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Interview With Andrew Rieger of Elf Power


This interview was conducted by my friend and brilliant musician Patrick Tape-Fleming. He’s been my go-to interview guy anytime I get a request that I think he may be interested in doing. His knowledge of and passion for music is second to none and I always love reading his questions because they come from a very enthusiastic place that only a real fan could muster.

Enjoy the interview below and check out Elf Power when they hit Chicago next Tuesday, July 18th at Beat Kitchen!

Hey Andrew, It’s Poison ControlCenter/Gloom Balloon Patrick your old pal from Iowa. How are you? I hope great! Josh from Music.Defined. was kind enough to let me ask the questions for this interview! 

You now have been putting out albums for 22 years as Elf Power. That’s twice the lifetime of the Beatles, and half the lifetime of the Stones if you were going to compare Twitching In Time to an album in each of the bands catalogs what would they be and why?

Revolver for its’ mix of folk rock and psychedelia, and Beggar’s Banquet for its’ demonic and Satanic undertones. 

I bought my first Elf Power record in 1998 and saw you for the first time in Oct. of 1999 in Minneapolis with the Minders and Fable Factory, I met you before the show at Let It Be Records, (My Favorite Record Store Ever.. the record store i bought When the Red King Comes, Dusk At Cubist Castle, In the Areoplane Over the Sea) anyway you were so sweet to a 19 year old kid who was such a fan. You guys put on one of my favorite rock shows ever that night! playing tunes from Red King, A Dream In Sound and even played “Embrace the Crimson Tide” off A Winter Is Coming before that album was released.. Those 3 albums are all perfect combinations of psych pop and were so influential to me as a musician. That was also the high point for your fellow E6 buddy bands, can you tell us a little bit about the vibe in Athens at the time? Was it a friendly competitive vibe, everybody playing on each other songs, inspiring each other…

Thanks! It was a very collaborative time, with lots of spontaneous recording sessions, and all of our friends playing on each others’ records, and touring around the world together. We still manage to collaborate with one another a good bit, though it gets harder as you get older and people are naturally evolving into their own more separate lives.
You and Wilco are the bands I have seen most over the years, I feel there is a kindred spirit between your two bands, always a changing cast behind the main songwriter and different albums take different shapes! The first time I saw Wilco in 1999 they were opening for R.E.M and I saw you on stage that night working for R.E.M how did that come about?
I never worked for R.E.M. in a live setting, though i used to work for their fanclub from time to time. We opened for R.E.M., and played a tribute show to them at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. They’re one of my favorite bands, since high school. We also did 2 tours opening for Wilco, who are also great!

