Interview: Passion Pusher

Questions and answers with James Gage of Scottish fuzz-pop project Passion Pusher.

Many of my favorite Scottish bands like Cocteau Twins, Mogwai and even Belle and Sebastian (to some degree) are noted for having a reverb-washed and dreamy sound. Which bands have most influenced your musical style?
Probably more American bands if I'm honest; I've found a lot of great Scottish musicians now that I've started recording and gigging but before that it was mainly lo fi garage rock like White Fence and Ty Segall that opened me up to simply recording with whatever's at hand, so I think that heavily influenced my slop pop style.
I did used to listen to a hell of a lot of Iggy Pop and Joy Division around 12/13, so that may have creeped in on the style I play at the moment.
I've found that one of the most noticeable components of your music, and your biggest similarity with the bands you mentioned (especially with White Fence) is your rapid output of music in all sorts of different styles. Do you find that recording a lot of different tracks in a short amount of time is more satisfying than working on a small amount over a large amount of time
It seems to just be the way I work. I completely hate recording a small couple of songs over a long period of time.
I begin to hate my work very fast so I rush it until I think it's okay and then just throw it out there with whatever else i recorded at the time.
My approach to song writings very weird, I don't really have many full formed songs. I kinda just bash them out and try and learn them back from my recordings to play at gigs etc
But it's always been music over lyrics for me. I am a truly terrible lyricist and my voice sucks haha.
Has releasing your music on bandcamp led you to meet new people?  
Yeah it's introduced me to a lot of great musicians who get in contact for splits etc
I actually have a split EP coming out on cassette by the end of January with an American artist Dead Katz, and I have the collab album being planned between me and The Furnsss singer Brendan Dyer, Nadnerb
What are your favorite bands you've discovered through bandcamp?
Definitely at the moment The Yawns, an awesome band from Glasgow, Real Swell, Dead Katz, Brazilian Money, Franco years, Elvis Depressedly.
Though if i'm honest I do get nearly all my music through friends putting stuff on bandcamp or finding it on bandcamp.
Kinda my go to for new music
Which of your own EPs or albums are you most pleased with?
Probably My Least Favorite Book, Bury Me Next To My Father and The Devil and; Me
I think My Least Favorite Book is the one I listen to most. It's a bit more dream-pop oriented than the rest of the music you've posted 
Yeah I'm actually planning on grouping The Devil And Me and My Least Favorite Book into one release and putting that onto cassette myself.
Was thinking of doing a small limited run of my dream pop material.

What's a typical Passion Pusher gig like? Do you have a full backing band?
It's just me and a drummer.
They're usually pretty hectic and crazy.
Me and my drummer, the wonderful Matti Art, usually get super drunk before and during and just kinda have fun
What other bands have you gone to see this year?
I saw the Growlers with Tomorrows Tulips around October, i saw some pretty weird and crazy bands in Bosnia when i went there around and I think I saw Animal Collective at the beginning of the year or it might have been the end of last year.
To be honest I've spent most of this year in my room recording.
I saw Animal Collective last month actually. 
Do they still have the whole mouth stage set up?
It was amazing when I saw them.
It was a crazy light show.
Avey Tare and Deakin were wearing jump suits.
And Avery Tare had dyed his hair blue.
I was super bummed they never played Winters Love though.
Have you covered any of their songs?
haha I have actually they're pretty terrible covers.
I covered Winters Love and Banshee Beat when I was about 14/15 on my ex girlfriends apple mac.
That was when I was putting stuff out under the name Portasound.
So what do you think is in store next year for Passion Pusher?
My album/ep thing Bury Me Next To My Father is being released on cassette through the label Cath Records.
I have the split with Dead Katz being put out through Electropapknit, a Glasgow label.
Got a bunch of gigs booked
Hopefully things will start to take off and more people will start listening.
fingers crossed.


Review: Vellhouse - Nyoro-n Demouya

Vellhouse - Nyoro-n Demouya
(Self-Released 2013)

Vellhouse's debut demo is a prime example of an album you can't judge by its cover. Upon seeing the cover art for Nyoro-n Demouya, I prepared myself to take in another helping of sugary pop-punk in the vein of Baby Ghosts or Tiger Trap. The band even chose to themselves as being "cutecore", further conjuring three-chord pop and twee boy-girl harmonies What was emitted from my speakers instead was a major surprise, and a majorly good one at that. From beginning to end, Nyoro-n Demouya gallops ahead with an avant-hardcore ferocity that sounds like the child of Minutemen and Bad Brains. Minneapolis-based three piece Vellhouse seems to be hell-bent on setting Potemkin expectations for their listeners and bursting out from behind them, each time revealing a new layer in their sound and songcraft.

This tendency is most notable on "Bro Team", which at first whirls like a tornado, flinging rapid-fire, tinny lead guitar riffs and clanging powerchords in every direction. The lead vocalist shouts in attempt to be heard over the storm, sounding more than a little like Corin Tucker on Heavens To Betsy's "Me and Her". The heavy winds subside soon, revealing a minimal, vaguely dub influenced song. You can't get too comfortable listening to this demo; there are just too many changes and so much pummeling the listener's eardrums at once to really grab on an take hold of the music. But, when it comes to hardcore, it think that's the mark of a band's success. Vellhouse keep you coming back in attempt to finally tame their frenetic auditory assault, but will elude you each time. Don't underestimate cutecore.


Phoning It In with: Juan Wauters

In the debut episode of my new interview podcast, Phoning It In, I give Juan Wauters a call to talk about his upcoming solo LP, North American Poetry, which is set to be released in February via Captured Tracks. Wauters, who also fronts The Beets, chats with me about library cards, album cover art and The Ramones. 


Review: whatnot - "Demos 2013"

whatnot - Demos 2013
(Self-Released 2013)

What is it with all the the Arthur references I've been seeing in lo-fi/emo albums lately? Ever since I interviewed  Pennsylvania's Ratburn earlier this year I've seen at least 5 other bands that allude to the long-running children's cartoon in some form, and, as a devoted fan of the show myself, I find this to be a welcome trend. Arthur's low-key, somewhat nostalgic look back at a late-90's adolescence matches perfectly with what I've dubbed the "tumblr-era emo" scene. Connecticut's whatnot is the first of these bands I've seen that's completely devoid of vocals, but that doesn't prevent it from being one of the strongest I've recently heard.

whatnot, the solo venture of Rock Bottom Records owner David O'Brein, resembles a less cinematic version of Explosions in the Sky, tight punk riffage interposed with shoegazy moments of shoegazy ambience. "insert pretentious song title here" is the best example of this sort of contrast, opening with a twitchy post-hardcore that bursts into a peal of post-rock tremolo picking. "all killer #nofilter" is the most placid of the EP's four tracks, layering orchestral synths behind Beach Fossils-esque rhythm guitar loop. whatnot is one of the most accessible post-rock acts I've listened to due to his relatively short track lengths, consistently compressing symphonic emo beauty into individually wrapped, snack-sized bites.


Interview: The Pizza Underground

The Pizza Underground:
The Interview
New York's Pizza Underground recently gained a significant amount of attention due to their inventive, pizza-themed Velvet Underground covers and the presence of their drummer/kazoo-ist Macaulay Culkin (of Home Alone fame). Band member Phoebe Kreutz was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the band's origins.
What inspired you to start a Velvet Underground covers band? How did you go about assembling a band?

We love the Velvet Underground and we couldn't understand why no one had ever rewritten their songs to be about pizza. The time had come. We assembled the finest musicians possible.

Is writing pizza themed parodies more difficult than regular songwriting? Which lyrics are you most pleased with?
Writing pizza-themed parodies is by far easier. All the heavy lifting has been done. We just have to figure out what the original lyrics mean. And then make them about pizza. Our favorite lyric is when we replace "Sweet Jane" with "Pizza". It has an elegant simplicity to it that really comes through.

Speaking of pizza, what's your favorite topping?

Red pepper flakes
How did you go about recording the new demo? I really dig the raw recording quality
That quality can only be achieved by standing around a computer and singing after a few beers.
Are there any plans to record a more polished sounding album? Have you written any non-pizza themed songs for the project?
All songs will continue to be pizza-themed. We are considering offers to make another recording. It may or may not be more polished. There is something to be said for cheap pizza.
Were you in any bands prior to the Pizza Underground?
We've all performed in different bands. I (Phoebe) play solo and with a band called Urban Barnyard that only writes songs about animals in the city. Matt currently plays trumpet for Two Kazoos, Kung Fu Crimewave and Jagged Leaves. Deenah raps in L.A. Boobs. Macaulay has appeared on stage with Har Mar Superstar and Adam Green. Austin was in Stockholm Syndrome. After so many different projects, it is interesting that this is the one that caught fire. 
Which bands are you currently into besides the Velvet Underground?
We love our local acts: Ching Ching, Toby Goodshank, Little Cobweb, The Johns, Give to Light and Schwervon!
Have you, or are you planning to, play any live shows as a band?

We are planning all kinds of live shows. That's where the fun is.

Which do you prefer, cassettes, CDs or vinyl?

Vinyl fits the nicest into a pizza box. 

Listen to the Pizza Underground's debut demo below:


Cassette Corner: Mormon Girls - "The Farm Sessions"

Mormon Girls - The Farm Sessions
(Norwegian Blue 2013)
As fun as it is for me to get wrapped up in subgenres and subcultures, there are times when nothing can be as satisfying as pure, unadulterated indie rock. In an age that demands gimmicks and an unorthodox recording quality to stand out in a crowd of indie upstarts, it's surprising to hear such an honest effort like The Farm Sessions, the debut release by Canadian quartet Mormon Girls, and it's even more surprising to find it on cassette. With its raw, but also lifelike sound quality, (as the title suggests), this EP melds Dinosaur Jr's You're Living All Over Me with the mid-tempo college rock delivered by R.E.M. and Ned's Atomic Dustbin.  
The opening track, "Boy", opens with a crawling, but heavily distorted riff that sails into the air, leaving behind a small shower of sparks. The drums are curt and to the point, filling the sparsity between the guitar notes. Mick Hayward's vocals ease into the tune, and his singing fits somewhere among Ben Gibbard's and Michael Stipe's. As the instrumentation takes back center stage, a second guitar and a nimble, slippery bass line join the song and the drums fire back a bit more aggressively, creating a wall of nearly concrete sound. Mormon Girls' excellent variation of dynamic and texture sounds great on tape, and the live recording style just makes the instrumental crescendos hit that much harder. Especially benefitting from this treatment is "Bears I". Its growling post-punk power chords transition seamlessly transition into post-punk lead guitar as Hayward's vocal delivery overloads the microphone, the highlight of the tape.
Since this is the first cassette release on Norwegian Blue Records, I must note that the design is very nice. The scattered arrangement of font on the cover art seems like a touch from an early Captured Tracks 7", and the music is pressed on translucent red tapes, which always look great in my opinion. You can buy it here.


Cassette Corner - Abandoned Houses - "Untitled Spirals"

Abandoned Houses -  Untitled Spirals
(Rok Lok 2013)
Delayed gratification may not seem like a term that anyone would associate with pleasure, but in the realm of music, especially lo-fi music, the two terms just might be synonymous. You'll listen to a tape for the first time in the car like I did this afternoon, and one or two verses, maybe a chorus, will really resonate with you. And the trouble is that afterward, you can't even remember how that line goes, or even if it exists at all. Songs seem to exist in ideal form in our minds. They may sound great as we listen but they are made perfect as we forget them. And on the way home from school today, this tape was perfect to me, and I keep coming back to it, searching for the sacred moment of warmth that overtook me while adrift in the passenger's seat. That constant search is what makes an album pleasurable, though. I enjoy prolonging sleep, preferring to spend as long as I can in the divide between consciousness and dreams before giving in to slumber. Similarly, it is in the struggle to find perfection in the music of others that I find the true enjoyment of an album. Each note and verse is scoured over, as if I were studying a text in another language, and like any true scholar, I begin to appreciate how the song's nuances comprise its whole.
Anyhow, pretensions aside, this album is really great. I compare a lot of music to Lou Barlow's work, but Abandoned Houses' Untitled Houses sounds almost exactly like the acoustic b-sides available as bonus tracks on Sebadoh albums. Higher notes peel off of the fruit of constantly throbbing bass, and whispered vocals seem like an after thought. The lyrics are mantras supplemented by scattered thoughts, yet everything about the EP seems so complete. Things really fall together on track 3, a cover of Blink-182's "What's My Age Again?". I hadn't heard the original before, but the interplay between sparsity and intensity is perfectly executed as pluckings melt into chords.


Half-Gifts Christmas Compilation Out Now


Top Ten Singles and Splits of 2013

10.) Just Handshakes – “London Bound”
With a lightly plodding bass line draped in frosty, filigree touches of lead guitar, “London Bound”, digs itself into the dirt, finding its footing behind a chalked white line. Female vocals waver slightly, trying to fit into place in time for the cry of the starting pistol, or, in this case a subtle blast of dreamy guitar distortion and a snare fill. The track lurches forward, its muscles tightening sharply. A chunky, Cure-esque guitar riff mimics the vocals in the chorus as the track seems to float on flickering hi-hat cymbals. Just Handshake’s debut single is beautifully reminiscent of New Order’s “Ceremony” in a way that many have attempted to match, but few have succeeded at.

9.) Barlow – “Cindy 99”
With the immediacy and brevity of a commercial jingle, “Cindy 99” is a saccharine slice of pop genius piped through busted speakers. Channeling the monochromatic lo-fi pop of the mid 90’s, Barlow lives up to its namesake, Lou Barlow, the bassist of seminal fuzz-rock band Dinosaur Jr. They’re coming out with a proper LP next year, so keep your eyes peeled.

