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Billboard @ Bonnaroo 2009: 10 Must-See Bands Itinerary

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Billboard — Thanks to a deep love of live music, being outdoors, the symptoms of heatstroke, sweaty insomnia, flimsy sandals and people who are baked out of their minds and dancing where I would like to be walking, I’ll be covering Bonnaroo this weekend (with the extremely talented and personable Troy Carpener) for the good folks at Billboard.com, making us one of a very select few people to be covering this festival for The Internet.

We’ll be doing daily recaps, blogs, video interviews, etc. etc. social media multimedia one-man mobile uplink unit-ing all weekend long at Billboard’s Bonnaroo Page.

And of course we’ll be tweeting Bonnaroo, one of those sentences I cannot explain to my Dad no matter how long I talk, so point your personal World Wide Internet reading machine device to twitter.com/billboarddotcom and laugh laugh laugh when the effects of the heat render us almost entirely incomprehensible.

First up, our brief and ragingly incomplete 10 Must-See Bands Itinerary can be found here.

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Live review: Jimmy Buffett at the Time Warner Pavilion, Raleigh

Billboard — Jimmy Buffett has dubbed his 2008 summer tour “The Year Of Still Here,” a title that denotes a bemused disbelief about the 61-year-old troubadour’s continued success that is, needless to say, profoundly insane: Barring some sort of catastrophic crash in the grass-skirt industry or the subprime blow-up pool market, what possible reason could there be to get this show off the road?

Buffett’s beach blanket blowouts are as reliable as the waves, the stars and – to be slightly less breezy and escapist about the whole thing – the gross receipts at the end of each prove that. The shows are sellouts and the songs are staples. Sure, pavilion seats – and beers, alcoholic squishies and goofball plastic cups – are expensive as hell, but Buffett has held face value for the lawn seats to around a relatively ridiculous $30 for years. And the continued spot-development of small, friendly hamlets built from inflatable items, pickup truck pools and insta-tiki bars in parking lots across the land is also an annual spectacle.

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Interview: Gnarls Barkley are aware of their own oddness and uniqueness. Can you dig it?

Billboard — The title of Gnarls Barkley’s sophomore record is the first, and probably last, funny thing about it.

If the band’s 2006 debut, “St. Elsewhere,” seemed to sail in from some neighboring planet — a pop disc that smeared itself with psychedelic weirdness, a vague sense of the creepy and a knockout Violent Femmes cover — the follow-up is a much trickier trip to the dark side. (“I’m not doing so good,” a serious-sounding Cee-Lo Green intones on the otherwise effervescent opening track, “Charity Case.”)

But where there’s darkness there’s light, Green says. And as Gnarls Barkley — Green’s musical partnership with Danger Mouse — prepares for the April 8 release of its highly anticipated sophomore set for Downtown/Atlantic, “The Odd Couple,” he’s making sure to keep focused on both.

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Lyrics Born can go ‘Everywhere at Once’

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NEW YORK (Billboard) — During the writing and recording of his new disc, “Everywhere at Once,” Bay Area rapper/producer Lyrics Born found himself constantly going head-to-head with a demanding coach: himself.

“The only thing constant in this world is change,” he said. “So what I said to myself was, ‘How can I change, how can I still be relevant, how can I function in today’s music world and have the attention of the people, yet still be able to bring that lyricism to it?’ That was the challenge with this record.”

Born Tom Shimura and one of the founding members of the Bay Area’s seminal Quannum Projects label and roster, Lyrics Born addressed that challenge in recording his new set, due April 22 on Anti-. The 18-track “Everywhere at Once” maintains the rapper’s gift for firing off tommy-gun rhymes with deceptive ease.

Following up 2003’s “Later That Day” and its attendant remix record, 2005’s “Same !@#& Different Day,” he went into the writing process with the philosophy that he’d do “what nobody else is doing — or at least what I haven’t done before. (The record is) funky, it’s soulful, it rocks, it’s hip-hop. There’s a really broad range of issues and emotions being covered.”

