Articles by

<Nick Williams>

09/12/12 9:35am


Ryan O’Nan’s Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best (Sep 21) is a coming-of-age film about two solo musicians’ last attempt to make their childhood dreams come true. It begins with Alex (O’Nan) leaving his nine-to-five for a gig serenading, in a moose costume, a group of handicapped teenagers—one of whom attacks Alex with a fake knife. He retaliates by punching the teen in the face. When he meets Jim (Michael Weston), they put together a DIY set list described as “the Shins meets Sesame Street” (they are fans of toy instruments), rejecting the security of office jobs for a makeshift tour that brings them in front of a slew of small crowds at unpredictable venues (and one large venue, when they tell the booking agent that Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots is in the band). We spoke to writer-director-star O’Nan as well as co-star Weston about their contagious bromance.

How has it felt to see this project through from initial idea to completion—all of the festival screenings and the reception. How has the response been?
RYAN: You know, it’s been wonderful. It’s a scary thing to put something together and you hope that people will like it—and you put someone like Michael Weston in it, who is hard to like in the first place. But the reception has been wonderful—it was actually more than I ever hoped it could have been. And the response from the different demographics and generations has been really neat. I was actually really surprised by the baby boomers’ reaction—because that is the generation that actually got into a VW and drove across the country.

The first description of this film that I read was “a bromantic Once if it had been directed by Cameron Crowe in his prime.” How do you feel about this description?
RYAN: I can’t even imagine a better compliment.
MICHAEL: He uses the word bromantic a lot in his daily life.

RYAN: A comparison to Once I think is the highest compliment I can think of—that’s one of my favorite music movies of all time. And Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. I grew up on Say Anything; I absolutely adore that movie. And Almost Famous is also one of my favorite music movies of all time, so I feel like, fuck, that’s a very sweet thing for them to say.

This is a coming of age film. Do you see coming of age as a sad thing, or at least a sad reality?
RYAN: Mike hasn’t quite hit that yet.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I’ve got a Peter Pan complex. But yeah, it’s a great coming-of-age story in terms of people realizing their dreams and going for them. It’s a very useful perspective on stuff—and as you get older, it’s hard to balance out the passion of those dreams and the practicality of life. And you know, in this movie both characters are—actually right now we’re standing on a street corner and I can see Ryan, and it’s really distracting because he keeps touching his balls.

RYAN: I’m distracting him… You know, the thing about the film that I was attempting to do—you know I played music for years and years, and lived in these borderline-windowless vans. And you know, somewhere along the line you come to realize that it’s not about some end result—it can’t be, because the end result is such a small portion of the arts or the dream you have. It’s the process and the journey that you fall in love with, and all the little failures along the way. I love the little failures. They are dearest to my heart.

I know you were a musician when you were younger, and this film has a very raw and believable feel to it. How much of this is based on your experience? Was it pretty easy for you to get into character?
RYAN: You know there’s heightened elements for sure. Some of it is definitely based on my emotional experience and a lot of people that I grew up with in the music scene. And my brother is also a fantastic musician; I kind of used him as a muse a little bit. Parts of it are real: I was on tour one year and we actually played a place called the Theta Beta Potato House.

For real?
RYAN: For real, man. I woke up… I don’t remember… no, we were in Iowa City. We had been driving forever, and we were on some residential street, and I was like, what the hell? Are we playing someone’s house? And they were like, I don’t know man, the address is weird. And we pulled up to this dilapidated mansion and it had that big Theta, Beta, and a potato symbol, a mock frat house that these punk kids had co-opted. And they just threw shows there and nobody got paid, and it was just such a fucking blast. And my drummer at the time did wake up naked next to some random person the next morning.

08/15/12 4:00am

Bloc Party

It took indie-alt quartet Bloc Party four years to produce the aptly titled Four, the long-awaited follow-up to 2008’s Intimacy, and what may or may not be their final album ever. And still, four albums deep into their career, they’ll only able to muster the creativity to cop an album title from Beyoncé…

Regardless, divo frontman Kele Okereke has thankfully tucked his tail between his legs following comments on his blog that, “There was a big question mark over whether Bloc Party were ever going to make another record again.” The result mimics the heyday of their success—band mates Gordon Moakes, Matt Tong and Russell Lissack sound absolutely giddy on their respective instruments in shredding out rock-centric openers “So He Begins to Lie” and “3 x 3” in the vein of 2005’s breakthrough album Silent Alarm. On standout track “Real Talk,” Kele’s signature vocal swims amid the meditative guitar riff, much more a part of the arrangement than anything you’d hear on Intimacy, when it kind of became “Kele & the Bloc Party.”

You know when one of your old friends becomes kind of a pretentious asshole and they start not having time for you? Kele is that obnoxious friend, and Bloc Party has kindly taken him back for one last hurrah. Four is the band’s drunken college reunion weekend, their honest rehashing, a return to their roots. Who knows where Bloc Party will go from here, but at least they got one more shot at lasting resonance.

06/25/12 10:47am


In the dimly lit Mad-Men style Darby lounge, Lianne La Havas emerged from the bathroom in a porcelain white dress, black belt, and pumps, as Frank by Amy Winehouse played from her manager’s iPod. “Hair up or down?” she asked her entourage. “Up and then down during ‘Forget”” her manager joked. “You match your guitar,” another pointed out. It was apparent that Lianne was still adjusting to the attention, balancing new found fame with a lovely sweetness that seemed to pour from her. In our chat before her private invite-only performance, Lianne opened up about her songwriting process, love of Williamsburg, praise for Little Dragon, and a potential EP with Prince (we hope).

The first time I heard your music was via your La Blogotheque Take Away Show, and it was just incredible. How was that experience for you as a rising artist?

Well, It was filmed in September. It felt strangely appropriate to sing that song walking through Paris, I don’t know. It made me have a different connection with that song—the album version is actually a duet with Willy Mason, so that was the first time I played it solo in fact. It was just an amazing day we had in Paris, and consequently now I’m very good friends with the directors and the producers, and actually they did my video for the single “Lost & Found” which is a sort of one-shot thing, so I’m thrilled to know them.

Since signing to Warner Bros, do you think that your songwriting process has changed at all?
No, no, it was always different every time I wrote a song. And I don’t know, being signed to a label made me more determined to write songs that I really liked and believed in—and not to let the better ones slip through the net. In a way, it made me know more what I liked and what I didn’t like, and to have a stronger sense of identity. If you’re signed to a label, and if you’re not sure of what you want to do, they might try and sway you in a different direction – but I think it made me identify more with what I was doing, and to find my path, I suppose.

I listened to the record yesterday and it has a much bigger sound than your previous EPs. Is that how you always imagined the songs would sound, especially the single “Is Your Love Big Enough”?
Well, it just kind of depended on the sentiment of each song really, and I wanted the production to reflect that. So there are some very intimate melancholic moments, and as with “Is Your Love Big Enough” it’s just sort of an extravaganza—kind of really fun, wonky sounding production. And with everything that’s on there, it just had to be just the right amount so as not to overcrowd the lyrics and the melody and the guitar (or piano). I just wanted everything to be in its right place, and to have each instrument play a part.

I know you’ve collaborated a lot with other artists – like Willy Mason, and Aqualung.
Yes, Aqualung produced the album! His real name is Matt Hales and he lives in Los Angeles, but I met him when he lived in London. And then he went to LA, and I followed him back and forth.

Did you stay with him?
Yeah sometimes, or I stayed with a friend because he has kids you know. But I’ve become very close with his entire family, and I see him as one of my closest friends. And part of the album was recorded here in New York —the Willy Mason track “No Room For Doubt” was recorded in Brooklyn in an apartment, as was “Is Your Love Big Enough?” And a song called “Everything Everything,” so it’s kind of geographical. But yeah, Matt Hales… I was a big fan, so I was really pleased to be working with him.

Yeah it seems like a great match. I also heard a rumor that you’re working with Prince?
Oh (laughs), I didn’t work with him. But it is true, I have met him and I am in touch with him. He called me one day… and he just wanted to say that he really liked my stuff, basically, so I said I really like your stuff too. He was really friendly and invited me to meet him in Minneapolis at Paisley Park Studios, and he showed me around. It was after my gig here a few months ago at Mercury Lounge. The day after, I flew to Minneapolis and met him that evening and it was so surreal.

Did you spend the day with him?
Well, we spent the evening together. I was pretty tired though, but I didn’t want to say that! We were playing guitar together and talking about music, and our songwriting processes. He seemed very interested in that. And yeah, if a collaboration is in the cards then I am not opposed to that.

I’m also a big fan of Marques Toliver – how was touring with him?
He’s my good friend! It was absolutely hilarious. He’s just a top guy. I love him, and yeah he supported me on two of my tours, and he’s just absolutely hilarious, just so charismatic. He’s the only person I know who can play the violin and sing – really really well. His voice is like something else, so yeah I met him in November 2010 and I was supporting him. We met that evening, and we spent a lot of time together, and I find him very inspiring.

Did you have a chance to collaborate on anything with him?
Yeah we’ve tried writing together. We started a few bits – but then we just got too busy. He was writing an album, he’s finished it now. He was also touring and then I was touring – so if we could find some time together, that guy is always singing. We’ll be doing something, and he’ll be singing what we’re doing. He just can’t not sing! So I’m sure we’ll find a time to make some music together.

So The L Magazine is based in Brooklyn, and I know you’ve recorded in Brooklyn before. Do you have any favorite spots or places you like to visit when you’re here?
Yes, well I’ve stayed in Carroll Gardens when I was recording. It was very pretty around there, the brownstone buildings, those houses with the steps that go up! If I were to move here, I would move somewhere like that. There were some lovely places. I like Williamsburg a lot. I have a friend who lives there, and there’s an amazing restaurant called Café Colette. I don’t get to come that often, but somehow all the staff know us.

I am curious to hear if there are any current bands you’re particularly excited about now?
Well, yes, there’s a band called the Invisible. They’re on their second album now, I believe. They’re a British band. They’re so creative and musical, cleve, but they don’t alienate anyone, it’s just beautiful. The singer is this 6-foot massive black guy and his guitar playing is unbelievable. They’re a three piece, all fabulous musicians, with an underlying soul quality to it. So I love the Invisible. And I like this guy called Two Inch Punch. He’s a West London based producer, but he does remixes and solo stuff, and his sound is slow groove, interesting beats, makes you feel like you’re high or something. So that’s Two-Inch Punch. And I’m generally always finding that I love Little Dragon.

Little Dragon is so amazing. Yukimi is incredible.
She is, she’s just a super star. I’ve seen them live twice, I’ve got all of their albums and I’ve followed them since their first album.

“Twice” is my favorite one.
Yeah, yeah! Isn’t it amazing? So yeah, I think when anyone asks what I’m listening to at the moment, it’s always Little Dragon – I never get tired of them.

And lastly, if you had to pick who is your biggest musical inspiration?
There’s loads, but I’d say probably either Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu.

Great choices.
(laughs), Well I like a woman that knows who she is and what she wants.

Look for Lianne’s debut LP Is Your Love Big Enough, out July 9 via Nonesuch Records.

06/08/12 12:08pm

L.A. has a secret weapon in lo-fi folk-pop quartet Haim. The three Haim sisters (+ friend and drummer Dash Hutton) have received intense buzz after dropping their critically praised Forever EP and packing the house at their SXSW shows. They’ve built quite a unique sound based on folk harmonies, shredding electric guitar and power thumping R&B beats. Directed by Austin Peters, “Forever” interweaves clips of old home movies with dudes popping wheelies and a ’90s inspired barber shop dance party. Devoid of pretense, these ladies show us where they’ve been and where they hope to go, not taking themselves too seriously in the process, though it’d be ok if they did.

Grab the free download of their Forever EP here, and look for the vinyl release July 2 via National Anthem Records.