Five Things: Wednesday 19th June

I hear about Mavis Staples’ new album…
Due June 25 on Anti, One True Vine is described as “stark, acoustic arrangements and the most honest, unvarnished vocal performances of her career”. Featuring 10 tracks, including new songs written by producer Jeff Tweedy and Nick Lowe along with covers ranging from Funkadelic to Low. Recorded at The Loft, Wilco’s studio in Chicago, the album features Jeff Tweedy on nearly every instrument except drums, which were played by his 17-year-old son Spencer.

I rescue Son and Seb from Download…
… having had the car key stolen. They are at the edge of a massive event that stretches for miles, but considering that it only finished the night before, the clean-up and dismantling that’s taken place is majorly impressive.

Donington

I love the soundtrack …
by Mogwai for eerie French drama, The Returned. Its crepuscular, Lynchian feel is given extra heft by the almost constant musical backdrop, sometimes a spindly xx-y kind of guitar track, sometimes a curdled piano and spooky xylophone. I came across this interview with Fabrice Gobert, who wrote and directed the series, and Dominic Aitchison, from Mogwai.

FABRICE GOBERT  Six months before filming, we were casting the actors and I thought it was very important to cast the music for the series, as it would be a main character in the drama. I love what Mogwai do in general, but especially the film about Zinedine Zidane [Mogwai wrote the soundtrack for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait]. It was a strange movie and the music was spectacular. When I was writing the scripts I was listening to that music a lot. I thought it would be strange to imagine that a band like Mogwai would agree to work on a French drama, but we tried it. We sent them three or four pages, where I tried to explain why I’d like to work with them. And they were interested. I don’t know why.

I talked to them about a Swedish film, Let the Right One In, a film with vampires rather than zombies, but it was very realistic, and a good influence for what we wanted to do. We don’t want to make The Walking Dead; we wanted to make a French fantasy drama where dead people come back. I gave them some photographs from Gregory Crewdson, an American who photographs the American suburbs and makes the spectator feel very uncomfortable with something very familiar and very strange. And I gave them music from films that I like. The sort of thing musicians make with movies when they are free, such as Neil Young for Dead Man, and Miles Davis for Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows.

DOMINIC AITCHISON  We received the basic synopsis, plus a list of films and books that might influence the tone of the programme. We’ve always wanted to do more soundtracks. The Zidane film was the only chance we’d really had to do something like that. It was great fun and quite different from writing a normal record – you have to try not to have obvious effects that would really ramp up the tension. You have to keep it really simple, and try to keep the dynamics quite flat; not having it jump up, and not having the big scares.

I send a video…
Land
To the This Land Is Your Land Project, an interactive PBS documentary that plans to record us all (or as many who upload their version) singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” I dug out a version [the first song we recorded in Garageband six years ago, as a test] and made a stills-based short to go with it. The title still is a photo taken of Coit Tower in San Francisco, on one of Bob Gumpert’s excellent tours.

I finally take the plunge…
This week, after four years prevarication, I finally take the plunge and order one of these…

Bruce

Yes, it’s an Ampeg Scroll bass, as played by one of my heroes, Rick Danko. First seen on the Rock Of Ages sleeve in 1972, I have wanted one ever since. I met a jazz bassist once with one, and I saw a picture of Brian Eno playing one Enothat I clipped out of the Guardian years ago (see left), but four years ago I found that Bruce Johnson – a retired Disney Thrill Ride engineer – had set up shop and was loving recreating (while considerably improving) Ampeg basses. Every piece of the body and neck, virtually every part of the hardware, made by hand, on turn of the century lathes that Bruce has overhauled. On holiday in LA we made a midnight visit to Bruce’s workshop in Burbank, and spent a fascinating hour with him and his dog. More anon on how the bass takes shape. Here’s Rick (a man who, in Ralph J Gleason’s wonderful line, “looked as if he could swing Coit Tower”, so muscular was his playing, so lurching his stage movements) with his fretless at Brooklyn’s Academy Of Music, New Year’s Eve, 1971 with “Don’t Do It”. And again, in an soon-to-be-released extended version of the great Festival Express, playing “Jemima Surrender”. Dig Levon’s rhythm guitar work on an Gibson SG, which makes a mockery of the “bring over my Fender” line.

Comments

  1. Looking forward to the Mavis Staples album, but not sure about what I assume is a press release quote. Could anything possibly be more “honest” or “unvarnished” than “Uncloudy Day”?

    • Indeed! I should have made it clear that it was a PR quote, and of course you’re right re: “Uncloudy Day”, or, indeed, anything with just Pops on guitar behind Mavis, Cleotha, Pervis and Yvonne. Nice that Mavis was given her due in the Jackson/Spike Lee documentary for originating “Shamone!”

      Mavis: ”My mother called me one day. She said, “Mavis, this little Michael Jackson done stole your word!” I said, “What?” She said, “Turn on channel two.” And he was [on television, singing the song “Bad.”]: “I’m bad, you know it, shamone, shamone.” See, I said “shamone” in “I’ll Take You There.” It’s just a word I made up! Instead of saying “come on,” I said “SHA-mone.” You know, trying to be slick. And he picked up on it. And it made me feel so good. Some disc jockeys would ask me, “Mavis, has Michael paid you any money for ‘shamone’?” I said, “No, he hasn’t paid me one red cent. But it’s alright.”

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