An interview with the incredible Johnny Pisano with record review : “Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria: Everybody Gets A Slice.”

 

 

There are certain people in this world that were just meant to be stars. They have that spark, that charisma, that makes you want to watch, listen and see what is coming next. When I first saw Johnny Pisano playing bass for Willie Nile, I knew he was one of those people. His smile and energy are infectious and his talent unreal. When you watch Pisano play, sing and do his signature split jumps on stage, you just want to laugh and dance and sing. The man knows how to keep an audience happy.

Johnny hails from Brooklyn, NY and has been playing bass since he was 13 years old. During his varied and eclectic music career he’s played along side such artists as Marky Ramone, Willie Nile, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Joan Jett and Cheetah Chrome. He’s appeared on television, in movies and played both electric and upright bass on a soundtrack for a Bruce  Willis movie. In addition, Pisano has appeared on Broadway in “50 Shades : The Musical” and with the Charlotte and Omaha symphony orchestras in “A Tribute To The Rolling Stones.”  To say this man is talented is an understatement, but it’s his capacity to entertain you within an inch of your life that makes this man a star.

I sat down with Johnny recently at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT when I was there to interview Willie Nile. Pisano was affable, kind and welcoming. As a fan for ages, I asked if he would allow an interview and he most benevolently complied.

 

J. You’ve played with some amazing musicians. Have you had a favorite?
Johnny: Ever since I was old enough to know, my fantasy was to play Bass with someone who raises awareness trying to make the world a better place through their music. I can’t say if I’ve had a favorite but I’ve had some amazing times on the road with Willie Nile, Marky Ramone The intruders,  and Jesse Malin,
J. Have you ever been star struck when meeting someone you greatly admired?
Johnny: Yes, It’s happened a few times
I’ve been privileged enough to have rubbed elbows or met a lot of people in the business through the years. But getting to eat lunch with one of my favorite bass players Tony Levin and try on his Funk Fingers (drumsticks that attach to your fingertips) was pretty awesome.
Another interesting story is how I met Bono in an airport not long after I played on a few Ryan Adams records which I knew he would hear. And talk about raising awareness through his music I played with Billie Joe Armstrong a few times. But I’ll never forget when I got the phone call from Jesse Malin to come hang out with Joe Strummer. We sat at a table in a quiet bar, it was me, Joe Strummer, Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin and one other person I can’t remember. This was about one month before he died.
J : How old were you when you began to play bass and when did you realize that you were good enough to make a living at it?
Johnny: I started playing Bass when I was about 13 years old, once I started I couldn’t stop. My father cut our living room in half with a hollow wall and no door so me and my sister could have our own rooms, and my mother was nice enough to let me practice day in and day out relentlessly trying to learn bass lines from various songs I liked. It must have been pretty annoying to listen to the same four seconds of a song over and over as I search for notes up and down the neck. So ,Thanks Mom !!
It wasn’t long before we had an original band and I was part of a team. People I admired told me I was good and that encouraged me to work even harder to become better. Now here we are 35 years later and I still work really hard at whatever I’m doing. I am humbled and thankful that I can play music for a living. I’m going to keep doing it until I absolutely can’t do it anymore.
J: Anyone that’s seen you play live knows that you are a natural performer. Tell me how it feels to play your music in front of a live Audience?
Johnny: Thank you, that’s nice of you to say. Most of the time I don’t think about the performing, I don’t think about the notes, in fact it’s best when I’m not thinking at all. Playing bass I want to lay down a groove and lock in with the drummer. If I’m singing background I want to lock in harmony with the Singer.
Playing my own songs to an audience has a different satisfaction. Songs you gave birth too slaved over and watched grow, then people are singing along or pumping their fists in the air to what you created is an amazing feeling like no other
J: Tell me about Punk Rock Pizzeria. Did you plan on putting out this record for a long time? What inspired it?
Johnny: For many years I had a fantasy of putting out my own stuff. I wrote songs when I was younger and wrote and co-wrote songs for the Marky Ramone and the Intruders records in the punk rock vein. I never had the time or the guts to put out my own stuff. I was also a bit fearful people wouldn’t like it. One day I said to myself “Fuck it !! I have nothing to lose and if I don’t hop on it now I never will.” Once I came up with the name of the project it made me want to do it even more.
J: You infuse a lot of humor into your music and your live performances. In this day and age, with so much chaos in the world. Do you think humor , along with music, are good  tools to bring us all together?
Johnny: I absolutely do yes, there are so many amazing artists with so much to say religiously, politically, pushing great information to the world through their lyrics and I greatly admire that but for this project I decided to go down a different road. Even when the songs have some serious content sprinkled in I never wanted to take myself too seriously. I love old school punk with its sarcastic comedy mixed in so I did just that. Richard Manitoba from The Dictators said something funny at the end of the song “The Know It All’s” I cartoonized my voice singing like the Tarantella for the intro of “Pilicious Bitches”, My song about Pizza. I even wore a giant chefs hat when I did this live. I had Tommy London and Matt Hogan do an acting skit making fun of me for the intro of “Midlife Crisis” I even covered the theme from the old cartoon Mighty mouse for the intro of “Superhero” and yes I wore a Superman cape live for that one. There’s a few other funny bits here and there but not in every song. I didn’t want to overdo the comedy either.
J: Tell me about your song writing process?
Johnny: I’ll get an idea and immediately sing it into my phone so I don’t forget it. before phones I was jotting things down on a napkin with any writing tool I could find. I can usually write an entire song without an instrument. I’ll tell the story and sing the melody figuring out lyrics to fit it. I’ll even sing bass lines or guitar lines in my phone for intros, outros etc Then figure it all out when I have a guitar or bass in my hand
J: Who are your biggest musical influences?
Johnny: I believe we are direct products of what we listen to. Growing up I listened to every style of music from Beethoven to Black flag from Motown to speed metal. I love the melodic bass lines of Paul McCartney to the angry lines of Steve Harris or the amazement of DeeDee and Johnny Ramone mirroring each others down strokes note for note creating that wall of sound. I laugh when music snobs think that’s  easy, until they try it and their arm feels like it’s going to fall off. My favorite band being The Clash with their political overtones melding Reggae and Ska with punk rock, it doesn’t get better than that. I’m influenced by all of it, everything. I let whatever wants to come out of me come out. I can write complicated musical compositions in Odd time meters or simple 3 chord rock tunes. For my stuff I kept it fairly simple throughout, In fact the songs I wrote for this record were a bit longer, I shortened them to cater to today’s attention span.
J: You’ve played along side Springsteen, Willie Nile, Marky Ramone  and so many other great artists. Besides these guys, Is there one artist you’d most like to get a chance to play with?
Johnny: If I could wave a magic wand I would love to play bass and sing with The Clash, John Lennon or Bob Marley not just for the amazing songs but for the impact they have that this world still needs. But then again I would not want to change one note of what those bass players did in those songs living and breathing the way they are now.
J: Any plans to tour on your own for the album?
Johnny: To me this was a side project from a side man. I played a record release show and since then everyone has been demanding for me to do another, so I guess that show went well. Now Tommy London asked me to play with him 9/27/17 at the Gramercy theater in New York City. I’m looking forward to being the frontman again. In fact I’m not even playing bass I’m just singing so I run around and engage the crowd
J: What does the future hold for you?
Johnny: I have lots of shows and a few recording sessions lined up with a bunch of different artists. I look forward to writing bass lines and performing with them. I have a bunch of songs I would like to record as well. I’d like to put out more material but this time not in the punk rock vain

Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria is playing with Tommy London at the Gramercy Theater on 9/27/17 after the record release show. Please visit http://www.johnnypisano.com and http://www.facebook.com/johnnypisanospunkrockpizzeria

 

 

Johnny Pisano’s Punk Rock Pizzeria: Everbody Gets A Slice album review:

Johnny Pisano has finally made it to the head of the class. The veteran musician, who has spent decades playing alongside of some of the best artists in the industry has always held his own. When an artist is this talented, there is never much question that eventually his own star will shine through. That being said, this album was one that just had to be made. With Johnny at the reins you hear the music he was always meant to play. Comedic, melodic and infectious, this album stands apart and stands on its own. Pisano never needed to fall back on the famous names he’s worked along side for recognition. His ability to sing, play and entertain you have always been a talent he has possessed fully, no help necessary.

