Monday, May 5, 2014

Nero/Pseudo: Composer Jim Elkington on Glam

(As part of my blogging about Nero/Pseudo here at Balkans via Bohemia, I will be introducing readers to key members of the creative team of the show. Today you'll meet Jim Elkington -- who along with Jon Langford -- wrote the fabulously glamtastic music for Nero/Pseudo .)

Writing music with Jim Elkington has been one of the highlights of my creative life. 

Not only is Jim a sublimely talented guitarist, percussionist and producer -- but his songwriting has tremendous wit and substantial depths lurking beneath his fiercely melodic surfaces, 

Like Jon Langford, Jim is based in Chicago. If you're not familiar with his solo projects, speed to your iTunes or eMusic or what ever you prefer and have a listen to his four records as leader of elegant and whipsmart band The Zincs: Black Pompadour (2007); dimmer (2005); Forty Winks with the Zincs (2004); Moth and Marriage (2001).

Jim is also involved with a number of other projects. He's made two records as The Horse's Ha (Of the Cathmawr Yards in 2009 and Waterdrawn in 2014) in collaboration with Janet Bean of Freakwater. These are amazing records that really capture and renovate the sounds of English folk rock from the Fairport Covention, Nick Drake, John Martyn period. He as also recorded a guitar duet record with Nathan Salsburg title Avos (2011), and he co-wrote and produced a number of tracks on Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab)’s record Silencio (2012).

To give Nero/Pseudo audiences a little peek behind the musical process, I asked Jim a few questions about his own relationship with glam rock:

What's your earliest glam memory? When did glam first come to your attention?

I'd love to say it was Sparks, who got to #1 in England in 1974 with "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us," but I have a much worse feeling that it was The Bay City Rollers when I was about 8 years old on an English TV show called Cheggers Plays Pop.  I was born in 1971, which means that I grew up knowing nothing other than glam rock: I remember thinking that The Police looked weird because they weren't wearing lipstick.

What elements of glam rock did you find particularly appealing and/or useful when writing the music for the play?

ALL OF IT!  Jon and I are huge fans of that musical era and I think it plays a part in some of the things I do musically anyway, so being given the opportunity to really let our glam flag fly was very appealing.  The bigger problem was not what to use, but what to leave out, so the songs have ended up as composites of more than one band or style. I think "Saturn's Return" starts out sounding like Roxy Music but switches to Slade in the chorus because we were desperate to get both bands referenced.

Glam rock was predominantly British phenomenon. (To the extent that The Sweet were bigger in the US than even glam pioneers T. Rex.) And it didn't last all that long. Why has it remained such a memorable UK cultural export despite its brevity?

Well, like ancient Rome, you can't really consider glam rock without considering the excess of it and the fact that excessive situations tend to have an in-built time limit - I think that's why it didn't last that long.  It seemed to be inviting punk along in opposition, although the musical difference between punk and glam isn't really that huge. I think its memorable as a UK export because I'm not sure it could ever have happened here in the States. English culture has an interesting relationship with gender and cross-dressing (its evident from Shakespeare's era and before), but glam put those questions on a street level in the UK for the first time, as far as I know. It was actually considered masculine for a man, at the end of a week of bricklaying, to perm his hair, put on some eyeliner and hit the clubs. It terrified the previous generation in the UK, and I'm not sure the US was ready for that kind of shift at the time.

Nero/Pseudo previews open at The Shop at Fort Fringe on Friday May 2. Find out more about the play at WSC Avant Bard. Tickets are now on sale. 

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