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Keaton Simons

September 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

keatonmainWith the release of “Can You Hear Me,” Los Angeles native Keaton Simons shows that perseverance has its rewards.

Simons possesses an impressive resume. He’s shared a stage with major players from across the musical spectrum, including Coldplay, Gnarls Barkley, Snoop Dogg, and frequent writing partner Josh Kelley. His unique brand of bluesy, soulful rock has been featured in film and television multiple times. Yet Simons has struggled to make a name for himself on a national scale, and had to endure the collapse of his former label, Maverick Records. After the frustration of recording an album for Maverick that was never released, Simons is now enjoying a new beginning with CBS Records.

Currently, he’s on tour in support of “Can You Hear Me,” with a set that features songs like the irresistible, upbeat “Good Things Get Better” and the ballad “Without Your Skin,” a versatile track that’s remarkably affecting either plugged in or acoustic.

TWRY caught up with Simons before a recent show to talk about this new chapter in his career.

Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | September 2008

You’ve been described as a “triple threat” because of your singing, songwriting, and guitar skills. Is there one element of your abilities as a musician that you most closely identify with?

You know, it’s always different. Ask me any day, and I’ll probably give you a different answer. The times when it all locks into place, that’s what I like the most.
In college, you studied Ethnomusicology. Looking back, how do you feel your education has impacted your sound today?

It’s had a massive impact on my sound. Studying music from around the world taught me to open my ears and to hear music that was so unfamiliar and so different from what I was used to. There’s music in the world that some people will hear and laugh, or say “Ah, that’s terrible.” But to be able to study it and understand it and love it is a really powerful experience. I also learned that music is an ingrained part of human nature, and that everywhere there are people, there’s music. Even the most isolated, remote areas have people who play music. And they do it because they love it. They don’t do it because they make a lot of money or because they get on the covers of magazines. So it helps to really remind me why I do it — the core of why I do this.

Over the years, you’ve worked with a pretty interesting range of artists. I mean, consider the musicians you’ve appeared with on “The Tonight Show” — Snoop Dogg and Josh Kelley. Do you think there’s a common denominating factor amongst the people you find yourself teaming up with?

Not really (laughs). It’s hard to say. I mean, they all love music. Even Snoop. You wouldn’t necessarily think it from his persona, but that guy knows music. He knows what feels right and what sounds right, and he knows when something is even slightly off. He gets into it and he feels it. And for me, I’ve been fortunate that the people who I’ve played with and who have played with me all love music, and they know why they’re in it. I guess that could be a common denominator, but it’s not intentional. I just hope that my love of music attracts other people who feel similarly.

In talking about the collaborative process, you’ve been quoted as saying, “When you co-write a song, you’re able to create something that neither person would have been able to create on their own.” Who would you like to write with that you haven’t yet, whose style you feel would complement your own?

Joni Mitchell or Paul McCartney. That would be amazing. I would’ve loved to have written with Jimi Hendrix, if he were still alive, because I love his guitar playing. I’ve been really influenced by him.

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Ok, let’s talk about the album. What’s the significance of the title, “Can You Hear Me?”

Well, it’s meant to be humorous and also just appropriate. I’ve been doing this for a while, and it’s amazing how much a person can do and still not reach everywhere. I’ve done so many tv shows and movies and radio, and played shows all over the place, and opened for this person and that person. And there are still a lot of people who don’t know who I am. So it’s kind of my way of saying, “All right, well here’s my debut record.” I made a record four years ago that never came out. Now finally, I’m able to put this record together and put it out properly, and it’s like, “All right, can you hear me now? Here I am.” (laughs) So that’s what it’s all about.

Do you feel like the record has an overarching theme lyrically? The complexity of relationships is an element that seems to be present in many of the songs.

Definitely. But the lyrics explore all different types of relationships. I’m fascinated by the way one thing relates to another. We’re all connected, but how are we connected? How is one thing connected to the next?

Can you take me through a few of your favorite tracks from the record and share something about the inspiration behind each?

“Without Your Skin” is one of my favorites, for sure. It’s definitely inspired by that idea about the way things relate to each other — the duality of people being unique and independent and autonomous, and then also being completely interconnected. The idea of where one ends and another begins. That was really inspiring to me when I started writing that song. And “Misfits,” I love the way it came out, I love the way it feels. That was inspired by my sister and our experiences growing up. “Unstoppable” is one of my favorites too. With that one, I was kind of forlorn. I think I started writing it at 3:00 in the morning on February 14th. I was alone in Maryland on tour, and it was snowing. My girlfriend at the time was back in Los Angeles, and they had just had this weird freakish snowstorm in Malibu. And so that song was about finding ways that we could feel connected. The inspiration was love and yearning. As much as my songs may sound like it, that’s not usually the inspiration. Usually it’s something a bit more cynical. But in that case, I was just really missing my girlfriend. It was late (laughs).

You’ve said that your writing process is different depending on the song. Can you take two tracks from the album that came together in different ways and tell us a bit about how each was composed?

Well, for “Without Your Skin,” when I started off, I had those lyrics. I had written the first verse as a poem, and I was experimenting with putting it to a song and figuring out what kind of melody I wanted. Then the idea of “Without your skin, I’m naked” kind of came, and then the song just came together that way. Another song, “Nobody Knows,” I co-wrote with The Matrix. I had written the verses a few years before, and I had the song set up a very specific way with all of these chord changes. I played the song for them, and they said they wanted to finish it and really shape it. So we got together and threw lyrical and melodic ideas back and forth. The way it came together with them — the fact that the actual production of the song was a part of the writing process — that was something I hadn’t really done before. Usually, I would write a song, and then if I had the chance to record it, great. But with this, we were in the studio, reshaping the song around the production, which was really cool.

