Like an upside-down version of the honky-tonk thing where the fiddle plays a higher harmony with the dark twangy Telecaster

 

THE ARMOIRES return with their keenly-awaited second album ZIBALDONE.  Sweet Sweet Music talked to the Burbank, CA band’s co-leaders Christina Bulbenko (vocals, keys) and Rex Broome (vocals, guitar).

LISTEN and BUY

 

 

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Things change. What’s happened since the recording of the last record and how did it influence the new one?

 

Absolutely everything changed. That’s true in so many ways, but to limit it to where The Armoires are as a band in this world… we released our first album in 2016 almost into a vacuum. We were totally unknown. It seems odd, because outside of the band we (Christina and Rex) have since then become fairly well known within the guitar pop community for all of the various things we’ve done as Big Stir, and while the band has played live a lot, there weren’t many recordings going out… we were working on what would become Zibaldone and Side Three but definitely wanted them to arrive as singular works that summed up the band as it is now.

 

The biggest influence of everything that changed over that time was becoming part of that community and having adventures within it. That’s apparent both in the large list of guests on the album and the lyrics which are often celebrations of our journey and our fellow travelers. The album is awash in the talent and wisdom of people we hadn’t even met when we did the first one but now seem like lifelong friends. That goes from Steven Wilson (Plasticsoul) who produced it with as much love and care as if it were his own record to the total heroes of ours who sing and play on it and give it so much texture. But we’ve also got the experience of having the same live band and doing a lot of live shows, so that maybe paradoxically it sounds so much more like “us” than anything we’d done before.

 

Your sound is different. You use the instruments a bit different than others in the genre? Is that what sets you apart?

 

Right, we aren’t a two-guitar four-piece! So many of our favorite bands are, but as a collective, we sort of feel a calling to do something a little different that plays to our strengths as individual musicians – consider The New Pornographers and The Go-Betweens as very key influences there. The guitar is prominent but there’s less of it than you might think and a lot of our new songs follow our live sound in that there’s only one guitar track or at most an overdubbed solo… the keys and vocals fill in a lot of the space.

 

The two cornerstones of our sound are both happy accidents. Christina and Rex’s individual voices are very different and oddly in similar ranges, so they blend in some pretty unique ways and discovering that is what got us started. The other accident is that early on, Larysa, Christina’s daughter, jumped into the band on viola, which aside from John Cale in the Velvet Underground is an uncommon instrument for rock bands – it’s lower and richer than a violin – and Rex plays almost exclusively electric 12-string, which is higher and brighter than most guitars. We really worked on the chemistry between the two and sort of invented a sound that is, at least formalistically, like an upside-down version of the honky-tonk thing where the fiddle plays a higher harmony with the dark twangy Telecaster. Which would have been a brilliant idea if we’d actually done it on purpose… but we think we’ve refined it into a secondary sonic signature that we really like.

 

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The new songs are always the best ones. What’s the best example of that? And why?

 

The Armoires had a lot of songs from the beginning, basically like 40 tunes that Rex and Christina had worked up to greater or lesser degrees, and only 12 made it onto our first album. The idea for the second record was to very quickly bash out the remainder of our live set in the studio for maximum immediacy, in the manner of some of our very favorite sophomore albums. But obviously, we took three years to finish it instead! And in that time naturally, new things took shape.

 

So the new recordings are a mixture of songs of wildly varying vintages that seemed to fit together sonically and thematically, although some are over a decade old (“Pushing Forty” shows its age as we’re both well past that mark!) and things that weren’t even written when we started recording, like the “travelogue” songs that bookend the record (“Appalachukraina” and “When We Were In England (And You Were Dead)”. We decided as we went along that songs, like wines, cheese, and people, mature at different rates and these were the ones that made sense together… some others still needed a little time to decide what they wanted to be when they grew up. They’ll show up on the next record, along with even fresher stuff, and we imagine that’s how we shall proceed from here on out… it’s just nice to imagine a future where we get to do that and have the panic of “what if we only ever get to do one album?” behind us!

 

What’s up for the second part of 2019?

 

Touring, although perhaps less than we originally envisioned… that may wait until next Spring if our current plans come together. Waiting to see how this baby is received by an audience we didn’t have last time around. And the promotional push that we’ve given to the other artists on Big Stir Records while crafting Zibaldone and waiting for our own turn. In every way 2019 will wind up being a watershed for the band and the label and we’re in the thick of it right now… we won’t really understand what’s going on now until the end of the year, and then we’ll have to sit down and figure out what just happened to us!

 

How easy is it to stay focused on your own music when Big Stir is growing and growing?

 

It’s both challenging and beneficial, really. Challenging in that, although we’re always together working on the community and business side of things, it’s easy to just think “we need to work on our own stuff but that can wait until tomorrow after we mail this bunch of records out and finish our pieces for Big Stir Magazine or do the press release for the next band in the Singles Series or”… it’s a long list. But at the same time being at the center of a community of great bands and writers and performers is VERY good for us… there’s a high standard to meet and when you’re on a label with Amoeba Teen or In Deed, you don’t want to come up short and look like the only reason your band is getting a release is because the singers own the business!

 

Inspiration is therefore always close at hand… we get very involved in the material we’re presenting from other bands and we can romanticize it being like a small-scale version of the great and productive friendly musical rivalries of the past, McCartney and Brian Wilson spurring each other to higher heights. Nothing that earthshaking, but the Big Stir bands listen to and steal from each other’s songs all the time, and our record certainly wouldn’t be as good as it is without us feeling a part of a living, breathing continuum of artists at the top of their game. Can we build something based on a Plasticsoul drum part, shoot for Michael Simmons-level harmonies, attempt to capture the way a turn of phrase from Blake Jones gets you right there, try to shape a 12-string riff up to Peter Watts’ level of elegance? Those are good targets to have close at hand!

 


 

The unique harmonies of Christina Bulbenko and Rex Broome combine with jangling guitars, sparkling keyboards, soaring viola, and a singular sense of songcraft to create the essence of THE ARMOIRES. It’s sunshine pop with a kick, tapping the rich Southern California pop rock heritage from The Byrds to X and back to hits-era Fleetwood Mac, and melding it with a twist of English psychedelia and postpunk drive. The sweet and sour vocal sound gives life to Broome and Bulbenko‘s sophisticated lyrics – sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, always a bit mysterious. It’s a dreamlike combination of the warm and the unsettling that’s captured ears and hearts wherever The Armoires travel, and is as instantly recognizable as the pair’s visual profile: matching paisley attire, spectacles and platinum blonde hair. 

The band is widely known as the founders and leading lights of the Big Stir collective, a global concert series and record label dedicated to the musical community based around power pop and similarly styled melodic guitar rock. But The Armoires are an artistic force of their own, with a pair of new releases for 2019: the Side Three EP (out now), and the Zibaldone LP due in August, with a number of tour dates to follow. Reflecting the spirit of community and family the band represents, the new records are produced by Steven Wilson of Big Stir Records mainstay Plasticsoul and feature not only Christina and Rex‘s daughters (regular violist Larysa Bulbenko and touring bassist Miranda Broome respectively) but also a slew of guest appearances from their fellow travelers on the worldwide pop scene, including SpygeniusThe CondorsBlake Jones, The Corner Laughers, The Bobbleheads, Michael Simmons and more. The stalwart rhythm section of bassist Clifford Ulrich and drummer Derek “Kenny’s Plumbing” Hanna, longtime veterans of prior collaborations with Broome, provide the synergistic chemistry that makes the new songs hum with energy as The Armoires prepare for the next step in their strangely compelling musical journey.

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The Successful Failures – Saratoga

 

NJ Indie-Rock/Roots band the Successful Failures 7th full length LP, “Saratoga”, features 11 new Mick Chorba tunes all about ghosts, mothers, gold stars, and Knoxville. Songs about going back to learn you can never go back. Rock and roll. 

releases August 30, 2019 

Mick Chorba: lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, keyboards 
Ron Bechamps: bass guitar, backing vocals 
Rob Martin: drums 
Pete Smith: electric guitar 
Greg Potter: electric guitar, keyboards, backing vocals

 

 

 

In conversation with Mick Chorba.

 

For every song you record, how many end up in the bin?

 

I write about a song a week….so for every song that makes it onto an album I have 3 that go to the bin. I think we are all better off this way!

 

With every song you write, are you still learning to become an even better songwriter?

 

Why of course yes! I always think my newest song is the most interesting, best thing ever and then at some point I hate it with all my heart. The songs that somehow avoid falling into disdain sometimes survive my wrath. I like to try out different strategies for writing songs and stealing from new and surprising sources!

 

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As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

 

I am not sharing my emotions…I create characters… I’m sharing their emotions. At least that’s what I tell myself and everyone else!

 

 

 

Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?

 

No idea. Need help with that. Anyone?

 

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

 

Now that I’ve been at this for a long time I realize that every show is an amazing opportunity to play music with my friends. I’m so lucky and appreciate every show.

 

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

“No White Knight in Knoxville” and before that “Love You So”

 

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

 

We recorded this new album differently.

 

We booked time in a big studio and did most of it live. I think this factor contributes to what I think is a really good record. It was a joy to record.

 

Which 5 records, that everybody forgot about, would define ‘our time’ on earth?

 

The Band’s self-titled album would express loss and joy and hope and defeat as good as any. The Replacement’s albums “Don’t Tell a Soul” and “All Shook Down” pretty much do the same.

 

 

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

 

You never know what you’re going to capture…I like the mistakes best. Our song “Meal Parade” from “Captains of Industry….” for example. I actually started overdubbing my acoustic guitar over the drum part a measure too late and it totally changed the feel of the song and arrangement. On that song drummer, Rob Martin also played one of the drum parts on a stool that was laying around the studio which we thought was pretty cool.

 

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

 

You can physically feel the energy from an enthusiastic crowd and it makes it so much more fun. It makes a connection that is hard to describe but we all can feel it.

 

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

 

For this new album listen to the way the instruments interact with each other… Listen to the sequencing of the album, the way one song leads to the next and lastly, the vocal harmonies and Pete Smith’s guitar parts are a lot of fun. There are stories in these songs I hope people can identify with.

The Brothers Steve – #1

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Tantaliciously delightful

Sweet Sweet Music talked to Jeff Whalen and Os Tyler about The Monkees, Springsteen, catchy melodies and singing harmonies.

BUY THE SINGLE HERE (Big Stir records)

 

Don Valentine writes:

Tsar stalwarts Jeff Whalen, Jeff Solomon and Steve Coulter are joined by Os Tyler and Dylan Champion in the Los Angeles five piece. In stating that the album is as good as that Tsar debut, it must be said that it’s not the same.

There is a much different tempo here. the band are in much less of a hurry to get to the licks. #1 has far more in common with The Monkees and great late 60’s Pop. The album is built on the wonderful vocal harmonies and singalong choruses.

 

 

Was that indeed the sound you were looking for or does that sound comes naturally to you?

 

Jeff Whalen:  Thank you for the Monkees comment!  (ed. Take that as a compliment Don) They’ve always been a top-five band for me.  I mean, it comes and goes, but I’ve had several periods in my life in which I was so absolutely obsessed with the Monkees that it caused concern among some loved ones.

Some friends and I got super-duper into the Monkees movie Head when we in high school.  The way only guys in high school can—you know, where you watch the same movie over and virtually everything you say to each other is in some way a line or reference to the movie.

 

But yeah, the Brothers Steve record to me is like a ‘60s meets ‘90s kind of record.  Most of the things I do—solo or in Tsar or whatever—have a 1970s glitter component, but this record doesn’t really have that.  I don’t think the ‘60s thing here was super-intentional.  It’s more like when Os and I get together to sing and write, especially with our crack guitar player Dylan singing with us, too—he’s got a super-cool voice— we very often end up in this early-Bee Gees/Association/Nilsson territory.  I mean there’s a million other things going on, too, but yeah, it’s a sound that comes very naturally to us when we’re making music together.

 

Os Tyler:  Singing harmonies is about the most fun you can have.  It’s tantalizingly delightful.

 

Jeff:  Tantaliciously delightful—possibly even cee- or even be-lightful.

 

Os:  Indeed-lightful!  If you haven’t sung harmony with someone recently, make it happen.  Or just sing a harmony along with whatever song you listen to next!  #1 is infused with our shared love of intertwining voices and I would say the sound you hear is primarily an organic one.

 

 

When they speak about the new Springsteen record ‘that great 60’s Pop’ is also mentioned. Same influences, different outcome? Or different influences?

 

Os:  The Boss is a magical force of nature, a musical genius masquerading as a majestic miner.  I hope we are dipping our toes in the same waters.

 

Jeff:  I haven’t heard the Springsteen album.  I assume we share some of the same influences—like, I bet he likes the Shangri-Las or the Dave Clark 5 or whatever—but how that inspiration gets processed is probably very different.  And then I bet we have some different influences, too.  Like, I’m not sure when Springy last cranked some Archies deep cuts, windows down, sunny day, cruising down Sunset Blvd.

 

Os:  Are we all influenced by transportational love, suffering, and desire?  Probably, but you’d be crazy to talk about it.  I would never bring it up in an interview.

 

You wrote so many great choruses, when do you decide it’s good enough to record?

 

Jeff:  Thanks!  I dunno!  Great question!  Os and I definitely have a tendency to keep working on songs to a controversial degree.  Years, sometimes.  But usually, it’s not in the writing stage that we have trouble deciding if it’s good enough yet—usually we have trouble calling it finished when were in the recording phase.  We just keep adding stuff.  I think it’s a combination of enjoying the process and a semi-neurotic reluctance to finish something.  If not for the firm, patient-yet-scary insistence of the other band members, I’m sure we’d be overdubbing even now.

 

Os:  Recording is such an evolution-in-the-process thing now.  The most critical element is deciding to do it and picking a start date.  Dive in and make it happen.  Anyway, that’s what I tell myself:  “Self, Dive in!”

 

 

How did The Brothers Steve start?

 

Jeff:  We met in college, at UC Santa Barbara.  We got together last year to play for fun at a party and decided to record an album.

 

And, in the end, how will they be remembered?

 

Os: Fondly.

 

Jeff:  With people’s brains.

 

Os:  There’s something inherently moving about music that is comprised entirely of amplified strings vibrating, drums reverberating and human voices intertwining.

 

Jeff:  Simple lines intertwining.

 

Os:  People are going to keep returning to that sound, and the Brothers Steve, #1, is a pretty good dose of it!

 

When is the last time you heard from Kathy Fong?

 

Jeff:  Ha!  I’m not talking to her at the moment.  She knows why.

 

Os: Listen, between you and me, I talked to Kathy recently, and she’s doing OK. But she can be a little private about her feelings, just give her time.

 

 

 

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