Interview with indie-popper When I Was 12

November 5, 2009

*cough* Hi… well, um, Twee is back, sorta.  You know?

Depending on which circles you hang around in, Twee is either hailed as “punker-than-punk“, or maligned as “music for bedwetters.”  Nevertheless, the most misunderstood pop genre continues to tout cuteness over coolness and has the market cornered on Growing Up Awkward.

Twee has always been the most unapologetically emasculate sect of “Indie”, but it always seems to hover, smirking, just on the outskirts of popular music.  It’s too catchy to ever be marginalized, but it’s just too fey for the trampy-or-macho American taste.  Pitchfork’s excellent essay of all things Indie Pop, “Twee as Fuck” said it well:

…”indie” and “alternative” became popular in precisely the hard-rocking, masculine, centralized form that indie pop usually shied away from. The mainstream honed in on the underground’s hard-rock side, and, acts like Superchunk and Modest Mouse would go on to become Important Bands; acts like Tiger Trap and Heavenly would, for good reasons and bad, fade into history. And there on the television, ironically, was the K-tattooed Cobain, still wearing his cardigans and covering songs by the Vaselines.

So there twee sits, like the kid not picked at recess, rewarding anyone willing to seek it out.

Maybe it’s because of the excellent Juno soundtrack, but twee artists seem to be on the rise again.  The playfull Architecture in Helsinki, sallow Vivian Girls, the spider-fearing Boy Least Likely To, and the self-referential spunk of Los Campesinos!, have all attracted the blogosphere masses in the past few years (and, oddly, a large number of television commercials to boot). Fast on their heels are artists like New Jersey’s When I Was 12 – producing the sonic equivalent of a painfully joyous (or joyously painful?) prolonged adolescence.

I ran across WIW12 searching a now-defunct music site and really enjoyed their aesthetic.  The endearing strum-hook-and-harmony style burrows deep into your head and doesn’t go away — like a library volunteer into Franny & Zooey.

Earlier this year their principle songwriter, Adrianne, was nice enough to swap a few Q&A emails with me before their first non-basement gig of her young career:

Brian B (BemBang): First things first… Who’s in the band, or is it a “swinging door” type thing where there’s a core and people come and add vocals and accompaniment etc?

Adrianne Gold (When I Was 12): First things first… When I Was 12 consists of two main members: Adrianne Gold and Camille Bayas. Then some other beautiful revolving members; our friend Brianne Evans did some harmonies on “Dear Eskimo” with her angelic voice, and my guitar teacher, Mike Yelle assisted with lead guitar. When we play live friends Jenn Diaz plays bass, and Will Samtur on drums. We are so lucky to know so many wonderful people.[ …] It’s been a little hectic we’ve been getting offered shows and things lately!.

BB: Good to hear you’re busy… I hope things are going well. Is there some sort of tour in the works? When I hear the name “When I Was 12″, I immediately think of both the charming and awkward aspects of that transitional age… was that the aim?

AG: We still have two more months of high school so we’re not exactly planning a tour but we’ve been getting offered a lot of shows lately! I suppose so about the name, I mean we definitely try to be charming and I definitely am a bit awkward!

BB: Ha. Since there’s not much info about you guys online I couldn’t tell if you were in high school, or if you were just channeling your inner-highscooler to write the songs.

Your music, lyrics, production, etc seem very attuned to what I would consider classic indie-pop/twee. That is to say; sweet, clever, and fixated on youthful experiences… even when the person singing may be 30+ years old.

Ha. You’re the real deal, apparently.
What inspiration do you draw from … musically or otherwise?

AG: We are the real deal! We write about things on a high school level because it’s what we know! It’s what we are familiar with. But like I said only until June! We are so excited for summer and then of course for college! We are inspired by so many things.

Camille really likes bands such as: Los Campesinos! Beirut, The Submarines, and Seabear. I on the other hand am insanely inspired by Bright Eyes (of course, who isn’t!) Tilly and the Wall, Mates of State, and Saturday Looks Good to Me. We were actually just featured on an online mix CD, “Birdsongs, Beesongs – Eardrums Spring Compilation 2009″ and so was Saturday Looks Good to Me! So that was exciting to see!

Inspiration otherwise would of course include every boy i’ve ever known, even if only for five minutes. The boys who’s hearts I’ve broken, the boys who have broken my heart, and the boys who have yet to break my heart. Boys in bookstores, coffee shops, New Brunswick basements, and any other place you can imagine. However! I did write about my grandmother, “You Me & Symmetry” is about my grandmother, I love her. We still do arts and crafts together.

BB Hahahaha yes, the album is definitely heavy on the boy-crazy.
So…  you brought it up…  you’re from Jersey.

NJ tends to get a bad rap; some of that probably because you’re so close to the self-proclaimed cultural capital of the world.

Many big names spent time in New Jersey… , George Clinton/P-funk, Les Paul, Sinatra, Springsteen among them. What are your feelings about ‘repping from a place that has been home to many musicians but also the target of many a joke?

AG: Well I’m going to college in Philadelphia so soon i’ll have that rep and I can’t wait! It’s such a great area and so many opportunities arise there! However New Brunswick is a pretty fun area in New Jersey just last friday, we played a basement show there! Such a great vibe, I mean those are people who love and understand music! Unfortunately I cannot say the same for those at my high school!

BB: Congrats on going off to school next Fall… where in Philly? You’ve started playing a few shows in the area — will you be doing that this summer as well?

AG: Yes! We have a show tomorrow in fact, and then another one this coming friday and then the next! It’s all very exciting, I’m even starting to manage my stage fright a bit! I’ll be attending Drexel University actually so I’m absolutely pumped!

BB: That’s really cool that you were on the same comp as Saturday Looks Good To Me. How did that whole Birdsong, Beesongs thing happen? Are you familiar with any of the other artists on the album, or are they from all over?

Do you find yourself playing alongside / opening for the same bands… like, is there a like-minded scene in Jersey, or are you on your own singing to whoever listens?

AD: To be honest I am not sure how we were spotted but I am glad! The band Thunder Power from Omaha Nebraska on Slumber Party Records spotted us on the compilation and have now asked us to play a show when them they come through New Jersey touring! And we got invited to play a show in Brooklyn! We’ve been having so much fun and meeting so many wonderful people!

BB: What happens after this Summer. Will Camille be in the general area? Will When I Was 12 go on the back-burner once you start school up again?

AG: Camille will be attending Cornell, (Congrats to her! It’s really a great accomplishment!) On the contrary, once college begins, I hope When I Was 12 will be going full throttle! Because I write most of the music, melodies and lyrics, I am going to look for permanent members once I arrive on campus! You’ll have to wish me luck!

Advertisements

Boys & Girls Mix

August 28, 2008

For a while I’ve been wanting to make a mix of bands that swap vocals between guys and gals, but, as I really like that sound, I feel like I have too many songs that fall under that category. Like, ya know, Belle & Sebastian, Stars and half of my itunes.

 

So, for this ‘lil boy/girl mix I was trying to avoid some of the obvious tracks, but they pretty much seeped in anyway. I also tried to stay in the folk/pop vein so you’re going to miss some of those great hip-hop/electro girl/boy vocals, namely: Positive K’s “I Gotta Man”, Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Postal Service’s “Nothing Better”, Streets’ “Get Out of My House”.

 

Because of the inherent drama of boys and girls harmonizing, most of the songs have some “relationship” content, be it lovey-dovey or breakup-y. Also, it makes for a pretty even-keeled, laid-back type mix and one which you should be careful while listening to if you’re driving and feeling a bit sleepy. So, after all that, enjoy!

 

  1. Intro – The Pixies
  2. Handle with Care – Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
  3. Two Ways – The 1900s
  4. Honey Child What Can I Do? – Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
  5. Who Were You Thinkin’ Of? – Biirdie
  6. Secretly Minnesotan – Tullycraft
  7. Death to Los Campesinos! – Los Campesinos!
  8. Say Yes if You Love Me –  Acid House Kings
  9. PS (Interlude) – The Books
  10. Happy New Year – Camera Obscura
  11. Can’t Ever Sleep – Saturday Looks Good To Me
  12. Friday Night – Elephant Parade
  13. Jorge Regula – The Moldy Peaches
  14. Come Back From San Francisco – The Magnetic Fields
  15. Souvenirs – Architecture in Helsinki
  16. You Really Gotta Hold On Me – She & Him
  17. All You Need Is Hate – The Delgados
  18. Know-How – Kings of Convenience
  19. Les Etoiles Secretes – Ida
  20. Ghosts Are Good Company – Bishop Allen
  21. Ice Storn, Big Gust, and You – Tilly & The Wall

The Zipped File & Album Art can be found on Mediafire here:

http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=992c799b40f3f811dfbd00fb952479db185df0bdeae2cf0b  

 


Conor Oberst, Christian Rudder: A Comparison

August 23, 2008

I’ve never considered any commonalities between Conor “Bright Eyes” Oberst and Christian “Bishop Allen” Rudder, but now, after growns-up Conor has cultivated a striking resemblance to Rudder (in his new video for “Souled Out” (<– clever spelling!), I may have to re-think things. A quick breakdown:

Name:

  • CR: Christian Rudder
  • CO: Conor Oberst

Hails From:

  • CR: Little Rock, Arkansas
  • CO: Omaha, Nebraska

Current Location:

  • CR: Brooklyn, New York
  • CO: Brooklyn, New York

Occupation:

  • CR: Guitarist / songwriter for Bishop Allen
  • CO: Singer/songwriter who collaborates often, most recently with the Mystic Valley Band but notably with his collective, Bright Eyes, among many other projects.

Bands played in during adolescence:

Secondary Education:

  • CR: Bachelor of Arts, Harvard
  • CO: English Major, University of Nebraska (left to tour with Bright Eyes)

Current Label:

  • CR: Charm School (co-owns)
  • CO: Merge

Former Label(s):

  • CR: Polyvinyl
  • CO: Team Love (owns), Saddle Creek, Barsuk, among others

Indie Film Connections


Did you know…:

  • CR: Writer for now-defunct comedy site TheSpark.com, co-creator of dating site OKCupid.com
  • CO: Sorta smiled in his Jr. High School yearbook picture

Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – “Souled Out”

Bishop Allen – “Click, Click, Click, Click”


Coldplay: Follow-up Thoughts

June 16, 2008

Really good comments from my pals Chuck and Tim, and also in a few drunken bar conversations this week. A few more points, and clarifications on my Coldplay rant below:

Bombastic, challenging albums will always exist, thank God. I have nothing against broad experimentalism (even when it is unsuccessful), and quite frankly would hope every artist continually pushes themselves to create, and challenge their own fans in the process.

Songs like Deathcab For Cutie’s new “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the soaring Sam’s Town, even Green Day’s concept-y American Idiot are all good examples of this … and all good albums. I’d also throw out there Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Half the Radiohead catalog, and as you guys mentioned: Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper, irrefutably yes; incredible albums that redefined pop music. Also, the failures … Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, Bob Dylan’s Street Legal, these are bold movements, sometimes embraced, sometimes disregarded.

A lot of those albums and songs we’ve listed above challenge the rules of rock music, be it in content or sonically, and prove you can create (and succeed?) outside “the formula”, and ultimately push what people consider popular music.

I think Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head is an incredible album, a completely unexpected jump, and rightly heralded as one of the best albums of 2000. Rush… could be added to those albums listed above — an LP that changed the way you think about a band and their capability to expess. For Coldplay, that album was sonically daring, revolutionary, even confrontational, but this success exists completely outside the realm of injecting yourself in socio-political conflicts.

I’m now referring directly to the “Violet Hill” video (released virally-only). It opens up with Department of Defense test colorbars, a rocket missle launch with Bush overdubbed with monkey sound effects. The rest of the video focuses on various political figures dancing, bomb/firework footage, and George Dubbs conducting a “war orchestra” while Tony Blair plays backup guitar.

Here’s the thing: This is very “safe” criticism. They’re taking potshots at Blair, who stepped down from being the British PM more than a year ago, and a lame-duck President who is already the most universally-loathed man to ever hold the position. This is easy, safe, empty criticism.

Mind you, criticizing these two was not always okay to do, and had this focused outrage came out 2+ years ago, I would be a lot more impressed and receptive to the message. For instance the Dixie Chicks (of all bands) who saw massive radio station boycotts, their records burned, and received death threats after expressing their displeasure with the Texas-born Prez.

Or, when Conor Oberst sang “When The President Talks to God,” live on The Tonight Show, asking the middle American crowd if they think George Bush “ever smells his own bullshit,” live on national television; three years ago. At that point, as I mentioned before, Chris Martin was more concerned about making trade fair.

Coldplay alt video for “Violet Hill” 5/20/08:

Bright Eyes, Live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno ~5/04/05: