It has been my privilege and pleasure to have interviewed:
(in alphabetical order, A-L) (Artists M-Z)
Danny Adler (Solomon Burke, John Lee Hooker, Slim Harpo, T-Bone Walker)
Adler (Band interview, including Steven Adler/Guns N' Roses)
Eric Avery (Jane's Addiction)
Jim Babjak (The Smithereens)
Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins, Babble)
Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr.)
Benise (Spanish/Flamenco Guitarist, World Music Artist)
Gerry Brown (Stevie Wonder, Stanley Clarke, Diana Ross)
Tom "Zip" Caplan (The Litter)
Exene Cervenka (X)
Benny Chong (Don Ho and the Ali'is)
Spencer Cobrin (Morrissey, Elva Snow)
Phil Collen (Def Leppard)
Cheryl Cooley (Klymaxx)
Cy Curnin (The Fixx)
Chuck D (Public Enemy)
Emily Dolan Davies (Bryan Ferry, Tricky)
Ben Deily (The Lemonheads, Varsity Drag)
Ariana Delawari (Singer/Songwriter)
Danielle De Neise (Opera Singer)
Ivan de Prume (White Zombie, Healer)
Randy Di Vitto (Original Motown artist, The Randy Di Vitto Quartet)
DMC (RUN DMC)
Ivan Doroschuk (Men Without Hats)
Conya Doss (Singer/Songwriter)
Chris Dowd (Fishbone, The UltraInfidels)
Coraleena Ellis (Grammy Nominated Reggae Artist)
Jad Fair (Half Japanese)
Clive Farrington (When In Rome)
Jon Farriss (INXS)
Samantha Fox (Pop Singer, Songwriter)
Tony Franklin (The Firm, Blue Murder, Experience Hendrix)
Martin Fry (ABC)
George Galfo (The Mystics)
Annie Gardiner (Hysterical Injury)
Paul Gordon (The B-52's)
Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station)
Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns, Guns N' Roses)
Grant Hart (Hüsker Dü)
Kirsty Hawkshaw (Opus III, Orbital)
Dereck Higgins (Son Ambulance, Solo Artist)
Matt Hopkins (Whispers of the Dragon)
Jack Hues (Wang Chung)
Chris Hughes (Tears For Fears, Peter Gabriel, Adam and the Ants)
Tracie Hunter (Ian Hunter, Joe Elliott)
Victor Indrizzo (Beck, Depeche Mode, Alanis Morrisette)
The Insomniacs (Band Interview)
Laura Izibor (Singer, Songwriter)
David J (Love and Rockets, Bauhaus)
Chris Jack (The Routes)
Frank Jeckell (1910 Fruitgum Company)
Darryl Jenifer (Bad Brains)
Leon Joyce, Jr. (The Ramsey Lewis Trio)
Saba Kahsay (Singer/Songwriter)
Lloyd "Fluid Floyd" Kendall (Don Tiki)
Briana Kidwell (Singer/Songwriter)
Lady Miss Kier (Deee-lite)
Ivan Kral (Patti Smith Group, Iggy Pop)
Ella Kromah (Singer/Songwriter)
Ava Lemert (Singer/Songwriter/Musician)
JC Lodge (Reggae Artist-Singer/Songwriter)
LeAnne "LeLee" Lyons (SWV)
*Note: No Interviews may be copied or reproduced for any other publication- web or print- without the consent of the author as copyrighted below.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Danny Adler is the Zelig of the Blues. He has been everywhere…performing with the originals as well as their passionate British disciples that subsequently carried the musical torch. In doing so, he has become a player who can proudly stand beside all of the above with the skills to match. While presently working on his Legacy Series of albums for iTunes, he took a moment to speak with Eclectiblogs.
CL: Mr. Alder, it's a pleasure meeting you.
DA: The pleasure's all mine. I'm pleased to answer your questions.
CL: Where did your love for the guitar first originate?
DA: I love the music of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Beatles, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, BB King, Buddy Guy, Django Reinhart, Barney Kessel, Scotty Anderson, Rolling Stones, Mike Stern, John McLaughlin, Jimmy Reed, Eddie Taylor, Albert Lee, Chet Atkins, Jimmy Nolen...to name a few.
CL: Do you have a signature electric guitar you prefer to play?
DA: Yes...my 1963 Green Fender Jazzmaster: "Greenie".
CL: How would you describe working with Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart, Alexis Korner and Jack Bruce in Rocket 88?
DA: Truly inspirational and a lot of fun, as well as a terrific learning experience. It's great to develop musical ideas within such a solid pocket, which these gentlemen generate.
CL: How do you get into the mindset to play heavy blues?
DA: Actually Chris, the Blues is all of life… and I even have to lighten up in order to play music of any kind.
CL: That is very honest, I appreciate that. Let's go way back. How did you initially meet up with Amos Milburn?
DA: I was very fortunate to play with Amos six nights a week when I was nineteen years old in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1968. I was already playing a lot of club dates around town and I was becoming known as a strong blues player. I replaced a wonderful guitarist named Darryl…who went with B-3 heavy Don Paterson. We had Oscar Crummie or Russell Givens on Bass and Sonny Cole on Drums, all King Studio players, great friends and teachers.
CL: Chuck Berry is considered by many to be one of the true architects of Rock & Roll. What was it like to play with him?
DA: I actually played piano with Chuck at the Filmore West in 1968 while sitting in with The Steve Miller Band. However, I still hope to play guitar with Chuck someday.
John Lee Hooker Slim Harpo T-Bone Walker Solomon Burke
CL: What would you say you learned from playing with Blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Slim Harpo, T-Bone Walker and Solomon Burke?
DA: How to swing, play pretty and tell my story.
CL: I can only imagine. You were also in Elephant's Memory early on. When you were in the band, did you forsee them working with someone as mainstream as John Lennon?
DA: I got asked to play in the band in 1970 by John Ward (long time Elephant's bassist 1967-1972) with them whom I taught how to play bass in 1964. I would actually really like to re-connect with him. He was a great friend. I was only in the band for three months – but those were really crazy days!
CL: With all the styles of music you have embraced, how would you describe the state of guitar in popular music today?
DA: With all due respect, there doesn't seem to be as much originality or chops as I would have hoped for today.
CL: I feel similarly, sir. Who would you like to work with that you haven't had the chance to yet?
DA: Ringo Starr. He's such a great drummer. He, Charlie Watts, Clyde Stubblefield, Freddy Bellow, Earl Palmer and Elvin Jones define modern drumming.
CL: Is there anything Eclectiblogs can help spread the word on or tell our readers about?
DA: Yes, please! I currently have 25 albums on iTunes with material from 1963 to the present. A new album will be issued every six weeks. Thank you so much for your interest Chris, best regards to you and your readers.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
I found out about this band per their name. Then my mind- like yours- played a quick game of the six degrees of Axl Rose until I…again, like you- focused on Steven Adler. The original drummer of Guns N’ Roses. The real and true advocate for that band getting together for the sake of their fans.
But as I read the bio on the band…I repeat…the BAND named Adler, I became interested in all three members. You will too, as not just Steven Adler- but Lonny Paul and Jacob Bunton are forces to be reckoned with. Let's meet them and catch up with Steven Adler along the way.
CL: Well, hello...and congratulations on the new band "Adler!"
All: Thank you for having us.
CL: Steven, I can only imagine the pride and creative excitement to get a new band going. How does it feel?
Steven: It feels wonderful. I haven't been this excited about a band since the GNR days.
CL: When did you know as a trio that you had something really special with this new band?
Lonny: I knew we had something special the moment I met Jacob. I thought, "If Steven and I get this guy, we could go as far as we want."
Jacob: I knew as soon as we all got together the first time. It just felt right.
CL: Steven, what have you found most rewarding about working with Jacob and Lonny?
Steven: Their enthusiasm and talent excites and motivates me.
CL: When did you initially meet Jacob and Lonny?
Steven: I met Lonny two weeks before my last summer tour with "Adler's Appetite". I knew from the moment I saw him that he had something special. After the tour, I met Jacob through Lonny, who had met him at the Key Club a couple nights before. Our friend Jay Ruston had introduced them. I just knew Jacob was a superstar the moment I saw him. I knew these two guys were in for great things and I wanted to be a part of it.
CL: Lonny, who were your earliest musical influences?
Lonny: Of course GNR, Ozzy, Crue, KISS, Judas Priest... the usual suspects. I was an instant sucker for aggressive, crunchy, loud music.
CL: And Jacob, what about you?
Jacob: Motley Crue, GNR, Kiss, Poison, Cinderella, Duran Duran, Steve Vai, Dokken…I loved all of the big rock.
CL: I love how both of you guys cited Guns N’ Roses as an influence. What has it been like to work with Steven in this band?
Lonny: Steven and I hang out every day, we're practically neighbors. So sometimes I forget that he was in the posters that were hanging on my walls as a young kid. I guess, honestly, I try not to think about it... if I did, I'd probably freak out!
Jacob: It's been amazing! He's such a great drummer and positive dude.
CL: As a fellow drummer, thank you for keeping the art of Hard Rock drumming alive! Do you foresee the Rock scene- you know, real Rock- getting better eventually in a mainstream sense?
Steven: Everything comes in cycles, and I think there's a brand new wave of great rock bands coming. I'd also like to think my new band could be a big part of it.
CL: What do think Adler as a band brings to the table in 2012 that is missing in current Rock music?
Lonny: Well it's cliché to promote your band and say you're going to be the next big thing, but I'd simply like to think that we're going to put out a great record that will speak for itself.
Jacob: Our music is real rock n roll, played by humans. Too many bands sound exactly the same and there is no feel in their music. We got in a room and made the record without all of the computers and studio tricks.
CL: Are you going to tour Adler this year?
Steven: (emphatically) Absolutely! I LOVE touring, we all do! In fact, the main reason we make records is so we can get out there and play the songs live.
CL: Jacob, do you prefer the studio or playing live?
Jacob: I enjoy both for different reasons. I love creating in the studio and the energy of playing live.
CL: What about you Lonny?
Lonny: I think every rock musician prefers live. When you're a kid, you don't sit in front of a recorder, you stand in front of a mirror and pretend to rock out by swinging your arms about by playing air guitar.
CL: I'm trying my best to not beat to death or glamorize the questions I know everyone always asks you! I have to do one predictable and tabloidish question though...if it's ok. Steven, are you looking forward to the Hall of Fame Ceremony? Why so or why not?
Steven: Of course I'm looking forward to it! It's something I've dreamed of since I was a kid. I want to finish what I started with GNR... for all of us to get on the same stage for the fans. They're the ones we should care about most.
CL: I agree, and that sense of priority is going to be a positive factor in Adler truly connecting. Last one...if you could warn the younger Steven Adler about what to avoid knowing what you do now...what would you tell him?
Steven: I guess just to simply be careful of how much is enough. (Laughs)
CL: Thanks guys for letting us get to know you better- can't wait to hear Adler officially in early April!
All: Thank you for your time.
Readers: If you are thinking this is a famous drummer with sidemen, think again. In a world of Pro-Tools and Lip Synching…Adler is about as authentic as they come. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
It was Southern California, I was 16 years old, and I was driving to high school.
I have read and re-read that sentence and each time it just looks so wonderful. It kind of was…for a number of reasons.
First off, it was sunny and Ventura County-perfect and my windows were down. I don’t even think that my car had air conditioning. Secondly, my driving experience began after everyone else’s did, so it felt somehow more special. You see, my parents realized that I could read at an extremely young age so they put me in school early, and so when I got to drive at 16 it seemed like an eternity after all of the other people in my grade did.
I also recall being obsessed with music, and that I kept playing one song over and over. It was so different and perfect and was carried by this beautiful bass line. The song sounded like I was actually listening to California while physically driving in California. The song was “Summertime Rolls” by Jane’s Addiction.
To this day, any time I hear that song…or “Ocean Size” or “Up the Beach”… I am once again a 16 year old driving in California with the windows down in perfect weather. So when the opportunity presented itself to interview the person who played the bass that carried these songs to such hypnotic places, I was truly beside myself. Eric Avery is a bassist that goes beyond holding down the bottom end. His lines dance through the songs and are an integral part of what they eventually become.
In the middle of his musically busy schedule he took the time to interview with me, and I am happy to share this with you.
CL: As you are certainly one of the most iconic bass players of my generation, it goes without saying that I very much appreciate the time you are taking to do this interview. Thank you.
EA: Well if you keep calling me "iconic" then I’m going to keep taking the time for you.
CL: (Laughs) I have read that you were considering touring with Garbage this year. Is that a go? How did that come about?
EA: That is a go. I am currently in Houston on tour with my friends from Garbage. I call them my friends because I worked with them before…in 2005 I think…and in the intervening years Shirley in particular has become one of my closest friends.
CL: You are one of the few musicians to work a miracle in the changing times of the late eighties. Many late eighties artists were classified as out of style when the Sunset Strip started merging from Metal to Alt.Rock, yet you not only succeeded in both camps, but helped to light the fire of the new revolution of music in the musical changing of the guard. What was it like being in Jane's Addiction while this was happening?
EA: It seems to me that these are sort of two questions or observations. Firstly, I think we just happened to succeed in 'both camps' because I am related to my sister, Rebecca. I say that because it is only through the random effect that she was dating a heavy metal drummer, Stephen Perkins, who happened to be best friends with a heavy metal guitarist, David Navarro. So you combine that with the fact that Perry and I were fans of Joy Division, Bauhaus, Neubauten…and you have music that might appeal to two different sets of folks.
Secondly, what was it like....it was interesting and scruffy and wild and pretty exciting to be in Jane’s in those early days.
CL: In Jane's Addiction, the bass is right out front. Is that something the band fell into or consciously planned?
EA: I think the bass placement was just a function of Perry and I listening to so much English music. The bass plays a far more important and prominent melodic role in English eighties music than it ever does in rock.
CL: On "Nothing's Shocking," what was the deciding factor in going with Dave Jerden as a producer?
EA: I honestly don’t remember why we chose Dave but I am sure glad we did. Although I do remember that he impressed us as being cool and in stark contrast to at least one successful producer the record company had us meeting with. Dave had also worked on "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," which would have had a very powerful positive effect on me and my vote.
CL: While most celebrate the first Lollapalooza tour, it's bittersweet for Jane's fans because it essentially was your last tour at the time. What was your frame of mind at the time? Relief?
EA: Absolutely, it was relief. I found the final days in “Jane’s 1.0” very oppressive on a daily basis…difficult.
CL: By the way, as a fan I am so glad you didn't join Metallica. They are a great band, and their bass players all the way down the line have been great...but their bass is often hidden deep in the mix, and the thought of your melodic bass lines being barely audible was hard to imagine. I know that's not really a question...
EA: Well then…let me try to come up with something that’s not really an answer. I didn’t really think I was trying for the job. It didn’t seem realistic, but I knew that I would have the opportunity to have a day that was different from any other. It was only a night or two before the actual audition, talking to Flea, when he convinced me that I even could actually get the job. It scared me. Unconsciously, I hadn’t really considered it as a real possibility up to that point. I have to say, Metallica were so cool to me that day and showed a great deal of respect to me after; Lars called me himself to tell they hadn’t chosen me. I was impressed with the class of that move.
CL: You have to know how much fans devour those kinds of recollections. Thanks for sharing that. So tell me how Polar Bear came to be.
EA: Again it was Carla Bozulich. She put Perry and I together to begin Jane’s. She was a close friend. She was in a band that I was a fan of; Ethyl Meatplow...the drummer/programmer was Biff Sanders. When I met him at his studio downtown, I immediately felt at home there and wanted to work with him. He is so talented. He taught me tons about sampling and electronics early on.
CL: Is the Giraffe Tongue Orchestra still going? Tell us about that project.
EA: Yes. Just spoke to Ben Weinman yesterday. It’s growing like a fungus. Still talking…still swapping files…still not sure if or what it’s ever going to be but it could be really cool. If all voices can find a way to comingle we might be able to do something special. That’s the hope anyway, always.
CL: I'll leave you with a chance to make an aspiring band very happy. Any new bands out there you are currently into?
EA: Let’s see...just asked my wife what I’ve been listening to lately...Timber Timbre, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Adebisi Shank.
CL: Mr. Avery, it was a pleasure. Thanks for your time, and especially for adding bass lines to the soundtrack of my youth.
EA: I appreciate your interest.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
There is nothing I could open this piece with that would top you simply humoring me by doing the following:
Go to wherever you go to listen to music, take a minute to pace yourself and slow down, and then listen to the song “Especially For You” by The Smithereens.
Now take a moment to really think about it. This was 1988. Respectfully, higher charting material at that time in history included “Together Forever” by Rick Astley and “Season’s Change” by Expose. Personally, I remember being a high school student thinking “where did this song come from?” It was so soulful…
Then I heard the rest of the album and there was absolutely no filler. For me, that’s where my appreciation for the work of the Smithereens began. This musical collection of guys from the neighborhood are so in touch with their roots…and they have the rare ability to pay homage to all things retro while sounding fresh and new.
(A quick case in point to illustrate, where else in 1986 were you going to hear lyrics describing the object of one’s affection as a girl with Jeannie Shrimpton’s hair who stood like Bill Wyman when she played the bass? This was drop dead cool.)
Original Smithereen Jim Babjak was kind enough to take some time from his schedule for an interview, which I am happy to share with you below. Enjoy.
CL: As a tried and true fan of the Smithereens, it is a real pleasure meeting you.
JB: The pleasure is mine.
CL: You are Pop Culture students ... and it's reflective in your music. Is that usually a conscious decision or it just second nature?
JB: Well, I guess it started out that way in the beginning. I wasn't really thrilled with what was considered popular music of the late 70's, especially disco. I loved the movie "Saturday Night Fever", but I couldn't relate to it at the time. It was a great movie very well done, but "American Graffiti" released 4 years earlier had a bigger influence over me regarding music and fashion. I mean, people were still wearing really big bell bottoms. I hated the clothes at the time, so I would travel to New York City and find shops that sold vintage clothing, or go to the Salvation Army store. I used to call it Sal's Boutique. I suppose I didn't want the 60's musical style to end just when I was beginning High School. I spent most of the 70's building up my record collection and absorbing as much 60's records I could find. It was affordable at the time. Albums by the Who, Kinks, Yardbirds…were all budget bin records. I bought the Hollies greatest hits for 50 cents! So, I guess all those 60's influences had deep roots with me and by the time we recorded our first album, it was just second nature.
CL: I love how you don't shy away from a hard guitar sound while keeping the sense of melody in check. Did you originally set out to be such a hard rocking band, or did that develop along the way?
JB: I would say that it was always there and that it also developed. I always played with a lot of enthusiasm, but it wasn't till I started using a Marshall amplifier that I really sounded like I wanted. Before that, I had a small Music Man amp that was clean and didn't have the crunch I desired.
CL: Was the rest of the band on the same page?
JB: Dennis was always a hard-hitting drummer; Mike was really into the Ramones and the 70's punk music scene as well as Motown. Pat was into Black Sabbath and Jeff Beck. But we all had a common love for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly…the energy coming from 1960's AM radio combined with a wide variety of influences that everyone else in the band had, all rolled into one is part of our development.
CL: Much of what you are describing is extremely melody driven.
JB: Melody is a very important component for a great song. Many bands tend to focus too much on technique and less on melody. What happens there is, you have a song that sounds great but isn't memorable. The average person who is not a musician will hear the vocals and melody first. If it's got a great hook, the musicianship just has to be executed well, but not perfect.
CL: Your albums are all so full of great songs. I think for me, "Green Thoughts" is my favorite. It is hard-pressed for me to think of too many other bands at the time with your level of Power Pop craftsmanship. Do you personally write more in a jam session setting or alone?
JB: Thanks! I love "Green Thoughts" also. It was a great time in our career. We were totally focused on making an album as good as our first. We had five years to come up with material for the first album, but only a month for the next one because of our hectic touring schedule. Everyone was expecting the sophomore jinx for our second album.
CL: How did that intense creative process go?
JB: Pat gave us all acoustic demos of the songs and we hashed out the arrangements in a rehearsal studio before heading off to record it. That album was recorded in two weeks! Now to answer the question- Personally, I like to write both ways, jamming and alone. There are no set rules.
CL: I'm sure there are many, but is there a particular Smithereens song you especially love to play live?
JB: Yes, there are many. I truly enjoy playing most everything, especially from the new album. It also makes me feel good when people react enthusiastically to new material. I suppose I enjoy the jam during "House We Used to Live In" the most because of the spontaneity factor.
CL: Are you aware that the Smithereens were a huge influence on Kurt Cobain, especially just before the band broke with "Nevermind?" When I read that it made sense ... hard, guitar driven rock- heavy on the melody. That is totally both the Smithereens and Nirvana...
JB: Yes, I am aware and very sad that I never got to meet him. I've heard from many sources that he really dug our music. Butch Vig produced our version of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and he told me that when they were recording "Nevermind", they were listening to our album in the studio comparing guitar tones.
CL: Three of your original members came from the same town. How did the three of you come to know Pat DiNizio?
JB: We met Pat through an ad from a NJ musician's paper called the Aquarian. The three of us had already been playing together and needed a good vocalist who could also write original songs. Dennis responded to Pat's ad since he was looking for like-minded musicians at the same time.
CL: I once read a wonderful article by Dennis Diken about meeting famous- while potentially obscure to some- icons from your childhood. Who out there would you personally love to meet and have a million questions for?
JB: Besides Larry Storch? I don't know. I would need a time machine!
CL: Yes! That is a perfect example of what I mean, and I understand the time machine aspect too…my wish list would have included Kam Fong and Thurl Ravenscroft.
JB: Actually, my dad owned a tavern while I was growing up and I used to listen to everybody's stories. I enjoy talking to just about everyone from all walks of life.
CL: What is your favorite guitar in your collection? Why so?
JB: That's really tough. I know the cliché when people say it's like choosing who your favorite child is, but it is true. I am attached to a few of my guitars. I don't have many because I'm not a collector. But, the one that I really love is my 1972 Rickenbacker. It's irreplaceable. It has so many memories and still sounds great. My 1952 reissue Fender Telecaster has to get mentioned also. I've been using that guitar for live shows since 1994. It has a great tone; it's easy to change strings and travels very well.
CL: The Smithereens have something ... at least from my perspective ... that few great bands have that you can't put a price tag on. You truly come across as genuine friends. Would that be an accurate assumption?
JB: We are like family. Naturally, we disagree on things sometimes, but ultimately it all works out. Dennis and I have been friends since we were 13. It's hard to beat that. People from the audience can see that we truly enjoy playing live. For a band to be together for 31 years is pretty incredible.
CL: Yes it is. Speaking of incredible…your covering the Who's "Tommy" album was a pretty bold move. It is really, really good. What was the inspiration behind doing that?
JB: Bold is an understatement. It's crazy! It was actually Pat's idea for a few reasons. When Dennis and I got together in our early teens, we used to play songs from "Live at Leeds" and "Tommy" all the time. It never really fit with what we were doing in the early days of the Smithereens, but throughout the 30 plus years we've been together, Pat's been subjected to our jamming on that stuff during sound checks and rehearsals, so he knew we could actually play it. Another reason was our record company wouldn't give us the green light to record an original album, but when Pat mentioned the "Tommy" concept, they went for it and said if we do "Tommy" they'll also let us record an original album. And last, it happened to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the original album, so it was a celebration of that.
CL: So what other Smithereens news can you let us in on?
JB: We released a wonderful new album last year "Smithereens 2011". I'm really proud of the new material and would like more people to hear it. We're also planning another original album for 2013 and I'm really looking forward to it.
CL: Great! Let's close like this ... help me finish this sentence. The definition of good music is:
JB: …whatever you like!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
When I reviewed the exchange between myself and Tom Bailey, it initially made me a bit sad. He was so direct and to the point, which I took to mean unhappy. But the more I read and re-read his responses, something else totally came shining through. He is content. The past was there, but so is the present for this artist, and this is not the voice of someone lamenting…rather, the voice of an artist in progress.
Here is what transpired.
CL: Mr. Bailey, I am thrilled to have this opportunity. Thanks for making the time for this interview. Please tell us about the Bailey-Salgado Project. How would you describe it, and is it true it originated per a Babble track at first?
TB: Yes, Josefrancisco Salgado wanted to use a pre-existing Babble piece, but I was interested in doing new work so offered to write in something close to a Babble style.
CL: Were you always interested in science as much as art?
TB: No, I can't claim that science interested me much until quite late on. Of course, that was my failure. I'm still not what you would call "a scientist" but have learned to be more attentive to its ideas and perspectives.
CL: This is by far not the first time you have crossed mediums. What inspired the Holiwater work?
TB: It was my love of India and its music that intrigued me. I was asked to contribute to the making of a film "Holiwater" which addressed the issues of water conservation from an Indian perspective. I had the very good fortune of working with great musicians there and the recordings resulted.
CL: One thing that always made your work in the Thompson Twins stand out, at least to me...was that it was so different. There were pop hooks and melodies, sure...but something like "You Take Me Up" literally sounds like nothing else- and yet it resonated with so many. Who were the artists that musically helped formulate your musical taste in the beginning?
TB: I could try to answer that, but it would be a long and inaccurate list. Who knows where influences ultimately come to bear? Some artists have a relatively simple set of ideals which they aspire to. That's fine, but I'm still discovering additions to mine.
CL: While you continue you expand your artistry to this day, many of us clearly got to know you via the Thompson Twins. Is that a time in your life that you look upon fondly?
TB: I honestly don't think about it unless someone asks. It all seems like a long time ago.
CL: What is the best thing about extreme mainstream success?
CL: …and the worst thing?
TB: The worst is spending more time on promoting something than you spent on making it.
CL: As both an electronic and acoustic musician, what music today do you feel the most affinity towards? Why so?
TB: I think music exists beyond the limits of its means of production. I can't listen to everything, but am constantly intrigued by things I encounter accidentally. It's good to be open-minded about all sources.
CL: Where would you like to see Electronic music head as far as in popular consciousness?
TB: I don't mind. It's good when people can easily approach making music. That's the important thing.
CL: How do you feel about Mtv these days, having been a music video pioneer?
TB: Well, I haven't owned a TV for ten years so I'm not qualified to comment. Maybe the "golden age" of MTV was just a fleeting moment.
CL: What can we look forward to from you next musically?
TB: I usually try to take a break during the summer months. Ideas will filter through.
CL: It is always a pleasure to get to know a person whose art has affected me personally. Thank you again.
TB: You're most welcome.
Do you see what I mean? This is clearly a man not living in the past, and kudos for that. So I didn’t push…instead, I too will look to the future musical endeavors of this artist.
Still, I am not going to forget that “Hold Me Now” was one of the most beautiful songs of an entire decade...and neither should he. - cl
Christopher Levine, 2013
Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and the Folk Implosion are all very noteworthy in the pantheon of all things Indie and Alt. Rock. Each of these were -and by all means still are- influential, and they also shared a key ingredient. That would be Lou Barlow.
I got the opportunity to run a few questions by Mr. Barlow and he was kind enough to deliver the below.
CL: First and foremost, especially with all of the band's activity at present, thanks for taking the time to interview with Eclectiblogs. Dinosaur Jr.’s "I Bet on Sky" is a strong record. Do you feel working up material now is harder or more natural these days for the band as compared to your beginnings?
LB: It's virtually the same...neither hard nor easy...J presents riffs and drum parts and Murph and I do our best to learn them, we record till we capture a version of the song rudiment that J feels comfortable with, then he begins the process of layering guitars and finishing vocal and lyric ideas on top. I think J's melodic ideas have been consistently strong so I personally feel each record is more or less and strong as the record that came before it.
CL: Tone is a key ingredient to the Dinosaur Jr. feel. Do you feel you have a bit of perfectionism toward the distinctive sound of your material, or more of spontaneity toward it?
LB: J has very specific ideas of textures he wants and has an array of vintage amplifiers and guitars that he uses to get the sounds he can accept. 'Perfectionism' isn’t the word I would use to describe the process; it's more like we try to find something we can live with. It's never perfect. it's important to strive for something great, and we do, but we will settle for less…we have to in order to continue to move forward and keep to deadlines.
CL: That’s both reasonable and honest. I just read about you at Coachella. Who are bands you looked forward to checking out?
LB: I was looking forward to seeing Thee Oh Sees and I did see them, they were fantastic. I was also interested in Tame Impala and they didn't disappoint either.
CL: You have musically been described in various ways. What would you say would be the best way to describe the music of Dinosaur Jr.?
LB: Heavy power pop...there's loads of influences that pop out, Neil Young the most obvious. Thurston Moore called us “Peace Metal” which I thought was cool and accurate.
CL: I do too. It seems many who adore Punk Rock don't like Classic Rock...or at least won't admit it. I hear both in Dinosaur Jr. Would you say that's a fair assessment?
LB: Yes. Of course…we are extremely open-minded but also very particular in our tastes. I'd say we like all 'good' music and good music cannot be confined to one sub-set of a genre i.e. punk rock.
CL: Where did the idea come from years back to cover "Just Like Heaven" from The Cure?
LB: We loved the Cure and their new single at the time 'Just Like Heaven' was great...so we covered it.
CL: What would you say is...in your opinion, the best Dinosaur Jr. album to start with for a person unfamiliar with the band's music? Why so?
CL: What do you think would most benefit popular music as a whole these days?
LB: I think popular music is doing just fine; it's not something I'm worried about. It is what it is…which is what it always was: the music that more people want to listen to. I think the good stuff almost always manages to find an audience. Music is also a business and that's an unchangeable reality.
CL: What can fans of the band look forward to in the near future?
LB: More shows.
CL: One last one. The first video I personally saw from the band was "Feel the Pain." Do you collectively enjoy the medium of making music videos?
LB: Though there is much complaining preceding the making of a video… it's never convenient…we always anticipate hardship, but, in general, they are almost always enjoyable once we accept it and immerse in it. The 'Over It' video was particularly fun. We rode bikes and skateboards for three days.
It was pretty great.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
The music of Benise takes one on a vicarious holiday of international proportions. If you are not familiar with this musical and cultural fusion, you are in for a great experience.
I was able to run some questions by the band’s leader, guitarist, and namesake recently, and he made it quite clear that creating a vibe was as crucial to his music as playing the notes on the actual fret board are.
CL: My wife saw you first in Thousand Oaks, California years ago...then we both caught your show at a festival later in Ventura. Your growing fan base is a textbook example of one obtained in a truly grass roots fashion. Is that satisfying for you as an artist?
B: Yes…our fans here in California have seen us ‘grow up’…from performing on the streets to touring the world. They’ve seen all the hard work we put into making each show bigger and better. That’s why it’s so special to tour in California now…like going home.
CL: Is it the case that you stayed independent from major labels purposefully to maintain complete creative control over your music?
B: It is strange how life guides you in a certain direction… When I started all I wanted was a record deal. We had offers from all the majors, but each wanted so much…so I opted to wait. Now, years later – it turns out it was one of the best moves I made. We have our own team – management, bookings, graphics, marketing…all done in house.
CL: How would you define the sound of your music illustratively for one not yet familiar with it?
B: Our style is a fusion – inspired by my travels and my Rock n’ Roll roots. The show combines world music, theater, and dance.
CL: When one thinks of Doc McGhee, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue might readily come to mind. So...how did the two of you connect?
B: I was promoting my own concerts…and Doc came to one of our sold out shows in Riverside, California and was blown away. He’s never had an artist in the World Music genre, so I think it was fun for him and definitely a thrill for me.
CL: The album I am most familiar with of yours is "Mediterranea." Listening to that album to me is the musical equivalent of actually being on a vacation somewhere by the water. How do you set the atmosphere in the studio when laying down those kinds of tracks?
