Laying in the grass listening to Arthur Russell: Courtney Barnett’s approach to life, and her new album

640 360

“Rae Street” is the first song on Courtney Barnett’s new album. It also marked the beginning of a chapter of her new life. Courtney told me she wasn’t living particularly anywhere at the time and her friend let her take over the lease of a house on Rae Street, a sleepy suburban street in Melbourne, Australia.

“I drag a chair over to the window / and watch what’s going on / the garbage truck tip-toes up the road,” she sings in “Rae Street.” It was the first time that Barnett had ever lived alone, and she was even more alone because it was the beginning of the Covid lockdown. She includes many observations of Rae Street in her new album, “Things Take Time, Take Time,” but she saved one for me.

“I have a distinct memory of laying in the grass…” She said she would go to the park down the street with her headphones on “…and listen to Arthur Russell.” It’s no coincidence that when she took the stage at The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee last week that she came out to an Arthur Russell song. She says his music is unpredictable, romantic, and calming. Which is also the sound she wanted to create on her new album. She wanted something comforting and beautiful. Something you could lay in the grass on a sleepy street in Melbourne and soak in the sun to. And I think she’s done it.

Watch our interview below.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

How Barrie took Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ and turned it on its head

640 360

Barrie was writing the melody to her song “Frankie” when Glen Campbell died. She saw the news on Twitter, heard “Wichita Lineman” on the radio, and then watched the video on YouTube. The comments all admired how the Wichita Lineman sacrifices his personal needs in order to do his job. It was in the middle of Covid, when workers started to value their lives more than their jobs and resigned in droves. She saw the song at the time as a kind of litmus test for our changing (or unchanging) view toward labor, and then wrote the lyrics to “Frankie” to further that conversation.

I first discovered Barrie by asking Lala Lala what song she couldn’t stop listening to, and she answered “Dig.” I asked the same question to Barrie and she answered, “Idaho” by Slow Pulp.

Barrie’s album, “Barbara” will be out on March 25 via Winspear.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Katy Kirby covers ‘So Much Wine, Merry Christmas,’ just for us

640 421

Katy Kirby released my favorite album and song of 2021. I’m not the only one that loved it. “Cool Dry Place” ended up on Consequence, Paste Magazine and Stereogum’s year-end-lists. Her tender and clear voice really cut through this year. A couple months ago we did video interview here, and then I called her to do a 5 O’Clock Shadow and she recorded a song that she’s never recorded or released anywhere. The song: “So Much Wine, Merry Christmas.”

“It’s a Handsome Family song,” Katy says. “The Handsome Family is a couple. One of them is also a children’s author. I think the other started writing songs all together and they ended up with all these weird children story-esque songs that tend to be a little dark as well. My cover is actually a cover of the Andrew Bird version of that song. He does a whole album of Handsome Family songs. I like covering the cover because it’s a little more telephone-y.”

Check the game of telephone. Here’s the Katy Kirby version:

Katy Kirby – “So Much Wine (Merry Christmas)
Jackie Lee Young Katy Kirby | Photo credit: Jackie Lee Young

Here’s the Andrew Bird version for comparison:

And here’s the Handsome Family original:

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

My 10 favorite songs of 2021 by Justin Barney

640 427

10. “Frankie” by Barrie

This is a song about a song. It’s an essay on Glen Campbell’s 1968 hit, “Wichita Lineman.”

Wichita Lineman is about a lineman for the county. He sings that he needs a small vacation. He needs this person he is singing to. But he can’t be with them because he has to work.

The Witchita Lineman is generally praised for sacrificing his needs in order to maintain power lines.

But Barrie hears a man in real pain. A plea.

This song is about the tragedy of Glen Campbel’s Witchita Lineman, and a hope that he got those things he said he needs.

It’s justice for the Witchita Lineman.  

9. R.A.P. Ferriera – “Abomunist Manifesto”

Before he was R.A.P. Ferriera he was Milo and before he was Milo he was Raury and when he was Raury, as a 17 year old Raury went to Badger Boys State, a politics camp for boys. I went there too. At Badger Boys State you recreate an entire state government. Two boys from each high-school in the state goes. Out of the thousands of boys, one gets elected Governor. When Raury went, he was elected Governor. You can hear why in this song. It’s a manifesto for the Abomunists. Abomunism’s main function is to unite the soul, with oatmeal cookies. So speaks R.A.P. Ferriera. Abomunist poetry, in order to be completely understood, must be eaten. Ferriera campaigns. You can hear his natural charisma and charm. He’s principled and funny. No wonder we voted for him back then. I’d still vote for him.

