Paul Kneitz

Bio: Paul began writing for Alternative Nation in August 2012. He is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and currently lives in Seattle, Washington. Contact this writer:

above: Kurt Cobain with daughter Frances Bean.

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck at Seattle’s Egyptian Theatre, just a block from Linda’s Tavern, where Cobain was last seen alive. The film, which will premiere on HBO on May 4, is directed by Brett Morgen, who was granted access to a private archive of Cobain’s belongings by his widow Courtney Love in 2007. The previously unreleased material that Morgen found – revealed in an untouched storage unit of Love’s – makes up much of the film’s content. Montage of Heck is appropriately named: while it references a mixtape Cobain made as a teenager, it also describes the constant stream of videos, drawings, and recordings that drive the film.

Montage is set apart from other Cobain documentaries by its deeply personal experience, in contrast to more historical, musical, or biographical perspectives. The presence of Cobain’s often-intimate audio and visual art, as well as the sparse, family-oriented use of interviews, aids this personal touch. With vivid quality, we’re introduced to the various periods of Kurt’s life through family videos, acoustic or vocal recordings, diary entries, and much more. It’s a complete immersion into Cobain’s art and worldview, or as executive producer Frances Bean Cobain put it to Rolling Stone, “it’s the closest thing to having Kurt tell his own story in his own words — by his own aesthetic, his own perception of the world.”

It’s also clearly a Kurt-centric, rather than Nirvana-centric, documentary. The freedom Morgen has with Nirvana’s discography is noticeable, and tweaked versions of “All Apologies” and “Something in the Way” define some great scenes detailing Kurt’s childhood. The band’s rise to fame is represented by lively and immersive concert and behind-the-scenes footage, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle for Montage, and not the priority or focus. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is introduced by a title card as “Kurt’s Friend” rather than as his bandmate, and Krist’s interview is oriented more towards Kurt’s personality and psychology than his musical development. Additionally, an interview with Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl didn’t make it into the film in time for the Sundance Festival. For director Brett Morgen, this positioning of Nirvana was intentional. “This isn’t a film where I wanted to go interview everyone who played with Nirvana, nor is it a film where I wanted to interview any more than the base minimum of what I had to do, so it was almost like primal,” he told Consequence of Sound. “Like the mom, the dad, the sister, the first love, the wife, the best friend.”

The interviews that Morgen did include in the documentary, however, are certainly revealing. Courtney Love admits that she did heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean, although she and Cobain aggressively denied the notion in 1992 after a damning article was published about them in Vanity Fair. One of Kurt’s diary entries is also shown on screen, with Kurt noting his ten experiences with heroin between 1987 and 1990. Tracy Marander, Cobain’s first serious girlfriend, says that he never told her about doing heroin and that she never saw any evidence of it. Kurt’s mom Wendy O’Connor shares an emotional story about noticing her son’s weight loss and sores and confronting him about his heroin usage. O’Connor says that when she asked him about using needles to inject heroin, Kurt was too emotional and couldn’t respond.

Kurt’s father Don Cobain is interviewed for the first time about his son, alongside Kurt’s stepmom Jenny. They recall Kurt’s attitude and resentment towards them as well as the difficulties they had with Kurt after he was kicked out of his mom Wendy’s house. Meanwhile, with the help of surpisingly decent animation sequences as well as never-before-seen family videos, Kurt’s childhood is vividly reconstructed. Morgen constructs a nostalgic narrative in which the idyllic, hyperactive childhood of Cobain and the idealistic era of the 1960s were shattered by Don and Wendy’s divorce, resulting in Kurt’s social withdrawal. There might be some understandable mix of nostalgia and revisionism when Wendy O’Connor describes the picturesque nature of Aberdeen, WA, Cobain’s small hometown that was hit hard by the decline of the timber industry in the area in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, his perspective of social alienation, family rejection, and affinity for punk rock is made apparent and personal.

Beginning with the turbulence of his post-divorce childhood, Morgen draws out several incidents in Cobain’s life that reveal recurring elements of shame, and subsequent social withdrawal and depression, or rebellion and rage. One revealing story – told by Cobain in a previously unheard recording and put to life with animation – describes his awkward first sexual experience with a girl he describes as “not retarded” but “slow and illiterate.” After her father revealed the secret to their high school, Cobain felt so embarrassed that he got high and drunk and laid down on train tracks, waiting to be killed. The next train that came happened to be one track over, and Cobain was spared. It’s clear that Morgen wants the story to illustrate some common feelings of shame and its link with suicidality in Cobain’s life.

This might irritate some Cobain conspiracy types, who would argue that Montage of Heck is the product of a Courtney Love agenda. Love played no part in the artistic direction of the film, whereas Frances Bean, who loved the film, served as the executive producer. According to The Stranger, a woman at the Seattle director Q&A session Wednesday night “shouted her displeasure that the documentary was all ‘from Courtney [Love]’s point of view.’ As Morgen began to defend himself, the woman said she knew both Kurt and Courtney, and reiterated her point.”

Frances Courtney Brett Morgen
Frances Bean Cobain and Courtney Love with director Brett Morgen at the Sundance Film Festival.

Towards the end of the film, as Courtney is discussing Kurt’s hypersensitivity, she says that she never cheated on Kurt, but that the one time she thought about it and had the chance to do it, he could sense what she was up to. She then implies that this led to Cobain’s apparent suicide attempt in Rome in March of 1994. It’s another interesting and honest admission from Love and a revealing glimpse into Cobain’s last days. Cobain’s suicide is only addressed by a title sequence at the end of the film that states that he took his life one month after the Rome attempt at age 27.

Still, it’s clear from watching the film that Morgen’s initiative, rather than the family members’ agenda, are driving the film. A scene that Wendy O’Connor asked not to be included in the film was actually included in the final cut by Morgen. It’s difficult to watch: Cobain is clearly high on heroin while playing with Frances during her first haircut.

Although I missed the Q&A with director Morgen later that night, the Egyptian’s theater setting was a great way to experience the Montage of Heck. Never-before-seen footage, including extensive home videos from Kurt and Courtney’s time living in Los Angeles in 1992, is really valuable throughout. It humanizes Cobain like no other work has and I think many will get a fuller, although not any less confusing, understanding of Cobain’s life. Like executive producer Frances Bean, who labeled the project “emotional journalism” and wanted to avoid the “mythology” and “romanticism” of her father, Morgen produces the most intimate documentary about Cobain yet. With this goal in mind, as well as unprecedented access to Cobain’s personal art, notebooks, and tapes, Morgen produces a film richer in detail and more honest to its character than any previous Cobain doc.

Montage of Heck will premiere on HBO on May 4. You can check out the film’s limited theatrical screenings at HBO.

above: Image by Bridgette Imperial.

American Wrestlers is a new project from UK-born, Missouri-based artist Gary McClure. His new self-titled debut was recorded on an 8-track with “the cheapest pawn shop instruments [he] could afford,” after McClure relocated to Missouri to follow his now-wife. Today, the Wrestlers have revealed a Laura Lynn Petrick-directed video for their track “Kelly,” which you can watch below.

Meanwhile, American Wrestlers’ self-titled debut album is out now via Fat Possum Records.

Nearly a year since the release of his critically-acclaimed Salad Days, Mac DeMarco has announced a new mini-LP project, Another One, set for release on August 7th via Captured Tracks. The new album consists of eight fresh songs written and recorded between tours at his new house in Far Rockaway, Queens. Although the lead single has yet to be revealed, DeMarco’s new album is said to employ a “bittersweet, romantic sensibility,” while resisting a somber feeling and remaining “playful, retaining the guts and soul of classic Mac.”

In addition to the album announcement, DeMarco revealed a “Making Of” teaser trailer, which you can view below. Pre-orders of Another One, which can be made here, will include bonus instrumentals of the album’s eight songs at the time of the album’s release. Tour dates, which include stops at the Pitchfork Music Festival and San Francisco’s Outside Lands, can be viewed at Rolling Stone.

1 The Way You’d Love Her
2 Another One
3 No Other Heart
4 Just To Put Me Down
5 A Heart Like Hers
6 I’ve Been Waiting For Her
7 Without Me
8 My House By The Water

above: Image by Claudia Kershaw-Rae.

Born in San Francisco, Moon Duo is the brainchild of former teacher Sanae Yamada and psych veteran Ripley Johnson, also vocalist and guitarist of Wooden Shjips. The pair have recently evolved their “repeat-o rock” sound with the help of drummer John Jeffrey, releasing their third LP, Shadow of the Sun, via Sacred Bones Records earlier this month.

Created during a rare break from touring, Shadow of the Sun is influenced by the stir-crazy feelings experienced in the dark Portland basement where the album was recorded. A press release states that this was an “uneasy rest period, devoid of the constant adrenaline of performing live and the stimulation of traveling through endless moving landscapes.”

The band’s headspace informs their album’s vast psychedelia. By employing droning, repetitive riffs, Yamada and Johnson leave room for wandering guitars and calming melodies, while their sharp musicianship is complemented by distant, echoed vocals. Although it’s identified as psychedelia, and rightly so, the album’s influences are clearly more extensive and wide-ranging. Tracks like “Night Beat” are driven by their krautrock-inspired minimalist riffage, while lead single “Animal” is a fuzzy descent into punk.

Still, Moon Duo’s work is characterized best by tracks like “Wilding,” with the band’s self-described “cosmic trucker boogies”: strong, driving rhythms aided by the new drummer and the expansive guitar solos of Ripley Johnson. Meanwhile, Yamada’s modern keyboards steer the album away from unvarying nostalgia. Despite the tense, compact nature of its riffs, the album resists excessive repetition with its blissful solos and Yamada’s melodic synth work. This is evident with the drifting, sedated space rock of “In A Cloud,” which uses a more subdued acoustic approach and in the process, delivers an enjoyable ethereal environment.

Moon Duo’s latest LP, Shadow of the Sun, is an expressive piece of psychedelic music from two talented veterans of the genre. It tactfully blends their wandering solo efforts with a sharp, minimalist formula to create a unique, inventive contribution to the psych-rock scene.

Moon Duo is soon embarking on a tour of the UK and Europe, check out the dates here.

above: Image by Meghan Tryon.

Los Angeles rock outfit Wand continues to quietly influence the contemporary psych scene with its sophomore album Golem, out now via In The Red Records. Golem will satisfy fans’ appetite for heavy, psych-inspired landscapes with thick, garage guitars and an energetic, melodic core. It’s the band’s follow-up to 2014’s outstanding Ganglion Reef (read our review here), and it seems that they’ve only improved their existing formula.

This formula combines elements of shoegaze, psych rock, desert rock, and sludge metal with sharp production. The dirge and experimentation of Golem is counteracted by the crisp recording and engineering of Sacramento producer Chris Woodhouse. Equally reminiscent of icons like Kyuss and contemporaries like Ty Segall, Wand’s sound is a fresh take on psychedelia; it avoids the dated nostalgia that has plagued some of the recent psych-rock acts.

With tracks like lead single “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days” and “Floating Head,” Golem captures Wand’s jamming, guitar-driven garage attitude and singer Cory Hanson’s rhythmic vocals. The only outlier is the softer “Melted Rope,” which employs a wistful, Pink Floyd-inspired acoustic sound and suggests a stronger emotionality in the band’s songwriting.

The album is otherwise unapologetically heavy, yet avoids a morose feeling by relying on shifting dynamics and stoney fantasy lyrics. By the end of the album, however, Wand goes full desert rock. “Planet Golem” and “The Drift” conclude the album with dirge-like sonic landscapes and Melvins-like riffage. It’s no surprise that Wand have named the Melvins, Crass, Dark Side of the Moon, and Sleep among their many influences.

Wand’s new album Golem synthesizes its psych and metal influences into an addicting mixture of fuzzy guitars and driving rhythms. It employs an underrated sensibility to melody and production that sets Wand apart from others in the genre and I’m excited to see what Wand comes up with next.

Wand is currently on tour, check out their tour dates here.

above: Image by Dusdin Condren. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra has revealed a new, innovative music video for their latest single and title track to their new album, Multi-Love. Full of psychedelic 3-D imagery, the interactive music video can be downloaded as an app for PC and Mac and manipulated on your computer.

Director Lionel Williams says of the new video: “It is meant to represent the vacuum of space by impressing upon inter-dimensional unfolding, immaterial objects, and time-driven reverberation of events. The virtual space allows for most 3D objects to trail in time – based on the directions one moves. You can construct & paint the objects in space to stretch them in any direction, to create infinitely vast compositional spaces.”

Williams used programs like Unity Pro and After Effects CS5 to create the expansive visual landscape. Meanwhile, UMO’s new album, which features tracks like “Multi-Love,” is a reflection of frontman Ruban Nielson’s recent experience with relationships. A press release states that “where Nielson addressed the pain of being alone on II, Multi-Love takes on the complications of being together.”

In addition, Unknown Mortal Orchestra revealed additional summer 2015 tour dates, which you can view below:

May 7 – Eugene, OR – WOW Hall
May 9 – Seattle, WA – Barboza
May 10 – Spokane, WA – The Bartlett
May 20 – Bristol, UK – Thekla
May 21 – London, UK – Islington Assembly Hall
May 22 – Coventry, UK – Warwick University
May 23 – Liverpool, UK – Sound City
May 25 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Bitterzoet
May 26 – Berlin, Germany – Berghain Katine
May 27 – Brussels, Belgium – AB Club
May 28 – Paris, France – La Fleche d’or
May 28-30 – Barcelona, Spain – Primavera Sound
May 29-31 – Nimes, France – This Is Not a Love Song
June 2 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
June 3 – Montreal, QC – Fairmount Theatre
June 4 – Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
June 5 – Pontiac, MI – Pike Room
June 6 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
June 8 – Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
June 9 – Omaha, NE – Waiting Room
June 10 – St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
June 11 to 14 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo
June 13 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
June 14 – Carboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
June 15 – Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall
June 16 – Philadelphia, PA – Boot and Saddle
June 17 – Philadelphia, PA – Boot and Saddle
June 19 – Brooklyn, NY – Warsaw
July 16 to 19 – Southwold, UK – Latitude Festival
July 23 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
July 26 – Vancouver, BC – Imperial
July 28 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
July 29 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
July 31 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
Aug 1 – Santa Fe, NM – Skylight
Aug 2 – Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom
Aug 3 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
Aug 5 – San Diego, CA – Casbah
Aug 6 – Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy Theatre
Aug 7 to 9 – San Francisco, CA – Outside Lands
Sep 20 – Utrecht, NL – Tivoli Vredenburg Pandora
Sep 22 – Brighton, UK – Concorde 2
Sep 23 – London, UK – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Sep 24 – Birmingham, UK – The Library at the Institute
Sep 25 – Manchester, UK – The Ritz
Sep 26 – Dublin, IE – Whelan’s
Sep 28 – Nottingham, UK – Rescue Rooms
Sep 29 – Leeds, UK – Brudenell Social Club
Sep 30 – Glasgow, UK – QMU

With release less than two months away, the first trailer for HBO’s upcoming documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck has been revealed. Using the unprecedented access to Cobain’s personal and family archives granted to director Brett Morgen by his widow Courtney Love, the Sundance selection examines the turbulent life of the iconic Nirvana frontman with home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, and journals included.

