Jim McCarty is a founding and current member of The Yardbirds. The latter was one of the most influential and creative of the blues rock bands of the 60s whose membership included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page who, when the band broke up in 1968, formed Led Zeppelin. With a string of hits that include “For Your Love,” “Shape of Things,” “Heart Full of Soul” and “Over Under Sideways Down,” The Yardbirds were one of the key bands in the development of British blues rock and psychedelia. After the group split, McCarty became part of a variety of bands across the 60s, 70s and 80s (Renaissance, Together, Box of Frogs et. al.) and has released solo albums under his own name but since 1992 he’s also been part of the reformed Yardbirds. In 2018 McCarty issued his autobiography, focused on the career of his most well-known band, Nobody Told Me to great critical acclaim. On June 7, 2020 McCarty’s wife of over 25 years Elisabeth (Lizzy) passed away from cancer. The tragic event propelled the musician to look back on his life and examine his personal journey as a creative person fascinated by larger questions about life and left field realms of knowledge and comprehension of spiritual and philosophical issues. In the subsequent memoir, She Walks In Beauty (invoking the title of the Lord Byron poem) McCarty charts that path in an unpretentious and engaging way tracing the line between his imagination being sparked by the landmark British television show The Quatermass Experiment in 1953 through science fiction, an interest in UFOs, esoteric knowledge, the occult, Buddhism, mysticism, spiritual mediums and all manner of ideas that stir creative pondering and exploration of ideas and concepts that also informed the music. It is an intimate and touching portrait of a time and the people, including Yardbirds singer Keith Ralf who shared McCarty’s interests in unusual subjects, McCarty met along the way including Lizzy. We had a chance to speak with McCarty about the book and the fascinating details of his journey through learning about a wide range of Western and Eastern esotericism and spiritual traditions and its overlap with creative work as he followed his instincts and curiosity even as someone who was and remains a skeptic but one open to possibilities.
New Standards Men make music that defies simple genre categorization. Its threading together and fusing of multiple streams of influence has produced a music that has the subversive spirit of punk, psychedelia and the avant-garde, the technical prowess of jazz and metal and all informed by a sense of humor and disregard for stylistic convention. All while creating a prolific and surprisingly coherent and strong body of work including its 2020 and 2021 companion albums I Was A Starship and Spain’s First Astronaut respectively. The group came together in late 2016 when current members Drew Bissell and Jeremy Brashaw started jamming with another friend to produce music that drew on a desire to make music through a sort of improvisational/spontaneous composition approach that continues in the writing process to this day. The aforementioned albums were written and recorded during the same session but with the music having a slightly different flavor, one more heavy, psychedelic doom jazz, the other more John Zorn-esque free jazz. Companions in mood but clearly different facets of the New Standards Men sound. With now shows happening for over a year the group couldn’t release I Was A Starship in the usual fashion with the album release show but the record managed to pretty much sell out of its first run. It was then the band approached Chuck Coffey of the Denver-based Snappy Little Numbers imprint with the thought of reissuing the album and a tape of Spain’s First Astronaut and give a second wave of energy behind promoting those recordings. We had a chance to sit down with Bradshaw and Bissell to discuss their long history in underground music in both southern Iowa, where both spent much if not all of their formative years, and Denver and their deep comprehension of the dynamics of scenes as well as the process of making and releasing their music.
On Thursday, December 9, New Standards Men will have an album release show at the Hi-Dive as a co-album release show with Alien Neighborhood, joined for the night on stage by SPELLS and Moon Pussy. Listen to the interview with the band on Bandcamp below and connect with New Standards Men and Snappy Little Numbers at the links provided.
