Yes that is the GZA.
“THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN”
curated and designed by DEVENDRA BANHART
Available direct from Arthur: the acclaimed 2004 compilation of current underground folk music, as selected by Devendra Banhart.
This is more than a compilation–it’s expertly sequenced and paced, like one long, slow flow of a particularly rich vibe. Liner notes are by the artists themselves, paying tribute to each other, all handlettered by Devendra, who also provides artwork on cover, back cover, sleeve, tray and the disk itself.
“Essential.” — Mojo, September 2004
“Sparkling.” — The Wire, July 2004
“8.6 (out of 10): [Its] sprawling landscape presents a persuasive case for the depth of a scene that seemingly sprung up (like mushrooms) overnight.” — Pitchfork, July 8, 2004
1. Vetiver (with Hope Sandoval) – “Angel’s Share” (from the “Vetiver” LP)
2. Joanna Newsom – “Bridges and Balloons” (from “The Milk-Eyed Mender” LP)
3. Six Organs of Admittance – “Hazy SF” (previously unreleased)
4. Viking Moses – “Crosses” (from “Crosses”)
5. Josephine Foster – “Little Life” (prev. unreleased home recording)
6. Espers – “Byss & Abyss” (from “Espers” LP)
7. Vashti Bunyan & Devendra Banhart – “Rejoicing in the Hands” (from the “Rejoicing in the Hands of the Golden Empress” LP)
8. Jana Hunter – “Farm, CA” (prev. unreleased)
9. Currituck Co. – “The Tropics of Cancer” (from “Ghost Man on First”)
10. White Magic – “Don’t Need” (from the Drag City EP)
11. Iron and Wine – “Fever Dream” (from “Our Endless Numbered Days” LP)
12. Diane Cluck – ” Heat From Every Corner” (from “Macy’s Day Bird” LP)
13. Matt Valentine – “Mountains of Yaffa” (previously unreleased)
14. Entrance – “You Must Turn” (prev. unreleased home recording)
15. Jack Rose – “White Mule” (from “Red Horse, White Mule”)
16. Little Wings – “Look at What the Light Did Now” (from “Light Green Leaves”)
17. Scout Niblett – “Wet Road” (from “Sweet Heart Fever”)
18. Troll – “Mexicana” (from “Pathless Lord”)
19. CocoRosie – “Good Friday” (from “La Maison de Mon Reve”)
20. Antony – “The Lake” (from “Live at Saint Olaye’s With Current 93”)
Go to the ARTHUR STORE to order direct from Arthur via PayPal, credit card or debit card.
BULK ORDERS: Contact Arthur staff (editor at arthurmag dot com) for quote.
Click on the covers to go to the Arthur Store to order…
THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN
The acclaimed 2004 CD collection of current underground folk music, as selected by Devendra Banhart. This is more than a compilation—it’s expertly sequenced and paced, like one long, slow flow of a particularly rich vibe. Liner notes are by the artists themselves, paying tribute to each other, all handlettered by Devendra, who also provides artwork on cover, back cover, sleeve, tray and the disk itself.
“Sparkling.” —The Wire
“8.6 (out of 10): [Its] sprawling landscape presents a persuasive case for the depth of a scene that seemingly sprung up (like mushrooms) overnight.” —Pitchfork
PARADISE NOW: The Living Theatre in Amerika
Specially priced DVD with extra-sized booklet and posters featuring rare, never-before-distributed films and a bacchanal of revolutionary multimedia documents from The Living Theatre’s historic and influential ‘68-’69 American tour.
TRANSMISSIONS FROM SINAI
Fresh 2009 multi-artist CD curated and sequenced by Al Cisneros (Om, Sleep, Shrinebuilder), with cover artwork by Arik Roper.
Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003)…
Our Dead Bodies are Like Honey to the Flies
Gabe Soria meets 21-year-old Devendra Banhart. Photography by Shawn Mortensen.
It’s a cold and gray afternoon in Brooklyn. I’m sitting in Devendra Banhart’s fourth floor walk-up apartment and we’re both slightly hungover. The furniture in the apartment is old and scrounged looking, full of ramshackle character. Devendra asks me if I want to hear a new song, something he wrote the evening before. Keep in mind that I’ve known the guy for a grand total of five minutes, and in those five minutes, we’ve already been witnesses to the aftermath of a car accident on a nearby street. It’s a good, we’re-unemployed-so-what-the-hell feeling, and there’s nothing to do but roll with it.
Of course, I say.
He begins to play me a lilting, sexy lullaby, something that sounds as if it could have been written in 1910. It’s gorgeous. Later I’ll learn it was partially inspired by a new girlfriend. But now, once he finishes playing, a little wobbly (there’s that hangover again) but unaffectedly so, Devendra announces that he “sucks” this morning. I assure him that that’s not the case, but he’s unconvinced.
A week later I will see him play for his record release party, and the song formerly known as “Sucks” will be polished to a rough sheen, so beautiful that the air at the show is almost palpable with the audience’s need to shed an appreciative tear. No one needs to be told that they’re witnessing something special. Everybody sips their drinks quietly and the room is hushed. Even the bartender looks sheepish when she has to go through a particularly noisy drink preparation. It’s not an affected pose though, this silence. It’s not the silence of pretentious jazz fans, or avant-garde indie kids who aren’t aware that their emperors of silent cool wear no clothes. This is the silence of a group of people in smiling awe of a genuinely talented and wonderfully strange kid, a young man whose charm is almost effortless, whose skill is obvious and whose soul is on his sleeve.
But that show is still a week in the future. Right now, we’re still slightly fuzzy from our respective previous evenings and are both in need of coffee. “Do you mind if I take a shower before we go? I stink real bad,” Devendra says.
Go right on ahead, I say.
He hops off to his bathroom, and I sit there in his apartment, staring at the walls. Everything I know about Devendra Banhart so far is from listening to his peculiar and beautiful debut record, Oh Me, Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit (on Michael Gira’s Young God Records). At first glance, he seems like a prime candidate to be dismissed as yet another in the long line of “weird white folkies” that cynical rock critics have been setting their watches by from Dylan to Oldham. He fits the racial profile: a kid with a patchy beard who’s studied his blues ‘n country licks. And there have been so many who reek of artifice and calculation. But when the real thing comes along…wow. It’s nutsy bananas. Devendra Banhart and Oh Me Oh My… are, without trying to sound like a super-happy hype machine, the real thing. His is the sound of a skeleton playing his blues on the front porch of a haunted house, banging out curiously hopeful cemetery songs with a celebratory, surreal zeal, singing out with a high, quavering voice that is at once bizarre, unearthly and old, yet completely inviting and totally ingratiating.
And he’s twenty-one, I think as I wait for him to finish getting ready. This kid’s got his entire creative career ahead of him. Jesus.Continue reading
Cult 60’s singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan takes a break from recording her new album with Andy Cabic from Vetiver to perform a one-off, exclusive acoustic set at the 92YTribeca venue in New York on Friday, October 16, in support of the screening of the critically acclaimed documentary Vashti Bunyan : From Here To Before.
“A gorgeously shot, achingly intimate portrait.” Time Out
For many cult artists, rediscovery comes too late, they never live to know their art has been reappraised, is being loved by generations not even born when they were at work. In the case of Vashti Bunyan, the “Godmother of Freak Folk” and muse to artists such as Devendra Banhart and the Animal Collective, 30 years of obscurity ended with the rediscovery in 2000 of her lost classic album “Just Another Diamond Day” and her subsequent reintroduction into a mainstream she was never part of in the first place. The fact that the record was inspired by a very British road trip – an end to end journey across the country by horse and carriage – has only helped mythologise Vashti’s life and career. Ben Ratliff of The New York Times describes it as “a 700-mile journey [that] took two summers. Her story — or what is known of it from her interviews and her songs — is a perfectly preserved hippie tale, full of ideals, heartbreak and sleeping outdoors, and not arriving on time.”
From Here To Before is a wonderfully evocative film that retraces Vashti’s extraordinary journey across the British Isles, setting it against the backdrop of Vashti preparing for her first ever high profile London concert. It also features rare interviews with music luminaries Andrew Loog Oldham, Joe Boyd and the recently deceased Robert Kirby who provide an honest and informative insight into the most creative period of recorded popular music and Vashti’s place within it.
Following the screening on Friday, October 16, Vashti Bunyan and director Kieran Evans will take questions from the audience and then later that evening, Vashti will grace the stage at 92YTribeca for a rare acoustic performance. It promises to be a very special night. Support on the night will come from folk experimentalist Matteah Baim.
