North From The Airwaves

Before releasing music in 2017 as les biches, I was in a band called Twinstar. We were together longer than The Beatles. Our tenure was marked by fits and starts, extended periods of hibernation, frequent personnel changes and infrequent live shows. Even so, we operated under the Field of Dreams “if you build it they will come” blueprint. That is, we put so much into the recording of our 2013 album The Sound of Leaving, that surely it would rise above the din and enable us to carry on making more records. It would be disingenuous to say we weren’t disappointed when that failed to happen.

As we were finishing the album, I would often feud with my long-suffering bandmate Chris Candelaria about things like the bass frequency in the final masters, or the track order. In retrospect, it seems trivial given the few people that would hear it. And yet, those arguments signify that we cared deeply about the end result. It is, after all, the bane of every creative artist that anything worthwhile requires dedication and heart. But the risk that art can exist solely in a vacuum always looms large. The band came to an end, and I naturally drifted away from music in a melancholy mood, though there were certainly no hard feelings.

Several years later, I found myself hiking in the volcanic hills of Myvatn, Iceland. (And before you think it, yes! Every asshole has been or is going to Iceland!) I am a firm believer that there’s nothing like physical exertion or a change in scenery to get the creative juices flowing. A melody crept into my brain. As I walked, it continued to mutate in subtle ways and became the silent soundtrack for the rest of the trip. And just like that, I was back in. This was my “new direction,” I thought. I wasn’t interested in writing pop songs at the time. Rather, I wished to convey what it felt like to walk past ancient cinder cones and boiling molten lava away from the world at large.

Back in Los Angeles, I had already met Jonathan D. Haskell, the mercurial man behind the band Seven Saturdays. I was inspired by his unique and atmospheric approach to the Fender Rhodes. It was exactly what this piece of music required. So began our collaboration on what was meant to be the first les biches release. But the floodgates had opened, and a flurry of new songs materialized along the way.

As such, North from the Airwaves becomes the last (and sixth) track to be released by les biches in 2017. To say that an eight-minute-plus song with no verses or choruses is my favorite of them all is no stretch. It was the elusive spark that changed the way I think about music, though I am keenly aware it’s a huge ask in the age of short attention spans. In other words, having built it, it’s more about the quality of the company these days. To that point, I am also joined by Travis McNabb (Seven Simons, Better Than Ezra) on drums and the fantastic Zoe Ruth-Erwin, who writes and performs under her own name, and collectively with Jonathan in the electro-dream pop duo P O L L A. This old world is full of noise and chaos. If you do stop to listen, we thank you more than you can know!

Keith Joyner (December 2017)

Originally published at Blurt Magazine


Once Upon a Time in Tanworth-in-Arden

A lifetime ago, drummer Jeff Sullivan found himself in Tanworth-in-Arden on an unusually sun-kissed day. His band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ were playing several shows in London, but foremost on his mind was a pilgrimage to visit the resting place of his idol, Nick Drake. And thus, Jeff, bassist Tim Nielsen and friend Nikki Sudden boarded a train to the small hamlet south of Birmingham. At the station, a friend of Nikki’s waited to ferry the revelers to their destination.

            The cemetery behind the Church of St Mary Magdalene was empty save for the ragtag group, who resembled nothing less than Beggars Banquet-era Stones. Seated at Nick’s headstone, Nikki pulled out his guitar, and in a satisfied hashish haze sought out the opening chords to Pink Moon. Meanwhile, a kindly older woman appeared, a bouquet of flowers in hand. Not intimidated in the least, she introduced herself to the group as Dee. “Are you here to visit Nick,” she asked smiling.

            Nikki could charm anyone; man, woman or child. It took no more than a few minutes before he and Dee were the best of friends. She informed the group that she was a friend of Nick’s mother Molly, who had not been feeling well and was in hospital. Dee was due to pick her up that evening. “Would you like to say hello,” Dee inquired. Jeff could hardly believe this was happening.

            After inviting the group over, everyone piled in the car and followed Dee to her charming little home not far from the Drake residence, Far Leys. The late afternoon sun shone in the garden out back, as Dee dutifully served her new friends tea and biscuits. It was a dream. Dee appeared at the back door. “I’ve Molly on the line. Who would like to say hello?”

