Interview: Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel talk improvisation and collaboration on ‘Halocline’

DUET FOR THEREMIN AND LAP STEEL: Frank Schultz (left) and Scott Burland. Photo courtesy Terry Kearns.


In the visually stunning BBC One documentary series Planet Earth, Sir David Attenborough describes a mesmerizing scene in which underwater caverns play tricks on the eye. “What seems like air … isn’t. It’s just another kind of water,” Attenborough says as he describes a phenomenon called halocline, a point at which freshwater and saltwater clash, like oil and water, maintaining separate densities. It is rich fodder for the imagination, and the title of Duet For Theremin and Lap Steel’s latest album. Theremin player Scott Burland and Lap Steel player Frank Schultz are back with an eight-song masterpiece of haunting, luminous atmosphere.

In the Fall of 2019, a chance meeting—sharing the stage at Louisville, Kentucky’s Kaiju—with vocalist Dane Waters gave rise to a collaboration in which she weaves her voice into songs with titles such as “Maelstrom,” “Swell,” and “Fata Morgana.” The result draws out an unforeseen abstract aquatic theme pulled from the depths of the subconscious, manifesting itself in fluid musical movements.

On the heels of the album’s May 16 release, Burland and Schultz took a few minutes to talk about working with Dane Waters, what the music means to them, and letting the music drive the concept.

Halocline describes what happens when two bodies of water are separated because of different salinities. How does this apply to the record?

Frank Schultz: The music drove the concept, not the concept driving the music. I had been watching a lot of Blue Planet and Planet Earth in the evenings during the time I was starting to put the album together, and the music seemed a perfect fit to the many faces of water. Water is one of those weird things that you can’t live without, sometimes it’s hard to live with, and sometimes it’s a killer. The illusion of a halocline is beautiful, but can be very distracting and deadly.

Scott Burland: Naming albums and song titles has been a challenging—though fun—process for us over the years, and this time the whole concept fell into place once Frank mentioned halocline to me. The music on this album varies from murky to clear, sometimes even in the same song. To me, some of this music sounds like it was recorded underwater. Or lends itself to imagining oneself moving around surrounded by, or completely underwater.

How does this expand upon your body of work and everything that you’ve accomplished with your previous recordings?

FS: I think it is our best body of work so far. It has connections to previous work, but goes in several different directions.

Filmmaker Robbie Land’s video for the title track from DfTaLS’ latest album, Halocline.


What are these different directions in which you see the music going?

FS: As far as a long term direction, who knows. We play, the music comes out, we record it and put some of it out. There is no preconceived notion of a path or direction.

SB: I think it fits nicely into our larger body of work. When 10 came out, I remember feeling like there was a certain maturity in the music. That’s definitely true of Halocline. There are no gimmicks per sé, it’s just the instruments, filtered through our approaches, and voice. It stands on its own and it seems a logical extension to our arc. I’d add that the majority of the album is sonically abstract, though there are moments of familiarity and traditional structure, or at least our version of that.

FS: There are several moments in the album when everything falls into place and still gives me goosebumps. Favorite songs change over time, at least for me. Current faves are “Maelstrom” and “Dissolver,” but I have a crush on all of them.

SB: I’m a big fan of the title track. When I hear it, I think wow, we did that? I don’t have a clear memory of recording it, it was just some random Wednesday, early in 2019. I appreciate that I’m working with someone who I can collaborate on a piece such as this, with no road map, no clear beginning or end and listen back and agree, hey that’s not half bad. “Brinicle” is another favorite, it’s both still and in motion and I have at least a vague memory of recording that one!

What did performing with Dane Waters bring out of DfTaLS?

FS: We met Dane in Louisville when we shared the stage with her in 2019. We were both floored by her performance. Floored enough that the two of us agreed, without any hesitation, that we should meet with her the next day and ask her to be on the album. She said yes! We fleshed out around 18 songs, got them down to nine songs we agreed on, and sent her three of them to record vocals. We ended up using all the songs for which she contributed vocals. Of course, once I received her recordings, it affected how the songs were treated and mixed.

