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.

 

 

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

An interview with the one and only Cheetah Chrome. Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT, 11/20/2016

When I was about 13 years old, my life was about as far removed from normal as it could be. I was trained to show the world that it was perfect, that we, as a family, were perfect and by most accounts, to the casual observer, my life did seem pretty idyllic. Sure, there were those that recognized the subtle differences in me. The way I carried myself, always on guard. The fear I had of drawing attention to myself or being different in any way. But my strongest desire, one that trumped every bit of that fear, was to be who I really was. To break free from what I was forced and expected to be and leave all of those fake and phony and ridiculous lies behind. I was so tired of hiding. At only 13, suffice it to say, I had experienced far more darkness than any kid should ever have to. I was looking desperately for a light. Some kind of life-preserver to hold on to. I found it in my friend, Chris.

For whatever reason, he saw the truth in and about me. He became a friend and mentor. He never pried, but he just seemed to know why I never wanted to go home. He was a confidant and a salvation. I’ve often wondered if I’d have made it through those years alive if I had not found him. Chris was also the person that showed me what music meant.He showed me what the punk scene was and how it made a person feel. In every single song he played for me I knew that every word, every note was changing me. I understood beyond doubt it was going to be a large part of what saved me. There is never a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and send him thanks.Chris left this world over a decade ago, but he left me this gift. When I found out I was going to be seeing and interviewing Cheetah Chrome, I thanked him and thought of how he’d have been so fucking thrilled about this. The Dead Boys were one of the first bands he ever played for me. And songs like Sonic Reducer and I Don’t Wanna Be No Catholic Boy ( I changed it to girl. I was forced to go to Catholic school and even sang it to Sister Judith, my Principal once.) were songs we’d scream out the window at the top of our lungs as we drove around town. They were our theme songs.

I’ve been so blessed and lucky with this blog. The people I’ve gotten to interview and see have been people I’ve loved musically for a very long time. I write exclusively about music that means something to me. Despite that, this was different. Maybe it’s because The Dead Boys were my first taste of freedom from a life I’d so hated and feared. Maybe it’s because Cheetah and I have both struggled in this life and come out better for it. And maybe it’s a little reminder of my friend, Chris. Most likely, it’s a combination of all three. But this was the first interview I ever did that I got teary thinking about it.The Dead Boys meant that much to me. And I won’t ever forget how lucky I am to be here today, a person who made it through the worst of the worst and was stronger for it. Just like Cheetah Chrome.

Cheetah grew up Gene O’Connor  in Cleveland Ohio, with very little financial stability, but with a Mother that believed in him. In fact, it was she that worked her ass off so that he could have his first guitar. He began his rise to fame in the proto-punk band Rocket from the Tombswhere he and fellow band mate Johnny Madansky  (a.k.a. Johnny Blitz) eventually left to form the band Frankenstein with singer Stiv Bators. This band eventually became the Dead Boys.

The Dead Boys relocated from the midwest to New York City on the advice of Joey Ramone. The band quickly became famous for not only their sound, but their stage antics, which were loud, and often filled with everything from profanity to Stiv slashing himself bloody with the microphone stand. The Dead Boys became a fixture at CBGB’s and were signed to Sire Records, who encouraged them to change their look and sound and become more mainstream. This was a huge factor in the band’s breakup.

Since the breakup of the Dead BoysCheetah has remained extremely relevant in the world of music. He still tours with Rocket From The Tombs  and is very active with his solo career. In addition, he has played with countless other bands and musicians over the years and remains one of the most important guitarists in music. Cheetah is also an accomplished and critically acclaimed author, after his 2010 memoir ” Cheetah Chrome: A Dead Boys Tale From The Front Lines Of Punk Rock” was released. Cheetah and the Dead Boys were also featured in the 2013 movie titled CBGB , about the influential Bowery club that launched the careers of bands such as Blondie, The Dead Boys and the Ramones. In fact, Hilly Kristal, the club’s owner, managed the band.

Despite his well documented drug addictions and relapses, Cheetah has come out the other side. He is an author, a musician, a mentor and most importantly, a father, which he says is his proudest achievement in his life.

Cheetah is on tour with his incredible band, which include Bass player Enzo Pennizzotto (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts), guitarist Jason Kottwitz (Sylvain Sylvain and the Sylvains) and drummer Chris Alaniz (Sylvain Sylvain and the Sylvains). This is one hell of a talented backing band, and all of these musicians really play hard and play well.

When I sat down with Cheetah at Cafe Nine in New Haven, I was sitting with a man I idolized. However, within seconds of meeting him and being greeted with a warm hug, my nervousness was gone. Cheetah was intelligent, well-spoken and incredibly kind. After our interview I was treated to one of the best live shows I’ve seen in quite some time. And when the band played Sonic Reducer, I shed a little tear and raised my glass to my friend, Chris. I’m sure he was around that night, somehow.

J. The Dead Boys  have meant everything to me as far as music goes. I favored the band over many others in the scene at the time. Did you ever feel there was competition between the bands in the punk scene? I’ve heard that during other interviews on occasion.

CC. The Dead Boys were a very competitive band as far as making music went. I mean, we always wanting to take the fucking house down when we played live, so there was sort of this competition within ourselves to always do that. As far as with other bands? We got along with all of them, The Ramones, The Dictators, Blondie. We liked them all. There was never a competition between us. We wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t about competition with these other bands.

J. Your songs were sort of like my theme songs at age 13-15. As a girl who was forced to go to Catholic school, I don’t wanna be no Catholic boy was something I sang everyday. I even sang it to my Principal once. That didn’t go over so well. Were you raised Catholic, too?

CC: I’m glad you understand that Catholic school shit. You sort of have to live through it to understand it. We were all altar boys if you can believe that. But we were the kind of altar boys that were drinking the wine!

J. The Dead Boys were such a huge influence to other bands and were truly one of the greatest bands in the punk scene, but I feel you don’t often get the credit you deserved. How do you feel about that?

CC: We were definitely overlooked sometimes. When we moved here from Cleveland, people sometimes called us Johnny-Come-Lately, things like that. A lot of times we were overlooked by the New York critics because we weren’t artsy enough for them. The press always took the side of the artsy bands in New York. We were too rock n roll for them I think. Sorry if we were a good band. I mean, we really kicked ass. It’s like the CBGB movie, a lot of bands were pissed off that we were in it more than they were. But Hilly was our manager for God’s sake.The movie was about the club itself. Our lives and Hilly’s were intertwined. I’m sure we may not have always been the best part of Hilly’s life, but we were a part of it. And that’s what that movie was about.

J. Tell me about how the Dead Boys got started.

CC: During the last months of Rocket from the Tombs, I was hanging out with Stiv a lot.He really wanted me to quit Rockets and put a band together. But the band was doing well, getting established. Stiv was taking me from a good band. I wasn’t about to just quit, but I saw that the band was probably nearing the end. Stiv and I were like fucking long-lost brothers right off the bat. I felt more comfortable with the kind of music he wanted to play. Stiv and I sort of saw eye to eye on the kind of band we wanted to be. I grew up in the projects. I didn’t need a fucking safety-pin to be punk. I just was, it was in me, you know?

