Metal Monday: The White Trash Metal Brigade Are Back In Full Effect

Norway’s Shot At Dawn have been shredding up and down the OurStage metal charts for a handful of years now. From the release of their 2008 EP Pre Bellum to 2010’s Seize The Night EP and now White Trash Metal Brigade, Shot At Dawn have stayed true to the things that helped them become a band in the first place: high fives and good times. Don’t believe them? Well, the band’s “about” section on Facebook simply reads “Stage dives and high fives! We rule!” That enough evidence for you?


What Is Ozzy Thinking?

Black Sabbath’s reunion tour was originally planned as a celebratory retrospective of the career of these heavy metal pioneers. However, it has recently been announced that Black Sabbath will not be honoring its legacy, instead touring under the name “Ozzy and Friends.”

Currently, one Black Sabbath concert will be happening under the original name (at Download Festival in June), with a lineup of Ozzy Osbourne, Tommy Iommi, and Geezer Bulter. In total, there have been five gig cancellations under the “Ozzy and Friends” name, but the group has made up for their losses, booking performances at Norway’s Bergen Calling and Italy’s Gods of Metal festival. Evidently, these performances will include “friends” such as Zakk Wylde and Slash, however, there is still ongoing controversy regarding the name change.


Metal Monday: France, The Metal Up And Comer

Throughout the life of the Metal Monday column, I’ve written posts about what countries produce the best metal. No real surprise that the focus of these posts fell on Norway, Sweden, The UK and the US“after all, they’re the countries with some of the most prominent metal subcultures and scenes. One country that isn’t getting its due diligence, however, is France. Yes, that France. In the last ten years, France has made huge strides in producing powerhouse metal bands on a consistent basis.

Prior to the twenty-first century, France wasn’t exactly known for it’s metal acts, especially on an international level, but the ones they had were pretty fantastic”the monstrous avant-garde black metal band Blut Aus Nord and the consistently great heavy/power metal band Nightmare come to mind. Beyond that? Well, there wasn’t much else. Fortunately for everyone, that’s changing.

Much like Godzilla, Gojira are beasts


For Amy Winehouse, Love — and Life — Was a Losing Game

When I first heard the news about Amy Winehouse‘s passing (on Twitter, naturally), the comment that stood out most was one by Winehouse herself in an interview that the singer had done a few years ago with my former Entertainment Weekly colleague Chris Willman. In it, Winehouse jokingly made a prediction that, in hindsight, isn’t very funny at all.

Portrait by Lauren Wells

In 10 years, she said, “I’ll be dead in a ditch, on fire.” Sadly, for her many fans who had rode shotgun as she drove down the path of self-destruction, the “dead” part of her premonition was no joking matter. It was a distinct possibility, if not a certain probability, and one that came to pass on July 23, when Winehouse, who had infamously battled drug and alcohol addiction and had been in and out of rehab in recent years, was found dead in her London home.

The first thing I thought, after spending a moment to grieve for her family and loved ones, was that the world would be cheated out of so much great music. With Back to Black, her 2006 breakthrough album, Winehouse did so much more than show great promise. Hers already was a talent in full bloom. Back to Black was destined to go down as one of the all-time masterpieces. I was living in Buenos Aires at the time of its release, and I knew people who didn’t speak a word of English who could recite every line from every song.

It’s better to burn out than fade away. Live fast, die young. Leave a beautiful corpse. We’ve also all heard the one about how dying (especially before one’s time) is the best career move. I don’t know how beautiful Winehouse’s corpse will be, but she is guaranteed a spot in the pantheon of musical greats who left the party too soon.

Chillingly, she’ll be right beside the musical icons that she seemed to want to emulate most: Janis Joplin, a blue-eyed soulful precursor to whom she was often compared; Jimi Hendrix; Jim Morrison; and Kurt Cobain, all of whom died when they were the same age as Winehouse. If ever there were an unlucky number, it would have to be 27.

Unlike the legends who preceded Winehouse to an early grave and left behind so much incredible, indelible music, Winehouse bequeathed us with relatively few musical gifts. There are her two albums, 2003’s Frank and Back to Black, as well as a handful of one-off guest appearances on other people’s songs (Mark Ronson, Quincy Jones, and Tony Bennett, whose Duets II album in September will feature Winehouse). Sadly, her final impression will be a June concert in Belgrade, Serbia in which the apparently bombed singer stumbled and slurred her way through a few songs before being booed off the stage.

She had reportedly been working on new music for years, and at one point, was said to be on the verge of working with Roots drummer ?uestlove and producer/performer Raphael Saadiq on a project that had been delayed because of Winehouse’s trouble securing a U.S. travel visa due to her 2007 drug arrest for marijuana possession in Norway. So from here to eternity, all we’ll have to remember Winehouse by will be masterpieces of melancholy like “Love Is a Losing Game” and “Tears Dry on Their Own.” We’ll sing along, we’ll cry, we’ll look for clues to what was going on inside her troubled mind, to figure out why she was such a lost soul.

For you I was a flame

Love is a losing game

Five story fire as you came

Love is a losing game

From this day forth, Winehouse’s world-weary look of love will make Adele’s 21 sound like feel-good music. Speaking of Adele, Winehouse should have been where the “Rolling in the Deep” singer is now, reaping continued financial and critical benefits after a first rush of success. Now who’s going to fill her f**k me pumps (to quote the title of one of her early songs)?

Surprisingly, for all of her Grammys, accolades and albums sold, Winehouse only had one single resembling a hit in the U.S., “Rehab,” which went to No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100. I’ll never again be able to listen to the song in quite the same way, as a statement of bad-ass defiance. Now it will just sound like the words of a sad, desperate woman in denial and on the brink of collapse. If only she’d taken their advice.

Q&A With Sondre Lerche

Sixties pop, melodic indie rock, contemporary jazz, Brazilian psych-folk, singer-songwriter”these labels don’t quite do justice to the ground that Norwegian musician Sondre Lerche has covered in his ten-year career. Which is why it’s amazing that, at age twenty-eight, the Bergen native just released an album that marks several firsts. It’s the first album he’s recorded in New York since moving there in 2005 and”despite being his sixth studio recording”it’s his only self-titled work, which is fitting given that the new processes he employed and themes he explored on the record have helped forge some of his most personal, honest work to date. We sat down with Lerche to talk about how his new methods impacted the album, compare the musical cultures of his two homes and learn what he would sound like if he put out a black metal record.

OS: You’ve drawn from influences that range from garage rock to jazz over the course of your career. What sort of influences will we hear peeking through on the new album?

SL: The thing with this record that was new to me was that it wasn’t so much a genre thing. The songs felt really candid to me in a way, both musically and especially lyrically. When I started thinking about making a record out of it, I thought it would be weird to dress these songs up too much and make them these experimental, stylistic exercises. I immediately knew I wanted to see how much I could get out of pure elements. So it was more a matter of stripping things down and really enhancing the atmosphere of the song and the narrative, the underlying dramatic movements… The songs also are much more concerned with reality and how things really are, and in the past I’ve had a bunch of songs”not all of them, but a lot of them”have been much more concerned with how I would want things to be. They’ve been about this idealized vision, which to me is really truthful and comes from a place of honesty. But these songs just demanded a different treatment because they’re much more here and now and dealing with things as they are. Or trying to figure out how things actually are.

OS: Do you think that new process was a result of this being the first album you recorded in New York?

SL: Maybe it was. It’s always hard to sort of trace what influences what, and what makes you do what you do. But I definitely felt the need to make a record where I live, and I’ve lived in New York the last six years but I’ve traveled almost everywhere else to make records. It was important to me to find a studio in the neighborhood¦ here in Williamsburg”ideally, I wanted to be within walking distance. That was what I was hoping for. And I found this studio, Rare Book Room, where a lot of my favorite records of the last couple years have been made: Dirty Projectors, Spoon made a lot of their last album there, Animal Collective, Deerhunter. Nicholas, he’s worked with a bunch of my favorite bands, so we hit it off pretty quickly and I thought the pairing of him with my old buddy Kato [í…dland]”who I’ve worked with ten years”the pairing of those two characters would be really stimulating and exciting. The two of them hadn’t ever met until our first day in the studio, so it was pretty exciting to see how it would go. And I wanted limitations, also. I didn’t want to get lost, I didn’t want to lose focus. I wanted to serve intuition, in a way. And instinct. So we had three weeks to record and mix the album. And also, it was a great opportunity to work with a lot of new friends from New York who are really great players but who I really hadn’t worked with in the studio. I had a bunch of people I wanted to bring in. So we’ve got McKenzie from Midlake playing drums, and Dave Heilman who’s a really great drummer also plays on a lot of the record. And he’s in my live group now, so he’ll be going on tour with me the next month.

OS: This is your sixth album, but your first self-titled release and your first release on Mona Records. Why did you feel that this was the one to self-title?

SL: Well, I’ve never been a fan of self-titled albums as a concept. There’s a lot of self-titled albums that I like musically [Laughs] but I felt like a self-titled album would be a missed opportunity in a way, because you could find a really great title for it. I thought it was sort of giving up. And in a way, it was. I was chasing the title for this record, and usually I know pretty early on what the title is going to be, but for this one I didn’t really have a clear title. I became really obsessed with the idea of finding the perfect title, and I couldn’t really find it. I started having these dreams where titles came to me, and I woke up from one of them and had the feeling of having found the title. But I couldn’t remember what it was. So I just decided, All right, I’m going to leave it open, in a way, and I’ll fill in the title if I remember it later. It’s self-titled, it just says my name, but hopefully that’s all you need to know. And in a way, it’s also because it’s a bit more stripped-down, it’s a bit more introspective. It makes sense.

OS: But despite not being a fan of self-titled albums, your album artwork has always been just a picture of you.

SL: It’s strange. I feel in a way that I’m sort of old school. When I go through some of my older, favorite albums with singer-songwriter types or solo artists, it just seems sort of classic when you have a picture of [the artist] on there. I wouldn’t mind mixing it up and doing a cover without my face on it, but I haven’t really found a piece of artwork that I feel represents the music more. And because I perform solo a lot of the time… it just seems like a classic format, in a way. I actually just received the album from the printer today, and I noticed, wow, it’s a close-up, this one.[Laughs] But yeah, I’ve yet to find a piece of art that would make sense, and that would feel specific to the music. It’s the same with the title”I can think of a lot of nice words, and there’s stuff from the sentences and lyrics that I could use, but it would have to really click with me and really feel specific.

OS: Large portions of this album were recorded on tape”why go analog in the age of digital?

SL: I’m not very technical, so I’m not one to say that one is always better than the other. A lot of my albums we’ve just done digitally, with Pro Tools or whatever. We’ve taken advantage of the accessibility of technology that makes recording possible for us. And I’ve done home recordings that have turned into songs and albums. I definitely think that’s a great thing, but for this record we had access to a tape recorder and we didn’t want to do too much with the songs”we wanted to leave them pretty raw. When you record on tape you can’t really edit, and you don’t have the advantages that you have digitally when you can always second-guess and go back and change. When you record on tape, it’s final, and I like that sort of commitment. You have to really commit to, Okay, we’re gonna use this take. There’s a little mess up on the third verse, but I don’t care. I love the overall vibe of it. So you commit more to an atmosphere. That felt much more right for this kind of album.

OS: So after spending a few years in New York and completing your album there, how does the city’s music scene compare to that in Norway?

SL: In a way, Williamsburg feels a little bit similar to the music scene in Bergen, where I’m from in Norway. Bergen is sort of the indie rock or indie pop city of Norway, and there’s a lot of great bands. In addition to that, it’s also the black metal center of the universe. So there’s definitely a varied scene, because Norwegian black metal bands are pioneers in their field. Bergen is an amazing music town, and I think that’s why I’ve kept going back there to record. I’ve been very attached to musicians and studios there. And living in Williamsburg, it feels like it has the same size. It’s like a little village. Bergen is not a city, it’s a little village. A little town. There’s a lot of collaboration and side projects. People start their own labels, and their own companies, and put out their music and their friends music. So in a way, the vibe is a bit similar between Bergen and Williamsburg.

OS: That’s pretty funny. I’m trying to figure out what it would have sounded like if you got into black metal instead of pop.

SL: Well, that’s the thing! I’ve spent a couple of records trying to see how far I could push going into different directions and still sound like myself. I’ve worked really hard to test the limits of this, and I feel like I could do almost everything and I’d still sound like Sondre Lerche. But I would like to test that”maybe I should work with some black metal people and see how that would turn out. Would it still be me?

Check out Sondre’s latest single “Private Caller” below, then head on over to AOL Music and stream the full album!

Around The World In 80 Songs: Homeless Balloon

Let’s take a trip to the land of fresh fish and long summer days. I am talking about Norway, a country where music is high up on everyone’s agenda.

In this post, we won’t discuss Nordic folkloric music, but rather explore a cool and innovative project by composer and multimedia artist Helge Krabye. We are talking about Homeless Balloon, an act that features chillout music inspired by electronica, world fusion and a touch of jazz and rock from the ’70s.

Sounds interesting right?

The truth is, Homeless Balloon is a truly unique musical experience that any world music lover needs to know. Krabye is a multitalented artist who has written the original music for more than seventy television documentaries, radio plays, fantasy stories and art projects.

Here on OurStage, Homeless Balloon is slowly but surely taking the stage on the World Channel. Krabye’s song China Main Theme from the album Mysterious China is a truly unique chillout piece that blends world fusion with electronica. Play this song and you’ll immediately experience that relaxing sensation that only a well-performed melody can do.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Homeless Balloon is that it isn’t limited to a certain geographical place. For this artist, true inspiration can come from Norway, China or even Russia. Such is the case with Krabye’s piece Kamtjatka, inspired in a wild island in the northern part of East Russia.

Another interesting song by Homeless Balloon that reflects its internationalization is African Landscape, a piece that Krabye describes as a collage of impressions and musical images inspired by the nature and people of Africa.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s jump on a homeless balloon and get to know the world through the ears of Helge Krabye. Travel has never been easier or more fun. Bon Voyage!