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Monday, October 7, 2013

Classic Covers Project - #5 - Last Call (Elliott Smith)


The fifth instalment in our extensive classic covers series* is Last Call, a lyrical dirge that appeared on Elliott Smith's game-changing 1994 debut LP Roman Candle.  

In the accompanying video - on the 10th anniversary of his death in October 2003 -  you will see and hear us at our most vulnerable, playing the collective characters in all of Elliott's songs, living our lives and loving each other and constantly questioning our own perceptions and the world around us, wondering "Who are we? Why are we here? How can we make this life worth living?"  

Elliott Smith recorded Roman Candle in 1993, while he was still in the Portland-based band Heatmiser, which he'd formed with Neil Gust a few years prior.  He intended the songs on Roman Candle more as basement demos than a finished record, and aspired only to put out a single.  When he presented the songs to the label Cavity Search, they released the album in its entirety, sparking the beginning of a storied solo career for Mr. Smith.

Heatmiser, a grungy rock act, had left Elliott seeking a softer and more intimate way to present his songwriting and voice with Roman Candle.   "I thought my head would be chopped off immediately when it came out because at the time it was so opposite to the grunge thing that was popular..." He said years later.  "The thing is that album was really well-received, which was a total shock, and it immediately eclipsed (Heatmiser), unfortunately."  Smith followed his minimal acoustic debut with the LP's Elliott Smith in 1995 and Either/Or in 1997, both released on the label Kill Rock Stars.  His self-titled debut was still dark and minimalistic, but Either/Or began to showcase Smith's gifts for multi-tracking a variety of instruments and layering parts he'd performed and recorded himself.  

Elliott's mainstream recognition increased after he recorded the track Miss Misery specifically for Portland director Gus Van Sant's film Good Will Hunting.  The film was an Academy Awards darling - and Smith himself was nominated for his original song and performed  solo on acoustic guitar at the televised ceremony in 1998.  Miss Misery lost out to Titanic's My Heart Will Go on, but Smith was able to appreciate the humour of the situation and described performing at the Oscars as "surreal."

Elliott moved to Brooklyn, NY and was able to sign to the much larger Dreamworks Records label to release his next record XO, a formidable pop record fleshed out with additional musicians, strings, horns, Chamberlins, and intensely memorable lyricism.  Known by acquaintances as a heavy drinker and pill user, prone to suicidal outbursts and a few unsuccessful attempts, Smith toured in support of the record backed up by the Portland duo Quasi, and musicians such as Jon Brion and Rob Schnapf.  On rare occasions when he'd perform solo, Smith was notorious for aborting songs mid-performance if they weren't sounding good enough to meet his standards.  "What's the point of playing a song badly?" he has said.  "It'd be better to play it and mean it, than to just walk through it."

Nomadic Mr. Smith picked up and moved to LA from NY in 1999, recording the beautiful Beatles cover Because, which appeared on the soundtrack to another Oscar-winning film, Dreamworks' American Beauty.  Riding the momentum of this track came the album Figure 8, partially recorded at Abbey Road Studios in England and released in 2000.   A lush and beautifully orchestrated album, led off by the jangly old-time piano of the first track Son of Sam, Figure 8 would prove Elliott's worth in many music critic's eyes.  Though the elaborate instrumentation was a far cry from his lo-fi bedroom acoustic debut, this was Smith sounding as he wished to sound, fully produced and polished yet retaining his vigorously raw lyrical energy and stubborn, laid back vocals whose emotional veracity was undeniable.  This would be Elliott Smith's final album completed in his lifetime. 