Peter Laughner was a big part of the art part of Rockets. I was more the Detroit Stooges guy. Peter kind of wanted to be Richard Thompson with a fuzz box.

J. I love Richard Thompson.

CC. I do, too, but I wasn’t about to get up there with an acoustic guitar at that point in my life.Stiv and I just fit, you know?

J. I read that your mother was a hugely supportive of you and your goal of being a musician. What do you think your life would have been like without her support.

CC:It would have been horrible.

J. Do you think you’d have gotten as far as you did without her support?

CC: No. I don’t think I would have. I grew up in the projects she was a bookkeeper in a restaurant and she busted her ass for me. It took me a really long time to realize just how hard she worked for me and how much she did for me. The last ten years or so of her life, I was in a good place, and I’m glad we spent them together and was able to thank her. I made her happy for the last ten years of her life. I gave her a grandson. That made her really happy and when she passed, I can honestly say we were like best friends.

Her support meant everything. I miss her. My son is my only close blood relative. My son is doing very well. He’s on the heads list at school. He plays soccer, ice skates, he’s a handsome little bastard. He’s my hero. Everything I’d want him to be. Everything I wasn’t.

J: Is he musical?

CC: Not so far. I tried , but he’s not ready. I’ve gotten him a guitar. He’s only 11, now. He says it doesn’t feel right to him right now, and that’s ok. I didn’t play until I was 15. But he can do anything he wants. I’d be happy if one day that was something we could share, but I just want him to be happy.Like my Mom did with me. She got me my first guitar and helped me along and as long as I was making progress she was proud of me. One of my favorite things that I remember was the time I got a big stretch limo to take her to come see us at the Agora. The only problem with that was she told me that the only person that saw her get out of the limo was the drunk on the corner! She was proud, though. And I’m proud of my kid.

J. The record executives thought punk was going to just fade away. In fact, the big shots at Sire records wanted you to change the band. What happened with that?

CC: That’s what broke up the Dead Boys in the first place. Seymour Stein told us basically to kick ass out there and do what it was we’d been doing. So we just kept on trashing hotel rooms  and doing what a lot of other bands were doing, but we were doing that shit way better. So Seymour, he called us into his office from the road and me and Jeff got beers on the way. Jeff used to say is this going to be a one beer or two beer meeting? I knew this would be a two. He said “Guys, I bet a lot of money on punk rock, and I was wrong. So, I think if we are going to continue our relationship,  you need to reconsider your music, your image and possibly even the name of the band.” and I just looked at him. One of the other members asked Seymour what he had in mind. And I looked at him and said “You’re fucking even entertaining this shit? Because the first thing you’re going to have to do is to find another guitar player.” and I walked out. I knew at the time the media wasn’t reaching the heartland. It hit Cleveland maybe 3 months after New York and California, Texas in 6 months and it never hit places like Idaho. It was going to take time to get to middle America, we were going to give it time. These guys didn’t understand that. And punk didn’t ever die. They’re still selling fucking converse and skinny jeans in the mall. These bands are still making music. The belief that punk was dead may have cost me a record contract, but punk never did die.

J. Did you ever consider giving up music?

CC:  I knew I would never give it up. I couldn’t. The more I think about it, the more I realize that playing music defines me as a person. It’s who I am.

J. When Stiv passed, it must have been extremely difficult for you. How did you handle that?

CC: When I realized what happened, it felt like ice was in my blood. I just felt numb. He was supposed to be in New York in a week. We were going to do a new project together. I was all sober and proud of myself and ready to go. But I dove into the deep end of the pool after that and I didn’t recover for 5 years. I’m just glad I recovered at all. He was my brother. Closest person ever to me. The initial shock of it was fucking bad. Besides my Mother, it was the hardest death for me to face. It’s funny, because Stiv and I had this dynamic. And I kind of have some of that with Jason (Kottwitz, guitarist). Stiv was born on October 22, and Jason’s birthday is October 21. Kind of strange. But, yeah, losing Stiv was really bad.

J. Who have your musical influences been?

CC: You, know, I guess I grew up on The Beatles and The Stones in the 60’s. And I dove right into the punk thing. But since then, nothing really. I mean, the 80’s kind of sucked. The 90’s kind of sucked. I guess I don’t really follow music. These guys in the band have to tell me who it is they’re listening to. I guess making music is enough for me.

J. Do you guys plan on putting out any new music?

CC: Yeah. We’ve got two songs just about ready to go.

J. I know some of the guys from the band Dead City. I loved the album that you did with them. The Dead Sessions. How did that come to be?

CC: I knew Joe Dias from Lost Generation. We played a lot together over the years and we just worked well together. That album came out really well. It’s a really good album. We were supposed to tour and I relapsed. I feel really bad about it. They were good guys and I wish them nothing but the best. I hope I get to see them again. But yeah, I Walked With A Zombie, all of it. It’s just a really good album.

J. I know how you feel about Trump. Did you ever imagine that he would actually win?

CC: I had to imagine him winning.But I tried really hard not to. Because it’s so horrifying. I certainly thought, Holy Shit , there’s a lot more stupid people than I thought there were. But the truth is, he’s going to hang himself. He’s going to trip over his dick. He’s going to. He just can’t keep his mouth shut or his ego checked long enough not to.

J. What do you think of the people he’s appointed so far?

CC: It’s like having the Joker get elected to office and picking his sidekicks. It’s like a fucking cartoon. He can’t talk to anybody without pissing them off. He’s a media whore. War with him is almost inevitable.

J. I’m sure you’ve read about the increase in hate crimes in this country. Many of them have aligned themselves with Trump. What do you think? It’s getting worse?

CC: The thing is that everybody thought race relations had improved., but I saw some guy on television saying that it’s always been there, but the good thing is now they are all wearing these stupid Trump hats and it’s really easy for us to recognize them and walk away. He’s right.We know who the fuck they are now and we can just stay the fuck away from them.

J. Do you think we, as citizens are going to be able to stop him?

CC: People are going to stop him, but I don’t think its going to be without blood shed. I’ve never seen it this bad in my life time. I still can’t really even digest it. And Giuliani, that fucking little freak. These people are even worse! They all want to take away social security, ruin the working class. It’s just really bad. But I don’t think we can or will let him get away with the worst of it. We can’t.

 

J. How about the tour? Where are you heading next?

CC:We’re doing a Japanese tour and a West Coast tour in February. We’ve spent a lot of time in Europe this year.We may go back. A lot of good things coming.

J. How did you get together with your current band?

CC: Enzo (Pennizzotto)  and I knew each other, I ran into the Joan Jett roadies at the airport and the rest is history.I waited around for Enzo, we hung out and talked about playing together and it just fell into place. He was in Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. We’ve been playing together since 2006.  We had a good reunion and the rest is history. Jason (Kottwitz), I met him when he had a band called  Flamethrower. Chris (Alaniz)  was around the music scene. He was just really good, too.

Jason: I was in a band called Flamethrower we did a Dead Boys tribute for Halloween. And  a bunch of promoters wanted us to do it again, and somehow we got Cheetah to come.It all came together from there.

CC: The cool thing was whenever I stopped playing my guitar and Jason was still playing it sounded just like me.It was like I was still playing!  I’m really glad I ended up with these  guys. These are really some of the best guys I’ve ever played with.

Cheetah Chrome is a living legend. More importantly,  he is a kind and thoughtful man, bandmate, musician, father and really decent human being. And just like Chris is looking down and enjoying watching me do what I love, I can guarantte that Cheetah’s Mom and Stiv are watching Cheetah and smiling. With a hell of a lot of pride about what he’s battled and overcome.

An interview with David Senft of Darlingside.

Darlingside is the type  band that comes around very rarely. Unique, intelligent and completely original, these guys are the real deal. Their sound, which revolves around its four members singing together around a single microphone and playing instruments ranging from the typical to the most certainly not (think harmonium), is so different that it really defies a genre. Folk, indie, blue-grass, pop, none of the labels truly stick. But when you listen, genres don’t matter. The beauty of what you are listening to is what strikes you in a way that few bands  do. Gorgeous harmony and haunting instrumentals produce extraordinary texture, a layering of sounds that is always beautiful, and often even breathtaking. The beauty of sound, coupled with intelligent, literary-minded lyrics make Darlingside a band that really need to be listened to in order to be understood.

The band, who met while attending Williams College together, has been through different incarnations over the years, but seemed to have settled into a place that works perfectly with their current lineup. Members include Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo, vocals), Auyon Mukharji ( mandolin, violin, vocals), Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello, vocals) and David Senft (bass, kick drum, vocals)  Their catalog of music continues to get lovelier, and their latest full length release, Birds Say, which was released in 2015, received much critical acclaim. 2016’s EP Whippoorwill proved that the band continues to meld together into something quite close to perfection.

Darlingside is a band that should not be missed by any real lover of music. I was able to interview vocalist and bass player David Senft recently.

 

J. I understand you all met at Williams College. This school isn’t exactly known as a music school , unless you count its love of a capella!
Please tell us how the band came to be?

D.S.- That’s very true that it’s not really a music school, though there are fantastic people in the music department there, and as you point out, a cappella was a huge part of the campus culture. The four of us all studied different things––I was a math major––but we were in the same a cappella group, and so a lot of our time and energy throughout college was put towards arranging and singing. But the unique thing about Williams is that it offers a contemporary songwriting course every January. In it, you have to write two original songs and then perform one of them publicly in front of about 300 fellow students. We each took that course and came out of it completely hooked on songwriting, and gradually we started to collaborate and perform on each other’s songs while still at Williams. The band then officially formed in 2009, when Harris graduated and we moved into a house together near Northampton, MA.

J. How has the band changed since your time at Williams?

D.S.- A lot has changed! Our songwriting process has evolved tremendously. It used to be that one of us would write the majority of a song and then bring it to the group for us to tweak and arrange together, whereas now every song is a four-way collaborative process from start to finish. We’ve learned so much about how to write together, how to give and receive critiques, how to let go of an idea, and how to make sure that we all feel connected to the final product. In the same vein, we also now write with four equally important singing voices in mind, so it’s never a question of “who’s going to sing lead on this one”, but more often something like “who’s going to take which of these four parts”. Part of that has been the way our format has shifted––we started out as more of a traditional rock band with a standard drum kit and all of us on separate vocal mics, and now the four of us stand and sing around one mic with only a kick drum for percussion, which makes it much easier for us to blend together and to have our voices feel unified.

J. Did you ever see yourself as a professional musician?

D.S. – Well, I was terrified of singing in front of people as a kid, and in fact I remember crying once because I didn’t want to grow up and go to college, because I thought that I would have to perform in a singing group too. And to be fair, I wasn’t that wrong. In high school I was very academics-oriented, but I was starting to realize that I was very passionate about music. I did end up joining a singing group in college, of course, and eventually realized that I wanted to make my own music, and that performing was gratifying despite still being pretty terrifying. Becoming comfortable as a performer has been an extremely long, gradual journey that I’m still honestly in the process of. So it was a lot of baby steps that got me here, and I didn’t really think I could be a professional musician/performer pretty much until it happened. In fact I still think about how strange it is all the time.

J. Touring can be hard on a band. What do you to unwind and reconnect when coming off of a tour?

D.S. – I’m married, so for me it’s all about spending time with my wife and my dog. The first day back usually involves treating ourselves to a nice dinner out. The other guys are all in similar boats––spending time with our partners and eating great food are big priorities for us. The funny thing is, we’re all such close friends, and we live so close to each other, that even when we get back from a long tour, we usually still end up hanging out together pretty soon after. There are a few specific activities we and our partners all especially enjoy, including but not limited to: playing Settlers of Catan, watching Game of Thrones, and attempting to make each other fancy cocktails.

J. Tell us about the Darlingside mobile. Is it still in use?

D.S.- Chauncey! Chauncey is tecchhhhhnically still in use but to be honest it’s not lookin’ good for him/her (Chauncey is gender-fluid). The gears grind every time we accelerate, the air conditioning is totaled, none of the power sockets or speakers work, one of the doors is permanently ajar… but Chauncey has been with us basically from the start and we aren’t quite ready to give up on such a loyal friend. Except that he/she probably won’t pass his/her next emissions test, so yeah, it’s bad.

J.Who were you biggest musical influences growing up?

D.S – I listened to a disproportionate amount of a cappella music and Beach Boys growing up because my parents were really into that, and then in high school I got really into Dispatch, Guster, and Moxy Früvous. Notably, those were all bands with multiple singers and songwriters who traded off lead vocals and used harmony everywhere. And I was a sucker for NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, and basically there were plenty of signs that I was destined to end up in a group of singing men.

J. What bands do you most like to listen to now?

D.S.- We’ve gotten to meet and share stages with some incredibly talented folks over the last few years, so honestly these days I mostly listen to the music that our musical friends are making. To name a few I’ve been listening to a lot lately (mostly because they have wonderful new albums): Mandolin Orange, Courtney Hartman, Frances Luke Accord, Jordie Lane, Tall Heights. And we make a point of never going too long without listening to some T-Swift.

J. Your writing is gorgeous. Where does the band come up with its ideas lyrically?

D.S.- Thank you! We actually don’t really have any set processes for lyrics––pretty much every song comes about in a different way. We do often play around with lyrical exercises and games just to generate ideas or words that we might not otherwise think of. Eventually every song gets to a point where we have a sense of what the song should be about and one person will spearhead a rough draft, but then it might go through five or six more complete re-writes, or it might just feel good and be basically done after the first try. Our only rule with lyrics is that we all have to like it. A side-effect of that is that we end up writing a lot of songs about childhood nostalgia and growing up because it’s something we all relate to and get excited about quickly. And birds. We all apparently really like birds.

J. What does the band have coming up in the future?

D.S.- We’re currently finishing up the second half of our big fall tour on the west coast and southwest, and then we finally switch back into writing mode this coming winter and spring, which we’re very excited about. We’ve been on the road basically all year since Birds Say came out last fall, and it’s going to feel really nice to hunker down and get back into writing mode, not to mention just have some time off over the holidays. And we do have a three week European tour in January, so that should be a good opportunity to road-test some of the new material we’ll have been working on.

