I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Randy Gue for Emory University’s Rose Library presents: Atlanta Intersections podcast. We talked about my move to the South in the late ’90s, Atlanta’s underground punk and hardcore music scenes, making sense of it all, and more. Press play!
Just five words — “I believe this is home.”
The title track that opens Clay Harper’s latest album, Dirt Yard Street, culminates with an intimate mantra repeated over and over again. The song is a quiet salvo that brings a lifelong journey for the beloved singer and songwriter to a place of peaceful acceptance. It’s also the beginning of a new chapter for Harper. Every lingering note and every story told throughout Dirt Yard Street feels like a snapshot capturing a night-in-the-life from long ago, when desperate and beautiful characters wandered hopelessly into the blackness of night on the unforgiving streets of Atlanta, GA, New York City, and Paris, France—all cities where Harper has lived and struggled, but never felt settled.
Forever searching for a place to call home, Harper has navigated a long career championing the underdog with bittersweet songs filled with lyrical dramatics that exist outside the realm of punk, new wave, and rock ‘n’ roll. Over the years, he has teamed up with countless gifted musicians, who’ve helped him bestow his words with colorful musical arrangements—each performer leaving a lasting impression on him. The characters that live in Harper’s songs have always been a world-weary bunch. With Dirt Yard Street, their broken spirits ascend to a higher level; the dark horses become vessels for reconciliation. As the album proves, though, when finding resolve in life, the only way out is through.
Dirt Yard Street is also a companion, of sorts, pushing beyond his 2018 CD, Bleak Beauty. If that album is taken as a meditation on death and losing the love of his life to cancer, leaving an awful lot of unfinished business behind, Dirt Yard Street is about finding new balance in life and moving forward. Each song takes a lingering and glassy-eyed look back at characters with whom he has crossed paths over the years, who now personify abstract emotional states—grief, wonder, strength, and defeat. For as rich as this all sounds, Harper seems reluctant to spell out the haunting nuances and thick atmosphere of Dirt Yard Street using such simple terms.
“The theme of the album, if you want to boil it down to that, is about trying to find your place in this world, where you are at home,” Harper says. “How do you accept that instead of continually plotting to change it?”
Harper’s songwriting has never shied away from the dark side of the human condition. In 1988, his band the Coolies released Doug, a bombastic rock opera that tells a tale about a skinhead who murders a transvestite who works as a cook. As the story unfolds, the antihero finds a life of fame and riches after selling his victim’s cookbook, only to fall victim himself to the indulgences that fame brings. Doug was the follow-up to the Coolies’ 1986 debut album, Dig ..?, a 10-song LP featuring nihilistic punk covers of Simon & Garfunkel songs, released by DB Recs, early home to Pylon, the B-52’s, Kevin Dunn, and more.
Other albums are steeped in broad strokes of off-the-wall themes that extend beyond the music. His 1998 collaboration with brother Mark Harper, titled Not Dogs…Too Simple (A Tale Of Two Kitties), falls somewhere between a children’s album and a rock opera and features contributions from Ian Dury, Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground, Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s, and illustrations by cartoonist Jack Logan. A 2000 collaboration with Kevn Kinney of Drivin N Cryin titled Main Street is a soundtrack to a film that does not exist, complete with vignettes of turbulent dialogue piecing a story together.
“Clay can delve into extremely dark material while maintaining a sense of sweetness and innocence,” Kinney says. “He is cinematic in how he writes songs that tell stories, and he’s not afraid to try radically different things! There have been times when he played a song for me, something he’d played for me before, but as a reggae song. Now it’s played with a harp, or in a totally different way. He has an ability to see how multifaceted a song is, and how its meaning can become something totally different.”
Kinney and Harper have been friends since they met in the Atlanta music scene circa 1985. They’ve worked together on many releases. Kinney is credited as a co-writer of the song “Come To My House,” on Dirt Yard Street. The song, which is built around the structure of Zen philosopher Alan Watts reciting the words “I love you.” Taken at face value, “Come To My House” exposes Harper’s desire for a lasting connection with others, while pushing away from superficial relationships.
Harper’s 2013 CD Old Airport Road builds story elements based on recordings he made from a telepersonals phone number—prostitution ads. In the album’s opener, “Ole Ray,” Atlanta’s Empress of the Blues, Sandra Hall, blurts out, “Hey motherfucker!” over and over again. From there, the album hangs in a balance of absurd hilarity and utter tragedy
“I have always looked at things in multidimensional ways,” Harper says. “I used to listen to movie soundtracks when I was a kid. Often, there were little clips from the actual movie between songs. I always loved that.”
The goal for many of his recording projects was to introduce additional forms of art—layers of entertainment—under the guise of a simple record. Bleak Beauty marked a sea change, taking shape as a truly identifiable work of art. On the surface,the album functions like a straight-ahead song-to-song listening experience. But the honesty and eloquence poured into each number is palpable. Songs such as “The Kindness Of Strangers,” “Let Me Sleep, I’m So Tired,” and “I’m Not High” embrace a real-time exploration of personal heartache to a degree that reaches deeper and higher than most contemporary musical experiences.
Dirt Yard Street picks up where Bleak Beauty left off; the music is set in motion by sparse and lilting dulcimer strings picked by Tom Gray, who is best known for fronting ’80s new wave band the Brains and the alternative Americana act Delta Moon. Harper and Gray have been friends since the ’80s, and Gray has played on several of Harper’s projects over the years, including many released throughout the ’90s on Harper’s Casino Music, which was owned and operated by Harper and producer, cover artist, and former road manager of the Clash, Kosmo Vinyl. Casino Royale was a vinyl offshoot label used primarily as a vehicle for the “Clay Harper 45 of the month club” subscription series, featuring mostly singles by Harper, along with one-off 7-inches by Drivin N Cryin and the New York City band Jack Black.
Over the years, Tom Gray’s band Delta Moon has also cut several tracks as Harper’s rhythm section. With “Dirt Yard Street,” the two artists keep the song bare-bones and ease their way into a spacious and warm resonance. Harper’s voice drifts over Gray’s bronze dulcimer and Dobro strings, opening the door for songs with titles such as “All the Mail Comes To Neighbor,” “Life On a Windowsill,” and “Somewhere There’s a Fire Waiting.” Each one moves with a ghostly traipse, carved out of heavy emotional atmosphere and texture.
