A lot of songs are memorable in the sense of making you go, “Oh yeah, that one.” Far fewer are haunting. It’s much rarer to have a track dig into you and implant itself in something primal in your emotions. When it comes to the early-2012 Heavy Kingdom (review here) collaborative album from Scott “Wino” Weinrich and German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs, there were a couple genuinely haunting songs. “Dark Ravine” comes to mind, as do “Somewhere Nowhere” and “Traces of Blood,” the Ochs-led melody of which might be the record’s most affecting.
I suppose you could argue in favor of others in that regard, but for the product of a duo, “Traces of Blood” offered perhaps the loneliest moment on Heavy Kingdom. No doubt a big part of that stems from Ochs taking the fore on vocals while Wino hangs back, but other cuts like “Labour of Love” and the semi-plugged “Vultures by the Vines” had arrangements that seemed almost bombastic in comparison. “Traces of Blood” was quiet, fragile, and the darkest moment the twosome would provide until side B’s “Here Comes the Siren.” As we see in the clip below taken from the Wino & Conny Ochs European tour in support of the album, while Ochs is handling the guitar progression and the vocals, Wino adds atmospheric depth via the e-bow, vibrating strings giving off a subtle hum throughout that’s almost like synth but immediately familiar all the same.
Rumor came through a while back of a second Weinrich/Ochs album in the works. Wino‘s schedule for much of 2013 having been tied up in reunion appearances with The Obsessed and ongoing Saint Vitus touring (I’m certainly not about to complain about either), I don’t know when they might get to putting material together for a follow-up to Heavy Kingdom, but hopefully sooner or later it happens. Particularly as a follow-up to Wino‘s solo acoustic debut, Adrift (review here), it expanded Wino‘s breadth as a performer and though he’s had a longer career, he seemed to revel in learning from Ochs as much as writing songs with him. I’d enjoy a chance to find out where their collaboration might go from there.
In addition to performing as the headlining act with The Obsessed, Wino joined Conny Ochs last September at the 2012 South of Mainstream fest for a set of material from their Heavy Kingdomalbum, released earlier in the year. That they’d appear at the German fest is only fitting – Wino & Conny Ochs‘ Heavy Kingdomcame out on Exile on Mainstream, the imprint which also curates the festival, and it was the label that brought the two together for a tour in the first place, when Wino was out in Europe supporting his Adriftsolo acoustic debut. Alongside labelmates Black Shape of Nexus, Darsombra, Stinking Lizaveta and many others, the duo took part in an eclectic three-day happening that, by all the accounts that I’ve seen, lived up to its name. Right on.
By the time they played “Crystal Madonna” on Sept. 7 at South of Mainstream, Wino & Conny Ochs had already given the new song — that is, written after the release of Heavy Kingdom or at very least not included on the album — considerable road time on their US tour. They played it when I saw them in Brooklyn, and its ultra-moody vibe was certainly palpable then. It would seem the couple weeks since that gig didn’t diminish the spirit of the song any, if the video of the South of Mainstream performance is anything to go by. The sound is just a little blown out — just a little — but especially in washed out black and white, both the classic songwriting and the depressive spirit of the piece really shine through. I heard rumors kicking around not too long ago of a second Wino & Conny Ochs album, and hopefully that materializes sooner or later. If this is a look at what a sophomore outing might entail, it seems like a worthy undertaking.
Looking back on it now more than a year later, one of the things I most enjoyed about the 2012 Heavy Kingdom debut from Wino & Conny Ochs (review here) was that it wasn’t one-sided in any way. Whether it was either player leading through one song or another, Wino working in an electric guitar solo, Ochs‘ unrepentant emotionality, or just the mood of an individual track, for what was a collection of pretty minimalist arrangements, the two songwriters managed to capture a surprising amount of variety. It wasn’t all downers, it wasn’t all upbeat hopes for a better life.
Dynamic is the word I’m looking for, and the live performance was even more so. I was lucky enough to see Wino & Conny Ochs support Heavy Kingdom more than once, in Brooklyn and at Roadburn 2012, and between tossing in new material and covers not present on the album and reworking vocals on songs from how they appeared in the studio versions to better hone in on the duo’s developing harmonics, both times I caught them, it was an exciting and spontaneous show. As this week’s Wino Wednesday clip of “Vultures by the Vines” demonstrates, that was apparently the case throughout their European tour.
Which makes sense. Ochs and Wino got together in 2011 while the latter was on tour for his Adrift solo acoustic debut (review here), so that their chemistry should grow with increased road time isn’t unexpected. That’s usually how it works with any collaboration, band or even solo performer. This video for “Vultures by the Vines” was taken just 10 days before I saw them at Roadburn, so it’s pretty consistent with where they were at around that time. There are a couple cuts from the same show out there, but I liked this one best. Hope you enjoy as well.
Happy Wino Wednesday:
Wino & Conny Ochs, “Vultures by the Vines” Live at Cafe Cairo, April 3, 2012
The year has begun to wind down, at least in terms of Wino releases, and of the several Wino-inclusive records 2012 brought along with it, I think it’s safe to say that the Wino & Conny Ochs, Heavy Kingdom, collaboration debut was the surprise of the bunch. They’re an odd pairing to look at them on stage, but Ochs‘ singer-songwriter cooing and Wino‘s rougher, road-weary edge made a striking combination, and what bleeds through even on the record is the impression that they really enjoy playing together.
That came across on the tour as well. I was fortunate enough to get to see them at the St. Vitus bar in Brooklyn on Aug. 22 (review here), and it was a refreshing performance in a way few are. After the apparent and untimely dissolution of the dual-guitar project Premonition 13, who impressed in their own gig at that venue as well, to find Wino so invested in another project, especially one so different from the last, was encouraging and indicative of not just his creative breadth, but his oft-tested resolve to not quit making music. And to have Ochs there (he’s the one in the tight pants) acting as the guiding hand into the strange realm of folk construction just made the experience sweeter.
You’ll find the title-track to Heavy Kingdom below, coupled with the Savoy Brown cover “Hellbound Train,” taken from the 1972 album of the same name. Special thanks to Liz Ciavarella-Brenner for filming.
Posted in Reviews on August 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Somewhere along the line I got the silly idea that it would be an early show. Wednesday night at the Saint Vitus bar in Brooklyn, Wino & Conny Ochs, with Sean Ragon from Cult of Youth and Kevin Hufnagel from Dysrhythmia opening — three acts, I figured an 8:30 start, Wino/Ochs on around 10, and then call it a night, everybody gets up and goes to work the next morning. Since I mentioned it, it’s probably fairly obvious that’s not the way it worked out, but since I’m still alive to mention it in the first place, also fairly obvious that I lived to tell the tale.
The tale? Pretty familiar by now, I expect. Traffic, more traffic, Brooklyn. Dark room, Vitus brew, Earthride over the P.A. I hadn’t been to the Saint Vitus bar in a couple weeks, but I’ll be back there come Monday for Eggnogg, so it was what it was. After catching them at Roadburn in April, I knew what to expect from Wino & Conny Ochs, but that did nothing to lessen my excitement at the prospect of seeing them again. As previously reported, there’s new material to be heard.
And being long since familiar with Dysrhythmia‘s ultra-tech approach, I was interested as well to see how guitarist Kevin Hufnagel fared in a solo context. Apparently he’s done noise-type solo work before, but this set was more stripped down; just him on stage with a couple pedals and what I’m fairly certain was a baritone ukulele that he ran through them. A little delay here, a little looping there, and through it all, a current of blinding finger-picking. Dysrhythmia have never wanted on the level of technical proficiency, but in this sphere, even the scales and on-a-dime turns had a natural feel.
Playing seated and rocking back and forth, Hufnagel impressed though, and not just in technique. One rarely thinks of a ukulele as a tool of atmospherics, but as he stuck an emery board between the strings to add a fuzzy sound to the finish of his set, he’d conveyed a richer sense of mood than the string resonance of his instrument might immediately indicate. He was followed not promptly by Sean Ragon, who seemed dead set on not starting until he got some reverb on his vocals that I don’t think ever came, but nonetheless unleashed a burst of post-Joe Strummer acoustic aggression once he got going.
It wasn’t as drastic a change as if Dying Fetus went on after Hufnagel or something like that, but the vibe was notably different, and not being familiar with Ragon‘s work in Cult of Youth or out of it, I didn’t know what to expect from his set. The crowd — incrementally making its way from the back room to the front — was more into it than I was. Ragon had his thing on lockdown, but my head was in another space entirely, so I extricated myself to the front barroom and enjoyed the second of the evening’s standard three beers. There was a growing host of familiar faces, and had I not been rank, I might have doled out some quality fat-guy hugs, but I worried about offending both myself and others.
Just as I was dealing with that and about halfway through my beer, Ragon came out from the back room. He wasn’t bolting exactly, but clearly a man walking with purpose. I guess Kevin Hufnagel had the long set and he had the short one, or maybe that’s his thing — play loud, fast, angry acoustic songs for 15-20 minutes and then split off the stage like you broke it. A pretty respectable ethic, to be honest. It’d still be another 45 minutes or so before Wino & Conny Ochs went on just past 11PM, but the Saint Vitus bar offers no shortage of other entertainments. I already mentioned Earthride on the P.A., and after that, it was Hour of 13.
Word had been shooting around the venue as well that both Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Ochs had gotten tour tattoos in the basement earlier in the night. I didn’t even know that was a thing, though I guess it makes sense. Within the first 30 seconds of their set, it was readily apparent that these two dudes were super-tight, musically and personally. In April, they’d filled the old church Het Patronaat with righteous bluesy harmonies, and they did the same for Saint Vitus bar’s unrepentant dinge, opening with “Somewhere Nowhere” and “Labour of Love” to cover beginning and finish of their debut collaboration, Heavy Kingdomright off the bat.
They’d already been on the road together for more than two weeks, so they played the set like it was a given, Ochs in a flowing white linen shirt that screamed “I get ladies” fairly loudly and Wino in a sleeves-gone black t with the word “heavy” on it, as if to emphasize the improbability of their pairing and the improbability that it would work as well as it does. Ochs had a bandage on his arm, Wino showed raw skin with that freshly-peeled look that’s always a marker of new ink. They played most of the Heavy Kingdomrecord — and at one point between songs, Wino named the two of them as a band called Heavy Kingdom; whether or not subsequent releases will come out under that name, I don’t know — and threw in a cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation,” which was spirited and well met in equal measure, and the title-track from Wino‘s solo acoustic debut, Adrift.
“Adrift” was a surprise, but a welcome one, and it sat well alongside Heavy Kingdom highlights like the swaggering “Dust” and “Dark Ravine.” New song “Crystal Madonna” was dark and quiet in comparison to much of the set, and seemed to be the dividing point between those who were sticking it out to the end of the show and those not, but if there was a shift in mood, it was hardly unprecedented in Wino & Conny Ochs‘ sound, and in any case, the Ochs-led “Here Comes the Siren” was even bleaker. I was glad for the chance to see that song in-person, though, and whether the duo release their next album under the Wino & Conny Ochs moniker or Heavy Kingdom, “Crystal Madonna” — she turned out to be plastic — that song is sure to be a standout. At the end of it, Wino said it was a true story.
No less true seemed the post-divorce balladry of “Old & Alone,” Weinrich‘s sneering vitriol and latent anger coming through as clearly as the fuzz he’d hooked up to his acoustic guitar for periodic solos, Ochs stomping his foot on a bass drum to keep effectively minimal time that nonetheless underscored a groove inherent in the songs. Following a short, on-stage break after their “last song,” they tore through “Manifesto” from Wino‘s 2011 split 7″ with Scott Kelly, topped it with a mostly a capella “Find the Cost of Freedom,” a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover that can also be found on their Heavy Kingdom-concurrent Labour of LoveLatitudes session, and built the ending to a raucous rock finish with Ochs speeding up his guitar and drum stomp just to the brink of losing control before cutting it off.
I cut out on the quick, the prospect of an hour-plus post-midnight drive staring me down (that was before I accounted for construction on Rt. 3 in Jersey), but though the evening had its ups and downs, there were good people and good times had, and seeing Wino & Conny Ochs as firmly unified as they were — you might say they got tattoos together in the basement of the venue before playing (only the most sterile of environments will do) — bodes well for the prospect of a quick follow-up to Heavy Kingdom, and that’s something to look forward to, whenever it might arrive.
A couple extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
This week’s Wino Wednesday clip comes courtesy of one Andrew Lusby, who along with sending in a few much appreciated kind words about the site, included a link to some HD video of Wino & Conny Ochs performing their new song “Crystal Madonna” on their current US tour in support of their debut collaboration, Heavy Kingdom. His story to tell, so let’s let him tell it:
I recently saw Wino & Conny Ochs in L.A. and I was blown away. I happened to record most of their set and the quality came out pretty good. They played a new song titled “Crystal Madonna” which I think sounds great. Figured you might want to use it for a Wino Wednesday or at least enjoy for yourself. I’m guessing it will show up on the next album which Conny told me was definitely going to happen…
Besides playing most of Heavy Kingdom and some of Wino’s solo material they also played some great covers including “Hellbound Train” (Savoy Brown), “Hotel Vast Horizon” (Chris Whitley), and “Isolation” (Joy Division).
I know it hasn’t been that long since the last acoustic-type Wino Wednesday, but here’s the thing: Last night, after yet another late evening as work, I returned to my humble river valley and found there waiting for me a copy of the new Songs of Townes Van Zandt split tribute between Wino, Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till. I was just tired enough and just enough in need of spiritual rejuvenation that I put it right on and man, it was perfect. Von Till‘s take on “Black Crow Blues,” and Wino‘s “Rake” — just what I needed.
So for today, I wanted to use another track off that release, but then I found that at the end of their European tour together, Wino and Conny Ochs had done a Latitudes session together released in March under the appropriate title Labour of Love. Someone had told me about it before, if I recall, but I guess I put it out of my mind, because it’s not like I’d be able to get a review copy. As with all the Latitudes stuff, it’s a limited edition — CD is 500, 300 of which were bundled with a wood-box version of the Wino & Conny Ochs collaborative album, Heavy Kingdom — and this morning when I (re-)stumbled on it, I bought the thing immediately. True, I probably could’ve waited for the US tour they’re doing in August and picked it up at their merch table, but I figured better not to risk missing out. It’s not always in line with my personal taste, but I’m an admirer of the idea of the Latitudes sessions anyway.
If you want to check out the Labour of Love and other Latitudes stuff — it’s affiliated in some way with Southern Records, but I’m not sure what the relationship is — you can do so here. While you peruse, here’s “Judas” from the Soundcloud player they set up to allow for sampling. Cheers and have a great Wino Wednesday.
Posted in audiObelisk on June 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is one of my favorite series of posts throughout the year, and it’s even better now because I can actually embed the players. Thanks as always to Roadburn for documenting these sets and to Marcel van den Vondervoort and his crew at Spacejam for doing the hard work of recording and putting it all together.
If you missed the first batch of 2012 streams, they’re right here, and as always, enjoy:
Yeah, I know it was just last week that I did a clip from Roadburn for a Wino Wednesday pick. Cut me some slack, man. It’s not every weekend in your life you get to see Scott “Wino” Weinrich kill it in two different sets with two different projects, and I guess until Shrinebuilder decides to go on tour with The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan reunions (which probably won’t be happening any time soon or, you know, ever), it’s about the most we can reasonably ask for. I guess you could get Saint Vitus and Shrinebuilder on the same bill somewhat feasibly for a Wino double-dose, but it’s moot, however much fun dream lineups are to put together.
And anyway, the song “Dust,” which Wino and German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs included earlier this year on their collaborative album, Heavy Kingdom (review here) has been stuck in my head on and off since I watched them play it. I thought it was a cool track when I heard it on the album, but it’s a whole different experience hearing it live, especially since, as they both noted throughout the set, they’d been on tour throughout Europe for weeks, and were extremely tight both vocally and musically. Ochs, who takes the lead vocal on “Dust” with Wino backing, kicks a bass drum to keep a beat and soulfully belts out the song with melodic embellishments. It was one of the high points of the festival.
So, on this springtime late afternoon, I hope you enjoy this clip from Wino & Conny Ochs‘ set, making the most of the old church acoustics as they open day two of Roadburn at Het Patronaat. Maybe posting it will finally get the song out of my head and I’ll be able to move on with my life, but somehow I doubt it.
Posted in Reviews on February 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are few punches pulled, no real instances of trickery, and more than anything else, the crux of Heavy Kingdom seems to be the joy of the collaboration between Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Conny Ochs. Perhaps the most elaborate thing about Heavy Kingdom is the gorgeous foldout artwork in which Exile on Mainstream has encased the CD. That’s not a criticism of the album itself. Rather, the first joint offering from Wino & Conny Ochs seems to be purposefully geared toward as natural a presentation as possible, which if anything only feeds into the narrative of how the project came about – that it was born of Weinrich touring Europe with the German native Ochs supporting his first acoustic album, Adrift, that the two played together on the road and decided a joint release was in order. Ochs, whose aptly-titled album, Raw Love Songs, was released by Exile on Mainstream early in 2011, is clearly comfortable in the role of singer-songwriter, and the several instances where he takes the fore on Heavy Kingdom prove it. Songs like “Dust,” “Traces of Blood” and “Here Comes the Siren” probably won’t be what draw Wino devotees to Heavy Kingdom, but offer some of the record’s strongest material nonetheless, and as the balance between the two players shifts throughout the 11 tracks, it only feeds into the natural feel. Layering is minimal – some electric guitar makes its way into “Here Comes the Siren” and the earlier “Vultures by the Vines,” as well as elsewhere – and really, it’s just about two songwriters who wanted to work together working together. It’s as unpretentious as that.
It’s a relatively short outing too at 38 minutes, and between that and the vocal tradeoffs and duets between Weinrich and Ochs, Heavy Kingdom asks little indulgence of its audience and gives much melody in return. Opening with one of its strongest choruses in “Somewhere Nowhere” – a hard strum makes the song stand out aside for more than its being the longest inclusion on the album – the collaboration feels immediately rooted in folk, and comes across as less staid than was Adrift, as though Weinrich internalized the lessons of touring acoustic for the first time alongside both Ochs and Scott Kelly. Arrangements are relegated mostly to two acoustic guitars, but there are flourishes here and there, and more active moments such as the title-track (also reportedly the first song the two wrote together) show a kind of rocking energy underlying the pace. Likewise, there are parts – the chorus of closer “Labour of Love” or “Vultures by the Vines” – that feel informed by an intensity (certainly the latter with its distorted solo) purely Weinrich’s, but the patience in “Dust” or the gorgeously melodic “Traces of Blood” offsets that side of the album with serenity and emotionally complex melody. Some of the most effective parts of Heavy Kingdom come about when Weinrich and Ochs work to complement each other in the songwriting, be it Ochs backing Weinrich in the chorus of “Dark Ravine” or Weinrich doing the same on “Dust” or “Here Comes the Siren,” which with its added sense of foreboding is an exceptional outing in and of itself.
Posted in audiObelisk on January 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
For this week’s Wino Wednesday, I have the absolute thrill of hosting the first track premiere from Heavy Kingdom, the new collaborative album from Wino & Conny Ochs. Ochs, a German singer-songwriter whose aptly-titled Raw Love Songs was released last year by Exile on Mainstream, toured with Wino following the issue of his own acoustic debut, Adrift, and the two reportedly hit it off creatively as well as personally. As is often the case when it comes to Wino, an album was imminent.
And Heavy Kingdom, which will be out on Exile on Mainstream Jan. 30 in Europe and March 13 in North America, captures the emotionality in both songwriters’ work. Most of its tracks are pretty bare-bones, however, so there’s an element of rawness that seems to convey the basic nature of the collaboration. They wrote them together, they play them together. Wino & Conny Ochs, as a unit, isn’t about showing off the prowess of one player or another, but about two artists who respect each other working in tandem to create something new and whole.
The album succeeds in that, and is at times almost embarrassingly honest. As a representation of the material as a whole, it’s fitting to unveil the title-track first, since it hones both that honesty and the rawness of approach that so much of Heavy Kingdom is built on. Like the collaboration itself, it deals in duality and effectively bridges seemingly disparate elements into something natural and engaging.
Please enjoy Wino & Conny Ochs‘ “Heavy Kingdom” on the player below:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Heavy Kingdom is due out Jan. 30 in Europe and March 13 in North America on Exile on Mainstream. Special thanks to Earsplit PR and Exile on Mainstream for letting me host the track. For more on the release, check out the label’s site here and Wino‘s official page. If you’d like to see a bigger version of the cover, click here. Happy Wino Wednesday.