TAKE VIBE: An Interview with Laurence Mason

Laurence Mason is the mastermind behind Take Vibe, a reworking of the Strangler’s Golden Brown (a post-punk meets baroque pop ode to heroin) in the style of Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 (written by saxophonist and composer Paul Desmond and first released in 1959 by Dave Brubeck Quartet). A demo and later de facto music video for the single reached viral status clocking in multi-million views and sparking interest in the opposing bands’ work within their counterpart’s audiences.

The original demo video, uploaded May 11th, 2020.

The following interview with Mason took place over email on April 21st, 2021.

The original demo was a hit, now with a little over 4 million views. Then the 7” is pressed and sells out. Did you know there would be such a strong audience out there for a Take Vibe type concept? What would you say is the make up of Take Vibe’s fanbase?

The only reason I thought people might click on it is because it’s the sort of thing I’d want to watch. That’s what an audience is really though isn’t it, a group of like-minded people who share a common interest with the creator. What I didn’t realize, and still struggle to comprehend, was how large that audience would be. The whole thing was very much a case of right place, right time – people seemed to be finding my video from lots of different places. There were visitors who had found it from searching for Dave Greenfield pretty early on, which of course was the initial reason I’d made it. Golden Brown had been used in an episode of a Netflix series called Umbrella Academy, and also in a film called Baby Teeth round about that time too. Then later on in the year it would have been Dave Brubeck’s 100th birthday so people were finding it through that.

In a roundabout manner of reaching out to you, I spoke with Jazz Room Records “Head Honcho” Paul Murphy. What was it like getting to work on the album? Could you run through the process of how the record was made?

The entire thing was done at my dining room table. I was moving house at the time of making it so I had limited equipment I could use, with most of it being packed away. This lo-fi setup was great because I wanted it to sound like it had been recorded 60 years ago, the idea of studio quality went out of the window and I was adding effects to make it sound grainy and old. For the release, the drums and bass were re-recorded so we weren’t using any samples as I had done on the original video, these were played by John Settle and Josh Cavanagh-Brierley. I ended up playing baritone sax for the B-side, “Walking On The Moon”. I’d been listening to Gerry Mulligan’s Night Lights album so it was a little nod to that. 

The jazz and post-punk connection has been made before, most notably with certain No Wave adjacent groups like Lounge Lizards, James Chance, and later with the lounge group Nouvelle Vague. Even then, I don’t believe there’s ever been a more direct connection between the two worlds, especially recently. Is this new terrain you’re hoping to explore further, or has the statement been made?

The connection I made was between the two songs (Take Five and Golden Brown) rather than looking at it from a perspective of connecting two genres. For a long time I’ve heard musical similarities between both tracks, and I’m not the first person to have done that, but the way I presented those similarities was the way I was hearing them. There’s definitely more terrain to explore in that field, but I’ve not yet found a pair of tunes that click together as well as those two did.

The idea of working with other people’s material, covering it, or of there being music ‘standards’ has really fallen out of popularity. How does a musical piece as a commercial entity transition into the greater cultural narrative, especially surpassing the original writer or performer?

Wow! Right, I’ll have a stab at that one… My thoughts are that it comes down to purpose versus right. Whether or not a statement (be it music, art, a campaign, etc.) has a right to exist in culture is entirely up to the individual who is on the receiving end of that statement, but its purpose to exist (and ultimately its success) is decided by society. The best example I can think of is Tracey Emin’s bed. On one side of the room you’ve got the people who say it really strikes a chord, the people who nominated it for a Turner prize, the people who actually bought it… Then on the other side you’ve got the people who say “Well that’s rubbish, I’ve got one just like that at home.” But its purpose in culture transcends what any individual thinks of it because society has decided that it has a place to exist in conversations, discussions, and arguments. So much so that on the mention of modern art, most people will bring up an image of an untidy bed in their minds. On the subject of using other people’s material for their creations, I think its use needs to be justified – what purpose does it serve in its new setting? Its right to be reused is up to the opinion of the consumer, but the decision of society on how well it has served its new purpose will govern its success in culture. That got deep.

Punk can in many ways be referred to as the great reset on music. With lower bars of entry, for both artists and consumers, how does jazz with a relatively high bar of entry stay relevant and keep forward momentum with younger audiences?

