Photo by Adrian Boot
THE COMPLETE ENGLISH BEAT'S A-COMIN'!
Next week, The Complete Beat 5-disc box set drops and to celebrate that, here is a streamer of the dub version of one of the more politically charged songs, "Stand Down Margaret." It features every album and rarity they could pack into the package, and next week, I'll be featuring an interview with good ol' Dave Wakeling during which we talk about politics, music and mayhem.
A Conversation With Cory Chisel
Mike Ragogna: Let's get into your track "Times Won't Change" from your new album Old Believers. I know it had been associated with the Wisconsin recount, can you go into that?
Cory Chisel: Well, it certainly speaks to a much larger subject matter than what's going on in my home state, and I just started to see a lot of the struggles in my home state were sort of on a smaller scale, the sort of frustration that a lot of us are feeling throughout the entire country, so it sort of worked to parody on that.
MR: So how do you feel about the results?
CC: I'm disappointed, to be honest. I don't think much of this Governor Walker. I hope that I'm wrong, though, for the sake of the state. That, to me, seems arrogant and short sighted, and into a type of politics that I think worries about budgets more than human beings. It's pretty split. People think he's either the savior and that he's being unjustly picked on, or there are those of us who believe that he's been almost involved in illegal activity, if not actually illegal activity. I kind of wrote the song so that either way, whether he won or lost, the song would be relevant, so it still is, to me.
MR: You think that people are finally understanding something or seeing something, and then comes the backlash.
CC: Yeah, and it's a fairly obvious riff on one of my favorite songs of all time, "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and I do think that that's true and I do think that my song is true. I think that we're kind of locked in the middle. I think there's a social consciousness that really is booming. I don't necessarily know that it's taking over. I think we're in a new age of discovery and thought, and while that is definitely true, I think the system is just an older way of thinking.
MR: Right, and let's tie that into the album theme, being, well, Old Believers in a new age.
CC: Yeah. Well you know, that's sort of the juxtaposition that I definitely feel, to feel like an old soul who's alive in a very new thought era. I think that there's a lot of people that feel like they've heard these problems before in this lifetime or another lifetime, and that we're making small adjustments, but that more is needed to actually achieve the world we want to live in.
MR: Absolutely. All right, let's get to some other songs on the project. The album starts out with "This Is How It Goes," a song that your partner Adriel Harris sings. Can we get into how Old Believers came together?
CC: Well, it came together rather slowly. It's been three years since I put out a record, and there are a lot of reasons for that. But I think some of it had to do with exhaustion and workload. There's an incredible amount of energy you have to put towards rolling out a record, and I've always been really rejuvenated by the experience of playing live, so I've stuck to the road for the past three years. I think that's where I come from, and what's comfortable for me is to play in front of live audiences. But eventually, there comes a point where I had so many songs stacked up that I started sharing them. I'm always sharing them with Adriel, but I started sharing them with my friend Brendan Benson, and he convinced me--and he's a rather persuasive person--that it was time to stop sitting on stuff and start making a new record. He lives down in Nashville, which is now where both Adriel and I have made a move to live down here as well, and we went through the process very quickly of making the record. It was really only a two-week span of showing him a set of songs and then dropping the needle and rolling tape. It was like recording a live show in some ways.
MR: You get the vibe of the actual performances throughout the record. You're involving more than just the studio element of overdubbing.
CC: Well, it's never really been my thing, to be perfectly honest. I really like sort of putting out the call to a group of people that for a small amount of time, we're going to populate this space, discuss ideas, and then inevitably pull our guitars out and speak to what's in our brains. It's just really one of my favorite times when we can actually get around to working up the energy to say, "I'm making a new record!" There's a certain level of narcissism you have to be ready to engage in, which is just like getting really involved with what you think. Once you can work yourself up to that point where you think you have something to say... You know, down here in Nashville, we've just been lucky to have so many talented people that have migrated here that, really, we've been sort of covered in amazing thinkers and players.
MR: Now, going back to "This Is How It Goes," it sets up the album even though it's not your vocals.
CC: Yeah, and I think Adriel does that with a very beautiful effect on the record, and I really like the idea of a preface. There are a couple different ways to get into a record, and the best way I could think to grab everyone's attention was to sort of highlight my favorite singer, which is Adriel, and have her sort of offer a way in and not make any excuses for what we're about to talk about.
MR: Now I also wanted to ask you about the song "Never Meant To Love You." Is that a bit autobiographical? It has one of my favorite concepts: "I never meant to love you, but there you go. I did!"
CC: It is. I think a great many things in my life can be attributed to the powers that be. We're constantly creating a level of our existence, and sort of powerless at the same time to live at the mercy of these urges. I could say the same thing about making music. I never meant to try and make a living with this, but here I am thirty years into my life, and trying to figure that out too. I think love has definitely been that way. It sort of found me in that sense. I'm always fairly preoccupied until I find myself well in the middle of something I never meant to walk into.
MR: Do you feel like that's the case with most people and how they fall into relationships?
CC: I think that they're honest about it. There are many different kinds of relationships you can fall into. I think through playing that song, you find out how many of us there are. You can really get blasted in the side of the head by something you weren't totally aware of in the moment. It's tongue-in-cheek as well because there's certainly a lot of intention towards people that you want to get to know. Hopefully, it's a song a lot of people can relate to.
MR: What's your favorite song on the album with a back story you're just burning to get out of you?
CC: Well, there's a lot of different ones, I guess. One of my favorite tracks on the record, mostly because it's not autobiographical--it's actually written for a friend--is a song on the record called "Laura." It was written for a friend living within the ashes of a relationship that was still sort of lingering in the house. The failure of the relationship was really romantic, and my friend was really seeking to reconcile these emotions that he had, and it's kind of fun with a song because you can't always offer advice or you can't always offer to take anything away. But by making a piece of art out of the situation, there's a healing component to that, and I've been excited about that.
MR: I know you've been writing a lot of songs, but what's been going on between the albums creatively?
CC: I've had the pleasure of writing and working with other artists that I've really admired, one of those being Rosanne Cash, having the opportunity to work on a song with her and mainly this whole crew that is living down in Nashville, Tennessee, from traditional players like the great group called The Howling Brothers and, obviously, my friend Brendan Benson. And Adriel as well is working on a solo record that will be coming sometime soon, and I've really enjoyed the collaboration aspect of songwriting. I got into that on my last record, Death Won't Send A Letter. It was something I've always been sort of fearful of. I don't know if it's the punk rock school of thought where you don't write with anybody else, and I really found I've gained a lot from that experience.
MR: Let me also ask you these accolades that have been coming your way. For instance, you won the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Award for Artist of the Year in 2010 for you.
CC: It's always a nice thing to be acknowledged for the fact that you've made something that resonates. Awards are a tough thing to get used to because you're skeptical of your ability. It gets in your head of not wanting to fall short of that the next go around and all those things, but I think we've done a good job of letting it go and not worrying about getting any sort of recommendation but just making a good record.
MR: Oh and I don't want to sell you short here. The song "Born Again" was also named a Record of the Year...
CC: ...yeah, I appreciate it. It's a great thing, but it's sort of got to be in one ear and out the other. I've still got a job to do, and I do appreciate how much people responded to it.
MR: Yeah, awards are nice, but you can't believe your own press, you know? You just have to live your life.
CC: It's an art killer, for one, because your objective has to be to express yourself honestly, and sometimes, that doesn't win awards, but that's still your job. Sometimes it does and you can't get obsessed with the idea that it needs to win awards to be the real thing.
MR: How many times have you watched Cleaner to see your song "Little Bird" appear in it?
CC: I've actually never seen it! I saw the clips that we were in when we approved the song, but I've never sat down and watched the entire movie. I think, again, there's something uncomfortable about hearing the sound of your own voice, and that may have something to do with it. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with Samuel L. Jackson because I love him no matter what movie he's in.
MR: How many times have you seen The Avengers?
CC: I have yet to see it! It's been on my list. I have a little nephew who is quite critical of my absence of seeing that movie, so I've got to suck it up and check it out.
MR: (laughs) Hey, I'm very critical of that.
CC: I know! I've got to step it up. I'm slacking a little!
