Tag Archives: Oxford

Dead Gaze: Brain Holiday

BrainHolidayThis past October, the Oxford, Miss. band Dead Gaze released its first studio album, Brain Holiday.  Jackson, Miss. native Cole Furlow is the mastermind behind Dead Gaze, a band that has been churning out homemade acid garage pop in Oxford since 2009.   Furlow struck gold when a friend of his who worked at Oxford’s Sweet Tea Studio was offered eleven days of free studio time, and the friend immediately thought of Furlow.  Sweet Tea Studio is owned and operated by famed producer Dennis Herring, and has attracted the likes of such well-known artists as Animal Collective, Modest Mouse, The Walkmen, and Elvis Costello.  Furlow jumped at the chance to work at such a great studio, and the result was Brain Holiday.

The music of Dead Gaze is sometimes classified as “Lo-Fi Psych Pop,” and while this term adequately describes Furlow’s previously released work, the term does not fully apply to Brain Holiday.  There is a definite “Hi-Fi” quality to this album that is all at once intergalactic, tropical, aquatic and air-like.  Furlow uses “Lo-Fi” tricks, such as a low-end synthesizer and circuit bending, to produce “Hi-Fi” results.  Circuit bending is the customization of circuits in electronic devices to produce unexpected, creative, and chance-based sounds.  Furlow utilizes tools such as reconfigured children’s toys, synthesizers, guitars, wires and amps to produce “Hi Fi”–sounding effects out of this “Lo-Fi” technique.  The result is a much more polished, crystal-clear, definite sound.  Furlow proves himself to have mastered the art of “Lo-Fi” in a “Hi-Fi” world.

Brain Holiday comes out only seven months after the self-titled Dead Gaze, which was released in the U.S. on May 21, 2013.   Dead Gaze was met with critical acclaim, however there were problems with the album that seem to be directly addressed on Brain Holiday, such as the lessening of the compression on the vocals that frankly made Cole’s lyrics on some of the tracks from Dead Gaze indecipherable. Here Furlow delivers vocals that are clear and crisp, becoming more sophisticated not only in style, but also in meaning.  Furlow is obviously going deeper with this album.

The first track, “Yuppies are Flowers”, is a catchy pop song on the surface.  But the lyrics tell a story of youth today trying to deal with the Yuppie generation being the ruling class, and how they have screwed things up for the generations to come.  “Rowdy Jungle” is another pop chart dream, sounding pleasantly like Weezer, but with some Mississippi mud thrown in to grunge things up a bit.

Overall, Brain Holiday is a pop album, but there are some indie-inspired surprises like “Runnin On The Moon” and “Breathing Creatures” which are so unique, they each seem to be creating a genre of their own. The self-titled track, “Brain Holiday” ends the album with poetic perfection because of its carefree sound and message, adequately fulfilling Cole Furlow’s wish for this album:  “I just want people to listen to the jams when they need something to get their brain off whatever it is that’s making them go to the music in the first place.”

Dead Gaze is huge in Great Britain and has just finished a European tour that started November 26, 2013, in Belgium, Brussels—seeing France, Italy, Switzerland, and then back to France for two shows (one in Paris), with the last four shows of the tour ending in the UK—the finale being in London (their biggest draw) at the Windmill.

 

Brain Holiday is available now on vinyl, cd and MP3 from FatCat Records. 

 

Of Swampfoot and Gunboats: A Night Of Delta Twists on Classic Rock

It was the first real day of summer in Oxford, Mississippi.  The kind of day that took me back to my childhood growing up on a Mississippi Delta cotton farm in Tallahatchie County.  It had been Larrys_HTunseasonably cold and rainy for weeks, so the ground was saturated.  But the sun broke through the clouds early enough in the day to create a steamy atmosphere—a thickness that sticks to your bones like gumbo mud and makes curly hair poof and straight hair stick to your head like a drowned rat.

