Empty Frames gets Painfully Alone…

Your lyrics stand out in that they include ordinary details from everyday life and popular culture without sounding trite, but actually transform these places and activities and make them extraordinary.  You bring sadness and longing to a Carl’s Jr. (Should’ve Kissed You), you explain the cheapening of something valuable by mentioning a pancake mix box (New Year’s Kiss).  It is these details that command a special attention from the listener.  Do you write from personal experience or more as a fiction author creating very real characters experiencing real things?
The characters are fictional, but I try to load the stories with as much believability as possible.  It’s the details that make any scenario memorable, like the smiling cow on the carton of milk that you spill all over your stereo.  Sometimes the details have personal significance to me, but the important thing is that they have to sound right.  They have to sound ordinary and maybe a little funny and a little sad.  There used to be a Carl’s Jr in the North Beach area of San Francisco, and it was right over by a bunch of strip clubs and a bus stop.  I always thought that there was something kind of special about that intersection so I used it.

Wikipedia, and the fountain of knowledge that it is, explains that you were born in California, and your website bio says you now reside in Chicago.  You also mention many places in your songs: St. Paul, Maine, Portland, Santa Fe, Kansas City, Illinois etc. What has the journey been to Chicago? How has your music been influenced by where you have lived and the people around you?
I was born in San Francisco and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many, many years.  I’ve been in Chicago for a little less than three years now.  Location is just another detail.  Knowing that a song takes place in Kansas City gives it gravity, even if you’ve never been to Kansas City.  I think the songs mean more when you can imagine them happening somewhere in particular.  I tour a lot, and often the cities I visit work their way into songs in unexpected ways.  I like having those reminders of times and places.  The songs become souvenirs.
In the song, Lesley Gore on the Tami Show, you say “I’ll probably never say these things to you.”  Is music a way to say things you otherwise wouldn’t say?
Well, sure.  Music, by nature, is emotional.  It’s manipulative.  Singing something can move you in ways that reading or even speaking something just cannot.  Music has the ability to be subversive and unavoidable in ways that other mediums just aren’t.  There’s music everywhere.  It’s used for everything.  How many times a day does a lyric or melody get stuck in your head?  There’s power in that.  Music is creepy!
You have the following songs listed as “songs I will not play [at a show] no matter how nicely you ask or how many alcoholic drinks you offer me (sorry!)”:
“A Normal Suburban Lifestyle Is A Near Impossibility Once You’ve Fallen In Love With An International Spy”, “Casiotone for the Painfully Alone Joins the Foreign Legion”, “Hotel Huntington Sign”, “Hey Jelly”, “Beeline”, “Hot Boyz”

Out of curiosity, why not these songs? If you won’t reveal your secret in plainspeech, will you write a song about it, so I can request it at a show?
Somebody asked me about this recently.  I’m just going to paste what I said here, if you don’t mind:
well, personally, there tends to be this point when a song i’ve written gets so old that it doesn’t really feel like one of my songs anymore. after a while i just don’t have the same ideas and feelings that went into that song in the first place, and a weird kind of separation happens. that isn’t always a bad thing. i don’t mind playing covers, as long as there’s something about that song that i love and relate to. some of my old songs feel like that and they still manage to feel totally relevant to play, but in a different kind of way. and, some of my old songs just feel like somebody else’s songs that i just don’t have any business covering. it would feel disingenuous and dumb to try to pull them off now.

Ta da!