8.) bEEdEEgEE – “Flowers” (feat. Lovefoxx)
“Flowers” serves as an oasis of warm, nostalgic pop on an album of impenetrable trap-influenced electronic. For the second single off of his album SUM/ONE, bEEdEEgEE teams up with Lovefoxxx of Brazilian synthpop act CSS to produce four and a half minutes of 70’s-infused psychedelia. There’s a bit of a magical feeling to the track, and it seems to burst with life. The bass synths that open the song breathe warmth into the ears of the listener, but are soon overtaken by bouncy keyboards and sparkling drum machine samples. It all builds up to the track’s centerpiece, its unforgettable chorus. Three other worldly chords flood the mix, overshadowing the vocals they accompany. Fans of Fleetwood Mac and Washed Out alike will love “Flowers”. Listen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ptBWZ4c8CM

7.) The Beets – “Silver Nickels + Golden Dimes”
With their blatant disregard for musical polish and wonderful, crayon-drawn album covers, it’s impossible to ignore a Beets release. “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” is of particular interest, not just because of its mildly offensive album artwork, but because both sides of the disc are covers of songs that famous radio personality Howard Stern wrote in middle school. The Beets adolescent energy is well-suited to replicate these songs; the drums sound as if struggling to keep up with the clanging, percussive guitar and Juan Wauters’ strange vocal delivery. This Beets single is garage rock in its purest form.

6.) Wade/Healing Powers Split Cassingle
A split tape between two bands who are similar enough to compliment each other but aren’t completely indistinguishable. Newcastle’s Wade take up my favorite side of this tape with two hard-hitting, riff-heavy emo assaults, muffled by their own lo-fi recording qualities. I really dig the vocals, and the fuzzy, washed out tone. On the other side, the twinkly lead guitars on Healing Powers’ “Death Valley Driver” provide placid contrast to the hoarse screamo vocals. It’s not the sort of tape I’m used to listening to, but it’s surprisingly satisfying. [Review from Half-Gifts issue 5]

5.) The Socials – The Beast Bites
Though they've been around since 1994, The Beast Bites is the first vinyl release by Cincinnati punk trio The Socials. Despite the band's veteran status, one shouldn't expect to find any signs of maturity on this 7-inch record. The band's sound is built around a juvenile furor, the gritty rage of pre-Rollins Black Flag conjoined with the stark simplicity of Olympia, Washington's punk heyday. Throw in the Bikini Kill-esque vocal stylings of guitarist Mrs. Communication and you've got a 4-song EP that exemplifies everything I love about punk music: short, noisy songs that don't take themselves too seriously, putting fun above all else. It's not available to stream online, so you'll have to buy a copy to hear it for yourself.

4.) BRAAINZZ – “Ode 2 Lil B” (feat. Slide Show)
A reverent hymn to the basedgod, this BRAAINZZ single demonstrates the perfect balance between beauty and noise. A warbly loop of reverb-laden guitar notes provides a pretty, but non-distracting accompaniment to Slide Show’s gorgeous vocals, which sound quite similar those on A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, if it were sung by a female lead.

3.) Technicolor Teeth – “Blood Pool”
If this single’s cover art didn’t clue you in, Technicolor Teeth’s “Blood Pool” combines Bauhaus’ noisy Gothic experimentation  with the shoegaze delivery and knack for pop hooks that recalls Ride’s “Vapour Trail” Its b-side, “Drips”, is a bit more upbeat, featuring janglier guitars and vocals that are rather prominent. A must-have for fans of any shoegaze subgenre.

2.) Alex G / RL Kelly Split Record
RL Kelly’s new material eschews the keyboard that was heard throughout her well-received debut EP that dropped in February, and opts for a more minimal, grittier vibe. This was a smart move, as the raw, stripped back production puts more emphasis on keeping the tracks moving, and I feel it put a bit more pressure on Rachel Levy to focus on writing memorable hooks. The subtle shift in atmosphere takes RL Kelly to the next level, her vocal delivery and crunchy guitar tone on “Everyday” recalling the sound of Lois Maffeo’s K Records band named after Courtney Love. Featuring minimal percussion and overdubbed vocals, “Fake Out” offers the most replay-ability of all the songs on the split. Alex G’s “Magic Mirror” carries the record into psychedelic territory. Its woozy vibe pairs well with heavily distorted guitar. The fuzz clears from the air for his next two offerings. “Adam” is a stunner, making use of many more instruments than I’m used to from the bedroom pop genre, booming drums, warbling synths and piano in addition to his acoustic strumming.

1.) Mrs. Mole - “Sjon”
I first heard this song in a CD that came with an issue of a German indie-pop fanzine called Transendieren Exzess Pop, and found myself in awe. It was unlike anything I’d heard this year, adopting an orchestral and vaguely folky delivery that can only be compared to Clogs, a side project of The National. What’s most notable about this track is the woodwind instrument (a clarinet I think?) that weaves in and out of hurried acoustic arpeggios that reminds me of the theme song to Oswald, a cartoon about a blue octopus. The arrangement of instruments grows more layered as the tune continues. Banjo pluckings, cymbal washes, booming bass piano notes each slowly build to a climax, when a new vocalist enters the song at about 3:30. Truly an amazing track that’s well deserving of the number one spot on this list.