Friday, March 29, 2013

Finding the voice

It's been a long time since I've played music in front of people. The last time I did, it was an immense joy. Jamming with guys I didn't know, in a bar I'd never been in before, and playing a slow blues song and then Bill Withers' "Use Me." Various reasons are why I haven't played live since, but it's not because of a lack of want. The opportunity has not presented itself since that September 2011 night.

I formed a band last year that practiced for a few months, fleshing out styles I had never really played in a band before. I loved the material, but when we couldn't find a permanent bass player and one of the key members didn't want to continue playing with us, everything stopped. Once again, I had to start over and set my drum set back up in my office with sound-deadening pads.

While I was practicing with these guys, who I still consider friends to this day, I had an opportunity to record a couple of songs with my friend and old bandmate, Dave. He wanted to try out some vintage studio equipment he had recently acquired and suggested I record with him. He advised me to write whatever I wanted to and I'd play all the instruments and sing. I had played all the instruments and sung before, but I was so mortified by my singing voice that I never played the material for anyone. I recorded two songs and got some very satisfying drum tracks and guitar tracks. I, along with Dave, felt the vocals and lyrics were not strong or confident enough, so the tracks remained on his hard drive.

This wasn't surprising given my previous experiences with trying to sing and write coherent lyrics.

When I was in college, I liked the creative process up til hearing the playback, so I set the self-recording desires aside. I had originally taken inspiration from Dave Grohl. He was the first guy I knew of that wrote, sung, and played almost every note on the first Foo Fighters record. If he tried something he had never done before, then it wasn't too far-fetched to consider trying it myself. But since I'm not an accomplished singer, I'd approach the vocal microphone with a certain amount of fear. Strangely, fear never held me back from singing with a couple of thrown-together bands in high school. Years of over-thinking and self-consciousness held me back from trying until I got things right in my head.

I'm still not convinced I have a great singing voice, but after talking with singers I greatly admire, like Blair Shehan, I'm going to try once again very soon. I hope to re-record my vocals with Dave in his new studio and present this to the world found on the Internet. Whatever I will call this, it will be of my hands, feet, and vocal cords.

In addition to these two songs, I have five more songs in various stages of development. Four of these songs are made of riffs I have played for many years. While I might consider myself more a drummer than anything else, there were always times I would pull out my guitar. Some of these riffs turned into songs I did with a previous band. Many other riffs were not right for the musical styles of my various bands. For those that know me, the influences on these riffs/songs will be very obvious.

I'm not against playing in a band situation again. That said, I can't help the desire to really express myself where I play all the instruments and sing. And helping me get closer to that desire comes from Dave Grohl's recent keynote speech at SXSW. Hearing one of my main influences be so self-deprecating about his abilities as a singer and a songwriter, I completely agree with his assessment: doesn't matter if your voice is good or bad; it's your voice. And when I recently saw a friend play live and I was convinced he had no desire to stay anywhere near the stratosphere the guitars were in, I thought, "I should at least try singing again."

I think I have all the inspiration that I need. Now to follow through.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Q&A with Matt Pryor

Here's my full Q&A with Matt Pryor as he hits the Revival Tour tonight in Dallas at Trees.

Is this the first time that you’ve played the Revival Tour?

Yes. I’ve been talking to Chuck about it for a couple of years of now. Could never get it to line up because the Get Up Kids were touring or I was touring. All that kind of stuff. It’s just fun and random. I was just, “Man, what am I going to do in March?” And then I got an e-mail from Chuck and it was like, “Perfect!”

When Chuck calls, you don’t want to turn him down.

Well, that’s unfortunate [how] I’ve had to turn him down.

Have you seen the Revival Tour before? Has it come through St. Louis or Lawrence?

I’ve seen clips of it on YouTube. I’ve never been to one of the concerts. I know the gist of it. I know a lot of people who have done it and have given positive feedback.

It’s kind of an awesome thing you don’t see anywhere else.

Yeah, it’s interesting because I had a similar idea to do something like that with my band, the New Amsterdams. And I just never did it. [laughs] Other things kept coming up. And now if I wanted to do it, [people would say] “Oh, you’re just ripping off Chuck’s idea, huh?”

You did something similar last year with the Where’s the Band? tour.

Yeah, but that’s just . . . When that came up, originally, I wanted to take out the New Ams drummer and bass player because they can play anything and they can back everybody up. My agent was like, “No because then the name of the tour doesn’t make any sense. It would still be a band.” Any he’s the one who came up with the name of that tour. That was more of four dudes stripped down, you know what I mean?

