The ska dream is real! Jeff Rosenstock and the ska revolution

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On April Fools Day this year, Jeff Rosenstock and Polyvinyl “announced” that Jeff Rosenstock was releasing an entirely ska version of “N O D R E A M,” on 4/20 at 3:11AM. It was very hard to tell if it was a joke or not.

“I always like a good bit,” Jeff Rosenstock chuckles as I ask him about it. And it turns out it was actually an idea he had been holding onto for nine years. He said he’d wanted to do it on past albums but just never followed through. The pandemic gave him that time.

The idea is a bit of a joke, but “SKA DREAM” is also a craft of love that involved A LOT of legendary musicians and tons of care. Rosenstock says the wildest was getting Fishbone’s Angelo Moore on the album since Fishbone had been so influential to his introduction to ska. In our interview he goes into his ska initiation, the bands he’s played it, and why he will probably never do this again.

You can watch the interview above and stream the album below.

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Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner generously speaks on her NYT bestselling book ‘Crying in H Mart’ and her mother

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Michelle Zauner makes music as Japanese Breakfast. In 2016 she released “Psychopomp,” in 2017 “Soft Sounds from Another Planet,” and in June she will release her third album, “Jubilee.” But this year, she did a rather unusual thing for a musician: She released a book. It’s called “Crying in H Mart” and it’s largely about the death of her mother when Michelle was 25 years old. The book is incredible and immediately shot to #2 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

For the book she announced a tour, which we were proud to be a part of with Boswell Books. You can watch our conversation in the video above.

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Dawn Richard embraces her New Orleans roots on ‘Second Line’ — and in life

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I drove down to New Orleans to interview Dawn Richard.

She’s just signed to Merge Records after 10 years as an independent artist and a contract with Sean “Diddy” Combs label, Bad Boy Records. On April 30 she’ll release her first album on Merge, “Second Line.” So much of Richard’s identity, and of “Second Line,” are wrapped up in New Orleans.

She told me to meet at Main Squeeze Juice Co. It was a short walk from The French Quarter and I got there an hour early. The sound of juicers bounced off the concrete walls and the music is a little too loud. There was an empty lot across the street that I knew would make for a better recording but the sun was beating down and there was nowhere to sit. I would be willing to sit on the ground in the blistering sun to get good audio for the interview, but I wasn’t sure someone who is releasing one of the most anticipated albums of the year and would probably be dripped out in clothes I could never afford would want to sit in the dirt together.

Dawn was 10 minutes early. It was an immediate sign that she cared. She walked in. “Dawn, what’s up?” Before she could even give me a box of vegan king cake that her eco-friendly sensory experience, PapaTeds, makes, she turns and politely says, “Could you please turn the music off, we are doing an interview” to the juicer at hand and gives me a big piece of the homemade king cake. “I pop up with this place on Sundays and that’s why I wanted you to come here because it’s pretty awesome. The story behind the team is that the owners are two brothers, just out of college and for some reason they took a chance on us as a small business and I wanted to show them love too.”

As she was telling me about PapaTeds, her pop-up business that is part vegan bakery, but also an artist workshop with artists painting and DJs spinning that has been described as New Orleans first ever eco-friendly sensory experience she is assessing the situation. It’s still too loud even with the sound down and she knows it. As she is in the middle of giving love to the people at Main Squeeze she looks out the window, points to the empty lot and says, “You wanna go outside?” She leads me across the street, never missing a beat. “Do you want to be in the shade?” I ask, feeling bad. “I’m the Black girl in the sun. I love this stuff.” She puts me at ease. This whole time she has also been talking quickly, passionately, and precisely about being born in New Orleans.

Dawn Richard was born in the lower Ninth Ward. Her parents were both teachers. In addition they were both creative, her mom was a dancer and her father was a musician in the band Chocolate Milk. “They didn’t make money in the world of art. Their living was off of their jobs as teachers. That’s how they got out of the hood. They got their masters degrees and worked hard.” Her mother get her masters in elementary education and her father’s in music. They met when they were 14 and 15 in a park in New Orleans. “My dad was severely shy and my mom was super popular.” On “Second Line” Dawn has a recording of her mom saying that’s she’s only known one love. And it was her father. They were strict. Devout Catholics and stern parents.