SB: After that Louisville gig, Frank and I were asking ourselves why we didn’t invite her to join us for our set. Second best was asking her to contribute to the record. I think she adds a human quality to the album which isn’t exactly lacking in our previous efforts, but it’s just more in the forefront here. She slipped right into the spirit of the thing, I liked the way her voice reacted harmonically to the theremin and I appreciate the thought that she put into it. We look forward to sharing a stage with her at some unknown point in the future.

DUET FOR THEREMIN AND LAP STEEL: Halocline

Collaborations can often underscore one artist’s vision, or open up to the whole group making room for happy accidents, so to speak. Be it Jeff Crompton’s contributions to “Absinthium” on 10, filmmaker Robbie Land’s visuals, or working with Bill Brovold, the Shaking Ray Levis, and more on your 2011 album, Collaborations. What are the benefits of bringing outside influences into the realm you’ve created with DfTaLS?

FS: Kind of two camps here:  Crompton and Dane recorded their pieces after the fact, so not really anything that influenced our playing. Robbie—we never see his films while we are playing, so not much influence, although we love when it happens, we just feel better knowing it is there, as does the audience. The Collaborations album was the one where we did live recordings with all the folks. So we were all influencing each other. In general, we enjoy collaborating with folks because it tends to bear lovely fruit and furthers our musical relationship and connection with those folks. Improvising with new folks is a chance to open your ears and learn something.

SB: This is the first time we’ve collaborated with someone without being in the same room, so the rules were different. On paper, there’s an immediacy that’s missing but in this case I think Dane nailed it with the vocals, almost as if we had recorded it together. Frank and I know the limitations of DfTaLS and an advantage of bringing someone else in is that the other people don’t necessarily know or even want to know those limits. It offers a fresh perspective, which gives us “permission” to stray from our comfort zone. To say it breaks up the monotony seems a little harsh, but surprise is good and we’ve been doing this long enough that introducing something new and/or unexpected keeps the fire going.

FS: Collaborating is part of our nature.

SB: It seems that we are able to fit into a variety of sonic scenarios, so I would say that collaborations allow us to expand on what DfTaLS is, and a glimpse into what it might become, or could be. Having time these last couple of months to contemplate even my own relationship to music has been eye-opening. Trying to strip everything away and then slowly reintroduce things to see what resonates. It’s a process. It’s hard to imagine my life without DfTaLS, so I am trying to figure out what it really means to me, what it means to Atlanta, to the region, and beyond. So it’s difficult for me to articulate the true nature of DfTaLS. Still working on that.

— Chad Radford

All proceeds from Halocline’s digital sales will be donated to Giving Kitchen and Atlanta Musicians’ Emergency Relief Fund.

The Cheifs: Liner notes for the group’s final 7-inch


I was honored to write the liner notes for the new and final 7-inch by the Cheifs.

Bob Glassley was a man out of time. He was a hardcore sleeper cell who reawakened in 2016 with the uncompromising spirit and forgotten insights of Los Angeles’ early ‘80s punk snarl…in Atlanta. And he arrived like a thief in the night.

James Joyce called me that summer to ask if I remembered or knew anything about an old punk band from California called the Cheifs. He explained to me that he had been tapped to play drums with a new version of the group and wanted to know if I was interested in doing a piece on them for Creative Loafing. It wasn’t long after that we were all gathered around a table at Manuel’s Tavern discussing the legend of the band, and listening to Bob’s stories about his involvement in the early West Coast hardcore punk scene. Absorbing so much Cheifs history and lore was like discovering another great band that had been there all along, albeit buried by the sands of time, now uncovered and brought into full view.

At the end of 1982 in a set of circumstances singular to Bob’s life, he stepped away from punk and playing music altogether. He traded his bass for a computer and never looked back. As a result, his knowledge and familiarity with punk was a perfectly preserved time capsule. It also fostered a beautiful state of arrested development; he knew West Coast punk circa 1978-1982, but nothing beyond that. However, he understood the art of the outsider, the art of being an individual driven by righteousness, and the self-reliance of punk before fashion and hairstyles eclipsed the lifestyle, and before mainstream attention introduced the elements of violence and intolerance that ultimately pulled the scene apart.