The air smelled of sweet, wet earth as I stepped out of my car on the square in Oxford, rare because the square is mostly concrete all around now, like Joni Mitchell’s worst nightmare.  But Joni would approve of my destination:  Proud Larry’s.  I realize it is most fitting that on this steamy Delta-like day the Greenwood, Mississippi-based band Gunboat is going to play.  I had caught a couple of songs at a Gunboat show a while back and was significantly intrigued.  I had to come back to see a full show.

Gunboat has been around for eleven years.  Its band members consist of Will Freeman on lead guitar, Jonbob Wise on keyboard and lead vocals, Bubba McCabe on bass guitar and lead vocals, and Harrison Smith on drums.  All of them grew up together in Greenwood, which creates a family-like atmosphere onstage that beautifully transfers to the crowd.

Opening that night for Gunboat was Swampfoot, which also includes Freeman plus Taylor Wood (also on guitar), Zechariah “Zac” Lloyd Tollotson on drums, and Stephen “Stevo” McCain on the bass.  They started out with an awesome jam that was up there with the likes of Phish with a twangy blues twist, then straight into “Whipping Post.” Next was “Cheap Sunglasses” by ZZ Top, into a Zeppelin-like jam, southern style, then into a Panic-Party-At-Your Mama’s-House-like come down…then straight into “No Speak, No Slave” by the Black Crowes.  Zac’s voice sounds like a great eighties hair band singer—in a good way.  With the kitchy comedy-type style of the band, it works beautifully.  Swampfoot goes into a totally new way of playing “One Way Out,” a song originally recorded by the Mississippi Delta blues great Sonny Boy Williamson (a Tallahatchie County native, like me), and made famous by the Allman Brothers.  The Johnny B. Goode-like jam at the end by Taylor Wood was killer.  Next was the Pink Floyd song, “Have a Cigar” with Kell Kellum on pedal steel.  It was spot on—with a Delta blues feel to it.  Kell is also a native of Greenwood, and it came through clearly in his pedal steel solo, giving the song a haunting, country/blues fusion effect.  If this was setting the bar for the night, I knew I was in for a helluva show once Gunboat took the stage.

Well before the start of the Gunboat show, I noticed that the Gunboat crowd is such a fun crowd.  They all seem to know each other, and all seem to be friends.  It felt more like a family reunion than a show—a feeling that I have only gotten with certain bands, Widespread Panic being one of them.  When the band came onstage, Will Freeman did a call-and-response to the crowd, very reminiscent of Colonel Bruce’s “Cheese Frog Zambie” salute.  The band’s original “Happy Hour” started off the set—a blistering Beanland-like, boogie-woogie ballad written and sung by Jonbob Wise, with a really gritty, bluesy edge.  Jonbob’s gravelly voice is perfect for it, and his piano solos are even better.

“Modern Day Reggae,” written and sung by Bubba McCabe, came later.  The chorus begins with, “Mr. Johnson where did you go?”  And as I listen to Will Freeman’s fantastic solo, I’m thinking that I know exactly where Mr. Johnson went—straight into this young man’s fingers.  Freeman flies through his solos effortlessly, with the complete conviction that what he is playing is good. Robert Johnson had a kind of cocksure attitude toward his music ability that can clearly be heard in his live recordings.  Freeman has that same kind of self-assuredness—he is fully aware of his great talent and he wants the crowd to know it, too.

Then into a jammy, keyboard-lead melody by Jonbob that brings the room down like a feather to the floor—it is the intro to “These Balls,” a hilarious song written and sung by Jonbob.  Then it’s on to “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent, which has become a boilerplate song for the band.  The reference to the movie “Dazed and Confused” is obvious, and there is much more to be drawn from that reference than just “Stranglehold” being on the soundtrack to the movie.  The band’s onstage presence resonates with the “School’s Out For Summer” attitude that is so prevalent in “Dazed”.   Gunboat shows bring the audience back to a simpler, more carefree time in their minds.