You recently released a 15 song disc, Town Topic. In your eyes, how does Town Topic compare to/move away from your previous releases?
The Town Topic EP is all music that I produced for a Laurel Nakadate film called Stay The Same Never Change.  It’s music that was meant to accompany visuals, instead of being taken on its own.  The music got a lot of compliments from people who saw early versions of the movie, and after people started asking if any kind of soundtrack was going to be released, I thought “oh yeah.  maybe I should do that.”  So, it isn’t quite an album, but it’s still nice to listen to, I think.  I’m proud of it.
Will you give us some insight on the ringtone sequence on TT which begins with the pent-up, sorrowful Possible Love Interest, flies into Bad People which is beats and drums, then OMG, this zooming number with intermittent rattle that actually sounds like a person shaking their head back and forth saying “OMG” then finally into Probably Walkin Down the Street which is a very stout, bouncy this is what’s up sort of sound.  What inspired these songs?
Those ringtones were made for various characters in Stay The Same Never Change.  I made a whole mess of different ones, and Laurel picked which ones she thought best represented each character.  We liked the idea of each character had their own theme, in a totally literal and modern sort of way.  Only one ringtone ended up being used in the final edit, though.  The rest of the phone scenes got cut.
Going off the last question, in general, you’re titles often help clarify the meaning of the song.  They also add a lot of humor and color to your work. Even just looking at the list of banned show songs, anyone can see these aren’t typical songs.  What’s your philosophy for song titles?
I usually try to pick song titles that hopefully have never been used as song titles before.  When i was younger, I tried really hard to come up with titles that were really super clever, mostly because it just seemed like an exciting and novel opportunity to even be naming a song.  These days, I mostly settle on whatever feels the most appropriate, while still being unique enough to distinguish from whatever Hank Williams song I stole the general idea from in the first place.
Like your song titles and lyrics, everything surrounding your music–the art, the videos–really create a frame around Casiotone’s music. Even the band’s name. Like a giant neon Carl’s Jr. sign that instead says Listen. The video for white corolla is great. Armless panda and his ice skating buddies doing the rolling-arms-dough-roller move.  Do you do casiotone’s artwork and videos? How do you think visual art and sound art work together?
The White Corolla video was done by Julia Pott, and I think she did a great job.  I have never made a video on my own.  For the most part, I think music videos are kind of silly, and kind of redundant, at least as far as my music is concerned.  It goes back to the idea of using music as a sort of filter or accompaniment for whatever else is going on it your life.  Tying visuals, or requiring rapt attention for the consuming of a video verses a song kind of misses the point, I think.  The songs should be visual enough on their own, and at the same time totally ignorable.  I like the idea of doing animated videos, though.  There’s a dreamy quality to animation that seems totally separate from the songs they accompany, and can therefore be divorced and enjoyed totally separately.  I’m not interested in acting or lip-synching in any of my own videos, or even putting a face to any of the characters.  I’d rather the people in the songs be just as ugly or boring as the listener would like them to be.  Does that make sense?
What’s the best show you’ve ever seen? What’s the best show you’ve done? What do you think makes a show good?
I saw Kraftwerk in the late 90’s and it was pretty awesome.  More recently I saw an Ethiopian saxophonist called Getachew Mekurya play a free outdoor concert with a Dutch punk band called The Ex here in Chicago and that was really exciting.  Folks were just hanging out on their lunch break, and old people were getting up and dancing.  I am kind of a nerd about Ethiopian popular music from the 60’s and 70’s, and it was a total thrill for me to see someone who is such a legend to me.  I got goosebumps and shit.  I love it when popular music can feel sacred.  That doesn’t happen very often.

I don’t know what the best show I’ve ever done was.  I just played a really fun house show in Athens, Ohio last week.  People were right up in my face, bumping into my equipment, and people were high-fiving me in the middle of songs and stuff.  Some girl kept making “that’s what she said” jokes and making people laugh.  I like it when it feels like something spontaneous and positive is going on, and everyone seems to be having a really good time.

What’s your guilty pleasure band/song?  Do you think there is a place for all music or do you think that music can be illegitimate? How does the indie music scene foster the development of music?
I don’t know if there is much music that I feel guilty about listening to at this point.  The older I get, the harder it is for me to feel embarassed.  I guess I would consider my own music to be a bit of a guilty pleasure, though.  When I’m working on something new, I usually listen to the rough versions pretty obsessively until I feel like I’ve gotten it right, and I sometimes worry that someone is going to catch me.  I have no idea how the indie music scene fosters the development of music because I’ve never particularly felt like part of a scene.
Finally, and this is more of a comment, so you can take your thinking cap off…On your lyrics page, you write out the abbreviation for because (otherwise known as cuz or ’cause) as “coz”. You might see this said “coz” pop up every now and again on the Empty Frames website coz we like it.
Hmm that is interesting!  I mostly just use “coz” when a song’s cadence doesn’t allow for the extra “be” syllable.  I had a hard time deciding what the official Casiotone spelling of “because” without the “be” would be.  There are just so many options: cause, cos, coz, b/c… Maybe there’s even another one that I don’t even know about.
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empty frames chats with sam amidon

EF: There seems to be a fight in your music. You seem to be aware of the presence of sadness, darkness, and the reality of death and want to overcome it. Can you talk about this?

SA: well i don’t write any of the words to the songs the words and vocal melodies are all from old traditional american folksongs – all i do is change around the harmonies and guitar parts and stuff.  so i am not singing words that i write, i’m singing words that i’ve found in songs. and usually i hear the melody first and only hear what the lyrics are afterwards and sometimes i’m really surprised! what are those weird songs about? why did those people make them up?  they knew a lot more about death than we do. whoever they were.