The film’s trailer reveals its use of animation, childhood home movies, and interviews with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, widow Courtney Love, ex-girlfriend Tracy Mirander, his mother Wendy O’Connor, and sister Kim Cobain. In addition, it reveals the intimate, personal nature of the documentary as well as its use of Nirvana songs, an element that is exclusive to Morgen’s documentary. As Alternative Nation reported last Sunday, a 12-minute unheard acoustic track made by Cobain will be included in the film’s soundtrack. It’s likely that Montage of Heck will stand as the definitive Cobain documentary for some time.

Watch the trailer for Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, set for release on May 4 on HBO, below:

Singer Mark Lanegan released his ninth studio album Phantom Radio last October, as well as an accompanying EP No Bells on Sunday last summer, with a decidedly new wave-inspired sound and to strong reviews. Lanegan has now released a new remixes LP, entitled A Thousand Miles of Midnight, that features remixes of songs from those recent releases.

For the remixes album, Lanegan brought in the help of several of his consistent collaborators. The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli provides the remix for “I Am The Wolf,” while Earth tackles “Waltzing In Blue.” Belgium band Magnus, who recently featured Lanegan on their track “Singing Man,” remixes “Harvest Home.” Also included is UNKLE, Soulsavers, Moby, and Mikey Young.

Lanegan says of the remix album: “I thought these tunes would lend themselves to remixing and that it would be interesting to hear what other artists might make of them. All the people who did remixes are musicians whose work I greatly admire.”

You can purchase A Thousand Miles of Midnight via iTunes today.

Image by Dusdin Condren

Unknown Mortal Orchestra has announced their new album Multi-Love, out May 26 via Jagjaguwar. On the band’s follow-up to their critically acclaimed II, frontman and songwriter Ruban Nielson explores psychedelia by channeling his new-found appreciation for synthesizers.

In a press release, Nielson said: “It felt good to be rebelling against the typical view of what an artist is today, a curator. It’s more about being someone who makes things happen in concrete ways. Building old synthesizers and bringing them back to life, creating sounds that aren’t quite like anyone else’s. I think that’s much more subversive.”

In addition to announcing their album, UMO revealed its lead single and title track, which you can listen to below, as well as Multi-Love‘s tracklist and US & UK tour dates.

1. Multi-Love
2. Like Acid Rain
3. Ur Life One Night
4. Can’t Keep Checking My Phone
5. Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty
6. The World Is Crowded
7. Stage or Screen
8. Necessary Evil
9. Puzzles

Tour Dates
Thu. May 7 – Eugene, OR @ WOW Hall
Sat. May 9 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
Sun. May 10 – Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett
Wed. May 20 – Bristol, UK @ Thekla
Thu. May 21 – London, UK @ Islington Assembly Hall
Fri. May 22 – Coventry, UK @ Warwick University w/ Django Django
Sat. May 23 – Liverpool, UK @ Liverpool Sound City
Mon. May 25 – Amsterdam, NL @ Bitterzoet
Tue. May 26 – Berlin, DE @ Berghain Kantine
Wed. May 27 – Brussels, BE @ AB Club
Thu. May 28 – Paris, FR @ La Flèche d’Or
Fri. May 29 – Sun. May 31 – Nîmes, FR @ This is Not a Love Song Festival
Sat. May 30 – Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Sound
Tue. June 2 – Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
Wed. June 3 – Montreal, QC @ Theatre Fairmount
Thu. June 4 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
Fri. June 5 – Pontiac, MI @ Pike Room
Sat. June 6 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
Mon. June 8 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club
Tue. June 9 – Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room
Wed. June 10 – St. Louis, MO @ Firebird
Thu. June 11 – Sun. June 14 – Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo
Sat. June 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
Sun. June 14 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
Mon. June 15 – Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall
Tue. June 16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Wed. June 17 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Fri. June 19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw

above: Image by Rebecca Storm, courtesy of Captured Tracks.

The work of Edmonton-born, Montreal-based artist Alex Calder is defined by its unique psych-pop sound which incorporates a distant, dreamy pensiveness behind simple, addicting melodies. Launching his career playing with fellow Edmontonian Mac DeMarco in Makeout Videotape, Calder set out as a unique songwriter in his own right, signing with Captured Tracks and releasing his Time EP in 2013. Calder’s sense for pop songwriting comes together with his aim for warbled guitars and experimental musicianship, as well as his dry humor and a tense, understated melancholy.

Yesterday, January 20, Calder released his debut solo LP Strange Dreams. Strange Dreams continues Calder’s effort for smart psych-pop melodies that undergo his self-produced lo-fi treatment. Underneath the songs’ hazy indie vibe is an emotional resonance that enhances their psychedelic experimentation and pop sensibility. Ahead of the release of Strange Dreams, Alex Calder talked to Alternative Nation about his new album, playing live, the progress on his next album, and more:

Alternative Nation: What was the writing and recording process like for Strange Dreams?
Alex Calder: It was a weird process. About half the songs I finished even before the Time EP,  which was released in a very short period of time. So, some of them are real oldies, but about the other half I recorded real slowly over the next year or so. I recorded half of them at my old apartment and then I moved 2 doors down to my new apartment and recorded the rest. In my new apartment I can’t play drums because my neighbors have flipped, so some of the drums were sampled on the album, Even samples of older drum tracks I played on other songs.

How does Strange Dreams compare to the Time EP or Mold Boy stuff?
I’m not really sure. I feel like with the Time EP it had more of a warbly out of tune sound on the whole thing because I was playing around with shitty effect pedals. With this [album], I guess, I wanted to avoid that slightly more and just have really simple pop songs that weren’t too over thought or layered with effects too much. I kinda just wanted to make a song that sounds like Pavement for the entire record. Also, the Mold Boy stuff is kinda where I wanted to put more “experimental” stuff up without thinking about it, and I do all of that during the Alex Calder stuff.

How did the “Lola” music video come about?
My friend Cole came to stay with me for a few weeks and we always try to be pretty productive and work on comedy stuff while he’s in town, or when I’m back home where he lives in Edmonton. Anyways, we had no real ideas for a music video, but knew we wanted to make one. The only idea that came about was Cole phoning me on the drive to Montreal telling me how he just picked up some roller blades for the video. So Cole got to town and we had no big ideas for a video, but the idea of me just rolling blading down the street looking as happy and giddy as possible for the entire thing over top of this mellow, downer song was so funny to us. Behind the camera the whole time Cole was going “huge smile!” “enthusiasm!” “Take your shirt off!” Anyways,  I think it turned out great and I like how unsettling or off putting it seems to be to some people. They expect to see this like hazy indie rock VHS style melancholic bullshit, but just get an honest guy rollerblading down the street shirtless.

