This summer playlist starts off with a funky reggae track by Eddy Grant. What follows is a handful of songs we're psyched about these days. Summer is here. Dig it.
The best stories in independent music are about people who go for it. Critics be damned. Barriers be toppled. Something's not right? Fix it. Make it. Something's missing? Do it yourself.
Sarah Blumenthal and Josh Robbins are two people who personify this mentality. Eight years ago they started Self Aware Records, a Charlotte record label devoted to releasing records that inspired them. Tempted at times to move to another city with a more favorable music scene, the married couple ultimately gritted it out in the Queen City. By staying put, they've built something special in a city that needs it. In those eight years, Self Aware has evolved into one of the primary engines pushing the Charlotte music scene forward today.
To mark the eighth year of Self Aware, we caught up with Sarah and Josh over email. No one is more qualified to opine on Charlotte's music scene than these two, and lucky for us - they both shared some refreshingly candid views. Josh even told us how his band Late Bloomer is working hard to become a better Balboa. Yes, that's a Rocky III reference.
Thanks to Josh and Sarah for sharing their thoughts with us. Their record label - Self Aware Records - is celebrating its 8th Anniversary by giving away *free stuff* when you buy something from them. Click here to visit their website and check it out.
In the meantime, click on "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff Records interview with Sarah Blumenthal and Josh Robbins.Read More
When the average music fan thinks of towns where vital music gets made, Blacksburg, Virginia, is probably not top of mind. Although it is better known for Beamer Ball and pit stops along Interstate 81, the mountainous college town has also been home to a group of boundary-defying musicians that blend old-timey string music with avant-garde drone techniques. It is a sound that is equal parts Velvet Underground and Dock Boggs.
Two bands with Blacksburg ties – Pelt and The Black Twig Pickers – are the standard-bearers of this type of music. Each band has enjoyed critical acclaim for its recorded output, and they’re both revered among East Coast underground music heads. The bands also shared an orbit with Jack Rose, a massively influential guitarist whose premature death in 2009 caused a lot of discerning music fans to begin paying attention to this visionary style of music. It goes by many names – freak folk, psych folk, drone folk, New Cosmic Americana, New Weird America – but to name it is not the point. It is simply some of the best music in the US today, regardless of what you call it.
Banjo-player Nathan Bowles is a progenitor of this sound. As a member of both Pelt and The Black Twig Pickers, he has played a key role in widening its appeal. Somewhere along the way he caught Steve Gunn’s attention and began playing drums and keyboards in his band. Kurt Vile is a fan as well.
Nathan will be bringing his banjo alchemy to Charlotte this week for an intimate living room set at Recover Brands. We caught up with him over email beforehand to gain some insight into the way he approaches this singular music.
Nathan Bowles plays a living room set at Recover Brands on Wednesday, May 24th (click here for tickets). In the meantime, click on “Read More” below to read the Cream Puff interview with Nathan Bowles.Read More
The new Mountain Goats record has a lot of great story lines. It's called Goths and is inspired by an adolescence spent blasting The Cure, Bauhaus and Siouxie and the Banshees on KROQ in Southern California. It features Raleigh-based horn player Matt Douglas, a new permanent member of the band. Lead singer and songwriter John Darnielle wrote the songs, then took a break to write his second novel after his first novel was nominated for a National Book Award. The band recorded Goths in the nicest studio they've used to date. A sixteen-member symphony chorus provides the central thrust of the leadoff track, and a four-piece gospel outfit guests on a couple songs later on the record. Oh, and there's no guitars.
One story line that's not getting a lot of airtime is that Goths is the first Mountain Goats record with a Charlotte connection. When bassist Peter Hughes moved here sometime last year, the record was already finished and awaiting release. But thanks to a John Darnielle book tour, the street date was delayed until now, giving Peter plenty of time to establish his Queen City bona fides. Yes, calling Goths a Charlotte record is a criminal stretch of the truth - but we'll take anything we can get.
Cream Puff Records had a nice phone conversation with Peter this week to discuss the new record. We spent most of our time chatting about the music of his childhood in Chino during the 1980s, but he also told us about the Goths recording process in Nashville and gave us a peek into his second career as an automotive journalist.
Goths, the new record from The Mountain Goats', is their fifth for Merge Records and is out Friday. Cream Puff Records is proud to be partnering with Merge to host a listening event at Tabor from noon to 3pm on Saturday. Swing by to hear the new LP in its entirety, enjoy some cold beers, and stock up on vinyl.
In the meantime, click on "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff interview with Peter Hughes.Read More
Ken Vandermark is a jazz lifer. True, the Chicago saxophonist keeps a foot in the rock world and has played with such luminaries as Jim O'Rourke and The Ex. But Vandermark is a jazz musician to his core. Along with trumpet player Nate Wooley, he brings his compositions to McColl Center for Art + Innovation on Friday, May 12th. It's the final booking in this year's fantastic New Frequencies series.
In advance of the performance, Ken shared with us 26 jazz and improvised music record recommendations - one for each letter of the alphabet. These are some heady recommendations, and while there are some familiar names, most of his picks are the kinds of titles crate-diggers drool over. We at Cream Puff headquarters will be digging into these for quite some time to come.
Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley play at McColl Center for Art + Innovation on Friday, May 12th. Click here for tickets. And click "Read More" below to see Ken's 26 jazz record recommendations.Read More
Leah and James Toth are having a moment. James (who is better known by his nom de scene Wooden Wand) is basking in the glow of Clipper Ship, his fine new record from the venerable Three Lobed Recordings. It's an avant singer-songwriter deal featuring a crack band of musicians from the Wilco orbit - and Clipper Ship holds its own in that lofty company.
Leah (along with husband James) runs Footfalls Records, a boutique experimental label located somewhere between Kentucky and Virginia. They're celebrating a release of their own - And the Birds Flew Overhead, a live recording of Elysse Thebner and Mary Lattimore's ambient 2016 performance at King's Barcade in Raleigh. It's the second official Footfalls release. The first was a 2015 Tashi Dorji/Marisa Anderson split LP, the first (and only) pressing of which has long since sold out.
Cream Puff Records caught up with Leah Toth over email to discuss the Footfalls story and the excitement behind the release of And the Birds Flew Overhead. The resulting conversation provides a fascinating look into the mindset of two leaders in the American musical underground. In addition to telling the origin story of Footfalls, Leah told us about her and James' commitment to featuring women in a male-dominated industry, her thoughts on how turn-of-the-century Italian Futurists (Luigi Russolo!) shaped avant-garde music, and why once a Footfalls release sells out, no additional pressings are likely to follow.
The newest release from Footfalls Records is And the Birds Flew Overhead by Elysse Thebner and Mary Lattimore. Click here to order your copy.
Click on "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff Records interview with Leah Toth, head of Footfalls Records.Read More
Nathan Bowles is an alchemist, and his tool is the banjo. Blending traditional Appalachian finger picking with meandering raga and drone, he transmutes sound waves into medicine for the soul.
His solo works (albums A Bottle, A Buckeye; Nansemond; and most recently, 2016's Whole & Cloven) stand on their own, but he's also earned renown for the company he keeps. He is the drummer in Steve Gunn's touring band (yes, that was him banging the skins on CBS Sunday Morning), a band member of Pelt and Black Twig Pickers, the banjo picker on excellent new records from Michael Chapman and Jake Xerxes Fussell, and a loyal friend and sideman to the late legend Jack Rose.
On May 24th, Nathan Bowles brings his alchemy to Charlotte for an intimate living room set at Recover Brands (1518 Bryant Street, 28208; near Pinky's and Rhino Market).
Free beer will be provided or you can bring your own. 100% of the ticket sales price (excluding service fees) will go to the artist. We hope you'll join us there.
Doors at 7pm. Show starts at 8pm.
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS - NATHAN BOWLES
MAY 24th - RECOVER BRANDS
Nathan Bowles: www.nathanbowles.com
Recover Brands: www.recoverbrands.com
We caught up with Phil Pucci to discuss Reverb Fest 5, the Charlotte music festival he's been organizing for the past five years. If you pay attention to the Charlotte music scene, you know that Phil is one of its leaders. He's a member of multiple bands, including Landless, Melt, and, until recently, Serfs (RIP). He also books nightly gigs for regional bands at Petra's. As a musician, talent buyer, and festival organizer, Phil is one of Charlotte's great music ambassadors.
His pet project Reverb Fest kicks of its fifth year on Saturday, April 29th. Psych weirdos of Montreal are the headliners, and the lineup boasts other great acts such as JMSN, The Coathangers, Boulevards, Paint Fumes, and Sarah Shook & The Disarmers.
We caught up with Phil over email to discuss all the work that goes into making a music festival happen and why this year's festival will be the best yet.
Click on "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff interview with Phil Pucci. And be sure to catch Reverb Fest at The Neighborhood Theatre, The Station, Snug Harbor, and Lunchbox Records on Saturday, April 29th (Tickets here).Read More
The New Frequencies series at McColl Center for Art + Innovation continues to live up to its reputation as the best music and arts programming in the Queen City. Already this year, we've seen one-of-a-kind performances by Lonnie Holley, Noveller and John Darnielle. This Thursday, we'll see perhaps the best show yet. Mac McCaughan and Mary Lattimore will be in town for a set of improvised music using synthesizers, a harp and some effects pedals. It's called New Rain Duets, and aside from a debut gig the night before in Asheville, it's never been performed in public before.
Mac is well known for his trailblazing work as a record label impresario at Merge Records and frontman for Superchunk. Mary is a renowned harpist that keeps finding new applications for an ancient instrument in the digital age. The two met while she was an intern at Merge Records in the early 2000s and shared a stage last year at Moogfest in Durham. On Thursday, they'll be playing something completely new - an evening of improvisation featuring Mary on harp and Mac on synthesizer. Programming such as this is the essence of New Frequencies at McColl Center, and the duet promises to sate the hunger we have for the avant garde here in Charlotte.
Cream Puff Records was fortunate enough to catch up with Mac and Mary over email in advance of their performance as New Rain Duets. They talked about the origin of the project, discussed their approach to improvisation, and told us why the only good thing about the Grateful Dead was the tee shirts.
Be sure to catch Mary Lattimore and Mac McCaughan's performance of New Rain Duets at McColl Center this Thursday (April 20th / 8pm / Tickets here).
In the meantime, click on "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff interview with Mary Lattimore and Mac McCaughan.Read More
J.J. Cale recorded his song "The Problem" thirteen years ago. A jeremiad against a half-wit-in-charge, the song never makes clear who he's singing about - but the critique certainly rings true today:
Have you heard the news that's goin' 'round here?
The man in charge has got to go
'Cause he dances 'round the problem, boy
And the problem is the man in charge you know
Now, the young knows what I'm talking 'bout
It's a con in the old man's game
The man in charge, he don't know what he's doing
He don't know the world has changed
This timeless (and timely) song kicks off another Cream Puff playlist. What follows is a collection of tunes we're psyched about. The playlist is embedded below (or you can directly link to Spotify here).
John Darnielle is having a busy 2017. He's currently on a book tour in support of Universal Harvester, his second novel and follow-up to the acclaimed Wolf in White Van (2014). Then, in May, his band The Mountain Goats will release Goths, their sixteenth studio album and fifth for Merge Records.
Universal Harvester, a mystery/thriller set in the 1990s, is about a young guy in a small town who, while working at a video rental store, discovers that some of the VHS tapes have been spliced with disturbing footage. A mystery unfolds and casts an ominous pallor across the town.
Goths is the first Mountain Goats record not to feature a guitar. Bassist Peter Hughes issued this statement about the record: "The theme this time around is goth...John writes the songs, as he always has, [but] it feels more than ever like he’s speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths...an identity most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult."
John Darnielle is the next performer in the New Frequencies series at McColl Center for Art + Innovation. He will be reading from Universal Harvester on Thursday. In advance of his trip to Charlotte, Cream Puff Records made a list of our Top 5 VHS Tapes (a subject in which we haughtily claim expertise) and a list of our Top 5 Goth Bands (a subject for which we acknowledge our Luddite status).
John Darnielle reads from his new book Universal Harvester at McColl Center for Art + Innovation this Thursday (March 30th; 8pm; buy tickets here). In the meantime, click on "Read More" below to read Cream Puff Records Top 5 VHS Tapes and Top 5 Goth Bands.Read More
Lee Fields is a pro. Born in Wilson, NC, during the Jim Crow era, he cut his first record in Charlotte in 1979 and has been working every day since then. In the 1970s and 1980s, he logged time with Kip Anderson, Kool and the Gang, O.V. Wright, and other R&B workhorses, traveling the country and playing the club circuit. He and his bands would cut R&B records when the times called for it. To say he toiled in obscurity would be to insult the strides he made early in his career. But he certainly didn't become the star that his songwriting and singing voice called for.
That began to change In the early 2000s. Throwback R&B labels Daptone Records and Truth & Soul started releasing old school records, and a younger generation of music heads (re)discovered the power of 1960s-style soul music. It never went away...people had just stopped paying attention.
In 2009, Truth & Soul released My World by Lee Fields & The Expressions. It was not the band's first record together, but it was the first in the new era of old soul music. The record was a hit, and Lee's star began to rise. Follow up records Faithful Man (2012) and Emma Jean (2014) on Truth & Soul were equally stellar. The momentum continued through last year when Big Crown Records released Special Night (2016). All four of these records are essential and have cemented Lee Fields' legacy as a national treasure. Immensely talented with an unwavering dedication to his craft, he represents all that's right with independent music today.
Cream Puff Records had the thrill of chatting with Lee Fields on Valentine's day. He told us all about his childhood in Wilson, where the tension between gospel and secular music formed the foundation of his life as a musician. He also had some heartwarming things to say about his friend Sharon Jones.
Lee Fields & The Expressions bring their hot-as-fire show to Charlotte this week. They'll be at Neighborhood Theatre on Thursday night (March 9th; 8pm; Get tickets here).
Click on "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff Records Interview with Lee Fields.
Sarah Lipstate does not come from a musical family. The music of her childhood primarily came from Jimmy Buffet CDs on family road trips to Florida. It was unexpected, then, that she would go on to occupy a spot in the vanguard of experimental rock composition. With just a guitar and an orchestra of effects pedals, she commands a stage by herself. She does not sing, opting instead to bring forth copious sounds from an electric guitar that form a hypnotic melange of tone and texture. In doing so, she's made fans of Lee Ranaldo and the guys from Wire. Iggy Pop is such a fan that he brought her along as the opening act on his last tour.
Sarah Lipstate brings her Noveller project to Charlotte on Thursday. She's the second act booked for the New Frequencies series at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, and she'll be playing songs from her 2017 record A Pink Sunset for No One.
Catch Noveller at McColl Center for Art + Innovation TOMORROW. (March 2nd; 8pm; Tickets here). In the meantime, click "Read More" below to read the Cream Puff Interview with Sarah LIpstate (a.k.a Noveller).
Today, we present the second part of our series about the Golden Age of North Carolina Music, a period during the late 1970s and 1980s when The dB’s and Let’s Active were making music and releasing records that defined an era. We first heard from Peter Holsapple, founding member of the seminal North Carolina band The dB’s. Today, we conclude with the series with our conversation with Mitch Easter. In addition to being the driving force behind Let’s Active, Mitch is also a producer whose work from his Kennersville studio Fidelitorium can be heard on countless records.
Again, Cream Puff Records sincerely thanks Mitch and Peter for sharing their thoughts with us.
Click on “Read More” below to read our interview with Mitch Easter.Read More
By: Dan Reeves
There have been several “Golden Ages” of North Carolina music, a descriptor that refers to different periods of trailblazing creativity in our state. Today, artists such as MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, Jenn Wasner, Mac McCaughan, Angel Olson, and The Cook Brothers define the statewide musical landscape. They are the current standard bearers in a state whose musical legacy dates back to before the Truman Administration. Artists such as John Coltrane, Count Basie, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and Carol Sloane all called North Carolina home. Later, James Taylor, George Clinton and Warren Haynes carried the torch.
Perhaps the most striking Golden Age for music in in North Carolina was led by two bands: The dB’s and Let’s Active. They took off in the 1970s and thrived through most of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Chapel Hill-based hard rock band Arrogance led the way, their influence striking a nerve and grabbing the attention of dB’s and Let’s Active leaders Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter. These musicians would go on to forge new sounds that would ultimately influence better-known acts such as R.E.M. and Big Star.
Cream Puff Records caught up with Peter Holsapple and Mitch Easter to discuss their bands and their impact on the Golden Age of North Carolina music. We discussed the vibrant period of our state’s musical history that they helped define. They were the explosive artists at the center of this creative era and the current patriarchs of today’s vibrant scene.
We present the interviews in two parts. First, we chat with Peter Holsapple, founding member of The dB’s. In addition to discussing his own band, he tells us about the influence of Arrogance, the important cities and clubs throughout North Carolina, and why rock and roll is fighting for its own survival. Then we'll hear from Mitch Easter, founder of Let’s Active. He tells us about his work with R.E.M., why disco is like metal, and the reasons Yacht Rock freaked him out in the 1970s.
Many thanks to Peter and Mitch for sharing their thoughts with us. Click on “Read More” below to read the Cream Puff Interview with Peter Holsapple. Then come back for Part 2 of this story – our interview with Mitch Easter.Read More
Scott Hirsch has been the quieter half of Hiss Golden Messenger for a long time. Band leader Mike Taylor has typically maintained a higher profile, and he has recently made the project more of a solo vehicle. But Hirsch’s role in the band’s success cannot be understated. He has played bass and produced some or all of the band’s first four LPs, each of which is essential. More importantly, he has been a fortress creative partner for Taylor, starting in West Coast bands Ex Ignota and Court & Spark before they both moved east to follow the growing momentum of Hiss Golden Messenger.
As Taylor has taken the reigns of Hiss, so has Hirsch pursued his own projects. In 2015, he recorded Golden Gunn, a Record Store Day release from Three Lobed Recordings. Mike Taylor and Steve Gunn contributed lyrics and vocals, but Hirsch wrote all of the music and produced the LP in his own Echo Magic Studio.
In the year that followed, Hirsch recorded his solo debut Blue Rider Songs. Released by Scissor Tail Records in Tulsa, it is a dub-inflected, country-funk ode to the road. There’s plenty on this record for fans of J.J. Cale, Ry Cooder, or Little Feat; and if you listen closely, you might notice a touch of King Tubby too.
Hirsch also joined Hiss Golden Messenger last year – on bass, as usual - for the epic tour in support of the record Heart Like a Levee. The tour was a huge success, and enthusiasm for the band and the album was palpable across the country. Fans and critics turned out in droves to witness the energy of a crack band seizing its moment in the sun.
Inspired by that energy - and by the need for connection during these troubling times - Hiss Golden Messenger has embarked upon a second leg of the Levee tour. They will be in Charlotte at The Neighborhood Theatre this Sunday. Cream Puff Records was fortunate enough to catch up with Scott Hirsch before he hit the road. In addition to discussing Blue Rider Songs and the Hiss tour, he also gave us the lowdown on his new home in Ojai, CA, told us about some recent studio time he logged with William Tyler, and talked about why it’s now more important than ever for the band to be playing music.
Click on “Read More” below to read the Cream Puff Records Interview with Scott Hirsch. And be sure to catch him live with Hiss Golden Messenger at the Neighborhood Theatre this weekend (Sunday, February 12th / 8:00pm / Get tickets HERE)Read More
Charlotte's live music hot streak continued on Thursday when Parquet Courts played a ripper of a set at The Neighborhood Theatre. Their literate brand of art punk was on full display, and the setlist was heavy on songs from Human Performance, their most recent record. It was a superb night from start to finish, but the clear highlight was the one-two punch of "Master of My Craft" into "Borrowed Time." Socrates died in the fucking gutter!
Mary Lattimore kicked things off with an ambient collection of electrified harp improvs. Timbres and tones rolled in and floated out, like waves on the beach. Her final song featured a loop that suggested an IDM beat, perhaps the only time a harp has been used for something resembling dance music.
The Lonnie Holley story is a fascinating biography of a man committed to following his muse wherever it takes him.
He defies easy description, but in short, Lonnie is a visual artist from Atlanta (by way of Birmingham), who specializes in found-object sculptures. He is also a musician. You could describe him as a recording artist (he has two full-length records to his name), but you’d be missing the point. Lonnie is an improviser. Whether on stage or in the studio, he makes his music up as he goes along. Comparable to a free jazz saxophonist but using vocals as the instrument, Lonnie is a free verse poet with an R&B voice and stream-of-conscious lyrics. His songs are unlike anything you’ve heard before. Literally. No song is ever the same. No set is ever repeated.
Central to the Lonnie Holley story is the role played by the Arnett family in Atlanta. William Arnett, the well-known art patron, has been instrumental in bringing Lonnie’s art to the audience it deserves. William’s son Matt is equally important, having served as Lonnie’s manager since he began performing music several years ago.
Cream Puff Records is humbled and thrilled to present our interview with Lonnie Holley. We caught up with the artist and Matt Arnett last week in advance of Lonnie’s show at McColl Center for Art + Innovation.
Among other things, we discussed the women’s march on Washington, the role of improvisation in his music, and that amazing use of a Lonnie Holley sample on last year’s Bon Iver record.
Click on “Read More” below to read the Cream Puff Interview with Lonnie Holley. And be sure to catch Lonnie at McColl Center for Art + Innovation on Saturday. / February 4th / 8-10pm / Get tickets HERERead More
Charlotte has the reputation of a city with limited potential for the arts, especially when it comes to live music. Don't tell that to McColl Center for Arts + Innovation though. For going on twenty years, the Center has promoted the arts in Charlotte by sponsoring residencies for artists from around the globe. In 2014, it launched New Frequencies at McColl Center, a multi-media series that brought in artists specializing in various mediums (film, dance, music, etc) for special performances. It was named "Best New Arts Programming" by Charlotte Magazine, who wrote, "Here, the future of art is on display."
This year, the first five events of the series are focused solely on live music (or, to be technical, four live music performances and a book reading by the lead singer of a well known band). Regardless, it is one of the strongest lineups Charlotte has seen in recent memory, including:
John Darnielle (book reading)
Mac McCaughan & Mary Lattimore
Ken Vandermark & Nate Wooley
We caught up with Armando Bellmas, the Director of Marketing & Communications at McColl Center. He is the curator of New Frequencies at McColl Centerand the man responsible for bringing such great live musicians to Charlotte.
Click on "Read More" below for our interview and his brief synopses of each artist he chose for this year's New Frequencies at McColl Center series.Read More
Got the Inauguration Day Blues? Maybe our Morning Dew playlist will help.
Sure, it’s named for a dystopian folk song about the morning after a nuclear holocaust. But damn, Jerry always made this song count – and it offers a kind of catharsis that some of us could use right now. The version of "Morning Dew" included here is from The Grateful Dead's 1977 show at the Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
What follows is a collection of tunes that we’re psyched about these days. The playlist includes highlights from 2016, older tracks from artists that will rule 2017, and classic grooves that sound fresh regardless of how long ago they were recorded. One good thing about music? When it hits, you feel no pain.
The playlist is embedded below (or you can directly link to Spotify here).