Will Bikini Kill Ever Make The Rock Hall Of Fame?

Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna in 1993.

Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna in 1993.

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

This past year has seen the return of several female-fronted and female dominated alternative rock bands from the 1990s. Last week the pop punk band released Whoop Dee Doo, its first new album in ten years and its first for rising indie label Burger Records. just finished its first tour with all of its original members since 1997 and have a full-length in the works. spent part of 2013 playing 1993’s classic Last Splash album in its entirety at shows and have more performances and new music coming. independently released a Kickstarted album, Magic Hour. Courtney Love, however, said in an that she won’t be hitting the road with Hole’s mid-’90s lineup.

As more of these reunions are surely on there way, it’s crucial to remember why the proliferation of these groups were so important in the first place. Though all-female or female-fronted acts may not have been the hugest or best-selling groups of the alt revolution, the way they presented themselves and their sounds (as well as the sheer number of them) helped define what made this era of rock so different from the ones that preceeded it. While the treatment of these acts in the ’90s was far from what you’d hope for in a gender-equality utopia, what they did in this decade made important strides. Their influence can be heard and felt today in acts like White Lung, Speedy Ortiz and Perfect Pussy and bands beyond that direct lineage. How they will be remembered is worth considering as alternative rock from the ’90s is about to start getting formally canonized. ‘s into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year seems to be the official start, is probably next, and , and Rage Against the Machine may be coming in the near future. But will Hole ever get in? Will ? Will ?

To discuss how these female-centered acts will be remembered, as well as the ’90s revival in general, Ducker talked to , the creative director of Afar Media, an early fashion blogger at her site White Lightning (whose spirit lives on at ). Spiridakis Olson, who was a teenager for most of the ’90s, remains a devotee the decade’s culture.

What were the core bands for you when you were coming of age in the 1990s?

In my intense formative years — like 1994 to 1996, when was 15, 16, 17 — my favorites were Operation Ivy, , , , the Smashing Pumpkins. , and Hole — all the ones that sound so trite now because “the ’90s” is a fashion description. Those were my obsessions. Then it was Bikini Kill, Tuscadero, that dog., the Muffs, Mary Lou Lord … I can keep going.

Many of these bands are female-fronted and/or majority female. Were you conscious of or particularly drawn to bands that had a distinctive female presence? Or was that just what was out there at the time?

I was drawn to those bands because they were the girls I wanted to be; or they were the girls that looked like and sang about stuff I was interested in and wanted to be a part of, but wasn’t sure how to find it. It makes me feel like I’m 100 years old to talk this way, but I was the “alternative” girl in my suburban high school where the majority of the kids were into or or, like, Top 40. The only few other kids who were into the music I liked were boys, and I hung out with them a lot. You couldn’t friend someone on Facebook or read their blog or whatever. I didn’t know how to find the girls that were “my people.” A lot of these bands made me happy, those were the girls [I was looking for]. They were so smart and pretty and had sick style, and I loved the music.

It’s funny, since “” has become such a trite thing, but those bands and what they were doing as performers and musicians were definitely a big deal. Without them, I wonder if we’d mainly be looking at 1990s alt rock as just sad boys who had a thing for 1970s hard rock.

SO TRUE.

With some of these female-dominated bands coming back recently, have you gone to see any of them play or checked out any of their new music?

I saw the Breeders a few times last year, and I saw the Muffs a few weeks ago. I don’t think I would see any incarnation of Hole that was playing now. I would kill to see the Julie Ruin. I have not really checked out any of the new music! Is that awful of me, or what?

Well, one step back, how were the Breeders and the Muffs?

The first time I saw the Breeders last year was at Webster Hall [in New York]. It was exciting and I got a little emotional. They played Last Splash in its entirety in order. Kinda rad. The second time was at in LA, and we are lucky enough to attend that every year with all access, so we watched from the stage. That blew my 16-year-old mind more than a little.

The Muffs played three weeks ago at the here in Oakland and they were so good. It’s crazy that that voice is still the same. Kim [Shattuck] was still the coolest girl in the room, I have to say. I was heart-eye emoji style over her. Why were so many Kims so cool in the ’90s?

I haven’t seen either in their comebacks, but I’m going to see the Breeders when they play the Hollywood Bowl in September with . The Muffs actually had an in-store at Amoeba here in Los Angeles tonight that I had to miss, but I still remember seeing them when they played the Fillmore in San Francisco in the late 1990s, which when I think about it now, seems like a pretty big deal. The space was about three-quarters full and the Groovie Ghoulies opened. Kim kind of mooned the crowd at the end of their set through two holes that were worn through her vintage babydoll dress.

She is amazing. She looked the same at Burger Boogaloo. How is that possible? Sickest hair, cutest minidress.

So yeah, the new music … I listened to the new Muffs, and it’s pretty good and it sounds like a Muffs record, which is I guess what you’d want. I also dig the fact the . The new Veruca Salt songs that have come out are fair. I didn’t listen to the new Luscious Jackson. It feels bad not getting into the new music, because why shouldn’t they be making new music, but it’s kind of hard for me to get excited about it. On one hand I don’t want them radically reworking their sound to try to be relevant; but on the other hand, you kind of want it to feel like they’ve been evolving over the past 20 years.

Ugh, it’s so true.

I mean, has kept putting out records for the past 20 years, and I think it’s good she’s not the same person that she was when she made Exile in Guyville, but the music that has come from those changes at times have been very… rough.

Of course I was obsessed with her, too. She is one of the few who seems to be repulsed by who she was in the 1990s. I held on until whitechocolatespaceegg, but it was like, ? I could get into a new Muffs record, maybe. Veruca Salt I didn’t like enough then to warrant wanting to get into their 2014 sound.

This round of reunions is weird for me because it’s the first time that bands that I saw or could have seen are coming back. With, like, the , it was great because I had never heard those songs done live before, and they were amazing when they came back the first time in 2004. But if I go see Veruca Salt now, am I trying to re-live something from my past? That makes me feel weird.

Yeah, the ’90s reboot trend is starting to wear thin. I saw Pavement play three nights in Central Park four years ago and I am not ashamed to say I was pretty much high/close to tears the whole time. I felt like a Beatlemaniac. The tickets were sold a year in advance and they were one of the first [of their era] to do the reunion thing. I would have felt similar for the Pixies because I never saw them live either. But it’s getting to be a weirder and weirder thing. Who are the Veruca Saltians? Is this a big thing?! There are seminal ’90s bands and then are … ’90s bands.

Should they go full-on nostalgia and do a package tour? That’s what Everclear, Soul Asylum, Eve 6 and Spacehog are doing this summer on the .

This is where it gets weird because I would sort of totally go to that.

I draw the line there.

So why would you go to the Summerland tour?

I have a really cheeseball love for “Santa Monica” by Everclear, and also “In The Meantime” by Spacehog. Those are epic songs, but I love them the way people like Katy Perry now. So I would go to get drunk and sing, “.” My husband and I have a playlist we call “Grody ’90s” that’s all our favorite radio alternative songs: “,” “”… Eve 6 doesn’t factor in for me though.

Would a Veruca Salt, Liz Phair and Tracy Bonham tour seem crass? Because when they’re packaged together, it just seems like nostalgia, not “overdue appreciation” or “something for the true fans.”

I mostly agree, but I do think there is this other part to it where there are these huge numbers of teenage girls who are tapping into old Liz Phair et al for the first time because “NINETIES” and it’s changing their lives the same way it did mine. So it’s cool for them to be able to see the live shows.

