Archive for the Interviews Category

Exclusive: Orchestra Gold Returning to Boise for Great Garden Escape

Posted in Exclusives, Interviews with tags , , , on 05/10/2022 by kurtorzeck
Erich Huffaker and Mariam Diakité of Orchestra Gold

African psychedelic-rock combo and Treefort Festival 2021 participants Orchestra Gold are coming back to Boise next month for a plum gig at the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Great Garden Escape series, the Bad Penny exclusively announces today. The concert will take place June 30 at the Meditation Garden, as part of a lineup that also includes Afrosonics and Hillfolk Noir.

Led by Malian singer and dancer Mariam Diakité and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Erich Huffaker, the Oakland-based Orchestra Gold channel old-school folkloric music from Mali. More specifically, the band describes its sound “horn-driven rhythmic ‘orchestra’ music from ’70s-era Mali, West Africa, with a contemporary twist: analog psych-rock fused with Malian folklore.”

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The Sound&Shape of Things to Come

Posted in Interviews with tags on 04/21/2022 by kurtorzeck
Sound&Shape

Years before anyone reading this article was born — unless you’re a member of the AARP, in which case, holla! — country-music mecca Nashville had already established its own original variety of music. “The Nashville sound” wasn’t exactly the most inventively named subgenre, but it didn’t matter: Record labels like Columbia and RCA Victor, along with teeming masses of musicians eager to embrace the next big thing, gave birth to a smoother, poppier take on country that endures to this day.

Problem is, when a city builds its reputation on a particular sound, it simultaneously confines itself. Musicians hoping to make it big are often constricted by the same phenomenon that lured them to the city in the first place. It’s worse than ever nowadays, with major labels having stripped the authenticity out of “The Nashville sound” in favor of a commercial strain that makes country music virtually indistinguishable from pop. Deforestation isn’t just happening literally; billionaires are cutting down creativity as well, in a metaphorical sense, with artists becoming an endangered species.

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Good Nite, and Good Luck

Posted in Interviews, Sound Off with tags on 04/19/2022 by kurtorzeck
Nite

As children, we fear things that go bump in the night. Could they be monsters? Evil spirits? The devil’s minions?

As we age, we realize that most of those frightening sounds probably emanated from our parents having sex in their bedroom — a terrifying thought in its own right.

One of the lousier aspects of growing older is the loss of imagination. Case in point: Analytical website Skynet & Ebert determined in 2015 that people stop exploring new music and bands as early as 33 years old. Bands are culpable of ripping off each other’s sound, lyrics or beats.

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Yola ‘Stands’ Tall and Proud at Post-Grammys Gig

Posted in Concert Reviews, Interviews with tags , , , , , on 04/14/2022 by kurtorzeck
Yola at the Knitting Factory in Boise on April 6, 2022

British-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Yola left the Grammy Awards empty-handed last week, losing to Jon Batiste for Best American Roots Song and Los Lobos for Best Americana Album. Still. the outcomes weren’t a huge surprise for an emerging artist whose music is not confined to a single genre.

Indeed, Yola didn’t seem phased whatsoever when she played her unique blend of pop/country/hip-hop/Americana/soul/R&B/you-name-it to the Knitting Factory in Boise. Smiles abounded through the crowd, who were enraptured by Yola’s vocal range and authenticity — and seemed to know the show was so special, they might tell their kids about it someday.

Her covers of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming” and Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” iced the cake.

If you aren’t yet familiar with the gift from the music gods that is Yola, check out my recent cover story on the artist for Music Connection. In the feature, she discusses her most recent album, July 2021’s Stand for Myself; growing up practically destitute; the “hot mess” that is U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson; and her lifelong love of Dolly Parton.

Star Reborn: Nas and 20 Years of Illmatic

Posted in Interviews, Sound Off with tags on 03/19/2022 by kurtorzeck

The Unlikely Preacher: Chino Moreno and the Book of †††

Posted in Interviews with tags , , on 03/19/2022 by kurtorzeck

Getting To Know Mark Lanegan

Posted in Interviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/22/2022 by kurtorzeck

Mark Lanegan wears all 40 years of his life on his face. His skin, once puffed in that Tom Waits sort of way, is now ironed out into a smooth sheet. His thin amber eyes pierce his surroundings with a devastating gravity. Even his thick maroon mane, which spikes out beneath a nondescript black hat, seems to be spun by the hands of time, hammered by hard living.

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Interview: Orchestra Gold – Treefort Fest Pick of the Day

Posted in Interviews on 09/24/2021 by kurtorzeck
Erich Huffaker and Mariam Diakité of Orchestra Gold

So, a Bay Area real estate consultant and a professional singer and dancer from Mali walk into a bar …

That isn’t the setup to an outlandish joke — it’s actually a brief history of how soul/funk/folk/psych combo Orchestra Gold came to be. Malian singer and dancer Mariam Diakité met lifelong guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Erich Huffaker at a wedding in Diakité’s homeland about 15 years ago, and after subsequently running into each other multiple times at bars, they bonded over their mutual love for old-school folkloric music from Mali.

To be more descriptive about that genre of music, Orchestra Gold calls it “horn-driven rhythmic ‘orchestra’ music from ’70s-era Mali, West Africa, with a contemporary twist: analog psych-rock fused with Malian folklore.”

Precisely identifying and describing that sound is of critical importance to Orchestra Gold. Huffaker says his and Diakité’s main objective isn’t to become rock stars per se; they are driven by a sense of duty to introduce and educate music lovers everywhere about that special aforementioned sound, to ensure it finally gets greater exposure.

The Big Takeover recently interviewed Diakité and Huffaker via Skype to talk about playing Treefort (their performance is set for the Basque Center tonight at 10:30 p.m.), how their lifestyles have changed during the pandemic and where to find the best mint chocolate chip ice cream in Boise.

[Note: Huffaker translated some questions for and answers from Diakité, who speaks French and Bambara, during the interview.]

Hey guys. So, Orchestra Gold’s origin story is worlds apart, so to speak, from the way most bands form. More often than not, musicians meet through mutual friends — usually in the same city — and decide after jamming together that they could form a cohesive band. But that’s not exactly how Orchestra Gold came about, is it?

MARIAM DIAKITÉ[She laughs.] No, not exactly. I met Erich in Mali [at a wedding in 2006]. Then we kept running into each other at parties. Erich liked Mali music so much, we decided to start working together. When we realized we both truly loved the music we were making, we decided to form the band.

What brought you to Mali, Erich?

ERICH HUFFAKER: In 2005, I landed in Bamako, Mali, to start an internship I had working with an NGO. I studied drumming and going to parties, and Mariam was a frequent performer at them. I stayed in Mali for three years, during which we slowly started working on music together. Later, I’d work in Oakland to put together the arrangements for demos that Mariam and I had created together.

Bringing the band together was pretty easy, actually. Everything came together in our first year. We found a lot of people in Oakland who wanted to play the same style of music that we did. The hardest part of being in a band for us, so far, was getting a visa. There was a pivotal moment in 2016 when we decided we wanted to pursue this band, but it took two years of trial and error to get a visa, thanks to the Trump Era.

DIAKITÉ: We talked about the challenges of getting a visa, but I told myself, “If God wills it, it will happen.”

Can either of you elaborate on that “pivotal moment” a bit?

DIAKITÉ: It happened when we went to my house and played “Lemuru” [which they issued as a single in 2020]. In that moment, I knew our partnership was meant to be. If you find someone who truly loves loves Mali music, it’s likely they’re going to have the courage to bring it forward.

HUFFAKER: I always felt like I knew and trusted Mariam. Right after we started working on music together, we were making each other laugh.

Orchestra Gold issued two EPs in April 2019 and a third one the following November. Why does right now feel like the best time to introduce your music to wider audiences?

DIAKITÉ: Well, we want this to be the beginning. We want to expose our music to a lot of people and tour a lot as well.

You were slated to perform at Treefort last year. Were you bummed the fest was postponed?

DIAKITÉ: It put us behind a lot, not just the Treefort postponement but a lot of other plans we had for 2020 …

HUFFAKER: … But the lockdowns also gave us a lot of opportunities. We spent the time writing and working out finances. Mariam launched an online school intended to build a dance group. Also, a couple of labels approached us with record deal offers.

Were you tempted to sign, especially because you weren’t able to make money touring?

HUFFAKER: We wanted to go our own way [and didn’t want to give up] the rights to our music. We already have all the tools right now that a label would use for us: digital marketing, a presence on Facebook. It’s a bit harder these days to see the value in a normal record deal.

What excites you most about playing Treefort?

HUFFAKER: I played Treefort in 2016 with another band, La Misa Negra [also Oakland-based]. The festival was so much fun, so well-organized, and everyone was so nice. I bought my favorite pair of boots at a thrift store in Boise!

Are you concerned about playing a music festival during a COVID surge?

DIAKITÉ: I am not worried about the virus. If God decides you’re going to get sick, you’re going to get sick wherever you go. I’m very excited to go to Boise.

Can the crowd at your show expect to hear a good deal of new music, perhaps even songs from your long-awaited debut album?

HUFFAKER: The LP is still in the beginning stages of planning. We’re hoping to get it out late this year or maybe early next year. The first full-length will have all the material we’ve made till now, but we also might have a limited-edition version with a couple more songs. We’ll probably be funding the record ourselves, although we raised $5,000 to $6,000 at a fundraiser we did earlier this year.

We’re also working on writing grant proposals so that we could help with racial justice in West African drumming and dancing circles. White supremacy has even invaded that space too, and there’s a lot of work to be done.

Mariam, what excites you most about visiting Boise?

DIAKITÉ: I like to get mint chocolate chip ice cream wherever I visit. Do you have any recommendations?

The STIL offers the best ice cream in town, but unfortunately they’re not serving mint chocolate chip at the moment. So I’d recommend the newly opened Stella, instead.

HUFFAKER: That is pure GOLD. Thank you for the recommendation!

DIAKITÉ: Yes, thank you!

Vines Frontman Craig Nicholls: ‘I’m Using Art and Music as a Drug’

Posted in Interviews with tags , on 09/28/2018 by kurtorzeck

(Originally published in MeanStreet Magazine in March 2004.)

“Yeah,
Well,
No,
Yeah,
Uhh,
OK,
Yeah,
All right,
Yeah.”

Uhh, yeah, that’s Craig Nicholls from The Vines. Not the most intelligible of rock stars, all right, yeah. You see, Nicholls prefers to use sounds, but not necessarily words, which makes a “conversation” with him less an exchange of solid ideas than a loose swapping of vague reassurances.

“Yeah, all right, yeah, uhh,” he says.

It feels only natural to coo back: “Cool, yeah, OK, right on, yeah.”

A lot of interviewers haven’t looked too favorably upon Nicholls’, uhh, unique mode of conversation. “I wanted to hit Craig Nicholls,” began an article in Spin. “[He] has all the makings of a rock star,” went a Rolling Stone article, “good looks, great songs, serious mental problems.”

In less polite articles, Nicholls has essentially been billed a bratty, snotty stoner who doesn’t take his music seriously and has no respect for his fans. And has control issues. And fires band members on a whim. And batters small animals.

“I’m extremely serious about what I do,” Nicholls told me two years ago, responding to the assorted allegations. “I’m very focused — I focus all my energy into the band, if not with songwriting then with recording and playing what we’re doing now. We don’t fuck around. I don’t want to get into drugs. I don’t drink. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with doing that; for me, I think I’m using art and music as a drug.”

In his defense, a lot of the animosity directed at Nicholls has been excessive. With Fred Durst having run for cover and Billy Corgan out of sight, the age of the artist ego appears to have finally dissipated. But that leaves the press hounds hungry. So ravenous that they start to prowl, licking their chops and waiting to tear down anyone who comes across as even slightly pampered, anyone who gets even a small nibble of success.

But let’s face it: Craig Nicholls is no Fred Durst. He doesn’t tell girls at shows to show him their tits. He doesn’t have a clothing line. It’s actually kind of hard to hate someone like Nicholls, someone who’s spaced out most of the time. Besides, it’s not like he’s unwilling to talk — no, this isn’t J Mascis.

And so what if Nicholls is a bit aloof — aren’t rock stars supposed to be that way? After all, it’s nothing personal.

“I’m really stuck up and pretentious,” Nicholls mockingly confides in a dry, silky swagger during a conversation held last month. “And I don’t go out.”

He fancies art galleries over soirees. Painting instead of talking. Listening to The Stone Roses on headphones instead of going to check out your shitty band. He screams his opinion through 30-foot Marshall stacks instead of engaging in a lively debate ‘round the roundtable.

This spring finds The Vines touring with three other sizzling Australian bands — The Living End, Jet and Neon — three groups that just about everyone in the Land Down Under knows. Except for Nicholls, of course.

“It’s not like we’re old buddies or whatever,” he is quick to point out. “I met the singer of The Living End and we met Jet a few months ago.”

For a city with a music scene as contained and confined as Sydney’s, the fact that Nicholls hardly knows his peers is staggering. But then again, it isn’t, when one takes his personal philosophy into account. “I think socializing is evil. It’s a weird way of looking at things,” and then, in his trademark trail-off, “but…”

Nicholls may not have all the answers, but one thing is certain: the publicity and marketing machine behind The Vines’ second album, Winning Days, is stronger than a steel train hurtling at breakneck speed across a set of red-hot railroad tracks. In a day and age in which record labels are grappling for solutions — even the made-up kind — the young Vines already appear to be a durable, winning roster talent.

With The Vines, the equations are simple. New album equals guaranteed radio single (then “Get Free”, now “Ride”). New album equals touring, which equals additional revenue. New album equals new interviews, which equals new gossip, which equals new notoriety.

And the Vines sell. Better than The Strokes and better than the Stripes. Bucking the notion that all the hype behind its 2002 debut, Highly Evolved, was little more than a wave of inflated British sensationalism, the record went platinum-and-a-half in the U.S. and earned the band several mainstream TV appearances — Letterman, MTV Awards, the whole bit.

Highly Evolved was like a chunk of chocolate — it appealed to just about everyone and inflicted a sort of guilt-ridden lust that threw into submission anything in its path. The auspicious Aussie debut mined the familiar loud/soft, verse-chord-verse territory, but with the excitement and awe of musicians discovering the beauty of the formula for the first time.

Like The Strokes’ Room on Fire — or, let’s face it, most follow-up releases — Winning Days isn’t the coup de grace everyone was hoping it would be. It’s a set of 11 well-crafted, well-honed rock songs: hooky, lively, a bit more sonically and lyrically substantive than its predecessor. But it is not Nevermind. It is not Damaged. It is not the sophomore effort that will throw drowning, struggling rock music a life preserver. It is simply the second Vines record — solid rock songs, a bit more advanced than the first batch.

“There is more confidence,” bassist Patrick Matthews says of the recordings, and the band in general. Lending credence to the belief that the first album title is actually more appropriate for the follow-up and vice-versa, Matthews says that on Winning Days, “We’re more refined and less primal. I mean, we are still primal, but we wanted to be more adept, more skillful. Craig is a better singer — I think he learned a lot from the first record.”

The backdrop to Winning Days is the stuff bands dream of. The band again teamed with one of the hottest producers on the block, Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith), but this time opted for a more unconventional location in Woodstock, NY, as opposed to the compulsory L.A. studios.

“It reminded me of Sydney a little,” Nicholls muses. “Lots of trees, bears and deer and turkeys. It was summertime [2003] and there was a stream next to the barn we were recording in and it was really peaceful, yeah.”

“It had almost a spooky vibe to it,” he adds. “It was like The Blair Witch Project … I really enjoyed being there.”

Matthews also enjoyed the retreat, which gave him much-needed relief from the swooning masses back home.

“When I went back to Sydney, everyone suddenly knew me,” he says. “Everyone was my friend. I was part of a scene I never even knew existed before. It was all about thrusting my so-called fame in everyone’s face. I got sick of that, spending too much time in taxis and becoming unhealthy. So I dedicated my time to jogging and calisthenics, instead.”

A foreign band recording in the boondocks of upstate New York is a strange concept in and of itself, but a wholly appropriate one when one considers The Vines. They are, after all, a band that thrives on contradiction. Hard begets soft. Lulls of silence are followed by quick, roaring bursts of feedback frenzy. Nicholls — some sort of a passive-aggressive/obsessive-compulsive hybrid — cries scornful moans, then balances them out with cool, slick enticements.

Winning Days’ fourth and fifth songs, in particular, speak to the album’s greater, overarching dichotomies of love and hate, peace and violence, calm and aggression. “Autumn Shade II,” the first acoustic track on the record, is a quiet tune, sweetened with Nicholls’ soft harmonies. “Sleeping in the autumn shade / You are white and I am grey / Sleeping in the autumn shade, oh yeah / Oooohhh wooohhh.”

Its immediate successor, “Evil Town,” is an alternately booming and stripped-down, progressive-minded track heavy on the drums and electric guitar. The slurs are so thick and the moans so deep, words can hardly be deciphered. It’s a crashing number, a nasty afterbite to the relative smooth of “Autumn Shade II.”

Naturally, an acoustic song follows after that, in the form of the title track; it’s that type of call-and-response interplay that propels the album from one song to the next and keeps the listener on his toes. Let the Nirvana knock-off jokes roll.

With this in mind, is it fair to say that Winning Days was predetermined? Nicholls wouldn’t like you to think so — he notes that his approach to the album was purely casual. “I was kind of lazy with it,” he says. “I wrote a few songs at a time … half-finished one, then went to the next one, then came back to the first one a few weeks later … some of them I wrote in, like, five minutes.”

Five minutes per song … 11 songs … OK, so that’s about an hour of work. So does that mean Winning Days was recorded in a day, then? Or a week, tops? Try three months on for size, folks. And that was just the time spent in the studio — keep in mind that Nicholls had written all the songs before the band even arrived in Woodstock. And yet it wound up taking them the better part of the summer to craft the album.

“Writing up there would have been impossible,” Nicholls admits.

“It would have taken us over a year if he had!” Matthews chimes in.

Scroll back to August 2002, when “Get Free” was booming on radio stations from here to Tallahassee, and Nicholls said in an interview: “I want to do the next one really quick … I want to get it out next year, because I can already hear it in my head. I want to be as productive as we can be.”

So what happened?“I was very eager to get the album done,” Nicholls explains. But, “I was also prepared to be p atient as far as weighing out the overdubs and all their worth, their necessity. I just don’t write well under pressure.”

Dodgy? To put it mildly. Honest? Probably so. Again, supporting the idea that it’s the band’s second album, not the first, that deserves to be called “evolved,” the game plan shifted during the making of Winning Days. What Nicholls aspired to be an electronic-based record turned out, in the end, to be an album with electronic elements.

“We put some Moog on,” says Matthews. “But that was mainly to create some weird sounds. We didn’t go over-the-top with it — there’s not anything that’s bass and rhythm, which is what I’d call electronica.”

Nicholls hasn’t abandoned all hopes of delving into electronic music, though. Calling to mind a second, equally lofty goal, he says: “I definitely want to try doing electronica, but I don’t know if it’s going to work, because I also want to make a country-rock concept album. If we could do both, maybe that would be something.”

David Jenison contributed to this story.

Cover Story: Lord Huron

Posted in Features, Interviews on 07/15/2018 by kurtorzeck

Lord Huron screen shot

I recently interviewed Ben Schneider about his rock band Lord Huron for the July cover of Music Connection. Check out the full article here.