Every song tells its own story, but when taken in as a whole, the album undulates with memories and ideas drifting in and out of focus, like a soft, poetic dreamscape echoing Harper’s life. It’s not nostalgia he’s after. But from the first few notes of “Dirt Yard Street,” Harper revels in his powerful and evocative reminiscence before moving on.
“Clay knew precisely what he wanted on the dulcimer, and I stuck to that,” Gray says. “Then he turned around and gave me free rein on the Dobro. I had no clue about what he had in mind for the album’s bigger picture. We focused on the song.”
As the album unfolds, different configurations of musicians, including Gray, pianist Chris Case, saxophone player Eric Fontaine, bass player Jordan Dayan, guitar players Mark Harper and Keith Joyner, backing vocalist Marshall Ruffin, banjo player Rick Taylor, and violin player Ana Balka fill out the arrangements for each number.
The basic idea for each song is formed before other musicians come in to help bring the material to life. Lyrics are Harper’s forte, and there’s a deliberate sound that he wants to achieve with each piece of music. “He is a fan of slow and sparse, slower than some folks are comfortable with,” says Chris Case, who plays on many songs throughout Bleak Beauty and Dirt Yard Street. “The arrangements are simple, but they require a lot of restraint to play well. I try to always keep in mind the characters he is describing—his directions are mostly about the story,” he adds.
Case goes on to say that Harper represents the best parts of this city. “He is fiercely independent, and not afraid to mix it up with the unsung and unwashed. His lyrics tend to be little character studies of people on the edge, homeless drunken sunrises, down-on-their-luck lovers. I’m always like, ‘Oh yeah, I know these people.’”
In May of 2018, Case joined Harper, guitar player Marshall Ruffin, and bass player Jordan Dayan for a month-long residency at Avondale Towne Cinema. “My favorite time was when we were working up a track for those Avondale shows and he was like, ‘Hmmm … It’s too happy right now. I need it to sound like somebody who’s drunk outside the liquor store in the morning waiting to open so they can buy a rope.’ That’s direction I can work with!”
Another player on the album, Ana Balka, moved to Atlanta from San Francisco in May of 1993. She met Clay and Mark, who needed a violin player for their band, the Ottoman Empire. The band’s album Lester Square had already been recorded with Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl playing violin, and Pearl had recently left town for work. Balka took up violin in the group and played several shows throughout the winter and spring, and then she left town as well.
The Ottoman Empire’s 2004 album, Ottoman Gold, was produced by Eric Goulden, aka Wreckless Eric, who scored his most famous hit with the 1977 single “Whole Wide World” for Stiff Records. Wreckless Eric played throughout Ottoman Gold and took the lead vocal on the song “Stages.” He and Harper continued working together over the years on several albums, including Harper’s 1997 CD, East of Easter.
In his impressionistic way, Harper relives the story of traveling to Paris and getting to know Wreckless Eric in the early ’90s in the song called “Life on a Windowsill.”
“I had always been a fan of Wreckless Eric,” Harper says. “I got to see him play at the Agora in ’78, when he came through with the Stiffs. I loved those records; they really made an impression on me, but then he disappeared. At some point I went into Wax N Facts in Little Five Points and I found his Le Beat Group Électrique LP, which had just come out, and it was mind-blowing. It was low-fi, nothing like I was expecting, and I wouldn’t stop listening to it. I thought, ‘Okay, I gotta go find him!’”
Harper made a pilgrimage to Paris, where he met guitar player Martin Stone. The late guitarist Stone had played in the Pink Fairies, Savoy Brown, and alongside the Residents’ guitarist Snakefinger in the bands Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. He was on a shortlist to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones, and as it turns out, Wreckless Eric had been playing guitar with him. Harper and Stone became friends, but he did not meet Eric on that trip.
Later, he found out that Stone and Eric were playing a show together at a club near the Bastille called Au Père Tranquille. So he made a second trek to Paris, and they became friends. “‘Life On A Windowsill’ is all me and Eric walking down the Rue Saint-Denis, which used to be the hooker track in Paris,” Harper says. “It’s all changed now.”
Harper’s residency at Avondale Towne Cinema coincided with the release of Bleak Beauty and brought together people from all areas and eras of his life. “I think on the second Tuesday of that run Clay introduced me to Murray Attaway of Guadalcanal Diary and suggested we work something up for the final Tuesday, when people were covering some of Clay’s songs from throughout the years,” Ana Balka says.
Attaway and Balka hit it off immediately and shared in the chemistry that the weekly mix of themed music and spoken word performances conjured up. Their contribution to the final night of the residency included a take on “Train” from the Ottoman Empire’s Lester Square and a mashup of “Poverty” and “Coke Light Ice” from the Coolies’ Doug.
“It’s important to make events reflect, pay respect, and bring together the art community of Atlanta,” Harper says. “That was the goal. Not, ‘I like that band … I hate that band,’ but more like, ‘Let’s see what’s happening’ and then maybe … let’s do something!’”
Each night, the program began with conversations between people who’ve been a part of Harper’s life: Kosmo Vinyl told stories about his work as an artist before, during, and after his time with the Clash. Lawyer Daniel Kane hosted a talk called “Meet the Convicts,” examining life in and out of the American prison system. Author Anthony DeCurtis read from and discussed his recent biography, Lou Reed: A Life. He also performed a live set, singing Lou Reed songs with Andy Browne of the band Lynx Deluxe and formerly of the Nightporters. Ponce De Leon Ave. impresario Tom Zarrilli explored the city’s art and performance scene from the late ’70s with a talk titled “So you think you know Atlanta,” with guests including Clare Butler of the Now Explosion. Other artists such as Evereman, The Real Frank Tee, Sad Stove, and more were also featured throughout the month.
“The whole month was a great example of the way he connects people and ideas, and isn’t afraid to go out on a limb to make things happen,” Balka adds.
For Dirt Yard Street, Balka was enlisted to play strings on two deep cuts on the B-side, “All the Mail Comes to Neighbor” and “Somewhere There’s a Fire Waiting.”