Look no further than YouTube for that – creators like Adam Neely, Aimee Nolte and Charles Cornell cater for young people wanting to learn about jazz, particularly jazz music theory, and it makes up an incredibly large audience on YouTube. Making something that previously seemed untouchable available to the masses is probably about as punk as it gets.

A little question I like to ask people I’ve just met, what are you listening to? No cool answers!

At the moment I’m listening to a lot of 90s RnB but that’s for a project I’m working on with someone. I’ve got Radio 6 on whenever I’m driving, I love Mary Anne Hobbs’ show.

Last but not least, ‘run what ya brung’ as they say where I’m from. Let the people know what you’re working on and where they can find you!

My next project involves a 100-year-old bass saxophone and some Leeds-based brass players. If that’s whet your appetite just type Laurence Mason into YouTube to find my channel, there’ll be some stuff up there soon about it.

You can find Laurence Mason’s Youtube account here or head on over to Jazz Room Records.

Wanting more strange jazz pastiche? Well you should check out Resident Sound’s Guide to The Fast Paced, Lighthearted World of DOOM JAZZ.

The Third Sellout: A Proposal And Response To Franz Nicolay’s The Rise and Decline of the “Sellout”

The following is a response to Franz Nicolay’s “The Rise and Decline of the ‘Sellout'” for Slate in 2017.

The idea of sellouts within arts and culture has reflected the nature in which we consume the arts. The ubiquitous nature of the term ‘sellout’ has forced music circles to deal with it to some degree, which has surprisingly brought a level of nuance into the conversation surrounding ‘sellouts’. Simply rejecting the idea of sellouts as being seemingly “obsolete and a little naïve,” while very understandable, has never been more dismissive of the need to curate an enriched culture, something that is needed now more than ever.

In “The Rise and Decline of the ‘Sellout,'” Nicolay goes through great lengths to chart the epithet’s birth in the early days of the American labor movement and its proliferation across culture over the following decades. But in regards to music, a medium steadfast on both sides of the ‘art vs entertainment’ dichotomy, there is very clear lineage of the thought behind it. Let us establish two common interpretations of the sellout before elaborating on its newest manifestation.

The Modernist Interpretation:

At its basis, the ‘sellout’ is a by-product of the ‘arts vs. entertainment’ duality argument. To cross the line from ‘arts’ to ‘entertainment’ would betray one of the following:

  1. Betrayal of insulated or semi-insulated community values.
  2. Betrayal of authenticity of character (did branding overtake the prior communal and/or individualistic representation of authenticity?).
  3. Betrayal of authenticity within musicianship (do commercial interests and aspirations now take precedent over artistic ones?)

The Postmodernist Interpretation:

The postmodernist interpretation comes from postmodern marketing practices in which the entire modernist duality argument is completely rejected. Patronage of the arts is facilitated by commercial interests, and quality of life choices (as mentioned in the article) were an understandable argument in favor of the rejection of the modernist interpretation.

What the postmodernist interpretation doesn’t accomplish is reassurance or resolution to the anxieties and grief caused by late-stage capitalism. This, and the modernist interpretation’s steadfast cultural roots lead to many communities embracing strict barriers of entry and cohesive uniformity which we now know as subcultures.

Within the rapidly changing times, subcultures became a secondary church; supplanting the answers and communal ties supplied by various religious communities. Vague proposals of what a movement stood for were everywhere. Punks, hippies, goths and many more bore their own interpretations and philosophical attitudes, hodgepodged together within arts, entertainment, and politics. New-age and Neo-christian groups continued to base their views off of more traditional universe and creation oriented answers, but were still a product of the changing time. Mod culture embraced capitalistic optimism, which would itself be supplanted decades later by the seemingly alien, capitalist-realist vaporwave subculture, arguably one of the last true subcultural communities.

The Metamodernist Interpretation:

As postmodern marketing tactics shifted towards individualism and as the promises of subcultures began to subside in ever evolving landscapes, attitudes changed. Subcultures lost their rigidity. With the rise of the internet-age, the ability to keep a finger in every circle lead to a lack of entrenchment within any singular subculture.

Yet the modernist interpretation’s ‘art vs. entertainment’ duality argument remained. Now confronted with the empathic understanding from fans that their artistic idols dealt with the same financial stresses and obligations as they did, nuance was brought into the conversation.

So What is The Metamodernist Interpretation of The Duality Argument?

In many ways it hasn’t been written yet. We are still in the infancy of metamodernism in which ideas and attitudes oscillate between the modern and postmodern at dizzying speeds. Since many of us have to work jobs that aren’t inline with our desires, we pass on empathetic understanding to the artists we care for while simultaneously grappling with the duality argument.

So what is a ‘sellout’ in the age of metamodernism? Perhaps it lies solely in the 2nd point of the modernist interpretation. Character is now accepted as a trait forever in flux which needs room to grow. So the betrayal of authenticity of character now lies in underhanded marketing strategies; using the fluctuation of character as a way to rebrand to whatever commodity trend takes place. In a way, the metamodernist interpretation’s ‘sellout’ is someone who abuses the trust of the empathetic human leeway given to our cultural figures. The audience can interpret arts, entertainment and the crossover of the two as being subject to change along the traits of character that are constantly in flux.

You can read Nicolay’s article for slate here or go check out Nicolay’s site.

CHASING GHOSTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH LOST RPM’S JEFFREY HARVEY

Whether chasing ghosts or appreciating novelty, the ‘lost to time’ element of dollar-bin records can leave their songs steeped in melancholy. As vinyl continues to wade further back into the mainstream, the previously murky world of thrift vinyl collecting has been cast into the light of social media; documented and showcased for any passers by.

I recently fell in love with the Instagram account Lost RPM during the pandemic’s ever growing hours at home. Lost RPM is DJ and curator Jeffrey Harvey’s showcase of notable finds, most only known to the artists themselves and few seasoned vets of the thrift record collecting world.

To get a better idea of what drives the record thrifting mindset, I reached out to Jeffrey Harvey of The Lost RPM Podcast and Instagram account to explore their place in the record collecting scene. The following interview took place over the course of about a week via email.

Jeffrey of Lost RPM: 

Hey [Lubert]! It’s Jeffrey. Good to meet you. Fire away on Q’s and I’ll try to answer as best I can!

Lubert:

Hey Jeffrey! Good to meet you too. Let’s get started.

You run the Instagram account Lost RPM and the coinciding Lost RPM Podcast. I see that the earliest Instagram posts at this time go back to 2015, though the focus wasn’t always on 45s, but mostly LPs. Incredible but strange records like Sister Janet Mead’s ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and Robert Pritikin’s ‘There’s A Song in My Saw’. What led to the switch to covering 45s more or less exclusively?

Jeffrey:

That’s a great question! I moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Los Angeles in 2013 to get married. I had been collecting interesting-to-me records in KC since the early 2000s, with most of my collection coming from thrift stores, junk shops, flea markets, and record store clearance bins. I was very passionate (and still am) about finding cool records that someone else has literally thrown out!

Anyway, when I arrived in LA I didn’t have any professional plans or goals per se, so that led to copious amounts of time continuing my second-hand record search. I was able to get to know the city by starting the day at a Pasadena Salvation Army and ending the day at a Van Nuys Goodwill. Along the way I’d look for LPs/45s/78s that looked interesting, were privately pressed, or unknown to me at the time.

In Kansas City 45s are everywhere. You go into any thrift store and there are at least a few stacks of 45s – even if they’re all crap. In LA I found that 45s at thrift stores are virtually non-existent. That led me to finding a lot of stuff like the Sister Janet Mead and Robert Pritikin LPs. I’d find a handful of $1 private press LPs during a day out digging, get ’em home, and spend the evening trying to figure out if they were any good or not. It helped that recreational cannabis was just starting to become legal in Southern California lol. After a year or so of SoCal second-hand record digging, I started kicking around the idea of starting a blog about my finds. That’s how The Lost RPM Instagram page came about.

Interestingly enough, my run of posting primarily 45s didn’t start until the pandemic kicked into high gear in March of 2020. I ordered a 45 on Discogs from a seller who had like 16,000+ records for sale, and casually mentioned that if he had any “not on Discogs or ungoogleable records” lying around that he wanted to get rid of, I’d buy them off him in bulk. To my surprise he said he did, and that he’d be down to sell to me. So for the past year I’ve been receiving boxes of 100 45s once or twice a month. I can’t tell you how much it helped me mentally during the pandemic, and receiving all those singles actually kickstarted the idea of The Lost RPM Podcast. That’s the entire reason my IG page has transitioned to mostly all 45s.

Lubert:

16,000 records is a LOT of records. I can’t imagine some of the strange stuff that seller has. 45 collecting alone has its niches from Georgia gospel to absurd novelty, Philly soul to stabs at country stardom. You seem to span the gamut. Are there any particular niches you swoon over? Any genres you’re looking to explore further?

Jeffrey:

It’s interesting, when I was in high school I was pretty chubby. I tried to cover up my self-consciousness about my weight with being the class clown. Being the class clown led me to becoming friends with all types of people in my school. Punk rockers, jocks, cheerleaders, art kids, outsiders, and even teachers. I didn’t really have a specific friend group or click that I was a part of, and as crazy as it sounds I honestly feel like that experience somehow translated into my record collecting. I don’t really seek out one specific genre, I just like what connects with me. I actually believe that in most cases records are meant to find me, rather than the other way around.

Case in point: I was at a Salvation Army in the LA area a few years back. I had just found a handful of really cool LPs, and as I was exiting the store on a digging-score high, I saw two Asian gentlemen loading up a cart with records to donate. I walked up to them, told them I collect, and asked if they wanted to sell to me instead. I think I paid $15 for a few boxes of LPs, 78s, and 45s. I had no idea what was in the boxes. I didn’t even care. I just knew if something needed to find me, it would. Most of the stuff ended up being useless to me (and was even donated back to the Salvation Army from whence it came lol), but one of the few items I kept from that haul ended up being this amazing, unknown, and seemingly one-of-a-kind 1960s Hong Kong pop 7″ EP that may or may not be from a feature film. I can’t find any info on it. All I know is that there’s a track on the disc that absolutely floors me. It sounds like it was recorded in an opium den, and I’ve never heard anything like it since. What are the odds of all the factors coming together in that scenario for that record to find me? I have to think they’re pretty astronomical. I cherish that 7″ EP and the fact that it found me! I’ve attached a pic of the release and mp3 of the track if you want to check it out.

As far as stuff I swoon over, that would definitely be 1950s/60s American outsider teenage ballads. It’s total time capsule stuff. I have a 45 by a group called “Jonathan with Orchestra” that is a perfect example of waaaaaay outsider teenage balladry. It’s called “Cheryl” and it’s one of the most amazing & endearing things I’ve ever heard. The kid (presumably Jonathan) can’t even sing. His voice cracks heavily throughout the recording, and there’s even some amateur saxophone playing involved. It’s all so innocent and primitively debauched at the same time. It’s like something you’d hear at a high school prom in 1957, if the prom was held at an insane asylum. I’ve actually found a fair share of primitive, obscure, outsider teenage singles from the 50s & 60s, and am always down to welcome more of them into my life. Again, I’ll attach a pic of the label and mp3 of that one for your consideration.

Lubert:

I just listened to both of these records and they’re great in their own ways. The Hong Kong record reminds me a bit of the bossa nova influence on easy-listening pop records. Really high quality writing and production. But this Jonathan record, well it sounds like James Hurley in Twin Peaks! 

Total time capsule stuff, for real. So, is Jonathan With Orchestra what you’d call a “real people” record? It’s a term you’ve used before in the Lost RPM Podcast liner notes, but it’s also a term heard throughout music collecting circles. What is implied by this, and how do they differ from other records of their era?

Jeffrey:

You have a good ear! I didn’t include this above, but the Hong Kong track actually seems to be a take on the Afro-Cuban song “Tabú” or “Taboo” that Arthur Lyman made famous with his easy listening exotica of the late 50s/early 60s. Google it and you’ll hear the same exact melody!

Yes, the Jonathan with Orchestra single would be a prime example of a “real people record.” The term comes from legendary private press record collector Paul Major, who has found more amazing records than I could ever dream of. He stated in a interview with Vice Magazine in 2017 that “Real People popped into my head as a catch-all phrase to cover vastly different styles of music resulting from driven persons creating highly personal sounds that were able to capture their uniqueness as human beings… Their true personalities are captured, I feel like I am inside their brains when I hear them. It is an elastic term but the key thing about Real People is that the person is impossible to separate from the art.”

That last part kills me, and is so eloquently said! The person being impossible to separate from the art really is the essence of real people or outsider music. The overt self expression, highly personal nature, and unintentional urgent spirit of the recordings are what give them their charm. This, in my opinion, is what separates the real people records of various decades from other records of their era. Also to Paul’s point, you almost always feel like you’re “inside the brain” of the “artist” when listening to a real people record. I know I feel that way when listening to the Jonathan record 🙂 

Also, I use quotations on the term artist there because many of the people who recorded this stuff probably didn’t even see themselves as artists at the time!

Lubert:

It may be safe (or arrogant) to say that a lot of these artists had hopes or intentions of reaching some kind of audience or commercial success, either by luck or imitating commercially successful performers. At what point does a record leave ‘the arts’ and enter a more entertainment/media content standing? Does commercialism take away from the sort of human or ‘genuine’ artistic element in a work?

Jeffrey:

I think it’s safe to say the majority of these artists had some sort of hopes or aspirations of stardom. It’s also probably safe to say there were a large contingent of record industry hucksters promising these artists the world and not delivering. Have you heard of, or researched the tax scam record labels of the 1970s & 80s? That’s a whole other topic in itself!

As far as commercialism taking away from the genuine or human artistic element in a recorded work, I don’t really subscribe to that idea. I love Donovan. Like really love him. His laid-back brand of psychedelic hippie-folk is about as commercial as it gets for the 1960s. I also feel like he’s super genuine sounding, and about as human as it gets. I challenge anyone to listen to “Sand and Foam” from the Sunshine Superman album and not be moved. But then again music – as with most art – is totally subjective.

Lubert:

I do love me some Donovan records. The push and pull of commercialism and its effect on art is a dichotomy that’s seemingly in a constant state of implosion, so any attempt to draw a line in the sand may be in vain. But tax scam record labels? I need to look into that! I know there was some mafia involvement with smaller soul labels in the North East around that time, but this is news to me. Speaking of labels, The Lost RPM Podcast really opens up your collection to the world by streaming some select cuts. Are you ever concerned about copyright hawks? Or does a lot of the music fall into the public domain by way of abandonment?

Jeffrey:

Yeah when it comes to tax scam records the Stonewall self-titled LP on Tiger Lily is a nice one to start with. My buddy Lance from Permanent Records here in LA was the first to do an officially licensed reissue with the surviving members of the band. It’s pretty killer!

As far as copyright concerns go, I would say that I’m a pretty under-the-radar operation at this point who caters to a very niche market. I just love sharing lost and overlooked music with people. Now if this interview were to run in like Vanity Fair or something then I might have some second thoughts about copyright stuff lol, but man most of the records I dig on are pretty obscure. That, coupled with the fact that I don’t make any money off The Lost RPM doesn’t really have me concerned. If someone wants me to take something down or cease and desist with something, I have no problem doing that.

Lubert:

There are some labels out there that work at restoring and sharing old records from the 1910s and later on, as well as other ‘lost to time’ records from the later 1900s that have gained new audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have ever had. Would you ever consider starting up your own label, be it physical releases, or free digital downloads and re-releasing or creating compilations of some of these really obscure records? Or is that something you’d like to stay out of?

Jeffrey:

You’re not doing a good job at alleviating my fear that this will run in Vanity Fair hahaha. 

Just kidding, but yeah I’ve had people tell me I should start a small label or release a comp, and I’m totally into the latter idea! I don’t think I have the time or energy to undertake a reissue label project, but I’d love to curate a 12 song compilation LP or something similar. That would be fun.

Lubert:

My blog posting is more of a ‘vanity affair’. Okay okay! Last question before I wrap things up. You collect all types of records with storied pasts. Usually we focus on the stories behind the record coming to be, but never the stories of the specific copies themselves. As a fan I have to ask; The Richard Ramirez 45. I gotta know what happened there.

Jeffrey:

Well I appreciate that you are a fan, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me to talk outsider records. You’ve asked some very thought provoking questions, and I’ve really enjoyed our back-and-forth.

I’m sorry to have to break it to you though that the story behind the “Richard Ramirez” 45 is not really that interesting. I drove to Corona, CA the other week to pick up a box of 45s. The guy who sold them to me said they “belonged to his uncle.” I came home, sorted them out, and noticed the name Richard Ramirez written on a “Dick Clark All-Time Hits” EP. My wife and I had just watched the Night Stalker doc on Netflix, and I thought it was weird. I took a pic and posted it to the ‘gram. That’s it. That’s the story. Do you think it could have been him?

Lubert:

Oof! It may be a stretch, but it’s a spooky thought. It would definitely take a better sleuth than I to figure that out.

Alright, then. Thank you so much for your time! Run what you brung! Let folks know where they can find you!

Jeffrey:

Folks can subscribe to The Lost RPM Podcast on Apple Podcasts and follow me on Instagram @lost_rpm.

Thanks bud!

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