Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Speed The Plough - The Plough & The Stars (Sept. 17, 2013)

Speed The Plough's story dates back to the early Eighties, when high-school friends Marc Francia, Toni Paruta, John Baumgartner, and Elbus Kelemet first formed the Trypes. With the Feelies largely on hiatus in those days, Speed The Plough's ranks grew to include Feelies Glenn Mercer, Bill Million, Stan Demeski, Dave Weckerman, and Brenda Sauter. When the Feelies started performing actively again in 1984, the Trypes morphed into Speed The Plough, with Marc, John, and Toni forming their own group. The name, from an old Scottish folk song, was plucked from a book of sheet music just days before their first gig, which was at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ. STP has had numerous line-ups over the years, including former members Rich Barnes, Stanley Demeski, Jim DeRogatis, John Neilson, Chris O’Donovan, Frank O’Toole, and Pete Pedulla. John and Toni married, and after some quiet years spent raising families and pursuing careers, Speed The Plough found new life in 2009 with the children of the original members bringing fresh energy and ideas to the group's signature chamber-pop sound:   Marc's sons Dan and Ian Francia took over bass and drums, while John and Toni's son Michael came aboard on guitar.  The current lineup includes old family friends Cindi Merklee and Ed Seifert on bass and guitar, Michael Baumgartner on guitar, Stan Demeski's son John on drums, and multi-instrumentalist/vocalists John and Toni on accordion, keyboards, flute, and woodwinds. 

 Speed The Plough:  Then And Now

John Baumgartner:
The Plough & The Stars started to come together around 2010 when Marc's kids (Ian and Dan) kicked us in the ass.  We had this huge catalog of material and they kept saying we should be playing it, and they really prompted us to get the band out of mothballs.  And that directly led to the realization that we had put out a lot of albums and wouldn't it be nice to pick our favorite stuff and get it back in print?  We had solicited some fan input over the years about what they wanted to hear again, so we included that. But the whole idea was really an outgrowth of getting the youngsters involved and realizing that maybe we had something worth sharing.

Once we had an idea for what we wanted to do, the next step was to ask, where we can do it? And Bar/None was an obvious choice.  Our history really paralleled Bar/None's and how things had evolved in the Hoboken music scene over the years.  Oddly,  for all of the music we had released, the idea of working with Bar/None had never come up, so the first thing I did was call Glenn (Morrow) and ask if he would be interested in working with us on this retrospective project. I think we had the feeling that we were really pretty far under the radar compared to a lot of the stuff he had been putting out, so we had no idea if Bar/None would be interested, but it seemed like a logical fit.  And I can't say enough about how accommodating Glenn was about understanding this strange vision we had of doing a "Best Of" chronicling the history of the band.  And then we were sitting on top of half a dozen new songs that we had recorded, so we added an LP of new material to the whole caper. It might have been more than a lot of labels would have bitten off.   We actually at one time had this crazy idea of doing this all on 10-inch LP's and Glenn talked us off the ledge of that, but in every other way, he came through and respected our vision.  It was especially important for us to include the booklet, just because we've had this convoluted history going back to the earliest days of the Trypes/Willies/Feelies/Yung Wu, and all the flak we used to get from people asking, why does there have to be so many bands, all with the same people?  It was hard to convince people that it was four or five different bands because it was four or five different kinds of music that were all individual visions unto themselves, and Speed The Plough obviously continued that.

Speed The Plough on iTunes: 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Hot Lava - Lavology  (October 7, 2008)

Like many bands, Hot Lava started out as art school geeks before they started making music.  Allison Apperson studied design, Jared Sosa and Andrew Mowe wanted to be filmmakers, and Matt Deans did illustration and design.  The band's visual imagination revealed itself in song titles like "JPG In The Sun" and  "Blue Dragon." The band eventually bubbled up through Richmond, Virginia's indie scene, their A/V background providing a natural entre' into art galleries and loft parties.  It proved a little harder opening the doors of Richmond's rock club scene;  Hot Lava's conceptual mix of Nineties indie-rock and Sixties pop tropes didn't really fit in with anything else going on at the time.  Eventually the band realized that there were other weird little bands in other towns that "got" them and the band formed a network of like-minded artists up and down the East Coast.  Bar/None released the group's only release, Lavology, in the fall of 2008.  Wondering Sound.com enthused, "
It's no surprise [Hot Lava]  align themselves with Dan Deacon's Wham City collective — they have a similarly quirky, 8-bit sound, complete with short song lengths and lots of non-sequiturs. The highlight on Lavology, their debut full-length, is 'Apple+Option+Fire,' a mega-catchy lo-fi bounce that would be twee if it weren't so all-over-the-place."  