The Dickies interview, Cafe Nine, New Haven, October 26, 2016

imagePhoto by John Bomber

The Dickies began in Los Angeles in 1977. Unlike much of the music being labeled “punk” in the day, their use of humor, catchy melodies and harmonies set them apart from any other band in the genre at that time. In addition to their unique original recordings, the band was known for their fast-paced punk covers of classic songs ranging from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, The Moody Blues Knights in White Satin to their cover of the television theme song from the Banana Splits , Banana Splits (Tra La La Song), which became a top 10 single in the U.K. They were also the first California punk band to sign with a major label.

Influenced by classic punk from bands like The Ramones,  they became quite popular on the East Coast.This made them much more nationally recognized than a lot of the other punk bands from California. The first time I saw the band was at Stamford CT’s Anthrax Club, when I was only 13 or 14 years old.

Drug problems and tragedies slowed the band down considerably for many years, but original members Stan Lee (guitar) and singer Leonard Graves Phillips have managed to stick together for close to 40 years.

While the band has not released any new material in since 2001, they continue to release live material and play together pretty regularly.

I was able to see the band at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT recently and was lucky enough to be able to sit down with current band members, Stan Lee, Adam Gomez and Eddie Tatar. I found them thoughtful, engaging and outspoken. And after the interview I was treated to one hell of a show.

 

J. I saw you for the first time at a little punk club in Stamford, CT

Stan Lee: Yeah, the Anthrax club. Down in that tiny basement. The guys name was Shaun.

J. You are right, Shaun Sheridan, I believe he’s here tonight.

Stan: The thing I remember about that place was that he didn’t sell tickets, he just walked around collecting five bucks from everyone, It was really cool. There was a trust there. A sense of community.He was a nice guy. He really was. He and his brother.

J. You and Leonard have been together since 1977. Almost 40 years. What keeps you guys going? Is there a secret behind it?

Stan: It’s hate

J. Oh a love/hate kind of thing?

Stan: No, it’s all hate…. You can have it. I’ll give it to you freely to use.This band is run on hate. 

J. I’ve been playing you guys for my 19-year-old son, and he’s a big fan of the Stuart song. How do you guys come up with these things?”

Stan: Well, that one was Leonard. I stay away from the penis references. The whole thing has bothered me about the band…. And you know, Dickies were like those cut-off turtlenecks,  undershirts. It wasn’t a name I’d have picked, that’s for sure

J. Who came up with it?

Stan :The drummer said the name, and it just stuck.  But at the time we expected the band to last 6 months like that dickie fashion fad did, you know.

J. I saw John Doe at Rough Trade in Brooklyn in the Spring and he referenced a little rivalry between the New York and L.A. punk scenes. Did you ever feel that way? A rivalry between any of the scenes?

Stan: I felt there were no rivalries. He’s in X, maybe he thinks he thinks it through  too much. We just played. If the Misfits needed somebody to play, we played. We did that with The Damned, lots of bands. I never felt any kind of rivalries.We all got along.We all still do. We’ve toured with The Damned recently.

J: Who were some of your biggest influences?

Stan: The Ramones, Motown, The Supremes

J: The Ramones incorporated a lot of humor into their music. To me, they were one of the only other bands that really used so much campiness in their songs.. Were they an influence?

Stan: Oh yeah. Me and Joey were friends. We were friends with those guys. We toured with them a lot. Hung out with them.But they’re one of my favorite bands. They always will be.

J: You guys have done covers of so many songs. How did that begin? What made you start?

Stan: I just thought a lot of them could have been done better

J: So this was your idea, to start doing these covers?

Stan: I guess so, and also, we didn’t have to write the tunes, so it was easy. It was like, what are the chords to that, and then it was done! Chuck Wagon, can you figure this out with me? And we’d sort of have them figured out in no time. With our own twist on it.

J: Speaking of Chuck, how did you make it through that? Was there a time when you thought of breaking up after his death?

Stan: No, you, know when someone kills himself, its their thing. I don’t know what to say. I’m of course, not for it, but the guy had his real problems. I didn’t know him that well, I really didn’t. Leonard would be able to speak to that better than me. But, no, we never thought of stopping because of it.

J: Did you ever come close to breaking up?

Stan: Drugs kept us down for a while. But we stuck it out. We’re still here.

J: How old were you when you decided to become a musician?

Stan. 18. I was about 20 when the band started. I first tried to learn at 15, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t squeeze the chords together, so I just gave up. When I was 18, I had a friend with a lot of time on his hands and he sat with me, had a lot of patience, and showed me some great stuff. That’s the only reason it ever happened.

J. My own son started to play at about 13 and never stopped, because he quickly discovered it was a way to get the girls to follow him around. Did any of you do it for that reason?

Adam: I started way too young, I was 9. I think it was just watching the super cool metal videos. Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies were my biggest influences. I was just really drawn to it.

Eddie: I started to play at about 10, my father was a musician we played the old standards. I started playing the music like my father did. Traditional stuff. It was in the family.

J: Who were your influences?

Stan: He better say the Dickies!

Eddie: I did love The Dickies. I have very different influences, I took the old standards, and you know, you can sort of add harmonies to those kinds of songs, change them up and make them your own. It was all so grand to me at the time., this whole new frontier. So my influences were very different.

J: Stan, I know you’re a dog lover. Do you miss them when you’re out on the road? How long are you on tour now?

Stan: Only 8 days. When we go to Europe. We go for like 3 weeks and these guys are always on me. “We only start making money after a few weeks, we don’t want to go home!”  But I miss my dogs!

J: Are you able to check in on them?

Stan: Yep.I face time them, pictures get sent. Well the problem is, my dog watcher. He came in and took Mimsy away. She now backs up and is all suspicious of me when she sees me.He stole her away! I think I may need to kick him out! She hurts my feelings. I have feelings. She even sleeps with him now! What the hell?

J: So what do you think of this crazy political climate we are in right now?

Stan: It’s fucking crazy! It’s like reality TV. I’d rather not even think of the possibility of a Trump Presidency. Jesus Christ.

Eddie: Stan thinks I’m a Trump guy. I don’t get into politics. I don’t vote. The government can kiss my ass. I don’t get involved at all. I think it’s all biased and influenced by the media and driven by one thing, the almighty dollar. Therefore, some people can criticize me, but its my choice to do it. Stan thinks that I want Trump to win, but I don’t care. I don’t get involved in things unless they involve me. That’s the way I look at it.

J. How about you, Adam?

Adam: Either way we are in a pretty bad place.

J. What’s the future of the band?

Stan: I don’t know, we’ve been threatening to make a last album….

J: Do you have anything recorded?

Stan: Yes, but since the record companies have all blown up, it’s changed. All the kids are doing the self producing their own stuff now. It’s all crazy. The internet has changed everything. Taken a lot of the greatness out.

J. Are all of your albums available on vinyl?

Stan: Some. The first two , we can’t get our hands on because the bass player is causing some bullshit. We could re-record but I’m against that. It would never come out the same. Stukas is coming out again next year.

J. Do you have a Favorite Dickies album?

Stan: Dawn of the Dickies. It’s colorful and it lights up the room. They aren’t all like that. But that one is. I really think it’s good. Definitely my favorite album that we did.

J: Do you guys have anything else you’d like to say?

Eddie: I’ve been in the Dickies for 6 years, and its been an honor and being a member of this fine institution and to be with such pillars in the punk community and to play with such living legends as Stan Lee and Leonard Phillips. And every day I’m grateful and that is a fact.

Stan:He means it too, But maybe he’s trying to get a longer tour in Europe!

 

The Dickies are a timeless band that will never stop being loud, fun and incredible to see live. After almost 4o years, that’s one hell of an accomplishment.

 

 

The Proletariat interview, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT , 10/29/16

The Proletariat were a Boston-based band who, because of circumstance and situation, got lumped into the hardcore genre when they really never fit that mold. Their lyrics are literary and political and smart and their music, while hard and fast and punk, still has an almost danceable (well, slam- danceable at least!) groove that makes them much more layered and complicated than a lot of what was going in the hardcore scene at the time. Influenced by bands such as Gang of Four and PIL, The band had a decidedly non-hardcore sound, but never quite escaped the label. These were a group of guys that made you take notice. Quirky, brilliant and socially relevant, their music stood for something. And even at 13 years old I recognized the fact that they were special. My first taste of the band came when a friend gave me a copy of the punk compilation album, This is Boston, Not L.A.. The entire album was good, but I played the Proletariat songs so much that I wore the grooves down in the record in no time.I listened so often that I once even caught my Irish and very Catholic Grandmother humming Religion is the Opium of the Masses. I’m sure she was at confession first thing the next day!

When I first listened to the critically acclaimed  Soma Holiday, my mind was made up. This  punk quartet from the middle class town of Fall River, MA, were politically astute beyond their years. They played with a growling intensity layered with political angst and a refusal to accept a flawed and rigged system. But the music, like the lyrics, were not one-dimensional. There was a multi layered and sophisticated quality to the bands sound, even when it was apparent that they were not trained classically. In music, you either have it, or you don’t and this band understood how to make music together.

A socially and politically aware kid from basically birth, lyrics have always meant something to me. The Proletariat spoke to what was happening in the world. They saw things the way I saw them. And because of that, they were hugely important in my life. Songs were peppered with themes of social justice and class warfare, speaking out against Reaganomics and trickle down bullshit.They just got it.

I’ve listened to The Proletariat for over 30 years. When I found out that they were going out on the road to do a handful of shows, I was elated. When I realized that their first stop was right down the road from me in New Haven, CT, I was floored. There was no way I was going to miss this!

I was lucky enough to be able to interview the band and watch them play live for the first time in over 3 decades. Knowing that they were not used to playing in front of a live audience, I expected good, but not great. But the band surpassed any expectations I could have had. They played a phenomenally tight and solid set that sounded like they’d been out on the road together forever, with no time off in between.The setlist included all the favorites and even an excellent rendition of Janie Jones by The Clash. It was so good there was just no way to sit still through it.If you have the chance, go see them. You will not be sorry, I promise. Punk at its finest.

J. After 30 years, what was it that got you back out on the road again?

Rick : Probably the reissue of the album  Soma Holiday. Peter has been trying to get us to reunite for close to a decade now. I was finally willing, but Frank (guitarist Frank Michaels) wasn’t. That’s when we recruited Don. (Don Sanders).

J. How do you feel about the re-release? Was it unexpected?

Rick:  I was surprised that people wanted Soma re-released. But people really did.It’s going pretty well, I’d say.It’s humbling. It really is.

J. The reception to the re-release of Soma Holiday has been so positive. Were you expecting it to be such a big deal to so many of us?

Rick: It’s been ridiculous! People are so excited about it. It’s so cool! I think more people know us now than 30 years ago. It’s unreal.

Don: I don’t think these guys realized how influential they were. I was a fan from the beginning. I saw them in their earliest days at 13 and 14 years old.I don’t think they fully realize the impact they’ve had on the music industry and their fans.

J. Have you written anything lately? Are you in the process?

Rick: Yes! We have written one song and we will be playing it mid set tonight! It’s called “Scab”. We like it. It’s pretty good.

J. Are you planning on doing any recording? Writing more new music?

Rick :I hope we can. It’s been the goal. 

J. Who have your biggest influences been. You often speak about Gang of Four. Are there others?

Peter: Killing Joke, PIL.

Rick: Mission of Burma, we idolized those guys. Our goal was to play with them and we got to do it a handful of times. This summer when Tommy couldn’t play, Peter Prescott played with us. It was awesome.

Don: And I idolized these guys. It all comes full circle.

Rick: Don tries to bring in a King Crimson influence (laughing)

Pete: And he likes Britney Spears!!

Don. I’m trying to bring the metal into the band.(laughing). But I like Britney. I listen to everything.

J. How does it feel to be back on the road? Nerve-racking? Exciting? Both?

Rick: Definitely both. We’ve been rehearsing since April or May. These are our songs, but not songs we’ve played in quite some time.

J. You’ve always been a political band. What do you think of the current political climate ?

Rick: It’s like a perfect storm out there. Madness everywhere. There are many things factoring in to how we got here.How we can possibly have someone like Trump running for President of this country. You know, someone said to me recently, “I know you’re voting for Hillary, but Trump winning would be really good for your band.” I could get a lot of good lyrics out of it, but it’s really not funny.

J. Where do you see our country going and can you fathom a Trump Presidency?

Rick: It’s hard to imagine the chaos that would come. His followers are deranged. He says he won’t even concede if he loses. It’s difficult to imagine the craziness to come.He’s made it cool and acceptable to hate again.There has always been safety in numbers.These people were having these thoughts and  were afraid to say them, but now that a man like this is running for President they feel they can say it.  The wealthy have done a good job at convincing the middle class in this country that the poor are the problem. They’ve set it up nicely for themselves. Black against white, straight against gay, Christian against Muslim.They are distracting us from the fact that it’s always been the rich against the rest of us.

J. Do you feel that politically, a lot of what you wrote about in the 80’s is still relevant today?

Rick: Unfortunately, yes. We seem to be going backwards at light speed. It’s almost worse than the 80’s. We ragged on Reagan. It was bad, trickle down, rich against poor. That’s when this  all started. But its gotten so far beyond that. We have gotten almost to the point of no return.It’s toxic to all of us, this hate.

J. How did you wind up on  This is Boston, Not L.A. compilation. It was truly one of my favorites.

Rick: When SSD decided not to do it, we were asked. We may have been asked anyway, but that solidified it. We played with a lot of the bands on the album, but other than The Freeze, we didn’t sound like anyone else on the album.They were a punk band that played fast. Like us. I think it was beneficial to us, being able to stand out on that album. It brought us a lot of attention.

J. How do you define yourselves as a band? What genre do you consider yourselves to be?

Rick: We are a punk band. 