You’ve noted that with this record, you wanted to focus on “the strength of the songs and not the added embellishment of the arrangements.” Do you feel like that’s a problem inherent in a lot of the music we see on the charts today?

Oh yeah, absolutely. The issue is that a lot of people need that stuff. But the better the artist, the less crap around them I want to hear. I used to overproduce stuff all the time, because I’m used to myself. For me, there was no novelty in just hearing myself sing. I hear that all the time (laughs). So I wanted to get into the production aspect of it. But the more I did, the more I realized that what I really want to hear when I listen to great artists, is just them. That’s all I want to hear. I’m one of those annoying guys who says to my friends, “I like it better when it’s just you and a guitar.” I never thought I’d be that guy. And I realize I’m starting to want that from myself. I want my real self to shine through, and the more you layer on top of that, the harder that is to achieve.

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Keaton Live in Boston – Photo by:  John Bellavance

Clearly, you’ve faced a lot of challenges getting to this place in your career. Given this, what does it mean to you to have created this record, to have label support for it, and to be able to share it with such a wide audience?

It feels amazing. It’s wonderful. And I also have the perspective of having gone through it all. I get it. There are a lot of people who get opportunities very quickly, and either take them for granted or they don’t understand things. And they fizzle away. For me, I know the angles. So I’m really excited and wiser for all my experience, and that really increases my confidence. Because I get it now. I know what to do with it.

What’s the most satisfying part about playing live? How do you know when you’ve genuinely connected with a crowd?

You know, it’s when I connect with myself that I connect with the crowd. Because it helps build the same type of energy. If I’m up on stage, and I’m thinking, “Oh, there’s not enough people here,” or “I had a bad day,” or “My voice doesn’t feel so good,” then that’s not a show. Even if I sound great. But when I’m up there, and I’m thinking about how much I love music, and how much I love performing, and how thankful and grateful I am for every single person out there, whether its ten people or a thousand people, that’s when it starts to connect. When audiences are great and attentive, I shower them with compliments, because it feels so good, and I know how it feels the other way. It is so much better when people are listening. I say to people, if you want to see the best show you can, listen. If you want to get what you paid for, you can contribute to that. You can make the show better by being in it, and by being involved as an audience member. When Josh Kelley and I toured together, we used to say to the crowd all the time, “Aren’t you guys glad you didn’t stay home and watch tv tonight?” They might have had that moment of thinking they didn’t want to go out, but once you’re there, no one’s standing there saying, “I wish I’d stayed home and watched tv.” They think, “Yeah, I am happy. I’m glad to be here, and I’m here for a reason.”

You’ve said you don’t want to turn into “just another guy to pick up a guitar.” Where do you seek inspiration in order to continually set yourself apart?

Here’s the thing – When I said that, it was before I had this epiphany, this moment of realization, when I realized that it’s not about trying to be something else. It’s about trying to be myself as much as possible. The one thing we all have that nobody else has is our true self, and that’s it. I might be another guy holding a guitar and singing songs. I might be one of hundreds of billions of people who have done that over the course of time. But it’s the only time I’ve ever done it. And if I can really bring my whole self, that’s what I have to offer that’s unique. Of course, I always try to bring uniqueness to my music. But I don’t sit around saying, “Oh, this sounds too derivative, or too clichéd, or too blues.” I lighten up on myself a lot more, because I’m just going to be me and let it come out the way it comes out. I’m just doing the best job of showing myself and letting that shine through, and allowing that to be what sets me apart.

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Keaton Simons on MySpace
Official Keaton Simons Website

Kevin Martin of Candlebox

July 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

cboxmainKevin Martin has said that the songs on his band’s new album “speak to you like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, but are so happy to be able to catch up with.”

There’s no doubt that Candlebox fans share the sentiment.

It’s been ten years since the band’s last album of new material. The Seattle-based outfit rose to prominence in the ‘90s with their multi-platinum self-titled debut, which featured the huge singles “Far Behind” and “You.” The band spent the rest of the decade putting out two follow-up albums, “Lucy” and “Happy Pills,” and touring the world with acts like Rush and Metallica, before ultimately deciding to part ways in 1999.

The July 22nd release of “Into The Sun” not only marks Candlebox’s return to the studio, but a return to their original lineup, with one exception — lead singer Martin is joined by songwriting partner/guitarist Peter Klett and drummer Scott Mercado, while Adam Kury takes over on bass for Bardi Martin.

Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Martin to find out what he’s been up to over the years, get a few hints as to what fans can expect from the shows this summer, and learn the surprising interpretation to some of the album’s best songs.

Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | July 2008

So, I know this is a little unprofessional, but I’m going to have to start this interview off by telling you straight up that the new album just completely kicks ass. I’m loving it.

Cool… thanks!

But before we talk about the record, I want to learn more about how the band got to this place. After Candlebox separated in 1999, I know that you performed with The Hiwatts and Peter with redlightmusic, but what else were you doing during that time period?

I was meeting my wife, producing bands and writing songs. I was really just focusing on music. It’s what I’ve always done. I don’t really know much about anything else, so that’s what I needed to stick with. I was pleasantly surprised that Warner Brothers was releasing a best-of cd of ours back in 2006, because I knew there was an opportunity for us to restart everything.

Can you tell us the story of how Candlebox got back together? Was it a decision you struggled with, or did you know it was the right choice early on?

