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Weekend Preview: The Editors, The Thermals And Justin Townes Earle

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Aired 2/4/10

Steve Earle's singer-songwriter son plays The Loft, the Editors play the House of Blues, and that's just two of your music options for the weekend. Also, next week marks the beginning of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival and their 20th anniversary. We'll talk music and film on this Weekend Preview.

Justin Townes Earle's latest album, "Midnight at the Movies."
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Above: Justin Townes Earle's latest album, "Midnight at the Movies."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): One good thing about not having the Chargers in the Super Bowl this year, is we don't have to care who wins, Saints/Colts, what's the difference? Let's just watch the half time show and have a party. And on this Super Bowl weekend preview, there are plenty of reasons to party, even if you don't watch football. We're going to talk about lots and lots of music, interesting performers coming to town, a film festival and some crafty things thrown in. I’d like to welcome my guests. Liz Bradshaw, she is the curator at The Loft at UCSD and has worked in the music industry for many years. Liz Bradshaw, good morning.

LIZ BRADSHAW (Curator, The Loft, UCSD): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Anders Wright is film critic for San Diego CityBeat. Anders, welcome.

ANDERS WRIGHT (Film Critic, San Diego CityBeat): Good to see you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s start out with the film festival I was talking about, Anders.

WRIGHT: Let’s start.

CAVANAUGH: This is the 20th anniversary of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. And it’s amazing to me, I didn’t know that it had been around that long. How has the festival grown over the years?

WRIGHT: Well, I know, where does the time go, right?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Uh-huh.

WRIGHT: You know, like so many film festivals, this started out in a gymnasium with some folding chairs and a small screen and a few films. And now, honestly, they’ve got tons of films, big sponsors, and they’re in theaters all over the city. It starts on next Wednesday, actually, and runs, I think, another two weeks after that.

CAVANAUGH: Is the festival known for showing a certain type of movie?

WRIGHT: Well, I mean, I guess you’d have to say it’s know for showing Jewish films. But…

CAVANAUGH: That would be one.

WRIGHT: …yeah, but, really, you know, if you look at it like this, Judaism is a global religion and so you really have films from all over the world, certainly not just Israel and not just America but from all over the world, and they touch on different facets of Judaism in some shape, way or form. But this also allows for a real spectrum of movies. I mean, there’s all kinds of films in this festival. You know, dramas and comedies and animated films and documentaries. It’s really all represented here.

CAVANAUGH: And it’s an international festival.

WRIGHT: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: The opening night, as you mentioned is next Wednesday. What’s the opening night film?

WRIGHT: It’s a film called “A Matter of Size.” And there’s really sort of no polite way to put this, it’s about obese Israelis who are training to become sumo wrestlers. It’s a comedy and kind of a romantic comedy. I’ve seen it and it’s very, very sweet. It’s not a particularly edgy film but it’s entertaining enough. And I think it’ll go over really well as the opening night film. I also have heard, in fact, that they are remaking it for an American audience, at this point, which is, you know, not particularly surprising considering the general heft of our population.

CAVANAUGH: Aha, I see. There’s also – They’re also showing a film you really like. It’s called “Mary and Max.” It’s an animated feature film by Oscar-winning filmmaker Adam Elliott, featuring the voices of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette. Tell us more about that.

WRIGHT: Yes. I’m very, very fond of this film. Now it is animated but it is certainly not for kids. Basically, it is about a small girl in Australia in the ‘70s who is very lonely. Her dad is detached and her mother is drunk most of the time. And she pulls a name out of a phone book at the library one day and writes a letter to the man who ends up being this sort of older, again, obese Jewish man living in New York City. He’s voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman. And they become pen pals. And they both, in some ways, are outsiders and dealing with not really having friends. And over the years, they both have really profound impacts upon one another. The animation is very sort of childlike in some ways. It’s these kind of little plastic models that are moved about with stop motion but in the end it’s very touching and very sweet and really a terrific film. I was actually very surprised that this movie never got a distribution deal that brought it to San Diego. So, really, this is the San – this is San Diego’s chance to see it on the big screen.

CAVANAUGH: Are there any films you’d like to mention coming up in the San Diego Jewish Film Festival?

WRIGHT: You know, there’s another movie that I think is absolutely worth watching called “The Wave.” And this is actually a German film and it is about a high school teacher who sort of takes his class and shows them that – who basically don’t believe that a Hitler could come into power in today’s world, and basically creates a little social group called The Wave and sort of puts them above everyone else and they kind of fall for it. They all become this sort of totalitarian little group. The strange thing, of course, is that this is – it is a German film and it is based upon an American television film and – about actions that took place in high school in Northern California in the ‘60s. So this actually happened here and I love the fact that the Germans are now making a film about it to sort of explain their own history.

CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating. I want to let everyone know that the San Diego Jewish Film Festival will run from February 10th through the 21st at the UltraStar Cinemas in La Costa. Now, Liz, we talked about a craft fair last week and here’s another one that we’re going to be talking about. It’s known as the Handmade Revolution. What can you tell us about this group?

BRADSHAW: Well, the Handmade Revolution is a collection – a collective of about 8 artists in San Diego and craftswomen. They’ve been together for about 18 months, although they’ve been making their respective clothing, photographs, jewelry for a long time. And they came together as a way for themselves as creative individuals to be able to afford an outlet for selling their own goods. So it’s really like a DIY collective. They just want to get together, have a good time, and be able to, you know, earn some kind of a living off – at selling what they make, which is really fantastic.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I didn’t know what DIY meant for a long time. Do it yourself.

BRADSHAW: Do it yourself.

CAVANAUGH: I was afraid to ask. So this event is called the Valentine Trunk Show. So what kind of things are people going to find there?

BRADSHAW: Yeah, so the Handmade Revolution, they do probably one show a quarter and they thought that, you know, it’s Valentine’s Day in a week and a half, it’s a really great opportunity to buy something a bit different for your special loved one, or maybe yourself. And so you can expect to find, you know, vintage jewelry, purses, clothing items. One of the girls from the collective, Erika, has – she’s known as The Novel Novel so she makes notebooks out of old journals. She kind of rips all the pages out and spiral bounds them and so they’re really these really fun journals that you can make. And you’ll find that a lot of the items are for sale from the women, they reuse, they’re environmentally friendly, they’re one of a kind goods so…

CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating. As I say, we talked about a craft fair last week on the Weekend Preview. Are these handmade items and craft fairs become really popular now, Liz?

BRADSHAW: You know, I think they are. I’m starting to see more and more of them crop up. And I think it – you know, it’s got a lot to do with a number of different things. Everybody’s thinking about, you know, sustainable, buying local, organic and, you know, the food that they eat, the cars that we drive, and they think in the things that we buy. And I think it’s allowing us to kind of look outside malls for something a bit more interesting and allowing us an opportunity to be able to really support the people in our own community whilst, you know, having something a bit more exciting, you know, on your wall at home.

CAVANAUGH: And one of a kind, right?

BRADSHAW: Or to wear. And one of a kind.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah.

BRADSHAW: So, you know, I think the website Etsy—I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it—has a lot to do with it. It’s a craft website that’s a global website and it allows sellers just like this a page, their own webpage, to be able to sell their goods through the website. So I think it’s a huge global movement that we’re seeing right now and it’s really fun. You know, I’m a big fan. I’ll be there for sure on Saturday.

CAVANAUGH: And let me just ask you a quick question about the venue. The trunk show is in the yellow house in Golden Hill.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, the yellow house on B, and I was really intrigued by this. I was like, the yellow house on B, that sounds really cool. Is that a venue? And actually it belongs to one of the collective. It belongs to one of the ladies, one of the artists and…

WRIGHT: It’s just her house?

BRADSHAW: It’s her house, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great.

BRADSHAW: So, and what they do is each one of the shows, they hold it at different kind of…

CAVANAUGH: I see.

BRADSHAW: …instead of renting a venue, they hold it at, you know, one of their different houses and they make snacks and there’s coffee…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BRADSHAW: …and some of the neighbors bring ‘round baked goods. So I think it’s like a really kind of great community experience during the day, not just kind of go and buy something but go and hang out, meet some new people and…

CAVANAUGH: It better be the only yellow house on B or else it’s going to be a…

BRADSHAW: Hopefully…

CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone the Handmade Revolution’s Valentine Trunk Show takes place on Saturday in the yellow house on B Street in Golden Hill. Anders, we’re shifting into music now and talking about Justin Townes Earle. He’s a folk/country singer from Nashville, Tennessee.

WRIGHT: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: He’s the son of folksinger Steve Earle. That’s really quite a pedigree. Tell us a little bit about this guy.

WRIGHT: Well, you’ve sort of hit on it at least for now. No one is going to be able to say Justin Townes Earle’s name without thinking about his dad, Steve Earle. But he really is starting to have a career of his own right. I mean, it’s this terrific sort of – it’s kind of alt country. It’s kind of old country. He’s been playing music since he was a teenager. Obviously, he grew up with sort of his rock ‘n roll, country troubadour, angry father, and even played in his dad’s band a bit. And he’s sort of played all kinds of music and has now really kind of found his niche, I’d say, sort of doing his own work. And it’s terrific. And he’ll actually be playing at Liz’s outfit…

BRADSHAW: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: At The Loft. Now, this twenty-something? Thirty-something…?

