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Coachella 2018 will be remembered for a lot of firsts.

Beyoncé was the first black woman to headline at Coachella. This was the first year when there was no rock headliner—and a year when rock music took a backseat to rap.

It was also a year of change. The Sahara Tent—known in the past for featuring some of the biggest names in EDM—had a new layout and was in a new location. This Coachella introduced West Indio Market, a large food court.

Yeah, Coachella has come a long way since the first festival in 1999; in fact, my friend Courtney, who attended the first few incarnations of Coachella, said it’s totally unrecognizable compared to those first festivals.

However … let’s examine these aforementioned 2018 remembrances. Was there really less rock music at Coachella in 2018? I’m not sure that was the case, outside of the headliners. The Sonora Tent featured a long list of up-and-coming indie and garage bands, while A Perfect Circle drew a large crowd to the outdoor amphitheater on Sunday night, even though Eminem hitting the Main Stage about 15 minutes later. I also saw plenty of rock bands in the Mojave and Gobi tents.

If you love music, and you attend Coachella with an open mind, you’re sure to stumble across a new band or solo artist to love. I was exposed to many great new things over the weekend, like SuperDuperKyle—and I found myself adding a handful of new artists into my music library when I came home.

Here are some highlights from Sunday.

• Punk-band FIDLAR put on a wild show in the Mojave Tent on Sunday afternoon. For Coachella attendees who were trying to find something edgier, it was a welcome time, given the craziness of the mosh pit. Lead vocalist and guitarist Zac Carper was decked in hospital scrubs and said, “We’re going to try something new,” as he went went down into the crowd and started a new FIDLAR song called “Alcohol.” Carper also told the ladies later in the set that if anyone made them uncomfortable or inappropriately touched them in any way, they had permission from “Fidlar, LLC” to “punch them in the fucking face.” He told the men before starting one of their songs, “Dicks off the dance floor—we’re going to have a ladies-only mosh pit,” before actually ordering men away from the moshing area. “Dudes, don’t you dare try and gentrify this shit!” he said.

• The Do LaB remains a popular attraction. The small tented area back near the nice indoor bathrooms has always been a fun party, and I have talked to some people who actually spend most of their festival time back there. During my visit to The Do LaB on Sunday afternoon, the party was in full swing, with water hoses squirting down the crowd, outlandish outfits and nonstop dancing in the heat.

• Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington performed an early-evening set on the Outdoor Stage, drawing a small crowd that grew over time. He told the audience that he didn’t really want to talk much, but he did say he believed the diversity at Coachella “wasn’t meant to be tolerated; it’s meant to be celebrated.” Washington changed up his setlist for Weekend 2, playing mostly songs from his upcoming and still-unreleased new album for the first time. His backing orchestra and vocalists gave his set a real psychedelic feel, but the jazz created positive vibes the longer you watched. It was something attendees needed after a long day in the heat.

• Over the past few years, Goldenvoice has put at least one EDM act on the Main Stage. On Sunday night, ODESZA was that EDM group for this year—and the performance was beautiful. Atmospheric, uplifting and beautifully performed songs featured some vocalists, some guitar and even a full drum choir. The visuals accompanied the performance in a powerful way—and while ODESZA didn’t create its logo out of drones as the group did last week, it still delivered a hell of a performance that will be talked about for years to come.

• Despite lukewarm reviews of Eminem’s Weekend 1 set, I kept the Sunday headliner on my personal schedule. His set started out well, and Eminem had a lot of energy—but he was reluctant to perform any of his hits, and I soon realized why people had complained during Weekend 1 that his set was scattered and messy. He lost much of the crowd during the set. “Stan” (it would have been nice to have a Dido or Elton John cameo) and “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” were performed after the 30-minute mark, as was “Love the Way You Lie.” Also, a new rule needs to be created: If Dr. Dre is going to appear as a guest, he needs to perform something besides “The Next Episode” and “California Love.” I know Dre can do whatever he wants … but it’s starting to become a little too predictable.

Published in Reviews

Jacob Banks was the first unsigned music act to appear on the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge.

He’s since released two EPs before scoring a record deal with Interscope Records and releasing a third EP—so it’s appropriate that he finally had his Coachella moment this year.

His R&B/soul sound is at times dark, and at times uplifting—with moments featuring a gospel vibe and even some African music. (Banks was originally born in Nigeria.) During a stop at the press tent at Coachella on Sunday, Banks said he never dreamed he would become the performer he is today.

“I was never trying to make a name for myself,” Banks said. “The lucky thing about me is I’m from a city in the United Kingdom called Birmingham. The music industry didn’t really know much about me, and I was making music more out of necessity. As long as I could pay my rent and be alive, I was OK with that. I was never trying to really be heard—and my manager could testify to that.

“I did my own PR and did my own radio plugs, because I didn’t have anyone, and there was no blueprint,” Banks said. “I never struggled to be heard, only because I wasn’t trying to be heard. I was just trying to make my music for people who listened to it and allowed me to be fine financially. All of this—including Coachella—was never in the books. My dreams were never that big.”

Banks said creative freedom is something he takes very seriously.

“It’s everything to me: I need to have creative freedom,” he said. “The reason being is I have to live with my decisions, and creative freedom doesn’t always mean I make the right decisions. It means I make the wrong (decision sometimes), and I have to take responsibility for it. This is my life’s work. I have to be able to put my name on everything I do, and proudly. I have to be able to be creative to the fullest of my ability.”

Banks said new music is coming soon.

“We have an album called Village, and it’s coming out in September,” he said. “For every project I do, I always try to move forward. I think this is more introspective, whereas the last one was kind of outwards. This is looking inside at life, learning things and unlearning things, and working on myself.”

The Coachella audience was appreciative of Banks. His performance on Sunday afternoon in the Mojave Tent was well-attended.

“It’s been fun, and I’ve enjoyed this week more than last week—only because I was sick as shit last week,” he said. “It was hard, but I always say to my boys that ‘I wouldn’t have shit to cry about.’ I get to express myself for a living, and as long as I’m breathing, I can sing. I’ll find a way to give a good show, even if it kills me. People are giving me their time, and time is the only currency that matters. If people are coming to my show, they could be anywhere else in the world, but they’re choosing to be right here and right now, so we’re going to give you a good-ass show.”

Beyoncé’s Coachella Weekend 1 performance made news around the world.

Well, her Coachella Weekend 2 performance was just as impressive, even if it was pretty much a direct copy of her set last week, complete with the Jay Z appearance, and the Destiny’s Child reunion.

Although Beyoncé started about 15 minutes later than scheduled, it was an incredible spectacle—with the energy of a crowd of more than 100,000 people.

The Internet stream truly didn’t do her performance justice. Being there in person to witness the show—to hear Beyoncé’s voice and feel the energy of that crowd—was amazing. This is what big-time live music is truly about and why people go to shows. Beyoncé held the crowd for close to two hours—and there were people as far as the eye could see until the very end.

Of course, there were some other great performances during the day.

• X Japan had the unenviable task of headlining the Mojave Tent on Saturday night during Beyoncé’s set. However, I was able to take in some Japanese rock in the Sonora Tent in the afternoon, thanks to the all-female Japanese punk band Otoboke Beaver (below). This group was quite a sight. I’ve seen some all-female Japanese bands in the past, and they seem to always be entertaining, with a cranked-up stage presence and performances that always go above and beyond. The mosh pit the group stirred in the Sonora throughout the performance wasn’t for the physically weak.

• Shortly before CHIC was scheduled to perform on the Main Stage in the afternoon, the video wall suddenly turned on—and showed Nile Rodgers walking through the crowd with his guitar on. He was talking with and meeting fans who were already gathered in the area.

• Like Beyoncé, David Byrne—the former frontman of the Talking Heads—turned in a buzz-worthy set during Weekend 1, and recaptured the magic during Weekend 2. The stage setup one would expect—guitars, bass, drums and keyboards—were gone. Instead, Byrne and his backing band played on a bare stage with only a curtain of streamers hanging behind and to the sides of them. Byrne still sounds fantastic, and it seems as if he has many ideas left in that brain of his (or at least the brain he was shown holding up at the beginning of the performance—while seated at a table and singing).

• Haim, an all-female pop trio of sisters from the San Fernando Valley, had to feel a little pressure, given they were playing right before Beyoncé—but they put on one hell of a show. Bassist Este Haim reminded the audience that it was the second anniversary of the death of R&B and rock legend Prince, and then added that it was also the 10th anniversary of Prince’s fantastic performance at Coachella in 2008, which she attended. She said that if it had not been for Prince’s inspiration, she wouldn’t have been playing music today. To conclude the set, all three sisters pounded out a drum/percussion solo before they stood in the middle of the stage, hugged each other and walked off the Main Stage.

Published in Reviews

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone about Coachella, and specifically this year’s lineup.

“It’s not as fun as it used to be,” he said.

On Friday, as I walked around the Empire Polo Club, I pondered my friend’s assertion. I don’t agree: Coachella is still fun!

There were a lot of changes made to the layout this year. The new Sonora Tent, an air-conditioned space inspired by the Glass House in Pomona that hosts a lot of the smaller rock acts, has been moved to where the Mojave Tent used to be. The Mojave Tent has been moved to where the Sahara Tent used to be, while the Sahara Tent moved to the front lobby area, close to the Ferris wheel.

I spent a couple of hours of wandering aimlessly and taking in the vibrant art installations. One highlight: Spectra, designed by design studio NEWSUBSTANCE (right). I was in awe: At 75 feet tall, the interactive tower features colored windows that spiral along with the design to the top. These different colors make for interesting views when you stop to look out the windows as you go up and down.

Here are some music highlights from Friday.

• Fazerdaze, a band from New Zealand, rocked the Sonora Tent’s early-afternoon crowd. Frontwoman Amelia Murray said it was surreal to go from recording music in her bedroom to playing at Coachella just a year after releasing the band’s first album, Morningside. The garage-rock-meets-dream-pop sound was a hit with the crowd, who gave the band a fantastic round of applause at the end of the 45-minute set.