I think the struggle was more about wondering what was going to be the attitude towards us for putting things back together. How were people going to feel about it, what was going to be the acceptance level… was it really even worth it? Were there people who still listened to what we were doing and really gave a shit? The process of putting things back together was very easy. I called Pete and said, “They’re doing a best-of record.” He said, “Are you coming home for Christmas to see your family?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Let’s get a cup of coffee.” We sat down, and he said, “Look, I’ve talked with Bardi and Scott about this record, and we talked about maybe going out and touring on it this summer. How would you feel about that?” I was like, “That’d be great, that’d be a lot of fun,” because we hadn’t played since 2000. And as a band with Scott, we hadn’t played since ‘97, so I knew it would be something really enjoyable. The apprehension was more about wondering if people still knew who Candlebox was.

You’ve described “Into The Sun” as your best work to date. Coming from a band who’s sold millions of albums, that’s pretty high praise — you must be really proud of how the record turned out.

I’m crazy about it. It’s funny. I never listened to our records. I never listened to the first album after it was done. I never listened to “Lucy” or “Happy Pills.” There have been moments when I’ve had to pull the songs off of iTunes to remember parts or to retype my lyrics, but they’re not records that I ever really sat down and said “God, this is a great record, I love it, and I’m gonna listen to it everyday.” This is the only record that Candlebox has ever done that I actually do that with. And I think it’s because it’s just such a strong album for us. It’s the best record we’ve ever made, hands down.

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Candlebox – Into The Sun / Drops on July 22

What was it like writing again with Peter after a gap of so many years? Did you fall back into a natural groove quickly, or was it a challenge to learn how to work together again?

There were a few things we had to relearn. The writing process was a little different now that we have both grown up as musicians and have worked with other people. We’re not who we were when we were 19, 20 years old when we first started this band. We’re older now. We’re a different band. So we had to rethink the whole element of sitting down in a rehearsal studio and working together, because I live in Los Angeles and Pete and Scott still live in Seattle. So there were a few things we had to take into consideration, and figure out if it was really going to work. And I think what we found in the process of writing these songs over the past two years and making sure that we were headed in the right direction… was that we were in fact headed in the right direction. We knew exactly what we were doing and were doing it the right way.

You’ve released a few songs ahead of the album release date, including two very different tracks — “Stand” and “Surrendering.” Why did you decide to release more than one song in advance, and what can you tell us about the inspiration behind these two in particular?

We released “Stand” as a single, and on iTunes, we’re releasing five songs, two weeks apart, to lead up to the release of the record. We wanted to give people an idea of the different direction that we’ve taken on the record, and let them choose for themselves whether it’s something they may want to buy. “Stand” was inspired by the second elected term of George Bush, and how people didn’t figure out the first time around that he’s a complete and utter buffoon. But more so, it’s about society in general, and the fact that you’ve got to pull your head out of the sand and reclaim this country. This is the United States of America, and the first three words of the Bill of Rights are, “We the people.” And that means you and me and everybody else who is not an elected official. Elected officials work for us, and I think people somewhere along the line have chosen to believe that we work for them. And so that’s what the song is about… “Surrendering” is about giving in to the woman who you’re in love with, or the relationship that you have with someone, whomever it may be. It’s about allowing yourself the freedom to do that. (Laughs) I tell you, when you do it, it makes things a hell of a lot easier, because you’re no longer the one who’s right all the time. It’s something that I’ve had to learn. This is my second marriage, and I’ve just had my first child. He’s four months old and he’s amazing. And I’ve learned so much through this process, being with Natalie six years… how important she is to me, and how important my mother and my sister and my aunts are, and all the people in my life that I feel closest to. It’s surrendering to that, and allowing it.

What can you tell us about “Miss You?” That’s another one of my favorites from the record.

That’s awesome. “Miss You” is a song that was inspired by my father, who was a World War II vet. He passed away four years ago. Just the stories he used to tell me all the time… every June 6th he would call and tell me a new story about Omaha Beach. He was at D-Day, June 6th, 1944. He was basically Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan” — he was one of the first ones on the beach. It was a pretty cool part of my life to understand those stories from my dad. The nice thing about it is that I have those memories now, and I figured I would put it in a song. So yeah, that’s one of my favorites as well.

You’re going to be touring in support of the album all summer. What can we expect from the show?

(Laughs) A rockin’ good time! You know, we always put on a good show. We always have so much fun, and we really, really enjoy what we do. We’ll have new songs, a new attitude, new energy, new versions of stuff, a keyboard player… just more and more Candlebox.

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Kevin Martin Live – Photo by Mary

You must have a lot of fans coming up to you and expressing how excited they are for the album after ten years of waiting for new material. It’ll be like Christmas in July!

That’s what we’re hoping. I mean, you never know, people may be like, “What? You’ve got a new record? What’s wrong with the old one?” (laughs)

What do you and the rest of the guys do for fun on the road, to keep yourselves from going crazy?

A lot of Xbox 360. You know, I do so much work on the road that I really don’t get much time off — I do a lot of press. We play music and sit around with guitars, which is something we didn’t used to do. I used to take a bike on the road with me because I would mountain bike all the time. I don’t enjoy that any more, I’m kind of over it. Now I just sit around and play guitar with the guys. We hang out and talk, and we drink some good whiskey.

Over the years, you’ve played with everyone from Metallica to Rush. Any particular favorite that you most enjoyed sharing the stage with?

The Flaming Lips. We took them on tour with us back in ‘94… that was awesome… that was brilliant. They were amazing every night, blew us away every night, were ten times the band we were. And also Aerosmith. I was a huge Aerosmith fan, and it was nice to tour with them in ‘98, that was killer. Rush, Metallica, all of them… you know, there’s so many great memories from all of the tours.

Your original bassist, Bardi Martin, has moved on to pursue a career in law. Do you think he has any regrets after making the change?

No. He’s met his wife Julie and he’s running marathons now… he may miss playing live with us, but I don’t think he has any regrets.  You go to law school for a reason. He’s always been about the underdog, and I think that’s why he’s practicing human rights/environmental law.

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How do you think the Seattle music scene has changed since your initial success in the ‘90s?

I couldn’t tell you… I don’t even know a band from Seattle right now. I know that the Presidents of the Unites States of America are back together, and Seaweed and a bunch of the others who were around when we were around are reforming.  I think that Sub Pop (Records) is definitely one of the best things that’s still going on in Seattle.  They’ve got a lot of local bands that are doing really well. I think the scene’s entirely different. It’s not how it was back in the ‘90s. It’s just a much different world up there.

If you were limited to only three albums to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Wow. Zeppelin, “Physical Graffiti.” What else… that’s a tough question… Kings of Leon, “Because of the Times” — I could listen to that record every day. And probably U2, “Achtung Baby.”

What message would you like to leave with your fans?

Just listen to the music, you know? Don’t judge people for what they write. Just listen to the music. And enjoy it, because it’s an art form that not everyone can do.

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Candlebox Official Website
Candelbox on MySpace

The Rationales

May 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Spotlight Bands

trmain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to have to start off by asking a really clever question: What’s the “rationale” for the band’s name? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Dave: Actually, we just really wanted to be filed just before RATT in the record store bins. Problem is, by the time all was said and done, there were very few record stores left, and less still that carry RATT.

Why should TWRY readers check out your debut EP, “The Going and The Gone?”

Dave: It’s relatively short and sweet, so it’s a limited investment for the listener. If you like it, it’s 20 minutes of music you can listen to over and over and get deeper into… but if not… well, it was only 20 minutes. That’s less work than eating a Bit-O-Honey.
Kevin: I always love to hear an EP of a band before a full album. I think it’s the best way to introduce a band to the world. In our particular case, I think that on first listen, you’ll have a couple of tracks grab you and have the melodies get stuck in your head for a couple of days. But after a few listens, you hear a lot more and have an appreciation for the overall depth of the songs.

Did you have an overall concept for the EP in mind when you began the recording process?

Dave: In all seriousness, it was quite a journey, both for the project and the band. When we started recording, we were still a three-piece — Brian on drums, Matt on bass, and myself. We cut the basic tracks and were aiming to just do a short, quick demo to use to get gigs and recruit a keys player and a second guitarist. As we recorded more and more and Kevin came on board, it was clear that it was going to be better in quality than a demo. So we shifted focus and began looking at it as a great representation of what the band does. Then we asked some friends to contribute parts, quit recording at home, and booked some studio time to finish it off.

 

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Take us through a few of your favorite tracks on the record.

Kevin: “Guardrail” is the first one that comes to mind. I think it demonstrates a lot of what we’re after. There are lots of layered guitars and strong melodies — some atmospheric sounds going on. It’s probably the best lyric on the album too. “Far Away” and “On the Vine” are favorites of mine as well. Again, there is lots of instrumentation on both tracks, and stacks of vocals that we all took part in, both in the studio and now, onstage.

What’s the songwriting process like for the band?

Dave: It’s an evolving process — which I like. We started out on this EP with the batch of new songs that I was working on at the time. So, more or less, I’d bring in the song — and we’d work on an arrangement as a band. As people have come aboard and we’ve all gotten comfortable with each other, everyone in the band is now sharing their writing. Brian has a bunch of songs that we’re starting to tap into, and Kevin, Matt, and John all have great tracks that they’re taking turns fronting the band on. So now, everyone is bringing in what they have. The next step I’m looking forward to is getting to the point where we’re sitting down writing together collaboratively.
Kevin: It’s interesting to be in a band where everyone can write. Expect a KISS-esque string of solo albums by 2012.
Dave: That’s actually what the Mayans were warning about.

The Rationales’ sound has been described by some as power pop. Would you agree that that’s accurate, or does it seem like too neat of a label, considering your many other influences?

Dave: I’m happy enough to have anyone notice the disc that they can label it whatever they want. We were initially surprised, because we think of ourselves as more rootsy rock — but power pop is such a broad term, we’ll take it. We don’t mind the idea of being accessible.
Kevin: I agree. I was a bit surprised at first to see and hear that categorization. But at the end of the day, it’s great that people are responding well and liking the tunes.

 

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I know that before the band came together, Dave had been recording solo cds at home for quite a while. How has he adjusted to being part of a group effort? I mean, when you’re singing lead, does he glare at you resentfully?

Kevin: Dave’s songwriting is really impressive. He’s very diligent in that he finishes his tunes and brings in fully realized ideas. He doesn’t leave off that last verse or mail in the bridge on anything. But, like he said, everyone is writing now, and it’s really cool that we’re able to do that. We all look to Dave for approval on anything that we bring in… and I think we’re all 100% comfortable on getting that nod of approval. Most importantly, I get more of a jealous scowl from Dave when singing lead.
Dave: Hey! I didn’t approve that answer!

Pretty much everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist. Was it difficult deciding who would play what role?

Dave: Initially, we spent 6 months looking for a keys player who could play keys as well as our bassist could. Once we came to the realization that our bassist was the keys player we’d been looking for, we moved Matt over to keys and brought in John (Maloney) on bass. It pretty much just fell into place. We don’t really switch off too much, as we want things streamlined live.  It’s more in the studio where things stretch out — Kevin on piano, Matt on mandolin, etc. There will be shows from time to time where we’ll all rotate off of our primary instrument, but in general, we do what we do.
Kevin: It’s definitely a luxury to be able to move around and do different things. There’s a chance that we’ll add some lap steel guitar fairly shortly, and that could shake things up for a song or two. Matt could probably play a French horn if we put it in front of him.

