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Clip: The Cult Of Silkworm

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  • Carl Zimring
    One quick clip before I head off to the polls. The Cult Of Silkworm Silkworm, now in their 17th year, are a music lover s band,
    Message 1 of 5 , Nov 2, 2004
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      One quick clip before I head off to the polls.

      <http://neumu.net/datastream/>

      The Cult Of Silkworm

      Silkworm, now in their 17th year, are a music lover's band, the kind of
      outfit that causes fanatical admirers to shake their heads and wonder what
      is wrong with the rest of the world. The band's blend of heavy, mid-tempo
      rock, jacked up on stop-start rhythms and laced with sardonic humor,
      doesn't seem inaccessible or difficult, yet it has never caught on with a
      wider audience. "To me, our music sounds like it should be really popular,"
      Andy Cohen, the band's co-founder and lead guitarist, said recently during
      a phone interview. "Clearly our opinions aren't shared by most people.
      Clearly there's something that's weird about our music, and we don't know
      what it is. We just play what we think sounds great, and so far it has not
      been popular." But, he added, "We have a lot of very devoted fans whom I'm
      very grateful for, so we're not entirely insane."

      Indeed, one of the most amusing parts of the Silkworm Web site is its
      "Musical Correctness" database, a fan-driven evaluation of hundreds of
      different artists and bands. It is its own little universe, a place where
      cult-garage bluesmen like The Oblivians rank above The Beatles, and
      post-punk icons like bluesman Muddy Waters are near the top, but in a dead
      heat with The Rock*A*Teens. There are no prizes for moving units -- in fact
      million-selling musical atrocities like Journey, Sting and the reunited
      Eagles have negative ratings. It is, in short, a place where a few
      dedicated fans have more impact than masses of lukewarm record-buyers, and
      so it is no surprise that rabidly followed but perpetually underrated
      Silkworm do well here. The band carries a very healthy 260.28 rating, just
      behind Roxy Music and slightly ahead of Apples in Stereo, as of November 1.

      Cohen and Joel RL Phelps started Silkworm in Missoula, Montana in 1987.
      Bassist Tim Midgett, who had gone to high school with Cohen and like the
      others had been in an early band called Ein Heit, joined in 1988. The band
      moved from Missoula to Seattle in 1990, and released its first album
      independently in 1992. Two more albums came out in 1994 -- In the West and
      Libertine. After Libertine, Phelps left the band. Matador signed Silkworm
      and released their next two albums, Firewater and Developer. The band's
      most recent four full-lengths -- Blueblood, Lifestyle, Italian Platinum and
      this year's It'll Be Cool -- are all on Touch & Go. In 2003 the band also
      released a covers album called You Are Dignified on 12XU; it included
      acoustic versions of songs by Robbie Fulks, Bedhead, Pavement, Shellac and
      Nina Nastasia.

      After nearly two decades and eight albums together, Cohen says the
      songwriting process has remained relatively constant. "Typically Tim and I
      will write the bare bones of a song, and then we'll bring it into the group
      and arrange it," he explained. "The arrangement is where it really gets
      hammered out and starts to sound the way it's going to sound. Because the
      initial idea is often skeletal; it doesn't have a sound. It's sort of a
      structure without a sound."

      That arranging has gotten simpler over the years, he added. "In our early
      career, especially when Joel was still in the band, we used to spend a lot
      of time arranging, because with Joel and I wanting to overplay all the
      time, we had to really work it out, to where it didn't sound like an
      undifferentiated mass."

      The band streamlined this process during the mid-period of its career, the
      Matador years, when their constant touring and recording schedule made fast
      work a priority. "Now we're sort of coming back into a phase where we
      rehearse more, and I think it's because we're in less of a hurry to put
      albums out," Cohen said. "I think the proof of the pudding is that
      Lifestyle and Italian Platinum were our two best records so far. But
      everybody's got their opinion."

      The band's fourth member, Matt Kadane (the New Year, Consonant, Bedhead),
      joined during the recording of Italian Platinum, adding keyboards to the
      band's thickly layered sound. On It'll Be Cool, Kadane's plaintive piano
      lines give "Xian Undertaker" an extra layer of melancholy, while his
      off-kilter playing on "Something Hyper," adds an extra nervous charge to
      the album. "We started playing with Matt to see what it would be like, and
      he ended up playing on almost every song on Italian Platinum," said Cohen.
      "Everything just sounded better with him playing on it. So, I don't have a
      lot of conceptual ways to describe why it sounds better. It fills up the
      cracks in good ways."

      As on every album since In the West, Silkworm worked with fellow Montana
      native Steve Albini to record It'll Be Cool. "In the very early days,
      before we started working with Steve, we never knew what we would get out
      of a session," Cohen explained. "Every session would sound radically
      different. Sometimes we would get really disappointing stuff, but now,
      recording in the same studio with Steve all the time, I think we have an
      expectation of it being right."

      Cohen added that the band has become extremely comfortable working with
      Albini. "I almost wonder if we've gotten too comfortable with him -- and
      that's why it takes so long for these records to come out. Like we recorded
      this thing for months and months, just because we'd go into the studio and
      record some stuff and then we'd end up playing pool and goofing around. It
      was only because Steve's a good guy and letting us come in on his off days
      that we were able to get this thing done under budget."

      The result -- It'll Be Cool -- is 37 minutes of stripped-down, intelligent
      rock 'n' roll with a darkly comic sensibility. This is a band
      self-deprecating enough to name a track "Shitty Little Yacht" (although,
      according to Cohen, engineer Steve Albini actually thought of the title)
      and grandiose enough to weave Caesar and his legions into a song about
      their inability to sleep. (Lyrics from "Insomnia" include: "The legend of
      Julius Caesar/ Got his friends to work together and breach the wall/ Didn't
      waste his time on sleeping/ 'Cos he couldn't/ 'Cos he wouldn't/ It doesn't
      matter at all/ Must have been too tired to enjoy his conquest or to enjoy
      his fame").

      It is also an extremely guitar-heavy sound, with muscular guitar solos
      emerging out of nearly every available crevice. "To me, sometimes there's
      just a space where I can freak out and take it to the next level of
      intensity," said Cohen. "To me, that's what it takes. I love to hear really
      great guitar solos, but you don't hear them that often."

      Yet he added that unlike guitarists in some bands, he tries to avoid solos
      for their own sake. "If you listen to a band like Metallica -- and I
      wouldn't say that I like Metallica -- they've got the classic hard-rock
      band problem. It's a knee-jerk reaction, up until very recently, that
      they've had an extended guitar solo in every song. And it didn't seem like
      there was any thought put into how long it should be or whether or not it's
      appropriate. Some of them are good, but a lot of them, even if they're not
      bad, they don't add anything."

      Silkworm recently returned from a short tour in Japan. The band will be
      playing a series of dates on the East Coast and in the Midwest in November.
      Tour dates can be found at the Silkworm Web site. -- Jennifer Kelly
      [Monday, November 1, 2004]
    • Jason Gross
      Thanks for posting this, Carl. Love their new record and now I know that they re coming to NYC so I can finally see em live. Best, Jason
      Message 2 of 5 , Nov 3, 2004
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        Thanks for posting this, Carl. Love their new record and now I know
        that they're coming to NYC so I can finally see 'em live.

        Best,
        Jason
      • Carl A Zimring
        I was born by the river In a little tent, and o just like that river I ve been running ever since It s been a long time coming, but I know A change is gonna
        Message 3 of 5 , Nov 3, 2004
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          I was born by the river
          In a little tent, and o
          just like that river
          I've been running ever since

          It's been a long time coming, but I know
          A change is gonna come, oh yes it will

          It's been too hard living
          but I'm afraid to die
          'cause I don't know what's up there
          beyond the sky,

          It's been a long time coming, but I know
          A change is gonna come, oh yes it will

          I go to the movie and I go downtown
          Somebody keep tellin me
          don't hang around

          It's been a long time coming, but I know
          A change is gonna come, oh yes it will

          Then I go to my brother
          and I say brother help me please
          But he wind up (knocking) me
          back down on my knees

          There have been times that I thought
          I couldn't last for long
          But now I think I'm able to carry on

          It's been a long time, but I know
          A change is gonna come, oh yes it will
        • rickkelly1@aol.com
          sigh.
          Message 4 of 5 , Nov 3, 2004
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            sigh.
          • Jason Gross
            Thank you Carl. I nearly lost it when I read those still-moving words. Best, Jason Perfect Sound Forever online music magazine with warped perspectives since
            Message 5 of 5 , Nov 4, 2004
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              Thank you Carl. I nearly lost it when I read those still-moving
              words.

              Best,
              Jason

              Perfect Sound Forever
              online music magazine with warped perspectives since 1993
              http://www.perfectsoundforever.com
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