by Mat Weir
Dubbed “The Dirty Old One Man Band,” Scott H.Biram was born in Lockhart, Texas, graduated from Texas State University with a BA in Fine Arts, and spent his early years playing in a punk band (The Thangs) and two bluegrass ensembles (Bluegrass Drive-by/Scott Biram & the Salt Peter Boys) before branching out on his own. Influenced by artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Doc Watson and Leadbelly, Biram created a sound purely his own by combining punk-inspired electric blues with rural country/gospel. He even built his own electric, bass drum kick box which he channels directly into a venue’s sound system.
In 2000 he released his first album, This is Kingsbury, on his independent label, KnuckleSandwich Records. He would release a second album in 2002, before being crushed in a head-on collision with a semi-truck. If there are guardian angels, Biram’s was working overtime (which I’m sure happens often) and the man survived with crushed limbs and feet, internal injuries and an entire FOOT of his lower intestine removed. After such a horrific accident, Biram knew there was only one thing to do.
“I played a show a week after I got out of the hospital in a wheelchair with an IV in my arm just to show everybody I was still gonna do this shit,” he claimed. Then went on to write his Recovery Blues EP.
Why? Because Scott H. Biram is one badass motherfucker. Two more albums later, Bloodshot Records signed him to their label and he’s stayed there since 2005.
I was first introduced to Biram in 2011, through a drinking buddy at the Catalyst. We agreed on plenty of things and were both as interested in any topic that came up the bar’s stairs, plus he could throw back several rounds of shots & beers with a no-fucks-given attitude. However, we always ended up back on music. He was a man whose taste I could trust, an honor earned by few because goddamn it, I have great fucking taste.
So when I was told to check out Scott’s latest that year, Bad Ingredients, I had no problem buying it without bothering to look it up online first. Plus it came on limited, blood red vinyl. As usual, my drinking buddy was spot-on, and we joined the rest of the Catalyst employees in watching Biram play in the Atrium a month later.
This year, Biram dropped his eighth full-length, Nothin’ But Blood, a title he even admitted to the Austin Chronicle, “is a good name for a really heavy album, which this didn’t turn out to be, so now it’s just a confusing title and I like it.” I think his description is accurate—it’s far less directly heavy as Bad Ingredients, an album filled with distortion and vocals recorded through a bullhorn. Blood’s opening track, “Slow & Easy,” immediately sets the tone of sin and redemption bearing maturity with crisp vocals and clean production. The second song, “Gotta Get to Heaven” continues the trend mixed with contagiously light, southern rock music ala Lynyrd Skynyrd. While track three, “Alcohol Blues,” returns Biram to his electrified blues roots and familiar story telling about drinking to forget a cheatin’ lover, it’s one of the four balls-to-the-wall tracks on the album and still plays cleaner than anything on his previous release.
2014 has been a great year for releases so far and I keep finding myself writing these next words: this is one of my favorite albums so far. While keeping one foot in familiar territory, Nothin’ But Blood finds Biram exploring a wider variety of sound, maturing in his songwriting and revisiting his earliest inspirations. Songs like “Nam Weed” and “Jack of Diamonds” show him wearing his blues heroes on his sleeve and he even covers Howlin’ Wolf’s, “Backdoor Man.”
On a final note, I’ve seen him perform twice and I’m telling you now, you won’t find another artist you never heard of like him. Whether you know the music or not, his mix of styles and guitars with his friendly, Southern hospitality and bash-you-over-the-head-with-a-bottle-if-you-give-him-shit attitude makes everyone in the audience, EVERYONE, dance, hoot, holler and drink one more round. Always searching for the ultimate Truth, the music is as thick as the air; filled with loose women, heartbreak, alcohol, guilt, redemption and the never-ending search for a little bit of love in all the wrong places. His fan base is known as “The First Church of the Ultimate Fanaticism” for good reason. If ever there was a modern day prophet for the South, Scott H. Biram has been baptized in the blood of this lecherous life; he’s here for your sins and to teach you a couple more.
— Mat Weir
This is the third and final installment discussing Hanni El Khatib’s new album, the influence of Dan Auerbach on it and the wonders of live music. If you need to catch up, check out parts one and two.
by Mat Weir
Khatib was the first on stage, strutting his Greaser look—which looked out of place surrounded by his new band made up of long-haired hippies—said, “Hello” and blasted into the first two songs off the new album: “Head in the Dirt” and “Family.” The bassist more than made up for the electro-dance beat on the recording of the title track and dropped a thunderstorm of rhythm upon the audience that I wasn’t ready for.
With “Family,” Khatib sped up the tempo and continued the show with twice the speed of the album, breathing new life into each track. On songs like “Nobody Move” (an homage to ’77 rock, about armed robbery, complete with reggae beat and a punk chorus) and “Sinking in the Sand,” each band member would terrorize the music, pounding out each note with such ferocity I couldn’t believe they were the same songs I had listened to earlier. These tracks were fresh with rage and Khatib tore through each like a rabid caracal on his first blood high, straight for the jugular with lust in his eyes.
Eighty-five percent of his set was from Head in the Dirt, but the songs he chose to play off Guns were all on my bucket list. “Build. Destroy. Rebuild.” was on my soundtrack last year during a horrible period in my life and I screamed the lyrics so loudly by the time he played “Fuck it, You Win” I could only rasp out the chorus.
Khatib, on the other hand, was screaming to the gods of breakups and heartache, sacrificing himself so that others may learn and live. 50’s bubblegum diddy, “Dead Wrong” filled the ether with a serenade of doo-woppy “Waaaa-oooooo-oo-oooo” and he couldn’t pass up ending the Gun revisit with “Garbage City,” his declaration of love for San Francisco.
Half-way through The Black Angels’ set, when I was trying to figure out where my hallucinations were coming from (remember kids: 2 days of no sleep + weed + psychedelic music = cheap fun!) I passed the joint to my friend, Chelsea—so lost in spacey drone of the band she burned her hand on the marijuana embers without notice. The herbal incense danced around the Fillmore’s alter when I realized this really is what it’s all about.
Live shows are just a metaphor for life: you have to be there to experience it. No recording, book, picture, movie or video game can ever give you the thirst of life. If you don’t go out and DO, you’ll never have the grit of satisfaction under your nails. Life becomes entertainment instead of action, and one’s essence is suffocated underneath the greasy production. Actions baptize us with the fire of living, which burns away the fake bullshit of the world to reveal a raw, fleshy truth–scared and wild, free to run amok and deranged enough to tear apart anyone who tries to stifle it again. I was baptized in this fire, and no longer can I keep my head in the dirt about this record. Instead, I’ll just play it at full volume and anxiously wait for the next congregation with a toothy grin.
by Mat Weir
This is part two of a three-part series on Hanni El Khatib, the new album and Dan Auerbach’s influence on Khatib’s sound. Read part one.
Despite Auerbach’s cell-phone commercial friendly production, and Emporer Palpatine ability to drain music of its power (I can see him now, hunched over the soundboard, cackling from behind his hood, “Your feeble skills are no match for the Dark Side!”) Head in the Dirt isn’t completely soulless, but it took seeing the songs performed live for this realization. I had written Head in the Dirt off as just another drop in the ocean of commercial music. I figured the blood drawn on Will the Guns Come Out? as just a first album fluke. The old “underdog writes a gritty debut and follows up with Billboard Top 100 Dance Club Hits.” You know, like Aerosmith, only financially smarter not to drag it out over 30 years and through whatever drug addiction is popular at the time.
When I saw Khatib was opening up for Los Angeles psych-crew, The Black Angels, at the Fillmore, I was as giddy as a schoolgirl and twice as nervous. Seeing two of my favorite bands in one line-up always is an opportunity to jump at, but Dan Auerbach’s laughing eyes from behind the Khatib puppet strings burned in my mind. But fuck it, why not? As the doctor said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Indeed.
Here’s a little reminder for those who don’t know, or do know but are always too drunk to take notice (yes, I’m of the latter). The Filmore is a historic venue in the heart of San Francisco. Made famous by Bill Graham, it became one of the Mecca venues for 1960s psychedelic rock and remains a major venue in the city. Upon entering, you’re met with a long flight of stairs that end in a red corridor covered, from ceiling to carpet, with pictures from the past 50 years of music gods who have anointed the hallowed halls with blood, sweat and booze. The dimly lit 1200 person capacity auditorium is decorated with lavish chandeliers, while Victorian balconies adorn the sides for anyone privileged or dumb enough to pay for a table seat. Sometimes they’ll even pass out posters from the night’s sermon, free of charge, proving once more the eternal truth straight from the Prophet Zappa’s lips, “Music is the only religion that delivers.”
So there I was, standing on the wooden floor in the gut of the temple, stoned from two of the four joints and whiskey I had brought as a sacrificial offering and dazed in delirium from the last 48 hours. Instead of sleeping, I traveled from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz to Davis to San Francisco in order to make the gig, fueled only by nicotine, whiskey and tenacity, Just another devout follower trying to protect my soul, praying Khatib hadn’t completely lost his way in a dark world of radio singles and car jingles. Shit, money talks, right?
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of the Hanni El Khatib/Dan Auerbach saga
I feel so lucky to have been able to see live music at two of my absolute favorite venues around. Just a couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti in stunning Big Sur at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. The library is one of my very favorite venues, and may even be my favorite outdoor venue!
Now, almost exactly a week after that, I was fortunate enough to get into the sold out Tame Impala show at perhaps my favorite indoor venue, the Fox Theater in Oakland.
The band opened on an epic note, playing one of my favorite tracks (and a popular crowd-pleaser) “Solitude Is Bliss,” from their 2010 album Innerspeaker. By the end of the song, the crowd was hyped and ready for the psychedelic rock Tame Impala delivers so well. I’ve never seen them live and I was looking forward to some trippy, live versions of songs.
They pretty much stuck to songs on the latest album, Lonerism. There were, I’m happy to report, some songs from Innerspeaker, my favorite album of the two, but not quite as many as I’d hoped to hear. Sure, it makes sense that they’d be playing from the latest album, but the earlier songs have a more raw and psychedelic feel to me than their latest effort. Of these newer songs, they did of course play the big hit “Elephant,” to a frenzied reception.
Aside from my minor complaint about wanting to hear more from Innerspeaker, I must say that the band is comprised of very talented musicians. They played very well and on point, accompanied by tripped-out visuals that, coupled with the psychedelic jams and the hotboxed theater, could propel you off the planet and have you wondering what’s in your bottled water.
There were moments where they took some liberties and extended songs into that space jam territory. The band’s stage presence isn’t the most engaging, and it helps to concentrate on the music and visuals to really get the full effect.
The end of the show was a bit anti-climactic, considering the bang they began with at the beginning. All in all, it was a fun show of great songs that were well-executed and sounded true to the albums. Their brand of psychedelic rock also fit perfectly with the sight of the ornate and bizarrely beautiful interior of the Fox Theater.
So, cheers to Tame Impala and may they have a great remainder of their tour.
As we wove our way down Highway 1, the setting sun illuminated the vast and beautiful coastline that is the majesty of Big Sur. Tucked away in a redwood grove along the highway is the Henry Miller Memorial Library which was built by a friend of the late writer and actually occupies this friend’s old residence. It’s a modest wooden cabin with a wraparound deck and grass clearing in the front, which is where they host many types of shows and performances.
This may be my favorite venue. We came to see Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti play here, and then camp and enjoy Big Sur the next couple of nights. After parking the car, we decided to get some food at the fabulous Nepenthe restaurant just up the road, and watch the sunset for a bit on the amazing cliffside deck.
While walking there, who comes ambling down the path in an off-the-shoulder Roxy Music shirt, clutching a beer in one hand? None other than Ariel Pink himself. He was gracious and friendly and indulged us in our “Can we take pictures with you?” fan moment. Finding out, after a quick chat with him, that he and I both studied at UC Santa Cruz at the same time was a fun bonus. After finding out I am a buyer at Streetlight Records, he remarked with a smile that he remembers going in there, and when the store first opened in Santa Cruz.
At the venue, we were greeted by the always-friendly people at the gate. We got there in time to see a bit of the second opening act, Holy Shit, whose music was reminiscent of the catchy hooks of 1980s synth pop, but with a current edge.
When it came time for Ariel Pink, people filled the lawn in front of the stage in anticipation. By the first note of their first song, Ariel was down among the crowd on the lawn belting out his quirky lyrics while shaking his blonde hair in front of his face, getting into his groove. The whole band had wigs on, and Ariel himself was decked out in a red sweatshirt with a shark graphic, and tight white leggings.
The show was an entertaining mixture of visual and audio delight. There is an odd sincerity in his music, which often has somewhat nonsensical, endearingly ridiculous lyrics. The style of lo-fi, trippy folk-pop music he makes is not only interesting to watch performed live, but fun.
Most of the songs are hard to not dance to, but if dancing isn’t your thing, Ariel and his band’s tripped-out presence onstage and inventive music and lyrics are more than enough to keep you intrigued.
The whole show was great, and the intimate size and nature of the venue allows performers and spectators to mingle comfortably, as we found out when we ended up sitting with Ariel after the show, getting him a beer and chatting under the amazing clear night sky.
A special “Thank You” to Britt Govea at Folkyeah Presents for always booking quality artists and coming through with well-executed shows. Keep on the lookout for future Folkyeah Presents events, you won’t be disappointed.