We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during these strange, strange times. How about some good news? We had the opportunity to catch up with Christoffer Franzén of Lights & Motion about sources of inspiration, isolation vs collaboration, life in Sweden during a global pandemic, and his brand new record The Great Wide Open - coming to vinyl this October on the one-and-only Spartan Records. Enjoy!
Can you tell us a bit about the journey that led you toward the Lights & Motion project?
Lights & Motion came out of a long period where I felt like I needed to get a lot of music out, but I wasn’t sure how to reach the point of being able to create what I could hear in my head. That threw me into a hard couple of months of severe insomnia, where instead of sleeping I would sit by myself in a studio all night long, learning all kinds of different instruments and trying to find the sound of what would eventually become my first album Reanimation. Looking back at that time now, it feels like a whirlwind. I used to leave the studio in the morning just before dawn and think to myself that no one was ever going to hear this music I was writing, and I questioned why I obsessed about it to such an extent. Today I am really grateful that I did all that.
When you began composing, was this the stylistic direction you intended to go?
I would have to say yes, although that is constantly changing in some ways for every album cycle. I am originally a guitarist, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that as a heavily featured instrument and blend it with ambient and orchestral elements because I also loved film music growing up. I initially had a very clear vision of what I wanted the music to sound like, and it was a matter of giving it enough time to develop it. It's been 7 years since I released the first Lights & Motion album, and throughout the following years I have experimented in different ways to keep the creative process fresh and inspiring.
Could you give some insight into your introduction to music and what steered you towards composing music?
My introduction to music was as a fan first and foremost. I got really obsessed with listening to music at a young age, and I could sit for hours just staring into a wall and listening intently on different albums. When I was 14 or 15, my next door neighbor got a guitar and all-of-the-sudden I realized that you could also play and create music yourself, not just listen to it. It may seem like a trivial observation, but it really opened up an entire world for me. I used to go in there everyday and borrow that guitar and slowly but surely learn how to play basic chords. I think in every musician's life the beginning is mostly about playing other peoples' songs. Then after a while you start to create stuff yourself, and that is the exciting bit. I never took lessons, and I didn’t grow up in a musical home at all, there were no instruments laying around the house, so in a way it came out of nowhere that I decided to do this. I played in bands as I grew older, and while it was always very fun it eventually fell apart like most bands do, and then I felt a bit lost in what to do next. I knew I wanted to continue writing, and even more so I fell in love with the process of production and mixing.
I used to hate relying on other people in order to do music because I wanted to do it 24/7. And somewhere around that time is when I began teaching myself how to do everything from initial idea to finalized song. It was a lot of trial and error along the way. It's easy to feel like you are getting left behind when every one of your friends is going away to get a proper education in preparation for having real jobs, whilst you are holed up by yourself in a studio, and I’m sure many musicians reading this will know what I’m talking about. I guess that is both the upside and the downside of having a passion in your life; you can’t really see yourself doing anything else.
Can you talk a bit about how your records have evolved over time? Are each of them completely distinct or are there any thematic throughlines that you've been revisiting across different recordings?
I would say that there are thematic throughlines running through the discography as a whole, but also for each and every release. They have pretty clear and distinct sonic trademarks for me personally as well. My first two albums were very crisp in terms of the mixing, with a lot of high-end clarity and a bit less bass-frequencies. For my third album Chronicle, I changed my mixing approach and the production on that album is much more ”full” and bass-heavy. Since I produce and mix the records myself, that part of the process is a very important one, and I don’t really separate it from the writing process; it's all part of creating the sound. Every time I start writing a new album, I will spend a substantial time thinking it over, trying to find something conceptually to tie it all down, and often there is a song or two that act as a foundation for the rest of the album to rest upon.
On The Great Wide Open, you introduce vocals for the first time on an album. What drove you towards making that decision and can you tell us a little bit about the two vocalists you collaborated with on the album? What were some of the exciting parts and challenges?
For The Great Wide Open, I took a long time to write and produce the album. I knew I didn’t want to rush the process, but rather let it bloom organically and see where it would take me. One thing people will notice right away is that there are two songs featuring lead vocals on the album, and the idea of doing this had percolated in my mind for quite some time. The first one written was ”Wolves," featuring the amazing Swedish singer and musician Johan Hasselblom. I was a big fan of his band The Animation, and I always thought he had a great voice. So one day I had written this instrumental piece and I sent it over to him by chance to see if it would inspire him to write something on top of it. I think he sent me a voice memo not long after and the entire first verse and chorus was there, and I was hooked straight away. He added something that I could never have thought of myself, and that is really what you are looking for in a collaborator. And then the last song we finished for the album was ”I See You," written with and featuring the Swedish singer Frida Sundemo. She has such a unique and ethereal quality to her singing, it's one of those voices that just takes you places. I had written her several months earlier and explained that I was a fan and asked her if she would ever be willing to write together. She was, and then it was just a matter of finding the right type of song for us to do together. Similarly to ”Wolves," I wrote an instrumental song, leaving space for the vocals, and sent it her way. She came back with this beautifully fragile lyrics and melody, and it was everything that I hoped it would be and more.
