Posts Tagged ‘Josh Kaufman’

I’d never heard of Brooklyn’s Cassandra Jenkins before her latest album, but she’s well-credentialed. She was set to tour with Purple Mountains before David Berman’s suicide and has also worked with The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and The Fiery Furnace’s Eleanor Friedberger. Berman is referenced on ‘New Bikini’ – “After David passed away/My friends put me up for a few days/”

An Overview on Phenomenal Nature” sounds dubious on paper, an indie-folk record that celebrates nature, adds monologues about how men have lost touch, and incorporates the kind of new-age textures you’d expect on a 1980s Van Morrison record. But it’s lovely in practice, pretty and warm. Jenkins’ vocal is intimate and she’s a good enough lyricist to keep things interesting, casually dropping the word “panoply” into ‘Crosshairs’ and titling a song ‘Ambiguous Norway’.

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Jenkins’ main collaborator is producer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman. Kaufman’s a member of the amazing Bonny Light Horsemen and who has worked with The National, Taylor Swift, and Josh Ritter. The arrangements are often key with lovely woodwind parts, while the dual lead guitar parts on ‘Ambiguous Norway’ are gorgeous.

A gorgeous, shimmering set of songs that combines ultra-smooth pop sounds (recalling the softer moments of Destroyer’s “Kaputt”) with sweet ambient textures. Fantastic song writing work, as well. A joy to listen to, and a clear early contender for 2021’s album of the year. 

For UK Dinked special edition, go here: dinkededition.co.uk/cassandra-jenkins-an-overview-on-phenomenal-nature

The Band of Musicians:

Cassandra Jenkins– vocals, guitar
Josh Kaufman– guitar, voyager, harmonium, banjo, synth, bass, piano, organ
~and~
JT Bates– drums, auxiliary percussion
Eric Biondo– drums
Michael Coleman– synth
Stuart Bogie–  flutes, saxophone
Doug Wieselman– sax
Oliver Hill– violin, viola, string arrangement  
Annie Nero– bass
Aaron Roche– synth
Will Stratton– guitar
Ben Seretan– drone

All songs written and performed by Cassandra Jenkins
Produced and mostly engineered by Josh Kaufman
at The Boom Boom Room, Brooklyn, NY

Released February 19th, 2021

The Pet Parade marks a milestone for Eric D. Johnson, who celebrates 20 years of Fruit Bats in 2021. In some ways still a cult band, in other ways a time-tested act, Fruit Bats has consistently earned enough small victories to carve out a career in a notoriously fickle scene.

While many of the songs on The Pet Parade were actually written before the pandemic, it’s impossible to disassociate the record from the times. As an example, producer Josh Kaufman (The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The National, and Bonny Light Horseman, in which he plays with Johnson and Anaïs Mitchell) was brought in for his deep emotional touch and bandleading abilities. However, Johnson, Kaufman, and the other musicians on The Pet Parade—drummers Joe Russo and Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Fleet Foxes, Muzz), singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, pianist Thomas Bartlett (Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens), and fiddler Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine)—were forced to self-record their parts in bedrooms and home studios across America.

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“This was definitely not a coronavirus record,” Fruits Bats’ Eric D. Johnson says of “The Pet Parade”, his indie-folk project’s ninth album. “What I mean by that is that I think everyone who writes songs is going to be coming out with a quarantine record at some point in the next five months, but about half of these songs were written before the pandemic. Then again, the record couldn’t not be informed by what was taking place, and a few of the songs I had already completed were weirdly prescient.”

Beyond colouring Johnson’s lyrical content, the pandemic certainly played a role in the process of creating the album. In early March, producer Josh Kaufman visited Johnson in LA for prep work, and the pair planned to re-group for some more formal sessions a few weeks later in Kaufman’s native New York. However, COVID-19 scuttled those plans and, when the two resumed work on the album, they did so remotely, enlisting drummer Joe Russo, The Walkmen/Fleet Foxes drummer Matt Barrick, singer Johanna Samuels, keyboardist Thomas Bartlett and bassist Annie Nero, who is also Kaufman’s wife, to record individual tracks from their home locales.

Though “The Pet Parade” marks the first time that Kaufman had produced a Fruit Bats record, the project immediately proceeded their collaboration with Anais Mitchell as Bonny Light Horseman.

Johnson is quick to note that while Thom Monahan had served as producer of his three previous Fruit Bats albums, 2011’s Tripper, 2016’s Absolute Loser and 2019’s Gold Past Life, that “Thom had gotten really busy as of late.”

“We’re always going to work together; he’s one of my closest friends and we already have plans for other stuff,” he continues. “So when I finished the Bonny Light Horseman record, I was like, ‘I want to keep living in this world. I would love to see what Josh does with some of my other original songs.’ I just wanted to see what his touch would bring.”

As for working with the personnel on The Pet Parade, Johnson likens the experience to “hiring a film director who has his own cast of actors. He brought in the Josh Kaufman Players, all of whom are friends of mine or became friends through Josh. Everyone was in a different room in a different city but, thankfully, all of them had home setups. Then there’s Josh himself. Some of the songs are just the two of us playing everything, which was fine by me because I adore the guy and he is an absolute monster of a multi-instrumentalist.”

The Pet Parade

Josh and I both independently had this idea that we should do a song that was a hypnotic invocation of some sort. We were thinking about Astral Weeks. Now I don’t think it sounds like that album, but the idea was something with two chords that we could float over the top of in some way. The song was originally conceived like that, and then it became something else.

Josh pushed to open the record with it, but that was a scary decision for me to make. I’m a guy who wants to top[1]load the record—not because it’s some Spotify thing but because, going back to The Beatles, that’s just what you do. So even though I think it’s a wonderful song, it’s seven minutes long, it’s slow, you can’t dance to it and it has two chords. But Josh was like, “During this moment in time, you can’t write a song where the first line is, ‘Hello from in here to all you out there/ It feels like it’s been years’ and not open an album with it.”

I realized he was right. With this record, I’m inviting people to be patient rather than giving them a two-and-a-half-minute banger at the start to suck them in. It’s kind of like telling people: “Do you trust me? Come on in.”

One of my great musical mentors, Jim Becker, plays fiddle on the song, which was a real joy. He’s an old Chicago pal of mine and probably best known these days as a member of Iron & Wine. He’s played on records of mine in the past, but he’s somebody that I hadn’t made music with in a long time. That’s him playing those gorgeous Cajun-y fiddles.

Cub Pilot

This is one of the earlier demos that I had written. I guess you could say it’s a pre-quarantine song. Originally, in a way, it fell into the lyrical thematic territory that I dug into on Gold Past Life, which was kind of like talking to someone and being encouraging to that person. In this case, it was kind of a love song, and as I was writing it, I was either going to be singing it to someone, to you, or I was going to put it in the third person. But when we were putting the song together, all the stuff was going down with the George Floyd protests. Now for better or worse, I’m not a topical songwriter. I love that other people do that and, although my music is on the side of righteousness, it typically exists outside of that in a different world.

So while this song is in no way about the protests, I changed the lyrics from “you” to “we” so that it became sort of a love song to the world. That sounds very grandiose but it felt weird, at that moment, to be writing to an individual. I didn’t want to be talking to just one person.

Discovering

This is the oldest song on the record. A few years ago, before we had even conceived of Bonny Light Horseman, I went out to New York to work with Josh. I wasn’t really thinking of him as a producer. It was just an excuse to hang out and write something together. We did this song and it had mumble lyrics on it, which happens sometimes. I put it aside for several years but once Josh agreed to produce this record, I was like, “Oh, we should do that one,” because I always really liked it, although it was never finished.

Now, sometimes, mumble lyrics can be actual gibberish but, in this case, it was real words and the first line was “He has lived through another night and is quite likely to wake up again.” It seemed weird to have that first line in this moment with the spectre of death feeling close.

“Discovering” is kind of a song about isolation, but isolation in which you can take yourself outside. So it’s about walking around alone outside. I’m not trying to write about it in a romantic or starry-eyed way; it’s a little more like a neutral Zen song about just getting yourself outside and breathing in the air.

The Balcony

This song is about a dream location, which is the balcony of my grandmother’s apartment. We moved around a ton as a kid, but my grandma lived in the same place. She’s no longer with us but my aunt lives there now.

It’s an apartment on the ninth floor and it’s been in my life forever. I often dream about the balcony there, which overlooks a very mid-century stone rec centre. There’s an outdoor pool that is sometimes this lonely, drained thing in the Chicago winter, and then off in the distance is a sliver of the Chicago skyline. I found it to be a very evocative place when I was a little kid for a million reasons, and it exists in my dreams forever.

The song is not really about that, but somehow it just worked its way into the song. It’s a song about patience and it’s probably informed by the quarantine. We almost left it off the record but it’s the most legit up-tempo song we had. So it ended up getting back in, and I’m glad it did.

Here for Now, for You

“Here for Now, for You” is a pretty sad song with some references to suicide, having lost a few friends like that. It’s another one where I kind of spit out the first line, sort of as a mumble off the top of my head. It was, “I feel sometimes like I want to get off the ride, like, you know, that I’m getting called home,” which is a pretty dark line.

I wrote it a long time ago. The music portion of the song has gone through a lot of permutations. At one point, there was a crazy ‘80s pop jam in there, with Joe Russo shredding on drums, but it continued to evolve. It’s a sad song but it’s also about devotion.

On the Avalon Stairs

“On the Avalon Stairs” is probably my favourite vocal performance that I’ve ever done for one of my own records. Singing is always the most intimate and strange part of record-making. I’ve produced other people’s records, I’ve guested and I’ve been there for other people’s processes. It can be hard and I can be very self-critical about it.

I was a singer before I could play any instruments and I’m aware that it’s probably my strong suit. I’m not going to come guest on your record and shred lead guitar—that’s just not what I do. But I can come and sing harmonies and maybe something good will come of it.

In this case, it was very strange being in a room alone, kind of comping my own vocals. That’s the easiest way to get into a wormhole of your own brain; those sounds are coming from close to your brain. I did a couple of takes and I wasn’t feeling it, but then I did one take that was a breakthrough moment. I remember being happy with that vocal take and I don’t usually feel that way.

Eagles Below Us

This is a song about wanting to climb in someone’s head, which is something that we all believe we can do. It sort of sounds like a love song, and it is in some ways. But it’s also a platonic love song, which all of my love songs are—you can sing them to a friend. The great Annie Nero is on bass and Joe Russo is on drums.

When we were on the Bonny Light Horseman tour, we were driving somewhere in the mountains. There was a cliffside to the right and, when I looked down, there was an eagle flying 20 feet below us. I thought it was such a great image.

“Eagles Below Us” was also the working title for the album because I really like that notion. However, it ended up losing out to The Pet Parade, which kind of came in at the last minute and was more elemental sounding.

