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The New Year
an interview with Matt and Bubba Kadane by Stephen Raywood / pictures

The New Year by "I think that it's depressingly bad," opines Bubba Kadane, when pressed to give his views on the current state of underground rock music. "For me, there are two answers to the question, one negative and one only slightly more optimistic: if you are just talking about the music being made on a underground level, I can be a little bit optimistic and say that I think that there have been some decent records to come out in the last year or so. It isn't even close to being on par with past periods of more musical excitement, but it's... OK. If you are talking about both the music and the underground press, radio, etc as they stand right now, then I have nothing good whatsoever to say about the state of the general "rock underground." Basically, I can't believe the crap that people like and the good stuff that people almost completely ignore."

Bubba and his brother, Matt, once leaders of Austin-based outfit Bedhead, have recently formed a new band, The New Year, and earlier this year released a quietly wonderful debut album, 'Newness Ends'. This was a record that drew on their Bedhead past, the hushed vocals and meshed, intertwined guitars (as they once put it, their aim was "to incorporate the texture and presence of a bowed viola/violin with the timbre of a guitar"), but to which they added variety and immediacy. Songs ranged from the hurtling, almost-singalong Gasoline, to the stately One Plus One Minus One Equals One and on to foot-to-the-floor rockers like Carne Levare.

For 'Newness Ends' the Kadanes chose to work with Steve Albini, whose engineering skills had blessed the last Bedhead album, 'Transaction de Novo'. "We like working with Steve because he's built the best studio in the world," says Matt, before adding "and we all get along well." And, to bear this out, The New Year have been invited to play at the 2002 Shellac-curated All Tomorrow's Parties Festival.

Bedhead split in 1998 after an acclaimed seven year, three album career. "A long, personal story" says Bubba, "it didn't really have too much to do with musical considerations at the time." It took Matt and Bubba another three years to put out 'Newness Ends'. "There was a little more than the usual time between Bedhead records, but part of that can be attributed to the fact that Matt and I didn't know what we were going to do for a while. We actually had 5 or 6 of the songs fairly early on."

The Kadanes are keen to stress that the only real difference between the bands is the personnel involved (the line-up adds the ubiquitous Chris Brokaw on drums, Peter Schmidt on guitar and Saturnine's Mike Donofrio on bass). Bubba maintains "the name change was made simply because this is a different group of musicians. The songs didn't really have much to do with it. In fact, Bedhead was playing a few of these songs on the last tours in '98, specifically Gasoline and Alter Ego, and if Bedhead had continued, these same songs would have made up the fourth Bedhead record."

They chose The New Year because "it's the title of a Mark Strand poem and we noticed that it looked really good in print. It seemed like a strong name."

It might well be the case that the band changed names because of a new line-up but there does seem to be a freshness about the songwriting, emotionally direct but full of vivid, humourous observations, even if the subjects covered offer recurring dark themes - ageing, longing, disappointment. Matt clarifies, "most songs falling in the category of darker emotions doesn't necessarily mean my life is governed by those kinds of feelings, but I would say that there is usually more of a pressing need to musically express longing, ageing, disappointment, and so on, than there is to express boundless happiness. At the same time I would hope that the emotional directness in the songs would be softened by humor, vivid details, and things like that."

In addition to 'Newness Ends', Matt and Bubba have been busy working on a documentary soundtrack. Bubba says, "the documentary is called 'Hell House.' It is a feature-length documentary about a very elaborate haunted house designed to scare kids to the church. It is about to show at the Toronto Film Festival. It is not at all like 'Newness Ends', since it is instrumental, very sparse, and, of course, written to accompany film. It probably won't be released as an audio record because Matt and I just don't really think that it's works on its own as a record necessarily. It's also really short when it's all put together - about 17 minutes."

Recording documentary soundtracks, releasing albums on "underground" labels like Touch and Go, operating outside the mainstream, is Matt happy with the tag of "outsiders"? "Being outsiders is fine. It may mean we sell fewer records or get less critical praise of the reproducing the hyperbolic press kit variety than some of our peers; but it also means that we think for ourselves more clearly and, in the best of all scenarios, that we might escape the pull of some of the stupider trends that seem so thoroughly to capture the imagination of other bands. I guess you never really escape anything, but even if our records stand the test of time for ten years longer than some of our trendier counterparts, that will have been worth it to me."

If the follow-up records are only half as good as 'Newness Ends', then The New Year need have no fears about their records passing the test.

CWAS #9 - Winter 2002