Caithlin De Marrais – A soft slap of sweet singing…(From the Ben Arthur Seed)

Caithlin De Marrais

We’re starting to get into the third round of the Ear to Ear Project, so let’s review…

Ben Arthur pointed to Balthrop, Alabama, who offered Caithlin De Marrais, a songwriter with a delightful twang and deep sense of place.  I’ve fallen for her well-crafted lo-fi-ness (not something I normally say), where everything sounds real and present and unaltered, and oh-so-true.

So let’s meet Caithlin…

How did you get started playing music?

My band, Rainer Maria, recorded and toured from ’95-’06. I was on bass/vocals, Kyle Fischer–guitars/vocals, Bill Kuehn–drums. In the film “The Wrestler” Randy the Ram says that the ’90s sucked, but I thought it was an ok time to be in a band. The music industry hadn’t imploded yet and there was an “us against them” camaraderie between us indie bands. I always wore my heart on my sleeve when I played.

What was the first recording you ever purchased?

My awesome little brother and I would go to the Trumbull mall and buy 45s. We collected dozens and dozens–everything from big hits to obscure gems–Prince, Peter Gabriel, Bow Wow Wow, A-Ha, Eddie Grant, Nena, Musical Youth, Van Halen…much dancing and head banging in the living room ensued.

How would you describe the music you play now?

“Like a soft slap to the face.” (thanks Pitchfork!)

What instruments do you all play in your band?  How did you pick that combination?

Josh Kaufman is my wingman on electric guitar. I have two excellent drummers, Jason Lawrence and Konrad Meissner. Many other wonderful musicians make appearances on My Magic City, including one of my most cherished guitar heroes, Dean Wareham, and his gorgeous bandmate, Britta Phillips.
Somehow along the way I discovered how fun it was to record and play music with my mad, brilliant friends.

Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical?  A painter, building, dish of cereal?

My Magic City has a golden honeycomb center surrounded by delicious milk chocolate, just like a Cadbury Crunchie bar.

Who would you consider your musical inspiration?

For My Magic City I was ruminating on my love of Spacemen 3, Spiritualized and Galaxie 500.

If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?

The kid in me wants to go back to the ’70s when Stevie Wonder performed “Superstition” live on Sesame Street. That was cool. But since I don’t have a time machine, I’d like to reform The Smiths and open for them. All I need is 3 million dollars or so.

What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?

Dance-ability! Or alternately, heartbreak-ability.

Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?

Best two new releases I’m listening to right now: El May. Her amazing self-titled debut album is out Jan 19th. And Owen. His latest album New Leaves is a gem.
Best two Pandora stations I’m listening to right now: Roxy Music Radio. And Julie London Radio.

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Listen to Caithlin:

Caithlin De Marrais – “Outer Space Is Still Sexy” (features Dean Wareham on electric guitar)

Caithlin De Marrais – “Play Fair” (Cover of Bob Buckridge tune)

And pick up a disc!

Caithlin De Marais - My Magic City

A note from Caithlin:

My latest record, Seb & Cait Live at Joe’s will be released on End Up Records in Feb.  It’s a live recording of a show at Joe’s Pub in NYC, I played with the artist, Seb Leon. Also check out Seb’s record, Cranes of Glitter. It’s like a French souffle with Bowie and Roxy Music inclinations.
http://www.sebleon.info/

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Ben Arthur (seed) → Balthrop, AlabamaCaithlin De Marrais

Balthrop, Alabama – Barnyard Epic Indie Rock (from the Ben Arthur Seed)

It stays in the family for this bit of our musical tree , in part because Ben Arthur’s brother, Michael Arthur, is a member of the band.  But really, it’s all a family thing anyway, having been started up by Lauren and Pascal Balthrop, and grown into the bustling musical metropolis it is today. With 11 members, a bevy of different instruments, and a carefully crafted backstory, Balthrop, Alabama creates wonderful songs that bring you back to the warm green grasses of home.

Lauren Balthrop (aka Georgiana Starlington) took the time to respond, talk a bit about their music, and represent the fair town of their creation.

How did you get started playing music?

We come from a pretty musical family. As kids, there were always sing-alongs and we were singing along with when the family got together. It was just always a part of who we were. My mom and her sisters are like the Andrew Sisters. When they’re together, they are in three part harmony. I wrote my first song when I was 6 after having gotten back from a trip to the circus. It was called Tightrope and it ended up on the first Balthrop, Alabama album ‘Your Big Plans and Our Little Town’.

What was the first recording you ever purchased?

I’m embarrassed to say that the first CD I ever bought was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On. I was 8 and heavily exposed to country music everywhere I went. She did a great cover of Lucinda William’s “Passionate Kisses”, and I was just obsessed with “I Feel Lucky”. Oh, to be 8 again.

How would you describe the music you play now?

Someone called it “Barnyard Epic Indie Rock” and I guess that sums it up pretty well. We always say that our songs tell stories about dead people and dead people in love, although sometimes they aren’t quite dead. The songs tend to be pretty narrative and when we play in concert, our town drawer, Toxey Goodwater (Michael Arthur) does these live drawings that are projected behind us, which makes the show kind of like a live cartoon.

Some reviewer in Alabama said we were like a touring version of Barack Obama’s Rent and that will also do as a description, even though I don’t really know what it means. I think he didn’t like us, but we like Barack Obama and Rent’s a pretty good show, although Hedwig [And The Angry Inch] is better. We’re like a touring version of Barack Obama’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Balthrop, AL has a population of about 11…how did this particular musical town come to incorporate?

It started with my brother Pascal and I, but the expansion was pretty organic. We all knew each other through this local coffee shop called the Fall Cafe in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn which is across the street from where Pascal lived. Most of us either worked there or spent some time each day there. But the Fall Cafe is sort of where the community of it all began. That’s where the city limits were laid out.

Is there good real estate value in Balthrop?

Well, Balthrop, Alabama is located primarily in Brooklyn and real estate’s mighty pricey in New York City. But, the town travels around a good bit, so we can find deals here and there. I gotta say we have some nice parts of town and some pretty shady areas, and sometimes it can change just like that. But, it’s strong property and we consider it a good investment. There was some fear that we might qualify for a super-fund clean up, but then Douglas Snead showered and everything worked itself out.

Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical?  A painter, building, dish of cereal?

Oh, I think we’re pretty much that good pair of overalls that everyone has but only wears on laundry days. It never gets washed, but it’s comfy and every stain tells a story.

Who would you consider your musical inspiration?

That changes all the time. I’m pretty restless and I get bored easy, so I listen to and borrow from a lot of stuff. Pascal got the notion of the band after seeing an Arcade Fire show. I think we’re all inspired by the Beatles story–the hard work and constant creative stuff that went on there, but we’re also pretty partial to Hank Williams too. On tour, we’re always swapping out iPods and listening to everyone else’s music–it’s a pretty eclectic group of tastes, so we listen to Hillbilly stuff and punk stuff and big bands and show tunes and a lot of Patton Oswalt. Man, Pascal and Jason really like that Patton Oswalt album.

If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?

Well, I think we’d be playing a bar show with the Hamburg-era Beatles. We’d probably have Rocketship Park and the Ne’er Do Evers play, because their members are in our band too and we have fun playing in all sorts of configurations. I wonder if we can get the Hamburg-era Beatles to tour again–it would be a sweet opening slot for them and we wouldn’t make them change out of their leather stuff jackets. Also, Coldplay should be in there, just so they can see how a real band does it. It would be good for their career and their musical growth.

What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?

A good marketing strategy and product tie-ins. A little payola gets me every time.

Ok. For real. Uhm . . . I like a good melody and a nice bit of melancholy stirred up in some optimisim. I guess we don’t really like fake stuff and don’t much go for attitude unless it’s got something backing it up.

Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?

Our label mates (and frequent collaborators)  Caithlin DeMarrais and Kyle Fischer each put out amazing solo albums last year. I guess I think you should listen to either one of them. They were both in the Indy band Rainer Maria and their solo albums feature a lot of members of Balthrop, Alabama as players. I know it seems like nepotism or something to choose albums that you’re on, but I swear Caithlin’s My Magic City and Kyle’s Black Milk are two albums that everyone should be listening to. We listen to them repeatedly when we’re out on the road. They’re SO GOOD.

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Listen to some Balthrop, Alabama

Balthrop, Alabama – Your Big Plans & Our Little Town – “Explode”

Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs – “Subway Horns”


And pick up an album or two while you’re at it…

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Ben Arthur (seed) → Balthrop, Alabama

Ben Arthur – The Quirky, Soulful, Singer/Songwriter Seed

I first heard Ben Arthur play in a lineup called The Modern Troubadours. I tagged along with some friends, having never heard of what I assumed was a band. Instead I was presented with four singer-songwriters, sharing their work in an intimate, acoustic setting. I fell in in love with Ben Arthur’s music that night – his quirky sense of humour balanced the sometimes morose cloud of soul-bearing lyrics. With songs like “Keep Me Around” and “Mary Ann” I found new use for the “repeat” button on my playlists.

Years later, and I’m still listening with as much rapt attention as that first show. Arthur’s second album “Mouthfeel” was considerably darker than the first, showing a different side of his sharp wordplay and vivid imagery. His arid vocals put all the emotion front and center, but never without a musical cushion to soften the emotional blow.

We met about a year ago, after I wrote about “On A Sunday” for NPR’s Song of the Day. He emailed me, and I immediately jumped off the couch and danced around the room in fan-girl glee. Then I calmed down, actually met the guy, and realized he is a real person who just happens to make music I love.

So let’s meet….Ben Arthur.

How did you get started playing music?

My brother Michael lent me his guitar when I was 13 or 14 and taught me the chords to Lola. No idea why that particular song, but Lord did I play that one riff about a million times. (Badly.)

When did you decide that playing would be your career?

Shockingly soon thereafter. Something about it just seemed right to me, and I’ve never found anything I like doing as much. Well, actually, I like writing as much, but then I’m doing that these days, too.

What was the first recording you ever purchased?

Well, let’s see…I stole a copy of the Doors “13” when I was, well, 13 or so. But that doesn’t count, I don’t think. I’m going to say Appetite for Destruction.

Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical? A painter, building, dish of cereal?

Hm. My work is like…a corner bodega, There’s a lot of different stuff in there, it’s kind of a mess, but the folks inside are friendly.

When you’re stumped for ideas, what do you do? Go someplace, read something, drink copiously?

Rarely stumped for ideas. I always have 10 or so projects up in the air (by design), so that when I run into a problem with one thing I can just switch to the other. Generally when I come back the problem has solved itself.

I do occasionally run into a directional tangle, and then I usually chat with my wife or friend Asli, both of whom are whipsmart and have excellent instincts.

You also write books – is that a totally separate project for you, or does it feed into your musical work?

Funny you should ask…

The new project is a concept novel/album called If You Look for My Heart. The album has narrative songs that reflect elements of the story arc, as well as ‘artifact’ pieces, that is, songs that the characters themselves hear during the course of the story.

It’s been a fascinating, fun project so far and I’m looking forward to getting it out to the public.

You’re usually billed as a solo artist – do you prefer this over playing with a band? Or did it just work out that way?

I’m usually billed as a solo artist because I can’t afford to tour with a band. If I was playing Wembley, I would surely be billed with a band.

If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?

Dave Grohl–drums, vox
Emmylou Harris–guitar, vox
Rachel Yamagata–keys, vox
John Paul Jones–bass
Tom Morello–guitar, vox

I picked all live people because i am not at all partial to the undead/zombies.

What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?

I like hearing something unusual, particularly lyric-wise. A new use of an old phrase, an interesting match of words, a reversal of some sort.

I’m also partial to writers to put themselves on the line. It’s fairly easy to hide behind obscure semi-nonsense lyrics, and I like hearing songs where the artist is brave enough to say what they mean, to put their cards on the table. (Which isn’t to say I don’t like the lyrics on, say, OK Computer. I do. But it’s a different thing, and I’d love to hear Thom Yorke write a true love song.)

In art generally I like to see contradiction. In motivation, in action. I like voices and characters that/who are difficult or disagreeable but still sympathetic. I like complication.

Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?

I love my friend Parker Paul’s songs. His voice is so true and pained/painful, and his lyrics are so beautiful without being overly ornate.

Pete Miser is a friend of a friend, and has a song called “I’m a Robot” that just knocks me out. The video is insane, and even more so that he managed to do it as a true indie. He has an iPhone video that is hysterical, too. He’s awesome and his albums are rock solid from start to finish.

Aesop Rock never fails to impress. His album None Shall Pass is a masterpiece.

My brother’s band, Balthrop, Alabama is a blast, particularly live. I played a show with them in the city over Christmas and they have such enthusiasm and such a sense of the theater of live music that it’s just a pleasure to see them do their thing.

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Listen to some Ben Arthur:

Ben Arthur – Mouthfeel – “Tattoo”

Ben Arthur – Roadkill – “Keep Me Around”

And of course, pick up a few albums while you’re at it…