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Kopecky Family Band will drink to your start-up

Kopecky Family Band, the Nashville indie pop sextet with no family members actually related by blood, put on one of the best early sets at Outside Lands a couple of years ago (check out the video, below). Now they’ll return to the Bay Area for a headlining gig at the Independent on Tuesday, Sept. 23. Soon after, they should be completing a follow-up album to 2012’s “Kids Raising Kids.” I interviewed vocalist Kelsey Kopecky for The Bay Bridged, the the story will run in a couple of days. Here are a few more things you may not know about them.

You guys first bonded in 2007 over a board game, so the story goes. Which one?

It was “Catch Phrase.” At the time, I kept it with me or had it at my house. It’s always a good icebreaker. We even used it in our last band photo shoot. None of us really love the camera, but we were enjoying just playing the game and eating Doritos.

You’ve been through the Bay Area a few times. Do you have any favorite memories?

We had the best time a few years ago. We rented a house on airbnb. It had a hot tub. It was really awesome. It was actually our drummer, David’s, birthday. … There are obviously a ton of start-up companies, and all our friends that we went to college with that live there are part of the different start-ups. So we started a drinking game where any time someone said ‘start-up,’ you had to take a shot. I don’t think we actually (had to) play very long. 

You’ve guest written to a blog about faith, as well as health and mental wellness. How important are those things to you?

I grew up in a Christian environment, so faith was always something that was a ritual in my life that, through prayer and through a code of ethics, became a structure that I think was ingrained in me. I’m so thankful for that foundation. Now as I grow up …,  because I’m so connected to God, I can’t help but want to explore and to learn more about this bigger connection. Even to study other religions and understand this beautiful practice through ritual of different types of physical prayer and different types of devotion.

Kopecky Family Band

Quick Takes: U2, “Songs of Innocence.”

If it’s not as good as “Achtung Baby” or “The Joshua Tree,” U2 have failed. That’s one prevalent barometer to judging a new U2 album. That’s a flawed way to judge, because those two albums are flawless. It doesn’t mean U2 can’t create another masterpiece, though. Is “Songs of Innocence” another U2 masterpiece? That’s not the point of this review. It may end up that way over time. Rolling Stone gave “Achtung Baby” 4.5 stars and “Songs of Innocence” five. I bet they’d love a do-over on the former. So let’s not rush to judgement.

What I do want to discuss is the effortlessness, the breezy feel of this album. U2 spent more than five years coming up with it, but the end product makes it look like Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Jr., and Adam Clayton had no problems. In other words, it doesn’t feel forced like their previous two outings, 2009’s “No Line on the Horizon” and 2005’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” “Bomb” concentrated too much on creating a hit. It did well commercially, but through the lens of time, did nothing to energize the band’s fan base. “No Line” had a few terrific songs that belong in the cannon, such as “Unknown Caller” and “Magnificent,” and a few other good ones; it felt like they were trying to hard for another reinvention. 

With “Songs of Innocence,” U2 stopped caring about singles (it was given away for free, and you should stop complaining that someone gave you a gift. Don’t like it? Regift it.) and awards (because the physical version doesn’t go on sale until October, it’s not eligible for Grammys until next year). While it took three producers to get the thing done, it feels like a natural progression. It’s the album that “Bomb” should have been, with an acceptance of the musical world around U2, which includes indie bands trying new things. With this album, U2 appears to accept that the contributions of the indie music community are important.

I’m not entirely sure that, as Bono has said, “Songs of Innocence” is U2’s most honest look into their lives. The songs of U2 have, over the years, ranged from songs about God and war, to songs about girls, to songs about a higher calling. Throughout that time, they would take a detour to songs about family. This album narrowly focuses on “songs about U2 as they were getting started in the ’70s.” It’s just as much about the world around them at the time as it is about themselves. But on the first (and 14th) listen, the songs have a kind of life to them that has been lacking in U2 over time. This album may not have the big radio hit; though I’d argue that “Iris (Hold Me Close),” about Bono’s mother, and “California (There Is No End To Love),” with an intro of the Beach Boys-meet-the-theme-from-“Nightmare Before Christmas” and a great hook, should do well. But overall, this is U2’s strongest album since 2001’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”

(Early) Grade, based on the criteria above: A

Listen: "California (There Is No End To Love)," "Iris (Hold Me Close)," "Raised By Wolves," "Cedarwood Road," "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight," "The Troubles."

And, for fun and so you know the place I’m writing from, here are U2’s albums in order of my preference. It’s too early for me to place “Songs of Innocence” in this list.

  1. Achtung Baby
  2. The Joshua Tree
  3. All That You Can’t Leave Behind
  4. The Unforgettable Fire
  5. War
  6. Boy
  7. Zooropa
  8. Pop
  9. No Line on the Horizon
  10. October
  11. Rattle and Hum
  12. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
  13. Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1

Songs of Innocence

Radio Roman: “Locomotion” - The Stone Foxes

You have roughly 2.3 seconds to gather all of the energy in this car chase of a song. That’s not enough time for you to keep up with one of the Bay Area’s best up-and-coming bands. If you live locally, you’ve got several of chances to catch them in action in November, with their residency at The Chapel. If you’re elsewhere, you’d better get on it. They’re on tour this month.

The Stone Foxes

And here’s a video from the summer of 2013.

Thanks to those of you who followed today. I write about a lot of kinds of music. Some you will like, some you won’t. Hopefully I will help you discover something new. I do love U2, and I’ve seen them more than 50 times.
WORLD EXCLUSIVE: How Bono found Lykke Li

I couldn’t believe it when U2 released a complete album yesterday. I didn’t think they had the guts to “pull a Beyonce.” Yeah, there were rumors, but still. I figured we’d get an Apple ad and maybe a new song. That’s it. As the shock was wearing off, I remembered that I had an interview with Lykke Li coming up. The same Lykke Li who contributed vocals to a standout song on “Songs of Innocence,” called “The Troubles.” Serendipity!

I’d never share part of my story ahead of time, and I’m writing a story on Lykke Li in the next couple of weeks. But I realized I can’t sit on this either, because there’s a lot of hungry U2 fans who are waiting to devour any info they can get on the new album. So here goes.

Am I your first post-U2 album interview?

Yeah, you are. I didn’t even know they released it or anything. I was in physical therapy laying on my stomach on a bench getting my shoulder worked on, and my assistant came in and was like, “Hey, I’m sorry to bother you, but you have to answer me really fast. We have to put a quote up.” And I was like, “Whoa, it’s out?” You know what I mean? I didn’t even know if I was going to be on it (the album).

They didn’t tell you for sure that the song made the cut?

I had no idea. You do things, and you just don’t know what’s going on.

When was the song recorded?

I did it twice. First, I did it a year ago, or even further, maybe a year and a half ago, in L.A., and then I think they changed key. And then I did it again in London this summer.

Contributing to other people’s work, is there any less anxiety for you than writing your own?

Yeah, of course. It’s more like, “Hey, you want to come over and work on a song?” It’s like going over and having a cup of tea. It’s really interesting for me to get hired in that way as a singer, and two, it was crazy when I tried to do that song, it was not fully in my key, and I realized that I’m not a real backing singer. That’s actually a pretty hard job to do, backing up Bono. And he was like, "Come on, girl, you can do it!" Kind of like leading me, and I realized, it was very fun to be out of my comfort zone and try to actually deliver professionally.

How did this collaboration come about?

Oh, I don’t know. They asked me if I wanted to be on it, and Danger Mouse was doing it at the time. I like Danger Mouse, and U2 is like the biggest band in the world, so I thought, “Why not?”

Does the song hold any special meaning to you?

Of course. (When) I listened to it for the first time, and I really loved it. It think it’s very deep on an intuitional level. I can relate to the lyrics.

Lykke Li

Watch this video I filmed in August. See her when she goes on tour.

Erasure: Newfound Optimism

Check out my story about the return of Erasure in Paste Magazine.

To read more about how Bell got his mojo back, click HERE.


Erasure’s Andy Bell on getting his mojo back

A few weeks ago I spoke with Andy Bell, one-half of Erasure. Bell was still in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he was playing a role in a one-man play semi-based on his life’s experiences. I wrote a story about Erasure’s return to the U.S. for Paste Magazine, and one thing Bell and I spoke about are the different roles he plays with Erasure and in the play, “Torsten the Bareback Saint.” The Bay Area show is Nov. 1 at the Fox in Oakland. I’ve been told the story is running next week.

Here’s a few parts of the interview that didn’t make it in to the story.


You’ve said that “Snow Globe” (2013’s holiday album) was a test to see if you and Vince could still write together. What constituted success?

We did some of our really best writing that we’ve done for a while, which gave us the impetus for “The Violet Flame” record. It gave us a bit of an inspiration, I suppose, or a bit of oomph for us to get going. We haven’t done anything since 2010, so it’s been a while. So it encouraged us. 

Are the lyrics on “The Violet Flame” (mostly describing the joys Bell was feeling about life with his new partner) mostly representing your feelings, or are Vince’s also in them?

I don’t think it’s really so much to do with Vince. I try and kind of (make them made-up). They’re not based on reality. I just try to imagine myself in situations and things.

Is there anybody that you and Vince would like to work with together?

I’m not really sure. You’d have to ask Vince.

How about you personally, then?

I would love to do a song with Annie Lennox.

What kind of song do you imagine yourselves making?

It would have to be a really peaceful ballad.

SF’s Cathedrals find balance in opposing forces

Check out my story about the partnership of Johnny Hwin and Brodie Jenkins in The Bay Bridged.

Read about how the duo was signed by Neon Gold Records (co-owned by Lizzy Plapinger of MS MR), right HERE on the blog.


How MS MR’s Lizzy Plapinger signed SF’s Cathedrals to her label

I keep telling anyone who’ll listen that I was at Cathedrals' first show. They were the first on a bill at Brick & Mortar for Noise Pop in 2012. I bring that up because they're well on their way now. For my story that will run this week in The Bay Bridged, I actually interviewed them in July. It was after their gig opening for Waters at The Chapel, and guitarist-producer Johnny Hwin put on a party at his creative art space, the Sub, afterward. There were plenty of fans there, but we did the interview in a closed-off “room” with a mattress, some seats, and a strict no-shoes rule (just to help you get into Johnny’s head-space). Stay tuned for the story. Until then, here’s this bonus Q&A with Hwin and singer Brodie Jenkins.

Brodie, do you feel like you balance Johnny’s frenetic energy?

Jenkins: We bring out different sides of each other, and push each other, and challenge each other. Making music can be really taxing and difficult and frustrating at times, and one of the things that I have been continuously mindblown by Johnny is his endless fountain of energy. I’ll be feeling drained or downhearted about something… and he’s got this spark. And he’s also is kind of brutal. He’ll kick me into the next gear and force me to work through the bullshit.

Tell me how you came to be signed to Neon Gold Records. Label owner Lizzy Plapinger, of MS MR, is also a musician and business owner. Is she somewhat of a role model for you?

Jenkins: Absolutely.

Hwin: Role model, home girl, muse.

Jenkins: She’s our boo. We love Lizzy. One of the reasons we were stoked to work with Neon Gold is because we super-resonated with Lizzy and (label co-founder) Derek (Davies).

How did they sign you?

Jenkins: We put out “Unbound,” and it was almost a shot in the dark. We had no idea what people were going to think. We reached out to a few blogs … and I remember seeing Neon Gold’s blog post the same day or maybe the day after, and we were (excited) Neon Gold wrote about it. And then they reached out to us after that. And then MS MR was playing at the Independent. When she was on a break, we frolicked in Dolores Park.”


Radio Roman: “Pass the Rain” - Only Real

That first surf riff seals the deal for me; I’m completely sold on the entire song from that point on. I’ve had the song on repeat for a week. Only Real is from London, and that’s pretty much all I know. That typically wouldn’t be enough to type in this space for me to share a song… but then, this song… this song.

Only Real

Radio Roman: “Run With The Wild Ones” - Jen Wood

Jen Wood sang harmony with Ben Gibbard on the Postal Service’s “Nothing Better,” but she’s got a solo career of her own. The Seattleite’s got an album coming out this fall, and this is the first taste from it.

 Jen Wood

Review, photos and video: Jack White and Curtis Harding at Bill Graham Civic, Aug. 23.

Catch the earth-shaking review at The Bay Bridged.

The video was filmed in HD, so you can increase the size of the window and quality. Sorry about the shakiness. There was a crowd surge during this song.

Radio Roman: “Good and Ready” - Anthony D’Amato

I’ve always known Anthony D’Amato not as a musician, but a publicist (thanks for hooking me up with my Macklemore interview, yo). So a couple of months ago, I was surprised to get a bounce-back email that said he had left his day job to pursue music full-time. The email included links to a couple of songs, at Spin and NPR (so I really should of heard them before). Luckily, Anthony emailed me a copy of his upcoming debut album (released next month; most of which is absolutely terrific, by the way). Here’s one taste, with an endearing video that could really be the plot of a coming-of-age movie.

Anthony D'Amato

Outside Lands Q&A: Vance Joy is today’s singer-songwriter, tomorrow’s librarian
Check out my interview with Vance Joy in The Bay Bridged.

For all of my Outside Lands coverage, including artist interviews (before and AT Outside Lands), a festival preview, live high-def videos and more, visit the archive.

For previous interviews of artists who performed this year, go HERE.

Vance Joy

Outside Lands Q&A: Night Terrors of 1927 prone to accidents, accidentally starting bands

Check out my interview with Blake Sennett and Jarrod Gorbel in The Bay Bridged.

For all of my Outside Lands coverage, including artist interviews (before and AT Outside Lands), a festival preview, live high-def videos and more, visit the archive.

For previous interviews of artists who performed this year, go HERE.

Night Terrors of 1927