I bought a fancy new camera not too long ago, and I’ve started, with no small amount of timidity, to take photos at the shows I’ve been going to. I haven’t managed to wean myself off the camera’s automatic settings (I was signed up to take a photography class but got sick when the date rolled around), nor have I gotten over the weirdness of moving through the crowd and putting myself directly in front of a performer, but I’m enjoying the learning process and I thought I’d share a few shots I took of the Trillions at last night’s RVA Playlist birthday party at the Camel. Hope you dig ’em.
Some things are hard to measure. Like peanut butter. Have you ever tried to measure out a half cup of peanut butter? It sticks to the spoon on the way in, it sticks to your finger when you try to level the top to see if you’ve got the right amount, it sticks to your measuring cup, and just for fun, it sticks to your finger again when you try to get it out. Sure you can heat your measuring cup with warm water before getting started, but c’mon. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Just as hard to measure — for slightly different reasons, I suppose — is the effect that Andrew Cothern has had on Richmond’s music scene.
A little while back, I posted about J Clyde — the Norfolk-based producer who’s dropping a beat a day throughout 2014. If you’ve been following along, you might have noticed an especially nasty, Breaking Bad-themed track that came out on April 26. Take a listen below:
J Clyde — “Didn’t I (Breaking Bad)” [Soundcloud/Bandcamp]
Upon listening again the other day, with a little more distance from Breaking Bad’s final episode, I was surprised by how nostalgic I was getting about the show. I was so moved I sent him the following email:
Wednesday was a good day. Ridiculously good. In rapid succession, I got to hear three amazing new albums, leaving me feel deliriously lucky and frankly a little spoiled. Like Veruca Salt, only without the tantrums and the dangerous drop down a chute designed for golden eggs.
On a trip to the Outer Banks weekend before last, Mrs. YHT and I managed to HBO Go our way through the entire first season of True Detective. Have you seen it? Parts are hard to stomach, but overall it’s pretty damn fantastic, thanks in no small part to Matthew McConaughey’s character — a brilliant-but-damaged fish-out-of-water detective nicknamed “Rust” with a penchant for philosophical self-torture and a belief that “human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.” He’s part deep South and part deep end, somehow managing to feel authentically in the dirt and in the clouds at the same time. I can’t remember a character like him, nor can I imagine a better spirit animal for the album I became enamored with a few days after Mrs. YHT and I got back from the beach.
This is the first I’ve heard of Sturgill Simpson, and I might not have taken notice had it not been for NPR’s First Listen and the album’s name (which I love): Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Ray Charles’ classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is one of the more frequently spun records at YHT headquarters, and Simpson’s twist was intriguing: Country music about country music. Now, I didn’t grow up listening to country, and the listening I’ve done in recent years hasn’t been comprehensive enough to chase away the feeling that there are allusions and in-jokes lurking in these 10 tracks that I’m not wise to — details that would lend additional credence to the “meta” piece of the title. The genre-bending aspects of the album — nuggets of psychedelia like fuzz, drug references, heavy reverb and panning sounds so they travel from your left headphone to your right and back again — feel plenty meta though, showing a desire to poke holes in the membrane that separates country from other styles. That said, there’s a meta moment that hits even closer to home for me, and while it comes and goes quickly, it shows how one tiny detail can open a whole other set of considerations, like a wormhole leading to another universe.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there! Special shouts to my wife, who will be a mom in just a few short months, and my mom, who reads this blog and has always inspired me to be the best version of myself that I could be.
(Side note: Sound Opinions recently interviewed Family Stone members Oscar Songs and Lydia Loveless. Really interesting stuff. Listen here.)
Sly and the Family Stone — “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” [Spotify/iTunes]
It’s not every day you get you chat about music with someone whose album is on your reigning Top 10 list. Someone who just finished playing Letterman and Conan. Someone who has insider knowledge of how Twix are made. I mean, c’mon.
I had that opportunity in March, when I talked over the phone with J. Roddy Walston for West End’s Best magazine. I haven’t gotten my hands on a hard copy yet, but I’m going to horde at least five, because this was a real treat. Get pumped for his Saturday show at the National and his May 30 show at Friday Cheers by taking a look here.
J. Roddy Walston & the Business — “Black Light” [Spotify/iTunes]
When I was learning how to play guitar, I played a lot of Nirvana. Part of that was the timing — I was born in 1983 and picked up the instrument in middle school. The other part was the songs’ simplicity. Power chords, power chords, and more power chords. Three notes at a time? I could handle that. In fact, my first band was a duo that played pretty much nothing but Nirvana and Foo Fighters (we never made it out of my friend’s basement, but some glorious noise was made).
The irony is that while Nirvana may be perfect fodder for beginner guitarists, they’re an incredibly difficult band to cover. People do it, and some do it well, but it’s a tall order. That’s because both ends of the faithful-inventive cover continuum are boobytrapped. If you try to perform “Scentless Apprentice” exactly like Nirvana did, chances are you’re never going to match the throat-tearing, cymbal-smashing, strangely disaffected intensity of the original. Missing by just a little — not giving enough or screaming like an unhinged maniac — holds dire consequences (“dire” may be a bit overdramatic — you’d just be stuck with a smattering of awkward, tepid applause). Just as perilous is the idea of tinkering with a Nirvana song to put your own stamp on it. There’s a paradoxical quality to the emotional impact Cobain’s songs had. While the feelings he expressed were nuanced, with shades of depression, alienation, sarcasm and anger, his delivery was extremely visceral. Primal. Hovering just north of the human-subhuman dividing line. So jazzing up a Nirvana song — pouring intellect into something that’s nearly bestial — risks overcomplicating beauty that originated in a more basic place.
It’s a tiny sweet spot to hit, which is why Charles Bradley’s cover of “Stay Away” strikes me as so special.
Remember when the video above was on People.com? I do. I loved it. Even though I went to the University of Richmond, I love the Peppas. They do a killer job, whether they’re serenading NASCAR fans in the rain or ratcheting up the excitement at the Siegel Center, and the added touch of pumping Miley Cyrus’ voice in through the PA before blasting the chorus one more time is just outstanding. I get goosebumps when I watch that video — I really do.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy Richmond’s pep band. Just this past season, I had the chance to take my mom to her very first live basketball game, and I made sure to brag about how our pep band’s director is David Hood from No BS! Brass Band. I even pointed him out, like you would a local celebrity or athlete who is poised become a big deal out of town as well. Plus, the recent Robins Center renovations have them repositioned in the center of the student section (they used to be tucked away in a corner at court level) — an improvement that vastly increases the band’s atmospheric influence. Will that result in a “Wrecking Ball”-type video in the future? With Hood at the helm, I wouldn’t rule it out.
So why am I talking about pep bands? A couple days ago, UR’s athletics department sent me a survey asking about the experience I had at the games I attended last season, and while I was most excited to complain about the food, everything changed when I got to this question:
They didn’t ask for a blog post, but they’re gonna get one.