Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ex-Studiotone Frontman Comes Back to Michigan

Sir Orchid & the Magnificent
The Search for Identity
Imperfect Connections

Anonymity or stardom – Arthur Autumn isn’t sure which road to take. He could be another Vincent Fournier hiding behind the mask of Alice Cooper. He could become a heavy metal overlord…or he could become Brent Nuffer. It might pay less but at least he could just be himself instead of skulking in shadow of his forefathers. Brent spent a good part of his youth fronting the Detroit/Lansing-based band Studiotone. This was some tasty hard driving rock & roll that not only had the beat but also included melody and harmony. Go figure. These cats released two spectacular CDs on Not Lame Records and opened for such notable acts as Sponge, Bowling for Soup, Blessid Union of Souls, and 7 Mary 3. It was a good start. At the end of Studiotone’s seven year run, Nuffer was shifting gears to a more introspective sound. Nuffer became Arthur Autumn and in 2006 StrofoamPillsHeartbreakShaker was released to rave reviews and several well attended CD release parties. The game is on and Nuffer has never looked back. Sir Orchid the Magnificent is a phenomenal piece of music. Its themes are cohesive and the music is gorgeous. The sound exudes a warm tonality as everything was recorded on analogue tape. Nuffer and producer Andy Reed created a rich musical landscape. The music comes alive in colorful overtones like an old well-tuned piano.

In a recent interview Nuffer revealed the inside skinny on his life and times in California;

How long have you been in California?

I have been in California for just over 4 years now. I always told myself I can't claim to be Californian until at least 5 years spent here, almost there! It's absolutely wonderful, and I am thrilled to spend my time here. I've been fortunate to live near the Ocean, which is quite a gift. I live in Topanga Canyon now, which is rich with art history, and creative folks roaming about. Down the street is Neil Young’s old place, where he had a studio, and wrote After the Gold Rush .I walked down to his old place one day, and kind of just stood & stared @ the place. Pretty wild standing there, being just a boy from the Midwest, it humbled me.

What's it like for a transplanted Michigander to settle into the sunshine state?

It took a bit to adjust, but I tried to just jump right in and get to work. Did not really have time to think about it much. I told myself I would just surf, adjust, and take a break from music for a bit. Well, that didn't quite work, seeing as though I am a terrible surfer!! I am really proud of my upbringing in the Midwest, in Michigan. It is always near & dear to my heart. I have some wonderful fellow Michigander transplants out here as well who I try to see as much as I can. Good folks. They keep me grounded. It took me a bit of time to gather up songs for Sir Orchid, maybe because it was just a natural process of adjusting, you know, taking it all in, letting it soak into the soul a bit. I constantly meet people who say "you’re not from California are you?" I say, "No, I'm from Michigan." They say, "Well, we can tell, cause your much too kind." I always appreciate that, it means a lot to me. I like the idea of the hard working, down to earth, kind folks of the Midwest.

Is there a particular West Coast culture that fits well with you?

Well, I certainly adore the feel of the ocean & the canyons. Which is where I wrote most of Sir Orchid, right here in Topanga Canyon. I'm not really the Hollywood type but need to be there to do shows & such – but the town makes me anxious! The idea of the West to me is the canyons, the desert, the ocean, the feel of the warm dry sun on your skin. It heals, in a holistic way I guess. The BARBARIAN OVERLORDS shot our first video in the Desert last week, so amazing.

What have you been up to the last few years?

It took a bit of time to adjust to the new surroundings artistically, find the direction I wanted to go in...I am glad I was patient, and let it flow naturally. It seems as though the last year has been a whirlwind with Sir Orchid coming out, and the BARBARIAN OVERLORD album coming out on the heels of Sir Orchid. So much of it has been spent writing, recording and now an intense show schedule with the band .All of which I am so Grateful for, but it is a lot of work. I have had the opportunity to meet some of my favorites musicians/actors, of whom I never thought I would meet. So it certainly feels like a dream sometimes.

Sir Orchid appears to be a bit of a departure. You have an almost Tom Waits musical verite' that includes biographical material wrapped around elusive lyrics and obscure references. How do you see it?

I always try to same something in the lyric that makes people think, without just handing them the answer - that way people can be a part of the song, in their own way. They may read something into it that I had not intended at all. They become a part of it, it is no longer mine, it becomes theirs .I appreciate photographs that say a thousand words without saying one. I appreciate abstract paintings that challenge the mind to see whatever they'd like to within the image...not so neat and tidy, like here is the answer, this is what it means! So I see songwriting the same way, there is no answer. We got into art to get away from correct and exact answers! I like art to be elusive and obscure.
The lyrics are incredibly important and fundamental to the disc as if it drives the music. How do you compose? What comes first music or lyric?

I would agree that the lyric drives Sir Orchid, as it properly does in much of my work. I see myself more of a writer than a musician .I am a melody/and lyric guy. I don't really have a particular method of writing. I guess whatever decides to flow out of me, if I can be so lucky to grab it as it passes by the window. I would say generally a song title that seems to be thought provoking comes first, like the skeleton of the song, then build around that and tell the story from there, figure out a few chords and try to put the words/melody and chords where they belong.

How does your creative impulse work? Do you consciously decide to write a song with a particular theme or about someone you know? Do you set aside time each day to write?

Ya' know, it's really all when it feels right. If I tell myself I am going to have dinner at four, a cup of tea at 4:30 and begin writing at 5PM, chances are the material that comes out would be dreadful! I am just not that kind of writer who can just pick up a guitar on a schedule and come up with something worthwhile. I see myself as working best upon feel, not craft. So it just happens naturally, again no right or wrong way to do it. When the muse arrives you feel it, you know to get behind a piano or find a guitar, a pen and some paper fast, My best songs come quickly. It has happened a few times where the "meat & potato's" of the song is discovered within 10 minutes...It's a lovely feeling when that happens. Every song is different, different feelings, different themes. You get a basic idea of what you want to say, you think about it, and you say it. I think ya' gotta have some sort of conscious idea of what story you are telling, where it leads from there one can never tell. I have gotten off track of the original theme a few times, and just went where the wave took me.

What was it like to make an album with Bay City super producer Andy Reed?

Working with Andy was absolutely a thrill & amazing! He is such a gifted cat .I would send him very raw versions of the songs on guitar from California, sometimes on piano with the chords and the structure of the song. When I was thinking up the direction I wanted to go in, and had some core songs for the record I would send them to Andy. The first few songs I sent him were a bit of a test to see what he could come up with. I wanted to do a Sgt. Peppers/White Album type record, and who better to tackle that then Andy Reed!!! The first few songs we worked on were "Goodbye Miss Audrey Rose," and "Hold On To That Rose." He was absolutely brilliant on them. I remember listening to his work on them for the first time...I had a huge smile, and tears streaming down my face. I knew then we would come up with something special. Once the songs were mapped out and the band was around them, I flew into Michigan and tracked the vocals over a few days. I learned a lot from Andy. I find that we worked well together. Sometimes I seem to take a Lennon approach to songs, and Andy takes a McCartney approach to songs. So it seemed natural. For instance, Andy wrote the coda at the end of "Training To Bee A Boxer," it's really great. It happens to be one of my favorite moments on the album.

How did you decide which instruments to employ? How would you decide about tempo changes and rhythmic patterns?

I knew that I wanted a handful of different sounds on this record...Instruments that I had never used on record in the past...All of which would naturally create a different sound from previous work...We got a bit of sitar on the album, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, horns, and plenty of piano...Andy played all of the instruments on the record, aside from drums, which were performed by Donny Brown...I was really Grateful to Donny for playing on this record. He's a good man. Randy Sly from the Verve Pipe played piano on a few songs and Steve Haberland played horns as well - .a big honor, they knocked it out of the park indeed!!! I believe the tempos stayed pretty much where they were on the raw demos, in some cases the demos were used to set the tempo. Andy certainly explored new rhythmic patterns that helped take a few of the songs to a better place musically. He was instrumental in the creation of Sir Orchid. We never had any musical hang ups, or problems deciding how the songs would go .I would describe the vision I had for them, send the basics for the song, and Andy would nail it .Simple as that.

Are you influenced or inspired by any particular artists?

.Lately, over the past year or so, I've been listening to a lot of the really old school blues recordings… Leadbelly, Son House, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, stuff like that - so raw and so pure. When I feel like I wanna clear my head of all the modern jive, I put on a record by one of those mentioned and it seems to clear & purify my soul. There is just so much truth in the voice, the sound of the needle on the record, it's just so lovely. Those cats had real stories to tell, real pain within them and you can hear it.

You are currently fronting BARBARIAN OVERLORDS. How did you happen to join together?

I had answered an ad that they had posted on craigslist, I believe it was...From there we got in a room and bonded as people and musicians by learning some songs by artists we really appreciate...After a few months we began composing songs that would make up our first record, which comes out next week!!!It is a long ways from anything I have ever done in the past. I have never really wore the spirit of ROCKANDROLL on my sleeve like I do within this band. There is certainly a deep root within the blues as well, which is a lot fun exploring. We produced the record on our own, which was new to me, not having a producer around. Well, Brandon Kachel (Drummer) and Joe Spadaro (Guitar) most notably produced it. GK Via plays bass on the album, and he joined the band early in the year. I wanted to learn to use different textures within my voice, that I knew were there, I just had to figure out how to get to them. It has been a really challenge, and still growing. We are all learning from each other, defining our sound, and working out the live show. We are still a very young band at this point...

I listened to the songs and I'm very impressed. The music is a little heavier, with a soulful groove and great energy. You have a great sound .Are you gigging/touring?

Ahhhh...well thank you ever so kindly Bo! I think energy is ROCKANDROLL, it is essential to any great ROCKANDROLL band, and their recording - gotta have soul! I think most folks forget that rock & roll was born from soul, from the blues. It's got a lot of energy, and a lot of growl. It is a nice feeling not to have boundaries musically. I feel like it is an empty canvas for us, and we have a handful of paints to pick from. There is a lot of feel within the songs, both musically & emotionally. There is a theme running through the lyric of the debut. .It helps document my journey coming out West, all the trials, the adjusting, all the feelings I had, the beauty, and everything around. We just finished shooting our first video in the Desert last week, and we are currently in post- production. We have a handful of shows in California, about 15 this month!! I can't keep track!!! That's what's so great about living in Southern California you can do a whole tour in just one state! We are having our Record Release Party @ The Roxy on December 3rd!!! Pretty exciting stuff indeed!!!

The Sir Orchid review follows:
Heartkid is a short little ditty that sounds like Joplin-esque ragtime. The old time honky tonk piano gets your feet tappin’ and before you know it you’re smiling and doin’ the two-step. Autumn’s grizzly nuanced vocal is mixed up front and center. He’s a vocal gymnast that can stretch and bend his voice like Mary Lou Retton working the parallel rails. He is a gifted vocalist with a voice that spans several octaves. He’s singing down low and in a father’s crusty voice.

Goodbye Miss Audrey Rose is a psychedelicized blues number. It opens with some tasty acoustic slide work. The insistent tempo creates a sonic tension that makes the vocals seem out-of-sync. There is a sense of urgency that washes over Autumn’s understated and quietly nuanced singing. :
The minor chords and the E-string riff create a tonal landscape that suggests the something is not quite right.
Autumn is a seeker and his inner work reveals both joy and sorrow. It is a resolution of a brief love affair and an acceptance that comes from living life without prescription. He appears more in tune with himself and more confident to get up close and personal with difficult themes. Autumn’s idiosyncratic vocal is reminiscent of Sal Valentino of The Beau Brummels:

I met you Baby way down South, the Gulf Mexico
We talked about Sylvia Plath; you never want to end up that way
But soon you said, you gotta go, you gotta get home to the boys
I’d best get on my way

Ghost in the Night is incredible exercise in vocal gymnastics. Autumn sings the first verse deep and low like an alpha male – the great protector. His falsetto emerges in the second verse - the ghost. The ancient waltz-time tempo is a perfect backdrop to the ensuing battle between good and evil. All the clichés are included. The Raven signals danger with a tongue planted firmly in its beak.

Autumn wears the cloak of the singer/songwriter on Hold onto that Rose. It’s a quiet contemplative ballad with a minimalist arrangement and an economical use of slide guitar. In Andy Reed’s masterful hands the slide sounds more like a pedal steel. It’s a song about a doomed long distance romance with a man who carries a heavy load of regret and longing. It is a compelling image that sticks with you long after the song ends

I know I’m a hopeless romantic
Yeah, I’m the kind nobody can love
Cause how do you pull from dried up well
That don’t love itself
I left with fondness in my heart
Now all I got is a handful of ache
I guess that’s the way life goes, when you live it the way I do

Somedays You Just Don’t Like has a cool pub sing-a-long vibe and a working class hero ethos. The dark images in the lyrics are balanced by an impertinent humor and more than a little acceptance of things you just can’t change. Autumn and producer Andy Reed add-in some Al Kooper organ, complete with Dylan references. Autumn’s mature dialectical lyricism is first-rate. He snatches hope from the grip of despair Listen…

Some days you feel like you’ve been had
Like you’ve been had by the man
And he’s making you feel like your two foot tall
Well, some days you just don’t like
Some days you feel the sunlight on your skin
It’s warming you to the bone
And it’s making you feel you could change the world
And those are the days that count

Some days you find a rock in your shoe
It’s better than in your soup
So you drink it down like it was meant to be
Some days you just don’t like
Some days your doctor comes in with bad news
And baby doll you got the blues
But hold on tight a cure’s coming soon

And those are the days that you count

Autumn has learned a vocal subtlety and understated emotional cadence that conveys a growing maturity. He’s a confident singer who s willing to take chances. His voice can smile and grouse. Autumn’s capable of just about anything. When Sylvia Sings is a sultry piano ballad that recalls McCartney in is his Beatles days. Lyrically he holds both love and regret. His lyrics are stark, elusive yet beautiful. Whispering Beach Boys harmonies capture the melancholy in the back of the musical canvas.

Oh, when Sylvia sings, she comes to me like a dream I can’t shake, no I can’t ward off
When Sylvia sings, she holds my hand just like rosary beads, she shuts my eyes

Maybe you can watch me sleep
You can watch me sleep
And just turn when you’re ready to let me down
Just turn when you’re ready to let me go

Autumn sits back and watches the drama unfold in Where the Canyons They Hug You. It’s a type of rock & roll celebrity expose’ with a rollicking 2/4 beat that snaps off an irresistible rhythm. California sunshine, the luscious Pacific Ocean, migrating whales and Sana Ana winds are the soundtrack to the lives of the beautiful people that inhabit luxury mansions. No one is immune in the golden state. The nouveau rich and the old moneyed mafia embrace the god of excess in equal measures of narcissism and ennui. It’s a rollicking Dionysian stew. There are hints of the Band and Badfinger in this incredible opus. This is Autumn at his best. It has an autobiographical feel and seems to capture the tension between light and darkness in the mythical California culture. He reveals the truth about west coast cool. It’s not that bad. Autumn sings…

You take your fancy cars up the Hollywood Hills
I take my cup of coffee in the Canyons where I can breathe
You take your designer pills, ain’t nobody can afford
I take my sleepy town where nobody knows my name

Cause up here Darling-Where The Canyons They Hug You

The Company You Keep is another musical travelogue of the Golden State where “everyone hear wants your drugs and your money.” The cool fuzz tone guitar and 4/4 beat of the tom/toms give the song a psychedelic vibe that evokes the ghosts of Big Brother & the Holding Company and recalls a brief time in our history when the counter culture had a voice in our national consciousness. I can see Janis Joplin standing on the corner of Haight & Ashbury. But it was only a dream and the nightmare soon followed. Autumn is singing about the downside of California Dreaming. This is a totally realized piece of music. Autumn’s gritty vocal is a highlight.

Yeah well I know the truth babe don’t give me no lies
I said I know the truth babe don’t give me no lies
Yeah well maybe it’s you babe, or maybe it’s me
I had an unsteady hand and fear in my eyes

Cause everybody here wants your drugs & your money
Your drugs & your money & your indie fame

Wiseman’s Name is quiet and contemplative. It’s a perfect vehicle for Autumn’s weathered voice. This is a song about searching for one’s roots and a deep longing for identity. This search touches Autumn in a profound way and it involves core wounds, primal betrayal and parental love. It is the most powerful and personal statement on the CD
Maybe my daddy was a folk singer
Or maybe my daddy, well he worked in the fields
Maybe my mama was a dancer
Maybe my mama tended her garden

Maybe my momma had nothing to say, oh lord
On that June morning she gave me away
But I don’t blame you for the choice you made, No
But upon my soul-I’ve had a price to pay

Maybe one day I’ll see my Mama again
When I see the beauty of my own child’s eyes
I promise you doll. I’ll never give you away No
You can stay with me, until the end of my days

Despite the obscure title, Training to Bee a Boxer shares several well-known 50’s references such as Peggy Sue, knickers, and boarding school, and the Blue Canary (Dinah Shore). It’s a majestic anthem of love and forgiveness layered by heavenly Beach Boys harmonies. Autumn sings of passion, never getting used to those damn knickers and losing your way. The coda contains a seething organ trill and a major chord statement on the piano.

You never meant no harm
You never meant to hurt no one
And everything that you’ve ever done, was designed to have some fun

The outro is almost another song. It’s a perfect ending

All you ever wanted was to feel Love around you
But no one saw the message that you scrawled No, No, No

In the auditorium you lost your way
Your scars will guide you through
In your tin cup bedroom, Well you dreamed all alone
All those feelings made you feel so blue

In this Universe there is a place for all to Bee
Let Love in & you will see

Bo White

No comments:

Post a Comment