Meg Remy’s favorite topic of discussion is repression. The Canadian-American musician behind U.S. Girls has been discussing it in her music for years, whether she’s singing about patriarchy or late capitalism. Her latest album, the incredibly funky In a Poem Unlimited, takes on some heavy subject matter over the course of its 11 tracks. On “Rage of Plastics,” woman becomes infertile after years of working at a chemical plant. On “Pearly Gates,” another surrenders her body to St. Peter as a means of entering heaven.
While that all may sound depressing, the music is the opposite. For In a Poem Unlimited, Remy enlisted musicians from the Toronto jazz collective Cosmic Range, whose horns and thumping bass bring on disco vibes as the singer croons about darkness. AdHoc caught up with Remy ahead of her Hopscotch set on September 6 to chat about crafting dance music that makes people think, the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church, and how she stays afloat while touring.
AdHoc: In a Poem Unlimited caught quite a lot of buzz this year. What does it feel like to have more people paying attention to your music?
Meg Remy: I’m always a pretty skeptical person. Although I’ve maybe climbed another stair in terms of visibility, I’ll be curious to see how it translates this fall. The turnover rate with things is so quick right now. When I’m [playing] a sold-out show, or [I] see people singing the lyrics—[those] real life like examples feel exciting. It also feels very right. I’ve been working for 10 years on this project, and if I’ve been working for 10 years, I should be having some sold-out shows.
It was fun. It was very interesting to do it how it used to be done—you know, like The Beatles or Little Richard or jazz singers would do multiple sets in a night for months on end. You learn stuff about the stage that you’re bringing to the next set. It was wild to do it once and feel how exhausting it was and to be able to recognize that people’s entire careers were made up of, you know, three sets, six days a week, for six months.
The music of Montreal post-punk act Ought isn’t known for its conceptual stability. Their first two albums—2014’s More Than Any Other Day and 2015’s Sun Coming Down—had more to do with considered existential anxiety than the sort emotional volatility characterizing many of the band’s less clever contemporaries. There’s an ornate dirtiness to their music, and while words like “thorny,” “wild,” or “agitated” come to mind, none of them really do it justice. Ultimately, that refusal to be pinned down almost works as a unifying concept.
Their most recent album—February’s Room Inside the World, on Merge—saw Ought departing from the gritty, live quality of those early records and teaming with veteran producer Nicholas Vernhes, known for his work with Animal Collective, Deerhunter, and The War on Drugs. But rather than sink into sterility, the band reinvigorated their music with additional instrumentation—including a 70-piece choir, on “Desire”—and some of their sharpest songwriting to date.
Ahead of Ought’s performance at Hopscotch on Saturday, September 8, we spoke to frontman Tim Darcy about the band’s creative process and what it means to make political music in 2018.
You've said you think about Ought’s most recent album as having more of a studio sound than the first two. How did you guys achieve that sound without compromising the live, raucous energy you’re known for?
We still ended up doing a fair bit of things live, and I think that really helped maintain that energy. We went in feeling like we were game for anything, thinking we might go track by track and really break every element down. We did a pretty extensive demo-ing process, home-recording all the songs. In some cases, we did like three versions before we went in with Nicholas. I think it’s totally case by case. For us, working with Nicholas was a really good fit, because he was excited about the record. He got the band.
So Nicholas was wrapped up in that process of maintaining the energy?
Yeah, for sure. I think a different producer could’ve boxed things off more. Obviously, he knows how to make a studio record, and that was something that we wanted, having done two extremely live records. I think we found a really nice balance. Having someone who’s a little bit more like, “Oh hey, let’s try this,” or who just grabs some random thing—that type of energy is much more akin to the world of live performance. We don’t really go home and come back with riffs; we’re always jamming, and out of these long jams will come a little pocket of an idea that we then play through [in] all these different manifestations.
We first spoke with Mike Collins some years ago. He was still finding his way back then, producing music under the name of Salvia Plath — one of many punny monikers he’s recorded under throughout the years. In 2016, Collins unveiled Drugdealer, and with that new name came the kaleidoscopic glory of his latest album, The End of Comedy.
With its roots in the psych-folk melodies of the ‘60s and ‘70s, The End of Comedy is a vivid, dreamy record with guest appearances by the likes of Mac DeMarco, Weyes Blood, and Ariel Pink. Listening through feels like settling into an endless reverie; indulging in a swirling reprieve from life’s troubles. The record received a quiet flurry of love when it was first released — and Collins has been able to maintain the project’s popularity even as he’s taken his time recording a follow-up. “The response has been steady, even though it came out so long ago,” Collins tells me over the phone, “I feel like people are still finding out about it, all the time.”
The Los Angeles-based musician has been hard at work with a band made up of (mostly) skaters that he affectionately calls his “unofficial super-group.” We caught up with Collins to hear about what he’s been up to with his new band, his love of skating, and his pursuit of filmmaking. Read up below, and be sure to grab tickets to his show at Market Hotel tomorrow, August 11.
You’re a skater. How has being a skateboarder influenced your ethos, whether on music or in life more generally?
When I was younger, I wasn’t musical. There was a piano in the house, but my parents didn’t really play music. They largely listened to talk radio. It just wasn’t really a part of my life and didn’t care about music very much— I cared more about authors and movies and skateboarding, which was my first main love when I was about 8-years-old. The way I got into music was actually through skating.
When you’re a skateboarder, you’re extremely obsessive. You repeatedly watch videos of a skater you like. We would loop the same section manually on VHS. I never really realized it, but these repeat viewings of those skateboard parts meant that I was just listening to the same songs over and over again. And the music is almost more important than the skating: It says a lot about that skater’s worldview. I’d watch these videos and I’d be like, “Oh I like this part and I like this one,” but what I didn’t realize was that I really was just like, “Oh, I love this music.”
I had never really been a music fan before that. When it hit me was when I badly broke my ankle when I was 17. I was immobile for awhile. If you talk to a lot of people, this is usually the story — with a lot of young musicians that I know, they were once skateboarders that either just weren’t good enough or got really hurt, and they started making music instead. I sort of gave up on skating for many years after that, but I got back into it when I moved back to L.A. properly about four years ago. The thing that I find interesting is that I was influenced by a lot of this music that these skaters chose and I think that my music has started to reach some of them. It’s sort of been like an echo chamber, them reaching out to me and being like, “Oh I like this,” and realizing that their taste-making was partially an influence to it in the first place.
I don’t know if that’s a good answer to your question, but I just think that the community of skateboarding is a lot like the community of art — it’s complicated and everybody is sort of pushing off each other. The last thing I’ll say about it, is that it allows me to not be concerned with the music industry, which is a total godsend. I don’t think I could really be working on the music that I am right now without having this other outlet that takes me away from it. And I think that that’s a big part of why I love it so much.
Has your musical work ever overlapped with other skaters? Who are some of those people, if so?
Danny Garcia came up to me and told me, “I like your album,” and I was like “I’m a huge fan of your skating,” and slowly I basically begged him to be my friend. I realized he was a really, really talented musician and he started playing guitar with me. And then through that, I met a handful of skateboarders that I related to, having watched them as a little kid. He’s not playing with me anymore, but an equally legendary, amazing skater joined my band named Kenny Anderson. He’s played trumpet his whole life and nobody even knew that he played. Recently he started playing with me and kind of began promoting it, and a lot of people in the skate world are just really perplexed and excited about it.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re featuring the illustrious Aretha Franklin, whose 12th studio album, Aretha Arrives, came out this week in 1967.
Aretha, mother of rhythm and blues, queen of soul and spirit—you knew what you were doing when you named your 1967 album Aretha Arrives, didn’t you?
It was as if to say, “I’m here, I’m still here,” when you already had twelve records under your belt. Or, “There’s more where that came from,” after topping the charts with songs like “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You,)” and Otis Redding’s “Respect,” both released earlier that year. Aretha, it was as if you knew Aretha Arrives would mark the zenith of your success—and so it was named accordingly.
It’s often a tall order for any album of mostly covers to resonate with listeners; but, Aretha, you made even that possible. It’s that fearless tone, that deep texture in your voice. Even the album’s version of “You Are My Sunshine” sounds less like a child’s song, and more like you’ve actually found the sun on Earth itself.
Is that hyperbolic? Maybe. But Aretha dealt in hyperbole. Her bodacious spirit, sly humor, sequined dresses, elaborately coiffed hair— they were all expressions of her innate star's disposition, destined for greatness from the moment she stepped into her Baptist church as a young girl.
Years later, this was the same spirit that would bring her to a stage in Amsterdam to perform for a raucous crowd. Flowers and gifts would shower onto the stage as she sang her cover of “Satisfaction” from Aretha Arrives. In the video below (starting at 3:16), you can see Aretha Franklin belting with her unmistakably rich, booming cadence, taking a cock-rock song by the Rolling Stones and turning it into her own hefty anthem of desire.
Dave Benton is learning to walk away from what feels comfortable. For the Brooklyn-based songwriter, this means stepping out on his own with his new solo project Trace Mountains, and saying goodbye to the projects that led him to this point in the first place. Two years ago, Benton began the process by stepping down from indie beacon Double Double Whammy, the record label he co-founded in college. And in June of this year, LVL UP— the beloved DIY crew that Benton has been playing with since 2011 — announced their retirement with a final string of tour dates this fall.
Amidst all these changes, Benton was quietly working to release his first solo full-length as Trace Mountains. Self-released this March via Benton’s new label, Figure 2 RC, A Partner to Lean On puts a pastoral spin on the crunchy indie rock Benton honed with LVL UP. Bucolic images of “Rising water through the trees” and “Thunder trails under the mountain range” rise against the sound of pulsing drum machines, and Benton’s folksy, guitar-rooted arrangements oppose the record’s icy synths. The juxtaposition depicts an artist in transition, taking a personal leap of faith into new forms of songwriting.
You know Calvin Johnson’s band, The Hive Dwellers? My friend asked me to play this show with them, and I was just like, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” But I just started playing some of my earlier songs at that show. So the inception of the project was very spur-of-the-moment, with a friend just asking me to perform solo. It was a long time ago, though and [Trace Mountains] is pretty different now.
In past interviews, you’ve described Trace Mountains as a way for you to tread in more vulnerable territory. Do you still feel that way now?
Yeah, ideally. I guess it can be hard sometimes to not have things be veiled, lyrically. But yeah, that’s still what I’m going for with my words, at least.
The visuals for Shmu’s “Your Favorite God” are either celestial or apocalyptic, depending on your point of view. At the start of the hypnotic electronic cut, you’re greeted by the Austin-based electro-noise artist’s bearded, disembodied head, singing along as it floats above a red-and-green checkerboard. Columns supporting some sort of temple float by, as well as an advertisement for throwback kids' toy Rainbow Art, beckoning you to "Dip! Dab! Draw!"
Thanks to the video’s 360-degree component, you’re “a co-creator in the journey beyond beyond itself itself” according to the video’s creator, Lionel Williams, of Los Angeles neo-psychedelic band Vinyl Williams. You, the viewer, have the ability to pivot and swivel, with the options to look down upon a video of Shmu playing the drums or to turn your back on his sunglasses-clad face to take in a series of detailed set pieces that take shape and disappear as the song picks up steam. The further you progress into Shmu’s digital plane, the more distorted and psychedelic the visuals become, until you’re surrounded by floating orbs and a color scheme reminiscent of the final chaotic (and ultimately blissful) minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“The lyric, ‘Your Favorite God is calling you back, right on time,’ could be interpreted as a metaphor for the higher self,” Shmu told AdHoc. “There are many metaphysical spiritual philosophies that share the belief that each individual has their own higher self that guides us where we need to go & always is there ‘right on time.’” “Your Favorite God” appears on Shmu’s third full-length, Lead Me To The Glow, which is out September 28 via GTZ Records.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we look at a glistening performance by singer-songwriter Judy Collins, recorded at the legendary Newport Folk Festival on this day in 1963.
On stage, Judy Collins seems almost unearthly, her golden voice sprawling toward the heavens. Hers is a tranquility that seems to sit at the core of her being, as Collins was devoted to manifesting peace as a social activist. Protest and advocacy aside, this should still come as no surprise. Her luminous voice floats unfettered into our hearts, channeling the same serenity she sought to bring to the world.
In this rare footage, we see a young Collins performing an enchanting rendition of a classic folk song, “Anathea.” Its verses tell a story of sorrow and abuse: Anathea’s brother is sent to prison and she sets out to free him. She offers the judge gold and silver, to which he demands that she offer her body to him instead. Desperate to save her brother, she agrees to pay the ultimate price—only to hear her brother has been hanged by the judge nonetheless. Collins’ gentle soprano holds out in a lament, turning this harrowing story into something beautiful.
Tanuki are charming beings. Otherwise known as Japanese racoon dogs, these foxlike canines have been the subject of Japanese myths and folklore for centuries. Often depicted as magical shapeshifters and carousing little tricksters, Tanuki are easy to love: so much so, that Hannah van Loon decided to name her solo-project after them.
