Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rock This! Thursday with R.A. Riekki

Rock This! Thursday is a weekly meme where we feature books that are about or centered around another thing we love: MUSIC! And sometimes we'll throw out a concert story, author's insight, or whatever band/song we think you should be listening to.

This week we have, R.A. Riekki, author of the book, U.P. hanging out with us to share some of his musical insight.

What are five songs we should be listening to right now?

OK, this is so hard to do. But I love it. I started to list my top five groups on my web page and I got into the hundreds before I knew it, so for the expanded version of this question, go to and you'll see my top 300 plus. But five . . . my God. I think I'll have to cheat a bit to fit more in than just five. Or I won't be able to sleep tonight. Too much to write about . . . OK, here's an attempt . . .

#1 The Mummers.

I'm a youtube freak, so I'd recommend checking out The Mummers doing "Wonderland" and "March of the Dawn." They remind me of Harry Connick Jr if he was more Lewis Carroll meets Bjork with perfect orchestration and less predictability (although I have to admit Connick's "We Are In Love" is the only jazz tune love song that simultaneously makes me want to get married and headbang--but I'm sure that's just me--it's like Pantera's "This Love" if you squeezed out every once of metal from it). OK, I'm getting off track . . . #1: The Mummers. Singer Raissa Khan-Panni has a voice that leads me to believe she'll have an easy, beautiful life, like one of Calvin's chosen--my last girlfriend was like that, perfect voice, this sense of flawlessness that you can only envy. Raissa's voice is divine. I'm a mere mortal in its presence.

#2 Jennifer Charles/Elysian Fields.

Youtube her doing "We're in Love." Not to be confused with Connick's "We Are In Love." This song makes me want to move back to Montreal. There've only been two cities I've lived in where I felt like I was home there--L.A. and Montreal (although some southern Florida cities have come close, but no cigar). Charles makes me nostalgic pour parler français et seulement français toute la journée encore. When I hear Charles's voice I miss Montreal . . . et pour sentir l'amour encore. Je me languis de l'amour. Je senti comme mon coeur suis mort après que ma dernière petite amie soit partie et cette chanson me rend long pour instants où j'ai obtenu de l'étreindre par derrière tandis qu'elle lavait des plats à l'évier. Je ferme mes yeux et vois toujours ces moments clairement comme jour. "We're in Love" makes me yearn for everything that Montreal, Quebec City, and Chicoutimi was to my life, its sense of romance. I actually can't listen to U2's "One" anymore, because it devastates me too much, makes me wish for what I once had, but for some reason Charles's singing is less painful to me than Bono's (or Karin Bergquist's from Over the Rhine), more like a humble, harmonious acceptance of loss; whereas, Bono just makes me hurt, makes me realize I still haven't found what I'm looking for even though I thought I had.

#3 Automatic Loveletter and Lyle Lovett.

Youtube "Hush." Listen to the opening notes, the way Juliet Simms's voice breaks. It has the same immediate sorrow as the first word of the recorded version of Lyle Lovett's "North Dakota," all this breaking emotion in the first breath. I love vocalists like that, where every syllable has a strain, an impact, a passion. Unteachable. There's just a commitment to the way that they sing like the best actors are able to do. Great art comes from commitment. (And great love too . . .)

#4 Fiona Apple and Sinead O'Connor.

Everything they've ever done. I love those two. As a writer, sometimes, I think what it would be like if I was that talented, as talented as Fiona is, as Sinead is. There's just this utter integrity to their songs, even the shitty ones. I saw Sinead in concert and she had no audience interaction skills, just mumbled and didn't realize she was too close or too far away from the mic and told anecdotes that never finished and I sooooo didn't mind, because she was just being herself and also each time a song started, there she was, absolutely exquisite beauty in the imperfection and perfection of her voice. God, if I could do that in my writing . . . I wouldn't be single, that's for damn sure. Fiona and Sinead and Juliet and Jennifer and Raissa--they're so talented that you fall in love with them. That's powerful. Like Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, so talented that there's a sexiness to it. I remember my first play I ever wrote that got performed, a play called Nighttime Cattail Swans that starred Rebekah Tiefenbach at Central Michigan University. As a playwright, I sat in the back row on opening night and I remember a girl in the audience crying at one of the scenes and I had this rush of connection to her, but it was this connection that was done in shadow, with her not knowing me and me not knowing her, but her tears were real, affected by what I wrote and she was causing this rush of emotion in me, a happiness and sadness and a sort of love . . . and I think the rest of my life has been trying to reconnect with that moment, almost like an addict, a writing addict, wanting to find audience, find readers who love what I've written. Well, Fiona and Sinead do that for me. I love what they write and sing and perform. Picking one song from them is too hard, but if I had to choose, at this moment I might say "Black Boys on Mopeds" or "No Man's Woman" and "Get Gone," "Sullen Girl," or "I Know."

#5 Loco Locass and Kinderzimmer Productions, Be Your Own Pet, Slow News Day/The Fast Computers, DJ Zack Daniels and Sinister Kane with John Greasy. I'm squeezing in a bunch of music here.

For Detroit hip-hop, I can't stop listening to "Sunshowers" by Zack Daniels, Sinister Kane, and John Greasy. The sample and chorus are topnotch--from Boyz n the Hood I believe. I worked with Zack Daniels for The (White) Rapper Show when it filmed in Detroit. I was originally a Midwest Hip-Hop Music Advisor for the show, unpaid, and then they gave me a paid P.A. position and I got to work all day with Gozza from the Artfull Dodgers and DJ SirReal who replaced Kid Rock in the Howling Diablos and a bunch of other big hip-hop fans and artists--Zack Daniels being one of them. Was a blast, although really hard, long hours, but it was cool, because I got to hang out with MC Serch a lot and he has amazing stories about being on tour with Flavor Flav and working with Nas and performing before The Cactus Album ever came out.

Slow News Day was an art alt rock subversive pop band in Chicago. I knew both members--Jason Powers and Josh Cox. Cox was in another amazing band called The Fast Computers. When they moved to Oregon, Cox formed Slow News Day. I saw one of their Chicago gigs, with Powers crawling on the floor like Marilyn Manson and Cox doing an aloof Jarvis Cocker while odd Russian cartoons played in the background and I thought it was one of the most promising live gigs I ever saw. I tried to do a story on them for the Forest Park Review, but the editor at the time thought that the band was fictitious based on their name--Slow News Day--like they were making fun of newspapers, so I wasn't allowed to write it. I wish I had now. Shortly after, the group broke up, sadly. But The Fast Computers went on to make an incredible CD called Heart Geometry that

I highly recommend ( "Sweden Hasn't Changed" and "Magic in the Air" are a couple of must-listens.

Be Your Own Pet is probably my favorite punk band right now. "Wildcat" equals one great song. It's so short that it's hard for me to go in great detail about why I love it. It just does what my favorite punk songs have always done--makes me laugh, think, and want to mosh about not caring if I spill stuff.

Loco Locass. Best of music lists are always too anglocentric. Loco Locass are the Rage Against the Machine of French hip-hop. Their lyrics are complex, insightful, and just plain interesting, even to the untrained English ear. Listen to the build of a song like "La censure pour l'echafaud" and then the way that "histoire d'horreur" and "histoire d'Honneur" become interchangable. The effect for me is similar to how Rage's "just do what they told ya" sounds like "just do what they taught ya" morphs into "just do what they torture" in "Killing in the Name Of." Loco Locass, like Zach de la Rocha, have true lyrical skills. I find some of the best MCs in hip-hop that NEVER make American lists are rappers outside of the English language who should be getting their props--K'naan, Menelik, Kool Savas, Kinderzimmer Productions. That opening beat for K.P.'s "Irgendwo zwischen" is begging to be sampled. I got in an argument with Jeff Mao (aka Chairman Mao of the egotrip collective) while driving him to a record store in Detroit. He made the claim that the only real hip-hop comes out of New York. I argued that that wasn't true, that it was in fact crazy, that countless MCs with incredible talent were all over the U.S., and even questioned what he was doing in Detroit if the best rappers were supposedly in NYC. Now I'd want to argue with him even further that the best hip-hop is coming from outside of America in a hell of a lot more languages than just English. As a matter of fact, if Mao ever reads this, I challenge him to a public debate on who the best MCs are on the planet. He can take New York and I'll take everywhere outside of New York--Mao won't stand a chance. There's just too many names I can draw from.

Almost made this list: Rage Against the Machine's entire Evil Empire, anything Radiohead has ever done, Arab Strap's Mad for Sadness, Monica Freire's "Les eaux de mars," Eisley's Room Noises, Elliott Smith, Matre's "Miracle Business" and "The Last Shall Be First," Ben Folds, Nas's "One Mic," LCD Soundsystem, Placebo, Cassettes Won't Listen's "Freeze and Explode," Young Galaxy, Dokken's Under Lock and Key, any slow Nick Cave song, The Veils's "Lavinia," Tok Tok vs. Soffie O's "Day of Mine," Guster's Lost and Gone Forever, Postal Service's "Such Great Heights," Yeah Yeah Yeahs's "Maps," everything the New Radicals ever did, Kerli's "Walking on Air," Pony Up!'s "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," k-os's "Superstarr Pt. Zero," the amazing New York Scum Rock Live at CBGB CD, One Day as a Lion's "Wild International," Little Boots's "Meddle," Blood Red Shoes, and you know what, I better stop there. I could see this list getting very long. Oh, I have to add this though--Tindersticks. "Dying Slowly"--gorgeous and I feel what he's saying.

Tell us the most guilty pleasure song or band you have on your iPod, MP3 player, etc.

I don't use my iPod. Doesn't work very well. But I do have some guilty pleasures--Nelly Furtado's "Say It Right," Stacy Earl's "Why Do You Try To Hurt Me?" Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," Brittany Spears's "Toxic," Pussycat Dolls's "When I Grow Up." I definitely can be a pop fan. Although the majority of radio nauseates me. I'm much more into underground stuff I've managed to discover myself, like Kings of Convenience, Kylähullut, Donots, Texta, Blumentopf, Bloodsuckers from Outer Space, Nellie McKay, P.O.S., Duchess Says, Coeur de Pirate, Black Moon, Ian Brown, Ke, . . .

What was the first tape or CD you bought?
The first tape was either The Best of Bill Cosby or Cheech & Chong's Greatest Hit. I can't remember exactly, but I think it was the Cosby first. I remember listening to "Old Weird Harold (9th Street Bridge)" and playing it over and over. I thought the moment where Old Weird Harold gets scared was the funniest thing I'd ever heard at that time. The sound Cosby makes is hysterical. The same with "Pedro and Man At The Drive-Inn." I thought Cheech's peeing was hilarious, when he says he has to go so bad his teeth are floating. I've went back and listened to some of those old comedy tapes I bought and they're not as funny anymore, but at the time I remember laughing until I hurt. I loved to laugh as a kid, loved comedy, always have actually. So it was amazing when I got to go on tour with Joe Anderson from Second City Main Stage for the 2007 We Can Make You Laugh Comedy Tour. I'd always wanted to drive around from city to city doing standup and improv and I got to do that at least once in my life and I think it all started with those Cosby and Cheech & Chong tapes.

By the way, the first CD I ever bought was a special issue Madonna CD that I got from the BX when I was in boot camp, near the end of it. It had a long remix of "Holiday" that I liked a lot. CDs had just come out. I used to have to hide it from the drill instructor. I bought W.A.S.P.'s Inside the Electric Circus shortly after that. I remember trying to listen to it on cheap headphones when I had a headache (I caught pneumonia when I was in boot camp and the drill instructor/company commander wouldn't let me go to the hospital, so I got exceptionally sick). Somehow I still managed to graduate boot camp though and then in A-school I had an extended hospital stay after having untreated pneumonia for like two months. I lost fifty pounds in boot camp. I had these visions of graduating with this amazing Marine-like body and instead I looked like I'd survived a POW camp, just gaunt and weak. I think joining the military is basically finding out that it's the opposite of everything you think it's going to be. Let me just say that my favorite music is not military marches.

If you could hang out with one musician - living or dead - who would it be and why?
I really like Lyle Lovett. He just seems like he has a lot of integrity. And he got to date Julia Roberts. I'm amazed at the Joe Dimaggios and Arthur Millers, how they got to be with such beautiful women. I think I've lucked out in my life. My ex-girlfriends have all been very talented and beautiful people. But Lyle has a quality I've always been intrigued by. Plus I love his songs--"L.A. County," "Simple Song," "Pontiac."

You know, that was a cool thing about working on The (White) Rapper Show--getting to eat at Kid Rock's restaurant while they taped him and going to ICP's secretive studio and getting to hang out with Jus Rhyme. Just today I went with Jus to an AWARE-LA (Anti-Racism organization) meeting and then talked with him and rapper Matre afterwards. That's what I love about L.A., how really talented people are just part of everyday life. Through a coincidence I was recently at Durmot Mulroney's house in L.A. and got to talk to him for a couple minutes. It's fun to do that, have a moment with someone you think is talented. That's one of the things also I really liked about going to school for creative writing, getting to sit down and study with and gab with John Casey and Stuart Dybek and Jayne Anne Phillips.

What was the first concert you attended?

Ratt/Poison. There's a scene in my novel U.P. ( where one of the main characters talked about his first concert experience and how it changed his life. I kinda took that chapter from my own life. Except there was an older bully behind me during the concert who spit on me for no reason more than once. I try not to remember that and instead remember C.C. DeVille going crazy onstage, running around, and how fun it was to see him with so much energy. Ratt was boring, but Poison put on an amazing show. I think my second concert was Warlock, Megadeth, and, oh, and I can't remember the third band, they were good too, but the name is slipping me. Anyway, I went without earplugs and was right in front of the amps and when I left the concert I remember this serious worry that I was going to go deaf because I actually couldn't hear. And then the relief when the tinnitus set in, because at least I was hearing ringing. That scared me so bad.

What is the one thing you love most about music?
I have to say this--my novel has been Ghost Road Press's #1 bestseller in fiction for 23 weeks and the reason is because of the music community. My interviews with creative writing publications have been fairly minimal, but I've got to be on the front page of Metal Express Radio in Oslo, Norway, with Chris Fehn of Slipknot and get interviewed on WIMK/WUPK (the big rock station in my hometown area) and on multiple metal and punk and hip-hop shows throughout the U.S. and the reason is because the music community can be so embracing. It's been an odd revelation for me, just how accepting they can be. (Now if I could just get into Spin--I've always dug that magazine ever since they gave me a free subscription--if anyone is a fan of U.P., do me a favor and write an email to Spin Magazine saying they should do a story on U.P.) When I was young--and I think a lot of kids do this--I turned to music for community, camaraderie, some sense of connection. I took to music really strongly--Pantera, Run-DMC, Anthrax, Public Enemy, The Subhumans, Sex Pistols. I didn't really put on the masks of it, the shirts and the dress and the posing of it, although if people do, I'm fine with that. But I always felt more like I was the Mike character in SLC Punk. He was punk without looking outwardly punk and I loved that. That he was punk inside. And the way that I took to it as a kid and found something there, some connection. Well, I write this novel about kids who love those forms of music and then it's years and years later but those communities opened their arms to me again. I mean, when I think about my facebook contacts--it's people like MC Serch and Steven Wiig (from Jason Newsted's band) and DJ SirReal and Jason Powers and Jus Rhyme. And next Saturday, August 8, I'll be at Russo's Books with rappers B Famillia and Matre. Even when I went to Central Michigan University, I was put in the Music dorm (Barnes Hall) even though I wasn't a Music major, but the great thing was I got to be in this building with members of The Verve Pipe and Paul Snabes from Alibi and although Mt. Pleasant didn't feel like home, that music dorm did feel like home to me. Music means more to me than what I can put here. But people who read my novel will get more of a sense of how much my characters (and I) love music.

Note: If you are an author who loves music and would like to particpate in Rock This! just shoot us an email:


Amy said...

DANG! and I thought I was cultured in the world of music!! :-D lol
I'm def going to check out some of those artists...
I'm ashamed to say I have never been to a concert. I'd like to keep my hearing intact, though it would be cool to go see Prince.

aaarrrgh! said...

Be Your Own Pet is my fave punkish band too, but if you the record with Wildcat doesn't have their best song ever: Damn Damn Leash. It's on "Not Rocket Science" and was a single on their label Infinty Cat.
It's about the best 2 minutes of teenrage angst ever written!
Good post.

Rap Music said...

I'll probably check these out, nice blog.