The album has hints of Iggy Pop, The Clash and even The Dead Kennedy’s, but it also reeks of straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It takes you for a wild ride, with comedic intro’s that segue into true punk rock anthems. Not surprisingly, because of the title of this blog, Midlife Crisis was the first track I listened to, and it quickly became my favorite  track on the record.  You can hear all of Pisano’s punk influences throughout the song, but make no doubt about it, this is a Pisano original. It is all his own. All Fucked Up From Growing Up is a song all of us can relate to. The Know It Alls is a punk anthem at his finest, with catchy riffs and a chorus that just makes you want to scream along. Just when you think that this album remains solidly centered exclusively in the punk rock genre , Maloveilove and One Guitar Mon show Pisano’s diversity.

A punk rock feast for the ears, this album truly delivers slice after slice of a rocking good time.

 

An interview with the incredible Willie Nile, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT 8/11/17

IMG_2779.JPGThere are few musicians in this world that are as intent on giving their audience everything they’ve got every single time they go out on that stage as Willie Nile. There are many more that play by rote, doing the same set lists over and over and not seeming to take any joy in the fact that they are living the dream of so many in being blessed enough to actually make a living as a musician. Although Willie Nile has been in the industry for 40 plus years, he continues to play every show as if he is having the time of his life and makes damn well certain that the audience is having the just as much fun as he is. If you aren’t smiling and clapping and singing along at a Willie Nile show, you may as well just go home and stay there. With Nile, there is just no way to avoid a good time.

I’ve seen Willie countless times and I always feel like I’ve been invited to the best party in town. A secret one that not everyone knows about but should. He never lets his audience down. Willie’s show at Cafe Nine in New Haven was different from the other shows I’ve been to. It was just Willie and his band-mate, bassist Johnny Pisano, and it struck me that the show may be more subdued and have less energy than what I was used to. I could not have been more wrong. The duo rocked the house down, solidifying the fact the Nile (as well as Pisano) is one of the greatest performers in the industry. The show was heavy on songs from his newest release Positively Bob : Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan, but also included many of the tremendous gems Willie has created over the years. I brought a friend that had never seen Nile play live before and he knew immediately that Willie is a one of a kind act that you need to see at least once or twice in your lifetime if you really do love rock n roll.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Willie before the show to discuss his new release, touring and where he gets his inspiration.

 

Crisis: What inspired the Positively Bob album?

Willie: About a year ago they were doing a celebration of Bob’s 75th birthday at City Winery in Manhattan. I got a phone call asking if I’d come and sing 4 songs and close the show and I thought, Let me think about that for a bit. My feeling was that If I could bring something to the songs and have fun with whatever it is I was playing, it could be a lot of fun. I looked some albums over and I found songs right away that I thought would be fun to play, Hard Rains Are Gonna Fall, Rainy Day Women, Blowin’ In The Wind. As I was looking them over I realized how current and how relevent these songs still are today.  It was so much fun doing that gig, playing those 4 songs and listening to all of the other great Bob songs played that night I thought, man, I think I could make a really joyful record. And a lot of these songs, you don’t hear them anymore. Love Minus Zero/No Limits, is one of the best love songs ever, and you don’t hear it anymore. So I thought I’d put some energy into this and really have some fun. Pretty much took us only two days. We knocked it put real quick.

Crisis: I know Bob is one of your inspirations and someone you really admire, and I have to be completely honest with you. Dylan is a genius and his songwriting is beyond compare, so I wondered if I’d like this record. The minute I gave it a listen, I was so taken aback. Some of these songs sounded even better to me through your interpretation of them. You put your own spin on them while still making it obvious that you were respecting the master.

Willie: We had so much fun doing this record. These songs are all masterpieces. I went into the studio and it fell together fast. When you have great songs and great people going in to create this music, and you do it with reverence and respect and when you pay homage to the artist, I guess it really all comes together. One of the best parts is that my grandchildren now know who Bob Dylan is. That’s just so awesome. I have a videotape of one of my granddaughters in the back seat of the car and she is belting out Hard Rains Are Gonna Fall, at the top of her lungs, she’s two! That makes it all worth it right there.

Crisis: Have you heard any feedback from Bob?

Willie: Well, Bob’s facebook page put a beautiful blast out about the record, which is awesome. I sent it to Bob, through his office with a note, with love and I think at this point Bob has earned the right to remain silent about things. His son Jacob is a buddy of mine. They are great songs and its a joy to sing them. I’m just lucky to be able to do it.

Crisis: These songs are so incredibly relevent, even today, It’s so rare to have a song span decades and remain as timely and true today as they were when they first came out. We are in some crazy political times and Bob has always been very outspoken politically. Where do you stand on the current madness in the world and do you think music should play a role?

Willie: I think music should be a part of our lives no matter what. There is a lot of tension and stress today and injustice. It’s absurd and should be better than it is. Whether or not mankind learns from history, it hasn’t yet. So I just wanted to put these out into the ether, very mindful of the fact the world is in such chaotic shape, It’s not all bad, there are many places full of love and kindness and goodness, but the refugee crisis, the nuclear bullshit between Trump and North Korea’s leader. It’s like really? Are you both ten years old? It’s a pissing match and as human race we can do better. I grew up when Kennedy was president and he taught us that compassion and doing for others meant something. I believe in that. I believe in compassion and I believe in people. Most people are truly good, but the bad guys get a lot of attention. I think we need to do our best, treat each other with kindness, and for me, put songs out that I believe in.These Dylan songs, they speak to all of this. I sing music that I care about and means something to me. I think music can force and enable change to happen, not always, but there is certainly no harm in trying.

 

Crisis: Everyone I’ve played this new album for has loved it. It was me listening to Dylan in a fresh new way and it made me really sit back and listen to how incredible these songs truly are. Are you happy with how it turned out? It was obvious how respectful you were to the artist and how much his music meant to you.

Willie: The album is about him. It’s about his songs. But I thought we could bring some good energy to it. We did, and I think it’s clear that we love the music and his great, great songs. All the vocals on it, 10 songs were done  with no overdubs in just two or three takes. It was just my guitar and singing, it’s all live, and that wasn’t planned. I’m not full of myself and I approached this album in a way that I think was respectful of the genius of Bob. It was so much fun, a real joy to make. My heart was really in it.

Crisis: I’ve seen you play live countless times and your live shows are just legendary. I’ve never seen you play as a duo. Should I expect the energy levels to be different?

Willie: Oh no. The energy will be there. Johnny Pisano is a great artist, he plays the bass and sings. We have a ball playing. It’s not as loud, but you can hear every word. I can tell more stories. It’s never about volume, it’s about character and the songs. Sometimes I think a duo can be even better than a night with the full band.

Crisis: I take anybody that will listen to see you play live. In fact, I’ve got someone who’s never seen you live before here with me tonight. How do you keep playing with such energy without it getting stale? I’ve never once seen you put on a mediocre show.

Willie: When I play I will not walk out on stage, even if I’m sick, unless I am going to try to make it special for the audience. I can tell in two seconds when I’m at a live show if the band is phoning it in, and I just never want to do that. I’m having a ball. If it ever stops meaning everything to me, that’s when I’ll stop.

Crisis: How many days a year do you tour?

Willie: I really don’t know, I guess I’ve stopped counting. I think probably about a hundred shows or so a year. And we play every kind of place. We are playing Yankee stadium on September first. A Red Sox/ Yankees game. Take that Babe Ruth! It’s for Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which is this great show on Sirius radio. We will be singing Blowin’ In The Wind at Yankee stadium. That’s pretty cool. From stadiums, to dive bars, bring it on. We play them all the same. For me and Johnny, it’s always about the songs.

Crisis: What kind of legacy to you want to leave your Grandchildren?

Willie: That’s a great question. I’ve got four of them now. I guess I just want them to know that they are loved by their grandparents and parents. They know I’m not a normal grandfather. I want them to know that it’s okay to be a little different. To think outside the box. And that they really can realize their dreams. And now they know Bob Dylan. It doesn’t get any better than that.

 

 

Album review : Jason Isbell and the 400 unit ,The Nashville Sound

IMG_2655Words in and of themselves are wondrous things. But when you string them together in a story, a poem, a sonnet or a song, they can transcend time and space. They can evoke the most beautiful memories and stir up the biggest regrets. In a world so filled with chaos and madness, in a time where insanity seems to be taking over, they offer us something to hold onto. A hope that’s hard to find elsewhere. They offer magic. And if words hold magic, Jason Isbell is a sorcerer of the highest order. His songs are so utterly enchanting that they seem to heal us, from somewhere deep inside the soul. Not because they are always filled with beauty, but because they often aren’t. Isbell understands human beings at our core. He feels our pain, fears our fears, loves as deeply as we’ve ever imagined and despite every bad thing going on in the world, he offers us hope.

The way he’s able to make us  feel with the stroke of a pen. The innate ability to see into souls. To understanding the complexities of emotions. To grasp the tiniest feelings. To see beauty and sadness and anger and joy and fear in even the most mundane. To understand love and it’s complexities. Jason Isbell’s lyrics are a gift. And his latest Album, The Nashville Sound, is a balm for our angry,  helpless and desperate souls when we most needed it.
Highlights of the album include “Hope The High Road” which is about not sinking to the levels of those who want to wrestle in the mud. It’s about remaining good and kind and caring, despite living in an America where our very own President lives down in the gutter and tries to take us with him.
It’s an affirmation that we will triumph and we outnumber the dark . I get goosebumps when I hear Jason sing ” There can’t be more of them then us, there can’t be more”, because I know it’s true. There are more of us. And decency is not gone.
Another highlight of the album is what I imagine will become a Jason Isbell anthem. The gorgeous and breathtakingly sad and beautiful “If We Were Vampires”,
a duet with his wife and the bands fiddle player, Amanda Shires. The song is a hauntingly beautiful reminder that we will not be here forever and that each day you have someone to love is a precious gift not to be taken for granted. That one day, those we love will be gone. The line “The way you talk me off the roof, your questions like directions to the truth” makes us long for that person that we can walk through life with. Our own beacon of light that helps us find the way when we are most lost. A sentence that says so much more than could ever be expected in such an economy of words.

Isbell’s introspective nature is evidenced in the songs “White Mans World” with lyrics that address war, racism and misogyny and the fact that he still has faith, despite the madness in the world. His love for his daughter and hopes for her future are also laced throughout the album.

Uptempo songs such as “Cumberland Gap” and “Hope the High Road” are balanced by the introspective and haunting “If We Were Vampires” and “Anxiety”. But the album also contains songs such as the melodious and very different sound of “Chaos and Clothes,” in which Jason experiments with sounds he has not before and hint at the great things still to come with this artist.

Isbell, who began his career in my all-time favorite band, Drive-By Truckers, has always been an old school story-teller. But as he distances himself further from the bottle (He’s been sober for a couple of years now) and matures as a man, husband and father, his songs are only becoming more achingly lovely. Maybe it’s because he’s grown or maybe it’s because he now has so much to lose. Either way, this album is the most beautiful of the year. And if you don’t listen, it’s a damn shame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last punks standing ; Father Jones Band Black Duck, Westport, CT

Punk rock is dead? I hear it all the time. As a punk girl who attended shows at places such as the iconic CBGB’s at the tender age of 14, I witnessed the scene first hand. As a weekly attendee of Stamford’s famous Anthrax Club and regular interviewer , founder and contributor of an 80’s punk fanzine, I understand what punk really is better than a lot of people. And no. It’s not always about the style of music. ( I mean, bands like Journey and Bon Jovi will NEVER be punk, but Johnny Cash was punk as hell)  But it IS always about the attitude. At their most recent show at the Black Duck, in Westport, CT, the Father Jones Band proved that the punk attitude is alive and well.

The night began with the lovely and immensely talented, Robin Eve opening. Her soulful voice is something you do not want to miss. Robin, a Long Island native and regular performer in that area, made her way down from the Island to play for us lucky Connecticut listeners. Robin’s voice draws you right in and her energy is infectious. Don’t miss her if you get a chance to see her. Check her out at RobinEveMusic.com

The punk spirit reared it gorgeous head when the boys from Father Jones took the stage. Now, the last time I saw the guys play this venue, I know they were told to keep the volume down. I also know that they still played a kick-ass show without compromise. I worried that volume might be an issue this time around. But I was wasting my time. These guys would keep quiet for no one.

The sound was initially really screwed up. Singer/guitarist, Dan McGill could barely hear himself in the monitor, and the sound was nowhere near balanced between the band members. Getting frustrated, McGill kept asking for it to be adjusted. It took a few songs  for that to be accommodated. The band’s first song , the raucous “Town of the Broken Hearted”, proved aggravating to McGill and the band, not only because McGill couldn’t hear, but because the person hosting the show came up to every member of the band to tell them to keep the volume down (in the middle of the performance, on stage. and yes, there was even some finger wagging at drummer Steve Wexler) Despite this scolding McGill was having none of it. “Fuck this! We can’t even be ourselves?”, yelled McGill. “We aren’t supposed to be ourselves? Let’s just not be ourselves. I don’t need this fucking shit”. But the band may no attempt to quiet down. In fact, during their second song “Falls Like Rain” , which is one of my personal favorites, the volume was raised. At one point during the show, McGill picked up his guitar, and with a sly grin, slammed his hand down on the strings, and said “We are supposed to be keeping it down, but I just can’t help myself” and the band began playing even louder. Maybe this band doesn’t belong playing a venue where you have to keep quiet. And why in the hell would they want to?

By no means does the volume diminish the fact that this is one talented bunch of musicians. Drummer Steve Wexler pounds the drums like a man possessed, and Bassist Arthur Cognato, Jr., along with keyboardist John DiSilvio, add tremendous talent to this stellar line-up. With songs, such as ‘Dig My Grave”, which are  as loud and wild as any you’ve ever heard in the punk genre, to beautiful and haunting songs such as “After The Fall” that make you really think, Father Jones is about attitude. They will never back down and they will never compromise. McGill is reminiscent of  a young Johnny Thunders. Take no shit and hold no prisoners. We are going to play our music, the way we want to, with no pretense and no apologies.. If you don’t like it, screw you.

The bands album Town Of The Broken Hearted, is available for purchase on itunes and they are currently working on material. Hold onto your hats, friends. I think the best of these guys is yet to come.

Addendum:

This article proved somewhat controversial, which floored me. This post was clearly about an amazing show by an amazing bunch of musicians . There was nothing in it that was meant to be inflammatory and everything said can be evidenced by watching a video of the show. But after a few really uncalled for comments, ( mainly by some people that really have no room to judge) I’ve got this to say;

Here’s the thing. We all have passions and it’s essential that we find them. We also need to be true to ourselves and practice these passions and try be our best. But when you become self righteous, obsessed and territorial , it becomes ridiculous. And when you can’t stomach the slightest criticism without going into attack mode, it becomes about your character and who you are as a person. When it turns into meanness and judgment , it’s no longer ok. When your “passion” is more important than people, it’s just a silly joke.

 

 

Punks not dead, or is it? Safety, political correctness, misogyny and sexism in the punk culture. ( my take on a recent controversy).

As a women who is both a veteran punk and an extreme lover of music of just about every genre, I am not stupid. I realize that music has always held sexist undertones and sometimes even been blatantly predatory.  And I was probably naive, and most definitely too accepting of some of the lyrics and behaviors I’ve witnessed over the years. Punk, unlike many other music genres, was always very heavy on the testosterone. I was often one of only a handful of girls at shows as I was growing up. But the thing was, I was never made to feel that being a girl was a bad thing. In fact, it wasn’t until a few years in that I ever experienced being treated as anything but a complete equal by the men and boys in the punk scene. Punk was a world in which you fought sexism. You stood up against those who exhibited bigotry and misogyny and hate. It was a place to be strong and stand up. It was a place of acceptance. It was a place where you never backed down from what you believed. When the Dickies controversy happened, I was angry. But I was also very willing to look at both sides of the argument. What blew my mind, was how many people laughed this off. I’ve spent every day since it happened trying to figure out if I was being too sensitive, too naive or too un-punk. But It has helped me to figure out an awful lot about what I see as right, what I see as wrong, and what I am willing to risk to take a stand. For over 3 decades, that’s what I have come to believe really being punk is.

