This week’s artist of the week is an incredibly talented, interesting, and exciting young artist. He’s from the states, currently lives in Germany, has two accomplished records on his resume and a third one on the way soon. The artist of the week is…
So, often when you read about James Pants, people like to mention that he’s on the hip hop label Stones Throw, notably the label responsible for Madlib, DOOM, J Dilla‘s work, and many other cool hip hop artists. James Pants, however, is not a hip hop artist. It’d actually be tough to say exactly what kind of artist he is exactly, as his first album, Welcome, is a kind of electronic/soul/DJ-y affair, while his second, Seven Seals, is this weird dark/gothy/pop-rock album. His third – which is supposed to drop this year – will be called Love Craft, and the first song they’ve released off it sounds kind of like a dark, weird, synthy take on 50s doo-wop-pop-rock. Check it out below.
So why is he the band of the week? Mainly because of Seven Seals, which is a damn cool album that I’ve been getting more and more into over time. According to AllMusic, the album was made, “over a two-week period while he was holed up in a cabin studying the Book of Revelations and reading up on the occult.” Truth is the album sounds really fun and exciting in a kind of weird, grindhouse-movie way, as if Jim Morrison, Nico, Iggy Pop (circa-The Idiot), David Bowie, and Ian Curtis all got together to make an album about the end of the world, but ended up really enjoying themselves in the process. Like, you’d think it would be a drag (in a good way, like Joy Division‘s Closer), but it’s really not. But maybe I just get a big kick out of dark stuff – I never found Lou Reed‘s album Berlin really all the depressing (favourite solo Reed album, by the way), so what do I know?
Another cool thing about Pants – apparently he went to a [Stones Throw record label head] Peanut Butter Wolf show on prom night, with his promdate, then all three of them went record shopping the rest of the night. This led to Pants getting an internship at the label before getting officially signed. And now the dude is living in Germany. Pretty cool, eh? Yeahhhhh.
D: Well, he got extremely viable commercially. His songs have stood the test of time. I saw a benefit tribute to the Velvet Underground the other night, a bunch of other younger or whatever musicians, just other musicians, did his songs and once you remove the stigma of the Velvet Underground, the cult-ery of Lou Reed, whatever, from them, they just – as we always thought they were – are just great great great songs. So, how he’s changed? I don’t know. Maybe the world’s idea of him has changed. I don’t know how to put it about how he’s changed as a person. I recently said to a friend of mine who has also known him since 19-something-or-other, early 60s, “You know, Lou is blah blah blah,” and my friend said to me, “He was always that, you just never looked,” or, “You were blinded by him,” or something like that. So, I won’t go into that more. He’s alive and well and doing well and I have no personal or no recent anecdotes about him. He can answer for that.
He got big. What happens when you get big? I don’t know. He’s married to a wonderful woman and whatever problems people have with him on a personal, professional level, they’re not my problems now. I’m glad that he vindicated our early opinions, our early love, our early fanaticism about the Velvet Underground. And so has John Cale, and so had Sterling Morrison. And Maureen, of course, I love very much and she’s a wonderful person. And Lou got huge, Lou got rich, Lou got international, Lou got a lot of things the Velvet Underground never were because they were, I suppose, again, scary, ahead of their time. You were blinded by the whips and the leather and “kiss these boots” and all that, but they’re wonderful songs. They have nothing to do with being obsessed with leather or not obsessed with leather or heroin or not obsessed with heroin, but they’re remarkable songs.
I ran into a couple with a map – you have to know New York better to get the full brunt of this – they were walking around and they said, “Do you know where 125 Lexington Ave is?” And I said, “ Well, it’s not here, this is more like 1 Lexington Avenue. Are you thinking of Lexington 1-2-5 as in the song “Waiting For The Man”?” They said, “Yes! How did you know?” I said, “Well, I know the song.” It refers to 125th Street; they were now on 21st street. Lexington 125 is not an address; it means Lexington on 125th, which is now part of Spanish Harlem. But they were from Germany, France, I don’t remember, looking for 125 Lexington to take a picture of them standing in front of it, just like the Velvet Underground song. So, you know, they’re very big. And for the right reasons? Yes. And for stupid reasons like the one I just told you? Yes. But that’s what people get like when they’re fans. But the songs have resonated and survived and flourished.
M: Are there any bands out there that you think still haven’t gotten the appreciation they deserved?
D: There were bands I loved that I thought should be the biggest bands in the world and the last example of that, many, many years ago was Soundgarden. I thought they had the making of a ‘biggest band in the world’. I had some whiff of what was going on internally because I was as a fan, and with my reputation with the Stooges and the Velvet Underground and the Ramones, naturally the people in the band would let me in when I knocked on the dressing room door.
M: You were the one who signed the MC5. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the people in the band, what they were like behind the image?
D: They were super nice. They were nice to me; I signed them to their first record deal. They all lived together in one big house. Was it all peaches and roses? I don’t know think so. There’s nothing negative I could say about any of them as people. Some were smarter than others, some were more trouble than others, some were more political than others, some were so apolitical that it was astonishing how little they knew about what they were being put forth as, you know, the band of the revolution, blah blah blah. Most of them couldn’t care about being the band of the revolution and course that’s what did their career in. They should have been Grand Funk Railroad for all the reasons you like them. But when the coverage of you, the artist, whoever you are, moves from the entertainment section to the front pages – you’re in trouble.
I’m glad you love them, I loved them too, I thought they were going to be very big, little did I know that the events of ’68, ’69 politically were going to overtake us all. I guess we sort of set them all in motion but then they moved away and the only thing that is incomprehensible now, the main thing, is that there was one thing on everybody’s mind, with a few lunatic exceptions: everybody in the enlightened universe agreed on being extremely upset and determined to do something about the war in Vietnam. That was the only thing that everybody agreed on and would stake something on and would go to Washington for. You wouldn’t know a person who supported the war, you couldn’t know someone, you just wouldn’t. When the whole world, or the whole anti-world, an ever-growing percentage of the world, feels very strongly about one thing, that one thing is going to dominate the zeitgeist of that era. There’s been nothing since. Nothing. That was universal and very, very powerful. It’s not like the whole world – this is like scatology, it’s the battle of good and evil. And we were on the side of the good, and that’s the way you divided the population, at least of the United States: for or against the war. You can’t say “the war” now, nobody knows what you’re talking about, there’s so many of these little stupid wars going on, they don’t affect you, and there was a draft then where you could be either forced to move to Canada or sent to Vietnam. So everybody had to figure some way of lying their way out of doing government service. Along with that came the contempt for government and the people who make policy and politic
s and all that. That’s the legacy of Vietnam: nobody will ever trust people in positions of public power again, ever! But if you weren’t there, you couldn’t see it from the outside, you didn’t have perspective on it, you wouldn’t know how very big it was.
What the MC5 did was scare [people]. People were nervous about embracing them because they thought you had to embrace the riots in Chicago in ’68 and the yippies and anti-Americanism or whatever you called it, so people backed off from that. [It was touchy] because in any one city there were lots of people who did support that stupid war, that dreadful, dreadful thing. But the people who hated it were of a mind, and there has been nothing, nothing since to bring people together who are of a mind about any particular thing.
M: And what are you involved in now?
D: Putting my memories together and that’s about it. I don’t know. Nothing overwhelming. I don’t dare go near the music world. People say, “Oh there’s this really brilliant singer/songwriter you have to meet.” You know, really, I’m not one to give advice and really, I don’t really want to meet anybody who’s looking for music advice. What am I going to do for them? All I could do is tell them what not to do.
M: Are you writing your memoirs right now?
D: No, I don’t want memoirs. I would like my memoirs, if they appear at all, to appear posthumously, so I don’t have to be around to read the reviews (laughs).
This week’s artist of the week is a giant legend. He’s one of the most interesting and confounding artists of the last forty years. He was the founder of one of the most influential and awesome bands in rock before finding commercial success as a solo artist. He has never sold out. He has been a tough cookie and always marched to beat of his own drum. He is insanely cool and devilishly sexy. Fuck that – the man pretty invented cool. This week’s artist of the week is one of my all time favorites and a personal artistic idol…
Born Lewis Allan Reed in 1942 to a Jewish family, Reed grew up in Freeport, New York. He formed numerous bands while in high school before moving to Manhattan in 1963 and working for the quick-hit-making Pickwick Records. Reed worked as a songwriter for hire and managed to score a small hit for the label with a song called “The Ostrich”. The label in their attempt to make as much as possible from the hit formed a band around Reed called The Primitives, which featured a young Welsh-man named John Cale.
Cale, Reed and Sterling Morrison went on to form the incomparable Velvet Underground with simplistic drummer supreme Mo Tucker. The band gigged around New York without attraction much attention until Andy Warhol saw them. Impressed, Warhol took the band under his wing and mentored them, even taking producer credit on their first album, the classic The Velvet Underground and Nico. However, the album’s disappointing sales and Warhol’s poor management led Reed to fire Warhol. The band’s second album, the aggressive and abrasive masterpiece White Light/White Heat was produced by super-producer Tom Wilson (Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkle) but still failed to chart well. Lou Reed fired John Cale and the band’s amps were stolen resulting in the quieter but still amazing self-titled third album. The band then lost Tucker, who was too pregnant to play drums, and made the ok Loaded with then-bassist Doug Yule‘s cousin as drummer. Before Loaded was released, Reed quit the band and flew off to England to make his first solo album. The album made no impact – it was Reed’s next album which would make him a star.
In the early 70’s, long-time fan David Bowie invited Lou Reed to record an album with him and guitarist Mick Ronson. In 1972, the classic Transformer was released and featured the hit single, “Walk On The Wild Side”. The song is an acknowledged classic which became even more classic when the backing track was used in the A Tribe Called Quest song “Can I Kick It?”.
Reed followed the commercial success of Transformer with the commercially disastrous concept album Berlin. Though the album is just as good as Transformer if not better, it has long held a reputation as being crazy depressing…and it is, but brilliantly so. On a side note, I once met the album’s producer, Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, The Wall) at a bar mitzvah and told him, “I love what you did on Berlin” to which he replied, “wow”, perhaps because he didn’t expect a fifteen-year-old kid to compliment him on one of the least-known albums he’s worked on. Recently Reed made a concert film of Berlin, filmed by French director Julian Shnabel (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly).
After Berlin, Reed’s output became admittedly far less consistent, though he continued to write great songs and albums like Coney Island Baby and The Blue Mask. Even the notorious hour-long noise-fest Metal Machine Music has its fans.
Recently, Reed married art-rock artist Laurie Anderson, famous for her hit 80’s single “O Superman”. This summer’s excellent Adventureland also featured Lou Reed heavily in its plot. Right now I’m teaching thirteen-year-old kids guitar at a camp in British Columbia and many of them have no idea who Lou Reed is. I’m trying to teach them that Lou Reed was one of the most important and incredible songwriters of the last century and his extensive discography is essential knowledge for anyone interested in modern music.