Cardi B Split with Offset Because He Was Chatting Up Female Rapper Cuban Doll

Cardi B knew Offset had a tendency to talk to side chicks, but the fact he apparently made a play for another female rapper, who’s also Latina, hit way too close to home … TMZ has learned. Offset was linked to rapper Cuban Doll when his alleged…

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Cauterize: Chatting with Mark Tremonti and David Anson Russo, Plus Panda Elliot, Songs Of Water and The Fludes

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A Conversation with Mark Tremonti

Mike Ragogna: Mark, let’s talk about Cauterized. Recording artists often title albums, not just because it’s a key track or because it sounds like a cool title, but the title makes a statement about the project. It ties-in with a message the album is supposed to be achieving. Does that apply with Cauterized?

Mark Tremonti: You know, to be honest, I fell back on Cauterized. I wanted to name the record Providence at first, and then I seemed like the only one who thought that was the strongest title. So I kind of went back, went through every lyric in the album, went through every song title, and kind of made a list of maybe 200 possibilities and I went over and over that list and then finally went over it with my brother Dan and we kind of focused on Cauterized. We thought it would be a good word; it’s not your most typical. I have never heard of an album called Cauterized before or a song or a band, so I figured it would be a good, nice, unique name.

MR: Providence a contender?

MT: I thought Providence was a good classy name for the album and that song is kind of the anchor, epic song, the last song on the album, a very important song for the record. I just thought it was very fitting. But again, it was my opinion and I had seemed to be the only one in the band and within all of our big group of friends that thought it was the best title, but I was wrong! [laughs]

MR: How do you feel you’ve progressed from the first Tremonti album to this one?

MT: Other than the simple fact that we added a band member on the bass, Wolfgang Van Halen, the biggest change for me was that this was the first time I recorded an album after being a professional singer. The first album I recorded was the first time ever in a studio as a singer and after recording the album I went and toured for a year and a half. When you’re out there on tour you develop your skills, you develop your voice so much more than if you were sitting in your room practicing vocal warm up tapes or vocal techniques, or taking vocal lessons. It made a humongous difference in the way I look at singing and I came into the studio with a new confidence, much more confidence this time around.

MR: There had to have been some angst going on where you were like, “Ugh, is this working? What’s going on here?”

MT: You know I had been a songwriter for so long, since I was a kid, but it was something I just wanted to do to get a lot of ideas I knew would never see the light of day on tape or recorded, because I have this fear of being this old man who’s upset that my life’s work just kind of went unknown because I never released a lot of these ideas that I loved. A lot of these heavier ideas that I had loved just never quite fit the bands that I was in so this solo project started as just an outlet for me to get material that would never get out there out there. It’s developed into something where, on this album, has turned into something so much more. Something where we saw the potential in the band in the first record, and now we’re pushing our limits as hard as we can and making the most of it.

MR: Now creatively, you kept using this as the vehicle for getting out things you really couldn’t get out with Alter Bridge and Creed, but what are the things that you think are the biggest changers? What is the spot light mainly on, beyond your voice, that separates you more out, that takes you more out from Creed and Alter Bridge?

MT: It definitely gets more of my roots into this band. When I was younger I was into speed metal, heavy of all kinds and punk and the other guys that I work with weren’t really into that. With this I’ve had so many riffs and parts that I’ve written in that kind of heavy metal side of things that just never fit and I really wanted to make sure that that side of me got out on this project. But, at the same time to keep that melody the core of sort of the most essential part of the song- which definitely has to be the melody.

MR: How do you see yourself evolving as Tremonti? You’ve had a lot of musical success, and many other artists would keep the formula going, yet you’re sort of evolving from that. How do you see yourself evolving even further? Do you have a goal? Is there a mission plan?

MT: No, the only goal ever is to improve on what you’ve done in the past and not repeat yourself, to still have the melodic approach. I think going forward we’ll try and get a little more progressive, but not progressive to the point of loosing the core of what people like about a song, but to add more progressive elements to it. I feel as if there are a lot of bands out there that are doing things that we’ve never heard before that I really appreciate. I want to pepper those kinds of ideas within our music and make it more interesting, give it some more depth, but not loose the essence of what the song is.

MR: The reason why I’m asking that question is because you did have a mission statement with Creed. It may not have been a conscious one but you ended up making a statement with that group. With the album Providence, that word seems to be the big statement song of the album. So how far do you dig into a song when you’re writing it? Do you have layers of “that’s not good enough”? How do you approach things creatively these days?

MT: The same way I always have. I will write ideas and I think most songwriters will write ideas they get really excited about and they’ll try to finish that song before they move on. I will write an idea and try to write similar parts to fit with that idea until I’m not inspired anymore and I’ll immediately go and start writing something completely different. Then I’ll go back sometimes months or weeks later, and go and organize my ideas and if a part has been there for sometimes ten years, I’ll wait until it’s married to another part that I feel is as strong and fits the mood. Some songs it takes years and years and years to develop because I don’t try and force a song to be finished. I let it happen naturally and that’s what I’ve always done. That’s what makes it easy working with Alter Bridge and Myles [Kennedy]. I never approach Myles and say, “Here Myles. Here’s a song I wrote. Sing it.” Myles and I both do the same thing. We’ll say, “Here’s a part I really like. Do you have a part to put with it?”That way we both feel each song is special to us because we’ve added something to that song. If Tremonti goes, “I just wait for a part to match another part,” and I will sit with the guys in the band and I will play them all my individual parts. When they like an idea I’ll mark it and then we’ll go back and work through those ideas until we find matching parts. I don’t like to have songs that have a forced section of the song where you’ve got great sections and then all of a sudden the bridge is lacking because you tried to push it. But, sometimes it works where you try and write in the moment like in pre-production. On the song “Providence” for example, most of that song was written in one day. But you never know when that inspiration is going to happen. I just try not to force it.

MR: What songs do you think best represent what you’re about these days?

MT: I can tell you the songs I was most excited about. “Flying Monkeys” early on when that came together and when we finalized that song in pre-production I was very excited about it. It did everything I wanted to do within the song. I liked the fact that it didn’t have a traditional guitar solo, and the mood it set and how heavy it was without being fast. It was just a very important song for me to get finished. It’s funny, the first single Another Heart was not really a very important song to me through the recording process, but it became more important as it went on. It was kind of one of those songs where I felt the verse could have been better, but now that I’ve lived with it I think “You know what this is the perfect verse for that song.” It just took me a little time to realize it. Like I said when I try and put parts together I want to make sure the perfect parts are fitting with one another. The rest of the band and Elvis were all like, “No it’s a great verse for the song,” but I doubted it until I actually heard it. That’s what’s good about this because five heads are better than one. That was one that we really worked on very hard. Everyday we’d come in and try and better it. There were points where we were satisfied where it was but we just kept on digging in and made it better each time. It seems like a new sound for us, that song, and we’re very happy with it.

MR: You’re at that point where things keep getting better. What are the experiences of the band when you’re on the road? You’ve been touring since April, and you’re going to Europe now, by the end of a tour it seems like a lot of bands feel like they really know the material. A lot of times unfortunately the tour happens after the record has been released. Do you ever have that experience where towards the end of the tour it seems like, “Oh man, now I get what that song is about?” It’s not second guessing so much but do the songs significantly take on more of a personality or light because of what’s being discovered about that song on the road?

MT: Sometimes when you’re out there singing live you get so much more experience when you’re doing it in front of people. Just yesterday when I was running through songs, I have to make sure I’m pushing my voice at home or else I’ll loose my voice in the first show, so I’m singing through some of the songs and I’m singing them differently than when I recorded them because I’m placing the vowel sounds differently, or putting a breath here differently just because of the way I’ve been doing it live. Sometimes I wish I could go back and re-record the way I hit that word. But, that’s only stuff you can learn after touring for a month. When you’re in pre-production you’re only singing these songs for a few weeks. Lyrics are usually the last thing that comes together because of that you don’t have a ton of experience singing them before you track them.

MR: What about technique? Has someone taught you how to save your voice on the road? Have you had voice lessons or are you doing anything proactive to protect it?

MT: I’m going to knock on wood but I haven’t had any problems, so far. Myles is very protective of his voice but he sings much more than I do. He’s non-stop out there. We sing very differently. I sing very very loudly. For high notes, I push really hard and I know I’m not singing completely correct, but at this point I have never felt like “uh-oh” I’m going to have to cancel a show or sing a less song. I’ve felt like it’s been strong, it’s been there. I think everybody’s genetically different. Some people’s voices give out easier than others, and so far mine has hung in there. I think as long as you don’t get a cold or a virus it’s good.

MR: You have a companion album to Cauterize, Dust, that’s coming out next year. You recorded a lot of material but again, songs may be evolving on the road. Dust was completed in 2015 yet coming out in 2016. Might exploring that album’s material on the road change how you’ll eventually feel about Dust‘s recordings?

MT: I didn’t even think ahead. I just said I want to record as many songs as possible, and then I got with Elvis our producer and said let’s put together a package for the most amount of songs we can do and we decided on twenty. So I put together twenty-five songs and then we got together for pre production and cut five of them out and recorded the top twenty. It wasn’t until almost mixing time that we started to say how the hell are we going to release these twenty songs. I think twenty songs at one time is way too much. If a band releases fifteen songs, I don’t know if it’s just because I’m older now, but if a band releases fifteen songs I’m going to quickly breeze through it and have four or five songs that I like and I’m going to forget about the other ten. I don’t want that to happen to this album but at the same time I thought ten songs I grew up on ten songs, I grew up on less than that, I grew up on eight song albums. Metallica records and Judas Priest records and old school records had four songs on a side. I kind of thought this ten song record idea is going to work well. I think it’s easy for people to digest. I’m just going to wait until everybody really gets this record and they’re eager for the next one before the next one comes out. Twenty songs at once is just way too much.

MR: When Dust comes out, it’s going to sound, well sonically it has the same players so it’s going to be beyond a companion piece but sort of like part two.

MT: It’s just the sister album. If I looked back at the 20 songs I didn’t want it to be the ten heaviest songs and then there’s the campfire ballad, and I didn’t want it to be the ten good songs and the ten not so good songs. I took it and looked at it and said ok if there are two mellow songs – ones going to go on the first record and one’s going to go on the second record – I mixed them up as good as I could. I’m not going to lie and say that maybe some of my favorite songs didn’t make the first record because the first impression is always the most important, but the second record is not going to be far off from the first album as a whole.

MR: One of the songs, “Arm Yourself,” how did that come about?

MT: I had the idea for that chorus for a while and I remember at the last Alter Bridge writing session, Miles was really loving it and I always loved it. I just tried to really work that into the song and when we went into pre-production I remember Elvis saying that was his least favorite song. All of us as a band were like well it’s one of our favorites just cause I think it’s the heaviest song in the record, and once we got it done and it was time for vocals I remember Elvis going, “This is a fun one man, this is a great one.” And I’m like, “See, told ya. Just give it time.” That’s why always the five heads are better than one kind of thing. It always works for every individual whether you’re a producer, a guitar player, drummer, everybody’s opinions count but it’s just a good energetic song and just one of the band’s favorites.

MR: You have participated in bands that have sold over 42 million albums, so how do you keep perspective after that kind of success?

MT: The only goal I ever have or perspective I ever have is the last record. This record has to be better than the last, and when that happens I feel good about myself. If that doesn’t happen I feel like it’s time to retire. I never rest on my laurels. I never sit back and wait until the last minute to do anything, I always like to be over prepared and work my hardest. If you’re not getting better, you’re only getting worse. I think that jumping back between Alter Bridge and Tremonti keeps each band excited, keep you learning new skill sets and it keeps you challenged. I think that’s kind of what’s helped. I think that’s why Miles and I especially keep doing what we’re doing.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

MT: It’s all about the songs. I’ve always said that from day one. If you write a great song nobody’s going to be able to successfully follow that great song. I get tired of gimmicks. There are some gimmicks that are great, some bands do it well. But I think at the core, the songs are the most important things. That’s it. Focus on your songs.

MR: Where do you go from here? Dust is in the can and you’re going to tour. I asked you before what the game plan is as far as Tremonti but what about you personally? What’s your goal at this point? You’ve had so much success, what do you do now?

MT: Songwriting has always been such a big part of me; my goal is to be able to do this as long as I want to. I don’t ever want to all of a sudden not be able to do this if I’m still able to be here to do it. Songwriting is still a huge part of me. My goal is to make Alter Bridge and Tremonti both comfortable bands to tour in so that I can bring my kids out anytime they want, have my wife fly to Poland if she wants and whenever she wants. Right now Tremonti is at this state where we’re starting from square one again and so it’s kind of an uncomfortable touring situation. It’s exciting to get on stage but everything else is kind of dry because on our days off we share one hotel room. Everybody – the crew and band share the same shower and we’re starting in clubs again. So it’s back when you first start your first band and it’s like camping and it’s like fun and you’re having great experiences. But this is the third time I’ve done it. My goal is to get to that next step with this band as soon as I can so I can have my kids visit me whenever they want without having to keep twelve other dudes on the bus.

MR: Creed has been traditionally kicked around a lot. Does that hurt your feelings that something like that would have happened to something precious to you?

MT: I think it had to do with a lot of things. The first was when we were new and we were the underdogs everyone wants you to succeed, but even when you look back at Creed, its not the most original sound. There are a lot of bands that sound similar. But when you look back when we first came out we were the only band that sounded like that. Everything else was kind of a Third Eye Blind kind of sound. It was a happy pop-y kind of rock scene. We were the band at that time that came out with the more somber, more moody stuff, and Phase the New were the two bands that kind of had that sound. I figured that just because we sounded different from what else was going on, I know a lot of people compared us to the whole grunge scene, but still it was a different more moodier kind of thing we had going on. I think that’s why people connected with it first. People connect with it and it starts getting bigger and then when it got completely massive that’s when people were like, “Hey wait a minute. This isn’t as cool as I thought it was. It was all over the place. I’ve heard this song a billion times.” Then things stated getting out of hand with certain band members’ behaviors and that’s when the gloves came off with critics. I think I read a quote by Michael Jackson once, he said if you want millions of fans you better get prepared to have millions of people that dislike you. It’s just part of the game. I’m lucky enough to have had a very successful band that sold lots of records and played sold out arenas, but then I was also very lucky to have a band like Alter Bridge that was critically approved, that the critics approved of and other bands dug and kind of live both worlds.

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PANDA ELLIOT’S “LOVESONG” EXCLUSIVE

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Panda Elliot is an Argentine singer-songwriter whose new album, Forastera, will get a US release in late August. Her new cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” will be included on the US release.”

Panda adds…

“Lovesong was the first song I ever felt comfortable with singing, it represents a real turning point in my life. I wanted to record a laid back version that cut the song to its core and that was the inspiration for the music video, simple and timeless.”

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A Conversation with David Anson Russo

Mike Ragogna: David, to this point, your career has embraced performance art, film, video, writing, and music, which you’re currently focused on due to your connection with the non-profit, Little Kids Rock, its mission to bring music back into the education system. When did the issue of disappearing music programs in formative education come to your attention?

David Anson Russo: I have 4 grown kids and as a father, have watched the removal of the arts programs from schools across the country, and coming from a family of artists, its a big issue. That is why we desperately need foundations like Little Kids Rock in order to deliver its music program to kids who would normally not have access to music lessons and instruments. The reason LKR is as vital as math, science, or learning a trade is because there are so many rewards through the process of learning an instrument; self esteem, pride of accomplishment, developing a life-long passion, a possible career, etc. it’s a gift to a child something that will deliver value throughout his or her entire life.

MR: What is Little Kids Rock’s history, how does it function as an entity,and  what age groups does it assist?

DAR: The best way to answer this question is right out of the LKR agenda – What makes Little Kids Rock different is that they do more than just donate instruments like guitars, drums and keyboards; they build lasting music programs that focus on teaching kids to  perform, improvise and compose the popular music genres that they already know and love, like rock, pop, blues, hip-hop, country, reggae and R&B. Little Kids Rock also trains public school teachers by donating the instruments, curriculum resources, and support ,aterials they need to ensure that their kids have all the tools to rock! Any full-time public school teacher in one of their 29 current cities is eligible to apply for the next Modern Band workshop in their district. Applicants don’t need to have advanced abilities on all instruments, but only a basic proficiency on the guitar. Upon completion of the workshop, teachers can get a program up and running in their school quickly and at no cost to themselves or the school.

MR: What is its ultimate goal and how will it ideally succeed?

DAR: The goal is to provide musical education to all children living in areas without access to music programs. It’s about offering musical education during their important formidable years so they grow up with and nurture skills, talents, accomplishments, and build self worth through a rewarding creative passion. Remember, ours is a creative culture and society, everything you see is art, design, fashion style and we are all driven and connected by music. Music scores our lives, and it is very important that we all think of it as important.

MR: Do you think it’s purely economics or something more that led to the United States de-emphasizing musical education?

DAR: When the country is hurting economically, as we all experienced due to the collapse in 2008, programs were destined to get cut. Schools must operate on less revenues. There is trickle down effect and the kids are the innocent victims. People make drastic choices and hard cuts that in hindsight, may not have been the best choice ultimately. The good thing is that organizations like LKR enter into the picture to rescue music programs and attempt to restore programs. If you take music, the arts, sports, class trips, out of the school system, kids have an awful lot of free time to experiment with other things that may not be good for them. It’s important to mentor kids by filling their minds, hearts and soulswith productive and enriching experiences, like learning a musical instrument.

MR: What are some of Little Kids Rock’s achievements?

DAR: You would really have to go to their web site to read about how they have significantly impacted children’s lives across the country and the incredible system they have built to bring their wonderful programs to those who stand to benefit the most. I think their achievements are obvious looking at every kid who has learned a new musical instrument or music related skill set and talent. This strong positive influence will continue to grow as LKR grows, hence why it is so important to help them out now.

MR: Beginning today at 11am, you will be performing in a Saks Fifth Avenue window to bring awareness to the cause. Several of the young  LKR students from an under-served LA school will be performing at this kick-off “window reveal” event as well. Can you go into the specifics of the entire three-day event?

DAR: On June 9, 10, 11, I will be painting for the LKR charity in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills (9600 Wilshire Blvd) for all to see. Please stop by and say hello. One huge front window at Saks will be my fishbowl art studio where I will be creating one large, acrylic on canvas painting a day, for three days. The second window will serve as the art gallery for 14 completed original works of art that will be auctioned off at the on-line Charitybuzz auction and at the private live auction the evening of June 11th inside Saks. https://www.charitybuzz.com/littlekidsrockThe event culminates in an invitation-only live auction where I will donate 100% of the proceeds from the sale of 14 original paintings, 3 created “live” in the window, and a dozen limited edition fine art prints to The Little Kids Rock Charity. The charity is chaired in LA by notable motion picture producer Cindy Cowan, who will host the auction for Russo’s works with Saks.

I had successful book tours with Simon & Schuster in the 90’s where I painted in the windows of some of the most prestigious book store windows on Fifth Ave in NYC. Based on these positive experiences I decided to do it for charities. Over the past few years, I have appeared at about seven different charity galas, where guests watched the paintings come to life over the course of the evening and then each painting is auctioned off during the live auction at the end of the night. I have been honored to help many different charities – JDRF New England, BJA Lung Cancer Foundation, APLA for AIDS research, CUN benefiting foster kids, and more – through my art. It has been working well because people I’ve spoken with seem to like the whimsy and inspirational messages inherent in my new art style, called What a Great Life. The art has raised significant sums for each charity, with all proceeds being donated to the charity. I have been working with Saks Fifth Avenue for the better part of a year to create a window event where I paint live for charity in their expansive windows. The Saks creative charitable initiative is about helping others through art.

MR: At its conclusion, how will you determine if the Saks Fifth Avenue event was successful? And what do you think the kids ultimately will take away from their experience?

DAR: The most important thing is to create funding for this great charity. All that matters to me is that the art sells for high prices to art lovers who are charitable of heart, love kids, and love music. This is more about helping LKR than buying art. Your take-away gift for your caring charitable contribution is a beautiful work of original art, but the donation you provide will help so many kids, and this is the primary focus.

MR: It’s interesting that you’ll be combining performance art with music at the event. That must be very satisfying for you personally.

DAR: Its incredibly satisfying to be able to create an image that can be turned into revenue to help those less fortunate. You mean, I can draw a picture and it can help! I’m in! This is an artistic creative event! Visual arts, music, fashion, and style, are all a part of this event. If you look at the work I am creating for this event, you will immediately see what I mean. In addition, all my work is created to music, primarily jazz and sometimes I will even include music links with the art on social meida so fans can listen to the music that helped inspire the art’s creation. The music is a part of my work as much as the paint. For this event, I am combining “music” elements for LKR and “beauty” elements for Saks.

MR: What was your own musical education like, what are your favorite works and who are your favorite artists?

DAR: I played the tenor banjo when I was little and went to lessons regularly, but cannot play anymore. I can sing a bit and play my steering wheel pretty well. We have a few well know singers in our family. Perry Como was my grandfather’s second cousin. Opera singers Richard Tucker and Jan Peirce are family members. My music interests are very eclectic. I grew up in the 60s/70s so it ranges from Robert Johnson and Benny Goodman to classic rock and everything in between. Currently, classic and cool california jazz – Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, Stan Getz, Bird, Joni, Hendrix, Johnny Cash, etc.

MR: What else are you working on lately?

DAR: My primary focus is building this new art brand we are calling What a Great Life or WAGL, which is an inspirational brand, based on the exact style I am using for the event. My FB fan page shows all the art and includes famouse insirational quotes as well. People have coined it as whimsical, romantic, wildly inventive, and out of the box, like Dr. Seuss meets Yellow Submarine. We are focused on applying all the art and fabric designs to created beautiful high end products; apparel, beach towels, silk scarves, bags, shower curtains, and more. The most important part of our goal now is creating our animated e-greeting card company, and webisodes with the art/characters and invented world of WAGL. My awesome animation team just created our first animation and over the next year will be creating a wide variety of animated greetings for the public, unlike anything you have never seen before. In addition to being an artist and author for most of my life, I have been a television series creator and executive producer for the last two decades with a few new series in the works as well. As you can see, there is a lot in the works, art related, joyful, and life affirming. What else is there?

MR: What is your advice to new artists?

DAR: First, read the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling. Live and embrace your passion, fully and completely. Be a unique voice and reveal to the world what you are thinking. If you have something important to contribute, they will pay attention only if you deliver your pure self to the work, then your contribution will be rewarded. The world has everything and eveyone else but you and your uniqueness. It needs you.

MR: What ‘s next on Little Kids Rock’s agenda?

DAR: I know they have a great deal going on and they do a big event in October in NYC so maybe I will find my way there to do another painting for them. Meanwhile, they infuse children with the joy and love of music and that is a daily ongoing occurrence.  Namaste!

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SONGS OF WATER’S “11 MILES” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Sallie Mosely

According to Songs Of Water’s Stephen Roach…

“11 miles is a bit of a surrealist ‘Mono Myth’ or what Joseph Campbell would call a ‘Heroes Journey,’ only in this instance, the hero is literally being strung along by his own sense of calling. The concept for this video borrows imagery from Asian folklore as well as details from a personal dream. Ultimately, I think ’11 Miles’ is best described as an ascetic love story.”

For more information:

http://www.songsofwater.com
https://www.facebook.com/songsofwater
https://twitter.com/songsofwater

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THE FLUDES’ “ROLLING FIELDS” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: The Fludes

According to Dawn Flude…

“‘Rolling Fields’ is from our first album Ancient Tales. This set of songs & narration chronicles the life of Dawn from a Knights Lady to Immortality in the Kingdom of Haddon. As the story unfolds, her Knight leaves Haddon for war and to fight for the Warrior Queen and wage epic battle. Meanwhile, Magic, especially black magic should never be toiled with. A terrible curse had been placed upon the land, the witches spell true to her words, had taken grip. The Haddonites looked to the skies in horror, as their moon rose the color of bloodfire. Each of our lovers gazed upon this dreadful sight, the smell of death began to fill the air around them and now more than ever, they wished to be together once again. So they perform a duet, although far away, ‘Take me back to the “Rolling Fields” where the grass is greener and the world is real.’

“Little do they know that what is to follow will force them to make momentous decisions. Does our Knight desert his Queen and be branded a traitor after news that his family are dying? Does Lady Dawn loses Faith when the cursed plague comes to take her children? ‘Oh God, your choir is dying.’ ‘Rolling Fields’ will take you on a journey to the centre of your heart.”

The story of The Fludes’ Lady Dawn, The Enchanter and Father, can be found with maps and ancient scrolls in the Kingdom of Haddon at http://www.dawndiamonds.co.uk.

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Blue Camus: Chatting With Ben Sidran, Plus An Irontom Exclusive

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A Conversation with Ben Sidran

Mike Ragogna: Ben, Blue Camus is your thirty-first album. From your perspective, what did you achieve on this album that you didn’t on the previous thirty?

BS: On the one hand, every record is like a child; you love them all and wish them the best. I love this one because it has a combination of great grooves and intellectual investigation that just doesn’t happen these days, if it ever did. But I’ve always admired jazz musicians for their global perspective; they tend to be improvisers in not just their music lives but in their lives in general, and so they read, they think, they talk about ideas. This CD captures this.

MR: In 2012, you released Don’t Cry For No Hipster to your usual critical acclaim, good sales and successful tour. As you’re moving forward creatively with Blue Camus, what do you notice is changing in the creative and, I’ll say it, also business process?

BS: Obviously, the recording business is at the end of a long ten-year slide, moving away from physical product to streaming and subscription models. So the business of the business is changing dramatically and relentlessly. From a creative perspective, nothing changes. I wake up in the morning and try to deal with the problems in front of me, whether they’re musical or personal or just intellectual. Then, a little further down the road, I always look forward to going out and playing gigs with my friends. It’s like boys night out. It’s one of the payoffs of doing the work.

MR: Would you please give us the tour of the album, like how it was mapped out creatively, what your favorites are for whatever reasons, and what is the big or holistic statement that it’s making?

BS: Every album is the same and every album is different. The process of recording always involves solving the problems at hand, and each time, the problems are different. This time it was a matter of fitting brief philosophical narratives into free form grooves in a way that the listener hears the whole thing as a series of songs, emotions, movements, colors. From my point of view, every album I make is exactly that: an album. I try to make the sequence and the material flow so that the experience of listening to it is cumulative. Of course, that is not the current fashion. Today it’s all about singles and nobody cares where in the album sequence you might find Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” I don’t even know if it’s on a physical album or just on the streaming services, where sequence is irrelevant. But I have the luxury of thinking about these things.

The holistic statement, if there is one, is about living a human-scale life in our modern world, which most people would agree is out of control with technology, ambition, cynicism and just plain cash. Referencing the existential philosopher Albert Camus in the song “Blue Camus” is a reference to his search for meaning–even just feeling­–in the modern world. This is a problem we all face; we eat without tasting, look without seeing, listen without hearing. We are not in our bodies and so we often feel lost or disconnected. Music is one of the great emotional anchors in our lives so it’s natural to try to set up a nice groove and welcome the listener to check it out: “If you don’t say what you want, want what you say, you’re just hanging in the cut between avant and passe…” is the relevant line.

The song “A is For Alligator” pretends to be a children’s song but is really about capitalism. Is it really possible to let the alligator play in the bathtub? Of course not; the alligator will eat you, or you will eat it. Capitalism. I dedicate it to George Orwell because Animal Farm used the same structural conceit.

There are also some nostalgic hipster moments like “Dee’s Dilemma,” an obscure jazz song from the ’60s updated with a Crusader’s kind of funk groove. The point being, I have not forgotten the music I loved fifty years ago; I am still a witness to the execution and I find some comfort in knowing that you stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.

“There Used to Be Bees” is an instrumental meant to capture the motion and wonder of watching bees in my garden and then suddenly grasping the inevitable moment that’s coming when, as there will be with frogs and elephants and so many other species that human’s have no time or respect for, they will be no more. Again, a human scale perspective. Bees are just trying to make a living, not a killing. People can learn from that.

“The King of Harlem” is based on the Federico Garcia Lorca poem “Poet In New York.” I wrote it several years ago when I was asked to participate in the celebration at the New York Public Library of the discovery of the original manuscript. I saw it as a piece of music dedicated to a lyrical work of personal passion. Lorca had come from Spain to New York in 1929 just as the stock market crashed and even though he spoke very little English, he became very involved with the dark side of the city, both through the economic panic and the dangerous life of its homosexual community, or which he was a part. I wanted it to feel like Lorca’s words felt to me, to try to capture the emotional universe he invoked, without having to be literal about. His poem was about modernism and what the modern world does to its inhabitants. You can start to see a theme here I guess; I’m very interested in how humanity can survive all its great technological success.

“Wake Me When It’s Over” is an attempt to call political gridlock what it is. I wrote it when the Tea Party was holding the government hostage. “Too many people got nothing to say but they’re saying it louder and louder every day.”

MR: You were part of Steve Miller’s band for many years. What do you feel you added to his projects best? Do you have any favorites from that catalog of work?

BS: Well, I’m best known for co-writing the song “Space Cowboy” and I guess my contributions to his lyrics were my initial contributions, that and editing things he had written early on. Over the years, I also hooked him up with songs and musicians. For example, back in 1973, I produced the blues musician Paul Pena who wrote a song called “Jet Airliner” and when Steve heard it, he went to Paul and bought the rights to it and turned it into a huge hit. And many of the musicians he worked with for years, like drummers Gary Mallaber and Gordy Knudtson, came to him through me.

MR: Since you’ve been in at least three worlds of music–rock, pop and jazz–what do you think about the states of those genres these days?

BS: I really don’t think of music categorically. I know there are categories, particularly in record stores–if there are any such things anymore–and in Billboard charts, but I have never been able to figure them out or understand my place in them; perhaps if I could, I would be better known.

MR: What has the jazz format allowed you to express or accomplish that Steve Miller’s band and other rock and pop acts you worked with didn’t?

BS: In a pop band like Steve Miller’s you attempt to give the kids what they want, which is exactly what they heard the first time they heard the hit song on the radio. You play the same arrangement, without any additional notes or too many changes in the arrangement. And you generally play in front of a large audience so you have to play very simply so the kids in the back can follow along. You don’t want to loose them in any controversy. Steve always used to say, “That’s the problem with jazz musicians; they always want to add notes that aren’t there.”

It’s not the same as playing simply. Playing blues or R&B, you play simply but with authenticity and conviction. Pop music is basically an act, an evening of theater that the kids get to play along with. Blues, R&B and jazz are all authentic forms of Americana and leave room for personal expression, digression, recapitulation and are often better served in smaller venues and to a more intelligent or experienced group of people.

MR: What’s the story behind your commitment to jazz?

BS: When I was a young kid, maybe seven years old, I heard “Pine Top’s Boogie” by Pine Top Smith and it really spoke to me. I was taking piano lessons so I went to my teacher and she provided me with a boogie-woogie book. Then when I was thirteen, I heard the Horace Silver record Six Pieces of Silver, which just floored me. I must have listened to that record a hundred times, over and over again, like an Eskimo huddled around a fire, being warmed by the music and convinced that if I heard it just one more time, I would understand it, or be able to somehow translate what I was hearing into my own life. When I discovered that Horace and the others were black, I immediately understood that race is a chimera; there is only one race, the human race, and everything else is local color. The music spoke to me of deep humanity and a kind of profound, everyday spirituality that suggested we are all brothers, we are all related and that we can get better, feel better–even happy–if we live the right way.

MR: Who influenced you?

BS: As a piano player, I would say Erroll Garner, Horace Silver, Dave Brubeck, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark, George Shearing, Freddy Redd, Wynton Kelly, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Red Garland, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Bill Evans, and, of course, Pine Top Smith.

MR: Beyond Blue Camus material, do you have any personal favorite songs that you recorded in the past that still affect you deeply to this day?

BS: The songs that I wrote that I like the most are “Life’s a Lesson,” “So Long,” “Old Hoagy,” “There They Go,” “Don’t Cry For No Hipster,” and “In the Beginning”.

MR: At this point in your career, what has your musical mission evolved into?

BS: Living the life I sing about in my songs. It’s all well and good to have good ideas and gather up knowledge and technique but can you live the life you sing about in your songs. That’s the question I first heard in an old gospel song of the same name, and it still is news.

MR: These days, are there any musicians you prefer to create or perform with?

BS: The most important musician in my life at this point is my son, Leo. He is now in his thirties and has a life and a career of his own, but we have developed a kind of musical radar from playing together for so long and he brings out the best in me. Also I love his sense of humor and I find my best work comes when I’m laughing.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

BS: If you try to be anybody but yourself, you are doomed to be second best. Having said that, we all start out by trying to copy our heroes. Naturally, we will fail. And it is in the recovery from that perceived failure that you will begin to develop your own voice. So make your own mistakes. Embrace failure.

MR: When you released Blue Camus, were you even aware you had released thirty albums previously?

BS: Not really. I could have counted them up but I certainly wasn’t thinking about anything other than solving the musical problems in front of me.

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IRON TOM’S “NOBODY’S CHILD” EXCLUSIVE

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The new single “Nobody’s Child” is taken from LA-based Irontom’s forthcoming self-titled release compiling their previous singles. Says Irontom drummer, Dyl Williams…

“‘Nobody’s Child’ was one of our first songs together, and it’s always been very different from our other material. Whereas most of our songs can get loud and aggressive, this song is more relaxed and spacious – and it’s taken us a little time to complete a recording that does it justice. It has followed us quietly for years, and we’re excited to finally share it. The creative process is very cool.”

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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The Purple Album: Chatting with Whitesnake’s David Coverdale and Motopony’s Daniel Blue, Plus Barenaked Ladies, Eric Hutchinson, Bean and More

BARENAKED LADIES’ “DUCT TAPE HEART” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Matt Barnes

According to the Barenaked Ladies gang…

“‘Duct Tape Heart,’ one of the tracks from the Barenaked Ladies’ forthcoming album Silverball–out June 2nd–is an Ed Robertson and Kevin Griffin (Better Than Ezra) collaboration. ‘I love the imagery of a MacGyvered heart–a heart that is taped back up, but by virtue of being duct-taped back up, it’s rock-solid,’ Ed notes, no pun intended.

In Robertson’s view, Silverball has already attained a lofty status in the band’s canon, for reasons that are fundamental and enduring. ‘I think the strength of this record is the band playing together,’ he says. ‘We’re pushing in new directions–as always, I think–but it’s still unmistakably these four guys playing together, and that’s what I’m most proud of. I put the record on and it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever done before, and yet it is unmistakably the new Barenaked Ladies record. We made it quickly and effortlessly, and I think it’s a great showcase of what this band is capable of.”

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ERIC HUTCHINSON’S “FOREVER” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: JUCO

According to Eric Hutchinson…

“I had already made a video for ‘Forever’ when John [Danovic] emailed me this idea he had. It was this cool little demo video he made in his car. Stripped down but he totally got the visuals across. I loved it instantly and I had to see it made! The actual video he made is even cooler. This video captures all the emotions I felt when I wrote the song. The ups and downs of love and waiting.”

The video’s director, Jon Danovic, adds…

The inspiration for the video came from the lyric, “Tell me how you know nothing lasts forever.” There’s a desperate optimism that attracted me to the song, I tried to balance that hope and melancholy with the visual.”

ERIC FORVER CUT 3 from Jon Danovic on Vimeo.

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BEAN’S “WILDFIRE” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Chase Johnson

According to Bean…

“I wrote ‘Wildfire’ about being carefree and not allowing others to bring you down, which is summed up in the lyrics. ‘Rising like a phoenix, I’ll make you see. I’ll burn even higher, Burn even higher. I’m a Wildfire.’ ‘Wildfire’ is much more mature than my other songs…it really reflects my personality and artistry. It’s an anthem for the vagabonds, the wanderers, and the hippies of now.”

“Wildfire” is the free download of the week on iTunes!

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A Conversation with David Coverdale

Mike Ragogna: David, sir, let’s talk about all things Purple.

David Coverdale: Oh, Mikey Rags, what a treat! Two of my favorite elements in my life, Mike Ragogna and HuffPost.

MR: Then you’re either in for a treat or a wild disappointment.

DC: That depends on what you think of the f**king record, probably!

MR: [laughs] It’s hard to be objective because of our friendship, but I honestly think the record is excellent. And furthermore, I believe The Purple Album is very significant in the DC cannon because it brings your career full circle. It’s almost like after all your experience in making music–being as creative a person as you’ve been all these years–you’re looking back and respectfully treating your roots. I’ll go further. I believe this revisit of your Deep Purple material brings out musical elements of the material that you’re only now hearing at this point in your life. Conjecture, of course, but pretty close, right?

DC: That’s about it, thank you! It was nice talking with you! [laughs]

MR: [laughs] David, actually, why did The Purple Album come out now, and why not earlier in your career?

DC: It’s a very layered why, but the whole idea was birthed from tragedy. You are right when you say we’ve come full circle because that’s actually what I’ve been saying while I was mixing the album with Michael McIntyre. It was a feeling of completion of a particular journey. I think the next chapter of my life is going to be somewhat different. Still involved with music, that’s my primary vehicle for expression, but maybe not the big Tarzan, animal skin, swinging through the trees and beating my chest stuff.

MR: Well, then this interview is absolutely over! Take care, be good.

DC: [laughs] No, I’m still swinging from light truss to light truss unfortunately. It’s so very funny, Michael, from the very beginning, even before Purple, I’ve always challenged myself as a vocalist, as an athlete, as a student, and of course that was amplified by joining Purple. I wrote like four or six versions of the song “Burn” as the new boy, just wanting to please. Of course, they chose the lyric. But I’ve always challenged myself and continue to this day, but this challenge has become a little more challenging as age rears its questionable head.

Purple was literally birthed from tragedy. In 2012, I received a call from a representative of my beautiful friend and former colleague Jon Lord, who was just an amazing character in my life, a mentor, he introduced charm and grace to a working class kid from Heathcliff-land, Wuthering Heights. Jon had been diagnosed with cancer, which was horrifying, and the next thing was, “He’s determined to beat it. On his recovery, would you be up for doing some kind of Purple project?” I went, “Absolutely, you tell him I’m there for him.” The greatest sadness, of course, we lost Jon. But the loss and the grieving led me to open dialog with Ritchie Blackmore after over thirty years.

Really, there was no project on my agenda, on my radar; none whatsoever. For me, to stand between Ritchie and Jon, it was the Colossi of Rhodes. I was able to work with Glenn Hughes and Jon Lord and Ian Paice; I worked with those guys other than Glenn in early Whitesnake. Sadly, the last time I saw Ritchie, which was over thirty years ago, we had a physical confrontation which was very unpleasant and unsavory for both of us. An unpleasant rivalry between Whitesnake and Rainbow persisted for many years until Whitesnake became so ridiculously successful and sold so many records it wasn’t even a consideration.

But for two reasons, I wanted to speak to Ritchie. One was to commiserate on the loss of Jon and the other was to sincerely thank him for being part of a decision that gave me the opportunity to front one of the biggest bands in the rock ‘n’ roll world. I had no preperception of global success. I’d seen Deep Purple on a couple Top Of The Pops, I’d seen a little bit of one of their shows in the north of England where I lived. I knew they were big in England but that’s all I knew. I had no perception whatsoever off the kind of global success they were embracing. So to give this unknown, untried, untested vocalist from the north of England this incredible, indescribable opportunity to front and to create songs with Ritchie and Tommy Bolin was the Willy Wonka golden ticket. They started me on a journey that may be completed at the end of this forthcoming world tour.

MR: And your versions of these Deep Purple songs aren’t clones but evolved versions of the originals. Was this a sort of resolution, maybe what you always wanted to do with these songs?

DC: Oh, very much so. My primary thing when I heard “Burn” was, “Christ, I was naive. Jesus, I was young. Buddha, I was innocent.” [laughs] I was literally flying by the seat of my pants. The cliché would be “thrown in the deep end to sink or swim.” Fortunately, I swam. I actually used one of the lyrics from an initial version forty years ago on my last studio album, Forever More. But what was really fantastic for me, reconnecting with these songs after reconnecting positively with Ritchie Blackmore was, “Jesus, what a great band!” It tends to diminish over the decades when you’re focused and moving around. I’m not a nostalgia guy, I’m a, “Now and moving forward, what are we doing next,” kind of guy. The Lewis and Clarke of rock. “Okay, this f**king avenue’s closed, let’s hack our way through this one,” determined to find a new way to deliver music from A to Z in these very, very new times.

What I was astonished by was the musicality, how the songs stood up, even the production values were pretty happening for that time. It reconnected me with fortunately more positive memories than negative ones. For instance, actually doing The Purple Album sitting next to Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra firing on all six cylinders on the “Burn” solo and going, “Oh my God, I was sitting next to Ritchie Blackmore over forty years ago in The Rolling Stones truck recording the original solo. It was moments like that. Tommy Bolin and I writing “Love Child” after hanging out with Bob Marley & The Wailers. We totally loved reggae. I loved it since it was ska and bluebeat. There was a large Jamaican populace in the north of England close to where I lived. I loved that stuff. So the original version of the song called “Love Child” was literally reggae. [Sings “Love Child” to a reggae beat] At the end of it, Tommy and I looked at each other and said, “F**k it, Purple ain’t gonna buy that.” So we made it significantly more butch, but on the Come Taste The Band album there are a couple little inflections of reggae that really I don’t think anybody picked up on other than Tommy and I.

These things were super little reconnecting dots that I had just let go of years ago. It was fabulous in so many ways, being able to write a small elegy to Jon in the middle of a song called “Sail Away.” I digress somewhat because the conversations with Ritchie Blackmore took place in 2012 going deep into 2013 while I was on Whitesnake’s world tour “Year Of The Snake.” He asked me to speak to his manager, who then asked me if I could keep a secret. I said, “Of course not, I’m a f**king singer!” She said, “Would you be interested in doing a project with Ritchie?” Primarily, I thought, “Hmm, Blackmore/Coverdale; we could embrace the music of Purple and Rainbow and Whitesnake, it could be an interesting ticket.”

Then the question was would you choose Roger or Glenn. I love Roger Glover, I worked with him, he produced two solo albums for me a lifetime ago, but Glenn Hughes is my soul brother. We communicate pretty much every day. At the time I dug out these old projects. This wasn’t even on my radar, Michael. So literally I dug out the Burn, Stormbringer and Come Taste The Band albums and thought, “Eh, he’s not going to want to do anything from Come Taste The Band, of course. Hang on a second, he’s going to want me to do ‘Smoke On The F**king Water.'” But I was digging into them and going, “I just hope he’s up for giving the house of Purple a fresh coat of paint and maybe moving the furniture around a little bit.” What my words were, once I actually got into the studio with Whitesnake was, “Snake ’em up a bit,” said with the benefit of forty years of experience in survival in a very challenging industry.

So I was starting to work on this while discussing things with Ritchie and his manager. The unplugged version of “Sail Away,” which I thought would be a wonderful transition, maybe even a duet, with Ritchie’s lovely wife Candace. They have a beautiful Renaissance-style music group called Blackmore’s Night. So I was pulling all of these strings together to make it some kind of cohesive thing, but you know the more I discussed it with his manager the more I felt, “I can’t share this vision.” At this time in my life, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do, Michael, so I very respectfully withdrew from further dialog regarding a project and wished them well in everything they do. Fortunately, we’ve stayed in touch.

Then I was having dinner with Cindy, my wife–I don’t know if you ever met her back in the day–but I was commiserating with her, “Eh, what a bummer, I’ve done all this work and it’s not going to see the light of day.” It was my beloved partner who said, “Well, why don’t you do it under the Whitesnake banner,” and I went, “Oh!” My glass of chardonnay hovered mid-drink as that realization hit me. And with my being a meditative little son of a gun, I meditated on it for a couple of days and then I spoke to Michael McIntyre my co-producer. I’d already been speaking to Doug Aldrich who was still involved with Whitesnake at the time, so I spoke to our fabulous record company Frontiers and of course these guys are fans of rock and total Deep Purple fans, so I said, “How would you feel if Whitesnake did a tribute album?” There’s never been a best of for Mark III or IV! How f**king goofy is that? The best classic rock tunes in the world and the management has never had the thought of, “By all means, let’s keep milking the teets of Mark II, but what about Mark III and Mark IV?” It all kind of came together. My musicians all had the same kind of musical boner, so it came through, all systems go.

MR: So when you entered the band, it also was an education in how to go solo and rev up Whitesnake.

DC: Oh yeah. I’m like Bubba The Love Sponge. I just soak it all in. I was there, I still don’t understand all the technical stuff, but I know if I want to add a little more EQ here, less bass there. I’ve never wanted to be an engineer, but I was there for every session, watching it, discussing it. Just earlier we mentioned the “Burn” solo, which is a breathtaking musical, symphonic solo from not only Jon Lord but also Ritchie Blackmore. It harnesses his classical training for a breathtaking guitar solo. When I was sitting next to Ritchie in the Stones truck in Switzerland, he turned around to Martin Birch, our producer and engineer and said, “Slow the tape down a bit.” I’m sitting there going, “Huh?” But suddenly “Burn” starts playing [mimics slow track], I have no f**king idea, but then Ritchie’s at the top of his neck playing along with this, pre-click track stuff, playing that Bach sequence. Then he said, “Oh, play it back at normal speed,” and he plays it back and it’s this astonishing, [mimics solo] mandolin kind of thing. He said, “What do you think?” and I said, “It sounds a bit like a balalaika!” He said, “Play it back. He’s f**king right. Take it off.” I thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to be fired.”

That was my huge learning lesson. If somebody asks you, tell the f**king truth. In any given situation, tell the truth because it’ll pay off. Ritchie and I wrote most of the material together, and then the band of course put their astonishing identity on, which is what really made Deep Purple, but I wrote a lot of stuff with Ritchie and that actually made our work easier. I thought, “Thank God I have an opinion because I’m from Yorkshire,” and we’ve got an opinion about every f**king thing.

MR: [laughs] You were talking about always telling the truth earlier. It seems like that’s a major component of your work.

DC: I’ve always loved music, and my beloved aunt who I lost at the same time as Jon Lord was fourteen, spending all of her pocket money on Little Richard and early Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and I’m this six or seven year old going, “Oh my god, this is fucking unbelievable.” I still can’t articulate what pulled me in about Hendrix, what made Hendrix my muse. He’s this guy harnessing blues and soul and exciting guitar and image and blues lyrics and extraterrestrial cosmic shit. He’s everything. Hendrix just harnessed everything that I love. There are no mistakes. I go to school one day and the music teacher was ill and the only other teacher who had a free period was the science teacher, a guy called Benbow. He said, “I don’t know what to talk to you about; I’m just a clarinet player.” So he played a bit of Sidney Bechet, but then he played Lead Belly and I’m going, “What the f**k? All the hairs on the back of my neck are going up! What is this?” I’m eleven years old or something and I go up to him afterwards and say, “What is that?” He played me a bit of Big Bill Broonzy and I’m going, “Wow!”

Before I played an instrument, I would write secret poetry to express myself. I kept it well away from my soccer-playing chums, otherwise I would’ve had my ass kicked probably. “Hey, how are you doing?” “Well, the sun hangs slowly like a golden orb.” As soon as I started playing a couple of chords they became lyrics. Hearing blues singer talk about the honesty of sex, the honesty of politics, of poverty, of heartbreak,” it just rung all of my bells, as opposed to leaving me flat on “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” F**k, that meant nothing to me. But when you’ve got The Who harnessing Motown and you’ve got The Kinks harnessing whatever the f**k Ray Davis was, those things just resonated like f**k. All of that was going into the Coverdale blender to be mixed up in preparation for my work with Deep Purple.

MR: How big does spirituality play in your life and music?

