SHOW PREVIEW: Ben Ottewell
When you listen to Gomez it’s pretty impressive that Ben Ottewell’s voice stands out in the crowd. Coming from a band with three singers, Ben Ottewell leaves a pretty strong impression. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, he’s the one with the deliciously raspy voice. Not quite Tom Waits-raspy, but you’ll still know it when you hear it.
Now touring in support of his now second solo album Rattlebag, which was funded through Indiegogo and is only available to buy at his shows, Ottewell is establishing his cred as a solo artist. While not quite the same as Gomez, his solo sound should be pretty familiar — the voice is there, of course, but the instrumentation is a little darker and a little more acoustic than his work with the band.
If you’re unsure what to expect at the show, don’t you worry, he’s said himself that he’ll be playing songs from both his solo albums along with some Gomez favorites.
Ben Ottewell will perform at U Street Music Hall TOMORROW, June 19!
9:30 INTERVIEW: Benjamin John Power, Fuck Buttons
Madelyn [9:30]: Are you getting excited for the upcoming U.S. tour?
Benjamin John Power [Fuck Buttons]: Yeah, we are, actually. These things creep up on you a little bit, don’t they? It’s only a week until we leave for it now. We love playing out there, so yeah, we can’t wait.
Awesome! Are you guys approaching this tour at all differently than previous ones?
This will be the first time that we have our full visual show - the visual aspects - along with us in the States. We’ve been doing it in Europe and the rest of the world and festivals now, but it’ll be the first time we’ve brought it to America, so we’re looking forward to that.
Are you guys very involved with creating the visual component of your show? And what inspires it?
It’s an idea that we came up with. Obviously, we had to get somebody else to facilitate it, but it was our idea and we were very conscious of the fact we didn’t want it to just be some irrelevant kind of visuals we put in place as a separate focus from what’s going on onstage. We wanted to make sure that it was a little more interactive between Andy and my setup and what you’re actually seeing on the screen. So I think opposed to a separate focus, it’s way more involved in what’s already happening on stage and what’s been happening on stage since we started out, essentially.
Musically, do you guys improvise at all during shows? Or do you mostly stick to what’s on the album?
I mean, you ask any electronic artist and they’ll say the same to you. They’ll say they improvise within a certain framework. We do have set parts, but because the tracks are written in such a live way anyway, there is room for error. We do improvise to a certain degree, as well. We do have parts that we stick to, and it’s not completely free for all, but it is possible to mess up, and possible add and subtract as you wish to a certain degree, but not one-hundred percent.
What, for you, makes a show memorable?
As long as something hasn’t gone drastically wrong, then it’s all memorable. I know I can speak for my bandmate when I say that one thing that really makes him feel like a show is memorable is to see a crowd surfer [laughs]. And I would say the same, obviously. You know, electronic music - it’s very unusual for that to happen. Some of the shows we play, some of the festivals we play - it quite often gets treated more like a rock thing, which is quite nice because there’s definitely a live aspect to it. Seeing a crowd surfer always does stand out for us, but other than that, you can tell if people are having a good time, and if you’ve had a good time - it always sticks in your memory.
Yeah! So, I know that you’re a vegan, and I’m wondering whether that makes touring hard? Or how difficult it is to be vegan and a touring musician?
Depends what country you’re in. Now, I absolutely love France - we were just in France, we played in Paris and Lyon this weekend just gone - and the shows were fantastic, and the people were absolutely fantastic, but from a solely selfish dietary standpoint, I was fucked. But America, it’s always really good. UK is always really good. And a lot of Europe is great. It just means you have to actually plan things a little bit better before you go out or before you arrive somewhere. Before I was a vegan, I would just settle for anything. I would eat anything on tour. But now I have to actually put a little bit more thought into what I’m going to eat and where I’m going to eat, or otherwise I’ll get ill. So it actually adds to the touring experience. It means I get to see the cities a little bit more, if I have time, because I have to travel a little bit to get somewhere where I can eat. It’s added a whole new dimension.
Well, D.C. is a pretty vegan-friendly city, so hopefully you’ll have time to go check out some cool restaurants. So, what are some tour essentials? For example, are your Garfield hat and slippers something you take with you? Or what are some other memorabilia you take with you on tour?
We stripped down touring essentials, even for what we’re using on stage, because otherwise it just becomes very confusing. We don’t really have, like you say, anything that we necessarily bring, like anything totemistic. I know I don’t. A hard drive with some good films on, for sure. I know Andy brings his iPad, and I’ll bring a small hard drive with plenty of films on to watch - especially in the States, the drives are quite long. But other than that, we don’t have anything strange, like you said, Garfield slippers. That hasn’t really happened so much [laughs].
Do you know what movies you plan to put to your hard drive this tour?
I’ve not seen Beyond the Black Rainbow yet. I’m gonna watch that; I hear that’s pretty good. I’ve actually been watching Battlestar Galactica. My wife joins me halfway through on this tour, and I’ll get shot if I watch any of it without her, so I have to wait. So that for sure. We’re coming close to the end of the second season.
Does having your wife on tour make a big difference in terms of homesickness and your morale?
She’s only coming out because we actually have a week when Andy has to come back [to the UK] for a wedding halfway through, and I’m going to stay out there, and my wife is going to join me in L.A. for a week. So, she’s not really going to be on tour with us. But I mean, she’s joined on a couple dates before on tour. It’s fine, yeah. She’s good to have around; she keeps me in check.
Do you think attending art school influenced your music?
We’re both very visually minded when it comes to the aesthetic, and I guess that probably is a product of being at art school. Art’s what we both studied, and we like to keep the whole visual aesthetic side of Fuck Buttons - we like to do that all in-house. Andy makes the videos and I do all the artwork, and merchandise, and stuff, so I guess it has probably made a very big impact on our operation and such. We’ve managed to keep it quite tight, to a certain degree, as opposed to adding somebody else into the mix when it comes to the visual side of things or moving image side of things. So yeah, I mean, I’m sure it has. It’s cut out another head, essentially. It would be very hard for us to hand something like that over because we both know that we’re capable of doing so, you know?
Right. Did you guys celebrate your ten-year anniversary of making music together?
We haven’t sat down and celebrated it properly yet, but I think that’s a very nice idea. I think we will at some point, for sure. Maybe wait ‘til we’re on tour [laughs].
It’s a big milestone - ten years.
It is, it’s crazy. Yeah, it’s very crazy. It is a long time.
What can we expect from Fuck Buttons after this upcoming tour? Is there a new album in the wings? Or taking a break?
Andy and I are very, very good friends - we’re best friends - and we still really enjoy making music together. So yeah, of course there’s going to be a new album. We’ve been pretty busy playing shows and stuff since Slow Focus came out, so nothing has been written as of yet, but it’s something that we will do. There’s no date set for it, but yeah, you can definitely expect more from us. For sure.
Okay! So, last question. You’ve said that Mr. Ed the Talking Horse would play you in your biopic. If you were an actor in an alternate universe, in whose biopic would you like to star?
You know, as soon as I answered that question, I realized it was a fucking ridiculous contradiction.
You can amend your answer, if you’d rather.
No, it’s fine. I think it was just more me being a bit silly, but I clearly don’t agree with animals in entertainment. I guess that’s why I mentioned he would be calling the shots and have complete creative control. But still, yeah, animals in entertainment is something that I don’t necessarily agree with. Whose biopic would I like to star in? [Pauses.] Maybe Andy’s.
That’d make for an interesting movie!
[Laughs.] Maybe I could have Andy play me, and I could play Andy. I think it’d probably be quite convincing as well, as we know each other very well. Yeah, that could work. How ‘bout that? That’s my answer.
That’s a great answer, and I think that film should be made. [Ben laughs.] Well, thank you so much - we’ll see you at U Street Music Hall! Thanks again!
Thank you, Madelyn!
Fuck Buttons will perform at U Street Music Hall this Friday, June 13.
9:30 INTERVIEW: People Under The Stairs
People Under The Stairs have been making self-produced hip-hop by their own standards and pushing the boundaries of experimental rap throughout their 17-year career. They’ve begun touring the US and Canada in support of their ninth album, 12 Step Program, which came out May 6.
Asher [9:30]: You’re just starting your tour for 12 Step Program. What has the audience response been like so far?
Double K [People Under The Stairs]: It’s been overwhelming. People are loving it; we’ve been selling out every show.
That’s no surprise. You’ve got some eager fans – the digital preorder of 12 Step Program sold out so fast that it crashed the server!
Yeah, I mean, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because of the positive response, it’s bad because we’ve got to make sure everyone gets their product, you know?
You’ve adapted to the demands of the electronic music market, considering you started out making music before the Internet even existed. Has that been easy?
It’s a new day, for sure, with electronic music. We want to make music for everyone to listen to however they want, on CD, vinyl, iPod, we want people to be able to hear it. So we do whatever it takes.
How do you like to listen to music?
Vinyl. Definitely vinyl.
Is there still a future for hip-hop vinyl?
Yeah, absolutely, there’s a huge future for it. It’s coming back!
Tell me about 12 Step Program. Where did the name come from?
Well, our first album was The Next Step, then we had Stepfather, you know, it’s always about stepping forward for us. There’s twelve songs on the album, so the name just came to me. The idea is that we provide a program to get people off of listening to whack music. It’s the methadone of hip-hop, to get people to stop listening to all the whack music out there.
Not to start a fight, but could you tell me who or what you mean by whack music?
Everything on the radio. That’s it. The ignorant, drug dealing, strip club music. You know, there’s nothing wrong with loving women, but that’s all they rap about. It’s just promotion of violence, sex, drugs, and this is what kids are listening to, and picking up that message – and that’s what major labels are selling and promoting! It’s whack.
So what’s the methadone?
Good old-fashioned honest hip-hop - scratching, turntables, just two MC’s going back and forth. It’s pure, it’s good times, and most importantly, it’s fun.
That’s a major reason that People Under The Stairs have kept such a great following over the years. People can tell on your records that you’re not just in it for the money, or the fame – you’re having fun up there. That’s what translates.
Exactly. We’ve always, always been about music first. We stand by quality.
That’s one of the strongest features you guys have kept up – you’ve always done your own thing, on your own terms, managing your music by yourselves. Does that carry over to your tours? Do you bring openers with you? Do you collaborate?
We just do our own thing. We get local openers for each show; we don’t collaborate with them or with anyone, really. We do things our own way. That’s what all the people on the radio do, just collaborate with one another. We work alone.
Do you think you’ll keep on making music as long as you can?
Til we get old and can’t walk. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do, make music together, and we’re blessed to be in this position.
People Under The Stairs will perform at U Street Music Hall on June 10.
SHOW PREVIEW: Fanfarlo
So what exactly is a Fanfarlo? While the band’s name was derived from 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire’s novella “La Fanfarlo,” this indie pop five-piece from across the pond boasts tunes that are far from old and stuffy. Orchestral pop brilliance ensues when old tired instruments such as mandolins, cellos, and clarinets are beautifully blended with a rousing guitar and a touch of good old stompin’ and clappin.’ Formed in London circa 2006, Fanfarlo consists of main songwriter Simon Balthazar (a dude blessed with an awesome last name and killer vocals), Cathy Lucas, Leon Beckenham, Justin Finch, and Amos Memon. For fans of The Head and The Heart, Freelance Whales, and Broken Bells, Fanfarlo’s infectious folk-pop beats are sure to inspire. 2014 is set to be one hell of a year for the five-piece, with a brand new album: Let’s Go Extinct fresh on the shelves, and a hot spring tour underway. If you’re looking for a good time, be sure to check out Fanfarlo live at U Street Music Hall April 26.
Fanfarlo will perform at U Street Music Hall on April 26.
SHOW PREVIEW: MØ
Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably heard MØ before. The Danish singer has lent her hypnotic voice to big name electronic musicians like Avicii and Diplo throughout 2013, making her a contender for the queen of cool collabs. Fueling the success, 2014 is going to be MØ’s biggest year yet. The songbird just released her debut No Mythologies to Follow, a powerful, dance-infused album full of soon to be hits. For fans of AlunaGeorge and/or Quadron, MØ’s got a similar vibe, you’ll dig tracks like her popular “Don’t Wanna Dance” and the funky cool “XXX 88”. If you’re as fond of this wonderful lady as we are, be sure to check out MØ live at U Street Music Hall.
MØ will perform at U Street Music Hall on May 20.