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!

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Hush Now

January 5, 2009

Rather than just talk about a band I would recommend going to see tomorrow night at Schubas, I asked Michael Hush, lead of pop-rockers Five Foot Nine, to tell me his favorite pop culture tidbits from 2008 (Now that it’s over).

Before I get all list-y, the Five Foot Nine play fresh, clever, well-arranged rock that most immediately reminds me of Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen. Both bands combine tasteful guy/gal harmonies, tight rhythm sections, and great sing-along choruses with charm to spare. Local swaggering glam-punk poppers The Handcuffs are also playing.

MP3: Five Foot Nine, “Back to the Tunnels” (file courtesy of Radio Free Chicago)

Here’s were Mike’s Pop Picks of 2008.

Books: as for fiction… Here are 3 novels that I really admired this year

  • Denis Johnson, “Tree of Smoke”
  • Michael Chabon, “Yiddish Policeman’s Union”
  • The Lazarus Project, “Alexander Hemon”

Movies:

Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky

  • The Visitor
  • Frozen River
  • Happy Go Lucky

Music:

  • Los Campesinos
  • Bonny Prince Billy
  • The Hold Steady

Commercial:

  • Probably Holiday Inn Express spot where the geeky marketing dude displays his dope rhyming skills on the corner in NY…

Pop Culture Moment:

  • got to be Grant Park on election night


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”


Top 10 Albums of 2007

January 11, 2008

Well. It’s been nearly a year since blizz-ogged on this page. But, I’m inspired by the STiTP/Kerchief Valhalla list, to post my own top 10 of the year. Like I do sometimes, I have to mention albums that are supposedly AWESOME but haven’t got my lazy-ass around to listening to.

Top 10 Albums of 2007

10. Y.A.C.H.T., I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real*
This one needs an asterisk. It took till ’07 for me to find, and fall head-over-heals with the bleeps, bloops and diary entries of The Blow. Early into 2007 Blow’s beatmaker, Jona Bechtolt, marooned singer/songwriter Khaela Maricich to pursue solo work under the name of YACHT. Since then, I’ve been left alone in a corner with no new Blow to enjoy. Bechtolt’s “solo” I Believe in You… consoled me – just like the friend whose consoling words don’t help but you appreciate them anyway.

MP3: “See A Penny (Pick It Up)”

9. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
One guy calls it “dad rock” and gives it a deece review and suddenly everyone’s off the Wilco wagon. Poppycock! This album is the real deal. In the last decade we’ve seen Tweedy grow from the guy that wrote the couplet “We should take a walk / But you’re such a fast walker, whoa-oh”, to becoming a abstract Dixie Cup Aquarium Drinker, to a Wheel/Bug/Hummingbird, to Jeff Tweedy. After all the band shifts, style shifts (fan base shifts?) Wilco emerged this year, confident in their LP’s, walking softly and carrying a big catalog. Tweedy sings sweetly, simply and directly after a few years of his free-associative and abstract lyrics. The band’s kraut-rock exercises have been distilled into a few efficient jam-outs. There’s just something impressive about Nels Cline, an avant-jazz squall guitarist, reigning in his tendencies enough to play a simple, clean Allman-brothersesque guitar duet. As Lisa Simpson once said – “It’s the notes they’re not playing.”

MP3: “Impossible Germany”

8. Flosstradamus / Kid Sister
Does not releasing a “proper album” mean you can’t get any love on year-end lists anymore? Not in this crazy inter-blag world. Although, technically, there’s no proper album out, DJ/Mash-up kids Flosstradamus and one of the duo’s kid sisters – Kid Sister, are churning out the jams. The bumpin’ beats, hip-hop mashups, old-school rhymes, and indie-happy samples have been Chicago dance/bar favorites for a while now, but it’s time for the big time. SxSW lost their brains for Floss’ remix of Matt & Kim‘s Yea Yeah, meanwhile Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” found it’s way onto Kanye‘s Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape and the rest will be history… by the end of next year. Watch your back though Flossy, The Hood Internet‘s quick on your tail. (Photo Credit: Everyoneisfamous.com)

MP3: Kid Sister “Southside”

MP3: Flosstradamus “Overnight Star”

7. Bishop Allen, The Broken String
It’s been nearly half a decade since Bishop Allen dropped the self-released Charm School LP – an album whose hooks and lines you’d catch yourself singing constantly. The groups ring-leaders, Christian Rudder and Justin Rice, recorded the album with a microphone, a pre-amp, and ProTools while trying hard not to annoy their Bishop Allen Drive neighbors in Cambridge, MA. They’re a dynamic and fairly prolific pair… aside from the band both have cultivated what seems like their own brand — Rudder writing the hilarious entertainment section of the now-defunct SparkNotes.com, and co-creating the equally hilarious dating site (OkCupid) while both Rice & Rudder are pseudo-stars of the burgeoning “Mumblecore” film scene (Rice starring in Mutual Appreciation and Rudder as the love interest in Funny Ha-Ha). The Broken String is a triumph of sorts, a culmination of a plan that started more than a year before its release – to support the band by self-releasing an EP each month for an entire year. Each month was a new surprise – a new track that was a sure-fire hit, and the LP, while lacking some of the DIY charisma of the individual EPs, is an album full of pure pop gold. Bishop Allen are as fun as every, but stretch their creative boundries with a latin-tinged “Like Castanets” and the dramatic flair of “The Monitor”.

MP3: “Rain”

6. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Perfect timing. Every few years people start forgetting about these Oxfordshire lads they come along and blow the lid off of everything. This time it was more context than content, but the album is solid, and exciting. Most exciting, at least to me, is Thom Yorke using the word “I” again. An interesting question to be posed – Is it a coincidence that the most direct, “pop” album Radiohead has put out in a decade is the one that they’re giving away to listeners for whatever they want to pay? I.E., would a challenging album along the lines of Kid A compromise the ultimate commercial success of the album? If so, does operating “free” from the Music Industry effect an artists creative process just as much (or more so) than operating within the system? It’s a temple-tapper.

MP3: “Weird Fishes/Apregi”

5. Kanye West, Graduation
What a hilarious twist. Kanye, throwing fits at MTV Europe Awards about Justice vs. Simian winning Video of the Year, learned a few lessons about Euro Dance Pop. 1) Synths can be cool 2) Pasty White People can be cool 3) Daft Punk is fucking cool.

MP3: “Flashing Lights”

4. Architecture in Helsinki, Places Like This
There were hankerings. After the last few loops around the U.S., AiH had subtly shifted from a twee band you could dance to, to a dance band you could drink chamomile tea to. Half the band disappeared and all of the sudden these Aussie’s were doing fun chant-along world beat tunes. Cameron Bird, who’s vocal stylings on their debut LP Fingers Crossed rarely raised above a childish whisper, now growls and yalps and screams – the fun juvenile spirit is still present in the band but now it’s like their at recess.

MP3: “Heart It Races”

3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Regardless of the criticism that Sound of Silver is nearly a song-for-song repeat of their debut LP, it still sounds better than nearly everything else out there. James Murphy, and his DFA clan can churn out the beats, that much is known. But if S.O.S. is a duplication of LCD Soundsystem it’s its doppelganger – imbedding criticism and actual emotion into dance tracks. Sarcasm and cynicism is a refuge (and a cash crop in Williamsburg) and Murphy trumped expectations by turning the scene’s discoball mirrors back onto themselves.

MP3: “All My Friends”

2. M.I.A., Kala
Dude. This some crazy shit. “Paper Planes” is easily my favorite song of the year — with or without gunshots. I LOVED Arular when it dropped and I’m so pleased that her follow-up is just as bombastic, vaguely political, vaguely danceable, but wholly original. I guess I’m happy we live in a cultural climate that an album as globally scatter-brained as this can find such a wide, receptive audience.

MP3: “Paper Planes”

1. The National, Boxer
I’m not a lyrics man. In fact, I’ll really only pay attention to the lyrics if the song sufficiently interests me. Lucky for The National, the urgent, heavy but not inaccessible sound begs you to read into their lyrics. Boxer’s content, just like its sound, is dark and brooding, but offers glimpses of romance, desperation, charm, and touchstone imagery. Beyond the discussion of the album’s cryptic Willy Loman storyline, what can’t be stressed enough is that the album is a true pleasure to listen to. A great album all the way through, and an LP that begs you replay it as soon as the last measure ends.

MP3: “Green Gloves”