Music Hall of Williamsburg
JD McPherson

WFUV Presents

JD McPherson

Donavon Frankenreiter, Sean Rowe

Thu, November 1, 2012

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Music Hall of Williamsburg

Brooklyn, NY

This event is 18 and over

JD McPherson
JD McPherson
Let the Good Times Roll

You could mistake JD McPherson for a revivalist, given how few other contemporary artists are likely to assert, as he boldly does, that “’Keep a Knockin’ by Little Richard is the best record ever made. It’s so insanely visceral, you feel like it’s going to explode your speakers. If I’m listening to that in the car, I find myself having to brake suddenly. I can listen to that and it makes me feel like I’m 20 feet tall. And the feeling of joy I get from that record is always going to be the real push behind trying to make music.”

But in a very real sense, McPherson is much more a pioneer than roots resuscitator. He’s knocking at the door of something that arguably hasn’t yet been accomplished—a spirited, almost spiritual hybrid that brings the forgotten lessons from the earliest days of rock & roll into a future that has room for the modernities of studio technique and 21st century singer/songwriter idiosyncrasies that Richard Penniman would not recognize. Let the Good Times Roll, his second album, is a stranger, and more personal affair than its Fats Domino-redolent title might at first suggest, but the name isn’t exactly ironic, either. If you, too, brake for pleasure, you’ll screech to a halt at the enrapturing sound of these Good Times.

His first album, 2012’s Signs & Signifiers, was hailed as “an utterly irresistible, slicked-back triumph” by Mojo and “a rockin’, bluesy, forward-thinking gold mine that subtly breaks the conventions of most vintage rock projects” by All Music Guide. The Washington Post wrote that, “he and his bandmates are great musicians taking ownership of a sound, not just mimicking one.” That same review remarked upon how, “the album sounds as if the band is in the same room with the listener.” But for the follow-up, McPherson wanted to maintain that raw power while also capturing the more mysterious side of the records he loves. To that slightly spookier end, he enlisted as a collaborator Mark Neill, known for his work as a producer and engineer with versed-in-the-past acts going back to the Paladins in the 1980s, but, most recently, for recording The Black Keys and Dan Auerbach—a friend of McPherson’s who co-wrote the new album’s “Bridge Builder.”

Talking up one of the freshly minted tunes, “Bridge Builder,” McPherson describes it as being “the psychedelic Coasters.” That no such thing really existed prior to this album doesn’t deter him. “This is something I actually talked about with Mark at the beginning of the record: ‘I want to make a ‘50s psychedelic record!’”

Neill was up to meeting that seemingly oxymoronic challenge. “It’s still a rock & roll record, but the borders are expanding a little bit,” McPherson explains. “With some of the writing that came out this time, it became apparent the songs weren’t going to lend themselves well to our usual process. So as we sought out a producer, we took aim for a slightly wider—I guess hi-fi is the word—sound, and got more experimental. Mark Neill certainly has all the tools in his hardware shop with which to produce any range of sounds from vintage Capitol Records stuff on up to…gosh, we listened to so much David Bowie making this record. We’d play Primal Scream’s Screamadelica to listen to how they suddenly started making dance records, and then Mark would play us Marilyn McCoo singing ‘Marry Me, Bill’ over and over again, I guess trying to re-wire our brains.”

Amid this flurry of possible influences, a few production approaches stuck. “I find that the records that I like to listen to over and over again are the ones that have those strange engineering choices, or weird sounds. I was very attracted to the idea of using plate reverb. So whereas the first record was really informed by New Orleans rhythm and blues, where everything was very dry and up-front, I really was listening more this time to a ton of Link Wray, and the Allen Toussaint-produced Irma Thomas stuff, and all the early ‘60s rock & roll that is saturated in plate reverb.”

McPherson certainly doesn’t begrudge the attention that Signs & Signifiers unexpectedly brought him. “If it hadn’t been for the ‘North Side Gal’ video, this probably never would have caught on,” he says, recalling the fame he found on YouTube even before Rounder picked up his indie release. “That’s how we found our label and found our management. I was still teaching school, and here I am with got this video that’s like a million hits. I’m like, what? I had no plans to quit my job. Luckily, I lost it.” A middle school art department’s loss was Rounder’s and the rock world’s gain.

