LOWER EAST SIDE, MANHATTAN: People parked in front of their TV’s at 1:00 AM, EST on Saturday, July 30th either got a blast from the past or an exciting new music jolt, depending on their carbon date. The spark? None other than “MTV2’s 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield.”
Now a monthly series, the show marks the return of NJ-home slice Matt Pinfield to a format that connected an entire generation of listeners to the new music that they craved. Originally airing on MTV from 1986-2000 (and on MTV2 from 2001-2003), “120 Minutes” began as an alternative music lifeline, serving as pre-Internet sound discovery for the likes of Jesus & Mary Chain, New Order, Kate Bush, the Smashing Pumpkins, Bad Religion, and scores more. Nirvana’s debut of the “Smells Like Teen Sprit” video there was just one of the revelations for the millions who made it a point to tune in.
A prince of all media himself, Pinfield is now back in the saddle taping the new “120 Minutes” from Arlene’s Grocery on the LES – just as the plug got pulled on his popular radio morning slot with Leslie Fram on WRXP due to the station’s sale in June. Whatever the format, Pinfield’s exhaustive knowledge of rock music never ceases to entertain and educate, delivered at it is in his ultra-high energy style.
Pinfield connected with SonicScoop to give the lowdown on his return to the screen, the ups and downs of radio, and the buzz behind NYC.
Your debut episode is going to feature some pretty diverse interview subjects: Dave Grohl, Lupe Fiasco, PJ Harvey, Sleigh Bells, Das Racist, Dangermouse, to name a few. That’s a pretty wide spread – what’s the common thread between these artists?
Dave Grohl is one of the humblest men in rock and roll. The guy was a DIY guy — the first album Foo Fighters did was on a cassette. Dave started in Scream, going around the country in a station wagon with promoters threatening to shoot him.
The reality is that it doesn’t just have to be new and unknown, up-and-coming artists. I want people there with a history from “120 Minutes,” or who are plugged into the aesthetic or ethos of “120 Minutes.” The Lupe thing relates to the fact that people listen to music now so much differently than they did when the show was originally airing – checking out dubstep on their iPod. Lupe has a punk band, and he picked my favorite Radiohead video to play on the show.
In the next episode, Big Boi from Outkast will be talking about producing the Modest Mouse record. The rapper Theophilus London talks about Morrissey! It all comes back around. There’s so much going on in there.
I thought Arlene’s Grocery was an interesting choice as the host venue for the new “120 Minutes.”
Arlene’s Grocery had a great look to it. The color and look of the background had a similar aesthetic to the original “120 Minutes.” You had a starkness, and it was focused on the music. I like Arlene’s for that reason, and you can’t deny that The Strokes and a ton of other bands did their residency at Arlene’s.
I think Arlene’s represents the Lower East Side. I’ve hung out in every bar on the LES, but we were sold on Arlene’s when we were scouting places. Although we might change it up sometime in the future — there’s always that possibility.
How did you acquire your encyclopeadic knowledge of music? What’s the trick to maintaining and adding to all that knowledge?
I guess my enthusiasm is very child-like. I’ve never lost that youthful thing. From the time I was three years old, I was fixated on the family turntable. I was sitting in front of a record player rocking to the Four Tops, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones – this was something I was focused on.
I retained the musical information because it’s the thing I’m the most excited about. People would laugh when we were taping “120 Minutes” and say, “He’s been talking for a while. How did he get so much information on that cue card?” But all that would be there was the title of the song! I always wanted to know the lyrics, and the inspiration behind them. I cared about stories, and as I met my inspirations, young and old, they told me things that were amazing. I read books and newspapers — the floor of my bathroom has books, magazines, Mojo Uncut. Or I’m online. I’m always reading about music.
There’s people like you and me that have a passion about exposing people to music. But I’m a music enthusiast, not a music idealist. I don’t want to keep my knowledge of music in my back pocket – I want to share that experience I have when music takes me into a passionate place, elevates my mood, makes me feel OK because I’m lonely that day, or makes me feel like I’m in love. That’s how I look at music. I just enjoy it and I’m moved by it.
Have you been using Spotify?
