Watch The Civil Wars Live Up To Their Name In A Behind-The-Scenes Video

John Paul White (left) and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars. The duo's second album will be released on August 6.

John Paul White (left) and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars. The duo’s second album will be released on August 6.

The Civil Wars are a duo whose interchanges, onstage and on the 2010 debut album Barton Hollow, fascinated fans with their magnetic pull and expressiveness. Joy Williams and John Paul White, singer-songwriters whose own separate careers had stalled at different crossroads, came together by accident and quickly became . Produced by Nashville veteran Charlie Peacock, Barton Hollow rocketed up the iTunes and Billboard charts on the strength of Internet fandom and the pair’s spellbinding live performances. Barton Hollow went gold and won two Grammy Awards, for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album.

Continued success seemed inevitable for The Civil Wars, especially after Taylor Swift took them up as collaborators on a song for the Hunger Games soundtrack. (That song, “Safe & Sound,” also a Grammy.) Many more accolades followed, but in the midst of a European tour, long-simmering problems erupted between Williams and White, and the band went on indefinite hiatus.

Before that tour, they’d started to make their second album, partnering with Peacock again. Latent differences, kept at bay by the force of their musical connection and the excitement of their rapid rise, soon emerged. “I picked up on the tension right from the start of the recording in September 2012,” Peacock wrote in an email. (While in the studio, the duo made a behind-the-scenes video, viewable here for the first time, which documents that tension.) “I wrote it off as lingering fatigue, and a widening gap between a northerner worker bee full of analysis, inspiration and work ethic (Joy), and the poster child for southern rock mythology (JP) — where it’s always thought best to wait on the inspiration with the least amount of talking about music.

“Given the tension, I became the interpreter, helping to navigate the differing styles of working, and also taking on the needed role of ordering the work at hand,” he continued. “And, most importantly, I like to think I was encouraging to both of them in their very different ways of working. I feel like I’m rambling a bit, so maybe in short, this record revealed much more of what they did NOT have in common, in spite of their incredible symbiotic musicality. I felt like my job was to always be in record, capture everything, and pray to recognize greatness when I heard it.”

Despite dissolving The Civil Wars (for now, at least), Williams and White diligently worked to complete the album. Now it’s about to be released eponymously. Promotion is tricky when a project’s two main players aren’t talking to each other — a situation Williams revealed in an interview this week. One thing the no-longer-perfect partners did was make a music video for the song, “The One That Got Away,” which includes shots that also appear in the behind-the-scenes video.

Working with the Southern production company 1504 Pictures, Williams and White (and their new major-label partner, Columbia Records) have shaped a document that speaks as much in song fragments and glimpses of downtime as it does in the abbreviated interviews Williams and White separately provide. Williams is more forthcoming, focusing on the idea that great art can arise from conflict. White, a cooler character, talks about enjoying playing his guitar and deliberately keeping the songs’ meanings vague. Fans can draw their own conclusions from scenes that show the singers barely acknowledging each other most of the time — but then locking into that undeniable empathetic groove when the music takes over.

“There were moments when John Paul would pick up a guitar and he and Joy would transport to a different place,” director Mark Slagle of 1504 Pictures said in an email. “You can see it when John Paul plays [the new song] ‘I Had Me A Girl’ in the control room and Joy starts moving with the melody. There was definitely a creative push and pull, but watching them grow a song from nothing, giving and taking, was incredibly inspiring.”

The duo’s in-studio process made for an album that’s somehow both raw and carefully modulated, a kind of musical that reflects on devastating events from varied perspectives that both intertwine and contradict each other. Williams says that the story of the band is all there in the recording. It’s easy to sink into gossip from that point — “I wish you were the one that got away” is certainly a suggestive lyric — but the music, partially revealed here, demands more.

