Archive for the ‘PledgeMusic’ Category

When Juliana Hatfield and the Three reunited in 2015 to record the album that became Whatever, My Love, they funded themselves via PledgeMusic. There was a cornucopia of cool premiums, from autographed CDs and photos to musical instruments, but what I’d hoped to snare—the soundcheck/concert tickets—sold out before I got there.

In years past, for other JH projects, I’d walked away with some autographed posters (including the one above, which shares a corner in my den with an autographed Susanna Hoffs poster) and other neat things, including the download-albums God’s Foot Demos, Live Nuggets and Live at Maxwell’s. I also did a 20 Questions. To me, it was and is less about what I bought and more about the music – as in, her new music. (Which is why, if you’re reading this, be sure to buy her 2017 release, Pussycat.)

Anyway, for the 2015 PledgeMusic outing, she offered up her “diary” of a momentous year in her life: 1993. That was when she recorded and released her major-label debut, Become What You Are, and toured in support of it; and pledging for it was a no-brainer for me. The “diary” is actually four-and-a-half pages on a legal-sized notepad – and an interesting read, especially when she gets to pressing the flesh in July and August:

“…I always thought the work was writing great songs and playing them with feelings. No, it’s more than that – I’m expected to give a little piece of myself to everyone until I feel drained of all vigor and individuality. I’m expected to be pleasant and witty while answering the same dumb questions twenty times in one day. I feel like a piece of meat, prodded from one pen to the next. But I’m confused because all the while, I’m grateful there are people who play my records and support what I do. I’m amazed and so lucky that I can make music for a living. I just have to remember that.”

Unfortunately, legal-sized paper is a few inches too large for my scanner. So I’ve chopped the pages in half. Here’s Juliana’s 1993…

bbearwigdemosLast night, via DVD, I tripped back in time to 1988 in Cambridge, Mass., to watch the Blake Babies hold court at Nightstage, one of the Boston area’s top live-music venues at the time. The band, for the uninitiated, is an idiosyncratic, poppy delight – one of the greatest acts of the late ‘80s to never break through to popular acclaim, if you ask me. They formed in 1986, released a handful of eccentric four- and five-star albums and EPs, including the classic Sunburn, and went their separate ways in 1991. They’re most known, today, as Juliana Hatfield’s first band. That may not be fair to the other two members, guitarist John Strohm and drummer Freda Love, or occasional member Evan Dando, but it is what it is. Juliana sang lead on most songs and wrote much (though not all) of the lyrics and music. What can be said? They are her and she is them, though not really.

After a decade apart, they came together for the brilliant God Bless the Blake Babies in 2001 –

– before disbanding again, though Juliana and Freda worked together as two-thirds of Some Girls.

Anyway, earlier this year, the Blake Babies set up a PledgeMusic project: demos from Earwig, their earworm-laden second album. The demos are a godsend; the sound is clean, the songs are sublime, and Juliana’s vocals are, in turn and sometimes all at once, vital, vulnerable and venomous. The DVD, a premium, contains two shows (one from ’88, the other from ’87) that were apparently recorded by a cohort with a camcorder. It has all the markings of many of the fan-generated videos uploaded to YouTube, including mine, and the sound is far from optimal. And, yet, the negatives rarely matter – you feel like you’re right there, in the audience.

So, for today’s Top 5: Blake Babies. Not their five best songs, as selecting those would be an impossible task, but two of their official videos and a few cool, fan-generated clips.

1) “Cesspool”

2) “Temptation Eyes”

3) “Out There”

4) “Passionate Kisses” (Lucinda Williams cover)

5) “Sanctify”

And one bonus, from 2011 – Juliana Hatfield & Evan Dando with “Rain” …

Katie_RoxA few months back I wrote about Sandy Denny, the British folk-rock artist whose oeuvre I’ve begun investigating nearly 30 years after first thinking that I should. As I discovered, and am still discovering, she wrote and recorded many wondrous songs. One that I’ve come to adore is “Moments,” her final studio recording. “These are the moments that we love so well/Precious moments caught within a spell,” she sings at the outset, her sterling vocals imbued with a haunting tenderness.

