Author Archives: Elliott Sharp

A conversation about books and television with Angel Olsen (playing Union Transfer with Kurt Vile on May 18)

ANGELOLSEN-1Angel Olsen, the Chicago-based singer-songwriter, released a gorgeous and haunted and joyous album last year titled Half Way Home (Bathetic). And when she was in Philly last winter, she stopped by the WXPN studio to record a Folkadelphia Session, where she performed three songs from it. One of them was an extended version of “Lonely Universe,” where Olsen tries to make sense of a tragic world where the source of life has just died. It’ll bring you to your knees, and then lift you back up on your feet. “You won’t always be walking the safest streets,” she sings. “But you can find your way home.”

Olsen has since signed with the Jagjaguwar label. A release date for her upcoming album has not yet been announced. But, she says, “I’m working on some new things. I don’t want to force them, though. I have some vague idea of when I might record, but we’ll see. It will be sooner than later because I don’t want to wait too long. It has to come naturally.”

In the meantime, you can catch Olsen live in Philadelphia as she performs an opening set for Kurt Vile on May 18 at Union Transfer. We recently caught up with Olsen while she was touring the West Coast, and we spoke to her about television shows, books, painters, movies, and some other stuff. Here’s what she said.

The Key: Hi Angel. What’s up?

Angel Olsen: Not much. I just played Phoenix. It was really fun. Now we’re in Tempe, Arizona. We’re looking for a swimming hole. We’re going to a place called Kenyon Lake. And now I’m drinking some coffee. I just woke up like 30 minutes ago, so I feel like I’m going to be very experimental with answering these questions.

TK: Good. It’s Friday, and everyone’s over everything. So I won’t ask you all the dumb questions interviewers usually ask like, “How did you get the name Angel Olsen?” I’ll just ask you some random questions like this one: Do you watch television?

AO: Not really. But I got really into Downton Abbey over the winter. Me and my friends did. It was pretty ridiculous. I don’t know what’s so good about it—I couldn’t tell you. I’ve never been a television person, but I watched a lot of that. And I always go back to Freaks & Geeks. Every episode is so perfect. But I only really watch television in the winter because there’s nothing to do in Chicago and I get tired of going out and forcing myself to do things. But, in the summer, I’m normally out riding my bike, or getting some tacos, or running around outside. You know, living. Continue reading

An Interview with the Directors of ‘We Juke Up In Here!’ (screening at World Cafe Live on Saturday for XPN Music Film Fest)

We Juke Up In Here!, the new documentary film by blues fans and historians Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel, returns to Philadelphia this Saturday as part of the XPN Music Film Festival. Stolle (the owner of Clarksdale, Mississippi’s Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art) and Konkel (the owner of the Broke & Hungry label) also co-directed the 2008 film, M For Mississippi: A Road Trip Through The Birthplace Of The Blues. Much like that film, We Juke Up In Here! explores the rich history of the Delta blues. But this time the focus is specifically on the past, present and uncertain future of Mississippi’s juke joints. Though Stolle was extremely busy organizing the 10th Annual Juke Joint Festival – a four-day blues fest happening this weekend in Clarksdale – The Key was able to catch up with him and Konkel to talk about the new film.

The Key: How does We Juke Up In Here! compare with your last film, M For Mississippi?

Jeff Konkel: They’re both different sides of the same coin; they follow an interrelated, intertwined story. M For Mississippi was a road trip film shot in 2008. The idea was to take viewers through the Delta area and meet these various characters, mostly musicians, in the various places they haunt, including juke joints, front porches, their homes, house parties, and so on. And so we introduced viewers to about a dozen of the old guard—the traditional players in Mississippi playing the traditional style of blues. We Juke Up In Here! tells a similar story, but we focused on the juke joint owners, and those venues, which have been the traditional proving ground for these Delta musicians.

TK: What is a juke joint?

Roger Stolle: A juke joint is a real deal blues club. It’s an African-American owned, quasi-legal blues establishment that probably started out in the cotton plantations. As the music and the people moved into town—normally on the other side of the tracks—these clubs became the proving grounds for blues musicians. And it’s where it became something that would eventually be recorded and would move North, but this is the place where blues is the most natural.

