SXSW Thursday Interviews
Busting out with six Thursday SXSW interviews
The Strypes7:30pm, 1100 Warehouse
"That's what teenagers do: hang out, listen to CDs, and play video games. And we'd hear these CDs around the house."
Bassist Pete O'Hanlon is trying to explain by telephone to an ancient American journalist how his Irish quartet arrived at the tough, vintage rock & roll displayed on their astonishing debut, Snapshot. O'Hanlon, singer Ross Farrelly, lead guitarist Josh McClorey, and Evan Walsh (drums) grooved to 1965 British R&B combos like the Rolling Stones, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, and 1977 punk rock.
"That's something that's just come in the last year," says O'Hanlon, who places the Strypes' ages at 16-18. "We discovered the New Wave punk bands, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash, and the Ramones. We like the energy and the rawness, the attitude. It's the old music, but with that attitude."
With help from Elton John's Rocket Music Management and endorsements from Jeff Beck and Paul Weller, the Strypes now have the UK rocking to intense riffola like "Blue Collar Jane," which helped end their education: "We had to quit [school] last year. It was just too fucking hard, playing in London and hanging out with Jeff Beck, and then coming in knackered on Monday trying to take a geometry quiz!"
Steve Wynn/The Baseball Project9pm, Continental Club
Steve Wynn earned his place in rock history during the Eighties with the Dream Syndicate, a leading light of L.A.'s Paisley Underground psych-pop movement. Since then, he's enjoyed an acclaimed solo career, though he's currently savoring a well-received Dream Syndicate reunion.
He hits Austin with his band the Miracle 3, and the Baseball Project, his National Pastime-obsessed side project with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and the Minus 5's Scott McCaughey.
"I've got the Baseball Project, my solo records, and the Dream Syndicate all happening at different speeds at different times," says the SXSW veteran. "You get older and time moves faster. All of sudden it's like, 'Oh man, it's been four years since the last Miracle 3 record – that's wrong!'"
Wynn laughs, his excitement palpable.
"I'm never happier than when I'm onstage. I love the chance to exist in the moment. You reinvent it every night."
Tony Joe White11pm, Continental Club
"Space is important," explains swamp-rock godfather Tony Joe White, in the drawl that graces his albums. "That little gap, that little hole, that breathing room – people hear it and think, 'Whoa, what's that?'"
During a career spanning nearly half a century, the Louisiana native has built a substantial body of enduring music around his signature languid, bluesy style. The public first heard the sound on his 1969 Top Ten hit "Polk Salad Annie," which launched a prolific career that has seen White's compositions covered by Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Dusty Springfield, and Brook Benton, who scored a 1970 hit with his "Rainy Night in Georgia." His new release Hoodoo, he says, is comprised largely of first-takes.
"I'd sit in the control room and tell the drummer and bass player, 'I'm gonna sing about 20 seconds of each song, play the groove on the guitar, and then we're gonna hit record and you just play what comes out of your heart.'"
The stripped-down approach also applies to White's live performances, for which he, his guitar, and his stomping foot are accompanied only by a drummer.
"I started out that way in Louisiana and Texas," he says. "It gives me a lot of freedom. If someone hollers out 'Old Man Willis' or 'Willie and Laura Mae Jones,' I can jump right into it, because the drummer doesn't have to know the key."
Typhoon11:30pm, Central Presbyterian Church
Life can change in an instant. Not just in car crashes and tragedy, but in simple twists of fate – a missed connection, a dropped call. For Kyle Morton, lead singer and driving force of Typhoon, that moment came from a childhood tick bite, which led to a long-undiagnosed case of Lyme's disease that took a drastic, lasting toll on his body.
"It's almost like the biblical original sin," he recalls from his home in Portland. "It was something that I didn't have any control over. It was insidious and small; it snuck in without me noticing. And it changed my life irrevocably."
The incident made for a "beautiful metaphorical jumping point" for Typhoon's unflinching third LP, White Lighter, a coming-of-age record for which Morton put himself under the microscope along with his 12-piece, which he calls a "perverse Partridge Family." Think Sufjan Stevens finally making an album about Oregon.
"I was afraid of this thing as we were making it," admits Morton. "There's a tricky relationship between the truth in my own life and the sort of fictional autobiography of White Lighter. It was driving me a little insane at the end, when it was catching up with where I was in real life. When I got to that point, I was sort of living the record. It was like standing in a hall of mirrors."
Blondie12mid, Brazos Hall
The only thing standing between me and punk priestess Debbie Harry was a telephone connection. As her publicist linked me long-distance to Berlin, I had a romantic notion that the phone would ring in the same clipped bursts that begin Blondie's iconoclastic 1978 album Parallel Lines, "Hanging on the Telephone." Instead, I'm asking Blondie's herself if she recalls the band's first Austin performance.
"Yes, it was in that indoor-outdoor place," she says. "Was it the Aardvark?"
Maybe Armadillo World Headquarters?
"Armadillo!" exclaims Harry. "That's it. Armadillo, yes.
Along with co-founder Chris Stein and original drum dynamo Clem Burke, everyone's favorite "Sunday Girl" marks four decades of bandom with Blondie 4(0) Ever, a two-disc set of a greatest hits and new album Ghosts of Download. A lot has changed since the band formed in 1974.
"We did [Ghosts of Download] in a very electronic communications way. It really was done through computers."
No machine can ever replace Harry, but which ladies will we be talking about 40 years from now? She laughs.
"Oh, Jesus. I don't know. You really don't know, do you? How could one predict that? I guess somebody like Beyoncé or Nicki Minaj or Lady Gaga. One of those girls might stand the test of time, who knows? Who knows what's coming next?"
Bob Mould12:45am, Parish
Former Austinite Bob Mould returns to taco town for a SXSW songwriting panel and shows to promote Workbook 25, the anniversary reissue of his acclaimed solo debut. Now considered a classic, the album's mostly acoustic, cello-soaked sound threw his Hüsker Dü fan base for a loop.
"People often talk about what a great change it was," he says. "They didn't see Workbook coming. Now that I'm going back and constructing the songlist for the Workbook 25 dates, and I look back to the last Hüsker Dü record, Warehouse: Songs and Stories. There's a couple songs on there, 'No Reservations' and 'Up in the Air' especially, that were a bit of a hint to where things might be going. Twenty-five years later when I look back in context, I'm like, 'Wow, I was starting to lean a little bit that way.' But it is a pretty abrupt change, I think.
"It's a very sober, quiet, introspective, reflective record which at the same time builds a new identity with a guitar and a voice and a notebook – a funny thing that happened and I'm grateful for it."
Like the Copper Blue redux coinciding with Mould's Silver Age LP, the creative juices are currently flowing between eras.
"It's been fun putting [Workbook 25] together, because I've been working on new music as well. It's always fun to touch back on something while working on new ideas. It's a little confusing some days – I'm not sure which person I am or which songs I'll be playing – but it's cool. It keeps it really interesting for me at this point."