Holy Rose

“Holy Rose” might be the most direct song on the record as far as being about something. I wrote that one about the 2017 Sonoma County Tubbs Fire. It was one of the first songs we worked on and, as we continued from summer into early fall, these fires started happening again. My wife is from Sonoma County and it’s about her experience watching her childhood burn away.

I realized, after the fact, that each verse and chorus is written from a different character’s perspective. Some of the song is saying, “Get out of there,” and some of it is saying, “I’ll never leave.” I’ve seen the heartbreak of native Californians watching their lives burn. There’s a symbolic notion in the line about “the ghosts of everyone you’ve ever known.”

The original arrangement was going to be a soft sort of waltz, but Josh and Matt Barrick interpreted it as very angry, which I thought was cool. So it’s still a waltz, but it hits hard and kind of feels like a fire.

All in One Go

“All in One Go” was a late add. I wrote it all in one blast— which I may have had in mind when I was working on it—and then named the song.

It seems like all my records always have a song toward the end that takes the form of a gentle acoustic guitar track. I’ll sit down with an iPhone and an acoustic guitar and do something that’s sort of informed by the record as a whole. It’s a little bit of a denouement, which is how “All in One Go” ended up in that position as the third to last song.

Gullwing Doors

Sense of place is huge for me. In fact, that was one of the working titles for Gold Past Life and the original theme of that album. I’m nomadic. I kind of live everywhere and nowhere, too, but for the past 15 years, it’s mostly been back and forth between LA and Portland. When I leave one city, I always write a love song to the other.

“Gullwing Doors” is somewhat about the back[1]and-forth drive up Interstate 5 between LA and points north, which can be the world’s longest and bleakest drive. It’s a driving song, like my song “Absolute Loser” [the title track to his 2016 album], although that one was about driving between Portland and Seattle in the rain. This one is more about driving around Stockton at dusk.

There are also some thematic tie-ins to the other songs on this record. It has a similar theme to “Eagles Below Us” in that it’s a song about human connection. It’s also a little bit related to “Holy Rose” with that sense of deciding between letting go of a place or holding onto a place.

Josh brought a lot out of this one. At first, it was more of a double time, almost disco-y song, but he saw it as a half[1]time kind of epic thing. Josh laboured over all these songs, but I have good memories of him being excited about this one. He did a number on it in a good way.

Complete

Here’s my theory about the last three songs on a record. It’s different than the first couple songs on a record because there are a lot of different ways to look at those. You might put a couple of super jams up front to get people invested or, like in this case, put a floaty song up front so that you can get people in a meditative mood.

But while there are a few ways that you can treat the beginning of an album, I always see the end the same way. I feel like the second-to-last song is the last song because the last song is kind of like the epilogue. The album is done and now you’re watching the closing credits. So that makes the third-to-last song really the second-to-last scene. That’s how I’ve always envisioned it. The second-to-last song is really the end, and the last song is the closing credits.

“Complete” is just me singing and playing guitar at the same time in a room. There are no overdubs, I’m just playing to a click track. I tried to make it an invocation, a little bit of a prayer and a wish for everyone: “You shall be complete.” I know we’re all feeling like there are holes in us right now, so it’s a prayer for good, as best as I can say it.

Fruit Bats is back with their second studio album on Merge Records, The Pet Parade, out March 5th.

Produced by Josh Kaufman

Nothing ever really disappears,” Cassandra Jenkins says. “It just changes shape.” Over the past few years, she’s seen relationships altered, travelled three continents, wandered through museums and parks, and recorded free-associative guided tours of her New York haunts. Her observations capture the humanity and nature around her, as well as thought patterns, memories, and attempts to be present while dealing with pain and loss. With a singular voice, Jenkins siphons these ideas into the ambient folk of her new album.

“An Overview on Phenomenal Nature” honours flux, detail, and moments of intimacy. Jenkins arrived at engineer Josh Kaufman’s studio with ideas rather than full songs — nevertheless, they finished the album in a week. Jenkins’ voice floats amid sensuous chamber pop arrangements and raw-edged drums, ferrying us through impressionistic portraits of friends and strangers. Her lyrics unfold magical worlds, introducing you to a cast of characters like a local fisherman, a psychic at a birthday party, and driving instructor of a spiritual  bent. 
Jenkins’ last record, 2017’s Play Till You Win, confirmed the veteran artist’s talent. Evident of Jenkins’ experience growing up in a family band in New York City, the album showcased her meticulous song writing and musicianship, earning her comparisons to George Harrison and Emmylou Harris. Jenkins has since played in the bands of Eleanor Friedberger, Craig Finn, and Lola Kirke, and rehearsed to tour with Purple Mountains last August before the tour’s cancellation. Her new record departs from her previous work in its openness and flexibility, following her peripatetic lifestyle. “The goal is to be more fluid, to be more like the clouds shifting constantly,” she says. The approach allowed Jenkins to express herself like she never has.

On album opener “Michelangelo,” before the heavy drum beat and fuzz guitars enter, Jenkins sings quietly “I’m a three-legged dog, working with what I’ve got / and part of me will always be looking for what I lost // there’s a fly around my head, waiting for the day I drop dead.” Phenomenal Nature thrives in this dichotomy between ornate sonics and verbal frankness, a calming guided tour to the edge. Later, on “Crosshairs,” amid lush strings, she sings conversationally: “Empty space is my escape / it runs through me like a river / while time spits in my face.” 

“Hard Drive,” the third track and album center piece, opens with a voice memo Jenkins recorded at The Met Breuer: a guard muses about Mrinalini Mukherjee’s hybrid textile and sculpture works, which were then on display in a retrospective titled Phenomenal Nature. “When we lose our connection to nature, we lose our spirit, our humanity,” she explains. Stuart Bogie’s saxophone & Josh Kaufman’s glittering guitar make way for Jenkins’ spoken word which constellates scenes from her life, gradually building and blossoming as she recreates a meditation guided by a friend who incants, “One, two, three.”