I know you’ve had a long relationship with Tavi Gevinson and are involved with . Do you feel like those women and the young women who read them understand what the 1990s were actually like, especially in terms of how the female-fronted/dominated bands were treated?

I guess, inasmuch as I understand what the 1970s were like. Although there are way more avenues now for women’s stories (or anyone’s stories!) to be told and shared. The women and girls I work with at Rookie are so much more sophisticated and tuned in than I ever was, it’s insane.

Do they have an idealized vision of this era?

I think a little bit, sure. But so do I! And if the majority of what gets shared has this rose-y nostalgic tint, how could it not be idealized?

It’s going to be interesting to see how the larger industry regards these bands and how they fit into the canonization of rock. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems like it mainly exists just to celebrate people who made money for executives, but I’m curious if any of the bands we’re talking about will ever get in there. eventually made it, but will Hole? Will Bikini Kill? Do they deserve to, or is their importance best reflected elsewhere?

Of all the bands we have been talking about tonight, I think Hole would be inducted. How many women do they choose though? I know I’m being salty, but it’s old men as far as the eye can see. If Heart and Laura Nyro are just getting inducted now, I would say that Hole will make the list in 2026.

hen there’s something like The Punk Singer documentary, which is reaching a bigger audience since it’s streaming on Netflix and . At first I thought it seemed premature to do a documentary about Kathleen Hanna’s life, but I can see why it’s so important to have that out there right now.

It’s so important. I wished it was hours longer. It’s not premature to tell her story, because it’s not even just about her, its about a movement! I want to hear more. I went to Seattle recently and at that there is such a comprehensive, intense retrospective on Nirvana that I was like, Right, right, we get it and we have heard it and they were great, but why does it have to be about Kurt Cobain all the time? Like there’s his green striped tee shirt, preserved archivally. In this nostalgia wave so much is spent on The Legend of Kurt. There was more to the music than that. [The Punk Singer] didn’t seem premature to me at all. I wondered why it hadn’t happened already.

Who are some other female figures or movements from that era that you think more attention should be paid to?

I am sure there are a million documentaries I haven’t seen, but I would gladly watch more about riot grrrl. I wanna see more Babes in Toyland and and Bratmobile. Is there a documentary?

Not yet! Are there any bands that you’d like to see come back?

Maybe no one else. Is that a cop out? I think I reached the tipping point.

That’s fair. I’d like to see Elastica, I never got to the first time around and I think the stuff they were referencing really caught on in a broader way in more recent years. Also, I know it’s early, but I’d really like to see Sleater-Kinney together again, doing new shows and making new music.

I never got into Britpop in any way, it kinda passed me by. Sleater-Kinney would be cool. I would go see Mary Lou Lord in a hot second.

Cormega: ‘I Just Want To Be A Soldier For My Culture’

Cornega

Cornega

 

 

20 years ago, Nas mentioned his friend Cormega on a song called “,” which was composed as a letter to someone in prison: “Night time is more trife than ever / What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together? / If so then hold the fort down, represent to the fullest / Say what’s up to Herb, Ice and Bullet.” Those four bars inked Cormega’s street credibility and forever tied him, for better and worse, to the crown prince of hip-hop. He spoke to Microphone Check cohosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about the career and life he’s made beyond them.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up?

CORMEGA: What’s good, brother?

MUHAMMAD: What’s good, man?

CORMEGA: Just chillin’. Happy to be here.

MUHAMMAD: We’re so happy to have you here. You legendary, man.

CORMEGA: I hate that — I think that word is overrated, especially in the presence of a brother like you.

FRANNIE KELLEY: That’s fair. That’s fair.

MUHAMMAD: I understand why you say that, but you gotta give it up. And for someone to have been doing what you doing for the amount of time, you know, skillfully, artfully, it applies — unless you’ve got another word to share with me.

CORMEGA: Ironically — I’ve been saying this in every interview, when people have been calling me legendary lately — or a legend — I really don’t feel I deserve it. I would rather be called a veteran.

MUHAMMAD: A veteran.

KELLEY: I like that.

CORMEGA: I’d rather be called a veteran, because I don’t think — I think that I’ve endured and I’ve showed consistency and everything, but there’s — I don’t see myself the way I see you guys. Like I don’t see myself in the same vein as a Tribe or as a Eric B. and Rakim or PE. Those guys are legends, so if I consider y’all legends I don’t — I honestly, humbly, don’t think I belong in that sentence.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, OK. I’ll take the humble road, you know, that you trying to give and go down right now but, yo. I’m saying it, because you’ve done a lot for the art form and whether there’s certain accolades given from certain sources or whatever, or not, it doesn’t matter. I think your dedication and the passion you have and your art is a lot. And it’s a lot that people can benefit from, and there’s a lot time placed into it. You can’t be around for a quarter of a century doing something as a professional and not be a master at it or considered to be a legend. So. You say veteran, we’ll ride with that, but I’ll say you’re legendary and we’re happy to have you here, man.

CORMEGA: I appreciate that.

KELLEY: I would say, as a fan, you loom large in my understanding of hip-hop. And I get the deference to Tribe and all them, but in some ways, your name never left people’s minds — partly because it’s a really good name, and partly because your sensibility has stayed intact. Although, we were just talking, this new album does feel like a departure for you in some ways. Do you hear it like that or no?

CORMEGA: I think the new album — I think I try to show growth, and I think my content is different. I think as artists — one of the most important things about artists is the sincerity and, as you would know, the not being afraid to express ourselves. And I didn’t want to be redundant. I don’t want to be — first of all, I don’t live the life that I lived previously. I don’t live in Queensbridge, I don’t hustle, I’m not in the street life, you know. As you see, I’m with my kids right now.

A lot of awakenings have happened in my life and I just wanted my music to reflect that, because at this point in my career, everything that I do now is for legacy — it’s really not about the money. A lot of people do it for the money, but I could get a job and get money, or do other things, but right now it’s about legacy. It’s like, to be mentioned amongst the greats but feel that I deserve there, like I deserve to be mentioned. So that’s what this album is about. I just try to show growth and I just really think it was necessary in this time because our genre — when I say genre, our genre, I’m talking about lyricism and real conscious hip-hop or the skills — that hip-hop seems like it’s under attack or they trying to, like, push it out. I felt like this album was very necessary and I just want to be a soldier for my culture.

 

CORNEGA – INDUSTRY [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

 

KELLEY: Yeah, especially on “,” that track.

CORMEGA: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

KELLEY: So who is attacking?

CORMEGA: I don’t know who it is. I don’t know if it’s the media. I don’t know if it’s — I think greed. I think greed has something to do with it. But sometimes it’s deeper than what we see it as. Sometimes it might be government that’s pulling strings and — because when you look at the landscape of rap and you look at the people that was creative and innovative and saying stuff that could uplift the minorities or the poorer areas, those people have all been silenced — their voices have been silenced. So they have to speak in other ways. So I don’t know what’s that but I do know greed has played a symbolic impact in the demise of our culture.

Because it got to a point where there was new artists that would come to me for advice like, “How do I get on the mixtape? Such and such wants such and such thousand to get on the mixtape. I don’t know how to get on the mixtapes.” And so we had stuff like that, and then you have the certain radio guys, they want to get paid for your songs to get played. And then you got executives in the companies, they don’t look at the creative side of it, they look at the business aspect, which — you can’t knock them because it’s an investment. But it’s not that serious of an investment so when you think about it, it’s like, if you make a creative masterpiece, especially during the ’90s, not — late ’90s is what really killed rap because if you made an incredible album during that time but it didn’t go platinum, it was deemed as a failure.

