McDonalds faces a major challenge to its business model: a clientele growing away from it.
If Michael McDonald is the patron saint of Popdose, I think it’s safe to call The Damnwells our house band. With the release of their new album No One Listens To The Band Anymore, it was inevitable that one of us would end up doing an interview and as it happens, we decided to tag team it with both Matt Wardlaw and Michael Parr teaming up (ganging up on?) on frontman Alex Dezen. Here are some words from both to lead into the interview:
As I see the 40th anniversary remasters and legacy editions come around from the heritage acts that we grew up with, it often makes me ponder at that moment and think about who the current bands are that have the potential to amass similar catalogs of quality music. Bands come and go, release albums and then break up or produce output that is inconsistent from album to album. So who then among us will be the bands and artists that we can truly call legendary? You’ve got your answers for that question and surely, I’ve got mine – one person who clearly seems to be on the right path is singer/songwriter Alex Dezen of The Damnwells.
Dezen has now released four solid albums under The Damnwells banner, the latest of which is their newly released album No One Listens To The Band Anymore. After I heard One Last Century, an album that they gave away for FREE, for God’s sake, I didn’t know how they could possibly raise the bar any higher. (And I do need to give big credit to my friend Matthew Burgess, because it was his endless blog posts about the band that made me finally take a listen when the free download came around.) But what you have to understand about Alex Dezen is that he is one of those guys that songwriters both envy and hate – a guy with the seemingly effortless ability to toss out expertly crafted pop songs with lyrics that resonate right to the core surrounded by a selection of hooks that come out of nowhere and smack you in the face, again and again. To quote from the Batman movie, “where does he get those wonderful toys?”
– Matt Wardlaw
I’ll admit, I came unfashionably late to the Damnwells’ party, joining in for the band’s 2009 record, One Last Century, on the recommendation of Popdose Grand Poobah, Jeff Giles. It was love at first note; within weeks I knew every word to every tune, spending hours listening to the record on repeat.
When the opportunity to pitch in to fund the follow-up—via the infinitely cool PledgeMusic—I was among the first to sign up. The payoff was hearing and seeing the creation of the brilliant No One Listens to the Band Anymore. Sure, it’s only March, but I can safely say this record is going to grace my top 5 of 2011. – Michael Parr
Matt Wardlaw: Before we get into this, I think we have to note that for a lot of us here at Popdose, the early release of No One Listens To The Band Anymore to PledgeMusic supporters was our version of “Radiohead Day,” with a similar level of excitement like the Radiohead fans had a few weeks back when that band released their new album.
Alex Dezen: [Laughs] You guys are very nice! I think the only people who may feel that way are you guys, but that’s very nice of you.
Matt Wardlaw: The Damnwells got a lot of press for giving away the last record for free via Paste Magazine. Now that you’re on the other side of it, how much did that move the ball forward for the band and what did you take away from the experience?
Well, I think that it definitely moved it forward in a big way, because I think more people heard that record [One Last Century] than any other Damnwells record. It’s really hard to say because who knows how many times Joe in Minneapolis downloaded the record because he had it on one computer and then wanted to put it on another. But I think that more people downloaded that record than had bought any record previously, so in a number of senses, it definitely did better than any other Damnwells record. But I think in retrospect, you can call it like a spiritual move. At the time, it was very pragmatic; I was unable to tour because I was in graduate school.
The band was kind of in flux – the drummer [Steven Terry] and original guitar player [David Chernis] left and it was just me and the bass player [Ted Hudson]. And we couldn’t really tour around the record, so our manager Wes Kidd said “well, why don’t I get in contact with some people to see if maybe we can give it away for free somewhere.” And I was like “well, that sounds like a stupid idea – how are we going to make money?” And then it just kind of worked out that Paste wanted to get involved and host the download and so they’re like “oh, this is great.” But then as it went on, the response from fans was so positive and just so heartwarming that it felt really good just to be able to say “here’s this thing that we worked on and here’s this thing that we bled for and we’re just going to give it away for free.”
And there were no conditions – the only condition was that you had to give us a fake email address or a real one. So it really was an unconditional kind of thing. And it felt really good – it was so liberating. I didn’t have to worry about anything – I just put it out there. In fact, it was so liberating and wonderful that I wanted to do it again but I realized that my wife would probably leave me because we’d have no money! [Laughs]
I think you’ve gotten us all wrong, and it’s time to set the record straight.
I’m not going to say there isn’t a contingent of malcontents in the field of criticism, because that would be a lie. There are plenty of people who got into the game because of a grudge against that which they’ve chosen to review. I once knew a movie critic, a local guy for a local newspaper, who frequently and regularly savaged the films he saw. It didn’t matter what it was — comedy, drama, animation, universally lauded, universally panned, the danger money was on him trashing the subject. In the meantime, he shopped spec scripts to agents and sent off treatments to studios. The more he sent, the more he was rejected. The more he was rejected, the nastier his criticism became. His reportage was venomous, like hate notes from a spurned lover.
