We’ve all heard Jane and Alexander boast nostalgic spills of last cigarettes and broken asses. When you think of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros what comes to mind? Transcendent dreamy desert scenes, billowing peasant skirts and beards so majestic you could just cry at their beauty? Check, check and check (#igetweirdforthebeard).
After years on the road, rife with adventures and cooked breakfasts’, the (upwards of) 10 piece have garnered a reputation as a must-see live act, regarded for their unpredictability, compassionate connection with crowds and lilting musical mayhem.
Their self-titled record is melodically outstanding, continuing on a progressive path of deliciously spacious arrangements and all consuming choruses. Though the deeply entrenched message of their lyrical content rings true to the old, their growth and direction has come a long way. I had a chat to Crash (just Crash) about Bowie, kitchen metaphors and helping people embody courage.
Hi Crash, how you going?
Ahh, so good (laughs). I was just running some errands and I just got back in time.
That’s cool, what are you up to?
Nothing, just trying to get used to being home (laughs). I can tell I’ve outgrown the domesticated life. I’m leaving the house without my wallet; I’m making all sorts of mistakes. I went and bought embroidered towels for our state manager and drum tech.
Oh, that’s super nice of you.
They’re like these hand embroidered towels with Biggie Smalls on them.
I got them in a series of Rastafarian colours (laughs). He’s gonna love it!
Where did you find those?
Ah, my friends Etsy page. She was doing a hip-hop series. She sold out of the Biggie Smalls pretty quick, but I put in a special order. So I feel like a pretty lucky dude.
Very lucky! What time is it over in LA?
That’s a good question (laughs). I’ts six o’clock.
We’re on opposite ends of the world right now.
It’s true! It’s true! (laughs)
Are you with the rest of the band? Do you guys all live together when you go home?
Ahhhh, (laughs). Like in a shoe? All together in a shoe? Ummm, no, no most of us are here in LA, if not, on the West Coast. We got a couple folk in New York and then Alex is in New Orleans, but relatively close I’d say.
Ten people is a lot of people. How did you get together in the beginning?
It was kind of like a big kitchen. It was like a huge kitchen and Alex sort of being the chef, he (laughs), he would leave and grab some ingredients and return to the counter, to the stove. And then he would leave and grab some more ingredients and bring it back to the kitchen and the stove. That’s how I remember the process in meeting everyone. My band The Deadly Syndrome, we had just recorded our record there in the studio and immediately after Alex came in and started forming Edward Sharpe. So Mark Noseworthy who now plays guitar (3.29) he’s been in the band since then. I kind of met Alex through him. And Aaron who was playing bass at that time for Edward Sharpe was producing that record. So maybe through them and through that studio and geez, many other musical networks in the city.
That’s pretty incredible.
Yeah, I mean, it was quite a lot of people to bring together. I know now there’s 12 of us on stage, but I’m pretty sure on that first record there’s more than 12 people. There’s gotta be maybe upwards of 20.
Wow, does it get pretty crazy when you guys are touring around? Just with so many people?
Ahhhhh crazy? It gets crowded, crazy. It’s like running a children’s nursery for the tour managers if you would ask them to break it down. Everybody’s got their different priorities on the road and in between gigs. I just like to laugh so uhh (laughs), pretty easy for me. But sure, it’s cool. I mean, gosh, I could go on and on about the things we do and how we spend our time and how crazy it gets.
You’re just like one big family on the road, I guess.
Sure, sometimes we’ll get to cooking breakfast outside the bus first thing in the morning. We’ll bring like these camping ovens and stoves and do like a non stick pan (laughs), throw some butter in there. People driving by thinking, who the hell is in that bus!?
Your self-titled album really shows an evolution of your sound. How would you describe the new LP compared to previous sounds/albums?
It’s certainly a breath of new life into this record compared to the previous two. The word would be rambunctious. That’s just kind of like the go to word for the difference in sound. There’s definitely that great energy. It’s pretty obvious at even the first listen. It’s cool. I think it really raises the whole reason and goal of celebrating the live shows. You know when you play the songs and the audience is looking more and more familiar. If we could just sing them all together and celebrate them and have a really good time, you know?
Tell me about the artwork for the album, what was the creative process behind that?
(Laughs) uhh, there was a lot of back and forth over which art concept would actually make the record. We went from one idea, which was a candid photo, not every one of us was even in the photo. But it was a candid photo nonetheless where we all were dancing. It was black and white. Something about it spoke to a lot of us and we were gonna maybe use that photo, but then that turned into something else. This wild confetti glittered stuff with a big peace sign. You know, two fingers for the cover, but then that went away. Then this cover came across our inboxes and it seemed like a pretty unanimous yes. It spoke to us a bit more than the other work. They were cool ideas however; they just didn’t last in our mind. This idea however, resonated a bit more with us. So yeah, once again we just went back and forth and talked about it for a while. We finally pulled the trigger on it probably well after the due date (laughs).
I noticed when I was listening to it last night that there are a lot of great ambient sounds that creep in, little bits of laughter and such. What sort of vibe were you trying to capture?
The atmosphere was a live atmosphere. The record needed to sound as if you were in the room. Even in the recording process, the more tracks you throw on top of one another, the more noise and sounds in the room that build up. A lot of times you’re busy cutting those out, but this was an effort to leave the character and the charm in the recording. So there is that feeling and that vibe. Alex and us would love to do the next record completely live. I mean us going into a room with you know, pots and pans and chains and just really strip down and bimp and bomp and bap and scream and just really go from there. There’s something really cool about that sort of primal approach.
Tell me about the music making process for Edward Sharpe. Is it mostly collaborative, do you all have your input? Or is it more one person steering the ship?
Well, with so many people it’s very easy to do the collaborative thing. There’s always ideas’ coming through and down the pipeline. I think sometimes the songs you will find maybe need a more focused attention. Then in that case, the original author of an idea or maybe just Alex himself, will just carry it down the way and then bring it back. In that case on this record, Alex did a lot of carrying, if you will, because there was this vision that he gained of the album and just wanted to see it through, for which we’re all really, really pleased and super excited about it.
If you had to use three words to describe your music, what would they be?
Three? Just three. Three is so many. Three is so few. Well, I’d say joyous, I’d say colorful and I hope I would say uplifting.
I like those. I like those a lot.
Alex I think would say, courageous. He’s really been gunning for writing songs that really help people embody courage and take on courage. Different answers of course, but I think courageous too.
I think that works. Your songs have a lot of positivity and that gives people courage.
Sure, and even me, as a songwriter myself, I do a lot of reading back on the lyrics that Alex will put down. If I were free just to question assumptions, you know, are you not free? And why would you say so? You live in America. And what do you think is compromising that freedom? It’s interesting to read those lines and see that deeper message there and the way he is challenging some status quos and some ways that we’ve just sat back complacently accepted. Its really cool and I really love it.
Yeah, definitely. Do you guys have any pre-show rituals or on stage traditions?
The pre-show ritual would be a huddle. We huddle before every show. Those can get pretty funny (laughs). It can also be really cool for just reconnecting us and reconnecting everyone and just getting us on the same page before we step out there for all the eyes and ears to see and hear. It’s a really special moment, I think for each and every show. Even when it’s hard to do, it’s really been a great element to have. And then on stage I’d say (laughs), the tradition is asking the audience which songs they want to hear (laughs), and also, just sort of passing the hat and allowing more and more of the song writers amongst us to pull out some material. Jade has been doing her songs on the records and also some other songs that shes’s written. Christian, the same for him. Songs that he has on the Edward Sharpe records as well as some others he’s done. We’ve been doing a song called “Motion Animal”. The whole passing of the hat has been really cool and that’s becoming a pretty fun way to approach things, a good routine if you will.
What songs do you find people call out when you ask them what they want to hear?
Ohhh, well “Home” is a given, right? So there’s always that one (laughs). People call it out as if we won’t play it (laughs). There was maybe a show, no more than a handful where we have not played home and it’s strange every time that happens, we sort of feel so deeply satisfied (laughs). But, there’s a lot of great songs that are requested when we just give the audience the opportunity to shout em out. You get “Dear Believers” or um “Fire Water”, people will request some of the Alexander material so like “A Million Years”. All sorts of stuff really, “Child” gets requested a lot. It’s a real interesting thing to see what people are gonna shout out from city to city.
What is the most pleasing thing about what you do?
I think just constantly being humbled in a really breaking way by how special this opportunity is. I think we’d be lying if we didn’t say, we feel like we’ve hit the lottery and it’s just been a ton of fun. We’ve had the opportunity to meet many great and amazing people and see a lot of the world. To do that carrying a message such as this and a vibe about ourselves such as this I think is pretty fulfilling. So I guess I’d be a fool not to say that.
That’s a really lovely sentiment. I must ask aswell, what’s the story behind the name, Crash?
Well, it came up on a job. My performance wasn’t so good. So I think the kind young lady who sparked the nickname was just trying to make sure it was fitting for me. I wasn’t showing up on time in the mornings and I wasn’t in the best condition or shape to work when I would show up. So I think she got me with a dagger and it kind of stuck. But yeah, it worked out. It’s been a silly ride with that nickname as well.
If you could pick one person, dead or alive, to play a show with, who would it be?
Oh man, dead or alive. I mean there is so much material and people out there. You know what’s cool, an icon of ours that is still rocking today and I believe just released some new material. Bowie would be pretty exceptional would it not? David Bowie, that’d be really neat. If I could just aim high, I would say Bowie.
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station
There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.
Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.
You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?
Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”
Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”
Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?
Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.
Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?
Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.
Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.
How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?
Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.
Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.
For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?
Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?
Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.
Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.
How many bands are you in now Mike?
Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.
Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?
Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.
I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?
Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.
Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.
Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?
Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.
Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?
Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present. When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland.
Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.
Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.
Is there a new full length on the horizon?
Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.
Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.