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Guest Playlist #06: Matt Bower of Wizards Tell Lies

By Steve Dewhurst

“When I started buying films on VHS, I would record the sound onto tape so I could take the film with me on journeys.”

Pete Swanson
Enough Dark Intensity: An Interview with Jimmy Lacy of SiP

By Jason Cabaniss

"I like the idea of “cocktail music.” Something intentionally light and pleasant. I’m always trying to write music that communicates some type of positive mood and when I’m playing, trying to focus my energy there"

Slide 2
Clean is Dirty: An Interview with Flowertown

By Lindsay Oxford

The birth of San Francisco’s Flowertown makes for a good story: longtime Bay Area scene compatriots Karina Gill (Cindy) and Mike Ramos (Tony Jay) compose a song together for an upcoming show in later winter 2020, and the day before they’re slated to play it, the world stopped.

Slide 3
Needles and Pins: Derek Piotr's Journey to the Heart of Britain's Folklands

By Steve Dewhurst

“Yorkshire is not so dissimilar to my home in the Northeast of America,” Derek Piotr tells me from York, the latest stop on his great British journey. “Connecticut is part of New England, so that makes sense.”

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Guest Playlist #07: Larry Wish

“I remember [my upbringing] being very musical. My dad listened to a lot of Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and Motown, and my mom sang in the church choir and would play Fleetwood Mac LPs a lot.” Larry Wish – real name Adam Wish-Werven – is recalling the influences of his youth having just submitted one of the widest ranging guest playlists we’ve had so far. “We also had a tape of my Great Uncle Matt playing folk songs, which was very inspiring to hear at a young age… I remember the musical times the most.”

“When I was a toddler, I had two sacred items that I consider to be keys to my life – signifiers that helped to point me in the direction I wanted to go,” he continues. “The first was a toy drum that was made by Fisher-Price or something like that. It had a plastic drum stick attached by a string, and I can remember playing it and thinking ‘I like doing this, this is what I want to do!’ The second item was a music box statue of a sad clown with ragged clothes and a five-o-clock shadow that played ‘Send in the Clowns.'” To anyone who’s spent time with Wish’s music, having snaked their way through his knotty back catalogue of prog-imbued, bizarro, anything-counts-as-an-instrument bedroom pop, this recollection might stand out as particularly cognisant. “The clown always felt like an important figure and a big part of me identifies with that archetype,” he says now. “I like trying to make people laugh and feel good. To me, [the items] feel like very important keys or guideposts – almost like breadcrumbs to mark a path. I believe they were placed to set me on the path that I wanted for this life.There’s still a goofy, clownish edge to almost everything Wish does, from the exaggerated way he croons his obtuse, trippy lyrics to the klutzy wordplay of his album titles and even the photographs on his Instagram, which invariably show him with a huge, Jim Carrey-esque grin on his face. As it happens, the clown paid a price for its influence: Wish smashed it with a hammer. “It really bothered me to feel so many feelings at the same time, and probably ones that were confusing,” he tells me. “It’s sad because I’ve never been able to find it again and the music was just so beautiful – definitely a feeling of simultaneous happiness and sadness I’ve been chasing in making music for years.”

Still, the childish joy and wonder he exudes today was hard-won, he says, as his youthful desire to please marked him out as “weird-ish” kid who never really fit into a specific clique. “I think I was always a bit silly… I remember walking around in the winter, never participating with what the other kids were doing – building snow forts and having battles and such – but I would check on people and was this neutral presence that could come and go between teams without getting messed with,” he remembers. What he calls his “calmness and charm” nevertheless took a strange toll, as Wish suffered “mental meltdowns” from an early age that resulted in interludes of disassociation: “I [had] emotional extremes… even strange fainting spells. When I was having one of those, it’s like I would experience a visual whiteout that would be replaced by all of this strange/familiar information – sights, sounds, smells, faces, voices, feelings. Sometimes I would wake up on the ground, or sometimes standing. The only thing I can remember now is a vague feeling and a visual of a pilot. I think it could have been glimpses of past lives… [K]ids are sensitive to ripples in the fabric, you know?”

Kids are sensitive to ripples in the fabric, you know?

Music was Wish’s most constant companion, although playing it didn’t come naturally. He couldn’t play the recorder or read music in lessons and although he wanted to play the drums, his school was already flooded with talented percussionists. “Since I am tall, the teacher suggested I play the trombone,” he laughs. “I remember trying out the piano and the drums but the bandleader told me I wasn’t very good, so that definitely started a little fire in me to do those things no matter what… [music] started to become a defining factor of who I am.” An early “Weird Al” Yankovic obsession (“when I was six I would draw pictures of him and mail them to his fan club”) ended only when Wish first heard The Beatles aged 10. “There were so many times in my childhood where we would be driving somewhere, listening to an oldies station on the radio, and I would ask if we were hearing The Beatles,” he says. “I had the concept that they were a really famous band, but I didn’t know anything about them. When I was ten, my dad gave me three Beatles mixtapes his friend had made for him and I stayed up all night pacing around in my room listening on my Walkman – my mind being stretched for hours and hours of pure excitement. That was the moment I realised that I wanted to be in a band and record albums, and that it was completely possible!” 

Wish’s first forays into making his own music came in his middle teens. He played drums in a high school band called Wink Applebee & the Medicinal 9 first, even recording with them for a while until he decided to go it alone. He left home at 17 to study at the Perpich Center for Arts Education and started to experiment. 
“The very first thing I recorded that I remember feeling proud of was called The Lurneen EP. At that time I had decided that my artist name was mangoSleeves, and I burned a bunch of copies for friends and made a MySpace,” he says. “The music was made recording into Digital Performer at school. I’d go there in the evening, a short walk from the dorms, and would record SK-1 samples, drums, vocals, and a really beat up electric guitar that my friend Sam had installed a drumstick under the strings so it could make weird sounds. [I was] very inspired by Animal Collective and The Residents – a great combo!”

“The Big Ship” by Brian Eno… I’m literally about to cry because I just even thought about it!

The reverence with which Wish treats his influences is admirable, not to mention his astonishing ability to parse insights from their impact upon his development. He calls them “teachers,” and recognises each and every one of the artists he chose for his extensive playlist for the part they played in his life. “[The songs are] all there for so many reasons, and of course there are so many others that I didn’t include for the silly sake of time!” he explains. “Some of them are there because they are songs from my childhood that really made an impact on me as just really great, wonderful, expressive songs… Others are there because they taught me about how to potentially structure a song, like in the case of “Dear Prudence.” I just love how it’s arranged – how new things pop up for just a moment and we never hear them again.” The range of genres he grew up with is reflected in the playlist too, and you can hear them all in his work today. “When I started learning drums, I would drum along to Black Sabbath songs. Artists like Frank Zappa taught me that humour and seriousness can coexist in music, and always have (and always will!). When I started singing, Roxy Music was a huge inspiration to me and my low voice. My mom used to sing “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blues Notes, and it’s still one of the most beautiful songs I can imagine. “The Big Ship” by Brian Eno takes just a few ingredients, and a short amount of time, to emote so much in one little song. I’m literally about to cry because I just even thought about the song!”

Wish’s songs are marked by their wordplay – something he attributes in part to an early reading of The Jabberwocky. “I was like ‘Wait, that can be writing?!'” he recalls. “I still like playing in that way when I’m writing lyrics. I love taking a phrase that could potentially be very familiar and making it seem completely off at the same time.” I mention my favourite album title of his: Larry Wish & His GuysThe Man Who Even Has a Gun. “My friend Sam Cramer – who was the bassist in Larry Wish & His Guys – and I would just laugh and laugh about adding the word ‘even’, like the phrase is somehow trying to prove something to the reader, or be boastful in some silly way. It’s definitely a kind of humour I love to play around in.” It lends an esoteric edge to his music, too, reflecting an arrhythmia he can feel in what he terms “the fabric” to this day. He refers back to his childhood. “Certainly the drum made me want to be a drummer, and the music box kicked off my love for music and emotion. My [fainting] spells were telling me that there is more than this immediate, physical reality. It all feels extremely aligned and purposeful, like maybe my greater self was providing a little reminder that there is so much more. They definitely opened up a huge interest in the paranormal [and] cryptozoology. All of this together so far has really helped lay the foundation for what I am doing. I know I’m here in part to explore and learn lessons about consciousness…” Wish chuckles at his own reverie as he closes: “I know I’m here to make this Larry Wish music – someone’s got to!”