The rapper is downplaying his label shift to Anti-, saying that Quannum had a distribution deal with the label several years ago. “It’s really no different,” he said. “I still make the records I want to make, still work with the people that I always worked with. I’ve always said I didn’t care if I came out on a major or on an indie, as long as I could make the records I want to make.”

Key to the new album was the speed with which it was created. “I’ve been in the situation, back in the day, where you take two years to make a record, and you kind of dwell on things a little bit too much,” Lyrics Born said. “I don’t like to do that. I like to write a record, record it, listen to it, mix, print, done. It takes a while to learn how to get into that zone.”

He also had to learn to work with a live band. Lyrics Born’s 2006 live effort, “Overnite Encore,” featured members of his band, a conceit that carried over into the sample-free new record.

“That was my next challenge, something I hadn’t done yet,” he said. “I thought, ‘I can’t really call myself a producer until I’m able to do that.’ And I did that. The biggest thing was that I wanted to write my own material, write my own melodies and lines, and (having a band) was the next logical step for me.”

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Interview: Patterson Hood and the Drive-By Truckers’ future looking ‘Brighter’

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Billboard.com — “Our agenda was just to go in and let the record reveal itself, and the record that revealed itself ended up being longer than we had anticipated.” –Patterson Hood

 

First things first: the Drive-By Truckers’ seventh record, “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark,” due Jan. 22 on New West, is extremely long. Nineteen tracks long, can’t-burn-two-seconds-more-on-the-CD long, long enough that Patterson Hood says it would have probably been a double album if the record company had been remotely OK with it.

“It seems like it’s telling a story,” said Hood, “It’s really not. It’s more like it’s implying one.”

This won’t be surprising to anyone who’s been behind the Truckers, one of rock’s most unapologetically ambitious outfits, over the past decade or so – long records are their thing, have been ever since they began scoring big points with 2001’s line-in-the-sand “Southern Rock Opera.”

What’s surprising is that there’s no overriding theme to “Dark” – the Truckers do concept records like they do, um, long records – to makes it feel as lean as it does, and that it was built as smoothly as it was, given the band’s slightly nuts 2007. “We had more fun making this record than we ever had,” Hood said, “And generally making records has been fun.”

Indeed, last year was what quality health professionals might call a transitional one for the Truckers, who’ve spent most of the past decade subjecting themselves to a relentless touring schedule, evolving into one of the country’s most gushed-over bands and answering God knows how many questions about Southern rock.

It started simple enough – with a break, in fact, their first in years, though their concept of “break” probably isn’t anywhere near yours: band members produced several outside projects and, in the case of co-founder Mike Cooley, had a baby; also the Truckers served as the backing outfit on Bettye LaVette’s Grammy-nominated “The Scene of the Crime.” And while all this was going on, or maybe because of it, Cooley and Hood found songs coming at them at a lively clip.

“I used to write real prolifically, and just being so busy on the road, and being at home with the kid running around, I hadn’t really,” said Hood, the band’s gregarious co-founder. “I definitely still write in bursts, but the bursts were shorter and further apart. Cooley had gone through the same thing – he was a one- or two-song-a-year guy anyway, but he had slowed down to one song every two years,” he said with a customary laugh.

But something clicked over the break: the always prolific Hood shotgunned out something like 50 songs over six months, and the not-nearly-as-prolific Cooley produced nine of his own (“an ungodly number for him,” Hood laughs). Better yet, the burst came at a lucky time personnel-wise: the band got “really, really attached to working with Spooner Oldham” on the LaVette record. “We said, ‘We gotta get him to do (ours),'” Hood said. But before they got much work done, the band in early summer split with third man Jason Isbell, who left, reportedly to drop his long-in-coming (and well-received) solo album “Sirens of the Ditch” (Isbell and DBT bassist Shonna Tucker also divorced, though she got the band).

By way of response, the band regrouped and embarked on “The Dirt Underneath” tour, a mostly unplugged and sit-down affair that found them briefly powering down the rock machine to zero in on the characters and stories in their songbook. “We thought going out and touring and all of a sudden being different would have been uncomfortable, and we had all these new songs anyway, so we thought, ‘Let’s do an acoustic tour and use that as a chance to road-test the new songs,” Hood said. “People will be coming expecting it to be different, let’s give them something a little different.'”

Oldham came along on “Underneath,” as did the band’s freshly baked batch of songs: by the end of the nearly 60-date tour (this is a break year, remember), the Truckers were playing eight or nine new songs a night.

As such, by the time they took them into the studio in June, everything snapped into place. “(The record has) a lot of first and second takes,” Hood said. “I kind of like the way a song sounds when everyone’s struggling to learn it more than the take when it’s all polished. Sometimes there’s more raw inspiration in those early takes, and we always kind of gravitated to those anyway, for better or worse at times.”

It also came together without benefit of a pre-scribbled outline: unlike the pre-shaped “Southern Rock Opera” or “Decoration Day” and like 2006’s “A Blessing And A Curse,” “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” took its form with unusual ease. “It was like we all walked in the door with the exact same vision about this record,” Hood said. “It was never talked about. There wasn’t even much discussion about anything while we were making it, there was never a debate – it was almost an unspoken thing.” (With the exception, Hood says, of “naming the damn thing”: “It wasn’t like we thought about it,” he said, “By the end it was more like comedy. Literally, we were getting the record mastered, and the mastering engineer was like, ‘Uh, what do I put on the file?'”)

A few other new twists: pedal steel maestro and longtime friend-of-the-family John Neff officially joined, adding a pointedly country flavor to tracks like “Bob” and “Lisa’s Birthday,” and Tucker has made good on what Hood says is a long-running promise to write and sing. “Shonna’s written songs as long as I’ve known her, but she’s always been very private about it. This time she walked in the door with a four-track that she’d done in her living room of ‘Purgatory Line’ and “I’m Sorry Huston,’ and she was like, ‘If you wanna do something I’m hip to it.’ We were like, ‘F— yeah!'”

The record also marks the end of the band’s association with New West Records, but Hood says it’s “a great time to be a free agent. I don’t really see us doing a record deal the way record deals have tended to be with anybody at this point. We kind of work our own erratic way; our band is a hard band to manage and unwieldy and a little messy sometimes – we’re not the easiest band to have on your label. But I feel like we have a lot of options.”

As for the record’s decent size, Hood says simply that it’s a 19-track album. “Our agenda was just to go in and let the record reveal itself, and the record that revealed itself ended up being longer than we had anticipated, but none of us really wanted to fidget with it. All the songs seemed to stick together and flow together like one piece of work, so we figured, why fight it? Let it be what it is.”

 


Billboard’s 25 Best Rock Posters Of All Time

Billboard — Like vinyl records, hair metal and Ricky Martin, the world of rock art – album covers, posters and the like — just doesn’t score as much attention as it once did. These days, the few non-video visuals that remain part of the music experience usually get shrunk down to fit on an iPod screen, if they show up at all. One holdout that’s not only still alive, but thriving, however, is the custom designed concert poster. So many shows, so little time? Here’s a look at the 25 coolest posters in rock history. And yes, it’s undeniable: San Francisco figures prominently.

Check out the collection here.


Billy Joel hosts “Christmas in Fallujah”

billy-joel.jpgNEW YORK (Billboard) — Billy Joel has broken his self-imposed retirement from pop for the second time in a year, but he’d almost rather you didn’t know that.

The second new Joel-penned single since his last pop album, 1993’s “River of Dreams,” is called “Christmas in Fallujah” and hits iTunes December 4.

There are two major differences between it and the classics that have made him one of the best-selling artists of all time. First, there’s no piano on it, and second, there’s barely any Billy Joel on it, either. Read the Billboard story here.


Interview: Beastie Boys “Mix” it up on new instrumental record

beastie_boys_02lBillboard — Long-known for their relatively epic waits between studio releases, the Beastie Boys surprised fans this spring with the announcement that their new record would arrive a scant three years after 2004’s “To the 5 Boroughs.”

But the Beastie Boys are also long-known for sudden stylistic left turns, and shortly thereafter, they revealed the album would be comprised solely of instrumentals.

As promised, “The Mix-Up,” due June 26 via Capitol, goes heavy on the groove, especially the splashing, crashing Meters-inflected funk the band has been consistently serving up since 1992’s “Check Your Head.” But there’s not a rhyme to be found.

