Sunday, June 28, 2015


It's been years now since I first encountered The Best Westerns. For a band that reads as MONTANAN as this one, seeing them at the Union Club was perfect. As Missoula bars go, The Union Club is the near-embodiment of Country and Western. Walking into a crowd of pearl button shirts amid the Westerns' mourning pedal steel and Isaak Opatz's baritone drawl, it was hard not to become a convert. I've never professed any undying love for Country Music but man, it's hard not to give in when you're watching these guys play. Call it charisma, call it just having a ton of really great songs, call it whatever you need to, The Best Westerns are fantastic and they'll be repping that Montana flag high, wide, and handsome all over Total Fest XIV.

They've come a long way since playing the fest a few years ago. Since then, they've released a stellar record, High Country, that's cemented their reputation as one of premier alt-country, electric folk, or whomever bands in the region, if not the country. The Best Westerns are tireless, gig a ton when one of their members isn't living in Nashville, and deliver some of the most moving performances I've ever seen. You're gonna love it, folks. Even if this country thing isn't in your wheelhouse, I'm certain you'll come away a fan.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Music can be a hell of a lot of things, but as far as opening doors to another plane of consciousness? That's the kind of description I'd generally throw at the feet of some Yanni lookalike with a pan flute, not the heavily stylized mostly-just-drums duo Hot Victory. In reading their own description: "Hot Victory has created an all-enveloping cybernetic structure of electroacoustic music powered by a relentless human pulse, opening portals deep into the hybrid mind and exposing the warped mathematics to their own theory of everything, transporting you to innerspace as much as it will to outerspace with its sci-fi vision of the future where man still controls the machines, where humanity still shines through a techno-trash society" it's hard to know if they're playing this tongue firmly in cheek or if they actually believe 100% in what they're about. I don't really care. This sounds like a cross between a Krautrock band and a Gamelan orchestra. I like both of those things. I like Hot Victory.
I guess you better prepare to lose your Total Mind, people. Hot Victory is playing Total Fest XIV. 


Another day, another killer Missoula band we get to announce and it's...NO FANCY. They're one of the newest, most stellar local trios operating right now. For reference, let's just say they kinda remind me of The Magpies in one sense, perhaps without the latter's serious wall-of-noise, but with that same propulsive garage-y nod to 90's indie rock. No Fancy is a little moodier, I think, and that's one of things that sticks out for me. I love those moods.

Some other things you might be interested in knowing: No Fancy has been hard at work and (last I heard) is nearly done with recording their first album via Missoula's recording-brain-trust Black National. The first result of which you can hear below. Ray, No Fancy bassist extraordinaire (the guy with the mustache) is also a member of Missoula alt-country-faves The Best Westerns. Dude is a talent. Hell, all three of these No Fancy folks are talents and man, I'm really excited they're playing Total Fest XIV.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015


St. Paul, MN's Novacron doesn't necessarily need me to list off their pedigree, because really they're just pummelingly awesome, but I'm just gonna do it anyways and see if it changes anything for you. Three-piece heavy loud band, yeah, that's typical, it's Total Fest, but wait, these are the bands these dudes come from (in no certain order): Seawhores, Vaz, Hammerhead, Skoal Kodiak, Cows. I hope I've piqued somebody's attention because you are in for an apocalyptic good time. We've spilled a lot of virtual ink on this blog extolling the intensity of (and our love for) Vaz, Hammerhead, and the Amphetamine Reptile label, and I just wanna tell you people that Novacron is TOTALLY WORTHY. I hear they haven't been around for a while but you know, I'm almost certain they've just been asleep, like some Cthulhu of the Midwest. 2015 is the year and they're not only up and risen but planning on invading Missoula's sanity just in time for Total Fest XIV.

