• The Basement Tapes: The Lovely Sparrows

    Local indie folk-pop band the Lovely Sparrows have graced the Austin scene for more than half a decade, creating tracks that embrace lead singer Shawn Jones’ melancholy lyrics, Southern spirit, classical music performance training and whimsical imagination.

    From the music video for their popular single, “The Year of the Dog,” where in a paper-constructed forest, Jones sings about his loyalty to love to Jones’ latest project multimedia project for the band’s second LP, music from the Lovely Sparrows is more than just songs and lyrics.

    The band will be releasing their EP, Tall Cedars of Lebanon, in the upcoming month and their second LP tentatively in October.

    The Lovely Sparrows will be playing with fellow local bands at Scoot Inn this weekend and will be kicking off their tour this month.

    The Texan interviewed band mates Shawn Jones and Lauryn Gould, as well as the band’s upcoming book illustrator Derek Van Giesen, about their upcoming EP, LP and the album’s analogous art book.

    Daily Texan: You were telling me how there’s a delay in the EP, hence why the performance Saturday is now more just a concert than a release party. So what has the recording process been like?

    Shawn Jones: Well, I didn’t even think we were going to put out an EP because normally, I just have the right amount of songs for the full length — that we’ve been working forever on, but this time we had a bunch of songs. A lot of them are older stuff that we never put out. A couple other ones that kind of end with being mellower, slower that was bogging down the full length. I want this full length to be another kind of break. I’m very much like ‘OK, I did that, now I want this to be something different,’ or ‘oh OK, we’re a quiet, go-to-the-bathroom folk band, well no, not anymore,’ or ‘Lovely Sparrows are this, and I’m like no.’

    Lauryn Gould: We just want to make people dance.

    Jones: Yeah, we’ve turned into a dance band.

    DT: What’s each of your favorite song to dance to?

    Jones: Well she’s like a dancer dancer, so maybe something from the ‘20s.

    Gould: Yeah, I like to swing dance, so I like jazz.

    Jones: I’ve only got like tiny movements; that’s about all I have. [laughs]

    Gould: You know, I can even dance to some bhangra. I can dance to some Indian hip-hop.

    Jones: Yeah, I don’t know. That last Destroyer show was fun.

    Gould: We had our own little dance party.

    DT: So what’s the inspiration behind the upcoming LP? And do you have a name for it yet?

    Jones: The EP, we have a name for. It’s going to be called Tall Cedars of Lebanon.

    DT: That’s beautiful.

    Jones: Why, thank you. Just wait, you’ll soon know why. The LP, I’m thinking right now should be self-titled cause it’s coming out with that book. I think I just want to call the book and the LP, “the Lovely Sparrows.” So Derek’s doing all the art for the book.

    DT: So what made you decide to just make a book with the LP?

    Jones: I guess right now after Bury the Cynics came out, I had writer’s block for like three or four months and I was like ‘gah, I don’t want to do this anymore,’ so I just started writing these little short stories, kind of like exaggerated autobiography stuff and ended up working on that for three months and at one time it was like a 20,000 words little novella. So I called Derek and left this 15 to 20 minute rant on his machine saying ‘oh, you know, I got this idea, and its going to be this multimedia project, and oh yeah, I can’t pay you in advance, but you’re the only person I want for the job so, uh you don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it.’

    DT: So how did you feel about that, Derek? That’s a lot of pressure.

    Derek Van Giesen: Well, there was a lot of back and forth to reigning back into something I could just sink my teeth into.

    Jones: Reign into a 160-page book. [laughs]

    DT: What are some of the stories about?

    Jones: I guess the last couple of years I really got into David Lynch and Twin Peaks, and I don’t want to say too much cause it’s still in the process and it won’t be until October before it comes out. Solely possibly that this week, it’ll take another left turn. But it’s kind of a dark comedy. It’s got a loose plot that shifts through this weird other place, other world maybe.