B: I wrote most of “Mediterranea” while being on the island of Capri… the beautiful Mediterranean waters were great inspiration. I wanted to take my fans back to that little magical island.
CL: Tell me about your production "The Spanish Guitar."
B: “Spanish Guitar” was filmed over 10 countries and 3 years – we traveled to some of the most romantic and exotic cities and places around the world…I wanted to create a ‘Spanish Fairytale’ for my fans. We filmed in Paris, Dubai, India, Sri Lanka, Venice, Old Havana Cuba, and the oldest bullring in Spain.
CL: Was it always your goal to integrate the visual with the audible arts?
B: Yes – we wanted to use the latest technology and try to re-create these romantic locations.
CL: Thinking really outside...who is an artist you love that your fans might never guess?
B: (Laughs) Changes all the time…I just downloaded the new “Resident Evil” soundtrack and the best of Bob Marley.
CL: You have always melded styles musically; it seems that especially lately you are bringing massive amounts of varied cultures to the musical table. What inspires you most about World Music and its various flavors?
B: We love to push the envelope…keep fusing styles and different instruments together. Whether we it’s adding a DJ to our Flamenco or traditional Chinese drummers to our version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”…that’s what keeps it fun.
CL: Is there anything Eclectiblogs can help you spread the word on or promote at this time?
B: We’re launching the second leg of our ‘En Fuego’ tour in November.
CL: Thanks for taking the time to interview with us.
B: Thanks for your support.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Gerry Brown has been holding it down on the drums for decades with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This versatile and powerful hit man has added his signature both live and in the studio to countless songs you have both heard and loved.
His agreeing to the following interview was a great thing. Here’s how it went.
CL: So how is the East Coast treating you?
GB: The east coast is treating me great! Happy to be back in the confines of the Mid-Atlantic!
CL: Your musical resume as a drummer is second to none. What was the first gig that you remember that you got that really excited you to be a part of?
GB: The first gig that excited me was playing in a trio with Stanley Clarke and Charles Fambrough; around the age of sixteen. Stanley and Charles switched between piano and bass...both imitating McCoy Tyner and the battle of the bassists: Charles Mingus- which was Charles, and Scott LaFaro- which was Stanley.
CL: Throughout your career, was there a particular artist that you feel was especially supportive and accommodating to you as their drummer?
GB: I would say Stanley Clarke and Stevie Wonder were the most supportive.
CL: How so?
GB: Stanley was always guiding and with his insight as to what works between drummer and bassist. Stevie...well, what can you say ...all the songs that he played drums!
CL: I know there have been many, but tell me about a live performance that to this day still stands out in your mind.
GB: Performing at the ceremonies of the '84 Olympic Games with Lionel Richie. Performing for the Sultan of Brunei with Stevie Wonder… twice! Performing with Stevie for President Bill Clinton at the White House…and with Stevie for the 80th birthday celebration for Nelson Mandela…every concert with Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, George Benson and Diana Ross!
CL: Can you remember a musical experience in the studio when you could just feel that something was going to be amazing as it was coming to life?
CL: What have you found to be your signature drums, that really capture the sound you are going for?
GB: The Yamaha Birch and Maple Custom drum kit. Also, the old Gretsch if you can find them!
CL: And cymbals?
CL: Can you recall a particular experience that you found to be one of the most musically challenging per the level of excellence?
GB: RTF “Musicmagic” and any gig with Stevie Wonder... you'd never think about how much concentration it takes to watch a blind person for over two hours. You may have a set list but it doesn't matter. His repertoire is huge, you'll only get a quick glimpse of his next song by hearing where he's going. No cue! You just gotta watch and listen!
CL: How old were you when you knew the drums were for you?
GB: Around seven years old, I started at four and a half years old.
CL: That’s great. My kit now lives in the room of my four year old too! Did any particular drummer first catch your attention?
GB: Art Blakey, Earl Palmer and Cozy Cole.
CL: Can we help promote or get the word out on current projects?
GB: I’m working on a documentary series with my partner, Richard Serotta about the most under acknowledged blue collar work force...Musicians.
CL: That sounds incredible. Keep us posted as to when it is released! If you could choose an artist to work with that you haven't yet had the chance to accompany, who would you choose?
GB: A few artists…Prince, Sting, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan…
CL: You on the drums behind Prince would be something else. Help me with the rest of this sentence. A great drummer:
GB: …is all about listening, watching, grooving, being responsive to any mood, respecting the conversation, allowing the space...the room for a breath...knowing that space is your friend!
CL: Any final thoughts?
GB: Just groove responsibly!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
So I know this is off topic…which now that I think about it is rather funny since I haven’t started writing anything yet…but have you ever heard a song and just knew how great it would be for another band to have covered it in a similar style? Here’s an example…for my money, there is no better version of the musical standard “Codine” in existence than the one done by The Litter. It has such aura and is a total dreamscape. Anyway…this all got me wondering if Nirvana had ever heard this…and if they had, if they realized how covering it in the style of The Litter would have been so perfect on their recorded Unplugged album…
Ok, now that that is officially out of my system, back on topic…The Litter, known most for the killer track “Action Woman” is a perfect sonic contribution to the official Rock & Roll time capsule. Recently, I was privileged to ask some questions of their guitarist, Tom “Zip” Caplan, who was very generous in his responses. If you are not familiar with The Litter, well…you’re welcome.
CL: Right off the bat, I'd like to tell you I appreciate this and that it is a pleasure to meet you.
Z: Thank you for the nice compliment—it is appreciated.
CL: I love the authenticity of the tracks by The Litter. First off, how did you arrive at that band name?
Z: I believe that Denny Waite and Jim Kan- The Litter’s bass player- came up with the name but I could be wrong on that---anyway the name originally was meant to emulate a litter of puppies but later…partly thanks to the "$100 Fine" name of the 2nd album which I came up with…was thought to mean garbage and just stuck from then on.
CL: Is it true that the Ventures were a big influence on you as a musician? What in particular drew you to their music?
Z: Yes that is true—I grew up learning how to play the guitar from early Ventures records—I was fascinated with their style and sound and as it turned out I wasn’t alone as tons of guitar players all over the world did the same thing or were directly influenced by them at one time or another and I mean big names like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
CL: What was is like being a guitarist and opening up for Chuck Berry?
Z: Great—first gig for the group I was in at the time called The Escapades and in fact he wanted us to back him out after we played our opening set.
CL: How did it come about that The Litter got involved in the movie Medium Cool?
Z: At that time we were probably one of the hottest bands in Chicago and we had been playing the Electric Theatre and the Aragon Ballroom in downtown Chicago quite regularly so it was only natural for those venues to have us opening for major acts like Jethro Tull, Blue Cheer and the like. When the movie people decided they wanted to do a scene at the Electric Theatre the management there told the director of the movie Haskall Wexler that he was going to put us in the scene and they agreed on the terms. Unfortunately when the movie came out The Litter was scene on stage but they removed our tracks from the soundtrack and replaced them with Frank Zappa.
CL: Tell me about your "Monsters and Heroes" project. What was the influence behind the concept, and who played with you on it?
Z: I had the idea for years but wasn’t able to make it happen until 1999. I always was a big fan of the old 1930’s and 40’s Horror movies and the classic 1950’s TV shows---they all had such great music and I thought it would be real cool to play that music with Rock instruments instead of the big orchestras they used in the movies. I used different sets of musicians for each track with only myself and Keyboardist Bernie Bomberg...who by the way is also in my group The Surf Dawgs on all the tracks. Some very well known local, national, and international artists played on the album including Nokie Edwards of The Ventures, Joey Molland of Badfinger, Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds and lots more.
CL: Are there groups today that you find inspirational? Why so?
Z: There aren’t a whole lot of groups out there these days that do anything for me---too many singer songwriters-even in bands-just banging away on chords---very little solos and musicianship unfortunately. But to answer your question there are a few artists I really do like and think are up there with the legends of the past---Brian Setzer for one, Los Straitjackets, Los Lonely Boys, Jeff Beck’s new group, and of course I’ll always be ready to listen to Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, Les Paul and Jimmy Page.
CL: What was one of the best experiences you have ever had playing live that you would like to share with us?
Z: There are actually several highlights. One is when I played Bass with Johnny Winter at a benefit in Long Beach California. Johnny and I were having dinner at the Sunset Hotel in LA for my 25th birthday in the early 70’s when a friend of his came in and reminded him about the benefit but at the time he wasn’t playing with a set band...this was right after Johnny Winter And split up...so he asked me to go along and we stopped at UCLA college where his brother Edgar was doing a gig and picked up some of the White Trash players and went down to Long Beach which is where he realized they didn’t have a bass player, so he said to me “Zip, I know you know how to play my stuff on guitar –do you think you can cut it on bass”. I said I thought I probably could so he had some equipment brought up to the dressing room and we jammed for about 15 minutes and he said in true Johnny Winter fashion “AHHH---that’s close enough for Rock and Roll—let’s do it”. We did and I had the time of my life. Another would be the Galena Rock festival we played in Iowa in the early 70’s with Johnny Winter, REO Speedwagon and tons of other groups---we were actually billed above REO at the time. Thousands and thousands of people---a wild and great time---lasted all day and into the night.
CL: What do you feel has motivated you to keep playing and producing music over the years?
Z: Just my love for the guitar and music in general and the continuing desire to record new material—whether original or put a spin on covers—I love the studio as much as performing live but in a different way as they are two different animals. I’ll play until the day I can’t move my fingers…or I croak.
Exene Cervenka- Expression, Life Lessons...& 35 Years of X
-Christopher Levine, 2012
When I lived in California, I didn’t go to the beach every day. I didn’t go every week. I didn’t go every month. But there was something both refreshing and comforting to know that if I wanted to, I could. It was always there.
Musically, there are truly only a few timeless bands on the planet that carry the same feel. X is one of those bands. As popular music tastes change and regardless of the mainstream, like the ocean in Southern California, X is there.
I was able to speak with Exene Cervenka about her journey in the world of X, which proved both insightful and inspiring. The result is below.
CL: Ms. Cervenka, as a child of the 1980's from the Los Angeles area...this is a very great privilege to do this with you. Thank you so much.
EC: Thank you for the interest!
CL: X is so seminal, and congratulations on 35 years! What is something that you know now that you wished you would have known when you were just starting out?
EC: Just everything I've learned since! All the hard way, I might add. I wouldn't have signed the recording contracts, spent less on recording, taken the whole thing just a little more seriously…but I was having fun and being wild.
CL: Your vocal style with John Doe is all your own, totally a trademark of the band. Do you remember how that evolved originally? Who were early vocal influences for you personally?
EC: I never sang before… no school chorus, no church, and no other bands. I just sing whatever I feel like singing. I had no interest in being a singer or being in a band when I came to California. I was a writer, and I wrote a song with a melody, "I'm Coming Over." John, who I had just met, wanted to bring it to Billy (Billy Zoom) and sing it himself. I said “no.” He said “ok, you can sing it then with me and Billy.” We didn't have a drummer yet.
CL: Since this is a bit of a retrospective piece...if you don't mind my asking, how initially did you wind up working with Ray Manzarek of The Doors?
EC: He came to see X at the Whisky and liked the band, and asked us if he could produce us.
CL: You have been quoted as saying "Under the Big Black Sun" is your favorite X record. Still true in 2012?
EC: Probably. I don't really separate the songs by album, since I sing them all the time; they are all mixed up in the set.
CL: I could see that, as a fan I think more album by album. From your perspective, is there a specific song you have penned that you feel really helps a listener get special insight on you as a person?
EC: Any of them. They are all about emotional and societal topics that I care about.
CL: You mentioned it all started with writing for you. Do you foresee any more poetry tours in the near future?
EC: No, can't make a living doing that! In fact, that's a sure-fire money loser! Solo tours are not the thing for me anymore, much as I love doing it…just can't afford to go out.
CL: Being actively still out there on the scene, do you think there is true potential for music as a whole to get unpredictable again?
EC: It already has. Check out Petunia and the Vipers from Canada, Frank Fairfield in L.A., and my personal favorite, Skating Polly from Oklahoma City.
CL: Will do! Do you feel today's technology is helping or hurting underground bands these days?
EC: Technology is all we have! There is an upper level of corporately manufactured culture, underneath that is a lot of artists and musicians struggling to stay working. If we didn't have digital recording, You Tube, and email, we'd all be completely invisible!
CL: That makes sense, with a few clicks I can easily check out the artists you just recommended. As far as the road, how has touring with Pearl Jam been for you of late?
EC: South America was absolutely mind-blowing! The fans there are so excited and passionate; I've never seen anything like it. Pearl Jam treats us with respect and takes very good care of us on the road. Their entire crew works our show, and for practically no money, just ‘cause they want to! Also, watching Pearl Jam play, they are amazing. In June, X is going out with Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, playing Europe!
CL: That tour needs to come to the States! Not fair!
EC: We opened for Pearl Jam a while back in the states…they are the only big band that has ever asked us to open for them on tour!
CL: So looking from the stage, how has your audience changed over the years?
EC: It hasn't. Young, old, new to our music, smart, funny, caring, crazy…the same as ever!
CL: The truly cool factor is that you included “caring.” You have a core audience that goes beyond admiring your music; they have lived right beside it. Is there a particular song in the catalogue you really love performing live that stands out in your mind?
EC: My favorite song live is "The World's a Mess, it's in My Kiss.” It's very emotional, and hard to hit the notes, so I have to really feel it, and really physically push myself!
CL: As an iconic and successful woman in a highly male-dominated industry, what would you pass along to female artists just starting out?
EC: Don't get married. I repeat, (emphatically) don’t get married.
(Regarding her answer, you can read the official X biography online here.)
CL: Now for the impossible. Can you sum up 35 years of X in a single word?
CL: It was great meeting you, and thanks so much for the 35 years of great music.
EC: You too! Keep doing what you do to support all the musicians and artists out there, we need you too!
By the way…I live in Texas now. While I’m not complaining, I do have to admit that I sometimes miss the sound of the ocean. But even as we speak “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not” is on a playlist in my car, and that will have to suffice. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
CL: Hello. It is nice to meet you, sir.
BC: Aloha Chris, it’s nice to meet you and share my experiences and views with you and your readers.
CL: My website's readers and I love eclectic music. You call your style "Ukulele Jazz," which is pretty eclectic! How did you decide to meld the two styles together?
BC: The ‘ukulele is the first instrument I learned to play. A wonderful thing about it is its size. I could take it anywhere to play and practice. I’ve always thought of the ‘ukulele as a solo instrument. Maybe it was that the majority of ‘uke players I met were soloists and not singers who accompanied themselves. Being exposed to contemporary and jazz music when I was very young probably had a lot to do with why I play that type of music on the ‘uke today.
CL: Who do you recall having an influence on you early on?
BC: During the mid1950’s, I remember when everyone was listening to Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, and others…I was listening to The Four Freshmen, Billie Holiday, Julie London, Barney Kessel, Stan Kenton…it was just the type of music I could feel and relate to. It was obvious that I would try to play it on the ‘uke.
CL: Are songs challenging for you to convert to the ukulele?
BC: I play the baritone ‘ukulele which is the largest of the ‘ukulele family. The tuning I use is a DGBE reentrant tuning…4th string tuned an octave higher. The playing range is about 2½ octaves. Because I love to use chords in playing the melody rather than pick single notes, songs that have a melodic range of 2½ octaves or more present major challenges in arranging for the ‘uke. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” is an example. However, sometimes it isn’t the range of the song but what you want to do with it melodically. It could be the key that it’s played in or having to imply chords that have 5, 6, or 7 notes onto 4 strings. It is finding the right combination of notes that make a melody sound harmonically correct, interesting, and adds harmonic value and sense to a song.
CL: What inspired you to tackle "Night in Tunisia" in the unique way that you did?
BC: I did the ‘uke arrangement on “Night In Tunisia” and Nathan Aweau did the orchestration. The idea of reggae mixed with swing was all his. He could have orchestrated the song in a Bossa Nova style, western style, ballad form, etc., the ‘ukulele arrangement would have remained the same. Just the beat and feel would have been different. All of the orchestration arrangements on my first cd were done by Nathan. There are so many new variations of music today. It’s difficult to keep up with all of them. Musicians of this generation generally have a greater feel and understanding of today’s music.
CL: As this is a bit of a retrospective piece, let's go back awhile. How did you find yourself initially working with Don Ho and the Ali'is as the guitarist?
BC: I graduated from high school in 1961. During those years there was a draft system. You could enlist into the military service of your choice or be drafted into the army. After graduating, a musician friend of mine Rudy Aquino called me and proposed that we join the Air Force Band. We could get our military obligation out of the way, play music, and take college courses to earn credits towards a degree. It sounded like a good idea at the time so we went to the Hickam Air Force Base Band to meet with the recruiters and see if we qualified. It didn’t look very promising for us. There was no place for guitar, ‘ukulele, bass, vibraphone, or any of the instruments that we played. As we were leaving, sergeants Keifer and Hayashi approached us and told us that the Air Force Special Service Band was looking for a group from Hawaii to represent Hawaii and that if we could form a group, they would record us and send the tapes as an audition to the Special Service Band in Washington D. C.. This was the start of our group “The Hawaiian Ali'is”. Later we dropped the Hawaiian and became just “The Ali'is”. I was a bass player at the time but wanted to play the guitar with this group. That was the start of my career as a guitarist. The Special Service Band had a Symphony Orchestra, Airmen of Note jazz band, opera singers, The Strolling Strings, The Singing Sargent’s, and different combos, including “The Ali'is”. Our primary job was to perform shows at the Officer’s and NCO clubs throughout the US and at any special function that needed us. We performed at the State Department for Foreign Diplomats, and even did an appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Show in New York. I got to play a couple of songs for him on his ‘ukulele before we performed on his show. We were also being scheduled to play for President Kennedy for one of his lawn parties at the White House. But what happened on November 22nd in 1963 put an end to that. Each time we would qualify for vacation, I would fly home to visit my family. My uncle, Alex Among was a vibraphone player with Don Ho at the time. I always made it a point to watch him play whenever I could. Alex must have told Don that I played guitar and was a member of The Aliis that was part of the Air Force Special Service Band. Well, each time I went to see the show, Don would call me up on stage to play the guitar. After a short tour in the Air Force we were honorably discharged in June of 1964. When we arrived home, Don Ho was having a contract dispute with the Club he was working at and somehow found out that we had just been discharged. He contacted us, we had a meeting together which ended up being the start of Don Ho and The Ali'is.
CL: What was the best thing about the overall experience of working with Don Ho?
BC: The Ali'is worked with Don from mid 1964 to the ending of 1968, then for a brief period in 1981. After disbanding The Ali'is in 1989, Don asked me to work for him in 1990 as a vocal arranger and guitarist. I worked with Don from 1990 until his passing in 2007. It was a wonderful experience to have worked with Don. He was very demanding but fair. To accompany so many of the stars that would come to perform in his show, from Kui Lee, Hilo Hattie, Sonny Chillingworth, Gabby Pahinui, to Peter, Paul and Mary, Smothers Brothers, Eddie Fisher, Herb Alpert, the list is endless. I cherish all of the memories through those years.
CL: As someone who was an actual participant, what was it like to see Hawaiian music break through in such a big way?
BC: It is wonderful to see the music of Hawaii being accepted internationally. It’s not only the music but also the culture. It wasn’t that long ago when some people frowned upon musicians who arrange traditional Hawaiian music in a modern or progressive style. Today, the composers and arrangers of Hawaiian music are melodic musical poets that create from their heart. It doesn’t matter if they keep their music in a traditional form or mix it in a modern or progressive style. They are innovating, encouraged,and accepted. I love the direction it is heading and hope it never stops. It shows the creativity of this generation.
CL: How do you compare expressing yourself musically on the guitar as opposed to on the ukulele?
BC: I have been a guitarist and entertainer for most of my career. Only within the last 12 years I’ve become known as a 'ukulelist." About the year 2000 while cleaning out my closet, I came across my Kamaka baritone ‘ukulele.
CL: How did your appearance in "The Art of Solo Ukulele" come to be?
BC: I hadn’t touched the ‘ukulele for 30 years. After cleaning it, replacing the strings, and installing a new pickup, I took it to work…The Don Ho Show…to try it out. Don loved it. He asked me to bring it to work every night and play it on any song that I felt it would complement. About the same time a promoter Jay Junker was organizing a ‘ukulele tour called The Art of Solo Ukulele. The featured players were Lyle Ritz, Dr. Byron Yasui, Jake Shimabukuro and Gordon Mark. From what I was told, Lyle Ritz dropped out of the tour and recommended me.
CL: How were you acquainted with Lyle Ritz?
BC: In 1970 Lyle was going to be the record producer for my first ‘ukulele jazz album. There were no computers during those days and being that we were full time musicians who traveled and lived in different states…he in California and me in Hawaii…the project came to an end in mid1970. That’s when I put my ‘uke “in storage”…the closet.
CL: So did you have to audition?
BC: Dr. Byron Yasui called me and asked me if I was willing to do the tour. He never heard me play the ‘ukulele but told me, “I know you’re a good musician and with Lyle’s recommendation, I don’t have to listen to you play. You are in if you want to do it.” I said yes and became part of the tour and eventually the four of us recorded “The Art of Solo Ukulele” cd.
CL: So then how has picking up the ‘ukelele again treated you ultimately?
BC: I have been very fortunate since I started playing the ‘ukulele again. I have been featured on several ‘ukulele cd’s, TV shows, documentaries, done ‘ukulele concerts in Japan, Australia, The United States and Hawaii. I have recorded two cd’s. The first cd is “Ukulele Jazz” and the second cd is “Ukulele Jazz Live In Concert” which features Dr. Byron Yasui on Bass. Dr. Yasui and I also do ukulele duets. Twice we were featured with the Honolulu Pops Symphony Orchestra. Our cd “Ukulele Jazz Live in Concert” won a Hoku award for best jazz cd of 2012 here in Hawaii. The “Live In Concert” cd came into being when a friend of mine, Victor Gonsales, who has been an avid supporter of my musicianship since intermediate school, was looking at all of the posted videos of Byron and I on “You Tube”. He said the videos were ok but the audio didn’t do justice to how we actually sounded. I told him that none of the “You Tube” videos were professionally filmed and recorded and that the majority of the videos were done by people using their camera phones. He set up a concert, hired a recording engineer got two HD video cameras and released “The Nearness of You” on “You Tube”. The response was overwhelming. The sound was crisp and clear and the video was good to where ‘ukulele enthusiast could see how and what type of chords I use to play the song. Since then he has released other songs from the live concert on “You Tube”.
CL: What is your live experience like these days?
BC: People and fans that come to watch me perform have their favorite songs that I play. I guess you might call them hits or most requested songs. For me, it’s the pure joy of playing. We are all individuals who have different emotions and feelings. To express myself musically on the guitar or ‘uke is to emote passion and feelings for the music I’m playing. I would think my expressions would be quite similar playing either instrument though it may be sound different because of the difference in tonal qualities or what you can or cannot do technically with them. Playing contemporary music in a jazz style is a unique venue. There are few ‘ukulelist who play jazz on the ‘uke. I applaud ‘ukulelist who are serious advocate’s in the art of solo ‘ukulele no matter what genre. Our You Tube video of “The Nearness of You” shows one direction that a soloist might want to take. You Tube is a great resource of seeing the many different styles of playing solos on the ‘uke. I have gotten many emails asking what type of chords I use in certain places of the different songs. The interest is there and I’m always willing to help.
CL: Where can people go to see you play?
BC: Currently I travel and perform away from Hawaii and when at home I perform more at private functions.
CL: Last question, what is conceptually your credo concerning the ukulele?
BC: I have said this many times, for the majority of ‘ukulelists in the world it is not about playing solos. It’s about the gratification of playing an instrument, singing, getting together, and having fun. For these people, taking their playing ability to whatever level they want is achieving their goal. There’s nothing wrong with that. Enjoy yourselves.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Spencer Cobrin is one of those rare musicians that doesn’t seem to know how incredible of a musician he is. It isn’t a false humility; he just seems to believe that musically his level of excellence is less than perceived. Learning this upon interviewing him, my goal in this piece is to prove him wrong. Why? One, because he is a very approachable and sincere person who needs to be recognized. And two…as the drummer in the heaviest-ever version of Morrissey’s band, he hit hard while possessing the precision factor that other drummers respect. Enjoy the interchange below.
CL: Nice to meet you! I'm very interested in your work as a drummer...but to break the ice, how have you been enjoying A & R work?
SC: Nice to meet you too Chris. A&R has been and continues to be a wonderful journey into discovering so much diverse talent; I would even say the feeling is somewhat paternal. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to include such talent into the MuseIQ catalogue.
CL: As a musician, it must be rewarding to give opportunities to other musicians.
SC: Indeed, although artists are quite wary when it comes to somebody offering them an opportunity out of the blue. But we’ve worked very hard to make sure that what MuseIQ offers is a total win-win, after all, we come from the creative side of the music business too, we’re not a bunch of stiff suits.
CL: There’s a refreshing concept! Where would you say your initial love for Rockabilly emerged from?
SC: It came from psychobilly. The psychobillies I hung around with at the time were also into rockabilly, so I started playing drums in rockabilly bands. Prior to psychobilly I was very much into 80’s anarcho-peace punk, bands such as Crass, Conflict, Subhumans, Flux of Pink Indians, Chumbawumba and Rudimentary Peni. Before that I was a Mod and became an eternal lover of Northern Soul.
CL: As a drummer, do you consciously play more for providing atmosphere or for the solid rhythm?
SC: I really only ever played with the desire to engage people emotionally. I was self-taught and had to work and work and work at it. But what drove me in the playing of the drums was that it demanded so much internal power, you really have to dig into it, not just physically, but with your guts, with your spirit. It allowed me, or demanded, that I pour myself into that kind of engagement; it’s a bit hard to explain really.
CL: You did quite well…I actually understand completely as a self-taught drummer myself. In your case, it is well documented that you not only provide the beat, but are also a writer. Do you prefer being in an established band setting or working solo?
CL: Scoring films is another wonderful part of your resume. How did you get into that, and how is the experience overall?
SC: I pounded the streets of New York for three years going to salons, meeting filmmakers, and answering ads. I wrote for short films, then a documentary and a feature length piece. It was very hard work, I wasn’t prepared for the change in headspace and it became apparent that writing music to a narrative is really another language entirely. With hindsight now I think I faired OK considering I just threw myself into the fire. By continually networking I meet an agent who worked for a music house and I started sending them demos, after six months of writing and sending them material I was asked to write for a commercial that led me to working as a freelance commercial composer for several years.
CL: I was introduced to you via your work with Morrissey. I particularly loved your work on "Your Arsenal." How do you feel the production of Mick Ronson affected your approach and playing on that album?
SC: Mick gently offered me direction. I was young, nervous, wanting to please and at the same time very, very insecure. I remember rehearsing in a tiny studio in north London, he comes in to listen…the track molded itself into “You’re The One for Me, Fatty” and afterwards said to me, “You’re going to use those drums on the recording are you?” They were my brother’s drums that I used to play in rockabilly bands with, and had red sparkle glitter all over them! They were very much beaten up and didn’t project much sound…
CL: You were young…
SC: I just didn’t know any better for a professional recording session. I just died! (Laughs) In the studio I think he just let me figure it out as best as I could with some prodding. He was really mellow, a great guy to be around.
CL: That was a heavier album than Morrissey’s previous solo albums. I get the feeling as a drummer you must have enjoyed that aspect. Am I correct?
SC: I was stepping into Andrew Paresi’s shoes, he was light years ahead of me…a real drummer, I was scared…I suppose that’s why it was heavier!
CL: You held your own quite well, sir. In retrospect, what about that particular band were the most appealing aspects for you as a musician?
SC: We had all…but one…been playing together in various outfits for several years so it wasn’t like stepping into some kind of session musician thing. There was a camaraderie that we enjoyed. This aspect came across in our performances for sure.
CL: Morrissey has a very dedicated audience. Playing live, was that a source of pressure or one of excitement for you? Or both?
SC: Definitely both, in huge quantities, copious and explosive amounts. Unlimited in its quaff ability.
CL: How did Elva Snow come to be?
SC: It’s kind of a crazy story. I met a girl on a flight from London to New York and she was friendly with Scott Matthew who happened to work in a coffee shop beneath where I used to live. She said she knew this singer that she wanted to introduce me to, so Scotty and her came over to where I was working and we were like, “oh I recognize you…” but Scotty thought I was a tool and I thought he was a bass player! We started writing and hanging out, a lot of hanging out! (Laughs) We became very good friends and still are.
CL: Great story. So tell me about how you got into A & R?
SC: I was approached by MuseIQ to see if I would want to include my music in their licensing catalogue. At the time I had been signing bands for licensing to another company which had just folded, so I signed those bands over to MuseIQ and went on to continue developing the artist licensing arm of the company. It was very good timing.
CL: I like to give other artists a chance at a little happiness by their hearing shout-outs from their heroes. Any new bands or artists on your current playlists that you have been particularly enjoying of late?
SC: Lux Lisbon, Jacqueline Stern, The Relay Company, Muchuu, Cuddle Magic, Ulla Nova, Kimberly Nicole, and Crane Angels.
CL: I can’t express how much I appreciate your being agreeable to this, and best regards!
SC: Pleasure, thanks for asking!
-I'd like to close this piece with the words of the writer Walter Lippmann. "Let a human being throw the energies of his soul into the making of something, and the instinct of workmanship will take care of his honesty." Here, here. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2013
Def Leppard is a band that has always been more focused on making good Rock Music than by keeping up with trends. In fact, even when the Rock world attempted to neatly place them in a category during the '80's and early '90's, for the duration all they seemed to continue to do was to be who they were instinctively.
Today, the saga continues...as they still stick to their musical guns and do what they do best. Namely, rock...melodically.
Guitarist Phil Collen, a vital ingredient in both their dual guitar and multiple vocal attack- was kind enough to take some time to talk to Eclectiblogs about the band, as well as his other powerful and diverse band, Manraze.
CL: Mr. Collen, I truly appreciate your taking the time to interview with Eclectiblogs. To give you perspective, I was in High School when "Hysteria" came out. There was a great deal of excitement upon its release and it obviously lived up to and exceeded expectations. As an actual player and writer...how would you reflect on that time period now in hindsight?
PC: I feel really privileged to have been involved in something that allowed us four years of writing and recording to express ourselves. It's something that would never happen again. The main credit goes to Mutt Lange who had the vision and talent to see it through and make it happen.
CL: I mentally prepared for this interview by listening again to much of the band's catalog. There simply is just one great track after another. Are there songs that you personally especially love to still play live? Why so?
PC: Obviously 'Pour Some Sugar'….as it brings out the stripper in everyone…including the guys. And 'Rocket' as it sums up the band in a nutshell. We name check a lot of artists that influenced us. It's anthemic with massive tribal drums, huge backing vocals-one of our trademarks- and big guitars all done rather 'manly' while not taking ourselves too seriously.
CL: People and industry love to categorize...the bands you shared heavy MTV rotation were often all put together as a genre. Yet Def Leppard had its roots and interests beyond what one might have expected on the surface. Do you feel being known as a "Metal" "Pop Metal" band is too shallow to describe what your band is truly all about?
PC: (Emphatically) YES. I do think the whole pop metal scene was quite shallow and we had nothing to do with it except sharing a time period hence the bracket. We were never a part of any movement. Our agenda was to make the best rock album ever. I always felt that put us in a class of our own.
CL: How did you feel about the idea of music videos as a whole, as well as making them yourself?
PC: We really embraced the whole music video thing. We were at the forefront of the whole MTV generation and MTV played a huge part in our success. But it was a time and a place with a very small window.
CL: What do you feel has kept the band together despite obstacles, tragedy and at the very least...many years?
PC: We're one of the best live performance bands out there. We really do our own vocals live, no samplers or sequencers. Plus we have this rather weird English thing-it's kind of like a working class loyalty-you just…stay.
CL: There is almost no more of a touching tribute to band cohesiveness that I can think of than Def Leppard sticking with Rick Allen after his accident. From a technical point of view, were you ever worried about his not playing to the high standard of the band and Mutt Lange initially?
PC: If I'm not mistaken it was Mutt's idea that Rick carry on playing. Mutt was instrumental in inspiring Rick and us that he could still do it. As for the standard...me and (Guitarist) Steve (Clarke, April 1960 – January 1991, respectively) lived with Rick in a house in Dublin where he would be up at eight in the morning until ten pm or midnight- learning how to re-function as a man and a drummer with one arm. He never gave up…and in fact Rick set his own very high standard. All this came to fruition at Donnington Festival in 1986.
CL: What would you say is the most personally fulfilling aspect of being in Def Leppard?
PC: I would say knowing that when we get out on stage we're the PERFECT rock band.
CL: Tell those who may not know about Manraze who is part of the band and what they do.
PC: Well, I sing lead vocals and play guitar. Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols plays drums, and Simon Laffy from my old band GIRL is the bass player. I'd like to add we're a real band. We discuss everything whether it's songs, arrangements, recordings, etc. One of the most fulfilling things is that we're truly able to play whatever we want from Dub Reggae to Funk to full on Screaming Metal Punk without it sounding out of context. That's really fulfilling.
CL: I have heard you described as a "technician" when it comes to your style and sound. Would you consider yourself personally a perfectionist in the studio?
PC: (Definitively) ABSOLUTELY NOT. Listen to “Two Steps Behind”. All the clunking and weird harmonics is my hand hitting the acoustic guitar, not on purpose. I like the whole creating process and love to get stuff done in the first few takes. But I'm obviously not adverse to doing something over and over again if needed. I think that's where the technician part comes in. But really it's about being open-minded. You can't always get what you want.
CL: What do you think is missing now in Rock Music that it could use more of?
PC: Drugs, and… JUST KIDDING! I really think music in general is in a sad state as the motivation has shifted completely to ego and attention. No one does it for purely artistic and creative reasons anymore… which to me was and is the most creative and fulfilling part of being an artist.
CL: Non-music question...I just turned 40 and am nowhere near as in good physical shape as you are. What would you recommend for someone who wants to rethink their whole mindset on diet and exercise?
PC: It's good you asked me that. Nowadays, I get asked more questions about health than music. Me and Jean Carrillo, my fitness trainer and former five time world champion Muay Thai coach and former champion himself, are about to launch our own physical fitness program called 'PHYSICAL MECHANIX'.
CL: That’s great! What is the basic concept?
PC: In a nutshell it starts in the mind with obtaining knowledge about your body's functions and the foods that you put into your body. Most of us are slowly poisoning ourselves and we don't even know it. It's not just the physical training part of it. We all know we're supposed to eat leafy green vegetables, cut out sodas, don't smoke, stop drinking alcohol, and exercise… but we're looking for a short cut. There is none. The road to health is a lifetime journey and an ongoing process.
CL: Last one…what can Def Leppard fans expect in 2013?
PC: Vegas, baby! We're playing the whole Hysteria album in sequence live in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel's 'The Joint' from March 22nd to April 13th. It's the first time we've ever done this or any residency of this sort so it's going to be phenomenal!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Cheryl Cooley of the innovative R&B band Klymaxx was kind enough to take a moment to answer some Eclectiblogs questions. Here’s how it went!
CL: First off, thanks for your time and willingness to interview with me.
CC: You’re welcome, Christopher!
CL: Where do you call home these days, and do you feel musically inspired by where you live?
CC: Los Angeles, California, yes.
CL: What originally was it that made you choose the guitar as your main instrument of choice?
CC: My Brother-In-Law, at the time, Hubert Laws, had a guitar at my parents’ house when I was a kid and when I started plucking at it, it dawned on them to get me guitar lessons.
CL: What would you say is your favorite part of the live experience as a musician?
CC: The audience’s enjoyment of the concert. It’s all about the fans! I enjoy seeing them sing the words to the songs.
CL: Is there a deep Klymaxx track that seems to get the crowd going in particular, besides the biggest hits?
CC: They seem to be intrigued by the first single Klymaxx recorded, “Never Underestimate The Power Of A Woman”. The lyrics, the musical progressions, the groove… as if they are thinking, “Wow, they really play their instrument”.
CL: Do you have a favorite song to play live personally? Why so?
CC: Yes, “Divas Need Love Too”. I really like the groove of the song.
CL: Many feel in your genre that Klymaxx open many doors for skilled ladies out there. Would you agree?
CC: Yes. We’re told a lot of success stories of how we inspired many women to go that extra mile in their life, through our lyrics, being an all-female band and demonstrating determination.
CL: Were there other groups that you feel motivated you as ladies in the industry early on to break the mostly male-dominated mold?
CC: I feel that, because there was no R&B all female band out there, we thought, “Why not”, and worked together to make it a reality. We didn’t know how not to succeed.
CL: Who is an artist or band that you are really into that might surprise your fans?
CC: The Isley Brothers & Mint Condition
CL: What does the future hold for Klymaxx?
CC: We’re working on getting the band on a road tour to perform in more cities for our fans. So far, we’ll be hitting Denver, Lexington and Columbus soon.
*Eclectiblogs will keep you posted!- cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
If you are roughly in the ball park of my age group, the music of The Fixx was always around plentifully. Songs like “Stand Or Fall,” “Saved By Zero, “One Thing Leads To Another” and “Red Skies” feel like the wallpaper in the house you grew up in.
What I have always personally appreciated about this particular band was how original their sound was. I heard some Bowie in there, but they truly had an original sound. The story of The Fixx is a true success story, as the band- which formed in 1979- is still going strong.
Front man Cy Curnin agreed to answer a few questions for me. Here’s how it went.
CL: As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, what do you think of the state of popular music today?
CC: As an art form, popular music plays a less important role in people's lives. There are many more distractions competing for the same 24 hour day.
CL: What exactly do you mean by distractions?
CC: Too much Muzak around as we are bombarded with secondary, no choice audio from marketeers. Cheap, TV talent shows demean people and create an overnight success culture which implies that blood, sweat and tears has nothing to do with musical greatness. I'm sure the pure source of music is still alive but we have to dig deeper to find it. That's why we need music writers to help wade thought the pile of wannabes.
CL: Do you see a solution?
CC: iTunes should be investing a third of its revenue into new talent, otherwise in ten years they'll have no more new music to sell. All very well raking in profits…but a fruitful tree must have healthy roots. This seems to be a forgotten law of nature in our flawed system.
CL: That’s quite insightful. As both the lead singer of a very popular band and as a solo performer you have had success. Do you prefer the security of being in a set band, or the freedom of being a solo artist?
CC: Producing solo music has helped me to define what Fixx music is and what emotions present themselves musically through different phases of my life. Historically when I have written as a band member I was always aware that my lyrics should represent a kind of group collective. We have survived as a band because fundamentally we are like minded souls. We can disagree but always with respect. When I present a song, if it doesn't spike the interest of the guys, it will rightly fall by the wayside. On the other hand, my solo work tends to expose my vulnerable side which as I mature seems to soothe me in a cathartic way. It's the ying-yang thing. Opposites attract. I know that my solo work has brought me closer to the lives of some of my fans and this is heartwarming. When I look at the future and understand that at some point our souls must connect in a truly collective way no matter what, for me my music is that first step.
CL: Bands I grew up listening to seemed so original...the Fixx being one of those bands. It's hard to easily place your influences. Who were the singers and musicians you personally were influenced by?
CC: Bing Crosby, Nina Simone, Charles Trenet, and David Bowie.
CL: I have read that The Fixx will be releasing "Beautiful Friction" this summer.
CC: This album is a natural progression to our lives together. It is truly a work of patience. We faced ourselves long and hard as we made sure not to repeat ourselves while still allowing for the creative flash to determine its outcome.
CL: As far as the sound, what can fans expect?
CC: JWO (guitarist Jamie West-Oram) surpassed himself. He kept coming up with sublime ditties for me to sink my teeth into and present ideas to the guys that focused them like never before. Yes, we did argue as never before while making this record, but only as true brothers can. The title is well earned.
CL: Will you be touring as well?
CC: We will indeed be touring. Due to the nature of our lives we prefer to have a regular presence on the road. By that I mean we will work for a couple of weeks at a time all throughout the year.
CL: A question I love to ask artists...how do you feel about the state of technology for musicians today? Being a forward-thinking artist, do you feel that technology helps or hurts artists to be more creative?
CC: Technology is just another musical instrument. Once the urge to overdo the new tricks has passed it becomes just another tool to create sounds.
CL: As far as creating sounds goes for you, how do you personally go about the songwriting process?
CC: I sit and play for three hours a day and see what pops out.
CL: Regular three hour a day sessions is real dedication. What usually results?
CC: Sometimes a word chain, sometimes a new chord. No rules to this game…just be ready for it to come through from the other side.
CL: If you could choose a co-headliner for a tour from any generation of music, who would you love to share a stage with?
CC: Any band that's pulling in a large relevant audience. I’m actually very fortunate. In addition to working with The Fixx, I am involved with a cancer charity, the Love Hope Strength Foundation, which has given me an opportunity to work with great musicians from all over while we do some good. It’s a great vibe.
CL: Very nice. Apart from The Fixx, can we expect more solo work in the near future?
CC: Working on my latest: "The Horse's Mouth." It should be finished in the early fall. This is where I go back to connecting with fans. On the last record, I did a pre-order sponsorship program through my website and found it was a great way to involve others in the process. So, for this album, I’m doing more levels of participation and keeping the fans in the loop as the project comes together. There’s a great energy that comes from the support and the communication. The more, the merrier.
*Photo of Cy Curnin by Michele Martinoli
-Christopher Levine, 2012
In my world, good art makes the observer or the listener feel something. Public Enemy has consistently accomplished this, and continues to this day to make the world think. They explore areas that many shy away from often because the truth hurts too much…or maybe because sometimes we don’t like hearing things that make us reevaluate our thinking on things we feel we already understand.
As a suburban teen, this music hit me like a truck. Not only lyrically…but via the complicated, collage-like sampling perfection living under the same roof with beats that could potentially affect your blood pressure. As a listener, I always got the impression that Chuck D didn’t expect me to necessarily agree with every lyric…but that there was satisfaction in being able to share his thoughts to the part of the masses that was willing to listen.
Honestly, if you would have told me in high school that I would be interviewing Chuck D -who I considered and still do consider to be the best Rapper of all time- I wouldn’t have believed the hype. So actually having the privilege to do so was a real honor…one which not only lived up to expectations, but only reaffirmed the fact that Public Enemy and Chuck D are still as real and as totally potent as ever.
CL: This is a great experience for me...thanks for being open to this in the middle of your busy schedule.
CD: Thanks, Chris.
CL: Small world, my wife Lisa's family grew up next door to Bill Stephney's family in Long Island. How do you feel being raised where you did affected your musical taste and style?
CD: It was everything…especially in a time when AM Pop Radio WABC was so influential to everybody... and the Soul of SUPER 1600, WWRL. We were on Long Island and were getting everything…from all of the boroughs and upstate and Jersey.
CL: PE is a group that gave me a new perspective that I am sure I wouldn't have derived on my own. What was the initial reaction from the industry to your taking on strong intellectual themes, from the inside perspective?
CD: It was surprising for many because it came through the portal of Hip Hop and Rap music…thought by most to be infantile. Not delivered from a university worldly point of view.
CL: Was it surprising to see your music cross over when you never compromised or watered down your message?
CD: Again, we were influenced by what was in the air. Our town in Roosevelt, people kept their heads up high regardless…so we never thought we would ever beg to be accepted.
CL: I couldn’t picture that even being remotely possible for you to do so.
CD: Remember…Rick Rubin had asked me to be down with Def Jam for a couple years.
CL: Often because of his image and persona, many don't realize that Flavor Flav is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist. Have these skills added to the group's overall sound throughout the years?
CD: Indeed. Flav has been a music star around the earth 25 years…way beyond the small screens.
CL: Who is the album title "How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?" aimed at?
CD: Many folks who might’ve lost their souls in the past 15 years. I never thought that the masses would beg the powers that be for acceptance.
CL: Respectfully...commercial and mainstream Hip Hop today more often than not brings me down. While there are some out there still representing the genre admirably, for my taste- there is a lot out there that I feel doesn't have the depth of the greats. What would you say has created this trend, assuming you see what I do...?
CD: A lot of artists to stay on or get put on had sacrificed their art for business acceptance.
CL: Do you see a reasonable solution?
CD: We need more infrastructure supporting many artists recording today. It takes a great deal of writers, reviewers and fans to take in and process all of the output in an honest way.
CL: It’s amazing…when one searches…how much talent goes above and beyond almost anything we hear in heavy rotation on the radio.
CD: There are millions of artists and thousands of Indie labels, but a handful of blogs and essential writers giving them coverage…or DJ’s giving support.
CL: You are still out there like a troubadour on the road. How does one keep the momentum and energy so high on the 80th tour in 25 years?
CD: We are very specific and clear on what we won’t do as opposed to what we will.
CL: What would the seasoned Chuck tell the Chuck just starting out in Public Enemy 25 years ago?
CD: Rick James told us to stay focused and to be safe backstage in Buffalo in April of 1987 during the Beasties’ “License to Ill” Tour. I’d say similar. Maybe also to travel the Earth, which we have, and to learn many languages…which I haven’t… things like that…
CL: With the unfortunate recent passing of Adam Yauch, there are many individuals coming out of the wood work with comments...but you were actually a part of his life and scene for decades. Did you see his humanitarian qualities early on?
CD: Of course. I was communicating with Adam always at a different level. Mike was quiet, AD-Rock always seemed like he was an extrovert.
CL: Who are artists that you feel had a profound influence on you when starting out that might surprise your audience?
CD: Run DMC, Doug E Fresh, Whodini, Rick James, Iron Maiden, and P-Funk.
CL: The first album I had heard from PE was "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back." I was in High School at the time and to this day I feel that album is anthemic and has held up well. Do you have a particular favorite PE album upon reflection?
CD: “Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age.”
CL: Why specifically?
CD: Because we intentionally made a record totally against the momentum of both fans, press, and artists at the time. It was totally the other way…with live instruments, drums, twisted speed sounds and an anti-gangster point of view.
CL: Going back a bit…how did you find yourself working with Sonic Youth on "Kool Thing?"
CD: We were sharing the same studio and were over ordering food from the same menu. During a break from Studios A and B respectively…Thurston and Kim asked and we did it.
CL: I often give iconic artists the chance to make an aspiring artist's day. Who out there now as an up and coming artist in music are you into?
CD: My label SLAMjams has Kendo the Almost Famous who I’ve always liked. NME SUN are sons of PE members who are featured on the second upcoming PE album.
CL: The second?
CD: We are in the process of finishing up a pair of albums planned for this year. “Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp” will release during the summer….and “The Evil Empire of Everything” in the fall.
CL: What can fans expect?
CD: They’re twins, fraternal twins. Not identical but they will talk to each other. There will be appearances by Brother Ali, Henry Rollins, Tom Morello, DMC, Bumpy Knuckles, Large Professor and more. And though they’re certainly of a piece, each of the albums will have defining characteristics.
CL: Sounds really great. Last one for you… from the driver’s seat…how do you see Public Enemy today?
CD: Today we are the Rolling Stones of the Rap game.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Imagine being a drummer and not knowing a set list ahead of a gig, which is subject to change every night. Emily Dolan Davies is a real trooper out there. Not only does she have these skills, but also can adapt to artists of all genres and flavors. Just having returned from Shanghai with Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame, she took some time to catch up with us.
CL: As a busy drummer involved in multiple projects, thanks so much for taking the time for this!
EDD: My absolute pleasure!
CL: What made you initially interested in drumming?
EDD: I was offered the chance to join a drum club that started in my school at age eleven and as soon as I sat down behind the kit, it kind of just fit and was the first time I felt I could potentially be good at something. I then was encouraged and supported by a few specific teachers and my family. I was so lucky.
CL: Where are you initially from? Was there a scene there that you feel helped to musically shape you?
EDD: I’m a Londoner, born and bred. I come from a family of music lovers, and my dad playing a bit of guitar, used to take me to blues jams from the age of twelve to get experience being thrown in the deep end, playing with all types of people and having to learn quickly. He also taught me to make sure I hit the drums hard if I wanted to be taken seriously. I then started joining bands in school and outside and took it from there. I think being in London was a definite advantage for opportunities.
CL: Which artists do you feel contributed to your style as a drummer?
EDD: There are so many artists and drummers that have and still do inspire and I feel contribute to who I am as a player. When I was starting out the two things that really gave me the bug was watching an old King Crimson gig from the 70's with Bill Bruford which just gave me the fire to be up on stage, and hearing Rush's album Exit Stage Left, and particularly the track “YYZ.” Neil Peart just blew my mind. It was those two things in conjunction that made me never look back.
CL: I can relate. This is silly, but I remember as a teenager being able to “air drum” that entire live “YYZ” solo…before hearing that I had no idea drums could sound like that! So, here's a fun one- if you could replace another drummer in any band- no offense of course to their current drummer, who would you love to play with?
EDD: There are a few bands that I would love to play in, but one that always springs to mind is Radiohead.
CL: Why so?
EDD: It has massive nostalgic value to me and the music, sounds and feelings they provoke are incredible!
CL: I could see you totally letting loose on “Subterranean Homesick Alien.” You said a “few bands.” Who else?
EDD: Other bands that come to mind are those that aren't around anymore, The Band, Led Zeppelin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, they would be amazing! Any bands with great feel really!
CL: How has it been playing behind an iconic figure like Bryan Ferry?
EDD: Playing behind Bryan is great, it is such an honor especially knowing all the things he's done and the amazing musicians he's worked with over the years. I'm constantly just trying to soak up the musical experience of him and the musicians around him. It's such a privilege and I'm so grateful.
CL: What was the atmosphere like in the studio recording "Olympia?"
EDD: For me recording on “Olympia” was an absolute whirlwind because I was called to do a last minute gig with Bryan…my first with him…by his manager, who I've known since I was sixteen. The day after the gig I was asked to come 'hang in the studio' which resulted in me spending three days in there recording alongside some absolute legends! It still seems surreal to me but they made it so chilled and comfortable. Bryan was so cool…as were the producers Rhett Davies and Johnson Sommerset. It was an incredible experience
CL: That fact that your musical resume is so diverse is so great. How was touring- for example- with Tricky?
EDD: Touring with Tricky was great fun! For me it was a perfect gig because he directs each song live on stage each night with no set list, just a song list of about forty, so you really never know what’s going to happen. You might start a song, do a verse and chorus and then it was like a free for all on Tricky's cue conducting. Kept me on my toes which I loved! As long as you kept your eye on him then it usually worked pretty well!
CL: Often when people think of Tricky they think only about the electronic aspect of his work. Was it a challenge to fall in as a live drummer with his music?
EDD: Tricky was very lucky to have a great Musical Director and keys player that managed to create a great balance between the live kit and programmed drums, and because of the way Tricky runs his shows the Musical Director was really flexible too. He made it fun locking in to the programmed stuff when needed, and as long as you watched Tricky like a hawk, it all seemed to flow pretty well!
CL: That sounds pretty incredible. When playing behind a highly recognized and charged artist like Bono, does it make you play differently on some level? More enthusiastically? Do you feel you concentrate more...or do you just go for it?
EDD: The situation I played with Bono was a one off gig for his RED charity in 2008 in conjunction with an art auction; he joined our band The Hours on stage to play a couple of Beatles songs. I was so nervous! But as soon as he was on stage he bought this fun, young energy and made me realize I should just be enjoying the moment! So I did! It was incredible!
CL: Do you miss playing with The Hours?
EDD: I do miss playing with The Hours, the level of musicianship in that band is astounding and I found myself in a constant state of learning. That period of time really is priceless to me and I still carry lessons and knowledge from them with me to this day.
CL: What currently is on your radar musically?
EDD: At the moment I'm finding myself looking more at older music and looking at what and who's inspired artists I admire. But the newest 'discovery' I made that just floored me was the Tadeschi-Trucks Band. I knew nothing about them, had just heard some of Derek Trucks solo stuff, and was invited down to their London show by one of their drummers JJ Johnson. Let’s just say I spent the whole night in various states of screaming, being speechless and in general disbelief at the sound that was coming from the stage, it was insane, and in turn I'm pretty sure it made me look insane! I loved it! Can't wait for them to come back!
CL: You are awesome. Please keep us in the loop with your future projects. Thanks again for letting us get to know you better!
EDD: Thanks so much Christopher, and hopefully we will get to catch up again soon.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Ben Deily is an artist who can express his thoughts clearly, plainly and humourously with ease... as you'll see the the Eclectiblogs interview below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did having been directly involved.
CL: Good to meet you!
BD: Good to meet you, too. Love the interviews I’ve read on the blog, by the way.
CL: Thanks very much. Speaking of websites, your website is very entertaining. Would you say this was a fair example of your overall sense of humor?
BD: Thanks for saying so. As far as it representing my idea of what’s funny, I reckon so…at least it’s a stab at it. I think when I started posting things—back, jeez, nearly 10 years ago now—at a URL that’s my freakin’ name, for cripes sake…I figured that it was important to make fun of myself as much as possible. It’s good for the soul, and a decent hedge against taking yourself too seriously. OK, at all seriously. Also, it’s more accurate that way: when it comes to my life, there’s plenty worth laughing at.
Hopefully there’s also a decent amount of “humor”—or attempts thereat—in the ad work. So much stuff never makes it into the portfolio or onto the site, but I try to cherry pick and update it occasionally with the things dearest to my heart. It’s a silly profession, for sure, but it’s a fun way to make a living.
CL: Tell me about Varsity Drag.
BD: Ah, [the] Varsity Drag. Well, for starters, it was a hit before your mother was born.
And in a bit of typical 21st-century SEO reversal…for better or worse…I noticed the other day on Google that we’ve knocked the original 1927 tune/dance craze out of the top results. Sort of a crime, that.
Anyway, the story: 10 or 15 years ago, out in SF, I was approached by two fans about coming to see their band, Unbalanced.
Aside: a note on the concept of having “fans,” which will always be kinda weird to me- my professed “fans” may be few in number, but make up for it with occasional shows of seriously lunatic devotion. Like, tattooing-lyrics-on-their-arm level devotion… Amazing people, many of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet, all over the world. Crazy humbling, and gives you some real perspective on the difference between the person (me) and the work. The work means something to some people. Me? I’m just some dude. Makes me look at those whose work I admire with a certain new perspective.
Seeing their band turned into all of us jamming in their rehearsal space…which ended up showing me that music isn’t something I’m ready to walk away from yet. Those guys are Greg Randall and Will Anderson, and whatever Varsity Drag is owes its existence largely to them. They’re still out in SF. Ian Miller, the first original drummer who actually stuck—a big part of everything too—has been in Austria and Iowa and back again, farming and playing music.
If I’m ever on the same coast with those guys again, I hope they’ll pick up instruments and join in. But meanwhile, none of us are gonna stop playing just because we ended up in different time zones. Hence, ongoing incarnations of the Drag—currently with drummer/long-time friend Josh Pickering from my previous band PODS and our bass player Lisa...who’s also unlucky enough to be married to me. Such is life.
Anyway, we’ve got two studio albums...well, if you count a shipping container, and a fella’s basement, as “studios”...and one live album from the first European tour.
CL: What song would you recommend a new listener to Varsity Drag check out to get an overall sense of the group's personality?
BD: Hmph. That’s tough. Maybe “Billy Ruane” off the first record? Of course, I like some of the live versions better. “Skinny Ties”…or maybe “Summertime”? It’s sort of a “Sophie’s Choice” kind of question, idnit? They records are short enough, just throw one on, I’d say, and draw your own conclusions. I’m biased in favor of the most recent one, of course, but that’s a perennial occupational hazard for any songwriter.
CL: As an original member of The Lemonheads, what was the punk scene like at the time from your perspective?
BD: Hah! Great question. It was the same as it always is: looking over its shoulder at the giants of the immediate past, and locked in ambivalent turmoil & angst over the eternal outcry that “Punk is dead!” But specifically, when Ev (Evan Dando) and I first started playing—it was just the two of us then, switching back and forth on drums and guitar—it was 1985. Minor Threat had broken up. X was doing country records. Black Flag was entering their “difficult” long-guitar-solos phase…“My War” and the like, the Boston hardcore bands we loved and worshipped were slouching towards or morphing into metal bands.
But then, actually, something kind of awesome happened. Other bands, new bands, our friends and scenemates, started making all kinds of remarkable new music. Dinosaur (before the Jr.!), the Pixies, Galaxie 500, Bullet LaVolta (with whom we shared members and a label), the Blake Babies (with whom we shared members and many memorable good times). Hell, even WE started making some music that was actually vaguely worth listening to.
It was a great time to be making music—“punk rock” or otherwise. Pre-“Nevermind.” When the college charts were where bands like us lived and thrived. When getting your video on 120 minutes was the closest you’d get to “commercial” exposure. When, at the risk of sounding old and cranky, the word “indie” actually meant more than a generic genre designation or a marketing term.
Ah, well. Mustn’t be crusty, or cantankerous, or any of those other old-man-words-that-start-with-“c.”
CL: I found it interesting that band members often changed roles musically in that group. Was there a particular lineup musically that you were the happiest with?
BD: Hmph. Another good—and tricky—question. I can tell you the one I was least happy with. Shortly before I pulled stakes and left the band for other pursuits…college, marriage…Ev has decided that he wanted to play drums and only drums, at least live. That’s the configuration we were in around LICK. Don’t get me wrong, he was and is a first-rate drummer, and a great hard-hitter. But being up front without him just wasn’t as much fun. I dunno. I liked having the dual front-person thing. Perhaps my favorite configuration—besides the 4-man CREATOR-era lineup with me and Ev up front with Jesse, and John Strohm on drums—was the pre-Lemonheads, pre-Whelps way he and I had originally played in ’85-’86: just drums and guitar. Swapping back and forth depending on whose song it was. Had congress passed the historic White Stripes Act -legalizing two-person, guitar and drums bands- a few decades earlier, who knows? We might have stuck with it.
CL: Who do you feel were the biggest influences on you at the time?
BD: Do you mean musically? If so, I’d have to say an amalgam of ’77 punk (Pistols, Wire, X-Ray Specs) and American SoCal punk bands (Agent Orange, the Germs, X, hardcore bands like Circle Jerks, Black Flag, etc.)…along with OUR beloved Boston hardcore bands (The Freeze, The FU’s, SSD)…Mission of Burma…Moving Targets, our breathtakingly ahead-of-their-time (and still criminally overlooked) TAANG! label-mates…
And of course, the big trifecta: Husker Du, The Replacements, and The Descendants.
Evan had us listening to the Saints and the Stooges a lot, too. In terms of early-youth background and affinity, I’d say he was more Stones, I was more Beatles. He had listened to James Taylor while I listened to my dad’s John Denver. And we both loved listening to hours of the Firesign Theater. Go figure.
Let’s see, what else did we listen to incessantly? Cheap Trick. Elvis Costello. We developed a huge, only partially-ironic passion for Kiss and Sabbath.
And for me, a huge thing was always new wave and even straight-up synth pop. I mean, I had always loved legitimate critically-sanctioned guys like Bowie, but man, when New Wave came along and I was a kid I fell hard for it. I LOVED (and still love) A Flock of Seagulls, Tears for Fears (the first couple records), Duran Duran…of course the Cars (again, local Boston heroes—we recorded once at their studio, Synchro Sound). Ultravox. Oh, the Cure, big time. Even had a brief passion for early Ministry (i.e., “With Sympathy”), though that wore off by the time I was 17.
Anyway, I’d be the first to say that stuff had a huge influence on my songwriting early on, certainly at the time of the first couple of Lemonheads records. Whether you can hear it or not, well, that’s for a listener to decide.
CL: How would you define Punk Rock?
As a wiser man than me once said, “loud, young and snotty”? I dunno. I suppose that when all is said and done, it’s just a label that’s fun to throw around, and tends to provoke a reaction. And that’s always good. I’d say that anything that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still has some emotional punch behind it, could qualify in my book.
Is Captain Beefheart “punk”? Probably. But then again, so is Killing Joke. And the Clash. Hmph. Scratch that part about not taking itself too seriously.The Plimsouls are punk, too. I don’t care what anyone says. How about this: anything I say is punk rock, is. That work for everyone?
CL: How do you feel about current "Pop-Punk" bands?
BD: Hm. Interesting. I’m not sure. Fact is, y’know, it’s an old story: when it comes to music—or, well, anything—the cognoscenti will always want to have something allllll to themselves, something that’s all theirs…that makes it “special,” it makes it exclusive, it makes it some kind of hermeneutic circle that only the elect can enter. A secret handshake. And I’m as bad as the next guy that way. So when the punk genie REALLY got let out of the bottle in many folks’ eyes—again, “Nevermind”—it felt unfair. Not right. That the kids who used to be beaten up for listening to the Descendants and being “punk fags” now had to endure jocks who did the beating up grooving to Green Day. You wanted to shout, That’s not yours! You have no right!
But then again…didn’t we love this kind of music? Didn’t we once wish there was more of it on the radio? That it got more exposure? (Remember the X song “I must not think bad thoughts”?) We had been grousing about lack of mainstream exposure for years, on some level. Well, be careful what you wish for, I guess. (Smiles)
So I dunno. It is painful to hear the pop-punk thing done horribly—ala autotuning, ghastly and patently phony boy groups straight from some corporate board room…bands that are to pop-punk what Autograph was to heavy metal. No names, you know what I mean.
And it’s painful to think of the neglected trailblazers who invented the stuff not seeing any benefit, financial or otherwise, from their efforts. But again, that’s the oldest story in rock and roll. Bottom line, I guess I try not to be cynical. The world is full of awesome music, and there will always be more. And as soon as you think a genre is played out, someone will reinvent or re-invigorate it. As the hippies say, “It’s all good.”
CL: Do you feel where you were raised influenced you musically?
BD: Oh, heck yeah. Having arts-centric parents in a modestly liberal enclave probably made all the difference. I doubt if I had grown up in the bible belt that I would have had parents willing to bankroll an electric guitar when I was 14 years old. We were all lucky that way. My folks were by far the least well-to-do of the Lemonheads cadre, but they were plenty comfortable and again, that makes a difference. As a kid, access to resources constrains or expands the range of what you imagine is possible. No sense in denying it. Even cheap gear ain’t cheap.
Also, Boston. A rare and special town for music, I reckon. A vibrant all-ages scene, in the day, at least, and a remarkably open place to break into—at least it felt that way. A decent number of clubs that would book you, college stations that would play your radio tape, indie record stores that would take your stuff on consignment, an underground (as well as a quasi indie/mainstream) press that would write about you. Maybe it was the same in other cities, for all I know. But it seemed fairly special to me.
CL: So what would you recommend out there to listen to now, and any final thoughts?
BD: Hm. Well, my pals in the band Banquet Hall just released a record. Also, there’s an amazing band in New Jersey called the Grip Weeds. My cousin’s been into them for years, but I just heard them recently. Remarkable stuff, you should check it out. Their song “Salad Days” is exactly the kind of thing I aspire to write when I pick up a guitar.
Oh, and for the love of GAWD, freaking vote for Obama. He ain’t perfect—no politician is, or ever will be, kids—but he beats the hell out of the alternative. I, for one, have no desire to live in a future America that looks the way middle-aged white guys imagine 1955 looked.
CL: Thanks for checking in with Eclectiblogs!
BD: Peace! And thanks for letting me bend your ear!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
I once heard a story about a powerful business man and a simple island village fisherman. On vacation, the powerful businessman saw the fisherman getting his little self-made boat ready to go out on the water. “You are going about this all wrong,” said the businessman. “How so?” asked the fisherman. “You need to think bigger than this…you have one boat and you catch what you need for one day. If you invest in twenty boats you could really make some progress.”
The fisherman sheepishly asked, “what do you mean by progress?” “Well,” said the businessman, “once you finish paying off your fleet of boats-which should take about ten years- you can hire people to fish while you stay inside out of this warm sunshine and manage the business. Then comes the best part.” “What is the best part?” asked the modest fisherman.
“The best part is that in just thirty more years you’ll be able to retire. Then you’ll really get to live! By then, guess what you’ll be able to do?”
“What?” asked the now intrigued fisherman.
“Get this!” said the businessman…”You will have so much free time on your hands. You’ll be able to live on an island, make your own boat, and spend every day going fishing!”
There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Ariana Delawari will both understand and appreciate the above. A grounded and talented artist, she has both the balance and intellect to decipher what is often the most intense kind of sincere inspiration. Realness. Humanity.
I found her music almost by accident and certainly hope you explore it too. She was kind enough to interview with me recently, and I wanted to share this with you. Enjoy the experience.
CL: The music and lyrics on "Lions of Panjshir" are obviously from a deep and
personal place. How would you describe the theme of that record to those not
familiar with its background?
AD: I don't really think of my own work in terms of themes. I just write what is in my heart and make the sounds that feel right to me. I wrote about a lot of things, Afghanistan, love, America. The album is a journey- the journey I was on when I wrote and recorded it. And I wanted to take the listener on the journey with me- the journey to Afghanistan, the journey within my heart and hopefully by doing that I am bringing them closer to their hearts too.
CL: Like you, I was raised in Southern California. Once seeing the difference
for the first time, how intense was noting the contrast between both locales for
AD: I didn't really think of it as a contrast. Afghanistan felt like home from the very first moment I saw the Hindu Kush Mountains from a plane. I felt such an overwhelming experience of love. And every moment from then on was just more and more of that feeling of love. Love for my culture, my people, my ancestors….love for all of the children I have met on all of my trips, and the families I spent time with in their refugee camp. And all of the love I felt from them.
CL: That sounds quite amazing.
AD: That is the real gift. The gift they always give me and replenish me with. I guess I feel like L.A. is abundant with material things and opportunities- anyone can come here and live a pretty comfortable and easy life. Afghans have been born into war for the last three decades…literally born into refugee camps and poverty. So they don't have the material opportunities we have, but they have love. And they have a lot of it. And I have found that the people who have nothing materially tend to give you everything that they do have, because their material things have no value anyway. They value generosity, hospitality, sharing and spending time together. So really, I think in ways they are richer than we are here.
CL: Who were the other musicians on that album?
AD: I brought my friends Max Guirand and Paloma Udovic. Max played guitar and Paloma is a classical violinist. We collaborated with three Afghan Ustads or master musicians- a Tabla player, Rabab player, and Dilruba player. These three musicians had to dismantle and hide their instruments during Taliban rule as music was forbidden and playing music could literally mean losing your life. Then I finished the album in LA and a bunch of amazing people played on the album- Miguel Atwood-Furgeson (strings/string and horn arrangements), Robert Francis (bass/guitar), Joachim Cooder (drums), Nick Rosen (bass), Danielle Ondarza (French horn), B. Hussey (bass)- all kinds of folks.
CL: I read it was recorded in a non-traditional way. Would you tell us how so?
AD: We traveled to Kabul and set up a home studio at my parent’s house. We tracked all of the songs that had Afghan instrumentation on them. We brought those recordings back to LA and I invited several guest musicians to add to those tracks as well as tracking the other half of the album which does not have any Afghan instrumentation. I guess it was also non-traditional in the sense that it was sort of organically built around those Afghan tracks as a start. Everything that was added and all of the other songs that were recorded needed to be very classic in sound. I didn't want any wailing guitar solos or electronic elements. I wanted it to be very organic and have a timeless quality that told the story of my journey. The string and horn arrangements by my friend Miguel Atwood-Furgeson really helped bridge these worlds of sound…as did the mixing by David Lynch.
CL: David Lynch, the filmmaker?
AD: That was really important. When David came onboard and produced one of the tracks and decided to mix the album and release it, he came in with the ear of a filmmaker which was so key. It was so vital having his ear on the mix. So I guess the process was unconventional in that we tracked in Kabul and there were lots of guests.
CL: I often say this to artists, but being eclectic is a quality our readers
tend to gravitate to. How wide is your range of musical influences? Can you
give me some examples of key musical influences on you?
AD: Oh man. It’s really, really vast. Ok… in no particular order: Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Orbison, Ravi Shankar, Fleetwood Mac, Bjork, John Lennon, Elvis, The Arcade Fire, Nirvana, Aziz Herawi, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Led Zeppelin, Outkast, The Cure, New Order, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Tchaikovsky, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Tupac, Simon and Garfunkel, Ahmad Zahir, Radiohead, Henry Mancini, Lauryn Hill, David Bowie...lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Kanye West and Jay Z. (laughs). The newer work I've been into lately….I really love the musician Anna Calvi and I really like Grimes too.
CL: I love the diversity! You are a multi-media artist. Which came first for you?
AD: Music was my first love- I really wanted to be like Madonna...like REALLY for real... when I was 4 obsessed with her. When I was 4 I also started acting- on the stage in a play about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan called "Nanawati" by William Mastrosimone. It was the premiere of the play.
CL: I have a four year-old son…that must have been a heavy, heavy role, especially at that age.
AD: We were performing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center and I played a village girl who had lost my hand from a toy bomb. The Soviets planted lots of landmines and bombs in toys so that children would lose their limbs. So music and acting came at the same time really. Then I started playing guitar when I was 13 and became really obsessed with my guitar and didn’t want to be a pop singer anymore. actually, at that point I really wanted to be a guitar player. I was always drawing and taking photos. Then I went to film school. So it was all there building, I guess filmmaking came a little later.
CL: Above all, which songs really seem to connect with your audiences live?
AD: I don’t know… that’s a hard question. i feel like as a performer I am trying to connect with the audience from the second i walk onto the stage. I’m there to communicate something… and I see it as a whole- a journey. Not a collection of songs.
CL: Are there other American musical artists that you would like to collaborate
with that you feel would truly get your vision?
AD: Yes, there are lots. I feel like I’d like to keep those thoughts a secret. (Smiles) I like secrets…kind of nice to let something unfold organically.
CL: How so?
AD: I always wanted to work with David Lynch. I never tried to, it just came to me cause that was supposed to happen. I feel like I want to keep making my art and attract whatever the most harmonious collaborations that I’m meant to be part of are. When you push something it can really push a person away, ‘cause the spirit of us all wants things to happen easily.
CL: What inspires you to keep a strong grip on your artistic path?
AD: I am constantly inspired all the time. I don't have to grip…it’s like a prayer or meditation at this point. I'd much rather make art than do anything else really, which can be hard for people around me because I don’t really enjoy "hanging out". It kind of bores me.
CL: What can we look forward to artistically from you next?
AD: I just finished a new album. I really love it…also just finished a documentary film- it’s about my travels to Afghanistan since 9/11, the making of my last album "Lion of Panjshir", and my family story. It has been a ten year endeavor, so I’m really happy to share it with people. That will come out soon as well.
CL: This was a pleasure. One last one. Finish this sentence: Music is so powerful because...
AD: …you can't describe it. (Smiles)
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Liking music and being passionate about it are two completely different things.
If you are one that especially endeavors to acquaint yourselves with artists that truly live the music and that sing with both the voice and the heart…you are going to enjoy the following interview.
Ms. Danielle de Neise is a musical dream come true. She can dive directly into the depths of the deepest musical oceans while still remaining relatable and relevant to fans of all ages. Exposed to musical and cultural diversity from infancy (literally!) on, she transcends trends while understanding them. That is a component to both her success and her warmth, which is clearly evident here.
It was a privilege to handle this interview. If you aren’t already familiar with her work, you can thank me later.
CL: It is very nice meeting you. Thank you for your willingness to interview with Eclectiblogs.
DdN: You’re very welcome! I’m actually on a plane to Prague after a concert I just performed in Seville last night for the first ever Placido Domingo Festival!
CL: That’s wonderful. As a seasoned performer having lived in Australia, Los Angeles and England...what are your favorite aspects of each from the perspective of an artist?
DdN: Australia is where I was born and raised until the age of ten. I see Australia as the place where all my dreams of becoming an opera singer were born thanks to my parent’s ability to recognize my early gifts in music, they provided me with all the training available to a child, and Australia as a nation really believed in me and gave me so many wonderful opportunities; from winning first place in every classical music Eisteddfod I participated in as a nine year old all the way up to the category of aged 18-and-under, to winning Australia’s biggest national competition Young Talent Time as the youngest child in history to become Australia’s greatest talent in all fields; it was a tremendous vote of confidence to be supported by an entire nation. The opportunities I received as a child in Australia gave me wings. Los Angeles is where my identity is. I am truly a California girl at heart and in every sense.
CL: I am a by all means a California person too…I can totally relate. When did you move there?
DdN: I grew up in Los Angeles from the age of ten, and I got all my big breaks during my teenage years in Los Angeles- these were so special to me because it was these early triumphs that kept me believing in myself and propelling forward on my journey full of desire to grow and become better and better as an artist. Again, without my parents there guiding me through everything and being so supportive…my mom even watched every single voice lesson I took from the age of eight…I don’t know whether I would be where I am today. The other reason why Los Angeles is a perfect fit for me is that it’s a place of many different mediums- classical music, pop music, television, film, theater. This was the perfect place for me to continue exploring all my passions- while I was making my Los Angeles opera debut in a lead role at fifteen years of age, I was also accepting an Emmy Award as host of a Television Show in Los Angeles called LA Kids!
CL: And how about Europe?
DdN: England represents to me the place where it all came together in the form of my Glyndebourne Festival Opera debut as Cleopatra in David McVicar’s production of Giulio Cesare. This debut really catapulted my career to a global level and also lead to my signing an exclusive recording contract with Decca Records. I call it my “Titantic”-like the film Titanic was to Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio! And England is now my home, so I have it all there- the reminders of growing up in a commonwealth country, the Monarchy… etc., close to Europe where I studied languages when I was just out of high school, and it’s one of the great cultural centers of the world so it’s central and centered in every way!
CL: When did you originally know that being a vocalist was something you wanted to do?
DdN: I fell in love with singing when I was about six years of age; my mother had already been singing to me since I was born, and my parents were astounded that I was able to sing in perfect tune at the tender age of one and two! Then the minute I went to classes, I became hooked! I studied singing, piano, music theory, jazz dance, modern dance, ballet, tap dance, drama. It was like Fame or a Chorus Line! I also won a National Talent contest which was the Australian equivalent of America’s got Talent, and was the youngest winner in the history of the competition. But during that same time…about eight years old…I also took my first classical singing lessons after my parents finally found a teacher in Victoria, Australia; where I was born and lived until ten years of age…who would accept to teach a little eight year old! The minute I started those lessons and discovered I was able to produce that classical produced sound in my voice, I fell totally in love and was “bitten by the bug” as they say. While other kids wanted to be a doctor, vet, nurse, fireman, I decided at that age that I wanted to become an opera singer!
CL: As someone who entered the music business as someone quite young, what has kept you grounded along the way?
DdN: My parents are solely responsible for keeping me grounded. As I said before, they are the people I’m closest to, the people I can really depend on in every situation, and they spent the time with their children so they raised the person as well as the artist.
CL: Describe the feeling of winning an Emmy at age sixteen.
DdN: Oh my gosh, it was amazing! I was in all the newspapers and my schoolmates kept saying, “is it really true that you won an Emmy on the weekend?” Impossibly cool. But also the really awesome thing was that we won for a show about Aids and children who are accidentally infected in some way either at birth or after birth. We brought two of the children up with us to share in the glory which was really touching. The other thing that was moving was that the executive producer thanked my mom for coming to all the shoots and raising such a nice girl- my mom was so proud!
CL: That had to be a great moment for both of you. Is there a particular Opera that you especially have loved to have been a part of, either per the material or for sentimental reasons?
DdN: There are so many operas I want to be a part of, and will be a part of one day... I will be so happy when I do my first Manon…I’ve practically staged the whole character in my head! Giulio Cesare will always make me cry because of my history with the piece. Figaro is so much a part of me that I can recite the entire score without revision. There are many more but those are the ones I thought of first.
CL: Who is a singer, artist or band that you would consider a guilty pleasure?
DdN: I have no guilt about liking certain artists- if I like what I hear I seek it out and download it immediately! I’m crazy about music- I have endless amounts of music from all genres- that said, I was given a hard time by a friend because I had a Justin Bieber song on my iPod when he was so young that his voice hadn’t broken yet! That was cute- I didn’t feel guilty, but my friend made his best efforts to make fun of me for having Bieber-fever!
CL: Speaking of young performers, is it true you still have the piano you won in an early competition?
DdN: I won a baby grand piano as part of my prize when I won a National Televised Prime Time Talent contest. I went back to Australia on a homecoming tour as an adult and so many people remembered me winning this competition on TV- so cool!
CL: What draws you to Baroque music?
DdN: There are so many things that draw me to Baroque music. This music is the backbone of modern classical music as we know it. There is this dichotomy between the structure and rules of Baroque music and the requirement to ornament according to one’s taste- this freedom within the form. So performing Baroque music allows me to compose alongside composers like Handel because the Italian da capo aria form has you return to the A section and sing it again with ornamentation. So this allows me to write my own ornaments, in a sense composing directly in the inspiration of Handel! Of course Baroque music was the perfect repertoire for an extremely young singer to study because the weight of the orchestra is lighter than more modern repertoire. The other thing I love about Baroque music is that even if you have performed a role before, it never feels like you’ve done it before, because you can tailor-make your ornaments, tempo, interpretation to fit the needs of any particular production or dramatic requirement. So each time I can return to interpret pieces I know very well with new eyes.
CL: Many young people have never been exposed to the arts, especially Opera and Classical music...how would you go about encouraging them to expand their horizons?
DdN: I feel that my performance is my most personal way to connect with an audience spiritually. When I sing, I feel like I am exposing a huge part of myself. I’m giving myself up to the energy and art of communication through song. I can only be myself as it is a two-way street, in that it’s also very important what kind of energy I receive in return for the energy I give and this affects my performance. With regard to building bridges to new audiences, I am constantly involved in student outreach all over the world. I started going to talk to school children when I was a school child myself at age eleven… because I started singing at such a young age, and I feel it’s a good example to set to other young up and coming musicians. I work with each education department at the opera house or concert venue where I perform, and when there’s a group of students coming, I will take time to spend with them before or after the concerts.
CL: This sounds like a real passion for you.
DdN: I LOVE connecting with my audiences during my outreach meetings with children, and I can really speak about my personal experience with having a passion from a young age, and following my dreams. Hopefully it inspires young children to follow their own dreams and believe in themselves. Hopefully from this positive message they can also learn to be open minded when it comes to classical music. So far I’ve only had positive experiences and kids have really enjoyed their experiences with classical music through seeing me in performance. They really respond enthusiastically and many of them keep in touch with me on my website, Facebook or Twitter account. I also have strong commitments to many charitable causes in the UK. His Royal Highness Prince Charles has invited me to help him raise money for some of his charities, and I am currently working with his Foundation for Children and the Arts to create the first Opera Quest which will take opera training materials, videos, etc. to schools in impoverished communities to help them to come together in the name of music, and then reach out to music in their local areas.. It’s all about exposure and making people see that they can be moved by music. I LOVE this kind of commitment and I think it’s a wonderful way of giving something back, and it really fulfills my heart and soul.
CL: What is on the horizon for you currently or in the near future musically?
DdN: I am doing two concerts in Sri Lanka for charity which will mark my first trip to the country of my parent’s birth. I will also do my first Adele in Die Fledermaus at the Theatre de la Monnaie this December followed by concerts and recitals in Amsterdam, Kansas City, Ireland...throughout January and February. I will also perform as guest of honor for Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at a Gala for The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts. It’s a very exciting few months ahead for me.
*A lot of Eclectiblogs readers are primarily Soul music junkies and Rockers that like to Rock…as I am. But as someone raised in part by a woman who taught piano lessons and played Classical music from before I was born to the present day... and myself also being a Soul music junkie and a Rocker that likes to Rock, trust me here. Expand your artistic and musical horizons by delving into the wonderful music of Danielle de Neise. Many of you are way ahead of me. The rest, catch up! You will love what you find. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Eclectiblogs readers know that I am an advocate of those who rock. I hate that Hard Rock musicians are often trivialized...especially when they enter the Metal corner of the Rock & Roll territory. I think, and have always thought- that these often are some of the best musicians on the planet. Unquestionably.
More proof of the obvious is below in the form of Mr. Ivan de Prume. He has been setting trends and following his own musical path for years, and the diversity in his work testifies to his also being an eclectic artist, to say the least. Enjoy the interview.
CL: It’s great meeting you. Thanks for taking the time for this interview.
IdP: Thank you. You caught me at a good time.
CL: How are things going for you at Burningsound Studios?
IdP: Things are going really well. We have American Roulette, Suckerpunch and Toxic Zombie recording albums so we are booked up for a little bit. I'm enjoying the process.
CL: What do you personally find the most fulfilling about engineering?
IdP: I love the way we are able to completely control sound and tone and all of its frequencies by changing the characteristics of the room, the position of the microphones and the microphones themselves, how we use and adjust them and all the awesome Avalon and Neve 1073 pre amps we have. I also love to produce artists as well because I appreciate the value of working closely with an artist to make sure that the songs are nothing less than an ultimate expression of what the artist is saying…and this begins with pre-production and goes all the way through final mixes. Mixing is another favorite of mine because you can really manipulate each individual track of each song by automating it's sound levels, special effects, panning, EQ, and make hundreds if not thousands of instructional changes every millisecond that can have a dramatic change to its sound and this allows us to steer the mix in so many different directions.
CL: The passion you have for the work is totally there in your response. Overall, what would you say you learned the most from your formal training at the Musician's Institute?
IdP: That anything is possible. I learned this by taking the most complex drum solo with some of the most insane syncopated rhythms I have ever heard. I think it was by Steve Gadd or Terry Bozzio. I honestly said to myself, there is no way in hell that I can do this. Then, I found that when I really slowed down and broke down all the parts into smaller pieces I was able to understand more clearly what was really going on. I was able to clearly evaluate the parts in smaller pieces and soon enough I pulled it off and played it myself when I joined all the smaller pieces into bigger pieces and increased the tempo little by little. This was actual proof to me and became a valuable lesson because as you can see, this can be applied to anything and everything. In addition, I learned that life is better lived with an open heart to always learn something new from every difficult situation.
CL: White Zombie had a hard groove not common in most bands of similar genre. Was that a preconceived idea from the beginning?
IdP: It's just how I always loved to play as a drummer. I knew other metal bands didn't groove that way but I grew up also appreciating music with groove, like the Beastie Boys. If we don't express 100% of who we are when we play, we are only ripping off the listener and ultimately our self in the end.
CL: Was this a collective idea or was it mainly your influence to drive the sound in that direction?
IdP: Well, the music really was collaboration ultimately. However, I am the drummer that has nothing less than the desire to groove with a funky face smashing back beat. I am all about that. And after I left, many fans are scratching their heads wondering where that groove went. Well, the great thing about talent is that nobody can take that away from us. I took it with me.
CL: Tell me about how Healer came to be.
IdP: I had this burning desire to play with a band that had a sound that pushes the limits of our typical rock band sound and this vision was something that I couldn't find in any band so I decided it was time to put it all together myself. I wrote up an ad and posted it on Craigslist and held auditions and that's how we ended up with the diverse line up.
CL: What do you feel as a producer you bring to the table that goes beyond current trends?
IdP: As a producer I feel it is critical to be able to bring out the best of the artists you are working with… to push them to unleash their highest potential so that the walls of fear to express themselves truly are broken.
CL: Is there an artist you are into that might shock your fans?
IdP: I think my appreciation for bringing out the true culture in world music surprises some fans.
CL: How did you find yourself working with KMFDM?
IdP: While I was hosting Metalopolis on Rock101 KUFO in Portland, Chris Kniker from 13th Planet approached me with the project.
CL: Is there another drummer out there these days that just blows your mind?
IdP: I saw Tim Yeung drumming with Divine Herrecy at Satyricon in Portland. I have never seen such a fast drummer with such accuracy and power. He blew me away.
CL: What is the musical vibe like for you in having set up shop outside of Los Angeles?
IdP: Actually I relocated to some farm land just North East of Salem, Oregon near Silverton not for its music scene but because of the location and property value, it's only 35 minutes to Portland and minutes from shopping in Salem yet far enough away from the city where my daughters are at hopefully safe distance from creepy weirdoes. The music scene is awesome in Portland and good in Salem. I wish I had more time these days to get out and enjoy it.
CL: Tough one...what would you say influentially speaking are your three favorite albums?
IdP: Has to be old school…1984, Run-D.M.C. and Beastie Boys “Licensed to Ill” that first got me playing funky beats, then later Slayer “South of Heaven” really shaped my double bass drumming style.
CL: Help me with this last one. For all the drummers just starting out there, what is the biggest piece of advice you could pass along?
IdP: Listen, watch and study your favorite drummers out there. Enjoy playing with great musicians. Always do your best to improve your skills. Believe in yourself. There is only one of you in the universe. Practice, practice, practice and never give up.
CL: Very cool. Thanks again for your time!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
It was my absolute pleasure to interview Mr. Randy Di Vitto. We covered 47 years in 45 minutes. This original Motown musician has seen it all, and his tenure in the business of music is so strong…like a tree that has roots that are literally emerging through concrete. I hope you can hear his spirit in what is to follow. He was a great balance of taking music seriously while remaining one who can laugh easily.
CL: Nice to meet you, thanks again for doing this.
RDV: You too, I looked forward to this one. Can I tell you a little bit about my family history?
RDV: I learned that in 1454, the Di Vitto family were royalty in Italy. We are still there today. They even have a “Di Vitto Day” in a part of the country, have since 1783. I have united many family members in both the United States and Italy…it is so fulfilling to find family and bring them together. I find it is just like playing music.
CL: How so?
RDV: An audience can bring you more than almost anything else can bring you. No amount of money buys you what a loyal audience does.
CL: So what made you want to initially be a horn player?
RDV: Well, I got a plastic horn when I was a three year-old; my cousin played the horn as well. (Laughs at what he is about to share) My mom’s first husband was a trumpet player! (Laughs harder) My playing the trumpet brought back bad memories! She wanted me out of the house!
CL: (Laughs) So, what happened from there?
RDV: Then I got a note from the music teacher in school that said I had no talent in music! (Laughs really hard) What got me going was music by Louis Armstrong…and Miles Davis. I don’t copy Miles but I take his aura. He was an artist that played by his mind…I do that too. Then in the 10th grade I was introduced to a Musical Director that was a bad, bad dude. He played with Doc Severinsen. He told me, “Randy, you have something special that most people don’t get. It is a gift and it will bring you a lot of happiness.” That was true and things moved on from there. I had the privilege of playing with some of the best.
CL: Who early on?
RDV: Johnny Bristol was one. I just spoke with Berry Gordy because I discovered some of the original Motown recordings online.
CL: This was before Motown became the Motown we know…
RDV: It was just like going to someone’s house to record. Write this down. Musicians should always play or practice with the best. That burns an impression on your mind and that is what you can become.
CL: That is great advice.
RDV: Along with Johnny Bristol I played with Junior Walker. I still do! I played with them in 1968 and still play with two of the players now. It’s funny…here’s a good one, you’ll like this. People may come thinking they are watching senior citizens, what they don’t know until they get there is that we still get up there and play! (Laughs) Another great one I played with back then was Eddie Hollis, who studied with Oscar Peterson. We were together for three years- Eddie played the Hammond B3…and Dr. Bones from Ike and Tina’s group- that was a guitar player there. We played the Drifters show, went out with the Dells…
CL: These were the days of long periods on the road I would imagine.
RDV: Let’s put it this way. We hit 50,000 miles in six months. (Laughs) But hard work as a musician has a payoff. In the early 90’s I hit really hard on Jazz. I formed Randy Di Vitto and the ‘Round Midnight Trio’ and took the songs to radio, got three songs played. For about five years we built up quite an audience. I got this from Elvis Presley. He physically did a lot of his own promotion; he was a hard driver…radio station to radio station.
CL: Going back to those days, who else made an impression on you?
RDV: I heard Stan Kenton live and met him, I met Duke Ellington as well…I remember being in Louis Armstrong’s dressing room (laughs heartily) he was drinking Seven Crown on the rocks…and it was the show’s halftime! (laughs harder) I also played with Gene Harris who was with Miles Davis for a long time. Wynton Marsalis came downtown here (Michigan) in 1985, played with him too. Ed Joplin was my mentor. And in 2000, my group opened for Spyro Gyra. They watched from the side of the stage. That was an experience.
CL: I had read you played with Carlos Santana as well.
RDV: Oh yeah! (Laughs) It was in 1971. I sat in with Bobby Womack…this was in Toledo, Ohio…by the way, people love good music by good musicians out there…at the end of the show we all played with Santana’s band. Man, that was some good music going on there. (Pauses, his tone changes) When I met him, Carlos comes down with his conga player who had the biggest afro you have ever seen. Except mine was bigger! (Laughs)
CL: That’s awesome. Tell me about the group you play in now?
RDV: I play with some incredible and gifted musicians. Anthony Peyton, who is a Junior Walker All-Star…Ray White, are you ready for this? Ray played guitar for Frank Zappa! (Laughs) Sonny Holley is with us too, he is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman…sometimes a great jazz player named Carlos Naledez joins us.
CL: Do you officially go by the “Randy Di Vitto Quartet?”
RDV: Always use your name. Miles Davis did that. With so many great players out there personnel may change, but the name should stay the same. Here’s something you’ll like…if you want to get an audience’s attention and keep it, you’ll get a big zero if you all play alike. When you mix that authentic R&B in there with Jazz people just can’t get enough. I got a funny story. We were playing at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, and they had a house band. We went up there and played some really smokin’ Blues, and the crowd just ate it up. After we were done we were told to not come back because the house band couldn’t compete! (Laughs) Their band was upset. We laughed all the way home!
CL: So you have me intrigued…may I ask your age? Is that an appropriate question?
RDV: No problem, I’m 42. (Silence…then laughter)
CL: I was gonna say…we might have gone to High School together!
RDV: (Laughs) Actually, I’m 64. You know what I’d like to do?
CL: What’s that?
RDV: I want to be a mentor for musicians and produce music…like, oh…what is his name, he produced all those people, Ray Charles…Michael Jackson…
CL: Quincy Jones?
RDV: Yes! (Laughs) How could I forget his name? And you remember his original job was as a musician first…and remember what he played? The trumpet! I want to get good musicians and put them together. Now I have something for you to do. You know “Sketches of Spain” by Miles Davis? Check out my version. Listen to the original first, then listen to the one I recorded myself as a duet with Miles…I just sat down and played…what you hear was done in one take. Check it out, listen to it…put on your headphones…I dare you.
-Christopher Levine, 2013
You are about to read my interview with DMC, aka Darryl McDaniels, aka D, aka Darryl Mack, aka…hands down, one of the most influential Rappers of all time.
Being able to interview him was such a thrill as a long time listener. It was surreal to ask him, say, who he feels is a great MC. It felt like I was asking Picasso who his favorite painter was…
Few would argue that this man is Hip Hop royalty, and it was a privilege to be a part of this.
Enjoy the below.
CL: People have a tendency to only relate an artist's personal tastes to
the music they themselves make...for example assuming all Metal artists only
like Metal, all Rappers only like Rap...I'm sure you have experienced this.
But I have read that your influences musically are all over the map. Who
are artists in various genres that you feel have always been inspirational
to you personally?
DMC: My influences are the artists that inspired me way before I even thought
of being a recording artist myself. AM radio played artists such as Harry
Chapin, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, The Beatles, The Doobie Brothers, Creedence
Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, Crosby Stills Nash…and Young, Elton John,
Janis Joplin…and a whole host of other rockers and folk rockers whose music
spoke to my soul!
Their music was relevant then and even now to the social, political and
personal aspects of my life. Everything they sing about I live, feel and
CL: The first Rap vinyl I bought as a kid...in the sixth grade (!) was the
first Run DMC record, which of course I still have. When putting it out,
did you feel the world would catch on like it did at the time?
DMC: I had no idea the whole world would catch on! I just was hoping to have
a song on radio to play next to “The Message” and “Planet Rock” and to impress
my idols The Cold Crush Brothers.
CL: Songs like "Rock Box" and "King of Rock" fused Rock and Rap for the masses to levels never explored before. How would you say that idea developed back then?
DMC: Because all the pioneering deejays who started Hip Hop like Kool Herc,
Bambaataa, Flash, and Grandwizard Theodore for example, always had rock break
beats in the crates of records they would play for their emcees to rhyme
over, I always told Jay and Run we have to make the “Toys In The Attic” loop and
rhyme over it!
CL: You actually called it the “Toys in the Attic” loop?
DMC: I didn't know it was called “Walk This Way!” Never heard the
lyrics! But deejays always had rock beats along with disco break beats and
James Brown funky drummer breaks!
CL: Jam Master Jay was truly one of the first global superstar DJ's and
still is. What would you say was your favorite quality that he had as a
person and a friend? If this is too personal I understand...
DMC: (emphatically) Jam Master Jay had the most motivating and inspiring qualities ever embodied in a person! He found potential and goodness in everything.
CL: How did you find yourself involved on the new Public Enemy "RLTK"
DMC: DJ Johnny Juice of Public Enemy is also one of PE's great producers, so
he always knew me and Chuck should make a song together, and when he came up
with an incredible 808 drum based song in need of some powerful visionary
lyrics, he knew this was one of the first songs we should record together.
CL: Speaking of collaborations, how did your single “Attention Please” with Pauley P come about?
DMC: The "Attention Please" song with Pauley Perrette came about when a friend
heard the chorus and knew it needed two people who are serious about doing
powerfully positive messages. It was a natural fit because Pauley is a great
singer and artist, she's a real rocker!
CL: When I interviewed Chuck D last year, I asked him how being from Long
Island growing up affected his musical direction. How do you feel that
growing up in Hollis Queens helped shaped your musical style?
DMC: When you listen to “Christmas In Hollis” and “Sucker MCs” you can tell how much
growing up in Queens is a part of my music. Every rhyme from these songs to
“Son Of Byford” are true and actual facts of my life.
CL: A few years ago, I saw "DMC: My Adoption Journey" on television, which
was an extremely touching film. What made you decide to make such a strong
personal moment public?
DMC: I did the “My Adoption Journey” doc because I knew there are a lot of
People…young and old from all nations and religions…who are orphans, foster
kids, or adopted; and I want them to know they are not alone. Like the song I
did with Sarah McLachlan says “there's a lot of people JUST LIKE ME! There's
a whole lot JUST LIKE ME!!!”
CL: Who does DMC consider an example of an incredible rapper? From any time period?
DMC: Chuck D of Public Enemy is the best ever! Andre 3000 is a real close
CL: Is there anything Eclectiblogs can help spread the word out on for you
at this time- a new record coming out?
DMC: I'm putting out new single and video ‘round my birthday May 31st called
“Noise Revolution” with Wayne Static (Static X) and droppin’ an album soon with
the lead single “She Gets Me High” featuring Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, Sebastian Bach
from Skid Row and the incomparable Travis Barker from Blink 182!
Watch out yall I got an army of musician friends…
…and we are on a mission!!! Love!
*On a personal note, I find it very gratifying that many of those who I feel are innovators in the musical universe make themselves accessible to Eclectiblogs. They clearly don’t have to, but often they do. In the Public Enemy track “Everything” Chuck D says he’s “…got no problem if you approach me.” I personally can testify that he’s being truthful, as it was in the case with DMC.
Thank you all for your willingness and your time, as well as to your cooperative and professional representation…such as Tracey Miller & Associates…for making this possible. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
It is a bit strange to interview people you remember on your television from when you were young. Though not by choice, they often can be locked into a time frame that corresponds to a personal point of reference.
This just happened to me. The imagery in the music videos for Men Without Hats has stayed with me for many years, and meeting Ivan Doroschuk was a bit surreal as a result. What I found upon arrival though was a down-to-earth artist which you will see below.
CL: What initially drew you to electronic music?
ID: I'm a classically trained pianist, and in the early 70s I was into keyboard oriented bands like Genesis, ELP, Yes...then I discovered Kraftwerk, Roxy Music with Brian Eno, and contemporary classical composers like John Cage.
CL: Do you feel that today others are carrying on the tradition of electronic oriented Pop to your satisfaction?
ID: Yes, that's one of the things that motivated me into coming back; people were playing synths again and directly referencing the 80s.
CL: Many of my favorite bands that started in the 1980's had sounds where it truly was difficult to discern where their inspirations came from. Your band was one. In addition to who you already mentioned, who were the artists that you feel were the biggest influences on you?
ID: The 70’s bands mentioned and 80's bands like The Human League, DEVO, Magazine, Throbbing Gristle, and even early Depeche Mode.
CL: Was the imagery in the "Pop Goes The World" music video yours creatively? I thought it was a great fit for the song.
ID: Yes, all the elements were mine and the video was done by Tim Pope, who also did the “Safety Dance” video. I did the album cover as well.
CL: Many artists I have interviewed have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Mtv. As a member of a band in heavy Mtv rotation, what was and is your take on the medium?
ID: I thought it was great, it certainly helped my career no question about it. It was an important tool of that era the same way Twitter and Facebook are now.
CL: What would you say would improve Pop Music today, from your perspective?
ID: More Men Without Hats on the radio.
CL: (Laughs) Great answer! If given the chance to go back and handle things differently as an artist, what would you change...if anything?
ID: I wouldn't change a thing, who knows where I'd be if I did
CL: What are your thoughts on releasing music digitally on the Internet?
ID: It's awesome; it definitely puts more power in the artist's hands. I get asked about the effect of being able to buy one song at a time, but that's how it was in the beginning with the Beatles and Elvis, it was a singles market as well.
CL: I love that the subject matter of your two most recognizable hits to the casual radio listener, "The Safety Dance" and "Pop Goes The World" are not typical love songs. You took them somewhere else. Was this a conscious decision?
ID: Yes, I've always felt that Pop Music was an extremely heavy platform to get your message across.
CL: What at present has been the biggest influence on you recently when it comes to writing songs?
ID: Personal experience, a recent divorce, being a father… stuff like that. To a certain extent, world events.
CL: I appreciate you making time for Eclectiblogs. Any final thoughts?
ID: Just make sure everybody knows they can dance if they want to!
*If I could have scripted the last line for this piece, I couldn’t have done better than that. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
I have said this many times, but here on the Planet Eclectiblogs Soul Music cannot be faked. I don’t care if you call it Classic Soul, Neo-Soul…whatever the label of the week is for cutting edge or vintage Soul Music…it has to come from the place where it is intended to hit you for it to do the job properly. (When Otis Redding sang the words “please, let me sit down beside you…” in “I Love You More Than Words Can Say,” I truly believe that about sums it up.) You see, good sincere and real Soul Music is as much a feel as it is a sound…and that marriage is a happy one when those two elements find one another.
Conya Doss is an artist that can make this happen. Not only does she emit a great musical vibe, but her coolness is completely in check as she is an Indie artist with honest credibility.
I recently was able to ask her a few questions. Here’s how it went:
CL: I love how as an independent artist, you began by putting out your work on your own label. What was that experience like for you, especially in the beginning?
CD: It has been a process, that is in a good way. I have learned so much along the way, built great relationships. It does require a lot of work. I'm still growing.
CL: People may not be aware that you were a teacher of special needs children before your recording career. Is it true that the title of your debut album "A Poem About Ms. Doss" was based on something one of your students wrote for you?
CD: Yes, it was based on a negative note that my former student had written and I flipped it into a positive. (Laughs) I ran into her a few years later, she hugged me and thanked me. (Laughs)
CL: Teachers, really good teachers...have a passion that often comes before the aspect of monetary gain. Do you feel that the passion and compassion within you to educate children is part of what takes your music to the levels of depth that we hear?
CD: Definitely, it helps me see things from a whole other level which definitely has influenced my music in many ways.
CL: Studios can be cold environments. How do you set a vibe when recording that compliments your art?
CD: I'm such a laid back and mellow person. I like low lights and candles lit to help put me in a zone. It is like an out-of-body experience.
CL: What advice would you give independent artists who are just starting out?
CD: To follow your heart and be willing to take chances. Definitely, keep positive people who support your goals around. They must share your vision.
CL: I hear Prince in your music, especially in vocal expression and diversity. Would that be a fair statement?
CD: In college, I was a Prince fanatic. I respect and absolutely love his artistry. Yes it is definitely a fair statement. He is one of my favorite artists of all time.
CL: What was the artistic motivation to name your latest release "A Pocketful of Purpose?"
CD: Having conversations during my sessions and reflecting on life's journeys inspired me to choose this title. I feel that music that touches and inspires serves a huge purpose for listeners who may be able to relate to songs.
CL: What would you say would be the most personal track on the album to you, and why so?
CD: Wow, there are many, but the one that stands out for me is “Letter”. It is self-explanatory. It is a tribute to my son.
CL: When my little boy was born four years ago, my world turned into something much more wonderful. I know you can relate. As an artist, how do you feel becoming a mother inspired your work?
CD: Yes, especially having a son. It is amazing. I am inspired and it increases my drive more than ever to make sure that he is gonna be alright. It is such a joy to watch him grow literally every day, learning new words, doing something new. It is surreal.
CL: What was it like from your perspective to be a Finalist for SoulTracks Readers' Choice Award for Female Vocalist of the Year?
CD: It was an honor especially being placed in the light of so many other talented artists. It is truly appreciated when listeners give kudos.
CL: On your album, "Love Rain Down" one of your song’s lyrics is "take a look inside my world and you'll probably find a scared little girl." Do you feel that often confident, independent women like yourself generally can relate to that sentiment?
CD: Yes, that is from the Love Rain Down album. The song is called "The One", because people think that we are go getters and have such drive, people can perceive us as being hard when it is the total opposite.
CL: I would like to hear Conya Doss' definition of Soul.
CD: My definition of Soul is music and lyrics derived from the heart infused with experiences. As a result, it is the ability to inspire others to the degree that they can feel the music emotionally.
CL: Where can your fans go to check out the latest from Conya Doss?
*Eclectiblogs will keep you posted.
Photo Credits: Stephen Midgette. Special thanks to Lisa Gee for her assistance in helping this interview come to fruition.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Growing up, there was no more eclectic band that entered my ears than Fishbone. At the time, the classic and original line-up included Chris Dowd. That band- both live and in the studio were like nothing I have ever heard before or since. So it goes without saying that Chris Dowd is a true musical original, and his new band The UltraInfidels is a new force to be reckoned with.
We had an honest, real, and deep discussion this past weekend, which I am happy to share with you.
CL: I love The UltraInfidels, and am really happy to hear about new music from you. Tell me, who you are working with now?
CD: I’m working with the great bassist, guitarist and programmer Daniel Seeff. Daniel works with the hip-hop producer DJ Khalil and played on Eminem's "Recovery", Jay-Z's "Kingdom Come" and Talib Kweli's last Reflection Eternal record...and a whole bunch of other hip-hop albums. He is the Ultra. I am the Infidel! (Laughs)
CL: You led me right to my next question. How did you decide on The UltraInfidels as the name?
CD: The UltraInfidels are a musical and spiritual pariah. It represents the infidel…those who have a belief, but a belief in whose system? What gives us the right to not allow choice and to impose our opinions on each other to the point of even killing each other based on having different thoughts?
CL: Do you feel that pattern of thought reflects the songs themselves?
CD: Yes. Take “Cubicle” for example. I believe we would all function better as a society if we did what we love, not settling on doing what we feel we have to do. Instead, we measure life by what we drive or what we own.
CL: I agree completely. Jobs pay the bills, but we have to ultimately have our priorities straight.
CD: Exactly. For that, I feel Fishbone was truly the most Punk Rock band that ever existed. We took every offer but only if it meant without ever compromising.
CL: That’s what made you the band you were. I listen to Linton Kwesi Johnson and I know I am listening to Reggae… I listen to The Selecter and I know I am hearing Ska. I love both artists…but when I listen to Fishbone, no one could neatly package you into a category.
CD: Right, and with many people what they don’t understand they destroy…and what they don’t destroy they marginalize.
CL: And you still didn’t compromise.
CD: I think it was Bono who said “true artistic freedom is through financial success.”
CL: I see some truth in that, but then the more money you bring in the more you are expected to keep bringing it in…
CD: And you have to be comfortable living in that golden cage.
CL: My favorite Fishbone album I would have to say personally was “Truth and Soul.”
CD: Many view “Truth and Soul” as our Sergeant Pepper.
CL: What was creating that album like for you?
CD: We knew it was a great record when it was being made. I was truly allowed to step up with “Pouring Rain” and “Change.” I felt all of the original Fishbone records were good. They have all aged well. Like “Give a Monkey a Brain and He'll Swear He's The Center of The Universe.” Each song on that record stuck to a musical theme individually. “Black Flowers” is such a great song. It would have fit right in on “The Reality of My Surroundings.” We all grew up listening to different things, all the way back to hearing things like Return to Forever back in high school.
CL: With all of that history, what led to your no longer being involved?
CD: When Kendall left, I feel that the person I had the strongest kinship with was gone. I was exhausted…from age 17 to 28 we toured most months of the year, every year. Time, though…it heals all things.
CL: So where did that leave you at the time? It had to be a tremendous mix of emotion.
CD: It led me to New York City. We just did Lollapalooza. I was off the road with a suitcase, a guitar, a keyboard and a bent up trombone.
CL: Why specifically New York City?
CD: Well, I get it now. I needed to get away. In Los Angeles I’d walk down the street and would hear people shout “Fishbone” when they saw me and I was no longer in the band. I needed space from that.
CL: Is that around the time you started working in the Seedy Arkhestra?
CD: I was in New York and needed to find something to do musically, and I met Jeff Baker (King Django) from the Stubborn All-Stars…at the same time I was obsessed with “The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye” record.
CL: Again, your love for Ska was there…but you mixed it up. Is that when you met Jeff Buckley? Actually, is my asking about him too personal?
CD: No, it’s ok. Back in early October of 1989 I had met a girl and we became really good friends. This was right before “The Reality of My Surroundings.” I was in a bad place. I really wanted the album to be our true “Electric Ladyland” or “London Calling” record. I was down on myself and she was complimentary and supportive. So she showed up one night during one of those famous L.A. rainstorms and picked me up. I got in her car and rolled my window down to feel the rain and the air. I didn’t realize someone was behind me in the back seat. It was Jeff. We had never met. I felt so bad, I said “I’m so sorry” as I’m sure my window being down got him all wet. He warmly smiled and said “I’m fine.” That was Jeff. He was sympathetic to what I must have been feeling. That’s how he was…he felt what you were feeling.
CL: I remember you telling me before that you became close friends.
CD: He was my best friend. We actually lived together for like, two years. Those were great times. I remember introducing him to music he didn’t know much about .
CL: Like what?
CD: Bands like Fun Boy Three…and classic Punk Rock like Black Flag. I remember we all went to go see Bad Brains.
CL: Thank you for sharing those memories. You didn’t have to but I am glad you did. I promise this won’t be a tabloid-worthy piece.
CD: I’m sure it won’t , I trust you.
CL: Thank you. When can we expect to hear The UltraInfidels?
CD: The end of July. We are doing this grass roots. This is a new band and we are literally starting from scratch. It’s really like starting over for me.
CL: Well, we will be sure to spread the word here at Eclectiblogs. As someone who has enjoyed your music for decades I can’t thank you enough for taking the time for this interview.
CD: Thank you. We will talk again.
It’s funny, I asked Mr. Dowd if he preferred Christopher or Chris for this article. He said to go with Chris as people know him as such…but he secretly preferred Christopher. On that, I could bond with him. His love for music of all types was another thing we had in common. He asked if I had ever heard “Fresh” by Sly and the Family Stone. Other than “If You Want Me To Stay” I honestly hadn’t, and he insisted I check it out.
We here at Eclectiblogs will keep you posted on the release of The UltraInfidels record, especially closer to the official release date.
I wanted to close this effectively, and nothing I can think of personally can top this interchange:
CD: I get as much out of a Henry Rollins record as I do Ella Fitzgerald.
CL: …and you respect them both.
CD: …and I respect them both.
Christopher Levine, 2012
Grammy nominated Reggae artist Coraleena Ellis is an amazing and talented vocalist in her genre. No matter your circumstances at any given time, Reggae and Lover's Rock are usually a sonic freedom to a better place. Coraleena Ellis is no exception; but she takes it one further...she has the voice of a Neo-Soul artist. The combination of the smooth vocal lounging comfortably upon the uplifting track is one that is truly unique, and it turns out that her Reggae/Neo-Soul style is a blend as natural as Rhythm and Blues is conceptually. I had the opportunity to interview her recently. Here is how it went:
CL: First and foremost, thanks for taking the time for this interview!
CE: Thank you very much for this opportunity to answer some questions about myself.
CL: When can you recall first being interested in singing?
CE: I became interested in singing around the age of ten when my dad bought me a piano. I started playing by ear and singing along.
CL: You are such an eclectic Reggae artist, who are other singers and musicians that you personally are a fan of?
CE: Bob Marley, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt - old school artists and pioneers in the Reggae music industry. Also Patti LaBelle, Minnie Ripperton, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston… there are so many.
CL: Is there an artist whose work you love that you would consider a guilty pleasure?
CE: Shaggy! (Laughs) His voice makes me go all silly, and he has fun with what he does.
CL: I read you have a relative who is a Reggae icon. Care to share?
CE: That would be the late great Alton Ellis. I had heard about him for years, but did not believe that we were related until I was online one day and saw a picture of him. I was amazed at how much he looked like my father. I contacted him and spoke to him and found out that we were indeed related. Since then, I have gotten to meet a few of his children and I am proud to be an Ellis. (Laughs)
CL: If you had to describe your music in one word, what would that word be?
CL: Why that choice?
CE: I call my music “Nu Lovers Rock.” It is not the classic lovers rock from the UK in the 70’s and 80s. It’s similar, but I think it has just that bit more Soul in it, that of course is because of all the early musical influences in my life.
CL: We both believe that writing a song is an expression of art, lyrics included. How do you go about the writing process?
CE: There are songs I have had in my head for years, but most of the time I will hear a piece of music, and the story forms in my head. I can just picture the words with the music. It just flows.
CL: Do you have a particular favorite song in your catalog that you especially love to sing?
CE: One that I wrote back in 2008 called “Let Me Be Free.” The music had been passed on to me by a producer in Jamaica. I had it for weeks, and then one day I put the track on and the story formed. It is about someone coming into your life at just the right moment and you just know that is the right person for you. You are linked spiritually and they let you grow and be yourself.
CL: Tell me about the best live performance experience that you ever remember having.
CE: That would be the first time I sang after twenty years. Someone heard me singing by chance in my nephew’s studio. He asked me to perform at a show in England and I only had two weeks to get myself together after doing nothing for all that time. When I stepped on the stage, there were perhaps 3,000 people there, and I just felt alive. The audience was fantastic and showed so much love, I just opened up.
CL: Congratulations on your new record deal! Tell us about that and how it happened for you.
CE: Well I started working with Evander Solomon last year, and at the same time I found a great new producer by the name of Sharpshooter. Between them and my agent Nolan Briggs, we just seemed to work well together. Evander sent my new material out to a few contacts in the industry and on my birthday I signed the contract with Universal Republic Records.
CL: Any other advice that you would give to other ladies who want to enter the music business?
CE: I remember many years ago I was looking for management; I had a meeting with someone in New Jersey who was managing a very famous female artist. He told me very clearly that there are two choices for female artists in the industry …the easy way and the hard way. He then went on to tell me who the female artists at that time were who had gone the easy route. I told him that no matter how long it took, I would definitely not be going the easy route. It takes longer, but in the end you will not only last longer in the industry, you will do so with your self- respect and the respect of your peers.
CL: Good for you. Currently, is there any new music or projects you'd like to mention?
CE: I have a new collaboration track with Percydread (originally Naturalite) and the track was written by Jean Adebambo, called “Since You Came Into My Life.” It is a beautiful track and speaks from the heart. I also have a reggae/soul track entitled “The Question” which is also special to me.
CL: Thank you, both for your time and for being true to your art.
CE: Thank you for taking the time to interview me.
If you like your music eclectic, the work of Coraleena Ellis belongs in your collection. Be on the lookout for this newly signed artist on Universal Republic Records. Her music can also be found at CDBaby. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
My timeline is all mixed up when it comes to the work of Jad Fair. I heard Half Japanese long after I heard his work with Daniel Johnston. Let’s put it this way…do you remember when Napster was brand-new and you could innocently search for music without thinking about the concept of piracy? Well, at that time I assembled a Daniel Johnston mix and the name Jad Fair kept popping up over and over again in my searches. Not only did this lead me to Half Japanese, but to all kinds of artwork from this multi-media artist.
Just coming off the road, Mr. Fair was kind enough to interview with me. Enjoy the interchange below.
CL: It's wonderful that you are doing this, thank you.
JF: You're welcome, Christopher. I'm glad to do it.
CL: So you just returned from Spain, performing with Norman Blake for a Daniel Johnston art exhibition...how was that experience for you?
JF: It was great. Norman and I had four shows. The focus of the set was songs by Daniel Johnston. Norman sang half of the songs and I sang half. Norman played drums on the songs I sang and I played drums on the ones he did. It's been a while since I last played drums. It was fun playing again, and Spain is beautiful. I love it there.
CL: Did you catch the performances by Kathy McCarty and Mary Lou Lord?
JF: No, The shows were spaced a week apart. Norman and I were able to meet up with Kathy for dinner, but we weren't there for her show. It was good to have some time with her. The album she did of Daniel's songs is excellent. I've seen Mary Lou a couple times at SXSW. She's very talented.
CL: Your musical and overall art output is so prolific. What do you feel inspires that amount of regular creative energy?
JF: I've never felt any need for inspiration. I'm an artist and musician. That's my job, so I do it. If I had to wait for inspiration I wouldn't get near as much done. The thought that inspiration is key to creativity seems an odd notion to me. Just do it.
CL: I love how your songs are often about either love and it’s innocence, or monsters. Is that a natural progression or a conscious decision?
JF: I like monster movies, and I like love songs. It's not a natural progression. It's just doing what comes easiest for me. The most natural path is often the easiest one. I usually do what comes the most natural to me.
CL: As a songwriter, what other artists’ work affects you?
JF: My favorite song writers are Bob Dylan, Dot Wiggins, Jonathan Richman, Daniel Johnston, and Amy Allison.
CL: You also have inspired many to create. It is very well documented that Kurt Cobain was a fan of both Daniel Johnston and Half Japanese. What was it like touring with Nirvana in 1993 at the height of their popularity?
JF: We were playing to very young audiences. Most of the audience was under 18 and I'm sure that very few had ever heard of us. On the first night we played fast songs and slow ones. Every fast song went over well and every slow one bombed. After that night we played only fast ones and it was fine.
CL: Did you have a bond with Kurt Cobain personally?
JF: Kurt was always friendly to me, but he kept to himself. I saw Krist and Dave a good bit, but seldom saw Kurt.
CL: Going back to Daniel Johnston, there is simply no other album that I personally have ever heard like "It's Spooky." From the perfectly sparse cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows” to the drowsy exuberance of “When Love Calls,” this stuff was so original. How did the two of you initially realize you were creatively compatible?
JF: I first heard Daniel in 1986. Jeff Tartakov gave me a copy of "Hi, How Are You?" and I loved it. I started writing to Daniel and a few years later we were both in New York at the same time and met at Kramer's studio Noise New York. Moe Tucker was recording an album. I played on a couple songs and Sonic Youth played on a song. Daniel was staying with Steve Shelley, and Daniel started to spend a good bit of time at Kramer's studio. We became friends and I invited him to my home to record. "It's Spooky" was recorded and mixed in 8 days. I'm real pleased with how it turned out.
CL: How was working with Maureen Tucker from the Velvet Underground? How did you initially get to know her personally?
JF: I started corresponding with Moe in 1984. I'm a huge fan of The Velvet Underground and of Moe's solo work. She's very friendly. I got along with her real well. I've done a few records and tours with her. She's such a fine performer and a superfine person.
CL: Your cover and graphic design work is great. Have you always been a multi-medium artist?
JF: I had planned to be a visual artist and started playing music for fun. The music was well received and that was my main focus for many years. I'm now spending most of my time doing paper cuttings.
CL: Recently I learned that you actually will help with album design for bands. How great is that! What moved you to offer that artistic possibility to the public?
JF: I've done covers for several bands. I try to be as supportive as I can. I recently did a cover for The Bubblies.
CL: I once wrote a piece about pulling great band names from headlines. Then I learned you beat me to the punch with “Strange But True.” How did you go about looking to find such outstanding titles? Was finding those specific headlines a personal endeavor or a group effort with Yo La Tengo?
JF: The songs on "Strange But True" were all written by my brother David. I think he did a great job.
CL: Tell me about your contribution to “That’s Right Go Cats” by Yuri Landman.
JF: Yuri invited me to do a vocal on music he did. I did two takes on the vocal. I was pleased with how it turned out. We performed the song in Europe a couple times. Yuri has made two instruments for me. He's doing some very interesting things.
CL: What is the latest that we can expect to enjoy from you artistically?
JF: I'll have a new book released soon in France. It's a book of paper cuttings titled "Let's Go". I'll also have an album released with a band from Tokyo, Tenniscoats. Later this year my brother David, Mark Jickling and I will have a new record, and I've started an album with Norman Blake. I think Kim Fowley will also be on that album.
CL: Keep us in the loop! It's been very nice to meet you. I look forward to your future artistic endeavors!
JF: Thank you. Best wishes.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Interviewing musicians humanizes them. They are no longer images on an album cover or characters in a music video, they become both relatable and in many cases, really good people. As I write this I am one day away from seeing my wife and son who have been away for two weeks. My son is four and two weeks is a very long time to not have seen him. I bring this up because in interviewing Mr. Clive Farrington of When In Rome…the proud Dad in him is all over the map. Upon reviewing the interview I clearly got the fact that his vibe is multi-faceted…and his depth of artistic appreciation and his sincere gratefulness toward his fan base shines through, but so does his pride in being a father. Long story short…I dig that. Get to know this artist more fully below. I’m glad I did.
CL: First off, thank you for taking the time to interview with Eclectiblogs...it's very appreciated.
CF: Thank you, you're welcome!
CL: Tell us about your latest release "Trans Lorem Oceano" and what those who have yet to hear it can expect. –
CF: I've always tried to be totally honest, first and foremost with myself. So I'm not gonna lie to you! The album is specifically aimed at keeping the profile of When In Rome in the public domain until we release an album of brand new songs, written by myself, Andrew and our new partner and writer, Jon Brooks. We have three completed songs for the new album and we're aiming for release prior to the summer tour of the USA in 2013! The album will be called 'The Dynamism of Frenzy', simply because both Andrew and I are mad keen on film score sound and Hitchcock's 'Frenzy' is particularly fabulous with a score written famously by Ron Goodwin who was hired after Henry Mancini was fired for being too much like another composer! Added to the mix, we have our brilliant new writing…sleeping… partner, Jon Brooks who is a successful film and commercial composer! We have added a new song 'Breathing' from the new album to the live set and it goes down great! However, that is not to say that Trans Lorem Oceano is not a relevant release. The album contains three mixes of the new track 'Fatal' and includes rare remixes of the 'hits' 'The Promise' and 'Heaven Knows', plus other favorites such as 'Wide Wide Sea' and 'If Only'. There is a mix of 'Heaven Knows' on there that I've never heard before! The title is in Latin of course in line with the Roman connection and translated to English is: 'Across The Blue Ocean' denoting that the US and UK are divided by the Blue Atlantic Ocean and we had two hits here and not in our 'homeland'.
CL: Very nice, I love the symbolism. Is it true you were influenced by Jacques Brel?
CF: Andrew and I are kindred souls I believe, in that we have very similar tastes, apart from when it comes to The Doors! My interest in Jacques Brel was raised because of my worship of David Bowie throughout the late 70's and 80's! When Bowie recorded and released 'Amsterdam' on the 'B' Side of 'Sorrow' and I read who wrote it on the center label of the 7" vinyl, I simply had to know about Jacques Brel. Bowie performs Amsterdam just as majestically as Brel. However, if you watch the video of Brel performing the song, it is breathtaking in its sincerity! I got to know much more about Brel when I got hold of a copy of Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel, released on vinyl in 1981 (Phillips) and on CD in 1990 (Fontana) of which I had both copies! The song lyrics were translated brilliantly by Mort Shuman. Brel's co-writers; Gérard Jouannest, Mort Shuman and Rod McKuen (“If You Go Away”) should also take a bow at this point for their brilliant song craft! Marc Almond said of Scott walker that 'he could sing 'Three Blind Mice' and make it sound like the only song in the world! The exact same of course can be said of Brel. After all 'Amsterdam' takes its melody from 'Greensleeves' purported to have been written by Henry the Eighth, yet Brel makes the song sound fabulous!
CL: I was raised in Southern California. It seems that so many artists that KROQ played including yourself and your peers really find it to almost be a home away from home per mass acceptance. Would you say that is true for When in Rome?
CF: I cannot complain! Yes, it is of course fantastic to stand on a stage and the audience is singing the songs louder than you are! They were even singing our new song 'Breathing' at our last show in Florida and it was the first time we've done it live! What really capped the summer tour of 2012 was the show at the House of Blues, Anaheim. My thirteen year old daughter, Saskia was in the audience and I dedicated the song 'If Only' to her and that was a magical feeling to be able to do that as a father. We of course finished the set off with 'The Promise' and I've never, ever seen a reaction like I saw there. The whole audience was singing the end chorus's perfectly! Thank you to all who came to our shows this last summer and all of our past shows! We truly do appreciate the support!
CL: Audiences tend to be able to pick up on sincerity…
CF: I can completely say with authority that because I wrote all of the song lyrics and melodies in collaboration with Andrew and they were from the heart, that this is a good reason for the success that the songs achieved. Especially in America because I think the American public love sincerity in music and that is of course why country music is so big here. By the way, I am not totally into country music, but I did see a fabulous band called 'Peewee Moore & The Awful Dreadful Snakes' at Mothers Bar at Sunset Beach, CA and they were absolutely brilliant! They were ably supported by another country band called 'The Freight Shakers'!
CL: What is your overall opinion of the Pop music dominating the radio these days?
CF: I have a 13 year old daughter so I gotta like some of it! Saskia's into 1D, Nikki Minaj and Bieber amongst others! I have to try to close my mind when she plays some of the stuff in the car, especially Minaj when she gets on her typical 'Stupid Ho' rant! However, I took her and her friend to see Bieber in Manchester UK a couple of years back and was totally blown away by his musicianship! After all, when you come to think of it, would Def Jam and Usher bother with someone with no talent? Of course, Bieber, Minaj, Jesse J, Katy Perry et al work on the 'sex sells' ethic, but when you take the time to listen, they are super talented but in a different way to the fabulous Adele. Adele is both sexy and super talented in a more refined way, like Sade has always been!
CL: That’s a very fair assessment. Another subject, an entire new generation heard "The Promise" at the end of the "Napoleon Dynamite" movie. What was your reaction to its placement there?
CF: I first got the call from a colleague in the US in 2003 to say that they wanted to use the song in the film and I, and he had no idea whereabouts in the film it was to be used because of course the film had not been completed. The film was of course released in 2004. I was watching the MTV Film Awards in bed at about 1am in the morning and Daryl Hannah came running onto the stage to announce the winner for Film of the Year and she said on approaching the podium "Forgive me!, my voice has gone from shouting for Napoleon Dynamite!". The film was announced by Daryl as the winner! You only have to imagine how I felt and what I did, but I can tell you that I was on my own and bouncing up and down on my bed! A film with my song in it had won MTV Film of the Year! Just some sobering facts here: The film had a production budget of approximately $400,000USD and has grossed to date $44,540,956 USD!
CL: Who is a vocal inspiration that one might not expect Clive Farrington to cite as a personal influence?
CF: Scott Walker
CL: Who among your contemporaries do you view as being good torch carriers of the Pop tradition?
CF: Martin Fry of ABC, Steve Norman, John Keeble, Martin Kemp, and Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Glen Gregory of Heaven 17, Phil Oakey of the Human League, Mike Score of A Flock of Seagulls, Bill Wadhams of Animotion… and Andrew Mann of When In Rome, Danny Dean of When In Rome and Rob Juarez of When In Rome...
CL: People often label you New Wave. How do you personally refer to the music of When In Rome? –
CF: Romantic Honesty...
CL: Perfect. What is your favorite aspect of touring?
CF: I love to see places and of course don't get much time to do that while on tour. However, that said, we have a lot more time now than when we toured in the 80's! I just love the camaraderie of being with the guys in the band on the road, especially when we do the journeys by bus. We have a right laugh as they say! I really enjoyed it also when we had Danica on cello and Mary on violin travelling with us. Of course we had to watch our P's and Q's but we got on really, really well!
CL: How would you describe your creative working relationship with Andrew Mann, Rob Juarez and Danny Dean?
CF: A great band is one in which arguments are very rare and few and far between. Of course we have our bitching, but it last for seconds and I am a master of diplomacy! We all get along fabulously and I enjoy this set up more than any band I've ever been in. They are all of course great musicians in their own right and my harmonies with Andrew are still very natural and strong. Danny is John McGeoch reincarnate and his mannerisms along with his unique style are very similar to John's who I worked with in the band 'Pacific' with Keith Lowndes of ABC and Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17. John sadly died in his sleep in 2006. RIP John, as a player I loved you and will never forget our time working on the stuff we love; 'Music'! Now, Mr. Juarez! A dark horse if ever there was one. I have worked with many electronic percussionist / drummers, including Neil Thomkinson of Beau Leisure 'Simmons' and the great e-drum Simmons instigator, Richard Burgess of Landscape. Rob is easily as good and on par with the aforementioned masters and most of all he enjoys playing! We have great stage camaraderie and it shows in our performances. I love this new lineup!
CL: What is a song that you feel truly sums up the spirit of the band that is more of a deep track?
CF: 'If Only'. Of course it's a song about falling in and then out of love and then saying that you will never take that route again. It is so true of me and to be honest, I'm completely crap at relationships and I'm happier now than I've ever been and single! So the song is a reminder to me that, in the same way as Art Garfunkel’s' 'I Believe' says 'I believe when I fall in love (again)... It will be forever!'
CL: Finally, what’s on the horizon for When In Rome?
CF: Just tell everybody that When In Rome UK is alive and kicking with some new songs. They will also be touring throughout 2013 in the US!
*Eclectiblogs will keep you posted!-cl
-Christopher Levine, 2013
Interviewing Jon Farriss of INXS was a wonderful experience. Not only was I speaking with someone whose music I have always liked, but he was really great to speak with as a person.
Case in point: This interview took place over the phone and needed consideration in coordinating the time difference between Texas and Australia, so I was at home in the evening while conducting it. Which means I was home with my family while this was taking place.
Now…Mr. Farriss doesn’t know this, but at one point my five year old son walked in to show me a picture that he found of a rocket. I gave my little boy a “thumbs up” and he smiled and left the room. I bring this up because shortly after this Mr. Farriss politely excused himself and spoke with a family member on his end of the phone. At that point I wasn’t a journalist and he wasn’t a world-famous drummer…we were two Dads.
This illustrated to me that Jon Farriss has managed to stay grounded and relatable even through all of the tremendous hits of the spotlight and all that goes with it.
That being said, our conversation is below. I hope you enjoy it.
CL: First off, it’s nice to meet you. As both a journalist and a long-time fan I really appreciate your taking the time for this interview.
JF: I thank you as well for your interest, Christopher.
JF: Yeah, twenty-five years! I was only about ten years out of high school myself at the time. It really is a large part of our legacy. I have fond memories of that time.
CL: I am an admirer of both the band’s work and also of yours personally as I am a drummer as well. As such I’m curious as to what would you say initially made the drums your instrument of choice?
JF: I don’t know. (thoughtfully pauses) Drums were just kind of my calling. It was like drums spoke to me. I have a very vivid memory …it was around age 4- whatever age you are when you are in kindergarten- I remember walking into the classroom and there were all kinds of musical instruments, and I went straight for a drum. It was like a French marching drum. I still remember having had an emotional reaction to it. It was to become a metaphor for my life.
CL: It’s pretty amazing not only that that happened, but that you can remember it so clearly.
JF: I don’t remember my first tastes or my first sights; but I clearly remember my first sounds. Music was a vehicle and a language of emotion even from a young age.
CL: An interesting characteristic of your playing is the integration of electronic and acoustic drums. How did that style come about for you?
JF: When the drum machine entered into the world there was a stigma attached to it. It was viewed as being a threat to drummers…like ‘see you dude…you’re outta here’! At the time it was looked at by some as something created to replace a drummer. Probably invented by a bass player! (Laughs)
I never saw it like that. The idea of new sounds I thought was really cool. I always have liked technology and how it can be used to express and to create and was always open to learn about it. That was great as producers found it exciting that I found it exciting.
CL: I like artists that aren’t afraid of change. Clearly you were not.
JF: It is all quite a musical evolution. Look at the role the drum machine continued to play for example in bands like Roxy Music.
I have small kids…in a few years’ time I’d like to educate them about music. It’s so vast, and one of the most important languages that there is. Really think of the last one hundred years- the journey that music has taken has been incredible.
CL: When I was younger I went through a period where I limited myself to only liking certain genres of music, then I got older and not only realized I liked an eclectic range of styles…but that in many cases the styles are relatable to one another.
JF: Genre to genre it all means something. Being open to musical possibilities is always good. It’s like ‘check out this tree…it sounds fantastic, maybe we can make it into a tom.’ Music often integrates on subtle levels, like when you hear Jazz roots for example in some of the Hip Hop that has come out. The more you learn as you get older and wiser you see these connections, hindsight is always great.
CL: That seemed to be a big key to INXS… I remember the mix of Funk, Rock and Pop, especially around the time of “Kick” to be really refreshing. I applaud artists that allow themselves to grow. Some people want a band to stay exactly like they were in 1982.
JF: Right. You don’t ever want to look back too much, where the windscreen gets smaller and the rear view mirror gets bigger. There is always a core that can reason beyond just a peripheral interest. One of my favorite artists is Diana Krall. Each one of her albums has something to offer and they are not all the same. I like them based on my mood and my emotion at the time individually.
CL: Is there a specific INXS album that has extreme sentimental value to you in particular?
JF: I would say “X” as it really was a quantum leap for me personally and an incredible experience. In that year I was living with Michael (Hutchence) in Hong Kong and also experienced emotional personal changes. It really was the soundtrack to how I was feeling at the time.
CL: Wasn’t “Disappear” on that album?
JF: Yeah, that was a song I wrote with Michael at the time. It did really well on the charts, it got to number eight in the US.
CL: Not to sound bleak, but it seems good songs and art often happen when traumatic things happen.
JF: Some people, as ironic as it may sound…are only happy when they are sad. Personally as a songwriter I get inspired when the chips are down, but for anything to come together I still have to be in a good frame of mind. I understand what depression is…often in that state a person doesn’t want to do anything, so for me there has to be a balance.
CL: You also wrote “Red, Red Sun” on “Listen Like Thieves”. That song sounds like it would be a great song to drum to live. Do you have favorites you especially like to play live?
JF: “Red, Red Sun” was only played a few times. It was a song I had written about the experience of long-distance relationships. I’m glad you liked the song and thank you for noticing it. Live I really enjoy playing Jon-Farriss-four-on-the-floor songs. I love to play songs like “Suicide Blonde” and “Need You Tonight” because even though they are some of the easiest to play…they sound subtle and I like that.
CL: Another question as far as live performing goes. What was the working relationship between INXS and Terence Trent D'Arby like when he joined you live?
JF: Terence was just great! This was the first performance after Michael died, and it was very brave of him to take us up on the offer. We had always been fans of his. When we first got together in rehearsals he was very shy and withdrawn, we knew he could do it but were concerned…this performance was going to be televised all throughout Europe! But when we hit the stage he became this incredibly fantastic dynamo, he was really, really great… (pauses)…one has to remember that filling Michael’s shoes was never our intent, why and how could we ever try to ‘replace’ Michael? That would be impossible. We just wanted to play music and the songs required a singer.
CL: What would you say you learned the most from your musical partnership with Michael Hutchence?
JF: Musically…Michael wasn’t a musician. He was always very interested in writing and in constructing poetry. He enjoyed music. This gave the band another perspective. He was two years above me in school, and Andrew (Farriss) could just tell there was something special about him. His voice would develop and continue to develop over time. What an amazing voice…
He also was a very good Pop melody creator. When I would write I learned to not be too quick to share with him my idea for a melody to hear what he came up with first.
CL: I remember when an hour wouldn’t go by without Mtv playing an INXS video. How do you view the medium now?
JF: I don’t watch much television at all. Of course now it is not a non-stop music channel like it was, but the music business as a whole is completely different…everything is shifting and it is a slow death to the giants. Young bands still often have the mentality of getting signed by a label. But getting the chance to take a long time making an expensive recording isn’t commonplace anymore…let alone making million dollar videos. Those days are over.
CL: So what is on the horizon for Jon Farriss now?
JF: It’s actually very exciting. As a kid I taught myself to play the drums to Ringo. I always felt an emotional connection to him and his style of drumming. Recently my friend Steve Lukather called me and invited me to see Ringo’s All-Starr band. I then was asked to come up and play “With a Little Help From My Friends” while sitting at Ringo’s kit! That was such a trippy experience for me, just fantastic.
I also am working on a project called “Drum Opera.” It will be music and a show based around rhythm, but with songs as well…and guests will be involved. I will be coming to the States to have meetings with some friends about the project soon.
CL: That sounds great. Is it ok for me to put your project out there yet?
JF: That would be fine. When things progress with the “Drum Opera” project I will be in touch. I’m really excited to do it. It will be a great mix of Funk, Rock, and Jazz.
CL: This was a real pleasure, thank you again.
JF: Lovely to talk to you, we’ll speak soon. Cheers, mate.
*A sincere thank you to (Ms.) Sam Evans for all of your assitance in making the above happen. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
This author is very pro-woman.
Yes, I am very much a red-blooded American male…but I was raised to respect people based on more than simple appearances. In doing so -in many cases- I have that found the most beautiful wrapping paper can sometimes hide the most atrocious gift, both literally and figuratively. Other times interior splendor makes the outer person just that much better.
Samantha Fox is an example of the latter.
From the brief interchange you will read below, you will find that she is both confident and forward-thinking in her approach. As a Pop singer as well as a performer, it is beyond obvious that she is totally comfortable being who she is and doing what she does. Enjoy the read.
CL: As a singer and performer, who would you say was the biggest influence on you musically?
SF: As singers… Debbie Harry from Blondie, Stevie Nicks, Annie Lennox, and Pat Benatar. As performers… Freddie Mercury, Tina Turner, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Pink.
CL: Pop Music with Hip Hop production is now very much the norm. But when your first big singles came out, it wasn't mainstream to meld the two. What drew you to working with Full Force and what made you move in that direction?
SF: At first I was afraid. We never heard this kind of stuff in the UK. But for me, I loved a change and my music was quite schizophrenic anyway! I was glad I convinced them to add rock guitar to “Naughty Girls” as it still had the stamp of my previous hits, “Touch Me,” “Do Ya, Do Ya” and “I Surrender.”
CL: Are there artists that you feel are carrying that tradition forward now that impress you personally?
SF: Rihanna and Jessie J.
CL: What is the best aspect of performing live for you?
SF: You spend so much time writing and then intense days at the studio, then rehearsing with your band going over and over the same songs to get it right. So when you go on tour, it’s like a rush of happiness as you’re about to see the audiences reaction to what you’ve achieved. Performing live is what it is all about.
CL: Do you feel that you got the respect you deserved as a performer, or do you feel that was hindered by preconceived ideas concerning your image?
SF: Yes I do feel now I have the respect as a performer. It was hard at the beginning…just because a woman looks good doesn’t mean she can’t do anything else. Just look at Madonna, Beyonce, Shakira …we are all successful business women as well as and you don’t last in this business for thirty years by being an idiot!
CL: Well put! Who are artists that your fans wouldn't necessarily expect Samantha Fox to be into, but you are?
SF: Lana Del Ray, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Guns ‘n’ Roses, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin.
CL: What would you tell a new young female performer who is interested in recording in the music business?
SF: Keep your family and friends close to keep you grounded and safe. Get a good manager and lawyer before signing a deal and don’t sign your publishing before it’s worth something!
CL: Do you have any career regrets thus far?
SF: No. Not any.
CL: Are you as passionate now about your music as you were in its initial stages?
SF: Oh yeah. Even more so now… I write and produce. I’ve started my own Record Label called Foxy Records. I’m hoping to find some super stars so I can happily retire one day!!
CL: What utimately keeps you motivated to perform and stay busy musically?
SF: My fans…and I’m like a little kid. I can’t wait to play them my new stuff.
CL: Thanks again for sharing with us.
SF: Well, thank you. Hope to see you all in Dallas, Texas next year on my US tour. Lots of love.
-Christopher Levine, 2013
ABC is a band known for crafting songs that are tastefully gift wrapped in both style and substance. For decades, these songs have stood the test of time and are in no danger of losing their influence on generations to come. It was my privilege to run a few questions by front man Martin Fry, as he was kind enough to make himself available for the following interview.
CL: ABC has always been a constant in the soundtrack of my life. That said, thank you for taking the time to interview with Eclectiblogs.
MF: The pleasure is all mine.
CL: The album "Traffic" has a very "enjoy the ride" feel to it. Would you say at this point in ABC that's your mindset as an artist?
MF: Don’t think about the road ahead just enjoy the ride…yes I suppose that is a good way of looking at life and all its challenges. I’m a keen cyclist. It’s definitely my mindset after 50 miles. Mindset as an artist is slightly different. As soon as you write a new song it’s like the first time.
CL: Do you feel fan reaction inspires you as a live performer directly?
MF: Fan reaction definitely inspires me every time I perform.
CL: You must have, for example- vocally delivered "All of My Heart" countless times...but in the audience I personally would be waiting for it in the set.
MF: With “All of My Heart” the song is public property. It has a life of its own. I’ve grown up and into the song.
CL: I often ask those who have experienced being staples on MTV what they feel about the medium now. Especially when it was a part of releasing your singles?
MF: MTV and the whole video thing was a brilliant time. It was a new untried untested medium back in the 80’s. It was a chance to express the music and magic behind the band visually. Sometimes the clips outshone the tracks, sometimes not. It always felt great when the visuals enhanced the music. We always tried to change the look of the band each time we had a new song on the charts. That got pretty exhausting after a while. The emphasis these days is on authenticity, not fantasy.
CL: Your band has been labeled "New Romantic" by the media. Are you comfortable with that personally?
MF: Never comfortable with the term New Romantic. Always conjured up images of pierrot dolls and pirate outfits.
MF: Having said that…”The Lexicon of Love” was romantic and new once upon a time, so I can’t complain, can I?
CL: So then how would you, Martin Fry, define the music of ABC?
MF: For the record…we were more Soul boys than New Romantics.
CL: What would you say the biggest difference is there in your artistic outlook now from when you made "The Lexicon of Love"?
MF: There’s not much difference. With songwriting there’s a need to be naïve and inquisitive about the world. If you weren’t you’d never try and write a new song. Any songwriter preserves that feeling. That fresh perspective. Having a back catalogue is weird because obviously people judge your new stuff against their faves.
CL: Congratulations on receiving your honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield. Can you tell us about that experience?
MF: A great honor. I had to go back to Sheffield University, wear a mortar board hat and robes and deliver a speech. My daughter Nancy was graduating that week too. Sheffield is a brilliant city. The University reflects that.
CL: Did you feel the film "Made in Sheffield" is a fair and accurate representation of the early scene?
MF: It’s pretty damn good. There’s some great footage of the early Human League. Clock DVA were a bit under represented. There were so many brilliant bands coming through back then in Sheffield. The documentary definitely reflects that.
CL: Who is an artist that you are truly moved by musically that your fans might not expect?
MF: Kraftwerk, Dylan, Bowie, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Massive Attack…no real surprises.
CL: Do you have plans to play in the United States this year?
MF: Playing 3 shows in California in June to get the ball rolling.
CL: Are there specific dates that Eclectiblogs can help spread the word on for you?
CL: Sounds great, if Texas becomes part of the tour I will be there. Thanks again!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
One of the most wonderful things about being able to interview artists is getting to see their experiences through their very own eyes. While it is true that music of all genres has rich history, there is nothing quite as inspiring as hearing about real memories from the people who were actually there- who lived it.
For example, no book covering the wonderful vocal groups in American history written by me or any other writer could do honest justice to what it must have been like to have been a part of it when compared to the recollections of a true participant.
Mr. George Galfo of the Mystics has total and complete freeness of speech. Not only was this gentleman a real part of the history of American music, but he is still at it. He and the Mystics still give audiences the warm feeling that comes from their melodies and harmonies executed with precision and heart.
I was very happy to have been able to listen to him reflect on his experiences. Below is what came to fruition.
CL: Before we begin, I personally wanted to thank you so much for your willingness to participate.
GG: You are very welcome Christopher.
CL: I think it's so wonderful that The Mystics are still out there actively performing. What keeps you going?
GG: My love for the music and being able to bring back so many wonderful memories to our fans.
CL: Is there a particular song that always seems to get the most endearing reaction from your audiences?
CL: Do you remember how you originally arrived at the name The Mystics?
GG: We, the five original Mystics wrote name suggestions on pieces of paper. We tossed them into a hat…the name that was picked out was the Mystics. This name was Allie’s suggestion.
CL: The Mystics had the unique experience of both playing on Alan Freed's Big Beat Show and Dick Clark's American Bandstand. What were those experiences like?
GG: Having the opportunity presented to the Mystics of being on both Alan Freed's Big Beat and American Bandstand, were awesome experiences for young guys from Brooklyn.
CL: Do you remember seeing yourself on television and what you were doing at the time?
GG: I remember after the taping of American bandstand, we had to fly back to join the Mid-west tour we were on, and we stopped to have dinner in a local restaurant. To our amazement we looked up and there we were on the TV performing on American Bandstand. It was a thrill to say the least and the people in the restaurant were a bit taken back seeing us on TV and sitting there having dinner...being in two places at the same time.
CL: I recently came to learn that you had provided backing vocals for Connie Francis in 1959. What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
GG: It was an intense atmosphere as Ms. Francis is a perfectionist and we wanted to make sure we met her expectations of us.
CL: Were there others of note you worked with that you found to be memorable experiences?
GG: My memorable experiences were working with The Crests, The Skyliners, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Frankie Ford and Jackie Wilson…to mention a few.
CL: I love to learn about who influenced artists musically. Who would you say in your case made you want to sing?
GG: I was personally influenced by Dion & the Belmonts, The Skyliners and Vito Piccone & the Elegants.
CL: In your opinion, what is it that has kept The Mystics together as friends for so long?
GG: Three of us are blood related (Phil & Albee Cracolici are my Uncles) and Allie and Bobby are childhood friends who are more like family.
CL: Are there any artists in somewhat recent years that have gotten your attention musically, in a good way?
GG: Regarding today's Artists getting my attention, I have to say it's the Backstreet Boys and NSync. Both groups are very talented.
CL: I find it interesting you chose those groups. It’s almost as though they are an extension of what you and your contemporaries pioneered. What advice would you give a young singer or group, just starting out?
GG: In today's market they need to be very dedicated, patient and focused regarding their vision and their goals. Most of all… (emphatically) never give up!
CL: It has been a pleasure, sir. Thanks again
GG: Thank you Christopher for giving me the opportunity of testing my memory. It has been a pleasure.
If the opportunity arises for you to see Mr. Galfo and the Mystics, take it. You will not only be entertained by artists with a rich history, but by a group that is truly still making history. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
To their credit, Hysterical Injury is a band that has managed to stay artistically rooted in an otherwise high-gloss Internet world. There are numerous styles and influences going on here, and it results in new and exciting music...especially for those of us who have always tuned in to the left of the dial.
Annie Gardiner was kind enough to take some time to interview with Eclectiblogs, and the interchange is below for your viewing pleasure.
CL: Your band's Facebook page listed among your influences Sister Rosetta Tharp, Edith Piaf and Sonic Youth. Needless to say, I love how eclectic this range is. Instead of asking you to name more people who influenced you...let’s do it this way. Was there a moment based on a listening experience where you were influenced to want to play music yourself?
AG: Oh yes all the time! I get this frequently. I was recently reminded of Regina Spektor’s first album Soviet Kitsch, the song ‘Chemo Limo’ is musically a melodic fireworks, and I am working on HI’s new album so immediately I went to town with vocal melodies, harmonies and arrangements – as much as one can with two people – on the demo. I remember hearing Sonic Youth’s ‘Cross The Breeze’ and playing guitar to it for about 6 weeks in my bedsit in all manner of states – I was addicted to that sound…I did actually have to wean myself off it but I didn’t find anything else for a while after that. The Knife’s ‘Neverland’ is intoxicating and a song on (the band's debut album) “Dead Wolf Situation” is inspired by that track. I wanted to make a song that was predatory, dark and exhilarating all at once because I had heard that Knife track. Also, I love Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Montauk’- its cluster melodies repeating on the piano, and his vocal melody and words, are just so beautiful. When I don’t know where to go I tend to listen to Miss Kittin and Hacker, things like ‘1982’ or ‘You and Us’, ‘cause the minimal hook-y beat and rolling words is so isolating and in that there is space for letting ideas come, for me anyway.
CL: People are quick to want to put a band in a category. How would you define the group's sound?
AG: Yeah, people really are too quick to categorize and that has been to our disadvantage I think… people don’t know how to describe us. I think that is artistically a good thing, but it is annoying when I don’t even really know how to describe it. A few descriptions I have liked from reviewers are ‘Stereolab meets Lightning Bolt’ or 'Noise-Rock Carpenters'. I want to be described like this; "beautiful like the Scottish Highlands or something – you know big, intense, soft, robust, changeable and just there"!!!!
CL: I recently saw the video for "Maths" and dug the vintage vibe. Are making videos a process you enjoy?
AG: Yeah, I do enjoy making the videos. We have a good friend, Jamie Worsfold at Pinhole Media who does it for a living and makes them with us. He is brilliant at coming up with ideas and also helping us realize ours. My favorite we have done together is the ‘Cycle One’ video because it is a performance, a moment captured on 10 iPhones and tablets then edited together.
CL: That is a great concept. Tell me about the new record "Dead Wolf Situation."
AG: "Dead Wolf Situation" is a record I have wanted to get down for a long time. Its track listings changed many times before I was happy (enough) to put it out. It is a collection in a way of our first 4 years. It was very tough to make because Tom was suffering from post-viral fatigue and I was in a bad place, after the original drummer left, and was really impatient about all the time that seemed to have been wasted. We had a burning to get the fury down and I think that comes across. It will be different with the next one; we are both in better places!
CL: Do you feel your recorded work captures the feel of your live performances?
AG: Actually, no! But, you know, it’s hard to say isn’t it? We are the ones listening through monitors on stage to each other’s cues…the experience of us live is very different for us I think than for an audience. Although saying that I always feel very connected to our audience and that is how we like it.
CL: From your perspective, what is the best part of being in a band with literal family?
AG: We are from a musical family so it makes perfect sense to us and as we get on so well it works. Tom is a brilliant drummer and I am constantly in awe of the fills he pulls and the groove he shifts. We both have real fire in our bellies with what we do, we really do, we play every part like it’s our last and after every show we are either crippled or ecstatic!! It’s like this untethered wildness that we have had to channel into music. I know for me, if I hadn’t channeled it in this way, I wouldn't be alive to tell you the tale!
CL: Who would you share a bill with if you could choose anyone around at the present time? Why so?
AG: Well I think we want to tour with people and musicians we have respect for and like. This is a wish list; Iggy Pop, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Lightning Bolt, Joy Formidable, I am sure there are more!
CL: How do you define "alternative" music?
AG: Alternative music these days means anything that has a guitar in it! We are not alternative, we reject that too!
CL: Understood! Is there something you feel that could make music as a whole better?
AG: Well…to be honest…money for bands 'at the bottom'. Bands who are good but not necessarily popular yet.
CL: Is there anything Eclectiblogs can help put the word out on musically for you at this time?
AG: Yep, we have a single out called 'Icebreak’ that comes with a nuts remix by our good friend Matt Loveridge in one of his many guises KLAD HEST, and a track from a live radio session I did. There is a great video too that Jamie at Pinhole Media made ...so spread the word!
CL: Done! Thank you for interviewing with Eclectiblogs.
CL: Before we begin, thank you for taking the time to talk.
-Christopher Levine, 2013
I know you are ready to read Mr. Graham’s interview. But before we begin I feel it’s only right to explain why I took the direction I did.
My interest in wanting to interview him was not just because he happens to be, hands down- one of the best and most inventive bassists of all time…that was only part of it.
His playing music for a living and still keeping his priorities straight on a spiritual level is something I both felt I could learn from and wanted to delve into. This is a personal one for me.
As a writer/musician, I personally try my hardest to find the line between being a fringe part of the music world while not losing sight of what should be at my core, and what I believe the most important things in life actually are. Larry Graham gets that, on levels I may never truly understand, by his having and still being a huge and relevant force in music for decades.
You see, like Larry Graham, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As such, before even meeting Mr. Graham I knew I could realistically view him as a brother, because spiritually speaking we are.
So…it is a safe assumption that you know he played Woodstock. We all know he was in Sly and the Family Stone. My goal here was to meet the man himself. The result below was much more of a conversation than an interview. I hope you don’t mind. Enjoy.
CL: First off, I was looking at your tour dates prior to this on larrygraham.com and you really are touring everywhere these days, aren’t you?
LG: Yeah, we have been all over the place.
CL: Any particular places you have found to be especially interesting?
LG: Oh, yeah…last year we were in Istanbul, Turkey…the 17th Annual International Jazz Festival…
CL: What material have you been playing live lately?
LG: Right now we are playing a combination of Sly and the Family Stone material…it’s expected, of course! …GCS, (Graham Central Station) and from there it really depends on where I am. “One in a Million You” was a million-seller in the U.S., but not in the whole world…so we change things sometimes. I dig into my solo stuff. Also, songs from the new album, “Raise Up”, and we also throw in other people’s songs from time to time too.
CL: What tracks off of “Raise Up” would you say get the best crowd reaction live?
LG: People are getting into “Throw-N- Down the Funk”, “It’s Alright”, “It Ain’t No Fun to Me” and “Raise Up” goes over well. We play “Higher Ground” too. In fact we put it on the album because we played it before and it always got a great response live.
CL: So, it is inevitable that I ask you this question…
LG: (Laughs) Ok.
CL: When did you officially get baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
LG: In 1975.
CL: I was in 1990.
LG: Really, cool! Where are you at?
CL: Fort Worth, Texas. I consider California to be where I am from though as I grew up there.
LG: I lived in Texas and California too! (He yells to those around, including another person from Texas present in his home) Texas is in the house today! (Laughs) My wife and I got baptized and we moved to L.A. Then we went where the need was greater (in the ministry) in Jamaica. That was a great balance for my daughter. We went from the glitter and glamour of Hollywood to Jamaica, where at the time they hadn’t yet even built a mall! It was a good lesson for her in how you don’t need “stuff” to make you happy or fulfilled.
CL: I can imagine.
LG: In Jamaica then there was so much interest that you would have to choose to go back to people by picking who were interested the most…so many people were interested in learning about Jehovah.
CL: So, a question I am naturally inclined to ask…how do you balance what you do for a living with your spiritual life and routine? There are a lot of talented brothers and sisters out there that could benefit from your experience.
LG: For me…and if you were to ask my wife she would probably tell you the same thing…it has been Regular Pioneering. (To the reader: “Pioneering” is a term used to describe setting a goal in the ministry for a specific number of hours. “Regular Pioneers” have the goal of spending an average of 70 hours a month in some form of the ministry. “Auxiliary Pioneers” have the goal of 50. This is of course voluntary and is by no means expected of everyone, as people’s circumstances, health, and time constraints differ.) It’s really helpful to be self-employed…but then the question is, how do you know if you are working too much? Well, for us…if we can’t Pioneer we are doing too much…that is our red flag. We have been able to keep it going for thirty years, since my daughter was two months old.
CL: That is great. I promise I will get back to music, but I’m genuinely encouraged by this and am going to stay here a little longer if that’s ok.
LG: No problem. Isn’t it cool that we can now pioneer in March and April with the new 30 hour goal?
CL: Absolutely, my wife and I are signed up.
LG: Great! I think this is a great provision because it shows a lot of people they can do it.
CL: And many…like my wife…plan on getting the 50 hours even though the goal has dropped to thirty.
LG: That is really good. You know, you gotta look out for your family. If they’re not cool, you’re not cool.
CL: So how do you keep with your routine when on the road?
LG: That is a good question. On the road my time in the ministry actually goes up! Every night, at least 90% of the time there is an autograph session…and sometimes these go longer than the show. Everyone that comes in to meet us gets a tract. When we were in Japan, we placed between 200 and 300 tracts just in Tokyo. Now, with Europe coming up, we will be sure to bring tracts in German, Dutch…whatever we need. When people come to see you, they already like you so it’s not like you are a stranger. It has been really something.
CL: That is incredible. How do you handle meeting attendance? Wait…is this too personal?
LG: No. (Laughs) You can ask me anything. Wherever we are we look for English speaking congregations. But what is great is that we also can use Skype and catch our home congregation meeting and can even give comments, because it is a two-way system. Sometimes, because of the time differences around the world, we have to set our alarm to tune in, but it feels good to be home.
CL: There is another aspect of all of this I’d like to ask you about. The last thing I want is to cross a line, but…
LG: I have got nothing I need to hide. You can go ahead and ask me anything.
CL: Ok. When people think of you these days musically they often think of Prince as well, myself included. I don’t want to ask anything you or he wouldn’t want in print or online…so let me know…
LG: I get you. I appreciate your saying that.
CL: Did you reach out to him initially or did he reach out to you?
LG: I was in Jamaica and he reached out to me. He had sent me a song he was doing along with a personal card. Now, when someone sends me something personal like that it’s my practice in response to include something of a spiritual nature. I sent him the red book (“You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth”) at the time…this was just before the “Knowledge” book ("Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life”) came out back then. Time passed. Then he hit me back and asked if he could make seven copies of the book for each member of his band. I knew I was going to be near him soon, so I told him I would just bring him more copies, which I did. When I was on a tour with Earth Wind and Fire and Teena Marie he was in Nashville the same time we were, playing different venues. He heard I was there in town and he asked me to play an after-show gig with him.
CL: Had you ever played together before?
LG: We had never jammed before this. Come to find out he was raised on my music…more GCS than the Sly work. In fact he actually got into Sly and the Family Stone after being into Graham Central Station. When we played that night we just hit it musically. He knew all my stuff. He had it all down. He then asked me after our tours if I would like to join his tour. This led to deep biblical discussions both before and after the shows on tour. We studied every night. After a number of months of this, he asked me if I could move to Minnesota to keep teaching him about the bible. We did. That is how we came here. My daughter found a husband here and three grandkids later we are still here…and Prince became our brother. We are all in the same congregation.
CL: Thank you for sharing that. Please pass along that his putting on the “new personality” has been encouraging to a lot of people. Musically, he is to me what you are to him. In fact, I remember sending a “Divine Name” (“The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever”) brochure to Paisley Park when I was around 20. I’m sure it never got to him…but from a listener’s perspective your effort and his choices were extremely motivating for me on a personal level.
LG: Sure. He has been the cause for many people to become interested too, which is a good thing.
CL: So musically then, what can we look forward to soon?
LG: “Raise Up” is still new, but I am constantly writing, especially with the studio at my house…I’m always creating music. Soon we will be leaving for Europe and we are also working on setting up a tour with Sheila E.
CL: I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this. This was wonderful. Thank you so much.
LG: I’m sure we will meet in person sooner or later. Check my site for tour dates and when we are in your town, let me know.
Have you ever wondered why people wake up early on their day off, get dressed up (out of respect) and spend their personal time coming to your door? People with jobs, families, and a hundred other potential things they could be doing that day?
Have you ever wondered why there is suffering, or if there even is a God?
Are you ready to study the bible and truly understand that it’s not just a history book or a rule book…but a practical guide for today’s issues? Do you want to know about these things from people who aren’t interested in taking your money and don’t pass plates at their meetings, tithe, or have a price tag on any of their literature?
Ask the next one of Jehovah’s Witnesses that comes to your door. For all you know it could be Larry Graham, or me. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
One can’t think of the Hollywood Metal scene without somehow including Mr. Tracii Guns in the equation. In addition to L.A. Guns, he has worked with numerous notables like Guns N’Roses, Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx, Contraband, and even had a brief time in both Poison and Quiet Riot. He recently did a quick Q & A with Eclectiblogs about varied subjects, including his new project. Here goes.
CL: Nice to meet you, thanks for your willingness to be interviewed by Eclectiblogs.
TG: The pleasure is mine, believe me!
CL: Do you remember what initially made you want to play the guitar?
TG: The thing that really got me hooked was actually at five years old and the song was “Whole Lotta Love” by Zeppelin. It was the breakdown of the song where the Theremin comes in, the whole guitar solo was just frightening and of course the slide guitar on the chorus. Wow!