Mm-hmm. Can you remember the first time you encountered Chuck?

I met Chuck in 1997 because Doghouse Records released the first Get Up Kids and the Hot Water Music record, Forever and Counting. I’m trying to think where was the first place we met. Maybe in Germany? Of all places. [laughs] Or probably . . . Probably playing in Gainesville. I don’t remember. We never toured with Hot Water. We always bumped into each other at festivals or just random places. Wait, we did tour with Hot Water one time! On the Honda Civic Tour in 2004 and Chuck sliced his hand open and they had to leave the tour because he couldn’t play guitar. I remember they had Dustin from Thrice fill in for one show.

Yeah, that’s right! Wasn’t it towards the end of . . . Well, the band’s broken up a few times. But this was towards the beginning of their second break-up, I believe?

Yeah, I don’t ever know when or what their status is. They’re doing shows now. Don’t you know bands never really break up? [laughs]

Oh, I know. Just to let you know, in case you hadn’t picked up on it yet: I was that guy who wrote a book about where a lot of emo and post-hardcore came from.


There was a chapter devoted to the Get Up Kids and one devoted to Hot Water Music, and what happens after the book comes out? Almost all of them get back together. [laughs]

[laughs] What was the book called?



Yeah! It’s cited on Wikipedia, surprisingly. I interviewed you over e-mail. I also interviewed Rob, Ryan, and Jim.

Oh, OK! I remember that!

Yeah, so I’m that guy.

Right on, man! Small world!

It was a humble effort document something that nobody else really wanted to document properly at the time. So, there’s some stuff that’s very dated now, but hey, that’s what happens. Wanted to ask, how did you get into podcasting?

Well, for years, I had always listened to stuff like NPR shows, like This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! Last year, I got really, really burnt on music and I really thought that I wanted to switch careers. I was like, over it. So I went to go work on a farm. I’m really into growing a lot of my own food in my house. It was like, “Well, I like cooking and I like food,” so I was able to work on a food truck and then I was able to work on a farm. You know, when you’re picking vegetables for eight hours, it’s kinda boring and repetitive. I had heard about Marc Maron and Jay Mohr. I’m a big Kevin Smith fan, so I started listening to his thing. All of sudden, I was like, “These are awesome!” It’s total long-form conversation. It’s not an interview; it’s people hanging out and telling stories. That’s something you do backstage or jam on the bus. [I was] like, “Well, if comedians can do it, I know a lot of people in the music industry.” That’s where it started.

I texted Todd [Bell] when your interview with him went live and I asked what you guys recorded it on, because it sounded pretty good. I know y’all weren’t in the same room, but he said it was Skype. Is Skype what you interviewed Evan [Weiss] on?

Yeah! I’ve actually done more Skype interviews than live ones because the live ones are kinda tough to wait for people to either come to me or me to come to them, which is less likely. [laughs]

The one that you did with Bob [Nanna], was that also Skype?

That was Skype, yeah. It’s interesting: you have to be in the mindset for it, in the same way that you and I are talking and not seeing each other. You just have to pretend. Especially if you speak with your arms a lot. You know, you do a lot of gestures when you speak passionately about something. You start realizing that you’re doing that to a computer. You know, they can’t see you. I specifically don’t do video chats because those are uncomfortable.

I don’t blame you.

Besides, it’s not a visual medium anyway.

Correct! I have to say, the interview that you did with Evan, even though he touched on things that I talked with him about last year, was inspiring. It’s nice to hear people younger than us not wanting to take the path of Fall Out Boy or the All-American Rejects. They want to take the route of the early Get Up Kids.

I know! Isn’t that fuckin’ awesome?

Yes it is!

I met Evan when he was here. I was like, “What’s this kid? Some kind of emo throwback guy?” The more I got to know him, the more I talked to him about it, I was like, “Holy shit, it’s kinda like ‘The Dream of the Nineties’ is alive in indie rock! These are my people!” Obviously I am older and have a family, but it still is the sensibilities that I was attracted to with punk rock. You know what I mean? It makes me so happy.

It’s obvious that this music is coming from a truly genuine spot.

Well, yeah! Recording technology has come so far that they can make decent-sounding records for very little money.

Even the stuff he recorded for that 52 Weeks project, where he said the total cost was $2,000 by the end of it, pretty much all of those songs sound good.

Yeah, I was surprised that he did them all . . . That was another idea I had at one point. I’ll just do a song a week for a year, but that would mean do an acoustic guitar and sing it into GarageBand. You know what I mean? He went all-out with it.

Do you young bands contact you? Here’s where I’m coming from with that. When I interviewed Ryan about young bands that were coming into Black Lodge. He said they reminded of him when the Get Up Kids started, but at the same time, they had this eye on a prize. So I’m curious what you have seen in the last few years.

I actually don’t have my ear to the ground that much as far as new bands. It’s one of those things where like, I find out about things really randomly. I’m trying to get this together in Lawrence and there’s a lot of great local talent here. So I’m trying to get something that’s like a weekly residency somewhere. I can play new stuff and bring in a local band that I like and we collaborate. It’s a way to get back in touch with the local music scene. I do listen to a lot of podcasts. I listen to less music now than I have.

I’ve heard from a fellow local band that Ryan has moved back from France and Robbie is back from Brooklyn. Is that, in any way, indicative that there are Get Up Kids shows or projects coming.

No. [laughs] If Robbie is back in Lawrence, I haven’t seen him. I know Ryan’s back in town, but his wife is still in Paris and gonna finish school. But no. We’re very much . . . You know that kind of thing where the band broke up and took a three-year-break?


We’re taking a long break and not really worrying about it. Doing other things. It’s a healthier thing to do than to break up.

Oh yeah. With other bands, when they break up, there’s all kinds of hurtful things said in the press and then when the band gets back together, there’s a thought that everything is cool. Then you realize everything is not all water under the bridge.

That was something I was conscious of when I quit the band in 2004 and we broke up in 2005. At least for me, I didn’t want it to be like, “We’re breaking up because James is a dick!” I wanted to be like, “Well, it’s run its course. We want to leave it as friends.” But we said hurtful things to each other and behind each other’s back. [laughs] It’s kinda the, don’t fight in front of the kids. You know?

I understand. Besides the Lasorda record, you’ve done stuff with James [Dewees].

He and I are actually working on an album.

And the podcast. What else do you have time for doing?

The last New Amsterdams record is coming out March 5th, which is a collection called Outroduction. It’s a collection of all the songs over the history of that band that I always really liked, but for one reason or another, didn’t fit on whatever record I was putting out. Some of favorite, favorite songs, but it would be the one big rock song on an all-acoustic/sad record. So it would get shelved. It’s kinda like having leftovers in the fridge. I wanted people to hear those songs.

Something that’s been wracking my brain every time I listen to the podcast: What is the intro music that you use?

It’s a song called “Dear Lover” that’s actually a New Amsterdams song. It’s one of my favorite New Ams songs. It’s actually Dewees playing the piano on it. It’s always killed me that it never fit on anything. We’ve actually recorded it four times; that’s the first one. That’s on Outroduction. It’s the second track.

Something cute that you did last year was when you and your kids recorded a version of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home.” Any plans to do that again down the road?

Well, I’ve released two albums for kids.

Oh yeah, the Terrible Twos!

I’m finishing up the third one right now. Hopefully that’s going to get finished before I leave for the Revival Tour. I don’t know when that will come out. Fall, maybe?

I had never heard the Terrible Twos’ music until last year. I was riding around suburban Chicago with some married friends of mine and they have a seven-year-old and a two-year-old. They kept singing “I Am A Rake.”

[laughs] It’s not too far off from early New Amsterdams stuff. It’s just the lyrics are about dinosaurs and bugs.

And chocolate milk.

Yeah! Those are really fun to write, but then you find yourself recording them . . . Time management is kind of a big thing for me because I have kids. You’re re-doing the vocal take of a song about chocolate milk and you’re like, “What the fuck am I doing with myself?” [laughs] It’s great when you start meeting those kinds of people in that kid’s music type of world. There are people who take it really, really seriously. It’s always really funny to me. Because I’m like, “These are songs for kids, right?”

On a related note: do you watch Portlandia?

Oh yeah! I love it!

Did you see that episode where Carrie and Fred are convinced that they must create a band they would love to play in and play it for kids? They make all this drone-y noise and all these kids sit there baffled.


And then comes in a band where the singer had a handlebar mustache and singing really poppy stuff. In a way, it was like Yo-Gabba-Gabba! I thought it was perfect. Talking about those friends who played “I Am A Rake” for their kids, the husband played in Allister and they put up Boxer and At the Drive-In.