Then back > into “Modern Day Reggae” for its last verse—another round of that call and response similar to, “Cheesefrog” (which everyone seems to know but me), and a shout out to the bartender.

Listen to  “Modern Day Reggae > These Balls > Just a Jam > Stranglehold > Modern Day Reggae”

A spaced-out, Phish-like jam finished a song called “El Salvador”, and > “Lennox Man,” a touching song written and sung by Jonbob.  It perfectly ends the show, being reminiscent of the Delta and the ambiance of that special alluvial plane…a lot like Gunboat.  And that’s it.  And I am blown away.

I sat down with Will Freeman to find out a more about the band that had just blown me away on the Larry’s stage.

19 willDid your upbringing in Greenwood, MS, have any influence on your music style?

It did.  I was always exposed to it from an early age.  My father [Johnny Freeman] played with the Gants when he was a teenager, and my uncle on my mother’s side played music and even worked for Fender guitar; so not necessarily the style of my music, but it definitely made me push to play music.

You mention your dad…

That’s right.  He was an original member of the Gants, and then finished up with them as well.

Would you say the Gants influenced your music style?

Yes.  I didn’t really get into the Gants until I was about seventeen or eighteen.  There was always Motown playing in the house, or a Beatles documentary on T.V., and those were what influenced the Gants, so that influenced me as well.

Who are your main musical influences?

It’s really just the standard eighth-grade favorites.  I am a huge Pink Floyd fan, Zeppelin, Garcia.  Trey Anastasio had a big impact on the way I play guitar.  I try to pay tribute to those guys.

What are your favorite bands to go see live?

Really just any band.  I like big production shows like the Stones.  Those big production shows that are really over-the-top are always great.  Or even if it’s just a little bar with just two people in it—it doesn’t matter—as long as it’s good.  I just love seeing live music.

How did Gunboat come about?

Gunboat started when I had just dropped out of Ole Miss and moved back to Greenwood when I was nineteen years old.  There was a guy named Will Pleasants that had a band with Jonbob Wise, our keyboard player, and they were playing so much that they needed a roadie.  I was just this nineteen-year-old kid who was more than happy to help because I loved music and really wanted a band of my own some day.  So he let me sit in [with his band], and it went well.  I told him that I had these two other guys, Bubba McCabe and Harrison Smith, who weren’t doing anything and so we all four [with Jonbob Wise from Pleasant’s band] got together and jammed, and it went great.  That was the start of Gunboat.  And we weren’t called Gunboat for the first year.  Will Pleasants left after that first year.  It was around that time that we started making our own mold where Jonbob and Bubba were writing the music and I was developing my tone and the way I play guitar.  So that’s how it started and that’s how I came to start playing live music.

Why the name, “Gunboat”?

It took a year to name Gunboat.  We had just started with about two weeks of practice and immediately started playing shows, and a name was something we could never agree on.  And Harrison had this hat that said, “Gunboat”—it was just a really random hat—we don’t even know where it is anymore.  But we always kept joking about just naming that band after this stupid hat.  So, after the departure of an original member, we just said, “whatever” and named the band Gunboat.

I’ve noticed that you guys draw a dancing crowd, whereas these days you don’t see much of that unless it’s a techno-type DJ show.  What is it about Gunboat that makes people want to dance?

It’s been eleven years since Gunboat started, and our sound has not really evolved, which is fine—that’s the way I like it and I think that’s the way the other guys [in the band] like it, too.  So, it’s kind-of like a reminder of that late ‘90’s, early 2000’s scene when there wasn’t a lot of techno or that kind of stuff.  I am glad to see music evolve like that, and I enjoy some of that music, but I think our decision to remain in that mode of playing good ‘ol rock and roll has helped, and I think it takes people back to those days when they loved to dance.

What is the song, “Modern Day Reggae” about?