“Clay had a clear idea of the kind of sound he was looking for on ‘All the Mail …,’” Balka says. “An unembellished, straightforward and minimal tone. Which was what the song needed, and what seemed true, so that was easy. These songs aren’t looking for backflips or ornate flourishes. He wants textures to create an atmosphere and to hold up a narrative woven from some pretty heavy emotions.”
After they whittled down a few ideas together, Balka’s part in “Somewhere There’s a Fire Waiting” took shape in a simple line. “We work well together because, while I love sussing out whatever it is that a song I didn’t write needs from me—if anything—it’s also great when the writer has a clear idea of what they’re looking for,” Balka says. “When you hear it the same way they do and can make the right thing happen, that’s the best.”
For Harper, Atlanta is home for all intents and purposes. He co-founded the La Fonda Latina and Fellini’s Pizza restaurant chains with business partner Mike Nelson. When not writing and recording music he’s also involved in various other endeavors. In May of 2019, he partnered with Tom Zarrilli to open Gallery 378, a low-key art gallery and performance space in Candler Park around the corner from The Flying Biscuit Café. The gallery was established as a pop-up space for underdog artists, and has hosted openings by Avondale Estates painter Jim Wakeman, titled “A Slice of the Pop Culture Pie,” as well as openings by The Real Frank Tee, Lisa Shinault Fratesi, Rose M. Barron, Atlanta rock photographer Rick Diamond, and more. Drivin N Cryin played a full band set there. Kevn Kinney and Tim Nielsen, and Harper himself have performed live acoustic performances there as well.
The cover art for Dirt Yard Street features a photograph of a half-cluttered, half-bucolic neighborhood scene taken in Carrollton, Georgia. One of the houses in the background is where Harper’s family lived after moving there from Philadelphia when he was just a kid. “That’s where the album’s title comes from,” Harper says. “It was such a rough transitional period, you know? You look at these houses and you understand that whatever it was that happened in your life could have easily led you there. I was led there beyond my control, and I could be there. It’s not like it’s the worst place in the world to be, but that ain’t where I want to be.”
With two masterfully created albums behind him — Bleak Beauty and Dirt Yard Street — Harper is at home in the world.
— Chad Radford
Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery has announced a new location opening in early 2021 at 515 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., in a historic industrial corridor near the West End, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsville, and Adair Park.
In a press release issued September 29, Eyedrum states that this new location will feature a “flexible 3,000 square-foot interior including a small dedicated gallery, an outdoor stage, and a courtyard for programming.”
The press release also states that Eyedrum will carry on with its legacy as “a home to underserved, emerging artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers. In times of uncertainty, members of the community need arts spaces now more than ever.”
In June of 2018, Eyedrum, along with fellow DIY arts and music space Mammal were forced to close after a nearby fire on Broad Street SW left one man dead. Soon after, both business were forced to leave their Downtown locations permanently.
Two years later, Eyedrum’s announcement comes as a beacon of hope for an underserved community of artists and musicians. In a 2011 CL cover story that I co-authored with Wyatt Williams, title Eyedrum: An Oral History, we described that scene as “those willing to embrace music and arts that are as contemptuous as they were conscientious. Indie rock acts as varied as Oneida, Don Caballero, and the Black Heart Procession to Simeon Coxe of the Silver Apples to DJ Cut Chemist all performed there amid exhibitions with titles such as The Penis Show, Switch, and Liquid Smoke.”
With the recent closure of the Bakery in Oakland City, Atlanta needs a venue that this community can call home, now more than ever.
Eyedrum’s new home sits adjacent to Parts Authority, an automobile parts and supplies facility.
Deisha Oliver, a member of Eyedrum’s board of directors, says the gallery and performance venue is renting “a 3,000 square foot portion of 515. The building owner has been so kind as to do the needed build out of our portion of that space.”
To keep Eyedrum’s endeavors moving forward, an effort to raise funds is underway, with plans to facilitate virtual programming, and to support the staff and curatorial budget for the next five years. A new website is planned for launch soon, which will offer membership options.
In the meantime, click here to donate to Eyedrum.
More information will be available here as soon as it becomes available.
Read more about the history of Eyedrum.
Eyedrum: An Oral History by Chad Radford and Wyatt Williams
Eyedrum Turns 20 by Chad Radford and Doug DeLoach
Breathing new life into South Downtown: Can Atlanta’s arts communities survive and thrive in an area primed for drastic change? by Sean Keenan
Can Downtown’s art scene survive developers? “We’re faced with a challenge posed by a city developing too quickly” by Sean Keenan
Downtown DIY heads out: Mammal Gallery and Eyedrum face the end of an era by Chad Radford and Sean Keenan
Two new releases that bear the mark of Past Now Tomorrow were by no means created as companion pieces. But Whispers Of Night’s The Dead Blessing, and the Leo Suarez + Majid Araim + Ben Shirley trio’s voice resolve are forever bound by time, place, physical aesthetics, and a dedication to pushing improvised music into deeper and higher plains of the imagination.
At the core of both releases stands the duo of cello player and Past Now Tomorrow label owner Ben Shirley and mandolin player Majid Araim. Together, they’ve fleshed out a singular musical voice while employing an arsenal of instruments—cello, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, recorder, piano, reed organ, Korg MS-20, percussion, walkie talkies, tapes, and radio—to explore a haunted and wildly shifting terrain of musical timbres and colors.
“We did a crazy experiment with a process of overdubbing,” Shirley says of the Whispers Of Night release. “We improvised the initial pieces, then we started overdubbing. But only one of us wore headphones: One of us was listening to and playing along with what was already in the can. The other was responding to what was happening in the room. We traded back and forth, and a submerged musical composition rose up out of the ether as we went along,” he adds.
They recorded the sessions for The Dead Blessing using both a 4-Track and a computer. When finished, they spent weeks mixing it all together before Ben Price at Studilaroche put the final mastering touches on the five cavernous pieces presented here.
