One of my hands-down, all-time favorite bands ever in the world is the Spinanes. I still remember staying up late one Sunday night in 1993, watching 120 Minutes and totally falling in love with this song—“Noel, Jonah and Me”—outta nowhere. Next day, after school, I high-tailed it to our local indie record store, the Record Exchange (RIP) and picked up a copy of the album, Manos. Years later, their songs—crafted by singer-songwriter, Rebecca Gates, and punctuated artfully by the hard-hitting drummer, Scott Plouf—remained some of my favorite, and the band took a significant role in my mind of sculpting what, to me, was artful, beautiful independent pop music.
Plouf and Gates eventually parted ways, each continuing to make music on their own, though we haven’t heard much from Rebecca in the past couple years. So, suffice it to say, I was overjoyed when I heard that she would be releasing new music and supporting it with live shows this year—one tomorrow in our area at Maxwell’s and then another Thursday at Brooklyn’s Rock Shop. More exciting still—she agreed to take some time to talk with us about her music, what she’s been doing over the years, and the best song ever.
Kindness of Ravens: First off, let me speak for the masses and say that it’s astoundingly awesomely exciting to see you playing live shows again. It’s been far too long. Last time I think we saw you play was in support of Ruby Series back in 2001. I think some of us were afraid you’d left the song-write-y/play-y scene altogether. What have you been up to for the past…er…ten years?
Rebecca Gates: Thank you for the encouragement. I’ve been involved in a lot of different endeavors over the years, most of them related to the contemporary arts world. I’ve curated art exhibitions, made art and been in shows, worked in the production side of art, worked as a photo stylist, wrote music for film and spent a lot of time thinking about sound and listening.
KoR: Right, and I know you’ve done a LOT of guest vocals on people’s albums over the years—the late, great Elliot Smith, the Decemberists, Willie Nelson(?!). Was there a desire to sort of step out of the spotlight, so to speak or is it just totally fun to do guest spots?
RG: I love singing. I love playing guitar, writing songs and performing, but singing is my top love. All of the guest appearances were at the invitation of the artists. It wasn’t anything I was actively pursuing, but would do at the drop of a hat. There’s something really relaxing about showing up, executing what someone needs to the best of your ability, maybe offering something they wouldn’t have thought of and then leaving, job done.
KoR: Like a choral gun for hire. Can you tell us about Sonoset Magazine?
RG: Sonoset is an audiomagazine—a serial release, a celebration of voice, whether it’s the voice of a single person, or the voice of a community. It features a variety of content and isn’t themed, though there will be a sub-issue called Sonoset Cycling.
KoR: And that’s launching this year, right?
RG: Indeed, Sonoset will finally make its appearance this year. Along with two albums. Hope the world can take it!
KoR: Bring it! So, with the work you’ve been doing in the fine arts world, are you focusing primarily on sound installations?
RG: Mostly sound, but also photography. I’ve a couple proposals I’m putting together that are more installations inclusive of sound. The list of possible projects is long!
KoR: Very cool. How are the albums of new material coming along? How does the new stuff compare to your other solo work or that of the Spinanes?
RG: I think the new work sounds like a nice mix of all my albums. I spent a long time after the last Spinanes record thinking about how little noise I could make while still working in a pop context. That stillness is on the new record, as is a song that, to me, is as rocking as anything on Manos, if not more so.
KoR: We do like the rock. Okay, so, I don’t know if this is poor form or not, but one of my favorite songs ever is “Hawaiian Baby” (above) and it has been ever since I played it on that ‘lil 7″ in 1990-whatever. Can I ask what led to writing that? Or what it’s about? Or why it speaks to my soul and says, “Hey man, everything’s gonna to be alright, and even if it isn’t, at least this song exists?…unless it’s about, like, ordering breadsticks at Little Caesar’s and not getting the dipping sauces you wanted…which would kind of ruin it for me.
RG: I’m not sure why that song has so much resonance for so many people, just thankful it does. I’ll not say what spurred the writing; there is no one right answer.
KoR: Fair enough. So you’re playing these coming shows as Rebecca Gates + the Consortium. Is that just out of a desire to have people to play off of on-stage? Is there any collaborative writing with the new songs as well?
RG: I like the tradition of sometimes solo, sometimes band. The Consortium is the umbrella term for all the folks I’m lucky enough to play with regardless of who’s able to join in at what time. Given how many bands people are in these days, it’s a way to play with a consistent group of people who know the songs already and play well together.
To find out more about what Rebecca’s up to and sign up for updates and such, check her out over at Parcematone.
Rebecca has yet to release any of her new material, but we were lucky enough to get in touch with Bird of Youth, the exceptional Brooklyn-based band opening for Rebecca on Thursday at Rock Shop, and they sent us a song for this week’s Song of the Week. “Bombs Away, She is Here to Stay”—is a specimen of excellent song-writing and is driven by catchy, driving guitar and strong, smooth vocals that pull you in. Check it out. The band’s debut full-length—Defender—is due out May 24. You can hear more on the MySpace page. And get last-minute tickets to Thursday’s show here!
Bird of Youth photo by Nick Bischoff.