It’s a great time to get up close and personal with Stew & Heidi Rodewald. They’ll be on the Royce Hall stage March 9 with The Negro Problem for a rare full-band performance centered around their creative residencyat UCLA in November and their new album, Making It, which has been getting rave reviews since its release in January. The album thematically chronicles the demise of Stew & Heidi’s romantic relationship. The duo’s ability to heal from the split was exacerbated by the fact that they still had to work together every day at the time, performing in the Tony-Award-winning musical Passing Strange.
It’s an amazing story of stress and success and interestingly enough, what came out of it is some of the pair’s best work to date.
Heidi was reluctant to even work on the album at first.
“I didn’t want to do this record,” she admits. But when she heard a bit of her own truth in the climactic track ‘Leave Believe,’ she says, “We decided that I should be involved.”
The new twist on the creative process, the raw exposing of their romantic life for album fodder, was personally challenging but ultimately gratifying for Heidi, a much more private person than Stew, who gave and took what he needed from it too.
“Stew said Making It was like his ‘therapy’ and I told him that therapy only works if you tell the truth.” The resulting song, “Therapy Only Works If You Tell The Truth” is as bare-naked as it is straight/no chaser rock ’n’ roll.
Music magazine Blurt says of Making It: “Musically Stew and Rodewald hit a new peak, deftly mixing the psychedelic pop that’s The Negro Problem’s usual stock-in-trade with the musical sophistication acquired from writing for Broadway. Lush melodies slow-dance with quirky textures and vice versa, each musical universe merging with the other.”
LA Times/KPCC music critic Ann Powers called the album “the Shoot Out The Lights of the slacker generation,” referring to Richard and Linda Thompson’s infamous post-breakup album. Listen to Powers review from “The Madeline Brand Show” here.
Stew and Heidi talk about their history, their music and the way both their hometown of Los Angeles and working in New York has affected their creative lives in a feature article in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine, available on newsstands now.
And, read more about the he said/she said of Stew & Heidi’s fascinating stuck-together-breakup tale in this recent no-holds barred interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Hear Stew talk about the making of Making It, and reflect on his creative approach to life in this recent interview with NPR’s Terry Gross.
This might be a slightly shameful confession for someone who considers herself as possessing above-average cultural literacy, but what the heck, we all probably have a little “ignorant American” in our psyche and background and we’re all friends here, so I’ll just go for it.
The confession is, up until a couple of years ago, when I got into yoga, I didn’t give much thought to India. I realize now that that’s kind of a weird thing to say about such a gigantic and populous place on this planet, one that’s responsible for so much culture and economy on the world stage.
As any budding yogi discovers, or any experienced one knows, India’s influence becomes unavoidable as you get deeper into the practice of yoga. Sanskrit words and chants and sounds of the country start to seep into your consciousness on a more basic and daily level.
And now, I think about India a lot. I re-read the Bhagavad Gita recently in a whole new light (yes, really, I am a book-dork). And I listen to music from artists like Karsh Kale on a whole new level since India came to mean something more to me. I first encountered Kale years ago when I was working at a DVD magazine and reviewed Palm Pictures’ Tabla Beat Sciencerelease. I’ve always been an adventurous music lover and it spoke to me with its controlled frenzy of energy and style.
Check out this video to see what I mean:
Kale’s music speaks to me even more these days. I got a sneak listen to a couple of tracks from his upcoming album, ones that he will likely play on-stage Saturday night at UCLA Live and they are lush, energetic and uplifting.
Music is a passport to the flavor and texture of a culture that is not our own, a little taste of the larger world, which yes thanks to massive amounts of media coming from all directions, is a little bit smaller every day, but that is full of cultures and peoples that can still seem mystifying and remote as we live out our own little lives.
I look forward to welcoming even more India into my life this weekend as Karsh Kale and MIDIval Punditz hit the stage. It’s probably the show I have been most looking forward to this year. My mind is wide open and ready to be blown.
How about you? Is there any music from another culture that has permeated your consciousness lately?
Hope to see you here this weekend. In the meantime, Namaste :-).
Photo: Devaraja Fruit & Vegetables Market, Mysore, India. Photo credit: PnP! via Flickr
Whew…We kicked off our 2010-11 season this week with two packed-house performances from wildly different waves of the music spectrum, vaunting Thursday night from John Cale, perhaps the most experimental rocker in the world (be sad if you missed his twisted take on Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”), to Saturday night’s world music fiesta from the superbly talented musicians of Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano.
Both performances also featured guest appearances from artists who have been influenced by the headliners.