J. What is the goal with this tour? Are you hoping to play more? Make some new records?

Rick: Yes, we are hoping to get back on the road after these dates. There has been some interest in us going to Philly, DC, maybe out to Portland and Tacoma. We’ve been getting some interest and that’s something we’d love to do. 

Tommy: We want to keep playing and keep recording. I think we have a lot left in us.

If you haven’t seen or listened to the Proletariat, do yourselves a favor and listen. The band still sounds fresh, even though the songs are decades old. And the topics they write and sing about are just as relevant today. I will always continue to count them among my favorites.

The Proletariat will be playing on Saturday, November 5, 2016 at St.Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY

Tickets are available on Ticketfly.

 

 

Stove “Toad in The Rain” review and interview with the band.

imagePhoto by Scott Trojan

Stove is a band with a sound that you can’t quite nail down. Their latest release, Toad In The Rain has a sound very different from their debut album, Is Stupider. Steve Hartlett, of Ovlov fame, recorded the initial album entirely on his own.  Is Stupider relied heavily on loud guitar riffs, lots of distortion and a loud-quiet dynamic reminiscent of bands like Dinosaur Jr..Initially the project was really a continuation of  Hartlett’s band Ovlov. In fact, the songs on the first album were initially meant to be Ovlov songs. On  this new EP, a clear distinction is felt. Stove is no longer Ovlov with a new moniker.Each band has now come forward with their own clear sound and musical identity. And with both bands continuing to play, that’s an important distinction.This EP is filled with a lot more melody, less heaviness and many more layers.Not quite pop, but certainly headed in a direction where melody and catchiness are key.This doesn’t mean you won’t hear guitar heavy songs at all, just an evolution of the band as a whole. The complexity of the sound doesn’t really hit you at first, even though the beauty of it most certainly does. The EP is very aesthetically pleasing from first listen, but the layers of the songs and how finely crafted they really are, take a few plays.

Steve Hartlett is no longer crafting these songs alone. The band is clearly a collaboration of all its members. Mike Hammond Jr., Alex Molini and Jordyn Blakely  all bring nuances of sound to the band that make it stronger.While the initial vision and the lyrics are still the work of Hartlett, a truly gifted lyricist,  the difference in this album may be how beautifully this bands works together as a cohesive unit. Giving up full control of a band when you are used to calling all of the shots can’t be easy. But Hartlett seems to have found a group of people who not only see his vision , but add to it in ways he probably never imagined before.

On this EP there is a fine tuning of each song that makes them sound more grown up and more defined. A melding of musical ideas that can only come from maturity and the willingness to work hard until the exact sound you are looking for is captured. While Is Stupider had a story to tell, it got its point across with a wall of sound that washed over you like a tidal wave. In Toad in the Rain, the approach is more subtle, but just as strong.The range of this band has evolved ten fold over the course of such a short period of time.

Stand outs on this album include the acoustic guitar laden Dumb Phone, in which Hartlett harmonizes beautifully with Jordyn Blakely, and Tiny Gaze, where unexpected blazing guitars  show up after the first verse. While these songs are my favorites, there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. It’s really a great EP, and one that makes you really look forward to what this band will be bringing us in the future. Take a listen. You won’t regret it.

 

STOVE INTERVIEW:

J. Tell me about your influences as a band. I used to hear a lot of Dinosaur Jr. in your older stuff. Are they a big influence on you?

S.H. Yes, certainly they were in the beginning with Ovlov. Definitely melodically, not so much aesthetically.  I was into being as loud as possible at the time. I have a broad spectrum. I really love a band called Disco Doom from Switzerland right now.

J. How about you, Mike? I know your Dad was in the hardcore bands 76% Uncertain and CIA. Did his music have a big influence on you?

M.H. He would take me to whatever shows I wanted to see. Until I was about 14 , he showed me all of the bands that I listened to and then after that we would go back and forth. We’d show each other stuff. But any of the bands who have ever played the Anthrax club ( A punk club that was located in Stamford and then Norwalk, CT in the 80’s) are in my discography. Stuff I listened to. There are a bunch of bands that I liked that I later found out My Dad played shows with. I remember going to see Sebadoh and and they started talking about CIA. I had to go up and talk to Lou Barlow after. It was cool. So yeah, that stuff was an influence.

 

J. Tell me about the writing process for the new EP.

S.H.: I’ve been writing a lot of the new Stove  stuff with Alex on piano. It’s the first time I’ve ever written that way and its kind of changing the aesthetic of it. I wouldn’t even be able to identify what I’m trying to sound like, but Alex is sort of just layering over what I would do. We are working together really well as a unit.

J. Ovlov broke up, but you are back together. Are you planning on keeping both bands together? How is that working?

S.H. Yes, we just got back after an Ovlov tour which was immediately after a Stove tour. I guess for now I’m trying to keep them equal. Work on them equally

J. Steve, your lyrics are really good. Where do you get your inspiration? Do you feel you’re growing as a songwriter?

S.H. I guess from everything bad that’s ever happened to me. Which sounds stupid, because compared to other people they are really just first world problems. I feel like I don’t put a lot of thought into the writing process and then I go back and  re-read them and realize some of them are really nice. I’m in a place where I think my songwriting might have been better in the past. Especially with old Ovlov stuff. I don’t want to let fans down. I want them to be able to hear what they want to hear.Change is inevitable, though. I guess the songwriting will always continue to change.

 

 

J. What are your goals? And when you write a song how do you decide which band it will be for?

S.H. I’ve been writing. I’ll stay at Alex’s place in Brooklyn for  a few days and we try to do at least a song a day. We just keep playing. I don’t even decide which band they are going to go with until they are totally finished. It’s getting easier. Each band has more of a clear identity now. The last batch we wrote, we knew immediately which band each song was for.

There  have been songs that I originally thought would be for one band, but after we begin working on them, so much can change with a guitar line and a vocal melody. Once  you keep working on it you are sometimes surprised that it turns out completely differently than you originally expected.  We really experiment a lot with changing things up. Sometimes we will remove the guitar, or add piano, just continually mixing things up and layering until we get the sound we want. Stove is the first band that we use demos as  a tool.  We usedemos to better things and sometimes change them up completely.

Our music has grown. For a while  I was trying to stick to just 2 guitars and drums because all the band I looked up to were like that, but I don’t know. It’s changing.Realizing how much more you can do. Why would you just limit yourself.

 

Stove will be playing at Shea Stadium on October 27.

Ovlov will be playing on 10/6 at The Space in Hamden, CT and 10/7  at Middle East In Cambridge, MA

Both bands can be found on Soundcloud and Spotify.

 

 

An interview with The Melvins, The Outer Space, Hamden, CT

Sludge-metal pioneers, The Melvins,  have been a band I’ve listened to for 3 decades. Hailing from Washington state,  the band, with its dark, heavy and lumbering sound, influenced not only the local music scene, but the turn music would begin to take when sludge metal and grunge began to destroy the hair metal that we were all suffocated by in the eighties and early 90’s. If it weren’t for The Melvins, bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden might have never existed. A tsunami of sound that wiped the stages clean of lipsticked and spandex wearing men singing power ballads, this band does not get the credit it deserves. Make no mistake about it, The Melvins changed music as we knew it.

In an industry that is difficult to survive in for 3 years, let alone 3 decades, The Melvins have continued to play their way and make no apologies for being exactly who they choose to be. While lineups have changed over the years, the bands constants have been singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne and Drummer Dale Crover. Their latest album, “Basses Loaded” includes a whopping 6  bass players, including Steve McDonald from Redd Kross and Krist Noveselic from Nirvana. Despite the changing lineup, the band has been consistent in the fact that they never fail to put out great music or put on incredible live shows.

I was able to sit down with Buzz, Dale and Steve and discuss everything from women in music  to the evils of Rob Zombie. I found them to be intelligent, thoughtful and straightforward. And after the interview, I got to watch one hell of a show.

J. You often hear The Melvins compared to bands like Black Sabbath and Black Flag. Who have your biggest influences been, or have you always been more interested in creating a sound that was uniquely your own?

Buzz. I don’t really care about comparisons. People hear what they want to hear when they listen to music. We play what we want to play and don’t really think about it.We did an album called “Everybody Loves Sausages” where we played songs from other bands that I think influenced us. You don’t really hear people talking about those  bands in relation to us. But they were influences in a way.

J. The band has certainly had an influence on other bands. I think of bands like Alice In Chains, who really seem to model themselves after your sound. What do you think about the bands are so heavily influenced by you?

Buzz: I’m not really sure that how heavily they were influenced by us. They were more interested in Soundgarden. Their goal was to sell a ton of records. And sounding like Soundgardgen , who I consider a much more commercial version of us. I knew Alice in Chains as hair metal, Zoro hat wearing spandex guys. We didn’t really know them at all. 

Dale: We didn’t really know them. I think they really came around after we stopped living there.

Buzz: They were a hair metal band. We were friendly with Soundgarden. They made no bones about the fact that we were a big influence on them. We like those guys and are still good friends with them.

J. There is a new documentary about the band. How do you feel about it? I know how much you disliked the Kurt Cobain documentary Montage Of Heck. Was there any concern about letting someone else tell your story?

Buzz: They will let us have final approval and they are big fans, so we are pretty confident it’ll be good.The guys that made this movie have never done anything like this before and it came out well. I think the people who supported it will be proud of it. We don’t operate like a lot of other bands do, so I think people might be surprised by it.You aren’t going to get a lot a personal details. I’m not that type of person. I’m good at avoiding anything that gets too personal. People can ask, but I’m really good at avoiding answering those questions. I’m good at answering the questions that I wish people would ask. That’s what I’m good at.

Montage of Heck is total bullshit. They got away with it because Kurt wasn’t here to defend it. Courtney wasn’t there. His daughter wasn’t there.They don’t know what really happened. And the people who were there are not saying anything.The things they say happened just didn’t. It’s total and complete bullshit.

J. In the new documentary, The Colossus Of Destiny: A Melvins Tale,  Krist Noveselic has called you guys “The last band standing.” The last band around that has been completely true to yourselves and the sound you want to make. Do you feel that’s true? And do you think that staying out of the mainstream has given you more freedom?

Buzz: Being more mainstream is more limiting only if you allow it to be. Bands that are huge in the mainstream should actually have more freedom to do what they want.. We have as much freedom as we want to, as we ever have.I think the artists themselves are limiting. They are doing that to themselves if they try to sound like people want them to.

Look at a band like the Beatles and all the things they did. They weren’t afraid.Seeing their progression in very short amount of time was incredible. They used the studio to experiment and come up with so many different sounds. But then they imploded. Never played live. Even more meaningful, The Who, who did just as much stuff in the studio, maybe even more, but still played live. I mean, we love the Beatles.We love The Who. 

Dale: Lots of people pretend they don’t. Never trust anybody who doesn’t like the Beatles.

J. Are there records that you are most proud of and ones you aren’t?

Buzz: I’m not someone who would dwell on something too long. We’ve always been happy when we put things out. And then move on and make a new record.

Dale: We will write stuff in the shit can, but not too often. We work on everything really hard and make sure it’s good before we release it.

Buzz: We aren’t too precious with it, though. We don’t go “This is it! It has to be like this!” and sometimes we didn’t particularly love something on an album and then come back and listen to it again in a few years and realize it was really good.

J. Do you think you’ve kept a lot of the same fan base over three decades? Do you think you have people in the audience who’s parents were fans?
Buzz: You can’t trust kids that like the same music as their parents. That’s just too weird.You aren’t supposed to like the same music as your parents!  We see new fans every year and lose some because they just get to a point where they stop coming to shows. Our audience stays about the same age. People have kids, or other things in their lives that happen and they just don’t come to shows anymore. But people are putting off growing up now.

 I never went to college, but if you’re  in college, you basically stay an adolescent until you’re in your mid twenties. In this day, you have the government telling you to not even grow up until you’re 30. It used  to be that people were getting married and starting families at 21. To me it’s really just odd. Some kind of Peter Pan complex. I don’t understand it. I knew things were getting weird when you could be on your parents insurance until you were 26. What? That’s insane! There was a time when people would be insulted if you suggested you couldn’t take care of yourself at that age. I just don’t get it.

J. Do you think you’ll continue having rotating lineup?

Buzz: I have no idea. About 10 years ago we had really big trouble with the bass player we had and decided we couldn’t deal with that kind of thing. It’s too hard to pin all your happenings on one thing, It’s too difficult. I’m not going to do it. I’d rather hassle with starting over.

Steve: They are polygamists now. They no longer believe in rock and roll monogamy.

 

J. Whats going on with Redd Kross?

Steve: My brother has been writing. We will do some recording,. We are doing 2 shows with The Melvins. One on New Year’s Eve at  Joshua Tree. Then another in Santa Ana.

Dale: Steve is playing in all 3 bands that night.

Steve: One night in 3 different bands! I need to start doing cardio and I think maybe I need to quit smoking. New Years Eve might be a good time to do that! The Melvins have it designed so they’re playing first so they are going to get the best of me, unless I decide to pace myself….(laughing). I’ll have my Rocky moments, I’ll need to train a little. But I can’t complain. Somebody digging a ditch for 8 hours a day, that’s hard work. Playing the bass? Not so much.

Buzz : And the drummer is just sitting on his ass all day. pouring water on himself so he looks like he’s sweating.

Steve:Here is something for your “Midlife blog” The Melvins like to play as early as they can. We like to practice early and play early. Be done by noon so we can go pick up the kids at school.

J. We imagine this rock and roll lifestyle.

Buzz: We prefer to play as early as we can.The only drag about playing clubs is that they always want you to play as late as possible to keep the bar going.We always try to go on as early as we can. 10 is the absolute latest we go on.

 

J. Does touring get exhausting?  What was the worst tour you’ve ever been on?

Buzz: I like playing but I’m not a big fan of touring itself. We’ve got it figured out pretty well so it’s not so evil.

Touring with Rob Zombie was the worst experience I’ve ever had. It was  Counter productive and intentionally designed to make you very uncomfortable.

J. Rob Zombie lives around  here. He spent a lot of time trying to close the skatepark near his house. Too close to his property, too many people and too loud.