I consider myself a feminist. I’ve raised both a fiercely strong, bad-ass  daughter, and a strong son, who is confident enough in his own skin to understand that women are his equals and treat them accordingly. This is not self-congratulatory. I was raised by a man who believed this, so its always come naturally to me to raise my children the same way. Being raised this way  makes misogyny even harder to understand. Most disturbing to me, however, is when I look into my beloved punk rock music scene and see that it isn’t always what I believed it to be. I’ve written a blog post about having to give up favorite band of mine when one of the singers became an outspoken Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist and I’ve re-examined many of the other bands I love who’s political and social messages seem to not reside in the same universe as mine. But I’m not stupid and I’m not naive. I’m fully aware of the fact that if I were to drop every single band that had lyrics that didn’t match my belief system exactly, I’d have a pretty small music catalog to listen to. I’m no snowflake ( a term I happen to despise, but gets tossed around so frequently by bullies and right-wing extremists, that it seems relevant) but when extreme language and derogatory behavior towards women spill over into the real world, when musicians or actors or that asshole at your job, or now even the fucking President of the United States, decide this language and behavior is acceptable, when it is laughed off and justified, It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines and to speak up. If not, how will anything ever change? And isn’t that what punk is really about?

For those of you who are unaware, The Dickies, who have long been a favorite band of mine, stirred up some controversy at Warped Tour in Denver recently. The band, who I was lucky enough to interview in 2016 (minus singer Leonard Graves Phillips, who is at the center of the controversy) and who I’ve seen many times over the last decades, has always been politically incorrect. Their humor is tongue-in-cheek and juvenile, yet often really funny. There was never a single moment when anything this band has done has been offensive to me. (At least I thought not, but I guess I had missed a couple of things. More on that later.) I laugh at songs about Stuart the penis and take joy in the fact the show includes a freaking penis puppet. I am not easily offended and I understand that humor is the key to so many great things in life.  I also think that punk rock should remain punk and be dangerous and continue to challenge authority, but Phillips actions at this show were dangerous. And it’s where I have to draw the line.

There have been many versions of the story about what happened passed around. But the one that seems to stand is that Phillips was making some pretty predatory remarks about some of the underage girls in the audience, as well as the audience members as a whole. A women who was a part of a group called Safer Scenes, who were at the show, (along with a band called War On Women), to help prevent harassment and violence at shows, took great offense to Phillips words and held up a sign to protest. The sign read “Teen girls should be shown respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men. Punk shouldn’t be predatory.”  Phillips, who can clearly dish out the shit, but can’t take it, responded with this:

“Kiss it, ya bitch! I have fucked farm animals that were prettier than you, you fucking hog,” he then proceeded to attempt to lead the audience in a chant of “Blow me! Blow me! Blow me!’ and wrapped it all up with the lovely and endearing “How does it feel?To get shouted away, you cunt? C.U.N.T. can you spell it? You’re a fat cunt. Fuck you!”

Phillips, rant went viral and many in the scene began to take sides. Phillips issued a statement that fell very far short of an apology, in fact it was more like an essay on how hard it is to be Leonard.

I’ve been a Dickies fan forever, and when I interviewed all but Leonard last year, I found them to be thoughtful, intelligent and kind. I still hold onto that belief about them. And I understand them wanting to defend one of their own, That’s human nature. But this is about way more than just the Dickies or a loud-mouthed dope who went to far. It’s about society and what it deems appropriate. It’s about how we, as a nation, continue to view women. How so many men get away with speaking to and about women in a way that is intentionally meant to demean, degrade and put them in their “place”. It’s about the sexualization of underage girls and the degradation of women who don’t meet specific standards of beauty (The hypocrisy of this is often maddening, when you look at what many of the men hurling this hate look like themselves). It’s about the fact that so many people (including some women) in this country make a women’s value and worth based solely on what she looks like.

I reached out to many members of the punk community about this topic. A few didn’t respond. One male musician agreed wholeheartedly that misogyny and the rants of Phillips had no place in punk, but preferred I not include his statement. One was on the side of Phillips. But I interviewed punk rock goddess Alice Bag about the situation, and as always, she answered perfectly.

 

J. Do you believe there is a problem with sexism in the punk world?

Alice: Sadly, yes. I think there is sexism everywhere but it makes me particularly sad to see it in punk. Punk is meaningless if it excludes women or engages in misogynistic practices.

J: Is it ever ok to excuse predatory and violent behavior towards Women and do you believe that Phillips actions fall under those categories?

Alice: It is never ok to excuse predatory behavior. I have to admit that I am not a completely nonviolent person, I will defend myself from anyone threatening me or a loved one with physical violence.

I don’t know that I would classify Leonard’s behavior as predatory. I’m thinking that he might have felt defensive and lashed out at the woman holding the sign but his response was grossly inappropriate, misogynistic and dangerous.

J: How do you feel we, as women, should stand up against the sexism so out in the open in this country today?

Alice: I think we need to call it out when we see it or hear it. It’s tough, especially when the people who are doing it are people who you consider friends but sometimes friends need to hear that they’ve done or said.

This is no longer about a band, but a society in which misogyny and a lack of human decency are exhibited way too often. In which these kinds of behaviors seem to be getting the green light more and more. It’s about living in a country where enough people find talk about sexually assaulting women by “Grabbing them by the pussy”  so inoffensive that the perpetrator of those heinous words now resides in the White House.

The real issue about the controversy is that this behavior and the acceptance of it spawn more hate. By turning a blind eye and laughing it off and accepting that it is EVER okay, under any circumstance, gives credence and power to those who treat women this way. It empowers them to believe it is okay. That women are NOT mens equals and that this kind of behavior is justified. How language this offensive, degrading and cruel is no less violent than the hurling of a fist. And speaking of fists, it’s time to address the elephant in the room of this entire controvery. That is, that men who spew such venomous hate are rarely doing it for the first time and they have often done much worse. That brings me to an incident that happened with Phillips in Australia in 2015, when he got angry at a female audience member and not only pulled her hair, but punched her repeatedly in the head. Why has this not been brought up? I find it extraordinarily relevant. Phillips issued an apology after the incident, but apparently has learned no lesson. And while I may have been willing to forgive horrific behavior once, this makes it much more difficult to swallow.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe behavior of the Safer Scenes woman was not inappropriate. She apparently went so far as to throw the sign at Phillips. I will never condone that kind of behavior. But I’m also not going to sit back and be quiet when I find something to be extraordinarily WRONG.

I know many of you reading this will disagree with me. I know I may lose readers and I may even lose interviews because of my view. But I’ll stand by these words. Punk has never been about being a bully. It’s always been about sticking to your beliefs, challenging things you find wrong and never, ever backing down. So in my view, punk is not dead. And it never will be. As long as we always do just that.

 

 

 

Father Jones Band: Interview, album review and show review

IMG_0952IMG_1001IMG_1002IMG_1003     The Father Jones band is a local Westchester County band you may have never heard of, but I aim to change that. In the music industry, bands get everywhere through word of mouth. Good album reviews and good press releases are important, but nothing in this industry means more than fans speaking up about a band that means something to them. We all have those bands that make us want to listen to them again and again. Any true music fan knows how passionately we tend to speak about bands that move us through lyrics, performance ability, passion, or all of the above. The Father Jones band is a band that I have recently begun to feel that way about. And my goal is to intrigue you enough with this post to get you to go and take a listen.

The band’s album Town Of The Brokenhearted is an album that will make you feel that you’re hearing something special. This album will move you Lyrically, musically and viscerally. Any music lover knows that feeling when they hear a song (or many) that seem as if it was written just for them. This album makes you feel that way from the very first listen. Highlights of the album include the gorgeous After The Fall (Ode to Robert F Kennedy) which sucks you in immediately with its haunting and infectious melody and beautiful lyrics. Another stand-out on the album is  All About You, with its catchy and danceable groove which you’ll find yourself singing in the car, the shower, and if you are anything like me, even in the library and grocery store (yes, I realize I have a problem….). The album doesn’t have a bad song. In fact, it’s hard for me to narrow down which songs are my favorites. They are all so good that my favorites change from day to day.

The band, which consists of singer/guitarist Dan McGill, Drummer Steve Wexler, Bassist Arthur Cognato, Jr. and keyboardist John DiSilvio are that rare mix of musicians that just understand each other. At a recent interview it very quickly became apparent that ego’s were checked at the door and these guys really understand what it takes to work together as a group to make the best music they possibly can. In an industry where diva attitudes tend to run rampant, it’s a really refreshing thing to witness.

The band, who’s influences run from classic rock to hardcore to alternative to jazz and blues, play songs that are a treat for the ears and a treat for the soul. And for those of us who are a little wild at heart and who appreciate nothing more than a band that plays as loud and as hard as they possibly can, these guys show their true punk and rock and roll souls while playing live. They give us their all. The louder, the wilder, the better. And for this punk rock girl, that says everything.

When the band took the stage at The Black Duck in Westport , Connecticut recently, they were asked to please keep the volume down. But in keeping with who they are as artists and musicians with integrity, they played just as loudly and just and hard as their music warrants. Fans like me could not accept it any other way.

