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When Anaheim was bad she was very very bad. (Think “The Block at Disney” and The Mighty Ducks) and… when Anaheim was good she was very very good… think “No Doubt” , good Udon, cheap mexican food (The “B” on the window as you enter means: “BEST.)” The Cold War Kids, The Mighty Ducks in ’03 and ’07… and THE WILLOZ!! Anaheim, a sometimes Fickle and brazenly pompous beauty, has redeemed herself by allowing the germination of this willowy band of musical choristers.
The Willowz were once called “Just out of high school long-hairs” with a “Billy Corrigan on helium” for a lead singer. Now everyone’s eating their words.
Punk, soul, blues, an electric hybrid. Isn’t that what making music is all about? Bit o’ pixies, bit o’ sonic love, go ahead pull up a chair and listen. Have a pen and paper nearby, you’ll have to make a list of the influences that you can hear and yet listen hard and close because they are so well blended, twisted, molded, melded and lit up with a blow torch that you’ll have trouble really naming them. Again. That’s the way it should be. At once familiar and yet not, what goes into the willowz is original and made in the perfection of it’s own collective raw personality. A sonic, yet organic, tree like sound. Yes the Willowz are like trees. Branches wild and strong and able to span in any direction. 2007 ‘s release “Chataqua” proved that they band could comb new limbs and encourage growth in new directions. Witness “Evil Son” …met a man with an evil stare said I’m the wicked one and quite aware, I lost my nerve, I said don’t despiar…My evil son time to prepare.” The song traverses melodic soulsey balladry and progresses to a Wolfmother free-for-all in a matter a few stanzas. Complete with a gong and a slide of the entire neck of a gretsch or the like and some bells, These Willowz aren’t afraid to make a rattle in the garden. The rattle in this song isn’t entirely the stuff of seasoned auteurs, but the seeds are sewn.
From the bedroom and into the bedlam, Willoz made the trek in 2002 with Richie James Follin and Jessica Reynoza leading and grew their sound. Perfecting the best and losing the rest, this band is an organic petrie dish project that has been obviously carefully nurtured.
“Willowz” came to Jessica in a dream when a tree told her that the word “Willow” would being her musical enlightenment. I’ve had dreams where a word was prominent but they told me things like, “Ride your horse to the front of Vons and then fold it into the baloney package, take the stairs in the pagoda go to the top and attend school given by headmaster Angela Merkel sporting a small whip made from whale bone. But I digress.
Good news can travel fast even if all your friends don’t listen to NPR. Later in blustery ’02 The Willowz released a 7” on the infamous Posh Boy records with Robbie Fields producing. Traipsing back to the arms of that “mean girl Anaheim” that somber fair weathered friend who pushed them around at the lockers and ignored them in the hallways, The Willowz then began playing kick-ass shows to ever growing crowds. Simultaneously moving and in and around Los Angeles, in 2004, Dionysus records soon released their first record “The Willowz. In a pungent and yet sweet turn of events the OC Weekly named “The Willowz’s” record as one of the top 10 albums of the year! v
They had snagged Paul Kostabi as their producer and the record was done in a few days. There’s nothing like raw unknowingness to lend a disjointed and yet energetic spell of desire to the sound of a record. The Jackson Pollack method of laying music like paint worked well. Wild abandon tempered with some direction to the splatter of the sound. Okay some say J.P. planned every stray swath of paint but he applied but I do not agree. There’s joy, surprise and improvisation even in the most wild, fractured and wonderful art.
Soon after touring greater North America, and Europe the Willowz music was featured in the cinematic and odd “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Soon nominated for a grammy, Willowz were surprised when the Eternal Sunshine filmmaker Gondry had a dream about the Willowz song “I Wonder” and flew them out to NYC to make a video for them. Soon touring with the likes of the Weirdos, NY Dolls, the Dirtbombs, the Greenhornes, Wolfmother, the Ponys, Tom Vek, Ted Leo, YGM, OK GO, the Gossip, Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Dwarves, Burning Brides, John Cale and many others, The Willowz had come full circle and seemed to be the musical version of someone’s Tibetan dream set in Yarlung South Central Tibet was coming true. But noone was selected as the Rimpoche just yet.
In February 2005 the Willowz re-released their self titled album on Sympathy For the Record Industry and titled the album “Are Coming” (with a four more songs on it). The follow up “Talk in Circles” was released June 2005 (also recorded in a garage by Paul Kostabi, this time as a four piece and with a little more focus on making an album) on the Long Beach, CA label Sympathy for the Record Industry by way of record mogul Long Gone John. “Talk in Circles” received extraordinary reviews, including “46th Best Album of the Year” by Rolling Stone and was also featured in another one of Gondry’s films, “The Science of Sleep”.
The Willowz were nominated by LA Weekly as one of the tope bands of 2005. More singles followed “Talk in Circles” on such labels as Contaminated, Acid Bird, and Sympathy. The second album was followed by a DVD, “See In Squares”, released on Sympathy. “See In Squares” contained 27 unique videos, all by different directors, and additional live concert footage at a catholic school summer camp in Oklahoma, several of these videos have gone on to win national and international awards.
For the third album “Chautauqua”, to be released on Steve Aoki’s Los Angeles label Dim Mak, the Willowz headed to the eastern countryside and set up a studio, this time in a basement, with Paul Kostabi producing again. They recruited Aric Bohn on guitar and Tony Mann back on the drums. “Chautauqua” provides the energy and rawness of the first albums with a thicker rock sound more focused on songwriting. They came out in ’09 and are in heavy rotation in a round L.A. with Steve Aoki lending support. Do not miss the chimerous impression that is “The Willowz.”
Note: The new music section will be written by Garet Whipple and has yet to be cleverly named! But keep a watch for Garet’s new column! Music spans from new pop to dance, trance and rock. Garet knows the scene and writes with reverie. Stay tuned.
Take one part Steve Wynn Dream Syndicate guitar, 2 parts Raspberry puree, one part voice of emotive the love child of Serj Tankian and Tommy Shaw (find it in the alt / prog rock section of your local Trader’s preferably the one in Glendale,) dust lightly with some finely ground Mothers of Invention, and finally add a pinch “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”. Mix well. Add two teaspoons John Fruisciante into the mixture and boil down to a nice reduction. Let cool, add two drops of alt / prog / Roger Waters and whip to a slight screamo (wait until you see peaks). Mix some Thurston Moore (be sure not to use any Kim Gordon though) pour into a 9×12 ungreased pan and set aside. Now, prepare your oven. setting it to “burn / sizzle and pop” and trip out on the fog that forms inside. Put the visceral confection in the oven at 425 for 30 minutes. Soon the concoction will ignite and send sparks in all directions! What you have here is a creation that will burn your hands but… you won’t be able to move away!! Pour this eclectic, yummy paroxysm into your limited edition “Nick Cave” serving plate and enjoy! Feel the sweet burn as each bite of this prodidgeous culinary course goes down. Aint it kinda beautiful?
Giving me shivers up my spine as a college kid, not only for his looks, but for the mere sound of his voice, Alex Chilton’s incandescent, “Big Star” paired deep suffering growls, poppy eclectic grooves with desirous falsettos. Chilton made me melt and best of all I could see a creative process at work. It’s that “well thought out” lyrical muscle that was flexed by some and now seems frighteningly flabby in most writers nowadays. What about that lyrical twist? Where are the words that make you think?
I decided to wrestle my dial from NPR just for a brief moment this morning as I was feeling a bit “song-sick.” I needed an anthem for the day. I often seek out something specifically intended to swirl around in my head for the rest of the day. All I found was a “sea of nauseatiatingly common method songwriting” or songs wantonly layered with a multitude of trance tracks with “Akon-like vocal overlays” that simply use alliteration in efforts to qualify as “the new hybrid rap.”
Even though mainstream top 40 charts seem to have lately produced a world of “word-weary copy-cats”, the musical landscape does reveal shimmers of placer. At the urging of a friend I gave a listen to the very English “Duffy” and immediately downloaded her entire album. Her voice was at once very “antique” yet freshly familiar. “A Fine Frenzy” (one Allison Sudol , apparently enamoured with the imagery of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), offers a finely tuned sweet and athletic voice. Her deft lyrics are organic, lively and refreshing and surprising in structure. Sudol’s Fine Frenzy is guilty of keeping one or two songs in my head for several days now. If you ever followed Amy Farris (how we’ll miss that lady…), whether it’s was Dave Alvin’s Guilty Women or a Brian Wilson record, you would again,found that soulful straightforward style, this time with a Viola or a violin.
While bright spots like Duffy, A Fine Frenzy and others are capturing the hearts and minds of listeners nationwide, “The singer-songwriter genre,” is alive and tangible in our clubs. A trip into Los Angeles reveals the likes of some of the current autuers: Paul Plagens, Patria Jacobs, Greg Franco of Rough Church and his “big in New Zealand” solo project: “Greg Franco’s Wandering Bear.” Also sharing a multi-directional inspired genius is Suki Ewers who brings her swirling personally lyrical songs that take off where Mazzy Star left off.
The great American art of songwriting didn’t end with Robert Zimmerman, Arlo or Woody, it’s alive and well and it’s here for the listening.
1. Paul Plagens
The”perfect mix” of all the aspects that make a songsmith shine. Not unlike a contemporary John Prine, Plagens just cannot be missed. I was invited to 2nd St. Jazz for my birthday back in June of this year, where Patria Jacobs Tex-Pate and former leader of “RubyFish” consistently hammers out one after another “Patriaworld” experiences. The lean and cool Plagens played songs such as: Lovesick Car and others. That night Paul stood out with his soulful songs and uncommon humor. He’s been a member of the rock / alt band “Greta”, and done tons of studio work for ‘more than famous folks. In addition to his own projects Plagens “sings honest” affecting well-crafted alliterative stories of real life interspersed with unexpected hilarity. He’s a treat to see and experience and in my opinion seems to inhabit that fruitful web of artists in the vein of Prine, Doe, and Chilton. Not yet having garnered the movement that the luxury of time provides, I believe he’s poised to be “that next great singer-songwriter. Obviously you should not miss Paul Plagens!
2. Patria Jacobs
“Tex-pate” (L.A. transplant or many years now) and Chanteuse of American indie pop, Patria’s swooning visceral songs define anyone’s emotional landscape. Her deft and oceanic songs are not to be missed. On her new release “Poison of the Sea” Patria’s smoky growl will have you enraptured. From her time as the co-conspirator behind “RubyFish” with Russ Chaput, to the eclectic forary into the pop/electronic visage that is her single “Do the Pink,” Patria is a purveyor of fine music of Los Angeles often found hammering out another “Patriaworld” where she spotlights great singer-songwriters and multi-member local bands. Always a great host and performer herself, she is expanding and changing the L.A. music scene.
3. Greg Franco
The L.A. Weekly called Greg Franco “An Iconic Auteur,” who began his stay on the Los Angeles scene in the very early eighties with the seminal low brow band, The Blashpemous Yellow. B.Y., sported some type of pounding and often times sweet bleating “grunky” (Grungy-Punk) type of thing… picture the musical love-child resulting from some operatic tryst between “The Minute and Men” and “Gang of Four” then you might have an idea of the sound. Crooning about the barrios of Chavez Ravine, and the dusty in-betweens of San Fernando road, Franco et. al., haunted all the venues that would have them. Venues such as The Anti-Club, the Lhasa, The Music Machine, Madame Wong’s, Al’s Bar and many others. Later the front-man for “Ferdinand”, a four piece including Laura Smith and David Guerrero of Third Grade Teacher, shook Silverlake and other venues up and down the coast with crunch alternative rock and roll that you had to eat with a fork. Franco’s current troupe, Rough Church, is a “states-living but New Zealand famous” quartet. As if Rough Church wasn’t enough, Franco must believe he’s got more hands than the Hindu god Vishnu herself, as he’s also working on his flagship personal project, “Greg Franco’s wandering bear.” You can’t keep a good man down.
I can’t wait for these interviews, and videos, which are coming soon. However, pictures are below. But come back soon and we’ll finish the gig.
Below are: Patria Jacobs, Paul Plagens and Greg Franco.
Some celebrities are blessed to have their “looks” (whether natural or manufactured,or a combination of both) for a long time. Some are not. Some hold on to hairstyles that are frighteningly obvious nods to their past glory. Take Nick Nolte’s blonde slightly wavy early 90’s tresses, that he had to cooley brush away as he crouched against the fender of a car whilst he slowly grabbing for his gun to take sniperly aim at some nefarious character. Those tresses are still being rocked! And now…they’re only food for papparazi. The vermin that creeps along our city streets stalking celebrities just minding their own business (ruthless and innane hairstlyes or not), seems to parallel the massive increase in Celebrity Worship Syndrome. A man not helping the situation is one Donald Trump! Maybe his inspiration for the super-wide girth of the comb-over that he mashes down every AM with some type of sheening potion, was the inspired result of his attendance at a “Player” concert back in 1977? (Remember Player’s “Baby Come Back?)….On the original album cover, Check the guy to extreme the left of the lead singer-the bassist Ron Moss. The Donald must’ve fancied himself as au’ courant as brother Moss. Obviously vulnerable to the smallest chinook, these folks have got to know how un-daily life-friendly their coiffes actually are, but still they can’t wrangle themselves from the visual ties to their past. Whether it’s the oft heard, “Hey! it’s trendy again! mantra,…IT’S JUST FOOD FOR THE PAPARAZZI!! Public complaints from these waning nebulai about those predatory plebians falls at least on my deaf ears, as these grumps wait with baded breath to get the holy grail of bad hair shots. For example one Mr. Trump, saunters across Las Vegas Boulebard one breezy afternoon (possibly 12 bodyguards in tow), a soft chinook sweeps across the stinky cigarette and piss soaked Las Vegas Boulevard and circles up the belly of The Donald, where it devilishly lifts up Mr. Trump’s rug! OOPS! SNAP!!! CLICK!!! Literally taking flight (un-Falcon-Heene-like), the “combie” seems to actually wave back at the photog! Not unlike catching a senegalese tiger in the depths of India in some natural act ‘never before captured on camera,’ the photog is eccstatic! What a snap, what a day! ‘I don’t have to work for three months!’ I can drive my daughter to Kindercare in the mornings! My wife can dance later at Spearamint Rhino tonight!
..The Donald’s “faux-woven” (new word alert: “Fauxven”) was merely hanging on by a few fine strands. More appropriate for a sail than a toupee, Mr. Trump will have gained lift by the time the wind dies down. Calling for his “boy” to come and re-coiffe his appendage. The Donald quickly re-gains swagger and returns on this path to the limo. Donald, Mr. Nolte, Ms. Lohan and others REALLY ARE good for the economy. Lessening depression as they wallow in their own, giving people a laugh and helping papparazi and the entire supply chain that goes with those magazines keep their children in Lucky Brand Jeans. It’s a rough job, but someone’s gotta do it.