It got to a point where gold was looked at as underachieving, and that’s when it all went wrong. Because when artists was first doing it, you could go gold, you could sell 350,000 albums and have a successful career back in the day. People were content with making music that everybody could enjoy. It got to a point where people were making embarrassing music, like making fools of themselves, but making so much money that if you even — we from the era when if you was wack, you was wack — we didn’t care if you was rich or what you had. And then it became to the point where wack dudes were starting to get pushed into the limelight, and if you say something about their wackness, then you become — you’re a hater. So the word hater had to become a shield. And then it all went downhill from there. It’s greed. One of the biggest things that hurt our culture was greed.

KELLEY: So you’re saying to go platinum, basically, you have to cross over in some way.

CORMEGA: Definitely.

KELLEY: And so once that becomes the standard, then everybody has to make records for the mainstream.

CORMEGA: Definitely. It depends on what you want to do as an artist, because some artists don’t get it. There’s some artists that are independent that are living way — that are living well beyond their means, that are living well beyond people’s expectations. You got brothers like Tech N9ne and who have more money than a lot of guys that have gone platinum on majors. It comes a time when you just gotta have a — it depends on how much integrity you have as a person, because the industry is a piggyback thing.

Like if they see — 50 Cent’s success is a perfect example. When 50 Cent blew up, all the sudden it became like a — back in the day the mandate was “be good.” If you was nice on the mic, you had a chance. When 50 Cent blew up, labels started pushing artists to work out, like everybody had to get diesel and stuff like that. Or like when Foxy Brown and Kim — their success was crazy for women, because after that all the sistas that was positive in that, you never heard them. I’ve literally heard people at labels say, “Oh, we gotta get her a ass,” talking about other girls or you know, “You gotta do this.” Or, “Look sexy.” It became that, instead of the art. The industry is just incredible.

MUHAMMAD: You’re saying that this album, you’re more focused on legacy. There’s something that’s definitely, apparently, different, but I think there’s a fiber of similarity in terms of like your drive, I think, from your previous albums. It always seemed like there was a sense of teaching, but, you know, not in a preachy way. I think it comes across like, “Yo, this is the life.” You know, “This is what I’m dealing with, and this is how I’m putting it out there.” And it was also, you know, said with a certain amount of integrity for yourself, who you are as a man, having honor and things of that nature. So it feels like this record has that same spirit, but it’s refined from a different type of experience

It’s interesting that you get to a song like “Industry” and the way you present it now, versus maybe some of your other experiences in the music industry and how it came across. First of all, I celebrate you for it, because we need to hear it right now in this climate and what’s going on musically. But often people say that rap game — they use the term the rap game as synonymous with the drug game. And some of your music sort of articulates that. But I think with “Industry,” you touched on something that’s — it’s the life of the artist — I think the way you broke it down, to me, reflects how governments play with other governments, and how our lives are not valued. You know, how people start wars to make money. And you broke that down — not speaking about wars but the industry and the relationship for the artist in terms of the record companies. I think that was pretty bold and dope.

CORMEGA: It definitely was. It definitely was a huge risk.

KELLEY: Yeah, can you talk about that a little bit? You knew it was risky and you — I mean, how much do you care about that?

CORMEGA: There’s a lot of risk on this album. I knew “Industry” was a risk but I knew — when you a artist and you trying to send a message, you don’t want to sound preachy, as he said, because sometimes people don’t want to hear that. They just want to be entertained, or they want to hear what they want to hear. But one of the things that I’m able to — one of the things that benefits me as an artist is what they call street credibility, or whatever. My reputation from the street is authentic, and everybody knows that.

MUHAMMAD: That’s why I say you legend man.

CORMEGA: I don’t even — I don’t even try to glorify it either. So if I’m talking, street dudes will listen — or the younger guys will listen. One of the most important things that I did was take responsibility as a man, and as an artist, because hip-hop in itself — a lot of things indoctrinate. Hip-hop is a thing that indoctrinates. People want to be like it and people want to be like the people that they admire. I’ve met dozens of people that have my lyrics tattooed on them, which blew my mind. If you look on Twitter right now there’s a guy on there talking about, “I’ma send you the picture of a tatt.” Today. Like, that’s how many —

KELLEY: That’s bananas.

CORMEGA: When I started seeing the impact that I had on people — people know that I came from jail. People knew that, so I didn’t have to sing about it or brag about it in songs. And it’s nothing to brag about. Jail is for suckers.

KELLEY: Well, also cause Nas talked about you being in jail on his song.

CORMEGA: Exactly. “One Love” let the world — exactly. So me coming home from jail and making it in the music industry, that was a ray of hope for a lot of convicts. Because when you’re in jail, you’re taught that you’re a convict and you’re reminded of it by the COs and by the system and you’re taught your likelihood of making it is very low and that you’re gonna be nothing. So when people see me come home and get a record deal, that inspired a lot of people.

NAS – ONE LOVE

 

 

I wanted to inspire people in other ways. And I know little dudes that wanted to be like me. So when I started making albums, I was telling people about the pitfalls of the street rather than just glorifying it. Now people respect me for what I’ve done in the independent game and in the industry. So it’s like I’m doing the same thing I did in the streets — I drop jewels, but now I’m trying to navigate you through the industry instead of navigating you through the streets.

The song “Industry” was important to me because I get tired of the exploitation of our music, and especially of the artist. When you look at the rap industry, there’s a lot of stories that don’t have happy endings. And there’s people that do little to nothing that thrive the most. There’s people that literally got in the industry because they was cool with somebody and cause they brown nose the right people — cause they was in the right circle — and they became executives. Whereas, you have a person like Large Professor. Large Professor never had a job as an A&R. That’s a crime.

KELLEY: Yeah.

CORMEGA: Think about it. His album — Breaking Atoms was groundbreaking. His influence on producers is — he introduced the game to Nas. He’s done so much that any label that really cares would have gave him a shot as an A&R.

MUHAMMAD: Right.

CORMEGA: A lot of my heroes don’t get the credit they deserve, and it started bothering me. And I just wanted to speak, and I wanted people to stop selling the illusion — even with the independent game, you could get jerked. You got labels like Koch that’ll tell people, “Oh yeah, you get 60/40.” You don’t get 60/40. You don’t get 60/40; it’s not 60/40. All is not fair, so I wanted to be the one on a song like “Industry” to express the truths to artists. That’s why I say, “Beef DVDs on BET so every artist who’s on it was beefing for free,” you know. If you listen to that song — and I made sure I said no disrespect intended. “I know he got beats,” that’s what I said about QD3. And everything I’ve said makes sense. There’s no animosity or vengeance in my words.

It’s self-evident, so I just want to make self-evident music. I took that risk. And at the end of the day, you know why I was able to take that risk? Because what could happen? I’ve already been blacklisted before. I already said freaking — and left the majors and started — I made a lane for myself. You can’t blacklist me independently, or you can’t blacklist me to the fans. I’m gonna always find a way. So I’m willing to take the risk, you know. That’s just one of the risks that I took on the album.

KELLEY: I liked your mention of shareholders on that song also, cause that kind of gets at what you’re really up against. If a corporation is — the law is that the shareholders have to profit, then how do we change what they value?