8. Telethon – “Positively Clark Street”

Despite there being a Clark Street in Riverwest, this song from Milwaukee’s Telethon is about Clark Street in Chicago. A street that is known for having a good time, and lead singer Kevin Tully is not having a good time. At the beginning of the song he resents the people having fun for the simple fact that they are having fun. And he isn’t. Then he slows down and thinks about it. And the brilliant part of this song is that the song slows down in that moment, as he slows down, and wonders if its him, not them who needs to change.

7. Chloe – “Have Mercy”

“Have Mercy” is my Certified Banger of the year. From the opening fanfare of “BOOTY SO BIG (WORK!) LORD, HAVE MERCY” to the build of the chorus as her voices rises to it’s payoff beat, “Have Mercy” works. It’s production includes a crow cawing, and a hot breathy exhale. It is the moment of horny delirium that the song describes.

6. Ross Gay – “Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be”

For Jagjagwaur’s 25th anniversary as a record label they did something unusual, they hired a poet to make an album. A thin man, with piercing eyes who teaches poetry at Indiana University, Ross Gay. Gay’s best known work is his incredible, “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude.” Where he sees, as seemingly only poets can, the small beauties of the world.

In this song he writes a poem to his child, if ever they shall be. Which means it’s a letter to the future, about the present. In it he describes in beautiful and poetic detail, millions of leaves collecting against curbs, the bush called honeysuckle, and a field of pigs swimming in shit and clover.

It’s a romantic look at a world so full of hurt from a man who seeks beauty for those who will inherit it.

5. Black Country, New Road – “Bread Song”

This song is like morning mist, hanging around for six minutes, morning light shining through and about it. Vocalist and guitarist Issac Wood said they wanted to do the first chorus without time signatures. He’d gone to see Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” in which there is a piece where the clarinet player plays until they run out of breath and that is the length of the bar in the song. “I wanted to try that with the whole band, where we don’t look at each other, we don’t make too many cues, we just try and play without time—but together.”

The result is this beautiful seven minute unfolding of a song about wanting to eat a sandwich in bed.

4. Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License”

“Driver’s License” did a thing that is seemingly impossible in the world today. For one week, in the summer of 2021, it unified the country.

It is increasingly rare, in a stratifying media landscape, for a song to be a national phenomenon, but “Drivers License” a sad song about love lost, was a great unifier for one great week.

SNL even did a skit on it. At a pool table in a bar that could be The Newport, a bunch of macho guys stood around a pool table and shared about how they love the song at it plays over the honky tonk’s jukebox, culminating in one of the greatest bridges of all time, Kate McKinnon even prepares the audience for it by saying, “And now, boys, for the bridge of our lives.”

In 2021, “Drivers License” was a beautiful moment of musical unity.

3. Caroline Polachek – “Bunny is a Rider”

Who is Bunny? What is a rider? Why are people looking for her? It’s irrelevant. This is less about it actually means and more about the intense satisfaction of it’s sounds. The whistle, the way her voice swoops up then down between the syllables in rider, the percussion of the phrase “Dirty like it’s earth day.” It’s easy for me to get caught up in everything that surrounds the song, but Bunny is a Rider is a testament to how satisfying a song can sound.

2. Wednesday – “How Can You Live if You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do”

In Leonard Cohen’s “Ain’t No Cure for Love” he sings, “The holy books are open wide, doctors working day and night, but they’ll never ever find the cure for love.”

It’s an idea that love can make us so happy, that it makes us sad.

Love is an issue for Wednesday lead singer Karly Hartzman in this song too. This is a love song. She sings, “I’m jealous of the rooms who’s floorboards feel your weight upon them.” My favorite line. It’s also a love that makes her sad, she sings of his absence “The pain was kind of wonderful cause it was so complete.”

It’s a love she wouldn’t want to live without, and yet a love that she can’t live with, or in words penned by James Baldwin, “How can you live if you can’t love, how can you if you do?”

1. Katy Kirby – “Portals”

“Portals” is my favorite song of the year. It’s simple. Two verses. Two choruses. A couple chords on a piano, Katy Kirby’s voice, and a bit of ambient chaos that she sings through the center of.

The first time I heard it I listened again. And again. On the third time I got the chorus down. And then I realized that if I listen a couple more times I could memorize every world of the song.

I couldn’t remember the last time I memorized every word to a song. So I did.

