String Forward!

PRE ORDER the upcoming KEN STRINGFELLOW live album–a double vinyl LP, with video *and* Mp3 or uncompressed audio download! “Paradiso in the Moonlight”. The only recording of one of the only full band shows I did for my last album “Danzig in the Moonlight”. Recorded at Amsterdam’s legendary “Paradiso” venue, with nearly everyone who played on the album backing me — drummer Joost Kroon; bassist/guitarist/my bro JB Meijers; keyboardist/accordionist Pim Kops; the Westside String trio; horn players; Eva Auad & my own daughter Aden on vocals; and a duet with none other than Margaret Cho. It’s limited to 300 copies and is selling fast so pre order NOW here! Ships from UK. The album artwork is designed by Moker Ontwerp who did the illustration for “Danzig” and the audio was mixed by theLAB who mixed “Danzig”. It’s a great performance, perfectly captured, a perfect companion piece to DITM.

The week’s start was one of those formless things–I wasn’t working, per se, but I had work to do. Enough to fill the days. I did spend a day working for Eva Auad, making stems from her album sessions for use in her live shows. The day before I’d spent doing final (well…we’ll see) touches on her mixes, after she’d had time to live w/them for a bit. And I did some touch ups on Nicole Bianchet‘s album mixes too. On the Eva day, Monday, I finished up her stuff just in time to head out to Espace B, to see Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, who invited me to their show via Twitter. I didn’t know their music, so their show was a total surprise–and a great one. Phil, the singer, traded places with Jonathan, the drummer, like 40% of the way thru the set, and damn, if he wasn’t one of the best drummers I’ve seen, he had, like, the perfect touch really…and this was accompanying his singing. Will, the guitarist, whose simple coif and facial hair have him looking just like the King from a deck of playing cards, was truly a knight of the Jagmaster, his playing had so much subtlety…and damn, the one song where he gets to fingerpick…look out. They were lovely people, and after the show, whilst passing around a whiskey bottle in front of their hotel, it was decided that some of us would go to my hood, and that Will could even stay at my place, seeing as they had like 2 hotel rooms for the 6 of them. Epic fail–in our drunken enthusiasm, no one had anyone’s number, and I stood waiting at the head of rue de Lappe hoping the second taxi would materialize, I ate a crepe, waited. Nothin. And…..goodnight.

Tuesday was a pretty epic day in my studio…I finished up the last (again, we’ll see) mixes for Eva, and exported the stems for one of those songs; I finished up a mix for Nicole. I mixed the final mix for the trailer for the Devil Walks In Salem, whose music is quite different than the film itself, I invented a few things for it, by layering single elements from the film into a new whole. And then I worked on a song with Seattleite Mike Lucero, who is working on an album of his own compositions, and covers, with various locals, and presumably we’ll end up recording thus song together somehow, either in person or via file transfer. Basically, I took his piano arrangement, cut it down in size a bit, and wrote a bridge, and a introduced the idea of ending the song with a transposed chorus, that does actually resolve to the original key of the song…clever, clever lad that I am. Then, I took his lyrical first draft, and pinpointed the melody, added a few words of my own, and sent him a new demo, so now, he can fiddle with it, and send me a new new demo, and so on.

Then I hopped on a plane and flew to Berlin.

Here I spent two days in the studio w Marisa Schlussel. You hear the name, and you go, oh, yes, she’s German, I get it. Nope! She’s as American as a jelly donut (wait…that’s ein Berliner) but she & her husband, who gave the German name via his Yiddish roots, did the “let’s move to Berlin” thing, but unlike all those “putting the fun in trust fund” posers who are sclerotizing the city with their innate lack of need to accomplish anything as long as they look good (not) doing it, Marisa is determined to make a record. She’s been in and out of bands since she was a teen, and indeed, she contacted me about producing her band. Who, being typically (as I have come to understand it) Berlinese, realized that they’d have to actually *do* something and promptly split up. Whereupon Marisa said…well, fuck that…I gots me own album to do, and sent me a bunch of songs, wrote a bunch more, and put her money where her mouth is.

By the way, all you indie people…you do realize that hipsters, for the straight job-masquerading as cool hunting, for all the fetish-ization of Miele and Marzocco…are just yuppies, right? Beware, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Marisa and Andrew are not yuppies. They are doers; he does and teaches computer animation; she…rocks. And rock we did, banging out two songs at the very cozy Tricone studios, located in a former DDR radio station, run by a patient Aussie fella. The room has got a mid century East German’s sense of both soundproofing (elegant wood bass traps) and color (orange, evidently). I can only say, we worked hard, and the results are punky and garage-y and cool. Imperial Teen meets the Modern Lovers. Go.

One night, at my request, we grabbed some amazing sandwich monsters from Vöner, yep–vegan döner kebab! sliced TVP with, say, peanut sauce. That was all kinds of awesome. Berlin has some cheap eats, I tell ya.


My mom’s birthday (I called her once it was midnight the night before, as I knew this would be a busy and potentially non-connectivty-enabled evening). Marisa wanted to see the show, being a fan of my work, she’d never seen a solo show. And she got a doozy. We trained together, me mostly snoozing on this ancient rust bucket of an IC, that looked like something from a Carry On film, and took its sweet time crossing Germany. Got to Dortmund, and she went off to her accom’s as the show was hours away, I went on foot to the venue. Hey…that girl that just walked past me had to have been Nicole Bianchet…now, where’d she go…too fast.

I walked up to the theatre, and entered, meeting Phillip, the helper of all who came for the evening. He guided me to the show room where tonite’s concert was to take place. Tiny little place, with a banquette hugging the perimeter, and barely any space between its lip and the bar, the bar which was used not to serve drinks but to get amplifiers up off the floor for better hearing. In other words, as tiny a space as you can imagine, and now put 90 people in there, and now, my show. And a piano. Perfect conditions, for a KS solo show. And in walked Nicole, who was indeed the girl I saw hustling out of the hauptbahnhof. Note that I’d mixed her album, fallen in love with her songs, and received some startlingly confessional emails from her, but we’d never met. I’d insisted on a Skype session before the mixing began, just so we had a rapport beyond email. But here she was in the flesh, freshly recovering from the flu, but here nonetheless, to share the evening with me. She’d agreed to learn the duet, and it was clear I was going to make her play some of her incredible tunes, as I needed to confirm that these angels swam out of that body & mind. Oh, and she paid me for my work, and I gave her the archive of her album mixing sessions.

Enter, too, Mick Harvey, guitarist who has accompanied much of Nick Cave’s finest work. I was expecting something of a gothic wild man, clad in leather; in reality, Mick is a thoughtful, genteel fellow with goofy wit, more of a Scottish balladeer than a punk primitif (yes, I know he’s Australian). He’s also no slouch in speaking German–the Birthday Party lived in Berlin for some time; whilst the others were discovering the local culture via needles n such, he actually absorbed the local parlance.

So, the night, Small Beast, is a regular night held in this little space, hosted by the grand theatre that surrounds it’s musical director, Mr. Paul Wallfisch, of the band Botanica. Paul comes from New York, and indeed I played his Small Beast night when it was held in the Gramercy Tavern in that very city. That was in 2009; the following year he got the gig to run the musical side of things at this theatre. Now Paul, he is the offspring of two esteemed classical musicians, and not only is he going to have incredible composer hair when he’s an old man, but he is as deft as a snowshoe hare on the black & whites. He can out-moan Nina Simone, and has effortless command of lyrics in, that I heard, as there are probably more, German, French and eengleesh. He speaks German very well, which you’d hope he’d do after 4 years there, so your hope is rewarded. So, he, having some influence on the program of the theatre, enlisted Mick, and one Alexander Hacke of E. Neubauten, and Alex’s hurdy-gurdy playing partner Danielle, to make a band, that would make the music for a very elaborate theatre piece, Republik der Wulf, being an adaption of Anne Sexton’s poems that parallel the fairy tales of Die Grimm Brüdern. Phew. The theatre piece is running, but also, the band has been touring the music as a rock concert, so they were in mid-tour mode. Me, I was well out of practice, this being my first *real* show since Sydney over a month ago, the little splash in Paris being something of an hors d’oeurvre (which I now, after living here for 11 years, know how to spell. And have never needed to use, as no one says that word when petits-fors will do).

OK. let’s skip ahead to the show, I have work to do today. The doors open at 22.30. The building in its other parts had already hosted an opera and the rehearsal of another theatre work. All those patrons had gone home, and walking up the Theatre Dortmund at ten on a Friday night, you wouldn’t get much in the way of butterflies in the stomach. But, a few souls gathered in the lobby. I ran into Marisa, and promptly thereafter the lovely Hannah Fearns, who has sung with me in the past. I got them some wine, and got them talking. And then there was, all of a sudden, a queue. The doors to the room opened as described and the lobby emptied and Paul opened the show with a few numbers on the piano. Intimidating man to follow, but he’s also an expert emcee so I was set up with a great intro and you know, that crowd comes to that series expecting to love what’s being presented, and they ate my set up, the love was warm and vocal. Once again, I am further convinced that the German audience is possibly the most empathic to my solo material. There’s a real piano there, too, so that made it easy; the show is infinitely more dynamic when I have such a great musical and visual prop to work with. So, I was able to do very powerful versions of “Drop Your Pride” and such. At the end of my first set I brought up Nicole for “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something”. I only introduced her *after* our duet, as I wanted people to experience here in a pure context, no preconceptions. She was marvelous, of course. Then, I told people the story–her email out of the blue (then only 3 weeks old), leading to the very intimate work that is mixing someone’s debut album, and finally meeting that day.

Then Mick did his set, mostly solo guitar, but occasionally accompanied by Paul. He had some drone sounds on a sampler, as well as delay and other effects on both his acoustic and electric guitars. High lonesome, dark troubadour balladry, excellent stuff.

After his set, Paul called me up for another set, so I stretched out and did more songs, and also had Nicole play two songs on her alto guitar (made by Yamaha, it’s called by them a “guitarlele” — it’s a six string classical guitar with a tiny body, one 5th higher than a normal folk guitar. Here’s a video of one of her songs.

Then I did a few more, and…then what? I got Mick & Paul up for a few tunes, they backed me on “Lover’s Hymn” and Big Star’s “Kanga Roo”, we did some of Mick’s song, and Paul led us on a Dylan tune. And so to bed, right? I went out to the merch table, which was well received; Nicole served us Manhattans from a premixed cocktail bottle she’d been given for her recent birthday…and I looked at my phone…HOLY SHIT…we played for FIVE HOURS!!! It was 3.30am!! My god. Well, by the time we packed up, was 4.30 when I got to the hotel.

And up at 7.30…owwwww…..train, endless train, to Berlin. Spent two days working with Claudia Rorarius on more acting exercises. I was so blurry, from the show, not just the lateness of the hour but the incredible energy I spend making a solo show happen, it takes extraordinary focus, a kind psychic embrace of the souls in the room, to bind us into one for some hours. It’s pure ESP, and it burns calories. My body was broken and sore the next day. So, we worked and talked during the first day, and then I was in bed by 9.30. I slept thru the spring forward and was up Sunday at 7.30 to start preparing for the next day. We spent a long day doing our work, again, I’m not going in to great detail about it for a reason. By 11 that night we were having dinner and it prob was more like 1am when I went to bed. And was up at 3.45. OWWWWWW. To get my flight back to Paris.

Since then I’ve been in my studio recording with Richie Parsons. Richie goes way back in the Boston punk scene, with his band Unnatural Axe; we met a few years ago when playing in Rome, I think it was when I was there with White Flag and the Avengers, that would have been 2006 I believe…when I watched the SuperBowl in the office of the hotel, at like 2am. So, we have our friend Suzy in common, who has booked shows for many bands in Italy including The Disciplines; and we had the late Bill Bartell as a mutual friend. Richie also hosted me when I played in Somerville last year on my solo tour. It was here that we listened to his demos late at night and formulated a plan to make an album. He recorded in Boston, except for two songs which we did here at my studio; to the rest I will add tracks as needed or just mix. The stuff I did is kind of Phil Spectory, Walker Brothers-y. The album has a rock & roll purity, but it’s very sweet, too, it’s not an angry punk record by any means. It’s gonna be great. Mixing starts now. I’m on it!