Category Archives: Best Of

An interview with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello to play Toronto's Danforth Music Hall

After 14 years of being the forerunners of what critics have termed ‘Gypsy punk’ (commonly used to describe a hybrid of punk rock and traditional Romani music), New York-based Gogol Bordello have established a reputation for their manic live shows and distinct sound, its most prevalent element being the accented drawl of Ukrainian-born frontman Eugene Hutz. Last month, the group released their sixth studio album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, further pushing the Latin American tinge introduced on 2010’s Trans-Continental Hustle, yet still remaining indebted to the punk riffs and Romani folk music they have always been recognized for:

Questions of multiculturalism and ethnic juxtaposition have long pervaded their music and image, with rotating members of the band hailing from locations as disparate as USA, Russia, Belarus, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Israel, China, Scotland, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine. With the release of Pura Vida, these ideas are pulled out even further, as Hutz’s recent living in Brazil designates an even greater collocation of cultural and ethnic boundaries. Hutz recently took the time with us to address this issue, as well as reflecting upon the latest album’s ‘evolved’ sound, his perspective on contemporary electronic music, and why his mustache is just so damn good-looking:

 

What makes such a unique hybridity of Balkan and Latin American musical cultures so appealing to you? And what result is acquired by bringing the two together which might otherwise not have been found on their own, separately?

Yes, I have discovered firsthand that east Europe and Latin America, indeed, are kindred spirits. They are both children of chaos. And we as a band have definitely embraced influences of both. However, we are not in any way a musicologist research group, you know; we are primarily a rock band, and essentially, as a songwriter, I write whatever I darn please from my own perspective, and we play it however we want without looking back. That’s very important to know. Otherwise, we would be doing archaic music, you know, instead of progressive forward music. I believe in music breaking borders, not in signifying them.

A number of songs on the new album feel more ‘symphonic’, or more ‘dense’, compared to those found on previous album releases. Was there a different approach taken to songwriting, this time around? If so, how might it denote a shift, or evolution, in your sound?

We can proudly say we never made the same record twice, and indeed, this one is yet another step forward, particularly in melodic and symphonic direction. This record is about resonance with grand feeling of life. With all its ups and downs and all its madness, yet lurking light in there that keeps us all going. So it’s just happened that this batch were all big melodies. They just sound and feel big, and that’s all there is to it. It is indeed connected to the uplifting vision of life in general. And I’m very excited that we got the chance to express it and put it on this record properly, so nothing gets lost in translation. And that was largely successful because of a growing understanding of each other in the band.

Do you perceive audiences of different countries as receiving your music differently from one another? Or do you find the reaction to your music as being mostly ‘universal’?

I have to say “universal” reaction is what’s up! The universe is expanding and so are we! But really, I witnessed this wild response pretty much everywhere we went so far…

 ‘Gypsy punk’ is a relatively niche musical genre, yet you have been able to break out into more popular territory. How might you gauge the reasons for your widespread popularity and success, and how do you ensure you remain indebted to the ‘exclusivity’ of the genre, while still being accessible for a mainstream audience?

Okay, okay, let me do a little educating here, heheh…Obviously you don’t go to a store and see a section called “gypsy punk”. It doesn’t exist as a genre…The press got carried away here a little bit; in reality, Gypsy Punks was the name of Gogol Bordello’s third album, which then was also used by writers to describe a whole bunch of bands inspired by that album. But, essentially, I made that name up—nobody else. In the meantime, we didn’t even think about stopping on what we achieved and been moving forward with new songs and bending our sound every way we pleased, and having lots of fun with it. In reality, we were always a rock band with distinct style, yet no limitation…and therefore, our audience is limitless.

 The accessibility and popularity of computer technology since the early 2000s has led to an increased interest in electronic music recently. Some punk subgenres, in particular, have utilized synthesizers to various degrees. Will Gogol Bordello ever look to the electronic scene for influence or inspiration?

Actually, we have made a kick-ass electronic record back in 2003. I was in a full DJ swing back then, and I felt inspired by crossing electronic beats with Balkan riffs and whatnot. It was released under the title J.U.F. Gogol Bordello vs Tamir Muscat, and some people know about it. However, I didn’t feel so attached to it after all…Something about electronic music evokes the word “disposable”. And I don’t mean it in a condescending way, because I really like a lot of electronic artists, although never as much as Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits…Somehow, you LOVE those guys, and have less faith in music that was entirely formulated on a laptop. I prefer real life; I prefer PURA VIDA!

And finally: how does you keep your mustache so finely groomed and youthful-looking?

Well, that’s because I use “pura vida conspiracy” mustache wax, right?..Okay, okay, I think the real answer is that I just have generally strong hair. I really couldn’t give much fuck about some kind of grooming. My eyebrows, on the other hand…

Gogol Bordello is playing two upcoming sold-out shows in Toronto @ Danforth Music Hall  (August 19th and 20th). 

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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A conversation with Creed Bratton about his upcoming album and the end of The Office

With the finale of The Office fast approaching, I’ve had moments of deep reflection on the comedy that accompanied me through undergrad and beyond. Over half a decade, I came to care for the characters. I had a lot riding on the Pam and Jim storyline. I had a Dwight bobblehead. I was all in.

I always had questions about the character of Creed. His enigmatic presence in… what was it… Quality Assurance? was always a random highlight on the show. As an avid fan learning everything there was to know, I was surprised to find out that he was a member of an influential 60s folk pop band, The Grass Roots. That satisfied my thirst for knowledge. That is, until I caught wind of his current musical endeavours.

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton has had an interesting 70 years (don’t let his hair fool you) on this earth. He traveled the world, he experienced the highs and lows of superstardom, and he built his role on The Office from the ground up. Literally starting as an extra, he pitched the idea of his character to the show’s producer and it stuck.

It’s that resiliency that makes his story so appealing. He has released a number of solo albums since his time in The Grass Roots, but his 6th, Tell Me About It, delves more into the story of Creed. Split into three acts (the last of which is released on May 21st), he takes us along the winding path that’s brought him here. I had the pleasure of talking to him about his music and The Office:

Creed Bratton - Tell Me About It

Tell me about “Tell Me About It

The album itself is an “audiobiography”. It tells the story of the ups and downs of my life. The success, The Grass Roots, the down periods, like a story. It brings up The Office towards the end. PF Sloan, the iconic writer and famous recluse who produced a lot of The Grass Roots stuff, is on it. Rainn Wilson is on it. I have the same band that I used for my “Bounce Back” album. It’s a lot like my live show, I sing original songs and then in between, I morph into Mark Twain, except the Creed version.

What inspired the “audiobiography” concept?

When we started recording the songs for this, my 6th solo album, my producer Dave Way helped me realize that all the songs were telling a story. He put them in an order and I thought “Oh my god, this does work!” We went from doing an album of songs to doing it like my show, with some comedy bits and spoken word bits, a concept album.

Is there a reason you haven’t written it all out in a more traditional autobiography?

I think it’s just reluctance. When you start writing that stuff down… I believe that there’s quite a few more chapters of it so I don’t want to do the book too prematurely.

How much of your Office character is grounded in reality? (i.e. Do you enjoy mung beans?)

I like alfalfa sprouts in my salads. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever said “Mmm… mungbeans”.

…I believe your character actually lives in Toronto to “milk our welfare state”…

[laughs] We were actually kicking around the idea of getting Creed an aquacar, showing him getting into the harbour and driving off to Canada.

How have you felt like the show has changed since Steve Carell’s departure?

I used to think that he was the show. Nevertheless, this last season has been a really good one. It gets funnier and funnier. Now that I’m thinking about the finale, I think it will go out on a good note. It was impossible to capture what we had with Steve, maybe some time had to pass before people embraced the characters that were left.

Has the finale already been filmed? How was it?

We filmed it a couple of weeks ago. On May 4th, we’re going to be in Scranton, the whole cast. The town’s been great to us.

Have you encountered any resistance when promoting your music from people who don’t know you outside of acting?

It’s funny, some people from The Grass Roots era, the babyboomers, they know me from my pop music stuff. They come to hear the music. Not all of them are aware I’m a TV actor. When I performed in Boston, there was a younger, college crowd mixed in. They said that they came for the comedy because of The Office, yet they found that they stayed around for the music.

Along those lines, what do you feel like is the biggest difference between acting and performing music?

