there is no one else like barbara manning! when we met her back in the early ’90s, we were mad about her and went to see her all the time (she was on the cover of CF4 with tiger trap). we’ve seen less of her in recent years, which is why we cannot wait to see her play on march 21 at the bell house as part of our chickfactor 22 thing!
interview by douglas wolk & photograph by gail o’hara (taken at, oddly, douglas wolk’s wedding!)
what are your active or semi-active musical projects these days?
the musical projects that I have been working with for years, such as glands of external secretion, butte county free music society, and others continue to release limited releases. the newest release on which I contribute guitar and singing is from the group, this is yvonne lovejoy; a 45” on psychic encumbrance records called wolverine, an ode to one of the X-men heroes.
locally in long beach, I have been playing bass with a collective of friends and we call ourselves celebration of bad news. we improvise while recording the session so that we can hone in on the best parts for our song structures. my favorite element of celebration of bad news is our singer who reminds me of a female blend of both can singers, a bit of pauline oliveros, and a good splash of fearless punk rock. to have a group that faces in: we are all so eager to play and we look at each other as we play, music makes itself easily. I enjoy being a background singer or to not sing at all while I play. for me, playing this way is both relaxing and an adrenaline rush. however, as you say “semi-active” project, we only seem to be able to get together once a month. last week we had the cops called on us by a suburban neighbor which wrecked the session. now that I am a working stiff, I sure see how valuable time is. if I looked at a pie chart of my time spent being creative versus time working, I’d see why I feel creatively out of balance.
a very bright side to this creative conundrum is my husband, dan. he is always encouraging me to write songs or pick up my guitar. he is a producer from the early L.A. punk rock days. some of his best known work includes legal weapon and alice bag’s cambridge apostles and las tres. dan works on his music at home all the time. I feel that if I could just catch up with my work and sleep better hours, I would pick up my guitar to write again. and when that happens, dan is ready to record me.
what’s a record that means something very different to you now than it did 20 years ago? what changed?
when was 20 years ago? 1994??? good god. that doesn’t seem that long ago; does it to you? let me go back to that year in my head again. I was 29 years old, working at reckless records on haight street in san francisco. I was working on truth walks In sleepy shadows and nowhere had just come out. I felt like I finally had a productive, fun working band with melanie clarin, brently pusser, margaret murray as the sf seals. I got to travel to holland to record with james mcnew that year. I felt like musical success was around the corner….
okay I know! oasis’ first record!!! I used to love the first and second records because the music had a swagger and sound that made me feel confident and easy going. I was quite obsessed with noel gallagher during those couple of years. but, just the other week as I was driving along on highway 405, I put on oasis and the music just did nothing for me. I craved that old feeling you usually get from a well-loved song, but I did not feel it. so I put on television’s first record instead.
you’re an exceptional interpreter of other people’s songs. what’s a song you wish you could perform but can’t, for whatever reason?
thank you for your compliment! that means a lot to me, douglas! a song I continue to try to cover but never seem to get down is “stardust” by hoagy carmichael and mitchell parish. since 1927 it has become the most recorded song in the world. it happens to be my favorite song; this “song about a song about love.” I found out that it also was my grandfather, big rip’s favorite song and was played at my grandparent’s wedding. It’s a “bucket list” wish of mine to record it. but I just never seem to play it smoothly enough for my liking.
you wrote “better by bounds” with george jones in mind. what other performer, past or present, would you like to write a song for, and why?
douglas, your questions are excellent and I am finding them interesting to think about and not difficult to answer. thank you for taking your time to organize this interview.
I would really like to write a song for kendra smith to sing and record. she has been an enduring hero of mine since she influenced my singing style back in the early ’80s. especially I would like to sing behind her someday; another “bucket list” wish, but I know that she is very private and elusive. I doubt sincerely that she is aware of my existence and I don’t have any desire to disturb her.
what kinds of collaborations are you best at?
I like spontaneous collaborations, but those are impossible to plan. my mind says that I must feel comfortable with my other collaborators in order to create, but I know in my heart that isn’t necessarily an obstacle to making good music.
the album I recorded in new zealand was full of fairly spontaneous collaborations and I was not always comfortable with my collaborators. every song was recorded the day it was written, except for one I had ready to go. recording those songs was utterly terrifying because I had so much fan-admiration for the artists I worked with (graeme downes, chris knox, denise roughan and david mitchell, robert scott, david kilgour) that I was determined to make good use of their time. I did my best to connect to my musical muse so that what I contributed was open-minded and high quality. I can still listen to the songs on the album, in new zealand, and feel proud of our results.
gail tells me you’re teaching chemistry in high school these days. what are you like as a teacher? how does teaching relate to performing for you (or does it)?
wow, douglas. you are very perceptive because teaching certainly is performing and there is no worse audience than 36 bored teenagers. as a teacher I am loud, funny, informative, compassionate, caring, annoyed, fierce and sometimes inappropriate. I have a lot to learn to get where I want to be as a teacher. one important thing I have learned within the past months is that teaching requires putting on a show, a new one, every day; and if that show bombs there is no way to close the curtain and ask the ushers to see the audience out for their refund.
what’s the most fruitful piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
to view everyone as though they are wearing a shirt that says, “please help me feel good about myself.”
barbara will play night two of chickfactor 22 at the bell house, brooklyn, on march 21.
chickfactor is super-excited to announce two shows featuring 8 of its favorite bands at the bell house in brooklyn!
Thursday, March 20: get ticket here
Friday, March 21: get ticket here
Doors 7pm, showtime 8pm. $20 advance; $25 at the door; advance two-day pass $40.
Tickets on sale at noon EST Monday, Feb 3!
Also will be available at Other Music.
Thursday, March 20
WITHERED HAND From Edinburgh and led by Dan Willson, the ace band has a brand-new second album, New Gods, coming out March 25 on Slumberland Records. It was produced by Tony Doogan (Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, The Pastels) and features a stellar array of guests including members of Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, Black Tambourine and The Vaselines. New Gods also features CF cofounder Pam Berry and a song called “Black Tambourine”! New single.
JIM RUIZ SET Hailing from Minneapolis, the legendary Jim Ruiz & Co. often play at CF parties. They released Mount Curve Avenue, their third LP, in 2012 and on vinyl in 2013 on Shelflife Records. Their jazzy Max Eider-influenced pop has always made us swoon. Tonight’s lineup is Jim Ruiz, Emily Ruiz on drums, Allison Labonne on bass, and Kim Serene on marimba and accordian. (Interview in CF9)
LILYS / KURT HEASLEY Super-talented East Coast (mostly DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania) songwriter Kurt Heasley has been putting out records as Lilys since 1991 that feature a noisy brand of pop we love. He has been working on some new material and will play some of that tonight.
AMOR DE DÍAS The London-based duo featuring Lupe Núñez-Fernández (Pipas) and Alasdair Maclean (see The Clientele) hasn’t toured in the US since 2011. They released a brilliant second album called The House at Sea on Merge Records in January 2013. The combination of Spanish guitar, English melancholy, the spirit of Gal Costa and a touch of cinematic magic makes them one of the most intriguing songwriting pairs working today. They’re currently making their third album. Recent track!
Friday, March 21
THE CLIENTELE Originally from Hampshire and now London, the Clientele is one of our fave pop acts of all time. This lineup featuring Alasdair Maclean, James Hornsey on bass and Mark Keen on drums hasn’t played together since 2005. The group hasn’t played in the US since 2010. These three got back in the studio for the first time since 2010 to record a new 7″ single for the Merge Records Thousands of Prizes thing, which is their first new material in 4 years. (interviewed in CF13)
VERSUS Many associate this band with ’90s indie rock but they put out a pretty bad-ass LP on Merge Records in 2010 titled On the Ones and Threes. Another “chickfactor house band,” Versus has switched off members over the years but this year will be the handsome Baluyut brothers Richard and Ed and foxy Fontaine Toups (CF Cover Girl issue 6).
BARBARA MANNING Barbara Manning used to be the poster girl for San Francisco, and has participated in some of the best pop music ever (with 28th Day, World of Pooh, SF Seals) and especially as a solo artist. She’s currently living in Long Beach and is a high-school chemistry teacher! We are very happy to have her on the lineup. CF Cover Girl issue 4.
THE SATURDAY PEOPLE This fab DC pop group hasn’t played in a while! Featuring the original lineup, which was Terry Banks (Dot Dash, Tree Fort Angst, glo-worm); Dan Searing (glo-worm); Greg Pavlovcak (Ropers); and Ara Hacopian. Interviewed in CF15.
chickfactor fanzine was started in 1992 by pam berry and gail o’hara in d.c./nyc.
Songwriter’s best friend: a portrait of the smallest and quietest (well, perhaps not as quiet as Sam and John) member of the Magnetic Fields
Beautiful collection of writing about Paul Kelly’s films and poster available for you collector nerds!