They were once known as Jet Legs, too. Here's some footage from AmRep's 25th Anniversary Post Show BBQ: 


For long (or even part) time Missoula residents, the mere mention of chamber-folk juggernaut Wartime Blues will elicit a wave of feeling. For you non-Missoulians, I'm here to tell you that the wave of feeling(s) are pretty much guaranteed. Wartime Blues are a force of nature, a surprisingly weird force of nature, in a consistently staid genre of music. They're also one of the few Missoula bands in recent memory to have made a name for themselves in national circles, especially those circles that run counter to much of Total Fest's classical "genre." We haven't been the same festival for years, people. Wartime Blues isn't your run-of-the-mill cello-a-guitar-and-a-folk-song jumble. They're 1,000x the greatest band you haven't seen. They're as sprawling as their subject matter and absolutely HUGE live. It's always been a treat to see 'em and you're in luck because they're totally playing Total Fest XIV.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


There will always be summer and, it seems, there will always be bands like Sacramento's Vasas, who mine the season into a sunny kind of soft-psychedelia. That's not to short-change anything these guys do, mind you, Vasas are great and there's something definitely hypnotic about these songs. It's the kind of pop I can really get behind. Sweet while avoiding the pitfall of being overly syrupy. Refined without turning into a skronking mess.   

I also didn't think I'd be saying this is 2015, but some of these songs really remind me of Modern Life Is Rubbish-era Blur. That's the thing though, in the heyday of Brit-pop, like 1993-1995, there was a massive neo-psych influence floating around and whether consciously or no, Vasas has totally picked up on that sound. Twenty years on, it's weirdly cool to hear it again, especially when "psych" these days is so disparate it's really hard to know what you're getting into.

We're excited to have Vasas this year at Total Fest XIV and considering neo-psych, just check out this video:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Full disclosure: Elisha and I love Shahs so much they played our wedding.

Shahs has been a project / band since 2005, and I can't provide you with all the ins and outs that happened other than some awesome, humid, rainy day recordings are out there. The first time I saw Tom Helgerson play was at the ZACC with 10yoGF in 2011 (I think). He was a recent transplant from Minneapolis but had already inserted himself firmly in Missoula's music scene. It was a simple set with only two members at the time (I think maybe Cassandra played along on a couple tunes), but Tom's ability to effortlessly tie the set together piqued my interest. Then and there, I knew that we were lucky to have him. Along with fellow transplant Colin Johnson, Tom quickly added value and variety to our small, transient, and, at times, homeless underground.

I experienced Shahs for the first time without distraction at the Badlander (again, I could be horribly mistaken, but this is the first time it hit hard). For a duo, the level of complexity of the songs is hard to fathom. They were definitely tinny, poppy, and quirky but there is this hard to grasp hypnotic feel brought on by the series of loops, calypso-influence, wide-range of samples, distorted guitar, keyboard, and oddly soft vocals. Everything is so layered that it's hard to single out the individual instruments until you're fully under its spell. Once there, and I don't know why, there's the strange feeling of isolation that runs counter to almost everything the music accomplishes.

The newest incarnation features Tom, Nick Ryan, Lukas Phelan, Javier Ryan, John Sporman, and Jenny Fawcett. It's criminal for so much talent to play together. The music is even more complex as they navigate through the delicate waters of creative freedom and orchestration. It's pop noise, or self-proclaimed tropical psychedelic, or corroded ambiance, or visceral weirdo stuff, or synchronized cacophony, or ... Whatever it is, it's some of the most fun, engaging, challenging trips that music can take you on. There's a dreamy party vibe cutting through each song that reflects both Tom's personality and influences as well as each member who, to my perception, has slotted in perfectly.

Tom is one of the most sincere, fun, reflective, kind, talented, intelligent, and warm people whom I have the privilege of knowing. Watching Shahs develop and continually import amazing talent into its roster is impressive in itself. The immeasurable and intangible effects Tom has had on Missoula is even more impressive. As musicians, their shows and recordings feel like a book that you routinely return to and discover connections and allusions that you missed the prior reads. Shahs sets a bar against which I'm not sure it's fair to compare other bands. As people, Shahs are unnecessarily humble. As for that creative crooner Tom, I can listen to him laugh until the oceans dry up. He's that good.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Big Business Getting Freaky.
We've just released our first set of fifty passes for Total Fest XIV, August 20-22 in Missoula, Montana. We've announced about 3/4 of the lineup, and we've got some doozies still to come. You can click on the "Purchase Tickets" tab above, or use this link right here to get there. Your choice.

To honor that this is our fourteenth and final year, and to give those of you who have been with us for all of it, or most of it a sweet deal, we've put the first fifty passes up for $50 apiece. These are selling through fast, so we encourage folks not to snooze, eh?

