A couple of years ago, I flew out to Walnut Creek, Cailfornia to visit my sister and her family, who I hadn't seen since I'd moved back to New York in 2002.
When I got to their house the first thing I heard was a deep, driving bass guitar tone coming from the garage.
"That's Robby's band," my sister said. I thought it was someone playing PIL's "Poptones" really loud. It sounded strange hearing that in this bucolic, tree-shrouded suburban neighborhood.
Robby Miller is my nephew. When I had last seen him, he was an 11-year old skate rat in Dayton, Ohio. Now he was a 17-year old singer, songwriter and guitarist in a band called Mister Loveless, with an incredibly sophisticated ability to express himself musically and impeccable tastes in influences. He and his bass player, Charlie Koliha, had immersed themselves in the sounds of 1979-1980 - Joy Division, Gang of Four, Echo and the Bunnymen, PIL.
It's very weird to meet your musical past 25 years later in your nephew's rock band. Weird but also great. All the stuff Robby and Charlie were listening to was stuff that I had listened to obsessively 25 years earlier, and still think of as some of the most exciting, profound music I've ever heard. (More so two years ago than now, I must admit. Hearing the Gang of Four in "Marie Antoinette" is a little like hearing "Lust for Life" in a cruise line commercial.)
Over the next year or so they continued to refine their sound. They also made a connection between post-punk and surf music, which seems obvious in hindsight but, to my knowledge hadn't been done since the Raybeats, the 70's New York no wave instrumental band.
It's great to have good taste. That will take you pretty far as a musician. But good taste alone doesn't make you great - it doesn't even give you the option of being great. Combining great taste with serious commitment to a vision does give you the option to be great. That's what I love about Mister Loveless. Everything about this band is life or death. The lyrics matter. The playing matters. The band's fans matter. I suppose you could make fun of that, but it's probably wiser to take them as seriously as they take their music.
Mister Loveless - Scatterplot.mp3
Mister Loveless' first album, "My Share of Losing," is available at the band's website: http://www.misterloveless.com/
You can check out other songs at their MySpace site:
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Andy Pratt was from Boston, Massachusetts. In 1973, he had a minor hit with a song called "Avenging Annie." In 1976, he released an album called "Resolutions." It was obvious that someone at his record company thought this was a chance to present him as a slick, mature entertainer. The album was produced by Arif Mardin, who had been responsible for some of Atlantic Records' most sophisticated recordings, from Aretha Franklin to the BeeGees. (In 2001, he produced Norah Jones' first album. And in Jones, unlike Pratt, he found an artist who could blossom commercially as a result of his sophisticated touch.)
The song "Resolution" was not a hit. I don't know if it was even released as a single. The album it came from got great reviews but didn't sell terribly well.
I bought the album when it came out - and took a lot of shit from my punk rock friends for that - but there was no question in my mind that it was great. It supports my theory that, lost in the rush of new musical forms erupting out of the '60's and '70's, were a bunch of great American songwriters who could compare favorably with the classic songwriters of the '30's and '40's - the Cole Porters and the Irving Berlins.
Andy Pratt - Resolution
Saturday, October 07, 2006
In the future, I will write more about Jon Dee Graham, a singer-songwriter and philosopher from Austin, Texas for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection. For now, I just want to post his celebration of the month of October.
Jon Dee Graham - October.mp3