“Honestly, me connecting the lyrics to the situation happened over time and not immediately,” says Peacock, who’s only behind the scenes in the behind-the-scenes video. “It really wasn’t until they’d finished the bulk of their recording and gone off to Europe, and I was sitting with the tracks alone that I realized, ‘Oh my, it’s all here — they really aren’t getting along!’ In some sort of incredibly ironic twist, I suppose creating the music together was the best way to deal with it. They mostly kept their cool though. I co-wrote ‘The One That Got Away’ with them in the studio and I never had any sense that they were anything but respectful as co-creators, and from my perspective, really at the top of their game. Inside the process, I think they were both all about the art and nothing else.”

Slagle and 1504 also put the art first, filming ways that complement the clear-as-a-mountain-river directness of The Civil Wars sound. “A lot of the emotion comes from the music itself, and we didn’t want any tensions to overshadow the music. That said, we shot the interviews in a first-person format to create as direct a connection as possible between Joy, JP and fans.”

Like The Civil Wars album itself, which will be released August 6, this short trip inside a troubled process leaves room for speculation, but steers the listener (or viewer) to put the powerful, rewarding music first. As for the duo’s future, Peacock holds out hope.

“No question, people are going to be listening to this new music, and the two of them will go on to make more worthy music, even if they’re apart,” he wrote. “That said, my number one hope is forgiveness and reconciliation for the two of them. One of the most satisfying and uniquely human actions is the ability to forgive and receive forgiveness. It’s sets the stage for a thousand do-overs. Like a lot of people, the two of them singing together is one do-over I’d pay big money to hear and see.”

R.I.P. Scott Asheton, drummer of The Stooges

The Stooges
The Stooges

The Stooges (L-R Dave Alexander, Iggy Pop in front, Scott Asheton in back and Ron Asheton) in the studio in 1970, during the making of their second album, Fun House.

Drummer Scott Asheton (August 16, 1949 – March 15, 2014) best known as the drummer for the rock band the Stooges and founding member of the pioneering punk band died on Saturday at the age of 64 following an unspecified illness.

Scott Asheton and his brother, guitarist Ron Asheton, were a couple of bad boys roaming around Southeastern Michigan in the late 1960s when they met the ultimate musical partner in crime, Iggy Pop. They began playing with bassist Dave Alexander as The Stooges – experimental sounds that broke down the rules of rock ‘n’ roll nearly a decade before punk bands like the Sex Pistols made punk a threat to good households everywhere.

GLOWERING LIKE A ROCK’N’ROLL golem behind Iggy Pop and brother Ron on the iconic cover of The Stooges’ eponymous 1969 debut album, Scott “Rock Action” Asheton (pictured above, right) was the real thing: a personification of defiant street attitude whose atavistic beat powered his band ever onward, in the teeth of audience hostility, critical ambivalence and other trifles.

He appeared indestructible, but after a medical emergency on a plane in 2011, Asheton had to wind down touring commitments with the reformed Stooges, though his contributions to their most recent album, 2013’s Ready To Die, were familiarly boisterous. Whenever behind the drums there was a part of him that looked and sounded like it was beating a 50 gallon oil barrel with mallets – just as Asheton did for real at the earliest Stooges shows in 1968.

“Scott was a great artist,” Iggy Pop said in a statement on his Facebook page. “I have never heard anyone play the drums with more meaning than Scott Asheton. He was like my brother. He and Ron have left a huge legacy to the world. The Ashetons have always been and continue to be a second family to me. My thoughts are with his sister Kathy, his wife Liz and his daughter Leanna, who was the light of his life.”

For an instant understanding of what made Asheton great, listen to the tribalistic boogie of 1969, the relentless zombie march of I Wanna Be Your Dog, the trashy Elvin Jones clatter of Real Cool Time or the chest-wound snare blam of Down On The Street. Appreciate the telepathic meld of Scott’s drums with the saw-blade riffing of brother Ron. There have been fewer sonic experiences more thrilling in the entire pantheon of music made with guitars.

And when the Stooges reformed in 2003, it was Scott’s beat that underlined the authenticity of the experience. Anyone who witnessed the Iggy, Ron, Scott, and Mike Watt line-up rolling back the years in their soap-opera version of The Unforgiven – say, at Glastonbury in June 2007 – will attest to their scabrous glory.