Bob’s return to music was a reaction to right-wing influences gaining a stranglehold on America. He took a no-bullshit political stance –– he was outspoken with his opinions, and punk gave him direction and purpose in the shadow of the Trump presidency. But Bob also projected a raw, down-to-earth wisdom, and a forgotten knowledge and etiquette that affected everyone with whom he crossed paths, from his bandmates to the faces in the crowd. While loading out after playing shows at The Earl and 529 in East Atlanta, he connected with homeless people who were asking for spare change. He treated everyone with dignity and respect.

With the new Cheifs lineup in place, the group gigged hard in Atlanta and eventually the Los Angeles area. Bob seemed to know, maybe subconsciously, that he didn’t have much time left on earth. Not wasting any time, the group played and recorded as quickly and as often as possible. Whenever Bob took the stage wearing a “We the People” T-shirt (brandishing an image of the Constitution of the United States), he embraced the audience, reveling in the moment and screaming defiantly into the void of mortality.

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, Bob unexpectedly died of complications related to liver cancer. He had been diagnosed with the disease a mere two weeks prior. He was 58. The following Saturday the Cheifs were set to play a sold-out show at the Masquerade supporting the Descendents, a big coup for the new lineup. Just four nights after his death, the Descendents opened the show by unleashing the most powerfully cathartic blast of “Everything Sux” the group had ever performed.

During the encore, James, Brad, and Scott joined Milo and Karl on stage for one last send-off, playing four final Cheifs songs as a dedication to Bob, and to all that the new lineup had worked to create.

The four songs captured here are bookends to the Cheifs legacy. Both “1988” and “Heart In Chains” were originally written and performed by Bob’s pre-Cheifs band, Portland, Oregon’s Rubbers. On the B-side, “Alienated” is a new jam that Bob penned. Loosely based on a forgotten early Cheifs song, “Mechanical Man” was partially reconstructed from memory, and hammered into a new form by the current lineup.

The 7” single you now hold in your hands stamps in time the one-year period of intense creativity and rediscovery that Bob and the reignited Cheifs unleashed. The distillation of ’80s punk songwriting and hardcore’s graceful, physical melodies, filtered through a lens of contemporary production, is filled with a new fire and spirit, channeled into a lifetime of fierce, empowering, and truly timeless songs. Fuck cancer. Cheif Out! — Chad Radford

Billy Bragg talks freedom, skiffle, and the enduring power of empathy

Since the arrival of his 1983 debut LP, Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy, Billy Bragg has carved a singular path through England’s songwriter landscape. With songs such as “A New England,” “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” and “There Is Power In A Union” Bragg draws equally from Woody Guthrie’s working-class Americana anthems and Joe Strummer’s indomitable punk spirit to flesh out his own distinctly British take on love songs and left-wing politics. His songs are bound by punk’s instincts and intellect, but every melody resonates with warmth and human compassion.

Bragg is also the author of several books, including his two most recent titles, The Three Dimensions of Freedom and Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World (Faber & Faber). The Three Dimensions of Freedom functions like a good power-pop song. Bragg strips away any unnecessary verbiage to riff on the nuances and responsibilities that freedom of expression requires in a healthy society: liberty, equality, and, most importantly, accountability. It’s a Pocket-sized counterpart to Roots, Radicals, and Rockers, which offers a deep dive into the phenomenon of skiffle—the U.K.’s proto rockabilly phenomenon—that swept over the U.K. in the wake of World War II.

Although each of these books delve into wholly different realms of writing and research, each one is connected by a subconscious arc that is the need for human expression, from the personal to the political—from Lead Belly writing songs to governors in the 1920s begging for a prison pardon in Roots, Radicals, and Rockers, to exploring how post-Internet perceptions of freedom of speech have evolved in the U.S. and the U.K.

After calling off an Australian tour to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, on May 6, Bragg joined me via Zoom for an A Cappella Books-sponsored conversation and audience Q&A. Press play above to view our discussion about the influence of punk rock on Bragg’s music and writing, the idea of separating the art from the artist, and the enduring power of empathy.

A Cappella Books has a limited supply of each book with signed bookplates. Check the shop’s website for details.

