What do you get when you cross Dave Grohl, Fleet Foxes, and a duo named Beach House? The first episode of Musicology With Kurt! Join me on my debut as I discuss all three of those in a new weekly show.
- Footage of Dave Grohl performing on his Guitar Throne can be found here.
- Beach House - 'Sparks' can be found on the Sub Pop Youtube page here.
- Fleet Foxes music can be downloaded off of iTunes here or any decent music/music streaming site.
Our theme music is provided by PodcastThemes.com - thanks!
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2:40 to 8:28
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Hello and welcome to the first episode of Musicology With The Eagle. Yes, you heard that right - this is the first, number-one, numero uno, debut episode of this podcast. And I'm your host, The Eagle. Now I'm not an actual eagle, but I think I just resemble one.
You might be wondering what the show is going to be about and if I could perhaps give you a ‘mission statement’ for it. It's really right there in the name: musicology. Now that’s the study of music. And that's really what we're gonna be doing here. Now that doesn't necessarily have to be an academic exercise; I’m just a music fan who just loves what he loves. I take a passion in the background and history and all the things behind the scenes that make music interesting, and I just really wanna convey that with you.
Whether you’re a big music fan like myself, or an actual musician, or a person that just likes music but has just got a nine-to-five job and struggles to keep up to date with what's happening – I wanna cater to all of you. And that's really what it's gonna be about; it’s gonna be music discovery, it's not gonna be necessarily a ‘music theory power-hour’. I’m not a particularly well-trained musician – only did a bit of piano and drums in high school. But I’m really gonna look at the context and stories and the influences of artists that we love - or might not even know of. Really, it’s about discovering new things here, and that's what we’re really gonna be doing. I’m open to switching things up with the content of the show. We’re gonna have some regular features, such as in-depth discussions and talks on latest news, having a look at new releases, and retrospectives on things that I’ve listened to recently. Mainly just to ‘edutain’ - that's really what I think is the best way for someone to learn about something, is to be entertained at the same time. And I’m also going encourage a bit of audience participation and feedback because I really want to cater to the people that are listening and if you've got any ideas about what you would like to hear on upcoming shows, I’m open to hearing it. And you can do that on my Soundcloud page, or Twitter and Facebook accounts - let me know what you think.
So let’s get into the first segment of the week. Now in the past week, it's been Independence Day in the United States - July Fourth. A day customary to have fireworks shows, concerts, big celebration. And it was the twentieth anniversary of a very important debut album: Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut.
They hosted a big concert in Washington D.C. at RFK Stadium and they had a lot of opening acts and the main event themselves – the Foo Fighters - but if you’re a music fan that’s been following the Foo Fighters in the past couple of weeks, you might’ve noticed that Dave Grohl broke his leg at a concert on June the twelfth. And that’s pretty surprising to see that he was back on stage and the way he did it was pretty extravagant. The guy helped design a throne of guitars to sit upon, and if you're a fan of Game Of Thrones the TV series, it resembled the Iron Throne quite a bit. And for the whole show he was seated on that and still continued to rock out.
It's incredible how the guy does it; I mean even how the injury happened- three weeks before, during ‘Monkey Wrench’, their second or third song of the night, he tripped and fell off the stage, broke his leg, dislocated his ankle, was taken backstage yet only fifteen minutes later was he back on stage again with two medics that had propped his leg up on a chair. He just continued to finish the gig for the next two and half hours. Regardless of whether you are a fan of his music or whatever; you’ve gotta have some respect for that, that's just incredible.
But what it did mean though is that the guy is human and they did cancel five gigs after that event. Two of those gigs were pretty big ones; one of them being at Wembley Stadium in the United Kingdom, as well as a headlining gig at Glastonbury. Biggest festival in the world; British fans were obviously quite distraught at this but they accepted that these things happen. But the problem is showing up a week later at a gig in the United States? Yeah, it didn't go down too well with British fans but probably by that point, he could've recovered enough that he was able to perform. And actually, I saw a news article last night that states that he’s starting to heal up a lot quicker than expected.
All this just shows is that Dave Grohl as a person has really been such a role model for people that just want to play music and be passionate about it. The commitment that he’s shown right from the first album that they recorded- if you didn’t know, he recorded that album entirely by himself in one week. Now that’ss everything: vocals, guitars, drums, bass, the works. Granted, one guitar solo was recorded by a friend of his who was in the studio at the time. But other than that, this was a fully-focused vision of one man and he's really carried their legacy since then. He's been the face of the band; members have come and gone- only Nate Mendel the bassist has been around since the beginning. But it’s a bit similar to Bruce Springsteen in a way that it’s his band, but he’s got an almost backing group behind him. And looking at the first album of theirs, Foo Fighters’ self-titled, it's really just a garage recording. He even said at the time that the lyrics- he just made them up on the spot; he didn’t have enough time, he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Recording one part here of bass, another part here for guitars- didn’t really have much time to look into the lyric. About a week ago I actually listened to the album and my first thought was “what the hell is he singing about?”. Some really bizarre lyrics there, but I suppose that's what happens when you’re just freestyling on the spot.
