Saturday, July 15, 2006

South Dakota Dark sits down with Casey Dienel

You may not have heard of Casey Dienel yet but, as I've mentioned before, that is something that should be rectified right away! Sweetheart that she is, Casey took a few minutes of her tour time to answer some questions for us here at SDD.

SDD: Being as relatively young as you are, would you say
that making the decision to take part in the music
business was a recent choice, or something you've always
wanted to do?

Casey: I think I kind of fell into music. For as
long as I can remember I tried to branch out and do
other things. I never felt very precious about my
musicianship, it was just a part of how I digest the
world. I had other ambitions. I dreamt that one day
I'd end up working for some non-profit humanitarian
foundation, and then I thought that maybe I'd be an
animator, a novelist, or a lawyer. When I finally put
all my pens and ink down, it felt like someone had
slapped me upside the head and said "see, Casey, this
is what you should have been doing all along!" It just
wasn't all that obvious to me, growing up. I had a
fantasy of being sensible and practical and wearing a

SDD: At what age did you start playing the piano?

Casey: I was about four when I started to take lessons, which
was something I begged for. As soon as I understood
what lessons were, I wanted in. It was like trying to
be a member of the secret Skulls society. I wanted to
be in the upper eschelon of pianists. I wanted to play
Heart & Soul like it had never been played before. I
wanted to decode Chopin and Debussy.

SDD: Do you remember your very first show? What was the
reception like?

Casey: Oh! It was awful!!! I was so nervous, and I was 18,
so I couldn't drink or do anything to wash the nerves
down. I had a band that I had assembled that week to
play the songs with me, and it was in this divey bar.
I was told I wouldn't be able to play because I was
underage, but I convinced them to let me stay long
enough to finish my set. There were maybe 4 people
there, and my songs had knobby knees back then. They
were gawky little ditties. I don't know how anyone
else felt about the show, because I had my eyes closed
the entire time. I was mortified. I didn't play out
again for another 6 months after that show.

SDD: As an artist, does it bother you being compared to
other artists?

Casey: I don't think anyone appreciates lazy
comparison--I hope I sound like myself, and that most
people are just trying to relate me to something they
like. The only time it gets under my skin is when I'm
compared to female musicians and our gender is the
most we have in common. It's certainly not just a
gender thing, and everyone seems to be victim to it. I
read about how Margot & The So & So's get compared to
Arcade Fire recently. It's silly, isn't it? I want to
believe that we're all trying to be ourselves and get
something true off of our chests, and when artists are
clearly confused about their own authenticity it's
usually very obvious. Everyone deserves their own
picket-fenced plot to some degree, right? Or at least
a shot at it. I don't know...I just really feel turned
off by the "singer-songwriter face-off" attitude. It's
stupid. and counter-productive. As writers and
musicians and truth-seekers, I feel there's a great
strength in numbers. It shouldn't be a profundity
contest at all. That's missing the point.

SDD: When you first sit down to write a song, are you
primarily focused on lyrical content or do you focus
more on the musical aspect first? Or does it vary?

Casey: I mostly am concerned with making sure whatever
I'm making feels or sounds like what I'm feeling or
trying to work through. It's like a pottery wheel, and
sometimes I'm more desperate to make something out of
nothing than others. Once in awhile the words make
this clearer to me, sometimes it's a melody or a
chord. I try not to be too strict with my methods, for
fear of completely fencing myself into
paint-by-numbers-songwriting. That would be like death
to me!

SDD: Is there a particular song of yours that is more
personal or dear to your heart than the others? If so,
why is that?

Casey: Even though I've played it too many times to count, I
never seem to tire of the La La Song. I think I like
it because it's a song that takes on new meaning every
time I get to play it. It absorbs the qualities of the
room, the personalities of the people singing
along...I also think that I enjoy the song in part
because whenever I play it, it's not just my song
anymore. It's a song that other people can take on to
mean whatever it is they want. I wish I could write
more songs like that.

SDD: I see that you're a big Pavement fan. How exactly
would you say that Pavement, or even just Steve, has
influenced you as a musician?

Casey: The melodies! The hooks! What else? I like how the
lyrics feel when I sing them. I like how the words are
strung together. I like how casual the approach is on
Pavement records, too...sometimes they seem so huge,
and other times they're just as if they're living in
your ear. I haven't given it too much thought, but I
think lyrically I felt influenced by Malkmus. I think
I like that underneath all of that wry humor are songs
about how ridiculous our culture is, how we're all
kind of wired to be broken and put back together
again. I think that's what humor is all about. We tend
to laugh about the things that, out of context, would
probably make us curl up in the fetal position and
cry. It's complex.

SDD: Any particular reason you chose to cover "Cut Your
Hair" as opposed to another song? Is it your favorite?

Casey: I like singing the "woo hoo" part. It's fun to
play. I think that the jist of the song still holds
true today. It's easy for musicians to forget why they
picked up their instruments in the first place,
although I've never been a part of that lifestyle,
really. I can just imagine people listening to me
covering this song and thinking I can truly
relate...but I can only do that on a small scale. My
friends and I all played house shows, you know? No one
ever came knocking on our doors with option deals and
a pair of shears. I think we were lucky for that.

SDD: What was the music scene like in the particular area
where you first came up?

Casey: If you weren't a rock band with 10 amps, you were
probably playing house shows in Boston. My friends in
The Specific Heats put on shows in their dingy
basement, lit only by strings of colored holiday
lights. It wasn't just local--besides Ponies In The
Surf and Tiger Saw and Jason Anderson, we also had a
lot of other K folks roll through (Mirah, the Blow,
etc.) and it was a great time. House shows are always
an attractive alternative. It's not about club profits
or drink profits or some bald guy in a tight crew-neck
quoting your draw at the door. It was easier, as
someone starting out, to play house shows in Boston
because the last thing you need as a newbie is someone
speaking to you in numbers and nonsense. It's more
important that you play and have fun. I think it's
still more important to do those things than work with

SDD: Are you discovering that you are more embraced in your
current surroundings as opposed to your Boston days
(NYC being a bit of a haven for the "indie" scene)?

Casey: If I am, I'm unaware of it. In New York, it's
easier for me to put on shows. I am still new here and
haven't really found a community for myself--which is
one of those things that I tend to really thrive on,
but I have enjoyed taking a break from constant
self-examination. In New York, the pool is so large
that I don't really see much point in trying to
determine what kind of fish I am. Instead, I'm more
interested in just swimming, er, writing.

SDD: As your album starts circulating more and more, and
more people realize how wonderful it is--is the curse
that "hype" sometimes turns out to be a worry of

Casey: I don't worry about that too much. Don't you have
to play some obscure instrument or own a loop station?
I wish I could explain how uncool I feel without
sounding obnoxiously self-deprecating. I feel too
transparently bookish to be apart of some sort of hype
machine. I am on a small independent label, so any
good words go a long way. We are diligent worker-bees
at Hush Records. At the end of the day, I would like
people to draw something from the songs for
themselves. I don't feel that mine is a venture of
self-indulgence. I hope that's the case.

SDD: Your dream tour partner(s)? A working band/artist.
First name that pops into your head! Go!

Casey: Andrew Bird or The Magnetic Fields.

*Visit Casey's myspace page to hear some tracks or to
view upcoming tour dates.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Some reality TV doesn't suck

So I get this e-mail:

"Why do you just write off all reality TV and say it all sucks? Sure some of it does, but a lot of it is good."

The e-mail then goes on to talk about My Life on the D-List and such.

But, actually, my e-mailing friend is right. There is SOME good reality TV out there. Some of it is even on the air RIGHT NOW.

Let's have a look, shall we?

The Amazing Race (CBS) -- The family edition was a dark hour for this show, but this is still the most fun you can have with a "traditional" reality show (i.e., a game show disguised as something other than a game show). The idea of forcing everyone to be in a pre-existing relationship with their partner before embarking on the race was a masterstroke, and that's what keeps this series going. It's always fun to watch engagements fall apart, marriages come to shambles and parent-child relationships burst apart at the seams. But that's what racing around the world will do to you. The show gets bonus points for being a super-fun travelogue as well.

30 Days (FX) -- Yeah, yeah. I know. Morgan Spurlock is a wannabe Michael Moore who has a bit too big of an ego. And now there are questions of whether the show's editing misrepresented some of its participants. (Honestly, though, how can you NOT misrepresent someone in a project like this? It's impossible to cut that much footage down to an hourlong show with any honesty whatsoever.) But this is still one of TV's most entertaining straight documentary shows. And Spurlock and the producers have a real faith in human nature, always assuming that the judgmental and short-sighted will be turned around by a walk in another man's shoes. The new season debuts on July 26 and will feature an episode where a hard-core atheist has to live as a fundamentalist Christian for 30 days. It sounds like thought-provoking good times to me!

The Bravo "creative people" shows (Project Greenlight, Project Runway, Top Chef) -- I don't like fashion. I'm not a foodie. I do like the process of filmmaking, but what should impress you is that I find all three of these shows deeply engaging. I had stayed away from Runway, sure it would be boring (I REALLY don't like fashion), but having seen the third season premiere, I can say that this show matches up nicely with Greenlight and Top Chef. All three are shows about people who are driven by creative impulses, and all three show people with some degree of talent who just want their big breaks (as opposed to something like American Idol, where the whole show is about the rags-to-riches dream). Whether it's movie making, fashion design or cooking, Bravo's shows capture that moment when a thought becomes an inspiration and then becomes a product. It's like when you were a little kid and they showed that short on Sesame Street about how crayons get made and despite yourself you were FASCINATED. Well, it's like that with a game show element added, basically.

So you see? Fun CAN be had with reality TV.

Tomorrow, a review of Crafty TV Writing, which I have been putting off entirely too long.


Thursday, July 13, 2006


Here's a question for all of you out there in blog land.

How do you motivate yourselves? How do you force yourself to get up and do the stuff that will give you the life you want but isn't terribly rewarding right now?

I, as you may have guessed from the occasional blog absences, am not the world's most disciplined fellow. I got by in school through a combination of charm, wit and superpowers (okay, not really, but close), but now that I'm no longer a big fish in a small pond (which is not hard to do when there are only 16 people in your graduating class), I frequently find myself freezing up, paralyzed, for lack of a better term.

Also, I'm lazy.

So. . .many of you seem as though you would have good advice on this topic. What say you?


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Your new best friends

Hey! Look at all of those new links! I wonder what they do!

Let's start at the top, shall we?

Wannabe TV Writer is a. . .wannabe TV writer. Imagine that. But her life is full of twists and turns and lots of good advice about schmoozing.

In the next section down, we've got an updated link for Fred Goss (the ABC one hasn't worked for a while now -- sorry). I know it takes you to MySpace, but it's FRED GOSS, man. Meanwhile, Doris Egan gets an upgrade since she actually, y'know, works on HOUSE, and Javier Grillo-Maxmuch, formerly of Lost, joins the merry parade.

Lots of new critics and business-related sites. Wax Banks is a GREAT writer. Check out his stuff, yo. A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago is a hilarious pop culture blender. And Carrie of I See Monsters fulfills two of my mission statements: Link to more girls and link to more people who actually like reality TV (since I don't).

But wait. There's more.

Kris has new digs over at In Contention. Be sure to check them out for your awards-related excitement. And there are THREE new film review blogs: My Life at 24 Frames Per Second, Green Cine Daily and Cinemania.

And lots of print TV critics! For fun! Rich Heldenfels writes for the Akron Beacon-Journal, Virginia Heffernan writes for the New York Times and Matt Roush and Michael Ausiello write for TV Guide (I would have added Melanie McFarland, but she never updates her blog).

Finally, industry analysis from David Poland and Jeffrey Wells. Phew!

If you just want a laugh, though, check out Marmaduke Explained, where Joe Mathlete explains the day's Marmaduke to you in 500 words or less. The first authentically amusing comics blog since the Curmudgeon, it is. (Also? I don't cook, but Three Tarts is partially written by a good friend.)

Lastly, Don't Kick Food linked to my piece at House Next Door, so he makes the list too. And if you're linking to me, let me know. I'll add you!


Nightmares & Dreamscapes & anthology series

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a fun, stylish retelling of several Stephen King short stories. It's nothing incredible, but as summer TV fun goes, it's pretty great. While all of the stories are a bit predictable, the production values are top notch, and it's a reminder of just how potent horror can be on television, where you often have to cut away and can't rely on cheap scares (like the cat jumping into frame).

But that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about anthology series.

In the early days of television (often referred to by those who don't know any better as the "golden age"), anthology shows were the bread and butter of the networks. A successful anthology show could run for weeks on end, since different writers, directors and actors were involved with each episode. Rod Serling, in particular, became one of the greats, writing the script for what would become Requiem for a Heavyweight before going on to do The Twilight Zone, one of the few anthology shows to have an obvious guiding hand overseeing it.

But there were others. Paddy Chayefsky's teleplay for Marty became an Academy Award winning film (and launched the writer on a prolific screenwriting career). Reginald Rose wrote a teleplay that was noticed by Henry Fonda and became Twelve Angry Men (Rose later returned to the script for a made-for-TV version for Showtime many years later -- one that closed a few niggling plot holes). Steven Spielberg himself directed an episode of the 70s anthology Night Gallery.

It's hard to know what, exactly, these shows were like. We have scripts and copies of some of these, but for the most part, they were shot on kinotype, a format that quickly decays. Most of them have never turned up in syndicated reruns or on DVD. (Remember the big hullabaloo in the 1980s over the "lost" episodes of The Honeymooners? Well, they were Jackie Gleason Show sketches shot on kinotype, and intact copies were unexpectedly found.) And because of this, the format never entered the national consciousness like the sitcom format did (I Love Lucy was one of the few shows shot on film, hence its survival to this day).

Obviously, The Twilight Zone survived, and sporadic attempts to launch genre anthology shows turn up now and then (most recently in the UPN revival of The Twilight Zone itself). Spielberg threw his hat into the ring with Amazing Stories, a series that was more inconsistent than most and lasted a disappointing two seasons (especially for NBC, which paid a large bundle to put the show on the air).

But, honestly, given the popularity of short, genre fiction, I don't see why a well-crafted anthology series couldn't work in a modern environment. The problem is the quality.

Because every episode of an anthology series is produced by a new creative team without a Serling-style mastermind (the truly interesting producers of television are more interested in serial stories in most cases), the quality tends to be all over the place. While Twilight Zone had a higher hit-to-miss ratio than most, it, too, had plenty of stinkers. And today's audiences are used to shows that don't vary massively in quality. Even a lackluster episode of House feels like an episode of house, thanks to the unprecedented amount of control showrunners are afforded in the television system that has evolved since the 1950s.

What it's going to take is a Ronald Moore or someone of his ilk who's interested in both genre TV and anthology storytelling. I don't think this person will need to be as hands-on as they would be with a regular series, but they would certainly need to take a look at each script before it went to filming.

Check out Nightmares & Dreamscapes though. It certainly heralds the arrival of TNT as a serious producer of interesting televised product.

And hope for the best with future anthology shows.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Brotherhood debuts tonight

I haven't seen this one yet, but the reviews seem to be mostly kind.

In general, I like the idea of there being another pay cable network in the HBO-style game (of producing high quality series that approach art), but Showtime has been a bit too derivative of HBO in the past, and their shows never seem to display the personal sensibilities that HBO's shows do.

Still, HBO had its big breakthrough with a "crime in the family" show, and this is Showtime's take on that genre.

Here are three different takes from three critics on three ends of the spectrum.

Frazier Moore of the AP calls it a masterpiece.

Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle says the show isn't quite there yet, but it shows promise, and the acting is tremendous.

And Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune finds it rather boring.

If you have Showtime and you check it out tonight, let me know what you think.