Something Completely Different

Original limericks by Reverb Raccoon

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There was a deer from Australia
Who developed a taste for azaleas
But he couldn’t find none
From Perth to Melbourne
So he caught the next plane for Georgia

Upon seeing the azaleas in bloom
The deer immediately plotted their doom
He munched dawn to dark
Stripping leaves from the bark
Til his stomach no longer had room

Then he lay on his side and complained
Of indigestion and acute gas pain
Said he, “It’s the worst
For my innards have burst
In this life I shall not remain!”

And thus the deer met Saint Peter
Just another dead over-eater
In his book the saint wrote,
“This deer’s now a ghost.
Cause of death: Azalea Fever.”

…..

Observed the Pope John Paul,
“With chapeau I am eight feet tall.
In the Vatican toilet
My privacy’s spoilt
For my hat shows o’er the top of the stall!”

…..

There was a brewer named Kevin
Whose lager was likened to Heaven
Once his yeast ran short
Yet he failed to abort
Which left Kevin’s Heaven unleavened

…..

A maiden whose yearnings were gay
Was debauched in the lesbian way
On completing the sin
The girl said to her friend
“My virginity has been miss-laid!”

…..

A cat of rural origin
Lived on a pasture’s margin
“I fear,” she prattled,
“The marauding cattle.”
So she packed up and moved to Sheboygen

…..

There was a man of poundage
Whose obesity knew no boundage
He tried to lose weight
But, alas, ’twas his fate
To remain in a state of rotoundage

…..

There was a man named Speagle
Who wished to marry a beagle
The judge said “No sir,
You can’t marry the cur.
For a wife on a leash is illegal!”

…..

My sister was living in Dover
When one night her spouse said “Roll over.”
To honor the junction
They let name follow function
The result was my nephew, Rover

…..

I knew a man from Senegal
Whose head hosted no hair a-tall
It was rumored he plucked it
Then carefully buffed it
With a mixture of varnish and Geritol

…..

There was a man who mistook
His wife for a short-order cook
She said, “You must can
Your mealtime demands,
Or for a new cook you will look!”

…..

A painter named Monet
Dropped his pallet one day
The resultant mess
Was a great success
Among those impressed by disarray

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Josaleigh Pollett – Strangers

a1475003449_10Josaleigh Pollett inscribes letters, never written or mailed but spoken aloud in a room without light, staring at an unseen wall, a glass half-empty of bourbon on the side table, messages to the departed, the estranged, the source of her ache. Strangers comprises eight of these missives.

The words are widely spaced, as if each requires a thought, a focus. The melodies are subtle, faintly rippling, undulating beneath a veil of wistful melancholy. The effect is in the same instant seductive, soothing, and disturbing. The gentle voice, backed by a slow acoustic guitar, can ease you into sleep. Unless you listen to the words. One may wonder how a 22 year old from Ogden, Utah has managed to experience, and endure, so much heartache. As in “Broken Glass” she sings, “My age is not the reason that I’m old.”

The title track tells us that estrangement is as close as your own bedroom, that souls can be separated by a thin glaze of whiskey on the lips.

“Nebraska” describes a relationship held apart by an expanse of flat earth that one party, but not the other, chose to cross.

The album’s eight songs are tied together by the common theme of being spoken to another, post-breakup, trying to bring poetic sense to the senselessness with which we live out our passions, our attractions, our emotional addictions.

We were fortunate to be able to “sit down with” Josaleigh for an email interview. Like her songs, her written responses reveal an honest simplicity, a devotion to reality…

RR: Is it fair to say that most of the songs on Strangers are about separation, estrangement, and failed relationships?

JP: Oh yes. Very fair. This entire record is about those three things specifically.

RR: Are they based on personal experiences? That’s is a lot of heartache for someone so young…

JP: Almost entirely. It is fair to say that heartache comes more naturally to me in the songwriting process than happiness. I’ve been through many more happy experiences and good days, but I rarely find inspiration in those to write about. They are more about being enjoyed at the moment they occur to me.

RR: Strangers was recorded by William Pollett. I assume you are related?

JP: Yes! I am lucky that my father went to audio engineering school when he was younger, and is able to help me a great deal in the recording process.

RR: Stalking you on Facebook, it looks like you finished recording Strangers on March 30 and had it up on Bandcamp four days later. Do you have any hesitations about engaging in such a “straight from my heart to your ears” process?