That, right there, is the underlying truth. Even though that writer was an exception to the rule, approaching everything with aforethought disappointment, most of us critics don’t and it is because we’re still in love, if not with the media of our choosing then with the promise that’s always there. Somewhere in our adolescent lives, we stumbled into a movie theater and saw something that set our eyes on fire, made the blood flow a little faster, gave us something we hadn’t experienced up to that point. For me, it was music and I can’t very well say when it first caught on. Was it my mother’s records of The Coasters Greatest Hits, or The Fifth Dimension or even “Cathy’s Clown” by The Everly Brothers? Was it Dad crooning along to Sinatra and Perry Como on those long, languid summer drives? Was it when we lived in that rental house and I played the 45 RPM record of E.L.O.’s “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” until the sunset, and I stared at that beige United Artists record label spin ’round and ’round? Was it that weird, unsteady feeling I got when the right chords were strung along, exploding into a surprising and pleasant direction? There is a love there that is almost impossible to adequately describe, but is there in most critics.
It was a day of unmatched California beauty; a startling and fiery sun perched high above in a crystal blue sky and blazed down promise. It was an essential day, a meteorological marvel meant to be stored away for future reference.
“Dude,” a friend would ask the following week, “do you remember how amazing it was last Tuesday?”
And of course you do. Even if the day itself was all you’d been given, that would have been gift enough. But the weather was merely an underscoring for the occasion, a gilded and golden opportunity to spend an hour with George Harrison. You’ll forget how to breathe before you forget this. Simply saying the words out loud (actually you’re reduced to mumbling them sotto voce because you’re afraid that anything above a whisper might reduce the reality to mirage) – “I am hanging with a Beatle” – is enough to render you stupid.
Then you start considering the notion that maybe Harrison himself ordered up the perfect day as an interview-ambience backdrop. We all knew that he spoke with God all the time (and if He was going to listen to anybody, He’s going to find a minute or two for a Beatle). So, anyone who recalls a glorious Tuesday back in 1974, somewhere around May or June perhaps, the presence of just a soupcon of magic embedded in the sunrays, you can thank George and God (though not necessarily in that order).Â
You know that sinking feeling you get when you hear your boss say: “Hey, can I see you in my office?” Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, then you’re one of the fortunate few who hasn’t been laid off, downsized, made redundant, or just lost a job.
I was laid off last June as part of the first wave of this recession, and at the time, I thought: “Well, I’ll find something in the next two or three months.”Â Three months turned into four, four into seven, and even though I was doing all the things one is supposed to do when looking for work, I had exactly one interview for an editorial job, and then … nothing but polite letters of rejection.
Of course, as I was trying to change my microeconomic situation, the global macroeconomic terrain shifted and what little air was left inside the bubble leaked out in an SBD way, causing many jobs to wither up and die in its cloud of noxious fumes.Â Every day, it seemed, employment news got worse and worse, and every day I tried to keep my chin up and not let the bad news affect my motivation level.Â I gotta say, it was tough at times, and if it wasn’t for family and friends, it would have been pretty bleak.
If there’s an uplifting note to this story it’s that I did find gainful employment.Â However, right as I was ready to start my new job (at the company that had laid me off seven months previous), my wife, and then my brother, lost their jobs. I heard from acquaintances, friends, and friends of friends about the snowballing effect this recession is having on the employment situation of many who thought their jobs were secure. I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories, and maybe you’re one of them.Â It’s all so depressing and, in some ways, numbing. Pretty boo-hoo stuff, really.Â But if you find yourself wallowing in self-pity, or just need an infusion of sympathy for those less fortunate than you, here’s a little mix I whipped up for times like these.
“Career Opportunities,” the Clash (download)
Love may mean never having to say you’re sorry, but don’t be sorry about having to take a shit job for less pay just to keep your head above waterÂ — even if the Clash highlight a few soul-killing jobs in this tune.Â Just remember: it’s not forever.Â Things will turn around and when you’re in a position to, you can tell your boss to take this job and shove it.
I have a lot of thoughts about the quasi-nationalization of Citigroup, because I am a Citibank shareholder. Some of those shares were acquired in the traditional capitalist manner; my husband placed an order through his online brokerage account. (We thought we were so smart, buying shares at $5 and change!) Some of the Citi exposure came through socialist means: I’m a U.S. citizen, so Timothy Geithner doubled down on my stake.
What happened? Subprime mortgages and global financial collapse aside, Citigroup may have become too big to manage. It is definitely too big for another bank to take over; Chase was willing to take over Washington Mutual accounts, but it could not handle the account volume of Citi, too.
Citibank has long pushed the financial supermarket idea. By offering banking, brokerage, and insurance services under one umbrella, Citi hoped to make it easy for customers to deal with them. It also hoped to squeeze more profits out of each person who walked through the door. But it was always a tough sell. Savvy investors don’t want any one institution to know everything about them; they’d rather play a few different companies off of each other. They’ll shop around for an extra 0.50% on a CD, work with a few brokers to get the best stock ideas, and move their insurance business whenever they find a better premium.