I think Spotify is cool. There’s so many great Websites out there right now. If you have a passion like we have, then any tool you can use to become more aware of the artist you love, or go a little deeper – that’s one of the beautiful things about the Internet.
You talked comprehensively about the June sale of WRXP by Emmis Communications to Randy Michaels and GTCR in a recent “Hollywood Reporter” article. Why, specifically, do you think NYC has a problem keeping a rock radio station going? Isn’t this like LA not having an NFL franchise?
I’ll say this only once: The problem had nothing to do with the format or the music. It had to do with financial issues at the top of the company (Emmis).
There’s an incredible misconception that rock can’t work in NYC. That’s complete bullshit. We sold out five Christmas shows, bringing bands like Spoon, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon onstage. We were doing a lot of great things and our fans were really receptive. It had nothing to do with what rock could do in NYC. NYC radio at the moment is really lacking, and I think it would be ridiculous for someone to not pick up the torch and run with it.
But there’s so many politics about how people own stations, and how they look at their market share. Rock’s surely not down for the count, but the situation of the radio station being sold was all above our heads. There was nothing that we could have done as a staff for ratings, or whatever, that could have stopped that sale.
I had a great three year run with Emmis. I loved the opportunity, and that they believed in me and the brand of me. But when a company gets acquired, it doesn’t matter what the business is – it could be a shovel-making company – it’s going to change the dynamic.
Finally, where do you sees the NYC music industry headed as a whole. Is this still the place to be involved in music?
NYC is still the greatest city in the world. It always will be. It doesn’t matter the genre, beyond NYC and into the tri-state area, it’s still the place to be. People move here for a reason: There’s an energy about being a band in NYC that’s unmatched anywhere.
Even as things get gentrified or change, you’ll still find more excitement in an NYC area show than anywhere on the planet. And I know that because I’ve hung out everywhere. Artist for artist, venue for venue, it’s stronger here, and there’s a business to support it. It’s a great, proactive area. It’s the city of artists.
New episodes of “MTV2’s 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield” will air the last Saturday of every month at 1 AM ET/ 10pm PT and will be available online at 120.MTV2.com.
– David Weiss
SOHO, MANHATTAN: NYC rock band A Million Years is huddled around a pedal board at Serious Business Studios. It’s winter and the band is recording guitars for their debut album, Mischief Maker, available July 6.
As lead guitarist Nick Werber runs through sounds, A Million Years’ guitar-playing front-man Keith Madden and producer/engineer Shannon Ferguson — also the guitarist for NYC indie rock stalwarts Longwave — consider the options. Drummer Andrew Vanette and bassist Andrew Samaha chime in as well. This is a total group effort.
Vanette fills us in: “After we finished tracking basics, all the additional tracking has been done right here in the control room, with all of us sitting around together. The intimate feel of the studio really helps us a lot — no matter what’s going on, there’s always that group element to making this record together.” Madden interjects, “Yeah, nobody’s slinking away to go play Grand Theft Auto.”
Serious Business is a “musicians collective” recording studio and record label headquarters located on Spring Street in Soho. Ferguson, who’s been recording bands in NYC since before joining Longwave in 1999, moved his gear into Serious Business about a year and a half ago and splits time there with producer/engineer and Serious Business founder Travis Harrison (Apache Beat, The Rosewood Thieves). The studio is based around a Pro Tools HD2 system, Soundcraft mixing console, a ton of outboard equipment, instruments, amps, full-band-sized tracking room and iso booth.
“Shannon is a wealth of crazy vintage equipment and pedals,” says Madden, as Ferguson pulls out another guitar flavor.
“Our songs have an undercurrent of pop and going into the studio to make this record, I really didn’t want it to come out sounding too slick, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to work with Shannon. He’s coming from a place of making records with Dave Fridmann, which is like the least slick you can get! We all really like fucking sounds up intentionally, and Shannon fully understands that, and is really good about reigning us in if we go too far.”
A Million Years tapped Ferguson to produce their 3-song EP, Incandescent, last year. They met under unique circumstances when Madden took a job as touring guitar player in Longwave, replacing Ferguson whose wife was expecting a baby.
