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Western Fifth – CD review & interview

23 Nov

Listening to Western Fifth’s recent release Stand Like a Thief is a little like dancing that achingly fleeting slow dance with the girl (or guy, depending) that you almost but never quite asked out in high school. This is not to say by any means that the music itself evokes high school – it feels more like the late nights spent on porches across America at the end of a party where those remaining are a little too drunk to get home and so sit, smoke cigarettes and wait for sobriety or dawn, whichever comes first. Add those two (somewhat disparate) elements together and you’ll get a basic approximation of this encompassing and enjoyable debut offering.

When put onto I-Tunes, the Genre listed is “Country,” which lead me to wonder who makes the determination of the genre. Does the band get to decide what their genre is? If asked to pick a genre for Western Fifth, I’d probably offer up some strange hybrid like post-country shoe-gaze indie rock, which doesn’t fit in the genre box on I-Tunes, so it’s probably best that no one asked me. The band has an interesting and rewarding way of reminding the listener of a different band with every listening. Upon repeat visits, I have uncovered sounds and songs influenced or reminiscent of Wilco, The Walkmen (see below for why this isn’t an influence), Okkervil River, and surprisingly upon my most recent listen – a dose of early Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers. Listen to the burst of organ on the their third track “In the End I Went Away” and see if you can disagree.

Cake in 15 was lucky enough to secure an exclusive email interview with Western Fifth’s singer/guitar player Ryan Holweger! While the fact that the questions are mostly longer than the answers might call into question my journalistic abilities, I will respond by saying that a) I’m a writer, not a journalist, and b) think of it as an interactive interview/review and you’ll be just fine. Enjoy!

Cake in 15: The first time I listened to the new album all the way through, I was driving between Chicago & Minneapolis, having dropped my fiancée off at the airport to fly off to New York, leaving me on my own for three long weeks. My Ipod got in a fight with the car stereo system and froze. I had brought the “Stand Like A Thief” album along to see how it felt on the road, and due to the sudden loss of Ipod (at 10 am, I might add – Two hours into a six hour drive) I put it in and sped through the Madison area. Would you consider this the best way to listen to the album? If you could chose, when & where would you recommend a listening party for maximum aesthetic & emotional impact?

Ryan Holweger: Although I think listening while driving is a good way to hear this record, it might be better suited for a dimly lit room, a couch, some liquor, and a good set of headphones. I think a good place for a listening party would be a small, cozy dive-bar, or maybe in the living room of an old house.

C15: Do you hate being compared to other bands? For instance, if I said that upon first listen I was instantly reminded of Okkervil River’s *Down the River of Golden Dreams*, would you be annoyed or pleased? Would you rather be compared to The Walkmen?

RH: I’d be very pleased with a comparison to Okkervil River (one of my favorite bands). I’ve never heard the Walkmen, so I guess I’m not sure about that. I don’t think I’d ever be annoyed with comparisons to other bands, as long as it holds some merit. I feel that it’s a very effective way to give a reader a good idea on how a band might sound.

C15: Name one band you’d love to be mentioned in the same breath with, as well as one that you’d rather never be compared to again.

RH: I’m not sure if there is one single band I want to be compared to the most, but we are pleased with the different comparisons we’ve had so far (Wilco, Band of Horses, The Replacements, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Okkervil River, etc). As far as a band we’d never want to be compared to again, I’m not sure I can answer that. I suppose we’d have to be compared to a band that we don’t like before we can hope it never happens again. That being said, I hope no one ever compares us to The Eagles.

C15: The air of melancholia pervades the album – Seeps through the cracks, and many of the lyrics deal with death, love, defiance, or a combination of all three. As artists, do you find that writing in a certain mood helps to articulate your work?

RH: I find that for the most part, the mood definitely has an effect on the writing, in that I typically don’t write unless I’m in a certain mood. If I’m not in that certain mood, then the songwriting doesn’t happen. I rarely just decide to sit down and try write a song – it usually only happens after an idea comes first. That’s not always the case, but generally that’s the way it is.

C15: Do you seek to immerse your listener in the world that you’ve built, or is it enough to simply offer up a song for the listener to react to however he or she chooses?

RH: I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about like that. For the most part, we just hope the listener will take the time to enjoy the music, and hopefully get something out of it if they choose to – if they become immersed in the song, or the album as a whole, that is even better.

C15: What’s next? Where can the Cake in 15 readers find Western Fifth in the near future?

RH: Well, we’ll be playing out around the Twin Cities as usual, hopefully getting some people interested in the new album. We’re also promoting it a bit in Europe and getting some airplay, so we hope to build on that as well, maybe sell some records over there. We’ll probably do another tour sometime next year. This past summer we hit a bunch of Midwestern & southern states (Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Missouri) so hopefully we can go back to those places, and maybe to the East Coast, too.

C15: Thank you! Readers can access the band’s Myspace page here and the album is out and available and highly recommended.

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