Additionally, we've built a couple of packages, with shirts/records of Total Fest bands, to kind of give you the full experience. Eventually, if we haven't sold through everything with passes, we will put up single show and single-day tickets, however, from an ease of operation and cost standpoint, our passes are really structured for maximum, uh, (I really want to say "Overdrive" here...) maximum efficiency.

Some of the background on Total Fest from a financial standpoint is that the folks who organize the festival do that as volunteers, and all the sponsorships, pass and ticket sales go to pay the bands who play. There's no other thing we do with dollars that come in. It's a pretty solid amount of work, but we love it. We count to a huge degree on the fact that folks "take the journey" with us, and whether or not you know all these bands, you trust that we were thoughtful about selecting the bands and performers, and kept an eye on programming a diverse festival that blows minds. We'll see you in August!

Thursday, June 4, 2015


If you think for one second that a one-man-band isn't as deserving of respect as your regular guitarist/drummer duo then buddy, you've come to the wrong place. There's a common misconception that single musicians aren't to be taken seriously as say, every other band with two or more members. It's a shame, yeah, but we at Total Fest have been attempting to throw that notion overboard for years. We've featured solo acts like Thrones, Reggie Watts, Greco, Dear Rabbit, that one time Shahs played alone, and plenty more I'm probably forgetting. Killing stupid notions is in our blood so this year, we're proud to present Boise, ID wunderkind Clarke & The Himselfs.

Total Friend and former KBGA Music Director Dane Hansen once compared the dude to something like My Bloody Valentine realized through the production and performance values of rockabilly weirdo Hasil Adkins. I'd agree with that, but throw in that Clarke & The Himselfs also presents this lazy stoner-pop-punk vibe that we've probably last seen with Wavves. It's awesome and it's fun as hell. Don't just take our word for it, Boise's own Built to Spill (heard of 'em?) invited Clarke to join them on one of their most recent tours. He's doing something right and we hear it. You should hear it too. Trust us.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Towards a well rounded review that not only captures what it means to listen to Defaceman but also serves the equal and added purpose of convincing you, dear reader and hopeful Total Fest participant, that said band is 100% worth your attention, I give you a this cavalcade of word-garbage:

Maximalist Olympia, WA hardcore? Free jazz by another name? Does that equal free rock? Can rock ever truly be free? Noise and skuzz and inadvertent (or intentional?) Royal Trux worship? Mounds of sounds piled atop sounds and sounds? Base jumping from the Freedom Tower into the seven levels of hell? Total Chaos? 
Losing a very real grip on reality? Are any of these descriptors helpful? Are any of them mutually exclusive? Do you even know what I'm trying to say?

I have no idea, because when I listen to Defaceman I'm almost scared at how disoriented I become, how completely unhinged some of this "hard" core seems to be. How much can you take? Is that a dare? Am I daring myself? I think so. I'm definitely daring you. If you're the kind of Human Being that enjoys hearing the edges of the world turn up and consume you, drown your brain in a thick blanket of musical oblivion, the kind of Human Being that at least for one moment, finds solace in losing yourself against the abyss that has been staring back for a long, long've found Defaceman. Prepare, buddy. You best prepare.


Self-described "gloomy analog garbage" seems a pretty simple (and apt) description of what Seattle's VHS throws together but you gotta listen harder, buddy. There is some serious depth at play here, some love for TRV CVLT 80's goth, an equal measure of straight up TRV PVNK that finds a goddamn happy home with these ears. Think The Wipers or The Adverts or that Golden Time when punk was just becoming "post" and that label wasn't covered in a thick layer of music-writer bullshit (kettle, black, I know). 

Art-damaged and loving it, VHS (which stands for Violent Human System) have put out a handful of incredible cassettes. They're shamelessly just like you, poor as all hell, total dirt bags with hearts of piss-colored-gold. Before your Tinnitus completely overcomes you, before you've graduated to Respectable Adult, remember that paranoia and making-rent-anxiety can be the difference between screwing around and some of the greatest punk rock this side of the divide. 


