An Interview with Patrick Pentland of Sloan

Sloan (Credit: Missing Piece Group)
Canadian power-pop rock band Sloan hits San Francisco next week at the Rickshaw Stop in support of their new album Commonwealth (iTunes) and we had the chance to catch-up with Patrick Pentland earlier this week. Tickets are still available for the Oct. 22nd show and can be found here.

San Francisco Bay Area Concerts: I’m going to eschew any attempt to be unbiased—Sloan are the best live band, period. The stream of live “bootlegs” you’ve released recently (Australia ’99, “Is that all I get?” 1993, etc.), and Palais Royale, seem to prove me right. How do you guys do it?

Patrick Pentland: We have been playing live music, both in Sloan and with other bands/people for 25+ years. We have learned to entertain as much as simply play the songs. Not every night is a home run, but we try the best we can.

SFBAC: Your shows in San Francisco at both Slim’s and The Independent were fantastic. The Rickshaw Stop is a relatively new space in Hayes Valley—somewhat similar to when you played Kung Fu Necktie a little while back in Philly. How will the Rickshaw help you show off the dynamism of Commonwealth?

Patrick Pentland:  No idea, except that the venue has little to do with how we perform, usually. We play all sizes, and can adapt to restrictions if need be. But we basically just do the same show no matter where we are. There's no pyro, although there is a backdrop.

SFBAC:  The recent article in self-titled magazine about “Favorite Sloan Songs” was fantastic—reading it made me even more conscious of the different personalities in the band. Keeping a relationship fresh between two people is a challenge over XX+ years—I can’t imagine how the four of you make it work.

Patrick Pentland:  It's not necessarily a matter of keeping things fresh. We do what we do, and even if we may have different definitions of what that is, depending on who you're talking to, it's generally not that far off from each other. We're not interested in re-inventing the wheel, but there's a lot of music out there to draw from and absorb into what we individually and collectively present. 

SFBAC: Once you each write your own songs, how much input do the others have when it comes to composing and producing?

Patrick Pentland: For my songs, none. I'm not sure how much the others interact with each other, but for the most part it's individual writers and producers on the same album.

SFBAC:  The Twice Removed Deluxe Edition (iTunes) was a revelation—it still boggles my mind that "Same Old Flame" (iTunes) didn’t make the original album. How do you decide what stays and what’s temporarily shelved? And are we going to see this treatment for One Chord to Another (iTunes) or Navy Blues (iTunes) any time soon..? 

Patrick Pentland: "Same Old Flame," in the incarnation that you would be referring to, wasn't recorded until after Twice Removed was recorded and released. That is the case with most of our extra tracks.

It's usually pretty obvious when a song isn't cutting it, or isn't ready to be released. As a band, we're not super precious with songs, and are able to let them sit until the writer finds the "solution" or direction they want to take it in. Songs are mainly just chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics. It's what you do with those elements that give the songs currency or weight, and it can be hard to pull that out of the air.

We will be re-releasing other records in the future in the same way as Twice Removed.

SFBAC:  Many Sloan songs weave in and out between tracks—bend and blur. But I think Commonwealth is the first time you’ve intentionally separated an album into four separate cycles—why?

Patrick Pentland: We wanted to do something akin to 4 eps, with each "side" representing a chunk of real-estate for each member. There wasn't really a big reason for it, except it was something that we hadn't done before. After 10 records, you look for something to set the 11th apart.

SFBAC:  On Commonwealth, you can’t hear lines like “where’s the parallel” and “delivering maybes” without thinking of the Sloan back catalogue with a wink and a smile. Are any albums or songs permanently on the shelf, or is everything ultimately fair game?

Patrick Pentland: Nothing is shelved, but there are songs that we don't play, or don't know how to play if requested. Not everything sounds great live. We have a lot of songs, but in a live situation you're trying to represent a new album, plus please yourself, fans who want "deep cuts," fans who want singles and favourites, and new listeners you're hoping to draw in.

SFBAC:  It’s not hard to imagine you being influenced by Kiss, The Beatles and The Who. But what are some of the more hidden artists that make your top 5? Do you have “group” favorites, or are various musical influences constantly shifting for the individual members under the skin?

Patrick Pentland: Those bands would not be in my personal top 5, but they are, to varying degrees, interwoven into modern rock music anyway. You can't really call the Beatles an influence on rock music; it's like saying you like to breathe. It's a given that, in most forms of modern music, the Beatles can be found somewhere in there. Or George Martin.

I don't know if I have a top 5, per se, but Bowie, Sex Pistols, AC/DC, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr., Motörhead, The Smiths and a whole bunch of other bands would be name checked. I grew up in the 80s, so I have a lot of post-punk, pre-grunge influences.

There are probably bands that we agree on, like the Beatles or Who, plus bands like the Stones, Guided By Voices, or the Stooges. Hardcore punk was also big when we were young, so Black Flag, Bad Brains, or Minor Threat can make their way onto the stereo on the bus every so often.

SFBAC: That's great. Thanks so much for making the time Patrick and we're looking forward to the show at the Rickshaw next week!

A Conversation with Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer

Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer (Credit: Matt Schwartz)
Philadelphia-based, Vacationer, released their sophomore album Relief earlier this summer and hit the road this fall in support. They're scheduled to perform at Slim's on October 27th and we highly recommend catching this show. Tickets are still available here.

We were able to speak with Kenny Vasoli a few weeks ago about Philly, the new album, and the endless cycle of touring. Check it out in full below.

San Francisco Bay Area Concerts: Is this still a good time for us to catch up?

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah, it’s perfect. 

SFBAC: Excellent. Well first things first, I saw I’m calling a 215 number—are you a Philly boy?

Kenny Vasoli: I am, yeah. This is the only phone number I’ve ever had, and I’m still in the same Philadelphia area. 

SFBAC: Very cool. My friend checked out Dr. Dog yesterday at the Mann (in Philadelphia) — there’s amazing music coming out of Philly right now.

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah, I agree. It’s better than ever right now.

SFBAC: I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to the new War on Drugs album, Lost in the Dream? It’s been in constant rotation for me lately. 

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah. I love that band. 

SFBAC: Excellent. Well, let’s move from Philadelphia to San Francisco. So I found it kind of funny and ironic that you’re heading out to San Francisco – at pretty much the biggest vacation time of the year.

Kenny Vasoli: Oh yeah? I guess it would be out there. 

SFBAC: San Francisco in September and October is just absolutely amazing. The weather’s incredible, and there’s this literal influx of people into the city. It’s a real destination, I feel like. Given the nature of your music I thought that was kind of awesome and ironic. 

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah. It’s going to be a beautiful visit this time of year. We love that city and it’s always really beautiful.

SFBAC: Speaking of weather, and all the good stuff that you’ll be experiencing in San Francisco soon, "Paradise Waiting" has literally been in complete replay over the last couple of weeks for me. It’s this evocation of the season—with the background singers, you feel like you’re watching a crowd of people celebrating in the sun. Do you feel that this is a summer album? Or are there a little bit of all seasons mixed together? 

Kenny Vasoli: I think it’s been pretty appropriate for the summer, but we tend to make our records during the winter time. The last two in a row have pretty much all been made right around the holiday season. And I think it’s a nice escape from the cold weather over here. Being in Philadelphia and working up in Brooklyn, it can lay on you a little bit if it’s getting too cold. So we like to keep things up with the vibe of our music. And you know, I think the duality is – for us – it works as a year-round record. Because it’s sort of anticipation for summer every time we’re writing.

SFBAC: In "Good as New", you say, 'we’re in a new place.' Travel, exploration, touring – for you, it must be a combination of exploration, and at the same time, it is ultimately a job at the end of the day. How do you approach going to these new places? And how do you let it influence you, while at the same time, knowing this is kind of part of the process?

Kenny Vasoli: We try to – and this is something that I’ve learned throughout the years of touring and making most of my living on the road – is that you can’t really, or you shouldn’t treat traveling as a means to an end to get to the destination, and then just play the show and that’s the most exciting part of it. We try to make our routes as scenic as possible, and use the PCA’s when we’ve, when time allows it. But we really try to enjoy things, even if it adds a couple hours to a trip. Because then, we really try to adopt the lifestyle of vacationing when we’re on the road. We try to practice what we preach and have some fun wherever we go. And I made a habit on this last tour to bring a skateboard with me. My thing now is, once we get to a venue, and we’re all sound-checked and good to go, then I’ll Yelp the best record store that’s within skateboard distance of me. And then I’ll skate over there, and I’ll dive through the dollar bin. It’s a nice little adventure for me, an excuse to see the city. 

SFBAC: San Francisco is the perfect city for you to make your way around on a skateboard.

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah the pavement’s in good shape over there. 

SFBAC: Absolutely. I can easily see you making your way from Slim’s over to Amoeba, with no problem whatsoever, avoiding many of the major roads. Definitely give that a shot if you can. 

Kenny Vasoli: For sure. Anything to avoid traffic. A skateboard is a good way around it. 

SFBAC: So speaking of Slim’s—definitely a venue that I love; a  lot of history to it, with a lot of great bands. What do you look for when you’re trying to find a venue? What is it about a space that helps broaden, expand and compliment the nature of your music?

Kenny Vasoli: I think you can really see that in the history of the acts that have come through there. Even just by the monthly calendar, you can see what kind of vibe a place has, and we can see who our contemporaries are that we’d like to be playing in the same kind of ballpark as. And San Francisco is so rich with places like that. We have been impressed by pretty much every place that we’ve played there. We got to do the Independent a couple of times – beautiful theater. Then we got to play the Warfield with Bombay Bicycle Club, which was mind-blowing, and then we got to do a headliner at Rickshaw. And that place has such a cool punk/indie/dance vibe. And we’re all about that kind of thing. And every time we go there, the people combined with the atmosphere makes for a great time. 

SFBAC: That’s fantastic. And all of those venues represent a good cross-current of the different live spaces in San Francisco. Rickshaw is incredible—it has this amazing feel. In one sense it feels congested, but at the same time, when a good show is there, it just bursts open—it has an energy unlike any other place. Sloan are actually playing there on the 22nd. I know you actually won’t be in town for that, but that’s going to be pretty incredible. 

Kenny Vasoli: Oh yeah – that’s a blast from the past. I knew them from a very early age. 

SFBAC: You have to check out Commonwealth, if you haven’t had a chance. It just came out last week. It’s absolutely incredible. 

Kenny Vasoli: I appreciate that. I’m looking for a new thing to dig into. 

SFBAC: Getting back to Vacationer, I was trying to classify this type of music, and it’s literally impossible. It’s an explosion of R&B, electronica--you hear notes of Samba in there. When you try to explain to uninitiated people what the sonics are about, what do you try to, how do you explain this to them? 

Kenny Vasoli: To try to get too technical with people is sometimes not the right way to go about it for me. So I usually just boil it down to me by like, Beach Boys for today, or Beach Boys over top of hip hop. And obviously, I think that there’s a lot more going on in there in terms of influences. But Beach Boys and J Dilla are two of the primary influences that we go to, and they kind of rear their head in our music. 

SFBAC: That’s fantastic. Beach Boys – the evolution of their sound in popular culture – different decades, and different Beach Boys albums, which influence certain artists. Just like the Beatles, it’s something that never ever is going to go out of style. 

Kenny Vasoli: Oh man. There’s so much. The older I get, the more I appreciate the later years Beach Boys stuff. The 70s stuff, like Surf’s Up and Sunflower. Those records just blow my mind more every time I hear them. 

SFBAC: Absolutely. I was just listening to Love You last week, and it’s amazing the little nuggets you find in there, which you feel. Sometimes you might ignore it first. I feel like you have that in your music as well—there’s little crevices, little things that pop up. I’ve been listening to through Senheiser 600 HDs. And just hearing some of the ways that you’re panning audio, some of the little sonic touches here and there – it’s great that you guys reflect that subtlety in your music. 

Kenny Vasoli: I appreciate that. We’re very meticulous, especially in making this last record. We were raising the bar in terms of production, and there’s a lot of attention to detail and trying to capture the spirit of a lot of 60’s or 70’s soundtrack music. It was in a time where they had a lot of ensembles, and a lot of composition or orchestration that went into it. 

SFBAC: Taking a step back to live music, the first time I became familiar with Vacationer was through a session. I find it interesting how social media and this really unique crosspoint between what you’re seeing on Facebook and Twitter, and how artists are reacting to their fans. It’s becoming more and more of an important element in the mix. How do you see social media as a way to engage with your fans? 

Kenny Vasoli: I’m starting to embrace it more and more. I think maybe I had a little phobia of it at first – because I’m probably right on the cusp. It’s sort of riding a line of generations, where there was a MySpace thing happening early on when I was making music, and that was – the way that a lot of people made their bones when I was first coming up. And then to adjust to the Twitter and the Instagram and the Tumblr, and the endless channels of social media – it was really daunting to me at first, and I had this sort of punk rock mentality, where I didn’t want to be bothered with it. And the more I embraced it, the more interesting it is to me. And I’m starting to realize how powerful it is to be able to get in touch with your fans at the touch of a finger. And so I’m trying to implement it more, and find creative ways to use it.  

I’m trying to do a monthly or bimonthly series on Tumblr. I’ll record a set right inside my bedroom, for like 30 minutes, and do some live vocals along with it. So I can drop a mix for my fans, and keep them engaged and listening too, and also give them performance from the house. 

SFBAC: That sounds like exactly the right strategy. I feel like so many artists mess things up by over-communicating, or providing content that’s not really relevant or doesn’t feel heartfelt. The idea is to provide tailored content to people in the right context. How to Dress Well, he does it really well on soundcloud. And like you’re saying, providing these little remixes that people might not get access to, it definitely sounds like you have a good feel for that. 

Kenny Vasoli: Absolutely, and it’s like anything else. The same dynamic as a friend – you just send a little something to let them know you’re thinking of them. And if it’s something genuine and heartfelt and thought-out, that’s a powerful thing to pass between fans. 

SFBAC: Speaking of ways that you’re taking your sound and getting it out there to your fan base, the new album – it definitely feels like you’ve taken everything and brought it up a notch. The hooks feel even tighter. The production value feels more streamlined without feeling slick at all. What were you trying to achieve with this most recent set of songs? 

Kenny Vasoli: You described it perfectly, and I really appreciate the compliment. That’s what we’re going for. I like pop music, but I got a little disillusioned by a lot of the pop that was coming through top 40 in the last 5 – 10 years. But then when I started to revisit pop music from the 70s and even 80s, I’m coming across these hooks that just infect me, and make me not so scared of writing pop music. And so I think the challenge was finding an interesting delivery of pop music that isn’t just hitching our wagon to the trends that are happening right now. 

SFBAC: I think that’s a fantastic way of looking at things. The 70s epitomize a really interesting, daring attempt to take pop music in a different direction. Which is funny, because so many people see it as the inception of disco, and a lot of monolithic rock becoming more and more stale. But if you listen to a lot of great 70s music, particularly coming out of Philly by the way, there’s just some great stuff there. 

Kenny Vasoli: It was such an exciting time in terms of production, I’m discovering now. I think that experimentation, and also the technology of producing music, has reached this point. It has all intersected at a point in the 70s. When I go on these skateboarding trips to find records, often what I’ll do is look through a genre and an era, and go off of that. Because chances are, there’s going to be something cool, and trippy, and interesting about the tracks on that record 

SFBAC: Absolutely. You talked earlier about a punk rock ethos. I had a chance to speak with Steve Diggle earlier this year, and it’s amazing that you see some of those great punk bands from the 70s still really bringing it. And on the other side of the equation, you have something like Gladys Knight and the Pips. And I think having that variety of music in the mainstream—that was a fantastic time. Hopefully we’re moving back toward that level of eclecticism. 

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah, me too. And I keep seeing more and more stuff, and people that are pushing the envelope and not straying away from pop while wrapping it in some art, and that – yeah it’s an exciting time, and it seems to be permeating the mainstream a little bit. So I’m really hopeful in terms of that. 

SFBAC: I really appreciate you taking the time. We’re definitely excited to have you in town, and hearing the album live, seeing how people are going to react to it – it’s going to be a great experience. I’m sure. 

Kenny Vasoli: We can’t wait. This will be one of the most anticipated of the tour. And I appreciate the kind words. 

SFBAC: Well listen, take it easy and good luck with your shows. 

Kenny Vasoli: Thanks a lot man, see you out there. 

SFBAC: You got it. 

Kenny Vasoli: Take care. 

10 Questions with Thrill Kill Kult

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (Credit: Mindway)
The pioneering industrial electronic band, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, have lined-up five California dates that kick-off this Friday in the East Bay at Montclair's That 80's Bar. On Saturday they hit the South Bay at San Jose's Blank Club, and then wrap-up their Bay Area visit on Sunday at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Be sure to check the links above if tickets are still available!

Thrill Kill Kult (TKK) are one of a handful of artists that were instrumental in defining industrial music coming out of Chicago in the late 80's. Founded by Buzz McCoy and Groovie Mann, the band was signed to the legendary Wax Trax! record label and released college radio staples such as "Kooler than Jesus," "Devil Does Drugs," "The Days of Swine & Roses," and "Sexplosion."

Unlike Wax Trax!'s other core industrial artists Ministry, Front 242, KMFDM & Frontline Assembly, TKK's sound began to shift into an electronic funk disco amalgamation that's still hard to quantify even today. The band left for Interscope records in 1991 and shortly thereafter, Wax Trax! was acquired by TVT Records, the original label of Nine Inch Nails.

We were lucky enough to get a chance to interview both Buzz McCoy & Groovie Mann earlier this week and you can find the interview below. Be sure to make it to one of their three Bay Area performances this weekend!

SFBAC: You're one of a handful of artists that are synonymous with Wax Trax! Can you talk a bit about what it was like during that time?

TKK: It was exciting and chaotic. I think we were the only ones to have an EP and an album out on the label before we even created a band, which made us a bit different than the rest. We weren’t shopping for a label. Everything just fell into place after Jim [Nash] and Dannie [Flesher] heard some tracks we were working on for an experimental film idea. They really pushed us to create more and gave us the studio time and backing for us to start the project. We had no idea of what we were doing, and probably still don’t! Haha!

SFBAC: Looking back, do you have any regrets about leaving Wax Trax! when you did?

TKK: Not at all. We had outgrown Wax Trax, and things were changing quickly with both us, and the label. We kind of had an inside perspective of things because both of us worked there and knew what was going on behind the scenes so to speak. We saw the label starting to spiral out of control. Naturally Jim and Dannie were a bit hurt when we decided to move on, because we were almost like their children who they nurtured from day one. It took a little time for all of us to reconnect, but Jim conceded that we were right in our decision and Wax Trax could never have done the things for us that eventually happened with our career. Both he and Dannie conveyed they were very proud of us.

SFBAC: Can you describe the reasoning for your shift away from the satirical satanic undertones to the disco-funk feel of what's made-up your 'sound' over the past 10-15 years?

TKK: We like to experiment with new sounds and ideas. We’re not the kind of band that has one sound or style and sticks with it. After all, we were just an experiment from the beginning. We need to change and constantly grow. The horror movie stuff was just the first chapter. Then came the disco with Sexplosion. Drugs were a big influence for 13 Above the Night. Rebellion was the theme for Hit & Run Holiday, and so on.

SFBAC: You’ve performed a number of times in the SF Bay Area, what's your craziest story or memory?

TKK: I don’t know how crazy it was, but the first time we played SF was at the I-Beam on Haight. No one remembers the show because we drank 5 bottles of cheap vodka between the 6 of us before the show. The promoter was in awe of how much we could put away, and I’m sure she’s seen a lot. But that’s how we roll in Chicago! Lol.

SFBAC: Do you have a favorite venue?

TKK: DNA has always been a great place for us, and they treat us good there. It’s a mainstay when we tour. We played the Folsom Street Fair about 7 years ago, and that was pretty awesome too.

SFBAC: Of all the artists you’ve worked with over the years, who stands out and why?

TKK: Well of course Siouxsie is an icon, and the whole band were great to tour with (and party with)! Budgie would watch our whole set every single night from the side of the stage. Big Stick is a band we were both very into, and they were fun to work with. The EMF boys were a hoot!

SFBAC: What artist or artists would you want to collaborate with in the future (who you haven't already worked with)?

TKK: We really don’t collaborate much. We have our own way of working. It’s like asking a writer if he wants someone else to write a book with him. We’ve had a few friends like Lydia Lunch join us in the studio to add some added sparkle here and there, but collaborations just aren’t our thing.

SFBAC: Do you find it challenging translating studio material for the live environment? 

TKK: Not really. We’ve worked with some really great musicians over the years, who really know how to enhance the studio work (which is mostly drum machines and samplers), and they really bring the live experience to the next level. We love playing live. Connecting with our fans “one on one” is the real satisfaction for us.

SFBAC: You released Spooky Tricks earlier this year. Can you describe the writing/recording process that went into this album? Did it differ from your 'usual' process?

TKK: The writing process is pretty much the same as it always has been. We start with some initial grooves and ideas of what we want to convey with the album and go from there. We took a kind of voyeuristic approach with Spooky Tricks. Each song is it’s own story, with a lot of sexual escapades thrown in. It’s like peeking into the windows along the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. Every storefront offers something different and tells a different tale.

SFBAC: What can fans expect of your upcoming shows in the Bay Area?

TKK: We’re playing an old school style set we call the “Inferno Xpress”. It’s a trimmed down version of the band, relying mostly on bass, drum machines and samples to perform pumped up, heavy dance oriented versions of our songs. It’s not the “rock” show this round, so prepare to get down and dance. Our line up is Groovie Mann (vox), Buzz McCoy (Keys & Vox), Mimi Star (Bass & Vox) and Toxic Rainbow (DJ & Sound).

SFBAC: Thanks for making the time guys and we're looking forward to your shows this weekend!