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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.Who does most of the songwriting?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Is there a new record coming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

J. What bands are you inspired by?

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six months into my (midlife) Crisis

This blog has officially hit the six month mark. Six months?  Is that it?  I feel like I’ve been doing this forever sometimes. My life has changed so drastically and so dramatically since I decided to write again.Initially, I was nervous and scared and felt I couldn’t do it. I worried that I was getting too old and that bands would never allow me to interview them and that press passes were out of the question. But every single time I felt that nagging, oh so familiar voice in the back of my head telling me I couldn’t do it, I began to stand up to it.  She had kept me from doing the things I loved for far too long. Held me back from dancing and singing and writing and being who I am at my core.  I began to think about the things I have done and overcome in my life. A childhood filled with abuse. The absolutely terrifying prospect of being a mother and doing it right. And I have! I’ve had two very successful careers and businesses. I changed my entire life at the half-way mark and made it better. I have friends and family and music that I absolutely LOVE and a dozen reasons or more to get up and be happy and proud each day. Why did I believe the shit that voice told me?  Why do any of us?

But the thing is, no matter what I did, that God damned voice was still there. She tried her best to get me to stop and play nice and be the perfect little Fairfield County, Connecticut Mother. She made me shut down the person I was out of a fear of being different. She had dictated far too much of my life. Stopped me from being who I really wanted to be for decades. And one day I looked her right in the eye and said “Fuck you. I’m done. You are not going to control who I am anymore. I’m no longer allowing it.”

The funny thing is, that’s all it took. Just believing it. That day, I sent out interview requests and two said yes. One was the amazing Willie Nile and the second,  a hero of mine, Henry Rollins. After that, all fear was gone. Of course I was going to do this! And I have.

To me, this blog was about doing something for myself. I’d have been happy with it if I had no readers (well, maybe not None!). But as I began to get press passes and interviews and my readership grew, I began to feel proud. And like I really was meant to be doing this. As This blog has surpassed  6500 readers, I see that I am. I’m blessed and lucky. I’ve done interviews with many of my music heroes. I’ve seen too many amazing shows to name. I’ve stood in the press box with a crappy little 400.00 camera next to others with 10,000 dollars worth of equipment and didn’t crack, even when some territorial mean girls tried to make me. I’ve interviewed people I was completely intimidated by, and made them laugh and joke and really tell me things. I’ve reconnected with old friends and made so many new ones.I got a tattoo that I’d been dreaming of and afraid to get for years because I was terrified of being judged. I shut that voice down, and when she tries to creep back in, which she often does,I kick her the hell out the door again.

The point of this story, and this entire blog, is to prove to people that living your dream is a possibility. It WILL happen if you are determined enough. You can do this. But don’t listen to me and don’t follow my lead. Listen to your own voice and make your own way. You can DO THIS. And when that miserable little voice starts to break you down, tell her to shut her  mouth and get out of your way. Her words don’t matter. They never have.

 

We are (not) all equal here: The element of sanctimony in Indie/alternative culture

This was supposed to be an article reviewing the Yo La Tengo show at the Fairfield Theater Company I attended last night. Instead, because of scenes I’ve witnessed just a little too frequently as of late, I decided to address a topic that many of us have encountered, but nobody talks about.

In the Indie, punk and alternative music cultures, it isn’t uncommon for some of us , even most of us, to congratulate ourselves on our extraordinary taste in music. We tend to consider our musical choices slightly superior to those of the masses. We must be cool, after all, to have found such different and amazing music. This isn’t top 40 stuff you hear every day, for God’s sake.. We had to search to find this stuff.  Being slightly smug in our discussions about music is something the majority of us have done, if we are being completely honest. And just for today, let’s be completely honest.

I consider alternative music fans to be real lovers of music, in general. We really listen to music. We seek out new bands, different sounds, new ways to express our appreciation of the out of the box music that feeds our passion. And since we are being so completely honest today, many of us jumped head first into alternative music because there was something about us that was different from the mainstream. As a whole, we weren’t the kinds of people who were in the most popular cliques. Friendless?  Not at all!  But also unique and different in one way or another.

Alternative is called alternative because it is. It attracts those of us who were slighty or even radically different. Outsiders, misfits, loners or just people whose views of the world are different from the large portion of people around us. Because of the fact that we are different, you would think that these music cultures, as a whole, would be more accepting. Throughout my life, I have found this to be true for the most part. But what surprises me, has always surprised me, is that among us, steeped in our oh-so-slight smugness about our music, lies a self-superiority that sometimes rears its very ugly head to attack people in our very own music communities.

As kids in our teens and early 20’s, this was evident in the fact that cool kids just didn’t smile at a show by, let’s say, Black Flag. It didn’t matter if they played your favorite song or if inside, you were jumping out of your skin seeing Henry Rollins play live. Cool meant not smiling. Certainly not dancing, for heaven’s sake.