Siv Disa aka Siv Anderson is a Reyjavik, Iceland-based songwriter who released her debut album Dreamhouse through the UK imprint Trapped Animal in November 2021. Anderson had been recording her eclective and evocative experimental dream pop and releasing singles for the past couple of years and demonstrated a knack for delivering a whole concept with her songs and accompanying music videos. From early forays into songwriting and performing while in college in the Boston area to becoming immersed in the underground music world of New York City post-grad and working as a teacher, Anderson’s style of soundscaping and storytelling is riveting in its quality of operating from a place outside standard logical though. Dreamhouse itself follows a bit of a story arc in the way Anderson spent a great deal of time figuring out an order for the songs in terms of themes both subject matter and musical. The album’s free association of ideas with psychedelia/shoegaze, jazz structures, noise, ambient and pop in a way that seems to invoke concepts of non-linear film making has resulted in a set of songs that takes you through a broad range of emotions and a gentle catharsis. We had the opportunity to speak with the songwriter at length through the benefit of speaking over the internet about her roots in becoming an artist rather than something her parents would have approved right away, her development as a musician and film maker as well as the themes of some of her music.
Listen to the interview with Siv Disa on Bandcamp linked below (where you can also order a vinyl edition of Dreamhouse), check out the video for “Whistle” (filmed in Iceland) and connect with her at the links provided.
Circle of Celebration is the latest release from the NOUS ensemble. The latter is a collaboration between composer Christopher Bono, sound healing artist Arji OceAnanda and ambient music legend Laraaji. Bono had met OceAnanda and Laraaji at the Ananda Ashram near Monroe, NY in 2013 and wasn’t initially aware of their status as accomplished musicians. But the three made an immediate connection over the work of Thich Nhat Hahn, the influential Vietnamese Zen monk and over several years kept in contact and came to record this new album. Incorporating Bono’s classical composition and production background with Arji’s sound healing methods and both Laraaji’s approach to ambient music and his concept of laughter meditation the music goes beyond logical barriers and limitations to stimulate the parts of your brain that create an openness of spirit and relaxation from everyday anxieties. Certainly states of being and emotion we could all use now.
Laraaji became known to a larger world of music through the 1980 release of his landmark album Day of Radiance as the third part of the Brian Eno produced Ambient series. At that time and since his music has exerted an influence not just on ambient music but world music and the use of sound and practice as a meditation for personal and collective improvement and development and Circle of Celebration certainly incorporates all elements of Laraaji’s life in the arts up to this time.
We had a chance to speak with Laraaji about Circle of Celebration and its manifestation of the trio’s philosophical and artistic underpinnings, intersections and goals as musicians linked below through our podcast on Bandcamp. Circle of Celebration releases on Our Silent Canvas Records on November 12, 2021 and you can order the album at the label’s Bandcamp page.
Plack Blague started as a side project of grindcore outfit Wasteoid. Drummer Raws Schlesinger wanted an outlet for his interest in electronic music, noise and dance music and Plack Blague became, for about a decade, the occasional vehicle for that when it launched on Halloween 2001 and a pretext for Scheslinger to play some of the weirder shows he would have been going to anyway. With the untimely passing of Jeffmetal Sayers of Wasteoid in September 2011, Schesinger went on to focus his energy on Plack Blague and hone its craft, visual style and performances and along the way went from something of a local and regional legend to a star of the American underground able to fit bills of multiple musical genres and one of the most powerful and compelling live acts running. Depending on which record you pick up or show you catch you might hear more of the noise side of Plack Blague or more of the electronic dance aspect but in place is the leather daddy gear and Schlesinger’s dynamic stage show comparable to a more industrial and noise Big Freedia—the same raw intensity and infectiously fun energy. Schlesinger also regularly issues aesthetically striking merch and does t-shirt screenings for himself and other artists. But as you will hear in our recent interview with Raws he has a strong sense of community and connection to underground music culture both within the rich history of Lincoln, Nebraska punk and extreme music and the larger culture beyond his regional scene.
You can witness the spectacle of Plack Blague for yourself at the Hi-Dive this Saturday, November 6, 2021 for the 4 year anniversary of the Eventually It Will Kill You label along with Kontravoid, Many Blessings and Closed Tear. But until then, please listen to our extended interview with Raws Schlesinger below and hear about his deep roots in Lincoln punk and the modern era of underground music in America and beyond. And o check out Plack Blague’s music and order merch, visit the Bandcamp page.