• Cash Cash, a house-music trio, performed an energetic set in the Sahara Tent in the late afternoon. At one point, they stopped to lead the crowd in a sing-along of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” Hearing the entire tent sing the chorus was beautiful, and the trio complimented the crowd, saying we were all beautiful singers, before continuing on with the blasting set. 

• SuperDuperKyle, a rap and pop star on the rise, put on a hilarious and entertaining set on the Main Stage in the afternoon. When Kyle went crowd-surfing, one of his onstage collaborators screamed at the crowd to bring him back to the stage: “Get in, loser! We got a Coachella to do!” During Kyle’s final song, he was on a surfboard—being passed around by the audience as he told them in which direction to send him.

• Whatever The War on Drugs’ sound is—’70s? ’80s?—it was perfect for the early evening as the sun set behind mountains. The drummer is a show of his own, looking like he came right out of a time machine from the ’70s. 

• After all the talk about St. Vincent’s Weekend 1 performance, she managed to live up to the hype during her Weekend 2 set: It was everything that’s awesome about pop and rock, with intense 3-D visuals and a psychedelic pop feel. I suspect that Lady Gaga wishes she was St. Vincent, because St. Vincent has edginess and charisma—a woman who isn’t afraid to make people shake their asses and rock out during the same show

• Jean-Michel Jarre (below) might have played to crowds of more than 1 million, but at Coachella, his crowd was sparse during his Outdoor Theater-headlining slot. This is a shame, although it’s understandable: He’s in the midst of his first-ever American tour, and he had to compete with SZA and Soulwax, Jarre did start to win people over at the end, who were most likely wondering what in the hell was going on, as the visuals from the stage included pyramids, distorted video footage of Edward Snowden talking about Internet privacy, lasers and lights shooting around everywhere—all along with the French electronica that is Jarre’s sound. The further you stepped away from his show, the more impressive his visuals looked.

• Whether or not you’re a fan of The Weeknd, it’s indisputable: He was incredible on Friday night. His visuals on the Main Stage were over the top and intense. At times, The Weeknd reminded me of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, as he’d perform—and you’d only see a little bit of him as visuals played over the entire stage.

As people were exiting the festival for the night, many of them felt compelled to stop and watch The Weeknd a bit—it was hard to walk away.

Published in Reviews

Barring any huge surprises, Coachella 2018 will be known as the year of Beyonce … and no rock headliners.

The lineup might be hard to navigate—but I have you covered with this compilation of acts you should make time to check out.

Friday, April 13 and 20

The Buttertones: OK, we did not say Coachella 2018 was going to be completely devoid of rock. The Buttertones are a Los Angeles outfit that has been getting buzz for its brand of garage rock. The band features Sean Redman on bass (formerly of Cherry Glazerr) and Modeste Cobián on drums and other instruments. (I remember Cobián from Jeffertitti’s Nile; he’s a show of his own.) If you want to hear how weird this band can get, check out new track “Baby C4.” If you’re a fan of bands such as Shannon and the Clams and Ty Segall, you’ll love The Buttertones.

Perfume Genius: I first saw Perfume Genius at Coachella in 2015—and it was one of the most mesmerizing things I’d ever seen. Mike Hadreas has invented a pop sound that’s all his own. A lot of his songs are semi-biographical and address the bullying and death threats he received during his youth for being gay. He’s also written songs addressing other controversial subjects, ranging from domestic abuse to the problems younger gay men face in today’s LGBT world.

The War on Drugs: I know a lot of local musicians who were playing the War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream in their cars or in their practice spaces circa 2014 and 2015. Why? Because the War on Drugs is a great band that has warm psychedelic jams. The band’s keyboard and guitars make me feel like it’s well worth putting down some hard-earned money on their vinyls.

Jamiroquai: My Jamiroquai superfan editor would raise hell if the British nu-funk band were excluded from this list. I’m fascinated by Jamiroquai, given the group is downright huge in Europe—yet all Americans seem to remember about Jamiroquai is the smash-hit song from the late ’90s, “Virtual Insanity.” Jay Kay and co. have been on many Coachella attendees’ wish lists for years. If you’re in the mood for some disco dancing and fantastic funk music, Jamiroquai is who you should see.


Saturday, April 14 and 21

Cherry Glazerr: Named after NPR news personality Chery Glaser, this Los Angeles indie-rock band fronted by Clementine Creevy has been plagued by lineup changes—including going from a four-piece to a trio—but the music has remained fabulous, including sophomore album Apocalipstick in 2017. Creevy is the subject of a documentary put out by VICE called Clementine Creevy: The Millennial Punk Feminist Icon.

Jason Bentley: You might know him from your daily commute as the DJ on KCRW, but he’s also a DJ in the Los Angeles club scene. He told me when I interviewed him a while back that his favorite music to play is house music—specifically at 124 to 126 BPM. Considering he has an ear for great music, Bentley will be a fine Coachella catch.

Chic featuring Nile Rodgers: Nile Rodgers told Rolling Stone that he would be playing Coachella in 2017. That didn’t happen; turns out he was a year off. He played a big part in Daft Punk’s 2013 megahit album, Random Access Memories, and he’s been part of recordings with David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madonna, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and so many others. Oh, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. Need any more reasons to see him?

David Byrne: Many Coachella attendees will be millennials who have never heard of the Talking Heads; they will be wondering who in the hell David Byrne is. Well, he’s not just a musician; he’s an author, a soundtrack composer, and an artist who created an interactive exhibit combining music and technology, allowing people to “play the room.” Considering he’s worked with St. Vincent, who is performing on Friday night, they may appear during each other’s sets.


Sunday, April 15 and 22

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Thisis a pop band out of Australia that has received praise from a lot of rock writers, including the legendary Robert Christgau, who is not easy to win over. The band has a lot of catchy tunes that will get stuck in your head. The group put out the EP The French Press on Sub Pop Records last year, and fans have been waiting patiently for a full-length album. This is one band that could make pop music cool again.

Motor City Drum Ensemble: German house-music producer Danilo Plessow (below) goes by this moniker and is becoming one of the most recognizable producers in the world. The one thing I love about his stuff is that it has elements of soul, disco, jazz and ambient music. Just about anything he puts together can get you grooving. He’s proclaimed he’s bringing the soul back to techno and house … and it’s about time!

The Drums: The Drums made a big splash in 2010 with the group’s self-titled debut album. The duo of Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham did quite well for themselves in subsequent years, too—but Graham announced he’d left the group last year, leaving Pierce to carry on. The latest album, Abysmal Thoughts, is solid all around, so it will be interesting to see The Drums live without Graham. I’m betting that Pierce will keep the band going successfully for years to come.

Kamasi Washington: You probably recognize his name if you’re a fan of Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar or Run the Jewels—and his collaborations with these acts have made him almost as famous as they are. This jazz saxophonist is no stranger to Coachella, having performed here in 2016—and it has warmed my heart to see jazz at Coachella in recent years. I’m really stoked for Kamasi Washington.

Published in Previews

Punk-rock band FIDLAR released its self-titled debut full-length in 2013—creating a wild party that seemed like it would never end.

FIDLAR’s songs—with lyrics paying homage to wild partying and skateboarding, all with a psychedelic/surf-rock feel—were a breath of fresh air, and paid tribute to the original days of Los Angeles punk.

Then came follow-up Too in 2015. Frontman and guitarist Zac Carper was singing a different tune with a new perspective after a stint in rehab—although the songs sounded just as gnarly and chaotic.

The Los Angeles outfit, whose name stands for “Fuck It Dog, Life Is a Risk,” also features Elvis Kuehn (guitar) and Max Kuehn (drums)—both of whom are sons of T.S.O.L. keyboardist Greg Kuehn—as well as bassist Brandon Schwartzel. The group will be performing at Coachella on Sunday, April 15 and 22.

During a recent interview with Schwartzel, he said the band members were amused that they were finally offered a Coachella slot.

“Funny enough, we never thought we would ever get to play Coachella,” Schwartzel said. “Bands that we knew or played with were playing it, and we were like, ‘What? Why don’t we get to play?’ Then we kind of just figured, ‘Fuck it; it’s never going to happen, so let’s just not even think about it anymore.’ Then when we stopped thinking about it, it happened. I don’t know how it happened, but we were like, ‘OK!’ That’s par for the course for our band: As soon as we stop caring, shit starts happening, and we get the thing we were thinking about.”

FIDLAR had been busy after the release of Too.

“We had been touring for a while before and after the record came out, until early 2017,” Schwartzel said. “We took a minute just to be human beings again and live in the apartments that we pay rent for. We kept busy doing a few shows. I worked on a lot of artsy video shoots for other people and arts-department kind of stuff, keeping busy. Half the year passed by, and we started working on new material that we’re finally starting to finish up.

Too had a lot of lyrically heavy songs about sobriety and a new sober perspective on life from Carper. I asked what’s ahead on the third record.

“The first record was where we were at as an individual collective; that was the vibe of partying and getting fucked up,” Schwartzel said. “On the second record, Zac had gotten sober, so a lot of it was us and him collectively dealing with that. The third record will be about what’s been happening since then. It’s always very in the moment. We’ve been a band for a while now, and now people know who we are, and with that comes a lot of different things. We’re not four dudes living in the same apartment anymore. We’re not dealing with Zac getting sober anymore. It’s just about life now, dude.”

On Too, there’s a song called “Stupid Decisions,” on which Carper screams: “And I took too many drugs, and I drank too much. Yeah, I made some stupid decisions!” I asked Schwartzel if he feels like the band is maturing as the members get older.

“I think the biggest thing we joke about is that we wish we didn’t start playing live as high-energy as we did, because now it’s a lot more exhausting than it used to be,” he said. “You go from being 21 to 30, and your back hurts; your neck hurts; and you start to feel it a lot more. I think that’s the biggest insight to getting older so far. We’re still who we are at the same time, so we’re not completely changing who we are.”

The subject of what, exactly, is or is not punk rock has been thrown at FIDLAR before—and Schwartzel has an interesting perspective.

“It always comes down to: ‘What is really punk?’ That’s something that we’ve always had trouble defining for ourselves,” he said. “We have an attitude that’s very punk, I guess. We’re not a super-agro ‘fuck the government’ punk band, though. When it gets genre-specific, there are electronic artists who are more DIY than the most-DIY punk bands, but it just sounds different. I feel like (the members of) Die Antwoord are the most punk people out there, because they just do whatever the fuck they want, and are wild and weird.

“Who fucking knows what punk is anyway? There’s nothing more freeing than creating stuff. You get good at it and don’t have to worry about having to pay a bunch of people to make a bunch of mediocre shit for you.”

Skateboarding and surfing have been the subjects of FIDLAR songs in the past—but probably won’t be in the future.

“None of us really skateboard anymore,” Schwartzel said. “We’re in a band that tours all the time, and we can’t afford to get hurt. We can’t play through a 10-week tour, break an ankle, and do what we do.”

Being one of the few rock bands at Coachella this year is not a problem for FIDLAR.

“In a way, it’s kinda tight, because we don’t have much competition in our genre,” Schwartzel said. “If there are any rock people who go to Coachella, hopefully they watch us play. Hip hop is the new rock, or something, and it’s cool because it’s different. We’re not all like, ‘Fuck, we need more rock bands out here!’ We just happen to be a band that plays loud rock music.

“I’m stoked to play with Beyoncé. Hopefully she’ll come onstage during one of our songs, and we’ll try to work it out. But I’m stoked to see her, and I’ve been a long-time Beyoncé fan. It’s cool that there are no scenes or genres anymore. Everyone listens to everything, and that’s cool. You just like the music you like.”

Published in Previews

In 2014, Benjamin Booker became one of the most-talked about independent artists of the year—earning a slot at Coachella in 2015. Today, he’s still dazzling audiences with his brand of garage rock mashed up with soul.

He’ll be making his second trip to Coachella on Saturday, April 14 and 21.

Booker released his self-titled debut album in 2014, and spent two years touring behind it. He emerged again in 2017 with his second album, Witness.

During a recent phone interview, Booker discussed what happened after the tour was over, and he returned to his home in New Orleans.

“I was riding my bike—and I got shot at while I was on my way to a dinner party,” Booker said. “I don’t really like to talk about it, though, because I don’t want to give New Orleans a bad reputation.”

After touring extensively, Booker was exhausted.

“We did a lot of touring,” he said. “This time around, I’m not doing that much touring. That is very intentional: It was way too much. But you don’t know your limits until you push them. It took me a really long time to get back to a good place after that, and it was a long recovery. It wasn’t until a year after that I started writing again. It was probably longer than that—maybe a year and a half.

“The first record was so surprising, and I didn’t really plan on playing music; I didn’t have a game plan. I think that was something I had to figure out at that point: If I was going to keep playing music, where was I going to go with this?”

After the trauma of being shot at, Booker took off to Mexico City, where he wrote the new album. The legendary Mavis Staples sings the title track with Booker.

“She is the best. I’m playing with her for the first time in the United Kingdom, and I’ll be opening for her, and I’m really excited about that,” Booker said about Staples. “I just like hanging out with her. When we were hanging out one time, she was telling me this story about how she met ‘Martin,’ and I was like, ‘Are you talking about Dr. Martin Luther King?’ She is one of those people whose life is just so rich and full of events and stories. It’s cool to hang out with people like that. I think that was a bigger deal for me than the first album I did. Everyone knows who Mavis Staples is, including my parents. I felt like my parents were so proud of me, and it was special to be able to do it.”

Booker said he still has a lot left to accomplish musically.

“I think that as a musician, you have to look at this whole thing as a process,” he said. “I don’t think that I’m where I want to be as a musician yet, but I think I’m working my way toward that point. That’s how I’m looking at this whole thing. We’re all just trying to make that record exactly the way we want it, so it fully expresses the feelings you want. Until I get to that place, I’m trying to enjoy the ride.”

What does Booker find enjoyable to listen to these days?

“I like SZA and that album Ctrl—that’s what I’ve been listening to a lot lately,” he said. “I listen to a lot of Frank Ocean, and I like Margo Price and saw her perform recently. I saw Parquet Courts perform here recently, and I love them. I’ve felt recently that I have that love of music thing going again, so I’m going to concerts and checking out new people.”

I asked Booker if he lost his love of music at some point

“Oh, definitely. Somewhere after that first album, I didn’t really want to play music anymore,” he said. “You really have to be strong to do this, and I didn’t think it was really for me. I had no idea what was going to happen when I made that album. When you listen to it, it’s literally a live album: We just pushed play and recorded songs. We did it in two days, and nobody thought anything of it.”

Booker said he’s looking forward to his second time performing at Coachella.

