Sunday, April 21, 2024

Record Store Day misadventures, plus RIP Johnny

Leaving Burnaby. All photos by me except the RIP of Johnny (far below)

I arrived at Neptoon for Record Store Day, yesterday, just before their special early opening at 9am. When I got there, the line stretched down Main to 20th and around the alley in back. There were people in lawn chairs. People had brought food. This is not a good sign, I thought; but I took my place at the back of the line and texted a friend that I'd mentioned dropping in on that I would probably be done around 10...? 

Uh, no, I would not be.

Understand, I am not here to complain, Other than the (count'em, two) records that I wanted, I had (and have) no agenda, being neither a Record Store Day enthusiast nor a hater. I used to enjoy the pre-COVID tradition of having RSD in-stores (for which Neptoon always had the biggest and best), but the actual number of Record Store Day releases that I consider essential and exciting any given year is not huge. The Pogues with Joe Strummer is probably the item I'm happiest to have gotten my mitts on (also at Neptoon, ten years ago). I think a couple of my Lou Reeds are RSD releases. I have a BOC album and a Big Star one that I think are RSD, and consider the 2LP RSD version of Hal Willner's Stay Awake a definite upgrade over the 1, even though there is no added material (it's just spread out to reduce groove cramming). But some years there's nothing I care about at all and I choose to avoid the phenomenon altogether; in fact, I've often perused the list with the hope that there will be nothing on it I need, and felt relief when such has been the case.

But this year there were two sure winners -- the Meat Puppets Live in Montana (RSD marks the first-ever pressing, on blue vinyl, of an expanded 2LP version of the old Ryko CD) and Neil Young's Fuckin' Up (a live revisitation from a private show at the Rivoli last year of his Ragged Glory material, almost none of which I have on vinyl in any form; there's going to be a cheaper, wider release of that soon, but the special edition available today will keep its value and then some, and the sooner I can listen to "Country Home" on vinyl, the happier I'll be). There were a few other things I dithered about -- Alex Chilton's Cliches, for example, or Motorhead's Remorse? No!, or the 2-LP version of Beefheart's The Spotlight Kid with an extended jam on "I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby" (I no longer crave the insanities or excesses of Trout Mask like I once did, and have come out of the closet as saying that his Spotlight Kid period is some of my favourite Beefheart ever, along with, say, Safe as Milk). Did Bev Davies need the Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs live EP? (I checked by email while in line). Of speaking of Stay Awake, did my friend Dan care much about the Sun Ra vinyl of Disney material? (Lately he's focused on Stomu Yamash'ta records; he passed). I didn't ask Bob if there was anything he wanted (sorry, Bob!) but I have no doubt he hit Ditch and Supreme Echo and so forth. 

Ultimately I elected to not buy any of these other items, but (having just interviewed Derrick Bostrom for the next Big Takeover, note) I was not going to let Live in Montana or Fuckin' Up pass me by. 

And it seemed to make good sense to go to Neptoon. With apologies to old favourites Audiopile and Zulu, which are both fine record stores in and of themselves, to say nothing of another dozen record stores locally (Noize to Go is another favourite) that I won't bother to laundry-list, the easiest commute for me these days is the Red Cat/ Neptoon corridor, and Neptoon, I was told, were getting 15 of the Pups and 12 of the Neil Young. Red Cat were getting fewer of both (only 5 of the Pups!). I reasoned that while yes, there would be more competition for the stuff at Neptoon, there would also be more copies of the albums I wanted; and even though it was unlikely either of those records would sell out -- if past RSDs were any measure, where people were lining up for Taylor Swift  -- I figured just once, I wanted to have the experience of having stood in the Neptoon line, which wasn't even a thing last time I was there for Record Store Day. 

I could always use it as the basis of a blogpiece, I reckoned. 

So I documented my departure (see above) from my apartment at 8:15 AM, and posted realtime updates on Facebook of my lineup experience, some of which you are now seeing here. I grabbed the a bus right outside my door to Main, grabbed another to Neptoon, and took my place in the back of the line, where I was, for a good long while, the last person. When I seemed to have exhausted my colour photography options, I switched to monochrome. Of course, I listened to the Meat Puppets or Neil Young on my headphones the whole time I was taking these. Damn, the Pups' cover of "Dough-Rey-Mi" sure is enjoyable. 

So here I am to tell you, that took awhile. Neptoon have a nice system worked out, whereby they -- in the form of Tim the Mute -- run a numbered list out to the people waiting that allows them to check what RSD releases they want. You put your name on it, Tim runs it inside, and they have the items you want bagged and ready for payment when you get to the door, where they let you in to pay one at a time. No one is allowed to stick around and shop until the RSD lineup is satiated, such that person number 125 in the lineup, for instance (which, it happens, was me) does not have to wait for person 124 to shop randomly for an hour. They prep your order, you go in and pay, and you leave, and the next person gets to come in. If there is a better way to do it, it would require them to have multiple debit machines, which don't come cheap, so...

...anyhow, that's how it works UNLESS Tim comes out and breaks the bad news that all the copies of the albums of 7"s or cassettes or such that you ticked have sold out. As he finished doing this to the teenagers (?) ahead of me, I asked what the sellout titles were this year: apparently Sabrina Carpenter's "Feather" was a hot one (RSD listing here) and Olivia Rodrigo and Noah Kahan's "Stick Season" was another (RSD listing here). 

Tim listed a few other titles that people were hot for, but there was not a band name among them that I recognized, nor could I tell you who Sabrina Carpenter or Olivia Rodrigo are (and hell, I don't even know how to pronounce the Weeknd, subject of a purchase I document below, let alone what his music sounds like; is it like "the Weekend?" Or maybe "the Weakened?" Try teaching the different stress patterns to those words sometime). 

Having spent all of 10 seconds on the above clips, I can say that my prime puzzlement here is that anyone who cares about this kind of music would care about owning physical copies of it. I do not want to (though I could) express this in a way that is dismissive, insulting, or hurtful to the fans of these artists, nor to the artists in questions themselves -- they are mostly just unknown to me, and as with Ms. Swift, I see nothing interesting enough in their work that makes me want to investigate it closely so that I might be equipped to fairly criticize or dismiss it; in fact, Audiopile's Geoff Barton was commenting on Facebook not long ago that he actually took the time to check out some Taylor Swift records and concluded that it was simply not for him, and my remark at the time was something like, "You actually had to listen to it to determine that?" 

I mean, you do have to listen to it to actually put it down, I'll grant you that, since, who knows, the Carpenters, Rodrigos, and Swifts of the world may actually have some clever lyrics, some heartfelt gestures, even good songs -- but it takes mere nanoseconds of exposure to what they do for me to conclude that "This is not for me," and I am more than happy to just trust my instincts there. You can't fairly criticize, condemn, or dismiss something unless you experience it, but you CAN just ignore it. Like, while I cannot say that the hot food served at 7-11 is utter garbage, an insult to eating, unless I actually put some of it in my mouth -- because that would be unfair! -- I *can* just simply walk by it, uncurious. Does it have redeeming qualities? Maybe, who knows? May I never have cause to find out. 

Beyond this utter lack of curiosity, note also that I have this prejudice that physical media people are also music geek people, and to put it mildly, this stuff is simply not the music that music geeks listen to. I expect Eric Dolphy fans to line up for RSD, or people who need the Mudhoney box set, or even folks who crave the Beatles items that came out this year, because I understand that jazz fans and grunge fans and Beatles fans are the ones who WANT TO GET IT ON VINYL. Obviously wrong, here, but I would generally assume that fans of the pop made by Ms. Carpenter and Ms. Rodrigo (or Ms. Swift) are also fine just consuming it via Spotify or iTunes or whatever the convenient platform of choice is these days. I mean, do Neptoon or Red Cat or whomever actually sell a bunch of Sabrina Carpenter when it is NOT Record Store Day? (You can be damn sure they sell Eric Dolphy and Mudhoney and the Beatles). 

Between my backpack and newish shoes and general state of mediocre health, my lower back and feet were getting pretty sore by the time I rounded the corner. It was around 11:30, by that point. I was  wishing for sunscreen, thinking about coffee. I took a brief seat on one of the planters along the wall. The lady working at 4Cats came out briefly to yell at us for blocking access to their doorway, but I suspect she was jealous that no one was lining up to get in her store. It's not like anyone had a hard time entering, if that's what they wanted to do.  

Anyhow, with the sad Sabrina Carpenter ("or whatever") fans ahead of me being told that Neptoon was sold out of those releases, just as the door was in sight, it began to be clear to me that probably the Meat Puppets album was not going to sell out.. which observation (that I probably did not have to have lined up for these records a all) was kind of echoed by Tim, who flipped through my list and did an "uhh, you're probably safe." 

But with time to kill as I waited, I had actually perused the line ahead to determine who might be a threat to the Pups supply, and posted on Facebook what I hope people realized was a joke, that THIS MOTHERFUCKER RIGHT HERE was probably going to buy a Meat Puppets record -- hell, he actually looks like he could BE a Meat Puppet:

(I have no idea who that is or what he bought, note. He is no doubt not a motherfucker. In fact, he may well be a kindred spirit. I hope that all was clear). 

There wasn't much conversation between myself and others in the line. The guys behind me borrowed a pen and asked what was in the Mudhoney box. A protestor (briefly mistaken by me for a spare changer) worked the line to let us know that he was hunger striking twice a week in solidarity for the people of the Gaza strip ("not eating two days a week would be a luxury for them"), who let us know that there were weekly protests at 1pm at the art gallery. Can I take your photograph for a blogpiece?, I asked him. (He said yes). 

By the time I got to the front of the line, I had been standing outside for two hours and 45 minutes. More than, actually. It was 11:45 when I finally went in, quickly snapped photos of efficient Ben and Rob at work (and Jim Cummins' Iggy Pop portrait), paid for my Pups (and Neil Young) and went on about my day. I probably did not have to stand in line at all, could probably go to Neptoon today, even, and discover, I dunno, 13 copies of that Meat Puppets release still on their shelves, minus the one that I and that guy ahead of me bought... 

In fact, while I was in line, someone in a "You've been Tromatized" Troma vest who looked a bit like Josh Nickel (but I don't think was?) came up to me and asked, "How long have you been standing out here?" Whereupon he showed me the records he had bought at Red Cat, without having to stand in line. (I am assuming it was not Josh because I cannot imagine Josh buying Pulp or Verve records, but maybe I'm wrong there?). The person had Sonic Youth's Hits or For Squares, too, which also kind of tempted me. 

There was certainly no lineup at Red Cat when I finally made it there about 3pm (I had not gone direct, visiting a friend in the neighbourhood and having lunch at Sula on the way; I had my Pups, and was in no rush). Neptoon had been unable to fill my one non-RSD request (I'd asked Tim if they had Alejandro Escovedo's new record, and though he was willing, they did not; but it was still listed on Red Cat's website). It took a bit of finding, but there was plenty of browsing going on at Red Cat (and a 15% discount). Everyone had their own personal record label pinned to their shirt. Paying for my Escovedo (the last copy!), I chatted briefly with Ford Pier as to why he had chosen to represent himself with My Fair Lady, and he said that he had thought it would be fun to draw the six Columbia eyes, and wanted a record that would allow him to do so. 

Ford and I also chatted about how he'd enjoyed his opening set for A. Savage of Parquet Courts earlier this week at the Rickshaw, without my letting slip that I do not really know my Parquet Courts. Apparently Savage's rhythm section had to go home early in the tour -- due to illness? I forget -- so Rickshaw audiences were treated to a very unique set, with Savage playing songs he normally would not have, including some Parquet Courts material. Truth is, if I'd gone that night, it would have just been to see Ford at the Rickshaw again. But, well, glad Ford had fun. 

And since I could plainly see that the Neil Young was still on their wall, I asked him, bracing myself: Did they still have the Meat Puppets Live in Montana in stock?

They did. 

A side note: people on Facebook yesterday and at Green Auto last night were talking in surprise and sorrow about the recent death of a figure named Johnny, who was a fixture at local gigs. I did not really know the man, myself; I had seen him around and maybe exchanged a friendly sentence or two -- he was a much-loved figure on the scene, apparently. Not really knowing him, I can't say much about his passing, save that he's someone I probably would  have enjoyed chatting with, probably had a fair bit in common with, maybe could have been friends with, if we hadn't been concentrating so much on the bands at the gigs that we were at together. I bet there were a few we shared (he went to vastly more shows than I did, is the impression I got -- "he was at everything," someone remarked last night). My condolences to his family and friends -- he seems to have been a genuinely nice guy, and I hope what follows is not in too poor a taste... 

(Lifted from the posts of a friend who credits the image as coming via Chain Whip). 

...But people who liked Johnny from the music scene might who were surprised by news of his passing might want to know that he did, in fact, know that he was dying (he was able to prepare for it, which is probably the preferable way to go -- who wants to go suddenly, with a bunch of things left unsaid and undone?); and that, realizing he couldn't take it with him, he sold his record collection to Neptoon a short while ago, much of which is still there. There was more than I can do justice to -- a lot of punk, a lot of garage, a bit of metal -- a bunch of Blasphemy, did that come from him? -- and I think maybe even a soul and R&B collection (though I didn't look through that). I had posted about it a couple weeks ago on Facebook, without naming whose records they were, but from the Pandoras to Thee Headcoats, from the Alex Chilton to Zounds, Johnny's collection spoke of a deep, adventuresome love of music (and a pretty decent dayjob!). It's easy to tell his collection from the usual stock, as it is stacked all around the used section in crates; you can tell looking at it was the collection of someone who either had died, was dying, or had really serious medical bills to cover, because (as I remarked to Rob when I brought a few of the records from it to the till the other week), no one ever sells a collection like that unless one of those three conditions apply. So if you were a friend of Johnny's, shared some of his musical enthusiasms, and are missing him, maybe it would mean something to you to own some of his records?

But, um, I actually got his Zounds record, so don't bother looking for that...

Friday, April 19, 2024

GADFLY: a Homa interview: "someone who talks harshly about authority"

I first met Homa, guitarist and singer of GADFLY, at Sunrise Records in Metrotown. The store sound system was playing this cool, creative stoner metal  -- that's what it sounded like to me at the time, and sometimes still does -- and I walked up to the counter to ask who it was, and was a bit surprised when the person at the counter told me it was her band. 

Gadfly at Green Auto, April 13, by Allan MacInnis (all pics are)

That was about four years ago, we figure, and I only just caught them live last week, so it took me awhile to get around to seeing them (though I do have a pandemic as an excuse for a stretch of that). Catching them last weekend at Green Auto, I was impressed with their energy and chops, disappointed they had no t-shirts that would fit me, and intrigued at the youth of the audience: I'd figure the average age of the (very fullsome, enthusiastic) crowd was about 23 (though it might have gone up a couple of years after I got there): "So this is where the kids are when they're not at the Red Gate."

Reading a Discorder interview with them, I learn that Homa is in fact an Iranian refugee and that the band is named for an Irish novel, The Gadfly, about -- quoting Homa from Discorder -- "a group of socialists in Ireland. A character uses the name ;Gadfly’ to write really harshly about the government so they never get caught. That’s what I thought I would name the band after." Even more intriguingly, she was turned onto the novel (translated into Farsi) by her Iranian grandfather, who was one of the people who encouraged Homa to make music. 

Women are not generally encouraged to make music in Iran, leastways music like this. 

I should note: while I am not much of a fundamentalist in any respect, I am very partial to Iranian culture. While no expert, I've had Iranian coworkers, classmates, students, seen maybe a dozen Iranian films (my favourites probably being Kiarostami's Where Is the Friend's House? and a rather dry comedy about masculine behaviour called Men at Work). 

Homa indulged my overly elaborate email questions, below, including a couple that have more to do with Iran and Vancouver punk than GADFLY per se (thanks, Homa, for putting up with them!). Thanks also go to Noelle of the Black Lab for advising me to try black and white as a way of negotiating the lights at Green Auto -- worked pretty well!  

Allan: I know there are bands that "sound like stoner metal" (Japan's Church of Misery, say) that hate the label. Do you identify with it? The Discorder interview talks about "punk" a lot but the music of yours I've heard does not sound especially punk. Maybe "Gadfly" the song is punk... the spirit might be punk... but I would describe this maybe as "artful stoner metal with a Middle Eastern influence," I guess...? How do you pigeonhole yourself when people ask what kind of music you make?

Homa: Yeah, to be honest I don’t know what we are. We do whatever at the time of our creativity sounds good, so I usually just say the genre the interviewer wants to hear. Everyone will perceive the sound differently so it’s up to the listener.

Allan: I do not know the book that you're named after, Ethel Voynich, which I gather you have a Farsi copy of from your grandfather. I'm finding it fascinating to be learning about an Irish novel because of a Farsi translation of it owned by a punk/ metal musician in Vancouver. That's a convoluted way to learn about a book! Tell me about YOUR history with this book? Was it especially famous in, or relevant to life in, Iran? Did your grandfather attach special meaning to it? How did you end up with it? Was it, like, just a source of an idea for the band name or is it a book you really like, or...? (Do you reference other things in it in your lyrics?).

Homa: Well, it was my grandfather's favourite book and it kinda became a nickname for me since I was always against every fucking thing happening in the city, country , school and even family so he started calling me Gadfly or kharmagas, magasi in Farsi which was supposed to mean someone who talks harshly about authority and its always angry or unhappy with the situation.

Allan: Any insight into this shirt? I ran after these people to ask them about it, and it turned out it was an Iranian family I ran into in the Skytrain. It's a famous gig in Vancouver punk history but how it ended up a t-shirt worn by an Iranian man I have no idea. They were very puzzled about how excited I got. 

Homa: haha well I think probably either a friend, cousin or Value Village for the shirt.

I remember back in Iran it was the first day of school I was just transferred to a new high school and I saw this kid with a Nirvana shirt so I got really excited I tried to talk to her but she had no clue what I was talking about .

So I would say probably saw it somewhere and thought it looked cool. There are underground scenes in Iran and they can be really fun. Iran's scene its really interesting you’ll be surprised, its not as big obviously but people would know very obscure and rare stuff but only in the underground and art scene.

Allan: This is definitely obscure, rare stuff. Vancouver punks don't have this shirt so it was bizarre to see it on the back of a guy from Iran. He said he got it over there, too! 

Allan... but that brings us to another Vancouver punk question: are Iranian punks aware of THIS Vancouver punk classic, "Firing Squad" by the Subhumans (about their disappointment at the Iranian revolution of the 1970s). I wonder if you feel like it is presumptuous for Canadians to be commenting on the Iranian revolution? Are you sensitive about other people voicing their opinions about such things? I have no idea how this song would look from an Iranian perspective... 

Homa: Well, I feel like not that many people know about Iran since the media makes us the enemy. I don’t see anyone really even supporting the women's life freedom movement, so I do like seeing people who know even a little fact about Iran that is not stereotypical.  As long as they are not shaming Iranians for wanting freedom and trying to have a voice. It doesn’t effect me I like share my culture and history to whoever is interested.

And yeah, the revolution in the 70s didn’t go as planned. It was supposed to make us a socialist country but it kinda went sideways and got ruined.

Allan: Tell me about the art for "Spine Stabber?" Who is the artist, and what's going on there? It seems like a very literal interpretation of some of what's described in the lyrics... who is the guy with the knife? Why is he emerging from the prisoner's back? What's the ball and chain? What is the prison? What is the song actually about?

Homa: Well, I was really frustrated with the metal scene for the lack of femme figures and not being really open and welcoming to newer bands so I was bitching to Nigel and he wrote the song to show me how easily we can do a stoner metal song and be a metal band. But its a really fun song to play and sing if I’m being honest.

For the art work I can reach out to the artist and ask them about it. Their instagram is sellout.garbage they’re based in Vancouver such a talented person you should check out their work.

Allan: What is the sample at the start of "To the Depths of Abyss"? Who is that? What is he talking about? (I am listening to that now for the first time and I love it -- but I don't have a sense of the whole story. I'm transfixed, though).

Homa: It's a mix of one of friends doing poetry and [drummer] Nigel talking about what you need to do if you eat spicy food to get relief and some other stuff that I don’t even remember hahaha... our sound engineer recorded that secretly and the next day showed it to us hahaha.... it was a jam so we were kinda just doing whatever.

Allan: A metal band whose sound I like, that also brings in some Middle Eastern influences, is Melechesh... but they're about the only Middle Eastern Metal Band I know (Assyrian, by way of Jerusalem): ...wondering what Middle Eastern metal or punk bands someone should know about to appreciate YOUR musical inspirations?

Homa: I personally like Jucifer and Taqbir and Aurat and also System of a Down haha

Allan: Were you able to be active as a musician in any sort of underground way in Iran? 

Homa: I tried to be but my family was a bit strict so I didn’t have that much of a freedom but when I lived with my aunt she would let me be more active.

Allan: What music were you listening to over there -- from anywhere -- that you credit as an influence? Was it difficult to access?

Homa: To be honest I got really into some Australian bands right before I left Iran like Stonefield.

It was hard to find music there. I would download music videos over night and such and listen to them the next day.

My influences change consistently, I kinda used more of my traditional Persian music for the first album but now they’re also different. I had good collection of traditional Persian music since my grandpa was a known musician before the revolution.

Allan: Can I ask about your status? I work with refugees occasionally but I'm not entirely sure of the process. Do you have Permanent Resident status, or citizenship, or...? Are you secure here? Is Vancouver your home base now? (Are you liking it here?). Not sure you can explain it, but why on earth did the people who processed your refugee status put you down as a Christian Band?

Homa: Well, I was a “Christian” refugee and I started GADFLY during the processing period and it got put on as a Christian band.

I currently have my PR status now waiting for my citizenship.

I don’t know if I’m secure here or anywhere to be honest who knows what can happen is anyone secure anywhere. Vancouver is my home base for now.

Allan: Do you have to be worried what you say or do, in terms of consequences for yourself or family back home? (I know some immigrants DO have concerns about that). Does your songwriting ever have intended targets/ audiences in Iran, or are you writing for your audience here, or...? Do you ever have to censor yourself?

Homa: Yes, I don’t censor myself tho and I try to write for whoever care to listen and be a fan.
Allan: What do you love and what do you not-love about the Vancouver music scene?

There’s a lot of beautiful souls here and also a lot of people who are full of themselves.

Not enough spaces for venues which is tragic. But from what I’ve heard Vancouver always been like that.

Allan: Who is the lineup of the band, currently?

Homa: I’m Homa I play guitar and do vocals and then there’s Nigel on drums and vocals and we write the majority of the material together and Raine the most awesome bass player you’ll see.

Allan: What shows are upcoming? 

Homa: We're playing on May 23rd with Down the Lees [Bandcamp here] for their album release. We are a bit busy with festivals and such but OUR album release will be on July 6th, we will post the poster soon for it.

Allan: I kinda loved your t-shirt design; tell me about that? 

Homa: Our friend Ciao (Unsure Studios) does all of our shirts, either his artwork or mine. We give him complete artistic freedom and he just kills it, I love the design and the color work, I think it represents our new sound very well.

Allan: By the way, I put up a couple of clips from the gig the other day, here and here... 

Homa: Nice! The first one its called "Rapture" from our first EP and the second one is called "Mother Buzzer," which will be on our upcoming album. 

Thanks to Homa, Nigel, and Raine of GADFLY. See you at the album release...!