Black Dice was an integral part of New York City underground music in the late 90s and 2000s. Its members had come up through punk but took the spirit of open possibilities suggested by that music to do whatever the wanted to. Anything could be an instrument, any rhythmic idea could be made to work. Even ideas about how structure and patterns would emerge through a kind of sound collage cut-up technique that one might compare favorably with the work of Autechre and Aphex Twin. Key to the band’s creative approach and aesthetic was visual art concepts and its various album covers have been designed by members of the band in a style that hits you like graffiti by way of the Situationist International. The band’s methods of composition and expression proved influential to peers like Animal Collective, a band that on the surface makes an updated form of 90s indie pop but like that music truly experiments with the form and musical substance of the songwriting with forays into noise and sampling that enriched the palette of sounds and dynamics available in crafting songs.
In 2012 Black Dice released its then most recent album Mr. Impossible after which its members took time to pursue other projects, Eric Copeland releasing several solo works as well. With the pandemic thus far time seems to have stretched and compressed for most people and what may feel like a handful of years in the living it can stretch to several and in 2021 Black Dice released its latest record Mod Prog Sic. It is classic Black Dice as a free flowing parade of ideas, textures, rhythm and playful tone and signal processing like some futuristic hip-hop/EBM fusion psychedelic beatmaking. We recently had a chance to speak with longtime member Aaron Warren about his early musical days growing up in California and his formative years as an active member of the punk scene in Boulder and Denver in the 90s before ending up in NYC in pursuit of furthering his education and ending up in the city at a time of great creative ferment.
Black Dice performs at the Hi-Dive this Thursday, November 4, 2021, with cindygod and H-Lite (doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m., $15 presale, $20 day of show) but until then, please give our wide-ranging and in-depth interview (linked to Bandcamp below) with the insightful and engaging Aaron Warren a listen as it is another tale of the American underground music scene from the 1990s to the present.
Ian Vanek is perhaps best known for his time in the band Japanther. From 2001 to 2014 Japanther brought together the interest of Vanek and bandmate Matt Reilly in hip-hop, punk, art, graffiti and a spirit of experimenting with a mode of creative expression that would be difficult to pigeonhole. Depending on who you might have asked at any point people might have lumped Japanther in with punk, garage rock, indie rock or art rock. The group befriended a broad spectrum of like-minded artists in the realm of music and fine art and pursued whatever opportunities presented themselves in that rich milieu of Brooklyn in the 2000s and early 2010s and the American and international art and music underground. In the spring of 2021 Vanek released his memoir Puppy Dog Ice Cream about his time in Japanther. His candid and thoughtful account of his life during those years is a vibrant and encompassing narrative that truly captures the spirit of that time and those various places that certainly intersected similar scenes throughout the country and the wider world before various political, social and economic forces made the cultural infrastructure that made aspects of DIY touring and the art galleries and venues increasingly unsustainable certainly by the end of the decade.
These days Vanek’s perhaps main musical project is Howardian and he’s playing a show at 1010 Workshop in Denver, Colorado on Monday, October 18, 2001 at 10:30 p.m. with Knuckle Pups which includes Oliver Holloway formerly of the great folk punk band The Fainting Fansies. Vanek also publishes his long running zine 99mm, the current issue of which includes an interview with hip-hop legend Boots Riley of The Coup whose film Sorry To Bother You garnered rave critical reviews upon its release in 2018 and with whom Vanek has toured and collaborated. We recently got to talk with Vanek extensively about his time in music going back to his youth in Olympia, Washington in the 90s when he was involved in underground music and culture from a very young age. In the extended discussion we talked about aspects of how underground music has changed and how that evolution was inevitable as well as the perils of nostalgia and a looking forward to a future of inspirational music and art that one has not yet encountered. For more information on Vanek, his various projects and goings on, please visit ianvanek.com where you can also find links to his social media accounts related to his varied creative projects. For now, you can listen to the interview on Bandcamp for episode 5 of the Queen City Sounds Podcast below.