Additionally, following the screening of From Here To Before on Saturday, October 17, Vashti Bunyan and director Kieran Evans will be in attendance to answer questions from the audience.
Film (two screenings): Friday, October 16th – 7:30PM & Saturday, October 17th – 7:30PM
Music: Friday, October 16th, Doors 9:30PM
200 Hudson Street / New York, NY 10013
$12 for film screening, $15 for music, $22 for both.
Buy tickets here.
Live in San Diego, with Devendra consigned to a seat by a broken rib… Imagine this song with him at full power…
Above: A Zapatista, photographed in Chiapas by Shawn Mortensen. Courtesy Peter Relic.
Shawn Mortensen was a passionate photographer, activist, storyteller and human being, who expected the best out of everybody. He gave much, much more than this world gave him.
Shawn was a friend, a fellow traveler, a comrade.
It is fair to say that his personal and professional support helped bring Arthur Magazine into being, and without him there would be no Arthur. He helped me see that I could edit and publish a culture magazine—not just that I could, but that I had to—and he rallied support from others, and provided countless instances of support, much of it in private. I still have an email he sent to me and our friend Peter Relic on July 28, 2000 at 1:30am, entitled ‘MORTY”S MANIFESTD,’ [sic] which was a typically typo’d, irreverent, stream-of-Mortensen call to (publishing) arms, written from the green zone (the real one, not the one that they’d build in Baghdad three years later) where we had spent so much time together, turning each other on to stuff, generating ideas and figuring out how to get The Work done.
Shawn realized how it (culture, politics, love) all fit together; his success was in embodying it, to the degree that he could; his frustration was that others couldn’t (yet) see what he did. But of course, who could, really? Who else among us had seen as much as Shawn had—the good, the great, the bad, and the really bad? Shawn was almost over-aware.
Shawn’s photograph of Beck performing at Aron’s Records was used in Arthur’s pre-launch promotional materials. His photograph of Peaches ran in Arthur No. 1. For our ‘real’ first issue, Arthur No. 2, he photographed Devendra Banhart (possibly Devendra’s first-ever “photo shoot”?) and Genesis P-Orridge & Douglas Rushkoff. As the magazine matured, Shawn always offered his services, free of charge, in addition to his contacts, his wealth of knowledge, his archives and his moral support. That we did not collaborate further was (mostly) a matter of bad timing. I profoundly regret that we did not achieve together what we had set out to do, on the scale we had hoped for.
That said: Without Shawn, my life would be significantly different, and not nearly as good.
I am in shock that he is gone at this moment, forever.
For those who never met him, or who want to see (and hear) him today, this video shows a lot of what he was about.
Journalist Drew Tewksbury has posted a long piece from Shawn about the early to mid ’90s, composed in 2007 for Flaunt Magazine, on his website. Shawn’s writing voice was always enthusiastic, manic, exciting to read. This is no different, and I am happy that it’s been shared with us all.
LAist Interview: Jay Babcock from Arthur Magazine
by Nikki Bazar
Whether it’s free bands by the river, obscure films at the Silent Movie Theatre or music festivals featuring great non-mainstream bands, Arthur magazine has improved L.A.’s sullied corporate reputation by organizing eclectic, margin-friendly events that embody the magazine’s mission to represent “transgenerational counterculture.” Case in point: Arthur’s Sunday Evenings series at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, which continues this weekend with eccentric songwriter Michael Hurley and next Sunday evening with psych-rock band Wooden Shjips. On Feb. 13, the magazine also presents a launch of Abby Banks’ new book Punk House at Family on Fairfax. The book features photos of punk houses from across the country ⎯ a few of which are reprinted in this month’s issue of Arthur. We asked Jay Babcock, guru of Arthur magazine, a few questions about the upcoming shows. Continue on to read more about the dire state of L.A.’s all-ages scene, the mysterious absence of our rock ‘n’ roll elders, and the fall and rise of Arthur magazine.
Q: Tell me about the bands you’ve chosen for this series.
