Concha Buika ravishes with her singing voice, but even in spoken conversation, the sweetly rasping flamenco singer provokes goosebumps, pouring out her ideas in poetic cadences. Her artististic principles are at one with her outlook on life: an open bisexual, a child of African immigrants, a one-time Tina Turner impersonater, an aspiring electronica programmer—nothing's a contradiction for the ever-evolving Buika.
In this interview, Buika reveals what "your mother" and Chucho Valdes have in common, and dishes how she got kicked out of Chavela Vargas' dressing room and danced with Antonio Banderas. The Indy spoke with her by phone back in September, before she embarked on a North American tour behind El Ultimo Trago (2009). She performs at N.C. State University's Stewart Theatre Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m.
Independent Weekly: How would you prefer that I call you, Concha or Buika?
Buika: Well, my name in your mouth is yours. Both are my name.
You've lived your life outside of convention in many ways. How has that affected your expression as an artist?
I don't know how I do what I do. I can't explain it. I do what I do because I am what I am. I just close my eyes and I sing what I hear inside.
I'm very interested in this Latin scene that's going on in Madrid right now; your producer has worked with El Cigala and Bebo Valdes, and now you did this album with Chucho Valdes. How much is it a "scene," that is, a new remix of these elements of Africa, Afro-Cuba and Spain?
Well, I think all the world is united for the same thing: the arts. I think that arts are a unique religion that we have, because it's the only one that unites the world. The rest of the religions, they separate the people. Every time I find myself in front of another musician, or a painter, or a writer, or a photographer, I think that I'm in front of someone who is trying to do the same mission that I do. That's to reunite the world again. I think that we are living separate [because of] ideas that are from other people. And I think that our idea is to be together.
We spoke with Shearwater and Wye Oak, who play together tonight at Local 506. Hospital Ships open the 8:45 p.m. show. Tickets are $10–$12.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: You’re six records deep, and you’ve been playing as Shearwater since 2001. How do you keep it fresh? What was the strategy on The Golden Archipelago?
I don't think making art ever gets stale unless you let it. Over the course of the records, you can hear us finding our feet, figuring out what we're about. Palo Santo definitely felt like a leap forward—and these days, it's about as far back as we go in the live show. A lot of bands might have changed their name at that point, if only to avoid questions like this, but I think there's something a little sad about changing your name to appeal to the media's lust for the just-minted, the fresh face, the writer or musician who seems to have appeared fully-formed. If you scratch the surface, that's almost never the case—and none of my favorite artists knew what they were doing right out of the gate.
As for TGA, we wanted to make a really ornate album with a wide range of textures and colors, musically and emotionally—that worked on the scale of some of the big, dark, grand art-rock albums from the early ’80s that we loved, like Pink Floyd's The Final Cut or Peter Gabriel's third record. I was a kid when those records came out, but they were what I listened to most often in high school while Nevermind was conquering the world. Making a record like this—at a fraction of those albums' budgets—took several months and a lot of help. Very different from our first record, which we made in two and a half days a million years ago.
How is the new album translating live?
Really well. I never think about how we're going to play something when we're recording it. I just trust that we'll be able to make it work somehow, even if a song's got a ridiculously elaborate arrangement, as several on TGA do. I find that a lot of times, when you're playing live, you can let more wild, elemental textures creep in to substitute for more refined ones on the recordings—the weirder the better (i.e. distorted bass, some severely distressed samples, and Wurlitzer in place of strings, winds, and real piano). To me, it's not fidelity to the recording that matters so much as fidelity to the emotional content of the songs—and on that count, I think we're at the top of our game right now.
You’ve answered a thousand times about how being a birder has influenced your music, but how has your music influenced the way you look at the world? And are Rook (with the many bird references) and The Golden Archipelago (with it’s sort of lyrical tension about man and nature) products of that?
Thank you for not putting me through that one again! I guess I'd say that over time I've become more and more interested in the special ability of music to convey and evoke conflicting emotional states at the same time. The recording of the Bikini Islanders singing their national anthem that opens TGA was a really powerful example of that, for me. When you read the lyrics, it's a song of exile and despair, but the performance is full of a wild energy, even joy. When I heard it, I knew I wanted the album to explore that emotional state as much I as wanted it to be about the islanders and what happened to them.
What do you want this band to be when it grows up?
I'm not sure. What do you want to be when you grow up? How will you know when you've reached it? I don't mean to go all "the-journey-is-the-destination" on you, but the thrill of discovery is what keeps you going as an artist. I hope we never really settle down or get too comfortable. I've already got a title for the next record, and when I'm daydreaming with my nose pressed against the window of the van on this tour, that's what I'll be thinking about.
For our talk with Wye Oak, hit the jump.