Cellista brings her tour for her new album Pariah to Colorado this weekend. The multi-media artist described her performances “stage poems” that engage those who show up as part of an inclusive experience that reflects the reality of the world and people’s lives. Originally from Longmont, Colorado, Cellista has been on a creative and civic path that has expanded her ideas of the possibilities of music and the reach of her rooting in classical music and working through her compositions and performances to make that world of music more accessible to people outside the traditional elite circles through presenting musical and theatrical experiences in a way that attempts to break down those barriers, psychological, social and economic. If you go expect not just to witness music and storytelling but a strong cinematic dance element. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Cellista about her background in Denver underground music, the noise scene and her times developing her music and performance in San Jose, California and beyond. So listen on Bandcamp embedded below. And go see the show for yourself on Friday, October 14, 2001 at Mutiny Information Café, doors 7:30 p.m. with special sets from dark ambient artist Herpes Hideaway and Zero Collective and Saturday October 16, at House of Cellista in Longmont with Zero Collective, 7:34 p.m.
For more information please utilize the links below the Bandcamp podcast.
Since forming in 2006, Portland, Oregon’s The Shivas has developed a sound that incorporates elements of 60s psychedelic garage rock and pop but out of step with obvious trends. Its idiosyncratic songwriting style has always seemed to have more in common with the 90s indie pop and its emphasis on raw expressiveness and tapping into classic sounds and aesthetics as a vehicle for expressing timeless themes and universal human emotions with an intensity and artistry that feels vital and of the moment and not trying to recreate a previous era of music and culture. The band started making a name for itself in the American underground in the late 2000s but its breakthrough to a wider audience might be traced in the wake of the release of its 2013 album Whiteout! On the respected and influential label K Records. Heavy touring every year and a string of solid albums garnered the band a bit of a cult following when, in 2020, The Shivas, like many touring entities, had to effectively stop operations. The foursome had already written its next album and had to put plans on hold for any kind of release until the following year. During the first part of the pandemic and a de facto blackout of live shows happening, three fourths of the band worked with the unhouse population of Portland through a non-profit and took time to rethink and rework how the band would operate going into the future. In early 2021 the group released its latest album Feels So Good // Feels So Bad through Tender Loving Empire, a record that evokes the sense of urgency and uncertainty that all of us felt during the bleakest times of the 2020-2021 pandemic but which many of us poignantly felt prior to that global, and ongoing, health crisis. It is both a cathartic and comforting listen. Now the group is in the beginning part of its first tour since the winter of 2019-2020 and you can catch them at Treefort Music Fest this weekend (Friday, 9/24 at The Hideout at 4 p.m. and Saturday 9/25 (really 9/26 but who’s counting) at the Olympic at 12:40 a.m.) and in Denver at the Hi-Dive on Monday, 10/4 with as yet announced dates between and following the Denver date. Visit theshivas.org for more information and other dates for the tour. We recently got to speak with guitarist and vocalist Jared Molyneux about the new record its origins and the impact of not being able to tour for a year and a half on the band and its priorities for the future. Below is the link to Queen City Sounds Podcast episode including that conversation as well as the fetching video for “Feels So Bad.”
After four years I’m finally sharing the first episode of the Queen City Sounds Podcast. Going with that name for now because it’s easy to remember in association with this site. This episode is focused on the Down in Denver festival which takes place Labor Day weekend 2021 September 4-6 at Larimer Lounge. For details and to buy tickets visit downindenver.com. It celebrates Denver music and includes musicians who have been in around the scene going back decades. It was organized by Lipgloss founder Michael Trundle, Kitty Vincent of rock band Zealot and Marie Litton from Spyderland. The audio is a bit rough around the edges due to recording environments and when possible I’ll try to have more clear audio captures in the future. But for now enjoy some conversations with various people in the local music scene including Josie Cool of An Antiquated Bluff, Megan Kelley of Married a Dead Man, Armando Garibay of Machu Linea (all three of which are performing at the festival) and Michael Trundle.