On The Radio

The Mountain Goats, Joe Henry, Nellie McKay and John K. Samson on Mountain Stage

Week after March 02, 2018

The Mountain Goats
Joe Henry
Nellie McKay
John K. Samson

Playlist

The Mountain Goats - John called me about playing with the Mountain Goats in 2001. Not for the first time, mind you. I'd signed on for a couple European tours in 1996, playing bass; the first had gone swimmingly and led to a second, which didn't. Still, a foundation had been laid: John and I, already close friends, had developed over the course of those tours a musical chemistry strong enough that, even five years later, we were still bummed that the only people who got to see it were a handful of indifferent Bavarian villagers. "Do you want to do some recording?" John asked. Yeah, I said. We should totally do some recording. It turned out to be a fateful conversation. Not more than a week or two later, the venerable London indie 4AD got in touch, and we found ourselves suddenly charged with making an album. In a studio. With a producer. We spent an intense week at Dave Fridmann's Tarbox Road, with Glasgow's Tony Doogan at the board. There was some give and take. I loved the Mountain Goats, but I'd heard ten years' worth of boombox Mountain Goats albums and wanted to swing for the fences. John was game while insisting that certain defining orthodoxies be preserved. We met in the middle and were both pretty ecstatic with the result: we felt like we'd gone out on a limb, but in a way that stayed true to the spirit of the project. And then Tallahassee came out and we got to read a bunch of articles about our new lo-fi album. Indefatigable in our efforts to escape the legacy of the Mountain Goats' home-recorded past, over the course of the eight albums that followed we would exploit the production and engineering skills of meticulous sonic architects like John Vanderslice and Scott Solter, become even more of a band with the addition of Superchunk's Jon Wurster on drums in 2007, and flesh out our songs with string and horn arrangements bordering on the Bacharachian. With Matt Douglas fully on board as woodwinds-and-kitchen-sink guy, we're now a four-piece, and to record this album, our fourth for Merge and the one to which you're presumably about to listen, we went to Blackbird Studio in Nashville, as top-shelf a facility as any on the planet. They have the board Aja was recorded on. When Jon asked about snares, he was told, "We have 200 of them." We had sixteen people from the Nashville Symphony Chorus skip out on a Mahler rehearsal to come in and sing on a song. Sixteen! The theme this time around is goth, a subject closer to my heart perhaps than that of any Mountain Goats album previous. And while John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he's speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise, for these are songs that approach an identity most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult. Anyone old enough to have had the experience of finding oneself at sea in a cultural landscape that's suddenly indecipherable will empathize with Pat Travers showing up to a Bauhaus show looking to jam, for example. But underneath the outward humor, there is evident throughout a real tenderness toward, and solidarity with, our former fellow travelers-the friends whose bands never made it out of Fender's Ballroom, the Gene Loves Jezebels of the world-the ones whose gothic paths were overtaken by the realities of life, or of its opposite. It's something we talk about a lot, how fortunate and grateful we are to share this work, a career that's become something more rewarding and fulfilling than I think any of us could have imagined. We all know how easily it could've gone the other way, and indeed for a long time did. Maybe that's why John entrusted me with writing the coda to his song about a guy fed up with his major label bosses and contemplating packing it in. You know, the one I sang at the fancy recording studio, into a microphone worth more than I made in a year for most of my life. Okay, I'm wasting my time, I know. And it's fine-as far as inevitable fates go, I can think of far worse. Please, enjoy Goths, the new album by those preeminent legends of lo-fi, the Mountain Goats!

Joe Henry - Reverie, Henry's twelfth album, is the latest installment in willful genre obliteration and poetic exploration. Like most of the albums he's made for the past decade, Reverie is lounge music of a sort, but it's music from the coolest lounge in the universe, the one where the piano player quotes T.S. Eliot and Raymond Chandler before last call, and where the patrons all drink their bourbon neat and play Tom Waits on the jukebox between sets.

Nellie McKay - Led by a trail of incense and a little voice at the back of her brain that whispers “Nice try, 60s,” Nellie travels to a land of strange and wonderful music on My Weekly Reader, revisiting some of the melodies born out of that fertile, conflicted time. “Freedom’s just another word for turning off your phone,” says Nellie, who first collaborated with famed Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick on her debut Get Away From Me. They reunite for My Weekly Reader (March 24 / Savoy 429 Records). With the aid of Emerick’s golden ears, she covers songs from the era of political turmoil and creative delight by Zappa, Ray Davies, Steve Miller, Country Joe McDonald, and then some. “It’s important for us to be aware and not succumb to what (jazzman) Dave Frishberg has referred to as ‘weapons of mass distraction,” adds Nellie. “These songs come out of a time of less cynicism – back in the 60’s the darker things in society were balanced by a certain innocence and hope.” Since her last album, besides eating potato chips, scratching her ass, and watching reruns of Mister Ed, Nellie has indulged an extended run in the award-winning off-Broadway hit Old Hats and written three acclaimed musical biographies – I Want to Live!, the story of Barbara Graham, third woman executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin, Silent Spring: It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature, an exploration of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson, and her latest, A GIRL NAMED BILL – The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, named one of the Best Concerts of 2014 by The New York Times. Nellie has previously released five full-length albums, including Pretty Little Head, Obligatory Villagers and Normal as Blueberry Pie (“among the killer overhauls of American standards” – The New York Times). She has won a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum in the Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera and performed onscreen in the films PS I Love You and Downtown Express, as well as writing original music for the Rob Reiner film Rumor Has It and contributing to the Emmy-winning documentary, Gasland. Nellie’s music has been heard on the TV shows Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Weeds, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS and Nurse Jackie, and she has appeared on numerous TV shows including The Late Show with David Letterman (with the Brooklyn Philharmonic). In 2010, the Chase Brock Experience produced a ballet of Obligatory Villagers and Nellie contributed the forward to the 20th anniversary edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat, by Carol J. Adams. Her writing has also appeared in The Onion, Interview and The New York Times Book Review. A recipient of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Humanitarian Award in recognition of her dedication to animal rights, Nellie is an annoyingly vocal advocate for feminism, civil rights and other deeply felt progressive ideals. She is currently part of the campaign to get horse-drawn carriages off the streets of New York City.

John K. Samson - John K. Samson, singer-songwriter for critically lauded indie rock band The Weakerthans, will release his first full length solo album, Provincial, this January 24th via Epitaph Records. The record contains newly recorded versions of songs from Samson’s previous two acclaimed EPs, “City Route 85” and “Provincial Road 222,” alongside a collection of beautifully evocative new tracks. Provincial is now available for pre-order at the Epitaph Store. Provincial travels four routes woven into the prairie landscape of Manitoba, the Canadian province where Samson lives. It finds familiar landmarks and forgotten ones; it mines the precise and particular.

Press Release

The Mountain Goats

Joe Henry