For voice resolve [sic.], Araim and Shirley teamed up with Philadelphia-based percussionist Leo Suarez to record a stripped-down early morning improv session—Shirley stuck with his cello, and Majid with a mandolin, violin, and his voice. Press play on the opening number, “Morning Of A Georgia Faun,” and the session sputters to life. The opening number’s title alone calls to mind Shirley’s former band—Faun And A Pan Flute—and Georgia native and saxophonist Marion Brown’s pastoral 1970 album Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun (ECM). Both provide heady context, and the song serves as an excellent entrypoint for the album’s lush and quietly calamitous survey of Georgia’s avant-garde landscape. The music is beautiful, abstract, and reflexive as songs such as “Let The Fish Gossip,” and “Grass So Soft” draw out tension in a subtle cacophony of sounds summoned from the depths of the subconscious minds of three players who all have their antennae dialed into the same frequencies.
Prior to this session, Suarez, Araim, and Shirley had jammed together sporadically while Whispers Of Night was on the road playing shows around the country. In June of 2019, after Suarez played a show at the Magic Lantern, the three reconvened at 8 a.m. to roll tape. Ofir Klemperer recorded the session as they all locked in with their instruments. Aside from one small, imperceptible cut, the session went down as is.
“We consciously chose to make the trio not Leo + Whispers, as we conceived of it as each individual bringing their own independent voice to the group, rather than any sort of specific sound,” Shirley says.
Both the Whispers Of Night and Suarez + Araim + Shirley releases live on Past Now Tomorrow’s Bandcamp page. A limited edition of 50 copies of The Dead Blessing and voice resolve on CD can be found on the Bandcamp page as well—not for long, though. The sturdy, cardboard sleeves and hand-assembled cover art brings a tactile element to music that often eludes conventional terms.
“I wanted to have a unifying aesthetic for this set of releases,” Shirley says. “I’m trying to still produce physical things, even though not many people buy them. This way I can make them at a low cost and keep the charge down. I use the least amount of plastic possible, and still have sturdy packaging with a spine on the side—working at WREK, I know that your CD is way more likely to get pulled off the shelf if it has a spine that looks interesting. That’s at least part of the idea.”
Record Store Day 2020 is nigh!
In 2008, RSD was created to help drive traffic to record stores, which, at the time, were an endangered species. Times have changed, and vinyl now reigns supreme among music heads. The local shops that the annual hallmark holiday was invented to save now struggle to make room for the flood of limited edition RSD releases that fill the racks each year.
This year, RSD is spread across three Saturdays — August 29, September 26, and October 24. Georgia is still a hotbed for COVID-19, so things are being handled delicately across the board. If you are venturing out in search of that highly coveted Hawkwind At The BBC 1972 2xLP, Billie Eilish Live At Third Man Records, or anything else from Anoushka Shankar to June of 44, wearing a mask and maintaining at least six feet of distance between your fellow record shopping friends and fiends is a must.
No matter where you go, there you are, standing in line for a minute no matter where you go. But that’s never stopped you before. The following list is a field guide of best bets for your Atlanta RSD experience. Be safe, be cool, and check out the list of RSD official drops here.
CD Warehouse generally opens at 10 a.m., but if there’s a line they’ll open the doors early. Plenty of RSD drops in stock. 50 Barrett Pkwy. Marietta. 770-425-3472 and 2175 Pleasant Hill Rd. 770-623-1552.
Comeback Vinyl‘s physical shop will be closed for all in-store shopping and RSD pick ups. The store will be selling RSD title at Comebackvinyl.com beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time. Keep an eye on their website, email newsletter, Instagram, and Facebook page for a list of titles, prices, and how many of each release they have in stock. 1 South Main St., Alpharetta. 678-580-0583.
Criminal Records is open from 9 a.m. till 7 p.m. Between 9 a.m. and noon they’ll allow five customers in the shop at a time. After 12 p.m. they will allow 12 customers in the shop at a time. Criminal has taken the time to put together a comprehensive list of rules to follow. Click here to find out everything you need to know about shopping at Criminal Records for Record Store Day. 1154 Euclid Ave. N.E. 404-215-9511.
DBS Sounds is the place to be at 4 p.m. when CeeLo Green stops by at 4 p.m. to sign copies of his latest album, titled CeeLo Green Is Thomas Callaway (BMG / Easy Eye Sound). He’ll be signing CDs and LPs. 10 a.m. 7 p.m. 6610 GA-85, Riverdale. 770-997-5776.
Decatur CD & Vinyl is currently closed on the weekends, but they’re posting some RSD drops on the shop’s eBay store beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time. 356 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-371-9090.
Fantasyland Records is stocking as many RSD releases as they can get their hands on, and the shop is opening an hour early (10 a.m). There is no validation required for the entire parking deck for all three RSD dates in August, September, and October—park wherever you’d like on all three levels! Masks are required for entry, and social distancing while waiting in line is a must. Customers may purchase one copy per limited edition RSD title. 360 Pharr Road N.E. 404-237-3193.
Mojo Vinyl is operating at limited capacity from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Five customers will be allowed in at a time between 10 a.m. and noon. After 12 p.m. the doors are open to everyone. Wearing a mask is required for entry, and hand sanitizer is provided at the door. Outside, wearing a mask and no less than six feet distance must be maintained between each customer. The line should form from the side porch and run down the driveway. Take an Uber or a Lyft, or park at the two large lots at the soccer field next door. Each RSD title is limited to one copy per person— first come, first served. Bring a list, be prompt, and remember that we’re all in this together. 26 Webb St. Ste. 2, Roswell. 678-523-5042.
Moods Music, Little Five Points’ premier neo soul, hip-hop, dance, acid jazz, Afro-Cuban, house, funk, and rare grooves music shop is opening an hour early (11 a.m.), and the store is stocked with RSD drops. 1131 Euclid Ave. N.E. 404-653-0724.
Sweet Melissa Records opens at 9 a.m. and is stocked with plenty of this year’s RSD drops. 146 South Park Square Marietta. 770-429-0434.
Waterloo Sunset is stocked with some but not too many of this year’s RSD drops. Stop by for the sidewalk sale featuring $1 LPs from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. 900 Battery Ave. Ste. 1010. 770-989-1967.
Wax N Facts is opening an hour early (10 a.m.) and serving up RSD drops buffet style. Customers may purchase one copy per title. Five customers at a time are allowed in the shop. Bring a list, and be cool. Wearing a mask is required for entry. 432 Moreland Ave. N.E. 404-525-2275.
Wuxtry Records: The usual rules apply. The shop is open from 11 a.m. till 6 p.m., and is fully stocked with RSD titles. Wearing a face mask is required for entry, and the shop allows eight customers in at a time. 2096 N. Decatur Road, Decatur. 404-329-0020.
Did we forget someone? We tried to be as thorough as possible with this year’s list of participating record shops. Drop us a line and let us know.
Simon David is an independent filmmaker from Geneva, Switzerland, who spent three years in Atlanta working on Time And Place, a documentary film that chronicles the life of R&B and soul singer and guitarist Lee Moses.
Moses is considered by many to be an unsung genius, who blended funk, soul, R&B, and psychedelic rock during the late 1960s and early ’70s. He worked closely with fellow Georgia-based musicians such as Hermon Hitson, the Mighty Hannibal, and the Allman Brothers, and he wrote and recorded such R&B hits as “Got That Will” and “Time and Place.” He even cut an early version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” alongside Hendrix himself.
Moses’s gravely voice and his fiery performance made him the star of the Royal Peacock during the club’s late ’60s heyday. Following his death in 1998, his songs such as “Bad Girl,” “Time And Place,” and “How Much Longer (Must I Wait)” have continued to attract a growing fan base around the world. But Moses has become something of a ghost in his hometown.
Time And Place is one of the featured films at this year’s Macon Film Festival (August 13-30). Virtual screenings of Time and Place will take place between 10 a.m. and midnight Aug. 19 and 28. There is also a physical screening on Aug. 23 as part of the Black Cat Picture Show in Augusta.
David took a few minutes to talk about discovering Moses’ music and telling his story with Time And Place.
How did you learn about Lee Moses?
When I was in Belgium studying through a friend who is an African American himself. But it was during a screening of a French movie called House of Tolerance that I heard Lee Moses for the first time and started identifying myself to him. It was Lee’s big hit “Bad Girl.” The song appears at the end of the film.
The film’s subjects are 19th century prostitutes working in a closed brothel, who have quite little knowledge of how things evolve in the world outside the brothel. I had never heard anything quite like “Bad Girl” pt.1 and pt. 2. Such a cry from the heart. Then I started researching, listening, and singing a lot about Lee Moses. I could not understand how little I could find about him on the internet. How he became a ghost. Another thing to know also is that Lee has quite a strong following in countries like France, Belgium, Switzerland, and the UK. Not only by record collectors, but for a generation of kids like me. And that became interesting for me to discover Atlanta (later on), to see how much Lee had kind of disappeared from people’s memories and how unknown he was in his hometown. How the whole soul scene he was part of was unknown. Then I got in contact with some of the closest people to him, like his sister Donia. And the story goes on.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered while tracking down information about Lee?
There weren’t any hurdles with subjects or whatsoever. I always knew it would be impossible to frame Lee as accurately as possible. I knew that there would be a lack of clarity concerning dates for example, talking to subjects, some of whom are quite old and having quite a life behind them. And it was always a wish for me to picture Lee Moses as a mystical and mysterious creature. Giving the audience a feeling almost having more questions than answers after watching the film.
At the beginning of the film, his sister Donia Moses quotes Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I think it summarizes well what I tried to achieve through the doc. And I’ve been lucky to find people trusting me so quickly. Especially since I’m a young white male whose subject is a black musician. I also think I’ve had luck finding people that knew Lee in a matter that wasn’t only musical. And there was so much to say for them, to talk about someone that was such a great brother, friend, and musician for them. I do think, maybe in a very moral way, that it was therapeutic for Doris Moses or Donald High to speak about Lee—to be given an opportunity to honor him.
The one problem I had was finding archives, because no one thought about taking “pictures for posterity,“ as Lee’s sister Donia would say. Very few people around him saw the true genius. It was hard to put a hand on archives (images and footage). Even in public archives it was hard to find anything about Lee and the soul scene from the 1960s and ’70s. I’ve been through most of the public archives of Atlanta (GSU archives, Auburn Avenue Research Library, Atlanta History Center, etc…) but I could barely find anything about the Peacock or the clubs that disappeared. Nothing on clubs like the Palladium (inaugurated by Aretha Franklin!) or Mammie’s Diner where Lee, Hermon, and Jimi would jam with the Allman Brothers in the cellar. It was so frustrating to not find anything. But also so relevant seeing that all these buildings did not exist anymore. For me, Lee has always been a ghost and it was clear for me that I wouldn’t be able to have a well visually documented life.
Why is it important for you to tell Lee’s story?
I completely identified myself to Lee Moses—I still do sometimes. Through his music first of course, through his emotions and cries, through his personality, through his traumas, through his naivety. I have never felt so attached to someone whom I’ve never met. And it’s a weird feeling to feel like you know someone that you never met. It’s irrational even, but I felt so driven, in a very spiritual way.
Of course the other part is that, seeing that Lee had barely any following in Atlanta, it was and is important for me to crystalize Lee’s memory there, because Lee Moses is more than Lee Moses.
I recently caught up with percussionist Chris Frántz to talk about his new memoir, Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and Tina. A Cappella Books hosted the hour-long Zoom chat, during which we talked about everything from Talking Heads’ early days at CBGB and the hardcore matinees that saved the club in the ’80s to the group’s first time playing Atlanta and hanging out with the Fans and the B-52’s.
Frántz’s book is out now via St. Martin’s Press, and it’s a truly great read. Remain in Love tells the story of a passionate band that brought a tremendous vision to American music by being in the right place at the right time, and by thinking with their eyes and their ears.
And if you’ve ever wondered what exactly David Byrne was doing with that arm-chop gesture in the “Once In A Lifetime” video—you know the one—press play above.
Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and Tina is available via A Cappella Books.
Bryan Malone, the long-standing Star Bar promoter and guitar player with Atlanta rockers the Forty-Fives and Bad Spell hosts a weekly live streaming variety show from his home in Pendleton Manor.
Every Thursday night at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Malone takes a different approach to live streaming performances, ranging from Kinks and Ramones-themed rock ‘n’ roll dance parties to root beer float appreciation nights. On August 13, Malone is hosting a Garden Party—virtually, of course—with the Post-Apocalyptic Malone Show and Pet Showcase. Send in a photo of your favorite pet and receive a post-apocalyptic shout out. This week’s setlist also features Malone performing songs by Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, the Beatles, and more.
In the meantime, Malone took a few minutes to talk about how the show comes together each week, the state of the Star Bar, and the power of live music—even when it’s pre-recorded.
What prompted you to start hosting your own live streaming performances?
Well, I didn’t really have any money coming in. The Star Bar closed down on New Year’s Eve, and I found myself out of work. I had a feeling it was coming, so I was prepared to take a few months off. But when it happened I didn’t know there was going to be a pandemic. By the time March rolled around and things started getting serious I looked at the calendar and thought, “man, this could go on for a long time.” I had never done anything even remotely like a live stream, much less ever really even played a solo show live. So this was a big step for me. I felt cornered, and I had to do something to make some kind of money. I noticed that other people were doing shows online. I watched several of them and thought maybe I’ll give this a shot and see if I can pull it off.
Do you feel like you’re pulling it off?
There are varying degrees of success with everybody, but I try to make my shows a little different: I don’t just play music. I have little segments, I tell dumb jokes, show videos, and do all kinds of different stuff. Of course, it’s always based on the music, but I try to make it as close to a variety show as possible.
What kind of a software do you use to toggle between each part?
It’s an OBS—online broadcasting software—and I think it’s originally meant for gamers, so people can play video games online with each other. When I started doing this the sound was terrible. It had this fishbowl sound, and there was no way to control it. You can’t monitor it because you’re live-streaming. There is no playback, so you’re putting yourself out there without a net. It took me two or three shows to realize I’ve got to fix this. So I started working with software and it started sounding better. It’s an ongoing struggle.
I started watching Kimono My House live streams, and Kenosha Kid, Cicada Rhythm, and Adron did a really well-produced live streaming variety show …
Adron is great anyway, but one of the things that helps her so much is that her performances are quiet. She plays very subtly, and it’s soft, which is conducive to this kind of setup. The louder you get the more problems you run into—at least that’s how it’s been for me.
What have you learned that helps overcome the problems you encounter when presenting loud music?
Each week is different. I started running my stuff through an 8-track, and I started using microphones and the OBS software, trying to balance it all out. It’s a wild ride. I’ve definitely gotten better at it. At first it was pretty rough, and I didn’t know what was happening.
But using a microphone makes a huge difference. I thought I would be able to do it by just sitting in front of my computer with an acoustic guitar. I was used to playing in clubs, and playing on stage. So I was really going for it and belting it out, and I was overloading the little mic on the computer. There was no way to control it, and even though I kept trying to adjust my personal volume it was just crazy.
Success varies from week to week. I put a lot of work into the show, and try to make each one different—I try to make each one an event. Quickly, I realized that I can’t play the same set every week, or no one’s going to come back. So every week I learn an entirely new set (for the most part). I usually do 10-to-12 songs and I mix it up with a lot of originals, and a lot of covers. I’m learning all this new material, and it’s been really good for me as a musician, regardless of circumstances, because I’m forced to learn new material every week.
I’ll do theme nights: I did a Kinks night where I played all Kinks songs, or I did a Ramones night and played all Ramones stuff. Or I’ll do a night where I play songs by one of my bands, like an all Bad Spell night, or something like that. Some nights it’s just a free-for-all. I’ll play songs by the Who, and I’ll take requests. People will say “I want to hear this song, not that song,” So I’ll write all this stuff down and say “let me learn it,” or “I already know that one and I’ll play it!”
I picked Thursdays because I was watching Kimono My House and I noticed a lot of people playing on weekends. So I thought, “Everyone’s just sitting around anyway, so a weeknight might be better.” I picked Thursday. Then I kinda fell into that slot. After a while people were kind of expecting me to come on and play every Thursday night, so I stuck with it.
How has the response been?
I usually get a pretty good response. One of the fun things about it is you have a lot of friends who log on, so it’s kind of like a little chat room. People start talking: “I love this song,” or “Hey, how are you?” People are socializing inside this little bubble. I realized that pretty quickly. So I started making it as interactive as possible, and engaging in conversation with people. That makes it a whole lot of fun.
How do you promote your live streams? Do you put up fliers in Little Five Points or are you relying on Facebook?
I do everything online. I promote it through Facebook, and I’ll promote it on Instagram, and that’s about it so far. Sometimes I’ll make a little promo video—a short thing that I can share. I am doing it mostly on Facebook, but I’m going to start doing a YouTube live stream as well.
I recently did an afternoon pop-up show with Kimono My House. I didn’t really announce that one, I just set up my phone and went live, like, “Hey, I’m going to play a bunch of stuff, whatever comes to mind!” I took requests and whatnot.
Trying to navigate the Facebook algorithm is maddening.
I know! They make it as complicated as possible. And it always seems like once you start figuring it out they change it. You’re constantly chasing that ball, trying to figure out what’s going on.
Are your live streams available afterward, or is it still like you have to be here now kind of set up?
You don’t have to be there; they’re still available on Facebook. After the show, I will put them up on YouTube for my family—my dad doesn’t watch stuff on Facebook. He watches YouTube on his TV. So, I’ll do some of that but it is a lot more fun when you’re watching it live. That’s when you’re getting interaction with all the other people who are watching. That’s one element that you will miss when you’re watching the replay.
You run the Star Bar’s “Almost Live From Little 5 Points” live streams as well.
Yeah, we do them on some Sunday nights. We can’t book any live shows right now due to social distancing measures, and there aren’t going to be any live shows in a sweaty, windowless bar for quite a while—maybe next year. So people send me tapes—I use the word tapes because I’m an old guy—or videos of them performing a song. Then I put them all together and have Ted Weldon host. Then I transmit that as a live show. Even though it’s prerecorded, I put it all together and broadcast live. That’s why it’s Almost Live From Little Five …
Each song has its introduction and then the song plays. I’ll have like 10 or 12 different videos ready and throughout the program I put them together and transmit them live.
Is this a new skill for you?
Oh yeah, absolutely. This is all brand new for me. I’ve never done anything like this before. I have definitely learned a lot in the way of editing videos, putting stuff together, and live streaming. It’s something that I never thought I would ever do. But it’s like that old saying about necessity goes … I had to do something, and this is a lot of fun! I’m like a lot of people, and a lot of people miss live music. They miss seeing people perform, and so I think this is a pretty good thing for everybody.
I recently attended Gallery 992’s Sunday night jazz session, which they’re now doing outside, in a vacant lot across the street. It was a profound experience; I didn’t realize how much I missed, and needed to engage with live music!
There really is no substitute for watching musicians perform in front of you. That’s something that cannot be replaced. The live stream is the closest that I have been able to come to that. And that’s one of the things I love about the live streams—especially when I do my stream. It is live! I am playing in real time, so you get the bumps and bruises that come with it, man. It’s something that happens when you’re learning 10 new songs every week. You learn that some songs work better than others.
I think that is what people crave—spontaneity.
It’s a lot of fun, and it has allowed me to reconnect with people whom I haven’t seen in a while. I’ll have people watching from all over the country—people from everywhere tuning in, and I’m like, “Hey there’s my buddy from San Francisco, or there’s so and so from New York!” It really has been a lot of fun.
How is the Star Bar coming along?
They’ve done a lot of work on the bar, and it looks really good. The upstairs is closed, but they are open downstairs. They’re doing patio service, so you can get a drink and sit outside. You can go into the lounge downstairs, which has been redone. They moved the bar—you know when you come in through the back door and go around the corner, that bar was right up to the door. They’ve moved that back a little bit, so it doesn’t cause a bottleneck right there anymore. They have a couple of pinball machines in there now, and they have a couple of booths in the back, so it’s starting to look like its own little bar down there, which is nice.
Tune in to the Post-Apocalyptic Malone show via Facebook every Thursday night at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.
With the arrival of his fourth and latest LP, Mood Lighting, Mathis Hunter checked in to talk about collaborating with Brigitte Choudhary on the album’s second video, “Don’t Be Long.” This latest offering finds the singer, multi-instrumentalist, and longtime Atlanta music denizen offering a more direct—albeit multi-hued—take on his psychedelic songwriting. Hunter took a few minutes to talk about the music, the inspiration behind the song’s visuals, and what he has in store for the future.
The color palette of the “Don’t Be Long” video perfectly matches the album’s cover art. What did you have in mind when you were putting this all together?
Brigitte Choudhary, a recent Atlanta transplant from Miami, shot and directed the video. We didn’t have much of a plan together when we went into it, other than we had scouted the empty field and I think we both knew it would match the color palette and theme of the song. We also came up with the idea of a green screen video of me playing bass and drums. I played all the instruments on this particular song besides the lap steel, so we thought the green screen would get across the home recording vibe. Once she started editing, we realized we had undershot footage, so we ended up going back and just making shapes and patterns out of things like the foam soundproofing in the studio. We both thought they looked cool, and they definitely helped tie all the shots together and soften the cuts. Those shots ended up being the glue.
We left some things in the field and went back two days later to look for them, and the entire field had been mowed, so the timing of that shot was uncanny. It was also very windy the day of shooting and there’s a really interesting shot where you can see the shadow of a cloud blow across the field in like five seconds.
There is no intended narrative, but all of this paints a picture of what the song is about.
While I was working on the album, I was reading a book by Pema Chodron, called When Things Fall Apart, and trying to get comfortable with the idea that not all chapters go exactly how you want them to, and that it’s all part of the ride. She hits on this idea that our minds seem almost pre-programmed to try and come to a conclusion, to search for definitive answers and a solid ground to stand on, and the reality of it is, that just doesn’t exist. Things are always in a constant state of change, and nothing is permanent on a micro or macro level. I found some solace in that idea and a lot of those sentiments influenced some of the lyrics on the record.
During this same time, the lap steel and other guitar player in the band, Andy Morrison, was trying to cheer me up. He was on some sort of rant about how different it is to raise kids versus being young and single, having a career, etc. The point was that there’s all kinds of variations in what can be going on in your life, and he stated, “it’s all just mood lighting”—a background more or less—to the overarching story of your life. It hit me that it was a fairly zen sentiment whether he meant it to be or not, almost mirroring what Pema was saying about everything is just in a constant state of change, and not to get too attached to whether it was good or bad. That’s where I got the title for the song, and then eventually thought that phrase summed up the overall mood of the record quite well.
It’s so strange that I was working through these types of themes on a personal level, and now just a year later, our entire society seems to be going through an unraveling and great change. In the short run it’s always challenging, but in the long run it seems almost certain something better will emerge.
The chorus of the song is: “If you’re looking back, I got your back. If you’re headed out, please don’t be long.”
It’s the kind of song in which you’re speaking to a person who will never actually hear what you’re saying, but you just have to say it anyway. At the very least, speak or sing it out into the void, clear the energy.
Bringing urgency to such melancholy lyrics is no easy chore. This is a melancholy album, but I’d say it’s more of a moving on album rather than a break up album.
It’s definitely a “getting used to disruption in your life” themed album; change is the only constant. It’s sort of an unfolding of the initial uncomfortableness of that idea, and learning to move on. Honestly, it was helpful to be able to work through a lot of the emotions by writing.
I have always honed in on the psychedelic qualities in your songwriting. With “Don’t Be Long” you’ve paired that with visuals that are even more abstract—long crossfades …
But at the same time, I’ve always done these images that are abstract and this is the first video where you can actually clearly see me playing the song (laughs). In fact, I deliberately went with a photograph for the album cover instead of the usual fantasy fare I gravitate towards to hopefully convey that there was something a little more direct musically and lyrically with this album. There’s a lot less swords and sorcery psychedelia on this one than some of the previous records, although I’m sure I’ll get back to those types of themes (laughs).
What’s next for you?
