Photos: The Black Keys with Cage the Elephant @ the United Center (Chicago), 9/27/14

The Black Keys spent the weekend at Chicago’s United Center for back-to-back shows in support of their latest album, Turn Blue. Highlights included a cover of Edwyn Collins’s “A Girl Like You”, “Strange Times” (from 2008’s Attack & Release), and “Leavin’ Trunk” from the duo’s debut album, 2002’s The Big Come Up—the latter of which proved that the band is best when at its most bluesy. A captivating rendition of “Little Black Submarines” topped off the 21-song setlist, accompanied in the encore by Turn Blue‘s title track and “Weight of Love.” Cage the Elephant kicked off the night (the first of two final gigs for the current leg of the tour) with frontman Matt Shultz offering the crowd-surfing, shirt-ripping, stage-diving performance he’s notorious for and likely turning some unknowing Black Keys fans into full-fledged Cage supporters.

The Black Keys

The Black Keys

The Black Keys

The Black Keys

Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant

 

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Photos: Riot Fest Chicago 2014

This year’s Riot Fest was a muddy one, but that didn’t stop thousands of people from taking over Humboldt Park for three days of rock ‘n’ roll last weekend. Check out photos from some of Alarm‘s favorite moments, including Patti Smith, Metric, Wu-Tang Clan, and Kurt Vile.

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Photos: Arcade Fire @ the United Center (Chicago), 08/26/14

Arcade Fire took the stage at Chicago’s United Center on Tuesday for the first of two Windy City stops on the band’s Reflektor tour—one that has been cemented as a must-see concert event of the summer. And it is an event, so much so that the band encouraged fans to sport their fanciest, shiniest formal attire or a costume for the show.

Devo kicked things of with a frenzy of classic new wave, as frontman Mark Mothersbaugh tossed several of the band’s signature “energy dome” hats into the crowd during the group’s biggest hit, “Whip It.” Dan Deacon entertained next, unleashing his zany compositions while conducting fans into mass dance exercises from the center of the floor. And then came Arcade Fire, whose setlist was littered with highlights that only escalated in energy—from their legendary debut, Funeral, to last year’s Reflektor, complete with Bo Diddly single “Who Do You Love?” serving as the evening’s honorary cover song.

We may be stuck in a “reflective age,” but Arcade Fire did their best to we make sure we celebrate it. Here’s to night two.

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Interview: Mogwai balances a maturing sound with film scoring

Mogwai: Rave TapesMogwaiRave Tapes (Sub Pop, 1/21/14)

“Remurdered”

Mogwai: “Remurdered”

What I’ve always liked about Mogwai is not only the band’s sense of the absurd, but also the intelligence with which it has funneled that feeling into its music and allowed it to saturate the bulk of its recorded output. You can read it in the roving, ridiculous names of its songs (“You’re Lionel Richie,” for example) and hear it in the scraps of sampled voices sewn into the background (Iggy Pop’s voice on “Punk Rock,” for instance) and elsewhere, throughout its nearly 20-year career.

When Mogwai began in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1995, no one could have predicted how this irreverence would circulate through the band’s work and continue to hold appeal with fans almost two decades later. The five-piece does not consciously put this sentiment in the foreground of its music; it is not over-the-top affectations but something more primeval that draws listeners in. It whispers at the periphery, like a phrase repeated in a dream that makes perfect sense while you are asleep but sounds so inconceivably stupid and infantile when you wake up and try to share its meaning.

Mogwai is a mostly instrumental outfit that rarely dabbles in singing. Its music appeals to contemplatives—see “Mogwai Fear Satan,” the 16-minute closer of studio debut Mogwai Young Team—forcing listeners to ask more questions than they’ll ever get answered. With this in mind, I put a few of my own questions to Mogwai’s Barry Burns, who plays guitars and keyboards, programs computers, and conducts interviews with rabid fans. Burns, a genial sort with a disarming laugh, talks with me about art from his flat in Berlin, where he now lives with his wife. He gives me a glimpse into how Mogwai has endured and built an international presence through near-nonstop touring and recording and also talks about the band’s eighth full-length album, Rave Tapes, released in January, and the soundtrack it recorded—released as an EP in early 2013—for the French supernatural TV series Les Revenants.

Rave Tapes, the follow-up to 2011 album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, is a compendium of melancholy-happy pseudo-EDM blips that shines a light—albeit dim and unsustained—into some of the darker corners of the familiar rooms of sound that the band previously has inhabited. But though the uplifting, cinematic quality of the Mogwai brand taps into the more aspirational parts of our psyches, the darkness always bleeds through to scowl at—if not displace—where the light has landed us. Profit and debt, optimism and discouragement, virtue and sin—the contrast shifts back and forth, forever.

As with past albums, Rave Tapes carries on the tradition of absurdist placeholder-text-for-feeling composition titles. This time, we have the bewilderingly named track “Repelish,” the gist of which Burns describes as a small misunderstanding that took on added meaning. “Our drummer Martin [Bulloch]’s mother used to mean ‘replenish,’ but she would actually say ‘repelish,’” he explains. “So she would say to her husband, ‘Could you please repelish my drink?’ We just thought it was funny. But the actual content of the song was that sort of sample about Led Zeppelin—we just happened to find that about two days before we had to finish the record. It’s fucking amazing, but it’s so stupid.”

The sample to which Burns refers is adequately described. In it, a young man makes sneering allegations about “backmasking” Satanic messages onto the tape of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven.” Backmasking is a process wherein sound engineers record backward certain voices or sounds meant to be played forward. The technique enables the insertion of secret or subliminal messages into recordings, though it’s debatable in most identified cases whether the intent of this is real or imagined. Either way, in “Repelish,” this sample of a man rambling on about Satanism in Zeppelin songs is both hilarious and absurd in that we hear how the tiresome evangelistic outlook posited by the speaker colors his world—but it’s also chilling when “backdropped” against Mogwai’s winding, eerie synthesizers and a clean, uplifting guitar line. It’s a nice effect.

This is the kind of stuff Mogwai that used to do a lot—use strange samples to contrast the bombast or somberness of its music. What the band is less known for is singing its own lyrics to create more traditionally structured commercial “songs.” Rave Tapes does include the aptly named, morose “Blues Hour,” on which Stuart Braithwaite muses about death in a whispered hush. This is the only track that features “traditional” singing, and it’s just as haunting—if a bit more bleak—as “Take Me Somewhere Nice” on Rock Action or “Cody” on Come on Die Young. When I press Burns about what is happening with the indiscernible lyrics on Rave Tapes’ standout last song, “The Lord Is Out of Control,” suggesting that perhaps the band tried a bit of backmasking of its own here, he’s more interested in talking about the process by which the band made it—he used a vocoder to distort his voice as the song’s starting point.

“If we have a song that we deem sort of unfinished, we might resort to samples or singing or vocoder,” Burns says. “That last song was created primarily with a vocoder in mind. It’s the first time we’ve done that.” He doesn’t delve in to the song’s content, but he does say that Mogwai’s vocals are “usually an afterthought.”

Another thing the band has become increasingly known for is lending its talents to scoring films and television shows. Previously, Mogwai soundtracked Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain and Douglas Gordon’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. More recently, it has done the aforementioned Les Revenants, and in the summer of 2013 performed a handful of live shows to accompany screenings of Zidane, which was a 2006 documentary about French footballer Zinedine Zidane.

“Everything we’ve done like this—TV or, say, extracurricular activities—we never get much input,” Burns says. “It’s always just up to a television or movie schedule, where they don’t have a finished product for you to watch. So you get a script or maybe 10 minutes [of footage] where you are supposed to get what it is meant to feel like. And often they say, ‘Can you just make up some music that you think is going to fit in?’ And we make a bunch of music, and then they sort of pick through it and try to piece it together in a way that suits their vision.” He also cites the importance of working with producers who are on the same page as the band. “You really have to work with good people, otherwise it’s a fucking riot.”

Though Burns notes that these “extra-curriculars” are particularly labor intensive, he is grateful for the opportunities. “It’s really nice to do something that isn’t specifically just a Mogwai album; it’s really good fun,” says Burns, adding that he hopes the band will be able to write and perform music for the second season of Les Revenants.

After nearly 20 years, Mogwai fans have all but cut the once-vaguely-useful but now scowl-inducing descriptor post-rock from their vocabularies. It’s worth noting, however, that the first time I heard someone say this was when a friend dropped the needle on Come on Die Young in 1999. Yes, the term has fallen out favor, but it still is charged with meaning. Mogwai too continues to have a particular valence in these post-post-rock times. The band has aged with grace, and its music continues to reflect subtle shifts in popular culture, its own surge in popularity, and even critics’ responses to the latter. It may no longer “fear Satan” as such, but that’s because Mogwai has raised the bar to a level where heaven and hell, quiet and loud, and inside and out no longer matter quite as much.

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Q&A: Helms Alee finds a home at Sargent House

Helms Alee: Sleepwalking SailorsHelms AleeSleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House, 2/11/14)

“Tumescence”

Helms Alee: “Tumescence”

A genre-defying heavy-rock trio with three singing members, Helms Alee has had no trouble subverting expectations. Its latest album, Sleepwalking Sailors, once again is a mixture of metal attitude, structural experimentation, and surprising beauty.

Getting it released, though, was a hell of a task. When long-time label Hydra Head dissolved, the band entrusted the fate of its next record to its fans. And, thankfully, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Sleepwalking Sailors found a home on Sargent House, which released the album to much acclaim. We talked to guitarist Ben Verellen about the record, his side business making amps, and what makes for good camaraderie with band-mates Dana James and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis.

It’s still relatively rare to see a woman, let alone two (including a drummer), in a heavy rock band. Do you guys ever get any weird or sexist reactions?

Sexist reactions are pretty few and far between because the music community we are a part of is full of shredding women. It is still not an equal balance, but it is definitely not rare by any means. Just off the top of my head, Tacos!, Whore Paint, Trophy Wife

What was it like starting work on a record without a label behind you? Was there any reticence when you were setting up the Kickstarter campaign?

When we found out that Hydra Head wouldn’t be involved with releasing new music, we were already a couple years into writing for Sleepwalking Sailors, so we knew that the record needed to happen one way or another. Before Sargent House stepped in, we were prepared to release it ourselves. Sure, that would’ve been a lot harder,and the Kickstarter could’ve failed, which would’ve been tough to bounce back from. But we were dedicated to getting the record out somehow, and this seemed like our only option.

How did you guys hook up with Sargent House?

Chris Common, who we had roped into coming up to do the engineering on the record, was living at Sargent House, and when he got home with the masters and was doing some tweaking to the mixes, it kind of fell into Cathy Pellow’s hands. She really liked it and told him, “I think I’m going to try and sign them.” Word got back to us, and we had already sent off the masters to get pressed ourselves, so we had to undo some of that, but that turned out for the better.

Has your work building amps affected the way that you record or write songs? What’s the next big thing that we can expect from Verellen Amplifiers?

Testing out amps after I have built or repaired them allows me lots of opportunities to mess around with riffs. When it comes to recording, I try not to get too far down the tone-chasing, amp-“A/B-ing” thing. I have a couple amps that I rely on, and I just try to focus more on playing. I’m working on a line of hi-fi tube stereo gear that is exciting and a new challenge. The prototypes so far have been well received; it’s gotten everyone really excited.

With the proliferation of -cores and other such microgenres, you guys still are very hard to pin down. Where do you draw your influences?

We’re par-core all the way! We really just like all that music, so it’s pretty hard to pin down for us too.

Going by your videos and the Kickstarter introduction, you guys seem to have a blast together.

There are no really outrageous stories that jump to mind. We tend to have a good time, but the other thing you might notice from our videos is that it’s all pretty poo-poo, pee-pee, silly adolescent-style hijinks. It’s that brand of fun more than hiding a shoebox full of turds in your tour-mates’ van or a penny in the wheel well.

Bands do this thing where they think, “Let’s see how much we can fuck with the other band, really bum them out.” And that’s not fun. And what other reason is there to do music? You’re not really in the band to make money. Even the bands I know that are “doing well”… that’s a hard living. You’re just going to let yourself down if you’re not trying to have fun.

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Q&A: Sage Francis on his return, independence, and Macklemore

Sage Francis: Copper GoneSage FrancisCopper Gone (Strange Famous, 6/3/14)

“Vonnegut Busy”

Sage Francis: “Vonnegut Busy”

He’s back. After four years in the woods of Rhode Island, producing records and growing out his epic beard, Strange Famous president and elder statesman of independent hip hop Sage Francis returned to the studio to record his new album, Copper Gone—a heart-on-its-sleeve banger that’s sure to be etched with acid into your eardrums.

Following Li(f)e, a 12-track collaboration with some of indie rock and folk’s finer musicians, Francis formed the basis of Copper Gone on punchier production and electronic drums. Now without ties to another label, the bearded one talks about his return, the business side of being independent, and Macklemore’s lack of recognition for his predecessors.

You’ve said in interviews and in press for this album that you were dealing with some pretty heavy stuff before or during its creation. What brought you back to recording?

That’s a tough question to answer because there’s so much to address. But basically, it was just time. Everything had pointed toward me doing it again. I had nothing else. I’m sitting on all these songs that I write and that I knew worked, and I decided, “Okay, I’m gonna go at this again,” the way I have with all the other discs.

But every time I do an album, I know how much it takes out of me, just how agonizing the whole process is. Not just the act of recording the album or writing it, but everything that goes along with it: all the stress and anxiety, planning out a full year of your life, knowing everything that has to get done.

People fucking talk about [being] independent, but [you need] to really know each side of the business you’re going to have to take on when you go at a project of this magnitude. So much money is going to be spent, and if you don’t get that back, you’re dead in the water. Ultimately, you want to make more so you can do more records—but once you have enough money to make more records, you ask yourself, “Do I really want to put myself through that shit again?”

I did that for ten years straight, and then I took that four-year break because I thought maybe I can try to have a domestic life of some sort. Maybe it’s time to try to build a family or really try and see if I can be happy like I think other people enjoy regular-life shit. And it just wasn’t happening, so you know, fuck trying to force that.

You said that people say “independent” but don’t really know what goes into that. Is that what the track “ID Thieves” deals with?

Well, yeah, to a degree, because that’s people adopting language and ideas and turning them into buzzwords. It kind of gets sour when you understand, really, what the fuck’s been going on all this time. If someone says independent, I know what they mean, but I also know what other people think they mean. It’s that difference that sort of frustrates me sometimes.

There’s that last sound bite on that track, where you say, “Independent? Fuck you.”

That was a total ad-lib of me stepping away from the mic, and I decided to keep it because it was one of those things that just came out of my mouth. I liked the way it sounded like something you’d hear in a Rhode Island bar or some shit.

Sage Francis

So: The Macklemore question, particularly that “Vine” you did regarding “Same Love” and “The Best of Times.” There was a comedian on the AV Club who recently said, “Macklemore sounds like Asher Roth if he got really into Sage Francis.” Where do you fall on this?

That article that you just referenced is the chatter that has been happening behind the scenes for quite a while, and it was so funny to see him (Joe Mande) put it all out there. A comedian had to do it. If I did it, if anyone else did it, if any of us did it—not even in a hateful way but just saying plainly, “Yo, this is kind of a corny approach,” and he’s sold out something he doesn’t own in a weird way.

I guess he did pay his dues—everyone is always quick to tell me about all of his stuff, that he’s a great dude. Maybe he is. He follows me on Twitter, and I follow him back, so that’s our connection. I know he listens to me; I know he’s been a fan of mine; I know he’s been a fan of Atmosphere. But in all the success he’s obtained, he’s never given any kind of recognition, which I think is kind of weird, because he’s definitely adopted a style that we blazed many years back.

It’s not just me and Atmosphere. There’s a lot of people who put their asses on the line. It’s just weird because now when people hear “The Best of Times,” they hear a song of mine like that and they relate it to Macklemore. “Oh, he sounds like Macklemore.” No, motherfucker. Please reverse that sentence. But how could we ever tell enough people that? So we sit back, we may make comments and snicker from time to time, but really, we’re just moving forward, doing our thing. I’m just going to go at my music the way I always have, and I think in due time, people will be able to make sense of what was what.

Is there any takeaway that you want fans to get from this album?

I think that when people listen to this, I’d like them to sense the deep love and appreciation for hip hop, even when I do some off-the-wall or experimental shit. This is a flat-out, straight-up hip-hop record, with unique shit included—stuff that doesn’t happen often in hip-hop, stuff that maybe a lot of hip-hop listeners aren’t comfortable with.

Another reason why I make records, another reason why I write, is to document my human experience. I’m not trying to tell someone else’s story—I don’t understand it. There are some unique things happening in my life, and the kind of things that I go through I think I can express in a certain way that other people can understand or identify with. So I hope it entertains, but I also hope it consoles in certain ways.

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Q&A: Light legend LeRoy Bennett of Seven Design Works

All things withstanding, LeRoy “Roy” Bennett, a founding member of Seven Design Works, might have one of the most unique perspectives in music today. Those unacquainted with the name might be more familiar with his work with Trent Reznor, most recently as the stage and lighting designer for Nine Inch Nails’ Tension tour, a flood of damaged pixels envisioned by Reznor and long-time art director Rob Sheridan.

It’s a live show with a befitting title. Reznor and company haven’t lost their edge over the years, and his intense presence onstage needs an equally powerful visual counterpart. Bennett and his crew responded with an array of seemingly autonomous moving lights and screens, sometimes shielding the band with a synesthetic glow, and other times hovering over the stage and blasting the audience with overwhelming brilliance.

But the thing that gives Bennett his perspective is his résumé, which is, in a word, varied. Besides a long and award-winning relationship with NIN, his client list includes Reznor’s other big project (How to Destroy Angels), The XX, Skrillex, and Rammstein—not to mention potentially less-instinctive artists such as Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, and Yanni. (Yes, the Yanni.) No less impressive are past clients that include Prince, The Cure, and Madonna.

How to Destry Angels Steve Jennings

The key, according to Bennett, is appreciation for the music. “If somebody writes a great song, it’s a great song,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who they are.”

“Every song the artist does is its own story,” Bennett adds. “There are certain dynamics in each that the audience responds to—high and low points, big orchestrated moments, high-energy angry moments. We accentuate what’s happening through color [and] through visual displays.”

How to Destry Angels Steve Jennings

Looking to the future, Bennett has his eye on the upcoming stars of the world. “There’s a lot of young bands that are coming up, of which I’m really appreciative,” says Bennett. “This is why I started Seven—so I could work with them through my partners. I want to let them know that they can come to me and I can give them my theories and approaches to design, hopefully helping them improve their live branding.”

At the end of the day, everything comes back to where it started for Bennett—a love for music’s ability to reach into the world and touch its listeners. “Every day there are more and more artists that I love,” he says. “I listen to music constantly, and I’m always searching for new artists to listen to—not just as clients but also for inspiration.”

NIN Steve Jennings

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Mixology: Billy Sunday’s Alexander Bachman

It’s no surprise that Alexander Bachman, the mastermind behind the libations at Chicago’s Billy Sunday, cites Japan as a main inspiration for his effortlessly executed cocktails that fuse tradition with artisanship. A cross between a turn-of-the-century sitting room and a secret speakeasy, the cozy joint in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood has been racking up national acclaim thanks to his creative spins on well-loved drink standards (not to mention homemade bitters and tonics).

We chatted with Bachman about redefining the classics, balancing taste, and why scotch and soda don’t always mix.

How would you describe your bartending style, and how have you honed that at Billy Sunday?

We draw our style from a plethora of influences. As far as our actual technique, we utilize fluid and direct motions that are very Japanese in origin. Our service style is one founded in open dialogue, humility, and respect with our guests and purveyors. At the end on the day, we are open to using any base spirits/products as long as it meets its end goal of being rich in flavor and can be balanced and enforced with other ingredients.

What is your definition of a perfect cocktail?

A perfect cocktail has to achieve two things. The first is balance, not just in the sense of sweetness and sugar but balanced bitterness, concentration, alcoholic content, and temperature. The second is respect for its base spirit and expanding on that flavor profile while maintaining its true character.

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What is your favorite item on the menu?

We love them all, but the Bijou is probably at the top. Stirred agricole-rum drinks are still pretty foreign to people, but this one is delightful and abides by the classic build of a Bijou with the addition of bitters and Centerbe instead of Chartreuse.

What is the strangest drink request you’ve received?

Have had a lot of strange requests over the years, but off the top of my head: someone once requested scotch and grape soda from me, though it was years ago.

Billy Sunday Bijou 4

Billy Sunday’s Bijou

Traditionally made with three parts gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one part green Chartreuse, Bachman’s take on the classic Bijou (French for “gin”) skips the gin for Neisson agricole rum, uses Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, swaps the Chartreuse for Centerbe, and adds a dash of Angelica Bitters.

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Q&A: Pixies on making the right mistake

Pixies: Indie CindyPixiesIndie Cindy (PIAS, 4/29/14)

“Bagboy”

Pixies: “Bagboy”

Twenty-three years after its last studio album—and almost a decade after reuniting—proto-alternative outfit Pixies has returned with Indie Cindy, a collection of tunes (without iconic bassist Kim Deal) that originally appeared as three separate EPs. On two separate phone calls from the road, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering spoke to Alarm about the need for new material, the “Pixification” process, and making the right mistake.

Generally, Charles [Thompson, front-man / bandleader, a.k.a. Black Francis] brings in the songs. How do you put your own stamp on them?

JS: Charles lets me do whatever comes up in my little noggin. After a while, we had a formula that worked. But there was an X factor. He doesn’t understand it, and I kind of don’t understand what the hell I’m doing either. I mean, I kind of do—I have little theories, but I also have no idea.

He would say “Pixify it,” and I know what he means. But it’s just the way that I play. It’s very natural to me, like the way that I walk. Back then, he would give me a chord progression, and I would record it over and over on a tape machine and work out a guitar part. But maybe the sound is just in my fingers or in my blood. Because no matter what kind of guitar I pick up—even a classical guitar—I always sound…pointy.

In the notes issued for the release of EP2, about the song “What Goes Boom” you say, “I like when the song changes and I don’t.” Can you talk about that?

JS: In the verses, the chords are moving around and I keep playing an arpeggiated E-minor. It’s a little “ha ha ha” trick I’ve used before, like on the B-side “Santo” [released with the 1991 single “Dig for Fire”]. I just kept playing these same three notes while the rest of the band was changing along. And on “Tame” [off 1989 sophomore album Doolittle], they’re all moving around hitting three chords, and as a joke I’m just crashing into one chord—that augmented fifth or seventh or whatever it is, the one that Hendrix plays on “Purple Haze.”

