Japanese Breakfast on the virtues of Karen O and Willie Nelson’s ‘Under Pressure’ cover

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The 5 O’Clock Shadow is two versions of one song, and today we have a special guest, Michelle Zauner, lead singer of Japanese Breakfast. Hi, Michelle.

Hello. How are you?

I’m great. You are playing in Milwaukee this Friday at Turner Hall Ballroom.

I am. Very excited.

And you have a shadow suggestion for us. So what’s the song? What’s your shadow?

Well, the song is “Under Pressure,” famously sung by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. And I think last year I saw that Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, my all-time hero who I talk about quite a bit in my book, “Crying in H Mart,” did a cover of “Under Pressure” with Willie Nelson. And I think at first glance when I saw that they had covered this song, my first thought was like, “That’s bold.” You take like the two greatest performers of all time, and just the most iconic song, and you dare to cover it. But of course, to hear Karen O with Willie Nelson, I mean, it’s the pairing you never thought you needed.

Peter Ash Lee Japanese Breakfast | Courtesy of the artist

What memory is attached to the original song for you?

Well, I would say that my family didn’t listen to that much music growing up, except for the greatest of the greats. So my dad would have Fleetwood Mac CDs. We would have Motown compilations, and then there was Queen and I feel like I was raised on those three main artists. Well, I know Motown is like a lot of different artists.

But I feel like the only music I really grew up listening to that came from my parents before I sort of formed my own musical tastes, and so I’m very familiar with Freddie Mercury and I just… Of being a kid and dancing around to Queen, and belting Queen with my parents, and I just feel like they’re such a beloved band that probably a lot of people my age listen to with their parents in childhood, just like such a perfect, undeniably great song.

What does Karen O give to the song “Under Pressure”?

I think that Karen O just has this understated, intimate power that is so unique to her voice, and delivery, and performance. It takes the song that’s like… Requires some really fierce vocal chops and just attacks it in this totally different way. I mean, I was just really taken aback when I heard this song slowed down and just delivered in this very different type of emotion that I never would have anticipated.

That’s my favorite type of cover, is when an artist can take this untouchable song that you think can’t get any better, and makes it entirely their own, and you’re able to appreciate it in this totally different way.

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Pitchfork 2021’s best little moments

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As part of my agreement to get a press pass to the Pitchfork Music Festival, among other things, I said that I would write a review of the festival. The thing is, writing a review of a music festival being good or bad misses the point. The festival was good if you played your card right. The acts were good. The music was good. Pitchfork was good. The best part of the festival was the little moments. The moments that couldn’t have happened anywhere else at any time. These are moments of poetry that would quickly be forgotten if we didn’t catch them.

These are my favorite little moments that happened at Pitchfork this weekend.

  • Bartees Strange trying to contain and explain his giddy joy of playing Pitchfork by saying, “I’ve been dreaming of doing this since I was a kid.” Taking a pause, and saying, “This is what dreams are made of” before bashfully cutting himself off, trying to play it cool, and getting back into his set, while still having a huge adorable grin on his face.
  • Maxo Kream taking off his yellow hoodie after the first song, going belly out, turning up, and creating a mosh pit at the rap show.
  • Maxo Kream pausing mid song to day, “I’m going to give you some advice. Don’t eat a six pack of Harolds chicken before getting on stage.”
  • Waxahatchee singing the line “If the dead just go on living, then there’s nothing left to fear” bathed in the golden hour light of the setting Chicago sun.
  • Stepping out to get three al pastor tacos for six bucks from “Real Taste of Mexico” food truck and savoring each delicious bite leaning on the fence and hearing Kim Gordon in the distance.
  • A girl reading “Crying in H Mart” in the middle of the crowd waiting for Angel Olsen.
  • Angel Olsen saying, “I want to play you a song we wrote last night” and then launching into “Shut Up Kiss Me.”
  • The hug Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten gave each other after singing “Like I Used To.”
  • The perfect amount of melt on the ice cream sandwich from the ice cream truck on the way out.
  • Seeing all my friends.
  • A group of guys in dad hats and mustaches passing a j and quietly mouthing every word to an Oso Oso song.
  • A guy with tiny hands that they sell at American Science and Surplus on his index finger and thumb being able to clap with a beer in his hand.
  • A security guard asleep at her chair before 3:30 in the afternoon.
  • Caroline Polackeck’s story of her nightmare of jumping out of a plane over L.A. because the conversation was so bad, then being terrified because she was falling, then relieved to realize she has a parachute, the wind pushing her back over the ocean, then being certain the parachute would drown her, then being pushed back onto a parking lot of a stop mall next to a soccer field north of L.A. and never being so happy to see something so mundane, and that dream leading to the song “Parachute.”
  • Thundercat burping loudly into the microphone in the middle of a story, not even acknowledging it and battling through about his love for Louis Cole.
  • Girl applying deodorant during Danny Brown.
  • Danny Brown saying, “Admittedly I’m a little rusty. Y’all think I was in the pandemic, sitting around, listening to Danny Brown?”
  • “I made ‘XXX’ when I was 30 years old. I’m 40 now. I’m old as fuck. I take a Tylenol before I go to bed just in case.” -Danny Brown
  • Laying in bed in Bay View, after it’s all over, listening to “St. Cloud” by Waxahatchee as I go to sleep.
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Chance the Rapper, where’s that Bucks song you promised us?

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Somehow Chance the Rapper ended up on the local news after game four of the Buck/Suns finals. The video shows Chance, in a too bright local news shot, talking to Channel 12’s Stephanie Sutton. It was a nice thing for him to do. She probably didn’t know him too well. There is not a lot for him to say other than “Congratulations.”

After a couple questions, they are wrapping up the interview and Sutton, who is just grasping for a final question, and is interviewing a musician, asks the audacious question, “If the Bucks win, will you write a song about them?”

Faced with such an outrageous ask and on live TV, Chance does the polite thing and says “Yes.” He makes a promise on live TV to write a song about the Bucks if they win a championship. Check the clip here. The question comes in at 2:39

Then, the Buck WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. And the news COMES BACK and somehow AGAIN catches Chance after game six. This time they hold his feet to the fire, reminds him of what he promised and ask him if he will write a song about the Bucks, now that they have won the championship. Again, Chance is polite, though understandably annoyed at this persistence and says, “Yeah, I’ll write a song. Y’all deserve it. I can’t go back on my word.”

AND THEN, yesterday, Channel 4 got in on it. In an interview promoting his show this Friday at Summerfest, the reporter brings up the promises made and asks if he is going to perform the song. Chance looks like he has been blindsided. Of course he doesn’t remember an idea he never had and was only pushed by local news in a city where he doesn’t live. BUT he again promises to write the song and says we might get a preview of it at the show at Summerfest.


So, will Chance give a preview of his Bucks song at Summerfest on Friday? Will he even write a song about the Bucks? What we’ve learned is that if we keep putting the pressure on, maybe he will.

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Aaron Dessner on what it’s like to work with Justin Vernon and Taylor Swift

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Big Red Machine is Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon’s band. Well, it is and it isn’t. It is their band, and they make music in it, but the project is more about creating a space for collaboration than anything else. If you have ever been to Eaux Claires music festival, consider Big Red Machine to be the recorded version of that festival. The album features friends Robin Pecknold, Sharon Van Etten and Taylor Swift.

Dessner talks about how they choose who to collaborate with and how sometimes you have to clear it all out and start anew. He talks about meeting Justin Vernon via Myspace while he was working on the project “Dark Was the Night” and how Justin Vernon misinterpreted his reference to the Cincinnati Reds baseball team as a reference to a heart and how it became the band’s name, Big Red Machine. Dessner also shares a story of Taylor Swift that embodies her character.

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Caroline Polachek reveals her muse for ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ and other obsessions

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Caroline Polachek called me from Charlie XCX’s guest bedroom in L.A. They are working on “some stuff” together and Caroline says she’s obsessed with her. “She’s so determined,” she reflects in awe.

Caroline Polachek is an obsessive kind of person. Her ode “So Hot Your Hurting My Feelings” gets at that obsession. “Bunny Is a Rider” is an obsession of Bunny’s attitude. Through the conversation Polachek shares a couple other obsessions, a perfume from the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona and a song from Alaska Reid. She’s surprisingly revealing, even showing me an image that feels so intimate, the background on her phone. She shares who she was thinking of when she wrote “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” and even more.

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Shannon and the Clams discuss the meaning of ‘Year of the Spider’

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Shannon and the Clams formed in college at California College of the Arts (and Crafts), Shannon adds. Shannon Shaw was already performing as Shannon and the Clams and Cody Blanchard was in her art class. He was always casually and obnoxiously late, which annoyed Shannon, but when she saw his final art project for the class, she knew they had to work together on something. Similarly Cody felt the same about Shannon’s project. So he took over and they came to be the Shannon and the Clams that we hear today.

Their newest album was done at Easy Eye Studio’s in Nashville, which is Dan Auerbach of the Black Key’s label and studio. Like the Nashville studios of old, it has a sound that goes across every record on the label. You hear it on the new Shannon and the Clam’s record, “Year of the Spider.” Cody, who had always done all the production before gave insight, saying that Dan Auerbach is really right there, in the chair, doing all the production. They set up the studio ahead of time, like they did in the old studios in Nashville, to get their sound down, and then they drill down on the songs in real time. Cody said it was a real relief to have an outside voice helping with the work for once and that Auerbach put his touch on it, but also let them be Shannon and The Clams.

Shannon Shaw also gives insight into her own voice with it’s own beautiful flaws. She goes into just why this album us called “Year of the Spider,” and they give a shout out to Milwaukee’s own Saebra & Carlyle.

This is the song that Shannon Shaw can’t stop listening to.

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The Record Company’s Chris Vos talks about growing up in Wisconsin

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The Record Company’s Chris Vos grew up on a farm outside of Burlington, Wis. His parents still farm there and Chris talks about his parents, his grandpa Don, who farmed every day until he was 92 years old. “Hard work isn’t what we talked about, it was a way of life.”

Chris talks with so much reverence for his parents. He said he never saw his dad at the table for morning breakfast, because his dad had gotten up at 4 a.m. and was already out in the field. Hearing Chris talk about his parents, their values and his life in Wisconsin will give you pride. As will his talk about Bob Uecker telling a story about “Sesame Street” in the middle of a slow Brewers inning, or getting married at the Hyatt in downtown Milwaukee. And he goes DEEP on Milwaukee knowledge, referencing The Two-Fisted Slopper cartoon they used to play at County Stadium. It also makes me proud when I listen to his band The Record Company, or hear them on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

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The Miles Davis song about a man from Milwaukee

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The Miles Davis song about a man from Milwaukee is the song “Woody’N You,” released by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1956 on their album, “Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet.”

The Woody in the song “Woody’N You” is Milwaukee’s own Woody Herman. And Woody Herman was no average Milwaukee man. In the 1940s he was a bona fide STAR. At one point he even bought and lived in Humphrey Bogart’s house in the Hollywood hills.

Woody Herman was born right here in Milwaukee in 1913 and by six years old he was dubbed a child prodigy, billed as “The Boy Wonder of the Clarinet.” When it came time for school he studied at Marquette University, before quitting to be a full time musician and gaining accolades and Grammy nominations through his long and illustrious career.

In the 1940s, after performing with his group Herman’s Herd had its own radio show and performed at Carnegie Hall, bebop icon Dizzy Gillespie wrote an arrangement for and about Woody Herman called “Woody’N You.” It was originally recorded in 1944 by Coleman Hawkins and performed by Hawkins’ 12-piece orchestra, which included jazz legends Max Roach, Budd Johnson and Dizzy Gillespie. After that it entered into the rare category that every jazz song strives to become, the jazz standard. And since it has been recorded by Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and even Miles Davis.

And every time “Woody’N You” has been performed by artists across the world, they are honoring Milwaukee’s own, Woody Herman.

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Light it up with all the Milwaukee Bucks anthems through the years

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There are many songs about the Bucks. Many good ones too. But also a lot of bums. I am interested in the ones that were written and paid for by the organization. There are no qualms about it, these are propaganda. There is an honesty to their angle that I admire. Because they are works of propaganda they are marred in time and often corny and unartistic. I find that to be beautifully refreshing. These are not art. They are made to pump us up. So let’s do it.

Let’s start with the Bucks first official Bucks song. You would think the first Bucks song would have been written before the Bucks got off the ground, the name “Green and Growing” even suggests it. But this song was written after the Bucks had already won an NBA Championship, and seen more success than they would in the 40 years since it was written. “Green and Growing” doesn’t refer to the organization as a whole, it specifically refers to the 1977 Milwaukee Bucks squad. The previous year the Bucks had finished at a conference worse 30-52. They’d canned the coach, hired Don Nelson, and built a team that was very green. As a sports fan, you always have to imagine that next year is going to be better, so growing as well.