Buzz: Seriously? Too close to the evil ones property!

J. How do you choose the bands opening for you? I’m excited to see Helms Alee tonight. I love to see women musicians in this genre.

Buzz: We have to like their music. I thought Helms Alee was adding something to the genre that isn’t very common. I like the fact that they are women doing it.But it has to be more to it than that. They have to be really good.

Steve: In general, support bands are very rarely the problem. When you’re opening it’s the crew that’s often the problem. Helms Alee is a really good band, and  having women around takes the touring  out of this prison vibe, chain gang mentality you can get when it’s all men.I’ve always responded to female musicians. I’m a groupie! My wife is a musician and you can see the vibe people have with female musicians sometimes. You walk into a guitar shop and bitter musicians are standing there  with their arms folded, it doesn’t matter what their sex is. But it goes to an entirely new level of patronizing when it’s a female.

Buzz: The attitude of “What are you even doing in here, Missy”

Dale: I knew this female bass player in a band and she told me that when she  wanted a new amp, this guy tried to tell her she didn’t know what she wanted.She’s  a professional musician!  Its condescending and ridiculous the way women sometimes get treated.

J. You guys are huge baseball fans. Does touring allow you to see a lot of games when you are traveling the country?

Buzz: Yeah, we are big baseball fans. We try to see a lot of games, but don’t really get the chance while touring. Our schedule is too tight.

Dale: I think I’ve been to about half of the ballparks in the country.I’d really like to get to more.

J. What do you think the future holds for the band?

Buzz: We are just going to keep on writing and playing music for as long as we can.

Thank you, Melvins. I plan on being here as a fan for as long as you continue to play and beyond.

 

 

An interview with punk pioneer Alice Bag

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Alice Bag is a punk pioneer, author, educator and feminist icon. Born Alicia Armendariz on November 7, 1958 in East L.A.,  Alice  was only 18 years old when she became the lead singer for one of L.A.’s most influential and iconic punk  bands, The Bags . As a Latina, Bag was a pioneer who used her music to traverse issues of gender, race, nationality and class. In a genre that was heavy on testosterone, The Bags showed that women could kick your ass with their music just as well as any man could. In fact,  Alice and the band  helped to change and shape the musical landscape in Los Angeles at the time. The Bags played with an aggression  and ferocity  that paved the way for the hardcore punk sound that emerged in the early 80’s. Their influence has been  heard in decades of music produced since then.

Alice has been in the music industry for nearly 40 years. Up until now, she has always been part of a band. But Bag finally released her first solo album in June of this year. This self titled debut may be different from the traditional “punk” sound, but it does not make it any less punk.Influenced by a lifetime of listening to and appreciating many different styles of music, this album has a sound that is uniquely Alice. The album is a culmination and representation of different musical influences as well as life experiences. It incorporates many different styles , but still manages to blend together seamlessly. Bag has never shied away from social and political issues and her refusal to succumb to the ideas of the masses is what makes this album punk. Punk is in the message and the messages on this album leave the listener with no doubt.  Alice takes on such topics as education, date rape, immigration and the dangers of corporate greed with ferocity, wit and intellect. Bag  has always been a badass, and this album proves that won’t be changing any time soon.

In addition to her groundbreaking role in the music industry, Alice is an educator, and author ( Her 2011 memoir, Violence Girl: From East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story and her 2015 book Pipe Bomb For The Soul)  an archivist for  women in punk rock and a strong believer in community, feminism, and activism. She continues to influence generations of young women. I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with her.

J. You were an originator of the punk scene in Los Angeles with your band, The Bags. What drew you to this type of music and how do you feel that punk has helped women find a voice in a male dominant industry?

Alice: In the mid-1970’s rock music had become complex and at times overproduced. I enjoyed the music of David Bowie, Queen, Elton John and many other glam rock groups, but it was difficult to imagine myself doing what they were doing. I didn’t have the experience or money to create something like that, and as a woman, I also didn’t have a lot of role models, either. Punk provided an egalitarian forum where lack of experience or funds didn’t seem important. It felt like creativity trumped skill. It was a new genre, wide open for shaping. I think we women saw an opportunity in that.

J. After the breakup of the band in 1981, you’ve been in many other bands, but until June, 2016 , you’ve never released a solo album before. What made you decide it was finally time?

Alice: My band was pretty much over in 1980; we hobbled around for a bit before dissolving. I made a decision to go back to school, grow up and give up my punk life. It’s funny, I really believed I could just discard me weirdness and lead a normal life, but that didn’t happen and I’ve been in bands pretty much my whole life. I think a big reason I didn’t think to release a solo album sooner, is that I was so used to working in the band format. It wasn’t until I started doing the Violence Girl  book tour that my perspective changed. I set up the readings, reserved cars, made sleeping arrangements, basically handled everything myself and it made me realize that I could work in a solo format and that I still have the support of my musician friends. That realization was the first step in me wanting to do a solo album.

J. To me, the message of true punk rock isn’t in just the sound, but more importantly, the message of challenging mainstream beliefs and fighting against what you feel is wrong. Your new album is, to me, very punk because of its messages. Would you categorize it as such, even though the sound is obviously influenced by other genres as well?

Alice: Yes, definitely. I think the attitude and message of the album is punk.I think punk is about challenging the status quo with creativity, humor and irreverence. There is a certain sound associated with punk rock, but that wasn’t always the case. Punk, in its infancy, covered a broad musical spectrum. Early L.A. punk had diverse styles. It’s something I’m really proud of, the fact that we had bands like The Go-Go’s, The Deadbeats, The Screamers, and none of them had what would later be known as “the punk sound.”

J. In your book, Violence Girl!, you speak about the early punk scene with brutal honesty and from a female perspective. Have you ever gotten any backlash from being so honest? Do you feel that the males in the industry at the time saw the scene as something very different>

Alice: Nope, no backlash at all. I don’t really think that any of what I said was controversial.I think most of the men who were involved in the early scene were secure in their own identities and comfortable treating women as equals. As for the mainstream music industry, I’ve never had any idea of what interests them or what they think.

J. As a punk girl from the time I was 12, I have so often been inspired by your words. I am so glad you’re documenting the voices of women in the scene. What is it about punk that you feel empowers women and why do you feel that is still so important today?

Alice: Thank you, I’m happy that my words have inspired you.

I think punk is liberating because it doesn’t really value experience, tradition or expertise as much as other art forms. Punk values ideas and originality and as such, the voices of the underrepresented are inherently the most exciting and original, because they haven’t been heard in the past. The stories of women are still not being heard on par with those of men and punk can still provide a valuable forum.

J.What do you think of what is going on in politics today and what do you think that we, as women, should be doing to empower ourselves and our daughters to make sure that women’s voices are always heard and always equal? Especially during a Presidential campaign that has had such blatant racism and sexism?

Alice: This Presidential election has been pretty painful. There’s so much sexism and racism out there, not just from the candidates but everywhere.We have to talk to our daughters about the advances and setbacks that women have had in their quest for equality. It’s important to remember that gains have to be guarded and defended. We can’t afford to take anything for granted.