JP: While I love the big to-do that comes with getting excited, and the anticipation for a new record from a great band, I don’t have the backing to do that sort of thing. I had the songs, I had the artwork, and I had no intention of putting it through any sort of mastering process. I loved the sound that came from recording in the house I grew up in, and I was happy with it. Honestly, I was too excited to wait any longer.

RR: Browsing through Kickstarter and Bandcamp, we find no shortage of girls with acoustic guitars. What sets you apart from the others, and from the Ingrid Michaelsons, Rosie Thomases, and Cat Powers of the world?

JP: I worry about this question every day. I like to think that while these women are incredible musicians and songwriters, they aren’t regular people. They are magical and mysterious and I still don’t know anything about them, but I’m definitely going to buy Cat Power’s new albums every time. I really like to be honest, simple, and real in my songwriting as well as who am I as a person. I think people like being told the truth about performers. I just want to be someone writing simple songs about everyday things that people can relate to.

RR: Some musicians try to avoid the “folk” label. But you seem to embrace it…

JP: I grew up on Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens. I love the 60′s & 70′s folk scene because I was raised on it. I would be honored to consider myself remotely the same genre.

RR: As influences you list, among others, Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan Adams, Nina Nastasia, and Dark Dark Dark. It’s easy to find traces of Nina Nastasia and Dark Dark Dark in your music. But how do Kurt Vonnegut and Ryan Adams enter into it?

JP: Well I’m flattered that you hear those ladies in my work. The others are more by way of songwriting and story-telling. So much of my life has been spent letting Vonnegut books cheer me up, and Ryan Adams songs let me revel in my sadness. Every influence helps me to tell stories through my songs.

RR: What is your favorite Vonnegut work?

JP: Bluebeard is my favorite of his books, though I am also forever in love with Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions.

RR: Who has had the greatest influence on your guitar playing? I hear Neil Young…

JP: Neil Young has always been an influence to me in his guitar playing. It’s very simplistic yet extremely melodic. I also love Laura Marling’s playing, but I don’t feel I have her incredible skills on a fret board.

RR: I have to ask the corny equipment question: What guitar(s) do you use? I won’t do the whole Guitar Player thing and ask about the strings or the pick…

JP: For my recordings and most of my shows, I use my acoustic/electric Taylor. It’s my favorite that I’ve ever played, and doubt I’ll play anything else for many years.

RR: When you think “music,” Ogden is not the first city that comes to mind. Is there a music scene there that the rest of the world hasn’t discovered?

JP: The music scene in Ogden changes genres every few weeks. It’s very small and doesn’t come out of the garage very often. I love my fellow Ogden musicians, but it’s hard here to play shows as the only options for venues are bars first and foremost and sometimes have a stage. The city itself isn’t very accommodating to soft spoken singers like myself, so most of us just work our way into the Salt Lake scene.

RR: Have you thought about moving to a more established “folk friendly” town like Austin and trying to work with some of the established musicians and producers there?

JP: I have thought of Austin, but I’m actually moving to Seattle at the end of this month. I’m hoping I’ll find more inspiration and acceptance there. I’m also terrified of trying to break into a bigger music scene like theirs, though. It’s going to take some time, but I hope it will be worth it.

RR: Any plans or desires to work with a band?

JP: I absolutely love working with a full band, but I’ve just only ever had time to be a solo artist. I end up writing and playing songs very early in the morning before work or school, and the time to rehearse with a band just never seemed plausible. I’m hoping to find more time in my new city. I think a full band adds a feeling that you can never achieve as a solo artist.

RR: If you could pick two songs to appear in this review, what would you choose and why? I like “Strangers” and “Nebraska….”

JP: Then let’s go with those two! They are actually the two oldest on the album. I wrote them over a year ago, and the others have been in the last six months. I feel like they’ve had the most time to grow and develop into songs I love playing. I’m the most comfortable performing them, and I think that makes them more accessible and easier to listen to.

RR: Why has Nebraska inspired so many songs? Why doesn’t South Dakota get more attention?

JP: Such a good question, and I wish I had an answer. I think maybe because it’s so damn flat and boring. You HAVE to be creative and passionate when passing through there or you’d go crazy!

RR: If you could sing a duet with anyone, who would it be? And what song would you choose

JP: I would have to say Jason Molina. Even though he’s passed away, his songs inspire me in a way that is so heart-wrenching and good. I doubt I could finish singing a song without bursting into tears with him. I’d have to choose the song “Leave the City.”