The lyrics to MDR were written by Bubba.  It’s about the experience of driving down Money Road, a road north of Greenwood where the kids from Greenwood would go to ride around and drink beer and just have a good time.  So, of course, we did it as well.  It was a very important place for the kids growing up at that time because we could go out there and listen to whatever music we wanted—rap, country, Phish.  Robert Johnson is buried out there.  It has just been confirmed that his official gravesite is there in the graveyard of an old Baptist church.

 

***

The guys in Gunboat are a band of brothers. Johnbob Wise, the band’s keyboard player, told me a little about how that feeling of brotherhood has shaped their music.7 harrison johnbob

How does the music process happen with Gunboat?

Freeman and I sit down and he plays a rift and I put words to it and change up some of the progressions and [we would] make a song that way.  A lot of them were just [made by] me sitting in my living room at my upright piano, and it always happened in the morning-time for some reason.  I would write a song and bring it to the guys, and they always did what they wanted to with them.  They would put their input in on all of them.

What makes you choose the covers you play?

I don’t choose a whole lot of the covers, really.  Freeman and Bubba do mainly.  If something has a good baseline [Bubba] loves, or if it’s something that Freeman likes to play on guitar, we play it.  We do Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”—with a heavy guitar and drums, which Harrison loves, and the Ted Nugent song, “Stranglehold”—very hard guitar parts in that.  So we all work together on the covers, and make sure to feature our all-star, Will Freeman, in the songs.

Who writes the majority of the songs?

I do.  I write most them.  Bubba writes some, too.  But everybody puts their two cents in.  We give the songs to [the rest of the band] and let Harrison go on all of them and let Bubba do his own baselines—let Will do his own guitar.  Music-wise it is all of us.  I’ll get the melody down and then we figure out the rest together.

And then the lyrics…

The lyrics.  That’s me.  As they are, that’s me.

What are songs about, mostly?

I try to be positive.  But they are mainly about women.

Sad songs about women?

Some.  It depends.  Mainly praising the moment with a woman.  Some of them are sad…just different stories.

You have been called a “JoJo Herman that can sing”.   What is your response to that?

Well, I listened to my share of Widespread Panic, and more Beanland than anything.  But when I was younger, before I had even heard of them, I was a big Dr. John fan.  And I have a deep voice, a low voice, so it’s going to come out that way.  So I think of myself more of a “Dr. John” [voice] than anything.  I wanted to be Dr. John when I was young.

How long have you been playing the piano?

Since I was about fifteen years old.  I taught myself.  That’s why you’ll notice that my fingering is all screwed up—nothing’s normal about the way I play.  It holds me back in a lot of ways, because I don’t know what I’m doing; but I have created a rhythm style of my own that I like, and it has become a part of the band’s sound.

Have you done any studio work?

We have.  We did some recording in our hometown at Charles Hall Studio.  We laid down four songs and it was our first time in the studio.  And then we did some work over at Delta State [University]…we laid down four more songs over there, but never finished anything.  I don’t know why.  I guess we procrastinate a lot.  We just never finished anything up.

Do you plan to do a studio album?

We plan to.  We figure after ten years [of playing] we’ll call it, “Ten Years”.

Do you seek fame and fortune?

(Laughing)  No…absolutely not.

What do you seek?

Just having fun…playing music with these guys, and I hope we do it as long as we are able to.  I have always wanted to do this since I was very young, and I enjoy doing it and I hope we continue to do it.  It is about the music, and the friendship—the bond we all have together.  We have a good time.

 

Oxford’s Proud Larry’s commemorates 20 years

Larrys_HTScott Caradine flips through his old calendar, which is ink and coffee-stained, well-worn with time. Names fly by in each of the date boxes: Walter Wolfman Washington, Astral Project, Elvis Costello, Mose Allison, Peter Rowan, Medeski Martin and Wood, Jerry Joseph, the Black Keys. He turns over postcards from friends and employees, reminiscing about old times and the string of incredible music that has passed through Proud Larry’s in Oxford, Mississippi.

“It feels like yesterday I was sitting on the couch with two friends saying, you know, we should just open a place in Oxford with a really good beer selection and slices of pizza, because nobody did that then in Oxford then, and put on some good shows,” Caradine says. “Twenty years have gone by pretty fast.”

He opened April 15, 1993 with two partners. Caradine handled the food, another handled music, and the other took care of general upkeep of the facility. By 1996, he had bought out his partners and was joined by his wife Lisa.

Proud Larry’s seats 120 people, serving gourmet pizzas, hamburgers, pasta and salads, making most menu items from scratch and priding themselves on using fresh ingredients.

Their slogan is “Come for the food, stay for the music,” and after the kitchen closes at 10 p.m., tables and chairs are removed and they ease in to music venue mode, reaching a capacity of 350 people.

Caradine doesn’t hesitate when asked about his favorite shows.

“Ween is right up there with the best of all times, with their first one in 1995. I think they were here twice, but the first Ween show was by far the biggest,” he says. “Then looking back, there are so many shows that leave a lasting impression, from Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside to New Orleans music like the Rebirth Brass Band or George Porter Jr., or the sit-down, you can hear a pin-drop type of shows with David Lindley, or Roger McGuinn or the Del McCoury Band. And the local bands that have all left their mark here deserve a lot of the fanfare for making it 20 years.”

Blue Mountain at closing time. Proud Larry's. c. 1996
Blue Mountain at closing time. Proud Larry’s. c. 1996

To commemorate two decades of music, the North Mississippi Allstars played April 4 and George Porter Jr. returns on April 12.

“When we originally thought, what shows can we do to celebrate 20 years of Proud Larry’s, shows that will be fun, but that also have a part of the history here and have stood a long time on their own,” Caradine says. “With George Porter, I was a fan first and then became a friend. He has played a number of shows at Larry’s and in Oxford over the years, so he was a natural fit. We promised when we opened in 1993 to bring a truckload of funk, jazz and rock and roll to Oxford, and George is the heavyweight champion of funk. So it made sense to bring him back for a celebratory show.”

The Allstars were also an easy choice.

“I remember meeting Luther Dickinson at a Junior Kimbrough show at Proud Larry’s and then seeing their band do a residency here when they first started out, and then seeing them grow to play the big venue in town and certainly as a nationally touring band, I was really glad they agreed to play a show here,” Caradine says.

Although he may not have known 20 years ago that Proud Larry’s would become an institution full of history, or that it would be folded into the lexicon of Oxford lore, Caradine says he has accomplished what he set out to do: bring pizza, good beer and music to Oxford.

“I don’t know where we will be 20 years from now, obviously, but if Proud Larry’s chooses to be here, it’ll still be here,” Caradine says. “I still enjoy coming to work. I have had fun watching the food progress over the years and it’s been fun to watch employees meet here, and end up married with kids. It’s fun to see my own kids up here.  I have a 13-year-old daughter who comes up here to work from time to time.”

The community itself is also an important aspect to running the business.

“We see people in here today that were customers of ours 20 years ago,” Caradine says. “They are really a lot of the same people. And I think back and have great memories of all the staff that put in a lot of sweat to make this place go, and I’ve been able to watch my family grow through the whole process.”

Tickets for the April 12 show are available at www.proudlarrys.com

Railroad Eath half-steps into Mississippi

Railroad Earth

Proud Larry’s

Oxford, Mississippi

June 14, 2007

 

Categorizing Railroad Earth is hard, yet that’s what music journalists inevitably do.  They’re bluegrass, but amplified and with drums.  The two latter pretty much cancel out the standard definition of the genre, but that’s the closest comparison that can be drawn, even if it’s a progressive one. 

Rooted in Flatt & Scruggs, they now carry the torch with arrangements and song treatments that have endeared them to younger fans and the jamband scene. One thing’s for certain: this ain’t your uncle from Kentucky’s bluegrass.

Does it really matter?  No, because in truth, what they are is one of, if not the tightest goddamn band of musicians touring today.

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