Last week I enjoyed a relaxing visit at home for 4th of July celebrations, and in the midst of scheduling a haircut, camping out for fireworks, and whipping up delicious (instant) vanilla pudding, I picked up an assortment of vintage vinyl. An afternoon stroll around town turned into a hunt for gold as I discovered and subsequently sifted through dusty records in one of Calistoga’s consignment stores. I was in heaven as I pored over boxes and squinted at shelves full of rock classics. My favorite finds were Elton John‘s “Greatest Hits,” the Eagles‘ “Hotel California,” and Hall & Oates‘ “Rock ‘n Soul Part 1,” though the haul also included albums from David Bowie, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, and the Rolling Stones.
I started a record collection a couple of years ago when I bought my boyfriend a turntable for Valentine’s Day. Though we don’t usually use it on a day to day basis (how would I accumulate last.fm plays?) it’s always fun to break out some tunes the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing quite like the hissing, crackling, and popping of vinyl on a turntable, and sometimes I leave the needle circling around for awhile just to listen to the sounds.
Every few minutes, the circular screens would flash these words, eliciting an eruption of cheering, screaming, and hand-waving. My boyfriend Ben and I had been awaiting this moment with tranquility, meanwhile enjoying the opening acts of bands The Pierces and Metronomy. We’d made the drive down to San Jose through a stressful onslaught of Friday afternoon traffic; thankfully, our impatience had subsided.
Personally, however, I’d convinced myself that this was just a concert despite adoring the main attraction for a decade. I’d forgotten that the music was buried within me, residing comfortably beside the high school memories I cherish beyond all others. I’d lulled myself into a false sense of disinterest. I suppose I was under the impression that I was about to be let down, as if that was ever possible.
As I watched the members of Coldplay assemble onstage, I realized that I had forgotten the emotions that albums like Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head had stirred in the deepest center of my being. And suddenly, as the sounds began to swell, the stadium was glowing with the intensity of a million strands of Christmas lights, and all those feelings returned to me. Instantly.
The Australian duo behind Bag Raiders may be better known for their remixes, but it’s their first full-length album that proves dance music can last long past Saturday night. The infectious synth melodies and steady beats transcend the forgettable house genre with piano riffs, poetic lyrics, and instrumental electro-pop fantasies. Though the self-titled record was released in early 2010, its tracks aren’t of the sickeningly catchy variety that perish into obscurity after a month or two. The creative flair of DJs Chris Stracey and Jack Glass doesn’t go unnoticed in my book, and despite being underrated and overlooked, “Bag Raiders” is perfect for a good time, no matter where you are or who you’re with.
Recommended tracks: Sunlight; Shooting Stars; Prelude; Golden Wings
For lovers of: Passion Pit; Foster the People; Daft Punk
★ ★ ★ Capitol Records
The Portland, Oregon-based band gets a taste of the South
When listening to The Decemberists’ sixth full-length album, The King Is Dead, fans in search of the refined indie-folk-rock vibe for which the band is renowned will be disappointed. In contrast to The Hazards of Love, a warbling seventeen-song epic rooted in repetitive riffs and a rock-metal conglomerate, The King Is Dead provides twanging guitar- and harmonica-laden tracks layered in with satisfying melodies and a bluegrass twist. Though the album’s subject matter is more diverse in comparison to full-blown country ballads, evident in “All Arise!” and “June Hymn,” there is no mistaking their soulful Americana influences. But what’s most unique about The King Is Dead is how well The Decemberists bridge the gap between country, folk, and indie-rock, cherry-picking the successful elements of each genre yet simultaneously sacrificing their signature tone. “Don’t Carry It All” opens with a solid, tambourine-heavy beat, truly embodying the spirit of the album, whereas “This Is Why We Fight,” a later track which treads into post-grunge ‘90s-rock territory, is reminiscent of The Crane Wife and Picaresque. Despite lead singer Colin Meloy’s distinct, heady and quavering voice proclaiming “I am gonna stand my ground / They rise to me and I’ll blow them down” on “Rise to Me,” the country-infused flavor may not withstand another go-around, leaving seasoned Decemberists devotees with a longing for the good old days.
RECOMMENDED: “Down By The Water,” “Rise to Me”
(Photo, via Lintcoat)
Rain falls mutedly beyond the thin-walled abode, but the interior living space emanates cultural warmth and a casual, creative vibe. There are stacks and stacks of papers, skyscrapers of sheet music and personal documents that rest upon an old, out-of-tune piano. A colorful, abstract piece of art from the ‘60s hangs boldly on the wall. A black case, housing the body of a clarinet, sits atop a set of drawers, surrounded by Vandoren reeds and blown-glass water cups. Books, plants, stoneware ceramics, and Mexican knickknacks occupy a grid-like shelving unit. The room indirectly supplies a narrative of its resident, musician and ceramicist Roy Zajac.
Forty-three-year-old Zajac, who possesses jet-black hair and wire-framed glasses, hails from the small suburb of Berwyn, Illinois. After studying in Morris, Illinois for most of his childhood, he procured a scholarship and attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for his senior year of high school (think Fame, if it had taken place in a small Michigan town). Zajac went on to achieve a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan in Musical Education, and a Master’s degree at the University of Minnesota in Music, intermittently playing in orchestras such as the Filharmonia del Bajio, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the United States Air Force Band.
But beyond his impressive résumé and refined skill lies the real reason Zajac stands out like a shining beacon within the world of wind instruments: he brings an unrelentingly passionate approach to music, a deep-seeded appreciation for the arts that was fostered as a child and has never ceased. After playing professionally for twenty years, his excitement and dedication to the craft are just as powerful as on the first day he picked up the clarinet. In conjunction with his talent and fervor for ceramics, Zajac balances his creative endeavors, sustaining an ever-inspired lifestyle within laid-back, Northern California.
After his three-year tenure at the Air Force Band of the Golden West, located in Fairfield, CA, his quest for employment led him to his current position as the principal clarinetist of the Santa Rosa Symphony. It was in Zajac’s cozy Santa Rosa apartment where he expounded on his artistic pursuits, the twists and turns of his career, and their effects on his life thus far.
Q: Growing up, what did you want to be?
A: I really did want to be an artist when I grew up. But then I discovered the clarinet… and then I found myself… becoming a clarinetist. I don’t think I actually planned it out. I just wanted to play an instrument really well and along the way… I kept wanting to be an artist. I can tell you that I told my mom and dad that I wanted to be an artist. I mean and now I guess I am one, right?
Q: What drew you to the clarinet?
A: I do remember having the opportunity to try all the instruments out, and I was drawn to this instrument because I just liked all the little mechanisms. I thought oh, this is a really interesting-looking instrument, and then it sounded kind of interesting too.
Q: How has dedicating your profession to music affected your personality?
A: I think at certain times it makes me less patient because I get frustrated, other times it makes me feel like I understand imperfection. There’s no such thing as perfection… in music. I mean you might play all the right notes, you might play all the right rhythms, but there’s nothing called perfect music. Is there something that’s called perfect art? I don’t really think so. So you really want to strive to do your best all the time. I could probably take a whole hour to talk about that. But you don’t really want to do that I think. Yikes.
Q: Was it your aspiration to become an artist that compelled you to play the clarinet professionally?
A: I think so. I didn’t start out with this goal of, “I’m going to play in a symphony orchestra.” Some people go to the symphony orchestra one day and they say, “I’m going to do that.” Or they go to the art museum one day… and they say, “I’m going to be an artist. I’m going to paint. I’m going to have my studio. I want to make all these images.” I think mine just took a longer time to develop and I just liked… the process of studying the art form. I was lucky enough to get my first job as a performer. And that was in Mexico, and basically, in the hills… there were these potters. And… they got [their clay] from the ground, their own earth, that they dug which we don’t do very often in America. And I went up there to visit them and… they let me throw on their wheel and then they said, oh come and join us, just become part of our little pottery guild over here.
Q: Where did you initially discover ceramics?
A: When I was at Interlochen [Arts Academy], I’d never even seen ceramics at all but… one day… I passed these wheels. And I thought… I really want to do that. And so I went to the art teacher and asked her if I could take classes. And she said, “Absolutely not. No way. Do you have a portfolio? I wouldn’t go to your clarinet teacher and expect to take lessons would I?” I never thought of it that way. But then I asked her again and I said please, I… really would like to take your class. And… she said, all right but you have to do exactly the work of a ceramics major. And she taught me very well, in one semester I threw… hundreds of pieces, and I earned an A+ in her class. She basically said that I could have a career in ceramics. That I could, if I wanted to, that it could happen. I then went to the University of Michigan and didn’t study ceramics. I only had time to study music. Then I went to Mexico. I got to rekindle that in a very part-time way. And that’s how ceramics has been for me.
Q: Do you prefer throwing to hand-built ceramics?
A: Yeah I do. I mostly just throw on the wheel, whatever comes off the wheel is round, and that is the frame. It’s confining but… I think working within those confines, that structure is how I look at producing… a type of art. Musicians work with twelve-tone music, and that’s their structure. Some people work with tonal music, and chords, and that’s most of the music that you hear… it all has this tonal center. Well anyway, you can use different structures and I think the wheel is a round structure. You just go from there.
Q: Do you have a favorite type of piece that you like to make?
A: I’ve been stuck in this teapot mode for a long time. It seems so conventional.
Q: What do you think is the most important technical aspect of ceramics?
A: It’s all about drying management. How fast the clay dries, and how much water is on that clay. And if you don’t watch it, things are going to crack. No matter what you’re making, no matter what you’re doing, and it’s so simple and basic. You try to keep as little water on the piece as possible, and then as it’s drying, you try to let it dry as slowly as possible.
Q: I see that you have a lot of stoneware pieces; do you prefer creating stoneware?
A: I do. Like [I have] a really pretty teapot that was near something that was a copper red and that just found itself getting on to [it]. And so that’s another thing… it’s not only the glaze you use, but the things around it.
That’s what I love about clay, it’s so mysterious. And music’s the same way, actually. The things around you just bounce off each other. And the vibrations, it’s very similar in a lot of ways.
(Photo, courtesy of Roy Zajac)