For John Cale that was Ben Gibbard and Mark Lanegan. Indie/alt-rock fans and KCRW-types need no introduction to these two amazing musicians, but just in case, Gibbard is the Death Cab for Cutie singer (whose “Plans” vocals are the soundtrack to one of my past breakups) and Lanegan is the much-coveted singer/songwriter and Screaming Trees founder who’s collaborated with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age, Belle & Sebastian’s Isobell Campbell, UNKLE, and one John Cale.
Getting these two on stage with Cale was surprisingly easy. They are both huge fans of the pop icon who expressed interest in simply attending the show and then immediately jumped at the chance to join the show when Cale extended the offer. And, they were incredibly gracious and allowed us to tout their guest appearances leading up to the night. It all came together less than a week before the actual performance and I think it really made for a special UCLA Live evening.
Going over the set list with Cale’s manager before the show I was intrigued at the possibility of an encore featuring all three of these artists. Frankly I was wondering how that might work out. When it comes to vocal range and style things don’t get much different than Ben’s sweet purity and Mark’s dark, loin-stirring bass (oh yeah I went there, listen to this song and see if you don’t agree).
But Cale’s “Chorale,” which closed out the show, featuring the trio in periodic a capella was simply one of the most beautiful and spontaneous music moments I’ve ever heard. I was backstage when the song started and had to run down into the house to get the full effect.
As for Mariachi Los Camperos, the group’s guest stars were Los Angeles-native songstress Perla Batalla and also Angeles Ochoa, one of the most beloved voices in Mexican music, who joined Los Camperos in their second set decked out in traditional mariachi garb and with her amazing pipes on full display. Backstage, Angeles celebrated her birthday with cake and her friends and family who were in the house.
Speaking of backstage…Nati Cano is just as mischievous, ingratiating and full of mirth there as he is in front of the crowd. And, the exceptionally sharp 77-year-old doesn’t miss a beat when talking about his beloved mariachi music.
Friday morning, Los Camperos put on a special educational show for 1,000 Los Angeles middle and high-school aged students as part of our community program Design for Sharing.
Backstage after that event, I told Mr. Cano how much I enjoyed the music. I think I said the word “amazing.”
He looked me in the eye and said “Why? Why did you enjoy it? Why did you think it was amazing?”
It kind of took me aback and challenged me to verbalize what I meant. I told him how impressed I was at the group’s musicality, the sheer vocal prowess and incredible harmonies of all the singers and their stunning instrumentality.
“Ohh, he said,” with a smile and a little glint in his eye. “You are new to mariachi….we are going to spoil you.”
Another staffer told me she had a similar encounter with the mariachi maestro. He told her that he always asks people “why”—when they offer compliments, inspiring them to really think about their experience with the music.
In honor of Nati and all those experiences he has instigated over the course of a half-century, Perla Batalla, with her effortless charm, warmed up Saturday night’s audience with groovy, jazzy takes on several traditional Mexican and Latin classics. She told stories of growing up in Los Angeles listening to Los Camperos’ mariachi music with her record-store owning parents–what she called “the soundtrack of her childhood.”
“Let’s show Nati how much we love him,” she said, encouraging the audience to sing along to a rousing Batalla-style version of “Guantanamera.”
And we did…oops I mean “they did.” (Aww what the heck, I admit it, I sang along too.)
One cool thing about both of these performances for us was being able to have UCLA student musicians as part of the events.
John Cale’s appearance here was the West Coast debut performance of his seminal album Paris 1919, which he recorded in Los Angeles in 1972 backed by some USC music students. Weirdly, somehow, all those years ago, the record label credited the performers on the album as the UCLA Orchestra.
Obviously, the label execs were clueless as to the extremely important distinction between Trojan and Bruin. 🙂
Well, we were able to officially write UCLA back into the story of one of Cale’s most critically acclaimed solo albums last Thursday, by having members of the UCLA Philharmonia on stage with the legendary artist.
Most, if not all, of the students on stage that night were not even a glint in their parents’ respective eyes when that album was recorded, but they did an incredible job. Watching them from backstage I was very impressed, especially during a truly lovely arrangement of Cale’s “Secret Corrida,” which does not appear on the Paris 1919 album, but that Cale has been including on this tour with this arrangement because of the access to the orchestra.
I was watching the concertmaster and was struck at how truly fine these musicians are. They are already professionals in their own right with many years of concert halls in their future. On a personal note, 20 years ago, I was going to college on an orchestral-music scholarship. I know how much it would have meant to me to be part of an evening like that. I think (I hope) it’s something they will remember for their entire careers. I think we should all take advantage of their performance schedule this year.
And on Saturday night, we had the opportunity to involve more student musicians.
Did you know UCLA has its very own mariachi group?
Well, we do! They’re called Mariachi de UCLAtlan and they’re GOOD. (But, perhaps that’s to be expected, after all their teacher/director is Jesus “Chuy” Guzman, who is also the musical director/violin player/vocalist in Mariachi Los Camperos.)
