Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) Talks Tiny Ruins’ Brightly Painted One

The last thing I remember was lying on the operating room table staring at all these lights shaped like UFOs on the ceiling like a scene out of ER...

The last thing I remember was lying on the operating room table staring at all these lights shaped like UFOs on the ceiling like a scene out of ER or Nurse Jackie. Then one of the nurses asked me to fold my arms across my chest.

An hour later I’m in recovery, checking my phone for messages, and I receive one from a radio show I frequent. It’s an odd show and an odd listen. I listen to it over the internet.  Its broadcast range is a radius of about five football fields outside of Three Oaks, Michigan. The program is called “air p0wer.” It’s a very live, streamed but never archived presentation so erratically unscheduled that the only way you know it’s airing is through an email presumably sent out just prior to the host making the drive to the station about an hour before broadcast. We’ll call him Joe — everyone else does.

As I wait for my discharge I begin to wonder, “How long have I been out?”  “What day is it?” I look at the mail and it lists the show’s highlights:

“new music from fever tongues, forever pavot, highlands and mum, gruff rhys, angel olsen, speedy ortiz, paul metzger (ok, maybe not so new from him), todayshits, tiny ruins, boy in a movie, and more… plus community announcements… and weather, more cold and snow here in the middle of nowhere… the news from stockton, perhaps… all topped off with an obituary.”

“Tiny Ruins”? An obituary? Am I dead?

Confusion reigns in my post-sedation brain like a mental patient trying to fuck a telephone pole. Earlier in the week I had requested that Joe (everyone calls him that) play the entire new Tiny Ruins recording on his show and I’d try to review the “experience” for this article you are hopefully still reading. I’m concerned I might have either died or missed the show.

Turns out I’m alive and the show is airing in a few minutes.

It’s late Saturday afternoon and I’m eating ribs. I must admit quite a bit of anticipation leading up to tonight’s live event, in which the circumstances surrounding the experience of listening to music becomes a part of my life’s story. (Maybe Joe’s too? And maybe also Tiny Ruins’?)  Just an experience, be it either shared or alone but every now and again it’s memorable, indelible. I hoped this might be one of those.

It was.

Some of us had moments in our youth of hearing records in full on the radio at the “dawn” of FM radio, and those times became forever connected with the music in our memories, even decades later.  I wanted that experience again so I took a chance on “air p0wer” and Tiny Ruins.

Somehow I could just smell it, like the ribs in my car on the way home to the internet.


“Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens”

I await the day when I work at the Museum

with you across the way in the Wintergardens.

So young and so warm, we’ll storm, we’ll swarm

the parks on our lunchbreaks, we’ll lie on the lawn-

smile so stealthily, buttery and brief, we’ll lie through our teeth, shock all the cavalry statues watching on,

us in our time bomb.

Nobody feels old at the Museum

Nobody feels cold in the Wintergardens.

We’ll roll on and roll on, cutting it fine with the clock-on – we’ll persevere, carry on working there —

Me at the Museum, you in the Wintergardens.

Such were the few words that led me to the ones I write for you now. First heard by chance on “air p0wer” a few weeks ago and now after texting my request for a full album play, I’m hearing those words again… Finally, after two hours and seven minutes of diverse programming featuring a nice Dump track and a lovely little song “My Brother Died Today” from the record How to Play Guitar: the Cohn Method after which Joe, (one friend calls him “PooPoo”) launches into a 45-minute monologue entitled “A Bullet in My Suitcase.”

What followed were nine other perfectly executed visions and thoughts. So carefully, delicately, constructed with little excess or clichéd implications. It was like it came from a new world — or an old world forgotten and brought back to life again.

All my thoughtless speech is now withered.

Reviewers like to refer to other, more familiar, music in order to save themselves the trouble of articulating the sound of things. I’d rather not go there, but in this instance I must offer that the closest thing to what I’ve heard, and the subsequent impressions felt, is Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Miss America. I remember the first time I heard her as well… on a cassette, in its entirety, in love, in a sunroom…

Tiny Ruins singer Hollie Fullbrook’s voice isn’t really the same as Mary Margaret O’Hara’s, but it does similar things to the mind, in the phrasing. Both their writings are equally brilliant, unique, and as astounding as it is inspirational to anyone looking for the honest truth in life and music. It’s like we’re hearing their need to express in a way that is natural and direct to the listener who yearns for similar comforts as a fellow traveler. The phrase “speaks right though you” seems appropriate here. With the steady thoughtful contributions of Cass Basil on bass and Alexander Freer on drums, everything floats, guided by the sound of her voice.

I don’t know much about Hollie Fullbrook. I do hope to find out more. But from what I can tell from these songs she has a life not unlike most of us: she has a job that sucks the life out of her and is still looking for someone to be there to share the real parts of her life with. The time to have those experiences may well be in the distance or just around the bend. I want to tell her it will be all right. I want to thank her for making music the way she does.

And I want to tell you that anyone who can write like this will be just fine.


“Ballad of the Hanging Parcel”

Took a lead weight in a tissue white,

Stole out my window, scaled a great height.

Hung by a thread from the guttering,

When morning came it was still swinging —

A gleaming rock, string vaguely glittering.

Because I’d learnt about mass, plumb lines hurtling down straight, in school

Familiar with the terms but not the way they looked all boxed up in freight.

Skipping home in the afternoon,

Existing still, satisfying and cool.

Lay quiet in state, with Katie proclaiming a miracle.
‘it came from nowhere’ I cried and she half knowing I’d lied,

it was just a way – a mighty fine way – it was just our way.

Now I’m pacing on the balcony,

Like a father in waiting to be —

a tank-bound fish, that pendulum swish,

dreaming of when our next run-in will be.

There’s an Indian wedding down on the street and

A little boy’s fallen asleep on the landing,

Safe from the knowledge that he’ll have in hand, and

but for all the hands with no candles in, and

the look on your face in the darkening, and

the way it’s still figuring,

it’s just a way – a mighty fine way – it’s just a way to sit out the wait.

Kurt Wagner is a founding member of the group Lambchop, who have been making records consistently since approx. 1987. Look it up. He is currently working on electronic dance recordings based on a 2 min. 40 sec. monologue by Buddy Hackett called “The Diet”  originally released by Coral Records as a 78 rpm single in 1953. You can follow him on Twitter here