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

img_0153

Photo by Anthony Rathbun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. What is the songwriting process like for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M.H. One word: LOUD!

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

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

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

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

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

img_0049

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My best live shows of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilco, College Street Music Hall, January, 2016

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

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

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

Cheetah Chrome, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT, November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Mould, Webster Hall, NYC, April, 2016

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

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

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

Willie Nile, City Winery, April, 2016.

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

Big Lazy, New Haven, CT, December, 2016

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

John Doe, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT, June, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Best albums of 2016

imageI spent a ridiculous amount of time on this list. There were a few that I knew beyond doubt would make it, but I had a tremendous amount of difficulty narrowing  it down to the standard 10.

I don’t expect everyone ( or even anyone!) to agree with this list in its entirety. But I need to choose albums I feel in my soul and in my gut. Ones that speak to me in ways I can’t forget. So that’s just what I’ve done.

10. Corinne Bailey Rae: The Heart Speaks in Whispers.

9. Anders Osborne: Flower Box

8. Nic Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Key

7. John Doe: The Westerner

6. Sturgill Stimpson: A Sailors Guide to Earth

5. Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker

4. David Bowie: Blackstar

3. Dinosaur Jr. : Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not

2. Bob Mould: Patch the Sky

1.Drive-By Truckers: American Band.

As a side note, My top 3 this year might fit on a list of my top records of the decade so far. American Band most certainly would. If you listen to anything on this list, at least take a real listen to that one. The beauty in it will floor you.

 

Big Lazy, Lyric Hall Theater, New Haven, CT 12/3/16

After seeing Dinosaur Jr. in NYC on Thursday and having a big show coming up on Sunday, I planned on staying in and finishing up an article on Saturday night. My friend, who is a musician himself, insisted that I scrap that idea and go see  a band at Lyric hall, in New Haven. He promised me that I would be blown away. You can imagine that I’ve heard that before. In the short time that I’ve been blogging I get music sent to me on almost a  daily basis. Some of it is really good, some of it is really bad, and most falls somewhere in the middle. I’ve yet to have a band recommended to me that blew my mind. That all changed on Saturday night.

Big lazy are an instrumental trio from Brooklyn , New York. They’ve been together for 20 years and have released 4 albums.
This band includes some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever heard. Band leader Stephen Ulrich  plays guitar like it’s bleeding directly from his soul while bassist Andrew Hall  adds to this gorgeous sound with some of the most dark and perfect upright bass I’ve ever heard. Drummer Yuval Lion backs this brilliance with a steady and soulful beat.
The bands sound is hard to describe. Both gothic and modern, dark, yet light.It takes you a song or two to actually realize you are listening to something you have never, ever heard before. In a world full of soulless pop and grandiose guitar riffs, they stand apart from the crowd beyond reason. While instrumental music is often overlooked for its beautiful sound but lack of story, Big Lazy proves that words are not necessary to spin beautiful tales of darkness and light, all without uttering a single syllable. The music of Big Lazy evokes a dark, gritty world to which you feel transported almost immediately. This music brings you directly into places you have only seen in the movies or in the darkest recesses of your mind. You can almost feel the night air enveloping you as your footsteps quicken to escape the evil you just know is following behind you in the night. But just when you think this beautiful darkness is all you can expect, they blow you away with everything from bluesy riffs, to riotous rockabilly romps. This band is a true original.
This is not music that is over thought or overdone, yet it paints pictures so vividly with every song they play,  you leave the show feeling as though you’d watched something  just as beautiful, gut wrenching and unforgettable as any play or movie you’ve ever seen. Because without the tiniest voice or softest whisper, you have.

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.

 

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.