An over-saturated Polaroid. Dreamy, desert-fried blues. Death Moth inhabit a world that's both mysterious yet infinitely familiar, bridging gaps between rock and country and soft-psychedelia that were always there, just not completely obvious. These are the kind of tunes that stand ready against late spring storms, apocalyptic clouds rolling over some mountain somewhere and crest right up against your stupid, feeling heart.

We've heard something like this before, when Death Moth's June West played Total Fest years ago with the stellar Julie & The Wolves. West is a sometime-Missoulian who's returned intermittently, recruited some serious fellow travelers (Travis Sehorn and Best Western's Dave Martens play on Death Moth's True Blues) and delivered some incredible shows that feel as equally momentous as they do effortlessly casual. Death Moth is a treat that I'm lucky to say we get to see again, this time at Total Fest XIV. 

Monday, June 1, 2015


bCKAWCK and fans.
Dedicating a few paragraphs here to a band like Volumen is a kind of ridiculous thing in a number of ways, here's why: I can't think of any other Missoula band over the last roughly 20 years that inspired the same kind of love, had the same kind of weird pockets of mostly upper-teenage boys willing to put duct tape Vs on themselves and offer their allegiance, and that's released as great a body of music. Like the Fireballs of Freedom, there are probably thousands of stories to go along with the band, and they're better told in person where the inflections, facial expressions, hand gestures, Prince impersonations all can get their due.

Volumen started at some point in the middle-latish '90s when childhood friends Shane Hickey and Doug Smith decided to end their Laramie, Wyoming band (Some Kind of Cream) and move to a weird mountain hamlet called Missoula, Montana. Shane and Doug used to play along with a drum machine, drew as much inspiration from Motherbaugh/Casale as they did Gene/Dean, and Bowie. Shane was and is a science fiction reader and Doug used to be a member of Up With People. Like a lot of bands without legitimate, human rhythm sections, their audience was "under capitalized." 
Volumen a Total Fest IV in 2005.

Luck would intervene in the form of three individuals, Bryan Hickey, Bob Marshall and Chris Bacon who would help to form a five-piece band with five of the most psychically-meant-to-be-playing-music-together individuals that really I've ever encountered. From there, lots of things would happen in quick succession: They'd record their first official output, How Do You Spell, go on tour, and begin regularly playing at Jay's Upstairs often, using an ironing board as keyboard stand. That all would continue for a lot of years. They would purchase an old ambulance with a working light rack, install an Atari and drive it around, getting approximately 9 miles to the gallon. They'd regularly record, tour, play in Missoula, and around the region etc.

Food shopping in Estonia. 
In 2002, at the urging of Bryan Giles from then Last of the Juanitas, now Red Fang (who said something like, "they're like the Beatles, man. You should put something out!"), I encouraged the band to go record with Tim Green in San Francisco, and released a kind of 30 minute mini-LP of their stuff called Cries From Space. I still love how Tim recorded them. In 2003, Andy Smetanka and I helped book/roadie for an Eastern European (Baltic) tour, that started in Finland and went as far south as Vilnius Lithuania. they learned the Finish and Latvian National Anthems and played them amazingly, in a highly-engineered (by Smetanka and me) attempt to win the interest of a stoic audiences. It turned out not to be terribly necessary, but was fun to watch regardless. As time went on lives became filled with different family and work responsibilities, and I don't know what the official word was, but they stopped playing much, and then altogether in 2009 about six years ago.

Volumen Army Recruits.
Like I said, Volumen inspired fan loyalty like I've never seen. And that loyalty translated to large audiences who'd regularly turn out for Volumen shows. They bankrolled the Baltic tour largely on money saved from shows. I think the fan loyalty can be attributed to simple things: 1) they're a really tight, well-rehearsed band with a great sense of melody 2) they're fun as hell to dance/sing/party along to. When I decided this would be the last Total Fest a few months ago, I also decided that having Volumen play it would help it go out with the kind of bang I wanted. Volumen played the first Total Fest in 2002, and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to ask them to consider it. Luckily, they said yes!

Some stats:
-Number of people officially enrolled in the Volumen Army: 54
-Last time in Estonia: 2003.
-Last album: Skipper of Reverses (2009)
-Last show, April 28, 2009.
-# of Volumen-owned/operated businesses that directly support Total Fest: 4