Casey Prestwood Keeps It Real (Westword 3/1/2017)

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Casey Prestwood Keeps It Real
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 3/1/2017

Casey James Prestwood, veteran of Colorado country-rock band Drag the River and acclaimed Alabama emo group Hot Rod Circuit, is a country-music encyclopedia. Get him talking about legendary session musicians and he’ll spin a yarn the size of Texas. Discussing the earnest, emotional and sometimes downright depressing lyrics he sings over his backing band, the Burning Angels, however, doesn’t come so easily.

“I think I’ve kind of found a groove with when I should write and how I should write,” the Littleton resident says about his new album, Born Too Late, which drops in early March. “I lead a pretty happy life now. I’ve got a great wife and kids, and my band is awesome, so I kind of write when I’m down, because it feels like stuff’s more real. I pretty much keep it real in the songs story-wise, too. It’s almost always told from something that happened to me, so most of it is taken from earlier times, before I was settled down.”

For instance, “Jailbird,” from the new album, is about a family member who was incarcerated long-term and other references to Prestwood’s past, including somebody knocking his teeth out in Houston and spending time in jail himself.

“Sometimes you write a song because you’ve gotta get it out,” he explains.

On Prestwood’s first solo album, 2007’s The Hurtin’ Kind, he sang about being “passed out and kicked around” and “sleeping under the stars” — similar to the “blue, lonely and wasted” life he describes on Born Too Late, a crisp, lyrically deep and musically entrancing twelve-song trip through heartache and heavy drinking.

Prestwood’s most interesting recent travels include a month-long tour of Belgium, where, in true Johnny Cash style, the Burning Angels’ gigs included maximum-security prisons.

“About eighteen inmates came to see us, and they were, for lack of a better term, violent — serial killers and that sort of thing,” Prestwood says. “It was real clinical. They’re in the room with you, not shackled up or anything, and the guards didn’t have any weapons. They were real strange characters, but fascinating. We just did songs about prison and murder ballads.”

The bandmates — decked out as they almost always are in rhinestone suits made by the legendary Manuel Cuevas — played country gems about incarceration, such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Mama Tried.”

“The guy they call the Belgian Butcher, a big guy who was a schoolteacher and serial killer, he stood up while we were playing, and it kind of freaked me out,” Prestwood recalls. “He came up to me after and said, ‘Hey, man, great set. I really loved the tunes. Nobody really comes through here and does country music. But you guys don’t need to do “Folsom Prison” if you come back. Everybody who comes here plays that tune, no matter what kind of band they’re in. We’re sick of it.’

“I don’t think we’ve played it since,” Prestwood says of the song. “Maybe that’s the last time I’ll play it.”

Around the time the Burning Angels got together, in 2009, Prestwood — who has kept a side gig at Whole Foods for many years — thought maybe it was the last time he’d pursue a musical career. He says that bandmate Kevin Finn inspired him to keep going.

“Kevin was bugging me to get a band together, and I was kind of nestling in on my Whole Foods career, working up the ladder a little bit in that,” Prestwood says. “I’d cut my hair and was just, like, ‘Oh, man, I’m not gonna do band stuff like I used to when I was a kid.’ Really, if it weren’t for Kevin, I probably would’ve hung it up.”

Prestwood says it’s “wild” how many bandmembers have come and gone since the Burning Angels’ salad days, which are highlighted on a recent compilation disc called The Best of the Early Years. He calls Born Too Late “the most cohesive material I’ve written,” and bassist Jeffrey Martin seems equally pumped about the new record.

“Even though it was recorded in five cities, it all jells and sounds cohesive, like we did it as one session,” Martin says. “It features some of Casey’s best writing, and he’s really growing as a songwriter. The best is yet to come.”

INTERVIEW: Dr. Dog (Westword 2/19/2015)

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Dr. Dog Explains How It Stays Scrappy
by Adam Perry for Westword, 2/19/2015

Dr. Dog rolls into Denver to play the Ogden Theater on Thursday, February 19 in the thick of a three-month tour that began January 9 with “4×4,” an eight-show Brooklyn and Manhattan run. The energetic and soulful Philadelphia indie-rock stalwart, whose best tunes juxtapose the Beatles and the Band, is celebrating the release of its first-ever live album, the 19-track Live At a Flamingo Hotel. Hanging out in his hotel room before heading to the first 4×4 gig, singer/bassist Toby Leaman spoke withWestword about Dr. Dog’s history, as well as Flamingo Hotel, which features an Architecture in Helsinki cover and reaches all the way back to Dr. Dog’s quirky 2002 debut, the self-released Toothbrush.

Toby Leaman: You’re in Colorado, right? I always love playing in Boulder. I don’t think we’ve played in Denver since we played, like, the Hi-Dive.

Adam Perry: You should do eight nights at the Hi-Dive.

TL: That’d be awesome. I’d be into that.

AP: A lot of your songs have unanswered questions in them. Would you try answering some of them for us, just free-association style?

TL: Yeah, I can try. Some of them are Scott [McMicken], I’m sure, but we’re old buddies. I know what he’s talking about. What have you got?

AP: “What do you do when the drowning stops?”

TL: In that song [“Hang On”] it’s referencing, like, when you’re in the heat of an argument and everything’s caving in; you’re drowning. You can’t really see. You’d do anything. Obviously the argument always ends, so you never actually drown.

AP: “What does it mean to be here?” [from “The Ark”]

TL: That’s a good question. To be is to do. That’s pretty much about it. There’s not necessarily any meaning behind being, but you know the basic act of being is doing something. That’s one thing you can definitely see. The proof is in the pudding. That’s one thing you can actually wrap your hand around.

AP: “How did the fox get the raven, the crow?”

TL: Those are taken from Aesop’s fables, that whole chorus of “Army of Ancients.” They’re all real short synopses of Aesop’s fables, and that one is…the fox, he flatters the raven.

AP: “Where do all the shadow people go?”

TL: That is a great mystery (laughs). That is a nugget of a lyric right there. That, actually…I think Dan Auerbach [of the Black Keys] wrote the “Shadow People” lyric. Scott wrote the rest of that song and they were texting back and forth with each other. He wrote Danny, “I need a two-syllable word before the word ‘people.'” Danny sent him a list of 30 or whatever and Scott picked “shadow.” It really worked for the song but, just so you know, Dan gets credit for that one.

AP: You guys have been around a long time [fifteen years] but had never released a live album. Why now?

TL: It just seemed like the right time, you know? We’re better than we ever have been, the way we’re playing. I think the songs on the last few tours, I think some of the songs we we’re beating into the ground, just playing them a lot; they’ve been in heavy rotation now for, like, eight years. So one of the purposes [of doing a live album] was purging ourselves of some of these tunes and try and come up with new set lists that we’re psyched about. With that in mind, and knowing that every night for 20 nights was being recorded, it’s important that you don’t shirk on any night. We don’t really shirk, anyway, or if we do it’s “band meeting” pretty much immediately. But I can’t even think of any time in recent years where that’s happened. There’s nights where it’s a really off night, though, where we’re playing atrociously.

AP: The whole night is off?

TL: Sometimes. Oh yeah. Sometimes it’s hard to right yourself, man. It very rarely happens [and] we’re professionals, so you don’t ever see it. We’re not the kind of guys who are gonna, like, throw mics down or yell at the audience or cut our set short. That’s not fair to anybody. But when you do something every night, sometimes it’s gonna be off. But over the years you learn a lot of tricks to get yourself back in, find that little doorway back into where you feel comfortable and where you feel like you can exist in whatever seemingly endless pit of anguish you’re in. “What little glimmer of hope can I find to make this all OK?”

AP: Kind of like a pitcher who doesn’t have his best stuff but fights through it.

TL: Yeah, or how a lot of ace pitchers will give up a couple early runs and then they’re lights-out the rest of the game. That’s it. That’s the same switch. Actually, I don’t know if that’s it but it’s a damn good analogy. (Laughs)

AP: Do you remember the first show you guys played together?

TL: Scott and I played a party. I think it was eighth-grade graduation, probably 1992. We’re old, man.

AP: And the first Dr. Dog show?

TL: 1998, probably. Early Dr. Dog shows were just…there’d be a party and we’d be, like, “OK, Dr. Dog’s gonna play in the upstairs bathroom. So that bathroom’s off limits for the two hours that Dr. Dog is playing, but if you want to watch you can open the door and watch them play.” It was a lot of weird stuff like that.

AP: How much have you changed as a live act since then?

TL: We’re better, fortunately. We’re a lot better. We’re not as scrappy, or as blindly optimistic. Maybe it’s just the difference between 17 and 35. We play a lot better together. The songs are better. Everything’s better. Just from playing together for so long, you’re quicker on your feet and better at responding to people. Pushing for a vibe, you can get into that pretty quickly. You can react quicker, and that makes everybody happier and makes everybody play better, too.

AP: About that scrappiness – you guys were known on your early albums and at the early shows for that kind of dustiness, and now…

TL: It’s still there. It’s not like we’re up there reading thesis papers or anything. We come for a party. When we come off the stage, there’s nothing left. That’s the point. And it’s our world. It’s a Dr. Dog show. You don’t have to pretend that your three hours of sanity are the same here; they’re different. Because they can be. Why the hell not? Why would you go to a show and want the natural order of things to play out like they always do every other time in your life, you know? Our recordings are kind of like that, too. “How can we make the situation strange enough where the result is gonna be even stranger?”

AP: How do you choose what to play every night, with so many songs?

TL: I feel like the past two tours got stuck in a rut with some stuff. We played 20 to 25 songs a night and were only rotating about 30, which is neither here nor there. It’s nice to have that sort of comfort level, but right now we’re doing eight nights in New York and we have 70 songs. So next time you see us hopefully it will be a completely different set. We’ll still do whatever our version of a hit is — people wanna see those — but the goal is to play all 70 songs [in eight shows]. And I can tell you why it was so easy to pick what songs we were doing, though: because we weren’t practicing.

AP: I’m from Pennsylvania, too. There’s a very clear identity there. Sort of like Ween, which is also from Philadelphia, you guys seem very firmly rooted in where you’re from and how it defines your attitude and ethos.

TL: “Yeah, there aren’t a lot of bands that come out of Philly, but they’re all weird, and they’re all these kind of strange amalgamations of stuff that doesn’t really fit in.

AP: Like the Dead Milkmen.

TL: Perfect example. Another band where there’s multiple lead singers, too. There’s never a “scene” in Philly. You know who the sound guys are and the promoters and the venues and who plays what in what bands, but it’s not like “This is the Philly sound.” There’s nothing like that going on. You have a band like The War On Drugs right now…there’s not another band that sounds like them. Name another band that’s big in Philly and there isn’t another band that sounds like them. They’re sort of these pop-up things standing on their own because they sound great.

AP: How do you keep that sense of where you’re from when you’re on the road constantly for fifteen years?

TL: That’s surprisingly easy when you’re in a bubble with the same [band and crew] every day and your interactions are really with the same 12 people. For an hour and forty-five minutes you’re yelling at a crowd of strangers, but every other minute you’re just seeing the same people you see at home. It’s a pretty standard thing among people who tour; you get into your routine and you become pretty into it. Even on your days off in the middle of, you know, North Dakota it’s 12 dudes doing this thing. At least for us; maybe we’re unique in that we do everything together. We’re good at surrounding ourselves properly with people who have the same sort of vision, same attitude, same work ethic.

AP: If you don’t do that, your band breaks up because you can’t be on the road together.

TL: There’s a million reasons why a band can break up, but that’s one of them, for sure. If you’re unhappy with the people you surround yourself with you’re doomed.

AP: Do you try to make every night a totally different experience? How do you capture that on one live album?

TL: Well we have the benefit of the album being from about thirteen different nights. There’s always something you can glom onto from your life, or within the band interactions, that makes it feel different. The fact that it’s a different venue makes it a different experience automatically. The place is different. And you can try to right whatever sort of wrong has been nagging at you. That’s something different. You feel different every day and you try to bring at least a piece of yourself every night to let people have a window into what you’re thinking and what you’re saying. And that’s not hard to do if you’re actively trying to express yourself in a way that’s meaningful.

DARK DARK DARK in Denver (Boulder Weekly 10/25/2012)

PROGRESS VIA ANTIQUITY
Dark Dark Dark in Denver
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly
10/25/2012

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During the 2011 Communikey Festival, a few hundred local hipsters packed the obscure and highly under-used Odd Fellows Hall on Pearl Street to see why Dark Dark Dark — a poignant Minneapolis-based indie-pop and chamber-folk group that plays old-world instruments — was playing an electronic music festival.

It turns out the band had been deeply involved with former bassist Todd Chandler’s incredible film Flood Tide, which found the musicians (as part of the artist Swoon’s Swimming Cities of the Serenissima project) building giant rafts out of found materials and living on them for a time as they sailed down the Hudson from Troy to Long Island City. At Odd Fellows, Dark Dark Dark played a live soundtrack to Flood Tide, which songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Marshall LaCount calls “part document of Swimming Cities, part fictional narrative, with a twist of environmental activism.”

According to LaCount, “All of us were involved in the Swoon project on many levels. Different incarnations of that project and community are one of the catalysts for Nona [Invie] and I starting this band, and significantly expanded our experience, our ambitions and our community.”

Dark Dark Dark, which debuted in 2008 with The Snow Magic, has always created exceptionally cinematic music, much of which would not be out of place in Tim Burton’s movies, although thus far the band’s songs have instead surprisingly appeared in the background on Grey’s Anatomy and American Idol. Dark Dark Dark’s original Flood Tide score saw the band growing, or simply discovering, its musical capabilities.

“As far as sound,” LaCount says, “I think we did start expanding our dynamic range and some of the improvisation we were ‘allowing’ ourselves to do in [our] usual live setting, in working on the film. We did it in a very Neil Young Dead Man scoring kind of fashion, at least from our understanding [spontaneously composing music while watching a film with very little dialogue]. Noisier and more textural things carried into our songs a little more quickly from working on accompanying the film.”

Dark Dark Dark’s new album, Who Needs Who, isn’t exactly Neil Young shredding away on Old Black. But its intermittent smidgens of distorted guitar bursts are surely a departure from the deeply intimate, spooky and almost baroque sensibility of 2010’s Wild Go, which singer-pianist Invie nods to on Who Needs Who’s title track.

Invie — whose romantic relationship with LaCount ended just before Who Needs Who was recorded — is most comfortable and powerful conveying her bold poetry with just a piano and her wispy voice, or when also accompanied by slow, buoyant bass and gently brush-stroked drums. NPR correctly described her voice as “flexible, penetrating, shedding both light and shadow on the meaning of her lyrics.” And both are necessary when contemplating lines like “I have the memory of trust / I try to keep it close / I swallow it whole / from the mouth of you.”

LaCount says that he and Invie, who have been close for many years, share a musical upbringing.

“Nona and I basically learned our original instruments — acoustic banjo and accordion — reading Klezmer, wedding and traditional songs from Eastern European countries, and American folk,” LaCount says. “We’d play that stuff on the street or in loud bars. We’ve definitely spent a lot of time redefining and personalizing our sound, but people still hear these influences, for sure. There are also classical influences, punk bands, spoken word projects, really all kinds of influences happening.”

It’s almost impossible to point to another modern musical artist that Dark Dark Dark can aptly be compared to, although Joanna Newsom and others have recently also, as LaCount describes, brilliantly made “classical and world instruments fair game in indie and folk music.” He cites the soundtracks to films like Waking Life and Amelie as partial inspirations for that movement toward progression via antiquity.

LaCount, who told me he has “no idea” how his stormy relationship with Invie has informed Dark Dark Dark’s music, has said that the two made a pact at the beginning of their romance to make the music survive no matter what happened between them. Despite some fairly brutal Invie-penned lyrics on Who Needs Who that touch on the breakup and have been described by her as hurtful but honest, LaCount says the strong friendship within Dark Dark Dark is “one of the reasons we can last.”

“Sometimes we may go eight hours without talking, and then spend two hours laughing our asses off about nothing,” he says. “Somehow we generally know how to create the personal space we need when there is no space at all.”

DEERHOOF (interview/preview) Boulder Weekly 9/20/12

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CUTE MADNESS
Deerhoof Goes for Best of Both Worlds
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 9/20/12

Deerhoof concerts have always been uniquely fun, but lately more of a festive connection between band and audience has been on the quartet’s mind, according to singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, who lived in her native Japan until the mid-’90s.

“For Breakup Song [Deerhoof ’s 10th album, released Sept. 4], we tried to create a feeling of party dance music,” she says. “When we played shows in the past, I noticed that sometimes our music is not easy to dance to. Then, [when] I moved to New York this year, I went to dance parties and enjoyed it very much.

Questlove [of the Roots] plays DJ every Thursday at Brooklyn Bowl. Once all the Deerhoof members went there for the after-party of the show, which we played with Questlove. We had so much fun. Questlove’s DJ style reminded me of our music. He uses short clips of popular dance hits to make audiences keep dancing and just keep going. Kind of busy and mind-bogging in a way. I got a hint from that when we made this album.”

Deerhoof formed in San Francisco in 1994 and acquired its energetic and brilliant Japanese-born frontwoman Matsuzaki in 1996. The sweetly bombastic quartet juxtaposes explosions of dark indie madness with sincere Japanese cuteness and deft musicianship.

Drummer Greg Saunier, who has struggled with Tourette syndrome, spastically throws himself at a comically small drumkit like Keith Moon channeling Gene Krupa. Guitarists John Dietrich, a founding member, and Ed Rodriguez (who joined Deerhoof in 2008), joyfully trade staccato licks not unlike Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp on the classic King Crimson tune “Neal and Jack and Me” (sans soloing). And Matsuzaki, standing at around 5 feet tall, holds it all together with a tasteful, thumping bass that appears larger than she is. She defines the band with the creative, loveable and sometimes bizarre lyrics she sings in a babyish (yet deeply beautiful) voice.

Matsuzaki has bounced around from San Francisco to Tokyo to London and New York the past few years, and the rest of the band has lived apart as well. Intra-band drama and ossification often make it difficult for any band to attain or sustain musical success, so it’s incredible that Deerhoof, which achieved some mainstream exposure in the past decade with the critically acclaimed album The Runners Four and by opening a few shows for Radiohead, has been able to continue to evolve, “working together like a family.” The band continues to play stripped-down, intense concerts while taking its studio work as “out there” as possible.

The latter means sometimes recording synth-heavy experiments that would be impossible to recreate live with just two guitars, Matsuzaki’s bass and the aforementioned comically small acoustic drum kit.

“We don’t treat live shows and albums same,” Matsuzaki explains. “We make an album as if we create a sci-fi movie. There is no technical limit, like making Transformers! It’s a fairy tale and you can make it up as far as your imagination goes, but we don’t try to recreate those sounds for shows. We are trying to rearrange all the songs from scratch. We even change the structure. The idea and bones remain.

“Why would audiences wanna listen to exact same music when they have already listened to [the recording]? That doesn’t sound fun to me. I expect thrilling liveliness and improvisations from live shows. We strip down the songs to leave spaces for us to be able to throw our current sparkle ideas on stage. Every show is different for us.”

Romantic tales like the sprightly “Flower” — with its “Let it go / leave it all behind” chorus — will surely show concertgoers at the Hi-Dive in Denver on Tuesday a different, more personal side of Deerhoof.

“Relationships matter is the simplest theme that everyone relates to,” Matsuzaki says. “I think about communication all the time. [Breakup Song] is not just about love relationships but also friendships. We all had breakups in the past and moved on. The album encourages you to move on, be happy and dance! It’s time to party. Fun!”