Lilyvolt Wilts Recently, singer/songwriter Kate Donnellon and her co-songwriter/keyboardist Steve Cohen had to admit that their swirl-pop ensemble, Lilyvolt, was not going to last through the end of the year. The sweet-voiced Donnellon cites the usual problems -- creative differences, mounting frustrations, the inevitable growing apart -- and says that the breakup has been as hard as losing a lover. Lilyvolt entered the San Francisco club scene three years ago with a strong, eponymous CD, produced by the Counting Crows' David Bryson. Since then, the quintet has kept busy, putting out numerous demos. In fact, the band had already recorded three songs for an upcoming album when they realized the tension within the group was too much to bear. But, according to Donnellon, the tunes had already generated some label interest (Riff Raff, in fact, heard about the breakup through one such interested party). "The songs will be played again," she says, "but in a different way." Donnellon and Cohen hope to have a new band together within the next two or three months; guitarist Michael Papenburg has already founded a guitar trio called the Mad Cattle Ensemble. There will be no final Lilyvolt shows. (S.T.)
How Soon We Forget Our Roots Riff Raff reader Emily Aronow sent in a letter, reprinted below. We stopped fretting over this sort of dilemma when we hit that magic drinking age, 21, but Emily's question remains a fair one. (Though we must point out: If the city were truly medieval, we'd all be married off by the age of 12 and far too busy lancing buboes to dance anyway.) (M.B.)
Can somebody please explain what the under-21-year-old is supposed to do in this city (besides leave it)? I love to go out dancing -- but alas, the only under-21 venue for shakin' it is the Get-laidium. Please realize that the under-21 set needs to have fun, and if we can't get it legally, we are going to get it illegally. Although I would rather go out dancing, it seems that the city's laws, or the club owners' preferences, would rather see me sitting at home snorting coke. It seems that there is no rationale for excluding people of all ages from the good clean fun that is dance. Why is this city so medieval?
Too Many Sides Hip hop's surgeon of beats is suffering an identity crisis. A source close to Dr. Octagon says rapper Kool Keith (aka Keith Thornton) and producer Dan Nakamura are struggling over who owns the rights to use the Dr. Octagon name. The duo released the album Dr. Octagon on Nakamura's own label, Bulk Recordings, last year. The hip-hop community immediately took to the deep, fat beats, Q-Bert's innovative scratching, and Kool Keith's spaced-out rapping. The English DJ label Mo' Wax scooped up the rights to release and remix the successful independent record in the U.K. and Europe. Then, earlier this year, Bulk signed a lucrative deal with the Geffen Records subsidiary Dreamworks, which rereleased the album domestically as Dr. Octagonecologyst. The signed agreement gave Dreamworks the rights to the album worldwide, excluding Mo' Wax territory. That's when the seedling argument took root. Now, our source says that Keith considers the record deals -- and especially the remixes -- a financial and creative affront. But Bulk's Toni Isabella says Mo' Wax, per the contract, can release whatever remixes it wants without Keith's stamp of approval. Furthermore, both artists are under contract with Dreamworks as "Dr. Octagon," and under that agreement, neither Thornton nor Nakamura has the right to go off and record with the name solo. Says Isabella: "Keith is and he isn't Dr. Octagon. He doesn't have the right to take the Octagon name. That would breach his contract with Dreamworks." Dennis Dennehy, a publicist for Dreamworks, had no comment on the situation (though his press release reads: "Dr. Octagon is Kool Keith, and hip-hop knew it all along"). Legal proceedings have been instigated by both sides. Riff Raff sees an argument over rights to the record by either party a moot point -- both Thornton and Nakamura should have realized that cashing the check meant losing the rights. Which of course doesn't mean they signed away the name; that's for the courts to decide. (R.A.)
McCarthy Era The Mission transformation continues. McCarthy's, a sprawling 3,600-square-foot bar that resides on Mission between 19th and 20th streets (the same block shared by the ultrachill, oh-so-beautiful people at Bruno's), has been owned by the McCarthy family since its opening in 1933. That is, until two weeks ago, when the space was officially taken over by Philip Berber and Leon Pak, the partners responsible for the success of Cha Cha Cha's on Haight Street. (Berber also owns Bitterroot on 16th Street.) According to McCarthy's new manager, Paul Robin, when the head McCarthy passed away, there was no one left in the family who was interested in running the establishment. Berber and Pak know a good thing when they see it. What with Bruno's a stone's throw away and the newly popular Elysium just down the street, this is bound to be the next Mission block to explode 16th Street-style. After only a couple of weeks, things at McCarthy's are no longer as they once were: Twentysomethings mingle freely with customers who have been drinking at the bar for over 50 years; DJ Toph and guests spin trip hop and funk in the back; the regular bartender (who got his first job at McCarthy's over 60 years ago) has finally retired from the libations game at the age of 87; and casual passers-by are beginning to trickle through the door -- something unheard of a month ago. "We haven't done any [promotion]," says Robin, "but a business takes on the humanity of its owners. We hang out with a younger crowd." Still, while the new owners of McCarthy's are hoping to bring life to the business, they are adamant about keeping the original name and the original clientele. "We are not trying to be exclusionary or upscale," assures Robin. In late September, the bar will be shut down for a six-week period, during which the building will be earthquake-proofed and "restored, not renovated" (in Robin's words). Based on old photos of the bar from the '30s and '40s, Berber and Pak plan on putting booths back in, refurbishing the woodwork, exposing the original tin ceiling, replacing the light fixtures, and reopening the kitchen. "It's more about looking backward than looking forward," says Robin, "part of a renaissance going on in the Mission." (S.T.)
New Itch Local DJ crew the Invisibl Skratch Piklz have gone international. The Piklz recently expanded their selective (and strictly local) roster to include Canadian DJ A-Trak, winner of this year's Disco Mixing Club (DMC) world championship. Although the Piklz, consisting of DJs Yoga Frog, Q-Bert, MixMaster Mike, Shortkut, and D-Styles, were not looking to expand, A-Trak's skills quickly changed their minds. Q-Bert and Yoga Frog first saw the 15-year-old DJ cutting up the turntable in Hang the DJ, a 1996 documentary. Extremely impressed, the two DJs traveled to the Canadian DMC Championship to meet with A-Trak and discuss his becoming a Pikl. According to Yoga Frog, in A-Trak they saw not only a very talented young scratch DJ, but the future as well. "With that much talent at his age, A-Trak's definitely a future leader of turntablists," says Yoga Frog. (R.A.)
It's Time to Play: Hoax, or Hubris? Riff Raff loves a good hoax, whether perpetrated against the general public, some hapless dupe in the readership, or us. Even when it makes us sweaty and paranoid, we think of the whole hoax process as a game. But sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish a good hoax from absurd reality -- especially in the current climate of popular culture. And discovering a good hoax becomes a true challenge when none of the principals want to return phone calls. Below is a letter, sent in by a reader. The correspondent -- let's call him Maurice Chucklebaum -- claims that he received it from Wal-Mart, regarding his small record label (which we'll dub Dour Indie Records) and one of his bands (here christened Lukewarm Porridge). "I think they're jumping the gun a bit," writes Chucklebaum, "since I've never sent Wal-Mart anything. Plus, I've only sold about 500 Lukewarm Porridge records." The letter seems to be printed on genuine Wal-Mart letterhead, but something's fishy. It lacks a signature, for starters. And Chucklebaum includes no return address. The phone number he provides works, but only reaches an answering machine -- one with an outgoing message consisting of nothing more than a nasty laugh. Furthermore, Chucklebaum doesn't return calls. When we repeatedly dialed up Wal-Mart PR, we only received some cursory advice that they couldn't locate the "West Coast Record Buyer" named below. Wal-Mart PR didn't care to call back after we faxed them a copy of the letter, seeking confirmation as to the document's inauthenticity. Well, while we haven't seen any muted posthorns yet, we do sense that some tyro culture-jammer is trying to get his wolf badge. At the same time, there is more than a whiff of sulfur around Wal-Mart. Regardless, we think the letter is funny. We reprint it, with wonky grammar and punctuation intact, solely for your amusement. (M.B.)
Thank you for participating in Wal-Mart Stores' aggressive market leveraging program in the entertainment industry. As you are aware, Wal-Mart Stores is interested in capturing a greater market share of the exciting and volatile alternative music industry. The participation of small independent companies like yours in our search for likely exclusive distribution contracts is absolutely necessary for us to be able to service the needs of the american people. In fact, it is the very same entrepreneurial spirit that small record companies like yours possess that has driven Wal-Mart Stores to its level of market success in the alternative music industry.
We have reviewed your catalog, and are concerned about some titles. Wal-Mart Stores is interested in being a community-oriented business. As such, we have to be cognizant of the sensitivities of those in our Wal-Mart communities. It is our policy not to accept any more "gangsta-rap" units for distribution unless their sales top 250,000 units. Your sales figures for the last quarter show that you are under that goal for your released artists in that genre.
The other concern voiced by our pre-screening department in Yuba City (your local distribution center) was that it was not clear if your "naturist" artists were promoting natural awareness of the beauty inherent in this great nation of America. There was some suggestion that certain lyrics could be interpreted to be a promotion of nudism or outdoor activities that are done without clothing. Perhaps you could have a representative give our community interests representative a call about this matter.
We, and I personally, are very excited about your new artist "Lukewarm Porridge." Assuming we can clear up the regrettable confusion about your stable of artists, we would like to begin negotiations to purchase units for the west coast. The sales figure you have provided of 400 units of 1000 is very promising. I hope that we can speak regarding the prospect of Dour Indie Records joining the family of alternative music producers that have benefited from Wal-Mart Stores' support.
Randy Johnson, West Coast Record Buyer
Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Michael Batty (M.B.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly. No flack, please.