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‘Supermigration’: A career-defining album from Solar Bears
06:25 pm

Pop Culture


It’s been worth the wait.

Three years after their excellent debut She Was Coloured In in 2010, Solar Bears are about to release a career-defining album, Supermigration.

Solar Bears is the band name for talented duo John Kowalski and Rian Trench, who have spent the past 18-months at studios in Wicklow, Ireland, working on Supermigration. It’s a long way from their debut recording in a bedroom in Dublin.

The difference is not just in the recording but in the quality and diversity of tracks. The interest in Science-Fiction is still apparent, but rather than the outward urge of space travel, Supermigration is more concerned with inner space and hints at dark, personal narratives that are often analogous with the genre.

I contacted John and Rian with some questions about the new album, Supermigration, and they started-off by explaining the influences on their recording:

John: We were listening to a lot of Eno and forgotten soundtracks which we had discovered on vinyl. Sampling these led to unusual routes for some of the finished songs on the record. It is largely dependent on what happens during a day session or a night session. The seasons played a part also. Often cases it can be something as simple as a string sound.

Rian: Its never a conscious effort to work in a set style, so in a lot of ways, the direction is determined by whatever riff, bassline, drum pattern, texture we start out with. New things definitely filtered through this time. We’d often have Al Green on in the kitchen in between sessions. We researched a lot of recording techniques. Steely Dan records were a constant reference.

Dangerous Minds: What was it like to spend so long in the studio and what was a typical recording day like?

John: It was really positive for me. One thing that did affect the recordings was getting our hands on new gear like a Korg MS-10 which a friend lent us. There were no typical days as I came down to the studio with either an idea intact or nothing at all. Rian had ideas dating back years so we concentrated on them for some of the tracks on the album.

Rian: Typically we’d bring something to the table, and just approach it in our different ways. Usually took a day to write the song, and then several days of tweaking. It was a great experience to be able to think about the tracks for long periods out of the studio. Writing time was interspersed between touring in Europe, so we had the advantage of talking about song structures and sounds etc while away.

Dangerous MInds: What is the back story with the title, Supermigration?

Rian: We were initially considering it as a track title, but then realized it kind of summed up the experiences and process surrounding the record. Its marries the journey the album takes itself. We always want to go somewhere we haven’t been before.

There is a pattern we discovered after the writing process that hadn’t been considered. We tried to vary the style and execution as much as possible, and then try to shape a very abstract narrative gluing it all together. If the composition is ready in our minds, it should allow you to invent your own story.

Cosmic Runner’—Solar Bears, from ‘Supermigration’
John: It is far more about inner space than anything external. The name itself was the only thing that made sense with the collection of songs we created together. We traveled a lot during the making of the record, seeing all that foreign scenery fed into the expansive sound of the LP somehow. My main ambition is to become more skilled as a music maker.

Looking back on the song titles there emerged a kind of science fiction psychedelic short story, starting with “Stasis” and ending with “Rainbow Collision”. We feel very unproven, that’s why we continue to work as hard as possible. Taking any of this for granted would be incredibly foolish. The label believed in us again and we love to work with all of them. Their advice and experience is invaluable to our group.

DM: What are the film references to Supermigration? And would you like to write a film score?

John: The White Ribbon, La Jetee, Gandahar and The Fountain. There is a little known Buddhist fable from Korea called Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring that has a unique soundtrack. It contains acoustics and electronics and has a very glacial sound to it. That would be one that I would like to re-score.

Rian: One of the things we want to do next is write a film score. We would love to work closely with a director on their project, try to elevate the images. Sometimes we feel that we are already scoring when writing together.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Solar Bears: Soundtrack to the Future

More from Solar Bears, plus a film on the making of ‘Supermigration’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Bringing the Funk from the East Village to the Global Village: Vintage Deee-Lite performances
04:26 pm



I dropped down one of those deep Internet rabbit holes yesterday looking for footage of New York nightclubs in the 1980s. I did this for hours, until my wife finally insisted that I stop and pay attention to her. I found some crazy good stuff, most of which will no doubt make it onto this very blog, but I took a major detour along the way watching vintage live Deee-Lite performances, some where I was in attendance myself.

