This interview was first published in September 2014, ahead of the release of Leonard Cohen’s album Popular Problems.
“I like life on the road. It’s a lot easier than civilian life,” says Leonard Cohen. “You kind of feel like you’re in a motorcycle gang.” The old troubadour’s eyes twinkle. It would be hard to imagine anyone who looked less like an outlaw biker than the small, slim, dapper old gent in his grey suit, trilby and professorially manicured goatee beard.
Yet since being effectively forced out of retirement in 2008 following embezzlement by his former manager (who was sentenced to jail in 2012), Cohen has embraced the life of a working musician with apparent relish.
“I had to go back on the road: I was broke,” he says. “But it renewed my interest in the whole enterprise.
“Besides, this and washing dishes are the only things that I really know how to do.”
Poliça are a quartet from Minneapolis who sound like the future. An elegantly tangled web of drums, liquid bass lines and ghostly synths, their electronic music comes into focus in the presence of their 31-year-old frontwoman Channy Leaneagh, the new Queen of Autotune. She may look like a beatnik pin-up – she has the composed sensuality of a young Jean Seberg – but when Leaneagh sings, her digitally altered vocals split and multiply, bursting into cascades of exquisite melancholy and brokenhearted defiance.
“These effects are sort of like taking drugs for your voice,” she says. “I’m not using Autotune to correct my voice, I’m using it to distort it, to catch the notes in between the melody line. I use the pedal [that creates the effects of Autotune – reverb, harmony and delay] to erase in my head all the ways it has been ingrained in me how to sing.”
Leaneagh’s musical background didn’t exactly suggest a taste for experimentalism.
Bruce Springsteen shows off his talent for public speaking at the South By South West music festival in Austin.
16 Mar 2012
“I always tell my kids they were lucky to be born in age of reproducible technology,” Bruce Springsteen told a music business audience. “Otherwise they’d be travelling in the back of a wagon and I’d be wearing a jester’s hat.”
Pausing for laughter about this observation on the low historical status of performing artists, he added, “It’s all about timing.” On the evidence of his mesmerising speech at the South By South West music festival in Austin, Texas, however, the legendary rock star may be selling himself short. If Springsteen ever tires of playing music, he could forge a whole new career in public speaking.
His keynote address at SXSW was funny and touching, hugely entertaining, but also profound and revealing. In remarks aimed at inspiring a new generation to reach for the highest artistic level, he paid homage to the musicians who inspired him: Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and, in a particularly eloquent tribute, claimed he owed his whole career to British beat group, The Animals, “one of the ugliest groups in rock and roll.”
“It’s great to be in a town with ten thousand bands,” Springsteen declared, reflecting with delight on the chaotic spirit of SXSW, where the music business effectively colonises the city, and thousands of hopefuls tout their wares in every imaginable venue, from bars to tattoo parlours, whilst executives and hustlers gather to plot the future of music. “Back in ’64 when I picked up the guitar, this would have seemed an insane pipe dream,” said Springsteen, joking that “there wouldn’t have been enough guitars to go around. We’d have to be sharing.”
01 Mar 2012
When childhood heroes die, a little bit of ourselves dies with them, the last lingering illusions of immortality.
I mourn Davy Jones not because he was a great musical talent but because, through the auspices of a brilliant 1960s American children’s TV series, he became an imperishable star of my interior world, an archetype for the joyous possibilities of pop music. With their playful wit, madcap surrealism, knockabout comedy, innocent spirit of anarchic amity and fantastically uplifting songs, they sowed the seeds for my adult obsession with pop.
Most of this may have been borrowed by teams of TV producers, scriptwriters and songwriters from the oeuvre of the early Beatles but kids don’t make such judgmental distinctions. The truth is, The Monkees probably affected me more than The Beatles, because, at that crucial age (I was five when the show was first broadcast in 1966) they were pitched directly into my imagination. Actually, for years I thought The Monkees were The Beatles, and didn’t really make a distinction until I was a little bit older, watching endless repeats on Saturday morning children’s TV. This Monkee-Beatle confluence, conflated from the colourful pop mania of Help and Head, established my primary set of pop ideals, the idea that being a band was, at its essence, about camaraderie and fun, living in the same house with your friends making music and laughing your way through fantastical adventures. As I grew up, I found the reality to be a little different, but, in some romantic way that can never be erased, this will always be my pop ideal.
One of the most remarkable things about the Monkees is that the show, like the band itself, was sophisticated enough to be open to interpretation.
Listen to my radio guest slot with Michael Ball discussing the songs of Lieber and Stoller:
November 24th, 2011
Fresh from throat surgery, Adele is reported to be set to make her comeback on the final of the X Factor in December. Aside from providing further proof that the Brit School diva has “the show must go on” instincts of a trouper, her appearance could be a double edged sword for Simon Cowell’s ailing franchise. A world-beating singing sensation, Adele is exactly the kind of star these TV talent shows would like to launch but have struggled to unearth because of the very nature of the competition format.
Everything about Adele is authentic because she is her own creation.
Jessie J at the Hammersmith Apollo
There is a what-is-she-wearing moment when the curtain lifts on Jessie J.
Or maybe that should be: “What is she not wearing?” Judiciously placed purple strips just about cover intimate parts on a flesh coloured body stocking. When sensitive singer-songwriter James Morrison arrives in scruffy jeans and black shirt to duet on their single Up, he apologies for his performance, claiming: “The outfit distracted me.” “Sorry, babe,” coos Jessica Cornish, who has spent much of the song bumping and grinding against a flustered Morrison, while coating his hoarse and hurting vocal with her trademark ultra-wailing. Perhaps Morrison should have taken her aside beforehand and explained that the song was actually a lament for his late alcoholic stepfather. It seems such a strange pairing, as if two different pop worlds have collided . When they recorded it, Morrison described her as a musical Ferrari, and asked her to drop from fifth gear to third. But she could have gone right down to first, and she’d have still run all over him and left him for roadkill.
I don’t think Jessie J really does “sensitive”. She very occasionally sings within herself, with a sweet, high warble that leads into the opening of a ballad, but within a few bars she invariably cranks it up to klaxon level, ululating like a banshee. She has a voice that could be adapted as a military weapon.
October 27th, 2011
Now that Lana Del Rey’s debut single Video Games has finally been released from its long internet gestation and floated straight into the UK top 10, perhaps all the pointless chatter about her authenticity will die down. She is a gorgeous-looking girl who made a spooky, emotionally bruised 21st century torch song about unrequited love. With the aid of an ethereally effective, lo-fi, cut-and-paste video, it rose up via the contemporary equivalent of word of mouth as a viral internet sensation. People saw it, heard it, liked it and, when it was finally made available in the market place, put their money where their tastes were and bought it. To everyone who cherishes this striking track, for whom it will become a part of the soundtrack of their lives, the fierce internet attacks on Del Rey for being some kind of fake should be a complete irrelevance.
It amazes me that anyone even talks about authenticity in the 21st century. Didn’t we go all postmodern at least two decades ago? We live in an age of instant worldwide communication, moving towards a kind of virtual omni-culture whose inhabitants are free to pick and choose from all kinds of sources in every aspect of their lives, including the creation of their own identities. We listen to blues music made in London (Kill It Kid) and Afro-pop from New York (Vampire Weekend). Nothing is pure, nothing is unadulterated, and, indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of Del Rey is how knowing she seems to be, how many different sources she has brought together to create one alluringly original package. It is an inescapable irony that many of those uttering the most vociferous criticisms of her contrived image hide behind made-up names and phony avatars
Cometh the hour, cometh the band
Rock the Castle (452 Finchley Road, NW11 8DG) this very Saturday, August 6th
Playing songs for deaf, dumb and blind kids, like you never thought you’d hear them played again
From 8 til Late. Accompanied by The Heavenly Mothers of the Groove (and other special guests)
A mere five of your English pounds on the door
For more information see http://www.groovydad.co.uk/?p=712