            The telephone was positively ancient—the kind with a separate earpiece and a horn bolted to the wall in which to speak. Jeff placed the phone to his ear and proceeded to exclaim into the horn his admiration for her son’s work. A slight pause. Then a tiny, barely audible voice echoed from some distant place in time. A warm fuzz found its way up his spine as Jeff listened to her words of gratitude, the sincere sentiments of a mother who dearly missed her child. And then it was over. It was time to go.

            So here we are in 2017, knowingly treading on sacred ground. Having known Jeff since we were teenagers, it seems fitting that he would join me and Chris (Candelaria, bassist) on our version of Hanging on a Star. I hesitate to call it a cover. I could never attempt to re-create Nick Drake’s signature style. If you ask me, it can’t be done. Even so, I’ve always been strangely drawn to this song, its plaintive words pleading with an indifferent world. And therefore, I suppose it was inevitable that we finally record it in our own way. 

Les Biches, The TVD First Date

“Despite being in the prime of their youth during the 1960s, and against all odds, my parents did not own a single record that anyone with mildly discerning taste in popular music at the time might have considered cool—save for perhaps Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Though to be fair, someone undoubtedly must have given it to them as a gift, or more likely left it by accident. To this day if the title track from said album comes on the radio my father mistakes it for Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” The point is, while I’d like to at least believe I have good taste now, we’re certainly not all born with it.”

“Don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of records neatly alphabetized in the old console, a handsome rectangular wooden box, replete with built-in radio to the left, and a bulky metal turntable on the right. But we’re talking Lawrence Welk, Perry Como, An Andy Williams Christmas, lots of musicals and soundtracks, and one particularly square gospel record autographed by a friend of my mother named Dottie.

There were a few other odds and ends, but it all added up to a perfect storm of sinister musical fuckery! This may all sound rather judgmental in 2017, but the truth is, I actually adored and devoured these records. I must have listened to How The West Was Won a hundred times over. And to this day, John Denver is most certainly not a “guilty pleasure.” Still, not to own the most obvious Stones or Beatles album at the time seemed a deliberate act.

Eventually, my sister procured the Grease soundtrack and Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life. I can’t say I didn’t listen to it, as I still know all of the songs. Plausible deniability aside, I knew something was very wrong. Though how do you know that something better is out there if you haven’t heard it yet? At any rate, it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a radio broadcast about the secret death of Paul McCartney and his subsequent imposter that I finally discovered The Beatles. That discovery may seem rather vanilla and ubiquitous now, but it wasn’t far removed from their heyday at the time. I was hooked.

I remember feeling somewhat excited and nervous when I realized I should be buying my own records. So I walked up to Clark Music on the square in Decatur, GA and bought Meet The Beatles. After wearing it out, I wanted more. The problem was that Clark Music, on the whole, looked a lot like my parents record collection. They didn’t have any other Beatles records. And I didn’t need any Mac Davis albums. Surely there was somewhere else.

And behold, there it was! The magical Wuxtry Records, only a short bike ride away in the opposite direction. The guys in this store looked a lot different than straight-laced old Harry Clark. They had long hair, and bad attitudes, and there was a big poster that said The Sex Pistols in the window.

It took me a while to work up the nerve to go in. I think his name was Chuck. He had glasses, a mop of curly black hair, and if a friend of mine is to be trusted at this late date, a severe case of dandruff. Nonetheless, he carefully guided me along as I bought album after Beatle album, starting with the earlier loveable stuff. Maybe he was trying to ease me into the drug-fueled psychedelic period, as I was still just a little boy on a bike from the neighborhood. Let’s just say I owe him a debt of gratitude, as I soon graduated to R.E.M., The dbs, Let’s Active, The Church, The Chameleons…and the list goes on.

Miraculously, Wuxtry is going strong today. It’s still in the same storefront, and dare I say, perhaps some of the same staff may work there? I’ll visit on the rare occasion I find myself in Atlanta. Though its very existence brings me back to the same question, how do you know that something better is out there if you haven’t heard it yet?

I’m not one to rail against the new paradigm in music consumption. That train has left the station. I do, however, lament the endless choice offered by a nameless blank search screen. The Internet is not the great equalizer after all. And that’s why vinyl has assumed so much importance in recent years. Sometimes we need someone in the know to curate our burgeoning musical curiosity; or to take a chance on that band with the cool album cover while flipping through a stack of records.