This song was produced by Kevin Gavin and Otis Conner Jr. and played by a handcrafted studio band made specifically for the project called “The Green Music Machine.” One can only hope that the Green Music Machine was made up of beer chugging Bucks fans and MKE residents, but who knows, the makeup of the band is lost to time. If you know anything, please reach out. I would love to see a picture of the motley crew.

After another abysmal Milwaukee season, the 2013-14, infamous 15 win, 67 loss Bucks-all-time-low year, Milwaukee’s own Kid Cut Up made a remix of this classic song. And you know what, that team was green and growing. They had a young Giannis Antetokoumpo and Khris Middleton, who formed core of the squad on the court today. Cut Up was a prophet of sorts, or a delusional Bucks fan. Hard to tell the difference these days.

The 2000s

This was the last time that the Bucks reached the Eastern Conference Finals and for many Bucks fans this is THE anthem. For a song written in the new millennium is sounds about ten years out of date and it’s corny as hell, with a video that is cringey at best. But this is not art. This song was designed to be a phrase that thousands of fans could yell at the same time and get pumped up. It’s effective at it’s goal.

It also name drops a bunch of players which is a fun idea at the time. Now it is fun to just try to remember a player like Danny Manning who is called to “Light it up, light it up.” or Tractor Trailer, who got traded after the 2000 season.

The closest I can find to a songwriting credit on this song is that it may be by “Street Bucks” who may be comprised of Nate Nyze, Viciou$ & Lonely A. But try as I might, I can not verify that.

Present day

In 2019, “Light It Up” got an update. New players and new lyrics made it “Let It Fly.” I like to think the new lyrics were a reflection of our strategy at the time, which was shoot-more-threes-than-anyone-else. Our center, Robin Lopez, suddenly became our best outside shooter and in immortalized here as “Splash Mountain.” Eric Bledsoe and Malcom Brogdon AKA The President, two players long gone, also get recognized.

Then we get to this year’s song. The marketing campaign is “History in the Making.” And the song used during game intros goes by the same title. I was hoping that they would have paid a young Milwaukee musician who is a Bucks fan and part of our excellent music scene, but no, they went with some dude from L.A. Vo Williams’ song is still powerful and anthemic, and hopefully it will be remembered as the song of this unforgettable season for years to come.

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‘Ghosted. Immediately ghosted’: Carrie Brownstein talks about meeting Corin Tucker and Sleater-Kinney dig into their new album

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In the early ’90s Corin Tucker’s band Heaven’s to Betsy was playing a show in Olympia, Wash. A teenage Carrie Brownstein was in the crowd. On stage Tucker had been talking about the riot grrrl movement and facing some “intense feedback” after the show from a journalist. After being berated, Brownstein came up and asked for more information. Tucker gave Brownstein her Heavens to Betsy lyric book and Browstein wrote down her name and address and asked Tucker to send her more information. She didn’t. “Ghosted. Immediately ghosted,” Brownstein remembers. But Tucker had offhandedly told Brownstein, and maybe everyone in the crowd to move to Olympia. So Brownstein did. And eventually they formed Sleater-Kinney.

Almost 30 years later Sleater-Kinney has a new album, “Path of Wellness.” It is their first self produced album. All the critics described their production as “sparse” and “bare.” But that’s not what I heard. In the very first song on the album, there is seemingly a whole kitchen sink of homemade percussive instruments and patterns. “That polyrhythmic stuff is addictive. You make fun of that stuff when you’re young and you’re watching some people in a drum circle playing hacky sack and you’re like, ‘We’ll never do that.’ And then, 20 years later, you’re asking someone to do a polyrhythm and saying, ‘Hey, let’s make this part 10 minutes long,” says Brownstein, among laughs.

At one point on the album, Sleater-Kinney sing, “I feel like I’m unknown.” For a band that has been so influential, not only musically, but for the way that they expressly spread the beliefs that they know, this struck me as a bit of a curve ball. And it was fascinating to hear each member of this band, after having been together for so long, have two completely different takes over the same line in one of their own songs. Tucker wrote it to be part of the continual search for a community of mutual understanding. “That’s funny, I see it as the opposite,” Brownstein says. She sees it as more of a slap in the face to those who think they know Sleater-Kinney’s intentions better than they know them themselves.

One subject that they agree on is what they can’t stop listening to. I ask Tucker first. “I would say the collaboration between Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen.” Brownstein jumps in, “That’s what I was going to say!”

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