely and emotional.
“Poppa’s Porch” had me thinking of Barry on his front porch with his wife and kids singing to them on a weekend morning. This song told a story about the neighborhood that surrounds said porch full of fisticuffs and shenanigans. This was overall such a friendly track to listen to. It was like Cheers, but different.
“All My Friends” painted such a beautiful picture of who Barry surrounds himself with. This was a very old-timey sounding story about people who took to the streets for entertainment and communication.
I can honestly say I know exactly what “Breathe Slow Let ‘Em Pass” was all about. My rebel youth recalled those days when the law passed me by and I turned into stone until they were far away only to release a tightly held in breath. This track was amazing based on the idea of it.
The cover of “Clay Pigeons” by the late and great Blaze Foley was just amazing to listen to. Having just learned about the Austin musician myself, I can understand why Barry chose to record his own version of the song.
The somber story told in “Solid Gone” reflected hard times with family and finances and the outlawed methods to make things manageable resulting in further calamity. I can not say I have heard a song quite like this before and found myself captivated throughout it. This is one track I think everyone needs to check out on this album.
“Lela Days” was clearly written for Barry’s daughter. I have the feeling she loves it when he sings this song to her. It is a fun folky jam with real life expectations hidden within.
I can not tell you the number of times that I thought to myself how much I enjoy Tim Barry’s music. This is coming from a aging punk rocker who has matured just a bit but still has a lot of growing up to do. It’s nice to see that I still get excited about things.
By now, it shouldn’t matter that Tim Barry once was in Avail. Even though his former punk act will always be one of my favorites, it is perfectly clear why Barry has moved on and started something he can call his own.
It’s no wonder he has no plans of ever getting Avail back together, his new direction just makes so much sense and does not seem to be going off track. He has been going strong for 10 years and I hope to hell he has no intention of slowing down.
A couple of months back, I remember getting an email from the good folk at Fat Wreck Chords stating that Chris McCaughan of The Lawrence Arms would be delivering another installment of his solo material, also known as Sundowner.
I was beyond stoked to learn of this as I was a big fan of McCaughan’s last Sundowner release and maybe dig The Lawrence Arms a whole lot. Hopefully there are a few of you out there who can agree with me on both statements.
Anyways, Neon Fiction is just an amazing release and I can not stop listening to it. I have not had time to do a proper review of the album on there here website, but I was asked if I wanted to chat with McCaughan about it. Of course I said yes to that.
Chris and I were able to catch up on the good ol’ Internets and he was kind enough to talk about his new release. Check it out:
BHP: So the last time we chatted about 3 years ago, LeBron had kicked Cleveland in the nuts and you just released We Chase The Waves. I guess what I am trying to ask is, what the heck have you been up to?
CM: I remember. Nice to chat again. Not sure I can condense the last three years of my life into a brief synopsis of what have I been up to? So, let’s just say I’ve been livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.
I heard you no longer live in Chicago these days. Is that true? What prompted the big move to the West Coast?
True. I was born and raised in Chicago. So I take that place with me where ever I go. And, anyone who knows me knows how much I identify with and love that city. But I was ready for something in my life to change and felt like a new surround would be good for me. Also, my girlfriend is from the West Coast and, after having lived in Chicago for several years, she was ready to be closer to home and out of the harsh winter. So that was part of it. But, having toured and traveled extensively in my life I wanted to know what it was like to actually live in a new place. It’s an entirely different experience. I still spend a lot of time in Chicago though, so I feel a bit like a habitant of multiple places.
You just dropped an all-new release on Fat Wreck Chords titled Neon Fiction. Care to tell me about it?
Neon Fiction is the culmination of songs I was writing somewhere in the span of Fall ‘11 into the Spring of ‘12. It’s hard to remember the exact time frame. I didn’t write this with specific intentions or deadlines or ideas about how it would all come together. It may sound ridiculous, but I really was just writing the songs I write. I’ve gotten questions over the years like how do you know when it’s a Sundowner song or a TLA song? And the truth is I just don’t think about it in that way. Or, perhaps, a bit more accurately, I just know innately. This is, simply, me and these are the songs I write. Some people ask if this is more than a side-project now and, again, I don’t think in those terms. This is part of what I do and my goals are to try to write great songs and make cool records. That’s the part I can control and that’s what Neon Fiction is to me.
I guess, in some ways, I feel like I’ve had this record in me for long time, but it took certain conditions in my life to write it. Part of that was letting go. There was definitely a time when I felt like no one would ever hear any of this and that didn’t bother me at all. I was completely at peace with that.
But, when I was finally ready, I fronted the production so we wouldn’t have to make hard decisions on the front end. We could focus on the songs and the work. We tracked it at Atlas Studio in Chicago. As usual, I teamed up with Neil Hennessy on the record. The goal was to try to make an awesome album, with cool sounds. We consciously tried to shift the perspective from the previous Sundowner albums. I felt like that was essential. We wanted layers and different kind of landscapes for the songs, and for each song. I wanted to challenge myself but work within my range. I wasn’t trying to reinvent anything.
I feel very fortunate to be working with Fat Wreck. And it meant a lot to me that everyone over there liked the songs and the album. I’m so grateful for so many people in my life who have made this possible and who have continued to be supportive over so many years. So, it’s been an amazing experience and I’m so stoked it’s out.
Does the title of the album have any hidden meaning behind it? Sounds like a typical Vegas adventure to me.
For me it just captures the nature and vibe of the collection. That was the primary goal of the title. Admittedly, I struggled naming the record. I asked my friend Ben Pier, who is a photographer living in NYC, to shoot a bunch of stuff for the album. Once we chose the cover photo it started to all make more sense to me. It’s a city record. The songs are heavily influenced by my sensory perception and how I specifically interact with environments. So lights and sounds are heavy contributors to the overall landscape, the lyrics and sonic qualities. And, honestly, I just like the way it sounds. That’s a hugely important factor to me in a title. Also, Neon Fiction has some origins for me. It’s a bit of a tip of the hat to Chicago writer, Nelson Algren, who wrote a book called Neon Wilderness. And it’s a bit of a play on Non Fiction, as the record is full of half-truths.
So when did you start writing Neon Fiction? We you looking to write another Sundowner album, or did you just find yourself with a bunch of songs that needed a home?
I didn’t sit down to write a record. But I wouldn’t say I just found myself with a bunch of songs either. I was writing with no real goal in mind. Just writing to write. I wasn’t thinking about how or where or why. I wasn’t focused on some kind of end game. I guess somewhere in the process, when the songs began to accumulate, it occurred to me that I felt strongly about the material. At that point things felt more magnetic. I was being pulled to some kind of end and then I felt compelled to figure all the other things out so that I could make it. I’ve thought about this in a lot of different ways. In terms of the song writing I would say it this way: It’s like I was a kid out in a field in the evening with a mason jar and a lid trying to catch fireflies. Got one. Here’s another. And at some point I’d caught so many I was excited enough to go show someone.
I swore that you stated before that you were not really going to go the solo acoustic music route in the past, but here you are. Has the popularity of punk rockers following this trend changed your mind?
I’m pretty sure I never said that. Certainly not in that way. I’ve been playing as a solo acoustic artist since 2005 or 2006, when I first began writing acoustic stuff and the first Sundowner record started to come together. So, no, the popularity of the genre has nothing to do with my choices or decisions as an artist. I’m just trying to write and live a life that’s authentic and genuine to me. That’s it, man.
Can we expect you to be onboard the next Revival Tour then?
I have a great amount of respect for Chuck Ragan. He’s just an amazing guy. I first met Chuck years ago when TLA toured with Hot Water Music and I’ve had the good fortune of performing on Revival tour and doing shows with him here and there over the years. It’s always an incredible collection of talented and passionate artists he puts together for Revival and I always feel honored when he reaches out to me in any way.
I thought “Concrete Shoes” was exceptional. What made your feet so heavy that you had to write a song about it?
We live in a sticky world, man. And, I guess, at times my feet felt pretty heavy against the pavement. Just trying to get off the ground.
Was there a certain track you favored over the rest on Neon Fiction?
I’m proud of the record as a collection of songs. They belong together and I think they make each other better. And that was the goal. If I absolutely had to pick one maybe it would be Poet of Trash? Maybe My Beautiful Ruins? Grey on Grey? I don’t know, man. I have an array of feelings and connections to them all.
Overall, was there a theme surrounding all of the songs on this album?
There are a lot of themes and sub-themes. But generally speaking, it’s a record about self-acceptance and self-actualization. It’s about letting go of the things that you can’t control and being honest with who you are, embracing your nature.
Seems like I am not the only one who is digging Neon Fiction. How are you taking the feedback so far from everyone who pre-ordered the release?
It feels great to have such a positive response to the songs. And, of course, I’m happy it seems to have had some impact on listeners already. But I try not to worry too much about all of that or read into it too much. I just continue to be thankful that I’m in a position to share the work, keep believing in the craft and the process.
Who all helped you this round on Neon Fiction? How much did Neil Hennessy pitch in again?
Neil played bass and drums. I did all the guitars and vocals. That’s it. Neil is an incredibly talented musician and has been an essential part of making the Sundowner records. This record was no different. His contribution to Neon Fiction was enormous. He helped catalyze and actualize so much of what was in my head. I feel lucky to have a partnership with him that has created conditions to work in this way. Justin Yates, who works with Matt Allison at Atlas studio where we made the record, engineered and helped produce which allowed Neil and myself to really focus in on performance. Neil is a true craftsman, one of the best dudes, and we’ve had a, sort of, musical kinship for a long time. He has a sharp and sophisticated ear and what he brings to the studio, or to any project, is invaluable.
I know you hardly toured with the last Sundowner release, but that is all changing this time. How does it feel to be hitting the road without your full-time band? Any plans on expanding that tour?
Over the years I’ve played solo quite a bit, so I don’t anticipate it’ll feel too strange. This fall I’ll be doing some small runs of shows here and there and we’ll see what happens. Not getting too far ahead right now. I try to do this in the way that works best for me and not get too concerned by others expectations.
Just curious, but were you asked to cover a Tony Sly song for his upcoming tribute release? I didn’t see you on the track listing and was curious if that was due to your own choice.
Tony Sly was a great guy and an amazing songwriter. TLA and No Use toured together a bunch and I was fortunate enough to get to know him and spend some time around him. He’s deeply missed. If it’d worked out that I could’ve contributed a song that would have been awesome and an honor. But it didn’t. Don’t read too much into it.
Rumor has it that the Lawrence Arms have new material recorded. When can we expect that to drop?
There’s a new TLA record. It exists. We’re excited. That’s about all I can tell you.
So, what’s next for Sundowner?
It’s September. Neon Fiction is out. Shows ahead. I’m stoked and thankful. Just trying to live in the present moment and do the best version of me I can.
I always love it when I come across an artist on complete accident and soon become a fan. Emily Barker is one of those artists who I stumbled upon last year after hearing her and Mr. Frank Turner duet on the Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo song “Fields of June”.
Her name may not be well known just yet here in the states, but I have a strong feeling that that will all be changing in the next year or so. Having already played the opening ceremony for the Olympics as well as was featured on the UK roster for the Revival Tour last year, Barker has everything going her way.
Of course Barker is not alone and is surrounded by amazing talent in her band. Having dug into their catalog, I can only say that I wish it did not take me that long to get into them. They have been doing their thing since about 2005 and have already three albums to show for it.
Next month, Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo will be releasing an all new album titled Dear River and have already planned on an extensive UK tour to support the new release. Having already heard a couple of tracks, I would be lying if I said I was not excited for this.
Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Barker and not only got to asked her about rubbing elbows with Frank Turner, but some other questions as well:
BHP: Hi Emily, thanks for taking some time out of your busy day to chat with me. How’s the week been treating you?
EB: Good thanks! Nice to see the sun. Very busy trying to get everything prepared for the album release, alongside doing a bunch of other projects that I’m involved with.
So, for those who have not heard of you yet, tell me a little about yourself and your band.
I’m from Bridgetown, Western Australia but have lived the last 11 years over here in the UK doing my music. The Red Clay Halo are Gill Sandell: accordion, piano, guitar, flute and bvox; Anna Jenkins: violin, viola and bvox; Jo Silverston: cello, electric bass and bvox. We’ve also recently been joined by a drummer: Nat Butler due to the sound of ‘Dear River’, our forthcoming record, having more of a “rock” vibe. I guess we play contemporary folk/rock music. As a songwriter, I’m very much influenced by Neil Young – both his more acoustic sound as well as the heavy, guitar-lead stuff with Crazy Horse. As a singer, I’m really influenced by Aretha Franklin. So what have we got now…folk/rock/soul but then there’s the classical element that The Red Clay Halo bring too so…
You were born an Aussie, but eventually ended up in the UK. How did that come about?
I headed over to the UK with a working-holiday visa that lasts for 2 years. I worked in the UK in order to travel all around Europe, Brazil, Canada and the USA. At the end of my two years, I was living in Cambridge and fell into the music scene there. I loved it so I kept returning. After a while I made the decision to try to be a musician full time and also to live in the UK.
How tough was it to move away from home?
It wasn’t that tough to move away. I really wanted to see the world, but it is tough staying away. I miss my family everyday and at the same time, I realise I’m becoming more and more embroiled in my life here, so the idea of moving back now becomes this huge, overwhelming question. I wish Australia was closer to the UK so I could just pop over for a weekend.
So, at what age did you start getting into music?
At a really young age. There was always a lot of music in our family home. Dad was big into vinyl and he played loads of 60’s/70’s singer-songwriter/folk revival records (all the usuals – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc.) as well as a lot of blues, rock and jazz. My mum plays a bit of guitar and used to sit us all down and teach us old English folk songs and children’s nursery rhymes. She taught us how to harmonize. When I was a teenager I auditioned (because my peers dared me to!) for the Year 9 band as lead singer. I sang “It must have been love” by Roxette and got the role. Then I made a deal with the only other musicians in the school at the time (they were big into heavy metal and none of them sang), that if they would play soul songs for me, then I’d sing heavy metal for them. So our set consisted of Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Metallica, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Quite a combo!
Nice. That is a completely random list of bands to cover! How long ago did you meet up with The Red Clay Halo?
8 years ago when we were all living in London.
Was the Red Clay Halo already doing their thing when you were introduced to them, or was this just a new collaboration once you started playing together?
A new collaboration. They hadn’t played together before or met (apart from Jo and Anna).
What exactly is this genre “chamber-folk’ that has been used to describe some of your songs?
I’m not sure who coined that phrase but it definitely worked for our album “Despite the Snow” and probably also “Almanac”. I guess chamber-folk has got an element of classical music/arrangements in it. We certainly have that in certain songs.
You’re pals with a guy who has pretty much made a huge name for himself here in the US over the last couple years. I am sure tons of people ask you how you met and eventually shared the stage with Frank Turner in the UK. Honestly, if it were not for him, I may not have been privy to Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo. So, how’d y’all meet?
Frank is a very good friend and a huge inspiration to me. I first met Frank about 6 years ago at one of our shows in Brixton. [He] invited me out on the road with him and the band to open up the shows. We did something like 28 shows in 30 days – Frank style! – and became good friends then. We have had the honour of performing on his records and sharing his biggest musical moments with him: Wembley Arena and the Olympics Opening Ceremony. I am forever grateful for his support. We have more plans to collaborate too!
Playing the Olympics Opening Ceremony. How insane was that?
Totally insane! So difficult to compute due to how epic it was. I’m so pleased Frank asked us to be involved. Was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime moment. We had A LOT of fun!
I bet. I wanted to talk about the murder-ballet that Frank Turner appear on called “Fields Of June”. Not only was the rendition outstanding, but it had me hoping you two would duet again. Any change that will ever happen again?
