Category Archives: Artist

DOOM PUNKS: George Hage (Jack The Radio) & Nick Baglio

With their new Doom Punks rec storming both the indie rock and comics dimensions, let us investigate….

BY JOHN B. MOORE

George Hage, on top of being an incredible guitar player for the New Reveille and Jack The Radio (the latter for which he also sings for), is a pretty stellar artist, whose recent book, Daydreaming: The Art of George Hage, impressed scores of reviewers, including our editor here at BLURT. When he’s not touring or recording, he’s designing posters, shirts, album covers, beer labels, hell even drumhead logos. So, the fact that he would one day marry his two passions into a new project was simply a given.

Along with longtime friend and fellow musician, Nick Baglio, Hage created Doom Punks, a comic book-themed punk rock band.

The duo recently put out their debut EP, so now seemed like an ideal time to catch up with Hage to discuss the Doom Punks, his latest venture into the comic world and the status of his other bands. (Useful links follow the interview.)

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BLURT: Can you start out by talking about the idea behind Doom Punks?

GEORGE HAGE: Doom Punks started as a pie in the sky idea to combine my love for comics with my love for music. I imagined some of my favorite indie comic books were transformed into their own Saturday-morning style cartoons and our songs were their theme songs similar to what The Ramones did with Spider-man.

The past few years led to something more. We were able to create a song for a very talented friend of mine, Skottie Young’s comic Middlewest, and put an ad with a link to the song at the end of the comic, which created a whole new dimension to the comic book experience. This is something I haven’t really seen or heard before and hope that our music provides the comic reader with an enhanced experience much like the score to a film does.

Had you written these songs before you got together with Nick in 2016?

I had starting writing some of the songs for myself, just for fun. I initially never thought they’d see the light of day. After sitting in on guitar for some shows with my longtime pal, Nick Baglio, we got to talking and I threw the idea out there and he was in to bringing the songs to life with his immensely great drumming.

 

How did you connect with Image Comics?

I primarily worked with Skottie Young and Jorge Corona directly to create the song for their creator-owned comic Middlewest with Image Comics. It was exciting to see Image create the animated promo video for book with the song as the score for the video. It will be exciting to see if we can find more ways to collaborate on future projects.

Obviously, you have a passion for comics. Do you remember how you first got into them?

I remember being 9 or 10 and seeing comic books for the first time at the grocery store. Around that time Death of Superman was happening and Jim Lee’s X-men number one was exploding everywhere. My parents would give me a small allowance for doing stuff around the house and I would use that money to pick up the comic books. Eventually they started taking me to local comic shops, Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find being one of them that I still go to when I’m in Charlotte.

 

Given your love of comics, it must have been pretty cool to work on that print for NC Comic Con. How did that come about?

Creating the art for the NC Comic Con Oak City print was a real treat. It’s been great watching that convention grow from a small shopping strip to a multi-town convention that’s now held at the convention center. It’s a con that I started going to as a fan year and years ago. Over the years I’ve lucky enough to connect with the great folks behind the scenes at Ultimate Comics and they have supported my art and have been kind enough to include me over the years.

You’re a pretty talented artist – have you thought about creating your own comic based around songs?

I’ve always wanted to and still do want to create my own comic book and had plans to do something with the Jack the Radio character. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do that yet. The good news is sequential art takes a lot of skill and the longer I wait the more I get to practice and study up. That’s what I tell myself at least, (laughs).

 

Do you see this as a Doom Punks one-off project or any plans for more Doom Punks albums?

Nick and I have talked about it a bit and we definitely want to do more songs going forward. I’d love to connect with more comic creators and publishers to collaborate on the songs to create something that adds to the comic book experience and is something that can be used in promoting the books.

Have you and Nick played any of these songs live yet?

We haven’t played any of these songs live yet, however I go down with some of the Jack the Radio guys every year to Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC to play some music at their annual Drink N Draw event with Team Cul De Sac, which raises money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. We might have to break out a song or two there.

 

Anything new happening with Jack The Radio?

Jack the Radio has slowed down a bit in the past two years with some line-up changes due to jobs, family, etc. but we are gradually working on another record at Warrior Sound in Chapel Hill, NC, which is where we’ve recorded our past studio albums. With a different line-up the sound is evolving, which has been an exciting process.

 

Growing up, did you imagine you’d be able to make a living by playing music and drawing?

Honestly, no. Growing up no one in my family really played an instrument and no one drew. We didn’t know anyone that did either for a living, nor have anyone in my family in the biz so it didn’t cross my mind it could be a way to make a living. It was always something I loved and that I did for fun. I was a pretty introverted kid at times and it really helped me build my social skills and confidence. Music specifically challenged me to overcome any fears of talking or performing in front of people. I think it gets overlooked a lot, but music and art is a great way to meet people and I’ve made some great friends through both.

 

What’s next for you – what else have you got going on?

Musically I’m focused on tightening up my live show and pushing myself to grow as a songwriter. Artistically I have a lot of projects going on with businesses, bands, festivals and more that I’m looking forward to sharing with folks. Most recently I was able to work with a great designer and art director, Landon Elmore, on some illustration work for the 2019 World of Bluegrass fest branding produced by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). It’s one of the largest, if not the largest street festivals around. Also be on the lookout for some artwork for Foo Fighter guitarist, Chris Shiflett. And if you’re in Raleigh feel free to check out my latest art installation at Transfer Co. Food Hall downtown.

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Links for your edification:

www.doompunks.com

www.george-hage.com

www.nickbaglio.com

 

 

 

VOICES CARRY: Calexico

“Literary lint and artifacts from the transient American escape”: It’s hard to believe that the Tucson-based—and, as it turns out now, partly El Paso-based as well—rockers have been seducing the sonic synapses of fans of their patented “desert noir” for nearly two decades. But with a celebrated studio album and key reissue recently in their rearview, plus a fresh collaboration and tour with Iron & Wine in their headlights for this summer, it’s not a stretch to call them a true legacy band. Founders Joey Burns and John Convertino talk about the upcoming album, reflect on their past, and enthuse about their headlining show this weekend at the Cold Mountain Music Festival in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

BY FRED MILLS

Calexico: think Americana, yes, but also think border music, Mariachi rock, folk-psych and experimental musings, wide open expanses of the Southwestern frontier, desert noir. More on the latter in a sec. The Tucson outfit, founded in 1995 by guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns and percussionist extraordinaire John Convertino, is in the middle of a remarkably active and productive period, having issued  in the past year both a new studio album (The Thread That Keeps Us, via Anti- in the US and City Slang overseas; it’s reviewed here), and a 20th anniversary expanded reissue of their 1998 classic, The Black Light. Along the way, they also decided to renew an old friendship in the form of Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, and the fruits of that studio connection will arrive in just a couple of weeks as Years to Burn via Sub Pop (on digital, CD, vinyl, and limited edition colored vinyl… you can guess which iteration yours truly preordered), which will coincide with an extensive international tour with I&W that kicks off June 18.

Meanwhile, this weekend Calexico will be headlining the 3rd annual Cold Mountain Music Festival in North Carolina (read my preview of the fest elsewhere on the Blurt site) prior to the aforementioned tour with Iron & Wine, so, as suggested, they are a busy bunch. As befits an ensemble with an ever-expanding back catalog, acclaimed collaborations galore, and what might be termed as a clearly relentless musical mission.

Full disclosure, I feel permanently linked to the band by virtue of several factors: I was living in Tucson, Arizona, when they initially formed as an offshoot of Giant Sand and were also moonlighting in Friends of Dean Martinez, and, thanks to Burns and Convertino, privy to some of their earliest musical endeavors; years later, a stray quote of mine that I once used in a review to describe the band (“desert noir”) was uttered by Burns during an NPR interview, along with his acknowledgment of the term’s source; and certainly the honor of working with the band on the liner notes for their sprawling 12-LP 2001 vinyl box set, Road Atlas 1998-2001.

All that aside—and my devotion to the entire Arizona music scene is well-documented here at BLURT, so I won’t belabor it—the fact is, the duo, which can morph into a full-sized band, replete with a mariachi horn section, at the drop of a castanet, remains one of our premiere American musical ambassadors, and will always be emblematic of the sonic serendipity that the Southwestern desert region can bestow.

As Convertino succinctly offered, “The whole ride has been amazing.”

For us as well, John. I caught up with my old Tucson compadres recently via email.

***

BLURT: John, Joey, it’s great to connect with you again—I must confess, whenever I hear you on the radio these days, I get a twinge of homesickness for Tucson. So, now you’re coming to my current home, near Asheville, North Carolina. Have you ever played this area?

JOHN: To be honest, I am not sure if we have. I know we have played Saxapahaw before, and we are scheduled again with Iron & Wine [June 18, at the Haw River Ballroom, near Chapel Hill]. For us, it’s always a pleasure to get to the parts of the country that are so lush and green, spend some time in the shade trees and find a lake to jump into. So, we’re looking forward to the Cold Mountain Fest—we are not “on tour” right now, and we may be doing some interesting covers we don’t normally do because [we will have] Brian Lopez on guitar and vocals, who has his own band and songs that we sometimes do with Calexico. [Ed. Note: Lopez, also based in Tucson, has an amazing band, XIXA, which also boasts Gabriel Sullivan, who we’ve featured and reviewed here at BLURT.)

JOEY: We’ve played Knoxville, TN, before but I don’t recall ever playing in Asheville. Glad to be finally playing here. We will be playing both old and new songs, with Brian; Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet, vocals, and vibraphone; and Sergio Mendoza on keyboards, bass, vocals, and samples. Looks like a cool festival too—Cold Mountain Music Festival on Lake Logan sounds pretty damn nice for a bunch of desert dwellers from Arizona. 


BLURT: In the time I’ve been away from Tucson, since mid-2001, what would you say have been your most notable successes or milestones?

JOHN: The whole ride has been amazing; we have been so lucky with having such great labels to work with, and fans that have been loyal and willing to go to different places with us, musically and emotionally. I think being able to bring the mariachi on tour in Europe was huge, as well as having some of our songs charted for symphony orchestra and performing them with the Louisville Symphony, and then later in Berlin and Austria with those orchestras.

JOEY: We’ve done a bunch of benefit concerts for our local radio community radio station KXCI [My favorite radio station on the planet.—Ed.] and helped our friend and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when she was running for office. January 8, 2011, our world was shattered when Gabby and others were shot in a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson. It opened us up and connected us in a way that I would have never imagined. It changed our town forever and highlighted how important community is for healing and living together despite our differences. We offered our help through our music, and I’m grateful to have been part of the process of healing.

Friendship is what has connected us and sustained our band for the long haul. It’s a real gift to get to meet with musicians and continue on the path of being creative and supportive to one another. We’ve had some incredible shows in amazing places around the globe and from this point on I will be extremely grateful if we can keep it going and continue branching out with.


BLURT: Any pitfalls or downsides during that time as well?

JOHN: Well, life on the road can most definitely put you and your family through the meat grinder. There were times when we were overbooked, and overworked—it takes its toll, my friend, but we are living to tell, and that story continues to be told.

Calexico and Iron & Wine

BLURT: Tell me a little about the upcoming Years to Burn and connecting with Iron & Wine—maybe a little background on how that came to pass, and a bit of a preview of the upcoming tour with Sam.

JOEY: We’ve been throwing around the idea of doing another collaboration with Sam for a while. [In 2005 Calexico and Iron & Wine released the In the Reins EP.] Once we found a window of time, we jumped on it. We spent four or five days recording with Matt Ross-Spang at The Sound Emporium in Nashville with Rob Burger on keyboards, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, and two of the other Calexico members—Jacob Valenzuela on trumpet and vocal, as well as Paul Niehaus on some gorgeous pedal steel.

JOHN: Since we did In the Reins almost 15 years ago, we have always talked about doing it again, and just about when I thought it was never gonna happen, it happened! Sam was coming off his touring for Beast Epic and had a batch of songs he wanted to play with Calexico. So, we decided on Nashville, and along with Sam’s bass player Sebastian Steinberg and keyboardist Rob Burger, Joey and I met up with Sam and recorded and mixed these songs in about five days. The tour should be fun—we have all been around the block multiple times now, up down and all around, so safe to say, we all look forward to those few hours on stage continuing the musical dialogue, try some new things, some new covers.

BLURT: What were some of your thoughts or emotions as you put last year’s 20th anniversary reissue of The Black Light together? And where were your heads originally at when making that album in 1998? I will always think of you guys in the context of my “desert noir” description, and how you’ve continued to tap that metaphysical vein with your music.

JOEY: Thank you so much Fred—you’ve always been a beacon and an inspiration. I love the “desert noir” term. Today I accidentally typed “Desert No Water” and was surprised how accurate that fits to not only the current state of things in the West and the growing importance of sustainable resources, but also the whole symbolism of why we do what we do. We venture out, despite the risks or the voices inside saying, “maybe it is time to do something else,” or “do people still want to listen to live and recorded music, enough to justify hopping in a van and seeing where the road will take you?” Back in 1998, we were mainly concerned with playing music and getting out on the road in whatever way possible. That spirit is still there, and it feels good releasing a 20th anniversary edition of an album that was our most intuitive and eclectic. I’m curious how it feels to audiences today.

JOHN: It was really nice to revisit The Black Light, especially since I live in El Paso now, which was home to Cormac McCarthy during his years of writing “The Border Trilogy,” which was, in part, the inspiration for some of the stories and lyrics on the record. Living here, in some ways, has brought to life a lot of what I could only imagine the border stories [while] living in Tucson or reading books, so listening back with what I know now, I feel the record still holds up, and hopefully will for years to come. I think what the music represents is much more important now than when we made the record. Musically, we were experimenting with what the studio could offer us, and the time and space of Tucson, which was a pretty small town back then.

JOEY: In 1998 we were lucky enough to find a few record labels that would take a chance on an album that didn’t conform to any one genre or style. We were just as mixed up with influences back then as we are now, but maybe the scope was more focused on our thrift store aesthetic than it has been more recently. It reads like a well-worn book you would find at a motel buried with old National Geographic magazines and paperback novels. Tucson has always been a cul-de-sac and spiritual corner that collects literary lint and artifacts from the transient American escape. It’s a monumental valley of nostalgia that seeps into the cultural subconsciousness. If you like ghosts and graveyards, then this is the place for you. That was the vibe of downtown Tucson in the mid 1990’s. [He’s right.—Ed.] It was a great big canvas of empty warehouses and parking lots. I saw this corner of the world suspended in time. Contrast to that was the growing urban tribal art scene and university dropouts that made for some really creative tangents and creative directions. There was a little more grit in Tucson back in 1998, but it still resonates in a beautiful way here.

 

BLURT: If we count 1995’s self-released Superstition Highway cassette as the Calexico debut – or perhaps 1996’s Spoke, however, since it had actual distribution — that means 2020-2021 will mark your 25th anniversary. If so, any special plans or surprises in the works? Maybe a protest concert during the Republican national convention?

JOHN: There have been talks of re-releasing that and maybe doing a special show in Germany for Hausmusik, the label that put Spoke out originally. It would probably be better for us to stay out of politics, but it’s pretty much impossible these days—the division is so clear cut now, it’s easier than ever to make a choice.

JOEY: We plan to continue tour with Calexico and various collaborations for as long as the road will take us. There are no retrospective tours planned as of yet. I would rather focus on recording new ideas and touring with new projects. As for the political state of things, life is full of challenges on many levels, and with art, music, food, writing, dance, culture, comedy, film, we can embrace one another, listen to one another, and harmonize together. Definitely being a father is teaching me to be a better listener and to help take care of others. It’s basic, and each community that grows strong will help influence each, state, government and continent. My kids are worried about the health of the planet and I am too. I would love to keep finding ways to help thru music. That’s what I want to teach my kids.

 

BLURT: Lastly, tell me something surprising, unusual, or otherwise cool about Tucson these days that I probably don’t know and would be fun to share with Blurt readers…

JOHN: Well, Tucson has changed a lot since you left there, Fred. The downtown is totally happening, you can walk around and have everything you could possibly want. Here in El Paso, things are a little slower… we did just get these amazing refurbished vintage trolley cars that make a loop through our downtown, to the university, and along the border. That’s very cool. Come visit El Paso sometime— you would love it!

JOEY: In the past we’ve seen a wave of various businesses: Sonoran Hot Dog stands in empty dirt lots, tattoo parlors, mattress stores (some even across the street from one another!), barber shops, used car dealerships, pizza and hamburger joints. Tucson is a test market. One of the benefits is that we have a pretty good food scene here. In 2017 Tucson won the first UNESCO award for City of Gastronomy. I hope it continues growing in a thoughtful and healthy way.

STILL BLINDED BY… The Scientists

“The Scientists were fueled on negative energy—a negative sort of group. A bit like the Stooges, the way the group worked is very similar. There’s not many groups that have worked that way, and I think the result is intense energy.” (Special thanks to In The Red Records, which has just issued a new 12″ EP from the band. Above photo by John Boydston – also check out his BLURT photo gallery of the band’s April 21 Atlanta show. FYI, original Australian show handbills pictured below are from the band and fans back in the day, via the editor’s archives.)

BY FRED MILLS

That’s Kim Salmon speaking, and the co-founder/frontman of Australia’s skronky/swampy/fetid/feral Scientists pretty much nailed it, as American fans were also primed to learn this month when the band hit our shores for what was amazingly, only their second U.S. tour despite having a legacy that stretches back to the late ‘70s. They kicked things off April 11 in Chicago, headed across the midwest towards the northeast, dipped down through several southern states, and were set to wrap April 24 in L.A.

Interestingly enough, though, the above quote isn’t contemporaneous. Rather, it was plucked from an interview I published nearly three decades ago, in Philly rock zine The Bob, for whom I authored a regular column on Australian music, titled, appropriately enough, “The Wizards of Oz,” and which featured the Scientists and Salmon’s subsequent bands pretty much every time they emerged from a recording studio or embarked upon a tour.

Yet Salmon’s words ring truer than ever in 2019, as anyone who saw the group—Salmon, guitar/vocals; Tony Thewlis, guitar; Boris Sujdovic, bass; and Leanne Cowie, drums—on their much-belated initial American tour in the fall of 2018 will attest. There’s plenty of YouTube evidence from that U.S. sojourn as well, from the nihilistic sonic pipe bomb of “Set It On Fire” (originally appearing on 1983’s Blood Red River) and the dirty slapback punk of “Braindead” (the group’s recent 7” single for In The Red); to the dirty, Suicide-like mutant blues that is 1985’s “Murderess In A Purple Dress” and the group’s stone classic, “Swampland,” a throbbing slice of, yes, swampy glam that somehow manages to quote Sonic Youth, the Stooges, and T. Rex all in the same arrangement. The latter tune in particular is a force of nature, powered by Sujdovic’s relentless one-note bassline, Cowie’s equally hypnotic syncopated thump, Thewlis’ extemporaneous riffing, and Salmon’s dissonant-twang responses plus yipping/howling vocals.

Not bad for a group that was deemed out and down for the count in 1987, when Salmon, exhausted by the legal and label troubles they’d endured since relocating from Australia to London three years earlier, decided to pull the plug. He’d been helming the band since its Flamin’ Groovies/New York Dolls-esque early incarnation circa 1978-80 and through myriad lineup changes that would eventually see the arrival of Thewlis, Sujdovic, and late drummer Brett Rixon, considered by most to be the Scientists’ classic lineup; a subsequent embrace of a darker, swampier, noisier vibe heavily influenced by the aforementioned Suicide and Stooges alongside the Cramps and the Gun Club; and the London move, which found them touring with the Gun Club as well as the Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie & the Banshees, but never truly providing the musicians much more than a just-scraping-by level of income. And despite a growing American fanbase, a general level of disorganization for the Scientists meant that a theoretically lucrative tour of the States was never really an option. Meanwhile, their Australian fanbase had gradually withered during their protracted absence from their homeland.

Still, like elephants, rock fans have a unique ability to never forget. And somehow, over the years the Scientists had cultivated a core following that included far more prominent personalities than just yours truly and my fellow fanzine scribes; think Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Indeed, several Scientists reunions at the behest of their acolytes—2006 for the Mudhoney-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in London, the following year’s ATP festival, a few Australian dates in 2008 with Sonic Youth, and appearances at ATP’s “Don’t Look Back” series in 2008 and 2010—suggested that the Scientists’ beaker was still very much capable of boiling over.

Salmon, on the eve of the band’s 2019 American tour and reflecting on that dark late ’80s period now, explains, “I think our leaving Australia early 1984 was the problem. Out of sight, out of mind! Especially with all our hassles keeping us from making a big successful splash in the UK…”

Read about the entire tale below. With the kind assistance of In The Red, I conducted an email interview with Salmon prior to the band leaving Australia and heading to the States. (Portions of this conversation previously appeared in the April edition of Atlanta music mag Stomp & Stammer, as the band’s US tour itinerary took them to Atlanta for shows on April 20 and 21.) As mentioned, their final show will be this Wednesday in Los Angeles, although they will also be back in early July for the Burger Records 10-year anniversary bash.

Ultimately, the Scientists have been an ongoing entity once again since the tail end of 2017 and not simply a vehicle for one-off festival performances. The previous year saw the release of Numero Group’s superb career-summarizing Scientists box set, A Place Called Bad (reviewed by yours truly here), while newcomers to the gospel can also consult Sub Pop’s easily found 1991 compilation CD, Absolute, which distilled the group’s essential mid ‘80s output. The group has also issued new singles on both In The Red and Spains’s Bang! label, along with the just released 12” EP for In The Red titled 9H2O.SiO2.

BLURT: First things first. I wrote about the Scientists and interviewed you back in the ‘80s, and then we finally met around 1996 when the Surrealists came to Club Congress in Tucson; our mutual friend, and massive Salmon/Scientists fan, music publicist Michele V had arranged for us to connect. And then, a few years ago, you and I did an interview for BLURT about the Darling Downs. So, in one sense, you and I go pretty far back. One of these days we’ve got to sit down and do some serious drinking! At any rate, going back to that US tour by the Surrealists,  in your liner notes to your ’97 Surrealists album Ya Gotta Let Me Do My Thing, you mention that the tour seemed to energize you, songwriting-wise, so much so that you were eager to go into the studio when you got home. Does touring still affect you that way? Have you been able to stockpile a lot of new material?

KIM SALMON: Fred, you’ve probably contributed a fair deal to the Scientists being present in the US these days! And yes, some serious drinking is in order… I think what I was referring to was more the freeing up of the creative process with a fresh lineup and the touring that greeted that lineup. The Surrealists’ first lineup was a mighty band, but for various reasons it’d grown tired and stale. I don’t tend to stockpile material; I prefer to just write when the need arises. I’ve probably made way too many records for how many I can sell, ha! The new record [9H20.Si02, on In The Red] isn’t strictly an album, but a 12 EP. I’ve done my best to stay true to what the Scientists are while still trying to push its boundaries. It’s a line to walk. The trick I think is not to worry too much about ‘the formula’ but to allow the uniqueness of the band members to show through. (Below: sleeve of new 12″ EP, 9H2O.SiO2, issued by In The Red.)

While the band did a number of reunion shows between 2006 and 2010, this time it seems to be sticking, as the Scientists have been touring relatively steadily since late 2017. Does it feel different this time around, and if so, what do you attribute this to? 

I think it’s been a matter of unearthing the unique elements of what the band was back in the day without necessarily trying to replicate “the day.” Things’ll never be the same, but we seem to have gotten closer to the core of what the Scientists was. It was always hard to locate, but we seem to be digging it up and reveling in it. (Below photo by Denee Segal / courtesy In The Red)

Relatedly, then, talk a little about what each member brings to the table, both onstage and in the studio? Tony and Boris, of course, have a lot of history with you.

Tony is a totally unique guitarist. Incredibly proficient but completely unschooled. There is not another player remotely like him. The irony is that one feels he’d be happy to replicate the stuff that he loves and isn’t that aware of how much better he is doing his own thing, good as he is at replicating. He used to be a crazy whirling dervish on stage and was often the visual focus of the band. These days his crazy energy is focused more specifically on his sounds and less visual, though he does exude charisma non the less. I think his creative input is almost as a foil to mine. He claims to have gotten many George Harrison, Slade and Glitter Band licks past my ears un-noticed!

I think we’re a classic case of one of those bands where each member tries to destroy the initial idea with their stamp without realizing that this destructive energy is the creative force of the band—like the Sex Pistols, for instance. Jones simplified Matlock’s pop complexities into a hard rock slab, while Rotten’s highly content-driven lyrics completely subverted the band from sounding far more pedestrian, like Free or something.

Boris is the minimalist drive within the band. It was him that reduced “Swampland” to a pulsing one-note bass riff for the most part. His playing is deceptively basic sounding. No one has ever replicated the nuances that make what he does—the very core of the Scientists. I’ve been playing alongside Boris more than other players. Although the band is essentially a democracy, Boris and I tend to work together and determine our strategies with regards to touring, presentation, recording.

Leanne is our link to what Brett Rixon did. The rhythm was what made Scientists Mach 2 different from every other post-punk band around. When Brett left the band in 1985, we tried numerous drummers, all of them very proficient and capable of making a big contribution to the band. However, we simply weren’t able to bring on the “chemistry” with any of them, and we ended up getting Leanne, [at the time] our tour manager, into the band, as she had recently bought Brett’s kit and taught herself the drums entirely from his recordings and having watched him. Her first gig was at the Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow when we supported Siouxsie and The Banshees on their ’85 UK tour. By the end of the tour she had mastered the groove, albeit in a streamlined way. The chemistry was restored. This kind of tenacity cannot be bought or even found very often.

Tell me then—why were the Scientists unable to tour the US during the 1981-87 run? There was definitely a fanbase here…

It really was a case of too many things going wrong for us. We had LOADS of record company, and touring, interest, and despite some detractors, a LOT of UK press. Rixon leaving was the first problem, then we had a huge row with our Australian record label, and it was impossible to move. We had based ourselves in London from 1984. Just being around and surviving in order to try to capitalize on what was being handed to us took all our energy. We couldn’t just serve anything up. We needed authenticity and we were acutely aware of that and what’s more weren’t interested in being something else anyway.

In 1986 Boris had visa problems and had to leave [England]. We replaced him, but it never was as good without him and actually became a drain. We managed to revitalize things very briefly with a complete change of members—me switching to bass and going 3-piece with a friend of mine. It was Tony, Nick Combe on drums, and me. We recorded [1987’s] The Human Jukebox before disintegrating in a blaze of anarchy. It’s certainly a worthy album and as authentically “Scientists” as anything we’ve done, but this lineup was never going to last. It was actually MORE self-destructive than the “classic” lineup.

Could you briefly recount how you remember the initial breakup, and what, if anything, could have convinced you to stick together?

Our legal problems were a HUGE drain and refused to go away. I ended up back in Perth with a very heavy heart, and only by moving on with the Surrealists and the Beasts of Bourbon was I able to feel any kind of lightness in my life.

The only thing that would have worked would be for the legal stuff to be lifted and being given lots of money to function and record and live off. That just wasn’t going to happen back then

Have you been surprised at the level of interest in the band recently? What were you expecting from audiences when you finally mounted a proper tour of US for the first time, and were your expectations met?

I was partially prepared for a number of reasons. I had known that there was interest in the band from people like Jon Spencer and Mudhoney. I had management in the US for a while from 1995, and toured in 1996 with the Surrealists. That’s when I realized that there was a considerable cult following all ‘round the country. With the Scientists’ absence over such a long period, I was prepared for the mythology that had grown around us to perhaps not match the reality. I was always mindful that people might think they were getting more, or less, than they’d bargained for. I’ve always been confident that the Scientists is actually more than people tend to expect. Its more complex and extreme in the flesh. It certainly is apart from something as simple as a Cramps or Stooges style “garage rock” outfit.

On one level, the Scientists are elder statesmen of Australian rock, originally emerging at a key moment when a lot of bands were forming and some were getting a good bit of recognition internationally. Yet my impression is that the band never got the proper amount of respect in Australia during that initial 1981-87 run, despite your being a remarkably unique group that was sonically set apart from its peers. (Editorial aside: Indeed – when I was penning the above-mentioned Australian music column for US zine The Bob, on several occasions I received letters from Australian readers who had noted my, ahem, mild obsession with the Scientists and took me to task for championing a band that, in their opinion, were no longer relevant in terms of all things Down Under.)

I think our leaving Australia early 1984 was the problem. Out of sight out of mind. Especially with all our hassles keeping us from making a big successful splash in the UK.

The only touring we did after that was actually after the band had imploded – a couple of gigs in Perth and Sydney early 1987, and a tour with the Human Jukebox lineup later in the year (which was NOT appreciated, as it was different from the “Swampland” band). I think the main thing that set us apart from a lot of our peers was our intention to be unique. Many of the Australian bands that we’ve been lumped in with, we feel nothing in common with, as these were bands that fitted neatly into a garage rock subgenre.

Lastly, and kind of as an aside, I love the Kim & Leanne LP (True West, 2014) and would dig a Volume 2 from you. (More recently, there was also a reunion of the mighty Beasts of Bourbon, as The Beasts, and also an album for Spain’s Bang! label, Still Here.) What’s next for you in terms of solo records, non-Scientists stuff, and performances?

At the moment I’m really just thinking of coming up with Scientists material. It’s way harder to write that stuff than any of the other stuff I do! But also, I do have a couple of solo tracks I’m going to record for a 7” in June. It’s to go with the release of a biography about me in November.

I tend to write material when it’s needed rather than all the time. A bit like a mechanic who doesn’t work on his own car. However, I think I’ll be playing in the US with and without the Scientists over the next few years a bit more—which will eventually mean I’ll need to record some more solo stuff, which is sort of exciting for me. Actually, I’m looking at some US solo dates after Burger Boogaloo [July 6-7 in Oakland, hosted by John Waters and featuring Jesus & Mary Chain, Scientists, Dead Boys, and more]. The solo shows may be just me or with a band or both.

The Kim and Leanne project was really intended to give Leanne and me gigs to do in the absence of the Scientists. It was sort of meant to be what the kind of material the Scientists might do if they were around still… and now that the Scientists are, any Kim and Leanne material would be Scientists material!

***

Below, check out the band doing their classic “Swampland,” recorded by a fan in the audience on April 15, 2019, in Brooklyn, followed by “Solid Gold Hell” April 20, 2019 in Atlanta. They still got it.

BLOODY BRILLIANT: Shovels & Rope

“Check your ego at the dressing room.” The Charleston folk/rock/Americana duo talks their new album, the hometown music festival they are curating, their concert film, and their upcoming children’s book—plus their own children, and what’s entailed with taking ‘em on the road with Mom and Dad. Currently on tour “forever,” you can check tour dates here.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s a busy time to be a member of Shovels & Rope.

The wife/husband duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have just premiered their live concert movie, “Shovels & Rope: The Movie.” They’re also just weeks away from hosting their third annual High Water Festival in nearby North Charleston, SC – a music fest they helped create, curate and play in. Meanwhile, their new LP, By Blood, comes out this month. Oh, and the parents of two toddlers are also working on a children’s book based on the song “C’mon, Utah!” off their new record.

So, yeah, it’s a busy time to be a member of Shovels & Rope.

Trent and Hearst are about to hit the road on a series of tour that will have them crossing the country for the better part of the spring and summer. The two took time recently to talk about all of those projects and the realty of being rock star parents.

Blurt: There’s a lot to talk about here, but let’s start off with the movie. How did this come about?

Trent: We were going to put out a live thing; we filmed two nights at The Orange Peel in Ashville (NC), and we were just going to put it out as a live concert, and the guy who filmed it, he’s a super creative guy. And we were talking about how those films can be boring even if they sound really great. It’s not the same as going to a concert, being immersed in it with other people around you; a lot of times these things can come off as a little flat. So, he decided to make it into a movie and weave some narratives in between the song, get actors and come up with a story. So, that’s what we did.

Blurt: And it just premiered in front of an audience, right?

Hearts: It did. The Charleston Film Festival took place a few weeks ago and our little art house theater here showed it one night. So, some 400-odd people saw it on a big screen. We’ll be distributing it through our website.

Blurt: That must be pretty odd. I know you play in front of hundreds of people every night, but to be sitting in the audience and looking at yourselves up on a theater screen…

Hearst: We skipped it. That’s the kind of thing we can’t handle.

Trent: We thought it might be a little much. And we were working on it up until the night before. Our manager did all the sound design and Curtis Millard, the director, they were over at our studio until 6 in the morning of the day we had to bring the file over to the theater. I think it went well. This is our hometown and we have a lot of friends and family here, so it was definitely an easy place to show it.

Hearst: The harsh judgment is yet to come.

Blurt: You also have the third Highwater festival coming up. You two play plenty of festivals. How did that idea to host you own festival come about? It seems like a lot of work.

Hearst: It’s funny you said that. When they first came to us, we said, “Um, that sounds like a lot of work.” The cool thing is that we partner with our management and the production company that brought you Bonnaroo and some shows. Working with them and having our manager coordinate the heavy lifting, Michael and I, our job is to help curate the talent, pick out the bands we like and the overall vibe and culture of the festival. We wanted to create a festival that would bring national touring acts to Charleston, which is considered more of a secondary or tertiary market. We thought we could serve the area by bringing in national acts, and you can bring your kids and have a good time.

Trent: And there’s not all of these bands on different stages playing at the same time competing with each other.

Blurt: I’m assuming it’s got to be pretty fun sitting down and thinking about who you want to invite to play.

Trent: It is! There are a lot of festivals that I feel have very similar line-ups and they all work together and ours is just one festival that has its own line-up. It’s very cool to be allowed to do that. We have this running list of bands that we love, or that we know, or have run in to that we want to get down here. That list is about a mile long and keeps growing.

Blurt: On the new record, I wanted to ask about the title track, “By Blood.” Can you talk a little but about the meaning behind that song?

Trent: That was a song about our daughter and it’s from my perspective. As a parent, it gets complicated, you try and bond with your family and your newborn, and as a dad, it’s just not time for you yet. They need mom and they want mom, but you try and share the weight and everybody’s tired.

Hearst: I’m listening to you and thinking of how sweet it is. There’s a certain amount of rejection I think daddies experience when they’re trying to establish an emotional rapport with their new children.

Trent: It’s interesting, we started this thing a few years ago and we weren’t too sure how far it would go or where it would go and now it’s what we do as a family all together. We live half our life on the road and it’s very, for us, a family thing.

Blurt: Also, off the new record, the song “C’mon Utah!” is being turned into a children’s book, right?

Trent: It is. That’s actually a song that we made this surrealistic story about a magic horse that was reuniting families that have been split up by this wall. It was written way before anything got crazy in the news. This horse is a simple metaphor for hope when everyone feels lost and doesn’t know what to do. This horse appears and knows the way. I think this was actually the first song that was written for this record. After the fact, we had one of our friends – he’s a painter and good friend from way back. He used to work at a restaurant with Cary Ann. We got him on board to make a little graphic novel out of it.

Blurt: When is that coming out?

Hearst: that’s still very much a work in progress. We’re working on the illustrations now. People are going to want to know what the song is about, and a lot of families listen to our music together so we thought maybe an illustrated copy of the lyrics would be a great way to start a conversation with their kids. I figure by summer or fall, when we do our big headlining run later in the year, it should be knocking around by then.

Blurt: Is it tough nowadays not to let politics and what’s going on in the news dominate the songs you write?

Hearst: I would say, it doesn’t necessarily dominate, but it is impossible to ignore it. As parents and as creatives I feel there is a bit of a moral role not to ignore it. We never censor ourselves or what’s in our heart and we always try and let that come across in our songwriting. We don’t want to stand in the way of our inner voice. When we perform our concerts, we have a big mix of people and we’re not preachy. Whether you agree with our politics or not, you’re probably at the show to relax. But with everything that’s going on in the world, it’s impossible to ignore it. In the song “Hammer” and the song “Utah,” they can’t help but come through.

Trent: We like to put these things out and with all of the sensitivities there, we don’t want to pander to anybody, but it’s like being with your family – not everybody agrees on everything and you all still love each other and try to inhabit this space together.

Blurt: You recorded this in a home studio, right?

Trent: We did. We’ve always recorded everything at home. I think with Little Seeds, we had just had our daughter and it was a mess. It was “how can we possibly do this?” She didn’t like to sleep and when she did sleep, we were “how can we possibly go and record drums and guitar. We didn’t think this through.” We learned a lot and ended up building something in our back yard, so that now we have the work zone and our house, and we can leave the toys and a lot of that craziness of homelife over there and get some things done.

Blurt: With two kids now, have you figured out that exact right blend yet of working and family time?

Hearst: Oh yeah. I think we used to look down on that a little bit when we were young punks, on office hours. Now I completely get it.

Trent: I do think, and maybe it’s an age thing also, there’s not really that “oh, a song just came to me at this moment and I have to stop everything to work on it.” I do think there’s a lot to be said for just showing up to the page. If you put in those hours, you’re going to come up with something.

Blurt: Have you figured out how to tour yet with two kids?

Hearst: We’ve never had two out on the road yet, but basically, we’re on a bus now and everybody on the bus loves the kids and you have a great nanny. Michael and I got our rock and roll out years ago before becoming parents on tour. But even then, it takes some adjusting. When the show is over, it doesn’t matter if it was the best show ever and everyone wants to hang out until 3 a.m. high fiving you, you’re next day is going to start out at 7 am and your child is not going to give a shit how great your show was and who all was there to say you were great. That child wants to play with you, wants breakfast and to talk about cartoons with you. Go ahead and check your ego at the dressing room.

RUNAWAY CHILD, RUNNING WILD: Elisapie

The Canadian songstress, who recently wowed audiences at SXSW, talks about her new album, her Inuit heritage, her love of folk music, and all things Canadian. Check out contact info and tour dates here.

BY ROBIN E. COOK

Hailing from northern Quebec, Inuit singer/songwriter Elisapie reflects a cross-section of cultures and languages in her music. Her stark, lovely new album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, was nominated for a Juno award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year. In addition, Elisapie has branched out into documentary filmmaking. In her interview, she discusses the nuances of languages vis a vis performing and the process of keeping indigenous Canadian culture alive.

Can you tell me how you started about your musical background, how you started performing?

I started, you know, learning the guitar. And of course, loving folk music. This is naturally what I did until I moved to Montreal when I was 22, 23, and then I met a guy who was a musician/composer, and he heard my voice, my little demo I had done and said, “Let’s work together.” I was like, “Oh my god really? You want to work with me?” And two years later, we came out with an album.

 One thing I notice is that you’ve recorded in English, in French, and in Inuktitut (the native Inuit language). Did you grow up speaking all three languages?

No, not at all. I spoke Inuktitut. And then English came much later on–the TV and music, of course, that’s like in my teens. We had the chance to learn French because we’re in the Quebec Province. I was maybe about seven years old when we started, you know, going to school in French with a French teacher. But yeah, I mainly spoke Inuktitut. We speak our language still up to now.

But yeah, musically, I think Anglophone music, I guess Americana sound, it’s a very natural place for me to go to when I have to write songs. They’re usually very naturally in English.

I listened to “Ton Vieux Nom.” That was a little reminiscent of Francoise Hardy. I wondering if you ever listened to those kinds of artists?

You know what? I think naturally in my mind when I sing, I hardly sing in French. Once in a while. Like I have one song in my album. There’s something so, I guess, romantic in  you know, the language and it’s, it’s such a complicated, very, not strict, but there’s so many rules….You have to be very precise. So, it’s really hard for me to work on a French song. But this one was very special because when I want to express something that is about my culture and about being from the north and the dualities we have with the south, naturally, it’s fun doing that in French, because I guess French have a very different view than us, even from Anglophone speakers.

When people think of Canadian music or Canadian culture, I think they tend to forget about northern Canada, the area you grew up in.

Well, Canadians tend to forget about the north also. They absolutely have no idea most of the time. Also, because they don’t really want to start the conversation about that, because they don’t want to be seen as ignorant. So, it becomes this cycle where they’re just not, you know, they know more about Africa or Asia. And I’m like, why is that? I mean is it because it’s cold, because we’re so far away that people tend to think that it’s like this image of people living in the igloos when it’s no longer that? So, it’s very weird. And people are very, very curious.

But yet there’s a lot of ignorance still, but it’s coming. It’s a lot better… I mean, I started my career about 15 years ago and I’m happy to be talking about music before I have to do a one-on-one Inuit culture. It became kind of frustrating. Hopefully with the technology and Google people will be a little bit more aware. Because it is a land where people lived since way before settlers came in.

Do you find  that you get a lot of people come up to you and ask you like, you know ask you about Inuit culture and the indigenous people?

Of course. You know, we never wanted to make music to politics, but in a way we kind of are forced to because anything we do now is political. Also, the new revival, new movement where we’re finally…acknowledging that we deserve equal representation in Canada, anywhere, and that’s very new.

You know, it’s not long ago, people were still thinking that they don’t have a voice, but now I think the young people are totally taking back what was also kept on the side. Rituals are coming back because we need to heal, you know, we’ve gone through so much. So, it’s a very beautiful place to be right now as an indigenous person.

It’s still a struggle in many places. There is still huge, huge, huge racism towards kids who are very innocent, towards so many people, just because people don’t want to see them and it’s like, why? They were put on reserves when this was the land. Their spiritual side was so connected to everything that’s in the territories, animals. So yeah, a lot of broken people, but I think our voice is starting to be heard.

We finally can understand but we have as much value as any other people living in Canada. And hopefully this is what’s going on in the States too.

Another question that I have is the indigenous languages. Do you find you think there’s also a push to keep those languages alive?

Oh, my God. It’s very important to, because a lot of people were, a lot of people don’t speak their language anymore. First of all, not so long ago, kids were sent to residential schools. And the first thing–I mean kids who are so innocent from five years old too, you know–punished for speaking a word of their language. So this became like a very strict military-like life for them.

So, let alone, they felt numb and they couldn’t express their feelings. But also, you know first thing is to make them lose their language, also make them feel ashamed of their culture. Our parents, grandparents, our uncles, so we really feel for them. I think it’s kind of our responsibility to really take the time and know that while this was taken away, it’s our right to try to bring it back. So, there’s a lot of initiatives to do programs, to do different activities around the communities to bring a way to promote our culture and our language.

Just curious: you’ve also made documentary films, haven’t you? Could you tell me about that?

Yeah, I’ve done a short, 27-minute documentary film a little over 10 years ago now. It’s called “If the Weather Permits”….It’s a documentary that’s talking about the duality of the young versus the elders and you know, traditional and modern world and how we try to, you know, fill that gap, because there is a gap, so it was really important for me to talk about that through my grandfather, who’s passed away and some archives of him, also. It’s a very personal film but yet very, very much of reality.

So yeah, since it’s been almost actually fifteen years of that film, I’ve been doing a billion things here and there, but mainly touring, so the next year-and-a-half is going to be going back to making films again. So, I’m really, really excited.

GETTIN’ WILD (AND WILD, AND WILD) WITH… Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis

Pinned to the mat during this year’s SXSW in Austin, the rollicking rockers tag-teams on everything from songwriting and singing to advice for young musicians and a certain famous sibling.

BY ROBIN E. COOK

Take one vivacious country-rockabilly chanteuse who released her first recordings 50 years ago. Add one Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter with a knack for smart lyrics. The result is Wild! Wild! Wild! (Bloodshot) by Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis. Rollicking roots-rock is the prevailing sound, but the album’s thirteen tracks include black comedy (“Till Death”), country-soul (“Foolmaker”), and wistful balladry (“Hardluck, Louisiana,” inspired by Lewis’s childhood). As their joint interview shows, Fulks and Lewis are in perfect sync as musical partners.

Could you tell me about how your collaboration came about?

Linda: We got to be friends. We worked for the same promoter and I’m a fan of Robbie’s. I went to his gig and met him. Then we ended up staying in the same place for a little while and we got to know each other, and Robbie had the idea of working together. I thought it was a great idea. I still do! (laughs)

A lot your previous work, Linda, consists of you doing duets and harmonizing with your brother [Jerry Lee Lewis] and with Van Morrison. What does it feel like to step out as a front woman and sing these songs as a soloist?

Linda: It feels really great, and I really appreciate how that Robbie has written really great songs for me to sing. But, you know, it’s like my old friend Dan Penn once said: “It all starts with a song.” And now I have the best songs that I have ever had in my life. So, I’m very happy about that.

Robbie, could you tell me a bit about the songwriting process for the album?

Robbie: It was just like any other songwriting deal for me, which is going into a dark room and waiting for something to swim into vision and then follow it through and throw ninety percent of it away. I mean that’s kind of my process. And so with her, there was the added element of working with biographical details from her life, which is helpful, because it helps you zero in on what you’re writing about and what the goal is. And you’re hearing her voice sing the song, so that also helps to narrow it down. And it was a lot of fun to write. I think my proportion was better writing for this than usual. In other words, I think that there was maybe a forty or fifty discard rate. We recorded a lot of what I wrote.

So, you were writing a lot of the songs with Linda’s voice in mind?

Robbie: Yeah, yeah. And contrary to what you implied a moment ago, she does have, she has a ton of solo work behind her. I know when she does the duo work, it can be more prominent, because her duo partners are sometimes famous, but she’s been doing a lot of solo work for the last 30, 35 years.

Sorry about that, Linda!

Linda: No, no, no! I’m fine! I had a long career being my brother’s backing vocalist and doing just a couple of songs to open for him and then doing duets with him. We had a duets album [Together, released 1969] that I was really proud of. So, for 15 years, that’s what I did. And then I took off 10 years to be at home with my children and then I went back on the road and ended up singing with Van Morrison. And now I’m having the most fun I‘ve ever had singing with Robbie. Don’t tell my brother that I said that! (laughs) I love my brother so much but you know, Robbie and I work so well together. It’s been a real joy.

(to Linda) I’m curious: when it comes to working with other people and doing duets, was there any advice that your brother gave you in that regard?

Linda: Well, you know that my brother is so different from anybody else that he’s not that easy to sing with so that but, you know, it’s easy for me to sing with Robbie. It’s much easier. And of course, singing with Van Morrison was just about impossible. It was hard with my brother, impossible with Van, and now it’s easy for me to sing with Robbie.

One thing I noticed, what did it feel like for you to be singing songs that, in some ways, were drawn from your own life? And suddenly realize, “Hey, that is my experience.”

Linda: We had to work on that because I would become very emotional when I was singing “Hardluck, Louisiana.” So, I actually had to sing it quite a few times and even in two different studios to really get the vocal that that we like. And it was because the song, when I’m singing it, I have a tendency to forget that I’m singing and just become an emotional person, which is not what you can do. Then your vocal will suffer.

I wanted to ask you, Robbie, about “I Just Lived a Country Song.” I mean there’s definitely this sort of tongue and cheek element to some of the songs as well. Like that one is the best example.

Robbie: I think that’s in the tradition, and that’s what drew me to country music a long time ago, when I was young, was that you could be you could be totally comical and just goofball and cornpone, and you can be the opposite end. You can sing about the death of a child…the most serious subjects in the world. And then you could be in between. You could sing kind of ironically in that song with a little bit of self-conscious irony. I like that open-ended range. That comedy is feasible and that you can also just stare into the abyss and confront things. I love that about country lyrics. I think those and Broadway lyrics I think are just incomparable for lyrical depth in popular music.

I think that really that wit is sometimes overlooked in country music. You even look at songs like “I’m Going to Hire a Wino to Redecorate Our Home.”

Robbie: Exactly. And I think there are probably modern examples we can pick off country radio right now. As horrible as a lot of that music is, there is still a lot of attention to lyrics in country music and the stories are still pretty good sometimes, and the sense of humor is still there. I complain about the new music but there is still some residual intelligence and humor from the old days.

Is there any advice that you guys would give for up-and-coming musicians?

Linda: Try not to get discouraged. It’s easy to get discouraged. I think the hardest part of it is that you get rejected so much in the beginning. I think the rejection part of it is the toughest. Anybody starting out, they need to brace themselves, because they’re gonna get their heart broken for sure.

COMING INTO HIS OWN: Jay Tarantino

The virtuoso guitarist formerly from Angel Vivaldi talks about his more recent instrumental outfit Etherius, pondering a solo career, touring and promotion, and much more. Above photo from Tarantino’s Facebook page.

BY TIFFINI TAYLOR

Jay Tarantino is best known for his touring work with Angel Vivaldi, but many do not know exactly how talented this musician is. In 2017 he formed the band ETHERIUS, an instrumental heavy ensemble that will make everyone take notice. There is room for everybody in the music industry including great metal bands and beyond.

Jay Tarantino’s career has been everything from a touring musician, to being in different bands, to studio work, and now having his own band, his musicianship is like no other. He is talented not only in guitar playing but also in composition of music. This is a talent and a gift that is what keeps music going in a world full of other musicians not composing and not taking chances, Jay Tarantino is a good dose of what the music industry needs. Etherius is a band that consists of Jay Tarantino, drummer Zak Ali, bassist Chris Targia, and guitarists John Kiernan. Blurt Magazine got to speak with Jay Tarantino about the new band, new album, and everything else that is Jay Tarantino.

Blurt: How was the band, Etherius, formed?

Jay Tarantino (JT): “Originally the music on the Thread Of Light EP, I was going to put out a solo album. I wasn’t going to do a band. In 2016 I started writing music. I was looking for a drummer and I went out to California in January of 2017 and I happened to bump into Zaki, our drummer. He and I are from the same area of New Jersey, so we came up with each other in the metal scene of New Jersey, so we actually started talking about working on a project together. I told him “hey I have some songs here, I’ll send them to you and let me know what you think”, and he really liked them and he started working on some ideas on his own with drums. He and I started working on the songs, jamming on the songs and pre-production on the songs, then Chris came into the band. Chris and I played in a band previously so I’ve known him for like 8 or 9 years, this kind of music is really like his kind of style and he fit perfectly that’s when he came on board. John, our other guitarist, he came on just because I would see him around in shows and I saw him perform and I thought he was a great player and again we had talked about maybe doing something together so that was that”

Blurt: Where did the name Etherius come from?

JT: “Originally we wanted to call the band, we went through hundreds of band names -we spent months on this, and originally we wanted to call the band Etheria and I can’t even remember where I got it from. I know its like some kind of tv show in the Philippines or something, I thought it sounded cool and then I did some research and found out that there was actually a band already called Etheria and they’re signed to a label so we couldn’t really use that. Etherius, I think Chris our bass player just came up with it one night or he found it somewhere and we all thought it was a cool name so we kept it and found out that there was no band that had that name so we were like alright we are going to use that instead.”

Blurt: Your band has been referred to as progressive or neo-classical, what would you consider yourselves?

JT: “I think we are a metal band. Those are all accurate descriptions, neo-classical, a little power metal, thrash, a little prog, its like I don’t think we go to far in any of those one directions, we kind of blend them altogether and give a little hint of each style. But yeah those are all accurate. I mean I grew up on thrash metal so like that’s always going to be a part of the music whatever project I’m involved in. Its always going to be some thrash element to it but yeah neoclassical, thrash, progressive it is all accurate it all describes the music perfectly.”

Blurt: Here’s a question Slayer or Anthrax?

JT: (laughs a little) “I’m gonna go with Anthrax. “

“I never met anybody from Anthrax but I don’t know, I was always more partial to John Bush than Joey. And everybody kills me for it, like how could you –I don’t know, I like it all but I’m partial to John Bush era.”

Blurt: How old were you when you began playing guitar?

JT: “Let’s see I was 13. Like the end of ’97 when I started playing.”

Blurt: What kind of guitar do you play?

JT: “I’m currently endorsed by Kiesal guitars, they used to be carbon, I’ve been playing those exclusively for the past couple of years.”

Blurt: You have been playing in bands and a touring musician as far as playing with Angel Vivaldi, what is the difference that you‘ve noticed in the music industry being in both?

JT: “I would say it is a lot more competitive. Especially in this kind of genre of instrumental guitar, It’s not like pop music where there is a million, you know. Instrumental guitar is more of a niche. There is less of an audience so there is a lot of bands fighting for the same audience, and especially now because the music industry is changing so much and people are not making as much money and record sales are not what they use to be. Musicians are finding other creative ways to make money, there is definitely a lot more competition so the bands are kind of fighting for the same audience.”

Blurt: With guitarists like John5 going out and doing John5 and the Creatures you have people out there bringing in the crowds that is good for music in general, especially for instrumental?

JT: “Just having tour with Angel Vivaldi, I’ve done 5 or 6 tours with him there is defiantly an audience for this kind of music, I mean we’ve played some big shows, there is an audience for it and they’re very dedicated.”

Blurt: The album was released August 24th and it is titlde ‘The Thread of Life”‑-what was the process like as far as studio time developing the album?

JT: “Well recording it was pretty easy.  All the work is in pre-production, like just figuring out the arrangements and rehearsing and making sure everybody knows their parts and just all the notes, making sure everything is written and then when it was time to record it is the matter of getting the best performances.  I wrote all the music for it because like I said I was originally going to do a solo album and so I had all the songs ready to go. We just spent a couple of months on pre-production just rehearsing everything and making sure all the arrangements were good and it’s defiantly paid off cause recording, when it came time to do the actual recording, I mean we were quick with it. We did the drums in a day, guitars in a few days and bass in a couple of days. I think over all we spent a week, I mean commutatively maybe a week recording the entire thing.”

Blurt: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

JT: “Inevitable End” is my favorite song.”

Blurt: Going back, is there, including the people in the band is there somebody that all of you have not yet collaborated with that you want to?

JT: “I would like to collaborate with Angel, he did kind of collaborate with us in a way because he co-produced the EP. He didn’t have anything to do with the songwriting but he co-produced it with Jackie and I. He was actually supposed to play a kessel on of the songs on the album but didn’t have the time to get it done, so the next album will probably feature some of his playing on it for sure.”

Blurt: Is there a touring plan?

JT: “Not immediately. Right now, we are just trying to build up a fan base. We are playing shows in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area throughout the Fall. I do want to tour with this band and right now it’s just about building up a fan base and making sure there is demand for us to tour.”

Blurt: Does the band have a website?

JT: “We don’t have a website; we are working on that. Right now we just have Facebook and Instagram -so it is Facebook.com/Etheriusband and if you just type in Etherius band in the search bar it should be the first one that comes up. Then Instagram we are just @etheriusband “

Blurt: Who inspired you, as far as guitar playing, as far as music? Who are some of your inspirations and who inspires you today?

JT: “Definitely Randy Rhodes, that was when I heard the first 2 Ozzy records. I heard them right around the time I started playing guitar and it definitely blew me away. It inspired me to dig deeper into classical music and just to practice more, I started taking instrument seriously. Metallica was always a huge influence, still is, maybe not in the music but just the impact they have had on metal breaking down so many barriers for different bands. Probably my biggest source of inspiration as far as musicians Josh Shaffer from Ithird, besides the fact that he is an amazing riff writer and writes great songs, great melodies. His story is inspiring because where he came from, he was homeless, didn’t have a home and lived in his car and started band. He was living in his car, I mean 30 years of bad contracts, the changing of different trends. To me they are a band that should have been as big as Iron Maiden or Metallica, so somehow he kept it going. They’re still kicking ass, they may never get to that level but the fact they’ve been around for thirty years says a lot about his work ethic and his determination.”

Blurt: What is like being in just an instrumental band and not having a vocalist?

JT: “For me it is definitely more challenging, because definitely trying to use the guitar or using keyboards or something to convey the same type of emotions that a vocalist can convey is probably the most challenging thing. We traditionally write songs, like verse , chorus, bridge with a structure to it like a chorus with a hook , trying to get the hook to sound, first of all to make it catchy, second of all to evoke some kind of emotion in the listener doing that with just a guitar and not a voice is probably is one of the more challenging like we try and do.”

Blurt: Whenever you are playing live, how is that, obviously different, usually you have the vocalist doing the interaction with the crowd, but how is the interaction with the crowd different?

JT: “I’m like the resident front man for the band so to speak, I’m the one that talks to the crowd and interacts with the crowd, because I am kind of shy but when I’m on stage I’m actually like. talkative. I know how to engage the crowd. I think with us more performing, we don’t just stand there, we move around, head bang, get into the music and I think that energy kind of rubs off on the crowd to so they see us into it so they start to get into it.”

Blurt: If there was one piece of advice you could give to an upcoming guitarist, upcoming musician, upcoming artist, what would that be?

JT: “For me I know this is kind of cliché but stay true to yourself, don’t follow trends, don’t try to do something because you think it is popular because trends change day after day in the music business so what is popular today may not be popular tomorrow or next week. So, you have to play the kind of music that you want to play not what not what you think people want to hear.”

Blurt:  Here is your opportunity to say anything, whether it is about music, the album, whatever you would like.

JT: “I hope everyone checks out the record and I think there is something for everyone. Whether you are a guitar player or you are not a musician, I think there is something, whether it is a riff or a melody, there is something for everyone to get into on this record.

Once I got everyone together, I realized it should not be a solo album but be a band thing and it is working out.”

Etherius is a band that is full of passion and brings emotion through instruments. It is heavy, it is loud, it is all rock ‘n’ roll. Jay Tarantino is not only a talented guitarist and composer but has the knowledge and outlook in the music industry that most artist and bands need in this present time. The new album is titled Thread of Life, be sure to check it out.

WORKIN’ HARD, OR HARDLY WORKIN’? Todd Snider

Both, actually. For his new album, the songwriter was simultaneously challenged and inspired, and he not only recorded in the same building that Johnny Cash once inhabited, he also got to play one of the Man In Black’s guitars. (Tour dates, info, merch and more at Snider’s official website.)

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been a about seven years since Todd Snider last put out a folk record.

That’s not to say he was taking it easy. During that time, he put out a garage rock album (Eastside Bulldog) two records with his jam band, the Hard Working Americans (self-titled and Rest in Chaos) and has spent an almost implausible amount of time on the road. But, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 is his first venture back to the folk music he started out making in the mid-1990s.

Recorded inside a cabin that used to belong to Johnny Cash, Snider admits that the spirit of the Man in Black was definitely present through much of the recording, just as it is rumored to have been there when Loretta Lynn recorded at that same site (Snider’s new record even houses a song called ‘The Ghost of Johnny Cash”).

Just weeks before he heads out on the road for a stretch of solo shows, Snider took some time recently to talk about the new record, playing Cash’s guitar and the future of the Hard Working Americans.

Blurt: Beyond simply being a solo album, this new record sounds a lot different than the music you were making with Hard Working Americans or even your last solo LP. Was that a conscious decision to go back to the folk/Americana route with this one?

Snider: Yeah, more folk, I guess. That last record (Eastside Bulldog) was really an anomaly. I made it eight years before I put it out and, well, I never thought I would put it out. I like it; it’s the one I listen to because I like that old garage music, but I’ve always thought of myself as a folk singer, a Ramblin’ Jack Elliot type singer and even when I do the jam band stuff or The Bulldogs, I do it to learn more about being a folk singer. I think of my day job as a folk singer.

Blurt: So, is The Hard Working Americans still something you still plan on pursuing?

Snider: Yeah. We don’t have any shows on the books. I know Dave (Schools, bassist. Also, member of Widespread Panic) wanted a break. Him and I have been on the road the longest of anyone and he’s got a wife he loves and that he hasn’t seem much of.  We still talk all the time. Even Neal (Casal, guitar) who left for a little bit. I still talk to him. I think if we played together again, we’d have three guitar players. If we play again, I don’t know why I said it like that. We’ll play again… then again, I can see me or Dave dropping in the next year.

Blurt: Oh man, don’t say that.

Snider: Eh, that ain’t nothing to be afraid of.

Blurt: In the liner notes to the Cash Cabin Sessions, it talks about the dreams, plural, that you had about Johnny Cash and it talks about Loretta Lynn recording there and seeing his ghost – that’s also a song on this album. When you were recording the record, did you feel the Johnny Cash vibe in the room. I know this sounds New Age-y, but did you ever feel his presence?  

Snider: Oh, we sure did. There was like three separate long sessions and it was more the other people there (that felt it). Everybody kept having moments. I had a moment there – there are still some more songs to come out of these sessions – and some of the songs to come were lyrics that Johnny Cash left behind that I got to do music to. One night I was working on one of those and I really honestly felt like I had a decision to make between two pieces of music and I never felt more like the room was trying to vote. It was really pressing, and it felt like the kitchen was saying “this version, this version, this version.” And other people were saying they felt stuff like that. And also, not in a ghostly way, I would go for long walks in the woods and it’s a lot, it’s like Graceland. There’re lamas. I was thinking I’m a singer, I can’t imagine well if I don’t finish the tour these lamas don’t eat. That’s why I rent. It’s just the pressure. I just call it immaculate grace; nothing ever happens out there for the wrong reason.

Blurt: So, you recorded there, and Loretta recorded there. Is it used quite a bit? Is it a studio that a lot of people record at?

Snider: No, just me and Loretta and that cat Jamey Johnson. And that’s it. The Hard Working Americans spent the night up there tripping balls. And Dave has used it for a record he was working on. I don’t think you can just call there and book it. I go to go because I got to know Loretta.

Blurt: You also got to use one of Johnny Cash’s old Martin guitars.

Snider: Yeah. What I say is “I can’t prove it’s the guitar he’s holding when he flips off the photographer, but it’s definitely that kind.” He had more than one though. It’s over a hundred years old and it sounds wonderful.

Blurt: Was that intimidating at all, knowing that he played this guitar and likely wrote some of his songs on that same guitar?

Snider: Right. There’s a moment when I was with my buddy and I started playing the “Ring of Fire” line and I say, “This might be the guitar that he wrote that lick on.” It’s weird. It was also very comforting. There’s something about the way John (Johnny’s son) and those guys who run it – I just felt really comfortable out there.

Blurt: You play banjo on, appropriately enough, “The Blues On Bajo.” Is this your first time playing banjo on a record?

Snider: I think I’ve played the banjo sometimes, but I don’t really know how to. I made up that song about the blues and they say you can’t play the blues on banjo, so I said, “Let’s try it!” And on the first take we got it. I don’t even know if it was tuned, but now I have to go and practice the things I did so I can play it live.

Blurt: You’re not really known as a political artist, though you’ve occasionally covered it on and off in some of your lyrics more subtly. But you cover off on politics on a few songs here, especially the last one, “A Timeless Response to Current Events” and on “Talking Reality Television Blues”. Is it hard to avoid writing about politics given where we are right now in our country?

Snider: Yeah and especially being a folk singer. That’s on the table right beside romance. And the guys I grew up enjoying, it seemed like they weren’t afraid to let that out of their heart if it was coming. I don’t have anything to teach anyone. I just share my opinions because they rhyme. If you change your opinions because of my opinions that’s not what this was about. This was about getting a few beers and listening to some singing and if that happens, well that’s what you decided to do. I didn’t come here to do that. I share my opinions because the job says your supposed to.

Blurt: I think I read that you had actually written some of these songs, or even recorded some, with the Hard Working Americans.

Snider: Volume 2, I’m hoping will be out in the next year or so and it’s got a few those songs on it.

Blurt: How old are the songs that are on this new record?

Snider: It usually takes me a couple of years to finish songs. I work on them all the time, but I also change them all of the time. Most of these songs I was working on when Rest in Chaos (Hard Working American’s 2016 album) was really new. Right now, I already have 14 other what I’d call Cars on Blocks – things that will turn into songs. And they really can change a lot. I’ll try all of the words over all of the music. I really enjoy tinkering with them.

Blurt: Has that changed much, how you write songs, since your first record in 1994?

Snider: I like to think so. The way that I made up the new record is the way a guy named Kent Finlay taught me. When I made up the Bulldog record, that was the first time I had a side project and it was supposed to sound like The Kingsmen and we did all those songs in one night; and I was trying to say “baby” as much as I could. When Hard Working Americans came together, I had this song where I took each line to the song and made it to be its own thing. It didn’t have to be linear. This record is more of the old way that I write music. I’d still like to write some music with the Hard Working Americans that is similar to the way George Clinton or James Brown wrote. I’ve been studying the way they made songs and I’d like to try that some way.

Blurt: You’re about to tour with this record. Is it just you on the stage or do you take others out with you?

Snider: No, just the dog. And he’s on the stage with me. Sometime if he doesn’t like the song or the harmonica is too high, he’ll take off, but these shows are very much patterned after what Ramblin’ Jack Elliott does. He was a huge influence on Jerry Jeff (Walker) and Arlo (Guthrie) and all those people too.

 

CASTLES MADE OF PAPER, NOT SAND: Alice Phoebe Lou

The South African artist was a standout performer at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, and we were privileged to talk to her about her colorful career to date.

BY ROBIN E. COOK

Alice Phoebe Lou’s journey has taken her from her native South Africa to the streets of Berlin, and from fire dancing to making music. Lou embraced the life of a street performer and the people she met while maintaining full control of her music. Her latest album, Paper Castles (self-released, like all her music; check out her official website or her Facebook page) is a collection of wistful indie pop that sounds like a soundtrack for sweet dreams. As Consequences of Sound says, “If you’re looking for an album to listen to while pretending you’re in an indie flick, Paper Castles is the one.”

What brought you to Berlin?

I traveled around Europe for six months, dancing on the street for money with fire.  And that was actually my bread and butter. That was how I managed to travel and do the things that I was doing and eventually I kind of landed up in Berlin. I was 18 years old and I was learning some kind of songs and there was just this amazing street music community there and I just fell in love with that kind of lifestyle and decided to just move to Berlin and pursue the street music life.

 

Growing up in South Africa, what was the type of music that you listen to? You had piano lessons, right?

Yeah, I had a few piano lessons. My mum plays a few instruments. My parents both had a really extensive record collection spanning all sorts of genres with a lot of very amazing female fronted bands, very strong female presence as well. And I kind of listened to just about everything.

 

I wanted to know about the fire dancing aspect. How did you become involved in that?

I was a dancer for a lot of my life. That was actually my main focus for a lot of my life, dance and theater. And eventually, I was 16, I had two months’ break from school and I asked my mom if I could go to Europe. And so, I went to Paris because my aunt lived there. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do more circus performance and things a bit outside of dancing, using my dancing background.  So eventually I bought a pair of these kind of fire dancing chains, and I just met a bunch of circus folk in Paris. Paris is very hard city, kind of hard environment. And these were the people that seemed the happiest even though they had very little and they were just making money from passers-by and tourists. And they just taught me the art and the trade of street performance and the psychology behind it and how to how to get your audience to come and feel comfortable and want to be involved and have a good time. And that’s something that really, really influenced where I am today because it started this trajectory of playing on the street and eventually doing what I’m doing now.

 

In Berlin are there a lot of street performers there as well, a community there?

Absolutely, a really nice community, because in a lot of places the street performance scene can be very competitive. And Berlin has quite a welcoming and wholesome community in that regard and that was something that really drew me in, is this idea that you’re sharing the streets with not only other street performers, but homeless people, people who are begging, drug dealers, whoever. And everyone is equal and everyone has a chance and you give everyone their fair kind of moment to use the streets as their performance or entrepreneurial space.

One thing I wonder about Paris and Berlin: which city would you say is more open to expats?

I would say Berlin, definitely. Also, Germany has taken in the most refugees of anywhere in Europe and that comes with a set of problems, of course. There’s not enough space for everyone everywhere. But Berlin and Germany have been incredibly inviting in that sense, and there’s a lot of amazing refugee integration programs and so not just as an expat or as someone that just has the privilege to be able to move somewhere, but for people that really need a new home, like refugees, Berlin has been an incredible place. I have a lot of Syrian friends, and there’s an amazing community of people that have come there for different reasons, but are using it for the same reason.

 

Germany also, it seems, really learned their lesson after World War II.

I think that it’s all about the history and teaching history and really, really making children and young adults aware of the history in order to not let it repeat itself, which I think is something that is a lot of countries could learn a lot about, especially the country I’m from. Basically, apartheid ended 25 years ago. It’s basically the other day, and there’s the sense of just kind of brushing it under the carpet and saying, “Okay. We’re at ground zero now. We all have equal opportunity and let’s just move on with our lives.” And that is not the case, and so learning about your history, learning about how not to let it repeat itself and how to get educate the youth about what went wrong to get us to those kind of places, is definitely something Germany learned a lot about.

 

Growing up in South Africa. how were you educated as a child about that period?

Well, my parents were both documentary filmmakers and the work that they were doing mainly in the eighties was documenting what was happening during apartheid. And so, they were working for news agencies in different parts of the world. My dad was risking his life, basically going into the townships, filming the things that were happening there, getting beaten by police, getting thrown in jail. So, he really experienced it first-hand. And therefore, we were able to get a very realistic impression of what had happened and where we were going. And it wasn’t the sense of “okay, it’s over now, we’re all equal.” ‘Cause that’s just that’s a very sugar-coated lie that really doesn’t make progress. It just it just keeps the divide, and South Africa still a very racially segregated place. It’s still got a lot to work through. And so, this kind of brush-under-the-carpets attitude just does not help anyone.

I wondered also you’ve been releasing music yourself. Is that something you want to continue to do?

Absolutely.  I don’t think that it’s for everyone. I think some artists really want a label to be able to do business aspects of their music and just to make the music and I totally respect and understand that. But for me personally, I’m somebody who likes the business side of things. I like knowing about those things. I like educating myself and therefore being able to individualize the music industry to me and what I need from it. And it’s something that feels very empowering to me and it’s something that I want to continue and eventually open my own label then and do these kinds of things and be able to find my own place, because at the end of the day, if you don’t like something or if something is not working for you, you need to make your own version of its and you need to find a way to do it your own way.

 

FLYING HIGH: Jealous of the Birds

One of the most promising young artists at this year’s SXSW was Naomi Hamilton. But why is she Jealous of the Birds?

BY ROBIN E. COOK

Wisdom Teeth is the new EP from Jealous of the Birds, a.k.a. Naomi Hamilton. The brainy singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland launched her music career while she was a university student in Belfast (she now has a master’s degree). Hamilton’s love of words is on full display, complementing her cool, brisk vocals. In addition to writing and singing, she’s launched “Jealous of the Bops,” a YouTube series about her favorite albums, with two albums reviewed per episode (e.g., Carole King and Cat Power). And as this interview shows, her interests extend far beyond music as well.

I understand you have a degree in English and creative writing. Which came first–that or the music? Definitely the writing. I’ve been writing since I was like 13 years old, poetry.  I’ve been doing that for much longer than music. And I started writing songs maybe when I was like eighteen. I just started kind of in my first year of my degree playing gigs and releasing music and stuff. So, it’s definitely literature first.

Your lyrics definitely are very erudite. Are there any lyricists who really influenced you? I think I started with maybe Bob Dylan. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I got into the folk movement and stuff. That’s what I really saw that lyrics should be a big part of music. And then when I got into my later teens, I got into, like, grunge: Nirvana, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith and some like that. And Paul Simon stuff like that. So, it’s really important to me as a writer as well.

Aside from the lyrics, how else do you apply your English and writing background to the music?  I think it’s  more the analytical side of me to kind of parse different experiences. And also kind of the discipline of writing. ‘Cause I wrote a big dissertation and stuff. I’d gotten into the habit of journaling and carrying a notebook with me. So that helps, just kind of collect material for songs. 

Tell me a bit about you know, your first venture into making music. Were you a little bit nervous about that at the beginning? With my first gig, I couldn’t even stand up. I stayed seated and played solo. I played solo for about a year before we got about a band together. So, it’s definitely something that, I’ve gradually gotten better at. And it’s improved to me and I really enjoy it more.

One thing I noticed, you’ve been doing a YouTube series, “Jealous of the Bops.” Can you tell me a little bit about went for the inspiration for that came from? I’ve always really been into podcasts and video as a very intimate medium. A lot of artists kind of collate their own playlists on Spotify. So, I wanted to make it a bit more personal by making a video series of it. All the songs that I pick on Spotify are kind of parts of those together. And I pick two albums that I really like and talk about them and the process behind them.  I like to pick a classic album with a contemporary of one just for more contrast, ‘cause my listening tastes are pretty diverse.

It sounds like you’ve also read some music reviews and criticism as well. Is that the case? Really, I think it comes more from my English background. Writing essays and stuff comes kind of naturally to me, to be able to analyze the music I’m hearing. And also as a musician I’m always looking out for different techniques for recording and putting songs together. So that kind of becomes a factor.

What about today’s music scene in Belfast in Northern Ireland? I know people think of artists like the Undertones for instance and similar artists.  Today is actually very strong. There’s a big, strong sense of community back in Belfast. It definitely has its pockets of punk and rock and stuff like that, but it’s very much indie. And songwriting is kind of a big thrust back home. And a lot of support for each other, following each other’s gigs between Belfast and Derry.

Do you feel sometimes you have to be in a certain frame of mind to write songs? Oh, for sure, yeah. And I also kind of dabble in other arts, mediums and stuff, between like photography and painting. So usually if one of them is kind of, I’m in a bit of a block with it, I’ll move over to a different art form. They kind of help each other in that way. So yeah, for songwriting, I try to keep it pretty consistent so that there’s not gaps in between activity. And that’s going well so far.