In Greek mythology, dryads appear as tree-dwelling spirits who lure men to their deaths by seducing them into a shadowy realm of the unknown, sometimes replacing them with a doppelgänger—a sinister look alike. It’s a dark and mysterious tale that’s been repurposed in everything from David Lynch’s surreal T.V. saga “Twin Peaks” to Jordan Peele’s paranoid horror film Us. It’s a puzzling metaphor about there being more to the natural world than meets the eye. It’s also a bewitching entry point into The Book of Flowers’ debut cassette tape, Pastels.
Press play on the opening three numbers, “Foxfire & Clover,” “The Housewitch,” and “The Dryad,” and dreamlike imagery takes shape amid swathes of murky country crooning, mellotrons, and British folk-style songwriting.
“I was thinking a lot about impressionist painting and things that use a lot of pastels,” says songwriter James Andrew Ford. “I wanted the songs to have a pastoral feeling to them, with a kind of a dark feeling as well, like watching the sun set over an empty field.”
Ford is a co-founder of Atlanta’s industrial, EBM, and dark wave label DKA Records. The lingering earthly and ethereal tones that he conjures in the songs on Pastels are a far cry from the digital crunch and urgency of much of the label’s output, including that of his own former project Tifaret. But from the soft dissonance of the cover art’s pink and green colors to the balance of electronic and organic textures over Krautrock rhythms of “The White Dress” and “Watch the Stars,” Ford’s shift in style emerges quite naturally.
“During the latter part of Tifaret, I was banging my head against the wall because I was having a lot of issues trying to do a full-length,” Ford says. “I was trying to figure out how to do something that felt satisfying and cohesive, but wasn’t just eight tracks of Front 242 or whatever. How do you create a sad song using synthesizers that doesn’t just sound like old synth pop? How did somebody like Trent Reznor or Depeche Mode get around the monotony of synthesizers?” he asks. “Well, In Depeche Mode, Martin Gore wrote a lot of songs on an acoustic guitar. Trent Reznor writes everything on a piano, or at least he used to. So I thought maybe I need to start writing on acoustic guitar.”
But Ford had never played acoustic before. He hadn’t played an electric guitar in nearly a decade. So he spent much of the pandemic learning how to play an acoustic guitar. The process was a period of discovery, planting the seeds for the songs on Pastels.
“It basically taught me how to have a song there before you have any music,” he says. “With Tifaret, I always wrote the lyrics last. So I was trying to cram in syllables, melody lines, and whatever else into what was already there. Versus if you start with an acoustic guitar, you’ve got your melody, you’ve got your lines written out. You don’t have to cram everything in.”
Previously, Ford was a religious studies major at Georgia State University. With The Book of Flowers he took a deep dive into British folklore. The first two songs to emerge were “Golden Lily” and “Housewitch,” both illustrate a reciprocal harmony that finds his slow and sweeping baritone voice shape the guitar tones, while the natural resonance of the acoustic guitar guides his rich, warm voice.
The lyrics call an epic range of images to mind, from rustic to quite horrific, in one musical motion.
In “The Dryad” he sings: “There in the bed she laid me to rest and slit my throat with a willow rod. She threw me to the raven. She threw me to the hound. She cleaned my skull for her god.”
“With that song, I always thought that I was basically writing an old fashioned murder ballad, but with the positions reversed.”
It’s a scene of pagan carnage that could have been pulled straight from films such as Robin Hardy’s “The Wickerman” or Ari Aster’s “Midsommar”—channeled through a palette of dark and apocalyptic musical inflections ranging from influences such as Current 93 and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s quiet, it’s intense, and it’s not for the faint of heart, despite the music’s idyllic presence.
Tav Falco is something of a renaissance man. The singer, guitar slinger, author, and provocateur began his extraordinary career in a cotton loft on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1979. It was there that he chain sawed a guitar into pieces during a performance art act. Since then, his notoriously outsider musical outfit Panther Burns has included everyone from Big Star singer and guitarist Alex Chilton to Minutemen and fIREHOSE bass player Mike Watt and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds drummer Toby Dammit.
These days, Falco calls Bangkok, Thailand his home. For Panther Burns 2022 U.S. tour, the group’s lineup is rounded out by bass player Giuseppe Sangirardi, guitar player Mario Monterosso, and drummer Walter Brunetti.