“If we were trying to maximize our demographic or whatever, I’m not sure we’d come with an instrumental record right now,” says Michael “Mike D” Diamond, whose bad self runs things on the drum kit throughout the album. “But I think we have to give people who’ve been listening to us some credit. They’ve gone to different places with us already, in terms of the influences we bring to the music we make, so hopefully they’ll be able to hang with this curveball as well.”

The curveball began taking shape about a year or so after “To the 5 Boroughs” was released. “With ‘5 Boroughs,’ we were each working on beats, sitting in front of our laptops and samplers,” Diamond says. “This time, we thought, ‘Let’s do a 180 from that, and sit down and play some instrumentals and see what happens that way.’ We just didn’t really stop until we finished.”

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The 12 tracks on “The Mix-Up” are all new and were never seriously considered to contain verses, although Diamond concedes the band is mulling highly tentative plans to release a second version of the record with guest vocalists. “The more we kept working on these songs, the happier with them we became, and the more confused in terms of where there was room to put vocals on them,” he says.

Tour plans are still in the works—including some U.S. dates that haven’t been announced yet. Some shows will be instrumental-only and some will be more “traditional,” but that will be determined on a market-by-market basis. (Prior to their recent two-night stand at the Sasquatch Festival in George, Wash., the Beasties played a surprise show for several hundred fans at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe.) “We’ve got plenty more work ahead of us,” Diamond says. “We kind of have a pretty broad list [of songs] to pick and choose from.”


Interview: Thom Zimny brings Springsteen’s “Seeger Sessions” home

Billboard — The last time Thom Zimny edited a Bruce Springsteen concert film, it was “Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75,” a recording that — as the legend goes, anyway — was literally forgotten and left in a cold dark corner of Springsteen’s vaults.

When the tapes were finally discovered a few years ago, it took Zimny a while to figure out what they contained, as they had no labels, set lists, track titles, scribbled-on notebook paper, sticky notes — anything that would have offered the slightest hint what he was looking at.

The new “Live in Dublin,” due June 5 via Columbia, was probably a little easier. Shot at the Point in Dublin over three nights in November, it captures the final stand of Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions band (credited on the live set as only The Sessions Band) as it roars through nearly two dozen traditionals (“Jesse James,” “Eyes on the Prize”), resculpted folk and rave-up gospel numbers (“When the Saints Go Marching In,” “This Little Light of Mine”).

There are also radically reconfigured takes on songs from Springsteen’s own catalog, including a 10-minute big-band take on the “Nebraska” track “Open All Night,” a shimmering, violin-flavored “Atlantic City” and an effervescent run through “Blinded by the Light.”

To capture “Live in Dublin,” which will see release as a concert DVD, a Blu-ray disc (both featuring stereo and 5.1 surround sound), a two-CD release and a combination DVD/CD package, Zimny set up nine HD-ready cameras in the Point and operated under a rule he uses whenever shooting Springsteen in performance: try to stay out of the way.

“In all my experiences working with Bruce, the music is the central focus,” he tells Billboard.com. “You want to make sure the energy is translated, but in a way that doesn’t interfere with the dialogue between performer and audience.”

Zimny’s relationship with Springsteen began back in 2000, when he edited the Emmy-winning “Live in New York City,” which documented Springsteen’s reunion tour with the E Street Band. Since then, he’s worked on 2003’s Emmy-nominated “Live in Barcelona” and Springsteen’s 2005 edition of “VH1 Storytellers.”

“Each film really has its own unique journey,” Zimny said, “With ‘Storytellers,’ for instance, it’s a smaller space and you want to incorporate the sense of audience. But this was a really different experience. It’s such a large band, and a great band, and it’s crazy to see the effects of all the performers in this footage.”

Zimny adds that Springsteen plays as big of a role behind the scenes as he does on stage. “Bruce and (manager Jon) Landau are always involved in the filmmaking process,” Zimny said. “Bruce is very aware of that film process; he’s always been there in the cutting room. I imagine it’s what it’s like to be working with him as he makes the albums: all the details are examined, from the writing to the stage design to how things translate to screen. All the choices are tried. That’s the beauty of the cutting room: that’s where you find the soul of the piece.”


