Tuesday, July 07, 2015

My Book in Billboard Magazine

Billboard magazine has a piece about the book that I wrote for Hugh Syme and Rush about their 40 years of collaborations on album covers.

Veteran rock journalist Gary Graff interviewed Hugh about The Art of Rush (now available via Rush.com or on the merch stand of the band's R40 tour) as well as his predictions about the band's future. As a bonus, the Billboard piece also includes Rush drummer Neil Peart's foreword to the book.

It was an honor to be asked by Hugh to write this book and a joy to work with him (and Neil, Alex, and Geddy) on the 272-page tome, an opportunity for Hugh's artwork to enjoy the limelight it so richly deserves.

  Rush Art Director Hugh Syme on the Stories Behind the Band's Iconic Album Covers

Forty years ago, Hugh Syme designed his first album package for Rush, 1975's Caress of Steel....


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Joy Williams interview

I recently interviewed Joy Williams (formerly of The Civil Wars) for Under the Radar magazine. It was a very intimate conversation in which we she described how the death of her father, her crumbling marriage, and the demise of The Civil Wars transformed her as an artist. The singer calls her new album, Venus, a "coming of age" album. Follow this link to read my in-depth profile interview with Joy.

The video below is one of my favorite songs on Venus, a very good album.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Playlist: May

  • The Doughboys—Hot Beat Stew (2015)
  • Sweet Billy Pilgrim—Motorcade Amnesiacs (2015)
  • The Weather Station—Loyalty (2015)
  • My Morning Jacket—The Waterfall (2015)
  • Braids—Deep in the Iris (2015)
  • The Receiver—All Burn (2015)
  • Joe Satriani—Shockwave Supernova (2015)
  • Alabama Shakes—Sound & Color (2015)
  • Mew—+- (2015)
  • Colin Edwin—Melt (2015)
  • Eilen Jewell—Sunset on Ghost Town (2015)
  • Toto—XIV (2015)
  • Reigns—The Widow Blades (2015)
  • Patty Griffin—Inpossible Dream (2004)
  • Steve Hackett—Feedback '86 (2000), The Tokyo Tapes (1998)
  • David Baerwald—Hurly Burly (soundtrack) (1994)
  • Swans—Filfth (reissue) (1983)
  • Friday, May 29, 2015

    Now on Newsstands

    I recently interviewed Laura Marling for the new issue of Under the Radar magazine, now available at your local Barnes & Noble, newsstand, and also as a digital download via iTunes and Zinio. (The magazine includes a tremendous cover story interview with Kevin Parker of Tame Impala.)

    I've been a fan of Marling ever since the release of her magnificent second album, I Speak Because I Can (2010). The lead single, "Devil's Spoke," signaled that the young British songwriter wasn't a genteel folk artist. She percolated her acoustic-based songs through brooding atmospheric textures and her vocal delivery had an edge to it. The follow-up single "Rambling Man" showcased lovely harmonies and a dynamic arrangement.

    The Elfin musician was all of 20 years old at the time. As many, many, many writers chimed in unison, her sophisticated lyrics suggested she was wise beyond her years.

    Marling's third album, A Creature I Don't Know, was even better and included the lovely single "Sophia." But it was Marling's 2013 album, Once I was an Eagle, that found her testing the boundaries. Holed up in a studio with longtime producer Ethan Johns (son of legendary producer and engineer Glyn Johns), she created a song cycle of often-interlinked songs that sounded like an emotional exorcism. In retrospect, though, the album was perhaps too dense, too long, but it has some great moments including the unusual but catchy"Master Hunter."

    The subject of my phone interview with Marling was her latest acclaimed album, Short Movie. She produced it herself and also played electric guitar for the first time on record. It features some of my favorite Marling songs to date, such as "False Hope" and "I Feel Your Love."

    Prior to the interview, I wondered whether Marling would be shy and less-than-forthcoming, In concert, she tends to gaze upward rather than make eye contact with the audience. But she was friendly and open during our half-hour call. She has one of those speaking voices one could listen to all day. (She could pursue a sideline career in narrating audiobooks.) Among other topics, we chatted about how a night in a backwoods "axe-murderer town" inspired the title track of her new album, why she shelved an entire recorded album and started over, and how guitar practice equipped her to cover this Led Zeppelin classic.

    You can read the main interview in the magazine. But I wrote a second piece from leftover quotes for the magazine's website.

    Seek out Marling's tour of the US this summer.

    Thursday, April 30, 2015

    Playlist: April

  • Joy Williams—Venus (2015)
  • Blur—The Magic Whip (2015)
  • Jeff Beck—Live + (2015)
  • Ludovico Einaudi—Taranta Project (2015)
  • Field Music—Music for Drifters (2015)
  • Robert Plant—More Roar (2015)
  • Punch Brothers—The Phosphorescent Blues (2015)
  • Steve Jansen & Richard Barbieri (feat. Mick Karn and Steven Wilson)—Lumen (2015)
  • Joe Bonamassa—Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks (2015)
  • Death Cab for Cutie—Kintsugi (2015)
  • Steve Hackett—Wolflight (2015)
  • Calexico—Edge of the Sun (2015)
  • Ozric Tentacles—Technicians of the Sacred (2015)
  • Gary Clark Jr.—Live (2014)
  • Rokia TraorĂ©—Bawnboi (2004)
  • Pearl Jam—rearviewmirror (2004)
  • Soundgarden—A-Sides (2004)
  • Nirvana—In Utero (1993)
  • PJ Harvey—Dry (1992)
  • Talking Heads—Popular Favorites, discs 1&2 (1992)
  • Miles Davis—Sketches of Spain (1960)
  • Thursday, March 26, 2015

    My first book: Art of Rush

    I can now reveal the project I've been working on over the past year: my first book, The Art of Rush.

    It's a beautiful coffee-table keepsake that the band Rush, and its art director Hugh Syme, asked me to write in celebration of the group's 40th anniversary.

    I was approached to write The Art of Rush by my friend Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon. I'd written the sleeve notes for his band's most recent album, Echoes from the Underground, which features Rush's Neil Peart on drums on stunning tracks such as this one. and so Matt kindly recommended my writing skills to Neil and Hugh. When Matt told me about the concept for the book, I'll admit I was dubious that anyone would want to read about how album covers were made.

    That was before I first talked to Hugh.

    Limited Edition, with custom slipcase
    The art director regaled me with stories about trying to herd a warren of rabbits for the cover of Presto, furtively crossing the Canadian border to do a Guerilla film shoot for A Farewell to Kings, descending into the depths of an autopsy lab to find a brain for Hemispheres, building a swimming pool inside his studio for Test for Echo, and tying photographer Deborah Samuel to the stake and setting her on fire for Moving Pictures. Ok, I'm exaggerating about the last part. Hugh only made it appear as if Deborah, posing as Joan of Arc, was being burnt alive. But, as he recalls, a bottle of The Macallan whiskey may have been involved to calm the nerves before the stunt.

    Limited Edition, with Anvil roadcase
    Interviewing band members Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, and Neil Peart was just as interesting. As a longtime fan of Rush, I was thrilled to delve into the conceptual discussions about the theme of each album and its lyrics. A hallmark of Rush's releases if the considerable care that goes into every aspect of what they do, including the artwork. As such, readers of The Art of Rush will be surprised to discover just how much effort went into each album cover. In the days before Photoshop, each element of the artwork had to be handcrafted and pieced together like the innards of a Swiss wristwatch. Take the inside gatefold of Hold Your Fire, for example. Hugh first had to construct a miniature model of a city street and then super-impose a picture of a fireball juggler on to it. It's the kind of thing Hollywood special effects teams used to do. Nowadays, of course, Hugh utilizes digital technology to create Rush's art. But as Neil put it, “The tools got easier, but the thinking doesn’t.”

    A casual observer would be amazed to discover that Rush's album covers, which boast more diversity than the Period Table of Elements, have been designed by the same person since 1975. Many album cover designers offer up variations of a narrow style. But Hugh is an art director whose expansive vision complements Rush's tradition of continually pushing the boundaries of its music.

    This project was a great pleasure to work on and I feel privileged to have done it.
    The Pre-order for the Art of Rush book will begin on Friday, March 27 at 10 am ET at rushbackstage.com on Friday March 27 at 10 a.m. ET.