Something magical happens when you memorize every word to a song. It becomes yours, in a way.

I became the one singing with emotion though the chaos.

It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s sad. It’s my favorite song of 2021. It’s Katy Kirby’s “Portals.”

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Indigo De Souza on the influence of Arthur Russell and her mom

640 424

The cover of Indigo De Souza’s “Any Shape You Take” is a painting of a skeleton mother and child in an overgrown/dystopian supermarket. It’s dark and yet somehow kind of touching. De Souza’s mom painted it and it shares the bleak-but-touching outlook on the world that she says binds her and her mother.

Here we talk about that relationship with De Souza’s mother, her love of Arthur Russell, and a song that she can’t stop listening to.

Charlie Boss

You’re going to play with Lucy Dacus when you come here and so I’m excited for that. And I want to talk to you about music, primarily. What was the kind of the music that you grew up with? What’s the earliest music that you remember listening to?

I remember my mom listened to a lot of Lucinda Williams. Also a lot of reggae. I also grew up in a town that was very Bluegrass oriented, so there was a lot of country music and uh like parlor pickin’. And um, yea, like I used to clog in school.  

I also had some small underground influences like I had an Elliott Smith album when I was young. And I listened to like a lot of Jack Johnson and Regina Spektor. My early influences are kind of scattered. It’s funny, and it wasn’t until after I left the nest and moved to Asheville that I actually started to have a broader idea of music and a deeper understanding of Underground music.

What was one of the first albums that you had that like, deeper understanding of music that you really fell into and loved?

When I discovered Arthur Russell’s “World Of Echo.” That kind of really changed a lot for me because it started a true obsession with Arthur Russell and I started listening to all of his records. He is probably one of my greatest influences, musically I think.

What do you think is it about Arthur Russell that grabs you?

I think that he just like meanders to so many different areas and is just really explorative and free sounding. And his lyrics just remind me of, it’s almost like a stream of confidence type of thing and it feels like it’s not as structured as other music I’ve heard. Structure has always been a funny thing for me like, I think I learned how to do traditional song structures when I was young and then eventually broke out of that and realized that I didn’t need to follow any structures if I didn’t want to. I could make my own structure. And he is definitely one of the biggest influences in that way because his songs just go wherever he wants them to go, and you can tell that he’s not really thinking about who’s going to hear this song or what it’s going to mean to them; He’s just making music because he has to make music.

Yeah, I think there’s only two albums of his that were actually put out by him, and then all the other ones were compiled after his death. I think he is just so romantic because he was such a perfectionist. He wouldn’t have put out the music that’s out now because it wasn’t finished. But it’s so, so good and I’m just so happy that it is out.

That is great. I want to play an Arthur Russell song on the radio today, what song should I play?

Oh man, there are so many good ones… um let’s see, I like the newer album, the most recent album “Iowa Dream” is probably one of my favorites. Let me think…… um, this one is from an older, this an older cut that’s “I couldn’t say it to your face, but I won’t be around anymore” that one’s really special.

We’re playing ‘Hold U’, could you tell me how that song came together? Like what was going on in your life as you wrote that song?

At that point in my life I was really just in the first healthy relationship I’d ever been in. I had only been in turbulent, dysfunctional relationships and it was the first time that I was in a very simple relationship. So yeah that was just really inspiring to me and it also made me feel inspired about other relationships in my life, just like platonic friendship relationships and I was just feeling inspired in general about love and how simple it can be, and how accepting it can be, and how it can truly be a safe space that you hold for people around you and receive the same from them. Yea, just kind of how sacred relationships can be and how often they’re not treated that way in the world.

What is your relationship with your mom like now that you’re on the road, and traveling and a career musician? Is she supportive of the whole thing?

Yeah, now more than ever.  She’s been supportive my whole life. But with music, there is always a doubt from families that it’s going to turn into anything or that it’s really going to be sustainable. At this point I think that everyone understands that what I’m doing is a constant and demanding job that is doing really well and that I’m not only able to sustain myself but a lot of people that work for me as well. So I really feel the support right now.

What is a unique quality about your mom that you share?

Maybe that we both laugh a lot. We both have very vibrant senses of humor. We are constantly feeding off of that as a coping mechanism in the world. Cause we both have deeply bleak outlooks about existence. But we manage to have a good time and make the best out of it because we have a good sense of humor.

What is the last song you couldn’t stop listening to?