MR: I'll just go down and say it, that was my favorite movie of the year.
CC: Wow! Well now I really have to see it because I've had several very discerning palates of different ages give it that sort of award, so now I've got to see it.
MR: On the other hand, I have to confess, I'm looking forward to seeing the next Batman and Spider-Man movies. Just sayin'.
CC: Well, I think Spider-Man needs to be done again, and better, so I'm excited to see that.
MR: Hey, we likes da Tobey Maguire, and we like the fact that he was an awesome Spider-Man and Peter Parker, but yeah, that last movie pretty much put the nail in the coffin. Poor Tobes.
CC: Everybody knows that! (laughs)
MR: Cory, what advice do you have for new artists?
CC: The thing I can say wholeheartedly is that it's a worthy life to live, to spend pursuing making art and the hope of making the world more beautiful. There'll be thousands of reasons to not do this job as far as not making money and not being recognized, but the best thing I can tell you is a job that's healing you every time you give something to it is a great way to live your life. Anything that's wrong about this career can be fixed by the same means. I can get up on stage and take care of myself.
MR: That's really a beautiful way to put that. I don't think I've ever heard anybody say that in all the times I've asked this question.
CC: Well, that's certainly been the most obvious reason to continue doing it in my life. It's restorative. It brings you back from whatever it puts you through.
MR: Right, the cathartic element, and I guess that's why people have music as the soundtrack of their lives.
CC: Yeah, it's a food that you need. It's a substance that has great power. There are ways you can get disillusioned by deciding to do this job and have an expectation that it pays for the place you're going to live in and those things can be really critical. But the best part is that you can still ease any of those worries with the same thing just by writing a song about it or getting it out through that.
MR: Cory, we haven't spoken in a while, but every time we do this... I really feel like you're giving such a straight answer when I talk to you. There's nothing showbiz about you, and I mean that as a compliment.
CC: Thank you. I will take that as a compliment, for sure. Thank you!
MR: Okay, let's wrap it up. Words of wisdom?
CC: I hope that people check out a couple of records that are out right now, too. There's this other group called Shovels And Rope that's out, and if I were to give you wise advice, I would say to check that band out as well as buy our record, please, and thank you.
MR: And you're magnanimous. Look at that. Cory, thanks for the time, and let's do this again the next time you have a project or the next time you have some big news.
CC: I enjoyed talking to you again, man. Hope you're doing well.
MR: Getting better, sir. All the best!
CC: Same to you!
1. This Is How It Goes
2. I've Been Accused
3. Old Love
4. Never Meant To Love You
5. Please Tell Me
8. She Don't Mind
9. Times Won't Change
11. Over Jordan
12. Wood Drake
Transcribed by Kyle Pongan
A Conversation With The Hardest Working Man in Punk 'N' Roll, Dominic Rabalais
Mike Ragogna: We have Dominic Rabalais here who is the essence of a little group called Little Ruckus. But he is a ruckus in himself, and he's going to prove that in mere moments.
Dominic Rabalais: (laughs)
MR: Dom, give us the update. After this interview, you're off to play for a benefit for Ms. Wheelchair Iowa?
DR: Yes, Ms. Wheelchair Iowa. Ms. Wheelchair USA is happening in Connecticut and it costs $1,500 to enter and you have transportation fees. We're playing as Little Ruckus at this benefit show for her.
MR: How did you get involved in this?
DR: Nate Logsdon, aka the main man in Mumford's, and a member of Little Ruckus and the Sandwich Eating Crew. He goes by "Beefcake."
MR: If our readers saw this kid...you get the idea. By the way, I don't think I've ever seen him with a shirt on.
DR: Yeah, he is the beef. We always make these beef puns together and I can't believe we haven't made a "where's the beef" reference.
MR: Eh, you're creative guys, you can come up with more.
DR: Yeah, but there are plenty of beef references already. His other band, Mumford's, got asked to play and they couldn't. He was like, "The full band can't make it, I could play a solo set." But they wanted it to be a total party environment. That's what full-band Mumford's can bring, that's also what Little Ruckus can bring. He was like, "Since the full band Mumford's can't make it, Little Ruckus could totally play." That's why it's happening.