Edited by S.S. Sandhu, Nothing’s Too Good For The Common People: The Films of Paul Kelly is a very limited-edition Risograph book – published by Texte und Töne in collaboration with the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture – to mark the first ever retrospective of Kelly’s work, held in association with chickfactor magazine, in New York, June 2013. The book was designed by Rob Carmichael, SEEN and was printed by Keegan Cooke at Circadian Press.
Contributors include: Jon Dale, Travis Elborough, Alistair Fitchett, Dan Fox, Joe Kerr, Stephin Merritt, Jude Rogers, Sukhdev Sandhu, Peter Terzian.
The book comes with a free poster and a postcard-pack of all five of Paul Kelly’s films. Ten random copies of the book will also come with signed (by Kelly and Debsey Wykes) copies of Birdie’s out-of-print Folk Singer 7-inch single.
Initial copies of the book and poster have been signed by Kelly. Price: $30 (inc. postage).
Additionally, for $35 (inc. postage): all of the above, plus – sent separately sent in a cardboard tube – a signed print of the event poster.
The print is also available for sale separately for $10 (inc. postage).
PURCHASE VIA PAYPAL
Buy Book ($30) incl. poster and postcards
Buy Book and Event Print ($35) incl. poster and postcards
Buy Event Print Only ($10)
it is no secret over here at CFHQ that we dig the jim ruiz set (and the legendary jim ruiz group before it). they’ve been playing at CF events since back in the 1990s, and pam berry had the good sense to interview them back in chickfactor #9. ruiz & co. recently released a fan-fricking-tastic (third album finally) album called mount curve avenue (the compact disc and “digital files” came out on allen clapp’s mystery lawn music label and korda records), and we are excited to tell the world the latest news about that record: jim ruiz set has teamed up with portland, oregon’s ace shelflife record company to put mount curve avenue out on light-blue vinyl! we cannot wait to get our chocolate-smudged fingers on a copy. read more over on the jim ruiz blog and preorder your light-blue vinyl copy right here. the interview that follows was conducted by allen clapp to run in advance of chickfactor 21 last month, but the lazy editor didn’t get it posted in time. enjoy!
chickfactor: jim, you’ve always had a unique blend of melancholy and humor in your songwriting (you even referred to your uncle as being something of a mexican woody allen in one of your songs). who are some other songwriters past or present who can do that thing you do?
jim ruiz: thanks, that’s very kind. I think you could probably trace it back to 1989 and listening to the jazz butcher sing “girlfriend,” “only a rumor” or max eider sing “D.R.I.N.K.” you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and maybe you just do both. they were able to be able to be incredibly funny but never cross into the realm of novelty. I suppose loudon wainright III does kind of the same thing. there’s no reason depressing confessional lyrics need to be so serious.
over the course of your three recorded albums, you cover a lot of musical ground, but there seem to be a few kinds of songs to which you gravitate: transportation songs, songs that mention or reference your musical heroes, and self-referential songs that look back on an earlier time in your life. is this coincidental, or are those the things that most occupy the mind of the legendary jim ruiz?
I don’t know what you’re talking about. okay, you’re on to me. I honestly didn’t think anyone would notice that! true, perhaps more than most people, I go back to the well. in my defense, I do tend to stop at three. for instance, “groningen,” “minneapolis,” and “mij amsterdam.” there were no city songs on this record (mount curve avenue), but if you got a good thing going, why not! who would have wanted to hear tony bennett follow up “I left my heart in san francisco” with “I’ll see you in oakland – next time!” and “down and out in redwood city?” I would have!
you’ve always been more of a mod than a rocker. is it easier to be a mod in 2013 than it was in the mid 1990s?
no, it’s easier to be a mod when you’re in you’re late teens or early 20’s, no matter what year it is. even bradley wiggins (winner of last year’s tour de france) seems just too old to pull off the mod look. at some point you reach the “aging mod dude” status. of course when I look in the mirror I think “hey mod!” but luckily people around here just look at me and think “preppy.”
last time I saw you, I noticed your volkswagen vanagon had a decidedly non-stock color scheme. would you care to describe this? how many paint jobs has your famous van had during its lifetime?
the vanagon has only had two paint schemes but many brush coats. as you probably know, car rust is an inevitable fact of life in minnesota. luckily as a child I painted many model airplanes, mostly from WWII. I didn’t suspect I would later use that skill on my car, the transition was a natural and easy one.
what’s the best thing about playing a chickfactor show?
just being asked kind of blows my mind. in london gail bestowed on us the title of “chickfactor band.” it wasn’t a public ceremony, and it didn’t come with a little statue, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget and will always treasure.
order your copy of the latest jim ruiz set LP (well, yes, on vinyl, silly, right here!)
photograph courtesy of the young mr. ruiz.
ultimate jazz butcher fan jim ruiz happened to be in new york city when the jazz butcher played at spike hill, brooklyn, on sunday, june 15, 2013! here is his review of the show.
it was a beautiful, still night in brooklyn when this fledgling music critic and his wife made their way to spike hill in williamsburg. after a car journey of about 1200 miles, from minnesota, the last 5 were covered on bicycles thanks to the new bike share citi bikes, which were located near our departure and destination points.
spike hill is a smallish venue with brick walls and a full bar and restaurant next door. while waiting for the show to begin in side bar, I was introduced, for the first time, to JBC sideman max eider, coincidentally my favorite living guitar player. luckily, I didn’t stutter and max graciously excused himself as the duo, dressed in suits which could loosely be described as “english,” was about to take the stage. I made my way to the front of the room and the show began.
it began with an oldie, “holiday,” as in english speaking gentleman on…. although odd to hear without the typewriter rhythm behind it, obviously a good one to warm up with, I remember thinking while watching max, “hey, I could play that!” that thought was a fleeting one as the set began in earnest.
this is as good a point as any to give my impression of pat fish, a.k.a. the butcher or just butchie to his friends. clearly enjoying himself, he was seated on a low chair playing a borrowed ovation acoustic guitar. a better frontman they simply do not make as he put the crowd, and just as importantly max, at ease with his pithy and hilarious banter. for instance, coming to max’s rescue later in the set when max sang the wrong first verse to his own composition “who loves you now?” with a comment to the effect that he (pat) was always the one to mess up. on another occasion telling the crowd if they wanted to sing along with a chorus – “please don’t.”
the set was front-loaded with songs off the new album, the last of the gentleman adventurers, kicking off with the title track. these new songs too benefited from brief intros from pat as when he revealed later in the set that the song “shame about you” was inspired by involuntarily uttering the phrase after seeing himself in the mirror one day, and when the identity of “black raoul” was definitively revealed to be his cat. the crowd, less familiar with these new songs, waited patiently, but with rapt attention, for the fun to really begin, and they weren’t disappointed.
the set then moved into what could be described as the glass era, the peak years of pat and max’s collaboration together. the first one, “southern mark smith” caused me to sing, a little too loudly, along with the line “I’ve found out already what makes my heart sing!” much to the irritation of nearby revelers.
then came max’s own tour de force, the aforementioned “who loves you now?” before the song began, max made reference onstage to an interview I conducted with him where it was revealed to the world, and remembered by himself, that wes montgomery’s version of “polka dots and moonbeams” was his inspiration for the song.
I asked myself, “how can my life get any better than this?”
after a rousing “girlfriend” came the sublime “betty page,” with max’s virtuosity, now in fifth gear, on display for all to hear. after a brief return to the new album for “shame about you,” max lent his hand to “shirley macLaine,” a post collaboration song from the 1991 album condition blue. the favor was soon to be returned.
the set had seemed to last for about 15 minutes when eider walked, a little mysteriously, off the front of the stage, as there was no backstage option. fish, looking perhaps for the first time a little unsure what to do, just stayed on stage as the crowd, almost better described as an unruly mob, demanded more.
the butcher graciously put max back in the spotlight for the closing two numbers, “partytime” with its genre-defining major 7 chords and the best guitar solo of the ’80s and “drink”—max’s own song, effectively giving the sideman the last word.
like love, perhaps musical collaborations are lovelier the second time around. If that is the case, and it appears to be, the future looks bright for jazz butcher fans such as myself. I only wish you could have been there.
postscript – for guitar players (nerds) only after the show I asked max way too many questions the first one being, naturally, what kind of guitar were you playing? “a gretsch” was his answer. when pressed for a little more information he told me it was a “double” anniversary. favored more by country players than jazzbos. the “double” anniversary features hi-lo-tron single coil pickups.
as I was standing near the stage I can attest to the fact that max plugged directly into a fender deville 4 x 10 amp. fiddling with a couple of the knobs during the show. the chorus effect made no appearance, apparently banished to a bygone era.