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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I'm Not Done: An Interview with the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 12:00 PM

  • Photo: Ebru Yildiz
There’s dysfunction, and then there’s the Violent Femmes.

Speaking with singer-guitarist Gordon Gano, he tells me that the only definite plan the band has ever had was that they would break-up at the end of the summer in 1981, they year they first got together.

“That was like definite plan: We're only playing this first summer and that's it. We didn't well with that plan.”

Plans are perhaps not the Violent Femmes strongest suit. Over the course of a 30-year career, the band has never been one to look to the future. Since their initial success in the early 1980s behind a self-titled debut and its follow-up, Hallowed Ground, the Femmes have gone dormant, re-emerged, broken-up, and reunited.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Interview With SELA, Vallejo's Best, Weirdest, and Only Ambient/Footwork Producer

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 2:45 PM

  • Nalini Sairsingh
Listening to Vallejo producer SELA is akin to wandering through a bleary, dew-laden field at dawn, accidentally falling down a rabbit hole, and then getting sucked up by a rainbow tornado before drifting slowly back down to earth and laying on a patch of soft grass as rain falls lightly on your face.

In other words, the 22-year-old producer has a knack for manipulating melodies and distorting sounds. His songs veer left when you think they’re going right and there’s no shortage of surprises (or water-based samples). Some tracks are toasty from the warm ambient synth pads he uses, while others are shiver-inducing and sound like water dripping from a faucet. An avid creator, he’s released almost 20 projects on BandCamp and remixed everyone from Mariah Carey and Hawthorne Heights to Next and Trina.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

New Kid in Town: Rockabilly Artist Justin Townes Earle Moves From Nashville to Northern California

Posted By on Fri, Dec 25, 2015 at 8:00 AM

  • Vagrant

For good reason, Justin Townes Earle has had one thing on his mind lately: family. At 33-years-old, the folk-rock son of alt-country renegade Steve Earle has been seriously considering his musical legacy (as evidenced by his two autobiographical companion albums, 2014’s Single Mothers, and this year’s Absent Fathers). In 2013, he also married a Gyrotonic exercise instructor named Jenn Marie, whom he met through friends from the band Lucero. The couple recently relocated from Nashville to a rambling old California Victorian “in an undisclosed location about four hours north of San Francisco, way the fuck up in the growers’ triangle,” he said.

Earle’s musical career started unsteadily, curtailed by his dad’s estimable shadow. He released a stylistically-muddled EP called Yuma in 2007 that had streaks of folk, country, and blues. His debut album, The Good Life, dropped a year later, but it wasn’t until 2010, with the release of Harlem River Blues that he found his laconic, loping style. The twangy, R&B/folk/retro country hybrid even won Earle an Americana Music Award in the Song of the Year category.

Along with a musical ear, Earle also inherited an outlaw spirit from his father who left home when his son was two. By age 12, he, too, had begun abusing drugs and alcohol and was soon carrying around a pistol for protection. “I was a dangerous man,” he recalled of those tough times, which landed him in a few rehab centers. Now, as he prepares to turn 34 this January, he allows that he’s “at a point where I, uh, smoke a lot of reefer, but it’s not ruining my life.” He won’t say “never” when it comes to anything harder, he added. “But I did get the opportunity to live through something that most people don’t live through, and you see a side of life that most people do not walk away from.”
Along with his new focus on family, Earle’s writing habits have changed with his new situation. He has a spacious office/retreat in his new house, where he’s already started crafting an even more elaborate concept album to follow Mothers and Fathers, which he initially wanted to issue as a double-record set. It’s desolate where he lives, he said, and he misses daily visits to his neighborhood Nashville bodegas. “Getting in the car to go get cigarettes is just uncivilized,” he sighed.

His marriage has also shifted things in his life, presumably for the better. “If getting married doesn’t open up new realms of thought, then you’re probably not going to be married long,” reckoned Earle, who was raised by his mom Carol Ann Hunter Earle, who often worked three jobs just to keep the clan afloat. “You’ve got to worry about another person – and the effects of what you do – in a very real way,” he continued. “This is not some girlfriend that you met at a bar where it’s going to last six months and you have no expectations. You are now building a life of your own, and it’s a much more serious proposition. You can’t fall back and go live on your friend’s couch. That’s just not an option anymore.”

It’s too soon to say whether kids will be part of Earle’s future, but it’s a possibility. “That’s the thing,” he said. “We don’t always know.” In fact, he’s not even sure if he’d make a good parent, adding that “we think we’re going to be good parents [and] we think we know what’s best, but we don’t know shit!”

Justin Townes Earle plays with John Doe at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 26, at Slim's. $23;

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Rapper, J. Styles, Reps His City and Chinese Background

Posted By on Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 12:00 PM

  • Credit: Brian Ng

Today, San Francisco MC, J Styles, dropped his third mixtape, Yellow Fever Mixtape 2.0, a cleverly-titled project that gives a nod to the rapper's Asian-American background. The new project deviates from his older works, which he describes as "turnt up," "fun," "dance music,"and, instead, takes on a more introspective, reflective approach. "With this one, I want to send a better message," he says. "It's more personal to me. I put a lot more thought behind it."

To celebrate the release, we hopped on the phone with Styles and talked about what it's like to be an Asian-American rapper and why rapping in both Chinese and English is so important to him.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Trying to Ripen the World": An Interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 at 12:20 PM

  • Credit: Matt Barnes

When I first reach Buffy Sainte-Marie on the phone, she wants to know all about me before I can ask her any questions. She isn’t trying to figure me out, but is sincerely inquisitive, eager to meet the voice at the other end of the line. Her warmth is infectious and perhaps a necessary characteristic for a musician and activist that has spent the past 50 years raising awareness for the rights of Native Americans and countless other causes. Sainte-Marie isn’t a protester who happens to sing her words; her passion is in music. Among other achievements, she recorded the first completely quadraphonic electronic vocal album, was an early adopter of Macintosh products for the purposes of music recording, and even won an Academy Award in 1982 for her work on the song “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman.

This year, she added another accolade to her list when she beat out the likes of Drake and The New Pornographers for the Polaris Music Prize, which honors the year’s best full-length Canadian album. Always one to embrace community, Sainte-Marie listened to her fellow nominees’ work before the prize was announced. “I listened to every single cut on every single album, and I really liked the whole bunch of them," she says. "I was totally surprised when I won.” She laughs at her admission, a reaction that permeates throughout our conversation and reflects the gratitude and modesty of an artist that has long made her home on the outskirts of the music industry.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oakland's Hazel English Rises to the Top of the Blog Charts

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 2:21 PM

  • Brandon C. Long

Hype Machine's "Popular" charts are a reflection of which artists and songs are the most blogged about on the net. So when Oakland-based singer Hazel English's latest track "Fix," peaked in the top spot earlier this month, it was a big deal. 

"It's exciting..pretty euphoric. You just want people to connect with your music," the Australian-born English said as we stood in a crowded bar in San Francisco.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

We Hung out with Duran Duran's John Taylor Before the Band's Greek Theatre Show Tonight

Posted By on Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 8:22 AM

Unlike other bands who prospered during the early to mid-’80s, Duran Duran continued to release quality albums on a consistent basis. And while the band is not as prolific as its adoring fans might wish, the group still manages to tour and fill capacity venues across the United States and abroad.

Paper Gods, the band's latest record released on Warner Brothers, spurred its followers to come out en masse to support — making it a Top 10 Billboard-charting record. Featuring 12 tracks and already a couple of chart-busting dance numbers, the band proved yet again they know how to stay relevant and current without sounding dated nor derivative.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We Hung out with Catfish & the Bottlemen Before Their Fillmore Show Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 10:50 AM


Catfish and the Bottlemen are the definition of a “do it yourself” band. Named after an Australian busker, the lads from Wales are finally starting to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Ryan “Van” McCann and his bandmates have earned every ounce of their success, playing in parking lots, sneaking burned CDs onto people’s windshields, and saying "yes" to every opportunity they’ve been offered. In 2014, their hard work finally paid off as their debut album, The Balcony, was released on Island/Communion Records, eventually being certified gold in the U.K. Now hard at work on their follow-up record, Van and guitarist Benjamin “Benji” Blakeway spoke with SF Weekly about sleeping in cars, David Letterman, and getting song ideas from your drunk dad.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Blackalicious Producer Chief Xcel Talks New Album and Crafting Music on the Road

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 10:29 AM

  • Nicole Mago
One of the most celebrated hip-hop acts to emerge from the greater Bay Area during the '90s, Blackalicious made a triumphant return with the release of Imani Vol. 1, the duo's first new studio album in a decade that just came out two weeks ago.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

We Hung Out with French Singer and Musician Laetitia Sadier Before Her Show at Brick and Mortar Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 10:25 AM

  • David Thayer
French singer and musician Laetitia Sadier first made her Anglophonic mark in the U.K. when she joined the late-'80s band McCarthy, but it was Stereolab, which she founded with her then-partner Tim Gane, which helped establish her work in America. Fronting the often-shifting collective for almost two decades until its formal 2009 hiatus, Sadier’s cool singing and sharp, politically charged lyrics (often explicitly drawing on modern leftist economic theory and philosophy) combined with music that referenced classic French pop and stereo demonstration records as much as blasting drones and worldwide experimentalists. Even so, that’s just some of the reference points Stereolab touched on over the course of ten albums and innumerable singles and compilation tracks.

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  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"