J. How long have you been together?

Dan: This current lineup has been together for about a year. But we started about two years ago.

J. How did the band start?

John: Me and Dan met and he wanted to get going with a band. He had played with Arty for a long time. So I got on board. It took off pretty quickly once we got started.

Arthur: Dan and I have been playing in bands together forever, since the early 90’s. We played all over the tri-state area.

J. How did you come up with the name of the band?

Dan: It’s hard to get a band name these days, all the good names have already been taken. So I just took two generic names and put them together. It sounded good and it surprised the shit out of me that it wasn’t taken.

Steve: This is a better story; It was taken after the Guyana tragedy where people drank the bad Kool Aid. Father Jim Jones.

John: It was named after my Uncle that was a Priest, Father Jones.

J. Who are some of your biggest influences?

Steve: My top 5 biggest influences are John Bonham. That’s it. All 5 of them.

Arthur: I guess for me as a bassist I’d have to say  Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, and John Entwistle

John: I have a lot of the old rock stuff. Punk and Hardcore. Bad Brains, Minor Threat. The Who, The Stones, Prog rock.

Dan: And me as a songwriter, I’ve always been into the guys that could write the great songs. John Lennon, Bob Dylan. I think a pay the most attention to those guys that can write a song without bullshitting you. That was one of the biggest things I took away from the punk and hardcore scene. There wasn’t any bullshit. You just wrote it like you saw it. It was honest . If you bullshit, you’re going to get exposed. Great lyrics are always honest.

J. Do you feel that you incorporate some of your punk and hardcore influences into this band?

Dan: Not so much as some of the other bands I’ve been in with Arty, but yeah, we incorporate some of the attitude, the angst, the energy. I guess it’s always there somewhere.

J. So Dan writes the lyrics, do you all come together to write the music?

Arthur: Dan sketches the outline and structure. He gives us a framework and then we all come in and make our parts our own.

Steve: We just hide behind the shadow of Dan’s talent.

J: How do you decide which albums you’d like to record?

Steve: When the hair stands up on your arms. That actually happens a lot. You just know when it’s right.

J. Do you each have a favorite song on the new album?

Dan: After The Fall is my favorite. It’s a powerful song about Robert Kennedy.

Steve:  All about you. As a drummer the groove is hypnotic and cool and if you play it right, it just grabs people.

John: All about You is my favorite on the album. But Dan has a catalog of songs we can draw from. It’s great to have that in an original band.

Arthur: Lyrically, I like After the Fall, but musically, I’d have to say Town Of The Broken Hearted.

J:  Do you have other songs you are ready to record?

Steve: We have 70 minutes ready to play live, so we have a good amount of music to play.

J. What can we expect from the band in the future?

Steve: We will be together until it’s not fun anymore. At our age, we aren’t doing it for women, or money or fame, we are doing it for the fun of it. And it’s really fun. It’s really good music.

J. We are living in times of such political madness and discourse and it almost feels like the country is in free fall mode right now. What do you think music does to help?

Steve: Medicate. It medicates people and makes them feel better.

John: It offers people an escape. Or if you want to listen to something political, it’s a validation of your views.

Steve: There is no difference between now and when you were a kid. You could always connect to something when you were mad at your parents, or your girlfriend or anything else bad going on in the world. You could turn up the volume, slam the bedroom door and connect with the music to make you feel better.

Arthur: I think there is always a piece of the song someone can identify with. People take what they need from the music. I think Dan’s lyrics are in that realm.They are about real things and real experiences, and people can identify .

The Father Jones Band’s album is available for purchase  on iTunes . Look for many more shows coming up in the future. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

 

 

The Brains, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT January 19, 2017. Interview and show review

 

 

A large majority of my readers have most likely never heard of the band The Brains. Part of the reason I began this blog in the first place was to share my sincere love of music and I find it especially rewarding when I can turn people on to a band that will blow them away. If you take a listen to this band, or better yet, go and see them live, you will understand immediately how special these guys are. Hailing from  from Montreal, Canada the band is often classified as psychobilly (For those unfamiliar, think  Stray Cats meet the Ramones) but are really much too intensely layered to be defined by any one particular genre. This band is  not new to the music scene, and in fact, have 7 albums and 15 years under their belts. While Rene D. La Muerte is the bands only original member, the addition of bassist Colin The Dead and drummer Phil The Beast, has enabled this band to finally reach a point where they have fulfilled all of the promise of greatness they alluded to with their earlier albums. As a trio, they play off of each other strengths and really understand the end goal they are trying to achieve. Their unconventional approach to music is refreshing and genuine.

The band, known for their lyrics, peppered with tales of the supernatural, evoke classic horror story themes and richly detailed story lines. But don’t let the subject matter fool you. These guys are about way more than just the macabre  The sheer talent present in this band is clear from the very first note. Punk, meets rockabilly, meets Latin music, meets the blues. Every single song energizes the crowd and makes you want to get up and dance. I have seldom witnessed a band that plays so hard live and there is absolutely no way you can be at a Brains show without becoming totally immersed in the contagious energy, talent and showmanship. These gentlemen are superstars in the making. They exude such raw talent and amazingly original style, that I have no doubt that their time will come.

Bassist Colin The Dead plays the meanest stand-up bass I may have ever heard, while drummer Phil The Beast, in keeping with his name, plays the drums like a man possessed by some wild and untamed spirit. The rhythm section of this band makes it incomparable to almost any live band you’ll hear today. A solid, steady force to be reckoned with, but one that drips with unique originality that makes it all their own.

When you add the gorgeous and soulful voice of singer and guitarist Rene D. La Muerte to the mix, you have something pretty close to perfection. A trifecta of style, talent and energy that will take you on one hell of a ride.

I was able to sit down with the band at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT recently.

J. Rene, you are the only original member of the band. How did you start? 

Rene:The Brains started on my birthday in 2002, but when I was younger I didn’t have money to go into the studio, so I put recording music on standby. Eventually,  when I was working in the studio I decided to actually do this. I brought back old songs. Tweaked them, made them faster and heavier. For a couple of months I couldn’t do this band, and then at Halloween, when everyone was able to practice and get together, we did a few shows before. So we did our Halloween show and had makeup on it was supposed to be for Halloween. Everybody loved the makeup, so we kept wearing it for a while. The sound just continued to grow and we kept making records and here we are.

J.Who does most of the songwriting?

Rene: The band has 7 albums, and  in the beginning I sang, wrote the albums, I used to do everything.When Colin came in, he started to give  some input on the lyrics and on this last album, Colin basically wrote most of the lyrics. I then took care of all the music and production.

J.You produce the records. Is that something you were trained in?

Rene: Yes, I do that for a job, too. I fly all over the place to do it. I did the Koffin Kats album, I’m working on some new stuff with The Gutter Demons , a band from Canada,

So that’s my other job. I used to work in a studio and clean the studio and when I was doing that I learned all of the old school tricks with tape and how it sounds and how to make an original sound. When people come out of school today,they don’t know how to make an original sound. These kids coming out of school don’t really understand that, yet.

 

J. So you guys write the songs together as a team?

 

Phil: So Rene writes the melody and then we all do it together. Colin writes the lyrics. It only took a few weeks to write the last album. We work really well together as a team.

 

J. How did you end up in the band, Phil?

Rene: Phil is our third drummer. He was a replacement drummer 8 years ago and we started working together and then 6 years later he showed up and he replaced the old drummer. We need a new drummer, the old  drummer was fucking up because he was always too drunk.

Phil :  I said “I’ll do a few shows and we will see how it goes.” And I’m still here.

Rene: Phil works really well with other people and so does Colin. They are just easy to work with and have good ideas and are really dedicated.

J. The latest album, Out Of The Dark,  is phenomenal. It sounds like you guys are really growing as a band, that you fit really well together.

Rene: It was cool to make that album, I made it sound a little more big studio.We do work really well together. We just feed off of each other very well. It seems to just work.

J. Is there a new record coming?

Rene: We are beginning to discuss it. But we write and record everything in about a month. When we start, we just keep on going until it’s done.

J. It’s been quite a while since the band has toured the U.S. How are you feeling about being back?

Phil: We are touring the US for 5-6 weeks and seeing how people are feeling and getting inspired. We are really excited to be here and to have people come out to the shows.