I have always loved your songs, but I also think Elf Power is one of my favorite interpreters of other people’s tunes! Your cover of “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” off Red King has found it’s way on to so many mix cd’s of mine over the years! I also think Nothing’s Going To Happen is one of the greatest covers records ever, I also got a tour only covers cd you did with the Byrds Feel A Whole Lot Better on it that… I loved it. What have been your favorite covers to do over the years and how have they helped you develop your own songwriting?
The Brian Eno cover is always a fun one to play live, also “20th Century Boy” by T. Rex, “Queen Bitch” by David Bowie, “Jumping Fences” by Olivia Tremor Control, “Pay to Cum” by Bad Brains, “I Wanna Destroy You” by Soft Boys, “Nothing’s Going to Happen” by Tall Dwarfs…figuring out songs you love are a great way to learn different songwriting tricks, new chords, arrangement techniques, etc.
You backed Vic Chestnut on a record/tour and were also Neutral Milk Hotel’s backing band on tours, what makes Elf Power the go to backing band and if you could back anybody who would it be?
We never backed Neutral Milk Hotel on tours. There was a period in 1996 or 1997 i think when we backed Jeff Mangum on some NMH songs at some local shows around Athens, before his other bandmembers were living in Athens. I would just love the chance to play with Vic Chesnutt again; that collaboration with him, recording a record together and touring around the world together , was one of the highlights of my musical career thus far.
If you could have anybody produce a record for Elf Power who would it be.. Brian Eno, Brian Wilson, Brian Helium…Other?
Brian Eno has produced so many great records, he’d be fun to work with of course!…his solo “rock” albums like “Here Come the Warm Jets” , “Taking Tiger Mountain(by Strategy)” and “Another Green World” are some of my favorite albums ever, not only for the inventive production and arrangement techniques but also for the amazing and sublime songwriting
I have always loved the production of your records whether they are made on 4-track cassette recorders or with big time producers! You have taught me so much about how to make interesting sounding albums. On every record I have ever worked on I have wanted direct input guitar on something.. Mostly cause the sound you created on records with that effect on guitar solos. After over 20 years of recording what gets you excited when working on music these days?
Just writing songs, trying to come up with new and different ideas , and trying to remain creative and seek new methods in recording as well. I think we acheived some new sounds like never before on our latest record (“Watery Shreds”/”Halloween Out Walking” particularly) and i’m very proud of that
The new record has the perfect combo of slower and rocking tunes.. It’s really a powerful, dark record, and it sounds like the most confident record you have ever made to me. Tell us a bit about how this one came to be.  
Thanks! We just took our time and recorded a bunch of different songs over the course of a year and a half, and sometimes multiple versions of the same songs with vastly different arrangements, and picked our favorites when we were finished. We didn’t really have a deadline, so it just evolved naturally and we took our time with it, which i think is reflected in the songs.
With over 20 years of killer songs, how do you sculpt an hour long set list on tour these days! And just for us die hard and since you are on tour with Tobin Sprout if you have to play a 3 hour GBV style set and had to play 56 songs.. What would they be and in what order? 
We have 13 albums to choose from so coming up with an hour long set is no problem! Touring with Tobin Sprout has been amazing, his band is great and he’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time , so it’s a joy to see him play every night and hang out with him. I don’t think that i could play a 3 hour set every night, that’s simply too long, i wouldn’t subject any audience to that! but if i was forced to do so i think i would cheat and play 56 covers of Napalm Death’s 2 second song “You Suffer” in a row, having the set clock in at a whopping 112 seconds!

Thanks for making so much amazing music over the past 20 years Andrew… next time I see you, I’m going to give you a big hug and thank you in person! 

Patrick posted this picture of meeting Elf Power at that show in Minnesota back in ’99


Good Morning Midnight-Basket Of Flowers

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It’s strange how well Good Morning Midnight‘s new album flows. The songs themselves are quite different, ranging from somber folk to indie-pop to raucous 70’s style AM radio tunes. The influence of bands like Wilco and songwriters like Elliot Smith are heard pretty easily throughout, and GMM’s Charlie Cacciatore captures their spirit with ease.

Produced and engineered by friend of the site Dana Telsrow and Luke Tweedy at Flat Black Studios in Iowa City, Basket Of Flowers is a polished, easy listen that lets the work speak for itself. No need for bells and whistles when you have quality songwriting and musical ability.

The first song I heard from the album was “Permanently Red,” a wordy tune with a lot going on sonically on which you can chew. It’s available over on GMM’s bandcamp page as the lead single off Basket Of Flowers, but don’t think for one second that you’re going to get 11 more songs just like it. I’m particularly enthralled with the closing track, “UNIVERSE or Donald J. Trump Vs. The Winchester Boys Choir.” It’s a ten minute epic, not unlike “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves” on the Bright Eyes album Lifted. Even without the Trump stuff, this is a really great song.

“Loneliness knows no limits at all. Expands like the universe. Demands like a black hole.” There’s a bizarre simplicity to this, but the way it’s sung makes it feel like a new idea I’m hearing for the first time. And that’s true of much of Basket Of Flowers. There’s a lot of sounds that I’ve heard before, but never like this. Delivered in a fusion of Radiohead and Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s really a great listen.

The album isn’t officially out until July 21st, but if you catch Good Morning Midnight at a show, you can get a physical copy. He’ll be in Chicago this Saturday, June 3rd, at Roach Manor (Western and 19th).

Wilco At Chicago Theatre 2/26/2017

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

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I’ve said this many times, to myself and among my friends and anyone who would be so kind to listen to me ramble on, but it must be stated again-Wilco is the best live band in America. I only stop short of saying the world because, like “The Late Greats,” maybe there is some band I’ve never heard of that is even better. It is hard for me to imagine, though. Wilco’s ability to continue to get better after over 20 years is something I can only chalk up to some kind of divine grace that the universe has given us to make up for every moment of suffering that occurs on Earth. It’s a little miracle that I don’t take for granted.

Last night was, by my count, the 17th time I’ve seen them. I honestly only remember one instance that I didn’t leave a show thinking it was the best I’d ever seen them play (80/35, the weekend before Star Wars came out when it seemed like they were just going through the motions so we didn’t know that something huge was about to happen-for the record I also saw them at Pitchfork the following weekend when they unleashed Star Wars in full and it was amazing). They play off one another and are so in sync it can feel inhuman at times. And it’s obvious they still love playing together if you ever watch Jeff just stare as Nels wails away through a solo.

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This was the final night of a four-night stand at Chicago Theatre, a stage they had graced only once, when Conan O’Brien filmed his Chicago week there. The setlists all week were great, so I had no doubt that we were in for something special. One thing I will say for the evolution of Wilco-they’ve learned how to construct a set of music that really feels like a roller coaster. They started off nice and easy with a few laid-back tunes, including “Normal American Kids,” “Cry All Day,” and “If I Ever Was  A Child” off their latest album Schmilco. Then they got a little heavier with “Muzzle Of Bees,” “Bull Black Nova,” and hit a climax with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.”

The Yankee Hotel Foxtrot killer led into one of the songs that marks the biggest change in Wilco’s evolution, “Art Of Almost.” I probably said this in my initial review of The Whole Love, but that song is unlike anything in the band’s past. It’s a big, loud, arena-rocking showstopper that initially seemed to come out of nowhere but has quickly become a fan favorite at every Wilco show.

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The rest of the set was a good mix of old and older songs, reaching all the way back to A.M. for “Box Full Of Letters.” Wilco (The Album) and Summerteeth got the short end of the stick, with only one song off of each getting played. But the song off Summerteeth was preceded by one of the great moments of the night: Tweedy told a story about his dad calling him in tears after Trump sent out the (thankfully) now overturned travel ban. His dad felt like for the first time his father (83) was embarrassed to be an American. That led into “I thought about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me.” A very cathartic moment for myself and I’m sure many others in the audience.

Another great moment happened a few songs earlier when Jeff gave a shoutout to longtime fan Maki, who flew in from Japan to see them play. That’s some dedication right there, and I can’t think of any band I would fly that far to see (thank goodness Wilco is right here where I live). I don’t know if Maki requested the song, but that’s when they did “Magazine Called Sunset.”

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The double encore featured 7 songs, ending with the audience singing out the riff from “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” which I had never seen them do until this week. They have a video of it on their Facebook page you can check out if you’d like. It was fantastic and even these overzealous dum dums couldn’t stifle our good time.

SETLIST:

On and On and On


Normal American Kids
If I Ever Was A Child
Cry All Day
Muzzle Of Bees
Bull Black Nova
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
Pickled Ginger
Misunderstood
Someone to Lose
A Magazine Called Sunset
Reservations
Impossible Germany
Say You Miss Me
Via Chicago
Box Full of Letters
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Hummingbird
The Late Greats
ENCORE:
Random Name Generator
Jesus, Etc.
Locator
Monday
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
I’m A Wheel
ENCORE:
Spiders (Kidsmoke)

Music.Defined.’s Favorite Songs Of 2016

December 15, 2016 Leave a comment


I didn’t get up to 100 songs this year. I tried and there just wasn’t enough material for 100 that I felt warranted listing. There’s a ton of stuff I haven’t heard, as there is every year, but these are the best of the music of which I had a chance to listen. 

The order isn’t that important, though I’m designating Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” and “Me And Your Mama” as numbers 1 and 1a, respectively. Other than that feel free to shuffle the Spotify playlist or mess around with the rankings on your own. I think there’s something here for pretty much everyone, including some great Chicago talent.