“They expect to see this like hazy indie rock VHS style melancholic bullshit”

You recently had a string of tour dates in Vancouver and New York. What’s it like to play your material live?
Yeah! I did!  Playing live is a tricky thing for me, I go very back and forth with liking it. I would avoid playing live if I could, I think. But there’s also points where I really enjoy it. I get pretty bad anxiety on stage, and if, for a moment I think that people aren’t into it, it kinda all goes downhill for me. But it’s kinda cool, if I’m in a good mood and we’re playing poorly, it’s a nice challenge to try to win over the crowd. We used to fool around a lot more on the stage too, but I feel like that can be kind of alienating to the audience when you do it too much. Especially if you’re sense of humor is pretty specific to you and your bandmates and friends. I’m not sure if people are that into paying to see you talk about Jar Jar Binks or cover the King of the Hill theme 15 times during your set.

Peter Sagar told me about Canada that “it’s really fucking cold half the time, which is a great reason to stay inside and record.” How has Canada affected your music? I sense a DIY ethic in the Montreal music scene. 
Peter has such a foul mouth! But yeah, that’s the point, Canada is super cold and you can’t go outside or do anything so you sit inside and record all winter. There’s also a lack of fun going on here, so it’s not like you’re going out to a show or something every night of the week instead of recording. I feel like if I lived in New York or somewhere I would find it hard to record so much. But I also feel like I would find much more inspiration in a place like that, so they both work I guess. I would definitely love to get the hell out of Canada.

Is Mold Boy a separate project or an extension of your solo work?
At first I wanted to make like a “secret music project” with Mold Boy where I could do whatever I wanted and have instrumental tracks or whatever instead of doing the Alex Calder stuff that way. But I quickly just associated the two and so now they kind of just coexist. There’s also some exciting news for Mold Boy and some changes in the near future though!

Besides showcasing your cooking, acting, and bathing exploits on Instagram, what’s ahead for Alex Calder in 2015? 
I guess a bunch of touring now. But not too much touring, I love being at home. That and finishing up my next album. I’m about half done, so hopefully I’ll have some time to finish it before we have to tour a lot. Also, hopefully more funny stuff this year, I feel like focusing on that more.

Alex Calder’s debut LP Strange Dreams is out now via Captured Tracks, order it here. Check out his bandcamp here.

above: Image by Ellen Wildhagen, courtesy of Captured Tracks.

Nic Hessler has announced his debut solo LP, entitled Soft Connections, set for release via Captured Tracks on March 17, 2015. The artist formerly known as Catwalk re-emerges healthy and optimistic with his new album and lead single “Hearts, Repeating,” which you can listen to below.

Hessler, under his pseudonym Catwalk, was signed by Captured Tracks at age 18 and released two 7″ in 2010 and 2011. Headed for acclaim, he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder known as Guillain–Barré Syndrome that left him partially paralyzed for a period over the last four years. Reinvigorated and healthy in 2015, Hessler drops his old moniker for his long-awaited album, with a sound that’s developed over the past four years.

Within the catchy, Kinks-inspired power-pop and summery single-oriented songwriting sensibility lies a thoughtful, mature songwriter poised for success in the indie community. The album’s long process contributed to Hessler’s music growth and the album’s introspective character.

Soft Connections Tracklist
Feel Again
Hearts, Repeating
Expel Me
Do You Ever?
All In the Night
All Around You
(Please) Don’t Break
Moonlight Girl
Into the Twilight
Soon You’ll See, Kristine
Soft Connections

Each year, Brooklyn-based record label Captured Tracks unveils a new group of albums that reflect, inspire, and provoke the innovative work of the indie community. The artists releasing projects via Captured Tracks this winter continue this trend. Alternative Nation takes a look at the label’s winter releases spanning a variety of genres and influences.

Canadian musician Alex Calder is releasing his debut album Strange Dreams and follow-up to his 2013 Time EP on January 20. Calder’s music utilizes addicting melodies and simple songwriting and lyricism behind his reverb-filled veil of experimental psych-pop landscapes. His hazy, ethereal sound is thoughtful yet resists a downbeat vibe, often through understated humor. You can pre-order the album here and read Alternative Nation’s ‘Band Spotlight’ on Calder here.

Queens-based singer-songwriter Juan Wauters released his critically-acclaimed debut album N.A.P. North American Poetry last year and has been on tour ever since. To kick off his 2015 North American tour, Wauters and collaborator/girlfriend Carmelle Safdie are releasing a limited release EP entitled Wearing Leather, Wearing Fur. The album is a 13-minute, single track suite consisting of song, poetry, and instrumental alike. Pre-order the EP here.

Catalan band MOURN has been generating rising interest since the foursome signed to Captured Tracks last year. Their self-titled debut album is out February 3. Seemingly reviving riot grrrl, lead singles “Silver Gold” and “Otitis” capture the PJ Harvey-inspired band’s irreverence and punkish indie attitude. Pre-order MOURN here and check out “Otitis” below.

Oakland’s The Soft Moon will release his third album Deeper on March 31. A press release from Captured Tracks is forthcoming, but lead single “Black” is a promising taste of intense, Reznor-esque industrial and moody post-punk. Pre-order Deeper here.

On April 14, Pale Blue, the collaboration of Mike Simonetti and Silver Hand’s Elizabeth Wight, will release their debut album The Past We Leave Behind via 2MR/Captured Tracks. The album incorporates Simonetti’s experience with noise, drone, and experimental dream pop. Pre-order the album here.

Captured Tracks is reissuing Australian band The Apartments’ 1985 debut album The Evening Visits… And Stays For Years. The album is a notable collection of jangle-pop filled with catchy melodies and pop sensibilities and a look into the genius of Peter Walsh.

Image by Meghan Tryon.

Los Angeles-based hard rock outfit Wand has announced their new album and follow-up to Ganglion Reef, entitled Golem, set for release on March 17, 2015 via In the Red Records. Cut in only twelve days in Sacramento, Calif., the album continues the band’s heavy psych-rock sound with production duties handled by Chris Woodhouse.

Beginning with lead single “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days,” which you can listen to below, their sophomore album continues to pioneer a sludge-filled sonic landscape within the realm of garage-psych. In a recent press release, the band names a variety of influences, including Melvins, Crass, Talking Heads, and Pink Floyd.

Read Alternative Nation’s review of Wand’s debut album Ganglion Reef here.

Wand has also announced a Spring tour of North America, view the dates below:
Thu. Jan. 29 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall + ^
Fri. Mar. 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo # $ %
Sat. Mar. 14 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar # $ %
Sun. Mar. 15 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar (Rampage Fest) # $ %
Mon. Mar. 16 – El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace # $ %
Tue. Mar. 17 – Mar. 21 – Austin, TX @ SXSW
Sun. Mar. 22 – New Orleans, LA @ Siberia >
Mon. Mar. 23 – Memphis, TN @ Hi Tone >
Tue. Mar. 24 – Nashville, TN @ The End >
Wed. Mar. 25 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl >
Thur. Mar. 26 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook >
Fri. Mar. 27 – Philadelphia, PA @ Black Box in Underground Arts >
Sat. Mar. 28 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right >
Sun. Mar. 29 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
Wed. April 1 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East >
Thur. April 2 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz P.D.B.
Fri. April 3 – Toronto, ON @ Adelaide Hall ~
Sat. April 4 – Cleveland, OH @ Happy Dog ~
Sun. April 5 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle ~
Tue. April 7 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue and 7th Street Entry ~
Thur. April 9 – Missoula, MY @ Stage 112
Sat. April 11 – Vancouver, BC @ The Cobalt
Sun. April 12 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
Tue. April 14 – Santa Rosa, CA @ Arlene Francis Center
Wed. April 15 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Thu. April 16 – Costa Mesa, CA @ The Wayfarer

+ with Ty Segall
^ with Once & Future Band
# with Walter TV
$ with The Gooch Palms
% with Death Valley Girls
> with BABES
~ with Heaters

above: Image courtesy of Lefse Records.