Other than that, the challenges in creating this album were similar to all the other albums I’ve made before it. It's always a huge undertaking, and you want to get your vision across in the best way possible, and getting the final 10% right takes months and months of tweaking. My biggest takeaway was that I wanted it to sound colorful, energetic, and fragile at the same time. It marked the start of a new decade for me, and the closing of the last one, and every album is like a time capsule of the time you spent making it.
What inspires you outside of music?
I am a huge cinephile and so films and tv shows inspire me a lot to create music. There are so many different vocations and art forms that collide when making a movie, and that fusion creates something that is bigger than the sum of its part. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and it can just be a little spark that ignites something much bigger. I guess that is the challenge and charm of creativity; you never know from where it's going to come.
How has living in Sweden influenced your art?
I have thought about this a lot during the past few years. Living in Sweden is amazing in a lot of ways; we have beautiful nature surrounding us, and in the summer we have days where it doesn’t really get dark until 1am, and then only for about 3 hours before the sun rises again. We also have the other half of the year where it gets really dark at around 4 in the afternoon, and the cold can be quite stifling. I think that is conducive to creating music though because there really isn’t a whole lot of other things to do but stay inside and work on your art. That might be one of the reasons why I have historically released new music early on in a year, because I have pretty much stayed inside and worked for 6 months straight. The cold, dark weather can be quite depressing though. I’m not sure if you can hear that in the music I make. I guess that is up for everyone else to interpret.
Typically are you working on your records in isolation?
Yes, my way of working is very isolating, and that is quite hard at times actually. I get up in the morning and head out to the studio immediately, and then I sit and write by myself for something like 10 hours. I try to be very disciplined and not really take any days off. I used to work all throughout the nights too, but I have tried to put a stop to that because it wasn’t really healthy or sustainable. But since I do all of the engineering and production myself, it's only me in the studio, with my instruments. I think people naturally need other people around them, so I have struggled quite a bit with that actually. At the same time I feel like I have to get all of this music out, so sometimes I describe it almost like a need and not a want to go and write. It's complicated.
Can you discuss your interests outside of music?
Well, like I said I really enjoy watching a lot of movies and quality tv shows. Some of my favorites these past couple of years have been The Handmaid's Tale, The Morning Show and Defending Jacob. More and more I like to get out to nature and just immerse myself in the forest and take long walks. I also play football, or soccer as you say in America, and that is something which I’ve done my entire life.
Does your approach or process differ when you are composing for film/TV versus Lights & Motion?
I would say yes and no. Writing for films and working with directors is such a different and extremely collaborative medium; you have to try and get inside their heads and understand what they are looking for, and then hopefully managing to produce that which serves the film. Compared to writing for Lights & Motion where I just do what I feel is right and go where inspiration takes me, film-scoring is much more of a structured craft. But that challenge is also what is rewarding about it; it's like solving a puzzle. I have written albums that I have released under my own name as well, Christoffer Franzén, and that is music that was never intended for a L&M release, but that I wanted to create regardless. Having my own name to put out stuff under is just another way to harness creativity and to not feel restricted in any way, musically or otherwise.
Any feelings that you'd like to share about the current state of the world?
It's a very strange time that we live in, with a lot of unrest in the midst of a global pandemic. I am not sure what to do to be honest. I find it hard to navigate. For myself, I just try to be decent and remember that we are all in it together. I think that is important not to forget.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on that you're particularly excited about?
Nothing in particular that I can really talk about right now. Covid has changed up a lot of things, so we´ll have to see how the rest of the year turns out. I have been locked inside my studio for many months now, social distancing being a natural part of a composer's life, and I have been writing a lot of new music, and it has definitely been affected by what’s going on in the world. When and where it will be released, not even I know. I’m just excited and grateful to be able to stay creative.
Lights & Motion's The Great Wide Open is available now for pre-order on vinyl here. This pressing is limited to 500 copies on two variants and includes an exclusive bonus track!
The Spartan Vault Sale is our biggest sale ever! Save up to half off on Spartan titles and merch, gain access to rare out-of-print variants, and auction to win rare test pressings. It’s going on now through September 22nd, so start shopping here and stay tuned for more fun announcements in the days and weeks to come. We’re also throwing in free stuff with every order, so what are you waiting for?!
We're excited to present Mountain Time's new music video for “Empty Graves,” a single lifted from Chris Simpson’s (Mineral, The Gloria Record) acclaimed new album, Music For Looking Animals. Directed by Gates Bradley (White Walls Say Nothing), the serene and beautifully shot black and white video speaks to the spiritual depth of Simpson’s latest work along
with our collective desire for live music again in any form during this
difficult year. Watch the video for “Empty Graves” at Rolling Stone here.
Simpson had the following to share about the video and how it came together:
[Bradley] sent me some photographs he had been taking on his LA morning
motorcycle rides that featured barren urban landscapes and clear,
I loved his ideas and I love what he came up with. The images are so beautiful. When everything just screeches to a halt like that and there’s this sudden clarity and almost a heaviness, like a blanket laying over everything, keeping it quiet and still. And then the signs of life carrying on across it—the birds slowly traversing the long shots. It’s exquisite.”
Watch VAR's new music video for "Run" now exclusively at The Alternative. The song comes off the band’s mesmerizing new album The Never-Ending Year which is available everywhere now. Watch it below and then stream the album that The Alternative calls "a beautiful flurry of spacious post-rock, anthemic alt-rock, and even languid dream pop at times...at once serene and propulsive" here.
Of the politically-charged track and video, frontman Scott Hobart
shares, "As a middle-aged, white, midwestern guy writing songs, I’ve
generally left ‘protest’ lyrics of any real political or religious
specificity to the professionals. What do I really have to say that
isn’t already being voiced more eloquently by sharper folks? Or maybe I
just didn’t have the balls. But, as the ignorance and arrogance of the
Trump era woke me to new, more dangerous levels of reckless absurdity
every day, I finally reached the point - maybe the obligation - that I
needed to express my frustration in some way, if only for myself. I like
metaphors because I think they let language do more work as they
encourage more engagement on the part of the listener, so I didn’t feel
the need to name names in the song. I guess it’s about politics as religion and the frenzied futility of human beings telling themselves
they have it together in the face of the unfathomable universe."
This week we caught up with Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) and had the chance to chat with him about Mountain Time, the music video for "Rosemary, Etc." (directed by Kasher), his foray into filmmaking, and the transitioning role of the music video. Check out the interview and don't miss the premiere of the "Rosemary, Etc." video below. Thanks for stopping by!
Can you talk a bit about your relationship with Chris? Have your artistic paths crossed in other ways over the years?
I'll always remember the night I first met Chris. Cursive was, I believe, first of four on a bill at the legendary Fireside Bowl in Chicago. I feel I'll botch this lineup, but I THINK it was Mineral / Get Up Kids / Rainer Maria / Cursive. Maybe around '97 or so. Okay, so I might not remember the specifics so well, but I do remember being so stoked and nervous to be playing on such an extraordinary bill. I was nervous a lot back then, as we were young and newly thrust into an underground music scene I was previously not terribly familiar with. As a self conscious kid, I found myself researching bands more and more often to stave off those awkward conversations where other scenester kids would rattle off band after band you weren't familiar with. I was feeling out of place.
BUT, I did love Mineral, had already seen them play back in Lincoln, NE a few months prior. One of the best shows I've ever attended, as far as opening my eyes to what was happening out there in the world and lighting a fire in me.
So, we hung at our merch table for most of that evening at Fireside, not really knowing anyone, but glad to be there. We also knew little to no one in Chicago, so were forced to get a hotel room for the night, a luxury we rarely afforded ourselves. It was the same hotel where Mineral was staying, and Chris was cool enough to pop over to our room to introduce himself and say thanks for the evening. Such a small gesture from the headliner, a band that meant so much to us. Clearly, as I relay this teensy tale, it had an impact on me. I know Chris must be terribly embarrassed when I tell this story! I've gotten to know so many good folk through the last 25 years of touring, but Chris and I have maintained a closer relationship, merely through the simple effort of reaching out and checking in.
When did you begin to pursue filmmaking/video production alongside music?
I started writing screenplays when I turned 30, as I had always daydreamed of working in film. Mostly, I just like storytelling in all forms, but film is our century's amazing blend of audio and visual technique, displayed larger than life in theaters. That's always been thrilling to me. Making videos is very hobbyist for me, a fun way to play around with friends and ideas. I suppose I first started with my dad's clunky consumer video camera rig when I was a kid, making ridiculous home movies, as many of us did.
Are there similarities in how you approach both filmmaking and songwriting?
Yes and no. I mostly want to tell a story in either medium, but the method of storytelling can be so different. That said, a video that compliments a song isn't necessarily so different from songwriting itself, as you only have a handful of minutes to get your idea across. I assume this is why so many songs and videos are abstract, haha.
Can you tell us a bit about the production process for the video -- it appears to have been shot in a number of different locations?
This is a very 'no budget' production, if you couldn't already tell, haha. But shooting without a budget can be a blast, as you pool whatever resources you have available to you. I decided to shoot this while on a Cursive tour so I could tell a story with various locations. Resourceful. My good friend, Jess Price, was out with us, and as she is an avid filmmaker herself, she was game to pitch in and even play the main character. She was returning a favor, of sorts, as Chris Simpson had already donated his time and charisma to 'star' in a video for Jess' band, Campdogzz, a video I had shot in and around Chris' home state of Texas while on tour a year earlier (also, very 'no budget'). Megan Siebe, who plays cello with Cursive, pitched in a lot as well, whether running the camera or playing various roles throughout.
We laid out a very loose storyline, then mapped out where we could relay the story via the various stops on tour. Some locales, such as Las Vegas, had to be city specific, others were more casual. We ended up shooting in Redding, CA, San Diego, Las Vegas, Fort Collins, CO, Colorado Springs, and it started and ended in Omaha. I may be forgetting one or two stops.
Can you talk about the decision to use the "traveling evangelist" as the protagonist for the video?
Chris and I lobbed a few ideas around before settling on this story. Chris had mentioned "Wise Blood", the Flannery O'Connor book we both admired. A lot of great imagery in that story, brought to life by the John Huston film starring Brad Dourif and Harry Dean Stanton. I melded those ideas into what would become this loosely told tale of a young woman looking for a new con. I told the story in reverse because I liked the reveal at the end (er, beginning), and also for the mere fun of having this video bookend the Campdogzz video, which was also told in reverse.
Are there any other filmmaking projects/videos that you've been working on that you're particularly proud of?
Plug time! Yes, I wrote and directed a feature length film, No Resolution, released in 2017. I struggled to find decent distribution but did manage to tour it around the country, showing it at some venues and a handful of Alamo Drafthouse Theaters. The distribution I did end up using for online streaming has since folded, so it's currently not available anywhere!
Any insight on how the importance or role of music videos has changed over the course of your career?
I waffle on this a lot. Clearly, the video is not the mighty vehicle it once was, when it had cable channels devoted solely to airing and promoting them. But now that our world has fully acclimated to staring at screens for everything always at all times, one could argue that there is space and usage for the music video again. I love them, as I grew up on them, but I prefer the 'no budget' route more than ever, as I am unsure how much attention people are offering to them over simply listening to a song on whatever streaming platform one uses. Regardless, it's still a vibrant, unique artform, and I'm of the opinion that the less money spent on them, the more interesting they are. That's the epitome of classic videos from the early MTV days, when labels weren't sure if videos would really take off or not so they'd throw $150 toward some college kid with a camera.
After months of anticipation, the long-awaited debut album from Mountain Time, Music For Looking Animals, is available everywhere now! Get it now on limited edition vinyl or at digital outlets everywhere here.
In the aftermath of the dissolution of his adored bands Mineral and The Gloria Record, Chris Simpson took a step back from making music for the first time since his mid-teens. And it was during this period where an affinity for the music of the Sixties and Seventies such as Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Harry Nilsson, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground and many more – along with the freedom and expression of jazz and artists who radically followed their own vision – took root. With additional inspiration drawn from psychology and eastern philosophy, the beauty of the natural world, Simpson’s children and wife, old Time Life books, and the self-stated immenseness of the universe, Mountain Time has become almost more of a state-of-mind than a moniker.
To celebrate the release of the album album, we’re proud to premiere the
new music video for "Rosemary, Etc.” which was directed by Tim Kasher
of Cursive / The Good Life. Starring Jess Price of Campdogzz, “Rosemary,
Etc.” tells the reverse tale of a street preacher with a penchant for
petty theft. “Naturally, when I started thinking about making a video
for a song from the new Mountain Time record, I thought of Tim,” Simpson
said. “He is one of my favorite humans and there’s a peace that comes
from working with people you love. It was a labor of love, as all unpaid
work is for artists, and I am ever grateful to everyone involved for
helping it come together.”
If there’s one thing that’s certain, listening to Chris Simpson’s Mountain Time uncovers layers upon layers of artistry that may be unexpected to long time listeners of his prior bands Mineral and The Gloria Record. On Music For Looking Animals, his affinity for songwriters from the 60s and 70s is on full display and the album is a looking glass into some of the music that inspired him from a very young age. We asked Chris to dive deep and come up with a list of songs that have profoundly inspired him as an artist — and the end result is a fascinating look into his world and how the sound of Mountain Time came to be what it is today. Explore the full list below and follow the Spotify playlist here for future additions. Mountain Time's new album Music For Looking Animals is available everywhere June 26th.
David Bowie - "Five Years"
I first heard this song shortly after learning that George W. Bush had won his second term as President. I felt entirely alien in my own country. It was the first time I think a presidential election had hit me in this way, like a wave of depression and darkness. It wouldn’t of course be the last, or even the worst such experience I would have. Something about the lyrics at the top: “Pushing through the market square/ So many mothers sighing/ News had just come over/ We had five years left to cry in.” It was just one of those moments where a song comes to you across a vast expanse of time, plants itself firmly in the present moment and rips your chest open. It also includes one of the great lyrical stanzas in my mind: “Think I saw you in an ice-cream parlor/ Drinking milkshakes cold and long/ Smiling and waving and looking so fine/ Don’t think you knew you were in this song…”
The Velvet Underground - "Sunday Morning"
This was the first Velvet Underground I really took in. This opening track going right into, “I’m Waiting For My Man” is one of my favorite opening sequences of a record. These guys were just so open and vulnerable and tough and out there all at once. They could feel like the sun shining down on you or the world caving in. But there’s always such an honest pure child-like heart to what they’re doing. Esteemed guitarist Tom Verlaine of Television famously said that he was so depressed upon hearing this record because he realized he had already learned too much to ever be able to play the guitar like Lou Reed did.
Van Morrison - "Sweet Thing"
In the phase that followed the dissolution of The Gloria Record I was adrift in every way imaginable. I had started to explore Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s early records and felt like what I wanted creatively and musically was to return to this kind of acoustic simplicity. I wanted to write songs I could play on my own on an acoustic guitar or the piano. Discovering the Astral Weeks record by Van Morisson was among the most exhilarating experiences of my musical life. I kept listening to it transfixed. I couldn’t stop. For a long time I wasn’t sure if I liked it. It felt like I was seeing behind some sort of curtain into the horrors and ecstasy of human existence somehow. The whole universe felt unmasked in it. There was nowhere to hide in these songs. Sweet Thing is so much more than a love song. It became the anthem to me and my now-wife’s relationship at the time and evolved with us through many struggles, eventually becoming the song we used for our first dance at our wedding.
Leonard Cohen - "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes"
Around the time I was exploring all this music I was also exploring a whole world of writing and thinking that was equally fresh and astonishing to me. One of those writers/thinkers was Joseph Campbell and his book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ about the universality of the hero monomyth. I had the feeling that Leonard had read EVERYTHING and was giving it back to me with a wink and saying, “Yes, but…” His grasp of the human condition in all its beauty and ugliness made him feel like a wise and compassionate elder. An adorable owl with an eternal glint in his eye spitting Zen koans and wrapping your knuckles with a stick when you got distracted.
Bob Dylan - "One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)"
This is the first Dylan song that facilitated a deep dive into his entire body of work for me. I had embraced the early folk anthems, in all their earnestness. This was something else. Blonde on Blonde was the culmination of the controversial “electric” period, which left his diehard folk fans feeling betrayed and abandoned. After this there was once again nowhere left to go but somewhere else entirely. The instrumentation and feeling of this record was very much what I was after on a lot of the earlier Zookeeper recordings. I couldn’t imagine a more exuberant and blissful sound.
Neil Young - "Harvest"
Neil always stood out to me for that angelic, feminine voice. He has worked so long and fearlessly in essentially the same form song wise, but his melodies and voice are always so singular and stunning they transcend the repetition of the form. His view of nature was almost mystical but the mundane and human was always his muse. Harvest is such a beautiful love song. This is one of the songs I always sang as a lullaby to my kids at their bedtimes. They still immediately recognize it now when it comes on.
Harry Nilsson - "Bath"
Harry’s voice is unparalleled. No one could sing like Harry. The harmonies he effortlessly added to his own vocals. The orchestration and arrangements on the records. Because of the greatness of his voice, and the fact that he reinterpreted a lot of other people’s material, I feel like he is often overlooked as a songwriter. This is one of my favorites of his. The way the chord progression just keeps coming. I love the image of Harry coming home early one morning in the middle of a bender just to take a bath and head right back out into the fray again.
Big Star - "Nightime"
There is just something about Big Star’s Third album. It will always be mind-boggling to me that this came out when it did. This record was very important in helping me visualize the texture and palette I was looking for in the early Zookeeper days. The acoustic fragility enmeshed with the more atmospheric and unsettling elements. The ominous start and stop of the cello. "Nightime" was a revelation to me.
Graham Nash - "Military Madness"
Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners was another big record for me in 2005/2006. Military Madness is such a perfect lead track. The growl of those background vocals, the lilting acoustic and piano, that crazy wah guitar. Graham’s singing is so crystal clear and just beautiful. And I loved the cover image. It was a record I held in my hands a lot as I listened to it. It felt at once homespun and otherworldly.
Judee Sill - "The Kiss"
Judee Sill came up a number of times in my explorations but never really sucked me in. Until… I was on tour with Mineral in South America. I was in a hotel room in Lima, Peru, exhausted and missing my family so much. It was the first day of school back home and things were very hard there without me. I felt helpless being so far away and not being able to be with my wife and kids. There was a coffee shop on a cliff overlooking a beach a short walk away which had been reported to be exquisite by my band mates and I had every intention of going there. But I was feeling so low, I was just lying in bed drifting in and out of sleep. I was listening to a playlist on my phone and it had ended and switched to Radio play mode based on the playlist when this song came on. It destroyed me instantaneously. All the walls were obliterated, inside and out. I ugly/beautiful cried uncontrollably as it unfolded. Across time and space. This song originally set down in 1973, 46 years earlier, and a year before I was even born. It cracked me open. Dissolved at once the barriers that separate me from both my inner self and the world outside. It felt like a vacuum was sucking me in and down and up and out all at once. And it was so heavy and painful and righteous and powerful. I listened to it on an endless loop for the next week as we travelled, trying to hold on to that experience and sensation as long as possible. It remains a profound emotional and spiritual experience anytime I hear it.
John Cale - "Big White Cloud"
John’s voice is so authentic. I came to him from the Velvet Underground record he features so prominently on. I think I actually heard some of his more esoteric later work first, but his 70s “pop” records became an indispensable part of my musical diet. This song was always one of my favorites, but there are so many. This one has that bright, sunny, pre-disco Bee Gees, reverby strings and plunky piano thing that just drives me crazy.
Leonard Cohen - "Avalanche"
This is the first tree that fell for me, leading me inexorably into the forest of Leonard Cohen. I had heard some of his more popular songs and liked them fine. I had the first record and thought it was very good. I was working at a 24 hour diner where there was a lot of music and drugs and literature going around. I was waiting tables one night on a graveyard shift and heard this song playing in the kitchen while leaning on the window where the cooks put the orders for us. I immediately went back into the kitchen and asked who it was and one of the cooks gave me a broken cd jewel case with that big font: SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE, and that picture of Leonard looking possessed or ecstatic. I stood there transfixed, ignoring my tables in the front of the restaurant and their orders waiting in the window. I made the cook repeat the song for me when it finished so I could hear the whole thing. I went the next day and got the record, and it honestly took me a long time to listen past that first song because I kept having to play it again every time it ended. There is such a literary and cinematic feel to it. I immediately picture some lonely hunchbacked creature on a blizzard swept landscape, living in a half underground cave or shelter, marching bravely out into the elements to address the world with his song. It was astounding. It still is. Leonard is such a master at painting a picture and leaving you holding the brush and mute with questions.
The Kinks - "Strangers"
When people argue about The Beatles vs. The Stones, my answer has always been The Kinks. Which is not to say that I don’t understand and respect what the other two accomplished or meant, or that I don’t enjoy their records as well (I do, quite a bit). But The Kinks always felt so scrappy and authentic and relatable to me. They were funny and fun and serious and meaningful all at once. This is one of my favorites of theirs. It also featured prominently in my wife and I’s wedding music and feels like an anthem for choosing togetherness and celebrating uniqueness.
Big Star - "Blue Moon"
The gentleness of the flutes and strings and arrangement, coupled with the vulnerability and fragility of Alex’s vocals on this track are chilling. And somehow, like in "Nightime" further up the list, there’s always an undercurrent that feels almost sinister or reckless, I feel like I can never relax into the beauty of it for fear that reality will drop an axe on me if I lose vigilance. It’s hard to explain, but so bewitching. And there are so many songs on this album that do that to me.
Bob Dylan - "My Back Pages"
From the opening lines on. These words are a blitzkrieg to the senses and consciousness. What a wonderful and truthful paradox . That we actually become less attuned to our own internal compasses as we age and get filled with ideas, less capable of seeing and knowing the truth. That justice is beyond optics and learned catchphrases, and that true education is visionary and experiential, not academic. That gaining wisdom and insight is akin to shedding layers of learned notions. That we can actually grow younger, closer to the source. This is Bob at his finest. Firing on all cylinders and busting at the seams of the form he embodied for his first four albums. After this there’s nothing left to do but go “electric.”
Harry Nilsson - "I Said Goodbye To Me"
Since middle and high school, when I wrote a handful of them myself, I have always been obsessed with songs about suicide. Harry’s incomparable voice is on full display here, playing with tremolo and vibrato like a cat plays with yarn. The delivery is uncanny and when he switches from words to woahs and ohs it somehow only heightens the emotional power of the narrative. I also love the whole doubling the vocal with a track where the vocals are spoken instead of sung. So goddamn good. The loss of Harry Nilsson’s voice is one of the great tragedies of American song in my mind.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young - "Our House"
This is one of those songs I grew up hearing on the radio forgot about and then rediscovered later (or so I thought) before realizing every note of it was already emblazoned in my consciousness. It has defined my vision of domestic bliss. I sang this to my children as a lullaby every night for many years. Sometimes they still ask for it. It will never not make me think of my wife and kids and be grateful for the life I have. It will never not make me happy.
Paul Simon - "Mother and Child Reunion"
One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was Simon and Garfunkel. Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Bee Gees Greatest Hits Volume 1 were the two records in our family record collection I always stole and played in my own room. Years later the self-titled Paul Simon solo record was something I spent an inordinate amount of time with. I think Mother and Child Reunion is a perfect opening track. I was obsessed with the sound and the instruments, recognizing it as something different than Paul’s usual backing. Seeking out the source and finding that it was recorded in Jamaica with Jimmy Cliff’s backing band and members of Toots and The Maytals made me realize that maybe I didn’t hate reggae music at all. Much later I would actually take a deep dive into reggae and rocksteady, being able to listen to little else for many years. But I digress... this song is brilliant. The whole record is brilliant. I wish I could put the whole thing on here.
Van Morrison - "Slim Slow Slider"
The perfect end to a perfect record, or, as Lester Bangs called Astral Weeks, a “mystical document”. A song about seeing an old friend or lover on the street and not knowing what to do. Someone who’s gone now in more ways than one. Someone who’s dying and cannot be reached. Van is such a master improviser he makes planning or arranging feel cheap. Anyhow. Heavy, heavy beautiful stuff.
John Lennon - "Oh Yoko!"
Thought I’d reward anyone who’s made it this far with a light and uplifting final track. This song is not only one of the only explicit love songs of its sort that I can stomach, but also a master class in the simplicity of a great song. Only one word of the lyrics changes in each verse. Every other word is repeated each time, and yet I still feel like it’s too short. Like it could go on forever. (Surely there are some more things that John could be in the middle of when he calls out to Yoko?) Anyway, this song makes me happy to be alive and in love and breathing.
**I hope you enjoyed this list. I am not a music critic, and this is a small percentage of what I have loved and taken in and held dear musically throughout my life. I just wanted to share with you some of the specific music and artists that were inspiring me stylistically when I began this journey with Zookeeper and now into Mountain Time. Much love to everyone out there, I hope you find some joy here. It means the world to me to be able to connect with and share my work with you. - CS
Since the original release of Man Mountain's Infinity Mirror in 2018, the band has been showered with praise from both fans and critics alike. Hailed as a bright shining light in the post-rock genre, the original pressing of the album quickly sold out leaving vinyl hungry new fans straight out of luck. Well, we've been listening and due to all of your loud voices, we're excited to announce the second pressing of the album which is available for pre-order now here. The pressing is limited to 300 copies and includes two variants -- the insane "Infinity" animated picture disc designed by the vinyl legend Drew Tetz and the new "Galaxy" variant that is out of this world. All pre-orders will ship early July and include an instant hi-quality download of the album now. Enjoy!
In 2017, in what can only be described as a fate, the clouds opened, the bugle horns sounded, and the three original members of GIANTS CHAIR re-united to record new songs twenty years after they had originally disbanded. These two songs would be the spark that led to the band's new album Prefabylon and to what is yet to come. Now these songs, "The Streets" and "Featureless Horizon," are widely available at digital outlets everywhere and on limited edition cassette for the first time ever. Listen here and pre-order the cassette here. All pre-orders include an instant download of the two songs and orders will ship early July!
We're excited to share another new song from Mountain Time's upcoming album Music For Looking Animals. "Lady Of The Radiator" tells the somber story of someone who has insulated and isolated themselves from the world in such a way that they can’t be reached or hurt. And the loneliness and sadness that comes from realizing you do need other people and it being too late. Listen now at digital outlets everywhere here and pre-order the album on limited edition vinyl here to get an instant download of three songs now.
Hope everyone is safe and healthy out there! Recently, we checked in with Scott from GIANTS CHAIR, who went down memory lane and uncovered ten records that had a profound impact on his life. Scott breaks down each selection in detail as part of 10 Albums/10 Days, and the combined narrative serves as a musical autobiography documenting the incremental steps that influenced his artistry.
Day #1: Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger
My mom played this a lot, I think. For me, at that age, it probably could have been any album, but it was this one — my mom has great taste. If nothing else, it has a very distinctive “dry," sparse sound that was far different from anything that was on the radio. He and his manager had negotiated complete creative control with his new label on this his 18th studio album. There was a lot of country radio in my house, too (KZNN Rolla, MO), and this sounded totally different to me, even as a kid. This album also happens to be maybe the first country concept album — it‘s a whole epic tale about jealous revenge and being a fugitive cowboy.
Day #2: Rush - Fly By Night
My prog-rock tendencies could be traced to Rush. Theirs was the first music that made me realize how music could surprise me. I love this album as a bridge between straight-forward classic rock and progressive rock, lyrically and musically. It was released the same year as Red Headed Stranger - 1975.
Day #3: U2 - Unforgettable Fire
Though I grew up with music in my family, I can say it was ultimately U2 who made me need to be involved and write music. This album was the first U2 album I owned before discovering and loving their previous three albums. I love this album so much to this day and can still hear new things in it.
Day #4: Bob Dylan - Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Like I said yesterday, I was really into U2 and, appreciating their Euro-ness so much at the time, I was surprised to hear they were covering Bob Dylan’s "Maggie’s Farm" at some shows. We were visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Phoenix and my Aunt had a bunch of Dylan cassettes. I started listening to some on my Walkman during this visit and immediately thought Dylan, on this particular album, sounded a LOT like I remember hearing my, by then passed, dad play and sing around the house when I was little. Probably the next Christmas my Aunt gifted me the Bob Dylan Biography collection cassette box set - a real trove of classics and rare stuff that I really loved. I was just starting to write my own songs and was impressed by his scenes and stories - heavy and humorous. This and John Wesley Harding are my two favorite Bob Dylan records. But this one came first.
Day #5: Repo Man Soundtrack
This 1984 movie soundtrack of “punk rock” made it’s way to a circle of forward-listening kids in our small town and it definitely turned me on to an entirely new set of sounds and ideas that still matter to me. Frankly, as a romantic, I was as afraid of “punk” then as I was intrigued by it - and it would be years later until I realized the education it gave me. If you’ve always wondered about punk rock, but didn’t know where to start, this helped me a lot.
Day #6: Robert Johnson - King Of The Delta Blues Singers
Probably because of Dylan and I may have seen Crossroads with Ralph Macchio around the time, but I was curious about folk and blues. I was probably also wearing a black fedora of my grandpa’s - but, anyway, I had finally made it to the legendary St. Louis record store, Vintage Vinyl. I was looking for a place to start with blues and when asked if I could be helped finding something, I told the clerk I was looking for a good first blues record. He suggested this one. It was, again, unlike anything I’d heard up to that point - it didn’t even really sound like what I thought “blues” was. Then it became my benchmark for blues. I’d like to thank that record clerk!
Day #7: Grand Masters Of Rap Compilation
This one isn’t quite in chronological order, but before I was a folky, Jesus skate hippy dabbling in punk and new wave, I was into break dancing. This album features Grand Master Flash, Sugar Hill Gang, The Furious Five, Whodini and others! Besides being great for breakdancing, it was a good early sampler of early hip-hop sounds that also primed me for the techno and electronica that I’ve come to love.
Day #8: Pitchfork - Eucalyptus
Byron Collum and I met on the first day of school at the Kansas City Art Institute - he had a really great punk & indie record collection with him. But a lot of it sounded like noise to me for a while. This record was in pretty frequent rotation by Byron when we became dorm roommates in our 2nd year and it was the first “post-punk” or whatever that really grabbed me. First, I thought the vocals (Rick Froberg) were interesting, more whiny sneer than gruff rant, which set them apart from some of the other punk things I was hearing on Byron’s turntable. But it was really the guitar that blew my mind. So much visceral texture. Every sound an electric guitar plugged directly into an amp with no pedals or effects of any kind could make was being found and used for full, absolute, frantic intensity. And the guitarist, John Reiss, also contrasts those crazy guitar things with a genius sense of melody, drive and ass-kicking sass - with no “solos” per se. The singer and the guitarist went on to form Drive Like Jehu, maybe one of the most influential “post-hardcore” bands of the 90’s - now they are HOT SNAKES and still making really great rock. It’s astounding. I listened to this album yesterday in the car and still totally feel it.
Day #9: Johnny Paycheck - The Real Mr. Heartache
Back to country here... George Jones was by far the biggest name in country music in our house growing up and it was a George Jones “Best Of” tape I picked up at an truck stop in Maryland while on tour with my rock band that solidified my resolve to want to step into the timeless stream of writing and singing country story songs about heartache. But years later, on tour with my country band in Texas, we were at the club early playing pool and the show promoter, now friend, Bruce Burns was playing this early Johnny Paycheck collection on the bar sound system. At first, in the back ground, it just sounded like more country music, but by about the 3rd song we were all looking at each other wondering what the hell this was?! The Real Mr. Heartache quickly became the pinnacle “Gold Standard” for the sounds and wordplay that IS sheer Honky-Tonk “hard country” music to me. If I’m Gonna Sink (I Might As Well Go To The Bottom) is my current favorite from this collection. And Johnny Paycheck had been in George’s band, so there’s that.
Day #10: Phantogram - Voices
So this one brings us up to now, and I’m just as confused by this list as you are, but variety really is the spice of my musical life. My wife Paula is my resident current-pop expert. Released in 2014, the first single, "Fall In Love," came on the alt radio station in the car one day. I noticed the song and she was like... “oh yeah, I like this one.” After a few more listens, I even posted something about this being the best song I’d heard on the radio in a long time. I downloaded the full album and couldn’t get enough! At only 8 years in, it may be hard to tell just how “influential” this album really is for me, but thinking back about the other pivotal album moments on this list, I have no problem considering Voices the most influential record I’ve had in my life in quite some time for a few reasons. First, I simply love all the beats, melodies and lyrics. Just good songs and production, in my opinion. And while resonating melodically and texturally with different strands of earlier musical influence for me, electronic-but-lush with great real guitar stuff, too - it also seems new and creative. If only because this album has renewed my hope in commercial alt pop radio music, it’s pretty influential, but it also marks a moment in my life as a music maker that, for the first time, it’s a musical style that I really love but don’t think I could make. It makes me want to make music, but I just don’t have the time or understand the technology to create like this. It’s harder than it sounds. So I just get to enjoy it! Also, as an album and band Paula and I discovered and love so much together, it’s extra cool to us. We’ve traveled to see them live a few times - some really good memories wrapped up in this band for us by now and we still love this album together.