Please describe what fans can expect from a Rationales show in three words. 

Dave:  Earnest. Sweaty. Terrible banter.

What do you enjoy most about playing live? 

Dave: The movement of energy between the band and the people in the room, and the feeling that comes from having what you do hopefully be a positive part of someone else’s night out.

Does the band have any special pre-show rituals?

Kevin: Working out the logistics for getting gear and people to shows has been trumping any thoughts of starting a ritual. Unless we can consider beer a ritual. Beer is good.

 

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Meeting what artist would reduce you to a swooning fanboy?

Kevin: Most of my idols are reclusive, curmudgeon types. The others are dead. I bet Bob Pollard is fun to hang with though.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing a new band such as yourselves?

Dave: Just grabbing whatever small share of people’s attention they can spare. The rock scene is supportive and great. People will notice you when you cross their paths, and will like you if you’re doing something they like. But breaking beyond that to find a way to bring yourself to the attention of the other people out there, who don’t have time to go to rock shows on a regular basis and who might like what your band is doing if they heard it and had time to absorb it… that’s the tough part.

What’s The Rationales’ number one goal for 2008?

Dave:  Personally, I’m happy to see us continue to have the fun we’ve been having playing together and to continue to grow creatively. I love the way it sounds when we’re all in a room or on a stage making music together. In terms of the band’s progress, I’d be thrilled if at the end of the year, more people know about and like our music than at the end of last year.
Kevin: It’s really just about getting as many new fans as possible. I think we’ll be playing as many shows as we can in front of diverse groups of people. We’re all pretty excited about the latter half of ’08.

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The Rationales on MySpace
The Rationales Official Website

Andrew McKeag of The Presidents of the United States of America

May 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

pusa2During this election year, it’s comforting to know that we Americans have three solid candidates for president. That is, three solid candidates for president of The Presidents of the United States of America.

Yes, Chris Ballew (vocals, basitar), Jason Finn (drums, vocals), and Andrew McKeag (guitbass, vocals) are each campaigning to be declared the official leader of the Seattle-based band — check out www.pusa2008.org to cast your vote. Of course, the election, exciting though it may be, is only the second best development for PUSA fans. That’s because the band is back with a stellar new album, “These Are The Good Times People.”

The record is The Presidents’ first release since 2004’s “Love Everybody,” and features the band’s patented, oh-so-contagious “joy pop” sound first made famous by the dual smashes “Lump” and “Peaches.” With the release of the album, Andrew McKeag officially takes over on guitbass from Presidents’ co-founder Dave Dederer, who was seeking more time with his family.

Recently, I had the chance to talk with McKeag about the new album and other Presidential matters. I have to admit, before I even spoke with him, he had already won my vote with a stirring promise in his online campaign commercial: “I support awesome.” I mean, how can you argue with that?

Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | May 2008
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Jacob Marshall of Mae

April 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

maeJacob Marshall is not your average rock star. For one thing, he likes to talk about quantum physics — which, admittedly, went right over this reporter’s head. (Hey, it’s not his fault I barely made it through high school science.) He’s also refreshingly open about the kind of issues fans are curious about, but rarely hear discussed by other musicians. Overall, the Mae drummer just seems like an impressively deep guy. After chatting with him, you can’t help but feel motivated to consider how you could help make the world a better place. Kind of inspiring, actually.

Of course, Mae fans have been feeling inspired by the music of Marshall and his bandmates for the last six years. The Virginia Beach-based outfit, comprised of Marshall along with Dave Elkins (vocals/guitar) and Zach Gehring (guitar), hit big with their first two releases on indie label Tooth & Nail — “Destination: Beautiful” and “The Everglow.” After selling over 250,000 copies combined, Mae took their signature blend of pop and rock to a major label, signing with Capitol Records and releasing the widely-praised “Singularity” in August 2007. The band is currently on the road promoting the album, headlining a bill that also features The Honorary Title, Between The Trees, and Far-Less.

I caught up with Marshall before a recent show at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA, shortly after Mae performed an early-evening acoustic set to benefit Habitat for Humanity — a bonus they’re offering fans throughout the tour. During our talk, it became clear that the band is definitely in the midst of a transition period right now. But Mae fans, no need to worry. The band is handling the challenges being thrown at them extraordinarily well. They’re keeping the focus on what really matters: the music.

Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | April 2008

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Vanderpark

January 29, 2008 by  
Filed under Spotlight Bands

vandermain

You note Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, and Paul Simon among your influences, yet critics have cited the band for channeling the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder. Given such diverse influences, how would you describe your music? I understand you consider the 5-string bass to be the “backbone” of the band’s sound.

Because this question is so hard to ask any band, we try to leave it open for audiences to make that decision for us. All the artists that have inspired us, like Pearl Jam, David Gray, Paul Simon, etc., created music that was easy for audiences to relate to certain aspects of their everyday lives. The bass and the drums always need to be the supporting backbone of any good band in order for the melody and the harmonies to soar louder and become clearer for the listener to hear. We’re very honored to be compared to the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder. There isn’t a single person out there who doesn’t know a Stevie Wonder hook or melody. If you think about it, Stevie had the best drum and bass section in town. He’s not gonna be playing with no punks. (laughs)

Right now, you’re in the midst of your second U.S. tour. What do you enjoy most about playing over the border? And have you noticed any differences between Canadian and U.S. audiences?