Her parents were just 14 and 15 when they met. “My dad was severely shy and my mom was super popular.” They met at a park in New Orleans and have been together ever since. On “Second Line,” there is a recording of her mom saying that’s she’s only known one love. Together they got their master’s degrees and became teachers. Her mother’s degree is in elementary education and her father’s in music. “That’s how they got out of the hood. They got their masters degrees and worked hard and went from one track to the next.” Not a metaphorical track either. Richard explains the geography of the wards. They were in the Ninth and over the railroad track was New Orleans East. “If you got over there you made it. They called you the bougie Black people. My parents got just over that track.” In the future, a track that couldn’t stop Hurricane Katrina.

In their household, “education was important. Being good was important.” Her parents were devout Catholic and believed in the hard work that raised them up. “You gotta try 10 times more.” Dawn tells me. She sounds like she’s channeling a mantra from her mother and says it with belief in her heart. Though they were strict and goal based, both her parents were creative. Her mother was a dancer and her father was in the band Chocolate Milk. Dawn too began creating when she was young, performing at Tipitina’s she was noticed by a record label, which eventually lead to her releasing her first album co-produced by Ne-Yo, negotiating a record contract with Sean “Diddy” Combs, opening for Anthony Hamilton and becoming an NBA cheerleader, all while attending the University of New Orleans. Dawn Richard is always trying 10 times more.

Then a big break came. Sean “Diddy” Combs, who Dawn casually refers to as Puff, was overseeing the MTV show, “Making the Band” and Dawn auditioned and made it on season 3. She made it. And she succeeded. After Puff narrowed it down to the final 12 he sent them all home to see “who wanted it” before narrowing it down further. Two weeks later Katrina hit. The railroad track could not stop the flood. “We lost everything.” Her grandma, aunt, grandfather and the whole family all lived within a mile radius of each other. Suddenly they only had a car and they were living out of it. The only person that wasn’t living in New Orleans was her brother. He was going to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, living in a one bedroom with his girlfriend. After a couple weeks he found a way to get a hold of them and asked them to come live with him. “We took our little car and we drove and we never stopped until we hit Baltimore.” Dawn lived on the floor. But the show was still going. “When I went back to the show for him to pick the final five I had no clothes.” Against it all, she made the band.

The band, Danity Kane signed to Bad Boy Records, Puff’s label. “I was in the band, but we had no home.” Dawn said that in this time her mindset changed. “My journey became not living for myself.” She was now living for her family and community. They spent ten years in Baltimore. During that time Danity Kane had some success, but eventually broke up, she became an independent artist, and released a trilogy of albums that were progressive and continue to be criminally under appreciated. On the 10 year anniversary of moving to Baltimore, they moved back to New Orleans and Dawn dove into her culture.

She got reacquainted with Washitaw Nation, her Indian tribe. I tell her that I know nothing about Black tribes of New Orleans, so, like her parents, she educates. She tells me that there were Native Americans and African natives in New Orleans. At that time, “they told the Native Americans that they would meet a people who were trying to be free. They wouldn’t speak your language, but they would be kind and need your help.” “In that process what they learned was The Chant and The Feather.” The Chant is music. The Feather is sewing garb. “That was how the language was translated between the two parties. That became the culture of New Orleans.”

Other cultures were mixed in too. New Orleans had Haitian culture and West Indian culture and brought Carnival, Dawn tells me. All of this information is so inside of her. It’s all information that she has tracked down firsthand. She talked to her father, who didn’t know much more than that he was from the tribe of Washington Nation. The Black tribes of New Orleans formed in the different wards of the city.  “Tremé has it’s own tribe. Ninth Ward has Wild Tchoupitoulas. And each tribe has a story behind them. And every year they sew these costumes and pay homage to show love to the stories that have been translated in these families for generations and generations and generations.”

I ask her about the story passed down to her, one she had to go to her own chief for. She says the story of the Washitaw comes from the black feather, which came from the Choctaw Indians communicating with the Haitian culture. Dawn’s father’s side is from Jacmel, Haiti. He did not mask, sew garb, or chant, but her Uncle Herald did. Now she has taken it upon herself to carry on her culture. “I’m took it upon myself to talk to Chief Montana, and Chief Shaka Zulu and learn the Chant and the Feather.” Each tribe has meetings that start with the chant, Dawn sings a couple bars of “Indian Red” a common tribe chant that marks the beginning of a meeting, where they educate their community on their culture and tribe. Each person in the tribe has a role and they sew garb based on that role. They will spend all year sewing a costume that they will wear one time. The costumes are one-of-a-kind pieces of art. “I brought Vogue here to see it and I told them that the pavement is our runway.” Dawn says  On cover of Dawn’s last album she is wearing a gigantic white headdress. It was made by her chief, Chief Montana. On the cover of her new album she is wearing a head dress too. But she is pushing that tradition forward too.

The headdresses are for chiefs. They say women can’t be chiefs. And I said, ‘Bullshit.’ And that became the era of calling women Kings.

Musically too. “I’ve been really trying to push New Orleans and the sound of us into Afro-futurism and into the future.” She says when she grew up all her favorite artists were trans artists like Katey Red and Big Freedia and wants to make music that is built for gay girls, Black women and spaces where The Other wasn’t seen. “Fuck your idea of what a hierarchy should be.” She capped her thesis with, “My music speaks to that because my music comes out of that Other space.”

And that’s what she’s done on her new album.

At the end of the interview I got up as a new person. We took portraits and she ran up to a trolley car so I could take a photo with my disposable before thanking her profusely and walking off in a day dream. I got to Jackson Square, took a delicious bite of the king cake and texted the record label.

“She’s the most intentional person I have ever met,” the label texted back.

When she said she’s stopped doing it for herself she meant it. She’s living for the culture. And she’s living for New Orleans.

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Genesis Owusu on the childhood influences that made him — and his music — what it is

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In listing to Genesis Owusu’s album, “Smiling with No Teeth,” I’m struck at how confident he is behind the mic. It may have helped that when he was 14 years old he was in a dance crew. They called themselves “The Avengers,” each having a dancing super power of some sort. Owusu’s super power was popping and locking. And they were big time. They performed in front of thousands of people all around Australia, and even beyond.

“That’s a little lost arc in my life that I don’t get to bring up very much,” he admits in the interview.

Another one of those little arcs is the video game Jet Set Radio Future that Owusu played on the original Xbox when he was five years old. It’s set in neo-Tokyo where freedom of expression has been outlawed and corrupt billionaire corporations rule the government and the police force and you play as a roller-blading, graffiti-ing street dancer. “I herald that as my greatest influence.” Metaphorically, and also because the soundtrack was a mix of all kinds of genres and sounds, and stands as the biggest musical influence on the album.

Lyrically, Owusu looked toward Kendrick’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” and the way it’s held together by some major themes. “The album really only talks about two things, which are depression and racism,” he says. “And they all tie together in this theme of the black dogs which is in pretty much every song either representing the internal black dog which is depression or the external black dog which is racism.”

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Claud opens up about ‘Super Monster,’ their relationship with Phoebe Bridgers and their Milwaukee ties

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Claud’s album “Super Monster” is full of tender moments of being in love. At one point they just put it on the line and say, “Can you spell it out for me? Are you in or in-between?” It’s a really delicate conversation they are having with their partner. I wondered if having that moment on display would be difficult, knowing that that partner would hear the song. “No, I sent it to them as soon as I finished,” Claud laughed.

There music is an open book into those moments in a relationship where your heart is laid bare. There is no shame or hiding it and I think that’s what makes the album come through. It may also be what caught Phoebe Bridgers’ eye. Claud is the first signing to Bridgers’ record label, Saddest Factory. A record label president is usually the easiest person to vilify, but Claud says Phoebe is different as a record label big wig. “She’s an artist, and I think that’s the best part…She sees it in a completely different perspective than some dude who runs a label would, and I really value that.”

In the interview we also get into Claud’s nuanced look at humanity though the title of their album “Super Monster” and how it came to them through Daniel Johnston. We also get into listening to JDM Global and their ties to Milwaukee.

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Lake Street Dive nerds out

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Lake Street Dive are music nerds. My favorite part of this interview is when I ask Akie what he is listening to, and he kind of tiredly admits that he’s been listing to a compendium of avant-garde Romanian composer György Legeti’s cello concertos.

“It’s too weird!” he says. “No one wants to hear about this.” Before diving in. “He’s a 20th century composer. Post-romantic. Sort of in the 12 tone atonal area. But a little more interested in post-tonality, if that makes sense.” Of the piece itself: “It has microtonal ocarina’s in it, which is just stunning.” And if that weren’t nerdy and great enough, Lake Street Dive lead singer Rachael Price comes in for a quick sidebar, “Was he one of the first composers to use electronics? Or am I thinking of someone else?” Akie replies, “I think so, but I think you’re thinking of Stockhausen.” “Yeah. that’s it.” They agree.

That kind of microscopic music nerdery sums up that band well, and there is plenty more if it here. Akie goes into his expansive alien love story that he has been writing for years. The band recounts giving Akie plastic rings in a formal gesture to welcome him into the band, and we get into the sound of their new album, “Obviously.”

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Katy Kirby gives insight and plays songs from her album, my favorite of the year so far

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Katy Kirby has released my favorite album of 2021 so far with “Cool Dry Place.” It is hard for me to overstate how much I love this album. And even harder to overstate my love for the song “Portals,” a song I memorized all of the words to so that I could sing it with more feeling, a thing I don’t think I’ve done since Lucy Dacus’ “Nightshift” or possibly something off “Pinkerton” when I was 14 years old.

For this interview I asked if Katy could bring her guitar so we could hear some songs and dive into them. And we dove almost immediately into territories reserved for old friends like God and childhood friends. Katy talked about being home-schooled in Texas, and the support group that she had from youth group. “We should still have a thing where we all get together and sing,” she says without realizing that she’s in a band that does exactly that, even if it’s not happening right now.

Throughout this set she plays “Tap Twice,” and we get into the agreed upon best line of the album, “yeah, we’re cut on the knuckles, but at least we’re open wide” before she pours into a delicate version of “Portals.” And she closes with “Cool Dry Place” before getting into a surgical examination of Gillian Welch’s “April the 14th pt. 1,” a song that she “rages” to and that tells a historical coincidence of several events that happen on April 14, though somehow it leaves out the birth of Katy Kirby, born in Houston on that sacred day.

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How Tune-Yards became a band

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Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner met as camp counselors at an art and music camp in New Jersey. Nate thought he was going to go to his senior year at Oberlin College, but he got a call from his counselor saying that they looked at his transcript and he would actually be graduating at the end of the year. They posed it as good news, but suddenly Nate was pushed out into the world. He was a practicing musician and had a couple musician friends who told him he could make a whole $1,500 in one summer by counseling at this summer camp in New Jersey. Garbus had already been counseling there for years. “One of the first things she said to me was ‘I’m old as shit!'” Garbus was 26 at the time. “That was a tough time for me,” she says. One day she asked Nate for a bass lesson. After one lesson he said, “Why am I giving you bass lessons? You’re better than me.”

David Longstreth actually pushed the band together. Tune-Yards was originally just Garbus, with Brenner helping her flesh out the songs on tour. After some gigs in Europe with Dirty Projectors, frontman David Longstreth asked them to open for Dirty Projectors on the U.S. tour and insisted that it be the tow of them. Since then Garbus and Brenner have been working together, but it wasn’t until this album that Brenner came on as an official member of the band for their new album, “Sketchy.”

In the interview Garbus and Brenner dissect the song “hold yourself,” talk about the conversation that their music has with their hometown of Oakland, and the South African music of Batuk, in particular, this song.

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HOT TOTS: A spicy interview with Xiu Xiu

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Xiu Xiu is a decidedly serious band. In an article that he wrote for Talkhouse, Jamie Stewart said, “understand the fact that I am a prickly and pretentious D-bag snob.” So chugging hot sauce in an interview with Xiu Xiu seemed like the least Xiu Xiu thing to do. Which is exactly what makes it fun.

We decided to chug hot sauce because Xiu Xiu is releasing a new album, “OH NO” on March 26 via Polyvinyl, and with it, they are releasing a hot sauce with Soothsayer Hot Sauce. Coincidentally, the guys at Soothsayer are part owners of X-Ray Arcade in Cudahy and have a hot sauce named X-Ray Arcade (Go Milwaukee!)

They sent us each six bottles of hot sauce to consume while doing the interview. We were going to do wings but Angela Seo is vegan, so tots it was. While we made our way up the hot sauce scale we covered topics like Russian prison tattoos, demonic possession and the time they got kicked out of a bar in Durham for smashing all the glasses on the bar. And we had a lot of fun with a band that hates fun.

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Kings of Leon bring us into their family dinner playlist

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At their heart, Kings of Leon is a family band. Brothers Nathan, Caleb and Jared Followill started the band in 1999 and brought their cousin Matthew Follwill into the mix. They broke out of their native Nashville and onto heights most bands can only dream of. They’ve had 12 Grammy nominations, a platinum record, and have played in front of millions. And they’ve got a record coming out March 5 called “When You See Yourself.”

Despite all this, Nathan Followill shows in this interview, that they still have family at the heart of everything they do.

Kimberly Manfre Kings of Leon

Thank you for getting some music out there on “When You See Yourself,” we’ve been playing it and loving it. So thank you for that.

Well, thank you so very much for playing it. It feels good to have new stuff out there to be played. Having to sit on it for a minute was a little difficult, but we’re definitely thrilled to finally get it out there for sure.

I heard about how long that you have been sitting on it. So we’re glad to hear it too. And we’ve been playing Kings of Leon since the beginning of our station and we’ve been playing your music and I wonder what you listen to. So I would love to talk about… We’re going to air this and I would love to come out of it with a song. So if you could play a song on the radio that you’ve been listening to recently, what is like a song that you would play?

Oh my goodness. We’re pretty nostalgic around here. My wife is a musician as well, so she’s really into what we play around dinner time and stuff like that. There’s always music playing in our household except for nap time. Mama Bear gets upset when we play music during nap time. Yes, my wife, I was fortunate enough to marry a beautiful Italian girl who was an amazing cook in the kitchen, and her dad is a chef who owns a few restaurants in New Jersey. So food is a huge part of our lives.

My wife’s cooking and the island in our kitchen is where 90% of the action happens anyway. So we’ve always got music playing while dinner’s being made. And then while dinner is being served, we’re always listening to music. And I mean, but it can be anything from, oh my gosh, from African funk, from Nigerian funk from the seventies to Harry Nilsson, to at Etta James, my daughter is obsessed with Billie… is it Eilish?

Yes.

Okay. For my pick, I mean, it would probably be something so off cuff. I mean, I’d say probably be like a Harry Nilsson.

Oh, you’re speaking straight to my heart. I love Harry Nilsson.

Yeah. I would say probably Remember by Harry Nilsson would be a song that we listened to quite a bit around here, so that would probably be a one that I would play that people would not expect, I don’t think.

What draws you to him?

His style of singing and storytelling and just the whole story of him. I think he was some sort of a salesman and they had written a song that maybe the Monkeys had cut for him. And I remember his agent calling him and saying, “Now you can your day job now.” So I remember hearing that story and I thought that was so neat, but yeah, just a great… I mean, I’m just a sucker for that type of singer songwriter. I’m a big Randy Newman fan.

Why the song “Remember” in particular?

Man, I don’t know if that’s just one, we’d just pick in general. That might be one that comes up the most on say if we’re listening to a soundtrack, or just on Alexa, or a playlist that my wife has made. That was just one that just came to mind. But we’re big Nilsson fans. The Arrow, my daughter is eight and my son is two and that’s a staple in the household as well.

Nathan, what’s your role in the kitchen? Are you cooking? Are you strictly playlist duty?

I am strictly making sure the volume is just right on the music and I’m a hell of a taste tester. I don’t think a drummer should ever have knives in his hand ever. It’s just not a good idea, in my opinion. But I’ll taste just about anything, but I save the actual cooking to my wife. She’s the pro, when it comes to that.

What are the kids’ favorite thing to eat right now?

We are so fortunate to have kids that eat everything. I mean, my son Oliver, honestly, broccoli is probably his favorite thing right now, which is so crazy to say. My daughter, Violet, loves clams linguine. That’s her favorite dish right now, I would say. So we get spoiled here at home. Mama knows what she’s doing.

That’s great to hear. I love the idea of all of you cooking and eating and listening to Harry Nilsson. That’s a dream. That’s a perfect scene.

Yes. I mean, what else are we going to do nowadays? It’s perfect. This is the time to do it.

I’ve kind of tried to make that the silver lining and all this madness that we’re going through is I would normally have already toured a record, and probably been on round two of touring this record, depending on what part of the world we’re in. So I in a way feel like I have stolen this time with my kids that I normally would not have gotten to have, or to enjoy.

So although it is saddening to not be able to be out there, play and the record and playing this music live, which we want to so bad. But on the other hand, it has been great to give my kids drum lessons, and just to just do things that dad’s get to do. I get to where my dad and my husband hat right now, instead of my band member hat, which is nice.

But yeah, just we’re all about family and family time and getting in as much as we can. So that has definitely been our silver lining for sure.

That’s great. I love to hear that so much. And I’m going to respect your time here. I think you’ve got another interview in a minute, so I’m going to let you go and thank you for making this music and thanks for sharing this slice of your life with me here.

Yes, sir. No problem. And one question for you.

Yeah?

Is Five O’Clock Steakhouse still going strong in Milwaukee?

[Laughs] Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

Okay. I was going to ask about that, because I know some places have had to shut down due to obvious reasons, but I was like, “I’ve got to check on Five O’Clock Steakhouse, that’s our spot we go to when we’re in town.” So I had to check in on them. So that’s good to hear.

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