As we have gotten older, it’s evident in the fact that we tend to believe that people who don’t know who Dinosaur Jr. are can’t possibly be as cool as we are. It is deeply ingrained in us, as human beings in our culture to be the best, the coolest, the most in-the-know. That’s human nature. In the United States we witness it in everything from politics to sports to cutthroat headgames in our work environments. It isn’t always pretty and it isn’t always nice. But music is supposed to be different. A soft place to fall when you need to escape all of the madness involved in daily living. Music should be easy. While sitting there at a show, listening to songs about fairness and love and heartbreak, shouldn’t we be able to use that as a common uniting force that draws us together?

Last night, at the Yo La Tengo show at the Fairfield Theater Company, I witnessed ugliness that made my head spin. The crowd at this show was not young, for the most part. Yo La Tengo has been around since 1984, so their fans tend to be in their 40’s and 50’s. At this stage in life you would think that the mean-girl mentality so many of us suffered through in our youths would be long gone. But I am saddened to say this is most certainly not the case.

I have given up on trying to impress anyone at a show a long time ago. I hope it has come from life experience and maturity. I smile. I dance. I sing. I am at a show to make myself happy and to do something that brings me real joy. Because of this, when I look around an audience and see people who are palpably elated at a show, it makes me happy. I get real pleasure out of watching people enjoying music. I love to see them dancing and singing and experiencing a visceral happiness that we don’t get to have  in our everyday lives very often. Who cares if their singing is awful? What does it matter if they get the words wrong? Or if they dance in a way that wouldn’t win any contests?  When people aren’t perfect it makes it more real and true. It makes me smile even harder. We all try so hard in this life to put on a good show. To be cool instead of happy. Letting yourself go takes courage.

Last night, I stood towards the back of the room. In front of me were two women who were there together. They had obviously imbibed in a few cocktails and were quite loud and animated in their conversation. Dressed very well, hair done perfectly, and looking really cool but still age appropriate, they seemed to have it all together. Apparently, they thought so as well. I am a keen observer of those around me. I tend to notice emotions in others that many would miss. I also tend to pick up on meanness and mean people really easily. I watched a woman walk by. I’d guess she was in her early 50’s and judging by her outfit, she really tried that night. Her clothing was on-trend and so were her accessories. But somehow, she wasn’t put together quite right. I liked her immediately for trying. I felt how much looking cool that night must have meant to her. And she looked happy. That is until the women in front of me cut her down. Made fun of her outfit and commented on her gray roots. They were loud and they meant themselves to be heard. And they were. It wasn’t much, just a quick clenching of the jaw and a sadness in her eye, but I knew this woman heard them. And I knew the pride and happiness she was feeling was now gone. I wished I had the nerve to say something to these women, but kept my mouth shut. I’m not confrontational by nature. Maybe they were just drunk and didn’t know how loud they were being. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The band started to play and as people began to feel the music, many began to dance and sing. There was a man a about 30 feet in front of us that had absolutely no rhythm. But he danced like a maniac. He was happy! It was wonderful. These women began to laugh. And they pointed him out and began to imitate him. They tried to get others in the crowd around us to laugh, too. Some did easily. Others laughed reluctantly, still in the “please the mean-girl” mode they must have learned in order to spare themselves. This man noticed, and God bless him, he kept right on dancing. When these women saw they had no power to harm, they moved on to their next victims. They were a couple in their early 30’s. Somewhat overweight and dressed in clothes that were simple and not fashion forward, they were not there to impress anyone. They began dancing and singing and having a wonderful time. Until the mean girls began making fun of their clothes, their weight and their dancing. I watched this adorable and happy woman as she heard them. She looked at the floor and stopped dancing. She felt ashamed for being happy.

In the many shows I’ve seen since starting this blog, I am sad to say that this is not uncommon. I see it at just about every show in one way or another. People judging. People being intentionally cruel. People not accepting others rights to be there because they don’t fit the ‘cool’ profile others try to impose. I see cliques that refuse to let people in. Like the photographers with photo passes that put me down at a recent show because I was new, and quite obviously not a photographer. Or the man who threw beer on a guy that banged into him accidentally while trying to dance. Or the man who quite literally threw my friend out of the way to get to the stage with no regard to the fact that he probably hurt her.

Last night I had a choice to make. Remain silent or speak up. It took me a long time to decide, but I finally chose the latter. I walked up to these women and told them I wrote a music blog. Their ears perked up, just as I knew they would. They were hoping to be interviewed. I then told them that I was congratulating them. In all the time I’ve been going to shows, they were the “coolest” women ever. So cool, in fact, that they had no problem at all tearing down everyone around them and how proud they should be for being so much cooler than all of the rest of us. I watched what I said register. And I turned and walked away. I vaguely heard some obscene language being hurled my way, but my job was done. I walked away with the hope that when these women woke up today what they did would sink in. I hoped that they would feel a little of the shame they imposed on others. And more than anything, I hoped that they’d never do it again.