CORMEGA: Exactly. One of the biggest misconceptions — one of the big things that really bothered me about the industry, period, is, often in life when we see things aren’t as equal as they should be or fair as they should be, we often try to — we often fight for change or for regulation, etc., etc. It bothers me to this day that record companies make at least, what, $10 off every record? Or maybe eight, if it’s discounted. You make so much money off a record but an artist gets less than — not even a dollar, not even a half of a dollar. If you get a half of a dollar, you got a good deal. The profit margin for the artist as opposed to the company is totally unfair.

Even at the end of the day when you’ve got artists like — a artist goes platinum and he’s happy and they’ll make sure there’s pictures of him with his platinum plaque, but whose glory is that? You got a plaque; that’s it. That plaque isn’t worth any money. Every album that sells a million copies generates $10 million, close to $10 million. There’s a lot of people we know that generated $10 million, and more, that we’ve seen on TV bankrupt or this or that. And they’re not all reckless spending. There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the industry so I just wanted to say freak it and stir up the hornet’s nest.

KELLEY: So why do you — why keep making music? Why stay in this industry, then?

CORMEGA: Because I’m not in the industry, I’m on the outer-stry. I’m in – see, me making music independently the way I do it, I don’t have to deal with — I deal with the indie companies I want or I deal with, I put my stuff out digital. I always find ways to do things my own way.

When I was on, back in the day, my first record deal was with Violator Records — rest in peace Chris Lighty — and that’s where I learnt about the industry. I was on the shelf, you know what I’m saying. So during my time on the shelf, I did something that wasn’t being done at that time. You could do the research. No artist was putting out mixtapes without no album. It wasn’t heard of. You might see a Best of Biggie, but I made my first mixtape like 1997 probably, you know.

By the time we did Survival of the Illest tour, my mixtape was old. And people — when we did Survival of the Illest tour, I was scared to go. I mean, I’ma be honest, I was scared. Like we went to Detroit, Chicago and all those — I was scared to perform because I thought people was gonna boo me because they didn’t know my music. I was like, “Nobody’s gonna know this s—-.” And then when we got there, I was one of the most popular acts that night and I was blown away. People was like, “We got your album,” and I was like, “I don’t got an album.” They were showing me the mixtape! So that, after that, I started making more mixtapes. And then that became a trend. Very few people give me my credit for that, but it’s the truth. So I found that lane: I made mixtapes before it was done.

And same thing, when I got off of Violator, I had a situation. I could have signed with TVT during the time when Lil Jon was there — that label was big. But my whole thing is this: when you dealing with corporations, you’re dealing with schedules, etc., etc. I didn’t feel like getting on a label — I wanted my album to come out soon. So I knew if I signed with them, I would have to be fit in to their schedule, etc., etc., and I was just on the shelf for four years and I didn’t have waiting time. So I put out my album independently and I thrived. I was getting phone calls from Interscope and other people, you know. I just — I didn’t want to go back after that. So I was like freak it, you know. I could sell 50,000 records and be more happy than somebody that’s sold 850,000 records. So I was like this is it.

MUHAMMAD: Do you recommend for artists that are starting out that they go more of an independent route?

CORMEGA: If a artist is starting out, I think indie is good. I think it depends. See, if an artist is starting out — if a label’s gonna make you Eminem, then go for it, you know what I’m saying, because it doesn’t matter. He’s so successful, his success is so gigantic, that he’s his own entity now. So he could quit that and do his own thing now. So if they gonna blow you up, then go to major.

But if you build yourself – like, say you a new artist and then you start making your own mixtapes and you develop your own buzz and you’re big and people are flooding to you, you could be successful without it. Like what’s the guy name? Mac Miller — is that his name, Mac Miller? Majors was trying to holler at him, he’s like, “Freak y’all!” He went indie and he’s still good. So independent is definitely the route. It’s a excellent route. I wouldn’t recommend majors unless they’re gonna substantially pay you or unless they want to do something that’s groundbreaking and give you a fair deal. If they say, “Well, we’re gonna go 50/50 with you,” do it! Or even 60/40. 80/20 even ’cause 40 cents off a album is not cool. It’s nearly impossible to make your money back.

And this is another thing. Any time somebody gives you a loan, it’s recoupable — any loan that you get. Refinance a house, a car, any kind of — a loan from a bank, once you pay off, once that debt has been paid, you get the deed or you get the title. Once you get a record deal, once you repay that, you still don’t get a fair part. There should be amendments.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you don’t own it.

CORMEGA: You don’t own nothing. You don’t even own your name.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah.

CORMEGA: They could drop you off a label — this is the thing that hurts me, too. I’ve known artists that, label really didn’t care about them, they pushed them to the side or they maybe even had plans of dropping them, and then, unfortunately, maybe something happens and the artist dies. All of a sudden now, that label loves this artist again. Now this artist is making money. He’s generating funds and his family’s barely getting anything cause his cut was so small and then y’all was about to drop him. An artist gives his all and the artist die and they really have nothing to show for it. There’s a lot of artists who die whose families are struggling right now. You would think the label would say, “Alright, let’s give ’em —” you know, “Let’s cut them a check.” But they don’t. So it’s so many inconsistencies in the game that it’s just baffling and that’s why I just wanted to be sincere on this album.

 

I wanted to inspire people in other ways. And I know little dudes that wanted to be like me. So when I started making albums, I was telling people about the pitfalls of the street rather than just glorifying it. Now people respect me for what I’ve done in the independent game and in the industry. So it’s like I’m doing the same thing I did in the streets — I drop jewels, but now I’m trying to navigate you through the industry instead of navigating you through the streets.

The song “Industry” was important to me because I get tired of the exploitation of our music, and especially of the artist. When you look at the rap industry, there’s a lot of stories that don’t have happy endings. And there’s people that do little to nothing that thrive the most. There’s people that literally got in the industry because they was cool with somebody and cause they brown nose the right people — cause they was in the right circle — and they became executives. Whereas, you have a person like Large Professor. Large Professor never had a job as an A&R. That’s a crime.

KELLEY: Yeah.

CORMEGA: Think about it. His album — Breaking Atoms was groundbreaking. His influence on producers is — he introduced the game to Nas. He’s done so much that any label that really cares would have gave him a shot as an A&R.

MUHAMMAD: Right.

CORMEGA: A lot of my heroes don’t get the credit they deserve, and it started bothering me. And I just wanted to speak, and I wanted people to stop selling the illusion — even with the independent game, you could get jerked. You got labels like Koch that’ll tell people, “Oh yeah, you get 60/40.” You don’t get 60/40. You don’t get 60/40; it’s not 60/40. All is not fair, so I wanted to be the one on a song like “Industry” to express the truths to artists. That’s why I say, “Beef DVDs on BET so every artist who’s on it was beefing for free,” you know. If you listen to that song — and I made sure I said no disrespect intended. “I know he got beats,” that’s what I said about QD3. And everything I’ve said makes sense. There’s no animosity or vengeance in my words.

It’s self-evident, so I just want to make self-evident music. I took that risk. And at the end of the day, you know why I was able to take that risk? Because what could happen? I’ve already been blacklisted before. I already said freaking — and left the majors and started — I made a lane for myself. You can’t blacklist me independently, or you can’t blacklist me to the fans. I’m gonna always find a way. So I’m willing to take the risk, you know. That’s just one of the risks that I took on the album.

KELLEY: I liked your mention of shareholders on that song also, cause that kind of gets at what you’re really up against. If a corporation is — the law is that the shareholders have to profit, then how do we change what they value?

CORMEGA: Exactly. One of the biggest misconceptions — one of the big things that really bothered me about the industry, period, is, often in life when we see things aren’t as equal as they should be or fair as they should be, we often try to — we often fight for change or for regulation, etc., etc. It bothers me to this day that record companies make at least, what, $10 off every record? Or maybe eight, if it’s discounted. You make so much money off a record but an artist gets less than — not even a dollar, not even a half of a dollar. If you get a half of a dollar, you got a good deal. The profit margin for the artist as opposed to the company is totally unfair.

Even at the end of the day when you’ve got artists like — a artist goes platinum and he’s happy and they’ll make sure there’s pictures of him with his platinum plaque, but whose glory is that? You got a plaque; that’s it. That plaque isn’t worth any money. Every album that sells a million copies generates $10 million, close to $10 million. There’s a lot of people we know that generated $10 million, and more, that we’ve seen on TV bankrupt or this or that. And they’re not all reckless spending. There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the industry so I just wanted to say freak it and stir up the hornet’s nest.

KELLEY: So why do you — why keep making music? Why stay in this industry, then?

CORMEGA: Because I’m not in the industry, I’m on the outer-stry. I’m in – see, me making music independently the way I do it, I don’t have to deal with — I deal with the indie companies I want or I deal with, I put my stuff out digital. I always find ways to do things my own way.

When I was on, back in the day, my first record deal was with Violator Records — rest in peace Chris Lighty — and that’s where I learnt about the industry. I was on the shelf, you know what I’m saying. So during my time on the shelf, I did something that wasn’t being done at that time. You could do the research. No artist was putting out mixtapes without no album. It wasn’t heard of. You might see a Best of Biggie, but I made my first mixtape like 1997 probably, you know.

By the time we did Survival of the Illest tour, my mixtape was old. And people — when we did Survival of the Illest tour, I was scared to go. I mean, I’ma be honest, I was scared. Like we went to Detroit, Chicago and all those — I was scared to perform because I thought people was gonna boo me because they didn’t know my music. I was like, “Nobody’s gonna know this s—-.” And then when we got there, I was one of the most popular acts that night and I was blown away. People was like, “We got your album,” and I was like, “I don’t got an album.” They were showing me the mixtape! So that, after that, I started making more mixtapes. And then that became a trend. Very few people give me my credit for that, but it’s the truth. So I found that lane: I made mixtapes before it was done.

And same thing, when I got off of Violator, I had a situation. I could have signed with TVT during the time when Lil Jon was there — that label was big. But my whole thing is this: when you dealing with corporations, you’re dealing with schedules, etc., etc. I didn’t feel like getting on a label — I wanted my album to come out soon. So I knew if I signed with them, I would have to be fit in to their schedule, etc., etc., and I was just on the shelf for four years and I didn’t have waiting time. So I put out my album independently and I thrived. I was getting phone calls from Interscope and other people, you know. I just — I didn’t want to go back after that. So I was like freak it, you know. I could sell 50,000 records and be more happy than somebody that’s sold 850,000 records. So I was like this is it.

MUHAMMAD: Do you recommend for artists that are starting out that they go more of an independent route?

CORMEGA: If a artist is starting out, I think indie is good. I think it depends. See, if an artist is starting out — if a label’s gonna make you Eminem, then go for it, you know what I’m saying, because it doesn’t matter. He’s so successful, his success is so gigantic, that he’s his own entity now. So he could quit that and do his own thing now. So if they gonna blow you up, then go to major.

But if you build yourself – like, say you a new artist and then you start making your own mixtapes and you develop your own buzz and you’re big and people are flooding to you, you could be successful without it. Like what’s the guy name? Mac Miller — is that his name, Mac Miller? Majors was trying to holler at him, he’s like, “Freak y’all!” He went indie and he’s still good. So independent is definitely the route. It’s a excellent route. I wouldn’t recommend majors unless they’re gonna substantially pay you or unless they want to do something that’s groundbreaking and give you a fair deal. If they say, “Well, we’re gonna go 50/50 with you,” do it! Or even 60/40. 80/20 even ’cause 40 cents off a album is not cool. It’s nearly impossible to make your money back.

And this is another thing. Any time somebody gives you a loan, it’s recoupable — any loan that you get. Refinance a house, a car, any kind of — a loan from a bank, once you pay off, once that debt has been paid, you get the deed or you get the title. Once you get a record deal, once you repay that, you still don’t get a fair part. There should be amendments.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you don’t own it.

CORMEGA: You don’t own nothing. You don’t even own your name.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah.

CORMEGA: They could drop you off a label — this is the thing that hurts me, too. I’ve known artists that, label really didn’t care about them, they pushed them to the side or they maybe even had plans of dropping them, and then, unfortunately, maybe something happens and the artist dies. All of a sudden now, that label loves this artist again. Now this artist is making money. He’s generating funds and his family’s barely getting anything cause his cut was so small and then y’all was about to drop him. An artist gives his all and the artist die and they really have nothing to show for it. There’s a lot of artists who die whose families are struggling right now. You would think the label would say, “Alright, let’s give ’em —” you know, “Let’s cut them a check.” But they don’t. So it’s so many inconsistencies in the game that it’s just baffling and that’s why I just wanted to be sincere on this album.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Live In The Present’: Charlie Haden Remembered

Charlie Haden plays upright bass with Keith Jarrett's band in New York City, 1975. Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Charlie Haden plays upright bass with Keith Jarrett’s band in New York City, 1975.
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

 

Charlie Haden, the preeminent bass player of his generation, died on July 11 at 76. Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross spoke to Haden five times throughout his career, in interviews which span from 1983 to 2008.

Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, and grew up in Missouri. From the age of 2 until he was 15, he sang on his family’s country music radio show. He had to stop singing when polio affected his vocal cords, at which point he got serious about playing bass.

Although he was brought up on traditional music, Haden made his reputation in jazz; he helped lead a musical revolution in the late 1950s and early ’60s as a member of the original Ornette Coleman Quartet. In 1969, he launched his own group the Liberation Music Orchestra, which performed works inspired by liberation movements around the world. In the ’80s, he founded the group Quartet West, drawing inspiration from film noir and jazz and pop singers of the ’40s and ’50s. Haden was especially nostalgic for that era. “I think it’s important to remember beautiful things in the past,” he said in his 1992 interview.

In 2008, he made an album with his three daughters and his wife, performing the kind of country music he sang as a child.

In remembrance of Haden’s extraordinary career, Fresh Air assembled some of his best interview moments.

 

Interview Highlights

On playing with Ornette Coleman, and how other musicians reacted

“There was a lot of controversy around us. When we opened up at the Five Spot in New York, fights used to break out right in the club. People would be putting us down, people would be praising us. The club was packed every night with everybody from different parts of the art world: Painters, famous writers, film makers, dancers, musicians. I would look out, and standing at the bar would be , , , and they would be looking dead in my eye, you know, saying, ‘Okay, what are you going to do?’ And I would be playing, and have my eyes closed, and one night I opened my eyes and there was with his ear glued to the front of my instrument.

 

 

“It was like that every night, it was very exciting. The violence wasn’t exciting. One guy set somebody’s car on fire. One night, I remember, somebody came back in the kitchen, we were standing, talking with Ornette — I won’t say who it was — and hit Ornette in the face. It was really a very strong ‘excitation’ time. New things were happening, not only in music, but in people’s minds, every night from that music.”

On being arrested in Portugal

“We were playing with the Newport Jazz Festival of Europe, which included Duke Ellington’s band and Miles Davis and a lot of people — giants of jazz. It was really a very exciting tour, but the last place that we were playing out of 14 countries was in Portugal, and I went to Ornette [Coleman] as soon as I saw it on the itinerary and I said, ‘I’m not playing.’ And he said, ‘Well, we’ve signed the contract; we should play. You’ll get me in trouble if we don’t play.’ So I decided to play, but what I did was we played ‘Song For Che’ [at] the concert, and before we played it, I dedicated it to the Black Liberation Movement in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau. [It] was in a hockey stadium in Casegas, outside of Lisbon, and there were 20,000 people there, most of whom were young students and were ready to hear something like that. They started chanting, and all hell broke loose as soon as I made the dedication, and police were running around with machine guns trying to get order. There was cheering — you couldn’t even hear the song, there was so much cheering.

“My wife had just given birth to triplets back in New York, and it was a very traumatic birth. And I was going to cancel the European tour before I even left New York, and she persuaded me to go. And then, after I was arrested, I thought maybe I’d never see my kids. I was actually crying, and I didn’t know whether I would even live or not. But now, looking back on it, even though it was very scary and very frightening, I know I would do it again, and I’m glad that I did it.”

On his family’s country radio show growing up

“Every day was a great experience for me. I just loved it. We did our radio show from the farmhouse, and my brothers and sisters would go out and do the chores, milk the cows and come in, have breakfast, and my dad would crank the phone on the wall to let the engineer in Springfield, [Mo.], know that we were ready to go on the air, and we’d do the show. Every day was like a wonder to me.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Antlers, ‘Doppelganger’ (Live) – favorite NPR sessions

July 14, 2014
The Brooklyn band frequently finds inspiration in dark places: On 2009’s Hospice, singer-guitarist Peter Silberman reflects on terminal illness and emotional abuse, while this year’s Familiars turns the Buddhist notion of bardo, a state of being between incarnations, into the impetus for a dialog about multiple selves.

Whether or not you notice his intentions, it’s hard not to be swept away by The Antlers’ dreamy, ambient pop melodies. Familiars is felt in the heart, not the head. Here, the band performs “Doppelganger” in a gorgeous studio session. Head over to watch three more videos documenting the band’s recent appearance.

Enjoy.

What Happens When 350 Musicians Meet For The First Time In Brooklyn?

 

 

 

July 02, 2014 • NPR Music leave a lot of variables out in the wild when they make Field Recordings. That’s especially true when they commission new music for the annual Make Music New York festival, as we have for three years.

Since they are not using a traditional stage and people are roaming around, they don’t know exactly what the performance will sound like (though they are lucky to work with fantastic engineering colleagues). It’s always held outdoors, and they can’t be sure what the weather will be.

And in two of these three years — and this one — they have flung the doors open and invited anyone who wanted to perform to come play alongside professionals. Pretty risky, right?

But what they have found, and what is so incredibly , is that amazingly talented and generous people join in — this year, about 350 of them on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library. With a new piece by of , the beat and the heart were there already, but the spirit burst to life when all those musicians came out to play.

Congratulations to NPR for their efforts in bringing the annual Make Music New York festival to our city.

Credits: Producers: Mito Habe-Evans, Saidah Blount, Anastasia Tsioulcas; Audio Engineers: Kevin Wait, Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Mito Habe-Evans, Colin Marshall, Christopher Parks, Maya Sharpe, A.J. Wilhelm, Marina Zarya; Special Thanks: Make Music New York, Brooklyn Public Library, Red Baraat, Mark and Rachel Dibner of the Argus Fund, our many volunteers and all the participating musicians; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann

Song Premiere: Robert Plant’s Bold New Band

Robert Plant and his new band.

Robert Plant and his new band.

 

Of all the artists making music in the ’60s and ’70s and still making music today, continues to keep his music vital and interesting. His music with in 2007 was steeped in the bluesy rock the singer does best, but it wasn’t nostalgic, it was fresh. In 2010 it was Band Of Joy with and , again surprising and lovable. Now the sixty-five year old former singer has a new band and project, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. Judging from the one song we’re premiering here today I’m eager to get my hands on the new album.

Robert Plant - Born in England; made in the U.S.

Robert Plant – Born in England; made in the U.S.

 

It’s urgent. It’s acrobatic. It’s pulsing with raw sexuality. It is the unmistakable voice of Robert Plant.

Plant was just 19 when he joined in 1968. He was already known as “The Wild Man of Blues From the Black Country” in the area around Birmingham, England. His new album, Band of Joy, is named after one of his earliest bands, and you can hear a lot of the same influences now as then.

 

This song, called “Rainbow,” is a haunting, percussive mix of rock and soul. It’s from a new record, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (the l is lower case intentionally), which comes out on Sept. 9 on a new label for Robert Plant, Nonesuch. In a press release, he calls it “a celebratory record, powerful, gritty, African, Trance meets Zep.” His band includes Justin Adams on various percussion including bendir and djembe and also guitar; John Baggott on keyboards, loops, moog bass and piano; Juldeh Camara on ritti (a single stringed fiddle); Billy Fuller on bass, drum programming and omnichord; Dave Smith on drums and Liam “Skin” Tyson on banjo and guitar. Tchad Blake mixed all but a few of the album’s tracks and he really is a master at making even the ordinary sound extraordinary. You may know his work with Elvis Costello, Sam Phillips, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits and so many more. Plant will tour with the new album in the fall — all we know now is that there are shows planned at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Sept. 27 and 28.

 

“The complexion of this adventure — it’s definitely made in America,” Plant says. “As a kid — and most of us British musicians — we felt the resonance of American music. It’s all the stuff that affected me and made me quite emotional when I was a kid. All that great stuff — mix it and twirl it around if you like with the more glossy American doo-wop/pop, which you can hear on Band of Joy. If you listen to the Kelly Brothers song ‘Falling in Love Again,’ you hear that sweet side of the sound.”

With 40 years of music behind him, Plant has been exposed to much music. In an interview, All Things Considered host Melissa Block asks how Plant finds new paths to songs.

“I hear so many songs that many years ago I would have thought unassailable,” Plant says. “When you’re 20 years old and you’re making points with volume and dynamism, it’s a fantastic thing to do. But just to enjoy an adventure in restraint, it’s like, what don’t you do to make it work.”

On Band of Joy, Plant’s cover of “Silver Rider” by the indie-rock band is about as restrained as you can get.

For Plant, there was no training his voice — just singing.

“I used to deliver newspapers, and I got enough money to send off to King Records in Cincinnati from Worcestershire in England, as a 13-year-old,” Plant says. “I got the original pressings of ‘s Live at the Apollo — a voice that’s absolutely unbelievable. And then, whoop, some crackling radio underneath my pillow gives me singing ‘Way Over There’ — ‘What’s this? This is what it is. This is people letting every single breath that they’ve got out.’ It’s just too much. I had to try and get there.

“So many white kids, English kids — we had no culture,” Plant says. “We had no points of reference, really, apart from these hazy radio signals fading in and out depending on the weather over your mom and dad’s house. We just ate it up and just tried to get it like that. We all failed miserably, to be honest.”

The voice of “Whole Lotta Love” failed miserably? According to Plant, he was too invested in academia and doing what his parents asked of him. He hadn’t hit those “subterranean grooves yet.” But he says that when he listens back to those Led Zeppelin records now, he hears a “precocious” kid, “looking into the crowd and wiggling his legs about and wondering what’s for supper” — metaphorically, of course.