Travis, the boy with no name and “The Boy With No Name”

Billboard — Travis is a band that likes its mystery, which is the first of two reasons that singer Fran Healy named the Brit-rockers’ fifth album “The Boy With No Name.” The second is that the record is named for his new son, who, for nearly a month, quite literally had no name.

“Not for about three or four weeks (after he was born),” Healy said. “At some point I sent an e-mail to a friend with a photograph and I called it ‘The Boy With No Name.’ Months later, I was looking for another e-mail, and I saw that one, and I thought, ‘Brilliant!'”

In addition to sounding cool, Healy said, the title of the record, due May 8 via Epic, fit into an accidental style the band has developed. “With ‘The Man Who’ and “The Invisible Band,’ (our titles) have this mysterious aspect to them. We like the anonymity of it anyway. We quite like to be small in the artwork, and just hide in the music.”

Coldplay may be the face of sweeping, swooning British rock over here, but Travis predated Mr. Paltrow and company by a good four years and, in essence, helped make the world quite safe for the arrival of grand, verdant British rock with a heavy emphasis on thick melody, frequent piano and a tendency to write choruses that sound fantastic over deeply emotional scenes on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Travis’ debut, “Good Feeling,” was released in 1997, and the breakthrough “The Man Who” came out in 1999; press materials enjoy pointing out that “The Man Who” was purchased by one in eight British households. For his part, it should also be noted that Chris Martin said earlier this year that Travis more or less invented Coldplay.

But as his band prepares to make a grand re-entry into the sprawling and lucrative British music scene, Healy seems unusually calm and readied. “The pages of the diary are filled with equal amounts of trepidation and excitement,” said Healy from his London home, the titular son (eventually named Clay) making cameos in the background.

In fact, The Real Boy With No Name appeared during a four-year gap between the new record and its predecessor, 2003’s “12 Memories.” Healy said the hiatus was absolutely, entirely by design. “It just felt that sometimes one has to go away into the wilderness to find oneself again, the whole 40-days-and-40-nights thing,” he said. “It’s been a brilliant time for us. We’ve all had a lot of life to do. Babies were made, and we got to wake up in the same bed every day for a while.”

The band didn’t stay dormant during that downtime; they began screwing around in the studio on “Boy” material, first with Brian Eno, then with co-producer Nigel Godrich. They didn’t keep up the strictest of schedules. “Two weeks in the studio, three months off, two weeks in, four months off,” said Healy of the leisurely pace suited the band’s ambitions. “The most important thing is that we’ve had time to wrestle with the songs we’d written. The best test you could ever give a song is coming back to it a year after you’ve recorded it, and finding that it’s still fresh.” The sessions were fruitful, too — the band ended up with around 40 tracks, some of which they’re keeping in pocket for the next record.

“It was very unusual,” Healy admits. “The only time you have that in your career is just before you get a record deal. But if you’re a proper songwriting band, it’s wise, if you can, to chill out and have a sabbatical and recharge your batteries. Songs are the currency of the business, and if you write your own songs, it can take a long while. I think everyone needs to take a break,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Britney really needs to take a break!”

Whatever the reasons — the time off, the baby, the recharge — the vibe is tangible. Where “12 Memories” was darker, “The Boy With No Name” is a, sunnier proposition that, while hardly rewriting the Travis playbook, includes some Iggy Pop bounce (“Selfish Jean,” which is not about Richard Dawkins), a dedication to Healy’s son (“My Eyes”) and an appropriately airborne first single (“Closer”).

Healy said that such relative optimism wasn’t by design, but just the next step in his songwriting process. “All of our records are really good ways to sort of mark my life. ‘The Man Who’ was a breakup record, back when I was getting chucked by my girlfriend. ‘Invisible Band’ was more finding someone new, a new love in my life. ’12 Memories’ was a dark affair, cleaning out the closet. So I guess maybe this one’s connected to a new beginning,” he said, adding with a laugh, “But there’s always a slight dark cloud on the horizon, isn’t there? Every silver lining has a cloud.”


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