Tag Archives: Q&A

Tau Cross’s Rob Miller Forges New Paths—and Swords

Tau Cross

Rob Miller is known for two things: forging badass swords and recording kickass heavy metal. Miller first rose to prominence in the ‘70s with the Crass-approved outfit Amebix. Combining the anti-authoritarianism of anarcho-punk with the lumbering chug of heavy metal, the band created a doomy sound that roared like Motorhead, and stomped like Sabbath, while contemplating metaphysics.

But after a decade of absolute poverty, Amebix collapsed in 1987. Soon after, Miller’s personal life crumbled, and he was in a near fatal motorcycle accident that crushed his arm. With nothing left to lose, Miller left his home in England and retreated to the remote Isle of Skye in Scotland, abandoning music altogether.

In its place, he focused his creative energies on learning the ancient art of sword craft, learning the trade bit-by-bit, moldy book by moldy book. Now, after some 25 odd years of study, Miller is renowned for his blade work.

Fittingly, Miller has returned to music with his band Tau Cross, which includes heavyweights from Voivod, Misery, and War//Plague. The band is about to release their second album Pillar of Fire, so we spoke to Miller about his day job, the new album, and existence itself.  Continue reading

Floco Torres Breaks Up With His Old Habits

Floco Torres

Photo by Maryann Bates.

Perhaps more than any other style of popular music, hip-hop puts a high level of importance on regional pride and a sense of place. These days, it seems like there isn’t an inhabited place on Earth that doesn’t have a rap scene. Still, perhaps there’s a lingering sense that artists who emerge outside of hip-hop epicenters like Atlanta, New York, and L.A. are a little behind the curve. Whether that’s actually the case or not, rappers like Floco (pronounced “flock-oh”) Torres prove that out-of-the-way places also boast their share of inventive hip-hop. For some, being isolated can lead to innovation. When there’s less of an established local sound to rely on, you have less to lose by thinking outside the box.

It’s hard to pinpoint how much of Torres’s creative individuality stems from geography, but his abundant discography bears evidence to his insistence on choosing his own path. Originally from southern New Jersey just outside of Philadelphia, Torres spent seven years based in Macon, GA—about an hour from both Atlanta and Athens—before moving to Akron, OH in 2016. Equally inspired by the likes of St. Vincent and Tame Impala as the Philly-area hip-hop he heard growing up, Torres’s range of influences expanded dramatically in Macon’s familial music community, where it’s common for artists from multiple genres to play on the same bills.

Floco Torres

Photo by Brandon Everett Thompson.

At various points, Torres has recorded and toured with what he calls his Big Band—essentially a rock outfit playing hip-hop. On his new EP, Again (his 22nd release in a voluminous body of work that also includes over 600 unreleased songs), he manages to keep his sound fresh and vital. With its rolling piano loop and soulful falsetto hook (which was sampled from Meiko’s “I Can’t Tell”), leadoff single “You!,” recalls the playfulness of De La Soul’s genre-defining early work with producer Prince Paul. But the personality behind the music belongs to Torres.

Easily one of the most cheerful-sounding breakup songs ever made, “You!” reflects Torres’s knack for observing life in a dry, naturally complex way that can be simultaneously cutting and refreshing. When he chides his former lover for “playing the victim,” he’s direct without sounding malicious. He also includes several compliments, and leaves the door open for a reunion, perfectly summing up the mixed feelings that can follow separation.

As it turns out, that song is not simply about a romantic breakup. We spoke with Torres about the song’s true subject, and the importance of following your own musical path, as he was preparing for his ninth year as a youth music education counselor at the Otis Redding Foundation’s OTIS Music Camp.

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Pandemix’s Poetic Punk Politics

Pandemix

Photo by Ryan Stanis.

Pandemix is a punk band from Boston, Massachusetts. Granted, punk is a broad term—it encapsulates a myriad of subgenres: hardcore, peace punk, Oi!, crust, and so on—but Pandemix manage to seamlessly pick and choose from decades of cultural and artistic detritus to create something unique and engaging, though clearly rooted in the familiar. They employ the poetic politics and bounce of many Crass Records bands, the catchiness of ’77 style punk, and the aggression of hardcore.

Their first full-length, Scale Models of Atrocities, released by Boss Tuneage Records, expands on the work Pandemix did on their 2016 demo. The band manage to ramp up both the aggression and catchiness by delivering memorable riffs that still have teeth. Old songs like the tense, building “Total Immersion” or the dark, stomping “Faultless” are given a fresh polish and new context when sequenced with more ambitious numbers like “A Wall” and total rippers like “The Pornography of Hope.” It’s the best kind of musical progression—a band that takes a step forward creatively while still sounding distinctly like themselves.

The lyrics, thoughtful and poignant, are delivered with precision and palpable frustration by vocalist Shannon Thompson, who’s been around the New England scene for years in bands like the alt-country-influenced Long Gone and who runs Nervous Nelly Records with her partner. We spoke with Thompson about avoiding punk conventions, the pitfalls and necessities of identity, and navigating this complex world full of interlaced power dynamics.

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Japanese Breakfast Finds Human Intimacy on “Another Planet”

japanesebreakfast_by-Colin-Hughes_600-5

Photos by Collin Hughes

Michelle Zauner first introduced the arrival of Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore LP, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, with a short, mysterious video that hinted at an intergalactic theme. Fittingly, she had initially set out to write a sci-fi concept album about a woman who, after falling in love with a robot and experiencing heartbreak, enlists in the Mars One project.

The plan only carried through to the lead single, “Machinist,” but the theme of exploring the great beyond prevails throughout the album. The concept allowed Zauner to play with new elements that vastly differ from her punk roots in Little Big League; throughout the record, autotune and synthesizers create an otherworldly ambience. Even the re-worked version of a Little Big League song, “Boyish,” sounds like something entirely new.

What started as a fantastic theme gradually became a metaphor for the fear of death. Zauner explores that idea in full on “Till Death,” a hauntingly beautiful song that details the aftermath of losing someone dear: “Haunted dreams / Stages of grief / Repressed memories / Anger and bargaining.” On her debut as Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp, Zauner grappled with losing her mother to cancer. Now, on Soft Sounds, she reflects on the person she’s become, after surviving through the pain.

We spoke to Zauner about her new album, the initial concept behind it, her songwriting, and the influence of Mount Eerie on her music.

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The Cosmic Consciousness of Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler

Shabazz Palaces

Photo by Victoria Kovios.

For more than two decades, MC and producer Ishmael Butler has built a diverse and challenging body of work, exploring the nuances and potentialities of Black American music. In the early ‘90s, he helped infuse hip-hop with deep jazz sensibilities and Marxist philosophy as a member of the Grammy-winning rap trio Digable Planets. He spent part of the 2000s diving deeply into minimalistic psychedelic funk with the band Cherrywine. And as frontman of the avant-garde hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, Butler’s practice of open experimentation and exploration continues. Working in Los Angeles and back at home in Seattle, the group has created two separate but complementary albums to be released together: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. Both are the products of this adventurous approach to music making. From the rolling, bass-heavy soul groove of “Shine a Light” to the minimal electronic percussion and glittering synths of “Julian’s Dream (Ode to a Bad),” both albums traverse a broad sonic territory, inviting in guests like producer Erik Blood, singer/bassist Thundercat, and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas.

We spoke with Butler from his homebase in Seattle, where he discussed this ambitious body of work, how he blends the concrete sensibilities of hip-hop with the outermost regions of space, and why both lend to his music’s complete and cosmic whole.

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