Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Radio Eclectic Interview With Bill Mallonee: Of LPs and Communities

Bill Mallonee seems to have two handfuls of projects to talk about at any given time. We've chosen two of the most recent projects--Lands & Peoples on vinyl, and the brand new Bandcamp Community--and asked Bill to give us the "full story."

Radio Eclectic: VOL came about during that time in the 90's when the Compact Disc had ascended to prominence, plus you've always been a prolific writer, so your albums have always run 60 minutes+ from the beginning. But that obviously wasn't going to work for the vinyl format when you released Lands & Peoples. What guided your process for deciding which 8 songs would make the vinyl LP, vs. the 12 tracks on the CD?

Bill Mallonee: Very good question. For me, Craig, the luxury of vinyl is that one has to flip it over to get "side two." What that means is that one can "see" each side as a mini-set. Usually about 17 minutes in duration. It's like short editorials as opposed to a long sermon...I personally think vinyl packs a bit more of a literary punch because you get two opening "statements" and two closing "statements." That's how I sort of thought through what Lands & Peoples needed to have on it. It was the coherency of the set, not which songs were "lesser" or expendable. In my perfect world it would have been a double record.

It's just too expensive to print that kind of media these days...

RE: You must have had some idea of the vinyl track listing *when* you sent off the masters for that and for the CD; so, why leave the title track off the LP?

Bill: Well, one thing to keep in mind: Those who received the vinyl ALSO received the digital set of all 12 songs. So I felt it wasn't as if the title song was "lost." It was a matter of what I thought made for a coherent listen...Believe me: I agonized a lot about who "made the cut.!"

RE: Intriguingly, the vinyl LP is not simply the running order of the CD minus a few songs; the actual track order has been switched around. The LP is like its own, separate album, and it seems to me that the choice to end with "Hope The Kids Make It Out" and "Sangre De Cristos" back-to-back gives the LP a somewhat more hopeful ending than "It All Turns To Dust" on the CD. Do you get that vibe at all?

Bill: You are quite correct and the first person to point that out, Craig. I did think the track listing for the CD meant for a "darker" ending. "It All Turns to Dust" (The CD closer) is the deeply disturbing outcome of a dust bowl farmer losing everything to the banks...and then losing his wife as well. The closing tracks on the vinyl LP leave the listener with a far more "brighter" statement. One ("Sangre de Cristos") centers around nature and regional heroism and its impact on the human spirit. The other ("Hope the Kids Make It Out") is almost a prayer and yearning. In the song, an older soul hopes that those younger kids than he will awaken to the dynamics that conspire to govern their lives of poverty and disenfranchisement. "Swing It, Joe" is one of my favs and it's also freighted towards the end of Lands & Peoples...again a very sad song about the rape by the fracking industry in Appalachia.

RE: I've always taken ending song sequences to be an important interpretive key for an album; is that a fair approach for your albums?

BillAbsolutely. I spend a lot of time listening to potential sequences. I typically record way more songs than I need to for an album. That's deliberate. I think given the limited attention span of most listeners (myself included) I prefer to have a record clock in at something like 45-55 minutes, shorter if possible. My rule on an album is to say what you need to say once and get out...

RE: I've never seen an LP label that reads "Face 1, Face 2," rather than "Side A" or "Side 2." Any significance to that choice for Lands and Peoples?

Bill: Nope, The term "faces" was the original old-school nomenclature on old record contracts...A "face was one side and was constituted by 17 minutes of music a side, or "face." I remember our old Capricorn records contracts, framed under Warner-Brothers law, were named that way...

RE: The new Bandcamp Community option is very exciting. You've tried some similar options in the past, such as Billtunes and a patronage option on the old, but this looks like it might combine the best elements of previous options.

One of the coolest parts of the Bandcamp Community option is the opportunity for "live" concerts from your studio. I know that touring was previously a huge part of your income, but has become increasingly difficult to coordinate over the past few years; is the live webstream option a solution to that? How many shows do you plan to do in the first year of the new program, and will these be streaming only, or downloadable?

Bill: We're thinking downloadable. We're very excited about the idea of taping shows in the studio. I may even "preview" an entire new album that way. But, to clear some things up: First, we're not abandoning the road. But, I needed a break. I never thought I would, but after the last downturn in the ecomony, it just became less feasible to tour, even as a duo. I lived on the road for almost 20 years, sometimes at nearly 180 shows a year. Our "style" of touring was "low-to-the-ground" touring with little or no co-ordinated superstructure behind us. We never had techs or a bus or any of that "rarified air" stuff. We went to school, so to speak, but never graduated. Such is the luck of the draw. All of my bandmates were heroic. (I'm thinking of folks like Kevin Heuer, Jake Bradley, Ken Hutson, Chris Bland, Tom Crea, Newt Carter, David LaBruyere, Travis McNabb). They gave all every night here and abroad. But, after some 15 albums and all the great "ink," we decided that whatever that something was that makes a band break big was never going to happen. You go through a grieving process. You try to avoid becoming bitter. You bury part of a dream. It's a deeply spiritual journey at that point. I never felt like I needed "success" the way hipster periodicals and the industry defined it, to be a good song-writer. So I "retreated." Built my own world.