Punk rockers grow up and have families too, you know? I don’t know. What’s interesting is that my kids are getting older so it’s becoming less intriguing to me. I’ll at least do this last one. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll get a Nickelodeon show out of the deal.

Could it be in the next few years that your oldest would want to sing “Coming Clean”?

She’s really into female singers. Like, she really likes Tegan & Sara and Neko Case. She hasn’t gotten into the angsty thing yet. But I’m sure it’s coming. [laughs]

Are your kids more familiar with you from the Get Up Kids or the New Ams?

They’re more familiar with New Ams because that who they toured with. New Ams and solo stuff has been more of the focus since they’ve been cognizant of what’s going on. I don’t really listen to my stuff around the house anyway, so I’m sure they’ll find it. [laughs]

I’m sure at some point you’ll be asked how awesome it was to record Four Minute Mile in 48 hours.

[laughs] I’ll tell them the same thing I tell everyone else.

I remember Rob, Ryan, and you telling me about how the only times you took breaks was when The Simpsons was on. But there weren’t many breaks

[laughs] No there were not!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Q&A with Keith Latinen

Keith Latinen plays in a band called Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and runs a label called Count Your Lucky Stars. If you miss music that is cut from a cloth of true earnestness, vulnerability and sincerity, check out both the band and label. Since Latinen will hit up Denton’s Macaroni Island this week, I talked with him about doing the label and band and a younger generation of bands that blows our minds.

I know that you’ve played the DFW area before, but, roughly, how many times have you played here before?

Oh, boy. We played at 1919 Hemphill probably four or five times. And then, we played a couple of house shows around the area too. I would probably say six or seven times. We play a lot in Texas.

That’s cool, especially for a band from Michigan to come on down here. It’s pretty nice because there are bands that will not come to Texas.

Yeah! I think Michigan gets a little bit of that too because we’re lake-locked, so bands that have to go all the way come to us.

On a related note, with Denton specifically, how did you hear about Innards and Two Knights?

Because they played shows through there. Leo from Innards had actually set up some shows with us maybe a couple of years ago. A relationship grew from there. The best thing about being in a band and running a label is they definitely go hand in hand. So that’s how we ended up signing Two Knights and Innards.

I finally saw Innards and Two Knights a few weeks ago at Macaroni Island. What struck me is how there was this intensity during Two Knights’ set and everybody was circled around them, singing along. Consider me late to the party, but it’s kinda cool to see that going on. There was a time when I wondered if talking about Braid or Cap’n Jazz to a sixteen-year-old would fall on deaf ears. Whereas, seeing bands like this, I realize there is a younger generation that gets it.

Yeah, it’s cool. Everywhere we play, we’ve been pretty much born in the house show scene/DIY circuit. It’s like playing with friends everywhere we go. That show that you went to at Macaroni Island, I’m probably friends with all of those guys. It’s really nice to come back to places like that. It’s seeing friends because your relationship is built on seeing them one day or a couple of hours, so it’s like we pick up right where we left off every time we see them.

You’ve been doing Count Your Lucky Stars since 2007, correct?


I was curious as to what motivated you to start the label.

Well, part of it was that nobody was going to take a chance on our band and put our record out. We talked to a lot of labels and a couple fell through and I was like, “Well, if no one else is going to do it, it’s not going to stop me.” Our first EP was self-released and then our second, Year of the Rabbit, was co-released by a label in England. [Their owner] offered to pay for half of it and we’d find a label to put it our stateside to help pay for the other half of the costs. I was pretty cynical we could find somebody else. That’s sort of where it started. I had played with so many good bands and they too were with a label home, so we started cherry-picking all of the bands that we played with. It was pretty excellent. There weren’t any labels doing what we were doing at the time. There was no competition, as it were. I’m not competitive with any labels today. We’re all friends, but at that point, there weren’t any labels doing what we were doing.

Can you pinpoint a time when you started to see bands that were wanting to go the route of American Football or Cap’n Jazz instead of the Fall Out Boy route?

Yeah! When we were first started the band, there were no bands doing what we were doing. That period had distinctly passed on, but that had never left me. When we played all these shows in Michigan when we started in 2005/2006, it was pretty much hardcore bands and metal. When we really started touring, most of the bands still played heavier stuff. It was a slow moving front where. Algernon [Cadwallader] was around, us, Perfect Future was another band that had formed. We just sort of stuck together and started playing house shows and word of mouth spread around. We just played wherever we could.