Allison Apperson:

We wanted to keep things weird to keep it interesting, but it wasn't just for the sake of being weird - it was because we were all art school weirdos. We changed things up a lot each show, sometimes we would have some dancers, or invite our other friends in bands to play a cover with us, we tried playing to a metronome and bringing in some of the effect used on our album. I think the art school, creative background pushed us to keep things interesting. It also came through in show fliers and in the band artwork. Everything was very DIY. We were also lucky to have a good friend who worked on a Hot Lava logo and almost our whole identity from the start.
We were in Richmond, VA. We did make a few trips to NYC and DC. SXSW one year with a tour on the way. For us, the band kind of happened by accident. It happened right after we finished college and some of us had full-time jobs. We tried to make it all work, but our other lives, the day job lives, didn't allow for a full-fledged tour. Also, touring just wasn't really our thing. The most fun came when we were recording and writing; touring had a different vibe. We might not have been cut out to be road dogs.
There were plans (for a second album,)  and honestly I would still like to take a stab at those working recordings one day. The songwriting sort of stopped for a good while, but came back right as everyone in the band was moving. We have a couple of things in the vault that were pretty cool, but aren't quite there yet. If it ever does come out, I don't know if it would be a Hot Lava album or something else. We'll see. I bet one day we'll finish those tracks.

I think our 60's sensibilities were almost by accident. I love simple pop songs and without knowing it so much, ripped some style from the 60's. We performed with a lot of bands that later became influences and are people I'm really glad we met. Deep Time in particular, a band from Austin, Texas, pushed our writing style a bit. The split that we released on our own was influenced a bit by them. They're a great band. I did meet Kim Deal a few years ago and gave her a Hot Lava record. She probably wouldn't like all the bleep blops and keyboards.
Jared is crushing it these days.  [His Instagram account has more than 20,000 followers.]  I just moved to Chicago and am working as an Art Director. Outside of that I just wrapped up a documentary on a beloved practice space in Richmond (our hometown) that shut down in June. Hot Lava played and recorded there a tiny bit, but our friends and a ton of other bands really called that place home and it's a shame to see it go.  [You can check it out here.] I just wrapped that up before moving. Kind of a farewell present to Richmond. Love that place.

Hot Lava on Bar-None.com.  

Hot Lava on iTunes.com
"Blue Dragon" 

"JPG In the Sun"
 "Mummy Beach"

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Burnside Project -Networks Circuits Streams Harmonies (January 21, 2003)
Burnside Project - The Finest Example Is You (October 15, 2005)
Burnside Project - Syntax And Semantics (September 9, 2016)

Richard Jankovich's self-released, self-titled Burnside Project album announced the arrival of this New York City-based electro-pop outift in 2000, and Bar/None followed up with the release of Networks Circuits Streams Harmonies (with the band now expanded to include Gerald Hammill) in 2003. Spin raved that the band's "desperate, skittering tracks" constituted "dance music for people who approach the dance floor with great trepidation;" Seattle's KEXP spun the album on heavy rotation; and the single "Cue The Pulse To Begin" became the theme song for the television's edgy "Queer As Folk" and a Top 10 radio hit in Japan.   The future looked bright, but then, somehow, everything fell apart. The group's follow up album, Syntax And Semantics, fell into a black hole, never to be heard until Bar/None released it as a free digital download in September, 2016.   Burnside Project did regroup for a third album, The Finest Example Is You, which Bar/None released in 2008  ("Its surging synth-based arrangements fall somewhere between the pop-friendly sound of the Postal Service and the brooding atmosphere of the Faint." - CD Universe.)  But the group's moment had passed.

Download Syntax And Semantics here

Read Burnside Project's interview on PopMatters.com here

Gerald Hammill: 
From very early on, Bar/None Records has always held a special place in my heart, the New Jersey-based label being the gateway for me into the independent music world. In 1986, the same year that Bar/None put out its first handful of releases, a teenaged me began digging deeper into left-of-the-dial sounds. Sure, I’d already been buying records by crossover punk and new wave artists like the Clash, the Cure, and the Psychedelic Furs for a few years. Yet the first time I heard They Might Be Giants’ quirky, catchy “Don’t Let’s Start” played on my hometown’s beloved community radio station (Tampa Bay’s WMNF), my musical trajectory shifted. Unlike commercial rock, there was this indescribable intimacy, and that same feeling extended beyond the band. I remember taking the album home from the record store and staring at the Bar/None logo on the back cover while I listened – there was just something no-frills yet wonderfully homegrown looking about it that drew me in. I began picking up LPs and CDs by the likes of Glass Eye, Freedy Johnston, and Yo La Tengo just by the simple merit of seeing that Bar/None imprint. The door had been opened to a whole new universe of eclectic sounds, and soon I was exploring releases on other indie labels as well – from Homestead to Touch and Go, to 4AD to Creation Records.

Fast forward to 1992 when good friend Julian Koster (future Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel member) shared the exciting news that Bar/None was going to release his debut Chocolate USA album – a record in which I had contributed guitar on a few tracks when he was recording it in Florida. The label indeed was the perfect fit for Julian’s wide-eyed surrealist pop, and I was personally thrilled to have my name (listed here as Gerry “Fengers” Hammill) in the credits of an actual Bar/None release. A year later, Julian would introduce me to label owner Glenn Morrow at a Freedy Johnston showcase at Austin’s SXSW music festival, and I remember thinking at the time that I had just met independent music’s equivalent of Ahmet Ertegun.

Having played in bands since I was a teenager, I finally picked up from Florida and moved to NYC in 2000 with the hopes of being a part of a bigger music scene. I blew through most of my meager savings pretty quickly on shows, but made many great friendships and experiences. Joy Zipper’s Tabitha and Vinny were two such people and coincidentally, their album had just come out on Bar/None. The same would be said for the Mendoza Line. It was also during this time that I became close friends with Richard Jankovich (a former Bar/None intern and longtime fan of the label as well), who would invite me over to his Hoboken recording studio to collaborate with him on Burnside Project’s soon-to-be-named The Networks, the Circuits, the Streams, the Harmonies. The demos would catch the ear of none other than Glenn Morrow; it’s funny how the universe works sometimes.

With the studio just blocks away from the Bar/None office, Glenn would come by after work from time to time to check on the album’s progress, offer us creative advice, and even lay down a guitar track or two. That said, on one such visit, and this is a few years after The Networks (during sessions for Syntax and Semantics), he stopped by while we were discussing a song’s vocal take. Glenn felt the melody was too sleepy and in trying to demonstrate a more passionate direction, caught us all of guard by letting out a guttural wail that you just couldn’t imagine coming out of his lungs. It sounded like the Cure’s Robert Smith, if possessed by a demon. Band member Paul Searing’s swig of beer ended up splashed across his keyboard and I think Richard almost fell out of his chair. We’ve always jokingly referred to this as the only bad advice Glenn ever gave us, and we love him dearly for it.

Aside from our just-released “lost album," Syntax and Semantics, Burnside Project has been inactive for 10 years now, but we all still keep in touch with Glenn. His friendship and influence continues to be invaluable. It goes without saying that it’s been such an honor to be a part of Bar/None’s amazing family of artists and staff, and the label remains as wonderfully eclectic and yes, intimate as ever. Happy 30th, Bar/None, and thank you, Glenn!

-Gerald Hammill (Burnside Project)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Happyness - Weird Little Birthday (March 23, 2015)

Happyness is... three cheeky lads from South London.
Their slapdash approach to writing and recording music means that roles within the band remain fairly fluid, but Jonny Allan and Benji Compston do lead vocals and Ash Cooper does drums. The trio formed in 2013 and, after several false starts, recorded their debut eponymous album and an EP at  their own Jelly Boy Studios, a one-time carpentry warehouse and butterfly commune an hour or so outside of London.   Bar/None came into the picture for the re-release of  Happyness' first full-length, Weird Little Birthday, in the United States, gussied up with a few bonus tracks that originally appeared on the EP and new track from 2015. 

Pop Matters summed up the band's approach simply:  "
Happyness’ main plan is simple: have Compston whisper some clever/cynical lyrics over lo-fi strumming, toss out a few gentle hooks, and keep it chill/weird, man, which is to say Pavement after a Fall-ectomy. 1990s Amerindie has its adherents and modern-day practitioners (Yuck, California X), and Happyness fit right in with that crew." The band's also drawn comparisons to Granddaddy, Teenage Fan Club, and Wilco.  UK's Guardian opined, "Happyness switch effortlessly between fuzzy pop and downcast, desolate ballads, alternately thrilling and charming," while NME added, "London trio Happyness might have adapted their sonic template from American college/indie rock bands like Pavement, Rilo Kiley and Sparklehorse, but the wit and lyrical context of their music is all British."

working on their second album, Happyness will release a stop-gap EP on September 23 and have just released the video "Anna, Lisa Calls."  "This is our first phone-call song and our fifth song in E Major," the band notes.  We eagerly await more.

Happyness: Glenn and Mark gave us a copy of I, Brute Force: Confections Of Love just before our last US tour - and have sent at least one email since urging us not to be TOO influenced by it. I think we've probably done 3000 miles or so soundtracked by that record. Last time we were in New York [to start another US tour], we somehow ended up at a pool party (if you can call it that) with Glenn & Mark to celebrate the opening of a new condo opposite the Bar None offices where there was a free buffet and a handful of plastic flags/deflated balloons. I think Glenn knows the super and so we had a way in. We wanted to find a nearby guitar store in order to pick up the cheapest electric guitar we could find (we briefly had the idea of Benji playing a second guitar with his foot through a Big Muff for one song, it never quite worked out), so Glenn drove us down to 'Guitar Bar' in Hoboken where we managed to pick up a tiny red electric guitar for $30 - we still have a pick from 'Guitar Bar' in our studio somewhere as something of a momento. Bar None have released some of our favourite records by some of our favourite artists (The Feelies - Crazy Rhythms & Yo La Tengo - Fakebook among them), so being on their label is very special for us.

Happyness crashing a U.S. pool party. Where are the balloons?

BrooklynVegan.com announces new Happyness EP

Weird Little Birthday review on PopMatters.com