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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Father Jones Band: Interview, album review and show review

 

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

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

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

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

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

J. How long have you been together?

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

J. How did the band start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Who are some of your biggest influences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.Who does most of the songwriting?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Is there a new record coming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

J. What bands are you inspired by?

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.