Thursday, April 02, 2015

Writing Music: Vulfpeck - Vollmilch

Los Angeles, CA

Nonstop Vulfpeck over the last week or so. It doesn't take very long to listen to an entire album from start to finish when each of their four albums run only 6 songs deep. Short, but sweet funk.

Vulfpeck's second album, Vollmilch, was released in 2012...

Other albums by Vulfpeck: Mit Peck (2011), My First Car (2013), and Fugue State (2014).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Writing Music: Vulfpeck - My First Car

Los Angeles, CA

It's not even 19 minutes long!

Vulfpeck's albums are always short interludes consisting of a mere 6-songs. But the LA funksters pack in a ton of emotion in each song. Here's stripped-down funk from Vulfpeck's third album My First Car....

Yes, I can't stop listening to Fortin's favorite band. I have all four of Vulpeck's albums on a loop that repeats itself roughly every 80 minutes.

Other albums by Vulfpeck: Fugue State and Mit Peck.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Writing Music: Vulfpeck - Fugue State

Los Angeles, CA

More about Fortin's favorite band, Vulfpeck, a minimalist funk unit from LA. Fugue State is their most recent album. Like all of Vulfpeck's albums, Fugue State is short album. Only six songs. But they're short and sweet.

Vulfpeck has been getting a lot of airplay this week. Perfect background music for both writing and college basketball...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writing Music: Vulfpeck - Mit Peck

Los Angeles, CA

Vulfpeck is minimalist funk.

Fortin turned me onto Vulfpeck. He really couldn't stop talking about them. Obsession is an understatement. Vulfpeck does not play many live shows (I think 8-9 in the five-year history of the band) so you really only have four albums of material to work with. Each album consists of a mere six songs. There's not much material out there, but what they got is catchy and downright funky. Very cool jazz inspired, stripped down funky elements.

Vulfpeck is comprised of German-American musicians and they are based out of LA, although they originally formed the band in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mit Peck is Wulfpeck's debut album circa 2011...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tweedy at the Ace Hotel

Los Angeles, CA

Two things about Jeff Tweedy you can rely upon: 1) ubiquitous surliness, and 2) looking like he woke up hung over in the back seat of his car after a three-day coke bender.

Flashback... lazy afternoon last September at the Lockn festival in Nelson County, Virginia... Wilco's first set... Jeff Tweedy's grumpy mood spewed forth because the distracted crowd gleefully snapped photos of a double rainbow. The short encounter, maybe two or three minutes tops, stirred up enough collective interest by the crowd for a cool instagram pic... but that same minor commotion sent Tweedy off the rails. He lamented on the fact he was upstaged by Mother Nature. If you never saw Wilco before, you'd think, "Wow, what a dick whining about a rainbow." But it was a classic Tweedy moment... using his salty sense of humor during another fearless attempt to confront the audience.

You don't get to where Tweedy is at careerwise without the Big 3: talent, luck, and survival skills. If the drugs/booze don't get ya, the money will. Tweedy kicked painkillers and narrowly escaped getting completely crushed by the massive machinery of the music biz. Sure it sounds cold-blooded, but Tweedy kept Wilco plugging along by kicking out one of his bandmates every few years.

Tweedy's live show process includes a desire to seek out adversity in order to conjure up the best possible performance. Sometimes Tweedy's confrontational style comes off like a fourth-rate comedian when he picks petty fights with the audience. It's an odd way to psych yourself up, but it's part of Tweedy's twisted charm. If the gig was going too smoothly, he'd egg on the audience to create an obstacle to overcome. Tweedy loved the challenge: win over a hostile audience. Most of that behavior stemmed from his earliest days on stage attempting to play punk to heavy metal/classic rock crowds. The audience and Tweedy butted heads whenever his tastes evolved and he wanted to play alt country to punk crowds... or when he performed art rock to the alt country crowd... or the time he ruined all his indie street cred by writing music for car commercials.

Tweedy. Constant flux. Evolving and rebelling from his previous phase.  I caught Uncle Tupelo just before they broke up and Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy split off and formed their own bands (Sun Volt and Wilco). UT's onstage tension is what defined them as a live act. Although UT never threw down, you got the sense that Tweedy and Farrar could rumble at any moment. I appreciated the bottled-up angst. I never saw The Replacements, but those gigs were notorious shitshows where everyone got blind-ass drunk and Bob Stinson brawled with someone... his brother, Westerberg, or someone from the audience.

* * * *

Nicky and I caught Tweedy at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA. The Ace was once the historic United Artists Theatre before it got renovated into a music venue. Tweedy had some stand-up schtick about the Ace. "This is where Shirley Temple had her first period. That's the kind of history shit they tell you in this town." Yes, with oodles of show biz history in L.A. you hear random shit like that all the time.

Tweedy unleashed his surliness moments after he completed the opening number Hazel. Tweedy was pissed that the DJ was still cranking in the lobby, plus most of the front rows were still empty. LA crowds were notoriously fashionably late. "It's like the fucking first quarter of the Lakers game," observed Tweedy. He was right. Most of the crowd was still in the hallway grabbing drinks. They missed the opening song, so Tweedy told them he'd play it again. And the band busted back into Hazel, naturally sprinkled with Tweedy's vitriol.

Tweedy wondered why the crowd sat down instead of standing. He heckled one woman who fell asleep in the front row. I assume she passed out, but Tweedy told the crowd about one of his earliest gigs... at an old folks home... and half the audience fell asleep because they were given their meds before his set. Tweedy's music was mellow, but not that mellow. Apparently, pharmies and chardonnay didn't mix very well with Tweedy's acoustic offerings.

Tweedy gave a group of hipsters guff when they poorly clapped along to Uncle Tupelo's New Madrid. He told them that they were fucking him up and to sit on their hands. The group stopped, except for one lone clapper trying to out-douche Tweedy.

Tweedy played one long set plus an encore. The set was split into Tweedy with his son (and backing band) and Tweedy solo acoustic. The first half of the set featured Tweedy performing a dozen songs off Sukirae with a group of musicians and his son Spencer on drums. The covered a song by Diane Izzo, which Tweedy initially heard off her demo tape. The second half of the set, Tweedy was all by himself and he cranked out Wilco songs and one Uncle Tupelo bustout. During the encore, Spencer and the backing band rejoined Tweedy. They finished the show with covers by John Lennon, Neil Young, and Doug Sahm.
Tweedy Setlist, 3/21/15 Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, CA

(With band): Hazel, Hazel,  Flowering, Summer Noon, World Away, New Moon, Fake Fur Coat, Diamond Light Pt. 1, Wait For Love,  Slow Love, High As Hello, Love Like a Wire*,  Low Key, Nobody Dies Anymore

(Solo acoustic): I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Remember the Mountain Bed, You And I, New Madrid ^, Passenger Side, Whole Love, I'm the Man Who Loves You, Misunderstood, Please Don't Let Me Be So Understood, Only The Lord Knows
Encore (with band): God *** ,  Losing End ****, Give Back The Key To My Heart ^^,  California Stars

* Diane Izzo cover
^ Uncle Tupelo tune
** Mavis Staples cover
*** John Lennon cover
**** Neil Young cover
^^ Doug Sham cover
Nicky and I nearly lost our mud when one of the drunk-ass girls in our row blurted out in a rapid-fire cocaine-addled cadence, "Misunderstood? Oh-Em-Gee... Misunderstood song is about me. It's all you need to know. Jeff wrote it about me... for me... it's all about me. I am the misunderstood in Misunderstood. My life is all a misunderstanding."

Friday, March 20, 2015

RIP Dan Feldman

Los Angeles, CA

I attended college with Dan Feldman. We were friends, fraternity brothers, and business partners. At one point in our lives, we were that cliche "thick as thieves" and/or "two peas in a pod."

The summer of 1992. I was still 19 years old and utterly clueless. That summer the Dream Team crushed opponents in the Barcelona Olympics because it was the first year NBA pros could play. I'm bombarded by vivid flashbacks of the Dream Team because our ice cream truck was littered with giant McD's souvenir cups featuring Dream Teamers like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

One item on my resume was always a conversational piece...
ENTREPRENEUR - Tasty Ice Cream, Atlanta, GA
"Wait... you were the ice cream man?"

TASTY ice cream was an instant ice-breaker during every single job interview in my adult life. It was always fun to talk about. I had crazy stories. Heck, I had an even crazier partner. How did I get into the ice cream business? Dan Feldman invited me in.

Feldman drove an ice cream truck in his hometown on Long Island, but in the summer of 1992 he wanted to do the same thing in Atlanta. I needed a job and so we wet into business together. We lived in our fraternity house (a handful of guys in one of those gigantic southern mansions) and parked the ice cream truck out back and kept the freezer running using a series of industrial extension chords. The truck was really a van with a freezer in the back. Our stoner friends raided the van late nights and left pocket change on the front seat. We drove one truck but alternated work days. It was fun, but arduous work. The city was nicknamed HOTLANA for a reason... hellacious heat, sweltering, irritating, disgusting summer days in Atlanta. I'd come home every night drenched in sweat because the van truck was more like a sauna.

Twenty years later, I can easily say that the summer of 1992 was one of the all-time greatest summers. In the high-water mark of life, Feldman and I surfed the crest of that wave.

Feldman's initial business plan entailed renting a van from TASTY Ice Cream, an independent business run by a Persian that everyone called The Shah. The Shah was a fair man, but he wouldn't rent to us until we had proper credentials. He told us to get experience at HAPPY ICE CREAM, the largest company in Atlanta. HAPPY'S portly owner looked like a character from The Sopranos and he hired me on the spot. He briefly showed me a gigantic map of Atlanta and its sprawling suburbs. He boasted about his vast territory, much like a king bragging about the size of his kingdom  The hot spots were in yellow. I always had a bit of a photographic memory, so I studied the map.

The HAPPY ICE CREAM training program included sitting in a dark room to watch a series of grainy training videos from the late 70s and early 80s. I was one of three other trainees. Both of them fell asleep within an hour. In all fairness, one of the guys was riding the H train and nodded out. I passed the training/safety exam and got sent out on a test run with one of the veteran drivers. The guy had a ghostly, gravely voice like Miles Davis, and he gave me a crash course in the ice cream biz. Miles said the best part of the job was "getting hit on by single moms." Once my HAPPY training was complete, I graduated and was assigned my very own truck.

The plan with Feldman was to alternate days. On his first day on the job, he crashed HAPPY's truck. Drove it right into the front of a liquor store near the old Techwood projects (that got razed to build the Olympic Village). At the time, it was scary. Luckily Feldman escaped without a scratch on his head. But the truck was totaled and our future with HAPPY ICE CREAM looked bleak.

We returned to the Shah and sorta begged him to let us work for TASTY. I showed him my photocopied diploma from HAPPY ICE CREAM that said I was a certified ice cream truck driver. Feldman was a natural born salesman and pretty much told the Shah that we'd have a truck out 7 days a week and we were young, eager college kids who could log long hours because we switched off days. Feldman told him we'd be the Shah's top earners and driving his #1 truck. Truly a bold statement, but by the end of the summer we were at the top of the Shah's fleet of trucks. Besides, how hard could the competition be? The Shah's main competitor HAPPY hired ex-cons and junkies.

Every morning one of us would drive the van from Emory University to MLK Blvd, where the Shah's shop was located. We were a McCatholic kid from the Bronx and a Jewish kid from Long Island working on a fleet comprised of Middle Easterns and Haitians. We bought inventory (usually whatever we sold out from the night before) and dry ice. We needed the dry ice to keep the goods cold. The kid who worked the freezer was barely taller than Kevin Hart and he wore a jumpsuit that looked like he was climbing Mt. Everest. He spent 10-12 hours a day inside a gigantic walk-in freezer.

The Shah didn't even give us a map. He threw us head first into the ice cream pool, but I memorized HAPPY's route and their top areas. Feldman's business model was simple: undercut HAPPY's prices by a nickel. After a week or so, we developed multiple routes and started out in Atlanta and made out way out to the burbs, before circling back toward the city at the end of our shift.

One day I blew a red light and got pulled over by ATL cops. I apologized and the cop let me off with a warning because his kid would never talk to him again if his kid found out he gave the ice cream man a ticket. I thanked the cop and comped him a red, white, and blue Bomb pop. A couple of weeks into the summer, someone driving a HAPPY truck nearly sideswiped me. He chased me down to a cul de sac. The redneck looked like a mean roadie from the Allman Brothers. He pulled out a baseball bat and threatened to beat my ass and slash my tires if I was ever on his turf. That was the last time we worked in Marietta.

Gas was cheap back then and only 79 cents/gallon at the QT, but the van had its flaws: no AC and a busted radio. We utilized a small booxbom and played nothing but Grateful Dead and Phish bootlegs. Feldman was one of the biggest Deadheads in our fraternity. He also gifted me my first Phish bootleg and he once spent two hours lecturing to me about the beauty and simplicity of Contact. I was a staunch Deadhead back in those days, but thanks to Feldman (and other friends like Wilkins, Lerm, Dave Pizza, and Chicago Bob)... I slowly started appreciating Phish. Twenty years later, I always think about Feldman whenever I hear Contact.

It goes without saying that I always think about Feldman whenever I see an ice cream truck. Instant flashback to the best summer of my life. You'll never ever forget the summer you were 19 years old. Those cherished memories were filled with Feldman's laughter. Heck even a couple weeks after he crashed the HAPPY truck, we were joking around about it. I dunno how many times I uttered the line: "Remember the time Feldman crashed the ice cream truck into a liquor store?"

I always wanted to share a story at a MOTH Storytelling. If I ever got a shot, the summer of 1992 and the ice cream truck was going to be one of my Top 3 stories. It's strange that your memory is fickle... I couldn't even tell you what I ate for breakfast the other day... yet memories from the summer of 1992 were vivid and fresh. Those memories were burned into my skull and etched into stone in perpetuity.

Dan Feldman will always be part of the internal hieroglyphics chiseled into the hallways of my mind.

A couple of months ago, I sent Feldman a message on Facebook. My friends will tell you that I'm NEVER on Facebook, so it was a huge deal that I actually logged in. I posted something on Feldman's wall that I always thought of him whenever I spotted an ice cream truck. He reminded me something I totally forgot: I made up a special song to sing whenever I rang the bell. The van didn't have a fancy sound system but had an old school bell attached to a piece of string. You had to hold onto the steering wheel with your left hand and reach above your head with your right hand to ring the bell on the top of the truck. The string went through a hole in the roof, so if it rained, the ceiling leaked and the rope got soaked.
I am the ice cream man
I drive as slow as I can
That's the chorus. I don't recall any other verses. But that's the kind of goofy stuff we used to do.

Feldman turned me onto amazing music. Feldman showed me how to be an entrepreneur and work for yourself. Sometimes someone has to leave your life before you can fully appreciate their impact. I've always been lucky that Feldman was an integral part of the summer of 1992. Between music and business acumen, Dan Feldman impacted me in more ways that I can count.

RIP Dan Feldman. One of a kind.