It’s not a stretch to describe Bill Kirchen as one of the music world’s Zeligs. There he is back in his Ann Arbor, Mich., childhood in a school picture with Bob Seger and James “Iggy Pop” Osterberg, Jr. That’s him, Fender Telecaster in hand, in the team photos for Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and for proto-new wavers (found in that big tent’s roots-revival corner) the Missing Moonlighters. Shots of Doug Sahm, Emmylou Harris, and Elvis Costello in a studio or on a stage would reveal Kirchen, guitar still smoking, nearby. Spot him backing Nick Lowe as an Impossible Bird, and then spot Lowe backing Kirchen on the latter’s 2007-released Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods, a genre-hopping gem. You can even catch his name in a George Pelecanos book.
Of course, the difference between Zelig and Kirchen is that Woody Allen’s fictitious chameleon was a passive bystander. Kirchen, while as unassuming as they come, is always right in the middle of the action. And with a new record due in May and a busy touring schedule, he clearly intends to stay there for as long as possible.
A standard Q&A phone call quickly turned into a roaming conversation between two music geeks—one just happened to be the King of Dieselbilly, a gent once described by Lowe as “a devastating culmination of the elegant and funky,” and one of the best guitarists in the land (the other decidedly none of those things). Below are just a few of the things Kirchen had to say.
There’s a treacherous drive—alternating clay and gravel, and passing over a shallow creek—that turns off of a certain Chapel Hill road and leads into the trees. After several hundred yards, the red clay driveway opens, revealing a little house that’s more of a hermitage.
It’s the warmest it’s been in several weeks today, and I’m sitting in the sun with Adam Brinson and Joe Taylor—together, Blag’ard. They’ve recently finished their second album, Mach II. It’s a solid unit, a catchy if menacing rock record that squeals off the lot like a muscle car and handles like Luke Skywalker’s X-wing.
Being at Joe’s house is like looking through a window into his mind: There’s a kind of sacred disarray here that contrasts the piercing clarity of his thought process. It’s organized, sure, but it’s organized the same way a forest floor is organized. His black Gibson, the guitar from his Capsize 7 days, leans against a wall like a fallen branch. Fliers on the walls tell tales of shows and bands long gone. Looking out the windows of the little room where this loud, loud band practices, I again see the trees and a gentle slope that falls toward the creek. This could be anywhere. Joe’s pretty intense, and Adam’s one of those gleeful dudes who makes himself laugh on a regular basis.
They have agreed to take a verbal Rorschach test, of sorts.
Over the years, we’ve relied on The Foreign Exchange’s lead singer and one-half of Little Brother, Phonte Coleman, to offer helpful anecdotes on the casualties and celebrations of love and relationships. So, who better to provide us with five songs that would surely get us dumped on Valentine’s Day than Coleman himself? After the jump, he provides the tracks, and I provide the commentary.
Disclaimer, though: Neither of us accept responsibility for any of your V-Day disasters. And, if you need a quick fix, The Foreign Exchange plays tonight at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro.
It was a good year for the future Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson. Yup, in 1952, still in her early teens, she won a talent contest, which led to her own radio show on a local station and, subsequently, an offer from bandleader Hank Thompson to perform with his Brazos Valley Boys.
And 2009 was none too shabby either. Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Rosanne Cash handling the induction speech honors. She had a street named after her in her home city, and she was the subject of a documentary, which is currently airing only on the Smithsonian Channel. And she finished recording an album, produced by Jack White, which is set to drop toward the end of 2010.
Of course, the nearly 60 years in between were hardly idle. There were shared bills with Elvis Presley, a couple decades’ worth of memorable rockabilly and country sides recorded for Capitol (including her signature song, “Let’s Have a Party”), some national hits, and countless tour miles. Her focus shifted to gospel music in the ’70s, and she did inspirational concerts with her husband and manager, Wendell Goodman. But a tour with Rosie Flores in the mid ’90s found Jackson rockin’ in the U.S. again.
As Jackson talks from her home in Oklahoma City, she’s excited about the release of a 7” featuring two songs from the upcoming record (an atmospheric, horn-dotted take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and a right-in-her-wheelhouse version of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ enduring “Shakin’ All Over”), and she’s preparing to leave for a brief tour that will finish in Raleigh on Valentine’s Day. But the Independent got to talk to her before she got out of town.
There were warning signs from the start. The first two Web sites encountered during a little table-setting—the Vapor Records site and Richman’s MySpace page—delivered direct hits to my optimism. “Please note that Jonathan Richman does not have any direct involvement with the Vapor Records Web site and does not participate in the Internet on any level,” offered the former in polite parentheses. And the latter helpfully (and equally as politely, although the host did raise his or her voice twice) pointed out, “Please be aware that I am NOT Jonathan Richman nor has he anything to do with this here site—it's strictly unofficial and fan run. Just as—to my knowledge—EVERY internet site dedicated to Mr. Richman is.”
Thus, I wasn’t surprised when his manager told me that Richman hasn’t done print interviews for years, engaging in only the occasional TV or radio spot. And with that, a rather crucial component of “Five Words with Jonathan Richman” went missing. But the show must go on though.
Please be aware that I am NOT Jonathan Richman nor did he have anything to do with these here responses.
Since forming in 1968, the Tannahill Weavers have grown into one of the world's premier conduits for traditional Scottish music. On the road six months of the year, an active touring schedule lets the band spread the sounds of Scotland—and often puts them in interesting, unexpected situations. While preparing for another U.S. tour at his home in the Netherlands, guitarist and singer Roy Gullane recalled two of those most interesting times.
For one show,the band
decided to drive from the north of Scotland all the way to Vienna. But a planned rest stop in Stuttgart, Germany turned into an all night party when they happened into Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach.
“By the time we got to Vienna, we were shattered.” Tired and with little time before the show, Gullane couldn’t find any sort of dressing room. “I found a room somewhere behind the stage to change my clothes, but couldn't find the light switch. Undeterred, I carried on with the task, and had just wrestled my pants off when a door burst open, the lights went on, and hundreds of people started pouring past me. I was in the foyer.”
And then there was the festival in Germany with the 7:30 a.m. sound check.
Pastor Paul Adefarasin of House on the Rock church led The Experience, and Lagos, Nigeria certainly shook the night of December 4. Lasting from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the fourth annual interdenominational gospel concert drew over 450,000 people. Local guitarist and minister Will McFarlane traveled over the Atlantic to be one of the many. McFarlane has spent the past decade in the area, but he spent years before backing up Bonnie Raitt and as part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
Even with his solid résumé, McFarlane was surprised to be invited to the concert. “They called me out of nowhere, just a week in advance. I drove to Washington, D.C, to get my visa in a day, which was a miracle in itself.” He was recruited into a band that was half Nigerian and half American, including the likes of Phil Driscoll and Chester Thompson. With a little bit of time to practice, the group tackled the stage for an hour, starting around 1 in the morning. “The approach in Nigeria was just grab a hold and hang on. [laughter]” So what's it like to play in front of almost half a million people? “It changes your body chemistry. [laughter] I mean, you could only see about the first quarter of a million. People were jumping and moving. It was just unbelievable.”
We spoke with Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner Wednesday, on the eve of the announcement that his longtime band Lambchop would release its life-changing/affirming/ending/reviving set from this year's XX Merge fest in Carrboro, N.C., as Live at XX Merge. Tonight, they'll see if they can repeat the magic of that night at Duke University's Reynolds Industries Theater at 8 p.m. Lambchop splits the sold-out bill with Alejandro Escovedo.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Are you playing Asheville on the way to Durham, or Asheville on your way home?
KURT WAGNER: We’re playing Charolette first, then ya’ll, then Asheville. It’s like a tour of the state of North Carolina. We’re playing state-by-state, I guess. [Laughs.]
You’re like a touring Sufjan Stevens.
You know, he took that back and admitted it was a mistake. He probably wasn’t that serious about it to begin with, and people made much more of it than he did. That’s what happens when you say something, and people don’t forget.
What’s been Lambchop’s biggest mistake in terms of saying something that sticks to you?
Calling ourselves a country band early on. We were sort of kidding, and it sort of stuck pretty hard. Then I started thinking, “Well, we kind of are.” It was partially a joke, then we started thinking about it conceptually, and thought that it was not that outlandish.
Given the chance to do it again, would you have described Lambchop as a country band early on?
At the time, we probably would have. What was funny was we didn’t even know what a one-sheet was. Mac [McCaughan] and Laura [Ballance, both of Superchunk and Merge Records] told us we had to make a one-sheet. We asked our friend Ira [Kaplan] in Yo La Tengo, “What’s this one-sheet?” and Ira said, “Believe it or not, whatever you put in there will haunt you for the rest of your life.” I don’t know exactly what prompted him to say that. I don’t know if they had a bad experience where something was misconstrued early on, and it never went away. Oddly enough, he was right.
Well, music journalists are notorious for perpetuating the half-truths they’re fed.
Once something gets out there, it just kind of sticks whether it’s accurate or not. It’s a rare person that actually checks those facts, particularly with the advent of blogs and stuff like that. [Journalists] don’t seem to have the kind of ethics they used to have. I understand all that. Whether it’s true or not, it still exists. There’s nothing you can do.