Friday, June 3, 2011

Low - Murderer

every once in a while you hear a song that changes you. it may be a major change, like the first time you hear your favorite band, or it may be something subtle, something that makes you feel something you can't name. this song does it for me. an incredible song about faith. low is a great band with a great story and you should check them out. there is an amazing dutch documentary called 'you may need a murderer'. i urge you to watch it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Interview with The Throats

Last month, my brother Pete interviewed me for a paper on Folk Music. He makes me sound like a real artist. Better yet, he made me realize that I am an artist. - Mike

Interview with a Folk Musician
by Pete O'Shaughnessy

When I first looked at this assignment, I wasn’t sure what artist, style, or year I wanted to discuss. After some time thinking, I realized that I grew up with one of my favorite folk musicians, my brother Mike O’Shaughnessy. I have been playing music with both my brothers for many years, albeit I was probably more watching and listening than anything. But it dawned on me that this paper would be a great chance to not only interview my brother about his music, but to be able to get a little perspective on him and the songs I have grown up listening to. It’s certainly easy to look past what’s right in front of you and to write about someone famous or commercially successful, but realizing that most of my musical influence came from the basement in the house I grew up in on Long Island sometimes throws me for a loop.

I never really put a name to the music my brother played and plays because, to me, it wasn’t made for anyone else but us, it was the family style and we just enjoyed it, so I think this was a great opportunity for me, because I can see that my brother’s music didn’t just pop out of thin air, it emerged from years of listening to our parents’ music and grew, from a young man who picked up a guitar and inspired my whole family to write, and sing, and share ourselves musically. 

Before I jot down the interview, I think a little review of Mike’s music is called for. There are countless albums and songs that Mike has produced over the years, some of which I have been lucky enough to be a part of and some I just enjoy. I will review a sample of some of my favorites and discuss his style, sound, and lyrics. 

Whether it’s electric or acoustic Mike’s sound can have a soft, country type texture or a hard rock feel. He has been involved with many different artists and tried his hand at different styles in such bands as The Martyrs, The Throats, and Heirs to the McQueen Fortune, and has done some work with my other brother Jim in The Feebs. He is most closely associated with alternative folk/alternative country genre. Mike’s voice has a great high tone to it, peppering most songs with his harmonic falsetto to give the song depth and meaning. On the average the tempo of his music is slow and powerful, but every now and then the rock rolls and the beat is hard to keep up with.

As The Throats, Mike was a one man band, with a 4 track recorder, a guitar (acoustic or electric), bass, sometimes drums or a variation of percussion instruments. Lyrically, Mike is a fantastic writer, conjuring up images that seem real and relative to the listener. One of my favorite songs Mike has performed is “Death in the Family” which relates the story of a very dysfunctional home. For me it always spoke to the fact that we had lost our father at a young age because of the line “death in the family, what’ll I do now with the pain and the fear, who will hear”, although Mike did not write it with that in mind. Listening to the average song, I interpret the lyrics to fit my own life, but having listened to Mike’s music, it’s interesting to be able to ask what his inspiration was compared to how I interpret it. It’s usually different as I would imagine any other song would be, but don’t have the means to find out. 

The album “The Measurement” has a few songs that really stand out for me such as the single “The Measurement”, the eclectic sound of “Old Country Road”, a song intertwining lackadaisical thoughts with traffic, and “Country Dark” with its slow moving, country blues inspired rhythm and high pitched guitar solo. The album “Return of the Mountain Lion” shows Mike’s increasing creativity. We find more finger-picking of the guitar and more levels to the sounds in songs like “Our Man in Minneapolis”, “Dreamgirl”, and “The Palest Ink”. This album is one of his more recent endeavors and, as with most folk artists’ collections, the album itself tells a story of growth from beginning to end. An older album, called “Big History (1992-1994)” produced with minimal equipment, but a guitar and lyrics that tell the story of a man still finding out his place in the world. It is one of my favorite albums because of its hope and naiveté. This album has the most traditional folk sound, a man and his guitar talking about the everyday idiosyncrasies and daily chores we all must do. Mike has a great knack, throughout his albums, of being able to see society and experience a culture and then be able to express it artistically in writing and music.

I got my chance to ask questions of Mike as we sat around my mother’s kitchen table on May 13th. It was a new experience for both of us, me as a journalist of sorts and my brother as the subject, a bona-fide folk music legend from the gritty streets of Long Island, NY. It was a great learning experience on my part and I found a new side of my brother, his music and the genre all at the same time. Here are most of the questions I asked Mike and his responses were at times funny but very informative. You can find Mike’s music on as free downloads. He is also available on iTunes and several other internet music stations.


When and where were you born?

Queens, New York, 1969

How long have you been playing music?

I started playing music in the 4th grade when I decided to take up the saxophone following a school assembly. At the time, I thought a saxophone was a trombone, which was the instrument I initially wanted to learn. Oh, well! Five years in a grade school band led to a rock band in high school. My brother Jim and I would go up to block to our neighbor. His father was a music teacher so their basement was full of instruments -- bass guitar, synthesizer, drum set, amplifiers. Our friend played drums, and Jim and I messed around with the other instruments. In 1987, Jim and I started playing with two other friends which gelled into our first official band. On and off for the last 25 years, under different names, with slightly different lineups, we’ve been playing and recording music, mostly in bedrooms and basements. We’ve ended up integrating music into our daily lives.

When did you discover folk music?

As a kid, we always had music playing in the house. Early on, lots of John Denver, Peter Paul & Mary, Clancy Brothers, The Brothers Four… lots of the folk revival music of the 60s. I was too young to grasp what I was hearing. When I started discovering music on my own, I got into Bob Dylan (doesn’t every one?), which led me to Woody Guthrie, then back up to modern folk singers like Billy Bragg, and back earlier to Phil Ochs.

What are some of your greatest influences?

Early on: Billy Bragg, Tom Waits, Dylan, The Beatles, John Denver. As my education grew, I tried tackling jazz; got into Tim Hardin, Karen Dalton, and Will Oldham. Then there’s plenty of rock and roll: Guided by Voices, Dinosaur Jr., The Pogues, Nikki Sudden, and Laura Nyro.

Where do you see the future of folk music going? Is it still relevant?

By its nature, folk music will always be relevant. In some ways, all music is folk music – music of the people. Even electronic music can be heard as folk music, especially these days with so much communication with the musicians – it’s hard to hear a song these days without learning so much about the musician, and I think that informs the music.

What are some of your album titles, favorite songs?

Some of my solo albums are “The Independent Hand”, “Navigator” and “Return of the Mountain Lion.” With Heirs to the McQueen Fortune, I recorded “The Low Low Moon.” And I’ve been featured on a few albums by The Feebs, like “I’m Afraid of Life.”

Have you played with other musicians?

Over the years, I’ve performed and recorded with almost a dozen other musicians in The Martyrs, Pizazz, Jack’s Basement, Witner Twins and many more obscure, nearly semi-fictional bands.

Is your family musical?

Yes, both my brothers are musicians. Currently, the three of us are in a band, The Pink Lights. I play bass, Jim’s on guitar, and Pete handles the drums.

How does folk music make you feel, as it relates to subject, genre, or style?

When I first got strongly into folk music in the 80s, there was a 60s revival going on, specifically surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love. PBS was showing lots of Civil Rights documentaries. So Bob Dylan scratched me right where I itched. Through civil rights history, I was lead to his songs and vice versa. Musically, I can listen to that traditional American folk guitar sound all day. I was drawn to playing and writing folk-ish music because of its deceptive simplicity – almost anyone can be at least mediocre strumming away at folk chords. Conversely, at their finest, folk musicians can evoke the unspeakable nuances of human existence as deeply as any jazz or blues musician.

Do you think folk music has had cultural or social impact on our society? Does it still?

Folk music has certainly had a great impact on society in the past. The potential for its influence is possible today, and in developing countries, or countries struggling for/with democracy, I think you’ll find a lot of folk music informing the masses. America’s tastes have evolved (not always for the best) over the years, and I believe folk’s impact has lessened, maybe because folk music used to be a way to get the news about the world around you. In some ways, the internet has taken its place as a way to keep in touch with current events. That’s not to say folk music is dead in America. Traditional folk music and its close cousin, “alternative country” still have strong followings. And if folk music can be regarded as “music with a message”, you can still see the spirit of it in artists like Lady Gaga, whose music celebrates the civil rights of gays & lesbians.

Can you suggest any artists or albums that would be on your must have list for someone just getting into folk music?

Dylan’s early albums; The Band’s “Music from Big Pink”; Folkway’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the collection that sort of sparked the folk revival in the 60s; Phil Och’s best-of “The War is Over”; The Clancy Brothers’ “The Rising of the Moon”; Richard & Mimi Farina’s “Celebrations for a Grey Day.” Start with any one of these and then follow the path it takes you.

Any riders when you perform?

Biscuits and gravy. Plush bath robes. Mr. Pibb chilled.

Any comments or thoughts you would like here about your experience with folk music!!

As a writer, I’m always drawn to the lyrics of a song. There’s an inherent mystery to the way words fall together and crack open a truth. In folk, I see this happen often. You think you’re listening to a story, but in the poetry of a phrase, a bit of magic jumps out at you, and maybe only you. In folk, and in blues, compact philosophies swim and flourish, like colonies of life in a raindrop. So I always listen closely to the lyrics. That said, the melody of a folk tune can be so stirring, the singers could be babbling words and it wouldn’t matter a bit. So take it all in. Music’s something anyone can introduce to you, but only you can discover it.


What was great about conducting this interview was that I got some insight into what makes a great writer/musician. You never know where your influences are going to come from, so it’s worthwhile to listen to a man who has played and listened to music his entire life. The most rewarding part of my interview, besides it being my brother, was the fact that I could separate my familial feelings and focus on the craft, the raw emotion and courage it takes to simply write a song with personal ties and perform it.

Whether or not a song will ever make it on the radio doesn’t matter to the musician, it’s about being expressive and saying what you need to say. Folk music, to me, is the perfect vehicle to spread your words, your thoughts, and have an audience that is ready to listen to it. Folk audiences want that personal expression and viewpoints, there is a part of us all, folk fans, that want that personal connection to the artist, whether it be about politics, love, or social issues that can drive us to understand ourselves, or just be able to let go, knowing we are not alone. The delivery is key, as always, but folk music doesn’t need to be fancy or loud, it just needs that feel that is almost indescribable. It’s as though a good folk song, one that resonates with its audience can make you feel like you’re a part a something bigger than yourself. The 1960’s are a great example of that. As we know there was a lot going on in the 1960’s and most of what was being protested had their own songs. The war protests had their anthems, as well as the civil rights movements. Although the demographic was different the style of folk music was the same, whether it be the blues, country, or rock, the message was there. It is a way to spread information, not seen as much today on such a scale, but to those of us who still listen and feel folk music will go on.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Charles Bradley "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)" Live!

what a song! it does my heart good to see real soul music coming back. great album. buy it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sonics - Strychnine

'i like the taste, of straight strychnine'.

fucking bad-asses.