I can attest to the intensive work it takes to produce an LP, having recently released a posthumous double album on clear vinyl from my old Athens, GA band Seven Simons. For a year, it was like a second job. But to me, it was all worth the effort. Maybe to someone out there it will mean something as well.

And by the way, Post by Seven Simons is available at Wuxtry Records!”
Keith Joyner

Published by The Vinyl District:


Opening Ceremony

After the heavy rains, an early spring balm fell over the canyon. The air was alien. I could see their shadows moving in the low light of the grand old house. I walked without purpose up the stone stairs in the vain hope of avoiding human interaction. In retrospect, I should have been more welcoming, though I was a different person in 1995, or at least I’d like to think so. One with less patience, and prone to snap judgments. And besides, my brief respite had been interrupted. What’s next? The question always loomed.

Daniel had at least made the effort, inviting me out one evening along with his posse of rock n roll revelers. In typical fashion, I declined. I had only lived in the house on Laurel Canyon for a month when the members of Love and Rockets moved in. Meanwhile, I had recently completed a stint in Matt Johnson’s the The, was recording and playing club gigs with Marty Willson-Piper of The Church, and had just started a new band with David Newton of The Mighty Lemon Drops. Suddenly I was at the center of the universe when it came to 80s alternative rock. Strange circumstances indeed.

I was charged with little more than ensuring the squatters didn’t return. After the renovation, the house was to become the headquarters for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label. My room on the second of three floors consisted only of an unreliable air mattress, a portable stereo and a digital clock. Hollywood glamour at its finest. But it was rent-free, and it bought me valuable time. On most nights, Kevin arrived in a very nice car to join his brother David and Daniel for jam sessions lasting into the wee hours of the morning. But tonight was different than most. There was a new arrival.

Inside the foyer, Daniel’s motorcycle was parked for the evening. After rehearsals he would usually padlock a chain to the door in order to thwart any would-be thieves. Following a cursory hello to David, I hastened to my room, but was stopped short by the figure descending the spiral staircase. David made the introduction. “Keith, this is Genesis.” She certainly made a first impression. Long grey dreadlocks framed a weary face that featured heavy, dark-encircled eyes. She wore a floor-length tie-dyed dress, and approached smiling, placing her hand weakly in mine. OK, perhaps not a she. At least, not yet. Androgynous, yes.

I had heard of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, but was otherwise unfamiliar with those seminal industrial bands. He was very polite, and there was a sad kindness behind his eyes. But there was also something rather intense about his countenance. This house already challenged my preconceived notions about the paranormal. Genesis P-Orridge’s presence could only stir the sleeping ghosts that lay dormant within its walls. That night, as I drifted to sleep, slowly deflating to the floor, I asked myself what in the world was I doing here? How did I end up living in an outtake of the film Withnail & I? It was time to take action. There were decisions to make.

Days passed, and turned into a week or more. Genesis was still there. I helplessly watched my bank account descend into dangerous territory. Soon I would need to find work, hardly the spoils I expected Tinseltown to deliver. Meanwhile, the songs emanating from the formal dining room downstairs were starting to take shape. David and Genesis were simultaneously working on something far more experimental. I was stalled, sleepless, incapable of a simple course of action.

Never fear. Tomorrow the universe will make decisions of its own.

Seven-sometime AM. A relentless unthinking buzz roused me from sleep. Had I set the alarm? I had no particular place to be. It was to be another day of waiting for nothing to happen. No. This was louder, more urgent. It beckoned from elsewhere in the house. An acrid stench filled the air. I sat bolt upright. Burning electronics, wood and drywall. I raced from my room to the top of the stairs. I could already hear the combustion.

I descended the stairs to find the dining room engulfed in flames. There, in the foyer, I encountered a frantic woman I had never seen before. She screamed, “The door is chained! How do we get out?” I calmly advised her to unlatch the window from the living room and get out quickly. “Go! And find Patrick!” Patrick was the other caretaker who lived in the detached studio under the outside stairs. I would wake the rest of the house. The fire was too far gone. Whether the motorcycle was there I don’t recall, but to contemplate the simple physics of gasoline and fire at this late date still gives me the chills.

I ran to the second floor again. The smoke became blacker and thicker. I stopped short to consider the paucity of my current state. For a brief moment I thought I might succumb then and there, but was quickly shocked back to the matter at hand. Who should I wake first? David and Genesis were at the opposite end of the second floor, and furthest from the fire. I devised a plan in short order.

On the third floor I found Daniel’s room and pounded on the door, shouting of imminent danger. Silence. I tried the handle. It was locked. Is he in there? I imagined the fire growing in size and creeping up the staircase, searching for someone, anyone to claim. I opened the window and crawled onto the clay tile roof. It was a long way down at the front of the house. I found a window. The curtains were drawn. Again, I rapped loudly on the pane. I tried to open it. It too was locked. I considered breaking it, but with what; my bare hands? He’s either a heavy sleeper, or he’s not in there. I remember saying aloud, “I’m sorry. I have to wake the others.”

Up and over the roof I went, trying not to look down. At the back of the house there was a better way down. The back yard was terraced, and I could jump with ease from one floor to the other until I was safely on the ground. I ran the length of the back of the house and circled to the front. “David! Wake up! The house is on fire,” I shouted. All the while, I thought of Daniel sleeping peacefully and unaware of his impending doom.

After several tense moments, David materialized at the balcony to his room, the lord of the manor, dapperly dressed and seemingly nonchalant about the situation. This really should have been his house. He belonged there. In that moment he was equal measure Howard Hughes, Jay Gatsby and Count Dracula. Somewhere behind him was Genesis in a panic. It was an easy way out, or so I imagined.

Meanwhile, I could hear the sirens approaching. Fortunately for everyone, there was a fire station at the top of Laurel Canyon where Mulholland crossed. I don’t recall if it was me or Patrick who unlocked the chain link gate just as the fire engines arrived. I imagine they would have driven straight through at any rate. The fire was quickly and expertly extinguished. Ultimately, there was only interior damage and the foundation remained intact.

I found a corner of the front yard to collect myself. I was covered in soot, dressed in what were likely my only good clothes left. I waited for news of Daniel, fearing the worst. Genesis had been severely injured. I couldn’t quite work it out. There were doors leading to the back yard. The fire hadn’t reached that end of the house. In fact, it had stopped at the top of the staircase at the second floor. Somehow he had fallen. He must have lost his footing. I can only speculate that he didn’t know the location of the fire and had tried to scale down the front of the house from his room.

Then, magically, he appeared, dressed in leather pants and jacket, his hair slicked back, sporting giant-framed sunglasses as if he were about to take the stage. It was impressive, and I recall being relieved and happy to see him. “You all right?” Daniel asked as he walked toward the gathering throng near the front of the yard at Laurel Canyon. It was quite the contrast given that I had last encountered him in the kitchen wearing cut-off jean shorts, a white tank top and the most massive white man’s afro I had seen in a good while.

I felt strangely happy and destitute at once, freed by the flames, and grateful in a way that I was now forced to start over. I actually looked forward to finding an apartment, getting a job and maneuvering toward a normal existence. The house had successfully expelled us all. The spell had been broken. We would all have to move on. And so ended my first strange episode in the City of Angels.

David kindly returned some of my belongings that he found in the aftermath. He included a nice letter as I recall. Still, I spent several years avoiding the subject unless pressed. Love and Rockets were forever linked to the fire, and I didn’t relish the idea of revisiting that moment in any shape or form. So when I was invited by a friend to see the band headline the now-shuttered Hollywood Grand, I didn’t exactly jump at the chance. I don’t know if it was resentment or blame that I felt, but ultimately it was of my own invention. I agreed to go. It was actually the first time I had ever seen them. And they killed it, opening with a searing version of “Ball of Confusion.”

There was something dark and hypnotic about my first days in Los Angeles. And it clung to me until that moment when the band played on. Truth is, I can hardly recall the feeling anymore from the safe haven of my Highland Park home. But I felt compelled to put “pen to paper” after all this time and relay my own version of the events. Currently, I lead a relatively quiet existence by comparison. But sometimes when the sun sets, I look west beyond the hills and imagine the shadows falling over the house on Laurel Canyon. It still stands, like a bulwark against time, striking the temporary inhabitants with unease. They will come and go. As for the house? It will likely always be there.

Re-published in Blurt Magazine: