When a musician has been recording for 35 years and released 11 studio albums, it’s hard to come to a consensus on his best record, or even his most creative period. Such is the case with Texas singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo. Some will say the quiet masterpiece of his 1998 live album More Miles Than Money represents his best work. Others cite 2001’s A Man Under the Influence as an example of his abilities as a musical chameleon. And still others argue that his near-death scare with hepatitis-C in 2005 (he has since fully recovered) has resulted in his most consistent creative period. What is clear is that the 61 year-old Escovedo can still make fantastic music, and his 12th album, Big Station, is no exception.
It’s been almost a year since I regrettably missed Phantogram in D.C., so when I finally had the chance to catch them at Baltimore’s Ram’s Head Live, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Anticipation had built and I was sick and tired of hearing people tell me what a phenomenal set I missed the last time around. So here I was, making a rare trip to Ram’s Head for a night of supposedly stunning electronica accompanied by unknown openers who promise low-key, ambient rhythms. With these expectations in mind, I was pleasantly surprised when Ki:Theory kicked things off in a much more aggressive manner.
On Sunday, June 3rd, tUnE-yArDs played DC’s 9:30 Club. ChunkyGlasses was lucky enough to spend some time with Merrill Garbus, the creative force behind tUnEy-ArDs’ energetic and experimental music. In 2009, tUnEy-ArDs released its debut album, BiRd-BrAiNs, which was self-produced and recorded by Garbus on a handheld voice recorder. The band includes Garbus on vocals, percussion, ukulele, and drums, Nate Brenner on electric bass, and occasional guests on the saxophone. The band is currently on tour in support of their 2011 album, w h o k i l l.
CG: Your music is very different, and as you’ve said, you really “push “instruments such as your voice or the ukulele to the extreme in ways that others haven’t tried or been willing to try. It takes a lot of self-confidence and courage to push boundaries of music. Where do you get that self-confidence from, and do you ever have trouble finding it?
MG: It’s interesting, I’ve been thinking about that because people have been reminding me about the times in my life that I’ve done this independent-minded kind of thing. Even though from my perspective, I come from a place of being a quiet, shy person who isn’t like, “I just do whatever I want to do!” and has that face in the world. And yet, I remember for instance, when studying theater at Smith College having an attitude of “this is all very old and I want to change things.” I think I’ve always had that point of view. I think it’s not so much courage, but the sense that things need to change and that I want to be part of that movement. And I think that applies to everything—for example, society and politics, and culture and music included in that. I feel like it’s less courage and more that this is so obvious that this needs to happen and that I need to be a part of something progressive, whether that’s in my politics or in my social activism and charity work or if that’s embedded in the creative part of what I do—it applies across the board.