“They’re super fun,” she tells me over the phone. “[A tanuki] is always down to party, and has these really big balls,” she says, laughing. This lightheartedness makes its way into her music: Tanukichan delivers gentle melodies that lull her listeners into a carefree reverie.
On her debut full-length, Sundays, the Oakland-based songwriter luxuriates in this dreamy mood. Co-written and produced by shoegaze mastermind Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi, the record largely feels like taking a sun-drenched nap in a field of daisies, with Hannah’s voice flowing over you like a soft breeze. But sometimes, Sundays’ sleepiness feels restless—like on “Hunned Bandz,” where grungy, distorted guitars soak the track and cloud her vocals, adding a note of uncertainty to her indiscernible lyrics.
We connected with Hannah to talk more about this emotional ambiguity, her unexpected side hustle as a carpenter, and her penchant for lyrical simplicity. Catch Tanukichan this Friday, July 27 at Union Pool, with support by Airhead DC.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re featuring Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, whose incisive album, Dirty, was released this week in 1992.
“What’s it like to be a girl in a band?”
It was a question that followed Kim Gordon everywhere. Stunning in its ignorance, it’s the kind of inquiry that seems to answer itself: To be a girl in a band is to be immediately Othered.
Gordon, at first, “never really thought about it,” she admitted in her 2015 memoir, Girl In a Band. But as her work with ‘90s rock outfit Sonic Youth developed, the vocalist and bassist would answer this question with her rebellious performances. On Dirty, released this week in 1992, Gordon would dedicate the song “Swimsuit Issue” to exposing sexual harassment. “Don’t touch my breast, I’m just working at my desk,” she fiercely insists early on the track. Much of her work with Sonic Youth would feel similarly confrontational, her snarling voice and raging lyrics acting as feminist manifestos in themselves.
Just over a week after the release of Dirty, Gordon would put these frustrations on show at a live MTV studio recording, captured in the video below. It’s an amazing clip; on “Kool Thing,” we see Gordon grabbing the mic and growling through the lyrics: “I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me? / I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls / From male white corporate oppression?”
Originally written in response to an uncomfortable 1989 interview Gordon conducted with rapper LL Cool J, “Kool Thing,” like many of Gordon’s songs, can be read in a variety of ways. On the one hand, her lyrics mock LL Cool J: “Kool Thing let me play it with your radio / Move me, turn me on, baby-o,” mimicking his sexist comments during the interview. But one might also read these lyrics as self-mocking. Essayist Elissa Schappell suggests that Gordon’s ranting is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of her own relative privilege as a white woman:
"Kool Thing’ is more than Kim’s assault on LL Cool J’s ego, but a self-mocking jibe at her own liberal politics. The sarcasm in her voice when she addresses ‘Kool Thing’ in the breakdown is self-mocking— the female voice inflated by privilege and naïveté."
Whatever her intentions may have been, Gordon was never afraid to be blunt. To anyone who expected otherwise: I don’t think so.
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re looking at Suzanne Vega’s classic hit, “Tom’s Diner,” in honor of the songstress’s 59th birthday this week.
Some melodies just never seem to disappear. They weave into our collective memory without notice, surreptitious and enduring, until it seems like they have been rooted in us all along. Beloved folk-pop singer Suzanne Vega is author to one such melody: 1989’s “Tom’s Diner,” an expository tune where she details a rainy morning at a Brooklyn cafe. Nearly 40 years have passed since it was written, yet its simple, a cappella arrangement feels more charming than ever.
Vega's voice is a gentle reprieve from a world inundated with noise and confusion. It is grounding. “I am sitting /In the morning /At the diner /On the corner,” she begins. No frills, no feelings—just the close-mic’d cadence of soft vocals and quiet intakes of breath. Look around, Vega seems to ask us. She does plenty of it herself, detailing her morning newspaper and taking in the movements of people at the diner: “There’s a woman / On the outside / Looking inside / Does she see me?”
Vega’s lyricism has sometimes been noted for its detached, or even clinical, perspectives— but with her tender voice and smooth melodies, I’d argue that she expertly turns the mundane into pop fodder. It’s telling, too, that this seemingly dry track would eventually be used by mathematician and electrical engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg as a marker of “warmth” when developing the MP3 in the early ‘90s. Vega’s was not a world of cold observation—the careful curiosities of any woman can glow, too, if only you listen closely.