It’s sort of like a “blues club,” but more like a house party, except the proprietor of a juke joint doesn’t really want you at his house. Continue reading

A Lifelong Quest: Two Philadelphia effects pedal companies strive for the perfect sound

TSVG

The TSVG Team: Perry Shall, Yamil Emedan, and Mike Klein

On a recent Thursday morning, I went to the new headquarters of TSVG, the boutique effects pedal company that relocated from West Philadelphia to the Fairmount neighborhood a few weeks ago. “Headquarters” is actually the home of Mike Klein, the pedal designer who founded TSVG in 2011. He has two designated workspaces in his new home, one in a small spare bedroom, and the other in the basement. Making pedals is now Klein’s full-time job, but he claims there aren’t any plans to move TSVG into a larger, separate workshop.

“I really don’t need any more room than I already have,” explains Klein while standing in his kitchen. “It’s not like there are a bunch of people working in here. It’s just me and sometimes one other person. I eat my breakfast, and then I go downstairs and start making pedals. That’s what my days are like now.”

Klein’s living room is doubling as a conference room this morning. On top of his coffee table are the six pedals TSVG is currently pushing: a fuzz box called the Angry Jeff; the Emperor, an overdrive pedal; two boost pedals called Hard Stuff (one designed specifically for basses, the other for guitars); a 1960s/70s-inspired fuzz pedal called Keystone Fuzz; and the Red Eye, an overdrive pedal TSVG’s website describes as “perfect for living out your ‘Arena Rock’ fantasy.”

Sitting around the table with Klein are his high school pal Perry Shall, whose artwork appears on all of the pedals, and Yamil Emedan, a longtime friend who has recently become Klein’s apprentice. All three of them are pedal-junkies who play in local bands. Shall’s in Dry Feet, Emedan is in Can You Canoe and Tortuga, and both Klein and Shall are in Hound. As you might expect, they all use TSVG pedals.

tsvg pedals

The TSVG Pedals

“I’ve played a million boost pedals before, but these are the first ones that actually work,” says Shall, who admits he’s incredibly biased. “Most boost pedals just don’t boost. I play loud music all the time, and these pedals really explode, man!”

Shall’s not alone. Among the musicians currently using TSVG pedals are Best Coast’s Bobb Bruno, Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster, Circa Survive’s Brendan Ekstrom and Philadelphia guitarist Nick Millevoi, of Many Arms. “The Hard Stuff pushes my tone into some seriously aggressive territory,” says Millevoi. “I’ve never used another pedal that’s able to overdrive my amp in this way. The fact that it’s hand-wired point-to-point is a serious bonus. I think it gives them a vintage tone you won’t find on any pedal that was built from a circuit board.” Continue reading

Interview: Joo Won Park wants you to listen closely (playing Studio 34 on Saturday)

Last Tuesday morning, the musician Joo Won Park was standing on the JFK Boulevard Bridge holding a small recording device near a flock of seagulls in order to capture the sounds they were making. “You have to be very quiet and very patient,” he said softly, trying not to startle the birds. “When I am making a field recording, I have one rule: I always wait until I think I have captured the best sound of the day, and then I keep recording for five more minutes. The best sound always happens after you think you already have it.”

Park, 33, grew up in Korea. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, and his doctorate from the University of Florida. He has lived in Philadelphia since 2008, and is currently an assistant professor in the music department at the Community College of Philadelphia. He also composes, records and performs using a computer, toy instruments and field recordings.

Park kindly shared with us the piece he made using his field recording from last week’s meeting at the 30th Street Station (stream it below). About the finished piece, he said: “The first part is a collage of field recordings I made that day. The ‘outside’ sounds (hail, seagulls) and ‘inside’ sounds (train station, resonance of the metal poles of the bridge) are mixed into one soundscape. As the piece progresses, the sounds become more unnatural: the hail sound turns into a hectic melody, the voice becomes incomprehensible echo, and the pole sound with larger-than-life reverb signals the end of the piece.”

