Sunday, 1 June 2014

Answer Me This podcaster Helen Zaltzman

Martin the Soundman, Helen and Olly
One half of the podcasting world's most amusing, esoteric and silly duo, Helen Zaltzman is our guest. Her question and answer podcast, launched in 2007 and presented in tandem with Olly Mann, has won an armful of gongs, a world full of followers and imparted important knowledge in response to teasers such as why do round pizzas come in square boxes.

Here Helen tells me tales of her podcasting royalty family - which she shares with The Bugle's Andy Zaltzman - how she's answers that mountain of questions and what tune makes her punch the air. She might even answer a few queries too. Stream the show here or download it as podcast (just type 'shadowplayboys' into iTunes) and subscribe to Desert Isolation Discs.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Musician and hornicator inventor: Thomas Truax

Thomas Truax is one of the most original and heartwarming solo performers. The New Yorker, who lives in the fictional town of Wowtown, has toured the globe charming audiences with his gaggle of invented steampunk instruments.

His most notably sidekicks include the Beatspinner Wheel of Sister Spinster, as well as the giant Hornicator, which he's been known to drink through. 

The eccentric was once challenged to show how he makes an instrument. Given many items retrieved from a recycle bin, within 15 minutes he created a rhythmic invention which he looped through effects with water and rubber bands. 

We're very pleased to invite him into the desert to feel the heat of deciding his top eight tunes. "First I have to make a disclaimer: it is impossible for me to choose a definitive absolute eight best songs of all time. Because there are just so many great songs, and because the perfect song for a rainy Tuesday morning is not necessarily going to be so perfect on Wednesday night," he says. 

"Music is always in motion, even within the span of a song, that's part of it's appeal, and the nature of it. It may repeat but it moves and changes as it goes along, takes you places."  

Here are Thomas' choices:

Harry Nilsson - Moonbeam
This is one of my favourite songs, and in a way it illustrates what I'm talking about. Don't work on your computer while you listen to it, sit back and close your eyes and really listen to the narrative and let the music and words take you on their circular ride. 

It comes from a time when people did such things. It's beautifully simple and it's worth your full attention. This song puts a smile on my heart.

Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side
If you have the original 7", you'll notice that the B-SIDE is 'Perfect Day'. Yes, it's THAT good that another all-time-classic is only the B-Side. In 1972 a mainstream hit with references to transsexuals, male prostitution and so on, well, talk about sockin' it to the man... 

It's a transcendental song that shoots straight to everyone's gut instincts about living life to the fullest rather than playing it too safe. When I was a DJ at Avenue A sushi bar in New York many years ago I would challenge diners by playing songs like The Senator & The Cabin Boy by Alice Donut and they'd be horrified and want to leave without paying their bills. But without fail once I'd segue into Walk on the Wild Side everybody was back in their seats smiling with seaweed in their teeth and loving the DJ again.

Raymond Scott - Powerhouse
Raymond Scott's had a huge influence on me, probably since before I was even aware of it, watching cartoons as a kid. (Carl Stalling often unfairly gets the credit because Scott's tunes were licensed to him and then Stalling's name appeared on the cartoon credits for 'music'). Powerhouse just rules.   

Debussy - Clair de Lune
What can I say? It just transcends the realm of such things as a best songs list. Soul soothing.

Santo and Johnny - Sleepwalk
This is a timeless, haunting song. There are lyrics (there's a great Betsy Brye version) but when I heard them I thought I already heard/knew them all in the instrumental version, because the guitar sings them. Or maybe it's John Barry's 'Born Free' which is pretty much the same melody/progression. 

Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood - Some Velvet Morning
I think the song itself clearly describes all you need to know.

Alice Donut - The Senator & the Cabin Boy
I love Alice Donut like a parent finds their own ugly baby beautiful. I discovered them the way local bands used to be discovered: a xeroxed flyer with their logo, maybe made with a sharpie, wheat pasted to a lamppost (or some illegal surface) on Avenue A in NYC.

I liked the name and I liked the way it was written, with an eyeball for the 'I" in Alice. So I went to the show. And then I went to their shows every time I could over the next many years. They reminded me a little of local bands I knew from Denver like Acid Ranch, but they were a bigger-city version. Nothing is photoshopped or airbrushed out in Alice Donut land.  Life is ugly and stinky and loud and freaky, and always delivered with a kind of insane grin. 

As a side note, a little over a decade ago, after Donut split up, and just before I started doing my solo thing,  ex-members Stephen, Sissi and Michael had me in to audition as a potential new singer for them (but probably as a band with a new name) which I was really excited about. It was a kick to do that, playing with my local heroes. 

Then they had me back a second time, and it started looking like just maybe it was going to turn into a real thing. Then Tomas Antona, the original singer who had quit, decided to come back and Alice Donut was alive again. In the grand scheme of things certainly the best thing for all concerned.

The Cure - A Forest
For me after decades this song is still really exciting and full of deep layers of mystery and a real dreamlike atmosphere. This band has been so widely influential by now that it's a little bit  like David Lynch movies: they were startlingly unique when they arrived, but ubiquitous stylistic imitators have made their impact - though still considerable - less distinct. When I first heard it, it was not quite like anything I'd ever heard before. 

I was turned onto Seventeen Seconds by a guy that worked in a suburban record store in Colorado. I bought 'Never Mind The Bollocks' by the Sex Pistols and he said 'If you're into that weird British shit you should check this out'. At the time in America it was a rare import and I didn't know what the band looked like or anything else about them, at that time you didn't look up bands on the internet so there was a mystery about it. You just listened and stared at the cover which had very little information on it.  

It was also during the time I was doing my first band ever and it was a revelation, both to me and the other guy in the band, who was not as overwhelmed as I by the discovery. He said 'is this the kind of music you want to make? It's like...graveyard music!' I liked that description, and he saw that. I guess that was the beginning of the end of that band. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Artist and Agony Aunt: Piney Gir

Angela Penhaligon, aka country-folktronica songstress Piney Gir, is my latest guest on Desert Isolation Discs as she tells me the eight tunes she couldn't live without in a desert.

Piney is an acclaimed artist who has released five albums, toured the globe including playing Glastonbury festival and was a member of both Vic Twenty and The Schla La Las. Her chirpy disposition and venerable accordion skills have won her fans worldwide and her new album is hotly anticipated. Perhaps most importantly, she's ShadowPlay's agony aunt with her popular PG Tips column

A Kansas City native born into a religious family, her exposure to pop music as a child was limited. Here she tells me how that affected her attitudes to music, why she moved to London and why a certain noisy Boston, Massachusetts band are actually rather romantic. To download the show as a podcast or subscribe click here.

An here's Piney in action in the fantabulous video to The Longest Day of Spring

Monday, 24 March 2014

A ShadowPlayboy and Hunglow Psycho: Mr James Lambert

It's a pleasure to ask Mr James Lambert to tell me the eight songs he'd save from the wreckage if stranded in the desert after a freak extreme air ironing accident. 

Lambert was one half of the finest Sheffield-based-student-radio-show-featuring-a-quiz-called-Beat-the-Bobo, the ShadowPlayboys, contributed to ShadowPlay fanzine and also edited his own zine, Hunglow Psycho. 

A sports and music fanatic and a dear friend, Lambert lets us into his world to talk attitudes to punk music and the glory of Sheffield and Nottingham. To download the show as a podcast or subscribe click here.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Hello Thor co-founder and beardy music wizard Anders Knight

Barcelona-based record label head honcho and talented marketer Anders Knight is my latest guest on Desert Isolation Discs. It's a pleasure to welcome Anders to the podcast. He became the lynchpin in the arts and culture scene of Nottingham when based there through his excellent stewardship of craft night Jumpers for Goalposts (my former charge), promoting gigs with Super Night, as co-host of the Pretty Dandy Flea markets or enticing us to watch great films at the Broadway cinema. 

His record label Hello Thor - co-founded with fellow friends of the blog Tom Whalley and Nick Lawford in 2008 - is host to a raft of exhilarating acts including Fists, We Show Up on Radar and Anxieteam. 

Speaking down the line from Barcelona where he and his equally creative wife Becky live, Anders tells DiD the Mansfield number one hit that never was, how he set up the label and those all important eight tunes he could not live without if stranded in a desert. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Musician and comic book maestro Jeffrey Lewis

New York singer/songwriter Jeffrey Lewis is one of the most unique artists alive. Blending incisive wit, his skills as a comic book artist and ear for a tune, Lewis has won the hearts of an army of fans worldwide. 

He counts giants of the music world from Stephen Malkmus and Frank Black to Daniel Johnston and Devendra Banhart amongst his peers and collaborators but has his feet so firmly planted on the ground of his beloved Lower East Side of Manhattan it is astonishing. Here he is at his finest, playing, in part, his final choice

Jeff is long-time friend of DiD's sister fanzine ShadowPlay, featuring as one of its first interviewees in 2005. He tells us the eight tunes he would need with him if stranded in the desert. Click on the Youtube links to hear them in full. 

Jeff's picks:

Current 93 - The Carnival Is Dead and Gone  
Jeff says: "If you were at an open mic and somebody came in with an acoustic guitar and sat on a stool and sang a song like this it would blow you out the back of the room, people would be either laughing at the performer or screaming in terror trying to get away from him. 

"A songwriter who believes this intensely in what they are writing and singing is a rare thing, most people would be scared to let their opinions out like this, especially concerning unusual beliefs. I can hear this song a hundred times and still get chills." 

The Grateful Dead - Box of Rain

Jeff says: "Another song about death, totally different from Current 93 of course… but in some ways maybe not so different.  In a world that's post-organised religion it is one of the major responsibilities of artists and poets to provide us with mental architecture on which to drape our own thoughts and emotions concerning the major topics, and death is one of the major topics. 

"Who can pick just one Grateful Dead song to be the most significant? This one sticks out just a bit more for me among their 20 or 30 other greatest songs, maybe it's because this has the unusual element of being more Phil Lesh-oriented than Jerry Garcia or Bob Weir-oriented."

Jonathan Richman - Affection

Jeff says: "Have you noticed a trend in my selections thus far? My favourite songs seem to come mostly from artists who each have ten zillion albums. Maybe that means it's like a zillion monkeys on a zillion typewriters - if you release album after album for decade after decade it increases your odds of writing the greatest songs of all time perhaps? 

"Well, who the hell can pick one greatest Jonathan Richman song, except that I think anybody compiling the 20 greatest Jonathan Richman songs would have to include this one. There are a number of different recorded version of this, with different lyrics and instrumentation, but the early one from the 1979 Richman & The Modern Lovers "Back in Your Life" LP is my favourite. 

"Unlike the above Dead and Current 93 tunes, doesn't this one make you feel like you could've written and sung it yourself? That's the Richman magic, like Lou Reed too - it's the highest form of magic, the artistic power is so great that the sleight-of-hand is at the most absolute effortless appearance."

Crass - Systematic Death 

Jeff says: "Best punk song of all time? How many hardcore punk songs make you cry? I cry just thinking about this song. The mix of anger and sympathy is what makes this so brilliant - many punks screamed hatred for "normal" folks, but here it's the pathos of the way these folks have been brutalized and robbed and murdered by the circumstances out of their control… well, part of me will always love The Wall by Pink Floyd, but this song is basically the entire 2-LP Wall squeezed into one little song. 
"Also it has the best vocals of all time, and the way that screeching, staggered slow explosion sound pulls you out of the bridge and back into the song is just so insanely devastating to me. It's so inaccurate, it's like this weird smear of sound across the track that doesn't really start or end where it "should", like the rage and sadness that went into this was so extreme that who could possibly be bothered to put sound effects into the exact right place? So anyway, yeah, best lyrics, best vocals, best moral concept, best overall guitar sound, for me punk just doesn't get any better than this."

Daniel Johnston - Etiquette 

Jeff says: "Yeah right, pick one Daniel Johnston song… impossible… but this is as great as any other great one. Encountering music like this was a life-changing revelation for me after a teenage classic rock life; the same way you hear people in the 70s say that everything changed when they first heard the Sex Pistols, that's what Daniel Johnston did for me. 

"Complete redefinition of everything - all music immediately was judged by a new standard, experience of music divided into pre-Daniel experience and post-Daniel experience. Maybe some people take this sort of thing for granted, or were introduced to this kind of aesthetic in a different way and a different place and time in their life, but this was the ground zero for my own path."

The Fall - Your Heart Out

Jeff says: "Big surprise, another artist with a zillion songs and a zillion albums. Dragnet is my favourite Fall album, though I love all 24 or 32 or 45 of my Fall CDs very much. This is the song where I perhaps first noticed there was something VERY unusual and compelling about this band. I had listened to a couple albums a couple times, it was like some kind of lo-fi Joy Division thing, I was like okay, it's sort of interesting sort of punky stuff, but in all the murk there would sometimes be a lyric sticking out which made you go Whaaaaat???!!?? Did he really just say that?!?!? 

"And every time you re-listen you pick up on more of those, just barely, like sticking your hand into this thick mystery stew and realising it's way deeper and funnier and sadder and heavier and smarter each time you stick your hand in and pull out another unexpected thing.  Like the blind men feeling the elephant, you gotta keep going back and trying to figure out what this is, what's this all about, it's a weird gift that keeps giving plus it totally rocks in that exact 'Pebbles Volume 3' way which is nearest and dearest to my heart when it comes to real rock and roll."

The Geto Boys - Mind Playin' Tricks 

Jeff says: "Funny, sad, scary, unforgettable, weird, silly, totally stupid as heck, but from another perspective really smart and sharp and oddly vulnerable for a gangster rap track… It's true that rap music has come a long way from the early 90s gangster period but in any case my favourite stuff is usually the stuff with a real narrative sense.

"On some days I might pick something like "Dance With the Devil" by Immortal Technique, except this Geto Boys track has MULTIPLE narratives, each one better than that last, and all built around an unstoppably great sample job. Rapid-fire short stories, each with a beginning, middle and end. Who could possibly not like this?"

The Fugs - Nothing

Jeff says: "Says it all. Best recording of all time? Anyway, there are certainly other all-time great recordings out there in the world, but none are BETTER than this even if perhaps equal in their own ways. Also these guys are my home-town heroes, neighbourhood icons of the Lower East Side, I feel like this is my personal history, like my personal national anthem of my personal little cultural nation here in this particular little lost pocket of Manhattan. 

"Sung also in Yiddish and Spanish of course, so you don't even need to know where it's from to know where it's from. If you listen carefully you can hear the echoes of these Fugs still embedded in the sound of the cement around here, if you find a piece that hasn't been repaved in a long long time, a piece that still molecularly bears the footprints of Charlie Parker and the dog poops of a thousand thousand unleashed neighbourhood dogs of yore, grains of bad old drug powders, bits of broken glass."

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Designer, music lover and mother Heather Lawson

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome a very special guest to the DiD blog… my mother! Part of the reason I began recording these missives was as an excuse to quiz mum on her choices. She is an avid listener to a certain similar show and has also hosted DiD parties. 

Here, Heather tells us which eight songs she couldn't do without when stranded in a desert and talks about her life, family and founding her own successful business, Hellish Designs.

Please click the Mixcloud play button below to listen to the full interview with song clips. The songs in full are below that in the form of Youtube videos.

Ella Fitzgerald - Manhattan
Heather says: "This is going right back to my childhood and teens and thinking about my dad who loved to sing. He loved Ella Fitzgerald most of all. I've chosen Manhattan, I visited the New York for the first time this year so that brings us bang up to date. Great lyrics."

Joni Mitchell - Song for Sharon
Heather says: "Song for Sharon comes from Hejira which is the album I associate with my A Levels in our sitting room, playing it to block out everything else that was going on in the house. It's a song about being a young woman, marriage, careers, sadness and happiness."

Led Zeppelin - Ramble On
Heather says: "Music was there right from the very beginning with Ken. We had a long first date with a game of tennis, a trip to the fair and playing Led Zeppelin."

Jackson Browne - The Pretender
Heather says: "I absolutely adore Jackson Browne. He's a great songwriter, the album is The Pretender and just doesn't have a duff track on it."

Ian Brown - Billie Jean
Heather says: "Another aspect of music listening is singing and dancing. The thing that always gets me on to the dace floor is Wake Me Up by Wham but I've decided to pick Ian Brown's version of Billie Jean. It will give me the memories of Alex and Gareth dancing around."

Gillian Welch - Black Star
Heather says: "What an interesting combination, Gillian Welch is nothing like Radiohead and she's got this clear voice so I can hear all the lyrics. It's a great track about being very depressed."

Bon Iver - Holocene
Heather says: "I've chosen Holocene, I think it's a great track from a very talented man and his group and brings back memories of seeing them at Latitude." 

Nick Cave - (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?
Heather says: "This track really stood out, I downloaded it and listened and listened to it. I love the languorous way he sings, the longing in it, the romantic feel to it, it's a beautiful track."

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Podcaster, flight attendant and author Betty in the Sky

Renowned podcaster Betty Thesky has featured in USA Today, The New Yorker and even hosted her own BBC World Service documentary since hitting the air and the airwaves with her unique podcast. Betty is a flight attendant for a major US airline and recounts tales of her escapades in her addictive podcast Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase.

As Betty spends her life travelling the world and we don't want to jinx her with our usual rules of making our guests crash-land in a desert, we've allowed her to be isolated on a desert island as a special one-off backdrop to her song choices.

"I had to give this some thought,  I love so many different types of music," Betty says. "But I concentrated on the task at hand. A deserted island. For a luxury item I would want a snorkel and mask so I could really enjoy the water. I'm a big traveler and snorkelling feels like going to another country, another world... the country under the sea."

Betty's picks:

Baha Men - Lime In The Coconut

Betty says: "My first song is on the nose and is sort of a party song so I thought it would be appropriate... 'Lime In The Coconut'  by Baha Men (I sure hope there would be lots of coconuts!)"

Ben Harper - Beter Way

Betty says: "I thought I might want an anthem of sorts. Something righteous and upbeat to keep me going so I picked 'Better Way' by Ben Harper."

Cibo Matto - Sugar Water

Betty says: "I wanted songs that fit different moods and Sugar Water makes me feel sexy. I found this song on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was young and silly... but I still love it and I'm still silly."

Cat Power - Could We

Betty says: "This next one is upbeat and I can listen to it over and over again and it always makes me smile."

Ben Harper - Brown Eyed Blues

Betty says: "I picked two songs by Ben Harper. So maybe what I really want to take as a luxury item to a deserted island is Ben Harper."

Morcheeba - World Looking In

Betty says: "The next two songs were given to me on a mix CD by a guy I was really smitten with at the time. So the lyrics still warm my heart. We both had books being published at the time so 'the world looking in our window' was actually pretty accurate."

Jack Johnson - Supposed to Be

Betty says: "Supposed to Be is my last pick. It's calming and maybe sitting on a beautiful deserted island is actually... 'how it's supposed to be!'"