“It could have been an awkward situation, handing the reigns over to another guitar player,” notes Ferguson, “but from the get-go, it was like we were great friends. Also, almost immediately, Keith was inquiring about recording. After he’d toured with Longwave for a year, he told me that — having to learn all my guitar parts — he’d felt like he was sort of in my head and wanted to continue that relationship with me recording his band.”
And Ferguson felt drawn to A Million Years as well. “I really felt like I could help them,” he shares. “I felt like I could add a lot to what they were doing without stepping on it.”
MISCHIEF MAKING: BREAKTHROUGHS, BIG SOUNDS & SONIC SURPRISES
With Werber in the hot spot, switching between wiry, spaced-out and wailing guitar parts for “Poster Girl,” which — playing back in the studio — recalls early Radiohead, Vanette, Madden and bass player Andrew Samaha fill me in on the making of Mischief Maker.
“When we made the EP, we booked two weekends and did a song per day,” says Madden. “Working that way, you really immerse yourself in the song and by the end of the day have a good idea of what it’s going to sound like. The upside of that way of working is you make choices really fast and the downside is that you make choices really fast.”
The Incandescent sessions jump-started a great collaboration between the band and producer/engineer that flourished in the Mischief-making process. “While we were mixing the Incandescent EP, Keith started bringing in demos of these new songs and that’s when I started to really get excited about doing a whole record with them,” says Ferguson. “I think he had a breakthrough. He came back with a handful of really good songs; sort of all at once he had all these new ideas, new melodies. The songs, in a lot of ways, became much simpler too, which allowed them to breathe more. The sounds can be bigger if there are less parts.”
When the band went back into the studio to record basics for Mischief, they modified their approach. “This time around, we did all the basic tracking live and now we’re building on top of that,” Madden describes. “The songs are already sounding pretty different from the basic tracks, but you can really tell that it’s us playing this time. I’ve been surprised by the way every song has come out, in a really good way. It’s been great.”
Layers of guitars and effects, drum machines and synths build out the sonic space around these live rock performances, some sparse and acoustic, some big and bold.
In tracking sessions, Shannon cranked the AC30, miked with a Shure SM57 and a Royer R-121 going into a Chandler TG2 summed to one track. Bass went through an Avalon U5 into a Purple Audio MC77. Vocals usually went via SM7 to Great River ME-1NV into an LA-2A, and the standard miking on drums included a Beta 52 on kick, Audix i5 on snare and AEA R88s as overheads. Everything was recorded into Pro Tools HD2 with Aurora converters.
At one point, sitting around Serious Business, everyone’s holding a guitar, showing off their new favorites. “I’ve learned that I really like shitty vintage guitars,” notes Madden, wryly. “So that’s why this Silvertone is all over the record. By no standard is it a good guitar, but it’s like the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” Vanette, holding up another instrument of choice, adds, “We also found this Hagstrom guitar somebody left here; Keith’s played this all over everything too.”
With Ferguson as their guide, A Million Years approached every song with a sense of sonic adventure and considered the options on each and every part as well.
“In addition to getting cool guitar sounds, it’s really important to us throughout the whole record that the way every song sounds reflects the actual character of the song,” says Vanette. “So we treat every song differently, as far as drums, and every bass tone is different. We’re really conscious of not making a static record where you go one song into the next and they all sound the same, in both production and songwriting.
“On a couple songs, we sort of stepped out of ourselves,” Vanette continues. “One song is all programmed drums, and one has no drums at all — just organ and acoustic guitar and vocals. That entire song was done live with no click track, we just hit record and went for it — and it has a really organic feel to it which is exactly what that song needed.”
Some songs on Mischief combine live and electronic percussion. “On ‘Poster Girl,’ we tracked live drums for the entire song, but Keith also did some drum processing on his iPhone using BeatMaker,” says Vanette. “We want that in-between — not completely electronic and not completely live.”
In a recent interview, post Mischief mixing, Shannon describes, “They wanted Andrew to play drums on a song, but then have me make it sound like a drum machine. So we’d record the drums with that kind of sound in mind. I’d played them the David Bowie record, Low, the song ‘Sound and Vision,’ thinking we could base some of their drum sounds off of that.
“It’s a really strange drum sound, sort of distorted but also a little pitch-shifted in the snare drum. So if you listen to A Million Years’ ‘Holy Ghost Town’ or ‘Poster Girl,’ there’s an effect on the snare inspired by that idea of having the snare sound modulate. I feel like that’s not very common but it’s a cool thing to do.”
Listen to A Million Years’ “Poster Girl” here: here
Other effects incorporated throughout Mischief Maker add texture to the band’s sound. “The Eventide H3000 D/SX is all over the record, including on keyboards and acoustic guitars,” Ferguson reveals. “There are a couple presets that I start with and one is called ‘Breathing Canyon’ that John Leckie showed me on Longwave’s There’s a Fire. And then there’s another one in that same box called ‘Low And Behold’ and you can hear it all over the record just sort of mumbling in the background.”
Also, Ferguson shares, “I have this Line 6 M13 pedal board which is one of those all-in-one boards and not something that I would normally use, but it’s got all these backwards delay settings that we just kept going back to. And then I also used a DOD analog delay pedal that I basically use on every record that I do.”
After all the Mischief-making, the Incandescent tracks found a place on the album as well. “I thought I’d want to go back and work on them, but those mixes really held up,” says Ferguson. “The song ‘Incandescent’ really blends well with the sonic direction we took on the newer songs, and the two other songs have a more straight-forward rock sound which actually helps the album to not feel like a sonic experiment the whole time.”
Listen to A Million Years’ “By Yourself” here! here
A MILLION YEARS: LIVE & ON THE AIRWAVES
A few months back, we went to see A Million Years play the Studio at Webster Hall as part of Rich Russo’s (WRXP) “Anything Anything” Concert Series. It was an impressive performance with familiar flashes of early aughts indie rock, a la Modest Mouse, delivered with youthful, punchy rock-and-roll swagger. We were especially psyched to hear “Poster Girl,” Werber’s lead guitar parts forever etched into our memory, culminating with one of the band’s most raucous jams.
Back during recording sessions, we had asked A Million Years about their hopes and dreams for the record. “We don’t want to have to rely on a label or a publishing deal,” says Madden, “But finding someone or some company that wants to support what we’re doing would be great. Or we’ll invent something unique ourselves that works for us.”
Vanette adds, “Our manager is Lanny West, owner of Tipping Point Entertainment, so we have a whole team of people on our side. With their support, there’s also the thought that we’ve already invested all this time and money into the band, and maybe we can keep it going ourselves.”
Meanwhile, some big NYC tastemakers have already gotten behind A Million Years. “We’ve had a couple features on RXP 101.9. We did an in-studio with Matt Pinfield and a live performance on Rich Russo’s show,” says Vanette. “RXP is like the only legitimate radio station in NYC for rock music, so to have them on our side, it’s more than we could ever ask for in this city.”
A Million Years will be back at the Studio at Webster Hall for their record release show June 18, 2010 (Get tix HERE!) and will play McCarren Park in Williamsburg on June 21 with Ferguson’s band, Falcon.
The John Varvatos store at 315 Bowery, formerly CBGBs, will host a benefit for Road Recovery tomorrow night, featuring performances by Peter Frampton and Denis Leary with his band The Enablers. Sponsored by WRXP Radio 101.9-FM, “The New York Rock Experience,” the concert will be emceed by RXP DJs Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram.
The concert will be opened by Road Recovery house band, Crazy James, featuring special guest singer/songwriter/pianist Todd Alsup. This is part of Varvatos’ Thursday Nite Live Concert Series held in the space that once housed CBGBs. According to TicketWeb, online tickets are sold out.
Road Recovery is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people battle addiction and other adversities by harnessing the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises. With support from mental health professionals, Road Recovery provides hands-on mentorship training, educational/performance workshops, peer-support networking and access to real-life opportunities by collaborating with young people to create and present live concert events.
For more information and to donate to this cause, visit www.roadrecovery.org.
SonicScoop was featured on 101.9 RXP’s “Matt Pinfield in the Mornings” today! Matt and Leslie Fram interviewed SonicScoop co-founder David Weiss on their “Supported By” segment. Thanks to everyone at WRXP! You ROCK.