Over the decades, the Arkansas-born auteur has mastered a singularly primitive motif. Blues rhythms carry his less-than-pitch-perfect singing, creating an off-center momentum in which songs feel as though they could tumble apart at any moment. But he always reins them in, creating a marvelous avant-garde tension on the stage. In recent years, his sound has expanded to incorporate elements of cabaret and tango performances, which underscore his latest five-song EP, Club Car Zodiac.
Before his cabaret-infused blend of Memphis rock ‘n’ roll takes over the the Earl for an evening of music and mystery, Falco took a few minutes to talk about how the new EP came together.
Panther Burns are back on the road after surviving the global pandemic!
Yes, and these are the first shows that we have played since the height of the pandemic, when we played a contagion-controlled event at the Il Castello Della Spizzichina in Italy, and that was July 31, 2021. Now, we’re out supporting our Club Car Zodiac EP, which came out for Record Store Day’s Black Friday, and it’s a highly personal recording.
What makes this such a personal recording for you?
I wrote three of the songs, “Dance Me to the River,” “Tango Primavera,” and “La Brigantessa,” which I sing in English. I wrote “La Brigantessa” for a cabaret artist in Rome, Adèl Tirant. I saw her perform with La Conventicola degli Ultramoderni. When I met her I was so impressed with her that I wrote this song for her. In Italian, “La Brigantessa” translates as “a lady thief.” We got to know one another and she sings the chorus of the song that you hear on the recording. I am so very happy with how that recording turned out, and I hope people will listen to it.
The lineup on the record also includes Mike Watt playing some bass. You also have Didi Wray playing guitar. Were you all in a room playing and recording together or were these songs done remotely?
Mike Watt initiated this recording during lockdown. He said, “Let’s do a couple of songs and put out a single.” I thought, why not? So we recorded the entire record remotely. When I got into it I wasn’t happy with the vocals I was getting. So I ordered a large diaphragm microphone, and once that came the vocals started happening for me—and my software. So I said, “This is sounding pretty good, I’m gonna do some more songs for this record. I wrote one, called “COVID Rebel Girl.” It was highly electrified, but that one did not make it onto the record because everyone but Mike Watt thought my playing on the song was just way too bizarre.
So it’s just five songs, but it’s a rather dense recording. Didi Wray is a tango surf guitarist from Argentina. She plays on “Dance Me to the River.” That is a very personal song; lockdown was a very lonely period for me, and I delved into my interior life. I brought out a lot of what was floating around in the dark waters of my unconscious. That song is set in Paris, on the banks of the Seine. It’s a personal statement about separation, betrayal, unrequited love, a sense of loss, bewilderment, and general confusion. It was the end of a period of my life that had gone on for quite some time—the shattering of a relationship—and I wanted to treat it artistically. Doing that was a kind of catharsis.
Then there is “House of the Rising Sun.”
Yes, and that is a song that I have always wanted to do. In fact, most vocalists attempt their version of it at one time or another throughout their career. I thought it was time for me to do my own version. I did ok with it. I’m not unhappy with that track.
“Tango Primavera,” is the last song on the EP, and it’s a rewrite of an Ettore Petrolini recording from the 1930s, the cabaret artist from Rome.
Petrolini has a song called “Tango Roman,” which means Roman tango. I heard it performed in Rome by Maria Freitas in the cabaret La Conventicola degli Ultramoderni.
Maria performed that in the same cabaret that Adèl Tirant performs in and Mirkaccio Dettori plays the piano.
I had done a small show there with Panther Burns, and I became enchanted with this cabaret in the San Lorenzo district, which is the working class district of Rome, where Pier Paolo Pasolini lives.
I went back to Rome after the tour and said, “I would like to perform here.” They asked, “What would you like to do?” I said, “I would like to sing and dance with a dancing cane and a Matta Low hat—the straw hat, like French singer, actor Maurice Chevalier wore.
So I started working on some songs and rehearsing, and I came across “C’est mon Gigolo,” in French, by the 1930s cabaret artist Damia. So I got an English translation from some radio people in Paris, and I put together an arrangement in French and English that I brought to the cabaret. We do it in three languages now: French, English, and Mirkaccio sings it in Italian. It is the original gigolo song, not the one that Louis Prima had a hit with in the ‘50s by grafting together the original song with “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the original, which is a very dark and expressionistic song. It’s an admonition to the gigolo of what will happen in the end.
I also brought in the Irving Berlin number “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” which has some racial overtones in today’s world. But that’s the song. I sing it, and anybody who’s heard it won’t deny that tune. And I do “Brazil,” which I do with Panther Burns, and “St. Louis Blues,” the W.C. Handy number that I recorded on Behind the Magnolia Curtain. After this tour, I will return to Rome and continue doing that under the adopted persona, L’Ultimo Gigolo, the Last Gigolo. That is my character, and I’ll bring it to America in 2023, probably as a Cabaret of Daggers, musical theater piece. We’re developing that in Memphis, with Mario Monterosso who will be the producer, as he has been the producer for my last four albums, and the lead guitar player and arranger in Panther Burns and on Tav Falco solo records.
Mario has a new record out called Take It Away on Org music. It’s a record of instrumentals from which he’ll be playing six tunes in Atlanta, prefacing the Panther Burns performance. Don’t miss that! It’s really outstanding what Mario is doing with these instrumentals.
Yes, I took the photograph that appears on the front cover of that book.
That photograph came up in our conversation. Robert said that you gave him some advice about writing, filmmaking, and anything else, and that was to just jump in and do it.
I think he’s talking about what I learned from William Eggleston. I was learning photography from William, and I asked, “How do you do this, Bill?” He said, you just have to jump in the middle and work your way out. That’s what Robert’s referencing, and that is true.
It’s good to prepare. Technique is important. Learn your instrument and learn your craft: If you are an actor you learn your body and your voice, but that will take you so far. You can learn from a mentor. You can learn in a school. You can be self-taught. You can start from the beginning of an itinerary that’s going to take you to a certain level of ability and control. Or you can just jump in the middle and figure it all out. That’s the way I did photography. That’s the way I did music and theater, and to an extent, film. It may not be the best way, but it’s one way.
In doing that you learn to rely on and to draw from intuitive sources rather than a dogmatic plan of some kind. Only now, after all this time, am I looking at music theory. I’ve started to study that because, Chad, I do not know a note from a molecule, at least not until recently.
Now I have an understanding of the concepts that go all the way back to the classic modes of music and poetry. It’s exciting, but I don’t know if it will help me as a musician or as an artist. It may help me on an intellectual level of some kind, and maybe on a subliminal secondary level. But I don’t see it having any direct effect on what I do. It might help me choose the chords that are more pleasing without having to do trial and error all the time, which is how I normally do it.
I want to communicate with musicians, and I want to do so in the language that I understand. And I want to have a better understanding of musical structure and dynamics in terms of notation, frequency, vibration, and how the musical scale and tonal parameters of music are understood. I’m making progress, but putting it into practice is not so easy.
Uneven Lanes‘ debut LP, About Time, gathers up three years of songs that have amassed in the margins after Lloyd Benjamin’s time spent playing guitar and singing with various punk and indie rock outfits, including All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, Affection, and more. He’s also currently playing with Scratch Offs and Air Rights.
Each of the album’s lo-fi, salt-of-the-earth numbers are rich in melody and distortion, capturing the essence of a new, post-pandemic Americana that recalls the fractured indie rock sensibilities and songwriting of Guided By Voices, Pavement, and R. Stevie Moore.
Benjamin wrote, played, and recorded everything heard throughout on the album.
Live, the lineup is filled out by Greg Stevens on drums and Tony Kerr on bass, performing Sun., Oct. 2 for Elmyr’s 25th Anniversary party, on Sat., Nov. 5 at Sarbez! in Saint Augustine, and on Thurs., Dec. 8 at Whitewater Tavern in Little Rock, the latter of which is Benjamin’s hometown, and the base of operations for the record’s label, Max Recordings.
BONUS! The LP comes packed with a full-color 16-page booklet featuring artwork by Benjamin. Get your ears, your eyes, and your hands on one.
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In 2016, vocalist Christian Perez, who also leads the fractured Americana group Hark, suffered a stroke at the young age of 24 — hence the name Clot. Soon after, his father was involved in a car accident that left him with permanent brain damage. Dealing with these experiences opened up wholly new dimensions of music for Perez and bandmate Yasin Knapp (of math rock outfit Things Amazing, and atmospheric rockers Of The Vine) as a means of finding balance, context, and possibly resolution. Perez writes the lyrics and sings, while Knapp handles the musical arrangements, steeped in a hissing atmosphere of high-speed rhythms, and distortion. Drummer Cameron Austin (Apostle, Of The Vine) unleashes an avalanche of blast beats, pushing the music deeper into the maelstrom.
Bass player Parker Estopinal (of Kid Macho) and guitar player Daniel Weed (Holy Wound and Mannequin Grove) were recruited into Clot after these recordings were made.
Their latest single, “Casual Masochist,” expands upon these themes of real-time confrontation of grief, mortality, and emotional tumult. This time, songwriter and vocalist Perez channels feelings of utter contempt for organized religion and oppression — no matter what form it takes — into lyrics such as “Back up, you bastard. No gods, just masters. Skin stricken with pulsating blisters.”
“Casual Masochist” is a simple, powerful, death-afflicted dirge teeming with shades of grindcore touchstones (Full of Hell, Primitive Man, Old Man Gloom, and so on), but exists in a singularly miasmatic space. Press play below.
A new full-length album is in the works. Keep an ear out for a noiser, and more atmospheric approach with future offerings.
In the meantime, Clot plays Sabbath Brewing on Sun., June 12, with Iron Gag and Fox Wound. Catch them again on Thurs., June 30, When they play Eyedrum with For Your Health, askysoblack, and Royal Scam.
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Composer, percussionist, and longtime Atlanta sound sculptor Klimchak is bringing everything, including the kitchen sink, to the McDonough Tunnel on the Southside BeltLine on Sunday, May 15.
The performance, titled LeBeato Lounge: Water Wonderland, is part of the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine series, and will feature three water and percussion-based works performed live: “Waterphonics” and “Bowled Over,” both accompanied by GSU associate professor of percussion and founder of the new music ensemble Bent FrequencyStuart Gerber. A third piece, titled “When You Whistle, It’s Not Work,” will also be performed solely by Klimchak.
It will be an evening of deep listening and engaging rhythms, as both Klimchak and Gerber explore the vast and mysterious sonic qualities of the former train tunnel by way of various homemade percussion instruments, bows, electronic manipulations, bowls filled with various levels of water, and a working sink on a cart for a wet and wild journey into sound.
… And if you are a truly old school Atlanta music head, you’ll remember the tunnel from the freak-folk and noise shows that Matthew Proctor (Hubcap City, Pony Bones) organized there in the early aughts — when the BeltLine was a looming reality, the tunnel had train tracks running through it, and it was a fairly secluded location.
Victory Hands play the “Braden” 7-inch release party at Sabbath Brewing in EAV on Sunday, May 15. MTN ISL, Skin Jobs, and Scratch Offs also perform.
This show will mark Scratch Offs’ debut performance, so get there early.
… And if you don’t already know, Victory Hands releases are all named after journalists who were blacklisted by former President Richard M. Nixon leading up to his impeachment. Hence the titles of their previously released singles, “Bishop,”“Bernstein,” and “Anderson.”
What might the last few decades of Atlanta’s underground music scene look like if beer sales weren’t a factor in determining who gets booked to play a show? If the cover charge at the door was simply a donation of whatever you wanted to give? And, most importantly, performers showed up specifically to play something new that they’ve been kicking around, all for an audience that’s hungry for adventurous music — the wilder and the more challenging the better?
Tight Bros. Network promoter Randy Castello christened the Kirkwood Ballers Club at Lenny’s Bar on Memorial Drive (now the site of the live-work-play condo building dubbed The Leonard) in March of 2004. But the idea was initially hatched in the late ‘90s, while hosting late-night parties in the basement at KBC co-founder Unisa Asokan’s house on Martha Ave. in Kirkwood.
“We had a sign in the door that said “Kirkwood Ballers,” Castello says. “Playing music was always the center of attention and the reason for getting together there.”
Castello even recalls one late-night gathering during Kirkwood Ballers Club’s early years in which composer and indie rock/avant-garde luminary David Grubbs (Squirrel Bait, Bastro, and Gastr del Sol) came back to stay at their house after performing at Eyedrum with cellist Nikos Veliotis earlier that evening.
“It was late at night, he was on the road, and we started playing right beneath his room, it had to be so loud,” Castello says. “It got to a point where he came downstairs — he was so cool about it — and said, ‘guys, can we just keep it down.’”
From the beginning, Kirkwood Ballers Club’s mission has always been to, “provide an open forum for experimental musicians and performance artists who’ve found it difficult to get shows elsewhere around town,” Castello says. “I also wanted to create an idea incubator that would allow others to perform and experiment with each other musically, and to create and nurture new creative ensembles.”
In its various incarnations, Kirkwood Ballers Club has created an environment where generations of avant-garde musical energy and talent has flourished throughout periods of existence and inactivity.
During its early years at Lenny’s, a parade of local punk, hip-hop, jazz, and indie rock musicians would sign up to perform including everyone from garage punks and avant-garde musicians Cole Alexander of the Black Lips and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter to Grammy-winning saxophone player Kebbi Williams of Tedeschi Trucks Band. All utilized the format to create music in-the-moment that expanded upon their typical repertoires.
“The Kirkwood Ballers Club was always a place of pure freedom,” says Kebbi Williams, who often showed up with large ensembles of musicians who lit up the room with an explosive freeform skroking jazz set.
Years later, Williams facilitates a similarly-minded Sunday evening jazz jam at Gallery 992 in West End, building upon the energy he tapped into while performing during KBC nights.
“I learned from Kirkwood Ballers Club at Lenny’s and from the scene at Eyedrum how to be free,” Williams goes on to say. “I saw some of the most original and provocative things at the Kirkwood Ballers Club, and it totally affected my life as an artist.”
Kirkwood Ballers Club has also drawn the attention of nationally touring acts who happened to be in town for the night. King Khan’s first Atlanta show was a KBC night.
“I remember introducing myself to Arish [King Khan] and he sprayed me in the face with Silly String,” Castello says. “It caught me off guard, and I didn’t know what to say, but it turned out to be a great night!”
Over the years, KBC changed locations, setting up at other now defunct venues along the way, including 11:11 Teahouse, The Highland Ballroom, and The Big House. It even settled in for a late-night incarnation at The Star Bar in Little Five Points for a stint.
Oftentimes other promoters including Matt McCalvin, Waylon Pouncy, and Matt Greenia stepped in to keep it going.
Brad Hoss of Hoss Records and Ryan Rasheed of LebLaze and Prefuse 73 launched a New York version of KBC at Brooklyn venue Zebulon Concert Cafe in 2011.In Atlanta, mashup artist Greg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, songwriter Jana Hunter, and even John Dwyer of psych-punk outfit Osees have also made KBC appearances.
In 2021, the rebirth of Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery at its current location brought with it a wholly new iteration of the Kirkwood Ballers Club. Sun Christopher hosts the monthly event as Castello settles into his evolving role as Eyedrum’s Facility Manager.
In the modern era, KBC’s spirit has been embraced by a wholly new generation of musicians, signing up for a 15-minute time slot, all under the evening’s long standing tagline: “Bring an instrument, record, beat, turntable, laptop, prepared piece, song, film score, voice, bag of blood, agenda, youth rebellion …”
Castello adds that, in the past, he never used the term “open mic” in relation to KBC. “I was worried that it would bring out a lot of singer-songwriters playing cover songs, which has happened from time to time.”
In Eyedrum’s new home at 515 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., a wholly new set of faces has picked up the mantle, ranging from artists reading poetry, gorgeous minimalist piano compositions, blazing industrial beats, and free-form art-rock ensembles have filled out the roster.
Of the more recent staples of KBC’s monthly rounds Mikey and Hoff of the band Upchuck perform regularly with various new outfits. Another next generation fixture is noise artist Nathan Emerson, who performs sometimes solo, sometimes with an ensemble, under the name It’s About time.
It’s About Time’s sets have taken shape as screaming, squelching displays of noise, clanging metal percussion, and feedback, punctuated by blasts of fireworks, and Emerson writhing on the floor in a half-naked state. It’s a blend of real-time catharsis cut from abstract emotions — all set to the tune of old school industrial clatter and confrontation. It is the bleeding edge of the creative spirit that KBC has always nurtured, with precisely the type of DIY pyrotechnics that wouldn’t fly in most small club settings.
“When I first pulled up to Kirkwood Ballers Club I didn’t really know how my act would come across,” Emerson says. “I actually kinda intended to rile people up and maybe stir up the audience a little bit. Which of course did happen, but I think most folks kinda dug what I was doing. It’s so surprising to have a space where someone like myself can perform an explosive act, flogging myself and screaming bloody murder, and not even receive the slightest of heckles. There is simply not a more open and accepting space in Atlanta, in my opinion,” he adds. “Literally all sorts of people can perform whatever their hearts desire there. I’m eternally grateful to have gotten my career started there and continue to perform there whenever I can.”
For Castello, it’s this engagement with the community, and the love of music that keeps Kirkwood Ballers Club coming back.
“Getting something started, getting people to come and maybe they’ll want to start a band or a new project, or just to play music,” Castello says. “That’s what we do here, and that’s what we do it for.”