Saturday, October 22, 2011

Moogfest 2011: Interview with Clara Boucher of Grimes

FR: So, you will be performing in this year's Moogfest in October. How did this come about? Are there any artists you are excited to see perform?



CB: I'm really excited to see Araabmuzik and Moby if i can. I would say Austra - but I'll be on tour with her so I'm sure I'll be well-acquainted with her set by Moogfest.


FR: I have read where you describe Grimes as post-internet. Can you explain this description? And are there other artists you would refer to as post-internet?

CB: Well, I would say most artists making music today are "post-internet" -- I wasn't trying to make any serious cultural diagnosis or anything when I made it. But I was basically referring to the generation that grew up with Napster and everyone after that because I feel like their approach to music is inherently going to be different from the older generations because the nostalgia that stems from early adolescence is so much less specific in terms of what music one would be listening to. For me, I'm as nostalgic for Lata Mangeshkar as like, New Order or something. There was really like an infinite amount of music that I was exposed to whereas before that you would have to go to the record store. And emotionally formative years were really driven by specific things like I know my dad just has this obsession with when he first heard David Bowie and Bowie being the one ultimate savior of high school or something because it was so hard to get music and it was the only cool record he had. Which is totally chill, i just think like that lead to a kind of stasis in terms of what he can enjoy. People who are my age but even moreso people who are younger are, like, really able to be experimental in their taste. You look even at mainstream music and its soooo fucking weird, because teenagers are like, insatiable. They have everything so you just need to bombard them with the craziest shit.

But if you want artists who I think really embrace the chaos -- I would say Doldrums does it the most. Cop Car Bonfire, Blue Hawaii, I don't know.. I feel like Flying Lotus kind of has pretty chaotic vibes in terms of how he approaches music. Really everybody though. Like, I did not invent this idea -- everybody who's mashing pastiches and hopping through genres is from this generation. I think its not a movement its just the natural progression. I don't want to be like, labelled as the inventor, im just doing what everyone is naturally doing and ppl latched onto a word I used to describe it once.



FR: Technological advancement and over-saturation are only picking up speed. How long do you think before we move into the age of post-post internet? What did you think this era will be called?


CB: I don't know- I'm not really sure what that would entail but I imagine things will either slow down or the means of consuming or making music will be much faster. They've got motor based systems now where you can control movement with your brain to say, "Play a video game" or something. I think if this can be translated to music - like you just think of notes and they record themselves, this will be post-post internet.



FR: You recently toured with Lykke Li- what was that experience like?


CB: Really great, she's a smart and driven lady. I learned a lot from her.



FR: Grimes boasts a tone that is both wonderfully ethereal and macabre. I've heard it described before as a "haunted music box". How does this sound translate to the live circuit?


CB: Well, live it's much more dance-oriented. Like, I want the listening experience to be unsettling and personal, but i want the live experience to be communal and ecstatic, so it's definitely weird and sonically interesting- but… I guess much happier?



FR: The videos for "Vanessa" and "Crystal Ball" are quite memorable. Will there be a video from Geidi Primes?


CB: No, Geidi Primes is too old. There will be videos for every song off my new record though-Visions. It's an audio visual record- like the Doldrums VHS maybe. Seriously, check out Doldrums. I don't want to get credited for his ideas.



FR: What was the recording process like for Geidi Primes? You have another LP out this January- what is the secret to your productivity?


CB: It was just recorded straight into the mic on garageband. It's super ghetto, which is why I think it's funny on vinyl. But I definitely stand behind it because I like it's experimentalism. I think there is no secret to productivity besides just like, if you love something- you want to do it all the time as much as you can.

FR: Can you give us a hint as to what the next Grimes album will sound like?


CB: If Aphex Twin and TLC decided to make a band.



FR: In this post-internet era, music is available in a wide array of formats- digital downloads, cassettes, CDs, vinyl, etc. What is your favorite way to listen to music?


CB: As digital as possible. So i guess .wav files, in headphones, in the dark, while stoned-merging with my computer.



FR: Any advice to up-and-coming artists struggling to make it in the 21st century music industry?


CB: Go to New York.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interview with Paul Frick of the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble



FR: Before the ensemble was formed, how did the original trio get together? And what was the process like when it came time to form the actual ensemble?

PF: We met in the club music scene, mutually liking each others music, Jan and Daniel's project "Scott" and my solo house project. Our first common session worked so well for us that we just kept on making music together. Then we had this ensemble idea very quickly, because we asked ourselves how we would want to perform without using prerecorded sounds live.



FR: I really dig the album artwork for both You Make Me Real and Mr. Machine. What is the story behind that?

PF: Daniel had the ideas for both of them, he's the one who usually comes up with visual and conceptual stuff. For "You Make Me Real" we asked the illustrator Danae Diaz to draw it. Afterwards she also made the video for "Caffeine" based on the artwork, together with Patricia Luna. And the objects for the "Mr. Machine" artwork were build by Jan's friend Robert Meyer and photographied by Richard G. Brozowski. Mr. Machine's skull has even moving parts and lights in it, and also the ear, the arm and a bone. Mr. Machine is an old pre-industrial robot that we found underneath our garden.



 
FR: The new album features some vocals from Ninja Tune's Emika. What was that collaborative experience like?

PF: We know each other well, so it's very cool to work together. Before we did the album recording of "Pretend," we had done a remix of her original song. At some point we had the idea that our remix would fit very well for making an ensemble arrangement of it. Emika was also on tour with us in May, supporting us and then also singing "Pretend." All the ensemble musicians loved it from the start.



 
FR: You guys will be performing at Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina this October. How did you land that gig? Is there any particular artist involved you are excited to see perform?

PF: Oh, ask our booker! We're excited about Moogfest, glad to be able to see for example Amon Tobin, Flying Lotus and again Battles who were already fantastic at Glastonbury.



 
FR: What can an audience expect from a Brandt Brauer Frick live performance? How do you feel your sound translates live?

PF: People shouldn't have any particular expectations and come with their senses open wide. Maybe they will like it.



 
FR: To me, the classic 9 minute "Bop" video is a brilliant, conceptual summation of your talents. Can we expect another video in the same vein to coincide withMr. Machine?

PF: Well, yes! We shot a pretty gigantic video some weeks ago, and the cut is almost ready. It's very different from "Bop," and I find it quite spectacular.



 
FR: Does the ensemble have a preference for any of the reinterpreted tracks from You Make Me Real featured on the new album?

PF: Not completely sure about the others, but my favourite is the piece "You Make Me Real" itself. It's got a very intense vibe and there are very mind-blowing and sick instrumental sounds in it.



 
FR: What is the inspiration behind the unconventional, signature sound of the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble?

PF: Love and hate, life and death.



 
FR: Out of the wide array of instruments utilized in Mr. Machine, is there one that you feel defines the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble the most?

PF: No, it's about creating a world, with whatever means we feel like. But maybe we can make a competition: who finds the vibraslap on the album gets a CD?



 
FR: What can fans expect from future releases?

PF: They can't expect anything, we don't even know it ourselves!



 
FR: In just the past decade, the music industry has gone through some radical changes. Where do you see the music scene heading in the next ten years?

PF: To eternal happiness?



 
PF: Any advice to up-and-coming artists struggling to make it in the music industry?

FR: Hm, just the obvious one: first make music and then you can think of the industry, not the other way around.

 

 

Moogfest 2011: Anika Interview

FR: I’ve heard that you never expected Anika to become as popular as it has- at first, even questioning whether or not to actually release it. I find this interesting because it defies exposure- which is practically the opposite of why most musicians record albums in the first place. What motivated you to lay down these tracks?

ANIKA: I think the answer to this is that there are too many musicians making music for the wrong reasons. I don't think you should make music because you want to be famous. Often whilst in the process of creating something, you don't quite know the answer as to why you are. It is often only in hindsight and when you are distanced from something that you are able to join the dots and appreciate why or even how. I still struggle with the how. At the time i was even a little annoyed to be grabbed and prevented from pursuing my path as Political Journalist. I had just moved back to Berlin and started a job as the UK Higher Education correspondent. I enjoyed my life there and so the idea of exchanging it for an impoverished life in Bristol was less than appealing. The reason i made the record was because i was frustrated with the play-it-safe attitude of the British general public. I hated the fact that "politics" was such an unpopular word amongst the young and educated and even more so amongst musicians.

"Keep calm and carry on" was the British slogan, revived from WW2 days. The music scene, which i personally think should provide a platform for social and political frustration was dominated by easy listening, inoffensive indie, carved out by musicians, often reluctant to release darker, riskier music in fear of it being ignored.

I never wanted to front a band particularly but now i've found it's actually really a special thing to be and that it gives me a rare platform to voice my views or at least challenge what people perceive as normal. I don't think it is my place to tell people WHAT they should think, merely that they should think and question.




FR: When did you realize for the first time that the album was going to be successful?
ANIKA: Is it? I'm more thinking about how i want to build upon this one and develop it.



FR: Are you planning on a follow-up LP?


ANIKA: Yes. It's nice making such a raw record, that wasn't recorded in a self-aware way because there is so much room for it to develop. At the same time, the prospect of making a self-aware record for the first time is somewhat daunting…



FR: The production of Anika is appropriately polarizing. Can you tell us a little more about what that experience was like?

ANIKA: Train to Bristol from Cardiff. Picked up by unknown bearded man. Tea. Come on let's go. Walk into studio with stacks of crumpled paper, 3 strange men come into room. Play. Leave room. Make tea. Forget about the whole thing. Reminded 4 months later when mail requesting artwork approval turns up in inbox. Left confused. Find way to stage. Sing.



FR: Anika feels intensely personal. Would you consider yourself a writer first and a musician second? Or vice versa? And what role does your journalism background play in this? 

ANIKA: It is very personal. People think that the record and performance are quite cold but this is by no means the case. It is very personal. I used to always say writer first but slowly the boundaries are being blurred. I have had to assume the role of musician more over the past year and have had to adjust priorites and such. I think there are equal parts musician and writer for definite. The mind and the heart perhaps. I just neglected the musician side for quite some time.



FR: I don’t feel the comparisons to the Velvet Underground, while apt, give your sound enough credit. Where do you feel these comparisons come from? And who were your true influences when recording?


ANIKA: Comparisons come from our need to understand things. I think it's flattering that people make this comparison but it was by no means a reference point during the making of the record. My influences come from strong female acts such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin and such, combined with 60s lyrics and dark poetry like Tennyson, Plath, Lawrence. I love to read and tis is where my influences come from. I think there is more to what we do than Nico.



FR: How do you approach playing this material live? Has the positive response to Anika changed this approach?


ANIKA: I can't see people about an hour before because this is when i slowly let the heart take over the mind. Many have been in the firing line during this process. Best avoided. I try to get myself into the state i was when we recorded it. Completely un-selfaware. This is why I don't interact with the audience. If they wanted that kind of show, see something else...



FR: You are participating in 2011’s Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina this October with many, many, many other talented artists. How do you feel about this? Is there a specific Moogfest act you are most excited to see?


ANIKA: Yes it should be good. I didn't actually realize the sheer scale of the event until slowly more and more people said, "oh yeah we're playing that too!". I'll definitely try and see some Tangerine Dream i think.



FR: Music is made available in a variety of ways. Vinyl, CDs, digital downloads, even cassettes are beginning to make a comeback. Is there any particular medium you feel is the best way to listen to music?

ANIKA: Not really no. I think it's a personal thing. I personally really enjoy playing vinyl. It's probably purely nostalgic. There's just something about the smell of vinyl and the excitement of finding certain vinyl or stumbling across a rare 7" in the most random place. It's just a form of collecting really.



FR: The industry itself has gone, for lack of a better word, sideways in the past decade- from Napster’s initial file sharing to YouTube to iPods to MySpace to Spotify. In order for the art form to survive, music has been forced to adapt to become more than just an artist with songs. Do you feel like this is a logical progression of the medium? Or does music need to be saved? Where do you think the next decade will take this evolution? 

ANIKA: Music has always evolved and adapted to changing needs or demands. It will save itself. The idea of 'saving it' just means keeping it at the place it is now or striving for a nostalgic ideal of the glory years. One should never rest on their laurels. It's always been around in one form or another and i think if people make music for the right reasons, then the form of it doesn't matter so much. Obviously musicians have to survive but if there's a will, there's a way. Hopefully the consumer becomes a little more open minded but i think that is bound to happen at some point.



FR: Any advice to up-and-coming artists struggling to make it in the music industry? 


ANIKA: If you want to be famous, be a bloody tv presenter. Don't make a record. This girl once approached me and asked me how i got to front a band and what process i went through to do it. Well, i did it by accident and because i had something to say. I actually felt quite uncomfortable with the idea. I think the challenges make it interesting. Otherwise i would have married a rich man and put my feet up. Spent my days riding horses.

Battles Interview





FR: Moogfest is right around the corner. Can you tell us a little more about how you got involved with this event? 
IW: We were asked to play, i believe.



FR: In your humble opinion, who is the best artist featured at this event that not enough people know about?

IW: I look forward to seeing the Stickmen, if it is in fact the same band that was from Philadelphia in the late seventies.



FR: Connecting the festivals of the past year is your endless live circuit. Do you approach live Battles shows differently than festival performances?

IW: The main difference to me is that your time is more abrreviated at a festival- so you have to rush through your set and can't expand as much. And also sometimes you can be really rushed just to set up in time and that can screw your show up if you're not able to be ready in time. I'd say sometimes it can be the fault of the artist or sometimes can be the fault of the festival when that happens.



FR: I imagine touring can get draining. What is the most difficult part of the live circuit- and how do you cope?

IW: It's hard the hardest thing i've tried, but also the most rewarding. It's a strange high, one that comes from a fucked up lifestyle, but a high that is hard to match doing other things. I try things like jogging and also touring with a bike in the bus. It makes you feel instantly local in each town.



FR: Does the band have any pre-game rituals before going onstage?

IW: Each of us is different. I like to stretch a bit and not be bombarded with socializing.



FR: Do you have a favorite place to play?

IW: Ireland is pretty strong. Japan is too. Mexico is really good these days. In the US, I'd say the west is pretty great.



FR: What are Battles’ main musical influences? Who are you guys listening to currently?


IW: I don't think we wear our influences on our sleeves, but we do synthesize general aspects of a lot of music. Electronic and rock music.


FR: Let’s talk Gloss Drop for a bit. I really dig it- I'm a big fan of “Futura”and I think “Sundome” is some of your best stuff. Outside of Tyondai Braxton’s absence, what was the biggest difference between Mirrored and Gloss Drop?


IW: I think we've had a linear progress from the early EPs through to Mirrored then Gloss Drop. Our technique has been more honed and we've figured out how to take our musical language further.


FR: Battles is known for their tight, precise, electronic sound as well as warm, organic instrumentation. Do you intentionally try to combine these elements? Do you hold allegiance to one over the other?

IW: We don't make a division between the two worlds. The obvious joining happens when electronic sounds are put through amplifiers on stage. It gives some air to what could be a really tight electronic sound. It makes it more soupy. And also when you loop guitar lines, it does the Black Sabbath sounds like a disco song thing.



FR: Out of all the looped soundscapes you’ve created, what is your current favorite?

IW: I like all the loops on Gloss Drop. It's really the looping that evolved on this new record. New tricks that Dave and I used to make them. If i had to pick maybe i'd say "Futura" or "Wall Street".


FR: Where do you see Battles and the music industry in the near to distant future?


IW: While there's a question of how money will be made in the future, it still will be in demand. Society has always organized itself around music. But another interesting question is how is the huge catalogue of recorded music building up influences things. That is a new development- that the past fifty years of musical history have recorded and are still with us. Beatles records still sell like crazy. What that means for younger bands, i'm not sure.


FR: Any advice to up-and-coming artists struggling to make it in the 21st century music industry?


IW: Don't worry about being successful. Just make music that you like and if you genuinely achieve that, somebody else will like it too.






M83 Interview


FR: First things first, you will be performing at Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina. How did you get involved with this event? Is there any particular artist you are excited to see perform?

 

AG: There’s probably tons of artists I’d like to see perform- but I don’t know the lineup yet! I don’t know who’s playing actually. But I’ve always been a big fan of the Moog synthesizers. I have a couple of them and when they asked us to perform for the festival, there was no doubt about it. So I’m excited to see who is playing this year and… oh my God, Tangerine Dream is playing?! 



FR: Tangerine Dream is playing.

AG: Well, then, I’m super excited to see them.



FR: Let’s talk “Midnight City”- the first single from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Your last album Saturdays=Youth featured a diverse selection of 80s style synthpop ballads ("Kim and Jessie", "Graveyard Girl") as well as songs that are primarily electronica-driven ("We Own the Sky", "Couleurs"), “Midnight City” is a seamless hybrid of these particular styles. Can we expect more of this concept on your new album?

AG: You’ve heard the single, right?




FR: Yes. I've heard it.

AG: The single is kind of different. Well, it’s not too different but there are a lot of different styles of music on this album. A lot of very intense tracks, a lot of orchestrated tracks, a lot of small pieces of ambient music to connect all the tracks. This album is more like a dream, it’s a journey. It’s like a movie almost. It’s very cinematic. So there’s many pop songs, but there’s a lot of slow songs, very intriguing, very psychedelic. “Midnight City” is one of the poppiest songs on the album. The rest of the album is much more cinematic… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. It’s a double album y’know? So there’s a bit of everything in it.



FR: Double-disc albums have become something of a rarity in music during the past 20 years - but usually when it happens, the end product are massive successes (Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast, to name a few). Why are artists so reluctant to embrace this format?

AG: I don’t know. I grew up listening to double-albums. When you’re a kid in the 80s and you know that one of your favorite bands is releasing a double-album, you really wait for the album to come out. You’re just waiting for it. Because you know it’s going to be big and thoughtful like a great piece of art, a piece of work. And I’m a little nostalgic about that musical era, y’know? Now it’s not about discs anymore unfortunately. It’s all about the single and downloading stuff and I think it’s kind of sad. I’m not saying it’s bad and it was better before. I’m just saying there is too much information nowadays. It might be too much for people. I don’t know, it’s too much for me. What I miss is when you’re really expecting something to come out NOW. But now there’s something in the same day, the same week- you’re basically excited about the album for forty minutes, and then you’re excited about something else. I don’t know. I’m an old music fan and I love listening to vinyl and CDs, y’know..