I don’t really think there is a huge amount of difference. One is singing with a guitar. The other uses the body as the tool you work with. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, you’re emoting and telling a story, whether through a visual or through the audio. They’re more similar than you think.

What do you feel is the next chapter for Creed?

The show is over, the album is finished. I’m making myself more available for film. I’m writing a screenplay and optioned another. I’m also writing a pilot with my friend Chuck… I’m [also] always writing songs. The songs are always coming through. I hear melodies and lyrics and I write them down all the time. Over the next few years, I’ll probably be more focused on releasing singles.

Speaking of singles, what are your thoughts on Leslie David Baker’s (aka Stanley) pop single?

Yeah, I saw it.

I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. From Creed’s perspective, what is it that you’re going to miss about the show?

I’m just going to miss how much we laughed. So much hilarity going on. The script is more hard work but, in between, the kidding with each other, it’s really the fun stuff.

Fans of my character, that strange old crazy guy… the writers came up with some great stuff and we’re going to say goodbye to him and all the characters and find completion. That feels pretty good. I don’t think the fans will be left hanging or disappointed.

Listen to “All The Faces” (featured on The Office finale) below:

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Katuwapitiya.com reviews SXSW 2013

Sixth Street, Austin

This was my second year visiting Austin for SXSW. Last year, I was given a wristband by the festival. I had it all planned out, previewing and interviewing a bunch of bands beforehand, I had a hostel booking, a printout map, American currency, the works. I packed 2 sets of shorts despite my hatred for shorts, sunscreen despite my sunburn-proof dark skin, hell, I might as well have packed a fanny pack.

This year was different. Having become so busy with school, it was very much a last minute decision to decide to go to SXSW again. As I met some great folks out there last year, I found myself with the opportunity to crash on a couch, wristbandless and badgeless. I took it.

When I have to describe SXSW to someone who has never been, I struggle. That may sound ridiculous considering I’ve been attempting to write about my music experiences here for 5 years now, but it’s true. What I (and Pitchfork and SPIN or every other blog/magazine that goes out there) would try to describe is its awesomeness, its scale, the cool bands we saw, the interesting crowds, and how the city is so cool and non-stereotypically Texan. There’s the other side too, complaining about how it’s not as good as it used to be, how the lines are too long, how they didn’t get to see the band they wanted (getting to a small venue Flaming Lips show 1 hour before with a badge does NOT guarantee entry, much to surprise), etc.

My suggestion would be: Go.

Book a flight now if you have to.

You don’t need to know anyone. You don’t need to have anything but a little bit of foresight and the ability to go with the flow. If I knew it last year, I wouldn’t have even bothered with a wristband. You can RSVP to the bigger shows of the year (names like Fader Fort, Hype Hotel, Spin at Stubb’s were some I loved this year) but outside of that, all you need to do is get there and find a place to sleep.

It’s everything and anything. It’s an entire city swallowed by the sound of any type of music you can imagine. If you took Bourbon Street and replaced “Jazz” with “everything”, you’d have Sixth Street. If you replaced the bulls in Pamplona with indie kids and hip hop heads, you’d have most of Austin in its chaotic evenings. It’s new bands hoping and dreaming to be seen and noticed. It’s well-established bands suddenly coming together to play again. It’s food trucks, everywhere. It’s walking into a place, being given free food and drink, striking up a conversation and having a blast. Every single day.

Few friends in Toronto really know about SXSW. They know about Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Osheaga, etc. The magnitude of SXSW is so much greater than those other festivals. It’s one thing being at an all day festival behind 50,000 people while a band plays a sound that isn’t suited to an outdoor venue. It’s another to be able to go door-to-door and hear perfection.

With that off my chest, I hope you’ve booked your ticket to SXSW 2014. If anyone tells you something other than what I said, it’s because they didn’t plan enough, they planned too much, or they want to keep it to themselves because they’re still pissed off at what happened to Kings Of Leon.

Here are some of the best bands I remember hearing at the festival:

Solange

Solange at SXSW

Absolutely gorgeous, phenomenal voice, great dance moves, basically the total package. She blew me away. It won’t be long before she’s the queen of R&B. Sample.

Diarrhea Planet

Diarrhea Planet

As hard as I tried to write them off based on their name, their brand of indie-punk brought me back to the first time I heard Titus Andronicus (edit: I just found out that they’ve toured together and that Titus is a big fan of their music, what a coincidence!). So much raw potential, energy, and skill. The recordings capture about a fifth of their live energy. Sample.