Rene: It’s been 6 years since we’ve been here. It’s really good to be back. Just to be here after 6 years is great. It’s amazing

J. Your lyrics are filled with references to the supernatural. Are you a believer in that kind of thing?

Rene: Yes! The guys always say I’m too sensitive for this shit. I always know when there are ghosts or spirits around.I don’t always want to know it or feel it and it can put me in a bad mood. It’s weird when you’re at a show and you can feel shit like that.

I was born in Chile in the war. I used to see dead people on the street. It got to be normal for me. So I started to really like things like horror movies, and the Misfits and the Ramones. It just all seemed to fit together for me. Then I started to like bands like The Stray Cats and the 50’s and 60’sinspired music. I got into rockabilly and it got a little heavier and heavier. But as far as the supernatural stuff, I want to be this band that talks about horror movies and makes like mini movies to go along with the music.

 

 

J. You guys have done some very cool covers. My favorite is when you sing The Cure’s Lovesong. How did that come about?

Rene: We were on  tour in England for the first time. I thought it would be a fun and unexpected song to play.You have the psychobilly scene and it can become stuck up. I wanted to sing a song and that they would all know. The people really liked it. It was also a way to bring us some attention. We know what our fans want and we try to provide it for them. I like to do The Cure song, and everybody gets it. I thought it would shake things up a bit.Sometimes scenes are very stuck up. Sometimes throwing something unexpected in there is really good. Our music is for everybody, not just the psychobilly crowd. It’s influenced by all kinds of music. Punk rockers can connect to the fast beat, people who like swing can connect to that bass,  everybody can connect to something. 

J. I prefer your version over The Cure’s.

Phil: Yes. I do to. It’s got a happier feel. Less depressing.

 

Colin: When you said you wanted to do that Cure song I was this close to slitting my fucking wrists. I’d never heard the song before but when I did it was so fucking depressing! I though “What kind of garbage is this?”  But we  made it better.

J. What bands are you inspired by?

Rene: Stray Cats, Elvis, Misfits, Ramones, Nekromantix. I like music from Chile, where I’m from, meringue and salsa. I’m inspired by a lot. 

J. What do you hope to accomplish on this tour?

Rene: I just want people to come out and see us. I want to keep making good music that people want to here. I’d like to produce the next record in California. This tour is reintroducing us to the U.S. 

You can purchase all of The Brains music on iTunes. And I highly suggest you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Hammon, “Silver Suitcase”, album review and interview

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Photo by Anthony Rathbun

Matt Hammon is an exceptional drummer, singer and songwriter that has been in the music business for decades. He has played with such incredible musicians as Bob Mould and the band Verbow, and has always been a steady and well-respected drummer. In addition, Matt has always been a songwriter. Over the years he has written and stored away literally hundreds of songs, knowing, somehow, that eventually he would find a way to release those that meant the most to him.

Matt spent some time finding himself and who he wanted to be in this world, and after some personal struggles he overcame, finding some humanitarian  causes he was passionate about and finally, having received and beaten a cancer diagnosis, he realized who he was and what he needed to do in this life. Making this record no longer seemed to be an option, but a necessity.

Silver Suitcase is the result of taking the enormous song collection he had amassed over 20 years, narrowing it down to his top 10 favorites, and then completely re-crafting these songs until he felt they were good enough to be released in a way he was proud of. To say he has accomplished an album worthy of pride is an understatement. Silver Suitcase is a stunningly beautiful album and one that is worthy of all of the years it took to finally come to fruition.

Hammon has written, arranged, mastered and performed every song on this album, giving him complete creative and musical control. This is such an extremely difficult and complicated task that it makes the album even better when you understand the sheer talent this man possesses.

A captivating blend of alternative, americana, pop and straight forward rock and roll, the songs on this album are haunting, melodic and lyrically divine. In addition to that, they are extraordinarily radio friendly and catchy. This is a rare combination and one that deserves a listen by fans of almost any genre. The album encompasses a real story, an autobiographical picture of the artist and his journey through life that really captures your heart, mind and spirit as you listen. The album is not to be taken lightly. It is richly layered, yet incredible melodic, relatable and accessible.

Stand-outs for me, include Pictures, Sleeper’s Town and my favorite, Out Of Touch. That being said, I don’t think there is a song on the album that isn’t worth a listen.

Matt is  currently using the crowd funding resource, Indiegogo, to help him get this album out and promoted in the way it deserves to be. Please help us support our gifted musicians and storytellers. Their voices need to be heard, now more than ever, in this world where we all need a little more beautiful music. The links are at the end of the interview.

J. The new record is really amazing. Can you share with us how you put it together and what your inspirations were?

M.H. First of all, thank you so much for spending so much time with the record! It literally means the world to me that complete strangers are finally connecting with the music after all these years! It’s very encouraging, to say the least. So thank you.

Inspirations? Well, for starters all the records I’ve ever been a part of have inspired me to keep making records. It’s where I feel the most piqued sense of belonging – in the studio with my head between the speakers and a guitar in my hand. Sound itself inspires me, good stories inspire me…opposition inspires me, too. There was a tremendous amount of opposition – both real and imagined – in the making of this album. It’s a definite thread throughout the album, lyrically.

In the lead-up to my daughter being born 10 years ago I really got the itch to finish a solo record and get it out there, not knowing whether or not I would ever have the time and energy to commit to such a self-indulgent enterprise ever again. The record I made during that time kind of ended up being the “demos” of Silver Suitcase. Lots of the same songs but the drums were programmed and the vocals never really got off the ground. I printed up a few copies of 5 songs from that time to sell at shows, but I intentionally never “released” that work. “As A Child” used to be called “Letting Go”, which was on that EP and had some very time-specific lyrics that I just didn’t mean anymore, so I re-wrote most of the lyrics for that one when I was tracking the final vocal on it for Silver Suitcase.

I tracked drums at my friend Jay Snider’s home studio in Houston – I think I traded a compressor for a day of studio time…I tracked the lead vocal at my friend Ty Robins’ home studio. Everything else I did at my place – guitars, bass, keys, harmonies…all of it, including the mix. For “As A Child” I went up to Austin and had my buddy David Rice play bass, Hammond B-3 organ and that haunting electric piano. I think of that song as more “round”, and having David add some elegance to it really helped smooth out the rough edges that I went for on the other tracks.

In general though, I start with a scratch guitar track and a click track and record final drums to that and build from there. It’s very architectural in nature.

J. What is the songwriting process like for you?

M.H. Well for me there have been two different processes that have emerged since I got going as a teenager. One process I refer to as the “purge”, where it all comes out at the same time – the chords, the melody, the lyric, the form…that process always feels more like channeling than writing. The title track, “Silver Suitcase” came to me in like 10 minutes, soup to nuts, so did “Pictures” and “Sleeper’s Town”. The other process is far more laborious – usually sitting around jacking with the guitar and landing on something that sounds new or different and “composing” a piece of music that I then carry the burden of lyrics for over time. “Out Of Touch” was like that – I had really hit a wall with the lyrics on that one but was fortunate enough to spend a week in Santa Fe at a retreat with Over The Rhine…long story short – the two of them really dug the tune but challenged me to dig deeper with the lyric, which I did, or at least I hope I did J. That song went through 3 entire sets of lyrics until I uttered the word “California” in the chorus. I needed a strong 4 syllable word that I could anchor the chorus on…I wrote the first incarnation of that song when my wife took a trip to L.A. to hang with her brother Alex…giving that song a location – California – totally unlocked and focused the entire song.

J. Are you planning on touring to support the record?

M.H. Yes! I am planning on doing some efficient solo acoustic touring this summer in the big markets to help generate some visibility and just general activity surrounding the record and getting myself back “out there” after a pretty long break. I’ll be playing in the TX triangle (Austin/Dallas/Houston) throughout the year. Touring has really changed since I was last at it full-time. It’s a lot easier to get the word out, gas is cheaper, you can stay in 4-star hotels for 2-star prices, there’s espresso and healthy food options everywhere…I’m really looking forward to it.

J. Please tell us about Olivette music and mission? I find it beautiful, what you’ve done with this project. How did it begin?

M.H.  Ok. Here it goes. This is essentially answering the “Where have you been all these years, Matt?” question that I’ve been getting a lot of emails about lately. The short answer is that my wife and I made a trip to Budapest, Hungary in the summer of 2007 that fundamentally changed both of us forever. We saw things that we can’t un-see. We heard true stories that we can’t un-hear. We dreamed dreams we can’t un-dream.