Sadly, the death of Ron from a heart attack in 2009 drew a line under that version of the group, though Iggy and Scott ploughed on, with guitarist James Williamson helping revive the Raw Power era of the band.

In a statement he released, Iggy Pop wrote:

“Scott was a great artist, I have never heard anyone play the drums with more meaning than Scott Asheton. He was like my brother. He and Ron have left a huge legacy to the world. The Ashetons have always been and continue to be a second family to me.

My thoughts are with his sister Kathy, his wife Liz and his daughter Leanna, who was the light of his life.”

Best wishes go out to the Asheton family, and anyone touched by the music of The Stooges.

Watch select highlights from Asheton and The Stooges’ career below.

The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream Album

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Philadelphia band The War On Drugs, whose last album, Slave Ambient, was one of the standout releases of 2011, returned in March with Lost In The Dream.

Lost In The Dream Secretly Canadian | CD-DL-LP – The third album by Philly space rock auteur Adam Granduciel reclaims the ’80s.

The War on Drugs is an American indie rock band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, formed in 2005. The band consists of Adam Granduciel, David Hartley, Robbie Bennett and Patrick Berkery.

The War On Drugs’ creative fulcrum Adam Granduciel once declared the first record he ever bought was Phil Collins’ … But Seriously. When it comes to challenging conventional wisdom about supposedly discredited ’80s musical tropes, Granduciel has form: 2011’s Slave Ambient dipped into the future-curious sound of Bruce Springsteen circa Born In The USA and Tunnel Of Love, coating The War On Drugs’ pellucid space rock with earthy grit.

Now, still oozing the romance of the tarmac, Lost In The Dream heightens this process by layering both the lush textures and the meditative choogle, through which Granduciel’s hallucinatory hobo stumbles – “Like a train in reverse down a dark road,” he notes amid Eyes To The Wind, a mid-tempo Zimmer-train of pedal steel, piano and ARP analog synths, plausibly evoking Spiritualized covering The Traveling Wilburys. It gets pretty trippy on the highway.

“A triumph of emotive feel amid neurotic detail.”

Ever since co-founder Kurt Vile bailed following 2008’s debut Wagonwheel Blues, The War On Drugs is Granduciel’s show, and this grandiloquent 60-minute whirl took 15 months to piece together, utilising eight studios across five states, in addition to Granduciel’s home in Philadelphia. Occasionally the author drops ghostly interjections from his demo tapes: for instance, amid opener Under The Pressure, 8’52″ of beach-bum motorik nirvana hooked around the daddy of all recurring piano riffs, subliminal sax and featuring a teasing mid-point breakdown that’s built for the massed groovy head-nod.

Admirers of Granduciel’s previous forays along E Street won’t be disappointed. The urgent road rock of Red Eyes hooks onto Springsteen’s Suicide fixation, a sibling to Slave Ambient’s Baby Missiles but on a broader canvas with smoother edges. Likewise Burning, a phased memory of Dancing In The Dark, right down to its narrator’s earnest self-therapy – “I’m just a burning man/Trying to keep his shit from turning over again” – and Granduciel’s exultant “Wooo!”

More startling, amid the primacy of keyboard lattices, are the frequent invocations of Mark Knopfler, another inimitable rock practitioner oft tainted by proximity to the 1980s. It makes sense that a Dylan obsessive like Granduciel should acknowledge a love for Slow Train Coming’s guitarist, though perhaps less forseeable that it should be the spirit of the Knopf urging the transcendent seven-minute charge of An Ocean Between The Waves, lead guitar lines dancing like mayflies on an infinite arc.

One misstep aside – Disappearing, where Granduciel over-eggs the Linn drums and it all gets a bit Bruce Hornsby – right to the final decayed note, Lost In The Dream is a triumph of emotive feel amid neurotic detail: immaculately conceived big music for little people. The sort who are, as the title track has it, “lost in the dream, or just the silence of the moment”. Tramps like us, in other words.

Listen: The War on Drugs: “Red Eyes” (via SoundCloud)