Honestly, I just went on tour with my friend Dan Wriggins. His main project is called Friendship. He just recently made a solo project that is just his name Dan Wriggins. It’s wild. He’s definitely just one of the most incredibly songwriters I have ever heard in my life, if not the most incredible. His songs and his writing just absolutely blow my mind to bits. It’s wild because he doesn’t have a ton of recognition and he’s a smaller artist so I just champion him so hard and want him to blossom and for people to hear his music.

Right now I’m obsessed with one of his songs called, “Dent.” It’s honestly one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear it I just can’t believe the lyrics and the feeling of it.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

‘Once I’m all-in on a relationship, aren’t I totally f*cked?’: Snail Mail summarizes her new album ‘Valentine’

640 360

When Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan made her breakout album “Lush,” she was a child. That’s what she says. She says she literally grew up between the last album and this one. She took over in the production studio. Every lyric means something. Or, “Turning my experience into careful narratives,” as she puts it. It’s more grown up in every way.

Lyrically, too. My favorite line on the album is “Doesn’t obsession just become me?,” from “Forever (Sailing).” “You can kind of use that lyric to describe the whole record,” Jordan tells me. She says that the lyric is saying “Once I’m all in on this relationship or any relationship, aren’t I totally fucked?’

That’s “Valentine” right there.

Here’s the song Lindsey Jordan can’t stop listening to:

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Damon Albarn’s new reality

640 427

Damon Albarn has been on the forefront of music since he formed Blur in 1988. In 1999 he changed the way we conceive of music by forming the world’s first virtual band, Gorillaz. Now he has made a new album that is full of the real world, including natural sound and thoughts on the present world and the future. The album is “The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows.”

In our interview, he talks about how Iceland shaped the new album, describes his process of discovering new music and explains why he can’t get into that new Drake single.

Damon Albarn | Photo credit: Matt Cronin

With Gorillaz and Blur, you’ve written plenty of big banging singles that fit right into radio. Why write something that deliberately slower and more plaintive?

It’s not the world of radio, more the world of podcast, isn’t it? I suppose.

Well, it started off in Iceland. I was given an amazing opportunity to go up there, and just take musicians, and sit in a house and just look at an amazing outside world with a mountain, sea, islands, glacier, volcano, seals, oyster catchers, golf carts, joggers, dogs and incredible fluctuations in the weather. It could be sheet rain coming in vertically and then temperature would drop a few degrees and it would suddenly, literally go into slow motion. Cause it would, as it was moving, turn into snow. You could see it happen.

So that was a lovely starting point for the record, you know?

And you can hear it in the record. There are several songs that include natural sounds. Are those from this house in Iceland?

Yeah, and around. Recorded by my friend Arnie, who’s an amazing field score recorder in Iceland. Some of them are local sounds. Some of them are the sounds are the ravens. Some of the sounds are cooking in the house, just cooking. There’s a pretty memorable onion being chopped on the record.

There’re recordings in the chimney of a family of, I think, starlings or something like that. They’re either starlings or they’re fairies. One of the two. But whether they’re fairies or starlings, we recorded them. So we were pretty relaxed when we were out there recording.

In “Royal Morning Blue” you talk about a new reality. What is that reality?

The new reality should be that we can’t overcome anything unless we are able to live amongst each other’s particles comfortably. Then we get that true interaction and that positive vibration.

In “Daft Wader” you talk about a martyr. What’s that idea there?

Well, it’s “Daft Wader,” which is a very, very bad pun on Darth Vader… but it’s about the martyr. The martyr, well that’s a Christian idea, but also an Islamic idea. The martyr. The idea of martyrdom that you are…

Being persecuted for your beliefs.

Yes, but also it’s all the terrifying aspects of it. And the way it’s been, in many ways, abused by people in sects of the religion and turned into an idea that martyrdom is something that is a positive thing. And killing people is not a positive thing, is it? So we know that.

But, how I feel about it… I went to Iran and it was just really beautiful because the martyrs that they were remembering were the young men who died in the Iraq/Iran war, which we seem to forget. This area has just had relentless violence for 30, 40 years and we certainly haven’t helped, or have been sensitive to it. That’s the important thing; is to start seeing each other all as equal on this earth and just getting rid of bigotry and false, super disseminated nonsense.

Let’s just get real and just be nice to each other.

This is a solo album, but you have many collaborations. In all of the collaborations that you do, you always seem to be seeing the future, and on the cusp of something new, and finding new artists. I hear that and I think, “How does Damon Albarn discover a new song?” How do discover something similar in your music?

It’s potluck really.

After yoga yesterday there was randomly a sort of secondhand trade shop… like a pawn shop really in America. They just had an incredible amount of old keyboards, and drum machines, and records randomly.

They had the stereos and all that, but this one had disproportionate amount. And even though it was really early in the morning, and I was in my red Speedos. I didn’t care. I went in there and it’s not warm necessarily. It’s not Californian-red Speedo. So Hannah Smith, London, eight o’clock in the morning.

And there’s just some amazing records that I bought. And they’re all in other languages, so I can’t exactly understand but I’m fascinated to listen to them. And that’s how I do it, really. I sort of grope around in the dark and occasionally I find something that I really connect to.

I would love to come out of this interview by playing a song that you have been listening to or something that you’ve searched around in the dark and found. What’s the last song that you can think of that did that for you?

What was the last thing that… Yeah, well all right. The last thing that I listened to was that Drake song, but I can’t get over the fact that it’s Right Said Fred and “I’m Too Sexy.” It’s just too much for me. I can’t make that leap.

And as we’re on the last minute here, what’s the secret to long-term success as a musician?

A appetite for failure.

You need an appetite for failure, though. Otherwise, where else would you go? It’s about trying to reach the ecstatic. It’s not about anything else. That’s hard to attain.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Watch our interview with Lucy Dacus, who just announced a tour and Milwaukee concert

640 360

Sometimes people will ask me, “What was your favorite interview?” It’s a tough question because there are so many people that I have enjoyed talking to. But I would say, in the year of our lord 2021, this interview with Lucy Dacus has been my favorite of the year.

Since I first heard “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” off her first album, I knew that Lucy Dacus had a strong perspective. Her album “Historian” was my favorite album of the year in 2018. Part of that is who she is as a songwriter: a wordy, emotive storyteller. And part of it is who I am: a wordy, emotive storyteller.

Our lives rhyme. We were born into the church. We thought we could change it from the inside. “I wanted to queer the space,” as Lucy told me. We both journal consistently, though never consistently enough. We love our friends but question what love is. Ultimately, my favorite conversations are ones where it feels like you are eavesdropping on two old friends. That’s what this was. We even get to the end and Lucy says, “I can’t believe that was an interview. That was just a nice chat.” And it is.

Lucy Dacus is also coming to Milwaukee! She’ll play Feb. 14 at Turner Hall Ballroom. I hope to see you at the show.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

The War On Drugs on The Rolling Stones “Voodoo Lounge”

640 360

“I feel like that album needs to be re-evaluated as a modern classic,” War On Drugs lead singer Adam Granduciel says of The Rolling Stones’ 1994 album “Voodoo Lounge.”

It helps that “Voodoo Lounge” came out at the perfect time for a young Granduciel who was just falling in love with music. He remembers being awed by the album roll out and even saw them tour the album. “We were so far away that even the Jumbotron looked small.”

The reevaluation of “Voodoo Lounge” comes after we talk about Granduciel’s dad, a conversation inspired by the song “Rings Around My Father’s Eyes” off The War On Drugs’ new album, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore.” And a look into the band Harmonia, the krautrock band who is name dropped in the song “Harmonia’s Dream.”

The War On Drugs are playing two nights in Milwaukee on Feb. 12 and 13 at The Riverside Theater. Information on the show here.

The song that Adam’s new son, Bruce, recognizes from “Voodoo Lounge.”

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Having fun with Telethon

640 360

Milwaukee’s Telethon is a fun band. Their songs are unpredictable and often include left turns, full stops, or heroic rises. Their instrumentation is fun. There is a heavy use of glockenspiel, clarinet and seemingly every unloved instrument at Guitar Center that was left for too long that they must have felt they could use. But sometimes that sound of fun can be misinterpreted.

“It’s never something we intend for. I like fun. Fun is good. But there is not that much joy on the record. it might sound like fun, but there is a lot of pain in there,” lead singer Kevin Tully tells me from his hotel room outside of Disney World. He’s there frequently he tells me. “It’s a whole thing.”

Saying that they don’t intend on creating fun while being at Disney is very funny to me. Maybe they don’t intend on creating fun, but they sure seem to find it.

Swim Out Past the Breakers” is one of my favorite albums of the year. And here we talk about Disney, get into some niche Milwaukee stuff, and gush about a mutual love of Randy Newman.

Here’s the Randy Newman song mentioned in the interview:

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee