November 28, 2011

welcome to doe bay

This past August I spent five days at one of the most incredible, tightly-knit, music-saturated festivals I have ever been a part of. You might remember my raves about The Doe Bay Fest, a small homegrown festival on an island in the San Juans with a radiantly breathless air of magic — pure and simple. There is a new independent documentary in the works which tries to chronicle and identify what makes this festival amazing and so necessary in music today.

Welcome To Doe Bay looks at this phenomenal confluence of artists and attendees with no boundaries, and delves into how festivals like this one –at least to hear me say it in the interview I gave for the filmmakers– just might save the world, or, at least, save our musical souls. I forgot to meet with the directors during the fest because I was too busy running all over the island seeing jaw-dropping music from the time I woke up until long past when I should have been in bed, so they arranged for me to sit for an interview for the film on a sunny Ballard afternoon the day after the fest, to give a perspective as a music-lover from outside the local scene, and my impressions of the weekend. I remember being just glowingly, borderline-incoherently excited about what I had just lived through. I’m not sure how much of what I had to say made it into the film (spoiler: I like to ruminate), but every person and band featured in this documentary gets what makes Doe Bay incredible, and why that kind of organic passion is so, so important in music today.

The documentary is winding up a Kickstarter campaign, and trying to raise enough funds to submit to film festivals like SXSW. I really want to see this love letter of a film completed, and the music industry world of bloat and detachment needs to see what a group of musically committed individuals can accomplish through a festival like this. A donation to their Kickstarter (in these last two crucial weeks – they are so close!) will make a huge difference, and also let you see many of the performances from this last summer in an exclusive look, if you couldn’t be there that weekend. Think of it as your best way to participate in Black-Cyber-Small-Business-spending-day today, and please take a look at the trailer – which just gave me chills to watch again (Pickwick, Kelli Schaefer, The Head and The Heart, Bryan John Appleby, Sera Cahoone, just in the trailer? Yes please I want to go back there).

And if you are an artist, psssst, you should TOTALLY SUBMIT to play the fest in 2012. I guarantee you that it will be the best and most deeply refreshing musical weekend of your year.

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September 11, 2010

On the road with David Bazan


Former Pedro The Lion frontman and chronic literate deep thinker David Bazan is heading on the road soon, and a short documentary has just been released by J. Wakeford Francis and the folks at Feltheart Filmworks. This three part video series follows Bazan on his recent tour supporting his 2009 release Curse Your Branches (Barsuk Records), an album that scratches deep at life and spiritual truths until the scabs come off.

Bless This Mess – David Bazan

Interspersed with live tour footage, this mini-documentary traces Bazan’s reasons for going solo, how he’s working on interpreting the Christianity he grew up with, songwriting on long van drives while touring, and religion’s role in being “a decent human being.”

In it, Bazan muses: “It was said by some that I threw away my chance when I killed Pedro The Lion, that you really only get one kinda go at it. And I thought, if that’s true I still gotta do this, you know…

Watch the full mini-documentary here.

On the Road with David Bazan (part 1) from Feltheart Filmworks.

On the Road with David Bazan (part 2) from Feltheart Filmworks.

On the Road with David Bazan (part 3) from Feltheart Filmworks.

Go see him live this Fall, with some great bands…

Sept 10 – Doug Fir/MusicFest NW – Portland, OR
Sept 10 – Neurolux – Boise, ID
Sept 11 – Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT %
Sept 12 – Larimer Lounge – Denver, CO %
Sept 14 – Waiting Room – Omaha, NE %
Sept 15 – Mojo’s – Columbia, MO %
Sept 16 – Lincoln Hall – Chicago, IL ^
Sept 17 – Magic Stick – Detroit, MI ^
Sept 18 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, Canada ^
Sept 19 – Il Motore – Montreal, Canada ^
Sept 21 – Club Metronome – Burlington, VT ^
Sept 22 – TT The Bear’s – Cambridge, MA ^
Sept 24 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY ^
Sept 25 – Black Cat – Washington, DC ^
Sept 26 – Southern – Charlottesville, VA ^
Sept 27 – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC ^
Sept 28 – Earl – Atlanta, GA ^
Oct 1 – Jack Rabbit – Jacksonville, FL ^
Oct 2 – Social – Orlando, FL ^
Oct 3 – Engine Room – Tallahassee, FL ^
Oct 5 – Bottle Tree – Birmingham, AL ^
Oct 6 – One Eyed Jack’s – New Orleans, LA ^
Oct 8 – The Korova – San Antonio, TX #
Oct 10 – Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, TX
Oct 11 – Foundation – Lubbock, TX #
Oct 12 – Launchpad – Albuquerque, NM #
Oct 13 – Club Congress – Tucson, AZ #
Oct 15 – Spaceland – Los Angeles, CA #
Oct 16 – Casbah – San Diego, CA #
Oct 17 – Downtown Brew – San Luis Obispo, CA #
Oct 18 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA #
Nov 27 – The Showbox – Seattle, WA *