Featuring Halifax’s Brad Loughead and Mike Wright and Montreal’s Christian Simmons, garage-pop trio Each Other is one of the many impressive indie rock acts to come out of Montreal over the past few years. The band uses a strong sensibility for pop songwriting while blending an art-rock attitude, a shredding, energetic guitar sound and a distant, echoing vocal quality to produce their melodic, yet unorthodox albums.

In 2010, Loughead and Wright were producing albums in Halifax under the moniker Long Long Long, while Simmons played in Montreal’s Play Guitar. Loughead and Wright moved to Montreal the next year and six songs they’d written in Long Long Long became Each Other’s first EP, Taking Trips. In 2012, songwriting talent from their former bands came together for their 7″ “Traces to Nowhere” and culminated that autumn with their outstanding EP Heavily Spaced.

With particularly catchy tracks like “An Instant” and “Ash Mound,” Heavily Spaced established the band’s experimental rock sound that features interesting vocal harmonies, twisting and turning melodies, occasionally-punkish rhythms, and an addictive pop awareness. Earlier this year, Each Other took a break from their touring schedule to record their debut LP, entitled Being Elastic and released March 2014, at their home studio in Montreal. The LP employs a stronger attention to production, yet maintains its ringing, surf-ish sound and artsy, experimental method.

Check out Each Other’s debut LP Being Elastic via Lefse Records or iTunes here, and their bandcamp page here. Below, watch their music video for “About The Crowd” and Southern Souls session below:

Ahead of the release of his upcoming LP Strange Dreams, singer-songwriter Alex Calder has announced a string of East Coast tour dates. Calder will be joined by fellow Captured Tracks artists Donovan Blanc (read Alternative Nation’s interview with Donovan Blanc here) and Laced, a new project from Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur, as well as Kurt Vile associate Steve Gunn.

Meanwhile, Calder is set to release Strange Dreams on January 20, 2015. While the album was originally released via his bandcamp earlier this year, Calder has reworked some of its songs, exemplified by lead single and title track “Strange Dreams,” which you can listen to below. A press release from Captured Tracks advertises the album’s “infectious melodies” and “acid-induced pop sequences.”

Calder’s work crafts a delicate, thoughtful sound behind simple, addicting melodies and his experimental psych-pop sound. Strange Dreams carries an interesting pensiveness yet resists a downbeat, gloomy vibe through its dreamy, ethereal sound.

East Coast Dates
1/09 – Cameo w/Donovan Blanc & Laced (Record Release Party)
1/10 – New Brunswick w/Donovan Blanc & Forever Lesbians
1/11 – Rough Trade w/Steve Gunn

above: Image courtesy of Around the 6.

Viceroy-smoking, Canada-born, Brooklyn-based indie rock journeyman Mac DeMarco has taken the indie world by storm over the past few years, releasing albums via Captured Tracks like this year’s critically-lauded Salad Days and earning a reputation for energetic live performances. Last Thursday night in Seattle, following an opening set for Julian Casablancas downtown at The Showbox, the singer-songwriter traveled up Capitol Hill to Chop Suey, shredding a nearly hour and a half set after midnight to a sold-out crowd. Mac’s on-stage antics, combined with an upbeat audience and plenty of libations, resulted in an entertaining show. Needless to say, he lived up to his reputation.

Flanked by his talented live band, featuring Tonstartssbandht’s Andy White and Walter TV’s Pierce McGarry and Joe McMurray, Mac DeMarco took the stage at midnight during a cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” sung by drummer Joe. The band launched their set with songs like “Salad Days” and “Blue Boy,” reworked to be more rockish from their quieter studio versions, to get the crowd moving. Before “Rock and Roll Night Club,” DeMarco restrung his broken guitar string while White and McGarry jammed and performed a cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You.”

When Mac recovered from his broken string, the show really started to flourish. Beginning with “Rock and Roll,” and continuing through searing versions of “Viceroy” and “I’m A Man,” DeMarco and his cronies displayed their mastery over the crowd, who responded with crowd surfing and moshing. Things temporarily cooled off with the more delicate “Brother,” during which Mac showed off his crooning skills, as well as with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Jammin.”

Following the solo-filled glory of “Freaking Out the Neighborhood,” the band announced their final song, “Still Together.” What ensued was a nearly 20 minute jam session during which all of the band members crowd surfed and the band performed a lively rendition of Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says.” At some point in the chaos, after his feet collided rather violently with my forehead, DeMarco climbed the ducts that lined Chop Suey’s ceiling and enjoyed the view before eventually signing off.

The high flying, microphone-to-ass cheek live antics of DeMarco and his band provided an extremely entertaining experience for the audience, and in turn they seemed to feed off the crowd’s rambunctious spirit.  In addition, the band reworked the richer, more delicate tracks off Salad Days to be more rockish and animated. While Mac’s fan base grows, his attention to fun, genuine shows filled with jams, audience participation, and a liberal use of covers has not faltered. I eagerly await the next time the DeMarco troupe comes into town.

Click on the thumbnails below to view the images.

Setlist [incomplete]
01. Video Games (Lana Del Rey cover)
02. Salad Days
03. The Stars Keep On Calling My Name
04. Blue Boy
05. Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple cover)
06. Let Her Go
07. Someone Like You (Adele cover)/Jam
08. Rock and Roll Night Club
09. Annie
10. Ode to Viceroy
11. I’m a Man
12. Reelin’ in the Years (Steely Dan cover)
13. Brother
14. Jammin’ (Bob Marley cover)
15. Freaking Out the Neighborhood
16. Still Together/Jam/Jane Says (Jane’s Addiction cover)

above: Image by Matt Atkinstall.

Next January, Montreal-based Alex Calder will release his sophomore album Strange Dreams via Captured Tracks, his follow-up to last year’s Time EP. Calder recently told Hero Magazine that “being on a record label is a hard thing to settle into,” adding that there’s difficulty in “making all these songs and really wanting to put them out.” The prolific singer-songwriter has now released a new EP entitled Copy Me under his pseudonym MOLD BOY.

Copy Me‘s six songs employ Calder’s smart and simple melodies behind guitar-driven distortion and whispered vocals. The EP’s lingering sense of melancholy drives its pensiveness and emotional and songwriting maturity without being brooding or gloomy. Songs like “History High” and “Filled Up” represent Calder’s garage psych-pop sound and experimental attitude, while his dreamlike vocals add a deeper level of emotional resonance.

With another EP under his belt, Calder is now set to release his sophomore effort, Strange Dreams, on January 20, 2015. While Strange Dreams was originally released via bandcamp, Calder has reworked and remastered the album and has added a few previously-unreleased songs. A press release from Captured Tracks advertises the album’s “infectious melodies” and “acid-induced pop sequences.”

You can purchase MOLD BOY’s Copy Me via bandcamp, and you can pre-order Strange Dreams via iTunes here.

California garage rocker Ty Segall released his expansive double album Manipulator this August. Today, the prolific Segall announced his next release, $ingle$ 2, which is hitting shelves November 18th.

The successor to his 2010 compilation cassette $ingle$, the new 12-track singles compilation album will feature material recorded from 2011 to 2013. According to a press release, the album will include “now-out-of-print sides” like “Spiders” and “The Hill,” as well as covers of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” GG Allin, and more.

You can pre-order Ty Segall’s $ingle$ 2 here, and check out “Children of Paul” below:

above: Image by Laura-Lynn Petrick.

Incorporating elements of jazz, R&B, and funk music into an eclectic, chilled-out indie sound, Peter Sagar’s HOMESHAKE project is an intelligent blend of pop songwriting and rolling rhythms. Originally hailing from Edmonton and now based in Montreal, Sagar has spent the last few years touring the world with Captured Tracks’ Mac DeMarco. Now, he’s buckling down with his solo project and pseudonym HOMESHAKE, banging out lo-fi indie pop packed with jazzy drums and addictive bass lines.

Previously releasing albums like the hazy, Dragonball Z-infused The Homeshake Tape via bandcamp, Sagar’s calm, often-quirky songs have earned him a signing with Captured Tracks sister label Sinderlyn Records. HOMESHAKE’s record label debut In The Shower, recorded this winter at Montreal’s Drones Club, is out today, October 7. In The Shower employs Sagar’s dreamy guitar quality and cloudy, warped samples in the same spirit as its predecessor within cohesive songwriting and a more hi-fi sound. While HOMESHAKE’s new album succeeds in its addicting instrumental mixture – funky bass, jazzy drums, and warbling guitar – it is often driven by its delicate, understated vocals and subtly-melancholic lyricism. Sagar has created a unique sonic landscape crafted with occassional amounts of melancholy, love, and apathy; still, it remains equally mellow and personal throughout. I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter before his album’s release, here’s what he had to say:

Alternative Nation: HOMESHAKE is usually labeled simply as ‘indie’ in the press, but there’s definitely undercurrents of other styles, like jazz and funk, in your music. What artists influence HOMESHAKE?
Peter Sagar: A few would be Ann Peebles, Roy Orbison, The Band, D’Angelo and Thelonious Monk.

For the past several years you’ve toured with Mac DeMarco. What’s it like touring with Pierce, Mac, and Joe?
It was amazing, those guys are the best. I would get pretty bummed out and homesick being away from home so long, but they kept me feeling good through the tough times.

I feel like you and friends like Alex Calder, Mac DeMarco, and Walter TV are channeling a similar sound and spirit. How do you describe your style of music?
I think we all share a sense of humor about our music and ourselves, nobody takes anything too seriously. I’m lucky to have such a talented circle of friends.

Peter, Beijing.

I really enjoyed The Homeshake Tape. What makes In the Shower different from other music you’ve made?
It’s much groovier than everything I’ve made previously, also a lot higher fidelity than I’ve ever recorded before, thanks to my guy Mike Wright. He’s a real whiz on the mix.

Is In The Shower a concept album?
It wasn’t supposed to be, but a friend of mine pointed out that the subject matter is basically a timeline of the last year I spent touring with Mac and recording it. I had no idea!

How have Canada and its local music scenes influenced you?
Immensely, this country is so huge but also so small, everyone knows each other but live so far apart. There’s a good community of people. Also it’s really fucking cold half the time, which is a great reason to stay inside and record.

Your debut album is out this week. What’s next for Peter Sagar and HOMESHAKE?
I’m going to start recording my next album really soon, I’ve finished all the demos I think, but for now I’m just hanging out at home watching a million movies eating the delicious meals my sweety cooks up.

HOMESHAKE’s record label debut In The Shower is out via Sinderlyn on October 7. You can order the album here. Additionally, buy it on iTunes or Amazon and check out the album trailer via Vimeo.

REMEMBERING R.E.M.’s MONSTER: a 20th anniversary retrospective

For the twentieth anniversary of ‘Monster’, Alternative Nation looks back at the recording, release, and critical reception of R.E.M.’s ninth studio album as well as the often-problematic world tour that followed, drawing from archived print and film publications.

On September 27, 1994, R.E.M. released their ninth studio album, Monster, via Warner Bros. The highly-anticipated follow-up to their commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums Out of Time and Automatic For The People, Monster was loud, layered, and heavy. The album’s distorted, sludgy tone and loud electric guitars were calculated changes from the mostly acoustic, songwriter-driven sound of its immediate predecessors. Monster was R.E.M.’s ‘return-to-rock’ album; gone were the poppy radio friendly hits, gone were the intimate ballads and mandolins, and gone were the politically-charged, outspoken lyrics of vocalist Michael Stipe.

By 1993, R.E.M. had grown from cultish college radio status into one of the premiere rock acts of the time. R.E.M. had managed the seemingly unachievable task of gaining commercial success and critical acclaim without compromising their artistic vision and integrity. The band had sold over 30 million units in the previous two years, opting not to tour behind the mostly acoustic albums. Meanwhile, pressures from the media and the band’s growing fan base mounted. Although the band was admired by their contemporaries for their masterful control of the media in protection of their intensely private personal lives, their experience often proved difficult. With the trials of rock-stardom came swirling rumors in the media.

In April of 1993, R.E.M. convened in the resort getaway of Acapulco, Mexico to discuss the future of the band. The band had not been on tour since 1989 and the band had spent the first three years of the ‘90s laboring in the studio. With their recent lack of touring in mind, the four bandmates agreed to record a tour-friendly album that “rocked.” Drummer Bill Berry was the most eager to tour. Halfway through the recording of Automatic For The People, Berry had told his bandmates that he would quit R.E.M. if their next record didn’t rock. Just two days later in Acapulco, R.E.M.’s agents were planning the band’s next two years for them, already booking tour dates for 1995.

Under the supervision of Bob Dylan producer Mark Howard, R.E.M. began writing their untitled new album in September 1993 at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans’ French Quarter. In New Orleans, the band wrote songs like “I Took Your Name” and “You.” Rather than letting the album grow organically like previous albums, the band already had a specific goal and sound in mind before recording: to make their next album tour-friendly and electric.

Peter Buck: “We just kind of knew that we were excited about doing something a little bit more energetic, and what that meant, we had no idea. So, it was a process of me sitting in this little apartment that I was living in, in ’93, tiny apartment, about 4×10’, and just banging on the guitar really loudly until the neighbors knock on the wall. Bringing these little ideas in and showing it to Mike, and Mike showing me his ideas and Bill showing me his ideas, and all of a sudden we kind of had this idea.” [“Box Set: R.E.M.,” VH1]

Mike Mills: “When you’re in a band long enough, you want to try different things. On past albums we had been exploring acoustic instruments, trying to use the piano and mandolin, and we did it about all we wanted to do it. And you come back to the fact that playing loud electric guitar music is about as fun as music can be.” [“Monster Music,” Time Magazine, 1994]

Peter Buck: “I played guitar really loud. It was a little like Spinal Tap … you know, crank it up to eleven.” [Monster press release, Warner Bros, 1994]

As the band’s instrumentalists began preproduction for the album, vocalist Michael Stipe faced malicious rumors in the press. While the band’s fandom increased, scrutiny on its lead vocalist’s personal life was ramped up. Members of the press began to investigate Stipe’s sexuality, with some reporters suggesting that the singer had been diagnosed with AIDS.

Michael Stipe: “It was widely rumored that I had AIDS, or that I was HIV-positive. Which is not the case. I didn’t answer those rumors for a long, long time because I felt like making a big deal out of saying no would stigmatize people who are HIV-positive.” [“Everybody Hurts Sometime,” Newsweek, 1994]

REM 1994 (1)

While R.E.M. began work on Monster, Stipe’s life came to a halt when his close friend River Phoenix died of a drug-induced heart failure outside of The Viper Room in Hollywood on Halloween in 1993. Phoenix’s death put a hold on the writing and production of R.E.M.’s new album.

Michael Stipe: “I lost a friend in October — River Phoenix was a very, very close friend of mine. And I’ve never suffered such a profound loss. I couldn’t write for five months. We had started the record in September. I’d written two songs and then River died.” [“Everybody Hurts Sometime,” Newsweek, 1994]

R.E.M. reconvened five months later at Atlanta’s Crossover Soundstage. Mark Howard had sent material from the band’s New Orleans sessions to producer Scott Litt, who had worked with the band since 1987’s Document. With engineers Pat McCarthy and David Colvin also in tow, the recording of the album began. The majority of the album was cut at Crossover.

Charles Cote: “R.E.M. would arrive at about 10 each day, run through their set of tunes as a warm up, then spend the afternoon tracking. The idea was to capture as many live takes as possible to capture the magic of R.E.M.’s live sound. Later during mixing, they could pick the parts that they wanted to keep.” [“The Making of R.E.M.’s Monster,” 2005]

Scott Litt: “I thought since they hadn’t toured in a while, it would be good for them to get into that mind-set -you know, monitors, PA, standing up.” [“Monster Madness,” Rolling Stone, 1994]

While the Atlanta recording sessions were going well, new issues for the band quickly surfaced and breaks in the sessions occurred frequently. Recording was delayed for a few days as Mike Mills got sick during a session and underwent an appendectomy. On another occasion, Bill Berry fell ill and had to take break in Athens. Michael Stipe’s sister had a child, as did Peter Buck’s girlfriend, who gave birth to twins.

Perhaps the most jarring interruption to the Atlanta sessions came in early April ‘94, when Stipe’s friend Kurt Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home. Cobain greatly admired R.E.M., publicly praising the band’s music and artistic integrity in interviews. In addition, Buck had recently moved to Seattle and lived next door to the home where Cobain lived with his wife and daughter. In the weeks leading up to Cobain’s death, Stipe attempted to draw Kurt out of his negative head space. The pair had exchanged ideas about new music, sent cassette demo tapes back and forth, and set up a recording session in Georgia. In reaction to Cobain’s death, Stipe wrote the grim, reflective “Let Me In.”

Michael Stipe: “Halfway through making Monster, Kurt died. At that point, I just threw my hands up and wrote “Let Me In.” That was me on the phone to him, desperately trying to get him out of the frame of mind he was in. In the most big-brotherly way — God, I hate that term — in the most genuine way, I wanted him to know that he didn’t need to pay attention to all this, that he was going to make it through. If R.E.M. had sold 5 million copies of Murmur, none of us would be alive to tell the tale. I really believe that. I’d have died with Quaaludes in my blood and a lot of Jack Daniels.” [“Everybody Hurts Sometime,” Newsweek, 1994]

Kurt Cobain: “I don’t know how [R.E.M.] does what they do. God, they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.” [“Success Doesn’t Suck,” Rolling Stone, 1994]

Michael Stipe: “I sent him a plane ticket and a driver, and he tacked the plane ticket to the wall in the bedroom and the driver sat outside the house for 10 hours. Kurt wouldn’t come out and wouldn’t answer the phone. I was in Miami making a record…I didn’t feel like it was my place to get on a plane myself and go to Seattle. I was doing what I thought was the best thing to do at the time. And, you know, frankly I’m not great with heroin addicts. I tried heroin, but it was by accident.” [“Michael Stipe,” Interview Magazine, 2011]

In late April 1994, the band moved to Miami’s Criteria Recording Studios with producer Scott Litt. In Miami, Stipe suffered from an abscessed tooth that further delayed the album’s production. R.E.M.’s recording sessions at Los Angeles’ Ocean Way Recording later that spring found the band behind on their schedule. Their lateness, largely due to the band members’ personal issues, had been compounded by their complicated mixing process, Stipe’s continued lyric writing while the band was supposed to be mixing, and increasing tensions between band members. The four bandmates were staying at different locations in Los Angeles and were rarely present at the studio at the same time. Tensions within R.E.M. peaked at a mixing session at Scott Litt’s Los Angeles home studio Louie’s Clubhouse, where the band briefly broke up. The group’s pressures and personal issues had taken their toll. Eventually the mixing sessions reconvened once the bandmates ironed out their disputes and communication among the friends returned. Buck would later remark that the band wouldn’t have made it through the tough production of the album if they hadn’t been such close friends.

Michael Stipe: “It was pretty rough. There were a lot of life things happening around us–births and deaths. It was a very intense record.” [“Retail, Radio Expect R.E.M.’s Warner Set To Be A ‘Monster,” Billboard, 1994]

Scott Litt: “That’s why it’s been taking so long to mix. We’re trying to figure out how raw to leave it and how much to studiofy it.” [“Monster Madness,” Rolling Stone, 1994]

Michael Stipe: “We broke up. We reached the point where none of us could speak to each other, and we were in a small room, and we just said ‘Fuck off’ and that was it.” [Reveal: The Story of R.E.M., Johnny Black, 2004]

Mike Mills: “We had a band meeting after the session last night. We have to begin working as a unit again, which we haven’t been doing very well lately.” [“Monster Madness,” Rolling Stone, 1994]

After significant turmoil, R.E.M. finally completed their new album, now entitled Monster, by the summer of 1994. The album’s noisy, electric, and heavily-layered rock sound successfully achieved the band’s initial tour-friendly album goals. Its intricate sonic textures reverberated in a way that completely reversed the intimate, acoustic nature of its predecessors. Songs like the lead single “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Crush With Eyeliner” exhibited R.E.M.’s consistent songwriting within significantly more distorted, rocking tunes.

With this grungy dirge in play, the band’s material found Stipe’s lyrics being pushed back into the mix, a closer reflection of the band’s earlier work. Monster found lead singer Stipe writing lyrics in various characters, a lyrical style he had not explored before. These lyrics found Stipe confronting the band’s recent success and the media pressures that followed. On “King of Comedy,” which was initially titled “Yes, I Am Fucking With You,” Stipe sings: “I’m not your television / I’m not your movie screen / I’m not commodity.” Monster also found the singer reflecting on his sexuality and the rumors regarding this topic that were published in the media: “Make it charged with controversy / I’m straight, I’m queer, I’m bi.”

Michael Stipe: “A lot of records are cerebral, a lot of records are from the heart, this one’s more from the crotch.” [R.E.M. documentary Rough Cut, 1995]

Peter Buck: “This rock record is about space, it’s about noise, it’s less songwriter-ly than our past records. It’s more kind of riff and groove-oriented and, you know, it seemed to be a lot more fun, we were just having a great time playing.” [“Box Set: R.E.M.,” VH1]

Michael Stipe: “It was a good time. A lot of things happened, kind of life things happened, while we were making the record that made it a little more difficult. It was a very challenging record to make.” [Flagpole interview, 1994]

Meanwhile, the album title of Monster, which Stipe insists was selected at random, presents an interesting metaphor for R.E.M. in 1994. The band’s ‘monster’ was manifested in the turmoil that surrounded the album’s recording, in the album’s hard rock sound, and in the recent events that were emotionally draining for R.E.M.’s band members.

REM band

Monster, R.E.M.’s ninth studio album, was officially released on September 27, 1994 via Warner Bros. The album, dedicated to River Phoenix, debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, as well as at no. 1 spots in Canada and the UK. The album’s second single “Bang and Blame” debuted at no. 1 the following January and was the band’s last-ever Billboard Top 40 hit. The initial critical reception was largely positive, with glowing reviews coming from Rolling Stone and Blender. Not every review was positive, with some journalists calling the album’s stylistic change “distant” and “diverting.” Rolling Stone awarded Monster four and a half out of five stars, highlighting the band’s successful stylistic change.

Robert Palmer: “The two or three softer tunes that might not have sounded out of place on previous outings are pointedly sandwiched in the middle of the disc, surrounded by the sizzle of overdriven amps, snarling distortion and aggressive rhythms…Don’t misunderstand: R.E.M.’s exceptional pop craftsmanship, their luminous melodic inventions, their sense of mission – in short, everything fundamental – are still there and shining more brightly than ever.” [Rolling Stone review of Monster, 1994]

Following the largely successful release of the album, R.E.M.’s band members, including the usually private Stipe, cycled through numerous press interviews and media appearances. The band then embarked on their sold-out, stadium-filling world tour in the first weeks of January 1995. The Monster tour included stops in Australia, East Asia, Europe, and the United States. R.E.M.’s bandmates faced the tour with the idea that the band might never embark on such a massive tour again, and their entertaining, let-loose performances reflected this attitude.

Peter Buck: “I’m really looking forward to touring. We’re all kind of excited by it. It’s going to be really great. It’ll be different. It’ll be fresh. I haven’t done it to death” [“Monster Madness,” Rolling Stone, 1994]

Michael Stipe: “I’m dreading [touring]. That’s about all the thought I’ve been able to give it. I love performing, and I love traveling, but the two combined are pretty poisonous.” [“Monster Madness, Rolling Stone, 1994]

David Fricke: “For someone typically depicted in his press clippings as enigmatic, sullen and utterly devoid of pop-star smarm, Michael Stipe is back on the road with R.E.M. for the first time in five years — and having a great time fucking with our expectations.” [“Monster On The Loose,” Rolling Stone, 1995]

Daniel Geller: “The band hit the stage with the enthusiasm and energy of men half their age and rocked like there was no tomorrow…On this evening, Michael Stipe finally seemed to let his guard down and go back to the frolicking, dancing fool we all remember from previous, less-jaded R.E.M. tours. He flailed and sang and did that thing with his hands real well.” [Monster tour review, 1995]

While the Monster tour succeeded at first, with all four band members firing on all cylinders, personal and medical issues ensued in the same fashion that delayed the album’s recording. One of the band’s medical issues was significantly worse this time around. On March 1, 1995, R.E.M. was performing in Switzerland when Bill Berry fell ill with an intense migraine during a performance of their song “Tongue” and was rushed to the hospital.

Peter Buck: “It was wintertime in Europe, and we were cold the whole time, and everyone’s head hurt, and everyone’s stomach hurt, and no one was eating. But none of us had ever collapsed onstage, so we figured Bill must really be sick.” [Alec Foege interview, Rolling Stone, 1995]

MTV News: “90 minutes into the concert at the Lausanne’s Patinoire Wednesday night, Berry was stricken by a migraine and was taken to the hospital. As Joey Peters, the drummer from Grant Lee Buffalo finished up R.E.M.’s set, Berry underwent an emergency craniotomy to clip off the aneurysm, which was on the right hand surface of his brain. There was no internal bleeding reported, and Berry, 36, is expected to remain in the hospital for the next week to ten days.” [MTV News report, 1995]

R.E.M. cancelled their tour dates through April 20th and the future of the Monster tour, as well as the future of the band, was in limbo.

Peter Buck: “First thing I thought was, ‘We probably won’t ever play in public again.’ If the doctor said, ‘Bill just can’t tour,’ then we would have said, ‘Fine.’ We would have come home and made records. I’ve always known this could just go at any minute, so it wasn’t totally a shock to me.” [Alec Foege interview, Rolling Stone, 1995]

Miraculously, Berry made a quick and successful recovery from his aneurysm and craniotomy and the Monster tour soon continued, quickly interrupted again by Mills’ surgery to remove a benign intestinal tumor. With their health still relatively in check, R.E.M. began making light of their constant medical problems. Stipe once joked during a concert: “Welcome to the Aneurysm Tour ’95!” Later that summer, Stipe required surgery to relieve a hernia.

Michael Stipe: “[The hernia] comes from singing. The doctors told me that. Hard singing. The force of singing is like the beginning stages of labor. It takes a lot to push the notes out.” [Tom Moon interview, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1995]

Although the Monster tour was the band’s most financially successful venture in their 31-year history, it did not come without significant personal and physical struggle.

REM 1994 (2)

While Monster received mostly positive reviews immediately following its initial release in 1994, the album is now often seen in a negative light. It seems that although the album achieved the band’s goals in creating a tour-friendly rock album, this abrupt stylistic change forces the album in the shadow of its hugely successful predecessors. The album contains strong songwriting and interesting instrumental work, particularly from guitarist Peter Buck. However, fans might have seen this as a departure from what made them enjoy the band’s work in the first place.

Mike Mills: “If [fans] come expecting “Shiny Happy People,” I hope they’re disappointed. That song is an aberration. If that’s all people know about R.E.M., they’re certainly in for a shock and a surprise.” [Brian Armstrong interview, “A Current Affair,” 1995]

Michael Stipe: “We managed as people to not ever feel like we were compromised by external forces, to not feel like we capitulated to an idea of what a pop band should be, or what a rock band should be, and to not give in to the industry or the market” [Gry Blekastad Almås interview, NRK, 2011]

Sean McCarthy: “While I was fishing through the ‘R’s, one girl next to me said ‘One thing you can count on when you go into a used record store is at least five used copies of R.E.M.’s Monster will be on hand.’ At that moment, I saw a solid brick of orange CDs, proving her point.” [“Strange Currency,” PopMatters, 2010]

R.E.M. was a band that never compromised its artistic vision and integrity, even in the face of commercial success, critical acclaim, and rising fandom. When you view Monster in this light, it becomes easier to see why it’s become classically-maligned in recent years: fans of the band were probably expecting more songs like “Everybody Hurts” or “Nightswimming.” The mid ‘90s found the band reeling from their immense success and returning to their rock roots to craft a noisy, sometimes dirge-like album that exists in sharp contrast to their pop albums of the early ‘90s. Although it is not R.E.M.’s greatest album, it achieved the band’s goals and expectations for the record and produced strong, worthwhile rock and roll material. The album and the extensive tour that followed found the group dealing with enormous personal and medical issues, tensions between bandmates, a laborious album recording process, and growing pressure from fans and journalists. What is important to note is that the band persevered through it all, continuing to stay true to their craft and overcoming their ‘monsters’ until the band’s disbandment more than sixteen years later.