As my wife Diane can attest, I have a knack for obsessing over bygone songs, albums and artists. Last year it was Dusty Springfield; after a lifetime of loving Dusty in Memphis, I took the plunge and explored the rest of her canon when a YouTube link led me to her rendition of the classic Carole King-Gerry Goffin song “Goin’ Back.” The year before that it was Peggy Lee, and the year before that it was the Original Carter Family, and on through the eras and artists. The main reason why I generally find myself rooting around popular music’s figurative attic: a dearth of new sounds that appeal to me.

That’s not to say there aren’t good works being released. Juliana Hatfield’s latest PledgeMusic effort, Wild Animals, is a rough-hewn jewel; and her upcoming Minor Alps project with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws has all the earmarks of an instant classic. But I can count on two hands the number of new albums I’ve picked up this year that I listened to more than a few times. And new artists? Even less.

Which is why I was thrilled, in early July, to stumble across up-and-coming Canadian singer-songwriter Katie Rox’s PledgeMusic page. Her Facebook profile offers a succinct summary of her life and career to date, but that’s not what sold me on her. It was her voice, which is pure and sweet, but not too sweet, and her sense of humor – as evidenced by this funny promo…

…for her PledgeMusic project. Her YouTube page also contains a bevy of cool originals and covers, including one of Freddie Fender’s “ Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”

So, what the hell? I pledged – and not just for the download or CD, but also for a cover song of my choice.

I should mention that cover songs are one of my favorite things to witness in concert – especially off-the-wall, unexpected gems. 10,000 Maniacs closing their set with “To Sir With Love” at WXPN’s Five Star Night benefit in 1992 remains one of my favorite concert memories. There are dozens upon dozens of such songs I could easily have picked for Katie to sing, of course, and I actually considered quite a few, including ones by Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Juliana Hatfield.

In the end, though, I went with my current infatuation, “Moments.” Katie’s voice just seemed a perfect fit for it. And I’m glad I did. As she notes in the intro, prior to my request she was unfamiliar with both Sandy Denny and the song (which means she’s with 99.9 percent of people in North America) yet that doesn’t steal from her performance. It’s tentative to start, and understandably so, but by song’s end she’s in the zone: “Cherish deep within you/the love you get today/let the moment linger/for tomorrow steals that away…”

I didn’t just pledge for a song, however. I pledged to support Katie’s project, and with or without “Moments” it would have been money well spent – as evidenced by one of the completed songs, which she made available to her Pledge backers in late July. Titled “Too Late,” it conjures Kasey Chambers (though minus the Aussie accent) circa “The Captain”  with its subtle twang, moody melody and vocals that grow slightly less restrained by song’s end. It’s a stunner.

Diane went with a cool cover, too: Paul Westerberg’s “Things.”

If you like what you hear in Katie’s music, pledge. And if you don’t, hey, that’s cool – but do check out the other artists on PledgeMusic. You may just find someone whose music you’ll one day treasure.

Juliana_in_exileI don’t remember the first record I bought with my own money. Odds are it was a 45 due to simple economics – my $2 allowance only stretched so far. And if it was, it wasn’t anything hip or happenin’ for the time, the mid-‘70s, but likely something by Jan & Dean, who I discovered via WPEN-AM’s Saturday Night Oldies Show. As for albums – again, I can’t say for sure. I do remember becoming obsessed with all things Elvis Presley after his death, and riding my bike to the Montgomery Ward store in Upper Moreland to purchase cut-rate collections of the King’s cut-rate movie music.

Juliana Hatfield’s memory is likewise as faulty when it comes to her first foray into buying music. “It might have been Soap Opera by the Kinks,” she thinks, referring to the British rockers’ 1975 concept album. “I don’t remember the details, but I remember loving that album and listening to it tons and singing along with my best friend, Robin.”

Hatfield, of course, was an “It Girl” of early ‘90s alterna-rock, riding the indie wave to a major label. She scored minor hits with “Spin the Bottle” from 1993’s Become What You Are and “Universal Heartbeat” from 1995’s Only Everything, appeared on magazine covers, guest starred on My So-Called Life and, along with the Breeders and Belly (among others), made it cool for girls to rock out on electric guitar. It wasn’t a total love-fest, however. Only Everything didn’t perform up to expectations for a variety of reasons, and she butted heads with her label over its never-released follow-up, God’s Foot. As a result, she asked for and was granted a release from her contract, and returned to the indie life. “I don’t have any regrets,” she says of the decision.

I’m sure life would have been easier, financially speaking, if she’d worked out her differences with the label. But artistically? It’s hard to see how it could have been better. In the years since, she’s released a string of stellar EPs and albums, cementing her standing – among this fan, at least – as one of the best artists of her generation. I hear her akin to a distaff, more poppy Neil Young given that, early on, some considered her voice an acquired taste (Neil’s was “whiny”; hers “little-girlish”); she injects sly humor into some songs; and she follows her own muse, not the will of the marketplace or record executives. So the polished in exile deo (2004), home to the exquisite “Tourist” and “Sunshine,” is followed a year later by the ragged glory of Made in China, which echoes Young’s work with Crazy Horse on such cuts as “New Waif” and “Rats in the Attic.”

“I love Crazy Horse,” she says of the sonic similarities, “but I never set about to do anything in particular or to take from anywhere specific. I try to do my own thing and not let influences be consciously manifested or contemplated.”

She also published When I Grow Up in 2008. It’s a poignant memoir about her non-stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll life, the clinical depression that befell her at the height of her major-label success (she had to suspend her tour in support of Only Everything to seek professional help) and her battle with anorexia.

“I am kind of embarrassed [now] that I wrote about all that,” she confesses. “I always wanted to try and write a book, to see if it could be done, and I couldn’t think of a story idea, so I just wrote a tour diary, and then later I added the bits about things on the past, to give it some context.”

These days, she’s working on a new album – an all-covers project. ”We are starting from an acoustic guitar and vocals base and then adding on whatever each song seems to need,” she explains. “It’s like working backwards or top down. Usually I do the basic tracks first – bass, drums, an electric guitar, and then go from there. So it’s a mystery to me how it will all end up sounding.”

As with her last album (2011’s There’s Always Another Girl), the project is being financed by fans via Pledge Music. If you’re not familiar with the Web site, it’s a crowd-sourcing venue where independent acts can raise funds for recording projects and their favorite charities. People pledge money to support the production and, depending on the amount donated, can receive MP3 downloads of the finished songs, a CD of the same or more esoteric items – in Hatfield’s case, artwork, personal letters and “20 Questions” Q&As via e-mail (which I took advantage of; it’s where her quotes in this piece came from). Pledgers are also afforded inside snippets of the recording process, such as videos and songs-in-progress. Already we’ve heard her take on Bad Company’s “Ready for Love,” which sounded ready for release (and damn good).

In this ever-increasingly cynical age, it’s become commonplace in the political sphere to call into question the motives of those we disagree with, to belittle and besmirch them, to label them socialists, fascists or, if we’re in a generous mood, just plain ignorant. Differences of opinion are never just that. Within the world of music, similar strands of ugliness have existed since Day One. Certain acts aren’t cool, specific types of music too this, too that. So it made me smile when Hatfield admitted (after I asked) that she’d contemplated covering someone who many would consider “uncool”: Olivia Newton-John, whose music we both enjoyed as kids.

“Nothing feels authentic when I try to do it,” she says. “She had such a sweet voice and personality, and could bring to life songs that I wouldn’t be able to.” (She also observed, and it’s true, that “some of her songs are really goofy.”) I think she underestimates her own voice. If Paul Westerberg can cover the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” as he did in concert in 1994, then she definitely could tackle “A Little More Love.”

Regardless, whether a longtime fan or a newcomer, check out Hatfield’s latest project. And if you decide it’s not for you, hey, that’s cool. Maybe you’ll stumble across someone else on the Pledge site you’d like to support.