Since no one knows how long it will be till anyone can play shows again, we decided to record a live set in our practice space/studio, Alpha Centauri. Brigitte also filmed these performances which is cool because as you mentioned earlier her color palette is really in line with the sounds we make. We should start getting these up on the Youtube channel soon.
Mathis Hunter’s Mood Lighting is available now via Leylines/Chunklet Industries.
Nobody writes like Blake Butler. The Marietta-based author and editor has spent over a decade sharpening a stylishly grotesque approach to storytelling that draws comparisons to everyone from Dennis Cooper to Williams S. Burroughs. His words and ideas twist and turn inward, dissecting themselves, and revealing layers of depth and multiple meanings that linger in the mind long after the page is turned. With his latest novel, Alice Knott (Riverhead Books), Butler weaves an hypnotic and wildly inventive story about the destructive act of finding meaning in art, and navigating a world that grows more corrupt by the minute.
On Thursday, July 30, at 8 p.m. (EST), Butler will join Atlanta Music writer Chad Radford and A Cappella Books for a discussion of his new book and more. The conversation is free to attend via Zoom. Click here to join the event.
In January, post-punk outfit Algiers released their third album, There Is No Year via Matador Records. The album takes its name from Butler’s dystopia third novel. Before Butler’s talk, Algiers guitar player Lee Tesche took a few minutes to talk about Butler’s influence on the group.
Chad Radford: This year, Algiers released a new album that takes its title from Blake Butler’s 2011 novel, There Is No Year.
Lee Tesche: Yes. I met Blake in probably 1997, or maybe it ’98. … Someone recently posted a handbill from the DIY show listings back in the ‘90s on the Old School Atlanta Musicians Facebook group. The handbill had a listing for the first show that Blake and I played together. I was in F-64 and Blake was in Manhattan. It was at Sprockets, which was a bike shop in Roswell that hosted DIY shows for about a year. That was kind of when we met—we met through music and playing in bands in the late ‘90s. We went to different high schools, but it was through that show that we got to know each other. We’ve known each other for a really long time now, and, funny enough, There Is No Year is not the first album that I’ve done that had a Blake reference in the title. The first Lyonnais record, Want For Wish For Nowhere, is also named after a chapter in Blake’s book Scorch Atlas.
I had no idea.
The title for Algiers record There Is No Year, happened in a more roundabout way: it was suggested by my bandmates, whom I think didn’t realize that either. It made me laugh, and I said, ‘okay, cool. That’ll be my second Blake-related record!’
I remember seeing Blake play with the band Sleep Therapy at MJQ, probably 15 years ago, back when MJQ still did shows in the big room.
Blake is an awesome individual, and I’m curious to hear how he’s doing these days, and to hear him talk about the new book. I’ve been living in Florida since the pandemic started, and I haven’t seen much of anyone. But the new book is on my list.
I am a slow reader, and have found that with Blake’s books I need to read some lines, or sometimes entire chapters, twice just to make sure I fully comprehend what he’s saying.
I am the exact same way, and I read Blake even more slowly than usual, because he does so much with language. I’ll pour over every single word—more than I do with anything else that I read—to the point where I’ll do that too, read sentences and passages over and over again, just to make sure I’m pulling the full meaning that he was trying to get across.
Blake has a way of honing in on an idea, even if it’s a passing thought, a character trait, or a description; he’ll say it one way and then say it again in four different sentences in four different ways. It’s like he’s doing loops around his ideas and the details he wants to convey. I’ve never encountered anyone who writes like this.
Yeah, and after I had reached out to him to let him know that we were calling the record There Is No Year, and hopefully get his blessing, I thought it would make sense to have him write the bio for the record—to send out for press. He was into it, and he was happy to write the bio. He’s written a ton of music reviews, but he kind of hinted that there are several people out there who’d be a lot better, and who have more experience in writing bios. But I was like, ‘No! This is super appropriate for this album!’ And so he wrote his first draft of the bio in the language of that book. I thought it was brilliant. But Matador and the publishing people took one look at it and said “no … Absolutely not. We can’t send this out to writers!” I thought it was such a clever way to go about writing a bio for a record that’s named after his book. And it was just really clever stuff.
Are there overlapping themes between the book and Algiers’ album?
I read the book when it came out in 2011. I remember both Farbod Kokabi, who designed the album’s cover art, and I read the book at same time, and it took both of us like three or four months to finish it. We went through it really slowly, and it felt like an accomplishment when we both finished.
Our bass player Ryan Mahan has always been a huge fan of Blake’s work as well. When we were finishing the record, Ryan was reading Franklin [James Fisher]’s song lyrics. Frank had just been pulling from his own literary tradition—actually, I think Frank and Blake went to highschool together in Marietta in the late ‘90s. Anyway, when Ryan was reading Frank’s stuff it reminded him of the spirit of Blake’s writing, particularly in that book. Thematically, it was dealing with much of the same subject matter. Ryan suggested the titles as a kind of tribute to Blake, and a nod to some of the overlapping similarities that we saw, and it stuck.
Now it’s such an amazingly prophetic thing to have taken for the title of a record that came out within the first weeks of 2020. Many people have thought it was an original concept on our end, or something like that, and have reached out to ask about the title. It always goes back to Blake.
He’s an incredible writer. He’s written countless record reviews for Allmusic. He’s written a lot of nonfiction kind of essays as well, which are brilliant. He used to have that Vice column that I would read regularly, which I always thought was clever and brilliant. Many, many moons ago—back when doing these kind of Jackass-like stunts seemed like a cool thing to do—myself, Blake, Farbod, and our friend Tom Bruno went to a Ryan’s Steakhouse and tried to eat from open till close on the $3.99 or $4.99 buffet admission. Blake wrote an incredible essay about our 17 hours eating at the Ryan Steakhouse. I’ve always been a fan of his nonfiction writing, too, because it reads in a different way than all of his fiction stuff. He’s such a master of language in that sense. He’s a great communicator, but he can also convey ideas with words and meaning in interesting ways.
On Thursday, July 30, at 8 p.m. (EST), Butler will join Atlanta Music writer Chad Radford and A Cappella Books for a discussion of his new novel, Alice Knott, and more.
The conversation is free to attend via Zoom. Click here to join the event.