% with Mt St Helens Vietnam Band
^ with The Mynabirds
# with Wye Oak
* with The Head and The Heart

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November 10, 2009

Rogue Wave’s “D Tour” documentary premieres tonight on PBS

The independent music documentary “D Tour” (Dialysis Tour) is about Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon’s struggle with a failing kidney, a search for a donor, while still trying to still pursue the music that is vital to his contentment. I watched it one warm evening this summer and found it both inspiring and challenging — punctuated throughout with terrific musical moments.

d tour posterIn addition to being a compelling look at the organ donation system in the US today, the pitfalls that can snare underinsured musicians, and some of the difficulties and nastiness of life, the film prominently features a lot of excellent music footage from that benefit show at SF’s Independent back in 2006 that I so wanted to go to. it speaks compellingly to the healing power of music. At that delicious show, Rogue Wave was joined on stage by friends like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab, Matthew Caws of Nada Surf, and John Vanderslice.

UPDATE: The entire movie is now streaming on PBS!

A lot of you guys donated to the fund when I bribed you wrote about it back then, so I hope you’ll take some time to watch the documentary when it debuts tonight on PBS’ Independent Lens series, or order the film on DVD for $20. The film has won accolades at several festivals, including the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the most recent Rogue Wave album Asleep At Heaven’s Gate (2007) is still on heavy rotation around these parts. I am looking forward to their new one in early Spring 2010.

Here’s the lilting song that plays over the credits, a brand new one from Rogue Wave. To download an mp3 version, please go over to their site and sign up!

Positive Hero Worship – Rogue Wave

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March 7, 2009

Angry beer makes for happy people

A few weekends ago, my friend D was out in Colorado and together we decided to attempt to conquer the tasting rooms of several local breweries (Denver has the highest number of breweries per capita in the U.S., didja know?). I love me some hearty beers (like oh! that fantastic Cutthroat Porter), and dark amber ales. All in all that weekend, I think we tried 22 beers by my count.

Craft brewing appeals to me in the complex, rich flavors in all the different brews and the fiercely independent spirit of the great small operations we have here around town. It almost feels luxurious — much more so than a can of whatever pale mass-produced beer I drink when it’s on special for fifty cents. This film Beer Wars is coming to theatres on April 16th with a virtual live discussion hosted by Ben Stein.

It is, of course, a snapshot of whatever larger discussion you want to have about the little independent guys trying to make it against corporate behemoths. I plan to try and see it; I hope they serve beer.

Drinking Again – Haley Bonar

(okay, so the song’s about red wine, but I still love love to sing along with this one)

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December 13, 2008

Show some restraint: The Notorious Bettie Page

[Originally posted two years ago – a re-up in honor of Bettie, who died in Los Angeles on Thursday]

Last night we settled in with some popcorn and the usual assortment of riding crops and corsets to watch the latest biopic to catch my eye: The Notorious Bettie Page (Picturehouse/HBO Films, 2006). The prurient among us may know of Bettie Page as the woman once named the “Pin-Up Queen Of The Universe” in the ’50s. She was a model, actress, pin-up girl, and is most often remembered from her (now a bit comical looking) bondage photo shoots. You may also think of her in that tigress outfit, or winking as she trims the Christmas tree in the nude (and who among us hasn’t would be my question).

In any case, I found it be a pretty interesting look at the bravery of her life and the depth her dreams — as well as her rationalization (if you will) for the pictures she took (“I figure God gave me a talent for taking pictures and making people happy. Shouldn’t I use that talent?“). After watching the film, I was curious to know what became of her (she became quite reclusive and mostly vanished from the public eye). Her Wikipedia page had a link to a current picture of her at 80 looking about 55 and still glowing. Not bad Bettie.