RR: Is there any particular song that you have always wanted to cover?

JP: I’ve lately been wanting to cover a Chvrches song called “Gun.” It’s insanely catchy and electronic and pop-gooey goodness, and I’d love to just slow it way down and sing it like I mean it. It’s a great song.

RR: Define “success” for you as a musician. Are you on track to achieve it?

JP: Success with music to me is being able to make it my day job. I’d love to tour and write more and sell enough records to get me to the next city. I hope I’m on the right track! I think a new city will help a lot, but we’ll just have to wait and see!

RR: And finally, do you have any last words for Reverb Raccoon’s vast hoard of music-loving readers?

JP: I just want to say thank you for reading and thank you for sharing my music and silly thoughts all over the place!

Thanks, Josaleigh. Those were great answers. You made me feel like I was asking the right questions!

Strangers is available for streaming or download on Bandcamp. Be sure to check out Josaleigh’s previous album, Salt, released in 2012. And don’t forget to join Josaleigh on Facebook and Twitter.

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Feral Conservatives – A D

ADFull disclosure: The first time I visited Feral Conservatives’ Bandcamp page, and saw that the “band” is a little girl with an electric mandolin and a badass-looking guy on drums, I thought “Oh god this is gonna suck.” I anticipated some sort of lo-fi noise rock that was more screech-n-feedback than music.

That was before I listened to Breaks and Mends, the band’s first LP, released in 2012 and reviewed here last year. Not only did the album Not Suck, it was Fantastic. Drummer Matt Francis contributes guitar and keyboards. Rashie Rosenfarb, the little girl with the mandolin, adds bass and keyboards and has a major voice. She can whisper sweet nothings on one track, then give you a proper ass-thrashing on the next. Together, Feral Conservatives created a highly listenable and engaging vista of rock, pop, folk and, yes, a little noise here and there.

Our Feral Friends have been back in the studio, recording new tracks produced and engineered by Mae bassist Mark Padgett. The first songs, “Wait For Me,” and “Complacent” have been released under the title A D.

“Wait For Me” begins softly, with a wistful mandolin figure behind Rashie’s equally wistful voice. Then, borne along by Matt’s drums, the song builds to an emotionally powerful wall of rock.

First impressions: “Wait For Me” represents a major advance beyond Breaks and Mends. The songwriting, arranging, and musicianship have matured and improved more than I would have expected. They accomplished a lot more in 2013 than I did, that’s for sure. But the true revelation here is Rashie’s voice. She is capturing an even broader range of nuances and dynamics than she displayed on Breaks and Mends, changing tone and inflection line-by-line. I am no longer thinking “God this is gonna suck.” I am thinking “God how can anyone this amazingly talented be practically unknown?” This is the best singer you have never heard of. Pardon the stranded preposition.

“Complacent,” featured in the band’s new video, comes across as a straight-ahead rocker. But the tempo shifts, key changes, and lengthy bridge highlight the track’s Intelligent Design.

Feral Conservatives have been touring steadily this year, playing dates on the East Coast from New York to Norfolk. We were lucky to “catch up” with Matt and Rashie, via the internet, for an email interview. You will notice that they write a lot better than I do.

Reverb: “Wait For Me” sounds completely different from anything on Breaks and Mends. Was this a conscious turn, or just a natural evolution?

Rashie: I think the fact that the songs sounding different from anything we’ve done before is a completely natural occurrence. We’ve been writing a lot since Breaks and Mends and the new songs have really shaped who we are as a band and the sound we are going for.

Matt: Playing more shows, and our energy live and almost using the mandolin as this pedaled-out garage rock component — partially to add weight to it as the single rhythm instrument in that setting — sort of naturally dictated that turn. I love that about our mandolin sound; it can capture the jangle of its natural timbre, or we can crank it up and match the personality of an electric guitar when we need that power.

Of course, we do have acoustic and slower moments on the new album. I’m also pressing Rashie for another piano ballad!

Reverb: I’m completely blown away by Rashie’s singing. Her mastery of dynamics has improved since Breaks and Mends. There just seems to be a greater range and depth of emotion present. Was it always there, just waiting for the right song to bring it out?

Rashie: I feel like my singing has gotten stronger as time has gone by. I’ve worked hard on playing around with tones, figuring out how to control my voice to its advantage and just practicing every day. When I record a song I try to really feel the emotion behind the lyrics and feed off of that to produce the passion within the song. It’s something I’ll always be working on of course.