DC: I’ve always completely and utterly believed in a supreme being. Always. I was unable to articulate it when I was a kid, but my best friend was a catholic kid and I used to sneak into their church, I knew all the hymns, until a priest grabbed me by my significantly short hair and dragged me out and literally threw me out of the fucking church, which probably served me well in the long time. I’ve always believed in God, even as a child going, “Oh, please bring me a grey bike for Christmas.” I always believed there was something more than what’s just here. Of course as I got older my believe system became that of spirituality. I don’t particularly embrace religions, but my spirituality is complete, I meditate and pray to God every day without fail and do my energy intentions and stuff. It’s an amazing journey to be on. It’s the ultimate accessory for me, Michael. Having real hair and meditation has made my life complete. [laughs]

MR: Well, I have one of those! [laughs]

DC: So the thing for me now…you said “full circle” and that’s exactly the expression I’ve been using. A feeling of completion. Being able to pay respectful tribute to the men of Deep Purple. There isn’t a note on The Purple Album that isn’t a respectful nod to each of our colleagues. All my liner notes in there are respectful. The guys came in… Reb Beach was so full of this project that Michael and I offered him a co-production scenario, which he did heroically throughout last year. Joel Hoekstra came in to assume as a fresh guitar player after Doug Aldrich had moved on. Joel’s musicality is extraordinarily welcome. Tom and Michael Devin, Tommy Aldridge came in, the drummer, he came in and set the energy bar for this project. If anybody can’t hear the drive and celebration from the moment “Burn” starts going I don’t want to know them. It’s like f**king NASCAR with Tommy in the driving seat. Tommy’s very much like the school of Ian Paice, the original drummer on these songs, who was significantly more influenced by big band drummers like Max Roach and Buddy Rich and whoever, harnessing those elements in a rock environment, whereas a lot of other people follow the school of John Bonham, just straight forward rock ‘n’ roll stuff. This was perfect for Tommy to come in on. I said, “None of these are going to be singles, we don’t have to worry about CHR, just fucking go for it,” and my god, they did. But as soon as Tommy started going I saw the guys physically go, “F**k!” and everyone came up a few notches. It was really inspiring. It was all positive, Michael, it was lovely.

MR: In your opinion, what is the legacy of Deep Purple?

DC: I have no idea. I’ve never done it for that stuff! You guys are the ones who throw words like that in. Oh my god, when I’m doing interviews and people are very nervous with me, saying, “oh my god, you sang with Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin, Jimmy Page, Uncle Tom Cobley and all,” you go, “Wow, it has been a serious career!” But I’ve never looked at it with those eyes. Never. It just isn’t something, “Oh my god, we deserve a place in the–” fuck ’em if they don’t want us in the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. Every one of my musicians, and Lars from Metallica and Paul Stanley are going, “What the f**k, aren’t you guys in?” I was actually talking to Ritchie at the time we were nominated, two years ago, I said, “Are you going to go?” he said, “Nah,” and I said, “Well if you’re not going I’m not f**king going.”

But we still sell records. When I got that big success in America, MTV time, ’87, ’88, ’89, all those years, most of the interviews out of America had no clue about Deep Purple. I was very happy to just continue talking Whitesnake, Michael. Nothing I’ve ever done is for legacy. I didn’t know “Still Of The Night” or “Is This Love?” were going to be giant fucking songs that were part of the background of people’s lives, are you kidding me? I just try to sing as good as I can, write better songs, make better records, play better concerts and challenge myself. If I’m not inspired to put effort into my work then I’m getting off that f**king horse immediately. When I stand in front of these guys and sing I do stuff that shocks the shit out of me, let alone anyone else, because I have the inspiration, the drive from that stuff and I’m still to this day inspired. Hopefully, you can hear that.

MR: Oh yeah. Has this foray into The Purple Album changed how you’re going to look at your own stuff?

DC: What was fascinating for me was seeing such a palpable thread from the very beginning of my writing with Deep Purple through to my last studio album, Forever More, there’s an absolute connection. I’ve written two heavy metal songs, “Burn,” and “Stormbringer.” Those lyrics have nothing to do with heart and soul or a search for direction or anything. They’re sci-fi fantasy things, which basically I wrote for Ritchie Blackmore, because he loved that s**t. I wasn’t going to do “Stormbringer” on this album until all of the band emotional avalanched me. “You’ve got to do it, I can’t ‘Snake it up, it’s in fixed melody, blah blah blah,” and I went, “F**k it, okay, you want to do it? We’re going to make a sonic fucking storm. In the performance and the video we’ll have it for the first time and probably the only time I’ve done production stuff with that kind of music.”

Michael dug out storms, my son Jasper became the voice of the storm, that kind of demonic voice at the beginning and the end. Four year-old Jack Hoekstra sent his daddy a message while he was working with me and I said, “Let’s put that in there.” I found a cassette of my daughter at four years old singing songs that I used to write for her, so Michael McIntyre fucked them up and low-fi’d them and distressed them. Those kids are the willful children of the storm. I’ve never done that before! It was a poopload of fun. It’s probably not something that I’m ever going to do again, but it was great and it serves its purpose for this. But in all of the songs I’ve found that there was this really common denominator that was so easy to put in certain musical accents which maybe we did live with Purple, but I’ve maximized on doing those accents so it’s part of the Whitesnake identity. It was really fun, very organic and natural. I swear to God, meditating and sitting down with a guitar, or sitting down at the piano, it just unfolded. This project was absolutely meant to be done at this time in my life. I have no doubt whatsoever.

MR: How do you think Jon would’ve reacted to The Purple Album? He had to be in your heart and in your mind as you were doing this, right?

DC: I know what you’re saying, but I’ll be honest with you. I never look at replacing musicians. I get new people in who I feel can help inspire me and take Whitesnake another step up the ladder and hopefully reciprocate with them so it’s a mutual exchange of energy and creativity. I specifically focused on the twin guitar attack of Whitesnake on this record. I brought in a keyboard player I worked with many years ago who I knew was an acolyte of Jon Lord and Emerson and Rick Wakeman to do the keyboards, but I said, “The focus will be on twin guitars. The keyboards are just going to be more layered and more orchestral on epics like ‘Mistreated’ and ‘You Keep On Moving’ and ‘The Gypsy,’ adding more synthesized orchestra than we did back in the day.” I think Jon’s response would be, “There’s nowhere near enough f**king organ on this! It’s missing my organ.” And that’s what it is.

But Jon was such a unique man, his musicality, his inversions. George Harrison was brilliant with inversions, moreso than the other two guys, but as George came into his own he wrote all of these things he called silly chords, those diminished chords and stuff that worked beautifully and established the George Harrison identity. Jon Lord would bring that to my songs. His musicality, instead of a straight “C,” he would say, “Oh, what about a major seventh or a minor seventh,” and my god it made all the difference in the world. He had a beautiful feel for music and melody. Gorgeous.

MR: Can you remember his reactions to your creativity while working with him?

DC: Jon was huge to me. I’ll give you three very quick examples. Just after Ian Gillan and Roger Glover joined, my local group supported Deep Purple, the early Mark II as students at Bradford University. The Purple guys were really complimentary. We had some alternate arrangements for “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. But I was already messing around, trying to take straightforward songs and making them more rocky or whatever. You know how Page did with Willie Dixon songs and Duane Allman did with Muddy Waters stuff. Taking the blues and just making something symphonic with them was really interesting. There’s no reason on this planet for me to lie, but Jon Lord sat me down and said, “I like your voice a lot.” I’m going, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” He said, “Do you have a phone number in case it doesn’t work out with the other guy?” I didn’t have a phone number, I was still living with my parents and we never had a phone. So I gave him my address and we went our separate ways. Of course, I’ve got blue birds flying out of every orifice driving home and checking the mailbox every day for the next three months. And it worked out incredibly well with the new guy, as we can all testify.

The second time was my audition when I’m this nervous kid. I brought a bottle of Bell’s Whisky and the guy who drove me down hid it from me, but of course I found it, so I’m having little sips, and Jon sat me down and said, “Don’t worry about it, just be yourself. You’re among friends.” He spoke to me like an incredibly kind soul. This beautiful-looking guy really settled my nerves and helped me calm down. And he did the fucking same again after I got the gig with Purple and I’d been at rehearsals at Clearwell Castle with the power trio of Blackmore, Pace, and Glenn Hughes. Jon had had to stay in London for a couple of days on business and he called up Ritchie and said, “So how’s it going?” “Oh, great,” and he said, “How’s David doing?” “Oh, he seems great. He hasn’t sung anything, but I think he’s doing well.” [laughs] So he comes down to Clearwell Castle and he sends everybody down to the local pubs, so it’s just Jon and I in the studio–well, crypt–where rehearsal stuff is. He goes, “Yeah, have a drink. I must tell you, when you sang yesterday at the audition I had tears in my eyes. It was beautiful.” I sang more of the Ray Charles style vocal.

So he’s just playing music and I’m singing along, Beatles tunes and rock stuff, just the two of us and a couple of drinks to get the edge off. It was an amazing conversation for this founder of Deep Purple to share with a new guy, he said, “It’s really hard for me because when we started I was the primary writer. Once we did the In Rock album Ritchie became the dynamo. Ritchie can just play the simplest of riffs and everybody goes, ‘Oh wow, that’s amazing!’ But if I played that riff on organ it just doesn’t resonate. Nobody gets it.” I said, “Some of my favorite stuff is chord-related on organ. Have you got any chord sequences?” and he played me this sequence which ultimately became “Might Just Take Your Life.” I went, “F**k, that’s like ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine!” That was my foundation, so I start wailing on this stuff and John’s going, “Oh my god, look, goose bumps!” and all this. I would take my riffs to Blackmore and I would take my chord sequences to Jon. It became really apparent from then on. But I can’t tell you how pivotal Jon Lord was in my life to help me on my fucking journey. It was amazing.

MR: Can you hear other musicians’ works who seemed to have been affected by him? Can you hear what kind of influence he had on rock in general?

DC: Oh God yeah! He just made the Hammond organ. Him, Wakeman, Emerson, those guys just took it from Jimmy Smith and put it into a rock format. If you take Jon Lord’s left hand off Deep Purple record it’d be an entirely different band, even with Ian Paice and Ritchie playing. His sound was absolutely crucial to the sonic identity, as far as I’m concerned, of Deep Purple. He and Keith were beating the stage with their organs, if you’ll excuse the expression. Thrusting their organs all over the stage.

MR: [laughs] What advice do you have for new artists?

DC: Oh, in this day and age? Get a f**king lawyer. All the music companies are doing 360 deals, which couldn’t be more obscene to me. I love my lawyers. My guys have integrity, which isn’t usually synonymous, but for me as a business man I can’t see the logic of cutting your nose off to spite your face. Why would you want to not pay an appropriate royalty for streaming? Why would you try to diminish the worth of an artist when it’s their work that’s fueling their industry?

MR: It’s preying on desperation. I hate the overt greed of it. No shame.

DC: Musicians can go out and play to fill the gaping hole that the lack of record sales has created, but streaming has actually become the saving grace for record companies. But it really is to the point of such diminishing returns for musicians that I have no words to describe it. I would turn around and say, “Okay, let’s make this work,” but now I’m hearing that new contracts that are sent out from friends of mine who are lawyers, that record companies now want to pass on paying even streaming royalties because they consider streaming “promotion.” That is beyond a grey area.

MR: What does the future hold for you?

DC: I’m in awe of the bar that The Who and The Stones have raised, but I really can’t see me doing “Still Of The Night” how it’s supposed to be done at seventy. I just can’t see that. But then again, I thought I was done at thirty. It is physically demanding. One of the things I have to do is a blues album, because I truly love the blues, and whether or not this is my last big rock record it would be appropriate to go out as I came in, but I’m not sure of that because we’re probably going to be filming and recording this upcoming tour, but I see in my future just making music available directly to my fanbase through the website or wherever rather than sweet talk a record company into allowing me to do a blues record. But the other thing I want to do, truly, is an unplugged Greatest Hits with a couple of new songs. Not totally unplugged, not Simon & Garfunkel, but something not so physically demanding on my body and my voice. I do still maintain a good mid-range and low voice which seems to be appealing to a lot of people, particularly the ladies. So even if this is the last hurrah in terms of “David Coverdale aka Tarzan,” there’s going to be some up close and personal stuff I think in the foreseeable future.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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RYAN CALHOUN’S “COFFEE” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Trever Hoehne

According to Ryan Calhoun…

“I knew ‘Coffee’ was going to be a polarizing song, people are either going to love it or hate it. So I wanted to have a video equally polarizing. I didn’t want the video to be ‘on the nose,’ for example a guy in a coffee shop trying to talk to a good-looking girl etc etc. As a kid I was obsessed with Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video–who wasn’t. And with the popularity of Zombies, I thought we could do something along those lines. I worked with director Gavin Fisher and we shot the video in a day at a ranch about an hour outside of LA. I liked the dichotomy of a cheerful song about coffee being set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world! I want the viewer to be like, ‘Wait! What? This is hilarious!!’ Also, as for me, I have become a huge fan of The Zac Brown Band. He gets thrown into the ‘country’ world, but he’s so much more than that. He kind of does what ever he wants, sometimes his songs are country, other times more folk or rock. He’s a badass and he makes no apologies for it, it’s very inspiring. I do feel like my new album is parallel to Zac Brown’s style of music; he has definitely taught me that a good song is a good song. Write what you write and do what you love!”

Ryan Calhoun’s new EP Paper Stars will be released 6/23
https://www.facebook.com/ryancalhounmusic

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SONNY KNIGHT AND THE LAKERS’ “WHEN YOU’RE GONE” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Mike Madison

According to Sonny Knight and the Lakers drummer Eric Foss…

“For us, playing live is all about putting on a show, not just picking a bunch of songs and playing them. Set lists are developed in a very methodical way. There is no stopping to switch guitars, or tune, or tell funny stories. I guess we think of it as more of a performance art in that sense. Nothing against folks who don’t do it that way, some of my favorite artists are the exact opposite of this. I’m thinking of how Townes or Ramblin’ Jack performed live. This is just what we’re into and works best for us. Last year, we were blessed with the opportunity to perform our show nearly 100 times throughout the US and Europe. When things finally calmed down at the end of the year, we knew it was time to develop a new show. But we wanted to document this one before moving on from it. Then a four show engagement at The Dakota in Minneapolis fell in our lap and we knew it was now or never. The crazy thing about working with Sonny Knight is that at 67 years of age, somehow he just continues to get better night after night. I’m glad we were able to capture him performing that show at his very best before we dismantled it. Now we’re just looking forward to doing it all over again, releasing a new studio album, touring that record, and God willing, cut another live album.”

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A Conversation with Motopony’s Daniel Blue

Mike Ragogna: You recently posted your video “Daylights Gone,” a song from your new album Welcome You. What’s the song’s concept?

Daniel Blue: “Daylights Gone” is a song comparing the phases of the moon to the transformative nature of the human experience.

MR: This being your second album, what’s been the growth or significant changes for the band creatively between the self-titled debut and Welcome You? Have your personal relationships changed since the early days?

DB: I wrote most of the first album alone in Tacoma. I hired Buddy Ross as a producer and he wound up joining and we built a band around the record we created. When we got signed, we collected a new drummer, Forrest Mauvais and a second guitarist, Mike Notter.

We set out to write a “record we could play live”, since the first record was mostly me and production tracks. During the writing process of the second album, Buddy moved on to work with Frank Ocean and I lost another member, Brantey Cady, to a friend’s project. Mike, Forrest and I brought on a trio–Andrew Butler on keys, Nate Daily on guitar, and Micah Simler on bass–and went about finishing the record and writing at least another dozen songs. We ended up finding a pretty new sound and since we were after a live sound we started over probably six or seven times. Micah went on to tour with Noah Gundersen before we tracked with McCarthy and we brought on Terry Mattson on a recommendation from Hey Marseille–Seattle chamber pop. We wanted a “band record,” and to us that meant everyone got input on everything and we all had to absolutely love every measure of our parts.  

MR: What are the responsibilities of each of the band’s members in the recording and live processes?

DB: First, it’s to our specific instrummies and strengths; I’m good at lyric, Mike is a hell of an arrangement man. But as I said, there’s not much we didn’t listen to from every member who got inspired.

MR: The last album’s emphasis track seems to have been “King Of Diamonds.” Is this album’s biggest highlight “Daylights Gone”? Can you go into a couple of stories behind the topics or creative process of a couple of other songs?

DB: “Daylights Gone” wasn’t my choice. I’m torn between “Changing,” “1971” and “Gypsy Woman,” depending on my mood. Changing was a total band effort and we rewrote it like 40 times so the name became kind of ironic. “1971” came from a chorus Nate had cooking based on his idolization of that period in music and a “champagne super party” he feels like he missed out on growing up in the depressing 90’s. “Gypsy Woman” is a song from my inner feminine–Carl Jung would call an “anima”–to myself about how to be a performer.  

MR: What was it like working with Mike McCarthy?

DB: Indescribable. Im kidding. I’m not kidding. He’s a master at vintage sound.  

MR: How does Seattle play into the spirit of the band? 

DB: Context is the only definition we have, buddy. It’s the only thing that’s real.  

MR: Which artists or songs influenced you as you became aware of music? What age did you become aware you wanted to follow music as a path?

DB: Growing up, I wanted to be either an astronaut or a rockstar.  But the truth is my parents didn’t trust or teach science and we listened to very little secular music.  When I was 12 we moved to Washington and I discovered FM radio on an alarm clock they bought me for school.  I would listen in secret with the intent a dry sponge has in a puddle. There was no filter, I wanted it all. As I developed my own style and friend group I leaned toward grunge and classic rock, but mostly because that’s what the other kids with skateboards listened to… In my late teens and early twenties, I was a fiend for electronic music and dance culture and when the drugs wore off I got into Emo and shoe gaze. When I started writing poetry in my mid-twenties, someone turned me on to the beats and that led me through the ’60s to Dylan and then Neil Young and subsequently late era John Lennon. Wherein I fell back in love with The Beatles…which was the only music my parents had that wasn’t pretending to be religious. Full circle, haha!

MR: Are there any steps or events you would have wanted to do differently up to this point? 

DB: I’ve no regrets. All consequence is learning.  

MR: What’s Motopony map of the future?

DB: Love one another. Stay close, forgive each other. Stay honest, enjoy what comes.  

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

DB: Ask yourselves the big why questions. Where does inspiration come from? How does sound create emotions? Who am I, really? What do I actually have to say?  

Avoid the trap of trying. Don’t let anyone–including your own desire–make you try to sound like this or that. Don’t try to be cool or popular. Don’t try to write music that sells. Fame and money will come if you are chosen and dedicated to pure expression that other humans can relate to. Love the listener, even if you are being critical of them. Tell your truth in a way it will be understood. Don’t copy your heroes, they weren’t copying theirs.

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CRAIG GREENBERG’S “THAT GIRL IS WRONG FOR YOU” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Roberto Ariel

According to Craig Greenberg…

“The song, ‘That Girl Is Wrong for You,’ isn’t about one ‘girl’ specifically, but is more an indictment of a few women I’ve known over the years. In the lyric, I am singing as the benevolent narrator, trying to warn a friend, but the truth is it’s about my experience going after women that aren’t right for me, which I seem to do repeatedly in my life. Maybe it’s wanting the unattainable, or maybe it’s a fear of commitment I have that makes me pursue unworkable relationships.  Unfortunately, I haven’t figured it out yet, so I imagine the song will continue to resonate with me for some time.

Musically, ‘That Girl Is Wrong for You,’ is one of the most straight ahead songs I’ve written, and also one of the shortest. I’d say it’s as close to a standard pop song as I have in my catalog. Rarely do I like key changes in pop songs, but I managed to slip one in that I think works quite effectively to give the song a lift, and also isn’t cheesy. And I’m especially proud of the piano solo breakdown in there. I defy any listener to not nod their head or stomp their feet during that section. It’s rock ‘n’ roll as I think it should be–simple, danceable, and fun!”

“That Girl is Wrong for You” is off of Craig Greenberg’s album The Grand Loss & Legacy

https://www.craiggreenbergmusic.com

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Chatting with The Boxmasters’ Billy Bob Thornton & J.D. Andrew, Plus Goodnight Moonshine, Lines West and Doug Burr Exclusives

GOODNIGHT MOONSHINE’S “DARK SIDE OF THE RAINBOW” MASHES PINK FLOYD WITH THE WIZARD OF OZ

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photo courtesy of Seth Cohen PR

The video of the song “Dark Side of the Rainbow” is a mashup of Pink Floyd’s “Time” from Dark Side of the Moon, and “Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. Their aim is to pull back the curtain not only the urban legend of the Pink Floyd album but also to reveal the tension that often exists within a new marriage.

According to Eben Pariser…

“The whole thing emerged from the 90s phenomenon of syncing The Wizard of Oz movie to the Dark Side of the Moon album, and all the speculation that the coincidences were way too precise for Pink Floyd to not be in on it, especially since they were making movie soundtracks at the time. When I was 16 (after allegedly indulging in the stoner-sport of syncing the film to the album,) I spontaneously realized that ‘Time’ was in fact a perfect reharmonization of ‘Over The Rainbow’–but it took me 16 more years to find the right vehicle to record and perform the mashup, in my lovely wife Molly and our collaboration, Goodnight Moonshine.'”

According to Molly Ventor…

“We set out wanting to convince people that Pink Floyd intentionally synched the album to​ The Wizard of Oz. During the filming, we realized how closely the 2 sets of lyrics paralleled the different sides of a longstanding philosophical argument we’d been having;​ Venter believing that much in life is out of one’s control and that we must remain hopeful and optimistic, Pariser believing more in the power of individual will and action, and that missed opportunities are one’s own fault. Through the taping we recognized​ we were each trying to convince the other of our own life perspective. ​The video captures how painful that endeavor is. We’re a newlywed couple, letting you in on our life together through our music. All the good stuff, but also the dark stuff, challenging stuff–the stuff that often goes unsaid. No kitsch. And largely positive and healing through the revelation that we are at the core, just normal folks trying to make a marriage work. A positive loving relationship, and a deeply artistic and somewhat daring one.”

For more on : http://www.goodnightmoonshine.com

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A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton

Mike Ragogna: Billy, your group The Boxmasters has been working on its double CD Somewhere Down The Road for a while now. How does The Boxmasters hit you these days as opposed to when you were just starting out with the group?

Billy Bob Thornton: In the beginning, we didn’t really know how long it would last. It was kind of like a side project for my solo stuff. We thought we’d make that record and maybe another one and that would be it. It began as a sort of stylized thing. We were experimenting with a combination of British Invasion and hillbilly music and putting them together and wearing the suits in tribute to the sixties, which is the era we love. The first two or three records were almost like art projects. Like I said, they were very stylized. If you remember the first Boxmasters record, it had transitional music, so it never stopped. We put an extra CD of covers in each record as a bonus, songs we loved and that inspired and influenced us.

After those records were done and we parted ways with Vanguard Records, we thought we’d gone as far as we could. Then all of a sudden, we just started writing songs and playing the way we naturally sound as opposed to trying for a specific thing. On the first record, we were doing Mott The Hoople, The Beatles, The Byrds and singing it like David Allan Coe. Then JD and Brad and I started writing these songs and we just played them the way we naturally sound. As it turns out, the reason we made this new record a double is because we sound like two things. We have that moody sort of dark, atmospheric sound, and then we have this very late sixties LA country rock sound in the vein of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Burrito Brothers, with some influence of Petty and people like that. We discovered that that’s who we really are. We’ve written probably two or three hundred songs that aren’t even on records; we’ve got five or six songs that have already been mastered that aren’t out. We’re just going to sell those records on the website because we’ve got so many. That sound on Somewhere Down The Road–on the first side especially–is kind of what those other songs sound like. We’ve kind of finally settled into that.

MR: Do you feel like you guys reached this point creatively because of what’s going on in your personal lives? Maybe you’ve “matured” in some ways, if that’s the right word?

BT: I think that’s a good word for it. We have matured as songwriters, musicians, singers, everything. I think you can’t help doing something for so long that you’re just going to get better. We’ve gotten better over the years. I think we have more confidence. We know we can write songs and we know we can write songs that people can respond to as opposed to whatever weird stuff is in our head that we experiment with. I think we have definitely matured. I think recording is probably my favorite thing to do in music. We love playing live, that’s a great thing, but being in the recording studio is such a part of our souls and so natural to us. I love acting, I love doing movies and I love music, I love them all equally, but I think I only like the process of actually doing the stuff. I love the process of recording, I love the process of doing movies as an actor, I just don’t like all the other junk that’s involved with it. So maybe in the recording studio, you just feel exempt from everything when you’re in there. It’s like you’re hidden in a cave somewhere alone doing what you’re feeling in the moment. I guess that’s why we recorded so many songs; we just keep going. Even ones that aren’t intended to come out maybe. We get an idea for a song that probably isn’t commercially viable but we record it anyway because we want to.

MR: The process is more important than an end result. How is your creative expression different or the same in the fields of acting and music?

BT: They both really do feed my soul. Not only are they both very cathartic–I know that word is probably very overused but they truly are–but I just love the artistry of both. The thing is you get to experience what’s in your mind in different ways. It feels the same inside, it’s just as good both ways, but you get to experience your art in a different way. But to me, they’re really the same thing, just expressed in different ways. I never expected to become and actor of any stature. It just kind of happened. Because of that I always approach things this way: I’d rather have a hundred or two hundred really hardcore fans than millions of fans who just treat it like anything else and you get slagged off half the time and some of them are sort of interested or some hate it and some like it. It’s that end result thing you were talking about. I don’t do anything with that in mind. I never expect that we’re going to have a hit and I don’t particularly care if we do. It would be wonderful, but that’s not why we do it. That’s not why I do anything in movies either.

MR: You talked about fans who would really “get” what you put out. Can you identify what that kind of fan is, what your core fans love about The Boxmasters?

BT: Generally, our fans are people who like an eclectic mix of things. They’re people who aren’t diehard rock ‘n’ roll fans or die hard country fans, it’s kind of hard to identify our music and I think it’s kind of hard to identify our fans. We tend to have fans that are either forties and fifties and up or twenty year-olds. It’s sort of that middle range in there, people from thirty to forty, I don’t think we have as many of them for some reason. That could be because of whatever time they grew up in. I think maybe people in that age range were sort of spoon fed a particular fashion statement and things were put in boxes more when those people were growing up, whereas when I was growing up everything was very eclectic. I listened to Hank Williams and The Mothers Of Invention in the same day, and the radio would play James Taylor and Black Sabbath on the same station.

I think maybe the reason we have some younger fans is because that’s sort of starting to come back around. A lot of people are really down on music right now, but I see that even sometimes people of my generation are the ones trying to fit into a mold more and more. You see guys who were singing Vietnam protest songs and now they’re on the cover of a magazine doing a duet with a pop star so they can remain current. I’m finding that some of the guys in the younger bands are real fans of The Boxmasters because they themselves are looking for their thing like we were in the sixties. So when they hear something slightly off the beaten path they really dig it. I actually have hope for music right now. I really do. I didn’t before. Everybody knows the eighties was kind of a bizarre generation. The nineties had a little resurgence but then it kind of went away for a decade or so, but I think it’s really coming back. People are looking for different things. People are listening to certain metal bands as well as Mumford and Sons or the Old Crow Medicine Show, people like that. I think it’s on an upswing. Also young kids, say teenagers up until young twenties, are discovering The Beatles and Buffalo Springfield and Aerosmith and whoever it was along the way. There are plenty of twenty year olds who listen to Deep Purple and Zeppelin and The Who and everything like that.

MR: Since you’re a pretty solid music expert, doesn’t understanding what went into making classic, high-quality albums make the process a bit intimidating for you? Like how do you balance striving for that caliber while just expressing yourself and letting creativity flow?

BT: I think it’s two things. One is never forgetting history. Never forget that history of all the great classic albums over the years, letting them influence you and not being ashamed to say, “Yeah, absolutely, we were trying to be The Beatles” or The Stones or The Animals or whatever, that’s our desire. The bar was set very high for people of my generation. We all wanted to be The Beatles and we knew we were never going to be, that it was going to be impossible. You’re always reaching for an impossible goal, so you never get lazy about it. You’re always striving and you’re always desperate for acceptance and approval and everything. When the bar has been set that high you just never stop trying. At the same time, a good part of that is you have such great music and songwriting to draw from, you let it wash over you and influence you.

The second part is that you have to remain open to new things. We’re not trying to just copy old stuff that we love. We’re knot like that. We’re truly not the old guys chasing the kids out of the yard. We really do respect the evolution of music. I think you have to be open, resect the evolution of music and at the same time hold on to your history. You put those two things together and it’s very satisfying to you. Whether anybody is going to respond to it or not, that’s up to them. We have no control over it, but for us, if we accomplish those things, always striving to get better, always striving to be open to new possibilities and yet never letting our history die in our minds, the best of you comes out and you know at the end of the day that you’re not leaving any stone unturned. It’s very satisfying.

MR: These two CDs represent a fraction of the songs that you’ve recorded. So what was the assembly process like that led to this particular album?

BT: We were writing new songs to make an album, but when you’re writing songs, one day you may not feel a song that’s in that vein, so you write something else. It’s like, “Well, that doesn’t belong here. I love the song but it just doesn’t belong in this particular group of songs that we started.” So we took the maybe twenty or so songs that we had that were new and said, “Wow, we’ve only got five of these jangly, Byrds-like LA rock songs and we’ve got seven of these moody things. That doesn’t make one album.” So we went back into some of the songs we’d written before. I think the earliest ones on this record are from 2010. There were two or three of those that exactly fit what we were doing now. We had started writing this whole record of very sixties-like songs using a Farfisa Vox Continental Organ, and we said, “You know what? If that organ was a B3 instead those songs would totally fit this record.” So we had Teddy Andreadis, our keyboard player, just come over and replace the Farfisa with a B3 and suddenly they belonged on the album. Once we got those songs together, the label people, Mark and Tammy Collie who signed us to 101 Ranch Records, had certain favorites that were in the moodier side. We side, “Gosh, we don’t want to put out just a moody record right now because we want people to hear these pop rock songs. Let’s ask them if we can do a double album.” They were all for it. I guess, as they say, it was no skin off their nose. We ended up saying, “Well look, these are the songs we love; let’s just make two records.”

So we wrote new songs and collected ones from other recording sessions that just fit and ended up with the two records we really wanted. The other five or six records that we had finished we didn’t want to break up because they fit together too. There are songs from all of those records that could’ve gone on this, and as a matter of fact some songs where we were like, “I wish we could put this on here, it really fits,” but we didn’t want to break those records up. As a result, we ended up saying, “We’ll sell those on the website at a later time.” We do have a real nice cult following, people who really love us. There aren’t a lot of them, but they’re great. We thought, “What we’ll do is we’ll even maybe put out five song or six song EPs of songs we don’t have enough of that style to make a whole record.” Some of them are even in demo form. We thought it might be interesting every now and then to put on the website a five song EP of songs that aren’t even finished, so people can hear what it’s like before, say, the lead guitar’s on there, or there’s no background vocals or something like that. Then later on, we’ll finish those and put them up finished.

MR: To me, the title track, “Somewhere Down The Road,” is the centerpiece of the album. For you, are there a couple of other tracks that are really important for the project?

BT: There’s a song on the first side called “This Game Is Over” which is a particular favorite of ours. On the moody side there’s a song called “What Did You Do Today?” which I think is what they’re putting out on Americana radio mainly and a song called “Somewhere” that we’re really in love with. It’s a very different-sounding song. It’s got a very different chord progression and I sing it slightly differently. But you love all your songs and you hope other people will, but sometimes you might have a favorite song that nobody else responds to and then you have another song where you say, “Eh, that’s kind of a standard song,” and everybody’s crazy about it. You never know. But “This Game Is Over,” a song called “Getting Past The Lullaby,” which I think is a beautiful song. Anybody who loves their mother is going to love that song.

MR: What do you feel about The Boxmasters’ legacy? When you look at this body of your work as well as the unreleased albums, what are your observations?

BT: I truly believe that if we had been twenty-five or thirty years old in 1968 or 1973, we would have been a huge band. I think we probably make music the way we do and with the passion that we do for thirty or forty years from now and not for today. I feel that someday, we will be an appreciated band, so I kind of look at it that way. We do it for ourselves and we do it the way we feel. We don’t craft anything tailor-made to be a hit, but I do believe that someday when people hear the thousand songs that we have I think some music geek is going to say, “Hey, you know what? I think these guys are worth their salt.”

MR: Billy, what advice do you have for new artists?

BT: I would say first and foremost learn the history. It’s like for you, as a journalist and as a writer, someone who is a fan but also makes a living at it, if you didn’t know who Walter Cronkite was, or Edward R. Murrow or Mark Twain or Jim Morrison or Chuck Berry was, if you weren’t real familiar with them, then you don’t have the education that it takes to truly be an artist. I would tell them, “Don’t just look at what’s shiny and bright in front of you right now. Always learn your history.” Also, if you’re a singer or a guitar player or whatever it is, even if your intention is to become famous doing whatever’s popular, if you’re content to let someone else write the songs and you just be the artist, I would say still write anyway. Even if you don’t intend to put it out there, even if you don’t feel it’s good, I think writing is an exercise that just makes you better whether it’s ever going to be seen or heard by the public or not. And write it from your heart and do it the way you feel it. Don’t try to copy anybody. Even if your life is going to be about copying and becoming popular and doing the current thing, I think it’s still important to create what you naturally create. I think it makes you better as a human being and as an artist.

MR: Excellent. Now what’s your advice to yourself?

BT: I think probably the number one best piece of advice for myself, and it’s so hard to do, is to ignore the comments of the now millions and millions of critics. Now with social networks everyone has an opinion and if you rub them the wrong way there’s not anything you can do about what they’re going to say. There’s seriously nothing you can do. So in other words, if they’ve got a bee up their ass about you, let’s say you say something stupid in public and it gets on the news, what an ass you are, if you apologize publicly, which has become a popular thing–“I’ll apologize to everyone”–they’ll say, “Oh, he only did that to help his career.” If you don’t apologize, then you’re an asshole for not apologizing. In other words, I’m trying to learn that there’s not a thing I can do about the people that hate me on the internet. Nothing.

As an artist, you’re sensitive by nature, and probably a little unbalanced, so it gets to you more. I’m trying to learn how to not let my oversensitive nature overtake me and make me stick my head back in the cave and not want to put myself out there. You have to do it. There are a lot of people out there who suffer from this. A lot of people have made comments like this throughout history but I think Jonathan Swift said something like, “…if what a certain writer observes be true, that when a great genius appears in the world, the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” I think you just have to get used to the fact that you’re doing what you love and what you feel and you are at least doing it, so anybody who’s willing to stick their neck out–and I don’t care if it’s the silliest part on the silliest sitcom out there or the deepest Marlon Brando performance out there–both of those people have something in common. Both of them were willing to try.

In that sense, you can’t separate anybody in the entertainment business, no matter if they’re a lightweight or real heavy. If you make a silly, syrupy pop record or you make some masterpiece like Dark Side Of The Moon, the one thing those two have in common is that they both put their necks out of the cave. They’re both willing to do something, so you end up being talked about by people who are not doing anything. We have to pay attention to the people who do, not the people who talk about the people who do. That’s the biggest lesson for me.

MR: Wow. So are you looking forward to the tour as a way to get your head fully back into music for a while?

BT: Yeah, I really am looking forward to it, especially since I’m going out with Brad and Teddy and J.D.. They’re my friends. I don’t have a lot of close friends, I have a lot of acquaintances, but I’m going to be out there on a bus with guys who are my friends and who I spend time with anyway. There’s a certain family camaraderie there. The only bad thing about touring is it’s not a good place for the kids, on the bus and everything. My daughter Bella is now ten. She’s going to be eleven in September and I’m going to miss her a lot. It’s thirty five days, but thirty five days when they’re ten is a big deal. That’s the hardest part of touring. On a movie, it’s different, we just got back from New Mexico and the family went with me because you’re in one spot. On this you just can’t do it. And we’re not spring chickens, either. It’s not like when we were younger. I used to rodeo and I could sleep in the front of a truck while some guy’s driving. It’s not like that anymore. We all try to take all of our vitamins and get ready to go.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

A Conversation with The Boxmasters’ J.D. Andrew

Mike Ragogna: J.D.! You good?

JD Andrew: I’m good! I’m trying to shake the nerves of getting ready to go on tour. I haven’t had a tour where I left my kids for longer than four or five days, so that’s a little nerve wracking right now. Last time I didn’t have any kids when we went so I didn’t have to worry about it.

MR: What’s it like juggling your music duty and being a new dad?

J.D.: Most of the time it’s not too bad. Billy sold his house a couple of years ago, so we don’t have the studio in the house anymore, so we don’t work six days a week fifteen hours a day anymore. If I had the kids and we were still doing that schedule I would probably shoot myself. It’s a lot easier time now, we just go and record when we have some songs or have some time. It’s a lot more relaxing, especially when the kids don’t sleep at night.

MR: So this new album is a double CD, which is pretty ambitious. How did you approach this one? You recorded it progressively over the last few years, right?

J.D.: Mostly. This one was done mostly at Henson studios, some of it was done over at Billy’s house previously, but it started in about 2013 sometime. Brad and Billy wrote “This Game Is Over” and “Sometimes There’s A Reason.” I would call those two songs the touchstones for at least the first CD. They’re all original, both CDs. The first one is kind of more rock ‘n’ roll and jangly sixties country rock stuff and the second one is more of the moody singer-songwriter stuff, more like Billy’s Beautiful Door record, using his Warren Zevon influences and doing that sort of thing. I would say three quarters of this stuff was all done in the past two or three years. Some of it is from five years ago. When we initially met with 101 Ranch they were like, “Give us a record! We want to put it out.” We had so much back catalog material and records finished we initially started just picking songs from everything but we said, “We really want to keep these other records together and release those as they are at some point,” so we said, “Why don’t we just do a double record?” and the label went, “Sure, why not?” That was in some ways easier for us, to concentrate on two different sounds, the two different things that we do rather than figure out how to mix the two together.

MR: How has the band evolved sonically?

J.D.: The other projects were more hyper-stylized. We were really going for the combination of the early sixties/hillbilly/British invasion stuff. We made very definite guidelines on what were going to do, what we weren’t going to do, what equipment we would use, things like that. As we’ve evolved we’ve evolved into playing how we play naturally. It’s still got all of those sixties influences, it’s just a little more–I don’t even want to say “modern,” it’s just a little more relaxed in its stringency to those kinds of rules that we set before. It’s kind of jangly rock ‘n’ roll.

MR: So it’s like Boxmasters 2.0.?

J.D.: Yeah. Brad Davis is playing lead guitar on this stuff, we had another guy on those first couple of records. Not that they do a lot of things differently, it just is a version two. Brad Davis and Teddy Andreadis are now official Boxmaster members. We’re a four-piece as far as documentation goes. We’ve got six guys on the road. It’s just become more of a straight rock ‘n’ roll band at times with crazy moody psychedelic stuff in it.

MR: How are you going to perform this project on the road? And what have you learned from being on the road that you’re now applying to Boxmasters’ music?

J.D.: We’ve always kind of been a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll band on the road. We sound big, we play loud. Right now it’s two electric guitars, an organ, a bass player, a drummer, and Billy’s out front and we just try to fill it up, but this time we are doing some shows at smaller venues where we’re going to do a slightly more stripped-down version of ourselves where there’s some acoustic guitars and some stools, which we’ve never really done before. We’re going to play some of these songs where we get more moody and slow.

MR: J.D., what have you found Billy’s favorite environment for a Boxmasters show to be?

J.D.: Billy wants a big show. He wants a place where we can have a good light show. Basically the thing he doesn’t want to do in any place, no matter how big or small, is he doesn’t want to look like a bar band. We work really hard on putting these shows together and we want that to come across. There’s lighting and projections and fun stuff going on, we want a sound system that will actually play above the band so it sounds big. When he does these really moody songs, he sings in his low register and he’s got a very resonant voice, so sometimes you need a system to get it to come out. When you’re kind of whispering it’s hard to get it out to the people.

MR: How about you? What are your favorite kinds of venues?

J.D.: My favorite places that we’ve played have been punk clubs. I like to sound like The Replacements live. Basically, “Let’s have a train wreck and have a lot of fun doing it!” At the same time, we want the songs to have starts and endings that actually start and end together and not just devolve into chaos. But I like them to all be faster than they probably should be, and louder and trashier. That’s just my personal preference. We’re a tight band, we’ve got really good players, it’s a lot of fun to play with the guys.

MR: Do you prefer recording or performing more?

J.D.: I have so much freedom in the recording process as far as how we sound. That’s what I do. That’s my initial hat that I think of. Playing live is fun, but then I have to worry about how fat I am and getting up in front of people and looking like a complete loser. That’s the part I worry about.

MR: When you’re recording are you considering having to play these songs live?

J.D.: No, we don’t tend to think about that at all. When we recorded most of these songs, it wasn’t until August or September of last year that we were really thinking of putting these together as a record. Anything we’ve recorded was just because we felt like recording it. Billy’s like, “As long as I can get in the studio every few weeks or once a month I’m fine. Otherwise, I lose my mind.” Everything is just recorded as we feel at the time. There’s no other outside influences like playing live or anything. The tempos are whatever is right for him to sing to and the rest of the instrumentation is mostly whatever our strengths are. I play the jangly stuff, Brad plays the fancy lead guitar stuff, Teddy does the keyboards and Billy’s the drummer, that’s it. Whatever fits whatever song is being done at that time is what we do.

MR: Do you have a couple of favorites on the project?

J.D.: I think every one of us would agree that “This Game Is Over” is one of our favorite songs, sonically, lyrically, vocally. It’s just really a great song. Another one of my favorites is “Somewhere Down The Road,” the last song and the title song of the record. That’s a song that was initially on another project we were kind of working out, kind of a concept record that we haven’t finished yet, so it just made sense that that song would go in this new batch. It’s one of the few songs that I actually remember writing. We wrote so many songs that I don’t remember the actual genesis of, but for some reason I remember when we wrote “Somewhere Down The Road” and how we did it. I’m trying to go down the list in my head. “Young Man’s Game” is my favorite one on the second side.

MR: I love that the concept of “sides” of a record has expanded into meaning two CDs.

J.D.: [laughs] Yeah.

MR: Which side would you listen to casually?

J.D.: I would probably drive to the first one and put the second one on at my house to do work. They’re just two different moods. The first one is much more of an exciting record for doing upbeat things and the other one’s a little more for doing introspective things.

MR: How has the writing experience evolved for you guys?

J.D.: We’ve done eight or ten songs since that record has been finished and we’re actually working more as a quartet on writing some of these songs. Most of the time, Billy will either have a chord or two that he’s plinked out on the guitar and maybe he has a lyric idea, he might have a whole lyric written. Some of the time, I have a whole track started or completely finished, other times I’ll just have some sort of riff idea. Really it comes from anything that gives us inspiration. It doesn’t take a lot, really, it’s just a couple of chords that make us perk up and go, “Hey, that’s something!” Then we’ll turn it into a song. Teddy brings all of his piano chords into the mix, so we’re trying to incorporate more of that along into what we do because it just gives it a little bit more different stuff. All that equals inspiration.

MR: Do you feel like the permanent addition of keyboard has shifted the focus of your approach?

J.D.: It’s not going to end up being a big sonic shift, it’s just anything that gives us an inspiration. Teddy can add a couple of different weird chords into things. That’s what we’re always going for, just evolving into more weird chords.

MR: Does Billy’s schedule as an actor ever conflict with the band’s schedule?

J.D.: He says, “Let’s tour in April” and that’s when we go. Any time we have something band-related that’s going on that’s important he just tells his film manager that this is what we’re going to do. It’s not a lucrative position for him, but a lot of times they can reschedule. We haven’t had to deal with that before, because he wasn’t making a lot of movie projects for quite a while, which gave us years of constant recording. This is the first time he might actually have a bunch of projects going on. We’ve all got stuff going on, Brad’s got his own studio in Texas, he’s got to take time to close the place down and postpone projects, and Teddy’s always on the road playing with someone. I hang out with my kids most of the time when I’m not working with Billy. It’s good.

MR: So this has evolved in a good way for you all, time-wise.

J.D.: Yeah, everybody has other things they do. It’s just a matter of, “Hey, are you available this time?” “Yeah, I am,” “Great, let’s get together and do something.” It’s not the other three of us sitting around and going, “Man, I can’t wait until we can tour again.” It’s whenever it’s good for all of us. We’re excited to make it all happen.

MR: J.D., what advice do you have for new artists?

JD: My advice is to not chase whatever trend is going on and try to sound like everyone else. Take the people you are inspired by and start digging into who inspired them, and then find out who inspired them. Get back to the root of the music that you love. It might surprise you as to what was the genesis for somebody else’s inspiration. I’m sure Billy will say this too–learn your history. There’s so much of it that’s being lost, we have to hold on to it and learn it and teach it to others. Use that history and use it to inspire you to make music that is personal to yourself and not just whatever the next hot thing is that’s going to get you on American Idol.

MR: Nice. Do you think that’s what people are taking away when they listen to a Boxmasters project?

J.D.: I hope so. They should know that it’s heavily influenced by the past. We’re trying to bring it to new audiences, especially with the older cover stuff. Bring it to new audiences who might say, “I really like that song by Webb Pierce, I want to go listen to more of that,” and then they go and find Del Reeves or Merle Haggard or The Boxtops or anybody like that. Find things that are inspiring and might lead them to new creative heights.

MR: Musically, is there anything out there that surprises you anymore?

J.D.: I constantly feel like an idiot because there’s so much stuff that I haven’t heard. I hang out with Brad and Billy and Teddy and they are insane in their knowledge. It makes me feel like I don’t know anything. It makes me feel like I have to be constantly learning and looking into doing other things so I don’t feel like a complete idiot. These guys know so much history, it’s inspiring. Everyone really is influenced at their core level by other things. Brad grew up as a bluegrasser, Teddy grew up more of a rock ‘n’ roll, R&B kind of guy, Detroit via New Jersey. I’m also a little bit younger than those guys, I started learning a little bit later than them. Even though I was years behind my time I haven’t caught up. I’ve still got a lot to learn.

MR: What kind of a legacy do you want The Boxmasters to have?

J.D.: Basically I want people to listen to the music and read the lyrics and see that there’s a whole lot going on. Some of it’s poppy, bouncy, good time-sounding stuff but there’s really deep thoughts and stories and things going on that are a lot deeper than they might think. I want people to know, “Hey, that’s Billy singing,” he really is a great vocalist, a great storyteller, and all those crazy girl harmonies that you’re hearing in there, that’s him, too. I think I’m the boring underneath stuff that’s not the stuff you listen to and go, “Wow, that’s fantastic,” but he does all the high stuff that I can’t even reach anyway. There’s a lot going on in these records even if it just sounds like some guys bashing away. And it’s all played, there’s not machines going on. This is all how they used to make records in the old days. That’s what we do. We don’t use tracks live, we just play songs. That’s why we crash and burn at times.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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LINES WEST’S “PERFECT PAIR” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Ryker Kallas

According to Brian Larney…

“Lately, John and I have been talking a lot about some of the great songs of the late 60s and 70s a la Badfinger or Paul McCartney. The sound of those records and the song craft on them is just mind blowing. In every song there’s a killer hook! I had the idea of “Perfect Pair” kicking around for a while and it seemed to just beg for an arrangement that reflected our enthusiasm for that sound.”

Lyrically, it’s really about a pedestal and a plea. I can remember a few times finding myself in one of those -the quintessential unrequited situations yet I remain an optimist. The song ends with ‘I can take you anywhere. We’re two of a perfect pair’…I guess I’m just hopeless.”

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DOUG BURR’S “NEVER GONNA BE YOUNG AGAIN” EXCLUSIVE

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photo courtesy Tell All Your Friends PR

According to Doug Burr…

“We wanted this one to be jangly, Buddy Holly sounding. The music is kind of at odds with the story on this one–which is nothing new in the folk music world of course, the idea of a soldier living through war. Musically it stands out a bit on the record, but the subject matter was spot-on, and that song had received such strong audience response when playing it live. I’d been including that one in some live shows, since about 2012. So it felt like it needed to be a part of this record.”


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Chatting on a Date

Asking questions on a first date is a great way to get to know someone. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. Questioning someone about their likes and dislikes helps them to open up. For example, if your date already has a child, there’s no harm in questioning if the child is a boy or girl. There’s no harm in asking a question about their age. It would be inappropriate to question your date about paying child support. Make sure your line of questioning is appropriate. Here are some fun and harmless questions. I’m sure he’s accustomed to the usual date questions from other ladies.
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Every Kind Of People: Chatting with Toby Lightman and Rebecca Juliet, Plus Danielle Nicole and The Leeway Exclusives

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A Conversation with Toby Lightman

Mike Ragogna: Toby, you’re about to tour in support of your latest album Every Kind Of People. Now that there’s been a little distance between its release and this tour, how have these songs matured or evolved since they’re recording?

Toby Lightman: I have been playing some of the songs off this new record for a while now, but they never get old to me. These songs in particular resonate daily for me. I think as I get older and more comfortable with how I feel, I am able to relate more to them. I have older songs that I feel that way about too and relive that same emotion or feeling every time I play them, but not all of them. I feel that with every new song that’s on this record.

MR: What was the creative and recording process like?

TL: It was really challenging! It took me a while to figure out who to record with. I had a style in mind, which was a fusing together of where I started in more pop/R&B with the more organic blues that I gravitated towards. It was hard to find the right producer who was hearing that sound in his head. Once I found that producer, all of the musicians that he gathered were totally on board with what I was after musically. I’m really pleased with the way it all turned out…although it took a hot minute.

MR: Which musical acts inspired you when you were young and when did you decide you wanted to make music as your career?

TL: I have to say, I grew up listening to a lot of different types of music. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Fugees, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder. I never had one favorite, I like them all for different reasons. The moment I decided to pursue music was when I finally had the courage to sing in front of an audience. I had been singing in choirs, in large group settings, but hadn’t really sung more than a line or a solo, until my music teacher asked me to audition to sing the solo at my high school graduation. I ended up getting the solo and sang a whole verse of the gospel version of “Bridge over Troubled Water.” That was the first time anyone had heard me, my family, my friends, my schoolmates. I was shocked by their reaction to my voice, that I knew it wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue, it was something that I had to pursue. An interesting lesson to learn after singing in front of almost 1,000 people!

MR: You’ve had many song placements over the years in such high profile TV shows and films as Vampire Diaries, Bones, One Tree Hill, and many others. When you as the artist have major success in that arena as opposed to with your project releases, does that affect how you approach creating music or the energy dedicated to one format over the other?

TL: I try not to let it control the creative process. I think when it first started happening, I would try to write songs that were “placeable.” But over the years, I’ve learned how to fuse the two goals together of having songs that appease my own need for emotional release and songs that can get placed. When I’m writing, I’m always looking for inspiration. Sometimes that will be my own experience, but sometimes I am able to take a brief and put myself in that role and feel what they’re feeling. It’s just another way for me to channel a feeling. But it always ends with a genuine feeling from me.

MR: Which are your favorite Toby Lightman recordings from over the years?

TL: I have to say my favorite songs are usually the ones I’ve written strictly alone. I have co-written quite a bit because sometimes you need a little push. A push for a better lyric or a push just to write in general. But when I’ve sat down alone and was able to channel an emotion, those will always be the songs that I connect with the most. “Everyday,” “Better,” “Bumps in the Road,” “You’re Welcome,” “When You Ran.” These are just a few of the songs that sometimes I have a hard time getting through because they cut a bit deeper. I know it sounds cheesy…

MR: How do your stage appearances differ from how you approach recording? What do you bring to the live format that isn’t captured on recordings?

TL: Being on stage is so different. I love both process’ the same really. But there is nothing like being on stage. It’s so primal. You have no time to overthink, no time to redo mistakes. You have no choice but to lay it all out on the line. When I’m on stage, I take more chances vocally because I want to feel something different. Every time I perform, it’s a new experience. I also am a self-deprecating idiot in between songs to counter the heaviness of the lyrics that I’m singing. And most of the time that’s not to appease my audience, it’s almost more to make me feel comfortable with how much I’m opening up emotionally in front of everyone!

MR: Do you have any favorite venues that you like to perform in?

TL: I LOVE Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Dakota Jazz in Minneapolis, World Cafe in Philly, Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta… There’s a bunch. I like anywhere my fans like to be really!

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

TL: Get out there. Write songs. Play shows, play open mics. Don’t just try and be famous. I see so many people trying so hard to just be famous and spend no time on making their talent as good as it can be. You can push your way to the top, but if there’s nothing behind the curtain, it ain’t happening. Talent and good music will always come first for me when I’m discovering new music.

MR: What’s coming up beyond the tour?

TL: A cookbook? No, just kidding. Well sort of. I already have plans to put out a bunch of other music and am excited to get started on different projects. But I just shot a video for the song “Your Welcome” and am psyched to release that next!

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DANIELLE NICOLE’S “YOU ONLY NEED ME WHEN YOU’RE DOWN” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Marina Chavez

According to Danielle Nicole’s camp…

“Written in New Orleans by Danielle Nicole and GRAMMY® Award-winning producer/guitarist Anders Osborne, ‘You Only Need Me When You’re Down’ is one of six tracks showcased on the ex-Trampled Under Foot singer/bassist/songwriter’s self-titled solo EP, set for release on March 10 via Concord Records. Influenced by artists as diverse as Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Paul McCartney, The Neville Brothers, Sarah Vaughan and Janis Joplin, Danielle calls her sound ‘blues-based roots.’ The video spotlights her versatility and range as she lays down the bass lines while also handling the vocals, with Mike ‘Shinetop,’ Jr. Sedovic on keyboards, Brandon Miller on guitar and Jan Faircloth on drums. A full length album is scheduled for release in late summer 2015, featuring more music created in New Orleans with Osborne, Galactic’s co-founding drummer Moore and Sedovic.

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A Conversation with Rebecca Juliet

Mike Ragogna: Rebecca, your song “Damsel in Distress” is your latest single. The song is about empowerment, but have you ever at least felt like you were in that position and how did you push through it or change your self-perspective?

Rebecca Juliet: I’ve definitely been in situations where I am not empowered. Being catcalled on the street is one example. Just the other day, for instance, I was walking to a grocery store two blocks away from my apartment (by the way, wearing sweatpants), and was whistled at three times. I wish that I could say that such incidents are rare. These demeaning actions occur much too often to too many women, and aren’t a reflection on the victim, but rather the offender. Recognizing that such instances aren’t about me but rather about a system that gives the impression that my body is an object allows me to move forward and focus on making a positive change.

MR: For some, do you think it might be a matter of slipping into the “damsel” identity as opposed to doing the work to self-empower?

RJ: I don’t think that anyone would intentionally put himself or herself in a servile position; no one ever wants to feel lesser. That being said, that’s the way that women start out. Our society is an innately uneven playing field. I once saw a great comparison of women in our society being like bicycles on the road. Technically, the road is supposed to be shared equally between cars and cyclists, but it was made for cars, not for bicycles.

With that in mind, whether or not a woman wants to fit into a “damsel” identity, unless she is actively working to escape from that prescribed role, that’s where she begins and often where she will be forced to stay.

MR: The net sales of the recording from Amazon and iTunes are going to Girls Inc. Of New York City. Why that organization?

RJ: First of all, living in New York City, I wanted to find an organization in my area. There are opportunities for philanthropy everywhere, and I firmly believe that people can make the most change in a physical area that they know well, as working somewhere close to home means having an increased understanding of the needs of that community.

I chose Girls Inc. of New York City in particular because, as a student, I am keenly attuned to the importance of education of all kinds. Girls Inc. of New York City provides many types of education to underprivileged girls from all five boroughs. These programs range from economics to STEM fields to pregnancy prevention to media literacy to community service and to, I believe most importantly, the cultivation self-esteem.

MR: Bust Magazine called your song a Feminist Pop Anthem. I know they were only referring to the recording but do you consider yourself a feminist?

RJ: I absolutely refer to myself as a feminist. I know that some people shy away from using that word because being a feminist can be equated with misandry, or in colloquial terms, “man-hating.” But that’s a total misconception. Feminism is about creating equality between the genders, not about switching around a hierarchy. The goal of feminism is bringing the underprivileged up to the same level as those with power, not bringing the privileged down.

Everyone who sees women as equal to men are feminists, whether they would use the term or not (and I think that they should!). Feminism is an inclusive movement, intended to buttress the rights of every woman–including trans women. In my mind, there isn’t really a middle ground: there’s sexism, and then there’s feminism. Being complicit in a sexist system by not taking a stand against it allows for the perpetuation of that inequality.

MR: In your opinion, what needs to change to assure women’s equality in society, not just on a legislative level?

RJ: I think that changing people’s mindsets is actually the first step to guaranteeing women’s equality. Legislation is terrific, but that’s only half of the battle. If no one believes in what laws protect, they aren’t entirely helpful. What’s more important is inculcating the belief that women and men are inherently equal, and therefore deserve equal treatment in all spheres.

There are so many stereotypes in our society, and one of the scariest things about them is that many people pretend that there aren’t. Women are still expected to be thin and have long hair and shave and diet and have babies, but I always hear about how much society has improved. Yes, we are definitely better than we were fifty years ago, but I sure hope that in fifty years we’ll be better still. One of my friends has an amazing tee shirt that says, “I’ll be a postfeminist in the post-patriarchy.” Our world is still run by men in so many ways, and before legislation can truly support women, people need to recognize 1) that our society is still glaringly sexist, and 2) that’s something that everyone needs to actively work to change.

I believe that an obstacle to those realizations is the view that this movement is solely a woman’s movement. To make real change, we all–all genders, all races–need to see the feminist movement as a comprehensive struggle.

MR: Profits from the sales of your 2013 recording “Angel On Our Shoulder” went to charities benefiting Sandy Hook Elementary’s victims’ families. You seem to be socially active when it comes to charitable causes. Where did you get the awareness to become energized enough to champion these causes and topics?

RJ: I’ve lived in New York City my whole life, and I really do believe that living in such a socioeconomically divided city is part of what gave me this drive. It’s odd to be an area with apartments that are worth millions of dollars, and walk five blocks away and see a low-incoming housing project. Seeing the extremes of our society compelled me from a very young age to try to make a difference.

I also went to a full time Jewish school when I was younger, and I believe that having a religious education imparted the necessity of tikkun olam, repairing the world, in whatever way I can.

MR: What advice do you have for new or emerging artists?

RJ: It sounds terribly cliché, but I really do believe that kindness and helping others is one of the most important things in the music (or any) business. On a really nitty-gritty level, no one wants to work with someone who’s haughty or rude on set or in the studio. On a larger scale, I know that I’ve taken much more pride in my music because of its charitable element, so in that way, philanthropy has inspired me to keep going and keep pushing myself.

MR: What’s next on your agenda? Where would you like your musical career to be five years from now?

RJ: If you remember junior year of high school, you might not be surprised to hear that it’s pretty chaotic between schoolwork, SAT prep, and the college search. As a result, I haven’t had much opportunity to reflect on where I’d like to be with my music down the road. That being said, singing and philanthropy have been my passions for as long as I can remember, and I definitely want to continue to combine these passions by making more music that effects positive social change for years to come.

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THE LEEWAY’S “IF ONLY” EXCLUSIVE

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photo credit: Elena Montemurro

According to The Leeway’s frontman Pedro Barquinha…

“‘If Only’ is a song off of The Leeway’s self-titled EP. This sad ballad is an ode to commitment issues when it comes to relationships. It depicts a character who’s had trouble committing in the past and is now with someone who he probably likes more than anyone he’s been with before, but the old feelings creep up nonetheless making him unable to stay in the relationship. The song draws as much from the great Jazz songwriters as it does from Folk lyrically, and musically.”

And The Leeway’s camp adds…

“The Leeway are a Brooklyn based indie/folk band lead by Pedro Barquinha. By taking elements of Folk music such as dense vocal harmonies and an acoustic instrumentation of banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass, and piano and then mixing it with intricate arrangements, The Leeway brings a sound that’s both innovative and fresh.”


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Redemption Road: Chatting with Tom Paxton, Howard Jones, Martin Sexton, Chadwick Stokes and Erik Deutsch

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A Conversation with Tom Paxton

Mike Ragogna: Tom, you’ve got a new album Redemption Road. What’s your creative process like these days?

TP: I think I do what I’ve always done. I’m kind of plugged in, kind of receptive, kind of on the lookout for something that needs to be a song, something that can become a song. It can be anything from a trivial whim or a serious theme that I think that I owe to myself to try to write. Or it could be just a sure pleasure of making something up. For example, one of my very favorite songs on the album is “Suzy Most Of All.” You can’t get much more lightweight than that, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing a song as much as I enjoyed writing that one. I just let myself be free to write what I call “Jump rope rhymes,” which don’t have to make any sense at all. Another model for that song was “Green Green Rocky Road” that Len Chandler and Bob Kaufman wrote so many years ago, that Dave Van Ronk sang so beautifully, you know the one I mean. It’s in Inside Llewyn Davis. That song has some of the most sublimely ridiculous verses. “I go by Baltimore, need no carpet on my floor,” I mean, come on! But it’s perfect. So I availed myself of that freedom to write something like “English muffin/Texas toast,” basically ’cause why not?

MR: That “why not” part is so important. People so often look at singer-songwriter lyrics and say, “Hope these words are better than your last!” It seems like a big responsibility for a singer-songwriter always to be “profound.”

TP: I retired from the avatar business a long time ago. People are responsible for their own damn lives. I don’t have any great advice for them on how to live their lives. All I’m doing is writing songs. I’m not even writing songs for the market, not that there’s anything wrong with doing that. I have good friends who write for the market and that’s perfectly okay, but I don’t have that knack. Every song of mine that has ever been a hit is a song that I basically wrote for myself to sing and somebody else heard it and recorded it very successfully. That’s as close as I’ve come to being a market writer. I’m really more like an amateur who gets lucky now and then.

MR: But don’t forget those people that are camping on your doorstep until you make that next album.

TP: Well, when I have enough good stuff, that’s when there will be another good album. I’m writing a little better right now, so I think maybe it won’t be as long between albums. I don’t know what’s going to happen, because I’m going to stop touring in November. I don’t know what will happen then about the urge to write. At least one of the major impulses or reasons to write is the fear of being seen to have become totally out of touch. I have a need to have some quality new material when I’m out there in concert. When I’m not touring anymore, I don’t know how I’ll feel then. I think I will continue to write, but it’s going to be a new area for me.

MR: It’s pretty inconceivable that someone as conscious as you couldn’t find something you just have to write about.

TP: It’s like the saying, “Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.” I have been very fortunate to have a performing life during very interesting years. I could’ve stood a little less interest, actually, as many of us could. I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I’m not out there all the time as I have been for fifty five years. I’ll continue to perform, I’m just not going to tour anymore.

MR: It’s almost like a supreme court justice. You’re in for life. [laughs]

TP: Well I frequently think of myself in those terms. [laughs] I’m wearing a robe right now, as a matter of fact.

MR: Send the selfie. [laughs] Hey, you’ve got some great company on this album, John Prine, Janis Ian, Dave Palmeroy, Al Perkins…

TP: These are the best. With Prine you pick up the phone and say, “Look, I need some help here, I’m sinking fast, so come and sing a song with me.” Not only does he come and sing a song with me, he buys me dinner. He’s a great guy. About ten years ago my wife and I went to go see him and Iris Dement at The Wolf Trap here in Washington. We were sitting out there and I turned to her and I said, “You know what? I’ve known John for twenty five years and this is the first time I’ve ever had a chance to sit out front and see him do a whole show. What a major treat that was. He’s another one of these “nobody like ’em” artists. There’s nobody like Prine. The song he’s on is such a goofy song, it’s just perfect for him to come and sing on it.

MR: How did the Janis Ian piece come together?

TP: I’ve known Janis since she was thirteen. We’ve been doing shows together for the last couple of years. In March and April we’ll be basically on tour here in the states doing a bunch of shows together. That’s a lot of fun for me because it’s not your typical split bill, we actually take the stage together and stay together on stage and sing on one another’s songs, et cetera. It makes for a very different and very entertaining evening, for us as well as–one hopes–The audience.

MR: What do you guys admire about each other?

TP: Well, it starts from the human perspective, I just love Janis. She’s a sassy, strong, strong-willed person who has not had an easy path, unless one thinks that having a hit at fifteen and being washed up at sixteen is an easy path. She’s had a hard way to go and she’s a strong person and a great guitar player. Matter of fact, we have a little fun with that fact in the show, that she is such a great guitar player and I’m merely adequate. There’s room for fun there. We’ve known each other for so long and we talked about doing some shows, so finally she said, “Well, put up or shut up, let’s do it.” So we did and we’re doing it.

MR: Who are the new troubadours? You may not be the avatar anymore, but the message still has to get out there, no?

TP: When it comes to asking where it’s going to come from and from whom, the one thing we can be sure of is that it will come from some place unexpected and from no one we’ve ever heard of before. It just doesn’t move along in nice, orderly ways. Like everybody else, I feel a lack of social commitment in young artists, but I’m not about to criticize them. They’re finding their own way. They’re doing their own thing and in their own time they will direct their attention to the areas that we did. It isn’t the same, but we don’t have a draft anymore. Does anyone realize what a massive change that is? We don’t have a draft, young people don’t graduate from high school with being dragged off to war as part of their immediate future. Believe me, that fact will color your attitude a lot.

MR: And now, of course, I think of your anthem, “Wonder Where I’m Bound.”

TP: I’ve sung that at a few graduations.

MR: It’s a great anthem for old people and young people. And speaking of young people, what advice do you have for new artists, oh non-avatar?

TP: It sounds as if I’m being flippant, but what I tell young people when they ask me what to do is so simple and so difficult–get good. Work at your craft. Take guitar lessons, for God’s sake. Too many young artists play really crappy guitar, and it kills you. You have to at least support your music with your instrument. At least don’t hurt it. Maybe don’t take voice lessons, but maybe some voice coaching. I had some voice coaching which made a huge difference in my singing. I don’t have a trained voice. Voice lessons are almost counter productive. Voice lessons for someone with my kind of barely average equipment has you trying to do things you can’t do and hurting yourself in the process. Some vocal coaching on the other hand is dealing with what you have and helping you make the most of that, and that’s really worth doing. In other words, work at your craft. I don’t write every day now, but I did then. I can’t recommend that highly enough. Write something every damn day so that you’re working at it and studying other artists and other artists whose work you love. Ask yourself, “What is it about their work that I love so much? Why is he or she so important to me?” These are things that they should be asking if they want to get ahead, if they want to improve.

MR: That’s a great answer.

TP: And here’s my other big piece of advice, for writers: They want to know, “How do you get ideas?” I tell them what I do myself: Look around you. If you need stimulation, pick up a paper, look at the paper for anything that moves you in any way. It can be to hilarity, it can be to rage or sorrow, but you’re bound to find a story in that paper that moves you in some way and then write a song from the point of view of either an eyewitness or a participant. This will take you out into the world, writing about the world, holding a mirror up to nature as Shakespeare put it, and above all it’ll get you away from writing all those God damned relationship songs that no one cares about. I tell you what, in my shows these days and for many years now there have been maybe one or two relationship songs, but only a couple. The rest of the songs are about a world that we share. Songs that people identify with because we’ve all seen this stuff happen. I wrote a song as a participant in the twin towers. I wrote a song from the point of view of a survivor. I wasn’t there, that’s not me. I’m using the first person singular but I’m imagining it. That’s what I’m suggesting people do. It can also be silly stuff. First person, not you. It’s not that hard to grasp once you grasp it. You’re writing about not you, you’re writing about us.

MR: Why, you could give a seminar on this, my friend!

TP: I do! I enjoy talking to people about songwriting.

MR: Do you feel that as a songwriter you’ve evolved in tangible ways? You can point out, “I went from here to here?”

TP: Yeah, I can tell. I don’t think I’ve changed as a writer, but I hope I’ve deepened as a writer.

MR: Can you pick that up in other people’s works, like Janis or John?

TP: I’m sure I could. I can’t do it as I sit here right now, I’d have to think about that, but I’m utterly sure that I would find that if I looked for it. In Janis’ work there is still the same kind of concern as there was in Society’s Child. That, by the way, is a very sophisticated melody that she wrote at the age of fifteen. She writes similarly but more profoundly now. I think I would find that in all of the writers I admire. The writers I admire are legion in number.

MR: You’ve seen the whole parade, from Pete Seeger to now.

TP: So much so that I would claim that if not for Pete Seeger, none of this would’ve happened. If that man had not criss-crossed the country singing at every union hall, every college campus, every summer camp throughout the fifties and sixties, none of it would’ve happened. He was the reason that it really came alive. He was the one who turned on my generation so that hundreds and even thousands of us said, “I’ve got to do that. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I have to do.” When I heard The Weavers At Carnegie Hall in ’57, I went from someone who loved folk music to someone who literally had to do it. I was not alone. Peter Yarrow was at that Carnegie Hall concert. He had the same epiphany that I did. “I have got to do this. This is me.”

MR: Beyond Redemption Road, I’m wondering where you’re bound.

TP: [laughs] Probably out for dinner. I’m bound for exactly where I’ve been. More of the same, but less of the same. There’s nothing different I want to do. I’m loving being with my grandsons. I have three grandsons and they’re all here, close to me. That’s an endless, endless joy for me. I lost my wife last year and I’m not doing well at all about that, but I don’t know who does. You do what you can do and you face what you have to face. I’m quieter than I was. I stay at home a lot. I have my daughters who have just been incredible. They call every day and come over. My younger daughter Kate lives in the same complex I live in. She likes to cook for me on weekends and I graciously accept. “More food? Oh no!” [laughs]

MR: Boy, wasn’t it a great time you all had together? How magical was that?

TP: It was magical. I miss so many people so badly, but that’s life.

MR: Do you recognize that you’re an icon?

TP: No. I deny it.

MR: Is that because you’re comparing yourself to other iconic figures?

TP: I don’t really compare myself, because I’m not going to look good if I do. [laughs] You know the poet Billy Collins? He’s fabulous. One of my Christmas presents was a book of his stuff. He has a figure in one of his pieces about going “Down the treacherous halls of high school,” and it just grabbed me. I just read it yesterday and I went back and looked it up again today. “The treacherous halls of high school.” What better adjective could you possibly find for high school than “treacherous?” I mean, the shit that happened in those halls. The damage to our psyches in those god damned halls of high school. [laughs] I don’t know what got me off on that but I just love that choice of adjective. Where were we? Oh, do I realize I’m an icon? No. I know that there are people, God bless them, who have really taken my music and made it their own, and I’m eternally grateful to that. That’s what I set out to do.

I wanted to make a difference in some positive way, and the way I found I could do that possibly was by creating songs. So the kind of songs that I created tend to be the kind of songs that people sing at camps and sing-a-longs, they’re not a string of hits or anything like that, but they are songs that have mattered to people and I’m very grateful for that. And I’m proud of it! I’m proud that I hung in there and kept writing my kinds of songs and had a wonderful time performing them. I’ve been a ham since the second grade in Chicago when I played Uncle Sam and they applauded and I thought, “God, I like that. I’ll have some more of that, please.” So I’m still Uncle Sam all these years later.

MR: Well, I am awed that you gave me an interview. You’ve made such wonderful contributions. If you don’t want to look at yourself as an icon at least look at yourself as someone who’s inspired many people. I think the culture owes you one.

TP: Aw, thank you. I’ll accept. Do they need my address? [laughs]

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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A Conversation with Howard Jones

Mike Ragogna: Howard, what’s the story on your Engage multimedia project?

Howard Jones: I’m coming up to my sixtieth birthday and I wanted to challenge myself to something that I’d never done before and really push myself to do something special. I was thinking, “What do people love to do these days? They love to go to shows.” There’s not so much interest in recorded music, but people love to go to a show. So I was thinking, “How can I make an incredibly immersive, visceral experience with all the things that I love all mashed up together?” I love classical music, electronic music, pop music, cinema, contemporary dance, ballet and philosophy. I wanted to bring that all together into a live experience that the audience are very much involved in, so it’s built into it that they’ve got a role to play in the performance. I know that’s a lot of stuff to throw at you, but that’s where it all comes from.

MR: And I just know that phone apps, customized clothing and florescent makeup have something to do with this. Howard, what do phone apps, customized clothing and florescent makeup have to do with this?

HJ: Obviously, I start with the music, but I didn’t want it to have the same kind of form as a normal pop song, so I was kind of liberated from that. I was able to have different, more expansive musical structures. I worked with my friend Steven Taylor on the visuals that go with the show. As I was writing the music, we were trading ideas about how the visual should be. I wanted to have a ballet sequence in there, I wanted some of my passion for Steve Wright music in there and contemporary dance, so we filmed all of those things and came up with a concept in tandem with writing the music. Then the third big element is how to involve the audience as well, so I thought in this day and age everyone’s got a smart phone, we can use apps to broadcast things from the stage. That’s what we’ll be doing in these two shows. The most exciting development for me is that I’ve got my own app now, my own Engage app.

MR: What have you been doing over the last few years in addition to the new Engage concept?

HJ: Every three to five years, I do a new project. The last thing I did was an entirely acoustic album with a string quartet and a big choir. I wanted to write some intimate songs. The album before that was a very electronic album. I’ve tried to mix things up and follow what I’m really feeling at the time.

MR: You’re exploring the analog world with elements like ballet and philosophy to supplement your performances. How do you view the relationship between technology and, well, everything else?

HJ: One of the things of Engage is, “Okay, it’s great that we’ve got all of this amazing technology, but if we don’t watch it we’ll all just end up in a room on our own doing everything virtually.” One of the things of Engage is to remember that the best thing that we can do as a human being is to have face-to-face communication and dialog and interaction. Technology is great. For instance, this morning, I composed a piano solo for a Norwegian guy who was in Thailand. We did it over Skype. I interviewed him and had a dialog with him and then we composed the piece of music. That’s what we can do with technology, but we have to remember that the best thing is when we’re face-to-face. Let’s use technology to bring people together and not separate them.

MR: To be engaged in life.

HJ: Exactly.

MR: Engage has the implication of activating a machine, but really what you’re saying is it’s important to use technology to assist human engagement, not replace it.

HJ: I completely agree. I passionately believe in that, and that’s really the theme of Engage. But at the same time, we’ve got this wonderful technology, let’s use it. Let’s use it in a way that brings people together and excites their imaginations and points out all the great possibilities. That’s my thinking.

MR: As opposed to, “Oh my God, one day technology is going to rule us all!”

HJ: Exactly! I don’t subscribe to that kind of future. Nobody wants that, obviously.

MR: So you’ll have new material that’s associated with Engage but will you also feature older material?

HJ: Engage is a standalone piece that lasts for about thirty five minutes of continuous music. In fact, the release of it which is coming in February is one continuous piece, thirty five minutes long with transitions between the pieces. You’ll be able to download the individual tracks as well, but the actual work is the visuals and the music all together and it takes you on a journey for thirty five minutes. That’s the idea.

MR: Are you interested in revisiting your catalog in a way similar to Engage?

HJ: I’m only doing very few shows with Engage, and then the second half will be a retrospective of my previous work. I’m always trying to reinvigorate that. If you take “New Song,” the very first one, there’s a lot of it that’s out of time. I’ve corrected that now and it’s in the pocket. Also with the technology we have now we can make things sound so good live, there’s no excuse for it not being a good mix live.

MR: Do you occasionally have that thought, “What was I thinking? How come I didn’t hear this then?”

HJ: When I go back to those first two albums, it was just the limitations of the technology, really. The bass lines were played, most all of it was played, the drums were programmed and a few sequences were programmed, but the majority of it was played, so there’s going to be a bit of looseness there. Trying to sync everything up in those days was a nightmare, and it was a bit hit and miss. It still happens. Because we’re always trying to push the boundaries of the things we do live, things do crash. You just have to take it on the chin and find a way around.

MR: Some artists program their productions so intensely that you can’t picture it ever becoming a living, breathing song. Do you feel that some of your songs have benefited over the years from being removed from their original, programmed arrangements?

HJ: I’m very much into that. I sometimes do solo acoustic shows where I just play the songs at the piano, which is their most basic form. That really sheds a new light on them. Then also I work with my guitarist as a duo, or I’ve done things with brass sections and big acoustic bands that give a new life to the songs. I think it’s very important to do that, otherwise one loses interest in it oneself. Even with the electronic setup I very much try to mash things up together and create new sections and allow the music to have a life of its own. I’m not going to slavishly stick to the original recording.

MR: There are a lot of artists who feel that the original recording is the painting, but there are also those who feel like the composition continues to evolve as a growing child.

HJ: I don’t think I’m at the sort of extreme end of that thinking, because I’m aware that you can’t take it too far. There’s got to be certain key elements. “New Song” has got to have that synth riff that sounds roughly like that. It’s sort of cornerstoned the people to trigger the memory of that time. There are other things you can play with, the drum sound, the bass sound, the structure of the song. I’ve got technology that allows me to do harmonies live on stage triggered by midi. “Things Can Only Get Better” had a fantastic remix by Cedric Gervais. We start off with a song quite like the record and then go into the big room, house version of the song which is a lot of fun. I’m certainly open to that.

MR: Where are you as a songwriter now?

HJ: It’s almost about ignoring what you’ve done before. How do you feel? What subject matter comes up from the way that you are looking at the world? I’m aware that the biggest part of my audience is probably in their mid-to-late forties, what sort of things are they going through in their lives? All of those sorts of things are going through my mind. I think an artist should be reflecting the issues that are cropping up for my audience. The audience was garnered from those days in the eighties when they really supported me and they bought my records and I was on the radio all the time and all that stuff. I don’t think you can completely divorce yourself from that, but I think it’s very important to push yourself as a person and a writer, otherwise you’re neglecting your responsibility to your fans, who have invested a lot in you. I bear that in mind. I’m not one of those people who writes and doesn’t care about who’s going to hear it. I do care about who’s going to listen to it.

MR: Howard, what advice do you have for new artists?

HJ: I think that’s a very important question. I think about this a lot. I do try to help young artists and help them to get going and encourage them. One of the things that I’d say is whatever level that you can do your work at, you should do it. If that means that you play your music for a group of friends on a Friday night at a random mate’s house, then do that, because that’s being an artist. In the process of doing that, you will then discover if you really like doing it, if you’ll take it any further, which things work and which things don’t, and then you can develop it from there. But don’t think that you have to start by being on stage at Madison Square Garden. At whatever level you can do your work, do it at that level and it will evolve from there. And the second thing is, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. There’s always going to be somebody who’s way better at writing or way better at playing the keyboard or whatever than you, and there’s going to be a lot of people who are not going to be as good as you. Don’t take into account either of those, just do what you uniquely do. Just really believe in that. I know that’s hard, but that’s what you have to do and to stick to that, you have to constantly work on it. Otherwise, you just won’t do anything.

MR: [laughs] The fear of failure is paralyzing. Even the fear of success.

HJ: Yeah. I think mainly the fear of failure is the big thing, but you know, that’s what the battle always is for artists. We have to overcome it.

MR: Are you in a constant state of self-improvement?

HJ: Absolutely. It’s just central to me to try to improve as a person and as a human being, to improve the way that you interact with other and that you respect others. It’s a life’s work, but I really feel that that is such a great motivating force to get up every day and try and improve. Every aspect of one’s life, your great work, your dealings with other people, your health, try and really move it all forward.

MR: How will you Engage us in the future?

HJ: I’ve got a ten-year plan to do three more pieces related to engage. I want one to be about transformation, the next one to be about dialog and communication, and the third one to be about being aware of being a global citizen. I’ve just got some loose themes at the moment, and engage is the start of that process. So I’m giving myself a challenge to create those, and then in ten years’ time I’ll perform them all together. [laughs]

MR: As a global citizen, how do you feel the globe’s doing?

HJ: We’ve got huge problems, and everyone is very much focusing on the problems. I think it’s important to also remember all of the great things that are going on as well. An example for me is I attended a TEDx day in London on the weekend, it was like nineteen people talking about their lives and how they are making a difference in society. It was absolutely inspirational. It just reminded me, and I’m sure everyone else who was there, that there are all these great people doing amazing things and that we need to remember that, too. There’s problems, yeah, and we’ll solve them, but there’s also amazing, great people doing incredible things, too.

MR: If someone wakes up and immediately wants to change and evolve, what are a couple of things that person can start doing?

HJ: Wow, that’s a question. I practice Buddhism, so I chant every day to raise my life’s state and my outlook on life to a point where I’m trying to view everything as a potential possibility to create value. That’s what I do. I know there’s many ways of doing that, but I personally think it’s quite good to have a method and a strategy for developing a positive outlook on your life. That’s my way of doing it, I chant and I study Buddhism.

MR: And I imagine all of that has worked its way into Engage?

HJ: Yes, that’s right, it’s all in there. I tried to include the themes of respecting each other and cherishing the person in front of you, having dialogs with as many people as possible, creating friendships; I see those as the ways to change the bigger picture. If we make the change within ourselves and our environment then that spreads. That’s the most solid way of creating solid change. That’s my belief.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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A Conversation with Martin Sexton

Mike Ragogna: Martin, what was the grand plan behind your latest release, Mixtape Of The Open Road?

Martin Sexton: I set out wanting to make a concept record. It was going to be a bluegrass thing or a traditional rock thing or a vintage country thing, but as the songs came they pointed in twelve different directions, so I went with that flow where the concept is a mixtape. It has Nashville twang, bombastic rock, swingy jazz, folk, soul, and so on. 

MR: What are a couple of your favorite stories behind some of these songs and their creation?

MS: One of the first songs written for this record was “Remember That Ride.” My friend Ned Claflin had to twist my arm to write it with him. He came to me with the chorus about inventing and building this fantasy, futuristic, magical carnival ride. I just wasn’t feeling it, but because I have so much respect and faith in his ideas I took a little leap and went with it. As it sat in my notebook and on our work tape, it was just okay. Since I wasn’t that attached to the tune, I took a real departure production-wise from my usual singer-songwriter thing and just played it live with fuzz bass and distorted drums. That’s all it took to make this track practically sing it self. Take one was the magical take, and now I love the song. 

MR: Studio versus live, which kind of recordings do you prefer making?

MS: The short answer is I love them equally. The not-so-short answer is I enjoy the opportunity to create in studio. The temptation there is always to add more because you can, with all the tracks and technology available. To avoid that I try to keep everything live as possible when I’m in session.  For me this helps escape over-production or sterilization, allowing for mistakes that often times become favorite moments on a record. The live show is it’s own universe. The immediacy and spontaneity on stage with a thousand people singing in harmony is like church. And I’ve never attempted to duplicate the sound of a record live. I use the songs like monkey bars that I play on differently every night.

MR: Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty album was really a document of his time on the road as opposed to just being a “live” album. Just curious, what do you think about that album’s significance? Do you feel that you’ve created a prototype with this album that might inspire others?

MS:  I love that record. What has influenced me most on that is David Lindley’s lap steel playing. I find myself singing his lines when I scat. A lot of my vocal decoration–the notes I sing between phrases–I can attribute to his sense of melody. When I first met David and told him this, he just laughed and humbly credited Lowell George for influencing him. I’ve always been inspired by mixtapes given to me. Hopefully, this album will inspire others.

MR: You have been called fiercely indie. How has today’s music business realities changed or evolved how you approach rolling out your releases?

MS:  I’ve been indie since ’02. Wow, what a great time to be here. The digital era has really democratized the world in ways never seen before.  So many avenues have opened up in the past decade that allow listeners to decide for themselves what they want to hear, buy, or share. While my label (KTR) still rolls out records in a traditional fashion including physical units to retail with more and more vinyl, the combination of this with digital, streaming, radio spins, and touring keeps the music flowing better than ever. 

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

MS: Frank Zappa said shut up and play your guitar. To that, I’ll add shut up and sing, remaining true to your heart all the way.

MR: Looking at your catalog to this point, how would you describe what you’ve created? Beyond Mixtape Of The Road, might you have a favorite album or song/recording that you’ve created?

MS: Chris Smither had it right when he said to me, songs are kind of like kids, some of them grow up and get an education and send checks home to daddy and some are still just flipping burgers, but I love them all equally. 

MR: Rumor has it you recorded a One Direction song. You recorded a One Direction song?

MS: Yeah, my daughter heard from a friend of hers that Harry Styles follows me on Twitter. She then dared me to cover a song. She played me “Story of My Life” and I really dug it so I did a homespun video of it to share on facebook and whatever, then recorded it during my Sirius XM session in New York the next day.

MR: What does the future look like for you? Any projects in the works or anything on the personal side you want to focus on?

MS:  The next year is pretty much charted out for me on the road working the Mixtape album. In addition to that I will be working on renewal and rebuilding and what’s most important, my family. We lost our home recently to a fire. Sometimes it takes catastrophic events to remind us what is most important. As we stood there and watched a lifelong collection of things go up in a massive fury of flames, all that mattered was that we were safe and alive. We are truly blessed, not only with friends and family, but fans who continue to inspire me with their love, support, and example of unity. They come from all walks of life, but set differences aside and show up with their beautiful voices singing as one.

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A Conversation with Chadwick Stokes

Mike Ragogna: Chad, what is The Horse Comanche’s origin story?

Chadwick Stokes:  I didn’t know when I when I wrote the song that there really was a horse named Comanche. I grew up with horses and love to ride so for me it’s a metaphor for being alive. The song looks into the departure of a cosmonaut from his lover.  

MR: What was it like recording with Sam Beam and how does his involvement affect your style or sound?

CS: He was great, very thorough and genuinely into the whole process. We delved into the meanings of certain songs and he encouraged me to do more finger-picking, less strumming.  

MR: Iron And Wine and Lucius guest on the album. Were there specific things you wanted them to bring to The Horse Comanche?

CS: I wanted Sam’s sonic sensibility–his albums with Brian Deck always sound great.

MR: One of the album’s featured tracks, “Mother Maple,” features interesting production elements like a choir and old sample machine. What was the creative process like for the whole project? 

CS: We wanted to make the best album that we could by exploring the potential that the musicians and studio had to offer and worrying about recreating it for the live show later. 

MR: “Our Lives Our Time” talks to intolerance. Is that part of your creative process, to inform as well as entertain? 

CS: Not really. I’m just singing about things that bother me, in that case, or inspire me in other cases. I guess if anything, I want to relate.

MR: From the artist’s own perspective, how does this album compare to your previous works?

CS: It’s just another chapter I suppose. Sam and Brian’s imprint probably sets it apart more than anything else.  Sam’s back up vocals are really special and Brian’s sound pallet is really varied.

MR: How do you ideally see your musical career commencing? Like, what’s the fantasy of your life about three to five years from now?

CS: I’d like to work on a rock opera/film that features different musician friends of mine. I’d like to play rallies and protests and contribute to the movement for peace and justice. I’d like to see gay marriage accepted everywhere, the national abolishment of the death penalty, stricter rules in gun acquisition and a higher minimum wage.  

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

CS:  Give your music away and play as much as you can. And stay awake behind the wheel.

MR: What’s the best advice you were ever given and did you take it?

CS: Don’t sweat the small stuff, from actor Chad Everett by way of news personality Ron Simonsen, otherwise known as Dr. Ron the Actor. I’ve tried.

MR: Anything have your attention other than the new album?

CS: I have a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old at home who are keeping me busy. My wife and I also are involved in our organization Calling All Crows, which, this year, is focusing on women and children who have been displaced in Syria.

MR: Anything you want to say to Sam Beam right about now?

CS: I found your pen.

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A Conversation with Erik Deutsch

Mike Ragogna: Erik, for Outlaw Jazz, what gave you the idea to merge genres and what’s the story behind this album? 

Erik Deutsch: Hey Mike, nice to make your acquaintance. It’s fair to say that this album represents a lifelong journey, and that the merging of the country and jazz styles is a summary of my musical path, to this point. Although I was raised mostly in Washington D.C., my mother is from Nashville. In 1982 dad was offered a job there, so we picked up and left for 5 years–kindergarten to 4th grade for me. During my time in Nashville, I started piano lessons, heard country music everywhere, and attended performances by artists like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell, and Waylon Jennings. I attended the Ensworth school, as did my younger brother, who became good friends with a classmate, Shooter Jennings. I occasionally found myself over at Shooter’s house, or him at ours, and sometimes crossing paths with his folks–Waylon and Jessi Colter. In third grade, we had a songwriting contest. I penned a ditty about a “hoopsnake”–a mythical reptile who bites his tail and rolls along like a wheel. I won the contest…and the prize? A songwriting session with a professional guitarist/songwriter, John Knowles, and a performance at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I count that as my first gig.

Fast forward 25 years to New York City. I hear through my old Nashville friends that Shooter has moved to New York, and that he’s looking for a studio to make some music. I put in a call to a friend and voila, a few months later, we’re sitting in my living room talking about making music and putting a new band together. Shooter and I hadn’t seen each other since grade school, but it can be easy catching up with old friends, and this was certainly the case. That led to two studio records with Shooter–Family Man and The Other Life, both of which I’m very proud, and a couple years on the road, including two visits to The Tonight Show and a performance on Letterman

We listened to endless music on the bus, with Shooter, Jon Graboff, and Tony Leone really schooling me with their knowledge of country musicians. I began to realize that there is a wealth of excellent guitar players who recorded instrumental country music (Roy Buchannan, Chet Atkins, Danny Gatton, Jim Campilongo, etc) but that the list of pianist who did the same is entirely too short. Thus the the idea for Outlaw Jazz was born… to make a record of genre-defying jazz music influenced by country rhythms, harmonies, and beats, with great players and singers, and little bit of outlaw attitude.  

I found a new label, Cumberland Brothers Music, in Nashville. It’s run by three gentlemen that went to the Ensworth School with Shooter and I, and we were off and running. 

MR: How did you pull together your guest roster that includes Shooter Jennings and Victoria Reed?

ED: Shooter, being such an integral part of the creation of Outlaw Jazz, had to contribute to the music. I chose to record the song “Whistlers and Jugglers” with him. It was written by Shel Silverstein, recorded by Waylon, and one that we had played on the road with Shooter on a nightly basis. It’s a beautiful, evocative song, that deserves a wider audience in my opinion.  

Victoria is an up and coming artist who everybody will probably know about in the next couple of years. She’s got a fantastic first album full of thoughtful, well-written songs that will be released sometime this year, and just spent the entire fall opening up for Citizen Cope on his US tour. I love female vocalists, and her performance on Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling” adds so much fun and life to the record.

MR: How was Outlaw Jazz recorded? How did the material come together?

ED: Outlaw Jazz was recorded at Mission Sound in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I launched a Kickstarter campaign (my first) and found overwhelming support for the project from friends, family, and fans. The material came together like most of my records: a few songs that had been waiting to be recorded for a while, a couple choice covers to feature our guests artists and bring a recognizable element to the music, and a couple more originals that rounded out the overall concept and balance of the record.  

MR: Are there any moments on the album that you’re especially proud of?

ED: Fortunately, there’s quite a few! I love the rhythm section’s swing on “Outlaw Boogie”; the jam at the end of “Whistlers”; Jon Stewart’s sax on “Dearest Darlin”; the sense of space on “Wild Horses”;  and the overall execution of the trickiest song on the album, “Pickle.”  

MR: What do you think of the state of jazz these days? Who are some of your favorite contemporaries?

ED: I think jazz is in a great place musically, but a bit of a weird place culturally. There’s a great wealth of creative, intelligent, forward-thinking music coming out of the jazz community; jazz mainstays like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Hunter, Fred Hersch, Bill Frisell, Wayne Shorter, Art Lande, Steven Bernstein, and Jon Scofield and continue to make relevant, progressive jazz music. Newer established artists are doing the same: Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Ben Allison, Ben Perowsky, Kneebody, Jenny Scheinman, Rudresh Manthappa, Allison Miller, Ron Miles, Myra Melford, Ben Goldberg, and Scott Amendola are some of my favorites.

Unfortunately, people aren’t sure how to classify the music, and aren’t especially good at listening to, buying, and supporting it either. Hopefully the extremely high quality of the art will catch up in popularity and ‘hipness’ in the eyes of the music world sometime soon.  

MR: Will Outlaw Jazz serve as a prototype as to where you’re headed with your material in the future?

ED: It’s hard to say to say right now what the next album will sound like, but I think this record is definitely more than just a “concept album”–it’s music that i’m feeling in my heart and really enjoying performing for and sharing with the listeners. 

MR: Erik, what advice do you have for new artists?

ED: Practice hard, pay tribute to the history of the music, always focus on the developing your personal sound, support your local scene and your peers, don’t worry about genres, and stay positive!  

MR: What’s the best advice ever given to you and did you take it?

ED: At a rehearsal with Ron Miles, I asked, “What should I play on this song”? He answered “I hired you, Erik… why would i tell you what to play? I’m interested in what you are hearing.” Great advice from a great bandleader… I always have it in mind. 

MR: What’s the plan after Outlaw Jazz?

ED: We’ll be playing shows all year to support the record, right now performances in NYC, Nashville, Toronto, Colorado, Mexico, California, Seattle, and DC are on the radar). Then on to the next challenge and hopefully some more good music!
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Complicated Game: Chatting with James McMurtry and Wind-Up’s Ed Vetri, Plus a Jes Exclusive

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A Conversation with James McMurtry

Mike Ragogna: James, Complicated Game is your first album in six years. How complicated was its creation?

James McMurtry: The writing process was no more complicated than usual. I start with two lines and a melody and try to build from there. If the song keeps me up at night, I finish it. If not, it goes on the scrap pile to possibly be fished out and finished at a later date.

The recording process was a bit different this time. CC Adcock and Mike Napolitano produced the record in New Orleans. Most of us in my racket have to tour more than we used to because the mailbox money’s not there anymore. We can’t afford to hunker down in the studio for six weeks. So I’d come in for a week, sometimes with my band, sometimes solo, lay down a few tracs and then head back out on the road. While I was gone, CC and Mike would figure out whom else they wanted on the record, or whom else they could get. Often, decisions were based on who happened to be in town. You never know who might turn up in New Orleans.

MR: Your songs’ topics cover a wide range yet they’re all able to fit into the “Americana” genre. Does making this breed of music afford you more freedom to investigate and express than the other genres? Considering everything evolves or at least changes a little, what do you think of the “Americana” these days and do you have any favorite contemporaries? And didn’t you receive a Grammy nomination?

JM: My Grammy nomination was for Long Form Video in 1994, just before Americana came to be thought of as a genre. I don’t know if there was a chart for Americana Radio at that time. Seems like AAA–Adult Alternative Airplay or Triple A–had just morphed into almost what AOR–Album Oriented Rock–had been, and Americana had not yet grown up into the slightly more country version of Triple A that it eventually became. don’t know if Americana qualifies as a genre, or if it’s a catchall category for those of us who play a mix of country and rock ‘n’ roll and can’t get much play anywhere else. I’m not complaining. I need the spins and I’m not sure what really constitutes a genre anyway. Americana Radio has a bright future if they keep spinning the likes of John Fulbright and Jason Isbell. Those guys are top notch.

MR: How personal does the subject matter get for you, for instance, how much of you is there in songs like “Copper Canteen” and “Deaver’s Crossing” maybe as opposed to “Long Island Shores” and “How’m I Gonna Find You Now”?

JM: My songs are fiction whether I’m in them or not. I did used to cross a farm owned by some people named Deaver when I was a kid, but I fictionalized the account. I never knew the real Mr. Deaver. He’s crippled up in the song because it fits the meter and makes a good story. I did meet the real Mrs. Deaver. She was delightful. The other three songs you mention are totally made up, unless you count the rattle in the dashboard in “How’m I . . .” I did have an actual dashboard rattle that got the song going in my head. I don’t wash down blood pressure pills with Red Bull, but a couple of nurses I met on a cruise ship told me they did that all the time.

MR: “Peter Pan,” “Out Here In The Middle” and “We Can’t Make It Here” are some of your best loved songs. Do you have any personal favorites?

JM:”Restless” is always fun to play, and “Long Island Sound” off the new record.

MR: What is it about James McMurtry songs and recordings that keeps it admired and relevant?

JM: You’d have to ask a listener. I don’t know what’s relevant or admired.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JM: Don’t quit unless you can.

MR: What’s coming down the pike?

JM: The pike itself, and lots of it.

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JES INTRODUCES “TWO SOULS”

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photo credit: Courtesy of KTEE And Planetjes Inc.

According to Jes…

“For ‘Two Souls,’ I was looking to write on the more progressive, more pop side of dance, but I wanted to keep the emotional and angelic feeling I love to put into my songs. ‘Two Souls’ has been a long journey, and it went through many incarnations. It started as a very stripped down ballad, but later took on a whole new shape. The meaning of the song is also very close to my heart. It’s about coincidence in life, the ironic instances when we have met before in a different time and place, but never knew it. I know it’s a bit of a different sound for me but I hope my audience will embrace it. They know I love to write and sing in so many different styles and I think this one will also capture their hearts.”

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A Conversation with Ed Vetri

Mike Ragogna: Nice to meet you, Ed. So Wind-Up Music has gone through a maturation period that seems like you’ve ushered-in. First off, for perspective, let’s talk about your own music career background. What are some of your favorite career highs?

Ed Vetri: Hey Mike, nice to meet you. My favorite moments are dealing with the young artists, the excitement to get a record deal and get into studio, that first feeling that they are not alone anymore. Specific moments that come to mind; Creed selling out Madison Square Garden; and the album “Weathered” being #1 on the charts for nine consecutive weeks, Evanescence winning a Grammy for “Best New Artist,” Finger Eleven performing the hit “Paralyzer” on the rooftop at the Much Music Awards in 2007, Seether having three #1 singles off their last record on Wind-up. Achieving a number one single at rock for the Young Guns song “Bones” after working it for 37 weeks. The first new artist to achieve a #1 on its debut song since Seether’s “Fine Again” in 2003. Ironically, Seether took 32 weeks. Those long climbs to #1 songs define the tenacity and character of Wind-up. Finally launching the Virginmarys with iTunes and having it be the first artist and only “Double single of the week” with the song “just a ride”. All of our my great moments are centered and based on achievements of my artists.

MR: How did you come on board at Wind-Up and what did you most admire about them?

EV: I had a relationship with the founder, Alan Meltzer, through a prior deal we did together. In the late ’90s, he then purchased Grass Records–featuring a very young Conor Oberst–and upon the signing of Creed, the name was changed to Wind-up Records and I joined the team. So other than feeling we had the “tiger by the tail” with Creed and Alan’s crazy and wild passion, I felt it would be a great opportunity to get into the business I loved.

MR: Wind-Up has been around for 17 years now. What do you think the label stands for these days? What’s its mission compared to when they first started?

EV: I think our slogan “developing career artists” was true 17 years ago and rings truer today. The early mission was really to build a company, with Creed as its first artist, to compete with the majors. We committed to significant staff, including radio personnel, before putting out our first album. It was a “build it and they will come mentality,” be successful with Creed and other rock bands would find us as the best label for rock bands. Today we are not a format specific, we look at great talent, sounds writers and amazing performers, then we deal with genre and formats. Our roster is more varied than in the past, but the common thread amongst todays roster, include incredible live performers , with powerful songs and a commitment to work very hard.

MR: What is the most unique thing you bring to their creative or business model and ideally, what would you see Wind-Up having accomplished in about five years?

EV: I have always had a focus in creating value for the company. My business background is always there to compliment the creative side, always working in tandem at Wind-up. When I started, I was deeply committed to building a publishing and merchandising business. Those would and did end up creating great value to the company, but also allows for a deeper more, committed relationship with the artists. When you have multi-right deals with the artists, we can tap into various deal structures to find creative ways to finance artist development and allow us not to be a “one and done” company, but have the ability and commitment to put out multiple albums for each and every artist, thus giving their career a real shot. I feel I strategically and properly timed the selling of our back master and publishing catalogs. Those artists were all in different stages in their respective careers and WU is a a pure A&R focused development company, so I believe selling those back catalogs allowed WU to invest in its future signings and facilitated the heritage artists to move on to platforms that were more suitable for them at the point in their career.

MR: When you look at the current music scene, what are your thoughts? What do you think are its strengths and where do you think it needs to improve?

EV: I think the industry does a great job at creating hit songs and pop stars. I am not sure you will be listening to those songs 10 – 15 years from now, but they are very popular and successful at the moment. Many feel a bit fleeting. I think we need to have more long term career artists, ones that have longevity, most of the artists filling arenas consistently are from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and they do it year after year, because it is based not on one or two hit songs , but a long term relationship developed with their fans, consistent touring and an amazing catalog of songs. As labels we need to provide and platform to allow artists to grow over time and develop those deep routed fan relationships. We need artists, that write and perform their own music that have something meaningful to say and can deliver their music at a high level live.

MR: Do you think people will need a break from dancing someday and the music scene might embrace another direction with its pop?

EV: I think the is a place for all of it, EDM, POP , ROCK etc…the various festivals show collaborating artists from various genres working and performing together and I think and hope that will continue. I know there is always a place for great lve rock bands and I believe that is where the roots of music are deepest.

MR: Who are some of your current favorite artists and who are some of your favorites associated with Wind-Up?

EV: I have been to over 230 Bruce Springsteen shows so I need to start there! He is always current to me and still puts out meaningful records that have a strong message. I love Lorde, Eric Church, Royal Blood, Trombone Shorty, the list goes on…

MR: What advise would you give to new artists?

EV: They have to start the fire on their own. Don’t think magic happens when you sign a record deal, if you do happen to get one, that when the real hard work begins. Be a great live act and focus on songs, its always about the songs. Your job is to write, create and perform , do it everyday and make it special. Be committed , patient and focused, play every night, like you are playing in front of 10K people, you never know who is watching.

MR: Looking back at your career at this point, what would have done differently?

EV: Jeez, for one, listened to my kids when they told me many years ago I should be looking at these DJ’s and get into the live business! Maybe I should have stuck to those guitar and piano lessons, but hell , I am better finding great players than being one.

MR: What does the future bring for you and Wind-Up?

EV: I hope for great success for our artists, in however they measure success. WU and I remain committed to artist development and will look to be a leader in the independent music community for years to come Keeping the independent sector strong and healthy is critical for artists, I would hope the consolidation t the major label level stops and the indies can compete at the partner level on a fair and consistent basis with the majors. Great artists usually comes from the Indy sector first. If we are successful at having our music heard and our artists seen, then we have delivered and our employees will be happy and so will I. WU has always been about its artists first, however the consistency of its success has been its employees and leaders around this office, many that started with me “back in the day.”
Entertainment – The Huffington Post
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Jal: Chatting with Director Girish Malik and Composers Bickram Ghosh and Sonu Nigam, Plus A Scott Weiland Exclusive

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photo courtesy Doreen D’Agostino Media

A Conversation with Girish Malik, Bickram Gosh & Sonu Nigam

Mike Ragogna: Gentlemen, hello. The film Jal has gotten a lot of attention, lately, among the Oscar crowd where it’s on a long list of current nominees. How did this project and all of your involvements begin?

Girish Malik: It started as an idea for a short film about migratory birds and the environmental factors affecting them which evolved in to a human story over the years. During my many visits to Kutch for research along with Rakesh with whom I have co-written this film, I was fascinated with the place and the people, the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes that keep moving and yet call this hostile desert home, pretty much like the flamingos. I felt so close and motivated to tell this story and to showcase this world. The music had a huge part to play in the narrative of the film. From the very beginning I was very clear about how I wanted the film to look, but I was still searching for the right sounds. During my research I came across, Bickram’s “Primal” track from his album Kingdom of Rhythm and that struck a chord with me. I had a meeting with him and we connected. Sonu I knew separately and we had earlier discussed other projects but I had never worked with him. During my conversations, I found out that they were collaborating on an album. From there the idea formed of both of them collaborating on JAL.

Bickram Ghosh: This is first film that Sonu Nigam and myself composed together for! Mr. Nigam is India’s singing superstar and he and I had been working together on an album, The Music Room. Mr. Girish Malik had been speaking separately with Mr. Nigam and me regarding his film only to discover we had already starting working as a duo! Mr. Malik had heard much of my previous work on audio albums and some of my tracks were already part of his soundtrack references.

When the three of us sat together we realized that there was a palpable chemistry and we were even able to create the song “Jal De” in record time which then was used to create a reference mood by Mr. Malik when he started shooting.

Sonu Nigam: It’s simply bliss to find ourselves in this elite list with some of the most celebrated composers in the world, and that too in our very first outing as a composer duo.  It so happened that I took a year’s sabbatical from Mumbai and moved to LA in 2009. Something happened and my musical sensibilities changed as a result of the unlearning that transpired in isolation there. Upon my return, myself and Mr. Bickram Ghosh, one of the finest percussionists in the world, decided on a musical collaboration couple of years back. In a chance meeting with director and old friend Girish Malik, Girish proposed I do the music for Jal. I proposed Bickram Gosh to join hands. And thus began the journey called Jal.

MR: Briefly, what are each of your creative histories?

GM: I have been creatively inclined since childhood and explored many mediums. I was a state level gymnast and was doing contemporary dancing and ballet. But later gravitated towards semi-classical and folk dancing specializing in Chau – an Indian tribal martial dance. I performed in India and internationally at many prestigious festivals as a dancer. This was in my final years of school and college. During college days, I got involved in theater where I spent many years acting with the most reputed personalities of Delhi Theater. Theatre led to television in Mumbai where I worked as a lead actor for seven years in some of the most popular shows. At the peak of my acting career, I felt stagnated because of the kind of work that was happening in Indian television and turned to production, direction and writing and set up a successful television and advertising production company. I produced, written and directed over 1000 hours of TV shows & many ad films. I have also worked as a creative consultant for top Indian and International broadcasters. JAL is my first feature film as a producer/director.

BG: I’ve played pure Indian classical music for many years, accompanied Ravi Shankar on the tabla for over a decade. I performed with him on his Grammy awarded album “Full Circle” in 2002. I played on the title track of George Harrison’s Brainwashed, which won a Grammy nomination. I played on two albums with Anoushka Shankar both of which got Grammy nominations. I have subsequently travelled the world with my Indo-fusion band Rhythmscape. I’ve collaborated with artists across the globe be it Africa, America, Japan, Israel, Australia, Europe etc. I often hear sounds in combination, cultures juxtaposed – that is what really marks my compositional faculties. I like working with a huge gamut of instruments. Of course, percussions are my first love.

SN: Having begun my career as a singer in my childhood 37 years back, I have been fortunate to have experienced unfathomable love and accolades worldwide. Music and songs play the most important part in Indian films – sometimes more pivotal than the script. And Indian film industry rules entertainment in the entire subcontinent. The past 23 years have given me thousands of songs, both film and non-film, thousands of concerts worldwide, besides opportunities like hosting the biggest, most respected and first ever talent show Saregama for 6 years on TV way back in 1995. I also judged the first two seasons of Indian Idol and then The X Factor eventually, besides various other major television series and events. Internationally, the only tribute to the great Michael Jackson by his blood line is in collaboration with me. Jermaine Jackson sang a song written and composed by me, which was inaugurated in the most prestigious IIFA Awards in Toronto in 2011. Besides, there are collaborations with Avicii for his song “Levels” and Britney Spears in “I Wanna Go.” Kylie Minogue’s only Indian film song is a duet with me.

MR: Bickram, you’re a world-renowned tabla player whose history includes playing with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. What do you think your musical and life experiences affected what you brought to the project?

BG: I think like Mr. Shankar, who used Indian instruments and Indian musicality as his core language of communication, I too do the same. I may use western instruments or oriental sounds, but my core emotional content is brought from India, her rich tapestry of sounds and the ability of Indian instruments to strike a deep intimate chord with the human heart.

My life has been textured with rich emotional experiences honed through a huge amount of travel. I see the human predicament as the same, whichever part of the world you may be from. Therefore, I like using a single instrument and weaving a variety of sounds around it, thereby putting the basic instrument into a larger context. Kind of like what classic literature or film often does. Elevating one man’s story into a metaphor for the human predicament.

MR: Sonu, to you, how closely did the final music of the film express what you were envisioning?
 
SN: When I first penned the first 4 lines of the title song, I narrated it to my late mother, who had just been diagnosed with cancer and was getting treated then. I truly believe she blessed and initiated the creative process of Jal. Me and Bickram Ghosh then sat in my studio to design the core sound for the track that would in due course decide the core ethos of the film, which was yet to be shot. I would like to now mention our director Girish Malik for having the clarity of vision, the dignity of not succumbing to mediocrity and giving us complete freehand to musically express Jal.

MR: What do you think the state of Indian films are at this point in time? Do you see them being even more widely embraced than they are now?

GM: I really hope so. A lot of the emerging filmmakers from India are making films that are essentially Indian and yet very global. They are trying to make real, heartfelt stories that go beyond the formula. In India they form a niche but in a country like India, niche is also big. As for international recognition, there are a lot of pre-conceived notions about Indian cinema that we have to deal with. What’s great is that now there are more avenues and more awareness so, a lot of independent expression is coming out of the country. Earlier it was tougher to make those kind of films.

BG: I think the fact that some films like Jal are breaking free from the clichés that have plagued Indian cinema for long, is an excellent sign. Like Satyajit Ray who showed a real India, Girish Malik, through Jal, shows a side of India hitherto rarely seen on the screen. The fact that our film deals with the universal issue of water makes it a microcosm of a global issue. This kind of cinema will make Indian films much more relevant globally.

SN: The Indian Film Industry is a monster of an industry in its own capacity. We make all kinds of Cinema. Jal, and its music getting recognition in the mainstream category of Oscar, on its own merit, is a huge morale booster for not just the team involved, but the entire industry. Even a remote association with it, can change an entire culture of thought process of a film industry anywhere in the world. Such is the credibility of an Oscar.

MR: Girish, Jal already has received an Indian National Film Award for Best Visual Affects. What do you think it is about the film that’s resonating on the world stage?

GM: I am happy that the various aspects of the film are being recognized on different platforms. The subject of the film is of course very universal and so are the emotions associated. The film was first recognized at Busan International Film Festival in Korea where it was featured in competition and received critical and audience appreciation for its cinematography, story and of course the music. A lot of research and detailed work has been done on every element of the film keeping in mind the mood and narrative of the film. A lot of heart and soul and years of hard work has gone into the making of Jal.

MR: This may seem like a superficial question but how has Bollywood hurt or helped the cause for getting appreciation of Indian films and filmmakers?
 
GM: An Oscar nomination or win is huge, of course! It’s a wonderful validation of your hard work and talent. Being recognized on this huge platform by the biggest and the best also means that the film gets exposure all over the world. And if that happens it just makes it easier for us to continue doing the work we believe in. Jal is my first and it has been a huge struggle to make this film. If a nomination or win happens, it will make the road ahead easier.

BG: I feel the clichéd side of Bollywood which emanated from vaudeville – like format spilled over to the screen from the stage has run its course. It has helped primarily through gifting the world a huge treasury of songs and music which has been loved and appreciated widely. But the clichéd format has often clouded the minds of the world audience and they have unfortunately missed some gems from India in the process. This has been detrimental to getting appreciation.

SN: First of all I shun the word Bollywood. I find it to be a very tacky nomenclature for an entertainment industry as unique as Indian Film Industry. The dominance of Music, song and dance in 99% of the films here, coupling with some of the world’s most fanatic fan following, gives it a character unheard and unseen anywhere in the world. Ironically that trait itself isolates it from world platforms. Jal perhaps, is in this celebrated race predominantly due to its unique musical approach and its clever usage of music confirming to International norms. With all humility, no piece of the music of Jal, can be used in any of the other films in contention in the list, it is that unique!

MR: In your opinion, which scenes marry the music to the visuals best in the film?

GM: Honestly, I think all of it is very important. The work that happened on the music and background score of the film was very extensive, over almost a year. Each and every sound was worked upon with a lot of thought, keeping in mind the space and emotions of the film. Cinema is an audio-visual experience. And that is how we worked on and edited this film from the very beginning. I do have a few favorite sequences, of course. One is where Bakka is completely shattered and is hallucinating just before the twister. Then in the end when Bakka is being dragged through the desert… Also the sequence where Kim is being chased by Kesar with a dagger. Sounds are as important in invoking an emotion or conveying something as the visuals.

BG: The opening scene where the camera moves over the parched land and a frame drum played over it. The sounds created from dead skin – on the frame drum – almost sound a death- knell for life in the water afflicted area. The oboe that serves as Bakka’s theme is next. Bakka’s is a water diviner and seems to have supernatural powers. It was important to use a sound that was alien to the terrain so that Bakka was connected to something beyond his immediate surroundings. It breaks the familiarity of the character from his surroundings. I also like the impassioned drumming – using a huge variety of drums – during the water ritual.  The distinctive drum sounds used here are very different from the much used tympanies and other orchestral drums normally used in films. The exotic cry of the song “Jal De” (give me water ), the romance of the song “Ankhiyan Tihari” (your eyes) and the final climax where the chanting is used to denote a much larger force in action are also some of my favorites. I think the soundscape of Jal has a unique character and that is what is drawing people to it. It is a tapestry of fresh new sounds that put the visuals in a more pointed context.

SN: For me, the opening scene sets the tone of the soul of the movie and its music.

MR: What advice do you have for new musical artists and filmmakers?

GM: Musically, like I said, cinema is an audio-visual medium. Maybe because of my background as a classical dancer and in theater, my vision and thought process is always an amalgamation of sound and visuals. In fact even when I am writing a film, I start collecting sounds and make notes. Sometimes I write my scenes with an audio reference. I even pre-recorded some references to be used while shooting important sequences to get that mood and rhythm. Also, editing is not just editing the visuals, how you edit your sound will make a tremendous difference. I also completely believe in research and detailing. Shooting is just one part of the process. A lot of how the film turns out depends on your homework before the shoot and during writing and in the post-production. The key is in details. The rest, I think the safest thing to do is to take a chance and follow your heart!

BG: Learn your craft first. Then proceed through life with sincerity and passion. As you grow richer as a person, your work becomes deeper and more meaningful.

SN: I see a lot of creative artistes, singers, composers, directors, and writers etc., wasting their precious time criticizing other people’s work. Analyzing is imperative. Being a cynic, is anti-God. We close the doors to our creative and learning faculties when we are too critical in life. I have done that in my ignorance in my initial days too. But I got the point soon. Everyone around, is a guru, teaching you two things. What to do and what not to do. Listen!

MR: Will you all be working together again in the future?

GM: We have connected creatively during Jal and my kind of cinema matches their world of music. For every project of mine, I know how I want my sounds to be like and that is always the pre-requisite for who I need to associate with to give me that world.

BG: Of course, this is just the beginning!

Sonu Nigam: I would certainly want this bonding to bear more fruits for a long time to come.

MR: What do you picture reaction being to an Oscar nomination or win? In the long run, does it matter?

GM: An Oscar nomination or win is huge of course! It’s a wonderful validation of your hard work and talent. Being recognized on this huge platform by the biggest and the best also means that the film gets exposure all over the world. And if that happens it just makes it easier for us to continue doing the work we believe in. Jal is my first and it has been a huge struggle to make this film. If a nomination or win happens, it will make the road ahead easier.

BG: The Oscar is the biggest validation to cinema- related work in the world! Of course it matters! We believe we have a very special distinctive sound which is the result of life-long research, sincerity and experimentation. A recognition as huge as the Oscar can inspire us to work harder and can be a window to future opportunities which can then showcase our talent.

SN: Over the years having been bestowed with the most respected awards worldwide, I have come to believe that awards are like gifts. You love it when you receive it. But you shouldn’t complain when you don’t. I haven’t received one yet but I can assume that an Oscar must leave a lifelong impact on the receiver.

******************************

SCOTT WEILAND RELEASES HIS “MODZILLA”

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photo credit: Jamie Weiland

According to Scott Weiland…

“I feel that ‘Modzilla’ exemplifies the overall sonic quality of the album. The guitar sound and the vocals show a ‘no holds barred’ approach. It’s a fresh sort of retro but modern too, and I think that both the STP and VR fans as well as new fans will gravitate toward it.”


Entertainment – The Huffington Post
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“Peace”: Chatting with O.A.R.’s Marc Roberge, Jordy Towers of SomeKindaWonderful and Iamsu!, Plus Don Flemons and Mike Sempert Exclusives

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A Conversation with O.A.R.’s Marc Roberge

Mike Ragogna: Hey Marc, it looks like O.A.R.’s bringing peace to the world!

Marc Roberge: [laughs] The song is getting out there, we’re super-psyched about it. That was super funny.

Ragogna: Hey, seriously, what do you think of what’s going on in the world relative to the message of your song?

Roberge: Well that’s a really good question. Look… When I wrote this song, maybe it was for selfish purposes, right? I was at a point in my life where I’d done rock ‘n’ roll for a long period of time, I’d developed so much of a familial bond with the band members and myself. We had grown up together, we were out on this road, we’d all developed families at home as well and things began to really pick up steam. Life on the road went by in a flash. We’d been out there for years and all of a sudden something in real life maybe goes wrong and then you have to re-evaluate, “What’s important to me? Advancing this band and getting out there and touring and touring and touring, or being at home and advancing my life and my family?” All these things had come to a head where we’re standing somewhere and I’m thinking to myself, “I really want to write a song that brings me the peace of mind that I’ve been looking for.” It’s selfish in the sense that this song was written about inner peace, about really getting to the point where you can lift the weight of a few years off your shoulders and be able to pay attention again to music in the way you did when you started, full of love, full of wonder, full of adventure, all of those things. That was the peace we were looking for. But then as we developed the song and wrote it, we realized you could put it in the context of a relationship with the world. In any sense, we’re always looking for peace of mind. So today, as I’m sitting here as a thirty-five year old father of two, and I’m very concerned with things as they sit around the world and the way we handle things.

I was concerned in 2007, I didn’t understand what Iraq was about, so we went there and spent a week trying to understand a little bit what was going through the hearts and minds of our troops then. That helped me develop an even more clear position on it. With what’s currently going on there, I feel like I need to educate myself more in order to have an opinion. All I know is that certain things make us feel better. Certain breaks make us feel confident. For me, getting music out of my system and out there every night is a way that I address my world and find my peace through music. I’m just curious what the outcomes of these things will be. What they use to help them get through much more serious situations, but it does worry me as a father, the example we may set in the world of taking action over diplomacy. I just am worried. But I’m an observer at this point, and to even give you any more deep of an opinion I’d probably have to go learn more about the situation.

Ragogna: And, of course, I only asked the question considering the song’s relevance to what’s currently happening in the world.

Roberge: No, it makes sense because when we were sitting in that room writing that song in a basement in Nashville, we said it like, “Wow, even Abu Nazir wants peace,” you know, the character on Homeland? Not jokingly, what we were trying to say is everyone is tired. Everyone’s at the point now where you’ve seen your friends and your family go back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan so many times. You’ve seen this go on, you’ve seen the economic downturn and how these things have an effect on everybody’s lives where everyone’s tired. Everyone wants a break. Everyone wants a second, third, fourth, fifth chance at this thing. I have learned so much about it from my friend Paul Rieckhoff at IAVA, talking about Iraq and Afghanistan vets and how, really, all they want is another shot at this, another chance to get back into society and give it another go after serving. There’s so much of that going on and I think everyone can relate to the fact that we all as human beings really deserve multiple chances at that restart button when turbulent times come. I think the entire society’s tired.

Ragogna: What did you think of the Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary School performance of “Peace”?