Although the members came from all over the globe—Super DJ Dmitri hailing from the Ukraine, Towa Tei born in Korea, but raised in Tokyo, and Lady Miss Kier Kirby grew up all over the place, mostly near Pittsburgh—I thought that Deee-Lite were the most “New York” sounding group of their day. The very embodiment of the East Village zeitgeist, Deee-Lite led a multi-racial, pan-sexual party on wheels for a few years before their worldwide breakout hit, 1990’s “Groove Is In The Heart.” I don’t know how many times I saw Deee-Lite play—in the dozens and dozens—but let me tell you, they were a fucking amazing live act and a wicked good time.

“It’s funk, soul, curly, wiggly music.”—Lady Miss Kier

When they started on the scene, Deee-Lite’s futuristic, uniquely funky, jazzy “sampladelic” sound was something that no one had ever really heard before and it was obvious, from early on, seeing them at places like The Pyramid Club (I lived around the corner), Tunnel, and at the yearly Wigstock event, that they were going to be huge. Frankly I thought that they were destined for a more sustained career than they ended up having together. It’s difficult to point to the reason why that didn’t happen, because it wasn’t the music, which continued to be incredibly innovative, their videos were great and Lady Miss Kier—easily one of the top five foxiest girls in NYC of that era—was an instant style icon and a supremely confident frontwoman. She’s what they call a “belter,” like Ethyl Merman. Back then she was a tiny thing, but her voice had the power of seasoned soul diva.

I thought their act was magic, capturing a particular type of distinctly East Village lightning in a bottle. These (mostly) pre-fame videos of Deee-Lite show that magic in action.

Above, Deee-Lite doing “Try Me On, I’m Very You” in 1989, a year before their classic World Clique album was released, at Irving Plaza for the “Viva Carlo Viva Libertad” benefit concert to raise legal-defense funds for art critic Carlo McCormick after he was thrown into a Mexican jail.

More degroovy Deee-Lite after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Rosemary’s Baby, the White Album and the Manson Murders: Conspiracy Coincidence Syndrome Overload
04:42 pm



Save for the Kennedy assassination, coincidence has perhaps never coagulated with the same deeply improbable intensity as it did around the Manson killings.

Stranger still is the manner in which coincidence seems to knit the Tate/LaBianca murders together with both Rosemary’s Baby (a great film) and “the White Album” (a great record), as if all three were somehow of a piece—and in a sense that goes beyond the former’s being directed by Polanski, or the latter’s inspiring Manson’s derided “Helter Skelter” scenario.

Take, as a mere appetizer, the possibility that the Beatles may have stayed (and dropped acid) at 10050 Cielo Drive in the mid-sixties, something (apparently unwittingly) implied by John Lennon during a 1974 Rolling Stone interview.

And then, well, we just decided to take LSD again in California…We were on tour, in one of those houses, like Doris Day’s house or wherever it was we used to stay. And the three of us took it. Ringo, George and I… And a couple of the Byrds… Crosby and the other guy, who used to be the leader… McGuinn. I think they came round, I’m not sure, on a few trips.

Terry Melcher, of course, was Doris Day’s son, the Byrds’ producer, Manson’s almost-producer, and Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s predecessor at 10050 Cielo Drive.