Something I can’t help noticing after I go to these house shows: a lot of these bands are a little hidden on the Internet besides Mediafire and Bandcamp. Is that an intentional sort of thing? I know a lot of Empire’s stuff is on Amazon. But is there an intention to keep that off of iTunes, Amazon, eMusic?

Well, we put them on those services, but what really happens, it’s not hard for me to find that stuff. I know how bands operate, essentially. Most bands, if they have a website, it’s a hub. It can send you to their Facebook, their Tumblr, their Twitter, and their Bandcamp. Those are pretty much the essentials. Mediafire is pretty easy to find most bands. It’s weird with technology that you can get something out so quickly. I think some of the bands gear themselves to get something out as quickly as they can and putting it out without any fanfare or album art. They want to get it out to the right place.

I’ve really latched onto vinyl in the past few years. I’m not one to say, “Hey, vinyl’s making a comeback” because I remember buying a lot of 7-inches in 1997/1998 because songs that face to face released weren’t going to be found anywhere else. Along the way, I kept up with vinyl. About five or six years ago, there was this understanding of buying a record on vinyl because you wanted to physically own it because I can get it online anywhere. That’s the way the younger folks do it, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Oh, yeah! It was interesting when we put out our first physical product in 2009, we wanted people to buy the vinyl. It would be harder to sell, of course. The tides were slowly changing at that point and now, for Count Your Lucky Stars, we sell probably 15 records for every CD. People, if they’re going to own something, they want the aesthetic of vinyl, the feel of vinyl, the sound of vinyl. Owning it is a piece of art. I still like CDs. I grew up with CDs, but I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD. I can remember the last time I bought vinyl.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Q&A with Rick McMurray of Ash

In honor of Ash playing Texas for the first time in seven years, I had a nice long talk with drummer Rick McMurray. The band kicks off their U.S. tour in Dallas at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room tomorrow, March 12th.  

Shanna Fisher

First of all, I gotta say that I’m very happy that you guys are coming back to Dallas. It’s been quite a while . . .

Yeah, it’s been a long time since we’ve been there.

Can you remember the last few times that you’ve been through Dallas? Anything pop out about the shows?

I think the last time we were there, it was with the Bravery. That was a pretty J√§germeister-fueled tour. Uh, yeah. [laughs] My memories aren’t really good about that time, so not just Dallas. We’ve always had great shows in Dallas throughout the years. In particular, I remember supporting Weezer back in ’96. We played with them on the Pinkerton tour. It was such a blast. It was a really intense tour. I think Dallas was one of the best nights. It was in a hot/sweaty club. I think it was that night that I ended up freaking out on stage because I drank, like, seven espressos beforehand and one coffee as well. It was one of those things, “Do not operate heavy machinery” and stuff like that.

So you toured here when Weezer was touring off a not-very-popular record.

Yeah, yeah!

At the time!

It was a weird experience, but really great shows, actually. I think Weezer was in this weird positions. Things weren’t going so well. Things were quite tense amongst them, but they seemed to enjoy themselves onstage. The audience was there, but it was small clubs. They were kinda packed-out, so it was kinda like punk rock shows.

I remember that time. I was in high school and I remember the day that a friend of mine, who was in the Weezer fan club, got Pinkerton and came up to me and said, “It sucks!” And it was also around the time that you guys were starting take off with 1977 and he was really into the band. Where I’m going with this, for a lot of people my age, a lot of people cite the Angus soundtrack as how they got into Ash. For me, I saw 1977 at the Tower Records in Picadilly Circus on a family holiday. I thought the record looked cool. When I listened to it the first time, I heard the TIE fighter, I knew things were going to go real well.

[laughs] Yeah!

Long-winded question, but with now, how do you hear about American fans getting into Ash?

Yeah, I think you’re right touching on the Angus soundtrack. We got that show, we were kinda young. It was one of our first releases, “Jack Names the Planets,” on there. And “Kung Fu” is used on there as well. It was kinda weird ’cause that film wasn’t really known over here. I think it had a cult following in the States. A lot of fans come up and cite that soundtrack. But, yeah, it’s different things throughout the years. The first track on 1977 was used on a, oh, I can’t even remember the name of the game. [Editor’s Note: It was Gran Turismo] It was on a computer game and a lot of people got into us as well. I’m not a massive gamer. I think I bought a Nintendo Wii about four years ago and have used it twice.