I started making records at a fast rate b/c the songs were coming that fast...I mean we're talking like 50 songs and 4 albums a year sometimes...It's slowed a bit, but mostly because I have a home studio now and can delve deeper into making the songs better, whereas before I was dependent on support players and spending lots of coins on studio time. Those restrictions are gone now. Now it's just the high, rural deserts of northern New Mexico and lots of time. Truthfully, the output isn't much less. I still seem to be able to release 4 albums a year. To my ears, they're more fleshed out and mature, I think. 

But, back to the road. It's still a "hallowed place" for me, a "thin place." But, it will take it out of you. The deprivation makes for a lot of great songs. Almost all of Audible Sigh, Roof of the Sky and 'Cross the Big Pond are songs about the damage done and the revelations one gets while in that mode of day to day existence on the road. I think the hard touring was/is something of a baptism. I saw the country and experienced it in a different way. I heard and met the people of this great land, heard their stories, was made privy to their struggles and woes...Nothing else legitimizes an artist more than being on the road and playing in every situation imaginable. Sure, I miss the full band side of the equation. We were a big, noisy Americana band and gave 110% every night. I was so very fortunate to play with such stellar talented fellows. But given the economics, there was just no way to make that run much further.

The approach I've taken through-out most of the last 30 some records is a "less-is-more" dynamic, Craig. It centers more on the song, the story, and the delivery itself...I'm satisfied with that, but Muriah and I DO very much enjoy taking that approach "to the streets." In the mean time, we'll likely tape the shows in our studio (maybe have a couple of cameras rolling), edit, and then post the whole show to those who join up in the Community. Such performances will be archived and made available exclusively to those members. We're hoping to get some videographers on board, as well to make some videos for particular songs that we feel might be appropriate for a more expanded storyline...It's very early stages to be sure, but it could be very cool.

RE: Any chance that Community members could construct part of the setlists through polls or some such option?

Bill: Absolutely!

RE: The pitch for the Bandcamp Community mentions demos; do you have anything already in hand leftover from Lands & Peoples or from Slow Trauma? One of the best parts of Billtunes was the one-take, two-track demos of new songs; will we see anything as "raw" as that coming out of the new program?

Bill: Yes, I do have some things. I have all these digital chips around with so many song ideas on them. So, i need to harvest through those and see what was a more fully demo-ed song...I typically DON'T do demos as much as I tend to catalogue ideas and them jump right in and record them into a full song...

Well, I do hope folks will see this as a way to support a good artist who has been at it consistently for almost 25 years. I like to think the quality of my work on this journey has been as consistent, as well. I wouldn't do it at all, if I remotely thought the quality of music was "slipping." And the songs keep coming. Probably still something like 40-50 of them a year. I don't know what it is about being older.
Life is sorrow and grieving, to be sure...but it resounds with joy, as well. I think the internalizing of such truths give the work depth, power, and imbue it with a fragile beauty. That's what I hear anyway....Heck, maybe even something like "wisdom" is surfacing. lol! It's all I know, so this revival of the old notion of patronage is a reciprocal way of keeping the wheels rolling...I have plenty of new work and songs in process that only the Commuity folks will be privy to. 

It's gonna be fun...never lose the fun...

RE: You've shared a few long-form prose pieces on Facebook over the past year or so. Will we see some more prose pieces, or even book chapters (nudge, nudge) in the Community?

Bill: This is a good question. I rarely listen to anyone's else's Americana music but my own. I'm not interested in the next big thing anymore, either. (Muriah and I have a few Pandora channels we let play in the background while we talk or work...Everything from John Dowland lute pieces, to old school jazz [think Coltrane, Monk, Miles] to Sons of the Pioneers & Hank Willaims-type cowboy songs to sitar music from India)...Non-invasive sorta music.

Most of my inspiration comes from literature and history...The Southwest is a beautiful and elusive place topographically & spiritually, as well. Great "wells" to draw from...I tend to go with a mood and feel and then try and maximize that in a song. "Northern Lights & "Southern Cross" (from this year's Lands & Peoples) is a good example of how that works, when I'm "on."

There are plans for a book, yes. I'm talking with a writer in Nashville who expedites such processes...I could see something like an edited version of such a work for the Community, yes. But, See, if the book was going to go to publishers and such, it would have to be inclusive of all readers.
Writing for me started in the keeping of journals on the road during the Roof of the Sky/Audible Sigh tours over 3-4 years...I think books from authors as diverse as Frederick Buechner, Pablo Neruda, & Jack Kerouac all "have a say..." In my own poetry and prose, the extensive liner notes at the Bandcamp site and the 20 some pieces at Wordpress have been a great way to expand and clarify the music side of my art.

Anything else you want people to know about the new Bandcamp Community option?

The folks who make the commitment and "join up" will certainly not be disappointed. Sure, I'll keep releasing records "for one and all." That's what I do...BUT this "inner circle," the hardcore fans, who seem to to really "get what I do," those are the folks I'm reaching out to here...The songs keep coming and I've fine-honed my producer/engineer skills while making Dolorosa, Winnowing, Lands & Peoples, and the upcoming Slow Trauma.

1. So there will be, oh 2-3 lengthy EPs a year.

2. We'll add a few exclusive live shows that we'll tape and give to just the Community.

3. Plus there's the 15% off everything in the 65-plus album catalogue. You really can't lose. We're dreaming up stuff all the time that we think folks would enjoy.

4. Also, there's the added aspect of access to me as a songwriter. I plan on answering lots of questions from aspiring writers and those just interested in the creative process, or at least how it works for me...

5. And the Community really will become something of an online Community. They will have lines to each other, to share ideas, discuss, and percolate. It promises to very interesting.

In fact, I have a "secret" EP scheduled to drop by the end of the week, just for the Community folks....

RE: Thanks for taking the time, Bill. Best of Luck with the Bandcamp Community, Slow Trauma, and all the new projects.

Bill: You bet, Craig. Great questions and Thank You for allowing me to "hold forth" here!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Does Not Contain Grapefruit"

Seminar Brewing in Florence, SC, have quickly established themselves as one of my favorite regional breweries. I was fortunate to hang out with those folks at their first bottle release this past Saturday, and there was no way I was leaving without some fresh Citrocity.

Citrocity is one of two flagship IPAs for Seminar. This one features some darker malts, bringing the colour to a medium copper and supplying a medium-low malty sweetness to balance the hops. Nonetheless, Citrocity is all about the hops. The bitterness is moderate and lingering, but the real focus here centers on the late-addition flavor and aroma contributions. As soon as the cap leaves the growler, I'm surrounded by the grapefruit-and-papaya bouquet. In the flavor these two fruits continue to assert themselves, accompanied by slightly-bitter melon rind. Every element is prominent yet balanced.

Citrocity has my vote for best IPA from SC. Though, it does face some stiff competition.

Jerry Chamberlain (Daniel Amos, etc.) Reveals Album Cover To Pledge For

Jerry Chamberlain is, like so many of the artists we love most here at Radio Eclectic, running a Kickstarter campaign to finance a new album. Critical Mass will arrive as Chamberlain's first solo album, but he's more than earned a reputation through his work with Daniel Amos, Boy-O-Boy, and as backing vocalist on half the Christian albums in your older brother's record collection.

A sample clip has been released; this sounds like lots of driving percussion and crunchy guitars, somewhat reminiscent of the garage-fest that is Daniel Amos' Bibleland. Chamberlain has also revealed the album's cover, and how could you not pledge after seeing this beauty?

If I were digging through crates and ran across this gem, I would buy the album on the spot, no further info needed. Huge kudos to Steve Broderson for his work here. Chamberlain and co. are running a great campaign, too, featuring plenty of cool and--in typical Spot fashion--somewhat silly reward tiers.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Choir Blaze A New Trail In Ongoing Circle Slide Vinyl Campaign

The Choir​ are moving forward in their campaign to issue Circle Slide on vinyl for the very first time. In addition to colour-swirled vinyl, the campaign rewards include copies of their Live and on the Wing DVD/CD combo, art prints, t-shirts, and the 25th Anniversary Circle Slide CD w/commentary, for those that missed the CD reissue.

The campaign stretch goal is now, in a departure from the usual Kickstarter fare, not a matter of money. Instead, The Choir are looking to get more people involved; the stretch goal is to enlist 450 Pledgers, regardless of individual pledge amounts. To entice the hesitant, the band is giving away an Associate Producer credit (along with accompanying rewards), and the guys will sign any pledge rewards from $40 and up.

Get thee to a Kickstarter.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New/Old Vinyl from The Choir

The Choir are running a Kickstarter campaign to press their classic 1990 album, Circle Slide, to vinyl for the very for the very first time. They are, additionally, releasing their recent Live And On The Wing concert album in a CD/DVD combo.

You know what to do. C'mon, let's ride...