Alcoholic Polyneuropathic Freaks In Hell! A conversation with Jake Benedict of Misanthropic Aggression

FREAK SCENE: Misanthropic Aggression is Tyler Peacock (left), Chris Hammer, and Jake Benedict.
Photo by Alison Benedict.


“Alcoholic Polyneuropathic Freaks in Hell” — it’s a phrase that captures a colorful, albeit accurate, snapshot of most Georgians’ mental state as we grapple with the realities of returning to life after sheltering in place over the last month. It’s also the title cut from Misanthropic Aggression’s latest 7-inch on Boris Records.

On the heels of releasing 2018’s Inability to Cope EP, bass player and lead vocalist Jake Benedict, drummer Tyler Peacock, and singer and guitarist Chris Hammer are back with three-songs that plunge the group’s blend of hardcore, thrash, black metal, death metal, and crust punk into much greater depths. Benedict’s low rumble and Hammer’s demonic shriek create an urgent tension over Peacock’s staccato rhythms. After live-streaming a 7-inch release party on April 20, Benedict took a few minutes to talk about the new songs and finding Misanthropic Aggression’s sound.

The Alcoholic Polyneuropathic Freaks In Hell 7-inch is Misanthropic Aggression’s first new release since 2018, correct?

Yes! The first thing we did after releasing Inability To Cope was to write the song “Blacklisted.” I had already written the guitar riff, so we started arranging it. We worked for about a year and wrote “Black Listed,” then “Retirement From Life (Last Day of Work),” then “Alcoholic Polyneuropathic Freaks In Hell.” Chris came up with the title for that one.

That song feels timely, as many Georgians are struggling with Governor Kemp easing up on the shelter-in-place order. 

Yeah, because you’ve been at home for like a month, drinking too much, and you feel like you’re in hell!

We played with Sanguisugabogg at 529 on March 11, 48 hours before the shit hit the fan. The morning after, I got an email saying my son’s school is canceled effective Monday. He hasn’t been back since.

When we played on March 11, COVID-19 was already here. People were wigging out, about half the normal crowd was there, and people were already wearing masks. They were high-elbowing instead of high-fiving. It was a trippy night.

You know there’s a problem when even the crust punks are washing their hands!

Big time! There was a line out the bathroom door all night, just to use the sink!

“Retired From Life (Last Day Of Work)” is the second entry in a catalog of anti-active shooter songs. “Active Shooter Syndrome (A.S.S.)” from Inability To Cope was about the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas. I heard the news about it and wrote that song. “Retired From Life …” is about the poor guy who worked in the security shack at the FedEx facility in Kennesaw, maybe six-seven years ago. Basically, he was shot in the gut with a shotgun and lived, but he’s had 80-90 surgeries since then.

I thought about how lyricists like Chris Barnes from Cannibal Corpse write. As a kid, it was terrifying to read first-person perspective songs about being murdered. To twist it in with the urban style that we’ve always had I did a first-person narrative about being killed on the job. I was almost afraid to do it because it’s pretty controversial. But the lyrics are so clearly anti-shooter that it won’t come across like we were glorifying it. But it is supposed to be horrific.


Have you published the lyrics?

The lyrics aren’t posted anywhere yet. I’m such an amateur when it comes to actual music industry stuff. After the records are produced, your PR campaign starts. So as soon as you send off the masters the records get pressed. Then Perfect World Productions, who’s doing our PR, sends out press kits. Once the records come in they get sent out for distribution. Boris Records has distribution through MVD. That takes an additional four weeks. I didn’t know all that, and when we picked the April 20 release date I was working off of my DIY experiences: ‘The records will be here and we’ll get in the van and go!’ The 4/20 release date isn’t official. The distributor’s release date, and the reason it’s not on Spotify or anywhere else yet, is June 8. That’s when I think we’ll post the lyrics.

As soon as we finished this one we turned around and finished a new song for the next record. I want to write about COVID-19, but I need to approach it carefully. It’s a slippery slope talking about this virus; you could easily upset people’s political sensibilities, and I don’t want to be seen as a political band. So I’m figuring out how to approach it lyrically.

That’s tough. The anti-active shooter songs — talking about real-world incidents of gun violence — can easily be construed as being about gun control. It doesn’t get more political than that!

Yeah, it could be taken that way. Personally, I see a pattern of antisocial narcissism at work in these shooters — lonely, loser-types, incels who are incels because they have no personality. I noticed that a lot of them have these traits in common. That’s kind of what made me want to chronicle these incidents, and have more than one song about the subject. The title, “Active Shooter Syndrome,” is a play on “active shooter situation.” In my opinion, there seems to be a syndrome here.

What has changed for the group between these two releases?

It’s a cliché, but we’re figuring out our sound. We had this idea to mix five musical genres: punk, thrash, death metal, black metal, and crust. The first release leaned heavily toward punk and hardcore — we had the cover of SSD’s “Boiling Point.” There were hints of death metal, especially in the long musical section in “Herd Rejector/Unbound Descent,” which Chris composed. There are some sludgy parts, some death metal parts. With the new release we went for more of a first wave black metal sound. If you listen to the long section right after the first chorus in “Alcoholic … ,” it has a second wave, almost Gorgoroth or golden era Dark Thrown back-and-forth going on. Real grim black metal. There’s a lot going on in that song, and I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but I’m really proud of it.

MISANTHROPIC AGGRESSION: Chris Hammer (clockwise from left), Jake Benedict, and Tyler Peacock.
Photo by Chad Radford


Tell me about the sample at the beginning of “Alcoholic …”

Chris did that. It’s the voice of James Dickey, who was a poet laureate in ‘66. He wrote Deliverance.

The lyrics for that song are two-pronged. I have developed alcoholic polyneuropathy, I guess from drinking liquor for 13 years. I’ve started getting real bad tingling in my hands and feet, my skin and scalp crawl, I break out in hives. So the lyrics are about my personal experiences with it, but it’s also a warning to learn better coping mechanisms than substances. It’s definitely in keeping with my amateur psychology that I like to incorporate.

At the end of “Alcoholic …” we take a hard left turn into a weird death metal theme, which is a riff that I wrote. Sometimes I’ll write parts for Chris, but in this song, the whole end, I said, “You do whatever the hell you want, man. These are the parts I wrote. This is the subject matter. Run with it.

Impetigo is a gore-grind band from Illinois, from the late ’80/early ‘90s. They rule, and their vocals have a real strong influence with all the echo and trippy, kind of rubber banding in and out that you hear.

ALCOHOLIC POLYNEUROPATHIC FREAKS IN HELL: Artwork by Warhead Art.


Who did the artwork? 

The artwork was done by a Ukranian artist who goes by Warhead Art. He’s done three pieces for us — he did the centerpiece. Chris did the layout. The art is in the middle, and there’s a frame with little stars in the corners. Chris did those, and hand-drew the “Alcoholic Neuropathic Freaks In Hell” logo around it. The stars represent the synapses misfiring in your body due to alcoholic polyneuropathy. It’s what causes the pain, which I thought was a cool idea. The photo on the back with the bricks was taken at the ruins of an old civil war-era mill — Nickajack Creek — up near Smyrna. 

The idea was to keep it real simple. No lyrics sheet, no insert, no thank you list. It’s just three songs. The whole thing is influenced by the old Amoebix, Anti Cimex 7-inches; real simple, old-school hardcore shit.

Picture One plumbs the depths of the imagination to find resolve

STRANGE MAGIC: Thomas Barnwell of Picture One. Photo by Todd Briner.


Thomas Barnwell is, perhaps, best known as the co-composer of the score to director Adam Pinney’s 2016 film, The Arbalest, and as the guitar player with the now-defunct indie rock groups Thy Mighty Contract and the Orphins. Alongside his film-composing partner Ian Deaton, Barnwell also runs Deanwell Global Music, compiling and re-releasing LPs of ‘80s material by acts ranging from French new wave outfit Asylum Party to Atlanta synth-punks the Modern Mannequins. The label has also released cassettes such as Deaton’s score to the imaginary film Atlanta Crime Wave, along with titles from hardcore and blackened metal tormentors Rapturous Grief, Waste Layer, and the Haunting, the latter being an early project that featured Cloak’s singer and guitar player Scott Taysom.

When left to his own devices, however, Barnwell writes and records songs using the name Picture One. With his self-titled 2015 debut, and again with 2019’s Bright Spot and the Midnight Sun, Barnwell relied on abstract imagery and purely instrumental arrangements to build spectral atmospheres. However, the arrival of Picture One’s third album, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes, marks a profound change in his songwriting. Here, Barnwell fleshes out a stylish blend of European and American indie, gothic rock, and post-punk influences, culminating in spellbinding soundscapes, and reaching new heights in his songwriting. 

Barnwell’s  low-register, atonal singing brings a more personal and transcendent touch to the album.

“I started singing on this record because I wanted to process a lot of what I have been going through over the last couple of years,” Barnwell says. “I am trying to be more creative lyrically than I have been — I haven’t done lyrics in maybe 10 years, and I wanted that connection again. When you play stuff live, people really connect with vocals.”

What he was going through while writing the album is the timeless fodder of reflecting on a relationship that has come to an end, and the whirlwind of social, psychological, and emotional turbulence that comes along with such upheaval. To make sense of, and ultimately resolve, his cycle of dark feelings, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes summons the strength of unearthly forces. The album’s title is taken from the lyrics of “Love Spell,” a song in which Barnwell sings, “Because distant power is what it takes, and tubes of light lead to this place, spread the flowers and snowflakes, across the depths of seven lakes.” Here, a spell is cast to break through a sense of powerlessness over his circumstances.

“When I wrote the lyrics, I was sitting there, thinking about how I wished I could just do something,” Barnwell says. “I had this idea of magic as a proactive thing that people do because they’re in situations where they can’t do anything. The lyrics came out about someone who wants to conjure love,” he adds. “But in the end it becomes something that helps them to move on.”

The songs and lyrics take on a more honest approach to songwriting than anything Barnwell has offered in the past. Even when fronting the Orphins, songs such as “Sea Song” and “Lost In the Wild” from the 2009 CD Wish You Well (Adair Park) relied on symbolism over real-time, confessional songwriting. Still, the songs on Across the Depths of Seven Lakes sidestep traditional songwriting as Barnwell adopts a wholly different internal persona.

“Singing in a way that I don’t normally sing, and thinking from the perspective of someone else — playing the part of an imagined person, maybe someone who was in a band in the ’80s — helped me be more honest,” Barnwell says.

A palette of constrictive, bass-driven rhythms, heavy chorus, and barreling melodies drive the noisy and claustrophobic opening number “Resolute: The Absolute,” the melancholy pop of “Lily Pad,” and the monolithic EBM dirge of “Chaser of the World.” Each number hands in a balance of graceful and monolithic darkness, fostering a fully-formed concept album that’s fueled by a greater sense of urgency and variety than anything Barnwell has created with Picture One’s previous releases.

“I wanted the first album to be a dark and emotionally melodic record with roots in ’80s cold wave and goth and post-punk,” Barnwell says. “I also wanted to see if I could write something both memorable and catchy without vocals. I wanted to explore a certain sound that I’ve always loved but had never had a chance to with my previous bands.”

Three albums in, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes moves one step deeper and higher into the framework he’s built. — Chad Radford

PODCAST: Papa Jack Couch on a lifetime in songs and asking the questions that cannot be answered

BEARING WITNESS: Papa Jack Couch. Photo by Chad Radford.

Papa Jack Couch arrived on Atlanta’s music scene like a ghost — a man from another era, out of time and out of place, with a body of songs that demanded to be heard.

In 2018, he released his debut album, Meriwether via his own MIle One Records. A year later, he released his second album, Witness Tree, backed by a cast of Atlanta’s finest musicians.

At 70 years old, Papa Jack had suddenly reached a disarming high point as a songwriter, channeling a lifetime of spirituality, wisdom, joy, and tragedy into songs with titles such as “Twilight Memories,” “HighLine Woman,” and the title track from his second album.

With a gentle voice drifting softly over steel strings, Papa Jack summons a deeply felt blend of Southern folk, soul, and cosmic Americana into every note and every nuance of the songs he sings. And every number tells a story — stories of discovering music, crossing paths with his musical heroes such as Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash, leaving music, and ultimately returning after the death of his wife.

