Festival in the Forest piles up an impressive lineup at Fernwood.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
For those wondering what the current American indie music scene is like, look no farther than this weekend’s Festival in the Forest in Big Sur. The two-day music gathering featuring 19 acts, which is the most ambitious venture that local music production outfit Folk Yeah! has yet staged, is like a wide-ranging menu of the vibrant music scene’s many different flavors.
A benefit for the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade, the Festival in the Forest will offer the slow-burning atmospheric pop rock of the Baltimore duo Beach House, the powerful revivalist blues rock of The Entrance Band, the “out there” but highly rhythmic instrumental dance music of Tussle and one of the earliest shows by Little Joy, a promising group led by Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
One of the most anticipated acts at the festival will be Megapuss, a collaboration between Greg Rogove of the instrumental rock band Priestbird and Devendra Banhart, the wildly eclectic musician who began as a warbling folkie on his 2002 debut Oh Me Oh My… and has evolved into a multi-faceted songwriter who incorporates everything from Brazilian Tropicalia to Doors-like rock into his music.
Rogove says he first met his collaborator in Megapuss five years ago. Since that meeting, Rogove played drums on Banhart’s 2007 CD Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon and joined the folkie for his tour behind the release. Rogove explains that the idea of Megapuss came about during that tour. “We wrote a list of hit song titles,” he says. “We never had any music, just song titles and a name. We were just having a good time getting through the dregs of touring.”
This past March, the duo rented a small cabin in Los Angeles near Highway 5 and recorded their Megapuss debut, Surfing. “It was dark, dirty and noisy,” Rogove says of the conditions. “It was perfect.”
Surfing, which was released digitally Sept. 16, will hit stores Oct. 7. The 14-song album has flashes of inspiration alongside a handful of supremely goofy tracks. Highlights include the lean rock of “Crop Circle Jerk ’94, ” which has R&B-ish lyrics and vocals, and “Adam & Steve,” a two-minute blast that sounds like a garage rock band channeling the Doors.
But silly moments abound, including “Chicken Titz,” which sounds like an oldies rock ballad with ridiculous lyrics, and the 25-second-long “Mister Meat (Hot Rejection).” Sample lyrics in the latter include: “I am Mr. Meat/ I am Mr. Meat/ He won’t give you infection/ Just a big old injection.”
Rogove says Megapuss is not a one-off project, though he is getting ready to record another CD with Priestbird and Banhart is writing songs for a new solo album. “There’s gonna be a Megapuss II,” he says.
While Rogove is sure that Megapuss will continue on, the multi-instrumentalist stumbles when trying to explain why he enjoys collaborating with Barnhart. Megapuss works well, he says, because Banhart “is a Gemini” and he “has a really big toe.” Then he scratches the comment to say that their chemistry is strong because “we are both women underneath.” His final conclusion: “We’re good.”
On the other end of the spectrum is the Silver Jews, an alt-country and indie rock band with literary lyrics that has been around since 1989. A vehicle for the songwriting of David Berman, the band’s earliest incarnations included Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich.
The groups early material was frequently improvised and sometimes recorded on answering machines. But Berman says that the Silver Jews’ 1994 CD Starlite Walker saw the band’s sound going in a new direction. “The music from before 1994 is what rock critics used to call lo-fi,” he wrote via e-mail. “That was the year we went to Easley Studios in Memphis, and I really liked making the first record. So I tried it five more times since then.”
While Berman has released six albums of music under the Silver Jews moniker, he has also made a splash in the literary world with the release of a 1999 collection of poetry titled Open Air. The book garnered enthusiastic reviews in Entertainment Weekly, GQ and The New Yorker.
Berman’s latest CD, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, reveals his literary inclinations. In “My Pillow is a Threshold,” Berman describes a narrator more interested in his dreams than in waking life with the details of a short story writer. The album’s best track, “Suffering Jukebox,” is a weepy country song about that battered jukebox; the chorus pining: “Suffering jukebox, such a sad machine/ You’re all filled up with what other people mean/ Hardship, damnation and guilt/ Makes you wonder why you were even built.”
Berman says he employs different approaches to writing a song and crafting a poem. “Once you’ve got a tune, you’ve got parameters,” he says of songwriting. “That restricts your choices. And that’s good.”
But, constructing a poem is different. “Contemporary poetry doesn’t have any parameters,” he says. “It is Charles Olson’s ‘open field.’ But it’s too much choice for patience at this time.”
FESTIVAL IN THE FOREST happens 4pm-midnight Friday, Sept. 26, and 11am-midnight Saturday, Sept. 27, at Fernwood Campground, 26 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, Big Sur. $50 daily tickets will be available for Monterey County Residents Friday at 3:30pm and Saturday at 11am. 667-2422, www.folkyeah.com