You guys are playing SXSW to promote the A-Z Series finally being “officially” released in America.

Yeah, we had all these records and put them out on vinyl and the download’s available with that as well. It’s good to be getting back out there. We did an East Coast tour last year. It was great to get back. It’s been seven years since we played, apart from New York, where the other two guys are based. It was nice to see there’s a lot of love there for us. We’re going to try to spread them across before we start recording any new material. This will be our Midwest thing. We’re doing Chicago after we do SXSW and then Minneapolis, Detroit, and working our way back to New York after that. Hopefully later in the year we could spread that over to the West Coast, but no firm plans for that yet.

I think why a lot of people like Ash in Dallas is because of Josh Venable and The Adventure Club. Would you agree?

Yeah, yeah! He’s been one of our biggest supporters through the years, and it would be great to get back and catch up.

You know he’s the lead singer of a Smiths’ cover band now, for fun?

Oh great! We actually played with Johnny Marr last year. Tim [Wheeler, Ash vocalist/guitarist] had a duet project with his sometime girlfriend. They did a Christmas album a couple of years ago and he asked me to drum on some tracks. Just before Christmas, we played in Manchester and we got Johnny Marr to play guitar with us. That was a buzz.

I’m curious: With all the cover songs Ash has done over the years, have you ever heard from the band that you covered? More specifically, I’m curious if Carly Simon ever heard your version of “Coming Around Again.”

I’m not sure. It would be interesting! We’ve not heard if she has. That cover version was kind of weird. We did it back in 1993, just a year after we’d started, for a radio station in Ireland. We thought it was a really great song, but we didn’t do it justice. So we came up with the idea about four or five years ago just to drag it out. It turned out that version was so good. It’s something we should rehearse for a live show. It’s pretty full-on. The production’s really great.

Have two more questions for you and they’re about Star Wars.

Oh, OK! [laughs]

Knowing how much you guys are fans of it, I’m curious what you hope J.J. Abrams can do with the next Star Wars movie.

Um, I dunno. I’m not going to have any expectations of it, but at the same time, after the three prequels, the legacy of Star Wars is a little bit tainted by George [Lucas] himself. I think it’s kinda cool. It’s exciting to see what somebody else can do with it, restore what we loved about it when we first got into it. Let’s see!

What’s interesting to me is with people I’ve known who have children under the age of ten. It’s like A New Hope is still the gateway movie for them. So, knowing that you have a young child, what would be the first Star Wars movie you’d like to show your child?

Oh yeah, A New Hope. Definitely. I guess there’s an argument there to start with the first three [prequels], get the bad ones out of the way. That way, you can be blown away. I can say, “Oh, this gets better!” I remember being 14 years old and seeing A New Hope for the first time and I was consumed by it. I think the whole storyline of A New Hope is so simple, a little kid could understand what’s going on there. I mean, talking about politics and taxation in [the prequels], it’s like, “What? Really?” This is what you’re basing it on? Whatever?

There’s always hope because it’s amazing to me seeing kids get into Star Wars. It’s not just the movies; it’s the action figures, they want to play the video games, they want to watch The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network. I’m hearing you on the prequels, but I don’t think the prequels are that, but I’m totally sounding like Daisy from Spaced just now.


But I can understand why someone like Simon Pegg would be upset about those movies.

Yeah! It’s been so long since I’ve watched any of them. It’s probably been ten years, to be honest.

Yeah! That’s kind of the same situation with me. I watched Empire and Jedi for the first time since college and I still like them, but New Hope is still my favorite.

Yeah! It’s kinda part of your DNA. If you’re of a certain age, you probably watched the movie a hundred times and can recite every line before it’s said.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Danzig in the Moonlight

Coming into Dada last night, I was a fan of Ken Stringfellow's work with the Posies, Big Star, and R.E.M. Coming out of it, I became a fanatic of his solo material.

Prior to this evening, I had my rarely-played promo copy of 2001's Touched and memories of The Big Takeover's Jack Rabid heaping a lot of praise for Touched and having Stringfellow play his wedding. Given my enjoyment of the Posies' material, especially Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater, and Amazing Disgrace, and knowing how intense his showmanship is as a performer, I thought I'd simply enjoy a solo set from it.

Well, I happened to see one of the best shows I've seen this year.

A low turnout was in plain sight (only 17 paid to get in), so Ken decided to perform while standing on the floor without a vocal microphone. Playing so close that he could breathe on people, this was a kind of intimacy I've rarely seen at shows. He played a lot of solo material either on his electric guitar or electric piano and a few tunes with a local female singer/songwriter. Each song was played with complete sincerity -- punctuated by an incredible knack for hitting high notes that never screeched or felt unwelcome.

I never knew how great Ken was on the piano. I had never seen him play live with R.E.M., but I was amazed at how he could play intricate chords all over the 88 keys -- and usually just in one song. The material itself reminded me of why I love Burt Bacharach, Elton John, and Ben Folds -- there might be a lot of chords in one song, but they certainly prevent the song from becoming predictable, melody-wise.

Towards the end of his set, he took requests. Just as I was about to say "You Avoid Parties," there were louder shouts for the song and he obliged. While it is not as well known as "Dream All Day" or "Solar Sister," the song perfectly fit the mood for the show. And I couldn't help sing along under my breath. With the last few weeks being such a vulnerable and trying patch in my life, the goosebumps kicked in while he played.

Talking with Ken afterwards and talking with fellow fanatics, I came away from something I surely won't forget. And thanks to the generosity of one these fellow attendees, I have this picture to share. Now I've joined the ranks of those that go see anything Posies-related come hell or high water.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Do you wanna jam?

At the beginning of this year, I decided to get back to something I stopped doing years ago: live comedy.

Believe it or not, there was a time in my childhood when I was unafraid to unleash impressions and zingers onto a crowd of strangers. I did stand-up twice when I was in elementary school for the talent show. People laughed and said nice things to me afterwards.

Then puberty struck. The idea of being in front of people didn't interest me. I was incredibly self-conscious and often over-thought things. And I didn't think I was very funny.

There were times when teachers said I should be on stage acting. My experience with acting in plays wasn't the most pleasant, and when I did take a theater class, I asked to be a background player. I couldn't sing or dance and I was afraid I'd forget my lines.

As I grew older and graduated college, I knew a few people who did improv and stand-up. From time to time they made me laugh with their material, but I didn't think my kind of humor would work with what they were doing. Seems like stand-up is about killing or not killing and no in-between. Add the idea that one exaggerates his or hers own life for laughs. To which I still say, "No thanks."

But with improv in a group setting, that's interested me for a while. Once again, I wasn't sure my humor would fit with others. Seemed like people filled with cynicism and irony were the only ones who did it. Any attempt to be goofy or have a degree of sincerity was not welcome. But my friend Jason invited me to a free jam improv session at the Dallas Comedy House in early January, and I've been back almost every week since.

While I like to make people laugh, my intentions for doing live improv are much more personal. Hoping to gain some mental benefits from it, I'm happy to say I have gained many. People encourage each other in this setting, and they encourage people to be in the moment and go with whatever comes in your mind. That sure beats the kind of second-guessing I've experienced in job hunting. The spontaneous nature helps me carry that over to my everyday life. It helps me all week and I always look forward to the next one.

In doing this on a regular basis, I'm able to make fun of demons and ghosts from my past. Since major tenets of comedy are enjoying and mocking, I've found it easier to let go of those demons and ghosts. I can be rather intense at times, but I try to keep the comedy intact. I have to remind myself that this is comedy, not primal scream therapy.

Another big plus is the group nature of improv. By trusting my scene partners and working with experienced players, improvement happens every week. I trust them and they seem to trust me.

I admit it's a lot of fun being in front of people and not knowing if anything I do will work. I'm out of my comfort zone on the stage, but not so far away from the zone where I feel uncomfortable. If my life now is about successfully rebuilding and trying new things, I'd be foolish to stop.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Dark Side of Me

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Claudio Sanchez from Coheed and Cambria. The following is my whole Q&A transcript that I used to write a story on. Since I left a couple of things out of the story, I figured it would be fun to share everything.

Since The Afterman is a double album, were there any double albums that you really clung to when you were younger, whether it was The Wall or Use Your Illusion?

For me, it would definitely be The Wall for sure. My second concert happened to be Pink Floyd on the Division Bell tour in ’94. That sort of opened my mind up in terms of music and how it can accompany a visual. It was an amazing live show. It was probably one of those moments that defined what I wanted to do. In exploring Pink Floyd’s catalog, I stumbled across The Wall and with its cinematic counterpart [for] the tour. I never saw any of the tour, obviously, but I acquired bootlegs and saw how that played out. Actually I was fortunate to see Roger [Waters] at Madison Square Garden not too long ago. Overall, the way the cinematic counterpart works with the music, it had a lasting effect on me.