I’m just smashing that one chord over and over again. That’s my whole guitar part on that song. It might sound like noise, but you have to pick the right noise. You have to pick the right quote-unquote “wrong” thing. You’re trying to make the right mistake.

Pixies

How important was it starting to get for the band to make new material?

DL: In 2004, the original idea was just to tour. It was only supposed to last for a year, but it just kept going and going. By the seven-year mark, it was like, “Okay, we’re doing this longer as a reunion than we were initially a band.” We knew we’d wear out our welcome if we didn’t make something new.

David, the press notes mention how you’re not comfortable recording. Why?

DL: All the times we’d been in the studio in the past, I had a very hard time. I never really liked it because I was put on the spot; the albums were happening quicker and quicker and quicker.

This one was different. We worked out all the songs, so I was very comfortable to begin with. But I can honestly say that the band’s been getting tighter and tighter and tighter on stage, so I’m even more comfortable now. And I’ve changed little things already. It’s still essentially the same parts as what I played on the recordings, but I feel more in tune with these new songs. I can put a little more subtlety into them.

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Label Q&A: Deathwish Inc.

In everyone’s life, there are those few moments where events align and push people toward their destiny. For Converge singer Jacob Bannon and tour manager Tre McCarthy, one of those was the sudden demise of the Howling Bull America label in 2000. Bannon already was a decade deep in fronting Converge, and McCarthy was traveling constantly to manage BoySetsFire, Bane, Reach the Sky, and Disembodied—so the idea of starting a label of their own was one that had been batted around for some time.

With Howling Bull gone, the fate of the now-infamous Converge / Hellchild split hung in the balance. It turned out to be the motivation that the two needed to stop talking about doing a label and actually put out a record. Nearly 15 years and more than 100 releases later, Deathwish Inc. has grown into one of the most respected hardcore labels on the planet.

But despite the changes that a decade-and-a-half have made in their lives, Bannon and McCarthy, both hardcore lifers, continue to operate from a place of creativity and dedication to what they and the bands on their label love.

What was the impetus for doing Deathwish?

TM: I met [Converge guitarist and owner of GodCity Studio] Kurt Ballou first. [Bane guitarist] Aaron Dalbec and I met him at a 411 show in Boston in 1991 while he was peddling Converge demos in the crowd between bands. We became friends with Kurt, and shortly thereafter, our bands played a show together in Worcester.

I’ve been friends with Jake since. Jake and I were on the other side of the fence from labels. He was dealing with them as an artist, and I was dealing with them as a tour manager. Together, we felt that we had a fresh perspective of what bands need and what a label can do for its bands.

A lot of people think that they’d love to own a record label, but few probably know what goes into it. What’s the biggest headache of owning a label like Deathwish?

JB: I don’t see any of it as a headache. It can be stress-inducing for sure, but it is a labor of love, just as is making music and art. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The aspects of the label that Tre manages (financial things, etc.), I find to be more difficult. The “staff” is here regular business hours for the most part, while Tre works seemingly 24 hours a day from his phone or laptop. We stick to what we are good at.

TM: The headaches that come along with the territory are from the boring and mundane tasks that no one really thinks about when they think about running an awesome, super-cool record label like Deathwish. I have to work on the schedule of the people that I work for, my bands. So if a band is on tour in Europe, and they are texting me at 4 AM, then I am working at 4 AM. I might have slippers and Deathwish sweatpants on, while half asleep on the couch, but this is what it is.

Owning an independent record label is awesome, but it is a lot of work. I love it—period. I have the best job, but it’s not a cakewalk.

Deathwish has a distinct visual style as you, Jake, do much of the album art. Is that something you’ve purposefully set out to do?

JB: I feel that we have a level of quality with the packaging and presentation of our releases, but they all carry their own unique character. For example, a Wovenhand release does not look like a 100 Demons record, but I designed both of them. They are just the best of what they can possibly be. I will create artwork for a band if they ask me to, but I will never require it or anything. As someone who cares about our releases, I just want to them all to be the best they can possibly be.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

Deathwish Inc.

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Video Premiere: The Hudson Branch’s “All Is Fallen”

The Hudson Branch: Kina Ze Swah

The Hudson Branch: Kina Ze Swah (self-released, 5/6/14)

Heartfelt quartet The Hudson Branch is well-versed in experimental productions, as shown by its previous collaborations with partners as varied as new-wave giants New Order to NPR’s Radiolab.

The two pairs of brothers have steadily been building a following in their native Chicago and beyond with a speculative sound that blends the earnestness of 1960s pop with the exploratory drive of 1980s electronica. We’re excited to debut the latest video from their new album, Kina Ze Swah, entitled “All Is Fallen.”

We’re smitten with the group’s choice to pair an emotional song about what member Matthew Boll describes as being about fighting on even after “the end of life” in an unexpected setting: the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Much of the video features lead singer Cobey Bienert interspersed with shots of the museum’s many taxidermied animals, all filtered through saturated, prismatic lightscapes. Stripped to his own skin like one of the animals, his own eyes mimic their primal drives.

The steadily shifting layers of sounds that mark the track translate into a haunting video with waves of eery and comforting imagery (with a bonus of some interpretative dancing in front of a giant Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton). Overall, it is a beautiful interpretation of the group’s talents.

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Brewery Tour: Three Floyds Brewing Co.

In the small town of Munster, Indiana, about 30 miles outside of Chicago, a small craft brewery is making an awful lot of noise. Armed with an arsenal of aggressive beers and a bold attitude, Three Floyds Brewing Co. carries its love of all things beer and heavy metal through every aspect of production, earning it a dedicated cult following of both beer enthusiasts and musicians throughout Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Kentucky (where the beers currently are distributed).

Founded by brothers Nick and Simon Floyd and their father, Mike, the Floyds started with a mission to make big, interesting brews without regard to popular drinking trends. “When Nick founded the brewery in 1996, he was making beers that were way out in left field for most people, but they were beers that he wanted to drink,” production manager Andrew Mason says. “We continue with that model today. We’re still making the beers that we want to drink, and we’re fortunate that other people are excited about it.”

Three Floyds Brewing Co.

Though its top three brews—Alpha King, Zombie Dust, and Gumball Head—are hop-forward in both flavor and aroma, the brewery insists that it always aims to make lagers and ales that are balanced and drinkable as well. “Anyone can throw loads and loads of hops in the kettle,” Mason says, “but there needs to be some thought that goes into creating a beer to make it hoppy and enjoyable.” Some of its more outside-the-box beers like the Robert the Bruce Scottish ale and the Jinx Proof Dortmunder-style lager exemplify Three Floyds’ more balanced nature.

The brewing team also infuses its love of metal music into certain brews, collaborating with upwards of 10 bands on special-edition beers like Evil Power with Lair of the Minotaur, In the Name of Suffering with Eyehategod, and Ragnarok with Amon Amarth. The Permanent Funeral collaboration with Pig Destroyer yielded a hyper-hoppy imperial IPA that earned the brewery a silver medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival—an honor proving that beer and metal make for favorable bedfellows.

Three Floyds Brewing Co.

Honoring the (Dark) Lord

Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Day started as a simple imperial-stout release event with a few hundred people in attendance in 2004. Since then, it has escalated into a daylong festival that draws in thousands of people from around the Midwest. In addition to being the only day of the year that the brewery sells the coveted Dark Lord imperial stout, the owners also bring their love of metal to the masses to sweeten the festivities. For the second straight year, High on Fire headlined the 2014 event, with Eyehategod, Corrections House, Iron Reagan, and more joining the fun.

Three Floyds Brewing Co.

Though navigating the logistics of such an event still causes a few headaches for the brewery, its owners wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s very cool to know that people from all over the country, and even the world, flock to our industrial park in Northwestern Indiana to celebrate beer with us,” Mason says.

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