70. Sons Of An Illustrious Father-Post Future

69. Noname-Diddy Bop

68. Jenny Gillespie-Last Mystery Train

67. PJ Harvey-Ministry Of Defence

66. The Jayhawks-Pretty Roses In Your Hair

65. Kitten-Knife

64. Regina Spektor-Black And White

63. Cross Record-Something Unseen Touches A Flower To My Forehead

62. Summer Cannibals-Full Of It

61. Ravyn Lenae-Moon Shoes

60. Cousin Dud-Eloise’s Revenge

59. Maids-These Days

58. The Wind And The Wave-Skin And Bones

57. The Romantic Comedy-The Thirst

56. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds-Rings Of Saturn

55. Golden Bloom-Great Unknown

54. Kendrick Lamar-Untitled 08

53. Rihanna-Needed Me

52. Shakey Graves-Tomorrow

51. Run The Jewels-Legend Has It

50. Islands-Pumpkin

49. Donnie Biggins-When You Return

48. M.I.A.-Visa

47. J. Cole-Neighbors

46. Ezra Furman-The Refugee

45. Johnny Gallagher-Dangerous Strangers

44. AJJ-No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread

43. Nice As Fuck-Cookie Lips

42. St. Lenox-Thurgood Marshall

41. Twin Peaks-Holding Roses

40. Jarryd James-1000x

39. Warpaint-New Song

38. The All About-If This City

37. Angel Olsen-Heart Shaped Face

36. Justin Timberlake-Can’t Stop The Feeling

35. Schoolboy Q-THat Part

34. Night School-Teen Feelings

33. Solange-Mad

32. Nas-Wrote My Way Out

31. The Felice Brothers-Life In The Dark

30. Philip-Michael Scales-Stay

29. Lucinda Williams-Place In My Heart

28. ZAYN-BeFoUr

27. Tindersticks-Were We Once Lovers?

26. HÆLOS-Dust

25. Phantogram-You Don’t Get Me High Anymore

24. Wilco-Cry All Day

23. Glen Hansard-Way Back In The Way Back When

22. Arkells-Drake’s Dad 

21. Deap Vally-Smile More

20. Christopher The Conquered-I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll

19. Shovels & Rope-Botched Execution

18. Frank Ocean-Self Control

17. Fort Frances-Take The Wheel

16. Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam-1000 Times

15. Bruno Mars-24K Magic

14. Hinds-Castigadas En El Granero

13. The Thermals-Thinking Of You

12. Jason Collett-Forever Young Is Getting Old

11. Brian Fallon-Smoke

10. Conor Oberst-A Little Uncanny

9. Slothrust-Like A Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone

8. Beck-Wow

7. The Strumbellas-Young And Wild

6. Chance The Rapper-Summer Friends

5. Leonard Cohen-Treaty

4. Wet-I Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl

3. Chairlift-Polymorphing

1a. Childish Gambino-Me And Your Mama

1. Childish Gambino-Redbone

Cousin Dud-Sunspots

December 14, 2016 Leave a comment

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Back in October, Cousin Dud released a new record called Sunspots. You probably haven’t heard of it because Cousin Dud is as bad as I am about self-promotion. I’d been emailing with Matt Carmichael around that time, and I don’t think he ever mentioned that they were putting out any new music. Luckily, I was poking around Spotify last night to fill out my top songs of 2016 in case I missed anything, and I randomly looked them up to hear an older song of theirs.

I asked the band to play a show celebrating the fifth anniversary of this website in April, which they kindly agreed to do. They headlined, and played mostly new material that I hadn’t heard before that night. It was late on a weekday, so a lot of people didn’t stay to hear them, but a few of those that did came up to me afterward to ask about them. Cousin Dud has long been one of my sleeper bands in Chicago (honestly maybe too sleepy if I didn’t even know they had a record out), and I’m happy to report that Sunspots is another winner.

It’s a much more focused piece, following last year’s sprawling Sad Moments In Modern Music. Eight tracks, covering about 35 minutes of the best Americana rock you’ll hear. “Square Rats” shows off a lot of the band’s Wilco influence, with a little Craig Finn in Matt Carmichael’s voice. The guitar break is too short, but gives you a glimpse of the talent on hand for this recording. It’s also a very Chicago song, but relatable to anyone.

I hadn’t planned on listening to the whole album last night. I was on the search for singles to add to my ever-growing list. As each track played, I thought “That could be on the list.” Only to have the next song be even better than the last. So I laid on my couch for half an hour just listening to song after song and kicking myself for not getting to Sunspots earlier.

In the end, I went with the closing track “Eloisa’s Revenge.” Since every song is better than the one preceding it, how could I choose anything else?

Cousin Dud is currently offering their whole digital library for $7.35, which is a steal and I highly recommend you get it. You can buy them from the group’s Bandcamp page.

Wilco-Schmilco

September 6, 2016 Leave a comment


After 20 years of existence, Wilco spent 2015 reminding everyone why they were heralded as “America’s Greatest Rock Band” in the first place. Their Star Wars album stands up against the best works they’ve done, and let Jeff Tweedy and co. show off their fun side that had been kept under wraps since 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Now the band returns with Schmilco only 13 months later, leaving fans to wonder if the band can strike gold yet again.

It’s certainly a different kind of record than Star Wars. The fuzzed-out rock and roll of their last release gives way to music more in line with Wilco’s alt-country and folk roots. Which isn’t to say there isn’t room to get weird. “Common Sense” begins like a fairly traditional Wilco song, but quickly evolves into something else entirely. Steel drums rattle around some discordant guitar plucks, adding a whole new wrinkle to Wilco’s repertoire.

I feel like I don’t need to get too deep into the album, since my review isn’t going to change anyone’s mind on Wilco-you either love them or are stupid (jk you aren’t stupid, you just don’t have good taste in music-jk you’re taste in music is probably great). Wilco is still the best band, and one of the few that can put emotionally deep and resonant songs next to catchy pop tunes and make them feel like they fit together somehow. They still wear their love of The Beatles and Dylan on their sleeves and proudly take the music they grew up on to the next level.

One thing different on Schmilco, and I’m certain many people will disagree with me here, is Tweedy’s voice. These songs feature his best vocal performances in a long while. Not sure if he’s doing something different, but it’s working. There’s always been a sweetness to his tone, and a knowledge of melody, but he seems comfortable in a way he never has. Maybe getting older has helped him let go of some of his insecurities.

Here’s a link so you can find participating record stores where you can hear Schmilco ahead of its release date on Friday. Listening parties will be happening today, September 6th. Times vary, but seem to fall between 5 and 7pm. The record only runs around 40 minutes, so you might get to hear it twice!

Favorite Photos of ’15-Ten Of My Best From This Year

December 11, 2015 Leave a comment

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It was a good year for picture taking, as we were able to get into some really awesome shows and festivals. Some of these photos I picked because I think they’re really good. Others I chose because of my own personal feelings toward them. So, if you see a pic and think “I saw your photos from that show and there were much better ones,” you may be right. Very thankful for all the artists who let us take photos this year, looking forward to doing it again in 2016.

10. The Tallest Man On Earth at Thalia Hall-I wasn’t the biggest fan of his latest record, but his performance had a lot more energy than I expected and I ended up loving it.

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9. Weezer at 80/35 Music Festival-Rivers seemed a bit disinterested in the show, but they played a good amount off Pinkerton and The Blue Album so I was happy.

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8. Ghost at The Riviera Theatre-Not necessarily my cup of tea, musically, but they really go all out on their stage show. Papa Emeritus III is a great subject of which to take pictures.

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7. Run The Jewels at 80/35 Music Festival-This is definitely not my best photo from the set, but I like the pose of them together like this.

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6. Gary Clark jr at Summer Fest-Only went to Summer Fest to see him, and he did not disappoint. Keeping the blues alive in the mainstream all by himself.

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5. St Vincent playing with Wire at Thalia Hall-This was a cool show because St Vincent was only there to play guitar on one song with Wire. It was fun to watch her watching them to make sure she was getting it right.

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4. Jeff Tweedy playing with Wilco at Pitchfork-Wilco’s best performance in ages. Played Star Wars straight through and came off like a band 20 years younger. Also, Jeff kinda stands like Elvis Costello here.

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3. Natalie Prass at Pitchfork-Very first performance on the first day of Pitchfork can be rough. Here, Natalie and her guitar player do their best Gene Simmons impression.

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2. July Talk at Subterranean-If you want to see a great rock show, head out to July Talk the next time they come around. Peter and Leah have a weird on stage chemistry that can be both loving and antagonizing.

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1. Chance The Rapper at Pitchfork-This is his city and he made the most of it. The lights were amazing, he looked amazing, the band behind him played amazing. What a show. Chicagoan of the year indeed.

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