    Roadcase Deluxe Limited Edition 1/100

    • Limited to 100 copies, this deluxe limited edition will be numbered and signed by all 3 members of Rush & Hugh Syme.
    • The book will come in a hand-crafted road case designed by Anvil approx. 15" x 15" x 3" in size and will be enclosed in a custom slipcase.
    • A signed and numbered limited edition lithograph of Hugh Syme's detailed drawing of Caress of Steel, the first cover he worked on for Rush, will be inside the case,.
    • The case will have a metal plate affixed to the outside with the limited edition number and the limited edition lithograph of the Caress of Steel lithograph will match.
    • $995
    Limited Edition, with Anvil roadcase

    Limited Special Edition 1/250

    • Limited to 250 copies, the hardcover book will be numbered and signed by all 3 members of the band and artist Hugh Syme, enclosed in a custom slipcase.
    • $495
    Limited Edition, with custom slipcase

    Classic Edition

    • The 272 page hardcover book
    • $99

    Thursday, March 05, 2015

    Steven Wilson interview

    Photo: Lasse Hoile

    I'm occasionally asked what my worst interviewee was. Without hesitation, my response is "Coldplay." When I interviewed the band's guitarist, Johnny Buckland circa the release of the band's debut album, his reponses were mostly monosyllabic and he couldn't have been less effusive or articulate. After he hung up, I had to figure out how to write my Coldplay article with hardly any great quotes or insights from the musician. Not a fun day.

    By contrast, I can tell you exactly who my best interviewee is: Steven Wilson. I've interviewed the British musician many, many, times since 2002 and he always offers thoughtful, intelligent, articulate responses to my questions. That's certainly the case with my latest interview with Steven Wilson about his new album, Hand.Cannot.Erase., for Under the Radar magazine. For example, read what he has to say about Facebook's impact upon human relationships or his philosophical musings about how to get the best things out of life by remaining proactive in all areas of life.

    Never heard of Wilson? Here's how I introduce him in my piece:

    He's almost never played on the radio despite the fact that his previous album, The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories), sold well over 100,000 copies worldwide. He's seldom mentioned in the press even though he plays for crowds of over 2,000 per night and can sell out London's Royal Albert Hall. And Wilson has yet to be regularly compared to musical polymaths such as Trent Reznor and Damon Albarn even though his wide-ranging side projects include No-Man (art rock), Bass Communion (ambient electronica), Blackfield (indie pop), Storm Corrosion (psychedelic folk), and Porcupine Tree (progressive rock).
    Steven's fourth solo album is his best work to date and I'd be surprised if I hear a better album in 2015. (Here's a taste of what it sounds like.)

    Now on Newsstands

    American Way magazine recently asked if I'd interview Joshua Radin for them. I was only casually familiar with the songwriter's work but happily took on the assignment. It was a pleasure chatting with the friendly and chatty songwriter, who only picked up a guitar for the first time at age 28. He scored his first hit a mere two years later!

    Radin’s sixth album, Onward and Sideways. chronicles his love affair with a Swedish woman he befriended after a chance meeting in the lobby of a New York hotel. Read the piece here for Joshua's account of how he went to extraordinary lengths to woo her.

    When it comes to romance, Joshua Radin makes the rest of us men look like chumps!

    Friday, February 27, 2015

    Playlist: February

    • Steven Wilson—Hand.Cannot. Erase (2015)
    • Courtney Barnett—Sometimes I Just Sits and Thinks, and Sometimes I Just Sits (2015)
    • Public Service Broadcasting—Race for Space (2015)
    • Laura Marling—Short Movie (2015)
    • Robben Ford—Into the Sun (2015)
    • Gavin Harrison—Cheating the Polygraph (2015)
    • Mark Knopfler—Tracker (2015)
    • Lonely Robot—Please Come Home (2015)
    • The Waterboys—Modern Blues (2015)
    • The Amazing—Picture You (2015)
    • Bill Frisell—Guitar in the Space Age! (2014)
    • Linda Sutti—Wild Skies (2014)
    • Field Music—Field Music (2005)
    • Joseph Arthur—Junkyard Hearts (2002)
    • Chris Whitley—Living Within the Law (1991)
    • Tears for Fears—Songs from the Big Chair (1985, bonus track remix 2014)
    • David Bowie—Stages (1978, bonus track reissue 2005)
    • Led Zeppelin—Physical Graffiti (1975, deluxe reissue 2015) 
    • Camel—Flight of the Snow Goose (1975, bonus track remaster 2002)
    • Can—Tago Mago (1971)