Were there any other records? I definitely heard about The Wall when I was in high school, but the first double album that I connected to was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Well, hell yeah! For sure! That’s our era of rock and roll, you know? I remember when I got that record. I was painting and it was Halloween. I think that record had just come out. I was doing these murals across Nyack with the high school. I tried to make it a point to get that record so I could listen to it all day. For me, that never had a concept that worked. I felt like that was a collection of songs. I don’t know if there was a thread that went through it nearly as it did with The Wall.

The Smashing Pumpkins recorded somewhere between 50 and 60 songs for that collection.

For Mellon Collie?


See, that’s the difference between whatever The Wall had become and what Mellon Collie is. The way The Wall seems to be arranged, some of those songs are a minute and a half. It feels like it works as a whole. You know, like you’re missing out if you don’t listen to the entire thing. Whereas Mellon Collie feels like they had 60 songs and they broke it down like that. I think that’s what makes The Wall so important and will probably stand the test of time.

With The Afterman, was there a set number of songs that you wanted on the record? Or were there a few songs that didn’t make the record?

There was definitely a set number. I kept writing. See, the thing with The Afterman – and this sort of goes against my whole Wall thing – there was no concept when I wrote this material. I started writing this material about two years ago. It was really just a reflection of what I was experiencing in that time. And it wasn’t until after I finished it and saw the material as a whole that I was able to construct the concept around those emotions. In a way, it’s sort of like a journey in that time for me, but it’s also what gave birth to the journey in The Afterman. So, I mean it’s definitely not The Wall, obviously. But it’s Coheed’s, if that makes any sense.  

Absolutely! When I saw you at C2E2 last year, you were listening to some music that I assumed you had recorded yourself earlier that day. You let Chondra listen to it. I think you let Blaze listen to it. You were very excited about it. Is that some kind of daily process with writing material?

Yeah! Pretty much. I’ll just catalog things that really work and just kind of have them. Before the band got into the studio, I had a version of the double record already arranged and outlined, but in a demo version. And we sort of made that available with the deluxe edition. Usually, whenever inspiration strikes, not to sound completely like a clich√©. Really, it does mean a lot. Whenever something presents itself is when I’ll work on it. But I don’t want to hammer something to death just for the sake of not wasting the time. If it’s not working, I just discard it.

I saw you guys open for Iron Maiden last year.

Oh, cool!

Yes, it was awesome. That whole Iron Maiden show was incredible as well. You’ve toured with Soundgarden as well. Where I’m going with this is, are there any bands out there that you love to tour with?

Yeah, definitely. Who? At the moment, I think if Jane’s Addiction is still touring, I would love to tour with Jane’s Addiction.

That’d be an interesting bill!

That was one of those bands for me growing up. Before Coheed, the band that I was in, that was one of our big inspirations. That would be cool.

On a related note with that Iron Maiden tour, was the “Heaven & Hell” cover ever properly recorded? If it was, could it ever see the light of day?

No, we never recorded it. Maybe, at some point.

I couldn’t help notice how the crowd responded to it when you started singing. There was definitely a large percentage that knew “Welcome Home” and “Here We Are Juggernaut.” But then when you played “Heaven & Hell,” people started to really perk up. Was that a common thing?

I think so, yeah! It’s certainly something that people knew. A lot of the audience didn’t know who Coheed was. I think we wanted to have some kind of familiarity. So “Heaven & Hell” made sense. It’s funny, when we did the Heaven & Hell tour, with [Ronnie James] Dio fronting [Black] Sabbath, we did “The Trooper” as a cover. We thought it’d be cool to flip-flop it.

Any chance that The Afterman could be done live, like how the first four records were done with that “Never Ender” batch of shows?

I think so, yeah. I mean, at the moment, the “Never Ender” concert series is broken down into two parts. Well, now because of The Afterman, there is the Coheed and Cambria story which is Year of the Black Rainbow to Good Apollo to No World for Tomorrow, and now there’s the Afterman story. It’s definitely something I could see happening in the future. Breaking it into the two and then doing The Afterman.

I could definitely see people flying from around the world to go see that.

Ah, hell yes! That’s nice of you to say.