He’s also not the only musician that has played through injury or disability in a show, and I actually did a little bit of research into this because I thought this is quite fascinating and I haven't heard of many artists doing that - continuing to play after being injured.
One of them that also happened recently was The Edge of U2. He fell off-stage at a recent gig this year for their ‘Innocence & Experience Tour’ that U2 are going on. Fortunately he didn’t injure himself that badly; he was able to actually continue the gig.
Another two artists who have fallen off the stage include Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. He’s actually fallen offstage twice for the same song- yes, the song ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady’, he fell off one year apart. It’s pretty bizarre, and that was quite recently in about 2009. Back in the Seventies, good ol’ Meatloaf, the quite larger than life character; he also fell offstage and although he didn’t perform straight away, he continued to finish the tour with a broken leg and performing from a wheelchair.
Now some other interesting accidents that have happened onstage include James Hetfield of Metallica; he got into a bit of a pyrotechnic mishap in the early Nineties. It caused some some serious burns on his arms and his face; that was pretty traumatic and he actually continued the tour, although not playing the guitar – just singing. Another one includes Travis Barker of Blink-182. When Blink-182 had broken up in the mid-2000’s - or went on hiatus - he had broken his arm and didn’t even realize it for a good couple of weeks until he complained to his doctor and the doctor had the check-up and said “Travis, you've broken your arm” (laughter) He continued to perform one-armed – yes, a drummer performing with one arm. It was incredible that he was able to do that. But he’s the first drummer that's been able to perform one-armed. If you’re aware of the hard rock band Def Leppard; their drummer in the early Eighties got into a car accident where he actually lost his arm in the process. The recovery was difficult but Rick Allen continued to perform with the band and they released their biggest album, actually, Hysteria, in 1987 using his drumming and an electronic drum kit to play along with that. Yeah, so give it a look if you haven't seen a picture of Dave Grohl on his ‘Dave Of Thrones’ (laughter) - it was quite an amazing piece of news this past week.
Moving on to our next segment: a new release from this past week. If you've heard of the indie pop duo Beach House; they have a new single out – it’s called ‘Sparks, and it's gonna be off of their new album Depression Cherry that's coming out on the 28th of August.
Now if you haven't heard of them before, they’re a bit of a misnomer. Beach House do not really make sunny, bright, cheery music. They actually quite gloomy and sort of like a chamber pop sort-of style of music, but still very beautiful, intoxicating, and mysterious. Their new song ‘Sparks’ marks a lovely shift in sound – a gradual but still significant shift in their sound from the indie pop of their last album, Bloom, in 2012 to a much more bolder approach in their music.
This is mainly down to the use of vocal loops and a more guitar-heavy sound. Now the sort of sound that they’ve had on previous albums has been a sort-of very dreamy, looping guitar which kinda just gently carries you along. But on their song ‘Sparks’, it actually starts off with this odd vocal loop that you just can't quite place what she’s saying; it sounds like these wordless sighs. But actually the band said that it was taken from a sound check that they did at a gig in Bristol, UK. Their sound technician was just playing around with the PA system before the gig, and suddenly captured a little bit of lead singer Victoria Legrand’s vocals and started playing it through this looper, and immediately the band said “Hold your horses, keep that- we wanna keep it and use it”. The band even held up their iPhones to record it and possibly that was used in the final version.
But either way, it begins the song on quite a different tone to their previous works because immediately, this crunchy, smeared guitar comes through- it’s really jarring, full of distortion. Like a claustrophobic sequence of notes, and it gets you excited because there’s a bit of chaos in the mix here. It recalls a sort-of shoegaze sound.
The shoegaze genre - if you haven't heard of it - it's a genre that’s a sub-genre of alternative rock in the late Eighties/early Nineties. Basically the music press called it that because the artists were very detached from the crowd; they fiddled the lot with their effects pedals and were always looking down at their shoes. Just like how grunge was given a name by the press, the same thing happened with shoegaze. It was a very psychedelic sort-of genre; lyrics were not really emphasised that much and one of the key bands of that era, My Bloody Valentine, was the definitive sound of it: very distorted mix of guitars and drums and all that sort-of modern day psychedelic music. They’ve kinda taken a little bit of that sound into their new song ‘Sparks’. It's really noisier than what we've come to expect from the band. And it also still has the hallmarks of their previous albums. We’ve got a bit of an old organ part which underpins the song, and also in the second half it opens up into more reverb-heavy, intricate harmonious collapse of sound after the initial chaotic opening.