It’d been a while in coming. “I started getting obsessed with this stuff when I was in high school,” McPherson says. “There wasn’t much to do where I grew up in rural southeast Oklahoma, where I lived on a 160-acre cattle ranch.” When he discovered early rock & roll and R&B, “it was like finding a treasure no one else knew about. Nobody around me had any interest whatsoever in Little Richard except for me and my friend. Once we started listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, and to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, which was the best thing you could ever find, everything started to change. I’ve got a videotape of us playing at a pool hall in the early ‘90s in Talihina, Oklahoma, and it’s cowboys and criminals and people that are cooking meth up in the hills standing around playing pool, and here we are with our greaser uniforms on, playing Buddy Holly’s ‘Rockin’ Around with Ollie Vee’ followed by ‘Clampdown’ by the Clash, and all these people are really confused. Those were happy times.”

The covers and the grease got dropped along the way to adulthood, of course, even though he knows what he does now is likely to wind up with some inaccurate revival tags. “There’s never going to be a point where I’m not going to hear the word ‘rockabilly’,” he says with a laugh and a sigh, “even though it’s not anthropologically correct, because it’s separate from rhythm & blues and rock & roll. Not being able to be perceived as how you sort of define what you’re doing is frustrating, but you just have to understand that not everybody is a nerd about this stuff. What it comes down to is that you can’t expect for people to listen if you’re not doing something personal. I mean, you can’t just do covers of Johnny Burnette Trio songs, because that idea has already been expressed, and it was actually moved past pretty quickly. Rock & roll music changed really quickly when it started becoming ubiquitous youth music and the President’s sister started doing the Twist. Yet there’s something intrinsically valuable about a lot of those ideas that haven’t fully been explored yet. And you take everything you love about it and write personal music and hope it translates into its own thing. I always hear ‘Man, bringing this stuff back is really important,’ but I have goal to bring rock & roll back in some reactionary way to battle something else. I want it to just kind of nudge it into its own little place alongside what’s happening now.”

Since the debut album came out, McPherson has played for a lot of those aforementioned genre nerds who pick up on every single influence. But he and his band have also opened for acts ranging from Bob Seger (getting a standing ovation at an arena in Detroit, the headliner’s hometown) to the Dave Matthews Band to Nick Lowe to Eric Church (who sought him out to write some songs together). For a Halloween night 2014 show at the Forum in L.A., super-fan Josh Homme, one of McPherson’s biggest supporters, handpicked him to open for Queens of the Stone Age. These may not all seem like natural pairings, but the music is primal and melodic enough that, after a few minutes, it never fails to make sense even to audiences with the least of expectations and musical educations.

“Man, people may not even know it, but they all like that stuff,” McPherson declares. “I’ve seen it happen over and over again. You’re in a record store where they’re playing some weird underground amorphous electronic record that has no configurable beat per minute, and then they put on a Sam Cooke record, and everybody is just like ‘Ohhh’— like a weight lifted. All kinds of music are interesting, but man, there’s something about the 1/4/5, 12-bar blues form that’s just hard-wired into American brains. And I shouldn’t say just American brains, because this stuff is still really huge in Europe, too. Everybody likes rock & roll. They just either won’t admit it or don’t know it yet,” he laughs, unshakable in his faith that the whole world is or will be on a roll.
Donavon Frankenreiter
Donavon Frankenreiter
Donavon Frankenreiter's new album, "The Heart," officially marks the start of the singer-songwriter's second decade as a solo recording artist. It's been over ten years since the release of his self-titled debut, and in that time he has grown, not only as a musician, but also as a man. He's raising a family and nurturing two creative careers-one onstage, one in the waves-but on top of all that, he's still learning what makes him tick. And so, naturally, he named his album after his ticker.

"All these songs are as close to me singing from the heart as I can," says Frankenreiter. "It's a complete record; the songs are intertwined. I had to call it 'The Heart,' that was the theme of the record."

The songs here are seriously sentimental, without question the heaviest material he has released to date. Part of that inspiration came from his co-writer, the prolific songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips, with whom Frankenreiter had collaborated in the past on his album "Pass It Around." He recognized the ease with which the two worked together and sent Phillips a handful of new tunes and ideas. He was astonished at the brilliance of the songs that came back, and so quickly, but also by one of Phillips' suggestions in particular.

"Grant told me, 'You should make the most intimate and honest record you've ever made,'" says Frankenreiter. "So these songs are simple and intimate and honest, they aren't cheeky. There's some ups and downs-I love writing positive songs and happy tunes, but there are some downers here. I feel like it's where I'm at, 42 years old. Every one of these songs means a lot to me. They're from the heart."

To record them, Frankenreiter booked two weeks of studio time in May of 2015 at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley, Texas. But unlike the privacy afforded by most studios, these sessions were to be live-streamed on the Internet in a soul-baring exhibition for his fans-talk about intimate and honest. With just two bandmates and a studio engineer, Frankenreiter knocked out a song each day and recorded the entire album in full view of a watching public. He had never been so inspired, and embraced every aspect of the situation: the landscape, the lodging, the isolation, the overall challenge.

"We went in saying, 'Let's make the best record we can that we enjoy,'" he says. "And not that I didn't feel that way about my other albums, but this was the one that felt the most natural. Even the way we made it, too, a song a day. I went into it feeling a little pressure, this whole live-streaming thing; if we hit a rut the first day, we're screwed. But the first day we cut 'Big Wave,' and it was off to the races."

The nature of the recording environment removed any "fuck-around" time and replaced it with the utmost efficiency and excitement. As Frankenreiter says, it was an experiment, and it invigorated the band, resulting in their most cohesive process to date.

"There's something magical about Blue Rock Studios and Wimberley, Texas," he says. "It's really powerful, that's one spot that is really bitching. This place is beautiful, a huge estate on 50 acres, cows walking by the windows while you're recording-this open, amazing wilderness. We lived in the studio, and to record there and never have to leave, that's the first time I ever made a record that way. Every morning you wake up and hit it again. I was in such a bubble; it was all about the music. I think about it now and it's emotional."

Throughout the process, he continued to have more encounters of the heart-some more literal than others. While recording "Woman," it was noticed that a Tibetan singing bowl found in the studio was in the same key as the Heart Chakra, one of the centers of spiritual energy in the body, and both just so happened to be in the same key as the song. Someone played it, and the sound made the final cut on the album.

Elsewhere, the song "Little Shack" was culled from someone who shares Frankenreiter's heartbeat: his 12-year-old son, Hendrix. "One night, at home in Hawaii, I was trying to write songs and my son was jamming on his electric," he says. "I was like, 'What is that song?' and he said, 'It's just something I've been working on.' He taught it to me, and I recorded it that night and sent it to Grant. Twenty-four hours later, Grant sent back the words. It kinda has that vibe of two people getting together: it doesn't matter where you are in the world, I got everything I need right in front of me. It sounded like I wrote it, and Hendrix wrote the music. That was the first time that's ever happened."

Other moments on the album, like "Sleeping Good Night," "The Way You Catch the Light," "When the River Bends" (co-written by Graham Colton and Phillips), and the aforementioned "Big Wave," highlight emotions but also have about them an ease, a familiarity, a confidence that only comes from experience. These are songs that Frankenreiter could not have pulled off in his first decade. There is a rollicking comfort to them, but also those serious sentiments of love and loss, faith and joy and, more than anything, self-examination and freedom.

"I feel really lucky that I got into the game when I did," he says. "I'm still lucky I'm able to make records and that we have a fan base and are able to tour. I started my own record label; it's a way for me to make my own music the way I want to, on my own time, and to put it out my way. So many things have changed and I feel a little wiser than ten years ago. I learned a lot over the last decade, it went by really quick. It's fun to have a new album done and to hit the road with a bunch of new songs, it rejuvenates you to do your thing."

And, for now, Frankenreiter's "thing" may be compassion. Perhaps most heavy on "The Heart" is its final song, "California Lights," a tune written about Frankenreiter's father's battle with Leukemia. "It was written about my dad, who was dying during the making of this record. He died about two weeks after we finished it. It was pretty intense, a heavy song to record. I did that song in its completion three times, that's

all I could only make it through. The live take of me playing the guitar and singing was the only way I could do it. I was seeing the heart everywhere."

In those moments of emotional heaviness, Frankenreiter reaches for his guitar to guide him, for an escape. "I felt like I was completely in a bubble the whole time I recorded, I was so inside the music. I cried when I left the studio, and the guys in the band did, too; it was radical. It was like going back to reality. That's what music does, you can definitely escape."

A decade into his career, Donavon Frankenreiter has learned to listen to his ticker above all else. Doing so has allowed the light to come in from all the corners of his world, even those where there is darkness. Sharing the load with those he trusts, and especially with those he loves, he has seized the opportunity to take control of his craft, on his own terms, and to follow his own beat.

"I went into this album saying I wanted to make songs I love," he says. "Whatever feels right, go ahead and record it, and worry about what happens after, afterwards. I'm proud of it. I go back to the title of the album, and in the song 'You and Me,' that chorus: 'It's gotta be from the heart/for it to start'... There's so many things going on out there, everybody's moving to the beat of a different drum, but I feel like all good things start from the heart."
Sean Rowe
Sean Rowe
Sean Rowe has spent much of the last year traveling the country with just his guitar, performing in people’s living rooms. “It’s like I’m some kind of a bearded salesman,” he says, “Going door to door but instead of vacuum cleaners I’m selling all these feelings that come with the songs. It’s a really intense experience for listeners to have me there in their homes playing. They’re not used to having a stranger show up, play music, drink their beer and eat their food. But I think that’s how we’re supposed to be. It only feels strange because we’ve made it that way.”

It is this same sense of unflinching connection that has shaped Rowe’s extraordinary new album Madman. The singer, who The Wall Street Journal wrote “recalls the ecstatic intensity of late-’60s Van Morrison and stark subtlety of late-era Johnny Cash” has created a beautifully primal work. Madman is deliberately, if not defiantly, simple in both arrangement and composition. It is soul music in the purest and most literal sense, hypnotic rhythms, warmly distorted guitars and Rowe’s incredible voice recalling a time, real or imagined, when music and people seemed distinctly more connected.

Rowe’s previous Anti- release, The Salesmen and The Shark, was a far more polished affair recorded in Los Angeles with the accompaniment of West Coast session players. This time around, Rowe is intent on replicating the immense emotional power of his live performances. The process began with Rowe alone in an upstate New York recording studio with his guitar, laying down riffs that would become songs. For Madman, an album he was self-producing, Rowe wanted to strip away much of the production and focus instead on the voice and guitar style he had perfected in theaters, nightclubs and living rooms. “I came to this realization that the songs don’t have to be structurally heavy to be intense,” he explains. “It’s more about the honesty and emotion behind the delivery. A lot of these songs are pretty simple but I was really thoughtful about that, it was intentional. I wanted to go right to the heart.”

The record begins with the title track Madman. A rhythmic guitar, lilting piano and melodic bass, punctuated by horns all of it in the service of Rowe’s incredibly soulful voice. “My singing is definitely more playful on this record,” he says. “Lyrically the song is about living this life when you’re on the road more than you’re at home.” It is an immensely personal and heartfelt song for the recent father and dedicated naturalist, with Rowe singing, “When the road takes me to the other side of the world/Let a walnut tree replace me/Give my body back to the birds”.

Rowe came of age listening to a father’s record collection that included The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and more. But in his late teens it was soul and blues that spoke to the bourgeoning singer-songwriter. Rowe says the sound of Madman is influenced, in large part, by the hypnotic driving guitars of Delta blues. “I was listening to records by R.L. Burnside and John Lee Hooker and others which are basically just guitar and drums and really raw sounding. I was also listening to the early soul records like Otis Redding and Ray Charles. I didn’t want to try and duplicate those sounds, just take aspects of them and make them my own.”

The influence of Delta blues is most apparent on the album’s second track “Shine My Diamond Ring” with its driving repetitive guitar and stomping bass drum. “The guitar sound was influenced by John Lee Hooker,” Rowe says. “The version you hear on the record — which was mostly a live cut — almost never happened as it was very last minute. We already had an earlier version of Shine that i was happy with but on this particular day we had about 15 minutes to kill till wrap up time and i felt if i grabbed the drummer and recorded this song live with just the two of us, I could nail it even better. I’m glad I did that.”

“Desiree” is a raucous deconstructed take on early disco, with a pulsating bass, Nile Rogers-like guitar picking and a looser than ever Rowe singing with absolute abandon. “It’s so different than any song I’ve done before, Rowe says. “It’s a really fun song and it felt good. It’s one of those songs that I felt like I needed to write. With the thumping bass and drums it needed a lot of space so we tried to keep as many holes in it as possible. The vocals were cut live in one take.”

On Sean Rowe’s latest, the adage less is more is on full display. This is a record of extraordinary honesty intent on establishing a connection. In its deliberate simplicity there is pure sonic emotion. “I wanted to go right to the heart with this,” he explains. “And sometimes that meant seeing how much we could remove. It helps to have a great recording. But I would rather have great performances and that’s what I was after here. Sometimes when you’re listening to a piece of music you don’t have to think about it, you just feel it. It’s primal and you trust it.”
Venue Information:
Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 North 6th St
Brooklyn, NY, 11211
http://www.musichallofwilliamsburg.com/