We were thrilled they were willing and able to join the party Saturday night, but I think they might have even been more thrilled to be included.
And it became clear very early that the audience definitely was thrilled to have them there.
At first the, UCLA Mariachi group delighted the crowd playing in front of Royce, and while it was quite a beautiful sight to see them spread out making music in the quad, with the glow of Powell Library’s clock tower beaming down like a halo, we very quickly discovered the crowd was so delighted to listen to them that people weren’t moving inside for the actual show.
We moved the UCLAtlan onto the patio outside the West Lobby to lure patrons into the house. I couldn’t help but smile as the crowd sang along. And, even though they were about to go inside and hear MORE mariachi music from some of the world’s best purveyors of the art form, perhaps hear even some of the same traditional songs, still, after every song the student group played, the crowd cried “Otra! Otra!” We had to pull the performers away to get the crowd inside the hall.
Once inside, though, Los Camperos did not disappoint. I think we were all a little spoiled that night!
It was a great way to start the season. It’s true, as an organization, UCLA Live is in the throes of transition. It’s definitely a transitional year for us as we move forward with this season as simultaneously the University searches for a new director to lead UCLA Live.
Transition brings change and challenge, but it also brings hopefulness and opportunity. Change isn’t bad. It is the thing that inspires growth and thought and we are looking forward. We’re proud of the role we play in the cultural life of UCLA and the greater Los Angeles community and are committed to the role we know we will continue to play.
We think, and we know UCLA leadership shares this belief, that performing art is important to the flavor, language and experience of life in any city, but especially here in this enviable environment (meaning both the UCLA campus and Los Angeles at large), where we are so demographically diverse, so inspirationally creative and so open to new experiences.
And honestly, if these first two performances are any indication of the vibe that our performers, donors, subscribers, patrons, UCLA students, faculty, staff are going to bring to Royce Hall this year, then we are all in for a treat.
I know it’s my job to be perky and excited about our performers and our program, but believe me, it’s also my sincere pleasure.
So, I say thank you to everyone involved in these first two performances and thank you to everyone who turned out and danced, sang along and marveled at the incredible and varied musicianship in Royce Hall this weekend.
That’s a weird question to ask right? I mean, how do you know what you’re not listening to? But as a music lover, do you ever wonder about all the great music you have yet to encounter? I know I do.
As we get ready for a season of great music here at UCLA Live, I’ve been digging around getting more informed on our lineup–which I admit, includes a wealth of artists I’ve not encountered before–educating myself on all that music I haven’t been listening to.
I found this article from last spring from NPR’s “All Songs Considered” program.
The article specifically mentions a couple of artists UCLA Live has been proud to present, including the up-and-coming guitarist from Mali, Vieux Farka Touré, who is appearing herewith blues legend Taj Mahal Oct. 22
This NPR piece also highlights Allen Toussaint, who was on the bill at UCLA Live last spring. What an amazing show that was. If you’re a music lover with varied tastes, you’ve probably encountered Toussaint’s influence at some point– he’s written songs for or collaborated with just about everyone, including The Meters, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Band, Paul McCartney, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, Jerry Garcia, Phish and so many others.
But if you caught him here at UCLA Livelast season you were lucky. And, if you ever get the chance to see him perform live again, grab it.
Toussaint is incredibly slick, smooth as silk in person, and an gracefully warm and gifted presence on the stage, effortlessly sliding from storytelling to consummate vocals, his hands never missing a chance to caress music out of the keyboard in front of him.
I had been loosely touched by Toussaint long before I ever really knew the man’s name, thanks to an old boyfriend who introduced me to The Meters, which has become a perennial favorite.
So now, I’m asking all our music lovers out there, how do YOU discover new music? And what do you love that you think everyone should be listening to?
What are the most trusted go-to sources that consistently inspire new music discovery for you? (Hopefully UCLA Live and other quality performing arts organizations are a part of that for you.)
For me, I have a handful of friends/music lovers in my life whose taste I trust so implicitly that I will listen to anything they tell me I should, no questions asked. That’s not to say I like everything they like, but I never feel like I’ve wasted my time by checking out one of their recommendations.
Often I will listen to KCRW, especially “Morning Becomes Eclectic” with the day’s tracklist open on my computer. That way when I hear a song that makes me go “Oh wow, who was THAT?” I can make a note of it.
I’ve made a lot of pleasant new discoveries that way.
I’ve discovered my mind and soul are like super-absorbent sponges when it comes to music. I am built to consume as much as possible.
Tell us what we should be listening to! And, we’ll do our best to return the favor on stage in Royce Hall this year, I promise.