MR: There's other news, right? Maybe something that happened to you out of nowhere recently? Maybe something involving Europe?
DR: (laughs) There's multiple really cool things falling together. There's Europe, which my friend Neil Fridd from the band the Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, he's on David Byrne's record label, he's got this total cred going for him. This festival in Germany is flying him out and he was like, "yeah I'll come play a festival if you fly my friends out too." So he's flying me and one of his friends out, and I'm going to play in his band and play some Little Ruckus and Terror Pigeon shows around Europe in that period of time.
MR: Sadly, you're not going to have the whole Sandwich Eating Crew with you.
DR: Unfortunately, not. But it will be me, Neil, and our mutual friend Tyler who's from Tennessee, as is Neil. They can be members of the Sandwich Eating Crew.
MR: Actually, everyone can be part of the Sandwich Eating Crew. It's like being six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
DR: Yeah, you just say you're in the Sandwich Eating Crew, then you are. On that note, that seeds into another really awesome thing that's going on which is that we got asked to open for Girl Talk, which is a really awesome thing.
MR: Love Girl Talk. HuffPost had a video exclusive, and I finally got what Mr. Gregg Michael Gillis was about.
DR: Yeah, it's amazing, it's so good! So we're opening for him along with Trouble Lights. I'm going to get six or seven Des Moines kids into that show so they can be members of the band and be backup dancers. I even emailed them my set and was like, "Listen to this over and over, learn the sing-along parts and make up dance moves for it," so when we get to the venue, we can just play the show. They're in the show, so they're members of the Sandwich Eating Crew.
MR: I'm surprised you're following this route. I thought when we visited that PBS station together, you wanted to dedicate your life to public radio funding drives.
DR: It was a close call.
MR: Shall we finally talk about your new album?
DR: Cool, sounds awesome.
MR: Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl?
DR: Tank Girl Vs.Cape Girl. As far as an album of music, I'm super proud of it. I think We Love Evil is really good.
MR: That's your first album.
DR: Yeah. It was a really good way for me to find the best way for this band to exist and then Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl is basically taking that and running with it more. I'm just really proud of it. I think it sounds better and the songs are better written, and I feel that We Love Evil brings you down this road and keeps you there the whole time, but Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl is all very constant energy. It brings that constant energy and brings it in slightly different directions throughout the album, which I'm really happy about.
(Note: explicit language)
MR: Your video for "SomeDay" is killer, oh by the way. And I felt like on the first album, there was this level of energy that just kept going on every track.
DR: Yeah, totally. I guess it's one of those things where I come out with a new album and I'm like, "It's the best thing I've ever done." Then you're like, "I can't believe I made that old album." Then I'll make another album and be like, "I can't believe I made Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl."
MR: It's always going to be like that, you know. Someone is going to ask you in an interview if you've compared your latest album to your other albums and you'll be like, "I don't even listen to those anymore."
DR: Yeah. Another thing that me and Nate are doing is we're writing a Sandwich Eating Crew album, which is not even going to be Little Ruckus or Beefcake or a Slaydrien or a Lane Weaver album. Of all the members of the Sandwich Eating Crew that actually appear on tracks, it's not going to be a solo album from any one of them. It's going to be a Sandwich Eating Crew album where most of the songs don't have one distinct singer. Someone sings one, another sings another, everyone sings the chorus. We're going to start it and end it with a song each just getting vocals, everybody singing, which we haven't really figured out exactly how to do. We have the chorus phrase for it, but how to build a song out of that will be interesting.
MR: Well, let's bring up that you have your fingers in so many pies. You're also in the band Surgery. Lately, Surgery and Trouble Lights have definitely piqued some Iowa's interest, especially on the college level.
DR: Yeah, a quick note on Trouble Lights. Phillip, my brother, from an objective standpoint? I listen to his beats and they're so good. I make beats and think, "Oh that's a good beat, it's got some qualities that are awesome to it." But then I think about his beats and it's like, "Oh my God, they're so next level!"
MR: And your brother also focuses on production in addition to being an artist.
DR: Yeah, exactly.
MR: Whereas you, you're creating performance art all the time.
