Friends and allies around the world,
I find it odd to be sitting here in a proper English Pub despite the fact that I am actually in Knoxville Tennessee. The name of this particular establishment is "Preservation Pub" and despite the accents of the locals the only real tell-tale signal that I am not in fact still in London is the fact that the patrons are encouraged to smoke cigarettes....profusely...here in the South US at large. This is not in fact the case in London.
Four out of the nine nights I was in the UK I found myself pulled rather dramatically to an unassuming Camden neighborhood corner that housed a public house quaintly named “Quinn's". The owner may have at one time many generations ago been an Irish man named Quinn but the man I met running the joint (when his mother wasn't hobbling about polishing glasses in her bathrobe) was a friendly and yet stern man named Vincent. Vincent had an excellent memory for faces. We were introduced only once...and despite the fact that I was with a different group of people every time I came he always recognized me right off and shook my hand warmly as he impressed me with my own name.
Quinn’s has an impressive trait of seeming to be quiet and closed from the outside, while actually hopping well after the wee hours inside with sometimes up to 50 people happily drinking their sleep away oblivious of their own volume. Most nights we approached I was certain that it was indeed a rare night when we had missed the party, but somehow miraculously we would be quickly ushered inside and offered pints and scrupulously measured shots from the oddly accented bar boy, whilst Vincent set about keeping the peace and making sure the lot of us were well oiled.
In India I was shocked at first by the extremely early hour that the street bars shut down (often long before midnight), but later was initiated into the exclusive raging hotel roof bars nightly over-serving the wealthy and the tourists until dawn itself forced everyone to consider the consequence. Ahhhh.....
But nightlife (you may be skeptical to find) was not all I encountered on our little tour to the other side of the world. Naturally the musicians finds themselves in a position to discover the after dark adventures in any place that they visit for they are most often a product of the night's industry. But to the detriment of my overall health I forced myself excitedly out of bed on off days with more than enough time to find out what stones may be overturned during daylight.
Even here in the states there is much to see in any given random town during normal business hours.
In Ohio I saw my first Picasso, my first Rembrandt, a handful of Monet and many other impressionist masters that I had only until then seen on the glossy pages of high school art books. There is a strange and wonderful FREE museum in Toledo aptly named the Toledo Museum of Art that was established on the wealth of the Detroit industry after World War Two (when there just so happened to be a fair slew of masterworks reclaimed from the Nazi vaults).
In London I saw my first DaVinci (two of them in fact) and more realist figurative and medieval religious paintings than I can remember.
In Mumbai I walked the markets and rode the overground mass transit train closer to rush hour than was advised. The gateway to India was a little under impressive, but considering the history it's nothing to balk at. I saw bats as big as crows most nights, and rats as big as purse dogs.
Poverty, to me, is a clue to the actual state of a place or nation. How a social system treats its weakest is my first clue as to the actual well-being and happiness of its rulers and subjects. Greed itself is actually a form of spiritual poverty, if you can stomach my philosophical knots....
In London I found a class of homeless not too far off from the US standards. India however baffled me entirely. It was impossible to tell anything about anyone based on the systems I am familiar with employing to qualify the level of need of a particular individual. In certain cases it’s obvious that someone has a rough lot, sickness or maimed limbs being the outstanding example. Once from my air-conditioned cab I saw a man using the 3' highway curb as a means of transporting himself via a three pedal motion akin to a sort of macabre sack race. However, if you take for example, our Mumbai local-hired driver for the duration of our 4 night stay in Pune, I think you'll agree that there is a vast floor-wide level of laboring poor that consume the majority of any picture you can paint of the country.
Dastgeer, who was very literally at our beck and call, drove an oddly shaped Toyota minivan. We paid him no gas or highway toll consideration and he worked for the entire four day stint (often driving 4 hours home to Mumbai after we assured him we would need no further cartship) for the incredibly underwhelming sum of 1000 rupees. This (what we were told was just shy of his monthly rent for his family of four) was ironically the exact amount we were given EACH on a daily basis for food and drink.
Consider that with me for a moment. Currently in Seattle, (where Motopony resides when we aren't galavanting across the globe in cushy coaches like pale skinned weak stomached prissy piss pots) the average rent for a two bedroom domicile is upwards near $2000 a month. Now imagine a foreign band of six coming to visit and the promoter of Sasquatch and Bumbershoot festivals offering them a pair of black tinted Cadillac Escalades for whatever whim and folly they might dream. Now imagine that on top of their gig fees AND their travel and lodging being paid; this group was given TWO THOUSAND US DOLARS A DAY, EACH! ...to spend on bloody food. Now perceivably these young god-like rockstars are eating at different food vendors than say Dick's cheeseburgers, and imaginably they are going about their breakfast routines at a much later hour than the typical nine to fiver....but holy cow (pun intended) that's quite a lot of fried rice you're spilling on the floor of my cab you white devil. Now continue this bit of impossible theatre with me and see the Motopony lot of us, pockets stuffed with oddly colored bills, peering out the window of our hotel at the men squatting in the empty lot over the 18' high barbed fence. We are contemplating what type 40oz beer they are sharing and wondering if the tap water we've just brushed our teeth with is going to give us the runs.
The paradox of India did not stop there. I’m struck by a moment on the street in South Mumbai (very near the Pakistani terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel a decade or so back) wherein there were (excuse the excessive list): no less than three women with children making hand motions to their babies mouths as they peered like sunken ships into my blue eyes, a man attempting to sell me a giant balloon for my "daughter", a young boy attempting to show me the cleverness of his handmade drums for sale, an elderly drug dealer promising me the purest "eeemdee" I've ever tasted (fat chance), a skinny man in his late thirties attempting to give me a sample of his shoe shine skills at my feet, and a half dozen unattended children speaking rapidly in an assortment of languages as they tugged on my clothing. All this and the day previous, directly after I purchased a 100 rupee "blessing" from a Hindu priest, a woman swindled me out of 2000 rupees by getting me to buy a Costco sized bucket of powdered milk and a 30kilo bag of basmati rice (which I promptly watched her return to the street stall to start the pantomime again on another young fool ready to part with their money for the chance to feel as if they are making a difference on a street level). After a few experiences like this everyone seems suspect. Questions begin to spill into my mind like beads falling off a broken loop. Are these people attempting to deceive me to collect my food money? Are these people unreasonably poor in comparison to my effortless idea of a "starving artist"? Am I struggling still under mountains of recording costs and youthful debt and wondering how I will pay my rent when I arrive home? Did I walk a foot and a half taller than the average person on the streets of every city I visited in India dressed in prized vintage garments whose price could purchase enough vaccine to cure a small village of malaria? Is a forceful and angry thirteenth "NO MEANS NO!" in the face of a woman (half my age holding a malnourished and drug addicted child) unjustifiably wrong? Wasn't I just on the streets of London (ironically among the top most expensive places in the world to be a tourist) as the "American" dollars in my bank account lost value every day and my accent caused most of the nicely dressed people on the tubes to roll their eyes and ignore my query and blundering inability to navigate their clever little underground maze? Was I actually experiencing a separation anxiety from the internet in my pocket whilst I stepped over that seemingly dead street dog?
How can the answers to all of these questions be yes?
Lack of sleep became an issue. I'd like to blame most of my nightmares and Dali painting-esque dreams on the clearly printed side effects of the malaria medication...but I'm certain that damn near half of it was simply the absolute overload of grief and joy I was forced to partake of on a minute by minute basis.
The first show in India was at a festival in Pune, 4 hours south of where we landed (suddenly sweaty in our London weather dress) in Mumbai. There were easily 10k young educated healthy cheering faces spilling back further than the lights could reach. This maddening juxtaposition of copycat US culture and wealth, set against the backdrop of long abandoned 70-story gutless apartment buildings towering over sewer-less shanty slums...left me with the assumption that the beautiful mysteries of India will perhaps not be answered fully even if I were to return there regularly for the rest of my life.
Please partake in this dreamy re-recording of "She is Spirit" from Abbey Road. We were offered the miraculous opportunity to lay down four songs one random afternoon in Studio 3 (where Imagine and Dark Side of the Moon were recorded, NBD). I'll write more about that unbelievable experience as we leak more of those tracks in the near future.
Please inform your friends (if you've any in these places) of the last few remaining shows we have on this tour home for Christmas. And do consider physical copies of the EP and First album as stocking stuffers....honestly, we need your support more than ever. ;)
Many loves, new and old.
EP REVIEW: Motopony ‘Idle Beauty’
Motopony have received well deserved acclaim and attention in the US after appearing at SXSW, and several nods in various breakthrough lists after the release of their eponymous debut album in 2011. Less well known on these shores, this charming five track EP should bring them to the attention of those whose interest is peaked by a broad range of Americana.
When the biography mentions Seattle a certain pressure to uphold a code of rock cool should apply – but you're left with the impression that these are six musicians who play a style of effortlessly dreamy indie pop because it’s what they enjoy – and they are damn good at it. Radio friendly opener ‘Get Down (Come Up)’ should provide airplay and, while sounding like it would be at home in any of your American TV Box sets, is a well produced and accomplished piece of music with an earworm of a chorus.
‘About A Song’ is the best demonstration of Daniel Blue’s absorbing vocal, can be filed next to Death Cab and has a touch of Pixies about it too. The next two songs, ‘Buffalo Medicine’ and ‘She Is Spirit’, share a structure where the singer builds up to a lose yourself vocal, while surrounded by ambient and occasionally psychedelic harmonies. It’s very clever stuff and the producer allows all six members their moment to showcase their talented wares. The EP concludes with a spoken word Eels-esque piece of storytelling, seemingly about a surreal night out, surrounded by a hip-hop beat. It’s this diversity and ability to surprise that leaves you impatient for the full album release next spring.
Idle Beauty is out now via Entertainment One Music.
James Van Praag