    Ghoul: Science fiction? Kurt Vonnegut style?

    Jones: Science fiction, I don’t know about that. There’s definitely some Vonnegut in there.

    DT: Going back, can you tell me more about the inspiration behind the LP?

    Jones: Well, working on that book kind of got me out of that writer’s block and so I started writing songs with that in mind and I didn’t really realize that those were going to go together yet. It hadn’t dawn on me that giving someone a 20,000 page, sorry, [laughs], that would be crazy! 20,000 word book and saying, ‘hey, you have to read this to get what’s happening on the record,’ that might be a little pretentious. But I was drawn from that to get the songs. But the songs are more — there’s stuff from growing up in the South, weird religious imageries and working with perspective… not making anyone a martyr, a delicate balance to not make anyone weepy.

    DT: So having been in the Austin music scene for quite some time, how would you describe the scene when you first got here and how it is now?

    Jones: I had a really, really good time there for a long time. It was actually with a lot of KVRX kids and stuff. There was this house venue called Jessie’s Bed and Breakfast that our friend Michael Landon ran out of his house and he got all of these great K Records people like Phil Elverum and the Microphones, Karl Blau, Moldy Peaches, and all of those northwest folk bands to come through and we opened for them and stuff.

    Ghoul: Those were the days!

    Jones: Those were the days. And it was really fun and it kind of bottomed out for a while and actually the last couple of years have been awesome too. Made a lot of friends, like with the Sour Notes and Eastern Sea.
     

  • Apron Optional: Black Bean Salad

    I want to say something. I’m going to put it out there; if you like it, you can take it, if you don’t, send it right back: I love black beans. I also love the movie Anchorman, if you didn’t catch that. About a year ago, I sat down laptop in tow to watch the blessed film (of which I literally can recite every line) and find a recipe for black bean salad that was quick, easy and delicious. I don’t know why exactly, but I refused to rest until I found what I believed to be the perfect one. Perhaps I was inspired by Ron Burgundy and his suits, so fine they made Sinatra look like a hobo.

    So I adapted this recipe from one I found about a year ago deep in the archives of the user comments on the Bush’s Beans website (I told you, I was a woman obsessed!). The recipe is relatively simple to make, as it really only involves chopping. This can be a bit time consuming especially if you are just starting out, but I strongly suggest you don’t rush the process. After all, the more fingers you lose, the less you will be able to try your hand at the recipes I post. Okay, bad pun, but seriously — please don’t chop off your finger(s).

    To do the prep work, you are going to need a cutting board (the larger the better), a sharp knife, measuring cups, a colander, a can opener and a large mixing bowl. If you’re planning to serve it the same day, I would recommend nixing the mixing bowl and using whatever you plan to serve it in instead to avoid washing extra dishes. As I mentioned last Friday, it would be wise to place your onion in the freezer now for 10-15 minutes to eliminate some of the tear-inducing fumes.

    First, open the cans of black beans and pour them into the colander over the sink. Running the beans under cold water, sift them around with your hand to get all of the extra juice off (if you haven’t washed your hands yet, now would be a good time to do so and I suggest not mentioning the oversight to any dinner guests). When all of the runoff water is clear, gently shake the colander to remove excess liquid and dump the beans into your bowl. Then, open the can of corn, drain out all of the liquid and pour them in the bowl, too.

    Now, on to the chopping. Rinse off your bell pepper and cut it in vertical halves. Remove the stem, seeds, and white junk inside, carefully cutting around the edges if necessary. Place each half face down on the cutting board and make thin, parallel slices from top to bottom, keeping the pieces in place. Then, do the same thing going in the other direction to make tiny squares of pepper. You can cut them larger if that is your preference; I happen to think bell peppers are flavor bullies so I keep them small to avoid masking all of the other flavors. When you’re done, throw that in the bowl — this time with enthusiasm!

      

    Next, chop the onion. You will only need a fourth of a cup, so there is absolutely no way you will need more than half of it for now. For detailed onion-chopping instructions, refer back to last week’s post, chopping the pieces small (the same size as the bell pepper or smaller). Once you have tackled that beast, chop up some of the sweet roasted pepper into pieces the same size as the bell pepper and onion. There is no exact count of pieces to cut, so I just throw them in the measuring cup as I go. If you want it to be a little sweeter, go for a full half cup. Add all of that to your bowl as well.

    For the cilantro you don’t use the stems, so it’s now time for the arduous task of plucking all of the leaves off. You will need a full half cup, and because the leaves compact after they are chopped, you’re going to have to pluck a lot (you can still measure it out precut to get an idea of how much more you will need). It’s a mindless task, so feel free to crank up the best of the ‘90s (or whatever your preference) and jam a little while you work. Once you think you have enough, bunch it together into a pile on your cutting board and make parallel cuts (as if you are cutting into a loaf of bread) vertically and horizontally until the majority of the cilantro is chopped. Measure it out and chop more if necessary. Then pour it in with everything else.

    With the queso fresco, all you really have to do is crumble it off of the block. The recipe calls for half a cup, but feel free to add more if you so desire — I probably will. Add it in with everything else.

    Mix everything together and salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving and enjoy!

      

    The great thing about this dish is that you can dress it up a bunch of different ways: If you want to add an extra kick of flavor, add a teaspoon of paprika and/or cumin or a teaspoon of cayenne pepper if you want a bit of heat. Mix and taste, adding a dash more if necessary. And if you REALLY want to add some heat, try adding some raw jalapeño, diced very small, following cutting instructions similar to that of the bell pepper. Be extremely careful not to touch your eyes during/afterward until you’ve washed them!

    I like to serve it with lime wedges on the side so you can squeeze the juice on top. I usually eat it with meat and tortillas taco-style, with chips as a hearty dip, or on its own as a side dish.

    Until next week, happy chopping — except your fingers.

    Photos by Anastasia Garcia.

  • Art in Translation: “See the Forest for the Art”

    Hey everyone! Rachel here.

    As any of my friends will tell you, I absolutely love art. The interest manifested years ago when my grandma, an artist, watched me once a week while my mom ran errands and my dad was at work. She would take me to art exhibits and I always eventually wound up in her studio, creating the latest masterpiece for her fridge while I waited for my dad to pick me up.

    Years later, my artistic abilities have sequestered themselves to notebook-margin doodles and gift-wrapping (seriously, it’s on another level). My love of art is still just as strong, albeit a bit more refined.

    In fact, one of the only things I enjoy as much as looking at art is talking about art ­— an unfortunate circumstance for my friends.

    It’s not that they, and everyone else, have a disdain for art (okay, I’m sure some do). It’s just that contemporary art, with its varying degrees of abstraction, can be incredibly difficult to decipher if you haven’t studied it. Sometimes to the untrained ear, art talk can be a little, well — let’s just say it can sound foreign.

    Because of this, many of us are put off by art before we fully understand it. We miss opportunities to be inspired, find entertainment or perhaps even a chance to divulge criticism — all because we “don’t get art.”

    I could go around reviewing exhibition after exhibition, writing up generalized thoughts on shows around Austin, but let’s get real. This is the art blog post. There are no rules here (it’s like we’re in the international waters of online media). Okay, there are some rules, but the point I make is this: It’s time we try something different, something everyone has a chance to like or at least find interesting.

    Every Wednesday, I’ll pick one piece currently on display in Austin and explain it in a way that everyone can appreciate. This isn’t “Contemporary Art for Dummies,” but rather a much more conversational way of talking about art than what is generally used. Essentially, I’m going to tell you what the piece means, what the artist is trying to convey and why one might think it’s cool.

    I’m sure everyone won’t like all of the pieces I post, but I’m positive there will be something for everyone. And if not, I promise to keep it interesting.

    Last Thursday, I was wandering with a friend through I Art Congress: Eat Your Art Out, a monthly series of downtown exhibition features and restaurant specials. We stumbled into Champion, a contemporary art gallery at the corner of Eighth and Brazos streets, owned and directed by Sonia Dutton.

    After some less-than-clever maneuvering around construction blocks, we finally made it inside. Bloom, the exhibition by Claire Falkenberg, was a series of large-scale canvases (all roughly ranging from 29 to 61 inches in length) displaying combinations of photography, collage and painting. Each had a familiar landscape, partially obstructed by a large formless shape of either black or white paint. The paint gives viewers the opportunity to uncover extraordinary details in the real world, which are usually unseen.

    I was immediately drawn to the piece titled “Forest,” which depicts a litter-covered patch of forest floor.

    The photograph is actually a collage of multiple pictures of wooded scenes, giving it a feeling of timelessness and familiarity, as if you were revisiting a place you once saw in a dream. The black paint obscures a large part of the canvas, appearing somewhat three dimensional, shaped like a portal resting on the ground and fading into the dark tree leaves.

    Dutton said Falkenberg uses the photograph as a way to represent humanity mirrored in the environment. It is up to the viewer to determine the meaning of the void created by the paint. The cloud of paint could be ominous, violent, an escape or a beacon of light — the possibilities are without number. As for the rest of the photograph, the artist is taking away a large part of the scene and asking us to figure out what the picture means in its absence — how we would fill in that space.

    Personally, more so than the other pieces, the paint in “Forest” looks like a hole to me — almost like a rabbit hole. With all the garbage lying around the base of the black paint, it kind of makes me think of what would happen in a modern “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” if years after her last adventure (yes, including the second book) Alice revisited the spot where she had fallen into her fantasy world.

    My point is the scene itself appears worn by both time and people, and although darkness can often be ominous, the black cloud in this case seems to offer an escape from that landscape — possibly from reality. If I imagine myself in that scene, it feels whimsical and curious rather than discomforting. That being said, I would definitely be concerned to happen upon a giant gaping hole in the middle of the forest.

    Until next Wednesday, figure out what the void means to you and how it changes the picture in your eyes. I bet you will surprise yourself. 

  • The Garage Sale Review: Organ donors and liquor pump

    Various gems like this vintage record player can be found in garage sales around Austin.
    Various gems like this vintage record player can be found in garage sales around Austin.

    Salutations, my garage sale amigos!

    Saturday marked my inaugural dive into the eclectic ocean of Austin garage sales, and I have to say it yielded some pretty decent finds. There wasn’t anything too extraordinary, but just like fishing or pregnancy, garage selling requires patience: The juicy stuff will reveal itself when it’s ready.

    As this is the first week, I figured it would be smart to take it easy on you garage sale rookies and stick close to UT. As you can see on the map below, my route began at 4500 Shoal Creek Blvd., went south to San Antonio Street, veered east across Interstate Highway-35 and ended up at 3402 Merrie Lynn Ave. The entire journey took about three hours (4.86 miles), which is pretty good considering I scored a free “liquor pump” (more on that momentarily) and a Settlers of Catan board game for $1.

    OK, enough chit-chat, let’s get started.


    View The Garage Sale Review: 6/11/2011 in a larger map

    4500 Shoal Creek Blvd.

    I arrived at my first stop at 8:32 a.m. and was disappointed. There just wasn’t much there, especially not anything blog-worthy, which is unfortunate since it was the first garage sale. Me being a professional, however, I ignored my misgivings and diligently dug through a bunch of unfamiliar junk until I found something I could show you guys.

    As you can see, I uncovered a set of nine magic tricks. The seller, who prefers to remain unnamed, told me she bought the magic tricks in Las Vegas for $10 each (ouch). She was selling the tricks for $2 each — which would have been quite the deal had they been nine MacBook Pros ­— but considering they were just a bunch of crappy, sandwich-bagged illusions with titles like “Three Rope Mystery” and “Magic Coloring Book,” it wasn’t a very good deal at all. I politely declined the magic tricks and journeyed onward, looking forward to the junky treasures that awaited me.

    834 W. 37th St.

    Even from the street, I sensed the second garage sale had potential. I eagerly started poking around and found some pretty cool books and DVDs, but nothing really jumped out at me. Was it another dud? I guess it depends on how you look at it. There weren’t any unusual finds, but after speaking with Mary, the seller, I realized I had stumbled across a great chance to teach you young, vulnerable garage sale Padawans out there how to avoid getting a bunch of free junk pawned off on you.

    Mary told me the story of her “cursed” organ, an instrument that had been given to her and her sisters years ago by their mother in a failed attempt to trick some children into learning how to play an organ. The siblings, who didn’t want anything to do with the organ, didn’t touch it. Years later, it was passed along to the next generation, who also decided that an organ wasn’t something they needed.

    As is the custom with unwanted junk, the organ ended up in a garage sale, first priced at $75, then at $50 and finally, offered to me for free. Although a free organ is arguably a good deal, I wisely remembered my parents’ yard and how, over the years, it had gradually become littered with the corpses of free barbecue grills that garage sales had dumped on my dad. I am my father’s son, but I have my own life, and I will not commit the same mistakes that he did. With my own legacy in mind and my conscience clear, I continued on my way.

    1702 San Antonio St.

    The third garage sale was a considerable improvement over the first two, I’m pleased to say. Patrick and Marci, my gracious hosts, greeted me with a friendly “bullshit for sale” as I walked up. I started picking through the items and a peculiar doodad soon caught my attention. I inquired and the garage sellers told me the object in question was something they called a “liquor pump.” They said that it had never been used, and indeed, except for a little dust, the device was in great condition.

    A liquor pump, eh? How strange. It was modeled after an old-timey gas pump, complete with a nozzle and a transparent tank the liquor pumper would ostensibly fill with a liquor (or liquid) of his or her choosing. My eyes lit up as I imagined filling the “liquor pump” with delicious 2-percent milk, my beverage of choice. I guess Patrick and Marci must have spied my enthusiasm, because they gave it to me for free! Additionally, they threw in a pair of tube glasses, which may or may not have something to do with the liquor pump.

    This is also the garage sale where I bought Settlers of Catan for $1. If any of you readers are familiar with this award-winning board game, then you know what a great deal that is.

    1810 E. 39th St.

    When I arrived at the house on 39th Street and saw a brand-new Nintendo Wii for sale ($150), my world was turned upside down. I didn’t know what kind of garage sale I was dealing with. Sure, there were some used trinkets, but other items were in mint condition — an oddity in the world of selling old junk. I asked Zoey, the seller, what the story behind all her unused stuff was, and she explained the Wii (and the unopened Fat Cats calendar) were both gifts from friends that she didn’t need.

    The puzzle pieces were falling into place. Zoey was a “re-gifter!” I wish I could claim I didn’t buy the Wii and the Fat Cats calendar because they violated garage sale code (being new) and my rock-solid integrity, but actually it was just because I’m poor. Well, I could probably have afforded the Fat Cats calendar, but I already have one of those.

    3402 Merrie Lynn Ave.

    The final garage sale in my quest was probably the most exciting as far as unusual items go. Swords and archery equipment (including a pretty awesome miniature crossbow) were scattered around the yard. Cake-decorating kits were displayed on the shelves and I even encountered the second organ of the day.

    Kelly Sloan, who was running the show over on Merrie Lynn Avenue, told me all of the weapons were bought by her parents at gun shows and that she was having the garage sale “to get rid of all this junk.” Very eloquently put, Kelly. I started to leave, but not before my roommate, who had accompanied me to the garage sale, belted out an organ solo.

    See you folks next week, and remember: Haggling is the highest form of persuasion.

    Photos by Aaron West

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