As a fan of their music before, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face when I saw how they’ve changed their sound like that. And it really gets me quite excited for the new album because in an interview that they had with Bob Boiler of NPR Radio’s ‘All Songs Considered’ podcast, Victoria said that the first time she heard Alex - the guitarist – play that sequence of notes on his guitar, she had never heard him play like that before. It gave her an excitement which translated into her vocal performance, and informed the song. So really, I'd suggest you give it a listen and it'll be an interesting album. Depression Cherry (laughter) Bit of an odd name, but it could be quite an invigorating experience.
The next segment that we have is a bit of retrospective; I like to do this with my music. I collect a lot of music, store it normally on my iPod. Got about fifteen thousand songs or so. I like looking back at what I’ve collected over the years and frequently trying to re-listen to what I've heard before, that I haven’t listened to in a while.
One of these artists that I’ve sort of neglected and had an ambivalent approach to in the past is Fleet Foxes. They’re an indie folk group from Seattle in the United States. It sort of mixes baroque pop with chamber pop - similar to Beach House but in a much more folky direction - to create a really intoxicating blend of vocals and guitars. It sounds like the late-Sixties pop - you know when you had the good old days of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Beach Boys - when they were at their prime. They have a real sense of an orchestral approach to things. That's really what they're about.
I’ve known some of their songs over the years and listened a couple of times but never really paid attention much to their acoustic folk. They’ve only released two albums; one was their self-titled debut Fleet Foxes from 2008, and then they had a follow-up in 2011, Helplessness Blues. Both these albums, looking back, it made me just realize how similar they are to another two groups I'm a very big fan of: Band Of Horses and My Morning Jacket.
It’s really down to the vocals. Lead singer Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes has just got this amazing Southern-accented voice - it seems, even though he’s from Seattle (laughter) Or the band’s from Seattle. It carries every song and it just cuts through the foliage of galloping beats and lush, sparkling guitars and odd instruments that they've used. Some instruments on their second album include a water harp, a marxophone, Tibetan singing bowls- I mean these guys really love to experiment with their sound and just touch on so many different sort of styles of folk music.
With lyrics that capture the sense of adventure talking of mountains and birds, in particular, and family and death, it's really quite an experience. I currently live in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East - one of the flattest countries in the world; it’s a desert. To hear such imagery it makes me long for pine trees and forests and lakes and places like that because it's such a dense experience.
I really recommend listening particularly to their first album, Fleet Foxes. Song highlights I would say would be ‘White Winter Hymnal’; it’s probably one of their most well-known songs. Other songs would be ‘He Doesn't Know Why’, ‘Ragged Wood’ - which is sort of folk rock - and one of my favourite songs by them has to be ‘Oliver James’. It's the last song on their first album. It's almost completely a capella and the whole band can really sing.
What I was interested to discover this past week is that the drummer that joined them after their first album; his name was Josh Tillman. He actually is quite a musician in his own right and he left after recording their second album and went on to reinvent himself as Father John Misty. I’ve listened to some of his music as well in preparing for the show, and he’s a great singer. It's amazing how much talent can be in one band and you kinda don’t feel so bad when a bands splits up and they go on to do great things other than that. A great example in comparison with Fleet Foxes would be Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Those were four artists that in their own right had multiple solo albums, even albums together with each other. But when you put them all together, it was like lightning in a bottle.
I seriously recommend giving them a listen; they’ll just brighten your day, I thoroughly believe that. And if you’re a person who appreciates album covers; both their album covers are really intricate affairs, and their debut album had a Renaissance painting. Really weird if you start looking at it closely; some really odd things going on in there. I really think they are a complete package. The sort of scope of their work; it’s comparable with something like The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album in the mid-Sixties, where it goes beyond just a couple of acoustic guitars and some guy singing harmonies. They really have a sense of craftsmanship with their music, and I'm happy to say that I was mistaken to ignore them and not give them the attention they’ve deserved over the past few years.
Well that's about all the time we have for this week. If you’re listening to this on your morning commute, or whilst washing the dishes, or however people consume podcasts nowadays – I want to thank you for tuning in and supporting this podcast. I look forward to this journey of music discovery and discussions in upcoming shows. I am The Eagle, and this has been Musicology With The Eagle. See you next time.