FR: How did you decide to work with Brad Laner and Zola Jesus on the upcoming record? What do you think they bring to the record musically?

AG: With Brad Laner, I was a huge fan of his band Medicine from the 90s and it was a great experience for me to work with him because I was a fan as a kid. Same thing with Justin the producer who was the bass player for Beck. Playing with them and making an album with them, when you watched them play on TV as a kid, it’s just amazing, y’know? Watching him perform with Beck as a teenager and now he’s one of my best friends and we’re making music together- it’s really unbelievable. And Zola Jesus- she’s one of the rare female artists that really gets my interest. I think she has something very special in her voice. She has something unique, such character in her voice. It’s hers and no one else’s. That’s what I like about her. And she’s such a nice person, very genuine, very smart, very intelligent. I was expecting a very perfect girl. But she was actually very simple and nice. We have a lot of things in common, the same movies…



FR: What is your songwriting process like? Has this approach changed over your career?

AG: My writing process rarely changes. I always start the same, finding a good melody on keys or with chords. I always start my songs with my keyboards. I barely start any songs on my guitar or bass- mainly piano and keyboards. Because I’m basically alone in the band, I just go into my studio and it’s basically creating layers and layers of sound. I like the idea of a wall of sound adding layers and layers of instruments until it’s too much.



FR: "Couleurs" had a great Wall of Sound effect.


AG: Yeah it did.



FR: “We Own the Sky” has one of my favorite videos of all time. Do you have a concept in mind for the “Midnight City” video and are you by any chance planning another video contest?

AG: We are maybe planning another video contest for the last single from this album but for now… for “Midnight City", I have been working with two directors from France. They are shooting the video this week so I’m excited to see it. They had a great concept for it.



FR: M83 is named after the spiral galaxy Messier 83. In particular, on Dead Citiesand Before the Dawn Heals Us, the albums feel big enough to fit an entire universe. Do you have a fascination with space and if so, how has this influenced your music?

AG: For the last album… well, I’ve always been fascinated by space, science fiction. I love science fiction movies and books. I play lots of video games about space. For this album, I often drove my car to the desert with my laptop just to get away from the city, just to see the stars at night because I miss that. In the desert, you can see all of space in front of you- it’s right there. This is what I liked to do on this album. I would bring my computer and most of the small ambient interludes and songs on this album have been composed in the desert.



FR: When it comes to your music, do you favor a particular song above all others?

AG: A favorite song of mine? I think one of my favorites would be “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun”- the outro from Before the Dawn Heals Us. It’s very special.



FR: That’s actually my second or third favorite.

AG: Cool. Cool.



FR: My favorite is… well, I keep coming back to “You, Appearing”- the opening track from Saturdays. That’s a really dynamite way of opening an album. But hey...

AG: Hey... that's cool.



FR: Music these days can be heard in a variety of formats. It is available in almost any way the listener finds preferable- cassettes, vinyl, CDs, digital downloads. Is there a certain way you prefer your music to be heard? What’s your favorite format for listening to music?

AG: Obviously, just like anyone else…. Fortunately, there are a lot of mp3s. But I still like to buy CDs and vinyls. I still buy a lot of vinyls. I love the sound of vinyls- especially for the kind of music that I’m listening to. I’m listening to a lot of electronic music from the 70s and it just sounds better on vinyl.



FR: Where do you see the music industry going in the next ten years?


AG: Ohmigod. I think in ten years, there will be some software where you can say the kind of music that you want to listen to- and it will create new music for you. You know what I mean? You could say, “Oh, I want something that sounds like M83…” and it will create a brand-new track especially for you. It’s weird. It’s scary. The future is scary for music.



FR: Any advice to up-and-coming musicians struggling to make it in the 21st century music industry?

AG: Try to find another job because it’s very hard now. It’s not the best job on earth right now.


 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Libertarianism or Ignorance?

It's hard to tell them apart at the ballot box 


By Will Moredock




[caption id="attachment_866" align="alignleft" width="169" caption="By Will Moredock"][/caption]

I was recently approaching a bridge over one of our local waterways when I realized it had just been closed. The line of cars came dutifully to a stop, facing the firetruck which blocked the lane.


Turns out there was a wreck that had to be cleared and it was going to take a long time. Motorists got out of their cars, trucks and SUVs and started mingling on the roadside, as if at a cocktail party. I heard small talk, speculation, stories about other wrecks and bridge closings and the worsening traffic in the Lowcountry.


A middle-aged lady in a T-shirt with an invitation to attend her church started talking to me  about a recent road closing she had encountered. Seems a limb had fallen from one of our majestic live oaks and obstructed some suburban road. The authorities quickly took control of the scene, she said, and wouldn't let anyone approach the fallen limb. Only the designated city work crew could do the job. When they finally arrived, it took them too long to saw the limb  into small pieces – much too small, according to the church lady – and finally open the road for passage.


She concluded her little parable with this: “Anybody could have brought their saw and removed that limb, but the city had to do it. That's what happens whenever the government gets involved. They just make a mess of everything.”


It was the kind of homegrown homily you might hear at most barbershops or bars in this part of the country. Distrust of government – any government – runs deep in the local DNA. The church lady had performed a little social ritual that southerners – especially white southerners – like to share with each other.


It's a gesture people use to check each other out. And, in fact, some of the Bubbas in our roadside circle nodded and grunted approval. I walked away.


A half-century ago these rituals had a decidedly more pathological cast. Two or more white men could hardly gather to discuss anything without one of them making some offhanded joke or menacing statement about black people. Anyone who did not show proper appreciation might find himself being watched and whispered about. This is what political correctness used to look like.


Today much of that overt hostility has been transferred from blacks to the “gubmint.” Of course, this is at least in part because it was federal government – in the form of court decisions and civil rights legislation – which came to the defense of black people in the South. This was an invasion of states' rights which many white people have never forgiven. But some of this hostility toward government comes from a deep streak of southern libertarianism.


This libertarianism expresses itself in a number of ways. One is an antipathy to environmental regulation, which often plays out as hostility toward the environment. You can see this in the stunning number of conservatives who dismiss threats of global climate change, in the face of overwhelming evidence. And then there was the North Carolina man a few years ago who cut down the trees on his property rather than have them protected by a new ordinance.


Another manifestation of libertarianism is a strong anti-union sentiment. Many southerners would rather be screwed over by their employers in a “free market” than join a union or be protected by federal labor laws. They forget, of course, that it was unions and the federal government which gave them the 40-hour week, minimum wage, time-and-a-half pay and myriad other protections and benefits. Old mental habits die hard.


The general, floating hostility which many conservatives – especially white southerners – feel toward the federal government is expressed by Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, when he says, “I want to make the federal government as inconsequential as possible in your life.” But how consequential is government in our lives compared to the power of that other great American entity: the corporation?


Our lives are affected much more by corporations than by government. Ever been screwed by a credit card company, an insurance company or a bank? Don't complain to the Better Business Bureau. Only the government – state or federal – has the power and the interest to step in for you. It's the government which protects our food from contamination, protects our children from online predators, protects the air we breathe and the water we drink from those who would foul them for profit.


Yet, with the short-sightedness of a K-Mart Republican, many people insist corporations are their friends and government is the enemy. Whether this is an expression of libertarianism or ignorance, the effect is the same – a society friendly to corporations and hostile to people and the environment.

Corporations Couldn’t Wait to ‘Check the Box’ on Huge Tax Break

by Jeff Gerth, ProPublica, and Megan Murphy and Vanessa Houlder, Financial Times 


This article was co-published with the Financial Times.


A simple rule meant to cut paperwork for U.S. companies has grown into one of the biggest multinational tax breaks around, costing the United States and other governments billions of dollars in lost taxes each year.


It thrives thanks to determined business support, including a campaign two years ago that forced the Obama administration to retreat from altering it and tax professionals worldwide who exploit its benefits.


The rule is dubbed “check-the-box [1].” It allows U.S. companies to strip profits from operations in high-tax countries simply by marking an Internal Revenue Service form that transforms subsidiaries into what the agency calls a “disregarded entity.” Others have labeled them “tax nothings.”


Check-the-box allows companies to avoid the normal 35 percent U.S. corporate tax on certain types of income. The Treasury Department estimates that annual revenue losses from check-the-box have hit almost $10 billion. Other countries are also said to lose billions as income is shifted to places with low or no taxes, although there is no official estimate.


The impact of check-the-box goes beyond the drain on government coffers. The rule, along with other tax provisions, has helped fuel explosive growth in foreign investment by American corporations. Since 2004, the earnings that U.S. companies keep overseas have doubled to about $1.8 trillion, U.S. Department of Commerce data show.


These “unrepatriated” earnings, which are not subject to tax while held abroad, figure prominently in Washington’s debate about corporate taxes. While President Barack Obama has proposed clamping down on loopholes, business groups and allies in Congress are rallying for a tax holiday on overseas profits [2] and a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate.


Their argument: The high rate creates a disincentive to invest in jobs at home [3]. U.S. companies with the most profits accumulated abroad tend to invest heavily in research and development that can spur job creation.


Check-the-box is but one of many forms of “tax arbitrage” [4]—the art of exploiting differences in countries’ tax systems. It can reduce taxes all by itself or figure into more complex transactions. As the Financial Times and ProPublica reported Monday [5], the IRS in recent years has clamped down on what it views as abusive arbitrage deals involving foreign tax credits.


But check-the-box lives on. It is not among loopholes targeted by Obama’s new plan. Its untouchable status—the government has twice tried to kill it and balked—provides a case study in how a billion-dollar tax break was born by mistake, then protected by the power of the business community.


Now check-the-box is “an open invitation to arbitrage,” said David Rosenbloom, director of the international tax program at New York University’s School of Law.



Birth of a tax break


The original idea was innocent enough—to cut red tape by making it easier for companies to decide how to categorize their subsidiaries.


In the mid-1990s, U.S. companies were creating a growing number of domestic entities. The new rule said that, by simply checking a box on IRS Form 8832 [6], businesses could declare them as corporations or partnerships.


But within days of its announcement in 1996, tax lawyers were on the phone saying the Treasury Department had overlooked the international ramifications. Inadvertently, the government had provided a way for companies to move profits from subsidiaries in high-tax countries like Germany to Luxembourg, the Caymans or other jurisdictions with lower or no taxes on certain kinds of income. Often, this is done by making royalty or interest payments between operations in different countries.


For decades, the IRS has had anti-abuse rules to make sure such payments could be subject to taxes. However, these rules generally don’t apply to payments made within a corporation. Check-the-box made it simple for a company to designate a subsidiary as a branch, with no U.S. tax consequences for the income unless it is repatriated.


Joseph Guttentag, international tax counsel at Treasury when check-the-box was introduced, said the government may not have understood, but tax lawyers quickly “saw all the avoidance goodies they could do.”


Countries like the U.K. and Germany quickly raised concerns that the rule was stripping earnings from their tax bases. By early 1998, the U.S. said check-the-box was being used to “circumvent” anti-abuse rules.


Treasury proposed new regulations—and corporate America erupted.


General Electric, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Monsanto and other major companies urged Congress to resist the change. The U.S., they said, was trying to be “the tax policeman for the world.” Allies in Congress dug in, and Treasury quickly rescinded the proposal.


What followed was a check-the-box boom as multinationals and tax advisers around the globe embraced its benefits.


By March 2000, Treasury reported the existence of nearly 8,000 “disregarded entities.” A paper by Heather M. Field [7], an associate professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, found that tens of thousands more were created between 2001 and 2006.


Check-the-box became an essential tool in tax planning, driving down the average effective corporate tax rate on the foreign income of U.S. businesses by 1 percent to 2 percent between 1996 and 2004, according to a private, unpublished paper by Treasury economist Harry Grubert.


The Netherlands became the preferred place for U.S. companies using check-the-box, according to tax lawyers and government data, although Luxembourg also attracts considerable activity.


The Dutch tax system offers a favorable legal and regulatory environment, including special tax treatment for financial services and for licensing and royalty payments. As a result, multinationals channel trillions of dollars a year through the Netherlands.


A report by the Dutch Central Bank found that the U.S. corporate share of funds flowing in and out of the country via special Dutch entities increased sixfold in recent years. U.S. Commerce data show that U.S. businesses kept $118 billion of income in Dutch holding companies from 2006 to 2009.


In 2004, with overseas earnings piling up, Congress approved a temporary tax holiday that allowed American companies to bring home profits at a rate of 5.25 percent. The largest source of repatriated funds, about $90 billion, came from the Netherlands, according to a 2008 IRS study.



Obama shifts stance


Check-the-box continued unchallenged until 2009, when Obama took office. In his first budget proposal, the president made closing tax loopholes a top revenue-raising goal. And in the international area, check-the-box was his top target, the biggest revenue raiser in a list of 11 reforms [8].


Again, corporate opposition was swift. Philip D. Morrison, a tax lawyer at Deloitte Tax, wrote in a prominent tax journal [9] that it was "ridiculous" for the Obama administration to claim that check-the-box was an "unintended" loophole because the business community had already fought – and won – this battle in 1998. Morrison faulted the administration for using overheated rhetoric and "deep cynicism" in its portrayal of the rule.


Some of the nation's most influential business groups, including the Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers, National Foreign Trade Council and Chamber of Commerce, quickly criticized the Obama proposals in May 2009 as part of a pro-jobs campaign.


In Congress, tax committee members lined up alongside business leaders, with Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee and now its chairman, saying the proposals would put U.S. corporations on the auction block.


“Ironically, what the president proposes will make it more likely that American companies will be bought by their foreign competitors,” Camp asserted.


The Obama administration quickly retreated.


“They knew the business community was going to push back. What they were really surprised by was how vehemently the business community reacted to it,” said Catherine Schultz, vice president of tax policy for the National Foreign Trade Council.


In early 2010, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner informed the Senate’s tax-writing committee that the administration was dropping its attempt to broadly reform check-the-box. Instead, Treasury would focus on combating misuse of the rule as part of other tax-avoidance techniques, including inappropriate foreign tax credits, he said.


“Our goal in these proposals is to limit the role taxes play in business investment decisions by reducing implicit incentives to move jobs and investment overseas,” Geithner testified.


While announcing his deficit-cutting plan last week, Obama faulted the corporate tax system as “riddled with special-interest loopholes” and a high rate that hurts “our competitiveness in the world economy.”


He proposed more than a dozen business-tax reforms [10], including ending breaks for fossil-fuel development and tightening accounting measures involving foreign income. Although Obama did not mention check-the-box, its business supporters have defended it on Capitol Hill.


On the same day that Obama addressed Congress, an executive from Cargill, the world's largest trader of agricultural commodities, told the Senate Finance Committee [11] about possible reforms to the tax code—but not check-the-box.


Scott M. Naatjes, Cargill’s vice president and general tax counsel, said repealing check-the-box would cause U.S. companies to pay more taxes abroad and make them less competitive. Sixty percent of Cargill’s operations are outside the United States.


The Senate panel also heard testimony from a law professor suggesting that American companies are not so disadvantaged.


Reuven Avi-Yonah, head of the international tax program at the University of Michigan Law School, testified that large European countries have stricter rules when it comes to taxing profits made outside their country. Japan and Germany recently have made it harder for corporations there to avoid taxes or shift income to lower-taxed jurisdictions, he said.


In an earlier interview, Avi-Yonah said it would take a comprehensive approach by Washington to curb the ability of corporations to find new loopholes.


“It’s a problem to only close specific loopholes instead of addressing the issue in a general way,” he said. “Companies simply find new ways to replace the approaches shut down by authorities.”


Meanwhile, check-the-box deals “are going like crazy,” according to one prominent tax lawyer who helps structure such transactions. He declined to be named for fear of jeopardizing his job but added: “I can design these a thousand different ways.”


Correction (9/29/2011):Tax lawyer Philip D. Morrison said in a prominent tax journal that it was "ridiculous'' for the Obama Treasury to claim check-the-box allowed for an "unintended avoidance of current U.S. tax.'' He did not say the Obama proposal to change the tax provision was ridiculous, as stated in the original version of this article published Sept. 27.


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I'm with you

By Fr. Jones

And here we are with the tenth studio album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The flawed, yet incredibly admirable I’m With You never strays too far from the traditional course but it does offer the listener a fair share of moments both groovy and (dare we say) graceful. Uncharacteristically devoid of traditional single material, the album is a more straightforward and organic affair favoring warmth in place of inexplicable audacity. Still, the hooks, the bass, the funk, are all thankfully prevalent- but they function more appropriately here as individual pieces of an enjoyable (yet massively overlong) fifty-nine minute entity. With the exception of “Brendan’s Death Song”, any traces of the band’s previous angst have dissipated- although this should be fairly obvious to Chili Peppers fans that endured the bloated, soulless affair known as Stadium Arcadium. However, I’m With You feels largely content making peace with itself and the listener. It’s a difficult act to sell for any artist, let alone one with a history as volatile as the Chili Peppers. But the band here seems at ease with it’s own evolution. And as a result, this may be the first time Anthony Kiedis has ever sounded genuinely wise on record. My initial impression of lead single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” may have been a little hard. And while I am no “Rain Dance Maggie” advocate, the band is far from dying; instead, they seem to be living merely on their own terms. And for a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, this should come as no surprise.

Even more so than on previous releases, band stalwarts, Anthony Kiedis and Flea, are front and center here. Despite the vocal confines of the legendary frontman, there is a comfortable restraint to his lyrics even at their most “freaky styley”- and Flea gets ample opportunities to exercise his fleet-fingered bass lines that exist to purposefully rescue songs from sonic disarray. Much fuss has been made over the replacement of guitarist John Frusciante, mostly due to the band’s previous excursion sans Frusciante- the misunderstood One Hot Minute with Dave Navarro. And while replacement guitarist Josh Klinghoffer is not quite as prominently featured (there are times when he actually seems buried within the mix), he is allotted several moments to shine especially in the album’s first half. Although he could certainly grow to be the full-bodied presence of his predecessor, Klinghoffer is reliably efficient, workmanlike, and far from the distraction that was Navarro.

I’m With You is not without it’s fair share of clunkers. But they are often strategically surrounded by energetic stretches of quality. The tracklist structure deserves substantial praise. As far as discernible flow, this is the band’s best arrangement of songs sinceCalifornication. The album begins with the dynamite trifecta of “Monarchy of Roses”, “Factory of Faith”, and “Brendan’s Death Song”- three tunes that seamlessly capture galloping rhythm, funk, and pathos. The following tracks, “Ethiopia” and “Annie Wants a Baby” never fully engage like intended, lacking the steadfast direction of earlier tunes. I have already said my piece on “Rain Dance Maggie”- yet I must admit the song is not quite as painfully awkward when taken in the album’s context. “Look Around”, “Did I Let You Know”(with a trumpet solo), and “Goodbye Hooray” liven up the midsection and also feature some of Klinghoffer’s more impressive melodies. I’m With You’s overlength predictably causes it to stumble towards the end. “Police Station” or “Even You Brutus” would have functioned properly as legitimate album closers. Instead, we end with “Meet Me at the Corner” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”- two offerings that are far too slight to end such a polished effort. In particular, the placement of "Dance, Dance, Dance" is a little odd. No strangers to minimalist finales, Californication featured the beautifully quaint "Road Trippin" as it's curtain-dropper, but "Dance" exists somewhere between a campfire singalong and a raucous high-energy dance number. The song really only works when listened to beyond the tracklist.

Nevertheless, I'm With You is an immensely rich and polished collection of songs. And if there was ever any real doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back and not treading water. Whether or not this direction is aimless is really for them to know and us to find out. But when it comes to these guys- isn’t that always the point?

Calling Out Jim DeMint

By Will Moredock


In 2009, Sen. Jim DeMint released his book, “Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism.” It was the most fatuous piece of political propaganda I have ever seen and I devoted a week's worth of my precious words exposing DeMint's silly claptrap for what it was.


In “Saving Freedom” DeMint poured in roughly equal parts religion, history, economics and old-fashioned, flag-waving jingoism, then hit the puree button. What he poured out was a preposterous sludge of superstition and bigotry, which  held that American exceptionalism and unbridled capitalism were ordained by God, and anyone who thought otherwise was a threat to the divine plan.


As I wrote that day: “What DeMint does here is romanticize America's past, turning it into a bucolic Christian utopia, in which friends and neighbors took care of each other, there were no industries to regulate, and no ethnic conflicts to sort out. That's the way we should see the country today, he says... Don't listen to those darn socialists, with all their complicated theories and prescriptions.”


Alas, I had only 800 words to fling at DeMint two years ago, when there was so much more to be said. I am pleased to report that another patron of rational thought and fact-based reality has taken up the cause. South Carolina native Barrett Maners has devoted a whole book to calling out Jim DeMint and his hare-brained followers in “Stopping Radicalism: We Can Stop Jim DeMint's Crusade for Stupidity.”


Maners does not mince words in assessing DeMint's opus: “In addition to containing a fabricated account of the history of the world and of America, it also identifies the 'secular socialist' forces that are plotting to destroy everything 'real Americans' hold dear....Newt Gingrich has proclaimed that it's nothing short of a 'new Declaration of Independence'....To me, it was just a declaration confirming that the far right's ideology is independent of reality.”


Maners shares my conviction that Jim DeMint could flourish only in a culture of rank ignorance and superstition. South Carolina provides a perfect medium for his message, as it has for generations of demagogues, charlatans and frauds. Maners quotes an 1846 citizen's group who complained, “There is scarcely a state in the Union in which so great apathy exists on the subject of the education of the people.” It's as true in the age of Nikki Haley as it was nearly two centuries ago.


But something curious has happened since the 2008 election. There has emerged an angry and deluded subculture of Carolina clones called the Tea Party. And Jim DeMint has the DNA to join them and be their leader.


“The rhetoric that (DeMint) uses to promote himself and his views is largely attributable to, and necessary for, holding office in South Carolina....” Maners writes. “It is no surprise that a product of that political climate has earned the nickname of 'Senator Tea Party' from 'National Review'...”


Maners is perhaps at his best when he takes on DeMint for his superstitious fear of science. “Jim thinks he can use labels that provoke fear and hatred in the ignorant masses, thereby stifling any attempts by rationalists to promote long-term environmental protection over short-term private  profiteering....” Maners writes. “Just call someone a godless communist and you win by default. You don't even have to have reason or evidence on your side.”


Barrett Maners does not look the part he is playing in the current political and cultural war. The buttoned-down owner of a small real estate services business in Rock Hill, he is in his mid-20s, with degrees in political science and real estate management from Coastal Carolina University and Clemson University. He played tight end on the Northwestern High School football team in Rock Hill, received an appointment to West Point, but left after a semester when he realized he did not fit the mold of the Long Gray Line. At CCU he returned to the gridiron as a walk-on, lettering three years. Along the way he left his Southern Baptist background, along with a lot of other South Carolina ideas and attitudes.


Maners knows Jim DeMint better than almost anyone, but he still puzzles over what makes the man tick. “He comes from a good background. He has a good education,” Maners told me recently. “But he decided it's easier to pander to the lowest common denominator of South Carolina society and American society. That's what makes him so frightening.”


“Stopping Radicalism” is the first book about Jim DeMint not written by DeMint.  It will not be the last, but it is a good starting place to understand the man and the unhinged movement he seeks to lead. It's not in bookstores yet, but you can find it at Amazon.com. It will help you understand a frightening world and a frightening man.

M83

CCP's very own Fr. Jones shoots the breeze with Anthony Gonzalez from M83 about Moogfest, double-disc nostalgia, walls of sound, and music in the desert.




FR: First things first, you will be performing at Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina. How did you get involved with this event? Is there any particular artist you are excited to see perform?


AG: There’s probably tons of artists I’d like to see perform- but I don’t know the lineup yet! I don’t know who’s playing actually. But I’ve always been a big fan of the Moog synthesizers. I have a couple of them and when they asked us to perform for the festival, there was no doubt about it. So I’m excited to see who is playing this year and… oh my God, Tangerine Dream is playing?! 



FR: Tangerine Dream is playing.

AG: Well, then, I’m super excited to see them.



FR: Let’s talk “Midnight City”- the first single from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Your last album Saturdays=Youth featured a diverse selection of 80s style synthpop ballads ("Kim and Jessie", "Graveyard Girl") as well as songs that are primarily electronica-driven ("We Own the Sky", "Couleurs"), “Midnight City” is a seamless hybrid of these particular styles. Can we expect more of this concept on your new album?

AG: You’ve heard the single, right?




FR: Yes. I've heard it.

AG: The single is kind of different. Well, it’s not too different but there are a lot of different styles of music on this album. A lot of very intense tracks, a lot of orchestrated tracks, a lot of small pieces of ambient music to connect all the tracks. This album is more like a dream, it’s a journey. It’s like a movie almost. It’s very cinematic. So there’s many pop songs, but there’s a lot of slow songs, very intriguing, very psychedelic. “Midnight City” is one of the poppiest songs on the album. The rest of the album is much more cinematic… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. It’s a double album y’know? So there’s a bit of everything in it.



FR: Double-disc albums have become something of a rarity in music during the past 20 years - but usually when it happens, the end product are massive successes (Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast, to name a few). Why are artists so reluctant to embrace this format?

AG: I don’t know. I grew up listening to double-albums. When you’re a kid in the 80s and you know that one of your favorite bands is releasing a double-album, you really wait for the album to come out. You’re just waiting for it. Because you know it’s going to be big and thoughtful like a great piece of art, a piece of work. And I’m a little nostalgic about that musical era, y’know? Now it’s not about discs anymore unfortunately. It’s all about the single and downloading stuff and I think it’s kind of sad. I’m not saying it’s bad and it was better before. I’m just saying there is too much information nowadays. It might be too much for people. I don’t know, it’s too much for me. What I miss is when you’re really expecting something to come out NOW. But now there’s something in the same day, the same week- you’re basically excited about the album for forty minutes, and then you’re excited about something else. I don’t know. I’m an old music fan and I love listening to vinyl and CDs, y’know..



FR: How did you decide to work with Brad Laner and Zola Jesus on the upcoming record? What do you think they bring to the record musically?

AG: With Brad Laner, I was a huge fan of his band Medicine from the 90s and it was a great experience for me to work with him because I was a fan as a kid. Same thing with Justin the producer who was the bass player for Beck. Playing with them and making an album with them, when you watched them play on TV as a kid, it’s just amazing, y’know? Watching him perform with Beck as a teenager and now he’s one of my best friends and we’re making music together- it’s really unbelievable. And Zola Jesus- she’s one of the rare female artists that really gets my interest. I think she has something very special in her voice. She has something unique, such character in her voice. It’s hers and no one else’s. That’s what I like about her. And she’s such a nice person, very genuine, very smart, very intelligent. I was expecting a very perfect girl. But she was actually very simple and nice. We have a lot of things in common, the same movies…



FR: What is your songwriting process like? Has this approach changed over your career?

AG: My writing process rarely changes. I always start the same, finding a good melody on keys or with chords. I always start my songs with my keyboards. I barely start any songs on my guitar or bass- mainly piano and keyboards. Because I’m basically alone in the band, I just go into my studio and it’s basically creating layers and layers of sound. I like the idea of a wall of sound adding layers and layers of instruments until it’s too much.



FR: "Couleurs" had a great Wall of Sound effect.


AG: Yeah it did.



FR: “We Own the Sky” has one of my favorite videos of all time. Do you have a concept in mind for the “Midnight City” video and are you by any chance planning another video contest?

AG: We are maybe planning another video contest for the last single from this album but for now… for “Midnight City", I have been working with two directors from France. They are shooting the video this week so I’m excited to see it. They had a great concept for it.



FR: M83 is named after the spiral galaxy Messier 83. In particular, on Dead Cities andBefore the Dawn Heals Us, the albums feel big enough to fit an entire universe. Do you have a fascination with space and if so, how has this influenced your music?

AG: For the last album… well, I’ve always been fascinated by space, science fiction. I love science fiction movies and books. I play lots of video games about space. For this album, I often drove my car to the desert with my laptop just to get away from the city, just to see the stars at night because I miss that. In the desert, you can see all of space in front of you- it’s right there. This is what I liked to do on this album. I would bring my computer and most of the small ambient interludes and songs on this album have been composed in the desert.



FR: When it comes to your music, do you favor a particular song above all others?

AG: A favorite song of mine? I think one of my favorites would be “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun”- the outro from Before the Dawn Heals Us. It’s very special.



FR: That’s actually my second or third favorite.

AG: Cool. Cool.



FR: My favorite is… well, I keep coming back to “You, Appearing”- the opening track from Saturdays. That’s a really dynamite way of opening an album. But hey...

AG: Hey... that's cool.



FR: Music these days can be heard in a variety of formats. It is available in almost any way the listener finds preferable- cassettes, vinyl, CDs, digital downloads. Is there a certain way you prefer your music to be heard? What’s your favorite format for listening to music?

AG: Obviously, just like anyone else…. Fortunately, there are a lot of mp3s. But I still like to buy CDs and vinyls. I still buy a lot of vinyls. I love the sound of vinyls- especially for the kind of music that I’m listening to. I’m listening to a lot of electronic music from the 70s and it just sounds better on vinyl.



FR: Where do you see the music industry going in the next ten years?


AG: Ohmigod. I think in ten years, there will be some software where you can say the kind of music that you want to listen to- and it will create new music for you. You know what I mean? You could say, “Oh, I want something that sounds like M83…” and it will create a brand-new track especially for you. It’s weird. It’s scary. The future is scary for music.



FR: Any advice to up-and-coming musicians struggling to make it in the 21st century music industry?

AG: Try to find another job because it’s very hard now. It’s not the best job on earth right now.


M83 will be performing at this year's Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina on the weekend of October 28-30.  Single day passes are now available for $75 atwww.moogfest.com.  The new M83 album- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming- will be released October 18 via Mute.