Sounds of footsteps and bird calls run through the album’s glittering conclusion, “The Ramble.” Meditative and bright, it recalls how Jenkins felt while writing and recording her new material: “Everything else is falling apart, so let’s just enjoy this time,” she said. If Phenomenal Nature has a unifying theme, it’s the power of presence, the joy of walking in a world in constant flux and opening oneself to change. .

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Releases February 19th, 2021

Cassandra Jenkins– vocals, guitar
Josh Kaufman– guitar, voyager, harmonium, banjo, synth, bass, piano, organ
~and~
JT Bates– drums, auxiliary percussion
Eric Biondo– drums
Michael Coleman– synth
Stuart Bogie–  flutes, saxophone
Oliver Hill– violin, viola, string arrangement  
Annie Nero– bass
Aaron Roche– synth
Ben Seretan– drone
Will Stratton– guitar

All songs written and performed NYC singer/songwriter Cassandra Jenkins will release her sophomore album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature in February via Ba Da Bing Records,

The Hold Steady Share New Single “Heavy Covenant”

Now eight albums into their career, the Hold Steady are well known for their elaborate storytelling and explosive, communal rock music. According to frontman Craig Finn, their eighth studio album should satisfy everyone’s expectations: “Open Door Policy” was very much approached as an album vs. a collection of individual songs,” he said in a press release, “and it feels like our most musically expansive record.” Produced by Josh Kaufman, the album was completed before the pandemic began, and Finn notes that it touches on themes including “power, wealth, mental health, technology, capitalism, consumerism, and survival.

“Open Door Policy” is our 8th studio album and will be released on February 19th, 2021 via our own label, Positive Jams, in association with Thirty Tigers.

We recorded “Open Door Policy” in two different sessions in the back half of 2019. Once again we teamed with producer Josh Kaufman and engineer Dan Goodwin, this time at the Clubhouse studio in upstate NY. Our intention was to create an album that worked as a grand piece, rather than a collection of songs. 2019 was an active year for The Hold Steady – our writing was consistent, and new songs were coming in pretty regularly. The recording process was creative, open and fun.

We were pretty much done with the record by the time we played a few of the new songs in London the first week of March 2020, as the unease of the pandemic was setting in. Not long after we got back from London, NYC shut down and we began to see our 2020 shows postponed. Over the next months, it became obvious that timing this album’s release to specific weekend celebrations wouldn’t be a possibility in the near future. But we were still excited to share it.

The songs on “Open Door Policy” are about power, wealth, & mental health. They’re about technology, occupation, consumerism, freedom, fandom and escape. And although the album was written and recorded in 2019, the themes of this record seem to be underscored and highlighted by this year of virus and quarantine.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for understanding. We’re really glad that you’re here.

Stay Positive! The Hold Steady 

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Releases February 19th, 2021

The Hold Steady: Bobby Drake, Craig Finn, Tad Kubler, Franz Nicolay, Galen Polivka, Steve Selvidge

Horns: Stuart Bogie & Jordan McLean
Background Vocals: Annie Nero & Cassandra Jenkins
Percussion: Matt Barrick

Muzz have announced details of a new EP, ‘Covers’. The four-track set, which sees the trio of Paul Banks, Josh Kaufman and Matt Barrick reimagine songs by Arthur Russell, Bob Dylan, Mazzy Star and Tracy Chapman, will be released digitally on December 9th.

‘Covers’ is as much an illustration of the bands collective inspirations as it is a sonic testament to their expansive imagination and fluidity as a musical outfit, imbuing the singular classics with a sense of wonder and awe that come together to a short but powerfully holistic set.

Arthur Russell’s ‘Nobody Wants A Lonely Heart’ is deconstructed to its mesmerising foundations, with Banks‘ baritone gliding over Kaufman’s submerged piano and Barrick’s gentle shuffle. Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’ is recast in a cobweb of acoustic guitars, swooning slides and ghostly vocals that slow-burn to a mystical crescendo. Elsewhere, Banks’ invocation of Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’ is fraught with raw emotion, set to a backdrop of palpitating percussion and arching strings. Tracy Chapman’s ‘For You’ brings the set to a buoyant and moving close, punctuated by fluttering guitar runs, cinematic pads, and Banks’ soulful delivery.

“Nobody Wants a Lonely Heart” · Muzz under exclusive license to Matador Records

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What seemed at first like a fun side project has turned into one of the year’s most replayable albums. Bonny Light Horseman — the new supergroup of Anais Mitchell, Eric D Johnson (Fruit Bats), and The National/Craig Finn/Hiss Golden Messenger/Josh Ritter collaborator (and now member of Paul Banks’ new band Muzz) Josh Kaufman — is steeped in centuries-old tradition, but they sound like a breath of fresh air. Their debut album is a mix of traditional folk songs (including the one they’re named after) and originals, and Bonny Light Horseman often drastically rework the traditionals and make them entirely their own. It’s an album that could appeal to fans of classic folk rock like Fairport Convention as much as to more recent indie folk acts like Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver (whose Justin Vernon appears on the album and released it on 37d03d, the label he runs with The National’s Aaron Dessner, who also played on the album), and it’s one of the most refreshing albums in this style to be released in recent memory.

