Monday, September 14, 2009

A TVD Special Event | Story/Stereo

See, it's a blog. We're into words. And storytelling. And music. And a convergence of both is upon all week at TVD (per usual) and uniquely this Friday at the Writer's Center in Bethesda.

Now, normally this is the part where we fill you in, but we thought we'd invite the event's curators, Chad from Beauty Pill and Matt from The Caribbean to offer some background on the event AND on the band, Roofwalkers, who've taken over TVD for the week with their words and music:

Story/Stereo is a modest cultural experiment in cross-media collaboration. Ugh. That sounds highfalutin. Scratch that. Story/Stereo is just a night of words & music.

The Writer's Center selected some excellent emerging poets, essayists, and novelists to read from recent works, we selected some excellent, interesting DC bands to play a set.

And we're all getting together to put on a show. Because, really, why not?

While there are some lofty precepts behind Story/Stereo, we'll spare you the ponderous discussion. Mainly we just kinda wanted to throw some musicians and writers in the same room and see what happens.

Our premise is that there are many parallels between good literature and good music.

Please do come. Let's find them together.

—Chad Clark & Matt Byars, musical curators, Story/Stereo

About Roofwalkers
Roofwalkers music is difficult to describe, but certainly beautiful. With swooping, soaring guitars, delicate melodies, and an unforced, organic presentation, the music is nothing if not beautiful. Songs veer from languid/soothing to sinister/conspiratorial. People sometimes use the lazy descriptor "dreamy." And yes, it is that, but there is an undertow.

One of my favorite 'walkers song titles is "They Think They Own The Place." If this suggests to you that there is sometimes a social commentary component to the music, you would be right about that. While the sound is lovely and airborne, the content is often dark.

Roofwalkers has come to be one of the most admired bands by other DC area musicians. Any good musician knows how difficult it is to pull off this kind of elegant restraint. They're in the exciting transition from cognoscienti's-best-kept-secret to beloved-by-many.

We are honored to have them.

Kicking things off this week is Roofwalkers' Ben Licciardi (vocals/guitars):

"When I was in high school, I used to go record shopping in a neighborhood of Atlanta called Little Five Points. My parents would drop me off, go have lunch in downtown Atlanta and pick me up a few hours later. We lived in a planned suburb about 40 minutes away, and on the drive back home, I would open up my new finds and pour over the liner notes and lyrics. Reading words divorced from their musical context almost feels like cheating--like jumping ahead to the last sentence of a book before you know the whole story. I often found that the songs I was drawn to on the page weren’t the ones I ended up liking once I heard them. And the reverse was also true—sometimes the lyrics were flat in written form, but were incredibly expressive coming through the speakers. Melodies have a way of elevating, dampening, undermining and otherwise recontextualizing words. That’s the voodoo of popular music: In the right hands, even the most tired and hackneyed cliché can feel earth shattering.

Some of my favorite lyrics don’t look like much on paper. I love Neil Young’s album After the Gold Rush, and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is one of my favorites. The verses are disjointed flashes of childhood memories and musings on loneliness. The chorus goes: “Only love can break your heart, Try to be sure right from the start.” If you read the lyrics out loud, they probably won’t move you. But in Neil’s strained falsetto, over the stiff and lumbering rhythm section, it adds up to something deeply poignant. Most great music ends up being impossible to describe because it points to experiences that are essentially ineffable. This song has something to do with loss and vulnerability, but beyond that, I can’t explain why I like it so much.

Another song that sounds better in practice than on page is The Only One’s “The Whole of the Law.” I first heard this as a cover on Yo La Tengo’s album Painful, but I’ve grown to like the original—sax solo and all—best. If you’ve never heard the Only Ones, you should check them out. They were a late 70s English punk band, more in line with New Wave bands like Television and Heartbreakers than the Sex Pistols. “Whole of the Law” is a slower song and the lyrics are pretty run-of-the-mill love song fare (“I used to have the notion, I could swim the length of the ocean…”). The thing that kills me is the way lead singer Peter Perrett sings. He sounds downcast and lovelorn and almost slurs the words out. His bottomed-out delivery combined with drippy sentimentality of the lyrics come across as straight-from-the-heart. One line in particular always hits me: “I found out I was in love with you, I had to contact...” You have to hear it to get the full effect.

One last favorite: “Werewolf” by Michael Hurley off of the album Armchair Boogie. Sometimes, like in the above songs, a phrase is sung in a particular way and the words are imbued with new meaning. In “Werewolf,” the chorus has no words, it’s just Michael Hurley howling like a wolf. It’s a really high and lonesome whine. The lyrics in the verse are very simple, and it’s almost like their purpose is just to play support to the chorus--after you hear the song once, every time thereafter, you’re basically just waiting for the howling. I have this on an old, crackly vinyl record and it’s absolutely haunting."

Neil Young - Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Mp3)
The Only Ones - The Whole Of The Law (Mp3)
Michael Hurley - Werewolf (Mp3)