“I had a great time last time,” he said. “Good music is good music. I’m not one of those people who just listens to rock music, and I like a lot of the things Goldenvoice does. So I’m excited to see a bunch of people.”

Published in Previews

A Perfect Circle will release its first album in 14 years, Eat the Elephant, on April 20—a date that just so happens to fall in between the band’s performances at Coachella, on Sunday, April 15 and 22.

The album is one of the year’s most highly anticipated releases; it’s the fourth studio album by A Perfect Circle, founded in 1999 by Billy Howerdel, who at the time was a guitar tech for the band Tool. Maynard James Keenan, the frontman of Tool and Puscifer, was interested in the project after hearing some demos Howerdel played for him. The band put out its debut album, Mer de Noms, in 2000, and follow-up Thirteenth Step in 2003; both went platinum. The success and popularity of the band continues to be on the same level as Tool, even after the controversial third album, Emotive, in 2004, which was a collection of “reimaginings” of famous anti-war songs.

The band went on hiatus in early 2005, but returned to touring in 2010. In addition to Howerdel and Keenan, the current lineup includes guitarist James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins; Palm Springs native and touring Eagles of Death Metal bassist Matt McJunkins; and drummer Jeff Friedl.

Eat the Elephant is another timeless rock album—in an age when rock records are being forgotten. (I received a preview copy before the interview.) It’s an offering that will offer hope to what is left of rock’s faithful audience, and will make for an interesting backdrop at a Coachella festival full of new-era mumble-rap artists--and very little rock music.

During a recent phone interview, I asked Maynard James Keenan why the band reunited.

“That’s a good question, but I don’t think it was about either of us missing it,” Keenan said. “I felt that Billy and I went off to do other things for a while, and he was very happy doing Ashes Divide, and I was doing Puscifer. I think it was just time. It wasn’t so much that we missed it, but we felt more like it was time to get back to work on that stuff.”

Tool and Puscifer seem to reflect different sides of Keenan as a music artist—so what does A Perfect Circle offer him artistically that his other bands don’t? He hesitated for a moment.

“I feel like it’s different conversation,” he replied. “… I don’t really think (A Perfect Circle) provides me with something that the other bands don’t; it’s just different puzzles—and I like puzzles!”

Between 2010 and the announcement of Eat the Elephant last year, fans speculated whether a new album would ever become a reality.

“We started recording it in late summer 2017 when I was in harvest”—Keenan owns wineries in Arizona—“and we hauled ass and finished it,” he said. “We had the first conversation about it and delivered it to be mastered in under a year. I think that’s pretty fast, honestly. Before, I would sit with Billy, and he would do what he was doing. I would try to get some vocals in there in between, but this time because of the digital age, I was able to share files, and I focused doing vocals with my Puscifer partner, Mat Mitchell, while Billy was doing guitars and drums getting all of that recorded. We could actually get twice as much done in a day. It was a nice break to get down with a vocal and look online, hearing stuff that he’d done that I hadn’t heard yet. It was pretty cool.”

Eat the Elephant has a wide variety of different sounds that lead to all kinds of emotional possibilities for songs.

“The sounds in general are what I’m reacting to,” Keenan explained. “Whenever Billy comes up with things that are challenging or different, it inspires you to go down that rabbit hole and see how far you can take it.”

I asked what it took to make A Perfect Circle sound new in the modern era. “That’s definitely a puzzle, and you’re absolutely right. Trying to reinvent yourself can be daunting for people who have never had to reinvent themselves. I kind of do it for a living, so I’m covered,” Keenan said with a laugh.”

While Keenan has never publicly supported any political candidate, he is most certainly politically engaged. The press release officially announcing the new album joked about Keenan’s points of view about Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush.

“Boy, was I ever wrong about that guy. What I wouldn’t give to have ol’ Dubbya back in the White House right now,” he said.

Keenan said now is an important time for rock musicians.

“I think as an artist, in the words of Henry Rollins, this is what you train for, and why you listened to Dead Kennedys when you were a kid. This is your time, and this is our moment to shine as punk-rockers. This is it,” he said. “As far as expressing your opinion, politics is about people, and people expressing themselves and interacting. This is us interacting: ‘Here are a couple of opinions; here are some approaches; and here are some things you never thought about, and it’s your turn.’”

When A Perfect Circle released Emotive in 2004, George W. Bush was up for re-election, and the Iraq War was in full swing. Keenan said in a statement posted to the band’s website in 2004: “Look, clearly I’m supporting anyone but Bush in this upcoming election, but I’m not telling anyone who to vote for with this new album. I’m still just trying to encourage people to think for themselves … to stop buying into this absurdity and rampant fear.” When I used the description of “anti-war cover songs” to describe the album, he stopped me.

“Not necessarily; it was more about expressing the voices of people who came before us who had something to say, and presenting those stories in a different light—not necessarily in the specific music they used to express those thoughts; we expressed those thoughts in different beds of music,” he said. “Arguably, we pretty much rewrote the music to all those songs to give you an idea of what that story looks like or sounds like in a different setting.” 

I asked if Keenan was he surprised that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in some ways, still going on 14 years later.

“I drink a lot more wine now,” Keenan said with a laugh. “That’s my reaction: Yep, I’m going to have a glass of fucking wine.”

Speaking of wine, I asked Keenan—as a winemaker, the owner of Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Ariz.—if making wine can be daunting, given there are things over which winemakers have no control.

“I think the hardest part for most artists—and I’m speaking to all of you artists out there—is knowing when the fuck to let go,” he responded. “You have a desire to create a thing, but once you’ve created it, and you’re going to release that bird out of the cage, it’s not yours anymore. You have to let that go. Letting go of shit you can’t control is probably the hardest lesson for anyone, really, but especially to artists who get all precious about shit.”

Keenan is also a vegetable gardener.

“I’ve done it all my life, having lived in Michigan in the middle of a bunch of peach and cherry orchards,” he said. “My dad had extensive gardens for our house. That’s basically what we lived on. It was always something that I was going to return to regardless. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always had a garden.”

Keenan said his upbringing in the Midwest contributed greatly to his outlook on hard work.

“I kind of refer to my people in West Michigan as snow-shovelers,” he said. “If you’re a shoveler, you know you couldn’t get from Point A to Point B in the winter without removing the obstacles. You get used to understanding puzzles and understanding what it takes to get somewhere. You start to respect or have an appreciation for or empathy and sympathy for people who do other jobs around you. When things are super-cozy, you end up with entitled people. People who somehow find success accidentally and end up touring or on movie sets, they don’t (appreciate) the grips, the carpenters, the stage managers—they don’t have any appreciation for those people and how hard they work if they’ve never had to actually do that job. You’ve heard that cliché before: If you’ve never done it, you just don’t actually know.”

Keenan has played Coachella in the past with all three of his bands—but this year is definitely different, considering how few rock acts are on the bill.

“I guess it’s an indication of where things are. It’s interesting,” he said. “You feel a little bit like a dinosaur, which is fine. Feeling like a dinosaur can be inspiring: Get off your butt, right?”

I asked what Keenan felt it would take to resurrect rock music.

“You’re going to see things coming at you that you didn’t even expect. That’s the nature of punk rock—that anarchist mentality, that reacting outside of the box intuitively, instinctively, situationally or even environmentally,” he said. “That’s what brought us N.W.A., and that’s what brought you the Stooges. All those things kind of happened, and you can’t plan it. I think we’re going to see a lot of reactions come out of this political climate, social climate, economic climate and artistic climate. You’ll see someone coming out and swinging for the fence in a way where they aren’t trying to do that—it’s just happening. But then it will settle back into the art.

“Back in the punk rock days, everything was about … just being mad, breaking shit and fucking playing as fast you can. Then someone comes along like Minor Threat, where there are almost melodies there. Ian MacKaye and those guys took off in a great direction, because they brought back an artistic approach to punk rock. Their attitude and what they stood for was more about the punk rock. The music started settling into something you could enjoy and listen to over and over again. The same thing (happened) with N.W.A., and that progressed into some amazing music with Dr. Dre.

“I think we’ll have our punk-rock moment soon. Maybe we’re already having it—and I’m just too old to recognize it.”

Published in Previews

Trailblazing French composer and electronic/ambient musician Jean-Michel Jarre is largely unheard of in the United States—but worldwide, he’s one of the biggest stars there is.

I’m not exaggerating: In a career spanning almost 50 years, he has played before crowds of more than 1 million people. He’s performed political goodwill shows for organizations such as UNESCO. His shows have celebrated religious figures such as Pope John Paul II (during his visit to Jarre’s hometown of Lyon, France in 1986), and a concert in Monaco in 2011 celebrated the marriage of Prince Albert II and Charlene, Princess of Monaco. He was also the first western artist to perform in the People’s Republic of China. He’s collaborated with numerous artists you have heard of, including Gorillaz, Gary Numan and film director/composer John Carpenter.

He’s in the midst of his first-ever tour of the United States, including performances at Coachella on Friday, April 13 and 20. Jarre’s visual show is just as stunning as his music during live performances—so his is one performance you won’t want to miss.

During a recent phone interview, Jarre described what it feels like to play to crowds of more than a million—and then to much smaller crowds here in the States.

“It’s very difficult to describe,” Jarre said, “My manager is Irish, and she said to me once, ‘You performed to a crowd that’s the size of my country!’ It’s quite surreal, but I see it as a privilege, of course. Whatever the audience is, at the end of the day, the live performance works, or it doesn’t work. … I can play in a small theater, in an arena, or a big festival like Coachella. It’s just a matter of changing the size and performing with this stage design. I’m especially excited to share this with the Coachella audience.”

Jarre studied classical music, and there are many classical elements in his electronic music. 

“I was playing in rock bands when I was a teenager. I studied classical music, and then I discovered electronic music,” he said. “I discovered people were working and approaching music in a totally different way with notes, but also with sound and noise, which meant you could go outside recording the sounds of the street, the sounds of the car—and you can make music with it. To me, it was like cooking. It was sensual and very warm. It’s like Jackson Pollock: People would say, ‘Jackson Pollock doesn’t present anything.’ But he was doing art with sections, oil, and he worked with his hands. You work with your hands, even on a computer with a mouse, or working with knobs and strings. … I believed this kind of music would be a major art form in the 21st century.”

I told Jarre it feels as if electronic music today is huge—and continuing to evolve.

“I think that’s quite logical, because as you just said, it has no boundaries,” he said. “One of my latest projects in electronica was based on the idea of trying to gather around people who are sort of impatient with me and to electronics and technology … like Tangerine Dream, Pete Townshend, Moby, Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan and Pet Shop Boys—all who inspired generations with a style of music. There was one problem: They all love technology, and they’re all kind of nerds in their own way. … By the end of the day, music is technology.” 

The visuals during Jarre’s performances are stunning and innovative, even by today’s standards. I highly suggest checking out his video online during which he plays what’s called a “laser harp.”

“I’ve always been interested in my life to try to find additional correspondence for the electronic songs,” Jarre explained. “Staying behind your laptop is not the most sexy thing in the world, and people don’t understand what you’re doing most of the time. I really try to explore during performances. Because I was working with a lot of lights and lasers, I thought it would be cool to invent an instrument made of lasers where the strings would be played by lights and lasers.

“The idea of being outdoors, like at Coachella, where you have the audience far away from the stage—I’m able to convey what I do musically to people. You can see the music being played from miles away, and this is magical. This is what modern technology can afford. I can try to convey emotions visually and through sound.”

Jarre has long played events with a social message; he said music and politics are always linked.

“I think you always have two sides of art and music in general,” Jarre said. “You have the hedonist side, where you like to enjoy music, dancing until end of the night, and just the entertainment of it and having fun. … Of course, (with) any genre of music—like punk and hip-hop, or even techno—there are things linked to social movements. That’s what I tried to do in my collaboration with Edward Snowden … (show) the dark side of technology, and we know we’re spied on by the outside world. We know that in the near future, we’ll have to deal with machines competing with ourselves. I think that politics and music are linked together like any other kind of movement in history.”

Jarre is no stranger to the United States. He performed with the Houston Grand Opera at Texas’ 150th anniversary in 1986; he also incorporated the 25th anniversary of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center into the show at the request of NASA. But this marks the first time Jarre has actually toured America—and he’s having a great time.

“I’ve done a lot of one-off shows in my life, and I toured sometimes,” he said. “… I think of it as if I was shooting a movie, but I’m shooting a movie in my mind, like how I performed in China, in Russia, in Egypt, in Houston, and then when I was touring stadiums in Europe and Asia, I thought, ‘Why doesn’t this happen in America?’ I thought that this is something I really wanted to share with the American audience.

“I’ve actually been blown away and touched by the American audiences who have so far welcomed this tour. Every place I went … I was really touched by the audience saying it was different than what they were used to. As an artist, America has so many different styles of performances and artists, and I always thought you do something with the ambition of being different and trying to surprise people, and I think this electronica concert performance goes in that direction.

“I thank the American audiences who have welcomed this project with enthusiasm. That inspires me to go into Coachella in the best possible way.”

Published in Previews

Palm Springs native Matt McJunkins’ music career has thus far been pretty incredible: He's been a member of bands including Eagles of Death Metal, Puscifer, Ashes Divide and Thirty Seconds to Mars, and is currently a member of A Perfect Circle, which will be performing at Coachella on Sunday, April 15 and 22. McJunkins was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

The Doobie Brothers/Foreigner/Gary Hoey at the Twentynine Palms Marine base! It was also the first time I smelled the unmistakable odor of the whacky tobacky. There’s a bit of irony in there somewhere.

What was the first album you owned?

Skid Row. The first album. On cassette. Knew every song and every word. Still do (pretty much) to this day.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m all over the place on this one. Right now, it’s mostly a lot of Nick Lowe, Phil Spector stuff, The Jam, and the Boogie Nights soundtrack.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I can’t say that I “don’t get it,” but I would say dubstep generally didn’t bend my ear all that much.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

TV on the Radio! It’s a band I’ve really fallen in love with the last few years but haven’t had the opportunity to see live.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance.”

What’s your favorite music venue?

That’s a tough one. Recently, I was floored by the beauty and design of the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Old theaters like that, that really have a unique design and some history to them, are always appealing to me.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“It’s a God-awful small affair to the girl with the mousy hair,” David Bowie, “Life on Mars.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Def Leppard was my first favorite band, and Hysteria was the first album that I really sunk my teeth into. I think I’ve been stuck on music since then. And that record still holds up wonderfully to this day.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

Well, unfortunately, he is no longer with us. But I’d ask David Bowie, “Would you write and record a song with me?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance.”

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Well, the kid in me would say Def Leppard’s Hysteria. But now at this moment, I would have to pick David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Chips Down” by Cody Chesnutt. Instant contemplative/good mood every time I hear it. I love songs like that, with multiple layers to it which require more than one listen to really get the whole picture. A beautiful song, really. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

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