DR: Yeah, but definitely, his art is production and he's really into the ideas of songs. Something that he talks about a lot that really blows my mind and makes me think about when I create stuff in an awesome way is that it has to be very high quality. You have to have a great idea and the idea and passion that powers the song is what makes even the most well-produced song. If the ideas aren't there in quality, then it's not going to be super compelling.
MR: Dude, you've lived your whole life with your brother, you constantly make music with him, and you're saying all these awesome things about your brother. I know he says the same type of stuff about you. But how can you stand each other after all this time?
DR: I don't know, we're just bros.
MR: (laughs) It's great to see that in action at your performances together. And there's this real fraternity of musicians and musical satellites that you've formed.
DR: That fraternity exists within every community in Iowa, and it exists between every community in Iowa.
MR: Nate Logsdon was trying to explain that the other day when I had him on my television show. He was talking about the relationship between the Ames groups and other Iowa groups, which is very tight, it branches out from there to the rest of the state. You guys are pioneers, it's really an amazing thing to watch. I have tried to weasel in and be a mentor--that's such an overused, random word now -- when you guys have question. But it's really better that you guys develop your own thing, you're your own entity, figuring out how to be creative on your own terms. It's something to really, really be proud of. What do you think this scene is going to evolve into, like what's your ultimate vision?
DR: First, I'll just speak for myself and Little Ruckus. Honestly, I feel like every musician dreams about this kind of stuff, but I'm going to go ahead and admit it publicly: I would like to play shows as big as Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga do.
MR: Dom, stop, no.
DR: If I could reach that many people, that would be awesome. And I mean to play shows as big as Girl Talk plays would be super amazing, too. I think, partially, just within the context of Iowa music in general, I feel like it's garnering this reputation and it will continue to, and I feel like there's a certain amount of extreme energy that gets put into all Iowa acts, garnering a reputation amongst the rest of America. Meaning bands from Iowa go this hard.
MR: How does Iowan music become a national experience, or does that even matter?
DR: Well, I think basically just keeping on doing what we're doing and continuing to blow minds in Iowa and around the country, just going on tour. Sadly, I'm not going to be able to go, but Mumford's is going on a two-month tour. There is this amazing band called the Poison Control Center form Iowa that went on a yearlong tour. I played a show with them once and they were like, "Oh this is show number seventy-two." And then I played another show again with them a month later and they were like, "This is show number one-hundred-three." Then we ended up playing a show in Rochester when we were on tour the same night. Our show ended early so we went over to their show and they were like, "This is show two-hundred-ten."
MR: Did it ever end?
DR: It sadly finally did end. It was so cool though to meet them on tour because whenever we were on the road, they were also on the road. They were always on the road.
MR: You run into the same bands often?
MR: As you're working your butts off and repping Iowa, it would be nice if a bone was thrown out there since you guys so deserve it.
DR: Totally. Me and the Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, before we got this offer to go to Europe, we were going to set up a pool party at a YMCA in New York, which would have been really fun. I feel like it would be really, really fun to do that, but I really like work. I really like doing work. It'd be awesome to play a bunch of shows in New York but I feel like what's gotten me and my friends to the places that we are, opening for Girl Talk, being asked to play at "80-35," being flown to Europe... It's all stuff just from putting work in, from putting the man-hours in.
MR: As far as I'm concerned, you're literally the hardest working man in punk 'n' roll, maybe along with your brother Phil. Okay, let's get into "80-35."
DR: "80-35" started a couple years ago. It started because Des Moines didn't have a super thriving downtown economy. It was started by this Des Moines music coalition organization and also put on GDP, which is Gross Domestic Product. It's in this amazing hotel--Hotel Fort Des Moines. They put it on in this ballroom. It's world-class sound, world-class hospitality for bands, but it's all Iowa bands. It's really good and then they also put on "80-35." They do all that and put on a couple of other shows on a yearly basis. It's all an economic, creative arts stimulus package for downtown Des Moines. It's definitely through their efforts and probably a lot of other efforts that downtown Des Moines is becoming amazing. There are a lot of great bands, there are a lot of great shows going on all the time, AND there are all these awesome art projects that are constantly happening.
MR: You guys all know each other too, as far as the cross-section of bands over there?
DR: Yeah, totally.
DR: So they also put on "80-35," which is the big outdoor festival of Iowa. Lollapalooza always happens in downtown Chicago or Pitchfork festival always happens in downtown Chicago. But yeah, just like the big outdoor, huge stages that they build just for that day festival, it's the only festival like that in Iowa.
MR: So it exists to celebrate Iowa bands, but do they bring some other acts in, like big name acts?
DR: Yeah. This year, The Avett Brothers and Death Cab For Cutie. Come to think of it, Girl Talk headlined one time, Public Enemy headlined one time. And I'm pretty sure Bob Dylan played.
MR: Really? At "80-35"?
DR: Yeah at the end of the day, Bob Dylan is like, "I am a living legend."
MR: He so is. Dom, what advice do you have for new artists?
DR: Work super hard, all the time. I would say work, think about your project and pour your passion into it constantly. You don't have to be writing new songs or recording new albums, but just make your own merchandise. Put in hours towards booking shows--it depends what you define as work because you could try to hustle yourself on Facebook or sending emails to booking agencies and management agencies. That is also work but I would say just work where you can just directly see your project prosper from it. Put in the hours to play the shows and put in the hours to make your own merchandise and put in the hours to record your own music and to just work on that project.
MR: Nice. When is "80-35" going to be?
DR: July 6th-7th. We're playing on the July 7.
MR: Also, my other very important question to you. You got anything else to say about that newbie, Bruce Springsteen?
DR: I would say that the two biggest influences for Little Ruckus are Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga, definitely.
MR: (laughs) Uh-huh. So. Any parting words of wisdom?
DR: Stay free.
MR: Stay free.
DR: Yeah, stay free and sweat as much as you possibly can. Live your life like you're falling in love every day.
MR: Alright. Deal.
MR: Stay gold, Ponyboy, aka Dominic Rabalais of Little Ruckus. When's the new album coming out?
DR: On June 28. Then I'm going to start selling it at shows now, but it's going to be available on the internet, therefore real, on the 28th.
MR: Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl. There. I said it and I can't take it back. And of course, there's that first album...
DR: ...We Love Evil.
MR: By the way, I didn't ask, how did Dominic grow between the two?
DR: I feel that one thing is that I'm really happy with the sequencing of the album, the way that it goes from one song to the other. I also really like the diversity of the people who I ask to do things on this album, to be features on this album. It has saxophone solos, it has trombone solos, it has rappers, it has singing people, I'm just really happy about it. And it has more samples, actually, which is interesting.
MR: Dom, my dream is to one day...one day, have my own Sandwich Eating Crew nickname.
DR: You can make it up right now on the spot!
MR: I have to make it up? Yikes!
DR: Yeah, I mean I can give you one like "Royal Family."
MR: Royal Family? Yeah! I'm in!
DR: Royal Family right here...WHAT? Actually, one thing I'm trying to establish, real quick is that I want people to send what city they're from and their Sandwich Eating Crew nickname to http://firstname.lastname@example.org and then I'll give a list of that and every time we play a show in that city, we'll just read the list and shout, "Give it up for 'H20,' give it up for 'Protective Sunglasses,' give it up for 'Royal Family.'" I feel like that would be awesome, have a list of who lives in what city and their Sandwich Eating Crew names.
MR: You're making the world a better place with your Sandwich Eating Crew, Ponyboy.
DR: Yeah, totally. The Sandwich Eating Crew, in addition to being our crew of collaborators is just anyone who just throws down and falls in love at shows that we play.
MR: Nice. I'm looking forward to doing both. This has been a blast. Dominic, thank you very much for coming and for my new Sandwich Eating Crew name.
DR: Thank YOU!
1. Truth Boyz
2. Stay Free - with Lane Weaver
3. First Love - with Captain Picard
4. Set My Spirit Free! - with Slaydrien
5. New Knives - with Wildman
6. I Am Going To Eat Your Heart
7. Go Free - with Lane Weaver
8. Promised Land
9. Stand Up
10. ShredYrSelfClean - with Lane Weaver and Dakota Phannin
11. Our Wedding
Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger