Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Chris Hickey allows access to his songwriting process with Razzmatazz

March 24, 2010

I have always been fascinated by the idea of artistic output. I want to leave behind a set of things that people look back on and say, “Ah, that’s what he did.” Authors get to put books on a shelf. Musicians take up significant space on people’s iPods or CD books (I still have a CD book. It is a monster). Visual artists leave their works all over the world, inadvertently creating a massive scavenger hunt for the mouth-breathing faithful.

Overall output is impressive to me, like the 20 Mountain Goats albums, dozens of books by John Piper, or prodigious output of some visual artists. But contained output has been an obsession of mine as well. That’s where Chris Hickey’s Razzmatazz comes in. These sixteen songs were “written and recorded (on a hand-held digital recorder) by Chris Hickey in March, 2009 as part of a song-a-day undertaking.” Which means there were probably more where these came from, but I’ll be glad with what I’ve got.

Each of these songs but one features nothing but Chris Hickey’s voice and an acoustic guitar. No overdubs, no cuts. This is pure, unadulterated songwriting. There is nowhere to hide, no room to polish, no time to make the lyrics perfect or craft a perfect bridge to finish out the song. This is a picture of how a songwriter writes. And it is absolutely fascinating.

These songs hover around a minute and a half, with the two longest at two and a half. They somewhat apply to pop structures, although Hickey has no problem destroying rhythm to get a point across. The most memorable instance of this is the hilarious moment on “Kerouac” where he repeats a chord for ten seconds so he can cram about twenty extra syllables into a single line. It’s understandable to me; since he doesn’t have a lot of time to polish his lyrics, the words and rhythms come out raw and unusual. His unedited thoughts and rhythms make this album the fascinating thing that it is.

The songs themselves are as simple as you imagine they would be if you had to write one every day. There are often no more than two parts to a song, and some of them only have one guitar part with different sung parts over it. They generally fall between Jack Johnson pop and Josh Radin folk; there’s lots of fingerpicking and gentle strumming, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. It’s a thoroughly mellow collection of tunes, and it’s great accompaniment for driving on a sunny day.

There are some high highs and low lows, due to the constraints of writing one a day. “Down” is a beautiful, memorable song with a great chorus. “Down a Long Haul” has a jaunty vibe to it that puts a grin on my face. “Shine” is the most complete of all the songs, with full chorus and verses. “Soft Sell” has a gentle groove and benefits from the aforementioned excellent lyrics. The speak-sung, charming “Places to Go” is the highlight of the album, as it is suitably unique, relatable, poppy, and interesting.

There are some entirely weird tracks, like a cappella closer “What You Are,” the out-of-character “A Man is Rich,” and the awkward rhythms of “Nothing is Real.” But those tracks are overshadowed by the excellent tracks.

Razzmatazz is a fascinating, entertaining, engrossing album that allows access to the unfiltered workings of a musician’s writing process. It’s almost like watching an artist paint or a sculptor sculpt. It’s that interesting. Get this if you’re a fan of fingerpicked folk or gentle acoustic pop.

Happy 7th Birthday to us, pt 2: FREE MP3s!

May 18, 2010

…we have the tunes that keep you movin’.

We here at Independent Clauses have covered music for years, but we’ve never put any music into the world. This is a problem that we are fixing right now. We are releasing for your ears’ delight, Independent Clauses, vol. 1: Our Friends are All Freaking Awesome. Seeing as this is our first time releasing music, we’ve got a few kinks to work out and a few curves to learn. But, below is the zip file.

Independent Clauses, vol. 1: Our Friends Are All Freaking Awesome

1.  “Brian, Jenny, and the Mayan Calendar” by Marc with a C
2. “I Won’t Back Down” by Chris Hickey (Tom Petty Cover)
3. “I Melt With You” by Fairmont (Modern English Cover)
4. “Another Stripe – Carradini Mix” by Dishwater Psychics

Super props to all four bands that contributed; this is a dream of mine, and I’m so grateful to them for making it happen. Props to all the bands that we’ve worked with over the years who have motivated us to want to release music in the first place. Super thanks to my friends Katy and Albert, who allowed me to use their computer to make this post happen (my internet is jacked, which is why there wasn’t a post yesterday).

The art, metadata, and more are on the way. I just really wanted to get this out, because I’m excited about it. I once was concerned about everything being perfect on the first try; seven years later, I’m convinced that everything is a work in progress.

So, enjoy the songs! Three of them are unreleased, with the Fairmont cover being a rare b-side. I’m really excited about all of the tunes, as evidenced by the title, and I hope you are as well.

TriclopsInterview

March 1, 2007

Recently I was given the opportunity to get into a little Q + A with Christian and Johnny from the San Francisco’s TRICLOPS!

I hope you all enjoy this highly entertaining piece of literature.

IC: So the new EP was just officially released on February 6th, 2007…I’ve read some really good reviews of the album and of course I personally had only good things to say about the album in January’s issue of Independent Clauses (not to mention it was 2nd favorite album I reviewed for IC in 2006!).

I know everyone hopes and aims for their music to be loved… but were you expecting such positive feedback on the album so early on?

Christian: First off, thanks for your support man. We are really excited that the initial wave of feedback has been super positive. It is also completely hilarious what people write about our music in their reviews. So, besides the benefit of having such a review is the hilarity of the writer-picked band-influences on your playing when you have never even heard some band they are comparing you to. Then you get to check out something new and dig in to it, or laugh hysterically at the lazy journalism effort.

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[IC]: From I can gather from the liner notes of your album it looks as though the album was recorded in one day. I found the album had a real sense of urgency to it. Did you feel that recording such detailed, spastic work in such a confined time frame helped the band’s sound? Or do you feel having a longer time in the studio would have allowed the band to further experiment?

[C]: Well, we knew we had to bash this one out, first ’cause it’s only
4 songs, and second we had to pay for it out of our pocket. So we went in with a killer engineer (Phil Manley from Golden and Trans Am) and an amazing live room and banged it out. It was 2 days for tracking and mixing, which was a little tight because when you get in the studio, things change, ideas shift and new ones pop up every 2 seconds, and you have to come down off your cloud and realize the clock’s ticking.
So if there is an urgency to it, it is in the fact that we really wanted to record as soon as we could to get this music into people’s hands as fast as possible because we are all super excited about making original music together, and we that knew people would be into it.

The next record, the full length, will be much more involved because we will be taking much longer in the studio to record/mix it. And we will also have the time, as you mentioned, to experiment with our sounds and create a more dynamic and textured record, while retaining our natural intensity.

[Johnny]: We’ll have a bunch of time to layer more bullshit noise on top of it, basically.

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[IC]: It’s been said that you ‘keep rock music uncomfortable for yourselves and others.’
-Is this a conscious effort? Or is it more so just a conglomerate of all your personal influences that caused the end product to come out something which is drastically challenging to the average listener, yet so damn appealing to a fan who loves when music is pushed to progressive extremes?

[C]: We’re all older than these white belt disco rock cocaine kids, and we do not relate to any of the music that is being pushed on the former alterna-crowd, now marketed with Hot Topic hair dye and eye shadow, blush piggy. We devolve away from generic punk/rock chord changes and cheesy gang melodies in an unconscious effort to make music resembling our influences which are rooted in a different time period. We strive for the uneasiness of say David Yow pulling his butt crack wide open and diving into the crowd, or the Melvins’ uncompromising attitude towards what the entire world thinks versus some big pockets major label cocksuckers who have the look and skinny, skinny abs who’ll play the 5am slot on Coachella cause their label said they’d drop ‘em if they didn’t.
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[IC]: I hear a million and one influences in your music so I am dying to ask, in your youth what CDs shaped the way you write music today?

[C]: My pop had a decent record collection: he was into The Doors, Queen, Jefferson Airplane. I think it was a blessing that I wasn’t into the Beatles when I was young, instead discovered Zeppelin which my Dad didn’t see coming and got totally obsessed with them. Then he took me to see Rush for my first concert and the drum set did a 360 and I pooped my high waters.

[J]: I am straight out of the late thrash, grunge and acid punk era. I was a total teenage dirtbag. The Butthole Surfers were my Grateful Dead, Blatz were my chaos-punk Gilman Street heroes in the early 90s, and Hickey flipped my gourd out in the late 90s and made me realize that amazing new things CAN be done in the post-Nirvana era. I get inspired as all hell when I see a new band come out and completely destroy me. It doesn’t happen often. Most recently it was the Marked Men.
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[IC]: What CDs are you currently listening to?

[C]: David Peel and the Lower East Side “Have a Marijuana”
Big Youth “Screaming Target”
Mozart “Requiem”
Allman Brothers “Eat a Peach”

[J]: Hickey “Various States of Disrepair”
Warsaw “1977-1978”
Dinosaur Jr. “Fossils”
Scratch Acid “Greatest Gift”
Marked Men “Fix My Brain”
Sleater-Kinney “The Woods”
______________________________________________________________________

[IC]: I’m gonna ask what is quickly becoming a standard question for musicians… Where you’ve been around the music scene for many years, what is your take on a MP3’s and the growing digital age of technology?

[C]: It’s cool, with the growth of technology comes the fact that people are just gonna have to adapt and deal with it all. I mean just try to think back a couple years to the pre-myspace world. Then go back to the pre-email correspondence routine, and you’ll realize that we are spoiled little bitches right now. You can hear anything you want for free on MySpace, and you can get in touch with any band you need to in a flash. It’s great, BUT like everything else it comes with its issues and hesitations. It is, to an extent, taking the work ethic out of priority for a lot of bands, because now instead of touring to spread your music, people just sit on the computer and accumulate “friends” which a lot of people in the biz take for consumers. Suddenly bands become obsessed with their MySpace status and miss out on the tradition of being a rock band in the world and working your ass off and benefiting from it.

I’m into the computer world just interacting on its own and rock music fans getting back into being at the concert. Guess we better have an extensive T-shirt line by then.

[J]: The whole internet celebrity thing doesn’t really work or matter, though, unless you back it up with some seriously good records and touring. Nobody will remember who Lady Sovereign was 10 minutes from now.

I’ll tell you what, though – All that stuff makes it a hell of a lot easier to book a tour. I used to have to just use the phone, and most punk rockers didn’t have cell phones or working answering machines.

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[IC]: So I see you are planning a mini-tour through Arizona, Texas, Nevada and your home state of California. What can spectators expect to see from
TRICLOPS if they are lucky enough to witness one of your live shows?

[C]: All your favorite novels, and the emotions you’ve felt through them, coupled with the first time you fell of your bike in front of all your friends, mix that with a tequila flanked by the feeling you had when you wore the concert T-shirt to school the next day feeling badass and then the football team captain said you were a queer in front of his girlfriend, but she smiled at you and thought you could teach her something. That summer you took acid and went to the beach, swam out into the phosphorescent moonlight light waves, which turned out to be a swimming rattle snake, and you thought you walked on water but really you pissed yourself. That’s like a TRICLOPS! live show.

[J]: 4 mean old assholes on stage, high on whatever’s available, beating the living shit out of themselves, their instruments, the audience, and any furniture in sight.

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[IC]: I’ve also read you are planning a full length album for Fall 2007. It may be a bit early to ask but have you already begun writing new material? And if so what, if anything, can fans expect?

[J]: Expectorate the best.
[C]: The new record is being recorded as we write, and anyone who likes our EP will be excited to learn that there’s 40 minutes of music on it. It’s the best music
I’ve ever written with the best musicians I’ve ever played with and it will be like a complicated odyssey, or like if a rock opera was a dude and he really just wanted to do drugs and have sex, instead of sit there all day in that same pose with that apple that never rots. That’s what it will sound like because there’s a reason that dude got that rock opera gig in the first place and it wasn’t the size that mattered.

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[IC]: Though many of you stem from different bands from around the San
Francisco scene (BOTTLES AND SKULLS, VICTIM’S FAMILY, FLESHIES, LOWER
FORTY-EIGHT) your music gives the impression that you all really have a great chemistry within the current band. With a mini-tour planned, an EP out and a full-length coming later this year… Do you feel TRICLOPS! has become a full-time commitment for all of you?

[C]: YES!!
[J]: I don’t do anything half-assed.
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I should also mention Triclops! are playing the GSL showcase at SXSW in
March 2007, along with touring partners 400 Blows and Qui (with vocalist
David Yow of Jesus Lizard).

And if you haven’t yet please pick up their album through [url=http://www.sickroomrecords.com]their label’s
website[/url]- it may just be the most entertaining $7.00 you’ve ever spent.

-Josh Hogan
josh@orchidscurse.com

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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