Reverb: Corny interviewer’s question: Who are your main influences?

Rashie: I have been influenced by a few 90′s female singers such as Tanya Donelly, lead sing of Belly, Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, and Harriet Wheeler, lead singer of The Sundays. I love how they use their beautiful voices to sing over these more darker sounding songs and go from soft and airy to aggressive within a song. I am also influenced by Joni Mitchell in her album Blue and I love what Imogen Heap can do with her voice. She adds so much to her music in background vocals and using her voice to fill out a song in different sounds and harmonies.

And I have to say Paul Westerberg is one of my biggest influences in how he sings his songs. There is so much emotion behind his voice. He has a way of just capturing the mood behind a song and how he felt during the moment of whatever it is he is singing about.

Reverb: I understand you two are engaged. Will we be hearing some sappy love songs on the album?

Rashie: Well, I did actually write one kind of quirky love song a little before we got engaged, but we’ll see if it makes the cut or not. We’re both very happy together but our best written songs seem to come from more of a sadder side of things for some reason. And as a band I think we both gravitate towards that side of song writing.

Matt: The first song we release as a band since the announcement: “How is love supposed to feel?” Ha ha.

Reverb: Tell us about working with Mark Padgett…

Rashie: Mark is such an easy guy to work with and a positive energy in the studio. He always listens to any idea you may have and gives you the chance to try it out and see where it may go, but he’ll also give out good advice on his own. He has a really great ear for tone and I think that was something we really needed in an engineer. He was able to bring out the best in us. We’re looking forward to working with him again.

Matt: That’s the nice thing about working as a duo: if you find the right engineer, it’s sort of the final collaborative piece and you can rely on a two/thirds voting system. Things were fairly relaxed, and I felt like we all got a quick feel for our individual sonic preferences and how to reel people in as needed. I say that because I was the one needing to be reeled in; I would’ve ran everything through a fuzz pedal if I could’ve. There was a lot of “Okay, Matt…” but that push and pull is always interesting to me and I think it shakes us all up a bit. I could add little noisy, garage elements where Mark wouldn’t be inclined to include them — sort of that textural grit — and he in turn makes us sound good so people can listen to us without all my lo-fi-credibility indulgences.

Reverb: When can we expect the completed album?

Rashie: We’re not sure about when the next album will be finished. We’re looking at recording two more songs soon and releasing them together like we did with A D and then recording the rest later this year, at some point and putting all the songs together as the next album. We’re hoping to release it towards the end of the year.

Reverb: Will the album be named A D?

Matt: We just called the single A D, for no real reason, other than it sounded epic, like a new beginning, like this is when FC’s started. And really it is just a chord progression “Wait For Me” and “Complacent” coincidentally shared, so it’s kind of just a joke between us.

Reverb: You’ve played a lot of clubs in the last year. How has the reception been? What do people think when a little blond girl with an electric mandolin steps out?

Rashie: People’s responses have been very positive and we’ve made some connections with people along the way. I’m not sure what people think when they see me with my mando on stage. A lot of people say, “Hey, that’s a cool little tiny guitar you’ve got there.” I tend to be more of a reserved person when I’m not performing on stage and I think that comes out when it comes to actually doing any banter into the mic. Matt says I come off as “too cute.” But then I’ll turn around and scream and jump around during a song.

Reverb: To what extent is your faith reflected in your music?

Rashie: There is definitely an underlined tone in some of our songs that has to do with our faith. We actually have a couple new songs that may be on the next album about it. Most of what we write about on that subject is our struggle with who God is or if He even exists or listens to us. I think a lot of it is a frustration or struggle with faith and negative experiences with people through are lives that have hurt that side in us.

Matt: Going back to the engagement question as well — contentment (or being “Complacent” – ha!) doesn’t grab me like its opposite. A lot of my writing tends to come from that point of being disenfranchised, setting up the underdog, the good fight, fight for change. With any faith, or any sort of framework for universal order short of Nhilism, it’s easy to feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick. That’s compelling to me — all theologies have to cross the same hurdles of human evil and a corrupt world. It’s also interesting how conservative Christianity is the institution we were raised in, so there’s that natural component of cranking up the amps and kicking against the institution, the Man, while finding your own way within it — simultaneously being nurtured within that community and burned by your own expectations versus life’s realities. It’s the same questions man has faced for centuries — is that interesting? Or terribly boring/inept as artistry? How we pit our twenty-something years of experience — that’s arrogance — against a thousand years of tradition… it’s the journey we’re on. I know that much.

Thank you, Feral Conservatives! Those were great answers. This blog is a lot easier to create when the subjects write it for you!

A D and Breaks and Mends are available for streaming or download on Bandcamp.  And join Feral Conservatives on their website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

BONUS TRACK: “Captivated” the beautiful piano ballad from Breaks and Mends.

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Donald and Jack – Sad Covers

artworks-000072387230-374pk0-t200x200“You don’t write about popular music. You write about unpopular music.” – Anonymous

Donald and Jack, by any and all of the usual standards, are Unpopular. Not unpopular in the sense of having been evaluated, and rejected by, the Great Unwashed or Washed Masses of the listening pubic. But unpopular in the sense of being completely unknown.

The slimy kid who hunches over his notebook in the back of the class, and who disses and is dissed by the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebees, and bigheads is unpopular by social evaluation. The kid who is home schooled, isolated in the socio-plastic bubble of his parents’ paranoia, is unpopular due to his total anonymity. He may be a perfectly nice kid, but no one will ever know. Thus Donald and Jack.

Donald and Jack are Eric Bartholow (all instruments and vocals) and Gary Hudach (songwriting and dreams), two factory workers from Youngstown, Ohio. They labor in musical anonymity, assembling startlingly wonderful songs and setting them adrift on the Sea of the Internet.

Last year Reverb Raccoon had the good fortune to stumble over Sad Guitars, Donald and Jack’s 5-song EP. In my review I wrote, “The most notable aspect of the album lies in the overdubbed harmonies. Eric may have limited experience in recording music, but he has obviously figured out how to arrange and record vocals. Layered over the sparse backing tracks, the harmonies evoke a Rust Belt version of the Beach Boys, what Brian Wilson may have produced if he actually had to work for a living.”

Taking that cue, Donald and Jack covered The Beach Boys’ “In My Room.” The track does not aspire to the technical perfection of the original. But it conveys a grittiness that was beyond Brian Wilson’s experience. This is not a person who has built a giant sand box in his living room and deposited a grand piano in the middle, where he sits barefoot pounding his feet into the sand and noodling nonsense. This room has a television, pictures of the wife and kids on an end table, maybe a guitar on the couch. It is a room where someone takes a hard inward look at his life before driving back to work.

The results of that inward look are revealed in a cover of the Beatles’ “In My Life.” We hear a man who is shaped by his past, not haunted by it, and who embraces the present. We have all heard this song a million times. And yet here it sounds fresh, infused with a sense of reality and honesty that the Beatles rarely captured. Let’s face it: John and Paul were great musicians and songwriters, but genuine emotion was not their strong suit. Their sentiments were always expressed from the other side of the room, with just a hint of cynicism.

We “sat down with” Eric Bartholow to learn more about Donald and Jack, and their willingness to take on the works of some of the greatest musicians of our time…

RR: Tell us how “In My Room” and “In My Life” came about…

EB: The Beach Boys cover came about because of your very own words when you called me a Rust Belt Brian Wilson. I have always been a Beach Boys fan. I didn’t realize the true genius of Brian Wilson. Brian’s work is truly amazing. I told Gary that I wanted to cover a Beach Boys song on our Donald & Jack Soundcloud page. He suggested a song from the album Pet Sounds. I wanted to cover an earlier song so I chose “In My Room.” I wanted to have it start out as the harmonies from the Smile song “Our Prayer” and go right into “In My Room.” I soon found out it was beyond my current abilities to sing all of the harmonies of “Our Prayer.” I was bummed out but happy with how “In My Room” came out.

The Beatles song was brought up by Gary. I was going to do “A Day In The Life” but Gary suggested “In My Life.” I thought it fit in with the Donald & Jack sound. I was worried about covering a song by one the best, if not the best, bands of all time. People on Soundcloud seem to like it so I am a little relieved. I gained a new respect for the Beatles after covering “In My Life.” It sounds like a simple song but it isn’t.

RR: Your version of “In My Room” has a bit of grit that the original lacks. I guess that is the difference between northeast Ohio and southern California. Is that by design, or is it just natural?

EB: On “In My Room” I slowed the tempo a bit on purpose to change the feel. It does have a grit that the original lacks. I guess it is just naturally there. I really felt a connection to that song. I feel about my music room the same way that Brian Wilson feels about his room.

RR: When you did the covers, and also when you did the D & J originals, did you chart out the various parts before you started? Or did you just start adding things until it sounded “finished?”

EB: When I set out to record something I usually have a general idea what I want to accomplish. I play around on my acoustic guitar or on my keyboard with a piano sound to get a general feel for the song. I’ll play the chord progressions and sometimes I can create a melody line by doing that. A lot of times I’ll play like that and something else will pop in my mind. I don’t chart out the songs, I just kinda wing it.

RR: Before you start, can you hear it all in your head?

EB: When I’m working on a song it is like a radio is on in my head playing over and over. I wake up with the song in my head and go to sleep with it still there.

RR: Here’s a personal question: how would you evaluate your own talent? I would rank your talent above that of many who have been more “successful” (by the usual measures of “success”). Would you care to comment on that?

EB: I hate to compare myself with others. Everyone is so different with their talents and abilities. There is always room for personal improvement. I know that I am a late bloomer. My parents say I was late to walk (18 months)! I didn’t take a step then fall. I walked all the way across the room. I was late to talk as well. I didn’t say one word at a time. I began speaking full sentences. I think I just like to do things on my own terms when I’m ready. I think the best has yet to come.

RR: Any new D & J songs on the horizon?

EB: I put a new Donald & Jack song called “Dreamers” on Soundcloud today. It’s a bit of a departure from our other work. It’s a satirical look at our lives right now. It talks about how hard it is to be an artist with all the competition in music and also social outlets. I like the idea of going on a carousel feeling like you’re going somewhere, but you’re not. We watch stats of how our music is doing and sometimes it’s pretty dismal. I take the listener musically on a carousal ride. It’s inspired by the Idora Park Carousel that is now in Brooklyn Bridge Park, NY. The carousel is now called Jane’s Carousel. Idora Park closed here in Youngstown in 1984.

RR: Has it been a rough winter up there?

EB: Winter has been rough up here in northeast Ohio. More snow today. Yippee!

Thanks, Eric! More sad covers and original songs by Donald and Jack can be streamed on SoundcloudSad Guitars is available on Bandcamp and CD Baby. And be sure to join Donald and Jack on Facebook and Twitter.  Or email the band at donaldandjack@gmail.com.

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The Sweets – Greatest Hits

sweets-bandThe Sweets Greatest Hits is a wonderful lo-fi mess of hooks, stuck-in-your-head melodies, reverby guitars, and wistful energy. But through the hum, hiss, and distortion, you hear, feel, and enjoy the unique creativity that drives The Sweets.

The Sweets are brothers Zach and Justin of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Their last name may be Romano (as reported by Chunky Glasses), or it may be Romaro (according to The Morning After). Or they may be Justin Hrabovsky and Zach Romeo, the credits listed on at least two of their EPs. Whatever; names don’t mean much to these guys. After all, they borrowed their band’s name from an old Soultown girl group. In January 2013, Zach and Justin set out to release an EP every month for a year. The effort produced around 50 songs, all given away through free downloads. Eighteen of the best tracks were gathered into Greatest Hits.

Warning: the cover art for most of the EPs features startlingly naked women. As in, “Don’t open these pages at the office using the company network in a Muslim country like I did.” But if you insist, click here for a collection of 2013 EP covers. So… We thank The Sweets for Free Music and Boobs! Woo-hoo!

With the help of the internet, we “caught up with” Zach and/or Justin for an email interview. We were joined by Milkshake, the cat that became famous for her insightful reviews of The Loomis Fargo Gang and Newglads’ “Make Believe.”

Reverb Raccoon: I know your names are Zach and Justin. Do you have a last name?

The Sweets: We were never very good at riddles.

RR: Your goal was to release an EP every month in 2013. Did you succeed?

TS: We mostly succeeded. We had 12 releases, although near the end of the year they weren’t released as much on a month-to-month schedule. We’re more excited about having 4 physical releases coming out [on Bleeding Gold Records and Goodbye Boozy Records] in the first 4 months of 2014. The Bleeding Gold 7” will be out in March. The Goodbye Boozy 7” will be either April or May. We also have another cassette coming out on Bleeding Gold this week. It’s the second split cassette with our buddies Petey. We’ve been trying to stay busy.

RR: Last year you were both still in school. Is that still the situation? What are you studying?

TS: Zach is a film student at NYU and Justin studies Music Technology at UNC Asheville.

Milkshake: The Food Guy’s kitten went to NYU! We were all eating cheap cat food back then!

TS: We’re still in school, which makes it hard to play live frequently since we’re kind of spread out geographically. But every break we make sure to get together and play some shows, even if they’re just around NC.

RR: Can you describe your collaboration and recording process?

TS: One of us will start a demo of a song, and then we will send the project files back and forth to one another using Dropbox. It’s great to have that as a resource. The Sweets would not exist without the internet. Although, our best songs have definitely been written with the two of us in the same place.

MS: My favorite songs on Greatest Hits are “Coupe Deville,” “Paint On My Hands,” and “Come Back, Sweet Thing.”

TS: Thanks Milkshake!

MS: How would you describe the songs if you were one of those “I have 5000 CDs under my bed but have never been with a non-inflatable woman” bloggers?

TS: We’ve sadly never been very good at describing our own music. Although if anyone is collecting thousands of CDs while having sex with an inflatable women, that would be a pretty interesting blog. Vice would eat that shit up.

MS: Maybe the Food Guy can do it. He fits the profile.

RR: Milkshake, you know I don’t have 5000 CDs under my bed. I had to move them out after you bought all those Iron Butterfly 8-tracks at the garage sale. And I haven’t been able to inflate Elly since you used her as a scratching post. So guys: do you use other musicians on your recordings or is it just the two of you?

TS: On all of our recordings from 2013 it was just us two. On our two upcoming 7’’s through Bleeding Gold Records and Goodbye Boozy Records, though, we have our entire band playing with us. We play as a four piece live with our friends Justin on bass and Danner on drums.

MS: How did you record the drum tracks on the EPs?

TS: Only 4 songs on Greatest Hits have live drums (“Red Nose,” “Honky,” “I Know I Know,” and “West”). Those were recorded pretty poorly with a single overhead mic. The other songs all use drum machines. Our 7”s have live drums, though.

RR: Is there a fine line between “Lo-Fi as a virtue” and “Lo-Fi as a detriment?”

TS: We like the “Lo-Fi” sound, but we never record with the mindset of “Let’s make this sound ‘lo-fi!’” It has more to do with the equipment we record on and how we record. We do all of our writing, recording, producing, and engineering ourselves. We’ve never been recorded in a designated recording studio; all of our recordings have been done in basements, garages, bedrooms, and dorm rooms. Our most recent recordings have been done using a 4-track Tascam Portastudio tape recorder from the early 90s, which I guess contributes to our recordings sounding “Lo-fi.”

RR: Like many musicians, you are releasing music on cassettes. What is behind the resurgence in a medium that most of us were happy to declare dead?

TS: We think cassettes are great. Of course, personally, we collect vinyl much more, but I would say that the biggest reason for the resurgence of cassettes is that they are much cheaper to produce, and therefore cheaper to sell to people. It’s a nice medium for music fans to be able to own a physical copy of music they like, without having to shell out extra money for vinyl. Plus, most physical music now comes with a download code so people get the best of both worlds. There’s definitely a nostalgia going around for physical music now that mp3s and streaming online have essentially become the standard for how the general population hears music.

RR: Is there such a thing as a “Winston-Salem Sound?”

TS: There is no such thing as a specific “Winston-Salem Sound.” Growing up, all of the high school bands in the area were shitty “folk” artists attempting to be the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. There seems to be a growing appreciation for garage rock, though, as evidenced by the lineup for the Winston-Salem music festival, Phuzz Phest, at which we are playing alongside some awesome artists, like White Fence and Diarrhea Planet. But we really appreciate artists like The dB’s, who came from Winston-Salem around the time power pop became popular (post Big Star). It’s really cool to us that people from Winston, such as Chris Stamey from The dB’s, got to work with Alex Chilton, who is a big influence of ours.

MS: On some of your songs you sound sad, like I get on a cold day when the squirrels and chipmunks won’t come out to play. Like you are thinking about when you were in high school and how it would be nice to go home and play with the other kittens again.

TS: We never specifically set out to create a song with a “melancholy mood” so to speak. Sometimes it just happens that way. I’d say the sound of whatever song we’re writing at the time tends to come out of whatever we’re listening to at the time.

MS: I like the video for “She Says.” Some big kittens playing with a ball. Are those your littermates?

TS: Thanks! We like it too. It gave us a reason to play catch. They are our littermates.

RR: Who should I start listening to?

TS: Listen to our buddies Petey and Aunt Sis! Some of our favorite artists, in no specific order, include: The Velvet Underground, Big Star, The Strokes, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Kanye West, Real Estate, The Modern Lovers, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3, Os Mutantes, The Feelies, Devendra Banhart… the list goes on and on.

MS: You guys are still kittens! How did you have time to absorb so many influences?

TS: Yeah, I suppose we are! Our ages range from 19 to 21. We’ve just always loved music.

MS: The Food Guy says the influence of The Velvet Underground skipped a generation. He likes to say things like that. What does he mean?

TS: The Velvet Underground has influenced nearly every artist worth listening to since their beginning. Maybe in some cases it has been less noticeable, but it’s still there nonetheless. We <3 them.

RR: What are your goals for 2014?

TS: Setting up a legitimate tour in the States.

MS: Do the ladies on your album covers have mange? Because they have lost all of their fur!

TS: We never asked them!

RR: And finally, what message would you like to send to Reverb Raccoon’s vast hoard of loyal readers?

TS: Start calling beers “froth puppies” and saying the phrase “yes, daddy” to your friends and loved ones.

MS: Who writes better reviews, me or the Food Guy?

TS: We just like anyone that gives us food. I think we share that in common!

Thanks a lot to The Sweets for a fantastic interview! Join Zach and Justin on Facebook and Twitter. Download The Sweets Greatest Hits and other EPs on Bandcamp.

And be sure to download their latest EP with Petey, Regis Philbin / Zing Zang. Or order the cassette from Bleeding Gold records. Or get both! Yes, Daddy!

BONUS VIDEO – “She Says” by The Sweets!

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Wormbag – Ooo Baby Baby

I have seen post-grunge alt-folk country dream pop future and its name is Wormbag.

avatars-000059678527-1v0zom-t500x500Wormbag slammed into the Portland music scene in 2012. The following year they arrived near the bottom of Willamette Week’s Best New Band poll of music industry insiders, barely edging out Bone Voyagists, a band without a documented existence, and inspiring the famous remark by writer Matthew Singer: “It’s befuddling that a band signed to the venerable Snot Boogie label, with song titles like ‘Never Play an Acoustic Set’ and ‘Sucka Nuts,’ wouldn’t receive more votes, but then, some of our ‘music insiders’ are just more inside than others.”

Following that auspicious genesis, Wormbag’s Facebook page has racked up an astonishing 319 “likes” plus 1 “talking about this.”

Like most Portlanders, Wormbag is concerned with environmental issues. But they do not blindly follow the eco-party line. In “Crop Duster” they maintain that the critical element in mankind’s survival is not the reversal of anthropogenic climate change, but soil conservation.

If you’ve got no mud, well then you’ve got no trees
If you’ve got no trees, well then – pffft – you can’t breath

One really cannot summarize the issue in simpler terms.

The band’s social consciousness extends right up to the schoolhouse door.  In “The Jackson Three” (a possible reference to three Jackson, Mississippi elementary school teachers who were fired for supporting the right of male students who self-identify as female to use the girls’ restroom), the band spells out, literally, a scathing indictment of our underfunded and overpraised K-12 educational-industrial complex.

But Wormbag is more than Issues and Answers. “Death March” is a rollicking rockabilly romp that summons the ghost of Charlie Feathers, tempered with the poignancy of a Patsy Cline torch ballad. “Had the blues since the day I was born,” lead singer Nate shares with us, “and the doctor smacked me on my ass.”

The three-piece power trio (or two-piece noise-rock duo, depending on which online profile you prefer) self-describes as “poor rock.” It has been reported that their most expensive piece of equipment, the drum kit, cost only $150. And on December 14, 2013, they noted on their Facebook page that they finally completed a show without something breaking. But, given their low overhead, if Wormbag’s current upward trajectory continues they should be edging into profit by Q4 2016.

Wormbag has 5 songs available for free download on Reverb Nation. Their 16-song self-titled LP is available for streaming on Soundcloud. Join Wormbag on Facebook. And be sure to “Like” them.

BONUS VIDEO: Wormbag performing live at Burgerville as the oppressed workers behind the counter continue to serve their capitalist pig masters by pushing grease-laden burgers onto the already-obese proletariat masses. Hell yeah!

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