Flume

Flume

An Australian friend told me about Flume a few months ago and I’m glad he did. This producer’s brand of electronic hip hop inspired instrumentals got the crowd in a frenzy and made them all into instant fans. Sample.

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick

What can I say about this dude besides the fact that he’s the best rapper hands down in hip hop right now?

Here he is during Spin @ Stubb’s:

Palma Violets

Palma Violets

An incredible pleasure to see them at a house party near UT campus but such is the craziness of SXSW. Met the singer beforehand and talked about how their big hit “Best of Friends” was actually initially written by the band as their “shitty song” and they called it that until coming up with a proper name for it. Seeing as how I’m already loving Diarrhea Planet, I guess my music taste has turned to shit. Here it is. Decide for yourself. I’m sorry for the pun.

Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings

I saw these guys at the exact same venue last year (The Mohawk) and was literally the only person dancing in a crowd of 200. This year, they received the moshpit they deserved. Their age and noticeable improvement has me excited for their future. One refrain that stuck out from last year was “I thought I would be more than this.” and as they sung it this year, it seemed like much taller an order. But I believe it. Sample.

Local Natives

Local Natives

One of the best bands in indie right now. Did not disappoint. Sample.

CHVRCHES

Sort of like Elie Goulding meets Grimes. Except their few official recordings lean more towards the poppy side. I would stay tuned to them. Sample.

CHVRCHES

There’s more but who cares. You’re still reading and that makes me think you haven’t loaded up how much a flight to Austin costs in March 2014. <Everest Guy:> Just go already, you’re just sitting there reading about a music festival, get out of your computer chair, MAN! </Everest Guy>.

Shout outs to Sidecar for helping me get around the festival for free. Riff Raff for being as bad as I thought he’d be. East Side King for living up to all expectations. And most importantly my awesome hosts, Stephen, Patrick/Katie and their crew at Lucid Routes, and every single person I met in Austin for not changing my perception of the place one bit.

East Side King

East Side King

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An Interview with Paul Smith from Maxïmo Park

Maximo Park returns with The National Health

One of my favourite memories of first year university would be locking my door, closing the blinds, and jumping around to the freshest britrock that I could find (my secret’s out). During that phase, I remember listening to bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand on repeat, almost to the point of nausea. I was obsessed, and I wasn’t the only one. North America was swept up by that sound and it was inevitable that the tides would turn. Eventually the modern British Invasion subsided and bands were left to either adapt (as the Arctic Monkeys have) or fade into the distance (The Bravery?).

One band that stood out to me during that phase was Maxïmo Park. They sold millions of records as one of the best bands of that movement but they they were never as big in Canada as some of the aforementioned bands. I’m not sure why as their debut album A Certain Trigger contained absolute gems like “Graffiti“, “Limassol“, and my anthem “Apply Some Pressure”:

That debut was good enough to be nominated for Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize. After that success, they released two more solid albums, Our Earthly Pleasures (in 2007) and Quicken The Heart (in 2009). I hadn’t heard much about the band in the years since, until recently discovering that they were recording. The results of those efforts is a new album called The National Health, released last month. While my britrock tastes aren’t as all-encompassing as they once were, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the album. One thing that has always struck me about Maxïmo Park’s music is the honesty of lead singer Paul Smith‘s lyrics and he’s in form on this album. Darker brushstrokes to reflect times that are tough for many. The lead single is “Hips and Lips”:

I was able to ask Paul Smith some questions about the career arc of Maxïmo Park and what’s next for the band:

“A Certain Trigger” seemed to come out right when the UK rock invasion of North America was taking place, what are your favourite memories of that time period?
A couple of shows that stand out include playing with Vic Chesnutt at the Levi’s shop in Austin. Even through the show was weird it was amazing to be a new band in the same room as someone who I’d listened to and be playing on the same bill. Also, playing in Tonic, NYC before it shut down because it was a cool venue and we’d seen some experimental music there before. The list goes on: I bought my favourite Leonard Cohen t-shirt and some rare (ish) ECM records in Toronto; going to Amoeba Records in San Francisco and LA for the first time; driving around the Hollywood Hills at night with our pals The Blood Arm; visiting Motown’s Hitsville Studio in Detroit. So many good times!

What was it like to be nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize so early on?
It helped to get our music into a lot of new people’s lives so we were extremely grateful for the exposure. Being on an independent label and not being fond of compromise, we needed all the help we could get and the Mercury prize is seen as quite a prestigious, music-lovers award as opposed to something like the Brits, which is very much an industry-driven award ceremony. Of course, the Mercury has now become an annual industry event but at least it provokes discussion and is judged on merit rather than sales and celebrity.

It seemed inevitable that the immense worldwide mainstream success of British bands like yourselves, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian, and Franz Ferdinand would eventually cool off, how do you feel like you’ve had to adapt to stay relevant?
We always felt out on a limb to some extent, being from the North-East and being on Warp. I think it suited us to keep our distance from all the hype even when it was at its most intense, so that after the boom for British bands was over we remained confident of our own motives and, hopefully, stood out from the more derivative bands. We made our first album without thinking too much of a particular audience, so even when we gained one, we tried to pursue our own creative path safe in the knowledge that we naturally lean towards what we would term ‘pop songs’ in our writing. A band should evolve naturally according to their own influences and creative ambitions and I think we’ve done that, album by album.

You’ve said that your latest album “The National Health” seeks to tell a darker story that mirrors the times, what most inspired this direction?
I read the newspapers and watch the news every day – it’s almost an addiction to current affairs! I also don’t drive so I get public transport everywhere and try to observe the world I live in, which I then combine with my own personal viewpoint and experience in the lyrics. Some of the music, like the title track and a song called Banlieue, were also pretty dark and aggressive musically, which, in turn, helped me to find words that matched up in some way. I think the album is about finding light within this darkness, by pulling yourself up out of your own personal problems. It acknowledges the complexities and negative side to life, especially in a global recession, that seem to have made people more conservative and cautious, but ends up being quite positive and upbeat because we always find a way to start anew, somehow.

What excites you most about hitting the road for a tour again for the first time in five years?
Just playing the songs to people, really, because we love them and want the world to hear us! Oh, and we also get to see really inspiring places, from the idiosyncratic small towns to the excitement of the big cities.

It seems like your latest video highlights the virality of Youtube, how do you feel like distributing music has changed since your last release 3 years ago?
It’s all online now! We still love and are avid consumers of the physical product, specifically vinyl, but the world has come to appreciate the convenience of the double-click and I can see that point of view, too. People don’t put a record on so much, they watch something on YouTube or link to it on a social networking site. Playing live was always one of our strengths so that’s helped us sustain ourselves since physical record sales are in freefall, generally-speaking.

Are you coming to Canada/Toronto anytime soon?
Not in the near future, but we’d definitely like to return sooner rather than later. It costs a lot to come over so we have to make sure people are going to come to the shows before we make the commitment, which sounds really dull, but that’s the reality! I have great memories of playing Toronto and Montreal so we’ll see if Canada catches on to The National Health and then we’ll try to make plans.

Freestyling is an important form of expression in hip hop. If you had to freestyle four lines about “The National Health”, what would you say?
This album is raw
It’ll have you down on all fours
Like Bob from Twin Peaks
It’ll turn you all into freaks!

Maxïmo Park’s North American tour includes dates in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Details here.

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An Official NXNE Day Party Showcase presented by I Blame Yoko + Katuwapitiya.com

I Blame Yoko / Katuwapitiya.com NXNE Showcase

Katuwapitiya.com is excited to announce that it is throwing a Day Party / showcase with I Blame Yoko that is an official part of this year’s NXNE Festival in Toronto! It’s taking place on June 14th from 12:30-5:30 at The Horseshoe and is free to attend (i.e. wristbands for the festival are not required). You can RSVP for the event by clicking here.

I first heard of I Blame Yoko when I was in Austin covering SXSW, where they threw a rocking showcase. The bands that are lined up for this day party should make for an even better event! They include Katuwapitiya.com favourites Cai.ro (who will be performing an acoustic set) and some awesome bands from Southern Ontario and Buffalo. Here are videos of just a few of my favourites:


Elk

The Waxbills

Allosaurus

Son of the Sun


Hope to see you there!