In this amazing and inclusive scene I’ve been a part of in one way or another since I was 13 years old, I’ve witnessed so much good. So many of us rooting for the underdog and cheering success. I’ve watched kindness and thoughtfulness and inclusion. But I’ve also seen the dark side. When we judge others for not fitting the mold. When we look down at a Bon Jovi fan for not being as cool as we are. When we don’t allow others to exude utter happiness at a show without judgement.And it’s time that we start remembering that we are all just people. That being cool is not in appearance, but in character. And, since for today, we are being so honest, making certain we recognize it when we fail this way and try really hard to never do it again.

X- Why I (finally) decided it was time to bid farewell to a favorite band.

I was first introduced to the band X in 1981, at the age of 13. A friend and musical mentor listened to them frequently and was a huge fan. As with most of his music suggestions, I loved what I heard. In fact, X quickly became one of my all time favorite bands and have remained so for the past 35 years.

X  has a sound that is a unique mixture of rockabilly, punk and even folk and country. They  remain one of the few bands in the world that always produced a  sound that was uniquely their own. From the poetic lyrics to the slightly off-kilter harmonies of singers John Doe and Exene Cervenka, I was drawn in at first listen and fully expected the band to remain in my top ten for the rest of my life.

X has been a part of my life for decades. My children know every song. My daughter attended her first concert when she joined me at an X show at the Irving Plaza just before she turned 16. This band meant something to me . That all changed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

I was unaware at the time, that Exene had a you-tube channel where she posted truther/conspiracy theorist rants that made her, quite frankly, sound like she had lost her mind. When a friend told me about  Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists  (A concept that literally turns my stomach), I did some research and found that Exene was among them.

To put this in perspective, I live about a mile and a half from Sandy Hook school. The families affected by this tragedy are a part of my community. I know some of them personally. I witnessed the devastation to a community and our entire country. For months after the tragedy, you could hear a pin drop while grocery shopping in town. People walked around in shock. The sadness was a living, breathing thing that I’m certain you have to experience to understand. Like others that lived or worked near other unspeakable tragedies we have experienced in this country over the past 2 decades, it’s so much more real when it happens right in your own back yard.

It was like a punch in the gut. This woman, an artist that I had admired and respected for most of my life, had turned into a human being that would accuse people in my very own community of being actors. People that had suffered the greatest loss a person could imagine were being slandered by someone I’d admired and idolized. Delving deeper, her rants ranged from the typical conspiracy theorists views about the government attempting to take your rights away, to bat-shit crazy postings that made her appear racist, misogynistic, homophobic and truly scary. My mind was blown. Punk was about acceptance, right? I vividly recalled my own punk youth where, except for the greatly disdained racist skinheads, everyone accepted everyone else. But then I remembered something I’d tried to push back in my own mind for a  very long time. Something I liked to make myself believe had nothing to do with Cervenka’s own personal views (although rumors have always persisted about the racist nature of certain band members). And the lyrics to the song Los Angeles came back into my head. And they scared me.

“All her toys wore out in black and her boys had too
She started to hate every nigger and Jew
Every Mexican that gave her lotta shit
Every homosexual and the idle rich
She had to get out”.

I first became aware of Cervenka’s madness a few years ago and I stopped listening to the band. But after seeing John Doe and his band play a few X songs on tour recently, I started to listen again. I spent a month believing I was going to attend a show last night at the Irving Plaza. I even worked on getting a press pass. But yesterday morning, I was driving and decided to put X on. When Los Angeles came on, my mind was made up. I would not be going to the show and I’d be deleting the X songs from my playlists.

I’m fully aware that I certainly must listen to other songs that are, by nature, against my own moral code in one way or another. And I am certainly a huge believer in Freedom of Speech. But just as I witnessed Drive-By Trucker fans leave a show I was covering recently because the band had put up a “Black Lives Matter” poster (Really? Have you never listened to a DBT song?) it remains my choice whether or not I can support a band whose views (At least those of Cervenka) are so completely opposite of my own. And for me, the answer is no. John Doe is a different person and a different story. I will remain a fan and he remains a great musician in my eyes. He has also attempted to distance himself from the words of Cervenka.

Exene took her you-tube channel down after the shit hit the fan about it in 2014. She even issued a statement where she tried to make peace, but certainly never truly apologized. But morally, I can’t forget the things she said. Maybe Exene is truly mentally ill. If so, I genuinely feel sorry for her. But maybe this punk icon is really nothing more than a punk. There comes a time in your life when your own moral code makes you make some decisions based on what you believe is right and wrong. If I ever forget again, which I’m certain I won’t, all I will need to do is replay those lyrics in my head. Goodbye, X.