Glorious Failures And Magnificent Moments

There are so many instances when Plant’s voice entwines with Jimmy Page’s guitar. Block wonders if that guitar influenced his voice.

“The kind of vocal exaggeration that I developed was based on what key songs were in,” Plant says. “Lots of songs would be in E or A, which you got to get up there if you’re going to sing in E. Some nights it was great and some nights, live, you had to run for cover. I’d like to pretend that the PA had broken sometimes, because I set myself huge challenges to try and be consistent. And some of those vocal performances were, you know, real tough. And some of them we cheated, you know, used vari-speed and got up there. Here and there you can hear, [they] slowed down the tape and then [I’d] sing over it and speed it back up again, you know … Mama, mama, mama, mama! ‘Cause it fitted. Back in those early days, I was flying by the seat of my pants quite a lot, and there were glorious failures, and there were magnificent moments.”

At some point, Plant’s voice became an instrument, but he doesn’t quite liken it to Page’s guitar.

“It’s a weird thing to do, because the voice doesn’t have that kind of flexibility,” Plant says. “I wanted my voice to be a tenor sax, really. I wanted to be . I wanted to be . I just think that certain instruments have so much more chance of following the electric charges in your mind. When you’re listening to people play the post-bebop stuff, you can hear this great instrumentation. But for a singer, you’ve got to work with syllables; you’ve got to work with themes and lyric. I’ve got to learn to play something soon.”

Considering his range and wail, it’s amazing that Plant has a voice left at all.

“I never stop and think anything, and that’s why talking to you is quite a revelation,” Plant says. “I never even think about these things. When you’re in a recording studio and you’ve got a microphone, and the tape’s rolling, and everybody’s playing, you just do it. You go into this place that makes sense for the moment. I can’t think about it in a straight line and say, ‘This is how I did this or that or the other,’ because even within a [Led] Zeppelin album, there was so much variance, and that’s what makes a career, a passage of time, a great gift. But my voice — how did I ever know I could do it? Listen to it now — I sound like Hoagy Carmichael. I feel good about what I’m doing, so I guess if I shut up for a couple of days, I can sing good again.”

joy_wide-4c2ffd1925aa75d39e1bbd24d00ed7ef5f3aec5a-s4-c85

This was a show full of surprises. First off, Band of Joy wasn’t just backing . It’s a band that happens to have Plant as a member. Sometimes multi-instrumentalist sung lead while Plant played harmonica. At other times, singer-songwriter or country artist took center stage. Sure, Plant was the main reason fans turned out at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. But this was a remarkable band giving a stunning performance.

Another surprise was Plant’s demeanor. He never cut loose. Even on a song like the track “Gallows’ Pole,” there was no crazy wailing. In fact, all of the Zeppelin tunes were beautifully restrained.

That led to another surprise: I never missed Plant’s Zeppelin histrionics. His restraint was exactly what this setting called for. The show was still a memorable treat: Amazing players applying their craft to great American blues and old timey tunes, along with some good old rock ‘n’ roll.

The final surprise was that I liked the covers as much as the Led Zeppelin songs. It’s safe to say that everyone smiled a little more when Band of Joy launched into “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Gallows Pole” and “Rock and Roll.” But truth be told, traditional songs and cover tunes such as the cut “Angel Dance,” a gospel medley that included “12 Gates to the City” and “House of Cards,” are what ultimately made this night a perfect delight.

The show was recorded at the Bowery Ballroom by Edward Haber, Irene Trudel, George Wellington and Mike Poole. It was mixed at Jerome L. Greene Performance Space by Mike Poole and Edward Haber.

 

 

 

Can’t Follow The Beat? Just Add Butter!

The National

The National

What is it about the rhythm of a song that grabs your ear? Odds are, it has something to do with your ability to tap your foot or move your body to the beat. But if you’ve ever heard a song whose beat you couldn’t quite follow, you may have been hearing what’s called a polyrhythm — the musical equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.

To find out more about how polyrhythms work, NPR’s Daoud Tyler-Ameen gets a lesson from drum teacher, jams with guitarist Bryce Dessner [The National] and learns what butter has to do with making these slippery rhythms stick.

When a band called made its debut more than a decade ago, it was considered an underdog in a busy independent music scene. The lead singer’s melancholy baritone and the lush instrumentation didn’t always fit the irony-laden swagger of the aughts. The National has endured, and these days it has a hard-won following. It headlines big concert halls and late-night talk shows.

Singer and lyricist Matt Berninger recently spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish about the band’s new album, Trouble Will Find Me, as well as being in a band of brothers, how his own brother inspired “I Should Live in Salt” (and made about their tour together), and his own sheepish attitude toward the band’s recent success. You can listen to the radio version at the audio link and read more of their conversation below.

Tell us a little bit about the lyrics to “I Should Live in Salt.”

I write all the lyrics, and this one was sort of inspired — very much inspired — by my younger brother, Tom, who’s nine years younger than I am. And he was on my mind a lot while we were making this record because he was living with my wife and I at the time. Still — actually still does. So he was on my mind and in my house. But he came on tour with us when we were touring for High Violet and made a film [Mistaken for Strangers] about his experience there, which is, which was — it’s a complicated movie. We’re very different brothers. Whereas I might be kind of buttoned-up and ambitious, he’s more lax in his approach to the universe, I guess. We love each other a great deal, but there’s often a lot of conflict between the two of us.

And there’s some fun imagery in one of the verses: “Can you turn the TV down? You should know me better than that.”

The lyrics to that are like a bunch of little fragments of thoughts about him. And, truthfully, it’s about us actually getting to know each other as adults, because I went off to college when he was a little kid. He was 9 when I was 18 and went off to college, and then I moved to New York after that. And he kind of went his own — a different path.

I felt a lot of guilt, because I think [he] needed an older brother the most when you start hitting your teens, and that’s when I sort of took off and disappeared on him a little bit. I mean, we’ve been close our whole lives. But then, when he came and joined us on the tour as a roadie, it was the first time we were spending a lot of time together as adults. And it was a big shift in our relationship and trying to figure out how to love each other and respect each other as adults — not just this much older-younger brother sibling dynamic. So the song kind of is a reflection on all of that.

It’s interesting, because the band The National is made up of siblings. There are Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and also Scott and Bryan Devendorf. So you’re the guy who doesn’t have a brother there.

And that’s always been a really healthy part of our band dynamic and stuff; it’s very much sort of the glue that’s kept our band together for 14 years. And I actually missed my brother, and I also was envious of the relationship they had — that they were traveling the world with their brother and had that person to lean on and vent to. When my brother came on tour with us — to have someone to lean on and complain about the other guys to or whatever, because there’s so much tension living in a bus together.

And you said you felt a little guilt, but the chorus is, “I should live in salt for leaving you behind.”

Honestly, that was just kind of an abstract image or something in my head and I don’t know. I think Lot’s wife turned to salt when she looked back at the city. I think they used to pack bodies in salt. So there’s not specifically any meaning into it directly, but it seemed like a bad thing to have to live in salt. A lot of my lyrics are approximate meaning without me knowing why they sound right.

How did your brother react to this? Now that the movie is over that he was making and you’re coming out with this album, what’s that relationship like?

Our relationship is much better. It’s good; it went through a healthy sort of rebirth of understanding each other, like I said, as adults. And he’s 33 now. He was 30 when he came on tour with us. But as far as the song goes, when he heard the song, he thought the song was about salt. He didn’t — he had no idea that it was about him at first.

But he is a heavy-metal guy. He does not listen to a lot of indie-rock, which I guess that’s the demographic or something that our band fits into. So he — it’s funny, we’re extremely different in many, many ways, but then, underneath the surface, I think we are very much brothers. There was a breaking point where we realized that he’s very different than I am and we’re both adults now. That’s when I think a whole different level of respect happened. I mean, we still fight like crazy like brothers or anybody does, but we just had to understand each other as people and not as older brother, younger brother.

I don’t know if this is right, but I read that you don’t play an instrument.

I don’t play an instrument. I pretend. I try to …

Air guitar? Or you mean they hand you a tambourine?

And I’m told to stop every time.

Your lyrics are very emotional and, on this particular album, speak very directly. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot buried in all kinds of metaphors.

Yeah, I used to hide behind a lot of clever, colorful metaphors. There’s colorful stuff on this one, too, but this one is more direct, I think, and is more emotionally naked and a little raw, and I don’t know how that happened. Writing the lyrics, I was no longer really worried about the image of our band or what people will describe our band as because of this song or that. I mean, we’ve been described in the past as, you know, “sad sack” or “melodramatic,” and I absolutely understand. And I …

Wait. You’re saying you understand? Do you feel that way about your music sometimes?

I think our music is emotionally even-keeled. Meaning, I think our music is — most people’s music has the same amount, you know, of ingredients of sadness and humor, and I think our music is really funny, too. I mean, a lot of the lyrics are really funny. But I think it’s a pretty normal, healthy amount of both — darkness and light in our records. So I don’t think of us as darker than other bands.

We’ve been described as a miserablist, dark, moody band, and I get it. I get it, because I think my voice just sounds that way maybe, and there are places I dig into the dark stuff and sad and melodramatic stuff, but I love that. I do. I love to make songs out of some of those shadows — you know, some of the things you lie awake thinking about, social anxieties and romantic insecurities and all that stuff. And we never put a song on a record that doesn’t move us emotionally, no matter how catchy or academically interesting the song is. If it doesn’t do something to that pit in your stomach, your heart, it won’t make it onto our record. Over the years, that has become our only guiding sort of principle: If you feel it, then it’s good.

This makes me think of the song “Graceless,” actually, which at one point has the lyric that you “don’t have the sunny side to face this.” But it’s actually kind of an upbeat song.

A person with grace is somebody who’s socially graceful or is a classy person, but sometimes you just feel the opposite of that, and you just feel like a jerk and a loser and a weirdo. And, yeah, so, “I don’t have the sunny side to face this” is sort of a self-mocking wink, I guess. Because you would never describe, I think, most of our music as sunny.

But, yeah, the record goes all over the place, and our band has always kind of gone all over the place. And this record particularly, we let go of any anxiety of what kind of band we’re supposed to be or what kind of band is a cool kind of band, and so we just chased the songs. And I think part of it is I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter, Aaron’s got a baby girl and Bryan’s got two little boys, and I think there’s — having kids gave us some perspective … that actually our band isn’t that important. You know, if it disappeared tomorrow, we’d be fine and it’s not the center of our universe. And so, in a strange way, we made a very unguarded record because we weren’t so worried about disappearing overnight as a band, which can happen easily. I think we just stopped worrying about all that stuff that never helped us write songs in the first place.

You’ve been pretty forthcoming over the years about how the band is perceived. I read this quote in Rolling Stone, where you said, “When we started, we weren’t exactly a cool band like or , and for years, we tried to prove we weren’t boring white guys. This time around, we didn’t have to prove anything.” And I found that really interesting, because you kind of did come out of that class — the class of 2001, I guess?

We were in that class, but if we were in that class, we weren’t really in the class picture. We’d be blurry and way in the background on the side. It was funny: We practiced right next to Interpol; I went and I saw The Strokes at places like Don Hill’s and Mercury Lounge — little places before they became international superstars. And we put out our record right around the same time and it was largely ignored — and I’m certainly not complaining — maybe rightfully so. And in a funny way, I think we got lucky, because we sort of learned how to be a band and learned how to write songs together in the shadows a little bit, and I think that was good for us. And we learned how to play live and we learned how to be a good live band by playing in front of empty rooms and trying to win over people one fan at a time, and we did that for years and years. And it wasn’t until our — we made two records that were largely ignored, and then we made an EP called Cherry Tree that I think was just when the chemistry of our band started to boil a little bit.

The sound of each album is different. I mean, you can sort of see the development with each album.

Our record collections were so different that it took us three records to find our own voice a little bit — our own, what we are. And that kind of happened on Cherry Tree. I think is the first time that we really started to sound like The National — whatever that is — and that keeps evolving. But I think the fact that we didn’t get a lot of attention for the first six or seven years, you know, steeled our resolve and made us even more hungry and ambitious and made us work really hard. And ultimately, I think it was really healthy for us.

Does it feel like you’ve kind of outlasted or survived much of the music from that scene?

I don’t know. We just … when we were touring for High Violet, we did some festivals with The Strokes, and we were reminded again how unbelievable they are and stuff. But we have kind of built a different following or something.

I’m not picking on The Strokes. But for someone outside New York who maybe has a little Brooklyn-band fatigue from the past 10 years, it’s interesting to see out of all the bands, The National really survived and created a catalog of something.

I know we work our butts off and desperately are trying to make the best records we can every time, and try to put the best shows on. That’s all we have any control of. I think we’ve been lucky, too. But we’ve definitely — we’ve earned our stripes, I think. I don’t know, we feel very satisfied and happy with finally getting a little bit of attention, because we were in the shadows for so long.

It’s OK to say it. I feel like I need to give you permission to enjoy some success. [Laughs.]

I know. We got so used to being underdogs and being the sort of forgotten guys that now that we’re getting a lot of attention, it’s an awkward shift. And false humility is annoying, so, it’s — yeah, we’re doing great and we’re happy about it.

In trying to understand what a National song is, one thing I did see over and over again is this idea that your albums are slow-burners or growers; it doesn’t hit you in the face right away the way a pop song does. Can you talk a little bit about that?

We would have loved to have been popular right away. And we would love, you know, we would love for our records to hit people over the head immediately. But we’ve heard that from people — that it’s the fifth or sixth listen where it starts to reveal itself, you know. And I think just maybe the process of our neurotic tinkering of the songs often is why that happens; the songs turn and get shrouded in these little weird things that make them a little less direct or something, or obvious at first. I don’t know. It’s something we’ve talked about, but we don’t know what the chemistry is that causes that. We’ve learned to accept it about our music and not fight it.

And they have a lovely way of, by the time you’re nearing the end, really having blossomed into something big — you feel enveloped by the music.

Yeah, they do. We embrace the drama of a song, and it grows and it swells and then usually there’s a building of tension and then often a big release of tension. By no means is that a formula, but that happens a lot in our songs. We don’t think about it; it’s just we follow the song. In the end of “Sea of Love,” it finally just lets loose — the song had to do that, you know? The whole thing is so tense all the way up until that part, and it was writing the melodies and us playing together that we all just like, it’ll just go that way naturally. And it’s really fun and exciting when a song just has its own momentum and its own force and weight behind it, and you just get swept along with the thing as it goes. A good song will do that, and we’ll just let it sweep us wherever it wants to.