Roberge: You mean on The Today Show? Oh my God, they’re amazing. We’ve developed a relationship with the children’s scholarship fund, which in New York provides scholarship to kids in the Bronx to go to school at Mount Carmel, because the public schools aren’t given them the opportunities they need or the programs they deserve. It was so cool to see them come into the city–first of all they had to be there at five fifteen in the morning, that was the first commitment. Five fifteen to eleven is a long day for kids to have to sit around in the studio but they came in with such a good attitude, it really brought a light to the performance. I honestly think that they were the difference maker between just a regular performance on TV in the morning and something that made us all feel tingly and it made us all feel like we were doing something special. I went to P.S. 22 the next day and heard the kids sing there and man, there’s no medicine that can top that.

Ragogna: When people hear the message from your recording and it actually resonates, it’s got to be gratifying.

Roberge: Oh my God, are you kidding me? I referenced back to that moment when I was writing it, and I’m not trying to BS you or anything here, I literally felt like something had lifted off my shoulders and this thing was going to enable us as a group to continue to move forward. Not just like lateral movement forward, we wanted to move upward in this thing in that we wanted to get ourselves some more time to express ourselves in music. The only way to do that these days is have a song that connects with the masses in a way that enables you to get out on the road for five years and really work, and then it enables your albums. It enables so much more than really slugging it out, because you’re slugging it out anyway. This is something that you never count on. You don’t say to yourself, “Well first I’m going to have a hit single, then I’m going to do this and do this.” Doing this interview is a prime example that people know it exists. That’s like the hardest and biggest hurdle in the music business, to get your song to a level where people are just aware of it. It’s like a snowball going downhill, you have no control over when it stops rolling, but I’m enjoying watching it grow.

Ragogna: Does it feel like a little bit of a reset button’s been hit for the group? Obviously, it doesn’t erase your success to this point, but it sort of feels like a whole new chapter has begun.

Roberge: Absolutely! I look at this thing in a very honest fashion, because you have no choice, right? When you start out in a band everything is imaginative, everything is an adventure. Then you get out there for ten years and it becomes, “Okay, how do we maintain this adventure?” because at any point in time it flatlines and you just continue and it’s cool. That’s totally fine, but you really have to rearrange your entire business and rearrange how you’re going to do things when you have employees and you have everything you’re talking about, and it does completely add a booster. You could look at it like this… When we’re trying to get up into the upper atmosphere and out into outer space, we need boosters, correct? Or else we just kind of hang and we went as high as we could go. It’s not a matter of money, it’s not a matter of numbers, it’s a boost to get out to that next part. This song enables that, and to watch it is like standing aside from yourself and watching as it happens. If you expect it to happen, you’re only setting yourself up for letdowns. We absolutely needed this in order to continue growing. We want to grow and this song is an enabler.

Ragogna: That ties into your new album Rockville, O.A.R.’s getting back “home” and to its musical roots.

Roberge: Exactly. That’s the entire project, the entire motion behind it, the naming of the album, going from the first track and on. “Two Hands Up” is basically surrendering. It’s a love song to the city. “We came from here, now we’re coming back, we surrender.” And the end of the album, the very last lyric is, “Just keep believing.” Throughout our entire journey, we have gotten so incredibly lucky through a lot of hard work, but then we were faced with real issues. At a point about three years ago, we were faced with very serious real-life stuff that made me re-evaluate everything about music, touring, and living this lifestyle. My wife got extremely sick and, thank God, I can say today that she’s cancer-free. She’s doing awesome but it came at a time when we had no real label, no real management. We were trying to work, so many things happened, and then real-life stuff happened that forced us to evaluate, “How do we take care of our people?” That’s what’s number one. Once we accomplished that, once everyone committed to taking care of our home base, and the people who meant everything to us, a few years later we write “Peace,” she gets healthy, the business starts to thrive again and we all get a label.

Vanguard’s doing an incredible job, the management team’s doing an incredible job, and health is everywhere. We wrote “Peace,” the weight went away. We dedicated the album to Rockville and we started to go there every other week or so. We recorded some demos, wrote some songs, went to Nashville, reconnected with Nathan Chapman and Blair Daly and Kevin Kadish down there, went to New York and my spot. It all became a very personal, year-long experience to declare that we are committed to the imagination part of music again, reinvigorated and reset–because we faced something that made us turn it off for a second–and just empower your home base. It sounds cheesy, man, but it’s not just an album. This is our moment to just recognize where we come from, because that is who developed us into strong enough people to reinvigorate this band thing. We’re at a point now where we are more together. It feels like this album’s a celebration of that. The only way we knew how to do that was to dedicate it to where we come from, because that shaped us.

Ragogna: Michael Stipe probably isn’t very happy about your going back to Rockville.

Roberge: [laughs] It’s funny, at my wedding in DC–my wife and I are both from Rockville, she was my high school best friend–we go to get married in DC, the Vote For Change tour is in town so at the hotel is Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam, Stipe, Springsteen and everyone. So all my guests are psyched, they think it’s the rock ‘n’ roll wedding, but I have nothing to do with this, I’m just lucky that they’re in the hotel. Stipe walked through our photos. I have wedding photos of Michael Stipe creeping through our photos. I’ve never met the guy, but that is a super cool “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” caught at Rockville moment.

Ragogna: And let’s name drop one more time. Your group, sir, is touring with Phillip Phillips.

Roberge: Yeah, we’re out with Phillip Phillips right now. This is like the sixth show of the tour.

Ragogna: How is that going so far?

Roberge: There is a great energy on this tour. We come into summer tour with such excitement all the time, but we also right now are really feeling the sense of thankfulness. Every day we’re out here and there are crowds and it’s bigger than last year, there’s more awareness than last year and the album’s really popping. We’re in this super happy, jovial mood, right? So when we came up on the road we came in hot, like really excited, and now it’s really cool because you’re like six days deep and the affection is everywhere. Everyone on this thing is psyched. We got up and stage and played together last night, there was a really good vibe in the air, the bands started to talk to each other and that clicked the summer camp vibe that we love on the road so much, that’s what we’re so excited for all the time. So to be out here with a bunch of musicians who feel the same way we do is the total icing on the cake. This is not a business thing, everyone’s just happy as hell to be here, and that’s what makes the fan base so happy to be here too.

Ragogna: I love the summer camp mention.

Roberge: That’s what it is, it’s summer camp! The pizza night, and everyone stays up hanging in the parking lot, it’s those types of feelings that you got at summer camp but now we’re just in busses.

Ragogna: What advice do you have for new artists?

Roberge: Oh man, I say the same thing every time, it’s literally the one thing that turns me on or turns me off about a new artist. If they are willing to play anywhere at any time, drop of the hat, create some music and do it with all their heart, boom. That’s what you need to do. A lot of these younger bands come up and, basically, they want to be famous. They don’t want to be in a band, they don’t want to be an artist. My nephews and cousins are young and I say to them, “listen, you can’t go in thinking you want to be famous, you’ve got to think that you want to play music every day for twenty five years.” If that’s in your heart and you’re willing to do that, and do it when there are five people in the audience and still sweat it out, that’s what separates it. People say, “Well, everyone’s on YouTube.” Great, that’s awesome, more music for the world. But it’s still going to separate at some point the people who want to get out there and play live music and the people who don’t, and I think that’s what separates, in my opinion, what a young artist can do.

Ragogna: It seems like you guys took your advice.

Roberge: Well, yeah. We only learned it from the bands that came before us. We watched The Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, incredible live acts who loved playing shows. Pearl Jam, in my opinion, is one of the greatest jam bands of all time. You never consider them a jam band, but if you go to a concert, they’re jamming harder than any band I’ve ever seen. We learned that coming up. My brother’s band would stay in our basement, a seven-piece band coming through town stinking up the basement, eating all our food, sleeping on the floor and that’s what they wanted. That’s what I wanted to do. Later on, I have kids and stuff and I’m still in that mindset. My kids are always psyched. They look at rock ‘n’ roll like I did; it’s a cool thing to pass down.

Ragogna: And there’ll be more singles from the album, obviously. Are you in jittery anticipation of anything coming up?

Roberge: I’m always cautiously optimistic when it comes to singles and that type of thing. I always have my plan. I know from the beginning I was always saying “Peace” had to be the first single. There was a lot of talk back and forth about what would be the first single but for me the only way I could express this album the way I wanted to was for people to understand that it comes from a pure place and we’re not going for a pop hit song off the bat. There are pop songs on this album, I just didn’t want that to be the first exposure. My plan was always “Peace” and then, hopefully, we’ll come out with another single. At this point, “Peace” is doing so well and I’m so happy about it that whatever the company chooses is fine with me. I’ll let them do their business at this point.

Ragogna: So you like your new home, Vanguard, huh.

Roberge: Vanguard’s awesome, dude. Vanguard is a killer label. We didn’t even sign the deal until the album was pretty much done and ready to go out. They worked with us creatively in the sense that we all wanted to make sure we were all in on it, and they are very much all in on it. We’ve all spent a lot of time together working on this thing. It’s exciting.

Ragogna: Plus their roster is pretty full and pretty powerful with folks like Matt Nathanson and so many others.

Roberge: Oh, just wait. I’ve got a bunch of friends of mine that are, hopefully, finishing up deals with them. You know how the record labels used to be, a bunch of bands that know each other? Their friends all on the same label touring and doing all these things? That’s what we’re trying to get going. Matt and I have always been close, we’ve always been friends, but they’ve got some people coming that we can’t wait for. It’s looking good.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

DON FLEMONS’ “AIN’T IT A GOOD THING”

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photo credit: Tim Duffy

According to Dom Flemons, also with Carolina Choclate Drops…

“I first heard this song from the definitive recording made by Memphis songster Frank Stokes. In 2006, when I first went to the Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Convention in North Carolina, I bought a copy of Will Slayden’s album African-American Banjo Songs from West Tennessee from John Hatton’s CD store. The album floored me. The last song on the record was a banjo tune called ‘Good Thing Got More Than One,’ which shared the same chorus as the Stokes song. Stokes performed in the ‘old breakdown style’ that was popular around the turn of the century. This is the music that inspired W.C. Handy in his composition ‘The Memphis Blues,’ and it is also the root of the dance music known as ‘Crump’–its name is derived from Boss Crump, who ran Memphis during Frank Stokes’ time. The song is deep on so many levels without even mentioning its subject matter.”

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A Convsersation with SomekindaWonderful’s Jordy Towers

Mike Ragogna: You all must be feeling “SomeKindaWonderful” with hit your “Reverse.”

Jordy Towers: [laughs] Oh it’s amazing, man. I was doing music for twenty years, and last night at the show, I was like, “I don’t even have to sing, I’m performing the song and the crowd is singing the chorus!” I’ve never had that feeling before. It’s pretty surreal at this point.

MR: So far, it looks like you’ve got best new song of the year this week from Los Angeles 98.7 and you’re the third most Shazam-ed track in Los Angeles.

JT: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I’m excited. We have a whole album full of songs and each one is a different story. I can’t wait to write the next album about all this stuff, you know?

MR: Here’s a question you’ve probably been asked a lot. What’s the band’s creative process like and what’s the recording process?

JT: It usually starts with either an idea or a guitar riff. Matthew [Koma] will play a riff and we’ll love it, we’ll take it home and then I write the song. I’m pretty quick with lyrics, about twenty minutes, thirty minutes. I pretty much have a lyrical idea down and then Ben puts the finishing touches on it with Sara on the vocals. It’s a collective thing; we have a process.

MR: Have you been inspired to create even more because of your recent success?

JT: That’s a really great question. That is what’s happening right now. We’re doing a lot of covers. Actually, we did the “California Love” cover, we did the Biggie one, the Juicy one. We’re coming up with ideas of other stuff to cover, so it’s inspiring us in a different way. We’re in live show mode now so we want to create on the fly. We’re like on freestyle missions. It’s a really great time. We feel super-free to do whatever we want and we’re going to start writing the next album soon.

MR: Taking a cue from one of your song titles, who’s the “Caveman” of the group?

JT: I think I’m probably the caveman. Every man has a caveman in him. At the core of us, we’re just human. We’re just apes, beyond what society thinks we should be. We’re all just gorillas.

MR: Jordy, what inspired the name “SomeKindaWonderful”?

JT: I guess the name SomeKindaWonderful came from the feeling that we felt after we made our first couple of songs. That’s the only word that came to mind for me. We looked it up, we were like, “There has to be a band called SomeKindaWonderful” and then there wasn’t so we were like, “Psht, that’s perfect. We’ll be the first band called SomeKindaWonderful.” I just love that expression, anyway. SomeKindaWonderful’s not really a word, it’s an expression, and that’s what our music is. Just expression.

MR: You know what else is wonderful? The concept of recording a song three hours after that Ohio bar incident. You want to go into that?

JT: Oh man, so I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times. I basically went out to Cleveland on a soul-searching mission, went to visit some family and I stumbled into this bar and I meet the guys. We had a couple beers, Matt had his guitar on him, and we just had chemistry as people first. The music was just simple, it was pretty easy. We wrote the melody to a verse right there, went to the studio and about three and a half hours, four hours later, it was done. We had a song.

MR: What’s the band’s camaraderie like?

JT: I think there’s just a certain level of humility with each one of us and I never really experienced that with a group of people before. I’ve been in bands before but I think this was just perfect timing for us as people, we’re all just in a certain time of our lives where we’re secure enough with ourselves and each other to be in a group of other people and be considerate and express ourselves and feel free.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JT: Oh, man. Do it yourself. I always tell everybody. Do it yourself. There are amazing sites out there and blogs and people who want new music. That’s their lifeblood. There are fan bases out there of people who just want new music. A lot of bands get caught up in needing radio play and needing all this stuff. You don’t need anything. You just need really good music. Just make some killer-ass music that you fully believe in and f**king put it out there. And send it to the right blogs. Send it to people. There are places like Hype Machine…people need to know about Hype Machine. There are ears ready to listen to new music. Don’t be afraid. And my main thing is make sure the music’s good. It’s got to be magic. You put out magic and the world will take notice.

MR: What are you expecting for the tour? How far is this catapult going to be slinging SomeKindaWonderful?

JT: Well, that’s a good question. We’re just kind of preparing for the album release. We’re going to our radio market. We’ve had a lot of love on radio, a lot of love online. We’re going to go hit them up, we’re going to go perform for them, we’re going to go show them that we’re worth their fandom. We’re going to support these records and we’re going to take it all the way, man. We’re going to take it as far as we can. We’re going to work hard for our fans and we’re going to work hard for our friends and our families and each other and we’re going to take this as far as it will go.

MR: So the future looks kinda wonderful.

JT: The future will be wonderful. We’re manifesting our futures to be incredible. We are SomeKindaWonderful.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

MIKE SEMPERT’S “Finest Line”

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photo credit: Aubrey Trinnaman

According to “FInest Line”s director Justin Frahm …

“The video was shot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco over the course of two days. Filming at dusk yielded gorgeous light and color and contributed to the video’s natural and pure emotional connection to the song itself. The narrative of the video speaks to the cyclical nature of romance; to dreams, memory and magic. The floor lamp on the beach, much like a lighthouse to a sailor, is a symbol of home and of domesticity out in the wild.”

According to Mike Sempert, also of Birds & Batteries…

“This was the most fun I’ve had making a music video. Everyone involved was in it for the creative adventure and there was an undeniable sense of camaraderie throughout the shoots. It’s something I’ll always remember fondly and the video itself captures much of the magic I felt throughout the weekend.”

Tour Dates
6/20 Leggett, CA @ Hickey Music Festival
6/29 Culver City, CA @ Blind Barber (solo show)
7/16 Oakland, CA @ New Parish
7/17 Springfield, OR @ Plank Town Brewing
7/18 Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theater
7/19 Tacoma, WA @ The Warehouse
7/20 Portland, OR @ Rontoms
8/16 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg

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A Conversation with Iamsu!

Mike Ragogna: Iamsu!, you founded a hip-hop label, HBK Gang. How did this come together?

Iamsu!: It’s been a long time coming just me and my friends, we needed an avenue. There weren’t any labels offering what we wanted to do, so we created our own.

MR: What’s the label’s mission statement? What’s the vision?

Su: Our vision is to give a fresh perspective on Bay Area music, a reinterpretation of it. We want to introduce people to a new vibe of positive music.

MR: Who are the artists on the label?

Su: Me, P-Lo, Kool John, Jay Ant, Sage the Gemini, Dave Steezy, Rossi, CJ, and Skipper.

MR: What’s your own musical history?

Su: I started as a producer and writer, I wrote and produced for a lot of people first before I was an artist and then I put out my own independent album.

MR: How did your debut album Sincerely Yours come together?

Su: Really quickly actually – I recorded it in about 2 weeks . The bulk of it was recorded in about 2 weeks. Kuya Beats and Chief mixed it while I went on tour – they would send me versions of the song and I would edit. They played a big part in the mixing process.

MR: What’s your creative process?

Su: It comes from a bunch of different things, when I’m in the studio I like to put a nature documentary on, with the lights off for a super chill vibe.

MR: Your single “Only That Real” features 2 Chainz and Sage the Gemini and the album has more guests in Too $ hort, E-40, Wiz Khalifa, Kool John and others. How do you decide who will be right for which tracks and what do the guests ultimately add to your original project?

Su: I like when an artist brings their own energy to complete my vision for the song.

MR: You’re featured on Sage The Gemini’s hit “Gas Pedal.” Were you surprised how big the video blew up with 47 million views and it being a Top 5 hit?

Su: No, I wasn’t surprised, actually. I saw its potential when I first met him. I was really excited for him.

MR: In your opinion, what kind of innovations are you or your label’s acts presenting?

Su: We’re just people that do a lot of things really well. A lot of us produce, design and we’re really into our videos, artwork. We’re super hands on which a lot of artists aren’t any more with huge teams. We like to do it all.

MR: Su, what advice do you have for new artists?

Su: The most important thing is to really figure out what you want to represent as an artist and the best way to communicate that to everyone and finding the right channels to communicate that vision.

MR: What does the immediate future look like?

Su: Recording more music, going on the “Under the Influence of Music Tour” with Sage The Gemini, Wiz Khalifa, Tyga, Ty Dolla $ ign, Rich Homie Quan, Mack Wilds and DJ Drama, trying to shoot a video for each track on the album, working on the HBK clothing line.
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Peace & Love: Chatting with Ringo Starr

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photo credit: Rob Shanahan

A Conversation with Ringo Starr

Mike Ragogna: Ringo, with your All-Starr Band, it’s clear you’re getting by with a little help from your friends. How did it all start?

Ringo Starr: Well, it started because I was invited to put a band together and go on tour, and I’d never done it before so I just opened the phone book and called all my friends and they all said yes, so the first tour sounded like an orchestra. It worked so well I just sort of kept it up and kept it going and I’ve gone two years now with this band. You know the dynamics, Todd Rundgren we’d had in a couple of bands before and Richard Page was in the last band, so I just put all the others in, Gregg Rolie and Steve Lukather and them to give it a different feel. We just all got on so well, it’s nothing you can plan–it’s not that I didn’t get on with the other band, but it wasn’t as close as this band. This has been incredible. Everybody supports each other, we’re all good friends, everybody’s out to dinner with each other, hanging out. It’s functioning like a real band that’s been together forever.

MR: In the band’s latest lineup, Mark Rivera has been replaced by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Warren Ham. How does the new guy fit in with the group?

RS: We just met Warren and he’s done great. He really worked a lot before we got together and we’ve been in Casino Rama now for the three days rehearsing because that’s all the rest of us need. But he’s got to get to know it all and he’s right on top of it! He’s so great. He’s a great musician. He’s a multi-tasking incredible musician and he has a personality that fits in with the All-Starrs because he’s well known by Steve Lukather, Richard Page and Gregg Bissonette. They all knew him; I’d never met the man before. He’s been a real find, he’s so good.

MR: Sounds like he’s become part of your musical family, nice. Speaking of family, I’ve interviewed your brother-in-law, Joe Walsh, a few times and he adores you.

RS: What’s not to adore? [laughs]

MR: [laughs]

RS: Joe and I have known each other for many, many years. I’ve always appreciated him, not only as a human being but as a musician. You cannot doubt Joe as a musician, and now he’s a family member, so if I do anything I call him and he can’t say no! That’s how it works. So he’s making a couple of records, too, and I’ve been playing on his and he’s played on mine, we hang out, and I love the man. That’s the end of my story… I love Joe Walsh.

MR: On July 7–your seventy-fourth birthday–AXS TV will broadcast your tribute concert that was recorded back in January at the El Ray. It’s titled Ringo Starr: A Lifetime Of Peace & Love, was created in association with David Lynch, and it features artists such as Joe Walsh, Ben Harper, Ben Folds, The Head & The Heart, Brendan Benson, Don Was, Benmont Tench, Peter Frampton, Steve Lukather, Kenny Arnoff and others. Ringo, has it mostly been a lifetime of peace and love for you?

RS: Well, it’s been peace and love since the sixties. I have tried from then, when we were all young men and the peace revolution started thanks to Timothy Leary, in some respects. It’s just something I do, I totally believe in it. I have a dream that one day, one minute, everyone will go, “Peace and Love!” I didn’t invent it but I’m certainly doing my part to try and achieve that.

MR: Also, you’ll be presenting art exhibitions of your self-portraits in New York, Atlantic City and Chicago. How do you see Ringo Starr at seventy-four?

RS: I promise you, it’s going to be a bit like him at seventy-three, you know what I mean? I’m doing what I do! I love to play, I’m on the road, I love to do the artwork… We sell it for a good cause, it’s all for charity. The art started in ’05 when I was on the road with the old band and I had nothing better to do in the hotel room, so I started doing computer art. I’ve been doing that ever since.

MR: Has the artwork served as yet another creative outlet for you?

RS: I don’t look at it separately, it’s just something else that I’m doing.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

RS: Keep playing and enjoy it…peace and love.

MR: Beautiful. Thanks so much for the interview, Ringo.

RS: Peace and Love, Mike.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

RINGO STARR AND HIS ALL STARR BAND ON TOUR:

June:
June 6- Rama, ON – Casino Rama
June 7- Canandaigua, NY- CMAC
June 8- Williamsport, PA- Community Arts Theatre
June 10- Albany, NY- Palace Theater
June 11- Westbury, NY – Theatre at Westbury
June 12- Vienna, VA – Wolf Trap Filene Center
June 14- Wallingford, CT – Toyota Present Oakdale Theatre
June 15- Providence, RI – Performing Arts Center
June 17- New York, NY- Beacon Theatre
June 18- New York, NY- Beacon Theatre
June 20- Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theatre
June 21- Atlantic City, NJ – Caesars
June 22- Durham, NC – Durham Performing Arts Center
June 24- Buffalo (Lewiston), NY – ArtPark
June 25 Verona NY – Turning Stone Casino
June 27- Detroit, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
June 28- Chicago, IL- Chicago Theatre
June 29- Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavillion

July:
July 1- Toledo, OH – Toledo Zoo
July 2- Kettering OH – Fraze Pavilion
July 3- Robinsonville, MS – Horseshoe Casino Tunica
July 5- Thatcherville, OK (Dallas, TX) – Winstar World Casino
July 9- Albuquerque, NM – Sandia Amphitheatre
July 11- San Diego, CA- Humphreys
July 12- Santa Barbara, CA – Santa Barbara Bowl
July 13- San Jose CA – City National Civic of San Jose
July 15- Vancouver BC – Hard Rock Casino
July 16- Woodenvile, WA (Seattle) – Chateau Ste Michelle
July 17- Bend, OR – Les Schwab Amphitheater
July 19- Los Angeles, CA- Greek Theatre

October:
Oct 2- Tulsa, OK- Hard Rock Café
Oct 3- St. Louis, MO- Fabulous Fox Theatre
Oct 4- Kansas City, KS- Starlight Theatre
Oct 5- Omaha, NE- CenturyLink Center
Oct 7- San Antonio, TX- Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
Oct 8- Austin, TX- Moody Theater
Oct 10- Houston, TX- Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Oct 15- Charleston- North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Oct 17- Biloxi- Hard Rock Café Biloxi
Oct 18- Jacksonville, FL- Moran Theatre
Oct 19- Ft. Myers, FL- Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall
Oct 21- Ft. Lauderdale- Broward Center for the Performing Arts
Oct 22- Melbourne, FL- Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts
Oct 23- Clearwater, FL- Ruth Eckerd Hall
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