EF: Will you talk about the significance of the title “All is Well”.
SA: well it is, right?
EF: Your songs are like rooms.  There is a screen door but then after a few listens suddenly there is something behind it that is not readily picked up on. Like, on “Fall on my Knees”..it feels like there are two different songs, the picking being the screen door, and the steady bass procession being the room behind it.  Do you write in layers or do you write one sequence at a time and then put the layers together?
SA:
wow, that’s a nice description of the music! that depth element to the music has a lot to do with what my collaborators do.  nico’s arrangements on all is well create so many other directions and places for things to go, and valgeir’s production and mixing puts all those things into the space you describe.  same with thomas on the chicken album but in his own way.
EF: Who’s in your band?
SA:
chicken: thomas b
all is well: nico, valgeir, and contributions from aaron siegel, stefan amidon, eyvind kang, ben frost, and a lot of wonderful icelandic people
often: my friend shahzad
and whoever else i find along the way.
EF: What are you listening to right now?
SA:
“Doo-Bop,” miles davis’ last (uncompleted) album.  it’s a hip hop record from 1991 with miles’ cryptic trumpet playing and some pretty good hip hop beats and some terrible rapping.  a very sad little record.
EF: You do a rendition of Kurt Cobain on your “Home Alone Inside my Head”. Do you think any other musicians could be recognized by one vocal effect? If somebody said, “Do the Sam Amidon” how would that sound?
SA: Kurt Cobain had a real folk voice, a real sacred harp voice.  My friend Isaac Alderson is incredibly good at imitating people’s voices, i think there is a switch that turns on in his brain and he enters a room in his mind where that person’s voice is stored and he is able to really channel it!  He could probably do “Sam Amidon”
EF: Word or phrase to describe Chicken.
SA: falshearted
EF: Word or phrase to describe All is Well.
SA: loping

EF: Finally, what is a lyric that inspires you?
SA: “what a relief to know that the war is over,” from the song “relief” by r. kelly.  it reminds me that no matter how f**ked up the world is, you can still be completely insane and write a lyric like that and sing it with total power & belief.

Read a full review of All is Well here.

með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

Beauty and grace are offered yet again from sigur ró. It bursts with joy and sorrow. It is loud and crashing, ear grabbing and heart clenching. The beauty being offered is from the fifth full-length entitled, “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.” Translated in English it means “with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly.”

The record begins playfully with a song entitled “gobbledigook.” The drums are contagious with it’s almost tribal feel and sets the tone for the record, which reminds me of a mix tape. It starts off with a bang, offers something new and then moves into what sigur ros does best, slow builds and bursts that make the heart ache. There is a video that was made for the opening track and can be found at their website . I love the commentary the video makes. It is free and open, using your body and the nakedness to offer hope rather than shame. I like that the body, though naked, doesn’t have to be engaged in crudeness or lurid sex but offers a new vision to how we use and treat the body. How it is offered to be free and open rather than shameful or full of fear…

The record continues with hope and moves to slow melodies become that are offered as a soundtrack to your life’s heartbreak and joy. sigur rós is one of the few bands that recognizes the delicate balance of both joy and sorrow and it is offered with the melodies and harmonies of instrumentation rather than lyrics. Some of the highlights from the record include a 90 piece boys choir for track, Ára bátur. There friends in Aminna (female orchestration) were also a part of this record. It was mixed and produced in under a month so it’s raw and imperfect and that gives it a feel that there could be more manipulation but this is where they are at. If I could only give myself that same kind of grace….

The true beauty of sigur rós is their ability to have the listener insert their own life into the journey. You have the ability to find and locate emotions or memories with their sonic landscape. It’s a rare find in this Icelandic band. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see their musical documentary, Heima please do. It’s a journey home after touring for years globally and remembering where they came from. They offered the community free performances around Iceland and documented the natural beauty and splendor of the people and places of Iceland. This new release was formed from these “Heima (home)” performances. The stripped down feel of those performances offered the ability to engage making music in new and creative ways.

sigur rós is a favorite. I hope you can make it a favorite of yours as well.

Damien and Jeremy @Spaceland

Life has been a bit of a whirlwind and I have
felt the pull of the undertow
There are days to feel inspired
but those are hard to do when you feel stuck in dotting the i and crossing the t.

anywho….
There have been some new records heard
and some shows that engaged and wrestled with my heart.
Since that is what I like to write. I shall continue.
because there is no longer school work to worry
about getting in by the deadline.


Damien Jurado and Jeremy Enigk @ Spaceland 6.10.08

Days away from being done with my finals I had the chance to see some of my undergraduate favorites, Jeremy Enigk and Damien Jurado. Northwest friends both having voices that shake the core and lyrics that allow this to happen. I sat back and I saw myself when I was younger, a different school, and a different time. I had different memories when these men sang me their songs in my Ford Ranger truck or alone in a coffee shop trying to finish paper deadlines. This time was different. Those familiar voices engaged me with completely different faces and atmospheres. I saw Sunny Day Real Estate years ago at Calvin College right before they broke up. It was fantastic then. To see just Jeremy Enigk play felt like a dream. His voice got warmer as the night progressed which allowed him to sing songs that were so beautiful and haunting. In a way only his voice can be. stretching and tearing, soaring and crashing. His songs are poignant and beautiful. Interesting how I felt like I could hear so much that was not there because I felt his songs when I listened. They are complex and beautiful. It was a beautiful treat.

Damien is simple and slow. A true story teller with the ability to grab you and set you into a story with a scene set as like you were watching it dance in front of you. Often his songs are sad and haunting. They were beautiful and soft. Just a man with an acoustic guitar and a plan to engage life with new stories and new

The night was fantastic. Some good friends. Some $2 Pabst. Other than the dude in the white hoodie who had an opinion about everything and cared to share it with his brosef and anyone in a twenty foot radius of him the night went well. It was good to hear familiar songs in an unfamiliar time. It was like coming home again but knowing that where you have been has been just as important as where you want to go.

unwed sailor @ the vermont house

i wasn’t sure what kind of night i was in for when i agreed to go see unwed sailor at a venue i’d never heard of nor could i find it any where on the world wide interweb. but my presence at 1515 vermont ave last night was nothing short of wonderful. johnathon ford, and four or five others (there may have been more tucked around the corner) played in a kitchen just atop a stairwell. the show started around 12:30 am and before the night was over la’s finest even made an appearance. this picture says it all. people cramped in a hallway, together there, united by the commonality of music. good times la. good times.

Kate Nash @ the Henry Fonda

if you are a high school girl or anyone who has recently been involved in a break-up, you might like kate nash—she’s honest about the messiness of break-ups and of the strange attraction of and being involved with the wrong people. all such variables that make up life in high school or any other time in life that reveals the chaos of broken relationships.

the red-headed british import closed the last night of her tour with foundations:

“My finger tips are holding onto the cracks in our foundation,
and I know that I should let go, but I can’t.
And every time we fight I know it’s not right,
every time that you’re upset and I smile.
I know I should forget, but I can’t…”

broken relationships of all sorts, inside or outside of high school are painful but often somehow appealing (maybe because being alone seems scarier) — nash captures this dichotomy in her lyrics and catchy tunes. this fun show, which i attended in solitude, with a couple hundred of my closest stranger friends, helped me realize life goes on after break-ups and cute red headed girls with accents help usher along the change.

Tapes ‘n Tapes @ the Troubadour

it’s quite funny how my friends’ opinions mean so much to me. i try to pretend that i’m self confident and that i don’t really care what others think. yet last night, i spent the majority of my night worried if my friends, henry and kim, were having a good time at the troubadour. you see i really value henry’s musical taste and appreciation of music and i was afraid of what he might think of me if he didn’t like the music or the show of tapes ‘n tapes. to complicate the matters, kim and i have only hung out a couple of times and i worried what her impression of me would be at the end of the night.

music is one of those things that speaks about you in ways your own words can’t at times. a person’s musical taste says more about them to me than any e-harmony profile test ever will. and the show last night…well it was my idea. one in which i invited henry and kim. and for the first hour of the show i thought maybe i lost any solidarity i had with henry on the musical front. while tapes ‘n tapes put on a good show, the energy from the crowd was low at best—and i was hoping for much more. granted there was one short guy in a dodgers cap singing along and flailing his arms about—but the rest of the folks were just kind of there. the intimacy of the troubadour put us close to the stage but there wasn’t much closeness shared with the band or the music for me and i worried that for kim and henry this thursday night was squandered.

tapes \'n tapesi stopped worrying what they would think when i realized that my “newness” to the band was my alibi if they hated it. they couldn’t hold me accountable because i’m just as innocent as them—i just bought “walk it off” several weeks ago and according to my itunes playcount i’ve only listened to the album 7 times (though that doesn’t take into consideration my ipod plays). but it wasn’t until the ride home that i fully realized how naive i had been by worrying. the night wouldn’t have been wasted no matter who was playing or what the crowd was like because i was able to spend my night in the company of two great people who liked music and put up with me. and those two realizations affirmed that the night couldn’t have been any better.

Check out Tapes ‘N Tapes. Listen to the song Hang Them All.