In normal circumstances, Mother Superior could very well be accused of having jumped the gun were we to therefore conclude that the Beatles probably had sat turning their minds inside-out within the very walls that would—a few years later—have their as-yet unwritten song-titles scrawled upon them in blood (as if the killers were tracing indentations made by psychic shrapnel). Circumstances, however, are anything but normal…


In the spring of 1968—a handful of years after those mooted sojourns at Cielo Drive—the Beatles made their pilgrimage to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Valley of the Saints in Rishikesh, part of a sparkling celebrity coterie that included Mia Farrow and Mike Love. For the next couple of months, the days were mostly spent in epic bouts of Transcendental Meditation, as the Maharishi attempted to guide the most famous men in the world—who he himself described as “angels”—towards “total consciousness.” The Beatles, though, would spend much of their spare time writing songs – particularly Lennon, who found they were veritably “pouring out.”

Many of these new tunes would find their way onto the Beatles’ next LP, “the White Album.” One such was Lennon’s “Dear Prudence,” which playfully chided Prudence Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister, for excessive metaphysical studiousness.

Mia Farrow herself had only recently completed filming Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Her exquisite performance as Rosemary—a resident of New York’s Dakota building, impregnated with an anti-Christ by a coven of neighboring witches—surely meant she arrived in the Valley of the Saints carrying some very interesting inner baggage. Certainly her stay would leave its mark on history—most chroniclers ascribing some rumored sexual impropriety (or worse) on the part of the Maharishi towards Farrow as being the principal reason for Lennon and Harrison’s (the last remaining Beatles) acrimonious departure that August.

Lennon later claimed that, while packing his bags, he came up with the rudiments of another tune destined for “the White Album,” “Sexy Sadie,” four syllables that supplanted the original—and extremely libelous—“Maharishi.” The same four syllables would also find themselves supplanting the name of Manson Family Tate/LaBianca murderess Susan Atkins—known in the Family as “Sadie Mae Glutz” prior to Manson’s fateful encounter with “the White Album.” Before falling in with Manson, Atkins was an associate of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. LaVey is said to have served as an unaccredited technical adviser on Rosemary’s Baby.

Incidentally, Lennon and Harrison’s jaded view of the Maharishi was such that, when their protracted flight from Rishikesh was impeded by a series of disruptions—they were abandoned in a broken-down taxi, and Harrison soon thought he was coming down with dysentery— our ruffled angels feared they had been cursed by their unceremoniously discharged guru. (Echoes, here, of Bobby Beausoleil’s attempted escape from Kenneth Anger, legendarily curtailed by Anger’s magickal locket.)

Around the very time the Beatles were arriving in Rishikesh, meanwhile, Mike Love’s cousin and fellow Beach Boy Dennis Wilson would reportedly pick up hitchhikers (and Manson Family members) Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey in Malibu.

Whether or not this actually happened (Charles Manson, for one, would later contradict this account, saying he first met Wilson at the house of a mutual friend’s) Wilson would definitely spend the following months as a sponsor and de facto member of the Family—footing the bill for their VD treatments (and much more besides), introducing Manson to industry figures like Neil Young and Terry Melcher, and so on.

Although Death Valley—in apparent contradistinction to the Valley of the Saints—sounded like an overtly hedonistic and nihilistic environment, Manson arguably presided over a commune no less spiritually preoccupied than the Maharishi’s, and Mike Love and Dennis Wilson seemed similarly as well as simultaneously attracted to their Ying/Yang gurus. But it appears positively miraculous that Wilson would be fraternizing with Manson while his cousin, on the other side of the world, would be fraternizing with the Beatles at the very time the songs were “pouring out” for “the White Album,” some of which would find themselves daubed on the walls at Cielo Drive in Sharon Tate’s blood, and two of which concerned Prudence and Mia Farrow, the latter having only just starred in a role once earmarked for Tate herself…

And that, as aficionados know only too well, ain’t even the half of it. (A little more to come from me on the topic though, shortly.)


Mark Reeve’s superb essay on the Beatles and the occult is a clear predecessor to the above piece, and can be read in the Headpress collection Gathering of the Tribe

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
The Catherine Wheel: David Byrne’s criminally underrated funk opera masterpiece
01:46 pm



Hidden in plain sight in the midst of his prodigious creative output, there is an unfairly overlooked gem in David Byrne’s discography that I feel is an absolutely monumental masterpiece of late 20th century music, one right up there with Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and his seminal collaboration with Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I refer to the seamless funk opera score Byrne created for choreographer, Twyla Tharp in 1981, The Catherine Wheel. Unless you were a big Talking Heads or are David Byrne completest, chances are this one might have passed you by.

The Catherine Wheel is, to my mind, the third spoke (see what I did there) of a deeply psychedelic African-influenced polyrhythmic trilogy along with the above-mentioned Remain in Light and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts—all three were easily in my top ten “tripping soundtracks” as an acid-gobbling teenager and all three would still be on my Desert Island Discs list as a middle-aged rock snob. If you’re a fan of the two better-known albums, but have not heard The Catherine Wheel, well, you’ll be in for a profound treat, but especially if you drop some acid beforehand (I’d encourage it, no really!).

Musicians heard on the album include Jerry Harrison, the powerful drummer Yogi Horton, percussionist John Chernoff, Adrian Belew, P-Funk’s resident Minimoog genius Bernie Worrell and Brian Eno. It’s mind-blowing to me that there’s not a deluxe 2-CD set of the album that would include the 12” mixes and live Talking Heads performances of songs from the score, but I feel like this incredible piece of music has always gotten short shrift from whatever major label currently owns it. (The Catherine Wheel is one of the greatest “fuck albums” of all time, too. That’s how they should market it, if you ask me. I toyed with the obnoxious linkbait title of “David Byrne, of all people, recorded the ultimate fuck album” but thought better of it).

Above, Talking Heads performing “Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)” at Wembley Arena in 1982.
After the jump, much more including the full Twyla Tharp ballet as it aired on BBC and PBS in 1983…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Van Dyke Parks Keeps On Cyclin’
02:26 pm



This is a guest post from veteran rock journalist Michael Simmons

In 1967-68 I was office boy at a short-lived magazine that my father published called Cheetah. Of Bar Mitzvah age, I considered myself a man, one who had thoroughly absorbed all tributaries of what is now called the counterculture, especially its music simply called ROCK, having dispensed with its appendage of “…and roll.” In the wake of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Bob Dylan, rock music was Gabriel’s electric horn for me and my young hirsute comrades, heralding the emergence of the holy in all God’s chillun, and love and peace and general groovyosity. Cheetah had a two-fold mandate: 1) to present a well-writ and designed, slick-papered mag for hippies and 2) to turn a profit. It usually succeeded in the former, but completely failed at the latter.

Before its demise, some of the best journalistic minds of the ‘60s generation contributed to Cheetah, including Paul Krassner, Ed Sanders, Doon Arbus, Richard Goldstein, Robert Christgau, Ellen Willis – even Tom Wolfe. Original editor Jules Siegel wrote a transfixing piece for the first issue called “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God” that was the first public announcement that Brian Wilson was writing “a teenage symphony to God” that would be the next Beach Boys album called SMiLE and that Brian was veering twixt visionary and paranoiac. Another truly fine scribe named Tom Nolan wrote a profile of a guy named Van Dyke Parks and his new album called Song Cycle.

Months before Nolan’s feature ran, everybody at Cheetah – editors, writers, the art department, and a mannish boy with my name – had flipped their Beatle wigs over a single by one George Washington Brown called “Donovan’s Colours.” It was a (mostly) instrumental version of Donovan Leitch’s melodically winning “Colours,” but it sounded like nothing else in the pop – or any other known – universe. Brown’s piece begins with the sound of a coin fed into a jukebox followed by the most delightfully bright piano that plays the tune of “Colours” and is soon joined by marimbas, a Pet Sounds-ish bass clarinet, swirling organ and castanets that imitate the sound of a music box being wound-up. Indeed the track has a music box feel though the repetition of Donovan’s melody, repeated modulations and tempo changes also remind one of a Chinese box—once opened it keeps revealing other boxes inside—or an unsolvable Rubik’s Cube that can be twisted every which colorful way without ever resolving. A mere seven words from Donovan’s song are sung, followed by an avian Dixieland clarinet: “Blue is the color of the sky.” Like the sky, “Donovan’s Colours” is wondrous, limitless—infinity contained in three minutes and 41 seconds.

In Tom Nolan’s aforementioned Cheetah profile of Van Dyke Parks, he tells a very funny story of hanging in a recording studio with Moby Grape listening to them bandy rumors about the identity of that George Washington Brown fella and the then-ongoing construction of “Donovan’s Colours.” Something about Brown being this wealthy guy who lives in South America and who’s recording bits and pieces and sending it to session man Van Dyke Parks in L.A. who’s splicing it together. All bullshit, of course. Eventually it was revealed that Brown was Parks, the studio musician, composer, producer and arranger who had written the lyrics for the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” and was Brian Wilson’s designated lyricist for SMiLE.  He says today that he didn’t put his name on it because “I craved anonymity, so I adopted a nom de guerre.”

Van Dyke thought it would be a hit and was wary of public scrutiny. We at Cheetah all thought it would be a hit, as did virtually every critic in the nascent rock press. Warner Brothers Records then paid for VDP to record a solo album that would become Song Cycle. It’s The Great Overlooked Classic Of American Popular Music and like “Donovan’s Colours” (which is on the album), it’s a sui generis set of music that emanates from one man and one man only. The sounds of folk songs, Broadway show tunes, film scores, Charles Ives and Erik Satie all naturally blend. It’s psychedelic—not via clichés of electric sitars and fuzz boxes, but in the word’s literal definition of mind-manifesting. The Beatles and Dylan had smashed all the conventions of pop music and were the toppermost of the poppermost. Why not Van Dyke Parks? For all the media yap about The Rock Revolution, neither album nor single fit into commercial radio’s idea of what rock music should sound like – too eclectic, too intelligent – yes Virginia, “too intelligent” was a very real concept then, as now, in the United States Of America. And neither in any way rawked. So for the most part, the hippie hordes – however expansive their consciousness—never got to hear Song Cycle and it sold bupkis.

Van Dyke soldiered on despite the commercial failure, continued to make solo albums (including collaborating with Brian Wilson on Orange Crate Art), produced and/or arranged singular recordings for – among others—Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Allen Toussaint, Harry Nilsson, Phil Ochs, Loudon Wainwright, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt, and The Esso Trinidad Steel Band and The Mighty Sparrow (he loves steel drums and calypso). He still resides in the moment and scouts horizons, championing Rufus Wainwright and producing discs for other young ‘uns like Joanna Newsom and Inara George (daughter of his late friend Lowell George). VDP has scored films and commercials, written children’s books, and acted in movies and T.V.

In keeping with the awry pattern of American cultural illiteracy, he’s more respected in Europe, Japan, and Australia than in his own country. Last year, U.K. label Bella Union reissued his first three solo albums (Song Cycle, Discover America, Clang Of The Yankee Reaper) and will release his “orchestral fantasy” Super Chief: Music For The Silver Screen [] on limited vinyl on April 20 and his latest CD collection Songs Cycled on May 6. There’s also many delights available on VDP’s website.

For those near or in Los Angeles, Van Dyke plays at McCabe’s this Saturday, March 30. Inara George will join him during his set and New Orleans piano wiz Tom McDermott is also on the bill. The early show is sold out, but there are still late show tix available. 

Van Dyke Parks remains in forward motion despite the fickle tastes of the Entertainment-Industrial Complex. An eloquent raconteur and great wit, he’s philosophical about the vagaries of his life as a working musician. “As Jefferson noted ‘Show men your depths, and they will ford your shallows,’” he wrote to me recently.

“That’s why I’m a Chevy guy,” he added.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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