The film was written and directed by two women (Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner, who both worked together also on “The L Word” and “American Psycho”), and in the same way that Bunny Yeager‘s photographs of the real Bettie Page brought out some of her best moments, I think that having this movie envisioned through the eyes of females lent it a certain depth that I liked.

Bettie Page’s openness and vitality were conveyed well through the acting of Gretchen Mol. There were some interesting bonus features as well, which showed the making of the movie and some original footage of Page. Gretchen Mol is a blonde in real life. This made we wonder if there were merkins involved (Pearl Jam fans might have some idea what I am talking about. When I mused that question aloud last night, I was so proud of myself for ever getting to use that word in a sentence. I mean really.)

There was a nice femino-centric (new word) soundtrack to this film, with era-appropriate innocence and swing. Here are four notable tracks that I enjoyed. The smoldering Julie London track was the closer to the film and absolutely perfectly placed.

Life’s Railway To Heaven – Patsy Cline

It’s A Good Day – Peggy Lee

Sopa de Pichon – Machito & His Afro-Cubans
(mood music for the Miami photo shoots with Bunny Yeager behind the lens)

Gone With The Wind – Julie London

And here’s the trailer:

November 13, 2008

War/Dance: “In our daily lives there must be music”

It’s currently International Education Week in the U.S., which translates into busy times for me in my dayjob life. I don’t mind this kind of busy, because I am tasked with bringing global culture to our campus for a week of free activities. In a welcome intersection of music and film, my event Tuesday was a screening of the exceptional film War/Dance.

I sat in a darkened theater in the late afternoon and watched a group of school children from Northern Uganda prepare their music and impassioned dance for their National Music Competition. The children are displaced refugees of the Acholi tribe, which has been subject to a horrific persecution at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army for twenty years — abducted, forced into child soldierhood, raped, orphaned. This tribal war has left 200,000 Ugandan children without parents, seen 30,000 abducted to fight for the LRA, and forced almost all of the Acholi people to leave the green hills of their ancestral homes and relocate to dusty camps, guarded by military 24 hours a day.

But — when these children are swimming in the waves of their music, they are free. You can see it in the spark in their smiles, the unbridled earthy joy shining in their faces when they sing, when they stomp the dry earth and arch their backs. As one girl says in her sonorous native tongue, “In our daily lives there must be music. In everything we do, if there’s music, life becomes so good. That’s why I want to be part of music.”

Suffering of great magnitude is extremely difficult to wrap our Western minds around, and the filmmakers incisively narrow the lens to track three young teenagers and the stories of the dark path that brought them to the camp, to this school in the remotest part of Northern Uganda. The kids take seriously the opportunity to compete with the other 20,000 schools throughout Uganda to represent their tribe as one of the best. When they perform the 500-year-old Bwola dance of their tribe, they radiate pride and spirit as they stomp and whirl in shades of a Feist video (I must not be the only one who thought that).

The film is a deeply human exploration, one that made me question what it is within the human spirit that flares up, that remains unbreakable and irrepressible. One of the main characters Nancy explains, “When I’m singing, I feel that everything is exactly how it used to be. Everything feels okay again, like I’m at home and not in the camp.” Rose muses, “Music is the most important part of Acholi culture. It is our tradition. Even war cannot take it from us.

War/Dance is shot with the stunning eye of a photographer, with shots that make you ache in their purity, their power, and their sadness. The dance scenes are swirls of color and shifting focus. As they tell their unflinching stories, the skin of the children shines with an illuminated vibrancy that seems out of place in their dusty, hard surroundings.

Out of the gritty horrors of a story that could be the bleakest of bleak, hope and pride rise up in the kids. In music, they survive. It’s a message that resonated deeply with me, and indeed should with all who have ever felt the power of music in any capacity. I give this movie (and the corresponding music) my highest recommendation of the screen this year.

And hey, the percussion that punctuated all the pounding-heart moments of this film made the tiny little djembe player in my own heart leap a little:

Khine Sine – Doudou N’diaye Rose [wiki]

You can watch War/Dance online now if you have Netflix, and the soundtrack is on Amazon. For more information about how to support these kids in Northern Uganda, visit, a foundation set up by the filmmakers.

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August 29, 2008

Townes Van Zandt wants you to be here to love him

And by “here” I mean in front of your computer, because now you can watch the entire 2004 film for free from those SnagFilms folks (like the Dandys/BJM one). Rad.

Perhaps one of the most underrated songwriters of the last century, Be Here To Love Me chronicles the fascinating and often turbulent life of Townes Van Zandt with a simple unpredictability that mimics the way the artist lived his short life. Directed by Margaret Brown, this haunting and lyrical film combines emotional interviews with Van Zandt’s immediate family and such luminaries as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Guy Clark with rare footage of Van Zandt at home and on the stage.

July 25, 2008

Can you DiG! it?

Don’t tell your boss, but you can totally watch free movies at work and other places where you don’t have your Netflix now, using this new SnagFilms action. (I mean, on your lunch break, clearly).

Streaming artsy/indie flicks for free with no login, they’ve got everything from Gonzo Music Diaries NYC, Duke basketball, summer camp with the Flaming Lips, and Super Size Me (which I actually just watched for the first time the other night and ewww).

That full film embedded above is a delightfully contentious movie that you must see if you never have (about Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols and their mid-90s music feud and friendship). It’s also loaded with great music. I can dig it.

June 12, 2008

Joey Ryan and the evocative melodies of “Bella”

I recently got a chance to sit down and watch Bella, an independent film from Mexican director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. I loved so many elements of it — from the believable way it traces a chance connection between two people over the course of just one day, to the gentle yet realistically untidy way it deals with the mistakes we look back on throughout our lives.

Monteverde is a tenacious Austin-based filmmaker, and Bella (his first feature-length film) was the winner of the Peoples Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. It is a visually dazzling movie with gorgeous use of light in the cinematography, which stood in contrast to the darkness that both main characters are slogging through. With the dialogue weaving in and out of Spanish and English, the film traces two realistically flawed characters struggling to make some beauty out of a pile of overwhelming life circumstances.

My ears perked up immediately when I heard a sweetly rough-voiced tenor sing a few acoustic folk songs at pivotal moments on the film’s soundtrack. For a split second, I considered that just maybe it was Ray LaMontagne (or Brett Dennen?) but it was actually fledgling Los Angeles songwriter Joey Ryan. There is no official soundtrack released yet for Bella, so Joey was kind enough to send me some alternate versions of his music for the movie, and to respond to questions about his unique involvement with the film and his inspiration behind writing these songs.

The spirit of his compositions reflects the genuineness of this film, and there’s a heartening story of how it has been a bit of a saving grace in his own musical career as well. Joey writes:

The story of Bella, well . . . I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Psychology, and a couple weeks before graduation decided to abandon my plans for neuroscience graduate school to try to be a musician. I pictured myself at 30, just hating myself for never having given my dreams a chance. So, I made an album and spent almost a year in Los Angeles (where I’m from) playing shows and whatnot. It was difficult to discover that the process was hard for me and that I wasn’t able to play the venues I had hoped for. I was admitted and enrolled in a Masters program in psychology, at that point and was quitting music. I didn’t understand how anyone could build a music career from nothing in the environment of Los Angeles.

Then, literally a week before the first day of class I got a call from a company called Mophonics in Venice Beach. I had given them my album almost a year earlier, and they said they were going to put one of my songs on a TV show. When I came in to sign the paperwork for that, they asked me to send them anything else I had been working on, so I went home and sent them my GarageBand demo of this song I had just written.

Coincidentally, Stephan Altman at Mophonics was in the middle of composing the score for Bella and immediately had a scene in mind where my song would fit. The song was “Like You” (from the bathtub scene) and they asked me to add some lyrics in Spanish for it. So in the film the lyrics are “Yo se que no puede salvarme, I know I’m on my own, Yo se que no puede salvarme, I know I’m alone”. The Spanish means “I know you can’t save me”. This is Nina’s low point. She has yet to fully accept the help and friendship Jose is offering and feels completely alone and desperate there in the bathtub.

By the end of the day the director was in love with the song and it was in the film. That was the first time I ever paid rent with money I made from music.

The second song in Bella happened a couple weeks later. Stephan called me at 8am (woke me up) from a soundstage where they were mixing the music for the film, and said that a song they had been planning on using was no longer available. He asked if I could watch the scene and write something. So I did, and by 10:30am I had written and recorded (on GarageBand again) something for the scene and by 11am it was in the film too!

“Light On” (played when Jose and Nina walk down to the beach) was written for the film, for this particular scene. I thought the main theme musically should be a sense of resolution. Each character had just gone through their most heart-wrenching depths and they were starting to climb out together. I wanted the music to sound like the first deep breath of air after a long hard cry. Lyrically, it’s about pure, platonic, and altruistic friendship between two people who need each other’s help. That was the second time I ever paid rent with money I made from music.

A string of opportunities through Mophonics over the next few weeks meant that I never went to the first day of classes for my masters program, and it’s now two years later and things are going amazingly well. Mophonics is putting out my new full length record …with its roots above and its branches below this summer. I’ve toured both coasts and am going across the country this month, from Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between. And my songs seem to find their way into different opportunities that have kept me (very happily) paying rent through music.

Light On – Joey Ryan
No One Else Like You – Joey Ryan

That version of the “Like You” is featured on Joey’s upcoming release …with its roots above and its branches below. You can preorder it on Joey Ryan’s website and/or enter your email address to be on his mailing list so you can also download two other songs for free: “Let You Go,” which was on television in the UK, and “As It Must Be,” heard on One Tree Hill. Joey Ryan has tour dates coming up, including one in Denver next Sunday at the Walnut Room (I can almost taste the pizza already).

Also, anyone else from California –especially the Bay Area– will likely love his California EP from last year, and the eponymous title track with lyrics like, “San Francisco, you’re always busy, you’re always pretty . . . on a clear day there’s no place I’d rather be.” This is effortlessly charming music with a warm streak of melody, honesty and humility.

May 20, 2008

The National :: “Without Permission” (from The Virginia EP, out today)

The new Vincent Moon-directed film that follows the making of The National‘s 2007 album Boxer is out today. A Skin, A Night offers the gorgeous treatment that this music deserves, making it feel even more special, all wrapped up in moonlight and grainy black and white. The film is being screened at select U.S. locations (and hmmm, should we do a Denver one?) and if you buy it, the DVD comes paired with an excellent collection of 12 rare/demo/unreleased tracks called The Virginia EP.

In addition to collaborations with like a song with Sufjan Stevens recorded at Benny’s Wash ‘N Dry in Brooklyn, some great UK b-sides including one called Santa Clara (which I like to pretend is about my alma mater), and that sublime Springsteen cover I posted in April, there are several home-recording demos and live tracks.

This cover is one of my immediate favorites on the EP — a mournful, quietly sad song written originally by a Bristol-born singer-songwriter named Caroline Martin. It starts with a fill of organ pipes like you just stopped into that little cathedral, and now are not quite sure what for. Maybe to say a prayer for someone, light a candle. Maybe just to sit in the silence.

Quickly the song blossoms within its traditional structure that caused me to wonder at first if this was a reinvention of an old doo-wop tune from a girl group. But there within the simplicity, The National wrenches out new layers of genuine loss and missing someone so much that all you can construct are lines that are three or four words long.

Without Permission (Caroline Martin cover) – The National

well I just don’t know
how you could go
without permission

‘Cause well,
if you’re not there
well i just don’t care
for this omission

Every moment brings me down
when you’re not around
but all i’m asking for
is come back for just one day

where did you go?
and do you now know
how to be happy?

‘Cause here
well it’s pretty clear
when you’re not near me
i am unhappy

Every moment brings me down
when you’re not around
but all i’m asking for
is come back for just one day

I’ll make it worth the while
just to see your smile
that’s all i’m asking for

I’ve come to know
you had to go
without permission

‘Cause it was how
how i wore you down
and how i dragged you ’round
my sore ambition

Every moment brings me down
when you’re not around
but all i’m asking for
is come back for just one day

I’ll make it worth the while
just to see your smile
that’s all i’m asking for

my dear

Originally featured on Caroline Martin‘s debut album I Had A Hundred More Reasons To Stay By The Fire (2005, Small Dog Records)

Order the A Skin, A Night DVD / Virginia EP here


[other Vincent Moon/National work]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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