Why thank you very much! It certainly will happen again. We’re actually talking about doing something very soon – most likely a cover but I’m sure we’ll write something original at some point in the future too.
Who was the original guy who shared vocal duties with you on that song when it first released?
Steve Adams from a great band (no longer together sadly) called The Broken Family Band. The Singing Adams now exists though and they’re awesome.
You have a new album that is coming out soon don’t you? Care to tell me a little about it?
Of course. It’s called Dear River and it’s out on July 8th on Linn Records. We recorded it in a state-of-the-art studio called Gorbals Sound up in Glasgow with producer Calum Malcolm. The songs are all about ‘home’ – a subject I’ve been quite preoccupied with since leaving Australia 11 years ago with a backpack and a wish to see the world. It’s my personal story of home but it includes those of other’s too and covers the related themes of exile, emigration, land rights and ancestry.
With the new release, you all have a UK tour coming up. I heard Chris T-T is opening for you. I must say, I am jealous I will be missing out on that tour!
It’s our biggest headline tour in the UK ever. We’ll also be playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London on 16th October which is our biggest headline show! We’re really pleased to have Chris join us. It’s something we’ve been threatening to do now for about 4 years.
Threatening? Haha, I don’t see why that should be a threat. Were there any other musicians or acts you tried to get to join you on tour?
Not on this one. We knew we wanted Chris T-T. There’s a bunch of people we’d love to take but they’ll have to come on other tours.
I have to ask, when will you ladies tour the states? Please tell me soon.
I’m hoping to come over and do a solo tour at the end of the year! I’ll keep you posted…
So say you did make it to the states on a tour. Who would you want to share the stage with?
I’d love to meet up with The Revival Tour guys again: Chuck Ragan, Rocky Votolato, Cory Branan and Jay Malinowski. Or…Neil Young and Gillian Welch!
Speaking of the Revival Tour, you happened to play one of my all time favorite tracks “Fairytale Of New York” with Mr. Chuck Ragan. Whose idea was that? You guys nailed it and I can not tell you how many times I listened to it over and over. Thanks for that.
Our pleasure. It was Chuck’s idea. I recorded my part in Australia when I was back there for holidays. Love singing with that gent.
I am sure the Dear River UK Tour will take up the latter part of 2013, but what else will Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo be getting into this year?
We’re doing a bunch of festivals over the summer; I’m writing quite a lot for TV and film at the moment; I’ve got two other side projects: Folk in a Box (smallest music venue in the world) and Vena Portae (Swedish/Anglo collaboration/band); I’m also writing an EP with Ted Barnes and the list goes on. So keeping myself busy for sure!
Folk in a Box? You have got to tell me about this. Sounds fun.
It’s Britain’s smallest music venue, if not the world’s! You can read about it [at] www.folkinabox.net
That just looks like so much fun. So, what is Vena Portae all about?
It’s a collaboration between a Swedish producer/engineer/musician Ruben Engzell, a British theatre maker/musician/composer Dom Coyote and myself. We made an album last year which we’ll release hopefully early next year – it’s quite hard to fit in with all the other things going on but we love it and it will happen soon.
Wait. Ted Barnes? As in the guy that played with Beth Orton?
That is just awesome. Tell me, why should someone check your band out?
In order to define what “chamber-folk” is, OR because we’re all decent enough human beings working hard at what we love, OR because it will lead you to a really great coffee shop somewhere in London/the UK.
Or because you and your band sound amazing. Seriously, I first thought you were from Nashville when I heard you signing solo. I’ll stop with the pleasantries now. Let’s hope you make it to the states soon.
Bless ya thanks.
Dear River will be released on July 8th in the UK. Pre-order the album HERE.
Check out the rehearsal video that was taken of Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo while playing “Ghost Narrative”:
Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo are:
Vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica
Violin, viola, vocals
Accordion, piano, flute, vocals
Cello, bass, banjo, vocals
For more information on the band, visit www.emilybarker.com or check out her Facebook page. Also, if you like photography and randomness, you should find Emily Barker on Instagram. She takes some pretty awesome photos.