More than anything, we love playing music for new people. While being on the road we try and understand the new markets we’re entering, by seeing what songs they connect to. Plus, our overall knowledge increases about the music business, and more importantly, ourselves. We’ve met some amazing people in the States, and we ain’t done yet.

Any funny stories from the road that you can share?

Here’s a nice little ditty. We played a show in this beautiful little town called St. Andrews, New Brunswick. After the show, I stayed at a friend’s place while the other guys slept over at this guy’s place who lived right above the venue. The party got a little out of hand with drugs and booze, so the guys call me up telling me that they’re thinking of heading back to Fredericton to catch some sleep. It was already 3:30 a.m., and it’s dangerous to drive the highways of Canada that late at night, with all the deer and moose that roam the highways. So, I asked my friend if it was cool if my boys could sleep over. She was cool with it, but forgot to mention this to her landlord. Long story short, we got woken up at 8:30 in the morning by a very angry lady yelling at us to get out of her house or she’ll call the cops. Got back to Fredericton at 10 a.m. all broken and I haven’t been able to reach my friend ever since.

 

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It’s been written that the band offers “..a staunch dedication to strong, clever musicianship with grasping hooks, tasteful improvisation and three-part harmonies…” Would you say that improvisation is an important element of your live shows?

When we were first starting out, improv was an essential component in our growth as a band. From those lessons earlier in our career, we took the things that we felt worked for us and incorporated it into our sound that exists today. When it comes to the live aspect of the show, we still like to give the crowd something they’ve never seen before. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be challenging ourselves and our audiences.

Let’s get a bit of Vanderpark history… how did the four of you initially meet?

Marcus, Dave and I have all known each other since we were kids and we’ve all been playing music together since grade 7. Vanderpark initially started as a band of three cities — Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal — because we were all still attending University at the time. We would do three-day mini-tours within those three cities, being able to just practice the day before the show to make sure we didn’t suck. (laughs) Once we were all done with school, we were finally able to practice more than once a week together in the same city. We started our plans of broadening our horizons to other demographics within Canada. Hanaya joined us about 2 years ago through our old keyboard player. He instantly added an amazing dynamic to the band and he was just as excited about the music as we were. We haven’t stopped since.

Where does the band’s name come from?

A good friend’s mother’s maiden name is Vanderpark, which is Dutch for “In the Park.” Plus, Marcus, Dave and I all grew up next to a huge park that we used to all hang out in when we were young.

I understand that some of you were entirely self-taught, while others studied music in school. Does this difference in your backgrounds ever become apparent in your work together as a band?

We all come from very different backgrounds, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It makes our creative juices flow, plus it keeps the music fun for all of us. We try to incorporate all of our own individual experiences into the sound that we create today. The end products people receive are albums that explain the trials and tribulations we’ve faced within our lives.

 

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Tell us about your current album, “Cherish Yesterday.” Why should TWRY readers check it out?

“Cherish Yesterday” is a very important step in our musical careers and in our lives. A bunch of us were going through some really tough times, and we wanted to share this with all of our listeners. Whenever I listen to an album, the real good ones always seem to relate to the matters and situations pertaining to my life at that moment. This album is just that. It’s about love, loss and understanding. You will indubitably be surprised.

How were the recording sessions for this album different from your earlier work? Were there any lessons that you learned making your last full-length album (2005’s “All Your Hands”) that impacted the way you went about things this time?

“All Your Hands” was a completely different experience than “Cherish Yesterday.” We recorded “All Your Hands” live off the floor within a week’s time, which is an accomplishment, to say the least. The great thing about “Cherish Yesterday” is that we spent nine months crafting these tunes. It was a great learning experience and it was a whole whackload of fun.

“Cherish Yesterday” is in rotation at a growing number of college stations – would you say that a primary goal of the band right now is cultivating relationships with college radio?

The great thing about U.S. college radio, compared to Canadian radio, is that people still listen to it. It’s been one of the best resources in getting our name out to listeners all across the country. In a sense, our goal still remains the same. Get the music out there to as many people as possible, and show them why we love it so much. It’s the same thing, but more intense. 

What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry?

It’s exciting and scary at the same time. For an independent band, the internet is an excellent resource to get your name out there, but at the same time, it is single-handedly killing the industry. People are very careless and have no respect for the artists that have invested a ton of money to create the music you love. Don’t get me wrong, I download music just as much as the next guy, but if I respect the artist and the music they create, I will gladly purchase their music. Download live music, support artists and purchase their music.

What’s the overall plan for Vanderpark in 2008?

Work hard, rock harder.
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Vanderpark Website
Vanderpark on MySpace

The Meddling Kids

January 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Spotlight Bands

tmkmainYou guys have a great name. Can you tell us the story behind it? Is Scooby Doo involved at all?

Thank you — yeah, we borrowed the name from Scooby Doo.  As you may know, at the end of most episodes the villain usually says, “And I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling kids.” I always thought that was such a classic line. Plus, we’re a fun rock-n-roll band and we really wanted the name to reflect that. 

How did the band initially get together?

Jeremy, Brian and I started playing together back in high school. Jeremy had played with Tyler previous to that in another project. We all went our separate ways in different bands and then said, “Hey, we all have the same influences and we’ve been friends for years, let’s put something together.” The rest is history, as they say.

I understand that when you started the band, your goal was to give the audience the type of show you always wanted to experience. What type of show did you mean? And do you feel like you’ve achieved this?

We’re all fans of bands like KISS and Cheap Trick that put on as much of a visual show as they do musically. Throughout the 1990’s, it seemed like every band out there prided themselves in being the “anti-rock star.” Staring at their feet, no interaction whatsoever with the crowd. I’ve always said, if a band isn’t going to be entertaining live, the audience might as well sit home and listen to the album. We know especially today how tough it is for bands to get people out to shows when you’re competing with computers, YouTube, satellite tv, etc. We give people a reason to come out and see us.

I know that your influences include classic rock acts like KISS and The Rolling Stones, yet you also note that growing up, you listened to pop artists such as Michael Jackson and Huey Lewis. With the sound you’ve created, do you feel like you’ve incorporated elements from both genres?

I think so. Sometimes there really isn’t that much of a difference between genres, other than that one band may be playing Les Pauls through Marshall amps and the other band is playing with the keyboards more up-front. 

 

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It’s been said of your music that “The Kids prove melody doesn’t always have to be placid or soft.” Can you comment on that?

That kind of goes back to the previous question. A lot of times people hear that a band is melodic and they automatically think that it’s going to be real light, limp-wristed stuff. We take melodies that probably could be used in a more pop-type atmosphere and put an AC/DC guitar tone to it and then you basically get The Meddling Kids sound.

The band released its self-titled debut album in November. Can you tell us a little bit about the record, and take us through a few of your favorite tracks?

We finally got it out this past November after going back and forth with some labels. We actually started recording it over a year ago, and then realized we had to remix it to get it up to our standards. We hooked up with a small indie label, Mister Cat Records, who put it out for us and basically let us be in control of things rather then having to answer to someone. I really love every song on it and think it turned out great. I’d say a few of the standout tracks would be “Let Her Go,” which is a straight-ahead rocker with a Cheap Trick/Ramones feel to it…“Goodbye” is another great tune that someone commented on to me by saying, “It has more hooks than a tackle box”… “It’s Over” is a crowd-participation favorite as well.

Have you been pleased with the response the album has received so far?

We’ve been very pleased. We’ve received a lot of really nice press and a lot of radio play, both on commercial radio stations as well as college and internet radio. We’ve been selling a lot of copies on cdbaby.com all over the world. It’s almost overwhelming when you see that people in Australia are buying the cd that we wrote in my basement!

You contributed your take on “I’ve Done Everything For You” to “Working Class Dogs,” a Rick Springfield tribute cd. Tell us about this – and how would you describe your version of the song?

That’s coming out on FastLane Records. They got in touch and asked if we wanted to be a part of it and we said sure. We had toyed with the idea of doing that song live anyway, so we figured, let’s go in the studio for a night and knock it out. As far as our version, we slightly changed the arrangement a little bit, beefed it up a little to give it a modern edge, but tried to keep the song intact so Springfield fans will dig it. Sort of like when Van Halen covered “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. I guess it sort of sounds like Rick Springfield on steroids. 

 

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You’ve played with bands such as Blues Traveler and Warrant, as well as with members of KISS and Motley Crue. Any particular favorite?

That’s a tough one, because all the bands we play with and the shows we do are cool in different ways. The Blues Traveler show we did this past summer was really a special show for the four of us. We did it acoustic which isn’t something we do that often. It was at a sold-out club that holds about 1,200 people, and there must have been 1,500 there!  It was totally crazy — we stepped out on stage and the place went crazy. Playing with Warrant and KISS and Motley Crue was cool in the fact that those are bands that as kids we looked up to, and to share a stage with them and hang out and actually have them tell us that they loved the show is an awesome feeling. 

This past weekend, we did a special show with Chip Z’Nuff from the legendary Chicago powerpop band Enuff Z’Nuff. Chip came into town for my wife’s birthday and we played a whole set of Enuff Z’Nuff with Chip on bass, which was awesome. The four of us are huge fans, to say the least, and that was a blast and really an honor. 

Who would be your dream band to tour with?

Probably bands like KISS and Aerosmith, just for the fact that there’s a guaranteed sellout crowd every night! Butch Walker, who was in The Marvelous 3 and other bands, would be very cool too. (Butch give us a call!!)

What’s the most important thing for TWRY readers to know about The Meddling Kids?

We’d just like to thank everyone for their support, and you haven’t heard the last from us!  We hope to see everyone out on the road soon. Feel free to stop by our MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/themeddlingkidsrock and drop us a line. Our official website is http://www.themeddlingkids.com and our cd can be purchased at http://www.cdbaby.com/meddlingkids.

Overall, what’s the 2008 plan for the band?

We have some out-of-town shows in the works and we’re going to keep pushing the radio market and see what we can do. We have another album that is already written that we may start working on later in the year. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for checking us out. Happy New Year and we’ll see you soon!

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The Meddling Kids Official Website
The Meddling Kids on MySpace

Magni

October 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Interviews

magniliveWhile last summer’s “Rock Star: Supernova” didn’t quite follow through on its promise to bring music fans a new “supergroup,” viewers of the CBS reality show got something even better — an introduction to a group of immensely talented performers from around the world. Without the show, it’s quite possible that Iceland would have been able to keep one of its most valuable natural resources to itself: Magni.

“Rock Star” viewers would be hard-pressed to forget the electrifying performances put on by the bald man from Iceland. From his passionate vocals to his blistering guitar work, Magni (Asgeirsson, in case you’re wondering) made songs like “The Dolphin’s Cry,” “I Alone,” and “Hush” his own. As he worked his way towards a fourth place finish, Magni’s ability to seamlessly integrate himself into the show’s House Band further demonstrated his high level of musicianship.

Of course, he had an early start — putting together his first band at the ripe old age of eleven. As his career developed, he played with the band SHAPE, before being enlisted by the Reykjavik outfit A Moti Sol to serve as their lead vocalist. Magni remains with A Moti Sol today. The band is extremely popular in Iceland, releasing numerous hit albums and touring regularly throughout the country and other European nations.

Magni also continues to perform with his fellow “Rock Star” finalists. After his run on the show, he celebrated his 28th birthday by organizing two sold-out concerts in Iceland with several “Rock Star” contestants and the House Band. And in early 2007, Magni returned to the U.S. to play with second-place finisher Dilana Robichaux during her opening set on the Supernova stadium tour.

Now, with the release of his self-titled debut album “Magni” —available on iTunes, Napster, SNOCAP, and other digital music sites on October 9th — he’s poised for the next stage of his career as a solo artist. (Iceland has already sent the album and the first single, “If I Promised You the World,” to number one.)

A few days before the digital release, Magni took the time to speak with me via phone from Houston, where he had a show scheduled with Dilana. I’m happy to report that he made this interviewer’s job extremely easy, by proving to be completely charming and refreshingly honest, with a wicked sense of humor to boot.

Check out what Magni has to say about his new album and the pressures of being a solo artist — not to mention his views on stalking Eddie Vedder and on baldness in general.

Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | October 2007
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Machine Go Boom

October 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Spotlight Bands

mgb1Marc Russo: drums
Carrie Bukala: keyboards/backing vocals
Mikey Machine: guitar/lead vocals
Brian O’Connor: bass
Kevin Jaworski: lead guitar/vocals

Interview with Mikey Machine
By:  Heather Kobrin

I need to start off by asking if Cleveland, does in fact, rock.

Well, yeah, I guess so. I mean, we came up with the Michael Stanley Band, didn’t we?

Tell us a little bit about the history of the band.

I started playing solo acoustic in Cleveland back in 2000. A year or so later, I wanted to play those songs with a band, so some friends and I started playing together.

Describe your sound in three words.

Machine. Go. Boom.

A reviewer once asked “Is it merely a matter of promotion and luck that keeps Machine Go Boom from being the biggest indie-rock heroes in the country?” What do you think?

Well, I think that’s very flattering. I don’t know about being “indie-rock heroes” or whatever, but we’ve certainly been unlucky in the promotion department. If anyone wants to plaster flyers when we come to their town, I’ll buy them a beer… or three.
Your new album “Music for Parents” is available now – can you take us through a few of your favorite tracks?

I like them all, but certain ones stick out for me. “Uh-Oh” is definitely one of them, probably because that was so last minute — recorded in a couple hours with blatant disregard for studio professionalism. “M.I.A.” is another, but it bums me out that we can’t really play that one live. There’s like 9 tracks of dual percussion on that one — a bit too many drummers to fit in a tour van.

How would you compare the new album to the band’s previous release, 2004’s “Thank You Captain Obvious?”

I played all the instruments on the “Captain” album, and at the time, I wasn’t sure anyone else would like it at all. But a lot of folks did, so that was cool. On the new cd, some songs are the whole band, some songs are demos with just me playing that sounded good, and some songs have different friends from the Cleveland area playing stuff. In short, I think the new cd is like the first step in my rehabilitation of being a control-freak. Well, sort of… I’m still writing the stuff.

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Tell us about your songwriting process. Do you generally bring completed songs to the rest of the band, or is it more of a collaborative effort?

I write the songs by recording demo versions, and I’m usually still writing parts/lyrics while tracking. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, because sometimes I get carried away with adding way too many instruments/overdubs, and then we can’t really do them live. When we play live, we’re very much a rock band. I want the next recording to be much more live and immediate like our shows.
Which artists are your primary influences?

Movies are more of an influence on me, I think — and lots of comedy. On our last two weeks out on tour, we basically just listened to tons of stand-up comedy, like Bill Hicks, Patton Oswald, David Cross, Louis C.K., etc., and I have a lot of new songs written now. I think the stand-up helped. Also, I’m a huge Residents and Devo fan.

What inspired you to create your list of “20 Tips for the Touring Band,” suggestions that you note should also be applied to daily life?

I just wanted to say that “life on the road” isn’t always some crazy frat-house-dudes-gone-wild party. It’s just like any other thing in life. Just try to be relaxed and share, and don’t be a jerk.
What’s your opinion on the current state of the music industry?

It’s an industry. Like the auto industry. And Clear Channel is the new General Motors. And they’ve shipped the music jobs overseas. Now they force small children from third-world countries to write happy little ditties about teenage love while whipping them with VHS copies of “The Breakfast Club.” It’s so brutal.

What’s the overall plan for the band for the immediate future?

To sell our souls. I’m not kidding. We’re in debt.

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More Machine Go Boom:

MySpace

Official Website

“Music for Parents” available at www.collectibleescalators.com

Sean Mackin of Yellowcard

August 23, 2007 by  
Filed under Interviews

ycmainSean Mackin considers himself the luckiest person in the world, and not without good reason. He’s got one hell of a unique job ― violinist in a rock band. That’s not something you see on a lot of resumes.

Mackin’s musical contributions have helped his band, Yellowcard, create their signature mixture of violin-tinged rock/pop. The distinctive sound of the Jacksonville, Florida quintet (Mackin on violin, Ryan Key on vocals/guitar, Pete Mosely on bass, drummer Longineu Parsons III, and guitarist Ryan Mendez) has proven a hit with music fans. After several independent releases, Yellowcard scored a deal with Capitol Records and went on to sell 3 million+ albums, including the 2003 smash “Ocean Avenue,” and the critically-acclaimed follow-up, “Lights and Sounds.”

Now, with the release of Yellowcard’s latest album, “Paper Walls,” and the new single “Light Up The Sky,” Mackin took the time to chat with me about the making of the record, fun with 3-year-olds on airplanes, and why kids who get bullied in school may end up having the last laugh.

Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | August 2007
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