Though Park mostly works as a solo artist, on Saturday night, he performs in a duo at Studio 34 with Julius Masri (Superlith, et al.). Before we went out on the bridge to chase seagulls, Park and I walked around the train station and talked about his music and the importance of listening closely to what’s happening around us. Continue reading

Five Things That Inspired Mary Lattimore’s Debut Album, The Withdrawing Room

Mary Lattimore, the Philadelphia harpist, has performed and/or recorded with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Daughn Gibson, Meg Baird, Tall Firs, Kurt Vile, Nightlands, and many others. (From March 25-31, she’ll be one of the two harpists performing as part of Nick Cave’s HEARD•NY at Grand Central Terminal). And her debut solo album, The Withdrawing Room, will be released in late March by the Desire Path label. Lattimore has recently been performing in duo with Arc In Round’s Jeff Zeigler (electronics/synthesizer), including a gorgeous 34 minute improvisation at one of our recent Folkadephia Sessions. Zeigler makes a few appearances on The Withdrawing Room, and the duo’s next concert is this Thursday at Kung Fu Necktie.

“Just like on the album,” says Lattimore, “when Jeff and I play live, it’s all improvised. I’ve been trying out a starting-point, a basic melody, but it takes different turns and changes into something different each time. I am still experimenting with ways of sustaining, and want to get more pedals to play through. Right now, I just use my Line 6 green looper and by repeating notes really fast through the effects, it can create a sort of wall of glitter where you can’t really hear the attack, which I like. Right now, I’m preferring more of a hazy and dark sound, or a wash of color, rather than a sharp, clear harp, stringy pluck.”

In preparation for Thursday’s show, and her debut album, we asked Lattimore to tell us about some of the things that influenced The Withdrawing Room. Continue reading

Interview: Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo on John Cage (playing the Philadelphia Museum of Art on 1/4 – 1/6)


Lee Ranaldo is best known as the guitarist and co-founder of Sonic Youth, inarguably one of the most essential American rock bands. But his work outside of that band is just as adventurous, ranging from the singer-songwriter oriented album he released last year on Matador, Between the Times and the Tides, and his more feverish experimental work with critical voices like Mats Gustafsson, Zeena Parkins and William Hooker, and in groups like Text of Light (with Christian Marclay, Alan Licht and Ulrich Krieger ). In addition to his numerous music projects and releases, Ranaldo is also a visual artist and writer.

Ranaldo is performing several times in Philadelphia over the weekend as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Dancing around the Bride,” the massive ongoing exhibit celebrating the work of John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. For these performances, Ranaldo will be interpreting several Cage scores, as well as performing some of his own work.

I caught up with Ranaldo a few days ago on the phone from his home in New York City to talk about his personal relationship with Cage’s work and legacy.

The Key: Did you ever meet John Cage?

Lee Ranaldo: I saw him at a few events around New York in the 1980s, but we weren’t really that friendly.

TK: Do you recall your first encounter with his work?

LR: I think it was “Rainforest IV,” with David Tudor. It was definitely mid-70s, when I was just arriving at college and starting to hear a lot of different avant-garde and 20th century composers, from Edgar Varèse to Karlheinz Stockhausen to John Cage.

TK: What was your first impression?

LR: I would liken it to the one I first had when I encountered mid-century avant-garde American film: at first you don’t know what to make of it, and then you realize it’s an entirely new language that you’re trying to understand. In a sense, you have to work your way into a language, or into a new art form; it’s like coming to an understanding of abstract painting. Continue reading

The Key’s Year-End Mania: Elliott Sharp’s Top Five Local Albums To Listen To Loudly With Headphones

For The Key’s year-in-review, we asked our trusted sources – our writers and photographers, XPN’s on-air staff, fellow bloggers in the Philly scene and even a few musicians – to send us their Top Five Whatevers. Could be the traditional music route – albums, songs, concerts of the year – or it could be only loosely connected. We’ll be sharing these recaps every day through to the end of the year. Today, contributing writer Elliott Sharp shares his top five local albums to listen to loudly with headphones.

 

1. Bee Mask – When We Were Eating Unripe Pears (Spectrum Spools)

The experimental electronic musician Chris Madak stretches sounds so far your ears will rip, and bleed, and it feels delicious, like an unripe pear.

Continue reading