CL: What would you say is the most important aspect these days in connecting with your fans?
TG: Well nowadays fans get their information mostly from the Internet… fans are very spoiled these days…and that's the fastest way to reach them! Actually, television is the best way to reach people but, that's a whole different story!
CL: L.A. Guns has such a rich California Rock history.
TG: L.A. Guns was 30 years of lessons learned, that's the best way to describe it really.
CL: What has been your favorite aspect of the group over the years?
TG: My favorite aspect of L.A. Guns was like a party and I was the first to arrive and the last to leave, that's how much fun it was most of the time.
CL: Is there a song that tends to get the best crowd reaction live in the L.A. Guns catalogue?
TG: I would have to say at this point “Never Enough” is the fan favorite.
CL: From the perspective of a former member, what did you think about the Guns N' Roses album "Chinese Democracy" in comparison to other output by former band lineups?
TG: It was an ambitious outing for sure! Comparing it to “Appetite” is not possible because it's just so different…almost like comparing Aerosmith’s “Rocks” to “Pump.” Both very successful…but very different.
CL: What inspired the group Brides of Destruction to form?
TG: Brides was an idea I had originally called Devil. I just wanted to put together a spectacle of a metal band, that being said, I think it was a success!
CL: Are there any musicians out there that you'd like to work with specifically if the opportunity presented itself?
TG: Mitch Davis of Orba Squara or Kelvin Swabby of The Heavy. Both have sick talent!
CL: Is there a band or an artist that traditional fans of Tracii Guns would never expect you to like that you do?
TG: Enya, for sure!
CL: What musically is currently on your horizon?
Tracii was actually working on new mixes while taking part in this interview. Eclectiblogs will be sure to keep you posted! -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Interviewing Mr. Grant Hart was not only enjoyable, but educational. When I requested the interview, he had only one polite stipulation…the questions needed to be good. As a result, I immediately was inspired to take this further and deeper than usual. So if, say, you are wondering what his favorite milkshake flavor is…this might not be the article for you. What you will experience are great takes on art and a delving into possibility. Please enjoy the below interchange, as I did.
CL: First off, this is a pleasure...thank you.
GH: You are very welcome.
CL: Let's start with an icebreaker. Is perfectionism a strength or a weakness for an artist?
GH: Perfectionism is a hope that we have when we start out. It is a good goal for craftsmen, the better one can work with the materials that they have at their disposal, the better the finished work. Concepts have to be realized to become art, but a good idea stands on its own. I think there are far too few craftsmen out there.
CL: If given the choice to never have been a musician in exchange for the opportunity to have been a powerful world leader...knowing what you do now...which would you choose? Why so?
GH: Most of what I do now is worry about the art. I would hate to have the same dread at a worldwide level. I believe art and war and politics are all the same. It is better for your biggest mistakes to be preserved on tape than to scar the psyche of nations.
CL: Has an especially wonderful song or piece of music ever literally driven you to tears? Do you recall what it was? Do you think the weather, the colors of the objects around you at the time or your individual circumstances played on the mood of the song...or was it just the song?
GH: I was out with my mother at a birthday party and as we left the music was “Forever Young”. It was a lot of things all together combined to make my tears.
CL: People often feel that they understand a musician as a person by listening intently to their work. How accurate do you think that usually is?
GH: The work is one window. Most often people are most intrigued by that which they perceive to be enigmatic. Sometimes you are just singing about a flat tire.
CL: Beyond the textbooks, what is your personal definition of surrealism?
GH: I consider things surreal if they are called surreal by one who is accepted as a surrealist. If, say, Andre Breton says a dog’s hind leg is surreal, then it is surreal. Besides that, my criteria would be if some event, object, painting, song or situation is indistinguishable from a dream or is a product of a dream…there is a high likelihood of it being surreal.
CL: Describe the perfect degree of tolerance.
GH: I believe in the Golden Rule. I believe it is better to attempt re-education of counter-revolutionaries whenever possible. I believe in Karma for lack of another word, and I believe that by our tolerance we are tolerated. But don’t step on my blue suede shoes…
CL: Do you feel it is possible for a songwriter to literally change the world with a song, or do you feel this is just nostalgic or romanticized thinking?
GH: ''Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Rock Around the Clock” were songs that the world was waiting for that had the good fortune of hitting the zeitgeist when they did. Did man have any use for the wheel before it was discovered? We might not notice songs changing the world because the world is always changing the songs. The reflection is as real as that that is reflected. The culture is commentary.
CL: Do you consider yourself to be an optimist? If so, what motivates you?
GH: I think you really have to step outside of oneself to say whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. You have to look at your track record. I think I work too hard for what I want to be called pessimistic. What motivates me (is) travel. Meeting new places.
CL: What is the predominant reason for people turning musicians into icons?
GH: People do that because they only get the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth to which music moves you. They get enough to know there is more that they are not getting. They fanaticize that musicians are initiated into some pagan secret knowledge sex death cult. They know deep down inside that they are bluffing, acting out a pigeonhole identity.
CL: Artistically, which makes more sense to you....a prodigy expertly playing music that has already been made or a novice freely expressing themselves?
GH: As long as the freely-expressing novice is doing his thing where I don’t have to hear it I’m alright. It is not a fair comparison. The novice is not a novice forever. The expert, who I assume can play only what already exists, is redundant forever.
CL: Would you compare true Punk Rock more to a warrior or to a bonding of the misunderstood?
GH: I think that Punk Rock in its ideal realization is like a socialization of the Avant garde in music, art, etc. It becomes a hilarious party, a salon, a circus.
CL: Where do you see the music headed? What has brought you to that conclusion? Do you like your answer or does that create mixed emotions?
GH: I think there will always be hope. People have a tendency to get bored. Then they get inventive. We have to invent what we want to exist.
*A very special thank you again to Mr. Hart for not only taking the time for the above, but for the challenge of stretching out my artistic ambition in the design of my role in the above process. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
The history books will tell you. In the early days of Hip Hop, the star was not the MC, it was the DJ. In fact, the primary responsibility of the MC was to hype the DJ. Needless to say, that has changed. The MC (if even referred to as such anymore) is both right out front and is the main attraction.
Electronica followed suit. You’d have an amazing vocalist which was “featured” while the attention essentially went to the beat constructors and musicians. Needless to say, that hasn’t changed.
Kirsty Hawkshaw has broken the mold and is an absolute pioneer in the Dance/Electronica/Techno/You Name It world. As an artist, a mother, and someone who smiles easily, you will want to get to know her better. I just did, as noted below. Enjoy!
CL: Thanks for your being willing to let me catch up with you. How was the recent gig in Malta?
KH: It's a pleasure, thank you for the opportunity to share some experiences with you. The gig in Malta was absolutely electric. I've known Tenishia for 6 years now and to see them fill a stadium and then to share that stage with them was a very good feeling indeed, we played infront of 4000 people. I got to meet fellow artists Susana and Aneym who are also trance singers and who performed beautifully, and the legendary Jan Johnston.
CL: Most inititally heard you via Opus III. How did that group come together?
KH: Opus III met through the rave scene. We were at a free festival having an absolute blast. I was up a tree singing and Kevin heard me, that's how we met initially.
CL: It's now been 20 years since Opus III released "It's A Fine Day." Any celebrations in the works?
KH: Yes, we have been in touch and plan to have some kind of reunion. I am just finishing off some new projects and we are talking about revamping some of our old tunes. The last conversation I had with Kevin Dodds (who was one of the producers) was that he was telling me how he is going through all the old DAT masters and that we have to 'bake them' in a special way before putting them into any machines as it's been so long that the DATS can snap if played. It really has made me think about other masters I have in old school formats...and how I must find a way to preserve them before it's too late.
CL: That would be like misplacing a time capsule, it's good you caught that. Going back in time a little more, how did the collaboration with Orbital come about?
KH: Again we met at a free festival somewhere in Liphook in a forest. My friend Sally Harding grabbed me by the hand and said 'You must meet Paul Hartnoll, but don't mention his fame as he gets embarassed. I hadn't even heard of Orbital at the time but I think they had just had success with "Chime" so I couldn't embarass him anyway. We clicked and after a few months he called me and said 'I've got you!' you must come and listen to this. I went to his house and he played me 'Halcyon'. I cried. At the time I was worn out from all the touring and was on a bit of a come down so to hear the "La La La's" being reversed in such a melancholy mood suited the state of mind I was in. So yeah it was another hit...about seven months or so after "Fine Day." I played the housewife in the video with a wig on. I was actually bald at the time. I also sang the Arabic sounding riff on their track "Lush."
CL: Of course that was all only part of your musical history. Have there been any other producers or artists you have collaborated with that stand out as having been influential for you?
KH: Mark Pritchard and Ulrich Schnauss are my favorites, I guess it's because I've written some of my hardest material with them, nothing held back, also they were working 'with' me not me working 'for' them...that takes a sensitive producer to take something of you like that and make it into something beautiful. I've worked with a lot of famous DJ's like Tiesto and BT which was great fun. Mark and Ulrich are the first and only men who have supported me completely in my own musical arrangements, and hmm.... they just have a lot of respect for women. I learn a lot from them when we work together. Lately Ulrich has been ticking me off for the way I title all the component parts, basically I don't label things clearly so it all gets confusing and he has to waste time trying to figure out what is what...so he helps me to get organized with his Virgoan mind.
They have added to the productions but have kept all my elements in– as a female producer that is something that doesn't go unnoticed. I also have a great working relationship with Drum and Bass DJ and producer Seba in Sweden. Seba is a father too so most of the time we hang out with just talk about our kids and family life, he knows my reality probably more than any other producer I work with because he too is a self employed father and knows how tough it is juggling it all. We really support each other in ways that I think is quite soulful and that reflects in our collaborations.
I also really love to work with Maltese duo Tenishia, everything we have done together has turned out really well and I just flow when I'm in the studio with them. Cyprian Cassar is an amazing keyboard player, and we tend to just get on the piano and work melodies out then record. He is a wiz on the program, it's great fun working with them and lots of laughter, they are always joking about. (Smiles.)
I think the dance music scene is finally changing and being more respectful towards female collaborators. It's about time the 'featuring' credit was changed to so and so AND lady singer rather than the singer always being 'featured' like it's the first thing she ever did – it's a bit unfair that, we have to promote our own branding and stand up for our names, otherwise we will forever be buffing up the DJ's brand, it's the voice that sets a track apart from the other therefore that should have equal credit.
CL: I couldn't agree with you more. As an artist, how do you go about the songwriting process? I love asking that question because I always get different answers.
KH: It depends really, sometimes I write something at home over a tempo- I like using Logic, I create a loop for instance and then write then I'll send that to somebody I want to work with. Other times I'll get a track with a title and use the title to trigger off some ideas. I have just finished Part Two of a double trilogy for Barefoot Audio called 'Barefoot Goddess' and 'Apollo.' Barefoot Goddess is mostly aimed at women but men like it too, we decided to create the Apollo trilogy and made a slightly tougher sound/workout for our 'Gods' out there. The music is specifically designed for Barefoot Running cadence which is faster than jogging. I had the idea after meeting Helen Hall who is a coach for efficient running, when she told me that she was desperate for music that was at the right cadence and not stomping awful banging rubbish I thought I'd have a go, and started to write music with feeling and emotion, string arrangements, singing bowls, vocal arrangements, lyrics, vibrational music to accompany the runner while they get the much needed break. A lot of my Mum friends who have tried it really gave great feedback. Helen Hall is the most amazing person, she is an Ultra Distance Runner and last October ran 87 miles in three days! I'm so glad we connected, and now together we formed a Ltd company called Barefoot Audio. We have had some great feedback from Vibram in the UK and hope that our program will help people who are into minimalist shoes to perhaps learn to run correctly in them and therefore avoid injury. I love to run, it's my fitness regime and I've been wearing my Vibrams for over a year now, nothing better than to pitter patter fly fly fly every chance I can, in fact I've worn no other type of shoe because they are amazing to walk, run in... I like to explore the ground at every possible moment with my feet. (Smiles.)
CL: In addition to that, I know you also are involved in still more projects. Tell me about the "Baby Love" project, and what it's all about.
KH: I was contacted by the Hartbeeps franchise who are a group of lovely ladies who have Mother/Baby groups all across the country. They heard some of my children's music and invited me to rebrand some of the music for their little meet-ups. I write and produce the music and they use the music in their groups. Baby Love is a calming album aimed at pregnant Mothers to use with either a Ritmo Belt- which is a belt you can strap around your clothing which enhances the music in the womb- and the idea is that when baby is born they will find comfort in the songs and recognition... therefore helping them calm down when unsettled. I wrote some of the songs myself and collaborated with my Daughter Edie-Moon who wrote some of her own words for Moon Child which blew me away! I think she has a lot of natural talent and wonder if she may get into music one day. It's up to her. (Smiles) My son Isaac also plays music, he has recently written a beautiful piano piece. Recently some of the Hartbeeps crew have been trying out Barefoot Goddess too and some of them have began barefoot running, we're doing some nice little cross promotions on Twitter. (Smiles)
CL: What can we expect to hear via your upcoming summer release with Ulrich Schnauss?
KH: It's a very emotional album, a bit similar in flavor to my solo album "On Ultimate Things" which I made with Mark Pritchard. I wrote a lot of the songs when I was going through some deep things. Ulrich too was going through major shifts in life- let's just say we were both 'wrecks' and the reason it's taken so long to complete the album is that writing music like that is so intense you just can't do it all at once...we would have ended up being locked up or something. It's taken us four years. Ulrich really understands me on a much deeper level, in the way that Mark did. He is one of the people I will phone when I'm in mental trouble because he is compassionate and good to talk to, somebody who really understands human emotion. There are VERY few people I trust with my soul, but Ulrich and Mark – well you can hear it in the music. (Smiles.)
There is a lot of light in the album too, but it's not the kind of album you'd put on when having friends around for dinner, more the kind of album you put on when you need to really 'deal' with emotions and not brush them under the carpet. Best to listen to it when you are on a walk or a drive in the car after a row with your lover.
CL: Sounds incredible. You are a bonified techno/electronica pioneer. Are there other artists you listen to out there in any genre that you feel we should check out?
KH: Mark Pritchard under his many guises is definitely a name to 'collect'. Afrika Hi-tek on warp records is one of my favorites of late which is Mark and another guy. I started a podcast called The Blowcast to try and share more of my favorite music at the moment it's hosted on Soundcloud. I have so little time at the moment so it's not a regular thing but I'm lucky that I have been given a lot of great tracks to use from some highly respected producers.
Check out Seba, Paradox, Engineers, Krister Linder, hmm gosh there are so many good ones, but it's hard to find them with the net being so saturated, sadly. It's the main reason I decided to start the Blowcast to try and hone in on some of what I consider great talents with history and longevity. For the trancy side of things I like Lange a lot, and Tenishia to work with. I've also just done a cover with DJ Figure which is shortly to be announced.
CL: Do you have an artist on your current playlist that we might be surprised to know you are into?
KH: Ivor Cutler.
CL: Kirsty, thanks for your kindness and candor.
KH: Thanks for the interview Chris, great to connect with you.
Ms. Hawkshaw is an artist in the true sense. If you want genuine, legitimate, soulful and honest music to take you to another place...add her to your playlist.
Oh...and also the people she happens to be working with too, to be fair. (Smiles.)
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Dereck Higgins transcends genre and simply embraces music as a whole. It is as though he lets down his net in the vast musical ocean out there and collects everything from sounds as tough as sharks to those that are as delicate as starfish. Truly an interesting artist and music lover of immeasurable depth and wisdom, it was a real privilege to be able to send some questions his way.
CL: As an artist, I feel there are three areas where I feel I might be able to identify with you to an extent. One would be that while we call out what genres we have to in an attempt to describe something to someone else; the concept of genre seems to not thrill you as it doesn't thrill me. Would that be a fair statement?
CL: Another area of potential similarity might be this. I never wore the uniform of the typical music fan. I dressed like me. I was me. But I liked everything...and without the uniform I found I could play for any musical team. Would you say that is similar in your case?
DH: That wasn't why. I couldn't afford the cool clothes and being black and in love primarily with the British wave ushered in by The Beatles I couldn't look like them. I always wanted to look like a Jimi Hendrix or an Iggy Pop.
CL: The final area of interest that we seem to both share is that of collecting vinyl. When did you start collecting, and how extensive is your collection?
DH: I have loved records since I could talk and have always had records. Been through many head trips because of religion and depression, as a result I have sold and given away almost as many records as I now have. I have about 10,000 records in all.
CL: Do you normally go for full artist collections first, or a little bit of different things you like by any number of artists?
DH: Both. When I was working I would try to collect everything. I was a big Genesis/Peter Gabriel fan and tried to collect everything.
CL: Who are three artists or bands that are by no means mainstream that you absolutely love and would recommend to potentially new listeners?
DH: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Allan Holdsworth, Albert Ayler.
CL: What was your favorite aspect of playing in Son Ambulance?
DH: When the band was active it was the same as all bands, the shared experience of creating music. There is nothing like it when it's good.
CL: If you could choose to be in any band that is active on any level, who would you love to be a part of that you have yet to work with before?
DH: Peter Gabriel, Ryuichi Sakamoto, people whose music I truly love.
CL: As a musician who has played in numerous genres, where would you say the roots of your desire to play originally came from? Any direct influences?
DH: I come from a musical family so my parents and uncles were a big influence on wanting to play. Experiencing The Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan was electrifying and life changing as well.
CL: Do you feel where you live affects the sounds you both play and like to hear? Is there a direct connotation?
DH: Probably. Living in the Midwest is a mix of grace and danger. While I experienced a lot of racism growing up it was still nothing compared to the cruelty I dealt with from my own people. I have always let the music I write arise naturally and it is a lot about establishing a place to exist mentally, that makes sense to me and feels right.
CL: I love the entire ambience of the sound of "Morning I Rise" on "Dereck 3". How do you set the tone in the studio to record such euphoric work?
DH: Frankly, it's a matter of whether or not the music is ready to come out or not. Morning I Rise is a piece of music that goes back to 1984 or 5. It just appeared as I was playing. I still have the original recording of me meandering on the guitar when this appeared.
CL: Do you plan to work more with Gunnar Cleemann soon?
DH: His next album drops early 2013 and I play bass on it. Plans to tour are in the works.
CL: When it comes to music, do you embrace technology openly...or cautiously?
DH: My view is that technology is reality. I don't have a problem with it.
CL: Is there anything that Eclectiblogs can do to help spread the word about any upcoming projects or releases?
DH: Just encourage folks to check out my You Tube channel. I greatly appreciate your interest in my work. Thanks for the opportunity.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Upon learning of Whispers of the Dragon, my first inclination was to pigeon hole the music into the psych category. No, not the 13th Floor elevators type-thing, but more like early Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett. Then on further listen it hit me that the use of Trance melded with it and took the whole ride somewhere else. I had the chance to ask the key player of the project Matt Hopkins about his vision.
CL: So where does Whispers of the Dragon call home?
MH: I’m currently located in Southern California. 65% of the band is really me and my keyboards. On the other 35% I use musicians from around the world for each project depending on what is needed for each song. Most of the musicians that I use come from Europe primarily Bulgaria.
CL: I hate categorization as much as you probably do, but for the benefit of making a connection...what genres would you say Whispers of the Dragon fall into primarily?
MH: This is a tough one and was one that has caused a lot of grief. I know it’s important to fit into a category for targeted promotion but we’ve kind of blended into a number of genres. Primarily I tried to take a with a World folk approach, blending traditional world instruments with an electronica backdrop. Kind of acoustic meets electronic. Trying to use the unique sounds of instruments from around the world and back that with electronic “other world” sounds. In the end the projects were more Goth meets world folk. In the end I believe we accomplished finding a unique niche. The perfect formula for poverty in the music industry.
CL: Could you introduce me to the members and explain what they do?
MH: I’ve used so many. On the first CD we used Aisly Bowyn from Ireland on vocals. The second CD we moved to a more middle eastern/eastern European sound source so I brought in Aisha Samorah from Syria and Rayan Skalova from Bulgaria. It was Aisha who really brought us into conditions of what was going on in the Middle East and got us involved in the Green party movement and poet Hilla Sedighi. We have since lost contact with Aisha due to what’s going on currently in Syria. Most of the instrumentalists have come from Bulgaria. There’s really a treasure trove of musicians in Bulgaria, which included Krum Zhirkov on percussion and drums and Boyan Gagan on some of the stringed instruments for Whispers of the Dragon.
CL: If you had the opportunity to collaborate with a respected musician or band-from any time period, who would you choose?
MH: I originally come from a progressive rock background so I would say I’d love to collaborate with any of the original progressive rock bands of the early 70’s like Yes, ELP and Gentle Giant. Being a keyboardist, my dream was to be surrounded by keyboards and going crazy with thirty minute solos. So to play that style and ground breaking music of the time would have been great. Today, I think I’d love to collaborate with some of the great female vocalists of the day in the style of Whispers of the Dragon such as Lisa Gerarrd and Azam Ali.
CL: Any other influences in particular?
MH: Currently for WotD the influences come from bands like Niyaz, Irfan, Faun, and Omnia, and Dead Can Dance. I’ve always had a love for female singers against a darker palette of sounds. The contrast of ethereal singing and the darker side of sounds provided by electronic have always been a favorite of mine. When I heard Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance for the first time many moons ago, I heard what I had conceptualized for years but had never really put together what my music was going to sound like.
CL: Who came up with the name, and does it have allegoric significance?
MH: The name of the band comes from the term used by drug addicts who after kicking the habit, hear the voices of their addition coming back to haunt them, trying to pull them back into the darkness. I actually came up with the name before I knew its significance.
CL: Tell us what you are up to...any current projects or touring?
MH: I was using the Arab spring as a jumping off point in creating the third album. We were supporting the Green movement in Iran in late 2009 with a video etc. based on Hilla Sedighi’s poem and really focused on having a more defining ethnic sound with a darker metallic sound. At the same time I’ve been writing songs for a group of artists out of Germany which basically really consumed me. It would seem that recently, I’ve been hearing it from our fans so I’ve started back on finishing the third WotD CD.
The blend of World Music in an Ethnic Trance style is both interesting and quite creative...check out "Tza Atta" for a sample track. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Jack Hues of Wang Chung is an artist that finds his muse both inwardly and outwardly. His take on all-things music is refreshing, and one that I know you’ll enjoy reading.
CL: First off, is there a particular track that you are especially fond of on the new record?
JH: They are all interesting in their different ways. This morning it is "Stargazing". I have always loved epic, long tracks. This one clocks in at over seven minutes, but the song is put together in such a way that ideas are presented separately and then they all get super-imposed for the long outro, so I think it is justifiably long! I wrote it some time ago when I lived out in the countryside and used to spend summer…and some winter - clearer skies and more stars…evenings out in the garden with a telescope looking at the moon and stars - I love telescopes and the way the moon would drift across the lens as you watched it.
CL: How did you decide upon the name "Tazer Up?"
JH: The cover art is a painting by a young artist called Rhys Morris that I saw by chance in a gallery. He very kindly agreed to let us use it. It is called simply Taser - I thought, now we have this new record coming out it's all going to kick off so we need to get ready, tool up, tazer up - the "Z" looked better!
CL: I love the title "Abducted by the '80's." I'm curious to hear where that came from and what you interpret it to mean.
JH: The album was initially going to be called that, but we released a couple of EP's last year using that title and to avoid confusion we gave the album a different title. The title comes from the poet Rob Gee, who you can hear at the beginning and throughout the track reading his poem "Abducted by the 80's". My daughter saw him reading when she was at University and thought I would love the poem. She gave me a recording of it and I laid it over a track I was working on that was taking compositional techniques from Steve Reich's "Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ". It all suddenly seemed to fit together, the missing piece of the jigsaw. There is a long version that sets the entire poem on one of the EPs, but this is a song version that came later. It's a very funny poem!
CL: What is an example of a deep cut in your catalogue that your fans respond to live?
JH: Recently it is "Space Junk" - we recorded that song in 1997 for a Greatest Hits package, then last year Frank Darabont used it as the closing title music for the first episode of "The Walking Dead". We expand it a bit live…people love it.
CL: Is it true that your name is a play on a French expression?
JH: True - J ‘accuse - meaning, I accuse you... see Emil Zola, Graham Greene...
CL: Got it. As a band that was a staple on early Mtv, what are your thoughts on that medium now?
JH: "We were abducted by the 80's and Music Television, the dimly lit mind-theatre struggled to compete. We were colonized by Empire and couldn't tell the difference..." It's easy to see it as a negative influence on music as a pure Art of Sound and Imagination, but, of course, music is not a pure Art-form, and music and technology have always been indissoluble. MTV was an inevitable and important link in the chain and it was an exciting thing to be involved with - and very good for Wang Chung-ing.
CL: Who is a personal musical inspiration that might surprise your fans?
JH: Luciano Berio, an Italian so-called avant-garde composer who died a few years ago. He opened my ears/eyes to what Music could be. His 1968 composition "Sinfonia" is one of the pieces that never fails to move and inspire me. I am going to see a performance of it in London next week. I went to meet him in the late 80's, just to shake his hand and say thank you.
CL: "Dance Hall Days" is a very original sounding track. It captures a feel. Do you remember how it developed in the creative process musically and lyrically?
JH: I wrote it while I was teaching guitar in a school in South London after I left the Royal College of Music. One of the kids failed to show up and I started to play the opening chords and got the "Take your baby by the hand" line. I fiddled around with it for a few weeks after that, but the essence of the song came during that 20 minute slot where I should have been teaching some kid how to play E. The feel is partly from Adam and The Ants and their use of Burundi drums, but cooled down to be more like the feel of a Little Feat track - they always had that natural sounding swing in their music like in “Cold Cold Cold” and “All that you Dream”. Richie Hayward and Lowell George...RIP.
CL: You are referred to as Post Punk, Alt. Rock, New Wave...how would you describe the music from an insider's perspective?
JH: Thinking about music in terms of genre is a waste of time. I am interested in Artists who do their thing, plough their furrow and explore their creativity. Genre categories are fine for iTunes and finding stuff in the library but when you start defining artists by genre you are looking down the wrong end of the telescope - in my humble opinion...
CL: I agree. Do you plan on touring the new record?
JH: Yes - asap - but logically it will be next year, during the summer months.
CL: If you could hand pick an artist that was one of your original contemporaries to share a double bill, which would you choose. Why so?
JH: I used to think that I didn't like 80's music much! But when I started teaching songwriting at University I realized that there were and are some phenomenal writers - Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout, Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, Steve Fellows from Comsat Angels, The Blue Nile, David Byrne, Robert Wyatt, Tom Verlaine, The Tubes, Roland Orzabal from Tears for Fears, Nik Kershaw, Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein - the list goes on. Any of them!
CL: Which of the new songs are you especially looking forward to playing live?
JH: We already play “Stargazing” live which is a challenge and which always goes down well – “City of Light” could be exciting!
CL: Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with Eclectiblogs.
JH: We really appreciate you taking an interest in this new record and asking some interesting questions, so thank you for that. Anything you can do to spread awareness that we have a new record out and it's actually pretty good - that would be lovely. Thanks!
CL: Our pleasure!
Christopher Levine, 2012
It becomes almost surreal to revisit the music you grew up with on a completely different level of consciousness. As a younger person I liked music simply because music in and of itself sounded good to me. Now, as a little older of a person I feel like I can somewhat understand why it did…and why my intellectual and/or emotional buttons were successfully pushed by the works of the artists I grew up with.
Having the opportunity to meet and discuss these works with those who helped make them thus is an endeavor that I find totally compelling. Chris Hughes is one of these first-hand individuals. As you’ll read below, Mr. Hughes was a key instrumental presence on some very wonderful tracks and albums, and I couldn't wait to ask him about these. He was generous and kind enough to indulge my curiousity.
CL: First of all, it is a pleasure to meet you.
CH: Thank you, I am pleased to be in contact and happy to answer some questions.
CL: As a drummer and songwriter, what initially sparked your interest in producing albums?
CH: I was playing drums on a recording session in the middle 70’s and I was imagining what it would be like to be on the other side of the glass. Controlling sounds, making musical decisions and engineering. It became more and more of a desire as time went on.
CL: Were there other producers that served as role models for you?
CH: George Martin, Jimmy Miller, Joe Meek, to name a few.
CL: How, as a producer, do you gain the trust of an artist who is creatively letting you in?
CH: It is a process of conversation, discussion, suggestion, experimentation and discovery. Finding common ground…helping with an artist’s weaknesses in some cases. Oh, and a massive amount of listening.
CL: Many of your most famous projects provided a large part of the soundtrack for my generation. I'm curious about some of these experiences. What was the studio atmosphere like when you produced "Red Rain" by Peter Gabriel? That song is just so scenic and moving...
CH: I heard Red Rain for the first time in Peter's studio. It was obvious from the first listen that it was a song of some magnitude and great importance. I spent some time programming the drums and trying to help with the arrangement. The song was very long and complex in structure but not fully formed. I think it is a masterpiece.
CL: I completely agree. The Adam and the Ants' albums you played on and produced were also a large influence on me personally. I wore "Kings of The Wild Frontier" and "Prince Charming" out. Both have a very tribal feel to them. Was that a conscious choice or did it develop along the way?
CH: Both! Adam knew he wanted a tribal, gang like feeling. We shared similar ideas along the way. The sound, the group and the recordings all developed along the way.
CL: Were you both a drummer and a producer with Adam and the Ants initially, or did that evolve?
CH: Producer, then Drummer.
CH: The Tears for Fears period was…like “Red Rain”- long and complex. It is probably beyond the scope of this interview to explain the nature of those relationships…enough to say we all remain close friends and our children have grown up together. Obviously, we have had close and less close periods, that is in the nature of things.
CL: At what point did you feel the music on those albums was going to be truly impactful?
CH: With “The Hurting,” we worked on “Mad World” first. I knew from day one it was a brilliant song. When we finished it and played it to the record company I knew it was a good record. With “Big Chair,” Roland arrived in the studio one Monday morning and sang for me a song he had been working on over the weekend: "Shout, shout let it all out"...I knew instantly.
CL: Does your methodology change when working with publicly iconic figures like Paul McCartney or Robert Plant?
CH: Of course, but not because they are iconic, but because they are extremely talented and experienced and in both those cases dripping in wisdom. They still need guidance and opinion from time to time, otherwise you wouldn't be there.
CL: What is most rewarding to you about making good and time-tested music?
CH: Good question! I don't know. I have made records that I enjoyed making which I thought were important that were resounding commercial failures. I have made records I didn't think were that merit-able that did well. On occasion I have been given a compliment by someone I admire, that has felt good.
CL: Who would you love to produce if the opportunity presented itself?
CH: Also a good question, let's see shall we?
CL: Thank you so much for your time!
CH: My pleasure.
Just a side note, when I was regularly contributing to Magnetic Magazine, each writer was given a creative selection of questions to complete what would be essentially their bio. One was, if I recall correctly...to describe a lyric that represents you. Mine was from "Red Rain." The lyric is "I come to you defenses down, with the trust of a child."
Why that lyric?
Because to this day, as a journalist, I so wish I had written that. -cl
Christopher Levine, 2012
Do you not know Tracie Hunter? Oh, come on now! You should. Why? Well, in her Rock & Roll family and friendship circle, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I got the chance to have a quick chat with Ms. Hunter, and here's how it went.
CL: Thanks for the interview, Tracie!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
In the 1960’s, Los Angeles was known as the home of The Wrecking Crew. This group of studio musicians were responsible for being the backbone of more songs from that era than you could imagine would be possible. The drummer of this bunch- who gave the group of assorted musicians their collective name The Wrecking Crew- was of course Hal Blaine. Called “the most recorded musician” by many, Mr. Blaine is the epitome of the accomplished studio-musician- drummer.
If my generation held a contest to name our own Hal Blaine, I would without hesitation nominate Victor Indrizzo. He, like Blaine, may not be a household name to you…yet... but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that something he’s played on is probably under your roof right now. I met him back when I was around 16 years young in Southern California. Recently I was able to reconnect and he was kind enough to discuss his incredible and ongoing career with me. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did having had the experience.
CL: The last time I saw you had to be around 1989. A lot has happened since then to say the least…but around that time, if I remember correctly-weren’t you in Redd Kross? How did that come about?
VI: A lot has happened! I was working at a record distribution place when I heard Redd Kross was looking for a drummer. I went to the audition prepared to play a couple of their songs- when instead of playing Redd Kross songs we played side one of "Let It Be." Lucky for me I am a huge Beatle geek. I moved to Hollywood and that was really the start for me.
CL: When did you actually start playing, and who were your first influences?
VI: My mom said she bought me a toy drum for my first birthday. It is all I ever wanted to do. I grew up quite poor so no lessons… just playing to records. My mom had a wide palette so I grew up listening lots of different great stuff from the 60's and 70's- Soul, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles…and I must admit KISS fueled my early years. I am very thankful to growing up with variety, that's what I miss about radio from my youth.
CL: I agree with you there, everything now is so compartmentalized. This exposure to and love for variety really obviously worked in your favor as your list of associated acts is off the charts. How did Depeche Mode happen for you…especially as they were known for years as being an all-synth band?
VI: I met Dave (Gahan) through mutual friends, he asked if I wanted to have a go at some songs that a couple of drummers had played to but hadn’t worked out. Being mid 90’s there wasn’t pro tools and it was harder to edit performances to programming, you had to really sit in the “Pocket”. I played on a couple songs on “Ultra” and I remember being very scared, I hadn’t really played to programming before that. I feel very honored to have made it onto a Depeche Mode record and cherish my friendship with Dave, he is truly a beautiful person.
CL: That’s great to know. Along those lines, you have had the opportunity to work with other vocalists who went from big name groups to solo efforts, like Dave Gahan- along with Chris Cornell, and Scott Weiland to name a few. What was the atmosphere like working with individuals who had realized full creative control, who might not have had that luxury before?
VI: I have been very lucky to have gotten to work with all the artists that I have and really I have Scott (Weiland, Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver) to thank for my beginnings. He really let me be more than a drummer, and even though that was a hard record to make he gave me full reign to play other instruments, write songs, and he is responsible for my introduction to Daniel Lanois which led to the Willie Nelson “Teatro” album which then led to the Chris Cornell record. Chris liked the Willie record and asked me to play with him. (Daniel Lanois almost produced the Chris Cornell record.)
To answer the question, on the Scott record I felt the most involved. It was a crazy, dark time but very creative. We tried all the crazy sounds and ideas we had ever wanted to try- with mixed results- but it was an amazing learning period on many different levels personally and musically.
On Dave Gahan’s solo album it felt great to be a part of him finding his voice as a writer. Up until then he hadn’t released anything he had written, and as you can imagine living in the shadow of the great writing of Martin Gore would not be easy.
The Chris Cornell was only a day but was really fun, we cut the “Wave Goodbye” live vocal as well, and I was really blown away by his voice… what a treat to hear that voice in the headphones as you are playing.
CL: That must have been amazing. I was very excited to know at the time you were playing with Beck as well. Beck is another artist known for being eclectic musically. What was working with him like? Please tell me you played “Debra” live at some point…
VI: I could write a book about the Beck experience.
CL: I would read that book.
VI: It was challenging, fun and a great education. I have to say that the things I learned from him are invaluable. This was the first time I played to programming live, learned about degrees of “Swing” and really felt pushed to be great, there was a great competitiveness to be better each night.
Truly a fun time in my life- early 30’s, didn’t feel so lost like I did in my 20’s, I traveled the world and made some life-long friends. One of the most important being Lyle Workman who I have had the great fortune of playing with on his movie scores (“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Super Bad,” “Get Him to the Greek”)
(Mr. Indrizzo sent me a video of him playing on "Debra." )
CL: Is there an artist you worked with that really surprised you…in a good way?
VI: One that comes to mind is Alanis Morissette. I toured with her in 2008 and am about to hit the road this summer with her.
CL: That’s great! What surprised you about her specifically?
VI: I have been so lucky to have played with great talented people, but there is something special about the way Alanis is to the people around her. Every night after shows we go to the dressing room and she tells each person what she liked about what they did that night. She creates a great safe vibe, and a little respect goes a long, long way.
CL: Very cool. Is there anyone you’d like to work with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
VI: Would love to play with James Taylor some day!
CL: Who are groups or artists out there now that you are into?
VI: Funny I mostly listen to the same stuff I did as a kid. I really love my son’s band “The Seems” and my son Zach’s music in general but I guess I might be a little biased!
CL: No worries, a proud Dad is allowed to be a proud Dad. What is an example of a song you always looked forward to playing live?
VI: It’s different for each Artist I have played with and will change as a tour goes on. The last tour I was on was with Sheryl Crow, so that is still fresh in my mind. I loved playing “Everyday Is A Winding Road” we had a pretty groovy version that was really fun.
CL: So in addition to the Alanis tour, what else is currently on your musical agenda?
VI: I just opened a studio with a couple of good friends, Sean Hurley (John Mayer’s Bassist,) Mike Viola- who I think is the greatest songwriter I have ever met, and an amazing engineer named Chris Steffen that I love playing with. We are getting into producing and writing.
CL: Victor, thanks for catching up…and for helping to raise the bar for drummers!
VI: Thank you Chris! All the best to you!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
When I lived in Virginia, my friend Louis came to visit me from Queens, New York. I had a drum set, he brought more gear, and in one marathon day we wrote and recorded about eight songs. He played my drums and I did everything else. We were like the White Stripes…except for the fact that we were not as good and that Louis wasn’t a woman. Still, I like the songs to this day. I remember asking him at the time for suggestions as to what to name this new monster band. He reminded me that both of us were certifiable insomniacs. What a great name! The Insomniacs it is! Almost…
I found out there was another band with the same name. Mind you…in retrospect it’s ok. Our band wasn’t meant to be. But funny thing, life is…it turns out I really liked the Insomniacs band that had gotten to the name first.
Crazier still, I got the chance to interview all three members of The Insomniacs- David, Robert and Joel, who gave us the inside scoop on the band.
CL: Thanks gentlemen for taking the time for this interview!
David: Glad you’re still interested!
CL: For those silly enough to not recognize all of the coolness going on here, introduce yourselves and please tell our readers who plays what.
Joel: I’m Joel W. and I play the drums. I’m the newest member of the band. I joined about 4 years ago, but I’ve been friends with David and Robert for most of my life.
David: Bass and sing and write.
Robert: I play guitar and yelp on occasion.
CL: You have perfected an iconic vintage cool sound. Who are your influences individually?
David: Of course it all starts with the Beatles for me- from there you get to the British Invasion bands, which led to an appreciation of melody, how a song is supposed to be structured, riffs and choruses and verses etc..., then you dig for the more obscure mod and psych bands, onto the power-popsters, ... it goes on and on. Some of the ones people don't expect is usually 70's Prog stuff like Gong or the great stuff we were just surrounded by on the radio growing up in the early 70's- Elton John, Gilbert O'Sullivan that kind of crap. Oh, and of course the American songbook/show tunes type stuff was always around in our house. It's only lately that I've been really appreciating the subtleties of Chuck Berry records.
Robert: Dave and I pretty much shared the same musical influences, growing up together in the same house. We were Beatle nuts as kids, getting into them when those red and blue greatest hits compilations came out in the 70s. The 60s beat and garage stuff has kind of been a constant soundtrack since then. Then I got more into the punk rock and mod stuff of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Then all the neo-garage stuff in the 80’s and 90’s. For the last several years, I’ve been digging a lot of Aussie power pop and Rock & Roll bands like The Stems, DM3, You Am I, Hoodoo Gurus…and Swedish bands for some reason like The Maharajas, Hellacopters, Mando Diao, and Tramp. In a nutshell, I guess I like bands that have a fairly Rock & Roll sound, but it also has to have a really good tune. I’m not above taking a detour into 70’s hard rock and country stuff as well. Buck Owens and the Derailers were both constantly on my playlist for many months.
Joel: I love Keith Moon, Pete Thomas, and Topper Headon.
CL: Where do the Insomniacs call home?
David: All Jersey born and bred at the moment. Though I currently reside in Brooklyn, New York.
Joel: One of our favorite places to play shows is Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey . We’ve had some fun gigs there over the years.
Robert: I’m back in the great Garden State of New Jersey after living in Brooklyn for a few years.
CL: Very cool. Small world, I was born in Jersey myself…and lived in Brooklyn! I first heard your music on Ghoul-A-Go-Go. The awesome dancing kids, the characters, was that as much fun as it looked?
David: That was a strange experience. Interesting how you meet the Jon-Benet-mom- types... pushing their kids into the shot... as I recall, it was soon after 9-11 when we did that and the cops still were stopping vans in the tunnels. I believe we were searched thoroughly. Don't think they found any illicit substances. And we also did a slow tune that the kids had no idea how to "dance" to... "The Long Cigarette" which I think is still unissued. Would be fun to see the kids struggle with that!
Robert: I recall it being kind of a really weird experience. It was shot on a huge, very professional soundstage in the Hamptons which may or may not have been built by Alec Baldwin.
CL: Outstanding. Go on…
Robert: For such an oddball show, it was done very well. It was oddly unnerving to play live in front of a bunch of “dancing” kids. I think a few might have been scared off by the loud amps. We had fun with it, though. Played an Elvis cover during a period when Dave and I were really into that late 60s Elvis soundtrack stuff. I’m not sure they’re shooting new shows for Ghoul-A-Go-Go, but it’d be hilarious to do it again with Joel.
CL: Your riffs are unreal. I recently heard "She Brings" and was blown away. How do you go about the writing process?
Joel: David will bring a demo of the song to rehearsal, with both music and lyrics already done. I tend to bash it up, and make the tune faster and louder.
Robert: I’m fairly inept when it comes to guitar playing, so… I do my best to bash out what I can and fake the rest. “She Brings” was kicking around for some time as a song our previous incarnation would try. It never worked in that lineup. But I always thought it was a fun little ditty.
David: Usually starts with an open bottle. I like riffs with three or four notes, some think that's a limitation, but Robert seems to interpret them all differently enough to keep it interesting. Then Joel starts pounding and away you go. "If this is life, then let's live it!" words to live by indeed. Glad you were blown away.
CL: I really was…I just love the overall feel of it. I heard you got some recognition recently via Little Steven. What was it? How did that come about?
David: Nice enough guy. He got a lot of flak when he started his show (Little Steven’s Underground Garage) for some reason . I guess the "cool" people doubted his enthusiasm, but he's supported us and a lot of our friend's groups right from the get go. I think he's cool and I like the show. He's picked three of our songs for “coolest song in the world” over the years, and that's an honor. And, frankly, where else besides someplace like WFMU can you possibly hear the music he plays on the radio? I hope he is influencing a new generation of boys and girls to flock into the garage and beyond.
Robert: Yeah, some people have talked trash about the guy and I’ve never quite understood why. He’s done a lot to give some exposure to bands that ordinarily would be heard by three people…like ours. He’s always been really nice to us and is very personable. I’m always surprised that he even knows who we are. The guy is in the biggest band in the world, was on one of the biggest TV shows in the world, and plays our little band on the radio. What’s not cool about that?
CL: Well put. How far back does your relationship with him go? How was the Cavestomp Concert Series?
David: I only regret that we weren't asked to play that big festival he organized. Or were we. I forget.
Robert: I think we WERE on the list for the big festival when it was originally supposed to be a couple day affair. When it was cut down to one long day at Randall’s Island , we didn’t make the cut. Though my guitars did… I loaned them to the Stems. We played one of his Cavestomp shows with The Troggs and some other acts. I think we had just come back from playing over in Spain with the Troggs at a festival.
CL: Who are other bands out there right now that you guys are into?
Joel: We’ve played with the Electric Mess and the Back C.C.’s, two great Brooklyn-based bands. And we’ve had the pleasure of playing with some cool Australian bands like the DM3 and the Chevelles.
David: Anything Tim Rogers is involved in. And anything Robert says is good. Well, almost.
Robert: Big fan of You Am I, Tramp…which is the Hellacopters’ drummer’s new band. I liked the new Hoodoo Gurus record.
CL: So what can Insomniacs fans look forward to in the near future? Anything we can help get the word out on?
David: Looking forward to another year of celebrating being alive on stage, studio and at home. 2011 was a cool year for us, our first album with Joel (“Just Enjoy It”), received lots of critical acclaim…does anybody buy cd’s anymore…? I hope we can roll into the summer with some new tunes to groove you.
Robert: There has been some talk about going to Spain for some shows. It’d be wonderful if that happened this year, but, we’ll see. It’s tough to get the time to do much touring outside of the area these days, but that’s always been one of the most exciting parts of playing in the band. And playing with our old buddy, Joel, has been a nice shot in the arm…and shot of whiskey for us. We’re having a lot of fun with it. Even the older stuff sounds fresh and kicking. I’m looking forward to getting back into a studio again as well.
CL: Thanks again both for your time and for the great music!
David: You are most welcome sir.
-Christopher Levine, 2013
Do you find the quality of being appreciative the perfect complement to talent in the same way that I do? It takes an artist that much further on so many vital levels. You can hear this in their voices and read it in their lyric sheets. Laura Izibor is clearly one of these artists, and she was kind enough to let us get to know her better in the interview below.
CL: Thank you for taking the time to interview with Eclectiblogs. Your work has been used in numerous films and on television. What is it like for you as an artist to watch that interpretation of your work as a viewer?
LI: It’s cool, you know… seeing how my music is actually playing a part-whether its small or big- in creating a scene or generating a certain feeling in the people watching. It’s very humbling and exciting to watch.
CL: Is there a particular placement of one of your songs that especially moved you when seeing it married to the visual images?
LI: Probably "Why Did I Get Married?" in the scene where Jill Scott breaks down in her car by the mountains. My song "Mmmm" was playing. It really moved me and I felt it fit well. Plus being a huge fan of Jill's, I was smitten.
CL: In your song "Shine" you wrote "Wake up one morning you realize your life is one big compromise..." Did you have a moment like that where you knew what direction you wanted to go in?
LI: Personally speaking, no. For some strange reason I was like a crazed girl following my dream from a very young age. But growing up where I did I felt there were so many people who really felt stuck and (were) quite sad where they seemed to have ended up…some close friends too. I wanted to write something that just maybe might inspire them a bit.
CL: How would you say from your perspective that being born and growing up in Ireland has influenced your music?
LI: I think in a weird way growing up feeling like the only black girl on the island made me gravitate to Soul music in a huge way. I saw singers who looked like me and had hair like me and I just loved how they sang with such freedom. Singers like Candi Staton, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke.
CL: So I would imagine then in your case especially as a young Soul artist it must have seemed unreal to actually have opened for Aretha Franklin…
LI: Very dream like... you know it’s happening but you don't really feel like your quite there...an incredible highlight of my career without a doubt! She's the Queen.
CL: What would you say you have learned most from the various people you have toured with or opened for?
LI: Probably just to do things that are the truest to who you are and your music. Some artists I've toured with have done so and some not, to me it’s the only way forward...and to always come in and say “hello” to the opening artist!
CL: What was it like for you atmospherically to take in New York upon arrival...how do you feel that influenced your sound?
LI: I initially didn't like it, i was so intimidated by it. But I made some friends, settled in and my love affair with New York began. It influenced my music by the freedom I felt to just be myself. I saw everyone walk by…Black, Asian, big, small, afro, straight hair, it didn't matter what you looked like. I felt a real sense of myself had been filled, and so, in my music as well.
CL: This website celebrates the eclectic...I love how among your influences you cite Thin Lizzy. What about that band struck a chord with you?
LI: Well firstly I seriously just love their music…but Phil Lynott was Black and Irish and wore skinny jeans with the most amazing afro out and proud. He was my hero…he still is in many ways.
CL: Your music is a great hybrid of classic soul and modern sound. Is that something you consciously set out to do?
LI: I truly do not set out to do anything. I just write what needs to come out of me and when I get that feeling of “yes, God has given me something special here…” I roll with it. I'm not after modern "success" or to be so famous everyone knows my name. I just want to sing, write and bring my music around the world...which are all amazing blessings I've been given. I'm very lucky.
CL: I would be much more inclined to call it talent instead of luck. Still, both via your work and the things I have read, you truly seem appreciative of your success. What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of being able to do what you do for a living?
LI: Thank you. (smiles) Honestly, I feel free in what I do. I get to create some music work with amazing musicians and producers and at the end of the day experience life as a normal person. That’s been my dream and I can honestly say I'm living it. What more can I ask for? Hearing people sing back my words or watching musicians in the studio put their heart and soul into playing on my record… there’s so much that is rewarding it’s hard to just say one.
CL: What can your fans expect in 2013?
LI: Well, my second album will be out very soon. It’s called "Surrender". I'll be promoting and definitely touring, basically everywhere I'm allowed to!
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Just so you know, I request interviews only with individuals I actually want to interview. That is the beauty of doing art for art’s sake as opposed to creating something simply for the money. So when the interview was confirmed that you are about to read with Mr. David J, I was thrilled. Why? Not just because he has remained a true artist for decades in the honest sense, but also for reasons you will learn about at the close of this article. For now, it is my pleasure to present the interview to you.
CL: First and foremost, you're taking the time to do this means a great deal to me. Thank you. You have lived many lives in the music business. Currently your latest artistic endeavor is the new album "Not Long For This World." How did your working with Billy Corgan and Starry Records come about?
DJ: My manager played the album to Kerry Brown-Smashing Pumpkins producer and head honcho at Starry, the label he started with Billy. Kerry loved it and played it to Billy, who agreed that it would be a great release for the label.
CL: "Because You're Gone" is a hauntingly beautiful song. As an artist not afraid of technology, how was it putting together such an artistically sparse work?
DJ: That came together very spontaneously. I had the lyric and a vague idea for some music. Something jaunty and kind of vaudevillian to go against the grain of the words. When we arrived at the studio, Michael Berg sat down at the baby grand and started to play that lovely melancholy melody. When I asked him what it was, he said that he had just made it up. I told him to keep playing it, went into the vocal booth and sang over it. Kenny Annis joined in on the electric serode. Within ten minutes we rolled tape and recorded it live.
CL: That is quite a powerful song to have emerged so quickly. I know the spoken word explains it, but what initially prompted the piece "Eulogy for Jeff Buckley?"
DJ: I was asked to appear at a live tribute to Jeff Buckley at an old theater in Pittsburgh and wrote that with Damien Youth for the event.
CL: Having done eight full-length solo albums now, how do you compare it to being in a band setting? Do you have a preference?
DJ: There are less rows! I prefer working solo, although I do enjoy collaborations. There is something very exciting about the chemistry that results from those situations. It’s the whole ‘third mind’ concept that Brion Gysin wrote about whereby a third unique character arises from the coming together of two different minds.
CL: How about joining in with an established band for a session, like when you did so with Jane's Addiction? Are you able to be creative as an individual artist?
DJ: I love diving into sessions like that. I recently played on a track on Amanda Palmer’s new album which worked out great. Again, it’s that thing of different sensibilities coming together to make something unique.
CL: Love and Rockets broke into popular consciousness with "No New Tale To Tell" and "So Alive." How was it going from being relatively underground to hearing your non-compromising music played on the radio in heavy rotation?
DJ: Well, obviously it was very satisfying, although it did not influence our direction as we followed up ‘So Alive’ with the highly experimental ‘Hot Trip To Heaven’ album, much to the chagrin of RCA, who promptly ‘let us go’!
CL: Believe me, that was RCA's loss....was there a particular album in that band's repertoire that you especially liked personally?
DJ: The latter is a favorite album as it was so freeing. Also, ‘Earth Sun Moon’, which I think showed the band maturing and becoming more introspective.
CL: You recently added some bass for Voltaire as well...honestly, what was your first reaction to the album title "Riding a Black Unicorn Down the Side of an Erupting Volcano While Drinking from a Chalice Filled with the Laughter of Small Children!?" Did you have anything to do with that title choice?
DJ: Certainly not! It induced a hearty guffaw when I read that title! Voltaire is essentially a satirist and that title is evidence of that.
CL: The appeal for me in your musical resume is the sense of humor side by side with the atmosphere, however dark on the surface. I mean, I'm old enough to remember The Bubblemen! Would you say that's an accurate perception?
DJ: Yes. There has always been a streak of acerbic and sometimes absurdist humor there. Going back to the early days of Bauhaus. Although a lot of people did not get it.
CL: Do you find younger generations embracing your work with Bauhaus as time goes on? Ultimately, you were pioneers...
DJ: Yes. I know that’s the case as I have been told personally by a lot of bands and can also hear the influence peeking through.
CL: Are you comfortable being called "Goth" as some might try to neatly package your style? How would you define your musical style?
DJ: I’ve learned to live with it but it is rather limiting. I think that my personal musical style is too wide ranging and eclectic to be defined as anything other than ‘wide ranging and eclectic’!
CL: In closing, what can we expect in the near future from you artistically?
DJ: Well, I am very much interested in presenting multimedia theatrical work such as the last two plays with music that were staged in L.A. last year. Also, of late I have returned to writing acoustic guitar based songs and actually have a albums’ worth under my belt. I hope to record these sometime this year.
CL: I can't wait to hear those, please keep us posted. Again, thanks so much. Our readers and I appreciate the decades of influential music. Thank you.
DJ: Most welcome, sir!
When I was a much younger man in Southern California, I was friends with a teenager named Jason Meyer. Jason was a scholar when it came to David J and the rest of the Bauhaus extended family. He could explain the smallest nuances in the most obscure Dali’s Car song and had lamented that The Sinister Ducks only lasted as long as they did. He didn’t wear all black, in fact he was a blonde kid who at eighteen still looked fifteen. He had a natural wit and a wonderful mind and this was one of his areas of true expertise. Everything was David J this and David J that...he attributed a lot of what he thought were Bauhaus and Love and Rockets’ most successful moments specifically to David J. Jason was also an upright bass and a guitar player who learned as many Love and Rockets songs as there were to play.
Sadly, at eighteen he was gone. Some idiot who decided to drink and drive ran into Jason’s old VW bus on an s-curved road in Simi Valley, California. I went to the hospital to see him but to my knowledge he didn’t know I was there.
Even now in 2012, anytime I hear a song by Love and Rockets, Jason is once again right there with me- telling me to pay attention to a specific bass part or letting me know which chords to switch to for the chorus. It is bittersweet, but by all means more sweet than bitter.
So interviewing David wasn’t just for me and for you, it was for Jason too. He would have been beside himself to have read the above. It also would have been my total and complete pleasure to have told him that David was agreeable to the interview, and that he also happened to be one of the nicest and legitimately down-to-earth people I have ever had the pleasure of doing this with. -cl
It may seem like the ultimate oxymoron to combine modern rock with a retro sound, but it totally works. Case in point: The Routes. Based in Japan, this Garage Punk band is so true to form that you will seriously question when their recordings were made. With Shinichi Nakayama on drums, Chris Jack on guitars & vox and original bassist Toru Nishimuta laying down the bass this band is a gem waiting to be adopted globally.
I had the chance to ask a few questions to Chris Jack recently, here’s how it went:
CL: The Routes are so authentic. What initially drew you to the sound you have?
CJ: Do you mean the literal sound or style?
CL: Interesting distinction, let's do both.
CJ: We're really into doing everything ourselves, that way we can make the exact sound we want, without someone putting compressors and limiters on everything. We tried to record at a studio before but it just sounded dead. I hate the sterile clean sound of studios. We don't want to be smooth and clean. We don't sound like that live. I want to hear atmosphere. I want to feel like I'm in the same room as the band playing (like with old records). I want to hear the buzz of the amps.
CL: Wanting to hear atmosphere is a great way to put it. And style?
CJ: For me personally, nothing sounds as good as just a guitar, a drum kit, a bass and vocals (organ optional)... The simple format has the most impact for me... You can be as witty or fancy as you want with your lyrics, and use crazy chords or fancy time signatures, but compare it to someone playing 3 chords... You can douse everything in crazy effects, use the latest synths, vocoders, sequencers and crap, but put it next to a raw live band with 3 chords... There's a reason this basic format has thrived through the decades whether it be rockabilly, garage, blues, punk, whatever... It's a full proof formula. It doesn't age poorly, it's far from self-indulgent, it doesn't lose energy... With the same three chords you can make any kind of song you want. It's all you need. It's timeless.
CL: Can you tell me about some of your influences, past and present?
CJ: The first Routes album "Left My Mind" was very much influenced by UK rhythm and blues (Downliners Sect, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones etc...).
The second and most recent album "Alligator" (out now on Dirty Water Records) has more of a US garage feel to it (Back From The Grave, Teenage Shutdown).
Our next album will be different again.
Personally I listen to all kinds of music. Currently on my turntable is Brazilian Nuggets 2, Terauchi Takeshi, Os Haxixins, Residents, This Heat, Pharoah Sanders, Can.
CL: What is the Garage scene like in Japan?
CJ: In Tokyo there is a scene, but we're not involved with it. We just do our own little thing oblivious to whatever else is going on. Over the mountains from us there are a few other bands Paralyz, La-La Lee's and a surf band called Whys.
CL: For the tech heads out there, what kind of gear do you use to get your vintage sound?
CJ: The drummer Shin-chan has 2 60s Ludwig kits, and a 60s Rogers kit (main kit). He uses various 60s Ludwig snares, vintage Zildjian cymbals, and vintage Rogers/Ludwig stands/seat.
As for guitars, I use a 1967 Vox Starstream, 1967 Yamaha SG-3, 1966 Gretsch Astro Jet...
My main live guitar is a custom made Mosrite Japan Combo. It will be heavily featured on the next album. I use an Ampeg Reverberocket reissue, and a fender Twin. I'm currently using a 60s vintage Mosrite amp. The only effector I use is a Vox Valve Tone pedal (I use it set very mild).
Other than that we have a couple of 60s Acetone combo organs, a 1967 Vox Astro bass, and 60s Shure SH-55 mics.
We're very passionate about vintage gear, although I really don't see it as a necessity to making the sound we make. I think that our sound is a result of a very simple recording technique, using few mics.
CL: Do you have a favorite original song to play live?
CJ: That's a tough one... It depends on what kind of form I'm on. If I'm on good form I like "As It Is". If I'm having a grim night, I prefer "Make You Sorry" from the first album (very easy to play). I also like to play the "Mantohihi Mama" single.
CL: What projects are The Routes currently inolved in?
CJ:We're currently recording 10 original instrumental songs, which will be hopefully released as a limited edition LP on Groovie Records (Portugal).
CL: Let's make the last one a fun one...describe your music in one word.
If you are a fan of the Nuggets or Pebbles Collections, this will fit right into your world. If you are not, you should be. Ultimately, the garage is the epicenter of Rock and to some extent always will be...even if nowadays the electric guitars are potentially plugged in beside the electric cars. -cl
-Christopher Levine, 2012
CL: First off, how do you feel about the term “Bubblegum Pop” applied to the band’s music? Endearing or dismissive?
FJ: Back then it was derisive. Today it is what it is.
CL: What is the most rewarding aspect of playing relatable Pop music?
FJ: When music is fun and appreciated by your audience, that's all that matters.
CL: Is it true you named the band via a literal candy wrapper you had found?
FJ: Of course.
CL: Many Punk bands reference your work. Have you heard the Ramones or Joan Jett’s versions of “Indian Giver?” Do you like their versions?
FJ: Yes, and we are proud that these important bands felt that our material was good enough to cover.
CL: Talking Heads also covered "1, 2, 3, Red Light" early in their existence. Have you heard this? What are your thoughts if you have?
FJ: Yes I have and I like it.
CL: What motivates you to stay the course with the band?
FJ: I love performing and the thrill of having the audience show their appreciation and support.
CL: What was it like being an American Gold Record selling band during a national time associated most with Beatlemania?
FJ: Words cannot describe the experience. It was beyond cool.
CL: Did you view music from England at that time as a threat, a compliment, competition, or inspirational?
FJ: I loved it. Especially the Beatles. They were in my opinion the best thing that ever happened to pop music.
CL: What do you feel has carried on the tradition of your brand of Pop Music the most convincingly throughout the years?
FJ: There has always been demand for our records on the radio. We've added to the radio demand by being out there and doing live shows.
CL: What is your particular favorite song in the band’s catalogue to play live?
CL: Is there anything Eclectiblogs can help promote or spread the word on for you at this time?
FJ: Encourage venues to book us. Let people know we're out there.
-Christopher Levine, 2012
Bad Brains are many incredible bands in one. They embody individualistic integrity on a level few other artists touch. If you are familiar with this band, you know that nothing I can say about them would do them the justice that listening to one of their records would, let alone seeing them live.
Very few bands can come anywhere near their level of power…but they can also play anything with finesse just as easily. One half of the rhythm section of this band is none other than Mr. Darryl Jenifer. In addition to his being a constant in Bad Brains from their inception, he also released solo work which- and I mean this sincerely and as a compliment- honestly sounds like nothing else you have ever heard.
I was beside myself when he agreed to the below. As you’ll see his artistic prowess flows beyond his music straight through his words. Enjoy.
CL: You’re taking personal time out for this means a lot to me, thank you.
DJ: You taking interest in my music and art means the world to me, thanks.
CL: I had heard your solo album was initially going to be called "Sacred Love Meets Black Vova Under the Irish Moss." What was the inspiration behind that potential poetic title?
DJ: Yes that was my first title; I am always inspired by creation. So when the love meets the Vova, under some Irish moss…it's on.
CL: Upon deciding to change it, what inspired the released title "In Search of Black Judas?"
DJ: Yes, Black Judas. That's a battle track aimed at a certain sell-out in an attempt to expose the disrespectful ways of a tormented twisted soul.
CL: I am speaking with a true poet. You take your time formulating your art. I read you had worked on your solo album for a decade before releasing it. What would you say was most responsible for the time period it took to create it to your expectations?
DJ: The album is still a work in progress.
CL: How do you mean?
DJ: Sometimes my explorations are tough to navigate and can take a minute to manifest. But what is time? A minute, a second, a million hours…
CL: The level of musicianship in Bad Brains is incredible. Numerous other musicians I have interviewed cite you as influential. Who influenced you musically in the beginning?
DJ: Mr. James Brown was my first musical experience, which lead to Sly Stone, and then on to Return To Forever…my father used to insist that I listen to the back ground sounds on Miles Davis recordings and not so much Miles himself.
CL: That’s incredibly insightful. People can miss so much only by seeing what is right in front of them. Different subject, is it true you named your band Bad Brains after the Ramones' song?
DJ: (enthusiastically) Yes! We were initially called Mind Power, then when we turned to Punk Rock… Mind Power became Bad Brains.
CL: The first Bad Brains record I heard and bought was “Quickness.” It was in the Reggae section of the record store and I bought it knowing little about your band at the time. You can imagine when “Soul Craft” kicked in how knocked backwards I was. Needless to say, I immediately became a fan even though it wasn’t exactly the Steel Pulse vibe I was expecting per how it was marketed. Have you found the industry trying to label you as any specific genre to be an issue?