Category Archives: New Album 2014

Video: “Naked and Ticklish”

“Naked and Ticklish” is an excerpt from Jean Smith’s novel “Obliterating History – a guitar-making mystery, domination and submission in a small town garage” (literary fiction)

From the new Mecca Normal album “Empathy for the Evil” on M’lady’s Records


The new Mecca Normal album (original release date September 30, 2014)
was delayed at the pressing plant until February, 2015.

Available Now!!

Mecca Normal, Empathy for the Evil, CD cover art, M'lady's Records - Copy
“Never before have my novels, my paintings and my song-writing been as closely attuned to each other and to my understanding of human interactions.” – Jean Smith

Most of the songs on this album are directly out of Jean Smith’s two recently-completed novels – including the one that her literary agent is shopping around to large publishers in the USA.

This is the album that includes “Odele’s Bath” – the song that 2014 Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels called “a masterpiece of story and manifesto, a lesson in life.”

This is the album produced by KRAMER – who also plays bass on all songs.

It’s on a few BEST OF 2014 LISTS and there are some decent REVIEWS floating around.

ORDER the CD and LP
through these fine establishments


Light in the Attic Records
in Seattle


Revolver USA
in San Francisco

M’lady’s Records
in Portland


K Records
in Olympia


Dischord Direct
in DC


Rough Trade
in the UK

In Canada, ask your record store to order the album through F.A.B. Distribution.

Compendium of Reviews

1 NEW March-2014

Empathy for the Evil” is Mecca Normal’s 13th album. Here are segments of our favorite reviews so far.

“…Smith’s characters deal with the inequality and power imbalances that mark modern society.”  Colin Joyce, Pitchfork (USA)

“…the songs speak to understanding the inherent nature of frayed humanity.”  Eric Risch, PopMatters (USA)

“Turning long, thick passages of prose into singable, memorable songs, Mecca Normal have revolutionized their music again. If you think you’ve already heard everything this band is capable of, you need to hear Empathy For The Evil and find out just how wrong you are. After a long-delayed release, you will finally get a chance. Do not miss this one.” – J Neo Marvin, Ear Candle Productions (San Francisco)

“For the thoughtful listener who appreciates both a good work of fiction and a nice dose of indie folk ‘Empathy for the Evil’ is the record for you.” – Mark Anthony Brennan, Ride the Tempo (Canada) rated 4 out of 5 stars

“… Smith’s words are full of wisdom and humour and cut right through the materialism of the world of rock.” – Tucker Petertil, The Big Takeover (New York)

“Duo Jean Smith and David Lester have been making raw, stripped-down garage rock since the mid 1980s. It’s rare to have this much power and emotion come from one guitarist and one singer. They always keep it real.” – Dawn Jewell, NPR-affiliate WOUB (Athens, Ohio), Top Albums of 2014

“The songs on Empathy are mesmerizing, with Smith sucking you with her trance-like vocals and poetic lyrics backed by Lester’s equally as spellbinding guitar riffs.”  Steve Long, Red Dirt Report (Oklahoma)

“Songs like the rollicking “Art Was the Great Leveler” and the more subdued “Normal” focus on the intricacies of the artist’s life – the things that connect, join folks together and perhaps drive wedges between them. I can think of no one better than Smith and Lester to show us the way.”  Alison Lang, Broken Pencil (Canada)

“It’s not really important that Mecca Normal has hung around for thirty years, what is important is that they’ve weathered the constant assaults on a disabled industry, and the destructive powers of time, which can eat away at your passion and your partnership. You put on Empathy for the Evil, and it’s like your listening to Mecca Normal at the height of the Riot Grrrl movement, when the Northwest was the center of the music world, when people appreciated the ingenuity and the artistry of artists like Jean Smith and David Lester.”  Brian Snider, Secretly-Important (Seattle)

“Art is the Great Leveler, is a beautiful tale weaving Smith’s love for art and relationships, how art can bring two people together.”  Troy Michael, Innocent Words (Chicago)

“This is a masterpiece of story and manifesto, a lesson in life…”  Sean Michaels, Said the Gramophone (Canada)

“Mecca Normal is not a normal band. They’re free of clichés, unconcerned with catchy pop hooks or mass appeal. They have made some art, and they’d like you to enjoy it on their terms. It’s refreshing, and I’m digging it.”  Abe Beeson, Nado Mucho (Pacific Northwest)

“If you’re interested in an adrenalin experience which features angst rock themes that challenge the slow flow of our society, look no further.”  Eden Gillespie, Happy (Australia)

“Their sound is now and ever shall be weird, unhip, oddly alluring and precise.”  Patrick Rapa , Philly City Paper

“Empathy For The Evil is as pure an expression of conscious, intelligent rock music as you’re likely to hear, with every track, from Art Was The Great Leveller to Odele’s Bath, providing food for mind and soul alike.”  The Crack Magazine (UK)

“The uncompromising art of Mecca Normal has been one of the more inspiring stories of the last 30 years.”  Bob Ham, The Weekly Spin (Portland)

“It’s interesting to hear a group from THEN — the ’80s—continuing to play into the NOW. Like, Mecca Normal have been together for 30 years, and in context with contemporary “indie” groups, they sound like fucking GIANTS! Their maturity and immediacy screams in the face of contemporary “indie,” which, as it became pop music, has become parody. Mecca Normal never conceded to pop-radio aims, they just kept growing their own.”  Mike Nipper, The Stranger (Seattle)

“I had never seen Mecca Normal perform live before, and I was totally thrilled and blown away. They mostly performed songs from their new record Empathy for the Evil, which is fantastic…”  This is Fag City (New York)

“This is a thoughtful, moving, and reflective album completely out of step with anything in commercial music which is, of course, a good thing.”  Allan MacInnis, Georgia Straight (Vancouver)

“A fascinating piece, minimalist and upsetting. This new album is beautiful.”  K-Fuel, webzine (France)

“Moved inside for Mecca Normal. What can you say? Listening to Jean intone a phrase like “Art Was the Great Leveler” (1st song on the new album, Empathy for the Evil) while David whacks the elasticity out of what always sound like brand-new strings has been one of the consistent pleasures of my music-going life.”  Franklin Bruno, live review of a show at Troost, New York City

“Mecca Normal has been speaking truth to power since 1984. By day Mecca Normal is mild-mannered writer Jean Smith and graphic artist David Lester, by night the duo wield voice and guitar as weapons of mass provocation, spreading their message of change and social justice far and wide.”  Shawn Conner, Vancouver Sun

“They remain in fine form on the provocatively entitled new album Empathy for the Evil, again mixing the personal and political.”  Kerry Doole, New Canadian Music

“Their insistence that a punk group could be made up of just two people following their own rules — no bass player, quiet guitar/loud vocals, storytelling as a performance art — challenged the prevailing definitions of “punk,” re-enforcing an alternate, more radical definition rooted in the DIY ethic.” — Wondering Sound (New York)

“But instead of celebrating or castigating evil, Smith traces how the absence of empathy manifests as something that looks very much like it: narcissism.”  Bill Meyer, Magnet Magazine (USA)

“The new album’s guitar- and organ-driven single ‘Wasn’t Said’ offers an introspective introduction to their lyrically focused and poignant rock realism. Their set should be a charmingly unhinged, rare treat. Recommended.”  by Brittnie Fuller, The Stranger

“Her (Jean’s) performance is like a thunderstorm, breathtaking and powerful, in which every lightning bolt is politically-charged.”  Dillon Ramsey, Master’s candidate at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Vandocument (Vancouver)

“With this awe-inspiring show of moral and musical strength, Mecca Normal concludes Wrong Wave 2014 in all the right ways.”  Dillon Ramsey, Master’s candidate at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, Vandocument (Vancouver)

“The overall vibe of this interview is testament to the fact that Mecca Normal is definitely not some relic of bygone times but a vibrant and prolific artistic force. I’ll admit that I was only familiar with their musical output, of which I consider to be absolutely necessary to listen to if you haven’t already. I have had my eyes opened to the other artistic outputs of this duo — Jean Smith and David Lester.”  Getting Past The Static (Austin, TX)

“In the early nineties I bought my first Mecca Normal album, the cassette tape of “Dovetail,” released in 1992 by Olympia-based independent record label K Records.  I was 13 or 14.” Sweetheart Redux Interview

Wondering Sound Interview

From a taped/transcribed conversation with Tobi Vail in a very hot room without windows on a beautiful day in July between the Portland show the night before and the Olympia show that we headed off to right after we finished talking to Tobi.

Mecca Normal Don’t Care if Your Aunt Likes Them


Jean Smith and David Lester have been making music together for thirty years as Mecca Normal, they’ve released thirteen albums on a variety of labels, and with Empathy for the Evil they have certainly remained flavorful and fresh.

There’s no real question about quality here, though their 2006 album Observer is eight years old it was proof that they were still going strong, writing and performing interesting and provocative music. Traditional has never been a word that anyone would use to describe the music of Mecca Normal, from the very beginning it was just Jean and David, a voice, and a guitar. There has rarely if ever been a rhythm section, the busiest you’re likely ever to hear their music is the inclusion of a saxophone or some gnarly guitar overdubs. It’s Smith’s voice that has always been the flash and flare, one of the most recognizable voices around it does hand-stands and cartwheels, it back-flips and does handsprings, it’s also totally capable of walking in a simple straight line one foot in front of the next. She can lay out these gorgeous melodies, and in the next breath blast you with poetry slam phrase/phrases.

Often it feels as if the band is getting away with something, things most other bands could never get away with. Take the album’s first song Art Was The Great Leveler, you’re immediately cut by Lester’s slashing guitar, possibly the slight hind of bass, and then Smith’s prose without real melodic inflection at least until you get to the gut punch of “art was the great leveler.” This song, as with all the lyrics on Empathy for the Evil, come straight from Smith’s recent and unpublished novels, it’s a formula that works so well on this album that it forces you to pay attention to what is happening and not what is missing. In fact, the way that Smith and Lester mix their styles together is particular admirable, regardless of the vocal style Smith employs, Lester’s guitar slashes or slow burns, they compliment one another beautifully.

The first time I ever remember hearing Mecca Normal was Narrow on the first Kill Rock Stars compilation, it stands out as one of the stranger songs on the comp, and unlike anything I’d ever really heard before, yet it’s also one of the most appealing, you just don’t know where it’s going to go. This is a trait shared among all the songs on Empathy for the Evil, it’s shrouded in mystery, impossible to predict any trajectory. The album dabbles is various tempo’s, a chasm of emotions, and gnarly and twisted expectations, by the time I came all the way to the end with Odele’s Bath, I felt nostalgic, optimistic, and highly satisfied. It’s not really important that Mecca Normal has hung around for thirty years, what is important is that they’ve weathered the constant assaults on a disabled industry, and the destructive powers of time, which can eat away at your passion and your partnership. You put on Empathy for the Evil, and it’s like your listening to Mecca Normal at the hight of the Riot Grrrl movement, when the Northwest was the center of the music world, when people appreciated the ingenuity and the artistry of artists like Jean Smith and David Lester. The question really isn’t did this wine go bad? It’s just how good did this wine get? Which in this case is delicious.

Empathy for the Evil is out right now on M’lady’s Records, and you really shouldn’t go another day with out giving it a listen.

Brian Snider
Secretly Important


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Pre-Orders / Streaming

1 NEW March-2014

Pre-Orders: “Empathy for the Evil” (M’lady’s Records) with three songs now streaming.

Tour in Northeastern US


NYC — September 23, Trans-Pecos with Mount Eerie
NYC — September 24, le poisson rouge with Mount Eerie
Boston — September 25, Lilypad with E
Providence — September 26 at AS220 with Thalia Zedek Band & 75$ Bill
Easthampton — September 27 at Flywheel with 75$ Bill
Hudson, NY – September 28 at John Doe Records and Books with 75$ Bill
NYC — September 29, Troost with 75$ Bill
Philly — October 1, Random Tea Room
DC — October 4, Back Alley Theater with Laughing Man

Vancouver — October 18, Wrong Wave, SFU downtown
Vancouver — November 15, Media Club with Mirah