Michael Hurley is a legendary folk nomad, one of America’s great weird individuals, who’s been around the block many times. His newest record is on Devendra Banhart’s record label. Alela Diane is another one of these amazing musicians coming out of Nevada City. The Rough Trade record shop in Europe said her album was the best of the year, and they had a point. Matteah Baim put out a really good record last year, a dark folk sound, ice-ghost sort of thing, headed toward Nico’s stuff. On the 17th is Wooden Shjips, a psychedelic raga band from San Francisco; Mariee Sioux from Nevada City; and Headdress ⎯ also wandering nomads who sound like an even darker, slightly more country Brightblack Morning Light. But with several of these artists, I’ve never seen ’em, so there’s a bit of mystery there for me just as there probably will be for most of the audience. Which is part of the fun.
Q: It’s good to see some decent bands on the Westside. How did you land on McCabe’s as the venue?
Jared Flamm at Everloving encouraged me to get in touch with Lincoln Myerson at McCabe’s, who’d told me a while back that McCabe’s and Arthur might be a good match. McCabe’s have been around for 50 years and haven’t used an outside booker/curator since the early mid-‘90s. Lincoln let us book whoever we wanted to do whatever they wanted musically ⎯ within reason, of course. So, the size of the venue dictates a lot of things, like how much money you can offer your talent, and we had to think about who we could afford to put in there and keep the door price low, and also who was available. Given those parameters, the goal was to put individual line-ups together who would form an interesting evening and also attract a mixed-generation audience. I really wanted to work with McCabe’s because it’s very simple ⎯ it’s about music, it’s not about alcohol sales. Also, it’s an all-ages venue. Ever since we did Arthur Ball at the Echoplex, which was 18 and over, I’ve been insistent that we only do all-ages shows, because I don’t think anyone should be excluded from good music. Also, I wanted a transgenerational group of artists. We call Arthur a “transgenerational counterculture magazine,” and we mean it. There is a coherent counterculture that runs from the beats to the hippies to the punks, forward. They have more in common with each other than they do with the mainstream culture. In any of our festivals we do, we try to include older artists as well as younger ones. It’s truly “all ages” onstage, and we’d like to see that more in the audience. There’s so many great artists that live here in Los Angeles ⎯ Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, John Fogerty, Ray Manzarek, Dylan lives here sometimes ⎯ and you never, ever see them at shows. I assume they don’t participate in the local culture because they got burned one too many times with overhyped crap, or it’s just too much of a hassle to be out in public. Or maybe they just don’t have any interest and they’d rather roll one more at home and listen to Jim Ladd rhapsodize about the past rather than get out there and do something. But they should. ‘Think cosmically, act locally’ is a great credo, you know? You live here? Then BE here. A lot of cool stuff becomes possible when you mix the energy of the youth and the wisdom of the older folks: think of Allen Ginsberg’s continuing, lifelong interest in the best young artists ⎯ his advocacy for them ⎯ whether it was the blues guys or jazz players or the hippies or the punks, it was all the same to him. McCabe’s has such a great history, and is a venue a lot of those people have played at, and it’s so pure in its only interest being music (as opposed to alcohol sales) that I’m hoping some people older than 50 see what’s going on, something that may have more of a spiritual, political or aesthetic resonance with them than they may at first think.
Q: Arthur shut down for a spell in early 2007, then resurfaced with a redesign. Do you care to talk about what happened?
My partner for many years was looking to not be the publisher anymore and eventually, he didn’t want to own it either, so he wanted me to buy him out which I couldn’t afford to do. That’s when the magazine died. Then we made an arrangement that allowed me to gain 100 percent of the magazine. We’d already planned the transition to Mark Frohman and Molly Frances as the new art directors before the whole thing went down, so that’s just a coincidence. After I got full control of the magazine, we decided to go all color and go for it. We’re just continuing to do what we’ve been doing for five years. And there’s always new blood coming in. Next issue, [author] Erik Davis is going to start doing a column for us and there will be a lot of other surprises. So basically, I just took on more credit card debt and a lot of people loaned me money and we were able to go forward.
Q: What sort of things do you hope to do with the magazine that you just aren’t able to right now?
Well, it’d be nice for everyone to get paid what they deserve. We work from our homes in Atwater, we have tea at India Sweets & Spices or lunch at Tacos Villa Corona or Viet’s new noodle place, we sit by the river for inspiration and excitement … It’s not the toughest life. But as a business? We’re making a go of it, but we do want to be monthly and we want to have more pages. There’s so much good stuff to cover. The rest of the media is collapsing and there’s a lot of really good writers, photographers and cartoonists who deserve a wider audience and no one’s giving it to them for some reason. So the main pressure on us is to jam as much stuff into the magazine as possible without making it an aesthetic mess. If we had more pages, it could breathe a little bit more and we could cover a lot more of the good stuff that’s going on.
Q: And you obviously have a love for print.
The free magazine model is a really solid one, and it’s working, and it’s gonna work better in 2008 for us. Print is near-perfect. It’s portable, it doesn’t require batteries, you don’t have to squint, it’s a bigger window, you can do more design things than you can on a computer screen and it gets out there in front of people who aren’t looking for it necessarily. With the web, mostly what you get are people who are already looking for you. And of course, you can read a magazine by the river. Try looking at a website there.
Q: Is it your mission to book a lot of smaller acts that you don’t see as much in some of the bigger 21-and-over venues?
For a city this big, it’s absurd there aren’t more places where people of all ages can get together and hear something other than mainstream arena pop and rock with good quality sound in a comfortable setting. The only real venue in this city where people of all ages can gather together to hear music at a low price with good sound in a comfortable setting at a reasonable hour is Amoeba. You’re in a bad situation as a culture when you’re dependent on a store ⎯ a place of commerce ⎯ for the presentation of music to the public. We’ve written about this in Arthur in our all-ages series. You know, if you’re into music, bars are not the ideal venues. You don’t want to hear other people talking or the cash register ringing or bottles being dropped in a garbage pail. You don’t want to be hanging out with a bunch of amateur drunks. That has a place, but not all music is right for that. There just should be a greater range of venues. It’s also bad for the bands. You can’t build a career by getting one chance to intrigue the hipsters. And if we can help raise the profile of some of these artists by putting our brand name on it, then good. It’s very hard for artists to break in because everything is so calcified on radio and in venues.
Q: Arthur is developing a real presence in the L.A. music scene.
We’re working with people at a very local level who are in it for the right reasons ⎯ the folks at Family and at McCabe’s and The Cinefamily, it’s all labor of love stuff. We like labor of lovers, basically. Doesn’t really matter what it is they love. It’s the loving that is important. Those are our people, those are the people we want to hang out with in such grim times. We’re just trying to use whatever profile or heft we may have to hopefully help other people do what they love too.
You thought Arthur was gone for good? The indie magazine beloved for its music coverage and antiwar politics will resume publishing this summer.
by KEVIN MCCARTHY
THE NATION — July 16, 2007 issue
In 2002 a free counterculture music magazine, Arthur, came onto the underground scene and won readers in just about every city where young people (and some older ones) still flouted local noise ordinances. Edited by LA-based music journalist Jay Babcock and published by Philadelphia-based independent media veteran Laris Kreslins, it was distributed by volunteers across the nation who delivered issues to coffee shops, record stores and bookstores. With contributors like Thurston Moore of the legendary punk/noise band Sonic Youth; T-Model Ford, the elder blues statesman and Arthur advice columnist; and writer Trinie Dalton, the magazine specialized in long stories and interviews on wide-ranging subjects, from ’60s “White Panther” leader and MC5 manager John Sinclair, to ambient music pioneer Brian Eno, to novelist J.G. Ballard, to contemporary folk musician Devendra Banhart–each representing a segment of the counterculture.
Arthur’s music coverage has been among the most influential of its era, but the magazine was never just about music–it was from the beginning fiercely political. Babcock, who studied political science at UCLA, had at one time worked for Congressman Henry Waxman and drafted Waxman’s anti-NAFTA position paper. As the magazine was launching, the war in Iraq was being sold, and Arthur defined itself as a virulently antiwar publication; the magazine dedicated its fifth issue to a critique of the war. (The cover of that issue depicted comedian David Cross as a soccer mom cheerleading the war surrounded by the words “Hooray for Empire” and “USA #1 with a Bullet.”) The editors never stopped questioning the war and military recruitment. In 2004 Arthur teamed with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to run a PSA for antirecruitment campaigns in its pages. Then in May 2006, in an issue of Arthur, Babcock challenged Sully Erna of the rock band Godsmack for licensing his music to the military for use in recruitment ads and for using military images at concerts. The magazine’s pages were a regular space for artists and writers like Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and Kyp Malone, of the indie band TV on the Radio, to speak out against the war and President Bush.
Earlier this year, Arthur announced that it would no longer continue printing. Not long after, however, Babcock reached a deal with Kreslins and is about to relaunch the magazine as its editor and publisher. The next issue will arrive in record stores sometime in August. The Nation recently spoke to Babcock by phone about publishing a counterculture magazine in the current economic and political environment.
What drove you to start Arthur?
[As a culture/arts journalist] I grew more and more frustrated with the limitation of subject matter, technique and the length of story available to me in the outlets that existed. I realized that many other writers were feeling the same way. I thought the only way to do what I wanted to do was instead of campaigning for somebody to come to their senses, I would start my own magazine.
How did you get the magazine going?
I didn’t come from money, and I didn’t have any money. Laris didn’t come from money. So we pooled our credit cards and were able to start to pay the printer and so forth. The publishing situation in the United States has gotten to the point where you really do have to be wealthy in order to publish. Everyone can have access to a printing press, but hardly anyone outside the wealthy has access to the newsstands. It requires a huge amount of capital to start up a magazine and print it, and then convince the distributors that it deserves to distributed, and then be able to wait for them to pay you. The newsstand distribution system in this country is notoriously inefficient and corrupt…. That wasn’t an option for us. So what we did was, we created essentially an underground, alternate form of distribution.
What is the vision behind Arthur?
The biggest underlying idea is that the culture drives everything else. Culture creates the metaphors and the landscape on which politics and economics and so forth take place. And so then you ask: What kind of culture are you making, or taking part in, or helping to exist? Our idea was to do what all the other underground magazines or publications in America have done over the last 200 years or whatever, which was to attempt to infuse into the culture at large all of the liberatory, progressive and expansive ideas of freedom and values from the traditional underground, and to celebrate them, propagandize for them and push them.
What were your models?
We want to be in the tradition of the American underground press. Especially the twentieth-century underground press. Whether it’s the punk magazines, or the rave magazines, or the amazing underground press that was happening in the late ’60s and early ’70s, or the mimeo scene before that in the ’60s and ’50s, with the Beats and the whole literary poetic scene–there’s a whole tradition you can go back to: anarchist magazines, Wobbly magazines and so forth. And there’s always been artists and poets, and the serious ones have always been political, engaged and very far to the left.
Arthur grew more and more political. The fifth issue is dedicated almost entirely to looking at American imperialism. How did that political consciousness develop?
By the second issue the war stuff was starting to happen, and by coincidence we had a section about [civil rights and antiwar protest photographer] Charles Brittin. We found out that he had a photo of a parade of veterans against the Vietnam War that happened in LA in the late ’60s. It’s an incredible photo from the corner of Wilshire and Vermont that was just mind-blowing for those of us who live here in LA, to see this familiar landscape filled not with cars and billboards but with ex-soldiers protesting the war as far as the eye could see. So we elected to make that a centerfold.
For the third issue we did a back page that said “What War Looks Like,” and it was a picture from a book by [LA punk musician] Exene Cervenka, a photograph of an Iraqi soldier, dead, from the first Gulf War, with parts of his body blown off. It’s an extremely gruesome black-and-white photo that says all sorts of things about what war is, what it does to people, what people who kill have to look at. And you look at what the soldier was wearing–he’s wearing dress shoes, which shows how mighty the Iraqi army was that we were so afraid of. It was nothing–they didn’t even have boots.
And by the time we got to the fifth issue the war had started already and it was getting worse. We went all the way. We solicited special advertising saying we were doing an emergency issue of Arthur. We assembled it in just four weeks. Arthur isn’t exactly the biggest megaphone–but the megaphone that we did have was very carefully directed at this cultural class where things develop and bubble up occasionally into the mainstream consciousness. We wanted to be an incubator space. No other pop culture or culture magazine was taking any stand like that. We did it and we didn’t think we’d have much effect, but we did think we would be a comfort and an aid to those people in the culture who were doing good work but who needed to know that they weren’t the only ones out there, which would allow them to go on with what they were doing and to feel that what they were doing was worthwhile.
You mention in the editor’s notes in a later issue that you got a lot of mail about the fifth issue, some supportive and some very critical.
When you’re a small magazine, you need every issue that you put out to say the same thing over and over about what you’re doing, so that people who see it for the first time can get an idea about what it is you do. So it was very dangerous for us to completely depart from any music coverage, any arts coverage, and devote almost an entire issue to a radical political position stated in pretty blunt terms. We thought, Are we endangering our relationship with our advertisers? But because what we had done was something no one else was doing, it worked in our favor as a business. It won us a good amount of readers who were just shocked that there was this publication in record stores and coffeehouses for free, where you’re usually supposed to find pretty superficial status quo stuff—instead you’re finding this radical, impassioned and very smart talk about what was going on that you couldn’t find elsewhere. That a tiny magazine, with no budget and no capital, could put that together and nobody else could do that with their vast hundreds of millions of dollars, while the Hollywood liberals were all wringing their hands–that says something, not about how great we were but about how awful everybody else was.
Whom were you trying to reach?
We were very conscious that our audiences, our people, were artists themselves, musicians themselves, the record store clerks of America, and we wanted to remind them that they’re being told to shut up and not have an opinion and not state your opinion unless you are a politician or a Middle East expert. And we wanted to remind them that actually the voice of the poet, and the artist, and the musician is often where the deeper wisdom comes from. Those voices have always been heard, have always needed to be present and have always played a role.
By the time you get to the ninth issue [of Arthur], every artist we’re covering is talking out loud about what’s up. In that issue we ran a whole page put together in conjunction with the AFSC about how to counter military recruitment on campuses, in high schools and colleges. We’d already moved to the next part–you can’t have a war unless you have soldiers, so let’s try to convince kids not to be soldiers. That’s something everybody can do in their own neighborhood. Anywhere you live in America there is a high school.
You got a lot of attention for your interview with Sully Erna of Godsmack, in which you confronted him for allowing the military to use his band’s music in its recruitment ads and for using military images at concerts. That seemed to me to be kind of a cultural turning point–after years of hearing people called traitors and such for speaking out against the war, here’s someone challenged to explain why he supported it, and in the end he tried to distance himself from Bush and the war.
I conducted that interview over the telephone just a couple days after Stephen Colbert did his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. I believe that was the real turning point. At the time, the mainstream media didn’t pick up on it. It took a few days before they realized that it was the hottest thing on YouTube. The cultural press had figured out that it was the real story, not George Bush and his doppelgänger doing a comedy routine. Colbert had done something absolutely heroic. And Neil Young was just about to come out with his Living With War record. So there was this sort of surge that happened, and the interview with Godsmack happened right in there. I’d been waiting to talk with that guy for years. When that invitation to interview him arrived in the mail, it was like a gift.
So you had been following him?
Oh, I’d been following him for years. I keep files. I do my best to do what Ed Sanders does–to keep files, and wait and wait. It’s the only way to be a journalist and advocate sometimes–keep track of stuff the best you can, and when the moment happens, seize it. To me it’s fair game to ask someone why they’re licensing their music to a certain cause. I would be derelict in my duty as a journalist to not talk about that in a time of war. When someone’s doing live concerts that are essentially war rallies, that naturally should be a subject of conversation with that person.
In a later issue, you talked to Kyp Malone, from the band TV on the Radio, about his experiences playing shows where the promoter had allowed military recruiters in to sign up kids against the band’s contract. Is this something you’ve seen a lot of with the artists you cover?
Kyp was the main one who would talk about that, but there have been other things that had happened. [The country-soul band] Brightblack Morning Light had some trouble in Tucson, because they have it in their rider that they don’t want recruiting to go on at their concerts. It’s kind of ridiculous that you’d have to say that…. But if word gets out that that’s in your rider…that was a problem for them.
Have you noticed artists that you cover becoming more radical or speaking out on politics or against the war?
I think that most musicians in the underground tend to be antiwar, peace people, and some of them are more open about it than others. Some of them feel more confident about it and have figured out a way to deal with it onstage or in the press in a way that they think is going to get across something valuable. Devendra [Banhart] didn’t have antiwar songs on his early records, but he did on his last album, and that’s clearly because of what’s been going on and because the situation keeps getting worse and worse.
Do we have someone just churning out the anthems like John Lennon was doing? He was writing song after song over a few months that would go from his guitar to being sung by people in protests. There is nobody doing that right now. I think there are people that are capable of doing it, but they’re not high-enough profile yet.
(Palace Theater; 1,967 capacity; $24, one night; $80, four night pass) Presented by Spaceland and Arthur Magazine.
Performers: Devendra Banhart, Bert Jansch, Espers, Buffalo Killers, Jackie Beat, Axolotl, Grouper, Yellow Swans, Belong, Numero Uno DJs. Reviewed Oct. 19, 2006. Also (with different line ups) Oct 20-22.
By STEVEN MIRKIN
You have to hand it to the publishers of Arthur Magazine. The (more or less) monthly [solidly bimonthly, actually-Ed.] is not only one of the most interesting reads out there — a consistently surprising mix of truly underground music, politics and art — but in a little over a year (with an assist from local club Spaceland) they’ve become a force on the Los Angeles concert scene, staging three multi-stage festivals that impress with their almost impossibly broad and well-chosen line-ups.
Arthur Nights is their latest offering, and the four-day event (held on two stages in the somewhat decrepit grandeur of downtown’s Palace Theater) once again covers a wildly eclectic range of music, with Thursday’s opening night line-up focusing on the “freak folk” movement the magazine has championed. As Noah Georgeson, producer and guitarist for headliner Devendra Banhart told the young and rapt aud, “We’re seriously laid back.” The evening’s three most intriguing main stage acts — Philadelphia psychedelic folkies Espers, guitar legend Bert Jansch and Banhart — rarely raised their voices or pushed the tempo, but each managed to make a distinct and satisfying impression.
With Meg Baird and Helena Espvall’s wispy, ethereal harmonies, Espers often has an eerie, otherworldly beauty. Their songs (from their most recent album “II” on Drag City) build slowly, almost imperceptibly, turning freer and more psychedelic as they go on; stretched out, they reach for a raga-like transcendence. At other times, when Greg Weeks adds his voice and plays the recorder, the songs sound like a stranger Jefferson Airplane crossed with touches of Fairport Convention and the Stooges.
They were followed by Jansch, who played the most satisfying set of the evening. His captivating mix of traditional folk and modern styles hasn’t changed much — the songs on his latest, “Black Swan” (Drag City) sound timeless. His playing looks almost effortless, but lattice-like interplay between his finger-picking and the movement of his left hand on the fret-board creates a cascade of notes is so sweeping, the counterpoint of melody and accompaniment so intricate, it’s hard to believe that the sounds are coming from one man.
Jansch was warmly received — members of the aud even whooped and applauded when he changed tunings on this guitar. A good deal of the credit for Jansch’s revival can be laid at the feet of Banhart. Jansch repaid the compliment and joined Banhart for two songs during the latter’s set, and “My Pocket’s Empty” had a focus and energy that was missing from most of the headliner’s set.
Banhart is an intriguing figure: with his long hair and beard he could have stepped from a late ’60s Laurel Canyon photo, and the early portion of the show, with three guitars and four-part harmonies, didn’t stray too far from folk cliches. But his music has a much broader reach, although the often feckless presentation blunts his ambition.
With his quivery, high-pitched vocals and Georgeson’s squirrelly guitar, the music often feels like a less jazzy version of Tim Buckley’s “Happy/Sad” (or, in the case of “Heard Somebody Say,” John Lennon’s “Oh My Love”), with Banhart presenting himself as a shamanistic seducer. In “At the Hop,” he wants his lover to “pack me your suitcase/cook me in your breakfast/light me with your candle/wrap me with your bones.”
The latter part of the set, when he stands up and straps on an electric guitar, starts to move further afield, as the music takes on touches of reggae, rock and, in a cover of Caetano Veloso’s “Lost in the Paradise,” bossa nova. But the entire set feels too meandering and laden with ideas that are too coy for their own good, including bringing up a member of the aud onstage to perform and an impromptu imitation of Al Jolson.
As might be expected from an Arthur evening, there were other styles of music to explore. Buffalo Killers opened the main stage perfs with a set of well worn, if well-played sludgy blues rock; an update of ’70s dinosaurs Mountain or Cactus. But they could surprise with a cover of Neil Young’s “Homegrown.” In the upstairs loft (accessible by an ancient manually operated elevator or a twisty staircase right out of a ’40s film noir mystery) Axolotl played an intriguing mix of tribal sounds with treated guitars and Grouper — a man [Actually, Grouper is a woman-Ed.], a guitar and a fuzz box — initially sounded like a noisy blare but his layers of feedback slowly built to something quiescently lovely.