Also, diversifying among several firms reduces the risk of problems – from the Madoff risk at one extreme to the simple headache of limited access when something goes wrong. If you lose one credit card on an overseas trip and need to get home, it’s nice to have another card with a different bank. If a teller is mean to you and you decide to move all of your business in a huff, it’s easier if there isn’t that much to move.
The underlying problem with the financial supermarket is management. How can anyone be on top of everything from how nice and knowledgeable the tellers are to the risk levels of complex derivatives trades? The President of the United States has an easier job, because the president isn’t expected to post a profit. Also, he can print money and drop nuclear bombs to get things done. Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, doesn’t have those nifty tools. He couldn’t even split the company up into more manageable pieces, because that would have taken away critical assets needed to prop up the banking business.
So I’m eating pork rinds naked at my computer, idly wiping my greasy hands on my thighs while the dog slouches in a corner licking her chops, and I come across an e-mail invitation to a CD release party to celebrate the launch of Matthew McConaughey’s new record label.
I’ll pause for a moment to let the full horror of that image sink in: Matthew McConaughey has his own record label.
Matthew McConaughey, that handsome devil whose film career gives new meaning to the word “underperform.” Looking back over his rÃ©sumÃ©, I’m surprised to note how many good movies he’s made (at least one of them—John Sayles’ Lone Star—genuinely great). The thing is, I completely forgot he was in any of them. What comes to mind, thinking about the guy, is a string of financial or artistic debacles (Amistad, The Newton Boys, Sahara); his terrible performance (and wardrobe) in Contact; the dead-eyed sleepwalking through interchangeable rom-coms. When Failure to Launch opened, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a documentary about McConaughey’s career arc.
Remember, this was a dude who, after his breakthrough performance in Dazed and Confused, was touted as a New Leading Man. His rugged good looks and laid-back charm drew comparisons to the titans of Old Hollywood—Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Cary Grant. Instead, he’s turned out to be something of a John Agar: a working actor, name above the title, sure, but not someone who can “open” a movie on his own. So what the hell happened? How did this guy, who at one point looked like a worldbeater, begin his slow slide to mediocrity? Well, listen—I’m not one to tell anybody how they should get their kicks, but let’s face it: Matthew McConaughey smokes a fuckload of pot. Now, call me crazy, but I’m thinking that might have something to do with it. Still a handsome cat, mind you, but he’s starting to get a little… resinous.
Now, when you’ve got that much THC in your system, your decision-making skills are bound to be impaired. You might even forget where you are; McConaughey seems to think he’s still living in the pre-Napster 1990s, when record labels were still remotely relevant and every celebrity was expected to have his own. (He’s also got a clothing line, which is a slightly more ’00s-era business model.)
Okay, we can argue the wisdom of that later; but what about the music? Who has been signed to j.k. livin’ Records? What undercelebrated artist will be the first to benefit from the marketing muscle of Matthew McConaughey’s name recognition factor?
In sudden and shocking fashion, it was announced today that Touch And Go Records, the venerable Chicago label, would be closing down its distribution wing and, at least for the moment, will no longer be releasing new music. Touch And Go Distribution, formerly Southern Distribution, moved
This has been a week of happy endings for me, and I’m not referring to a trip to the massage parlor (this time).
Y’see, twenty-odd years ago, I bought one of those awesome Sire Records compilations Just Say Yes, which featured a veritable who’s who of new wave/alternative rock in the late ’80s. Amongst the Depeche Mode and Erasure remixes sat a song by The Wild Swans, a combo from Liverpool that had been kicking around in various forms since the dawn of the decade. The Wild Swans were a little New Order, a little Echo & The Bunnymen (in fact, Bunny drummer Pete de Freitas produced their debut single), and a dash of every other jangle-rock band of the moment – Sire had a habit of signing a lot of bands that sort of blended together. Isn’t that right Ocean Blue?
In fact, vocalist/keyboardist Paul Simpson doesn’t have much good to say about his experience on Sire – from a 2004 interview:
“Being on a major was just one compromise after another. To be fair, Sire did give us a huge push in America and we even had a hit single in Germany but it’s at home you want to shine. The Smiths psychically destroyed us. They had the pretty jangle and the soaring vocal melodies but with the extra winning ingredients of big blouses, gladioli and humour. We were prop and humour-free. I know I keep saying it but that beautiful keyboard refrain from There is A Light That Never Goes Out is Ged’s from “Enchanted”. Later I would just crumple when voices from the audience would accuse us of being Smiths copyists but inside I’d be thinking how these morons were revealing to the whole concert hall how ignorant they were.”
When last we left Peter Himmelman, he was leaving (or being pushed out of) the major-label world, and heading for indier pastures. Far from signaling an end to his career â€” or even a real slowdown in his hectic release schedule â€” this move seemed