The long story goes like this: We are both products of the Cold War, and I even got a degree in economics and political science that I geared toward post-communist transition in Eastern Europe. I was 16 when the Berlin Wall came down. I was getting my first band going as the first elections were occurring behind the Iron Curtain – I was utterly distracted as the world was changing. However, those images, those newsreels were in my mind somewhere, and something rattled the core of my own sense of generational identity as I pounded the pavement in a previously communist country searching for answers as to why I was told – by the authority figures in my youth – these people hated me because I was an American. It appeared to me that very little had changed in the 20 plus years since the collapse of communism in Europe, and I heard as much from the locals.

So we were in the subway one day and noticed a girl – couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13, a gypsy girl–being gripped by a police officer, flanked by a throng of older men and women trying to sell some homemade wares beside her. I turned to one of my Hungarian friends and asked if he thought that scene looked a little shady… he essentially said that she was likely in the middle of being sold by her family; that it is very prevalent throughout the former communist countries in Europe, especially amongst the Gypsy population who have no protection.

 

I had written papers in college about sex trafficking in Southeast Asia but was under the impression (false) that things were turning around in the former communist bloc in terms of organized crime, etc… I spent the next year absorbing all the information I could about the new Eastern Europe, and we spent 3 months in Budapest in the summer of ’08. In fact we almost sold everything and moved there, but for myriad reasons didn’t.

As time went on we had an opportunity to go to the former soviet Republic of Moldova and visit some orphanages and schools and get a sense of what the Soviet Union was like. Moldova is a country where the vast majority of people were actually far better off under communism, from a simple standard of living / food on the table perspective.

On that trip we met about 1000 kids under the age of 15 whose parents had left them behind as they themselves migrated – often illegally – to Western Europe for work. The stories are horrendous; the parents hardly ever come back for their kids, the orphanage staff often work as brokers for human traffickers, it is the sickest stuff on planet earth…no running water, scattered electricity, food insecurity, physical abuse…and the kids get kicked out when they turn 15 – no education, no money, no family. They’re sitting ducks for traffickers; some even volunteer in some kind of a neo-indentured servitude agreement. The problem is that over 80% of these kids are sexually exploited for years and years, and less than 1% ever escape. Their life expectancy is less than 30 years. 400,000 people have disappeared from Moldova alone since the fall of the communism (10% of the population has been trafficked). Moldova is by far the least developed nation in Europe and other than Afghanistan and Haiti is the least developed country on earth that is not in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was once a major breadbasket for the entire Soviet Union. It should be one of the worlds most prolific wine exporting countries. The people are eager for a better life, but most have given up hope entirely – suicide rates are off the chart, the population is declining at an alarming rate…its questionable whether or not it is even a sustainable country at all…and there’s a civil war going on next door in Ukraine that many Moldovans want the eastern separatists to win. Very complicated stuff. Romania did not want Moldova back after Ceausescu was executed and the Soviet Union fell apart. They call Moldova “a country without a nation”.

All that said, we had this idea to bring awareness of human trafficking amongst the orphan population of Moldova to the attention of ordinary, relatively safe Americans. As we live in the Bible Belt, the churches were an obvious place to get traction for support and that’s where we started.

We were able to raise a significant amount of money for a Moldovan non-profit we had partnered with to provide direct transitional housing between the orphanage and college / career. These people are the new Underground Railroad, saving the most vulnerable of people from literal slavery, and we thought we might be able to help out a bit in terms of putting some American money to work in a tangible human rights scenario.

So we started doing these long-form epic rock shows in mega-churches sounding the alarm at the idea of slavery and the necessity to advance human dignity wherever we can, even on the other side of the planet. We’re talking the ends of the earth here – the southern region of Moldova, where southeast Romania meets southwest Ukraine a puddle-jump from the Black Sea. It’s the middle of nowhere and there’s no reason to care about it other than that we are united with these people by our shared humanity. For us, that was enough of a reason to start Olivette as a non-profit and try to keep some kids out of the orphanage-to-brothel pipeline on the other side of the world.

J. Why do you think we, as Americans, are so uneducated about human trafficking and what can be done to change that?

M.H. In terms of America, we see what we want to see. We have equated ethics with emotions – “I’ll do this if it feels good…I won’t do this if it makes me feel uncomfortable…” The real issue with sex trafficking is the demand, and we all feed the demand for it when we objectify each other and uphold the idea that human beings can be diminished to possessions on par with cars and jewelry. Everything is so over-sexualized…it all feeds into a culture of sexual exploitation, and the most unprotected and vulnerable among us take the hit. There are 30 million slaves generating $150 Billion a year for the brokers who bring together the supply and demand for this horror.

J. You’ve been in the industry for such a long time. To what do you owe your longevity?

M.H. Honestly? I just really love rock music. I am thankful for it. It is a profound force in the world and I feel out of alignment if I’m not always working on a record, always thinking about actual songs and actual guitar and drum parts, always writing lyrics and phrasing vocals. It’s not a general interest – it is a specific application of a deep-seeded need to make rock music that I’ve had with me since I was 12 years old and saw U2 for the first time (Unforgettable Fire tour).

It means something different to me now than when I was a bit younger. Scarcity becomes more real; the clock seems to tick faster than it did. I was never any good at the industry side of being a professional musician. I’m an INFJ (google it), and dealing with people from the biz always made me shrink into a dark hole of inferiority and anxiety, and led to years of heavy drinking (I’ve been sober for nearly 13 years now).

J. You’ve played with so many artists, but never released an album of your own until now. What made now the right time?

M.H. Why now? About 5 years ago – just as we were getting our non-profit going – I was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully it was operable and non-invasive and I did not have to deal with radiation treatment or chemo. Emotionally, the damage had been done though. It was the line in the sand between my adolescence (that had already dragged on far past its shelf life) and full-on adulthood. I had to do a merciless inventory of my life, where I had been and where I still wanted / needed to go.

The immediate need was to find a stable line of work with excellent health care that still afforded long stretches of time off for my other pursuits. So I became a high school teacher, and I absolutely love it.

Teaching is not my “day job”. I consider myself bi-vocational, as in there are two halves to my career: I teach, and I rock, and there are seasons for both (I teach AP and IB Economics to High School seniors). Wendell Berry often remarks about the crop rotation of life – how over-farming one plot of land leads to barren land, and the better option is to have several plots of land that you work at different times, allowing the other plots to heal and regenerate so they are fertile ground when their number comes up in the rotation. I believe in that with all my heart.

The teaching work has taken a lot of the financial pressure off of my music “career”, whatever that is. So, unburdened by the need to make money playing other people’s music I guiltlessly dove headfirst into the record that became “Silver Suitcase”. I have pretty much let everything else go, at a pretty heavy cost, but a very necessary tradeoff I willingly make. I have to be much more selective about the music work I take now because my opportunity cost is more significant these days, with family and school.

J. Now for a purely self-indulgent question! Bob Mould is my favorite artist. Can you tell me what it was like working with him?

M.H. One word: LOUD!

Seriously, though. Bob Mould is a central figure in my life – even had I never met him and never played with him he still would have been a central figure in my life because his music is so meaningful to me. “Hardly Getting Over It” and “Too Far Down” fundamentally shifted my approach to songwriting, and I owe him a great debt for that. I saw him play solo acoustic in 1991 and in that moment I made a number of decisions, decisions that still drive me to this day, decisions about how I wanted to present my music when it was ready, about vulnerability in writing and performing, about truth…

Recording and touring with Bob in ‘98 was like getting a 4-year degree in leadership studies in a few months. There is never any doubt about who’s in charge, but there is a cavernous divide between leaders and managers. Leaders trust, managers don’t. Bob Mould is a leader, and extended to me a great deal of freedom in my playing. I felt very secure playing with Bob; he didn’t micro-manage me. He gave me the room I needed to nail that tour, and I made it to the end, hands in shreds, but a better man – and a better musician – for it.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/matt-hammon-silver-suitcase-full-length-album-music#/

and the website: http://www.matthammonmusic.com

Album review: Clue and the Honkytones: Thrown Thru The Windshield

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Dave “Clue” Chludzinski is an enigma. A man who grew up listening to everything from punk rock to his beloved Elvis Presley, he is far from your average country singer. Clue takes his varied and eclectic influences, blends them all together and comes up with a sound that is uniquely his own. The sound of Clue and The Honkytones can not be described easily. A beautiful blend of rockabilly, country, honky-tonk, blues, and pure unadulterated rock and roll that has turned even this most decidedly “un-country” fan into a true believer.

Clue grew up in Wilton , Connecticut and was a regular attendee of Stamford’s famous punk club, The Anthrax. While this music must have worked its way into his consciousness, it was his Father that may have been the person that influenced him the most musically. Paul Chludzinski, Sr. is an enormous Elvis Presley fan and  one of Clue’s  first musical memories is when he heard “Hound Dog’ for the very first time. Clue , who describes his father as his hero, says hearing Elvis was life changing. He and his Father were able to share a lifelong love of the King, and still enjoy listening to him together.

A true musician and songwriter, the first thing that strikes you about this album is how beautiful the vocals are. Clue is a master singer. His voice is what makes this album shine  way above the norm. This is most evident in the beautiful ballads, Baby I’m Sorry  and Smilin’ All The Time. These songs are not only relatable and accessible, but ones that will stick in your head for hours after hearing them. And while you could listen to these songs, appreciate them and expect the rest of the album to follow suit,  it most certainly does not stick to one particular style.The album turns up the energy to full throttle in songs like Wild Runner and the tongue in cheek Elvis is Dead. These songs will get you  up and dancing in seconds flat.

Clue is the genuine article. A man who takes his greatest musical influences, lets them settle into his soul a bit, and then, almost as if by magic, turns what he finds there into something not only unique, beautiful and enormously entertaining, but true to who he is as a person and an artist. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Do yourselves a favor and take this album out for a spin. You won’t be sorry you did.

 

 

My best live shows of 2016

2016 was an incredible year for me as far as all of the live music experiences I got to enjoy. I saw dozens of shows and many bands more than once.I have a hard time sticking to the typical 1-10 format, so I’m going to do what comes most naturally to me and just post my favorites in the way I find most appropriate.They are in no particular order. I guess it’s too late for me to become a rule follower now, anyway.

Jason Isbell, Beacon Theater, NYC, February, 2016.

While I was lucky enough to see Jason play live 3 times this year, this one was the one that stood out the most for me. Jason’s stunning lyrics and incredibly tight band have left me in tears every time I’ve seen them, but this was the only show where he was joined by his amazingly talented wife, Amanda Shires, onstage. There is a beauty that can’t be explained when her haunting fiddle playing is added to this already exceptional music.This show absolutely blew me away.

Dinosaur Jr., College Street Music Hall, New Haven, CT  September, 2016

This was my fourth Dinosaur Jr. show in a year. I had a hard time deciding between the College Street show and the very intimate one at Rough Trade Records , but this show won out because of the longer set list and incredible energy. Dinosaur Jr. never fails to put on an amazing show, but when Murph played so hard that his glasses literally flew across the stage not once, but twice, they surpassed all energy levels in which I’d seen them in the past. That, my friends, is really saying something.

Drive-By Truckers, The Filmore, Charlotte, North Carolina, November, 2016

This was the third time I saw DBT this year and by far my favorite show. Not only was I introducing my sister-in-law to the band, but I got to meet and interview many fellow HeAthens (Drive-By Trucker fans). This show was a few days after the presidential election and the songs, especially from their latest release, American Band, hit even harder. After playing for almost 3 hours, we in the audience  left exhausted, exhilarated and breathless. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them put on a better show.

Wilco, College Street Music Hall, January, 2016

I was tempted to leave Wilco off of this list because I’m not a huge fan of a band playing a new release in its entirety at any show. Most fans are there to hear the catalog of music that bands have built up over the years. The band saved the show during the second half, when all of us true Wilco fans got to hear all of our favorites. Wilco reminded me , yet again, why they’ve been a favorite of mine for so many years.

The Proletariat, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT, October, 2016

The Proletariat are one of my favorites from my punk days. When I found out that they’d be touring for the first time in 30 years, I couldn’t buy my ticket fast enough. This was the bands first stop, but you’d have never known it. Their playing was beyond solid and cohesive. They put on a show like they’d never stopped touring. It was incredibly good and I look forward to all that the future has in store for these guys.

Cheetah Chrome, College Street Music Hall, New Haven, CT, November 2016

Cheetah Chrome is one of my biggest musical heroes. After getting to do an amazing interview with he and his extremely talented band, I was treated to one hell of a show. The band plays together beautifully and when listening to songs I hadn’t heard played live ever before, I had tears in my eyes at how lucky and blessed I was to get to see this. One of the years highlights for me.

Guided By Voices, College Street Music Hall, New Haven, CT, July, 2016.

Robert Pollard and Keith Richards should write a self-help book for those of us that want to outlive the rest of the world even though they have no intention at all of living life healthfully. Watching this band is incredibly fun and awe-inspiring, especially when seeing that the band has employed a roadie whose sole purpose seems to be bringing a steady supply of alcohol on stage to the band. No matter how much Pollard drinks, his voice remains steady, his showmanship spot on and his famous leg kicks just as high as ever. This show blew me away.

Violent Femmes, College Street Music Hall, New haven, CT, October, 2016

I knew this show would be good, but I was amazed by just how good. I smiled from ear to ear all the way through this show. From all of the bands classics to songs I’d never really heard before, the music was joyful and infectious and every single person in that room had an amazing night.

Bob Mould, Webster Hall, NYC, April, 2016

I’d waited decades to see Bob Mould play. I’d been lucky enough to see him show up and play at a Dinosaur Jr. show in December, 2015, but before that I hadn’t seen him play since his days with Husker Du. Bob delivered one of the best shows of my life, delving into a catalog of music that included songs from his Husker Du and Sugar days, as well as his extensive solo catalog. Bob and his band are one of the most cohesive units around. Watching them play together is pure joy. And Bob, after all of these years, did not disappoint.

Anders Osborne, Fairfield Theater Company, Fairfield, CT, August, 2016

I’d been a fan of Anders for quite some time, but this was the first time I had gotten to experience him live. I was in for quite a treat. Anders and band put on one of the best live shows around. The audience with jam-packed with die-hard fans that follow them all over the country and now I most certainly understand why. The band is incredibly tight, incredibly talented and incredibly energetic. I am certain I’ll be attending many more shows in the years to come.

Willie Nile, City Winery, April, 2016.

I’ve been a huge fan of Willie for many years, but this show was one of the best I’ve ever seen. At 67, instead of slowing down, Willie and band just continue to play harder and have more fun at every show. I tell everyone I know that is any kind of music fan at all that if they haven’t seen Willie Nile live, they are missing one of the greatest and most fun rock shows out there. One of the most joyful nights I experienced this year!

Big Lazy, New Haven, CT, December, 2016

My friend Alex hooked me up by having me put on the guest list for this show and I can’t thank him enough. The sheer talent of this trio left me floored and in awe. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better group of musicians. That alone speaks volumes. Don’t miss them if you get a chance to see them.

John Doe, Cafe None, New Haven, CT, June, 2016

John Doe has always been one of my very favorite artists, but his solo work has elevated him to an entirely new level. His latest release, The Westerner, is one of the most haunting albums of the year and this show showcased that talent beautifully. In addition to John’s lovely vocals and guitar playing, guitarist Jesse Dayton stole the show on more than one occasion and with John’s X band mate, D.J. Bonebreak on drums, this was one hell of a night for music.

Lucinda Williams, College Street Music Hall, New Haven, CT, February, 2016

Lucinda, with her gorgeous lyrics and gravelly, soulful voice always captivates me, but this night was even better than her normally stellar performances. Many of my readers have no idea at all who Lucinda is, and to me that’s a travesty. No matter what music genres you appreciate, take a listen. She will will make you a fan.

Kurt Vile, College Street Music Hall, New Haven, CT, February, 2016

Kurt Vile’s music is quirky, catchy and infectious. This was my first experience seeing him live and I can say honestly that it was one of my favorite shows of the year. He is unusual and different and insanely interesting to listen to and watch. Another incredible College Street show.

The Dickies and Dead City, College Street Music Hall, New Haven, CT, October, 2016

This lineup was a highlight of the year for me. In addition to seeing one of Connecticut’s top bands, Dead City, I got to see the Dickies, a band that’ I’ve loved for 30 years. Dead City, as usual, captured their audience completely. Even for those in the audience that came only to hear The Dickies, they clearly captivated. I will always say that they are one of the most underappreciated Connecticut bands out there. The Dickies put on a show that was musically wonderfully, colorful and quirky. They left you feeling really happy you were there.

I loved so many shows this year and am lucky and blessed to have so much music in my life. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.