Press play to hear a podcast about Papa Jack Couch and the stories behind his songs, featuring interviews with Damon Moon of Standard Electric Recording Co. and Brian Revels.

Big Ears 2020: The ATLien invasion! W8ing4UFOs, Mute Sphere, Dust-To-Digital, and more line up for Knoxville’s annual gathering of adventurous music

Mute Sphere plays the Pilot Light on Thursday, March 26 at 8 p.m. Photo by Priscilla Smith.

Big Ears 2020 has been canceled over concerns related the COVID-19 virus read the festivals official statement.

W8ing4UFOs are still playing their scheduled shows at the Pilot Light. Stay tuned for more information.

As Knoxville, Tennessee prepares for the Big Ears Festival‘s annual pilgrimage of deep listeners descending upon the Marble City’s music venues March 26-29, more pieces are falling into place every day. Festivities for the 2020 gathering include an ever-growing film series and panel discussions, in addition to a lineup of bold musical innovators celebrating their singularly nuanced sounds. A rich lineup of heavy-hitters is on the calendar for this year, including German free jazz luminary, saxophone and clarinet player Peter Brötzmann, Tortoise guitar player Jeff Parker and the New Breed, rock ‘n’ roll poet Patti Smith, Tuareg psych rocker Mdou Moctar, drone music architect Phil Niblock, British free jazz and Afrofuturist provocateur Shabaka Hutchings & the Ancestors, and more.

Amid the flurry of artists and activities on this year’s schedule, Atlanta boasts a particularly strong showing:

Mute Sphere, a group featuring former Faun and A Pan Flute guitarist David Gray, cello and fiddle player Ben Shirley, drummer John Gregg, and percussionist and synth player Chris Childs team up with vocalist Monique Osorio, crafting a blend of composed and improvised rock and modern classical sounds. Mute Sphere takes the Pilot Light stage on Thursday, March 26. 8 p.m. It’s free to anyone who can fit through the door, even if you don’t have a Big Ears pass.


The Rev. Fred Lane is currently setting the South ablaze with the arrival of Icepick To the Moon, his first album over 30 years. The album finds the Auburn, Alabama auteur backed by a group known as the Disheveled Monkey Biters, aka the Edgewood Saxophone Trio (Jeff Crompton, Ben Davis, and Bill Nittler). Rev. Fred Lane and the Disheveled Monkey Biters play The Standard on Friday, March 27. 9 p.m.


W8ing4UFOs photo by Karen Haim.

Coded deeply within W8ing4UFOs’ DNA is a dense and secret history of Atlanta music. Singer and guitarist Bill Taft, cellist Brian Halloran, and percussionist Will Fratesi’s time together reaches all the back to Cabbagetown in the early ‘90s, sharing stages with Southern firebrand Benjamin in the band Smoke. Producer, songwriter, and keyboard player Billy Fields is like the angel Virgil of Atlanta music, leading the way out of darkness into the light. His resume boasts a lifetime spent playing music with a variety of acts such as Follow For Now, Seek, Upstream, Lust, Arrested Development, Dionne Farris, and H.R. of Bad Brains’ Human Rights outfit. Alongside guitar player Sean Dunn of Athens’ indie rock outfit Five-Eight and viola player and Radon Recordings co-owner Katie Butler, the group creates a mighty sound steeped in the kind of steel-stringed anti-gospel defiance that can only be forged in the forgotten underbelly of the Southern Piedmont. W8ing4UFOs plays two shows at The Pilot LightFriday, March 27 at 9 p.m., and Saturday, March 28 at 3 p.m.


Dust-To-Digital co-owner Lance Ledbetter joins Nathan Salsburg, curator of the Alan Lomax Archive, for a listening session and discussion of selected artists, repertoires, and site-specific musical communities, including archival recordings from Ledbetter’s nonprofit organization Music Memory. At Boyd’s Jig & Reel. Sunday, March 29. 2-3 p.m.

Check out the rest of the lineup at www.BigEarsFestival.org.