So, I was able to sit down for a couple of years and pump out a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.
And now, you can follow me on Twitter under the name: Stipp. Some weeks you get lucky with the kind of information that people are talking about. This week a debate about whether video games are art and the new trailer for MOON created some waves.
Hey kids, before we get to the interview with Neko Case, and it absolutely is the highlight of my year, I had to mention my appearance on the latest ScreenGeeks podcast wherein I talk about Fox’s issues with piracy. I absolutely love those guys over there so please run, don’t walk, to hear me blather on. If that doesn’t convince you then knowing I am only on for a little bit and then leave should convince you to check it out. Enjoy.
The music industry is dying a slow and protracted death. Note well that I am obviously not indicting the artists who are scraping by as their corporate overlords are wondering what ingenious scheme can wrest away more money from an audience that seems to be under the delusion that the $9.99 they’ve just spent at Best Buy for the latest Young Jeezy album is making its way back to young Jeez. What’s more is that their death is being expedited like a nurse smothering a patient looking to die by suffocation by the digital realm; one that has been relentless with its Wild West set of rules and laws. From free downloads, illegal downloads, RIAA lawsuits, digital distribution, FTP sharing services and an array of boneheaded moves by those in power to keep its power it’s a wonder this hasn’t happened faster.
From music industry promises to lower CD costs, to broken buisness models that simply do not work in the 21st century I welcome its demise.
Artists have proven that you don’t necessarily need big time distributors to help get their music out there, simply look at the new paths being blazed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor or Radiohead where a pay-what-you-want model seems to be taking root, but it’s the lazy and corpulent management of these labels that continue to try and play the game as it has always been played.
And that’s where Neko Case comes in.
A musician who has consistently proven herself as a versatile artist in crafting a sound with her 7 releases that you can’t label as anything but her own, Neko plays well with others; her stints in the band The New Pornographers has more than established her prowess as an individual who can either demonstratively make her presence known in a track like “Mood To Burn Bridges” from her 2000 release Furnace Room Lullaby or richly blended in a catchier than catchy song like “Spanish Techo” from The New Pornographers’ release Twin Cinema. Neko’s latest album Middle Cyclone is everything that her previous efforts have proven her so adept at doing: mixing emotion, steady hooks and grabbing you the very first moment you play a song like “This Tornado Loves You” or the title track “People Got A Lot of Nerve.” It’s the latter’s ability to make you want to see her play this song live that, in part, makes her a dynamic songstress. She makes you believe in the restorative power of music and strengthens my resolve that great music shouldn’t have to be this obsequious, opaque experience where you have to play a record more than a few times to “get it.” There isn’t anything wrong with that, just play Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to someone for their first time and dare them not say something about its density, but Neko makes me want to elevate so many other of her peers who just don’t get it. This is absolutely one of the best albums released this year, she is now on tour throughout the US and I thought that having her answer a few questions in support of the album would be a nice way to expose all of you to all of her.
At about this time the convergence of record company and artist drove a wedge between getting this done.
I pride myself, at the very least, as someone who will go after a story when I think there’s something there. I’ll call, e-mail, voice mail, anything I can to get a response of “yay” or “nay.” Lots of times, loads of times, it’s a “nay.” Just this week I was given the Heisman when I tried to angle some time with the members of Spinal Tap who are now out in support of their acoustic Unwigged and Unplugged tour. I can respect that, however flimsy a response like “Right now their sched won’t permit” is. What made this request so unique is that it perfectly crystallizes the issue with dealing with PR flunkies who are above such niceties as returning an e-mail inquiry or phone call. Over at ANTI-Records, the label putting out Middle Cyclone, the situation was just inflamed by the shitheads over at ANTI where “real artists creating great records on their own terms” is a mantra who either feel a) that I am insignificant enough not to respond to, which I completely can understand b) above returning a call or e-mail in which case I hope this makes a woman like Hilary Villa, part of ANTI’s crack publicity team, feel special/mighty c) like they can be a pack of rude twats out of perceived entitlement. All valid reasons I tell you! I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very big, not very influential at all and not very invested in the music business. However, what I am, though, is a fan of music who has a small outlet with a small voice where once a week I can choose to help get the word out about something I think people should take a minute to digest. I have the e-mails and logged calls to back my story, I can map it out on an Etch-A-Sketch and prove my work if needed, but when you flat out can’t be bothered to communicate back with another human being it still gets under my skin all these years later doing this job.
So, rather than just forgetting the story I thought I would post the 10 questions I was going to ask Neko had her PR representatives not been a pack of troublesome assholes needing a little public flogging; those you choose to align yourself with are sometimes a reflection of you no matter how much you want to make the argument that one doesn’t have anything to do with another.
Again, though, buy Middle Cyclone and support one of the better talents working out there in music today. Better yet, knowing how much ANTI is skimming from the top of every CD sale I think it would be just as well to instruct to you to go out, get a ticket, see her live and buy some of her merch. At least that way the bastards at ANTI “real artists creating great records on their own terms” can go suck it…You pack of chuckleheads.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Neko, thanks for making the time to talk to me. You’re obviously busy so I hope to keep this brief. You good for time?
CS: Good…So, I was wondering as I saw you during some of your recording sessions why you look to record some of your music in unconventional locales? I am speaking here of the barn you spent some time in.
CS: I am not very up with the trappings of Tucson. Mostly, living here in Phoenix, I see it as an even more dusty backwater than its larger cousin. What do you find Arizona does to the creative juices? Mostly I find it just drains mine…
CS: In this age of digital distribution I have to think that there is some lure to ditching conventional channels in favor of one that you could directly benefit from. Do you see yourself being tied to a label in 3 years, 5 years? Or, are they a necessary evil, with an emphasis on evil, in order for you to do best?
CS: Some boys get into rock and roll so they can get laid. There doesn’t seem to be a function for it other than that with some of the kids out there trying to rock a mic. What made you think, or inspired you, to pick up a gee-tar and try to move some people?
CS: This album isn’t a departure for you. I am thoroughly sick of hearing interviews with artists who feel the need to have a soundbite somewhere in the promotion process to say why their new album is unlike anything I’ve heard from them. You are content, and are excellent at, simply refining your sound and not changing much. Do you agree that you aren’t out to rediscover yourself, sonically, with every album?
CS: With a track like “This Tornado Loves You” there is a lot swirling around in the harmony and in the lyrics. Do you find a song comes to you lyrically first and then a melody presents itself or does there seem to be a pattern with your writing?
CS: Performing live. One of the things I enjoy when going to a show is how unique the artist can get with their songs. It doesn’t always happen but, for instance, Wilco will give you a little bit of a jam within a song that normally only lasts 3-4 minutes long. Do you like this sort of noodling, as it were, when you’re playing the same set again and again?
CS: The track selection process. When you record your album the way you think you want it done is there a batting order of some kind that you come up with so that even though you have these songs that are quite unique there is some flow?
CS: As you look towards where you’re going as an artist is it really just as easy to say “I just want to have fun” or is there some definitive point you want to reach in your career that might represent the ultimate moment which crystallizes why you got started with music in the first place?
CS: Thank you, kindly, for your time today…
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