Throughout all his accomplishments and self-described failures, Smith was a darkly affected man, haunted by past abuses by his step-father and leaving a trail of broken relationships behind him.   Many of those who confronted Elliott about his addictions and his tendency to teeter on the brink of death found their dealings with him come to an abrupt end.  A fundamentally private person, fans can only know what he has chosen to express through his unquestionably remarkable body of musical work.  Throughout 2001-2003, Smith was apparently in the midst of heroin and crack addiction, and performed very sparingly .  Attempts were made to record a follow-up to Figure 8 in studio with Jon Brion, but the sessions prove fruitless and Smith went on to record the material himself, with occasional guest appearances from the likes of Sam Coomes of Quasi and Stephen Drozd of the Flaming Lips.  The stunningly candid record would later be released posthumously under the name From A Basement On A Hill.  One need only listen to that record to glimpse both the emotional turmoil and musical genius of Elliott Smith towards the end of his life.  

Despite an arrest by the LAPD and attempts at rehab leading to severe withdrawal from prescription psychiatric medications and alcohol, among other things, Smith continued to perfect his final (markedly louder, pitch-shifted and noisier) recordings and contributed songs to more films, including Wes Anderson's The Royal Tennenbaums.  He was scheduled to mix his final record with Larry Crane in November 2003.  

In late-October, though, police were called to Smith's place in California - which he shared with his girlfriend - to find him collapsed on the living room floor with multiple stab wounds to his chest.  He died in the hospital shortly thereafter. 

From A Basement On A Hill was released in 2004, a year after Elliott's death and a year after Ryan and I met.   When we heard about Elliott's death in October 2003, we were inexplicably shocked despite the series of clues Smith left us fans along the way alluding to the end.  I returned home to find Ryan in tears for the first time since I'd known him.  Elliott had been one of his truest inspirations, a songwriter just like him, who'd left behind the bombastic youthful meanderings of his early bands to sit and make acoustic records by himself, holed up in a bedroom.  Ryan's debut solo album, a moody and unsettling collection of 18 songs entitled Nothing Left Unsaid, was released in 2003 in quiet tribute to Elliott Smith.  I'll never forget the tears in his eyes as he told me the news, and the weight of the information on my heart and mind.  It was in large part due to our shared love of Elliott Smith that we found the nerve to begin performing music together 10 years ago.  

Thank you Eric Stanley for requesting this song. You commissioned one of our most uncharacteristic and meaningful works, knowing all too well your brother's uncanny ability to crawl inside Elliott's world of singing, writing and playing.  Cursed Arrows have included more Elliott Smith covers in our extensive repertoire than songs by any other artist. 

*Cursed Arrows are a post-proto-punk duo from Canada.  Our Classic Covers Project was initiated during the making of our 2013 full-length original album, SONIC UNION.  All songs were performed and recorded by us, specifically by fan request, and remain unreleased outside of Youtube.  All videos were shot and edited by Cursed Arrows.  

© 2013 Aluminum Monster Productions

http://cursedarrows.com
http://cursedarrows.bandcamp.com

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Classic Covers Project - #4 - White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)


The fourth instalment in our Classic Covers* series is such a classic, indeed, that it feels futile even to begin to explain the song's significance.  But we'll give it try, for our younger viewers.

Kyle Baron, the fan who requested this track, knows our taste in music because he's seen us perform live in Toronto several times.  In fact, he's been one of the few hardcore fans who's made the trek out to see us play dive bars and not-too-shabby venues.  He gave us a few options - all of which suited Jack E's singing voice perfectly - but this one was the most challenging.  

White Rabbit was written by Grace Slick when she was still in The Great Society, somewhere between 1965-1966.  She brought it, along with the beloved "Somebody To Love" with her when she joined Jefferson Airplane.  The band recorded the two Slick-penned tracks in 1966 and they appeared on the album Surrealistic Pillow the following year.   It became a top-ten hit in America, following Somebody To Love on the Billboard charts. 

More importantly, the song is widely regarded as a masterpiece, a sonic collusion between folk balladry and psychedelia.  The Alice In Wonderland imagery lends a dreamy literary quality, and the bolero-inspired crescendo was at the time unprecedented in rock and roll.   The song is often associated with hallucinogenic visionary experiences, and pop culture has had no qualms about depicting it this way (see the bathtub scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).  Slick herself, however, has characterized it equally as a call to literary arms.  White Rabbit, which took "about an hour" to write, is about "following your curiosity."  The White Rabbit, a symbol of childhood curiosity, leads Alice to drugs, which Slick says was "why the song was written.  "All major children's books do this. In "Peter Pan," sparkle dust lets you fly. In the "Wizard of Oz," they awaken in a poppy field to see the beautiful Emerald City. Our parents read us stories about chemicals that make it possible to have a good time."  Explains that line "The ones that your mother gives you/Don't do anything at all," doesn't it?

White Rabbit has been a part of our repertoire in live performances for years now.  It goes without saying that this is a very difficult song to perform and do justice, particularly as a duo with a drumming lead singer.  Grace's voice is unparalleled, but Jack E does her best to capture - if not the grace of the original - the feeling in your gut as you listen to it for the first time, and let it carry you away.  We didn't polish it up; just recorded a solid take and shot some video of ourselves recording and figured we'd let this one stay as genuine and spontaneous as possible. Just like our live sets.  The painting depicted at the end of the video was done by Mr. Ryan Stanley as part of his recent series of fan-commissioned works.  Grace Slick is herself, a highly accomplished visual artist and we urge you to visit her art if you haven't already had the pleasure.  


Sincere thanks to Kyle Baron, not just for requesting such a powerful, influential, unique, beautiful and appropriate song for us to record, but for being a true fan.  Kyle could never have known that Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers was one of Jack E's favourite songs as a child.  It is always a pleasure to revisit this music.  We hope you enjoy and feel the emotion behind the recorded version of this track, dedicated to you.  

Thank you Grace Slick, for teaching Jack E how to sing as a little girl, with lilting beauty, or icy venom and rage whenever required.  As adults, we can appreciate now that you were "'singing with the force and anger that women were afraid to express at the time." Thanks Jefferson Airplane for being one of our favourite bands of all time.  

*Cursed Arrows are a post-proto-punk duo from Canada.  Our Classic Covers Project was initiated during the making of our 2013 full-length original album, SONIC UNION.  All songs were performed and recorded by us, specifically by fan request, and remain unreleased outside of Youtube.  All videos were shot and edited by Cursed Arrows.  

© 2013 Aluminum Monster Productions

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Classic Covers Project - #3 - Lungs (Townes Van Zandt)


The third instalment in our fan-requested Classic Covers* series is Townes Van Zandt's 1969 prescient lyrical ditty, Lungs.

Dave Burns, the delightfully intuitive fan who requested this song couldn't have picked a more poignant one for us.  In fact, his three potential selections were so wonderfully idiosyncratic that we were a bit torn as to which to play, but no songs - or artists - resonated so deeply with us as Townes' Lungs.   He is a songwriter after our own hearts. 

Van Zandt purportedly stated that "this song should be screamed and not sung," as recounted by Lyle Lovett.  An arguably criminally-underrated songwriter, Townes got his start covering Lightning Hopkins and Bob Dylan in Houston.   After following his dying father's suggestion that he play more originals, he spent most of his years touring low-rent bars and performing for very small audiences.  It is said that he never released a commercially successful album, despite having been covered famously by Bob Dylan (a self-proclaimed fan of Van Zandt), Emmylou Harris, Willy Nelson and Merle Haggard.    He lived reclusively outside of Nashville in the '70's and recorded less frequently as the decades wore on.  Many of his records are widely regarded as overdone, no doubt the work of zealous producers.  Only live performances revealed the true Townes Van Zandt.  The 80's found him recognition as a songwriter as his songs - recorded by others - Pancho and Lefty and If I Needed You hit the top of the US country charts.  The 90's saw him touring with The Cowboy Junkies in the US and Canada and the outing helped expose his music to a fresh generation.   Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley approached Van Zandt in 1996 hoping to record and release a new album for him; Townes agreed.  Just before recording was to begin, though, he fell down a stairwell and severely injured himself, and despite attempts to push through and record the record in a wheelchair, the effort was woefully abandoned due to Townes' unsettled and intoxicated condition.    He died "naturally" in Tennessee on New Year's Day (1997), the same day on which his idol, Hank Williams, had passed away.  

Often inextricably linked to his music is the pathos surrounding his existence; the alcoholism and heroin addiction; the youthful diagnosis with manic depression, shock treatments, and failed attempts at normalcy before succumbing to his musical drifter calling.  All of these negative images are overshadowed by the masterful poetic symbiosis of his songs, and his casual, yet candidly sensual singing voice.   Like so many genuine artists and so-called cult musicians - his personal plight has inspired legions of fans to break free from their own spiral into depression in favour of paying witness to life's harmonious beauty.  

We count ourselves among them.   To pursue music ascetically means to "blow everything off - family, money, security, happiness, freedom."   Thank you Dave Burns for the stunning song selection.  Buried deep in our hearts and minds, it is one that will not soon leave our repertoire.  

The song's lyrics do it the greatest justice, so without further ado:

Well won't you lend your lungs to me
Mine are collapsing
Plant my feet and bitterly breathe
Up the time that's passing
Breath I'll take and breath I'll give
Pray the day ain't poison
Stand among the ones that live
In lonely indecision

Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you found
You fool it's only moonlight
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
Better leave this dream alone
Try to find another

Salvation sat and crossed herself
Called the devil partner
Wisdom burned upon a shelf
Who'll kill the raging cancer
Seal the river at its mouth
Take the water prisoner
Fill the sky with screams and cries
Bathe in fiery answers

Jesus was an only son
And love his only concept
Strangers cry in foreign tongues
And dirty up the doorstep
And I for one you for two
Ain't got the time for outside
Keep your injured looks to you
We'll tell the world that we tried

Thank you sincerely forever, Townes Van Zandt.  

Here's an editorial take on the song (includes two original versions of Lungs for your ears):  http://www.avclub.com/articles/how-townes-van-zandts-lungs-veers-from-platonic-ep,89423/

*Cursed Arrows are a post-proto-punk duo from Canada.  Our Classic Covers Project was initiated during the making of our 2013 full-length original album, SONIC UNION.  All songs were performed and recorded by us, specifically by fan request, and remain unreleased outside of Youtube.  All videos were shot and edited by Cursed Arrows.  

© 2013 Aluminum Monster Productions

http://cursedarrows.com
http://cursedarrows.bandcamp.com

Friday, August 9, 2013

Classic Covers Project - #2 - She's Gone (Hall & Oates)


The second instalment in our Classic Covers* series is She's Gone, a widely-known soulful soft-rock track from inveterate songwriting duo Hall and Oates, originally released in 1974.

***Prior to viewing this instalment we must politely INSIST that you FIRST watch the original Hall and Oates video here: 

One of Jack E's mom's favourite bands, and thus an unintentional early influence on the female half of Cursed Arrows, Hall and Oates are ubiquitous radio staples across the adult-contemporary pop spectrum and hold the crown as best-selling musical duo of all time.  The track She's Gone managed to hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 a few years after its release.  The song weaves an intimate, yet widely appealing tale of heartbreak.  

The most compelling aspect of this track, requested by our fans in the Toronto/Guelph rock outfit The Folk, was the fantastically strange promotional film that the duo produced to support the song - pre-MTV of course, in 1973.  According to Oates it was likely " one of the first music videos ever made." The thoroughly blasted duo shot this hilariously lazy-eyed video under the direction of Oates' sister, armed with tattered living room chairs, monopoly money, and memorable costumes.  Needless to say, the TV channel never aired their visual masterpiece and it was left up to Oates himself to leak the video online in more recent years.

The track - selected for us by a promising young rock act called The Folk (featuring Sara and Emma Bortolon-Vettor, twin daughters of the aforementioned Larry Vettor, and rounded out by Mark, Liam, and Patrick) at first confounded us.  After wrapping our heads around Hall and Oates' sense of humour, and getting a kick out of the lyrical vibe (Think I'll spend eternity in the city/Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away), we eventually found our own groove. 

Curiously, a month after we finished production on our version of She's Gone, a weathered original pressing of Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall and Oates' debut album on which She's Gone originally appeared in its extended format, materialized before us on a dirty sidewalk.  We took the record home and it plays just fine....clearly karma had a hand in all of this.

Thus we present our farcical take on a satirical promotional video for a classic pop song - one that we hear blaring out of satellite radio anytime we enter a grocery store.  Jack E's mom would enjoy this video. We hope that The Folk - the talented souls who believed in us enough to request that we reinterpret this song - get as many laughs out of it as we did.  

Very sincere thanks to our friends/Fiends Paul and Sarah Copoc for the use of their living room (featuring the singular artwork of Hamilton, ON painter and sculptor Dan Hill) while we took care of their gorgeous dog, Scout, who insisted on appearing in the video looking as blase as Hall and Oates themselves in the original promotional spot.  

Thank you Hall and Oates for the inspiration. 

Read more about the original video here: 
http://mentalfloss.com/article/30544/craziest-hall-oates-video-ever 

*Cursed Arrows are a post-proto-punk duo from Canada.  Our Classic Covers Project was initiated during the making of our 2013 full-length original album, SONIC UNION.  All songs were performed and recorded by us, specifically by fan request, and remain unreleased outside of Youtube.  All videos were shot and edited by Cursed Arrows.  

© 2013 Aluminum Monster Productions

http://cursedarrows.com
http://cursedarrows.bandcamp.com

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Classic Covers Project - #1 - Wild Eyes (The Stampeders)


The first installment in our extensive classic covers series* is Wild Eyes, a 1972 game-changing classic rock track by The Stampeders.   

Formed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada  (Jack E's hometown and birthplace) in 1964, the group toured endlessly, endured many lineup changes, moved to Toronto, found success on major US labels and charts, notably when the oft-referenced track "Sweet City Woman" hit Billboard hard in '71, followed by appearances on the likes of the legendary Whisky-A-Go-Go in L.A, a forged friendship with good old Wolfman Jack, an appearance on The Dating Game, and a performance at Keith Moon's 26th birthday party...   

Wild Eyes was a markedly heavier track for the Stampeders and one that won them a new subset of fans.  Our own beloved and respected fan Larry Vettor saw fit to request that we cover this song, knowing it would hit a nerve with us, and we proudly dedicate our version of the song - and video - to him.    

The video features us performing the song live in our Southern Ontario studio space under the watchful eyes of various creatures... or was it all just a bizarre Canadian rock'n'roll dream?

Thank you Larry Vettor for helping to fund our musical exploits, producing such exceptionally kind and talented offspring, and demonstrating to us that we might have more in common with The Stampeders than Calgarian roots and a singing drummer!   

Thank you Stampeders for the time-tested classic song.  
Check out their original version here: http://youtu.be/-V4fVcewWrs

*Cursed Arrows are a post-proto-punk duo from Canada.  Our Classic Covers Project was initiated during the making of our 2013 full-length original album, SONIC UNION.  All songs were performed and recorded by us, specifically by fan request, and remain unreleased outside of Youtube.  All videos were shot and edited by Cursed Arrows.  

© 2013 Aluminum Monster Productions

http://cursedarrows.com
http://cursedarrows.bandcamp.com

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sonic Union - Available Now!

Sonic Union, 
Cursed Arrows' fourth full length album
is now available for sale
on Vinyl ($15) or CD ($10)

And by strongly suggested donation digitally!



Read through lyrics and reviews

Wednesday, April 10, 2013