WRIGHT: Twenty – 28?

BRADSHAW: 28, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: And – But he’s battled his own problems with addiction, just like dad, right?

WRIGHT: Just like his dad. Yeah, he – I mean, he was actually hooked on drugs and alcohol when he was still in his teens. I mean, it was so bad at a certain point that he was actually – he used to tour with his dad’s band and they fired him. And if you’re going to get fired from your own father’s band, for being…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that’s pretty rough.

WRIGHT: …hooked up, yeah. But he’s cleaned himself up and it seems as though, you know, getting off the stuff has really allowed him to focus on his own music and that’s been better off for everybody.

CAVANAUGH: Now the latest album is called “Midnight at the Movies,” and, Liz, let me ask you, how would you describe his album?

BRADSHAW: So I think this album has really got a good, traditional kind of heartland transient structure to it. There’s a great kind of mix of these alt country, southern voice, more bluesy style songs. I feel for me the album starts off kind of slowly.

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

BRADSHAW: I think you really need to give it a listen. Not really – You know, really paying attention to it, give it a listen all the way through because it does start off kind of slowly with a nice ballad but it picks up tempo and I think it’s a great kind of storytelling album. He’s obviously, you know, got many tales to tell even though he’s not hit 30 yet. And so I really enjoy it. There was some – You know, I could almost hear some Johnny Cash influences there on “They Killed John Henry,” which is sort of one of the songs on the album so…

WRIGHT: I hear a lot of his father in…

BRADSHAW: Yeah.

WRIGHT: …this one actually, in the way he tells those stories.

BRADSHAW: So…

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear a little of it. Here is a track called “Here We Go Again,” from the album “Midnight at the Movies,” with Justin Townes Earle.

(audio clip of “Here We Go Again” from the album “Midnight at the Movies”)

CAVANAUGH: That’s Justin Townes Earle with “Here We Go Again” from his latest album, “Midnight at the Movies.” And Justin Townes Earle is named after Townes Van Zandt, who…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …his father did a Grammy-Award winning album about his songs.

WRIGHT: Yes. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Now I want to ask you both because he’s coming to The Loft, Liz…

BRADSHAW: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: So just chime in. Do we know anything about his live performance?

BRADSHAW: Well, I can tell you that he’s going to be playing as a full band on Tuesday when he comes to The Loft. Personally, I haven’t seen him live before, so this is going to be a first for me, definitely. I believe it’s a really – I’ve seen some YouTube video so I think it’s a really engaging, heartfelt performance and he’s really going to connect with the audience on that, too. Opening for him is a chap called Joe Pug, who’s an excellent, up-and-coming singer/songwriter. He’s played at The Loft once before and I heartily encourage you to get there early to check him out. But it’s going to be a night of good alt country Americana music.

WRIGHT: Yeah, he’ll…

BRADSHAW: I’m excited.

WRIGHT: Yeah, he’ll get around to kicking it out a little bit.

BRADSHAW: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

WRIGHT: It won’t all be as slow as the track we just heard.

BRADSHAW: No, definitely. Definitely not.

WRIGHT: No.

CAVANAUGH: Justin Townes Earle will perform at The Loft on Tuesday, February 9th. Now, Liz, let’s move on to our next band, Best Coast. What can you tell us about that band?

BRADSHAW: So Best Coast is really Bethany Cosentino and now she has a musician that plays with her consistently called Bob Bruno. She’s a California gal, was living in New York, sat in a bedroom. She was listening to the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers and was like, oh, I thought I hated California, I’m going back. She was fed up with New York life and she packed her bags two days later. Moved back to the west coast. And sort of, you know, started producing music as Best Coast and really kind of as a homage to her homeland in LA and how much she loves California. So her whole sound is very kind of fifties, sixties inspired. Sun-drenched, surf pop, warm, fuzzy vocals. Almost sounds like she’s way off in the distance and I keep getting these images of, you know, a 16mm film and somebody riding a bike with the sun, you know, in their face in slo-mo on the boardwalk.

WRIGHT: Kind of lo-fi and fuzzy, you know, yeah.

BRADSHAW: Very low-fi and fuzzy so…

CAVANAUGH: Now they don’t – Best Coast doesn’t even have an album out yet, right?

BRADSHAW: No, I believe just two seven inches.

WRIGHT: Yeah, I think that’s right, yeah.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, one on San Diego’s own Art FAC Recordings and then the other on Black Iris, so…

CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear a little from Best Coast. This is the single “When I’m With You.”

(audio clip from “When I’m With You” performed by Best Coast)

CAVANAUGH: Now we didn’t have much fun playing that CD. I’m sorry. We had a skipping issue with that but I think it gave an idea of the Best Coast sound. As you’re saying, Liz, that faraway sound. So they’re playing here tonight?

BRADSHAW: At the Casbah, yes, with Vivian Girls and Pearl Harbor, so…

WRIGHT: One thing I like about this band, actually, somebody on YouTube has taken to playing their music over these like old French New Wave films and putting them up on YouTube. They synch up really, really nicely.

CAVANAUGH: Do they?

WRIGHT: Yeah, and it’s not – the band’s not involved at all. It’s just somebody – somebody was like, hey, you know, these two things, it’s like chocolate and peanut butter. And it’s actually really kind of beautiful to see. If you just sort of poke around, you’ll find them.

CAVANAUGH: You’ll hear the best of Best Coast tonight when they play the Casbah. Anders, what can you tell us about the band called the Editors. They’ll be performing Tuesday at the House of Blues here.

WRIGHT: Yes, the Editors. Well, they’re sort of one of the kind of hot UK exports right now or, I guess, imports, led by front man Tom Smith. They came straight out of Birmingham in, I guess, what we’d call the early part of the millennium now and they…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

WRIGHT: …were the darlings on the UK music scene for a while. They’ve sort of been up and down and up and down but they’ve got a new record out, they’re touring the states and their new sound has been – For the longest time they were kind of a guitar-driven…

BRADSHAW: Umm-hmm.

WRIGHT: …sound and now they’ve gone synthesizer and some people like it. Some of their fans feel like it’s a step in the right direction, some people feel like it’s kind of changing what they’re really all about.

BRADSHAW: I think it’s got a real kind of ‘80s vibe to it…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm, yeah.

BRADSHAW: …when I was listening to it. And I know some people have kind of found that hard to grasp onto but for me, a band like the Editors, they kind of, you know, they’ve really kind of changed and gone with waves in terms of the music that they’re producing a good, solid rock band from the UK and then I think on their second or third album they did a conceptual album in which they collaborated with a lot of different musicians and they’ve been kind of quiet for awhile and now they’re coming about with this small synthesized electro album.

WRIGHT: Yeah, they have plenty of ambition.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Now, one of their songs is on the “Twilight: New Moon” soundtrack.

WRIGHT: Yes. Yes, it is.

CAVANAUGH: And it – That’s supposed to be a pretty good soundtrack. Anders, I wonder, as a film critic, does that soundtrack stand out from the film?

WRIGHT: Like strangely, oddly, weirdly yes. Completely.

CAVANAUGH: Tell me why.

WRIGHT: Well, you know, okay, the “Twilight” franchise is – obviously, it’s a huge film franchise. I would suggest that I am not the targeted demo for that. Yeah, it being…

BRADSHAW: Could have guessed.

WRIGHT: Yes, exactly. But, you know, those movies apparently – I mean, the movies do exactly what they’re supposed to do. They take this huge fan base and sort of electrify them. People loved the first one and people loved the second one even more, and I didn’t think much of either of them personally. However, that said, the soundtrack, the soundtrack to the new one, “New Moon” or the “Twilight: New Moon,” not only does it have the Editors, it’s got Death Cab for Cutie, it’s got Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, even local hero Anya Maria – Marina. But the thing is, the people that are really, really, really into “Twilight,” that is not the music that they listen to, at least collectively. So, yeah, it’s a really kind of interesting album that seems sort of out of place in this kind of like ‘tween, soccer mom, movie franchise.

CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that interesting? Why are they putting – why are they choosing those music cuts for the movie then, do you think?

WRIGHT: Well, I mean, they seem to think that it works. And in many ways I might say that the soundtrack is better than the film itself. You know, the soundtrack industry in making movies – music for movies, excuse me, is a huge industry in and of itself in the way that radio and TV are as well. If you can get a small band – I mean, look at it like this. You take these bands that are not that well known to that demographic, and you put their music into those movies, suddenly you’ve got a whole new fan base of people who might want to go buy the Editors or Death Cab for Cutie. I mean, that’s a brilliant marketing move.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s see, let’s hear a little bit of the Editors. This is a track, “Papillion,” and it was from their recently released album, “In This Light and On This Evening.”

(audio clip of the Editors performing “Papillion” from the album “In This Light and On This Evening”)

CAVANAUGH: That’s the Editors with their track “Papillion” from “In This Light and On This Evening.” And, yes, you can hear the ‘80s in that. The Editors will perform at the House of Blues on Tuesday. Liz, the downtown music and dining venue Anthology has a night of music they call Homegrown Fridays. Tell us, what is Homegrown Fridays all about?

BRADSHAW: Well, Homegrown Fridays is a night they do, the first Friday of every month, it’s a ten o’clock show at Anthology and it features local San Diego homegrown talent, in a nutshell. So performing this Friday you’ve got Guava Belly, who are a San Diego-based reggie, indy rock jam band. They cite their influences as Fish, Sublime, Foo Fighters. They’re not doing anything that’s completely groundbreaking but they’re definitely a good kind of solid band if you want to have some fun. So they’ll be playing with Nate Donnis, who’s a Carlsbad singer/songwriter, I think, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, and that kind of thing, and a female singer/songwriter called Allegra. So it’s a good chance to get out there and see some local talent for ten bucks.

CAVANAUGH: What do I hear about a Harmonica Blowout?

BRADSHAW: Well, that’s the early show. And…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

BRADSHAW: …at Anthology, so they’ve got a big night tomorrow. But the Harmonica Blowout is with a guy called Mark Hummel and this year is actually the 20th anniversary of this tour, Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout. This particular show is with Kim Wilson and Rod Piazza, so expect some good, swinging west coast harmonica blues with dinner at Anthology.

CAVANAUGH: And Nate Donnis, Guava Belly and Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout, all at Anthology this Friday night. And, Anders, bring us home with The Thermals. Who are they?

WRIGHT: Oh, The Thermals, yes. Post-punk, power, pop trio out of Portland. Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Great.

WRIGHT: Run by two people, Kathy Foster and Hutch Harris. You know, I don’t know that much about this band but I’ve listened to them over the years and I like them. They’ve got really good energy. It’s like nice, melodic, peppy, poppy, punky stuff.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

WRIGHT: That’s sort of the best way I could put it, yeah.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, definitely good power pop. It reminds me personally of going back to kind of like 1999, 2000 when I was listening to The Promise Ring and Weezer and that good kind of power pop trio with almost a bit of early emo in there maybe.

WRIGHT: Definitely. Definitely.

BRADSHAW: Yeah.

WRIGHT: But very melodic.

BRADSHAW: Very melodic.

WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah.

BRADSHAW: And super fun and I think…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

BRADSHAW: ...you know, quite different to kind of the hipster, indy movement that we’re seeing now. So I – enjoyable.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear some of The Thermals. This is a track from the latest album, “Now We Can See.” This is “When I Died.”

(audio clip of “When I Died” from the album “Now We Can See” by The Thermals)

CAVANAUGH: That’s “When I Died” from The Thermals, from their latest album “Now We Can See.” The Thermals will be performing at the Belly Up. What kind of a live show is this going to be?

WRIGHT: Well, I think raucous is the best way to put it. There’s only three of them but they have a lot of energy, as you can hear from that show. And I know that in the early days of this band, you never really knew what Hutch Harris was actually going to maybe do onstage.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, I think this is going to be a good dancing show.

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

BRADSHAW: Let loose, get down…

CAVANAUGH: All right.

BRADSHAW: …with some power pop. From Portland.

CAVANAUGH: Nice to do that on a Sunday night. The Thermals will perform at the Belly Up this Sunday. And I just want to go back to the San Diego Jewish Film Festival for a moment because there are going to be more venues than just the Ultrastar Cinemas in La Jolla. The movies will be showing at the AMC La Jolla and AMC Mission Valley and anywhere else we know, Anders?

WRIGHT: I think – I know they’ve got a bunch of venues around town. I’d say it’s worth going to their website, look at the entire lineup, see what appeals to you and figure out where it’s all playing.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for that. And I want to let everyone know that I want to thank my guests so much. Liz Bradshaw is the curator at The Loft at UCSD and worked in the music industry many years. Liz, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

BRADSHAW: Thanks. It’s nice to see you.

CAVANAUGH: Anders Wright is film critic for the San Diego CityBeat. Thank you so much.

WRIGHT: Always a pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everyone know These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Pat Finn, Megan Burke, Sharon Heilbrunn, Senior Producer is Natalie Walsh. Our Production Manager is Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance from Tim Felten. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson and Renee Villasenor. The executive producer of These Days is John Decker. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the week. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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