Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

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Farewell 6, and thanks for all the music?

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BBC 6 Music plectrum (2006)
Image by radiothings.com via Flickr

It is with a note of nostalgic sadness that I have read of the BBC”s plans to make some service cuts, including the decision to silence BBC 6 music channel.

The station had the notoriety of being one of the first BBC digital stations when it went on-air in 2002. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I learned about it (one of my 2 a.m. wonder-what’s-going-on-across-the-Atlantic sessions on the Internet), but once I started listening, I knew I had hit upon something really pleasing to the ears.

Fact is, my music collection (MP3 and CD) and enjoyment of what we broadly term “indie rock” today would be but a pale shadow of what it is, if not for BBC 6 Music, its excellent playlists and engaging roster of on-air hosts. I can run the names of a lot of bands…Doves, Hard-Fi, Razorlight, I Am Kloot, to name a few…that I probably would have never known about otherwise, certainly not from any terrestrial station in central Arkansas, where I was living and working at the time.

But here’s another fact: Radio is, and has been for a very long time, all about numbers, as in how many people are listening. According to the BBC, the station is reaching 700,000 listeners per week, only 1 percent of the adult population in the UK, and only 20 percent of the UK population knows about the station’s existence (I’m guessing that is from a recent survey). When the economy has gone as south as it has in the last two years, those figures are not going to bring a strong argument for another eight years or beyond on the digital airwaves.

Still, the reason the title of this article ends in a question mark is that the plug has not been pulled yet. The most recent information I have is that BBC 6 Music (and BBC Asian Network, the other digital station set for closure) will not be closed before the end of 2011 at the earliest. That means there is still time for you to discover what I did years ago, and possibly do a small part in keeping the station alive and kicking by joining a petition effort to keep it on the air.

Take some time to listen to one of the rare examples of a truly excellent radio station in a world overpopulated by stale and formulaic ones. Hopefully, the BBC will listen to us when we ask it to keep 6 Music.

BBC 6 Music Web site

Online petition site

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Written by terrybritt

March 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm

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The Royalty Rumble And Its Aftermath

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The good news for Internet Radio fans (myself included): The battle over royalty payments to song copyright holders appears to have been settled.

The bad news? Free listening might remain free only to a certain point.

The Pandora site blog has this explanation from founder Tim Westergren.  Essentially, the big webcasters will pay an amount based on either a portion of their revenue (up to 25 percent) or a per performance fee, with smaller players paying based on a percentage of revenue or expenses.

What you will find in Westergren’s blog entry about the agreement is something I expect to become the norm.  You will still be able to listen for free, but the free ride will be capped.  In Pandora’s case, it will be 40 hours per month.

I expect this to become a standard model across the board, Internet stations capping the amount of free listening time per month, beyond which you will be asked to pitch in a small access fee (in Pandora’s case, it is going to be just 99 cents) or upgrade to a paid premium service in the cases of those sites that offer such a service.

There will still be some casualties on the battlefield, especially among the smaller webcasters, some of which were totally dependent on not having to fork over a significant recurring royalties payment.  Hopefully, your favorite station will not be among those going silent.

Written by terrybritt

July 8, 2009 at 10:17 am

Interview With Quiet Company

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The group’s name is Quiet Company, but their fans – a quickly growing number – are not keeping quiet about this Austin-based piano rock band.

In an interview before a recent show in Tyler, Texas, songwriter and vocalist Taylor Muse spoke about the band’s knack for instantly connecting with listeners.

“We don’t have a lot of fans in the grand scheme of things, but the ones we have are really, really big fans,” Muse said.

Their music apparently has quite a bit of power in it, Muse mentioning that one man told him “Love Is A Shotgun,” from the group’s first album, “Shine Honesty,” saved the man’s marriage.

“That’s really awesome to me. We’ve had people use our stuff in their weddings and that’s a real big honor to me. Yeah, we’ve had a few people tell us things like that, we’re one of their new favorite bands…it’s really amazing to hear.”

The band’s new album, “Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon,” seems likely to keep the buzz going strong and the legion of Quiet Company fans swelling in number (click here for album review). It has already received many enthusiastic reviews, although Muse said it is quite different from “Shine Honesty” in one regard.

“The first record is really just me and one other guy (Alex Bhore). He recorded it and played all the drums on the record. Most of those songs were not really developed in a band setting…

“That record kind of came before Quiet Company was even a live band,” Muse continued. “Now that we’ve been a live band for a while, the new record sounds a lot more like a full band, more like a full sound, more of a developed sound. I think sonically the songs on ‘Shine Honesty’ are huge and the songs on ‘Everyone You Love’ are even bigger.”

“It definitely adds a new dynamic and character to something,” band drummer Jeff Weathers added. “You always get more perspectives out of a band setting instead of just a single songwriter, even when it’s ideas originally written by Taylor. They get translated differently by somebody actually having to play the exact rhythm and note he’s played, but it’s their touch on the instrument.”

It has all added up to a sound and songs that have a distinct mark of originality, and yet are very inviting to the listener. Muse said although he certainly has musical influences, presenting something unique is not a chore.

“I don’t find it terribly difficult to walk that line. But I think a lot of bands do, and it’s not that I am such a better songwriter than they are,” he said. “I don’t feel the need to be anybody except who I am.

“Our influences come through and they show, but I wouldn’t say that we sound like anybody. I remember when I was younger in early bands, trying to sing just like some other guy or trying to play guitar like somebody else. I just don’t do that anymore. I guess that’s part of maturity, growing up and finding out what you do.”

Weathers remarked that Quiet Company definitely is not what he termed one of the “mall bands.”

“They’re all interchangeable and kind of disposable. I wonder if they sit and go ‘Hey, this song we just wrote sounds exactly like this other band,’ or do they not notice it, or do they not mind it? I don’t really know.”

He added, “We run with a crowd of bands we can really respect. I feel like all of our friends do their own thing and nobody’s really ripping off anybody.”

The two band members also weighed in on the role of technology in today’s music industry. Muse said the world of MySpace and YouTube has its good and bad elements as it concerns bands and music distribution.

“I think it totally threw everybody into different corners of the room and now they’re just starting to come back together,” he said. “It (Internet presence) was a perk, and now people are realizing it’s a standard. It’s also now a new niche in that you see bands totally produced strictly virtual, just like you have companies that are virtual. They never set foot on stage and they’re building whole markets just on Web presence.

“The bad thing is now it’s too easy to be a band. In our general society, it’s too easy to do too many things virtually now. You have a lot of people trying to do things (and) they don’t have to go through the heartache, they don’t have to go through the actual getting into the band and putting out the work, they don’t have to get in the streets and actually put out the work,” Muse added. “Recording equipment has made it to the point where anybody and their dog can make a record, and it’s a decent sounding record.”

And on the other hand? “The good thing that comes out of things being more accessible, just like any commodity, is now we have more perfect information…people are more critical now, things are more transparent. We’re going to start to see through the hype, start to see through all these fake MySpace bands and out of that will rise better and stronger things due to competition,” Muse said.

“Metallica might have hated Napster, but I was very thankful for it because it let me find a ton of music you couldn’t find before,” he added. “The other good thing is it destroys the conglomerate music industry. It forces them to maybe be a little more creative or at least think a little more creatively, or just go out of business.”

The Novelist Who Helped Create A Band

If every musician and songwriter has a Damascus moment, Taylor Muse experienced his when he was a single-but-looking patron at a bookstore.

He said he never got to chat up the attractive girl he saw working behind the counter that day — an inquiry about a good novelist she could recommend only got him a referral to a male co-worker in the store who was more knowledgeable on that subject.

But it was there that Muse wound up buying three novels by Kurt Vonnegut “so I didn’t look like a total fool.”

“I bought Slaughterhouse Five and two other books. I read the other two first and I almost didn’t read Slaughterhouse Five. But finally, I read it and I instantly fell in love with his (Vonnegut’s) voice…A lot of his ideas really connected with me and it was a whole different perspective of the world that I just really never had considered.”

He remains a passionate fan of the late author. “The weird thing about Vonnegut is, if I just sat here and told you the plot of his books they would not sound interesting at all. They would sound like the most boring, worthless books of all time. He (Vonnegut) kind of knew that,” Muse said.

“Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon” is speckled throughout with references to Vonnegut’s 1961 novel Mother Night, starting with the first track, “A Nation of Two.” The title is borrowed from a play written by the novel’s protagonist, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., for his wife.

“They’re the only two in the nation and their nation has no room for politics or religion or society. It’s just them and that’s all they need,” Muse said. “They are totally sovereign and totally substantial, just being that for each other and whatever else happens, if they’ve got each other, the whole world can burn away but their nation of two remains.”

Weathers expressed admiration for his bandmate’s ability to pose deep and sometimes troubling questions in his songs without alienating the listener.

“I think what’s good about Taylor’s lyrics in that regard is he does a good job of keeping you guessing. I know where Taylor stands on a lot of religious things, but it’s like lyrically I don’t know where he stands,” Weathers said. “That’s the way to try to get people thinking on a subject without making them on the defensive. It’s letting people think on their own time and grow as themselves.”

Muse said he is continually amazed at the power of music and the potential of every song he writes.

“Kurt Vonnegut wrote, ‘Any work of art is one half of the conversation between two people,'” he said. “It’s my part of the conversation.”

Four Bands Quiet Company Thinks You Should Give A Listen
The Rocketboys – http://www.rocketboyband.com/
Jets Under Fire – http://www.jetsunderfire.com/
Dignan – www.myspace.com/dignan
Roy G and the Biv – www.myspace.com/roygandthebiv

Written by terrybritt

March 23, 2009 at 1:28 am

Sound Of Madness Past

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With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament under way, I couldn’t help but make this little observation:

While listening to my fave radio station, WEVL in Memphis, earlier this week, I heard a song entitled “Tiger High ’85” by a band called The Coach and Four. It’s an indie pop ode to the 1985 Memphis State University basketball team that made it to the Final Four but lost to eventual national champion Villanova – a game I covered in person in Lexington, Ky., for the Memphis State campus newspaper, the Daily Helmsman.

I like the song, but you know you’re getting old when local bands are writing songs about your college days.

Go Tigers, Go!

The Coach and Four: www.myspace.com/thecoachandfour

The Incredible Shrinking Shuffle

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Boy, the lukewarm reviews keep rolling in on Apple’s latest little wonder, the new (and bewilderingly small) iPod Shuffle.

I have to say it’s an impressive bit of tech engineering to do a 4 GB music player in a body that’s only 1.8 inches tall and 0.3 inch thick. Being able to organize songs by playlist and including a multi-lingual voice feature that speaks music file info to you through the headphones is rather neat as well. But I’m seeing a lot of reviews so far that bemoan the absence of more intuitive controls (playlist/track selection has been moved to a button that is part of the headphones). Also, some are upset that this new Shuffle is third-party headphone unfriendly, requiring an adapter to use existing headphones.

I can forsee a more dubious problem: A $79 music player so small that it’s just asking to be lost somewhere in the house or accidentally sent through a wash cycle. No way would I be interested in buying it if I had small children or pets. And frankly, the change in the device’s controls just sounds like too steep a learning curve for a lot of people accustomed to buttons or a wheel on the body of the player.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out for Apple.


Written by terrybritt

March 16, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Album Review: “Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon” by Quiet Company

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There is a myriad of strong points about “Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon,” the new album from Austin-based Quiet Company.

But it took just one start-to-finish listen to realize the album’s truest triumphant point. There is not a single weak track amongst the 15 on the disc, not one that even allowed me to entertain the thought of pushing the skip track button in future. There are precious few albums I’ve listened to that I can honestly make that statement.

Band frontman Taylor Muse exhibits the sort of songwriting skills on this album you wish were the rule rather than the exception these days. The lyrics are intricate and original without being inaccessible. You know what’s being said and sung by Muse on each track but the phrasing, the word play and the timing is so admirable in its originality.

From “A Nation of Two” to “Seal My Fate” to “On Modern Men” and everything between and around, the album acts as a treatise on love, relationships, mortality, immortality, hopes, and fears – and aren’t those all synonyms for one another, anyway? Quiet Company dares to ask such a question here, but will gladly allow the listener all the time in the world to answer.

All that is wrapped in tasty musical arrangements and a sound that matches the fullness and depth of the lyrics. Case in point is the infectious second track with the deliriously long name, “It’s Better To Spend Money Like There’s No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There’s No Money.” This rocking track manages to feature band member Tommy Blank on the melodica, an instrument I’m unaccustomed to hearing on anything except Augustus Pablo records. Yet here it seems the only instrument in existence that fits the song’s midpoint interlude.

Fact is, the sound on “Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon,” within tracks and between tracks, is like a world-class roller coaster with soft buildups setting you up for exhilarating plunges, twists and turns. There are notes of whimsy as well as the most heartfelt sincerity, all perfectly placed throughout.

And by the end of the ride, you may have difficulty picking out which part was your absolute favorite, but you know you want to do it again and again.

Quiet Company is playing several shows this week at SXSW in Austin and will play Club Dada in Dallas on March 27.



Written by terrybritt

March 15, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Soul Grieving

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As an avowed and eternal fan of all things Stax, Sunday’s sad news of the death of Isaac Hayes hit particularly hard.

As I’m sitting here listening to some of Hayes’ recordings, I’m thinking of his vast influence on soul, R&B, even rap. Yet I will admit I was a latecomer to knowing much of Hayes’ own discography and the long list of songs he wrote or collaborated with partner David Porter during Stax Records’ heyday in the 60s and early 70s.

About six years ago, though, I bought the nine-disc set “The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Volume One” and were my ears ever opened, especially when it came to realizing just how many great songs in that collection were Hayes and Porter compositions.  Before that, I basically knew Hayes only as the man who recorded “Theme from Shaft” and wrote a couple of big hits for Sam and Dave.

A few months after that purchase, I picked up the second volume of Stax/Volt singles and gained a greater appreciation for Hayes’ own recordings, not to mention the oddness of his ascension from behind-the-scenes (albeit brilliant) songwriter to soul superstar.  While “Theme from Shaft” is and always will be a soul music history cornerstone, I found lots of Hayes’ material to like.  If pressed on the issue, I would have to say my personal favorite is his rendition of “The Look of Love,” a torch song best known as a No. 4 pop hit in 1968 for Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66.  Hayes’ version is sweet, hot and absolutely haunting – in the way lovers understand well.

Few of us get the opportunity to reinvent or resurrect ourselves in the public eye once, much less twice.  When Stax went under and Hayes suffered major financial setbacks, he was not one to fade away, turning to film and television acting while continuing to record songs.  Eventually, a whole new generation got to know Isaac Hayes via his vocal talents for the character of Chef on the animated show “South Park.”

No one relishes the day you have to say goodbye to someone whose work and life you admire greatly, less so when it happens so unexpectedly.  Suffice to say, Isaac Hayes will be as unforgettable as his performance of “Theme from Shaft” at the 1972 Academy Awards, and his musical and songwriting talent changed the landscape of the American soul sound for the better.

Written by terrybritt

August 10, 2008 at 9:54 pm

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