Joanna Newsom @ Fox Theater

Posted by Miss Ess, August 3, 2010 01:45pm | Post a Comment
I admit I am a jaded ol' record store clerk, but I often feel like it's so rare that someone can make magic in music these days. What is left to do when it sometimes seems like it's all been done before?

Well, I went to see Joanna Newsom at the Fox Theater in Oakland last night, and there it was, clear as day, conjured and unfolding before me like no one else but the artists of olde: alchemy.

She and her adept band whirled and bounced through much of her new album, Have One On Me, peppered with a few songs from Milk Eyed Mender and one from Ys.

I can't think of anyone else who is making music now that is so utterly unique, creative, innovative and moving. It's a difficult thing to do these days, it seems. If you're not on board with Joanna and music matters to you, you are really missing the boat.

Interview with Rock Photographer Alissa Anderson - Part 2

Posted by Miss Ess, March 5, 2010 03:13pm | Post a Comment

Here we continue the interview with San Francisco's own rock photographer Alissa Anderson! In this edition, aside from more chatting about Alissa's favorite moments in her artistic career, check out photos (some exclusive!) of artists including Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan, Vetiver, CocoRosie, David Byrne, SIlver Jews, Beach House, Bert Jansch, Meg Baird, Devendra Banhart, Donovan, Little Wings and more! Please see Part 1 to catch up!

Joanna Newsom and Neal Morgan - Big Sur - March 28, 2009

Miss Ess: How did you come to photograph the Joanna Newsom show in Big Sur?

You were the only photographer allowed.

Alissa Anderson: I planned on taking pictures from the moment I found out about the show since I knew it was going to be such an intimate and historic occasion. I have shot Jo many times over the years, from her very first shows at the Hemlock, and I hadn’t seen her play in a long time. I’ve shot many times at the Fernwood so I knew what the situation would be like. I brought my Hasselblad and just shot a roll from my seat in the front. I didn’t want to be too distracting for Joanna or the band and it was extremely crowded; I was pretty squished up against the stage! Ironically, my favorite shot ended up being the one of her tuning.

Continue reading...

(In which Job interviews Neal Morgan...)

Posted by Job O Brother, October 20, 2009 02:22pm | Post a Comment
Due to some unfortunate miscommunications between the staff here at the Amoeblog, two of us ended up interviewing the same musician, Neal Morgan, about his solo debut.

Fortunately, the interviews are vastly different, due to my professional and honed skill as a journalist devoted to hard-hitting storytelling and dedication to factual analysis, and the other interviewer, Miss Ess, who prefers a more “whimsical” and, shall we say, lying-er approach to writing.

You can read this other "interview" by clicking on this link right here.

Due to his tight schedule of touring and promoting the new album,
To The Breathing World, Neal was under the weather and frequently distracted during the following interview, which resulted in many of his answers being garbled and unintelligible. (Confidentially, I think alcohol may have been a contributing factor to this. That’ll teach me to get drunk before an interview!) I therefore had to rely on memory and occasional paraphrasing in transcribing the following Q & A. Even so, I was able to capture the spirit of our conversation, from Neal's obsession with "crushing" to the revelation of his suicidal fantasies. Read on…

Neal Morgan before the plastic surgery

How did you pick up playing the drums? What is it that drew you to them so strongly - so much so that any other attempts to follow other dreams were crushed?

That’s an excellent question, Mr. Brother. I am impressed with your professional and honed skill as a journalist. And, might I add, your pectoral muscles are rad.

Who are your favorite drummers and how will you crush them in the inevitable drum wars?

I don't think I'll have to crush them. I think the drum wars will be humans versus drums, ala humans versus robots in Terminator. There will be a small drummer resistance led by Ginger Baker, who by then will have machine guns for arms.

This record is a gutsy idea – what made you want to create a drum and voice album instead of making a piping hot plate of delicious waffles? ‘Cause – and maybe you didn’t know this, Neal – waffles are not only easy to make, but less likely to attract snarky criticism from a cynical music press.

I'm not super big into waffles.

You know what? Let’s continue this interview at the Waffle House.



When and how did you begin writing these songs? Like, did you go with a pen and lined paper? Or are you one of those people who writes better curled up in the corner of a coffee house with a worn journal and a thin-tiped Sharpie©, somberly writing lines of poetry while casting sly glances at whoever walks in the door, each time hoping it wiil be a super-cute girl whose taste in post-grunge, neo-folk garb is matched only by her ability to hold her own in a conversation about 1970’s rock ‘n’ roll and thinks Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show (Great Job) is funny, not annoying, and who’s passive enough to wait backstage at shows for you to not only finish your set but help strike the stage AND gracefully endure the endless, awkward post-show conversation with the opening act (and their girlfriends) and visiting pseudo-celebrities (and their girlfriends) and friends (and their girlfriends) as you all aimlessly try to figure out where to go for a late-night dinner “in this town” but TOUGH enough – when the two of you are behind closed doors – to make you forget your sensitive, artist ways and make you feel like a virile, passionate, carnal MAN. Or do you just use a laptop?

...A laptop.
How did you make the arrangements? Were they all there in your mind, with all their many parts, waiting to get out? And have you considered seeking medical attention for this? ‘Cause you’re probably a paranoid schizophrenic.

Broccoli is Satan spelled backwards.

High in vitamins C, K, and A

What kind of technology did you use to record the album? How did you shape the various sounds? Actually, nevermind. Miss Ess will probably ask you those questions ‘cause she’s such a nut about those technical details. Like, she’ll ask a guy that on a first date. It’s weird. Pass the syrup, please.

I’m uncomfortable.


[Neal passes the syrup.]

Thank you. I feel the influence of Nevada City in your words (I've experienced those salamanders!) and creativity. What affect do you feel growing up there had on you and your work, and have you forgiven the townspeople for it?

Why is this the hardest question? I think I gave Miss Ess a very so-so answer, now that I'm thinking back. I don't know what to say about the creative process or the result of the creative process in terms of having come from Nevada City.

Just say what we’re all thinking: It’s the reefer.

That’s not what I was thinking.

I didn’t say it was. I said it’s what we are all thinking. This Boysenberry syrup tastes like sugary cow blood.

Now on to your new town: What affect do you feel Papua New Guinea has on your work and creative output.

I brought all these sea shells down there, packed inside the drums in their cases, only to find I can't pay for anything. WHAT? So I'm broke and in a really dry spell, creatively.

Tell me about your tour plans and how you are going to bring this record to life on stage! You have a female singer who will be joining you? Tell us something secret about her that no one’s supposed to know! Something dark we could use against her if she crossed us.

Damaris Peterson, who’s performing with me – she’s a man, plain and simple. And my great grandfather.

Are you messing with me?

No. I’m taking this interview seriously.

Then that’s fantastic.

What have you been listening to lately? Besides music, I mean.

The roar of the road, my man, the roar of the road.

Wow. I never noticed how exactly you sound like Bob Seger, Neal.

I get that a lot.

It’s eerie. God rest his soul.

Bob Seger isn’t dead.


[Long, awkward silence.]

What is your most prized piece of double helical gear?


What song best describes your life right now, if you had to choose between “Suicide” by Suzi Quatro or “My Suicide” by Michael Gira?

Uh, Suzi, I guess? ...Why do I have to choose between those two songs?

Name a record you love that you think more people should listen to and explain why you think it’s important to be so bossy about it.

Zach Hill's Astrological Straits. I'm bossy for your own good.

What's next for you to "crush?"

I don't do a lot of crushing. I'm starting to think maybe I should crush a lot more. Wasn't there a rap song about crushing a lot?

What's been your best find at Amoeba to "crush?"

OK, I'm going to crush something at Amoeba. I promise you I will. It starts here.

Can I finish your waffles?

Knock yourself out.

Neal's album To The Breathing World comes out today, October 20, 2009, and will be available at Amoeba Music. As an added incentive, any customer who purchases the album at Amoeba Music will also receive a free handshake from me, while supplies last.

Neal Morgan Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, October 20, 2009 02:13pm | Post a Comment
Drummer Neal Morgan's bold, multi-layered record, To the Breathing World, with songs created from vocals and drums only, comes out today, October 20! An entire album consisting of drums and vocals may sound simple, but Neal has created something that's complex, layered and not short on melody to boot!

You may know Neal from his status as a member of the Ys Street Band -- he was on the road with Joanna Newsom for Ys playing drums and singing backing vocals. His first solo release is something new and creative to behold -- the tracks are kind of like tiny symphonies of vocal layering, and the lyrics often reference the natural surroundings Neal grew up around in his hometown of Nevada City/Grass Valley.

Read on for our chat about the creative crock pot that is Nevada City, his new album, touring with Joanna Newsom, and more, and check out Neal's other chat with our own, ever-so-witty Job O Brother; the two are long time friends.

Miss Ess: How did you pick up playing the drums? What is it that drew you to them so strongly?

Neal Morgan: I began playing when I was 9; my dad had a cover band called Sons of Boogie that would practice in the garage. I think I must have sat down at the drumkit and something clicked. I can't say why I was drawn strongly -- I was a cautious kind of kid, so maybe banging on drums was a good contrast. I don't know.

ME: Who are your favorite drummers?

NM: Two close friends of mine stand out:

Zach Hill - he's mind-blowingly exciting as a drummer, of course, but he's an endlessly inspiring artist. No one works harder and very few people have the kind of dedication and commitment to really exploring what's possible in musical expression in the way Zach does.

John Niekrasz - of all the incredible drummers in Portland, I feel like I have the most to learn from John. He's in my favorite Portland band, Why I Must Be Careful, who I try to play with as much as I can.

ME: This record is a gutsy idea -- what made you want to create a drum and voice album?

NM: That's all I do artistically. Drumming and singing is what I love. That's how I want to express myself. So, it's the most natural record in the world for me to make. I guess, like everyone else, I always wanted to make a record that was mine; where it felt like my own territory. It took a while for me to realize that this was the kind of music-making -- and the kind of record -- that would be that for me. It had to be exclusively drumming and singing, it just took a long time for me to see it. Once I got a glimpse that this would be possible, it was the most freeing experience I've ever felt. This is a special debut for me.

ME: When and how did you begin writing these songs?

NM: In early 2007, I was making recordings back home in Grass Valley in between Joanna tours that were almost entirely drumming and singing, just hints of other instruments. Then Joanna opened two shows for Bjork in May. I hadn't listened to Bjork's music before, so I got all her albums and fell in love. I had very selective hearing with those records, because of where my head was regarding my own music, so I heard her music almost solely for the interplay between the percussion and her voice. Her albums gave me confidence. Then in June, I opened a show for Marnie Stern just singing from behind the drumkit for the first time. By July I was writing "Love Me World."

How did you make the arrangements? Were they all there in your mind, with all their many parts, waiting to get out?

No, not at all. The vast majority of the performances you hear on this record are first-take first impulses. I built and sculpted those impulses and re-recorded accordingly as the piece took shape and revealed where it wanted to go. It was almost like I remember paintings being made when I was making visual art: start somewhere, add something, gauge what that does to the whole and the other things around it -- subtract, add, push, pull, etc.

What kind of technology did you use to record the album? How did you shape the various sounds?

"Love Me World" was recorded on a cassette 8-track. "Salamanders" was recorded using the internal mic on my laptop into Garageband. Other songs are mixtures of those two methods. Beyond that, the shaping of the sounds is just how close I would stand to the mic or how far away from the drumkit I'd put the computer and the acoustics of the living room I was in. There's no EQ or post-production work or anything. I don't know how to do any of that stuff and I don't want to know.

I feel the influence of Nevada City in your words and creativity. What affect do you feel growing up there had on you and your work?

I'm fortunate in that I've had an incredible community of musician friends from very early on. Many of my friends have worked very hard and pushed themselves to be really expansive, adventurous musicians. We inspire and support each other. It's a beautiful place as well -- certainly many of the lyrics on this record are inspired by my home: friends, family, the river.

Now on to your new town: What affect do you feel Portland has on your work and creative output?

I'm just starting on the next drum and voice record in the basement, so we'll see! I'm inspired by many of the good bands here, and get to see a good show almost any night of the week, so being a part of this community is an honor. I moved to Portland in part because I've always wanted to hang out with other drummers but it seemed like all my good drummer friends lived in other states or other countries. But I have such a great group of drummer friends in Portland. One of those friends, Jose Medeles (The Breeders), opened Revival Drum Shop, which has been like Cheers for drummers, basically. We have drummer BBQs and go see each other play and hang out at the shop all the time. Bless him.

Tell me about your tour plans and how you are going to bring this record to life on stage! You have a female singer who will be joining you?

The immediate tour plan is to do one west coast tour each of the next three months. I do have a female singer, Damaris Peterson, performing with me. We perform reductions of the vocal arrangements live -- there is something very exciting about paring things down to two voices. But the larger goal is to add three more female singers and perform the record live proper. I start looking for singers next month.

What have you been listening to lately?

My sister gave me a Michachu album and a Fleet Foxes album; I've been listening to those. A little Kate Bush. Karl Blau's new album Zebra. Them Hills have made a cool new album. White Hinterland is working on new music and it's great.

What is your most prized piece of musical gear?

I have an old tambourine -- 8" in diameter, double-row of cymbals -- that my friend Joe Meade gave me in late 2006. It's a beautiful instrument. And I've used it during every Joanna show I've played -- it feels like an old friend or something. It's gained heirloom status, I think.

What song best describes your life right now?

A song on the record called "I Want So Many Things Now" describes things rather well.

Name a record you love that you think more people should listen to.

Zach Hill's solo record Astrological Straits.

What's next for you?

Work on the next drum and voice record. Find three female singers who want to perform these songs with Damaris and I.

What's been your best find at Amoeba?

I've had some great finds, but I want to use this opportunity to prime the pump. I always go straight to the Moore Brothers section, hoping to grab Thumb of the Maid or Spitting Songs, but I'm foiled every time. I hope to get lucky on my next trip.

Thank you for your time!

It's Autumn, Therefore We Have Joanna Newsom's "Only Skin"

Posted by Miss Ess, October 9, 2009 02:40pm | Post a Comment
"Only Skin" is but one track off of Joanna Newsom's truly epic album Ys, but this single song is a real doozy. At 16 minutes+ in length, it's probably one of the longer pop songs around, if it could even really be referred to as "pop." It's really much more complicated and layered than the vast majority of what passes for pop.

Anyway, it's one long, fairy-tale like poetic parable for the perennial confusion of romantic relationships, the vast pleasures and joy, pain and strife, storms and sunshine, abundance and lack, with rich descriptions and allusions including references to antiquated and fantastical forms such as "fire breathers," a "toothless hound dog," a weeping sea gull and a "hairless and blind cavalry," among many others.

It feels like there are several distinct musical movements through the length of the song, the music deftly winding and dancing around multiple emotions, much like the "twisting and braiding" river, the "lazy cinder smoking" and the "estuaries of wax-white" that wend through its lyrics.

This song is incomperable, a stunner.

If you haven't heard it or all of Ys yet, now is the time, when the leaves are falling, the air is full of woodsmoke and the change of seasons makes the earth and its brethren, described so beautifully here, feel that much closer.

And P.S.: Please check out two special interviews with Joanna's touring drummer, Neal Morgan, about his new record To the Breathing World. To get in the mood, check out his masterful work on the EP Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band!

Here's a performance of "Only Skin" broken into two parts to accommodate its length: