Reviews, Interviews & Features
News and Features

New Single: “Speedboy” – Young Mammals

Listen to “Speedboy,” a song from Young MammalsAlto Seco, out October 7.


New Video: “Firewater Liquor” – Natural Child

Watch the video for “Firewater Liquor,” a song from Natural Child’s Dancin’ with Wolves. You can see them live on November 19 at Black Cat.


November 3 – Atlanta, GA – Georgia Theatre
November 4 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
November 5 – Nashville, TN – Exit / In
November  6 – Memphis, TN – The Hi-Tone
November  7 – Dallas, TX – City Tavern
November  8 – Austin, TX – Fun Fun Fun Nights
November 10 – Springfield, MO – Bar and Arcade
November 11 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
November 12 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
November 13 – FT. Wayne, IN – Brass Rail
November 14 – Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme
November 15 – Detroit, MI – Lager House
November 16 – Toledo, OH – Frankie’s
November 17 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Tavern
November 18 – Pittsburgh, PA – Smiling Moose
November 19 – Washington, DC – Black Cat
November 21 – Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right
November 22 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts


Getting a Huge Orange Mohawk: An Interview with John Foster

esg_danceDC-based and Smithsonian-approved designer John Foster’s blurb bio may be tempted to write itself at this point, with so many accomplishments and credentials to announce, but Foster secretly (or not so secretly anymore) wishes it included one thing that it never does. “I desperately wish it said that I had a huge orange mohawk, as in all of my happy dreams I have a huge orange mohawk.”

The man with the huge orange mohawk has many reasons to be happy. He runs design company Bad People Good Things, plays an integral role at British label Fire Records, and has written a healthy number of blog posts and books including “10 Tips On Creating Killer Gigposters,” For Sale: 200 Innovative Packaging Designs, and Dirty Fingernails: A One-of-a-Kind Collection of Graphics Uniquely Designed by Hand. But perhaps the most condensed and cohesive way of putting it is that he once delivered a presentation during the University of Maryland’s Clarvit Design Week titled “I Am Good At This: How designer John Foster found his posters in the Smithsonian, his books sold all around the world, and his favorite bands staying at his house.”

STPP: Have you ever written music and/or been in a band?

JF: I was in a number of bands in college before I quickly decided that I was better at designing for bands than I was at fronting them. I never really stopped writing music though, and one or two projects will hopefully see the light of day soon. Stay tuned! It will be a good chance for any band I have teased about their thoughts on design to get their digs in!

STPP: What are the benefits of running Bad People Good Things out of DC?

JF: Well, I am a DC punk rock kid so DC is in my blood, but it is also an incredible city. It’s an international city, so everywhere you turn you can be surrounded by smart and engaging people from dozens of different countries and cultures, and I truly love being in a place where there is a lot of diversity. I think that feeds into everything that I do.

STPP: What are the drawbacks of running Bad People Good Things out of DC?

JF: I wish we had Turkish breakfast places like in London, but that is offset by the bounty of Pho joints and halfsmokes. I can’t really think of a drawback to be honest. You can run a design firm or most creative businesses from literally anywhere now. For me, I still have an opportunity to see most everyone I work with in person at some point, which I still think is important. Most everyone comes through DC at some point, or I go to see them. I also think we have an incredible design community here that rivals any city, so it is good to be able to feed off of that energy and talk to other people in the field that you respect and find inspiring.

STPP: What was the first assignment you got from Fire Records?

JF: I think it was a poster design for Virgin Passages (an amazing psych folk band that has morphed somewhat into the even better Savaging Spires).

STPP: What was the most recent assignment you got from Fire Records?

JF: Well, that first project years ago grew into a major role with the label, so I am now involved in some way with almost everything we do. So, far too many to list! I am really excited about upcoming packaging for The Chills and The Saints and Sterling Roswell (ex-Spacemen 3) along with some soon-to-be-announced reissues.

STPP: Is there anything different in your approach now as opposed to then?

JF: I don’t think so. As I have been deeply involved in the growth of the label and the re-branding we did a few years back, I am probably more sensitive to keeping those elements consistent, but my way of working with artists hasn’t changed.cardinal

STPP: What do you wish bands knew about the designers who create their packaging?

JF: I think a lot of time could be saved if both the bands and the designers accepted right off the bat that the designer’s role is to interpret the vision of the artist. Too often bands get defensive in thinking that a designer is going to try to subject their own style that doesn’t jive with the music onto the packaging. Unfortunately, that does happen, even at the highest level. For every band that was thrilled to have Peter Saville do their artwork, there were others who refused to sign with Factory because they thought the bands got lost in all looking the same—The Smiths possibly being the most famous to carry that concern. I always try to fill the role of being in the band’s shoes but having a tool set available to help them get the maximized version of what they want (and need) to communicate. The final product is never what I would do in a bubble. It is only possible from the mixture of our working on it together.

STPP: How do you deal with young know-it-alls?

JF: That is a loaded question. One of the hardest things with young designers is the sense that they know more than they actually do. Even someone coming out of an incredibly rigorous design program with a year or two of studio experience is still just getting the hang of doing creative problem solving all day every day. However, you don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm and drive that comes with that, so it can be a balancing act. The one thing I would stress to young designers is that, when applying for a job, take care to present yourself as support for what is already going on at a studio and eager for an opportunity to learn. Nothing is worse than someone telling you how amazing they are and how invaluable they are going to be and improve everything that you do just by sitting down at a desk in your office. If you really are a game-changer to that degree, you won’t be sending out resumes as wherever you are will be desperate to keep you and everyone else will be hot on your heels. The other 99.9% of the jobs out there for designers are for positions that they hope will grow into someone that can be an integral part of their team over years, not overnight.

STPP: How do you deal with old seen-it-alls?

JF: No time for people who are too jaded to see the possibilities in things or willing to investigate fresh thinking or approaches. I try to learn something new with every project, regardless if it is something small like a photography technique or something major like building a huge collage or doing a painting.

STPP: Can you identify trends in design for music packaging over the last 20 years (or longer)? If so, how would you describe them?

JF: Well, there have been massive changes in music packaging over the last 20 years. It has transformed from a process that counted every penny and tried to produce as cheaply as possible to what is now a resurgence of dedication to quality packaging and giving the consumer something worthwhile when they fork over for a physical release. It is so hard to get people to buy a physical release now that it had better have something to offer more than a crappy old jewel case. Now you see more liner notes and gatefolds and posters and various stuff to really make a release mean something over just downloading the mp3s.

STPP: Are there any trends you initially hated but then came to love?

JF: As I age, I have a greater appreciation for minimalism, but it always suffers as something that I think I could have executed myself, as opposed to something wild and untamed that could only emanate from one person’s hands. I don’t really support any design “trends” as I feel strongly that each solution should be specific to that client/problem and therefore outside of any prevailing visual trends. Studios that get caught up in that stuff end up having all of their stuff look the same, whether it is for a historical museum exhibition or a swimsuit catalog, which seems crazy to me.

STPP: Do you have any personal pet peeves when it comes to design?

JF: I do hate that there are all of these photo manipulation programs available that entice artists to try to manipulate comps after I have sent them over for review. Every once in a while you get that email “what if the cover was all pink, and in a swirl?” It is akin to if I remixed their songs when they handed them in. “What if it had more phat beats and it played backwards?” I don’t take offense, but it is a lot more constructive to talk about what is and is not working on something than taking that [manipulated comps] path.

esg_eraseSTPP: What’s your favorite part about writing about design?

JF: I love bringing designers whose work I truly love to a wider audience and getting them more exposure. Putting a spotlight on someone you really admire is its own reward.

STPP: What’s your least favorite part about writing about design?

JF: There are no drawbacks to writing about design, but, much like music, the business part of writing has gotten strange over the last few years. It is always evolving and you have to always be ready to adjust, which holds true in any creative field!



New Single: “Waiting Around For Grace” – Pond

Listen to “Waiting Around For Grace,” a song from Pond’s Man It Feels Like Space Again. You can see them live October 17 at Rock & Roll Hotel.


10/14 – The Sinclair – Boston, MA

10/15 – Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

10/16 – Johnny Brenda’s – Philadelphia, PA

10/17 – Rock & Roll Hotel – Washington, D.C.

10/18 – Rough Trade – New York, NY

10/20 – Petit Campus – Montreal, QC

10/21 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, ON

10/23 – Lincoln Hall – Chicago, IL

10/24 – High Noon Saloon – Madison, WI

10/25 – Turf Club – St. Paul, MN

10/28 – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA

10/29 – Doug Fir – Portland, OR

10/30 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA

10/31 – The Echo – Los Angeles, CA


Notes on a Key Change: “You Don’t Own Me” — Lesley Gore

A chromatic climb in key and women’s rights, Lesley Gore sings her heart out with the 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me.”

When other female pop singers in the ’60s were singing about love, Lesley Gore was singing about relationship independence. This is an incredible song by Philly song writers John Madara and Dave White.

Special note: the original recording was produced by Quincy Jones.

Here’s Lesley performing live from the music film T.A.M.I. Show.

Tony Trov is a lover of saxophones and analog.
His Philly-based studio, South Fellini produces lots of wacky sexy things.

New Single: “Dark Knight in Shining Armor” – PUJOL

Listen to “Dark Knight in Shining Armor,” a track from PUJOL’s Reunited States of Being, out September 27.


9/12 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway

9/13 – Burlington, IA @ The Washington

9/14 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown

9/15 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe

9/16 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theater

9/17 – Green Bay, WI @ Lyric Room

9/18 – Chicago, IL @ Metro

9/19 – Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall

9/20 – Louisville, KY @ The New Vintage

9/27 – Cincinnati, OH @ Midpoint Music Festival

9/29 – Fort Wayne, IN @ The Brass Rail

9/30 – Cleveland, OH @ Happy Dog

10/1 – Detroit, MI @ PJ’s Lager House

10/2 – Rochester, NY @ Bug Jar

10/4 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory

10/4 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory

10/5 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Dr. Roboto

10/6 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups

10/7 – Chicago, IL @ Logan Square

10/8 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock

10/9 – Spearfish, SD @ Back Porch

10/10 – Denver, CO @ The Lost Lake

10/11 – Boise, ID @ The Crux

10/13 – Portland, OR @ Holocene

10/14 – Olympia, WA @ Obsidian

10/15 – Seattle, WA @ Black Lodge

10/17 – Oakland, CA @ 1234 GO!

10/18 – San Francisco, CA @ Hemlock Tavern

10/19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Los Globos

10/21 – Tempe, AZ @ Yucca Tap Room

10/23 – Austin, TX @ Red 7

10/24 – Houston, TX @ Walter’s

10/25 – New Orleans, LA @ Community Records Block Party

10/28 – Nashville, TN @ The Stone Fox

11/1 – Atlanta, GA @ 529

11/2 – Raleigh, NC @ Kings Barcade

11/3 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter

11/5 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s

11/6 – Cambridge, MA @ TT The Bears

11/7 – Providence, RI @ Spark City

11/8 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes



New Single: “Don’t You Know” – Filmstrip

Listen to “Don’t You Know,” a track from Filmstrip’s Moments of Matter.


9/25 Columbus, OH @ Tree Bar w/ WV White

9/26 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland

10/1 Detroit, MI @ PJs Lager House w/ Pujol

10/4 Milwaukee, WI @ Yield

10/9 St. Louis. MO @ Plush

10/11 Cincinnati, OH @ The Comet w/ Fantastronaughts

10/15 Buffalo, NY @ Nietzsches w/ Aircraft

10/16 Syracuse, NY @ Green Gate Tavern w/ Blacklight Dahlia

10/19 New York, NY @ Palisades w/ Ghost Punch, Sink Tapes, and Enney

10/20 Boston, MA @ Middlesex Lounge

10/24 Philadelphia, PA @ Chill Collins Art Space

10/30 Charlotte, NC @ Milestone

10/31 Jacksonville, FL @ The Hourglass Pub

11/6 West Palm Beach, FL @ Respectable Street

11/8 Tampa, FL @ New World Brewery

11/12 New Orleans, LA @ The Circle Bar

11/14 Tuscaloosa, AL @ Egan’s

11/17 Atlanta, GA @ 529 Club w/ The NEC

11/18 Nashville, TN @ The Stone Fox

11/22 Cleveland, OH @ The Happy Dog


Of Modest Mouse and Men

There’s lots going on these days for Modest Mouse fans. A reissue of This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About comes out October 28, a reissue of The Lonesome Crowded West comes out November 4, a visual history (picture book) of the band by Pat Graham called Modest Mouse comes out October 7, and there are still a handful of tour dates scheduled.

If the band had broken up five years ago, I’d be happy about all of this. But it didn’t, and I’m not. All the reissues do is remind me of how much I want to hear the new album. So, reissues in one hand and no new album in the other, I do the only reasonable thing. I stage a Modest Mouse bender. Here are some of the highlights.

Pitchfork did an excellent documentary on The Lonesome Crowded West as part of their Pitchfork Classics series.

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank: a little Smiths, a little Shins, and a whole lotta Mouse.









The video for “King Rat” was on Heath Ledger’s to do list when he died.

This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About: it may be a long drive for someone with nothing to think about, but it’s the perfect three drives for chemistry-bearing college kids.









The band’s appearance on The OC was a good prep for seeing Cormac McCarthy on Oprah.

Portlandia and all of its genius knew exactly how to play it though.

The Moon & Antarctica: Yeah, I know, it’s a pretty good listen, but it’s not Modest Mouse’s best record. If you think it is, you’re just announcing to the world that you read blogs.


Modest Mouse turns in my second favorite cover of “That’ll Be The Day.” To be fair though, Linda Ronstadt’s version is so good, I’m not even sure the man himself did it better.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News: Had all of the pop buzz not come with this one, it would probably be the only one we could all agree on.









As far as the new album is concerned, we’ve heard that Krist Novoselic and Big Boi have been involved in some recording sessions, and we’ve heard some new songs at recent shows. But we haven’t heard The Thing yet.

So it turns out that a Modest Mouse bender goes like most benders. It leads to a few broken hearts, a few mended hearts, and a sincere hope that, in fact, that is not blood in my urine.



A Belgian Jaunt

Young Marble Giant’s Belgian jaunt on 1st November 2008 was bizarre (as I should have known, when getting there from Bristol via Amsterdam went so smoothly). The evening unfolded strangely; having been met on time at Bruxelles airport, I found myself helping the exhausted festival driver navigate out of the car park!

We then purred out into beautiful beech woods, south of the capital, towards our hotel. Up a long drive we came to a minimalist white building like something from a science fiction film (my puzzlement was affirmed later when we discovered it had formerly been IBM’s European HQ). Being a low-level, spread out affair as it was, everything was a long way away. This was exemplified by the amusing spectacle of couples, clad only in white toweling robes and slippers, wandering through the foyer at all hours to get to a spa. It always seemed to be the same couple, though, and they never had damp hair.

Anyway, after a welcomed nap in a splendid room, (the whole place was absolutely spanking new) we left for the venue with hopes for our first square meal of the day. Food, or rather the lack of it, was to be a recurring theme on this jaunt.

The venue at Nivelles was dark, wet, cold, and muddy—a big tent in a remote field miles from the railway station. (The punters had to find their own way there somehow!) However, before being taken to the venue, we were driven to a primary school (!) only to discover that all of the food for the bands, (it was a one-day festival,) had been devoured by the first lot in. Rock’n’roll, and all that. Two small plates of warm quiche between us hardly sufficed, but there was a crate of strong beer which we trousered for later.

On to the gig, and no sound check. The audience (A mere 300 frozen souls huddled forlornly in front of the stage. They must be desperate for entertainment in Nivelles.) watched us set up, plug in, and detune as the freezing air had sharpened our instruments to a semitone above concert pitch. Then off we went, with Alison’s singing producing plumes of steam!

Afterwards, we made a ravenous rush to the sole food stall on the site, a greasy chip van, before returning too late to catch the restaurant, and then to l’hotel, where the ale we trousered earlier spared us from raiding the hideously expensive minibar.

The next morning, after a large buffet breakfast, we were ready to face the day’s journey home, and boy, did we need to be ready. Instead of two flights (onerous enough), we had to get a train from Brussels to Amsterdam and change there for Schipol Airport.

Of course, this was not straightforward. The road to the station was blocked and, when we finally got there, we had to wait 45 minutes for the (local) promoter to unravel the mysteries of which train we needed to take! To fill time, I photographed Alison drinking coffee next to a large, plastic sculpture of a zebra complete with a shirt and featuring prominent genitalia at table level! Well, Belgium is the home of Surrealism.

The train was then delayed, natch, and thrice we had to get off and then re-board due to misinformation over the PA system on the everlasting schlepp into Holland. By the time we got to Schipol airport, at about 6 p.m., we were starving again, despite having a sandwich on the train. We had a three-hour wait for our flight, and hot food was consumed.

Such is the glamourous life of today’s musicians – nothing changes!

To be fair, it was a radical departure from the four-star style we’re used to with our wonderful French agent in charge.

By the way, lest it seem that I’m a moaning ingrate, let me say that I would far prefer to spend the rest of my working life waiting for food and transport in between gigs than do another hour in the “dayjob” – that’s real hardship!

Over and Out.


Single: “Avant Gardener” – Courtney Barnett

Listen to “Avant Gardener,” a song from Courtney Barnett’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.

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