Monday, January 23, 2006

Delta 5 alive

It's one thing to love and champion a band but quite another to go out of your way to make sure that their work is available for every potential music fan to love. Reissue work can be a pretty long, hard process and pretty thankless up to the time the record actually comes out and then you're at the mercy of your fellow scribes and buying public.

After being a post-punk fan through the wonderful early catalog of Rough Trade records, I was pretty disappointed to see that a lot of the material wasn't available on CD. I spoke to the RT folks themselves but they were busy cultivating new acts. Certainly understandable but it was sad to see them ignoring their own history. The master tapes for a lot of the bands were gone and they didn't know where they were now- maybe they were mixed up somewhere in the buy-out/association they had in the 90's with One Little Indian but no one knew now.

I interviewed Marlene Marder of Kleenex/Liliput for my zine back in '98, asking her at the end if she had any interest in having the band's material back in print. She shrugged off the idea. A few months later, I got a fretful e-mail from her. "They're selling our album on E-bay for $200 and we're not going to see any of that money! We have to do something!" Now that she was on board, I had to find a label to do this since I didn't want to take the time/money to start one myself (even if other people had nudged me to do so).

A few indies expressed interest but the one that leaped at the idea was the stalwart Kill Rock Stars label. It just made sense. They had done such a great job of chronicling the riot grrl movement so why not now give props to some of their spiritual mama's? Luckily, Marlene had all the tapes (she reissued everything on a Swiss label in the early 90's but that went out of print pretty quickly). All that was needed was to copy the material and artwork. Greil Marcus and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) were nice enough to pen some new liner notes and viola, we had a reissue of Kleenex/Liliput.

Another post-punk RT band I loved was Essential Logic. I had heard that Lora Logic wasn't fond of the idea of having their material come out again. How to gently broach the subject with her? I tracked her down and made arrangements with Venus magazine to do an interview/article on LL in 2003. Everything went fine and I ended the interview with the inevitable question "So... how would you feel about having the Essential Logic material come out again?" Surprisingly, she was keen on the idea. After the article came out, I contacted her again, saying "Remember when we were talking about...?" KRS again liked the idea and were already in touch with someone who had pitched the idea of EL reissue to them. They thought it would make sense just for us to work together so I found an excellent co-conspirator in Erin Donovan. As luck would have it, Lora had her own tapes, which was sitting in her mum's attic. In addition to the original RT material, she also wanted to include new material that she had just put online. I was a little skeptical at first but the new stuff did have its charms and the package would represent a good, historical overview of Lora's work (including a single she did as a member of Red Krayola). End result was another two-CD collection and the music world could appreciate Essential Logic again.

With the EL reissue happened so quickly, it wasn't long after that when the next project began (about 2003 again). It was time for post-punk hat trick. KRS honcho Slim Moon (who I worked with closely on Kleenex and Logic) might have been the one who suggested that we also do Delta 5, especially since there hadn't been any good collection of their material. Also, it helped a lot that Erin was keen on the idea- she has boundless enthusiasm that was a huge help when we kept hitting roadblocks.

Starting off with yet another interview, we tracked down D5 bassist Ros Allen who liked the idea but was pretty busy with design work so she couldn't participate too much. This time, there were no tapes that anyone had saved so we had to rely on the best vinyl we could find and clean it up for CD consumption- thank you Aileen Brophy, Reuben Cervera (of Razor & Tie Records). Nick Cash of Prag Vec helped us track down guitarist Alan Riggs (not "Briggs" as it's sometimes spelled) who was also in touch with drummer Kelvin Knight. Alan was the most responsive person though Kelvin and Ros were always supportive of the work we were doing (K was especially good in gathering press clips which we used for the CD artwork). We even found D5's old manager Sue Johnson, who's now at Earthworks Records.

For the material to be used on a D5 collection, we had three Rough Trade singles and a later album from Charisma that the band didn't particularly like (just as well since the label wanted a fortune to license it). Instead, we found Terry Hammer who had produced and recorded a San Francisco show of theirs from 1980 in good sound quality.

We also found that they had done some BBC recording sessions including a few songs for John Peel's program. Things started off promisingly with their licensing department but we were stuck with someone there who kept promising us to look over the contract we filled out and faxed and get back to us about how much the licensing would cost and what the terms would be (how many years, what countries/territories it would cover). The problem was, she never did. I kept reminding her and she kept promising and nothing happened. This dragged the project out un-necessarily for about a year- I wonder how many other reissue projects got scrapped or delayed because of this?

Finally, the inevitable happened- she left the BBC (or was probably fired for problems like this, I'm guessing). Liam Moore stepped in and even though we had to do the paper work all over again (she had lost everything we sent), he finally came through with a licensing agreement. Light at the end of the tunnel! Mr. Marcus (an early D5 booster) was nice enough to redo a piece from back in the day for the notes. We also thought to ask Jon Langford of the Mekons 'cause he was buddies with the group and actually played with them briefly. He liked the idea and immediately spilled some stories about a band member who had the hots for other bands. While that was amusing, I didn't really want those kind of sordid stories for the notes- I figured that would be better for D5's "Behind the Music" segment. His humorous recollections were scoffed at by the band at first. I begged them to reconsider and they eventually relented, deciding that Langford's notes would be an interesting contrast to Marcus' more serious thoughts.

And so, after two years of hair pulling, begging, cajoling and other fun things, a Delta 5 reissue is now coming out for the music world to enjoy. Erin and Slim were amazing in helping to make this happen as were the rest of the KRS crew including Tobi Vail and Maggie Vail. We all hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labors and that the D5 crew get the respect (and money) they deserve, especially in light of all the post-post-punk bands in the last few years that took the torch and ran with the sound.

After doing Kleenex, Logic, D5 plus Oh OK and DNA for other labels, I made an '06 resolution to cut down on reissue work and concentrate on writing and editing instead. That lasted about a week as a bunch of opportunities just came up again. Oh well. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Comanechi- warlike indeed

The Comanche were probably the most fierce Indian tribes in America. Not only did they not take any shit from the white settlers but they went to war with just about every other Indian tribe and made numerous raids into Mexico.

But that's not the same as Comanechi the band (is that "comin' at ye?"), though they're also fierce. They're a London guitar/drums duo but they're much more rabid than the White Stripes (if not as unhinged as Stella or Lighting Bolt). On their MySpace site, they label themselves as "alternative/punk/death metal" and as off-putting as it sounds, it's actually not too far off from the truth. To me, it also sounds like prime riot grrl territory (think Bikini Kill, L7) with some good grunge riffing (and occasionally, some surprising tunefulness) thrown in. And why wouldn't you be interested in a band that gives gruesome, quasi-religious live shows?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Tri-state locale music- Leadbelly & Yo La Tengo

One thing you have to admire about MP3 players is the random function that lets you create your own defacto radio station. What's even more curious is that when certain songs appear at certain times.

On a train going into the heart of the New Jersey suburbs, Yo La Tengo's "Detouring America With Horns" came on. Talk of 'enemies' and 'memories' in the lyrics fade into the dreamy singing and beautifully droning music- the perfect soundtrack as you blur past stretches of stand-alone homes and barren, winter trees. It's only appropriate that the music comes from NJ itself.

On a train that was about to come in NYC, I hear Leadbelly's "New York City" on my player. Nice timing again, eh? Though the legendary folkie used "Salt Lake City" and "Kansas City" as variations, this particular city ode has him adding in nice little touches like taking the bus up 5th avenue and catching a subway when the weather gets bad. He even goes to Georgia and Louisiana to sing Gotham's praises (and to say how tough it is there). His enthusiasm comes through with the "woooo" (almost like a train whistle) he adds on to many of the lines in the song. Among the Gotham anthems, this one shouldn't be forgotten. Indeed LB settled in NYC, after growing up in Louisiana and Texas (partly spending time in their correctional facilities). The song was part of his first major label session, recorded in... well, you know where.

Now I just need to hear a good song about Connecticut to pop up on my player the next time I go out there and I've got the tri-state hat trick.

On an immodest note, I finished my yearly round-up of best music journalism of 2005 for I'll leave my comments to the intro there but be warned that I've already started on my '06 list...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Charlie Poole and holiday hangovers

Stats say that during the holidays the suicide rate goes up and it's understandable. With all of the forced cheer, it starts to drive you crazy and wonder "why aren't I feeling THAT happy...?" Since the real meaning of any holiday spirit is usually drown in buying frenzies, that's just another reason to get depressed or feel like Scrooge. But one upshot of the season is that sometimes we do get to hear some decent music that it inspires. I don't mean all those anonymous choirs that sing the holiday hits endlessly in stores but some artists who try some variations on the usual sludge. I covered four recent CD's that fit the bill nicely for Seattle Weekly including Brian Wilson's wonderful What I Really Want for Christmas , a wonderfully bizarre Ze records compilation, a alt-country benefit for children's transplants and a Kosher nosh.

Another late '05 entry that's helped ease in the new year is the Charlie Poole box set You Ain't Talkin' To Me. You have every right to get P.O.'d at Sony for their rootkit mess but praise 'em for the wonderful package: worthy of Revenant Records, it comes in a mock cigar box with huge booklet. Along with Poole's fun, scrappy tunes, you get other contemporaries and precedents and influences. It's a fun history lesson for sure. You've probably seen this exotic little item propped up in your favorite store, wondering if you should take the plunge. You just bought an armful of presents for family and friends so trust your instincts and indulge yourself.