Bonny Light Horseman — the indie folk super-trio featuring Anais Mitchell, Eric D Johnson (Fruit Bats), and Josh Kaufman — released one of the year’s best albums so far, followed by a great non-album single “Green Rocky Road,” and here’s another great song, which is the b-side to “Green Rocky Road.”

From the single Green/Green, out 7th Aug 2020 via 37d03d Records.

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The arrival of Muzz’s self-titled debut LP has been similarly low key, only for its captivating blend of melancholic indie-rock to immediately betray the long game behind its creation.

A meeting of New York minds Interpol vocalist and guitarist Paul Banks, polymath producer Josh Kaufman and drummer Matt Barrick, late of Jonathan Fire Eater and the WalkmenMuzz have been tooling around for half a decade at this point. Appropriately, their first album together has a lived-in quality, with its intricacies brought to life by the relaxed chemistry of the performances. “In the studio there’s so much leeway,” Kaufman says. “All you’re trying to do is express a moment in music.”

Kaufman and Banks have been friends since they were teenagers attending the same Spanish high school, later reconnecting after moving to New York in separate instalments. Barrick crossed their paths as a key cog in the city’s early 2000s indie-rock machine, eventually playing in Banks + Steelz (Banks’s project with Wu-Tang Clan supremo RZA) and sitting in on Kaufman’s sessions with Craig Finn for the Hold Steady frontman’s 2017 solo LP We All Want The Same Things.

Muzz began to coalesce in 2015 as embryonic arrangements were fleshed out jam-style, but it would take time for the trio to perceive themselves as a band who did conventional things like release records. “I think it was just the fact that we were feeling like there was something there to offer people beyond these sort of intimate conversations between the three of us,” Kaufman says of the decision to break into the open.

Muzz, compounds the immediately recognizable vocals of Interpol frontman Paul Banks and the similarly familiar drumming of The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, with the additional contribution of guitarist Josh Kaufman from contemporary folk newcomers Bonny Light Horseman. The result is a surprisingly comfortable pastiche of the three artists’ distinct sounds, compounding the uneasiness of Interpol, the playfulness of The Walkmen, and the tranquil twang of BLH.

After spending sections of 2019 working on Finn’s I Need A New War and the riotous guitar blowout of the Hold Steady’s Thrashing Thru The Passion, Muzz offered Kaufman the chance to test his mettle as a composer and performer while also marshalling the troops from the control room. Rather than viewing them as competing disciplines, though, he prefers to zoom out and see them as complementary roles.

“I don’t know that I see a distinction,” he says. “I feel like when you put a bunch of musicians in a room, you’re kinda dealing with a co-production no matter what. If I’m producing a record, and that’s my job, then I’ll do my best to shepherd it, and to give my two cents, and try to advise.

“But, really, I’m just trying to sound good with everyone, sorta walking the walk a little bit. Like, ‘Maybe if I do my best to bring what I love to this, then that’s going to come out in the people around me too, and we’ll end up with something that’s better than the sum of its parts.’ That’s where I’m coming from. When I go in to work with Muzz, or with anyone else, I’m walking in the same way.”

Here, Kaufman was tasked with facilitating the band’s open-hearted approach to collaboration. As a multi-instrumentalist he went from sitting at a blown out upright piano to laying down large swathes of the record’s guitars, while Banks and Barrick also embraced the lack of defined roles. “I don’t think anyone’s afraid of playing anything,” Kaufman says. “Sometimes we’re in a room together and we’re switching. Paul will hop on drums, Matt will hop on guitar, and I’ll play bass. Maybe I’ll sit at the piano, Paul will play guitar, and Matt will play drums.

“You don’t have to have the command over the breadth of the instrument that you would if you were sitting down to be a soloist. I think that’s been really helpful, and there’s not a lot of ego. Everybody’s open to one another’s creative strengths in the moment, however those might alter depending on what we’re working on. It’s always composition-dependent, right? You can get the most technically amazing musician to come and play something and you can be incredibly unmoved by it. I think that looking for the most moving contributions is usually the barometer.”

Muzz strikes gold in its combination of rich melody and desolate grandeur, landing somewhere between the gloom-pop of arch storyteller Bill Callahan and the National’s widescreen emotional inquisitions, the mechanics of which Kaufman knows better than most after collaborating with the Dessner brothers and Scott Devendorf as producer of Grateful Dead legend Bob Weir’s 2016 LP Blue Mountain.

“I think that’s the natural democracy of the three of us,” Kaufman observes. “We all lean in that direction, but it took a little while to find out that we lean that way. It’s funny, you sit in a room and you play something loud and rocking and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so much fun.’ And it is so much fun to have those releases. But then you go into the control room and listen to it back and go, ‘Man, I don’t know if I want to listen to this, though.’ There was a lot of back and forth about whether we were making music that we wanted to listen to. I think that was a big X on the map.”

The album takes a textural approach to its guitars, weaving delicate lead lines and warm ringing chords throughout songs that benefit from swelling strings and the washes of brass that have become something of a Kaufman go-to. “I think all three of us are passionate about the guitar,” he says. “Matt and I are really into older guitars, and more oddball models. I think that it was another voice.

“There are a few songs that we wrote as guitar parts, like Bad Feeling. That was a guitar [line] first and then Paul wrote to that, and Trinidad was a guitar part that Paul had, but for the most part on these songs the guitar was a voice. There’s a few songs where it’s like a strummy thing, but the foundation isn’t always guitar. It just helps with the mood of everything.”

Kaufman’s description of the guitar as a voice is apt but it also raises an issue for a band such as Muzz, who openly toy with the dreaded ‘supergroup’ tag. Banks’s bandmates are operating in tandem with one of indie-rock’s most recognisable and oft-imitated vocalists, adding an extra layer of consideration lest their guitar work stray too close to Interpol territory. “Maybe I have the advantage of understanding intellectually that it’s iconic to people, but then emotionally I’m just connected to my friend,” Kaufman observes.

“I’m sensitive to it, but I’m not afraid of it. We would build a kind of sonic world of tones that we really loved and then put a guitar line on top. Paul would write his vocal melody to that as harmony parts, or as a doubled part. A good example of that is the song Evergreen, where there’s this weird slide guitar that had been living for a couple of years. Paul had been saying he wanted to do something with it. One day we’re in the studio and he added the vocal to it in such a cool way. I had imagined muting that guitar, but he really liked it there as something to sing to. When I say that the guitar functions as a voice in this music, that’s kind of a way that Paul and I can sing together.”

In the studio, Kaufman ran the guitars through a relatively organic setup. He generated the record’s reverb and tremolo effects through a handful of Fender amps – chiefly Princeton and Deluxe models – and daisy chained channels on the console in pursuit of the correct amount of comforting fuzz. They leaned hard on the Guilds in their respective collections – Banks’s jumbo acoustic in open tuning, Kaufman’s Starfire IV and an S-90 fitted with a Bigsby – alongside a 60s-era Gibson 12 string, plus a handful of Telecasters, Silvertones and Danelectros.

“I also have a Strat that I like to play DI,” Kaufman adds. “It’s an old ’71 that I put Lollar pickups in. Man, they are so beautiful. The first time I got them in they were quieter than the stock pickups, and I was a little miffed. But, oh no. When I A/B’d them against older recordings I was like, ‘These are so beautiful.’ You just have to turn up the amp a little bit more and you get all this air.”

Actually, Kaufman devoting time to a new set of pickups and finding buried treasure mirrors Muzz’s slow-burn journey nicely. “Developing the sound of the band over five years or so, to use the parlance of right now ‘in quarantine’, it feels good to finally come out with it,” he says. “Unfortunately, we’re coming out into a vacuum. But I do think there are some benefits to that. People really need music right now, and maybe they are spending time more closely with it. I think there’s a light there.”

The recording of Muzz, the group’s first album together, was a few years in the making, and who better than the group’s three members to walk us through the twelve songs’ inceptions? which dropped on June 5th via Matador Records—and read on for the songwriters’ insight.

1. “Bad Feeling”

Paul: Josh and Matt wrote and recorded this song (without horns) one afternoon when I had left the studio in Woodstock to drive back to NYC. They emailed it to me with the rest of the music we had worked on together in that session. It spoke to me immediately. I felt it was like a song for your pocket. Like Will Oldham’s “I Send My Love to You.” It sounded like a sigh.

I waited until I felt inspired to write the lyrics. That happened at the beach after I visited with a surf bro—an American named Joey—who lives in Central America with his wife and child, and who at that time was preparing to move completely off the grid—deep into the wild—to run a remote surf lodge. And he was ecstatic about it. The opening lyrics and the chorus are directly inspired by Joey, in honor of the monumentality of his hope.

2. “Evergreen”

Josh: “Evergreen” was built around a slide guitar instrumental that I had written and recorded years before we started actively Muzz-ing. It was a tune that Matt and Paul both dug and we had a blast layering onto the recordings I had in the archive. Love the Flutes by Stuart Bogie on this and the sweetness of Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkin’s chorus harmonies. I had always imagined just muting the melody line and letting Paul construct something new there, but when I heard him sing to the slide melody it really unlocked the whole jam. Amazing rolling groove by Matt here as well…kinda love that it just goes for a while at the end. I am literally singing into the pickups of one of my old guitars for those little background patterns.

3. “Red Western Sky”

Paul: “Red Western” was written and recorded up in Woodstock at The IsOkOn. Fairly early on. We improvised the beginning as part of a jam, and then Josh sat down at the piano and fleshed out the chorus progression, and then I wrote vocals all in the same day. I remember sitting in the control room listening to Matt lay his beat down, and feeling an upswell of excitement—a sudden sense that the song was destined to be dope. Later we added horns, which were such a great addition on this track.

The song had a dusty mood of Americana to my ear, musically. So when I sat down to write vocals I just immediately saw myself as a character on a highway in Nevada—going west with the sunset as a guide. Spirit quest, Jim Morrisson shit. That’s what informed the lyrics. I think there’s some Cormac McCarthy influence as well.

4. “Patchouli”

Josh: This song got me thinking about our band’s ability to spontaneously compose songs together. It’s the first of a few that were concocted through a vibey jam resulting in a tune. I remember this one moving very quickly. I was strumming Paul’s Guild in some alt tuning that I now forget, Paul improvised that guitar arpeggio, and Matt moved the whole groove along with his breezy shaker tom-tom, kick pattern. After that we added an old Crumar which has those sweeping brass filters on it, bass, and a couple other textures, and Paul wrote his vocal line and lyrics to that… “Hey mom, I made it so your light burns / Hey mom, I’ve changed.” Nice one, PB!

5. “Everything Like It Used to Be”

Josh: “Everything Like It Used to Be” is another jam that is based off one of my older demos. In the original version I had all of these strange samples of people sighing on the backbeats going into the choruses. Paul liked those, but after hearing his voice on the track we decided to remove some of those (as he likes to call them) “ice-y modern details” in place of a more classic track—strings by Rob Moose are always really special, and he really built on the emotion here. Matt and I re-cut the rhythm track in the same room to get a sweet and blurry bleed between the instruments. As with a lot of art, while it moves through time, it takes on new meaning. That occured unpredictably fast here with the line, “I want everything like it used to be,” which started to feel like a relatable lifeline at the onset of the current health crisis.

6. “Broken Tambourine”

Josh: Funnily enough, Paul was asleep when Matt and I cracked open “Broken Tambourine.” It was recorded early spring up in Woodstock, NY—hence the babybird songs built into the piano track. Dan Goodwin (our renaissance man engineer/co-producer) brilliantly set up and tracked Matt and I writing this song while we had the porch door open, so it’s a piano, drums, Catskills nature “live-off the floor” kinda sound. PB walked in as we were finishing and loved the feeling of the track, he made a few suggestions and then got to work on the vocal immediately. This track also deals pretty directly with isolation and feels particularly connected to the pandemic moment we’re all going through.

7. “Knuckleduster”

Matt: Josh and I recorded the basics for this song at my practice space in Philly in 2015, a couple years before we would get together with Paul and really start working on the Muzz album. We tried rerecording it a few times, but the original demo had an energy that was hard to beat so we ended up building on that. The vocals for this one were the last thing we recorded for the record, so this one is full circle.

8. “Chubby Checker”

Paul: This was a piano riff I was playing around with in the studio, and Josh said, “Let’s record that!” So we jammed it out with Josh on keyboards, me on piano, and Matt on drums. And we recorded to one mic. Then Josh layered the guitar parts and bass on top. His first bassline reminded Matt of Chubby Checker—hence the name. But we scrapped that bass take anyway and got the current one instead. We kept the nonsense working title because we like a little nonsense here and there.

The piece has a unique atmosphere and tone for the record. But it reminds me of Can for some reason, and that makes me happy. The song lived as an instrumental for, like, a year. The only part I wrote at the time we recorded was “Back on your feet how you planned it.” Then at the last minute I finished the words—maybe the last day of recording. One of my favorite tracks.

9. “How Many Days”

Matt: This was one of the earliest songs to come together for the record. During a Banks and Steelz soundcheck in Phoenix, I was messing around and playing this beat—and Paul started playing a chord progression from a song he had already demoed. There was just one thing missing: a ripping Josh guitar solo.

10. “Summer Love”

Matt: A deep cut but one of my favorites. This one started from one of Josh’s demos. Great fluting by Stuart Bogie. I was trying to mimic the sound of an old Rhythm Ace drum machine with real drums and percussion. I like how this one is relaxed and just rides out on that main vibe and vocal line. Was really fun hearing all of Paul’s vocal ideas on this one.

1. “All Is Dead to Me”

Matt: Most of the album we recorded upstate at the IsOkOn with D. James Goodwin, but this one was done at Silent Partner, a studio Paul and I started in Philly. Josh was on tour and we went to the studio the day after his show. He went straight to the Hammond organ and made good use of the built-in reverb, while I wailed on a strange-sounding cymbal covered in duct tape. When he was gone I got to sneak in a couple guitar licks, but later he put me in my place with a ripping guitar solo. Love the brass on this one by The Westerlies.

12. “Trinidad”

Paul: This track was just a guitar sketch and lyric that I had laying around. We tried to build the song into something longer and more complex structurally, but ultimately settled on the original minimal form. I tracked the guitar and the vocal at the same time, so the recording sounds and feels really live, I think. Then Josh layered guitar and bass; Matt played to it; and then The Westerlies played horns and voila, that’s how the song came to be. Josh says the song is “funereal,” which influenced how he wanted the horns to sound: a little durgey, a little somber. I think it works nicely.

Muzz’s self-titled debut is out now on Matador Records.

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Muzz is a new band that features Paul Banks of Interpol, Matt Barrick of The Walkmen, and Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman. They are releasing their self-titled debut album on June 5th via Matador Records. Now they have shared a new live acoustic video of the three members performing the album’s previous single “Bad Feeling” separately and remotely from their homes in these socially distant times. Banks was in Edinburgh, Kaufman in Brooklyn, and Barrick in Philadelphia. It’s the band’s first ever live recording.

Previously Muzz had shared their first song, “Bad Feeling.” It was a little more lush and chill than the post-punk assault of Interpol.  Then they shared another new song, “Broken Tambourine,” via a video for the track. Then the album’s third single was “Red Western Sky,” .

Banks and Kaufman have known each other since they were teenagers and both have also worked with Barrick before. Muzz’s earliest recordings date back to 2015. All three members wrote, arranged, and performed the album. And while Banks is usually the sole lyricist in Interpol, here all three members contributed to the lyrics.

Josh has more training as a theory musician while Paul comes from a different perspective,” Barrick said about the process in a previous press release. “You never know how Paul’s gonna approach a song, lyrically and melodically, so it’s always unusual and exciting. Everyone is open to everyone else’s ideas. I think three is a great number of people for a band. We all had a big hand in everything.”

Kaufman had this to say about the band’s sound: “The music has this weird, super removed vibe but is also personal and emotional at the same time. If something felt natural in a simple way, we left it. I’d never heard Paul’s voice framed like that—a string section, horns, guitars—we know none of that is visionary but it felt classic and kind of classy.”

The band’s name stems from the word Kaufman used to describe the band’s sound, or as the press release put it, “the music’s subtle, analog quality and texture.”

Summing up the album Banks said: “Ultimately, the music speaks for itself. We have a genuine, organic artistic chemistry together. It’s partly a shared musical taste from youth, as with me and Josh, but then it’s also the souls of my friends that resonate with me when expressed through music. I think it’s cosmic.”

Interpol (which also features Daniel Kessler and Sam Fogarino) released a new EP, A Fine Mess, last year via Matador. It followed their 2018 album Marauder. Outside of Interpol, Banks has released two solo albums (2009’s Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper and 2012’s Banks) and one album with RZA as Banks & Steelz (2016’s Anything But Words).

 

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Trad-folk rabble rousers from a bevvy of renowned musicians with a keen understanding on the heritage of the genre and an enviable imagination for how to take it bounding into the future.

The astral folk outfit—comprised of Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman— mixes the ancient, mystical medium of transatlantic traditional folk music with a contemporary, collective brush. the resulting album, bonny light horseman, is an elusive kind of sonic event: a bottled blend of lightning and synergy that will excite fans of multiple genres, eras, and ages. This is colourful, textured work: a lush and loving ode to the past with one eye fixed on the present. “There’s a palpable through line: a sense that the spirit of these ancient songs can be secured in the face of radical transformation”

What seemed at first like a fun side project has turned into one of the year’s most re-playable albums. Bonny Light Horseman are a new supergroup of Anais Mitchell, Eric D Johnson (Fruit Bats), and The National/Craig Finn/Hiss Golden Messenger/Josh Ritter collaborator (and now member of Paul Banks’ new band Muzz) Josh Kaufman — is steeped in centuries-old tradition, but they sound like a breath of fresh air. Their debut album is a mix of traditional folk songs (including the one they’re named after) and originals, and Bonny Light Horseman often drastically rework the traditionals and make them entirely their own. It’s an album that could appeal to fans of classic folk rock like Fairport Convention as much as to more recent indie folk acts like Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver (whose Justin Vernon appears on the album and released it on 37d03d, the label he runs with The National’s Aaron Dessner, who also played on the album), and it’s one of the most refreshing albums in this style to be released in recent memory.

The new song from Bonny Light Horseman, “Deep In Love,” began as a Fruit Bats sketch, until Josh Kaufman recognized its uncanny (and unplanned) similarity to a traditional tune by that name. available on 37d03d Records.

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Muzz, is the new project of Paul Banks (Interpol), Josh Kaufman (producer/multi-instrumentalist and one third of Bonny Light Horseman), and Matt Barrick (drummer of Jonathan Fire*Eater, The Walkmen, and Fleet Foxes’ touring band), have announced their self-titled, debut album, due out June 5th on Matador Records.

The phrase “Interpol side project” should rightly send a shiver down your spine, and yet somehow Muzz (the new band from Paul Banks plus producer Josh Kaufman and The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick) is something special. The trio went to high school together and that lived-in feel permeates the music they make together. “Bad Feeling” is their first release and combines a gorgeous guitar tone with jazz flourishes and heavenly backing vocals.

Muzz was born out of longstanding friendship and collaboration. Banks and Kaufman have known each other since childhood, attending high school together in Spain before separately moving to New York. There, they independently crossed paths with Barrick while running in similar music circles. They kept in touch in the following years: Barrick drummed in Banks + Steelz and on some of Kaufman’s production sessions; Kaufman helped on Banks’ early Julian Plenti solo endeavour; various demos were collaborated on, and a studio was co-bought. The self-titled debut album, written, arranged and performed by all three, is dark and gorgeous, expansive and soulful. No matter the sonic direction, Muzz goes there effortlessly and with maximum emotional charge.

This is a new band. Now they have announced their self-titled debut album and shared another song from it, “Red Western Sky,” via a video for the single Muzz is due out June 5th via Matador and features two previously shared singles, “Bad Feeling” and “Broken Tambourine.” Check out the “Red Western Sky” video tracks below.

Their first song, “Bad Feeling.” It was a little more lush and chill than the post-punk assault of Interpol and was one of our favourite songs. Then they shared another new song, “Broken Tambourine,” via a video for the track.

Banks and Kaufman have known each other since they were teenagers and both have also worked with Barrick before. Muzz’s earliest recordings date back to 2015. All three members wrote, arranged, and performed the album. And while Banks is usually the sole lyricist in Interpol, here all three members contributed to the lyrics.

Josh has more training as a theory musician while Paul comes from a different perspective,” Barrick says about the process in a press release. “You never know how Paul’s gonna approach a song, lyrically and melodically, so it’s always unusual and exciting. Everyone is open to everyone else’s ideas. I think three is a great number of people for a band. We all had a big hand in everything.”

Kaufman had this to say about the band’s sound: “The music has this weird, super removed vibe but is also personal and emotional at the same time. If something felt natural in a simple way, we left it. I’d never heard Paul’s voice framed like that—a string section, horns, guitars—we know none of that is visionary but it felt classic and kind of classy.”

The band’s name stems from the word Kaufman used to describe the band’s sound, or as the press release puts it, “the music’s subtle, analog quality and texture.”

Summing up the album Banks says: “Ultimately, the music speaks for itself. We have a genuine, organic artistic chemistry together. It’s partly a shared musical taste from youth, as with me and Josh, but then it’s also the souls of my friends that resonate with me when expressed through music. I think it’s cosmic.”

Interpol (which also features Daniel Kessler and Sam Fogarino) released a new EP, A Fine Mess last year also via Matador. It followed their 2018 album Marauder. Outside of Interpol, Banks has released two solo albums (2009’s Julian Plenti is... Skyscraper and 2012’s Banks and one album with RZA as Banks & Steelz (2016’s Anything But Words).

Muzz’ self-titled album out June 5th, 2020 on Matador Records.

No photo description available.