Monday, December 15, 2008

I collect vinyl! Am I cool yet? Guys? .......guys?

So I "accidentally" typed in into my browser the other day.

Yes, it was an accident. Shut up.

I tend to avoid Ebay at all costs. Not because it's a bad website, but I have this disease where I can't go to that website without searching for old records and then bidding on old records. Which would be fine, if I had unlimited funds but uh yeah I DO NOT. never ends well.

Vinyl. It's interesting--the subject of buying vinyl has been brought up several times to me in the last month or so, most recently by a family member. She was confused as to WHY I preferred vinyl over CDs or MP3s. At the time, I was both lazy and a little drunk (Happy Thanksgiving, welcome to America, where we drink and eat in excess and then play Pictionary and almost fall asleep during an All Play) so my answer was probably something like "I LIKE RECORDS, THEY'RE BIG AND SHINY AND SOUND LIKE RICE KRISPIES WHEN YOU PLAY THEMMM blarg blarg NO SYMBOLS, JAKE, YOU CAN'T USE SYMBOLS, COME ON!!"

But after my body was free from the clutches of mashed potatoes and alcohol, I thought on it a bit further.

It's a trap! Seriously. When people find out you collect/prefer vinyl, I guarantee at least 50% of those people mentally file your name under "Pretentious Fuck" in their heads. Trust me, I know, I've done it, I've met them (Other things that will make me file you there: having gratuitous tattoos/piercings and then claiming you "don't care about your appearance," talking about how you lived in London/Paris/Australia for less than a year and it's "just so different there, so progressive, much better than Chicago, oh you wouldn't know, *snotty chuckle*," claiming that no good music has been made since the 60s/70s/80s, ever using the words "Kurt Cobain," "Dave Matthews," and "American poet" in the same sentance, etc etc).

But I digress.

The simplest of answers, I suppose, would be that I prefer the sound. Many of my records are old and a little scratchy--not overly so, but a little. I enjoy listening to the pops and crackles and the sound just as the needle touches the record for the first time. I don't know why. Haha, yeah, I know, WOW WHAT A GOOD EXPLANATION.

So I thought on it a little more. And here's what I came up with:

Listening to a record really makes you listen to it.

With vinyl, it's a process. You have a record player and it's not portable. You have to flip the record over in between, or switch records altogether to hear a full album. You can't put it on your iPod and run errands or go for a jog or commute while listening to the album (Note to self: invent the Walkman for 12" records. See how many hipsters would buy into it, just to rage against the Apple machine. It would be the biggest, most awkward, touchiest portable music player in the history of evers; I'll make millions). It's a big piece of plastic that you can hold in your hands, not a hypothetical album that lives in files on your computer.

With vinyl, you really are forced to pay attention.

I like that, I like letting the music wash over me and putting all my focus on it. I could sit in front of my record player and watch the album spin for hours while I listen to it like Charlie fucking Bucket in front of the candy store. I was the kind of kid who bought a CD and obsessed over it for a week or so--just listened to it over and over again, because you just can't soak everything in on the first listen. I read all the liner notes and all the lyrics. Oh man, Tiny Ly was on a rampage if they didn't include the lyrics. How was I supposed to sing along in front of the mirror if I didn't have the words in front of me?? Take note, musicians.

Not to mention, I like the idea of listening to music in a way that my heroes listened to it, too. David Bowie listened to records, dude. If it's good enough for Bowie, it's good enough for me (...besides Iggy Pop, I mean. Haha, just playin'. Kind of)! I realize that is the lamest answer in the history of answers, but I don't care.

Oh man. Ebay, you are the worst. I'm going to be the poorest kid in Chicago.

But at least I'll have Bowie's "Low" to keep me company.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers' Intoxicating Energy

Still dedicated to their cause after 5 years together, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, average almost 300 shows annually. Their current tour, “Celebrating 5 Years” consists of over 90 dates nationally and internationally; 2 of those evenings were spent in Chicago at the Subterranean. After a little PG-13 nudity, some insight into their personal lives and a double encore, they proved to be, not only great musicians, but talented performers as well. Kellogg explained that they try to give their fans an entirely unique experience each night but they break a few rules when writing their set list, “We never play a song just because we’re supposed to and this might make me sound like a dick, but because people want to hear it, we try and give people a really honest, real experience and that helps keep it fresh every night.”

And not only do they perform almost nightly, but there’s the time spent pre-show talking to press and post-show signing autographs and greeting loyal fans; it could leave one wondering where this super-trio finds the energy or time to write fresh material. But with a new album, American Standard, set to be released the early part of 2009 its clear they have tapped into their subhuman powers. Stephen Kellogg took a moment on his way to St. Louis, MO to explain, the fears that accompany being on the road for such extended periods of time, the process of producing another set of boldly personal ballads and to clear the record, he claims, “really, no I’m not a pothead. Even though I have a regular arsenal of guys who are like ‘Kellogg you wanna go get baked’ and I appreciate their generosity, but I’m not.”

Stephen (skunk) Kellogg the self-proclaimed “most worthless” member of the band, plays guitar and sings; he’s also the one responsible for the rich dialogue that keeps the crowd entertained between songs. Although not formally considered an instrument, it surely takes some fine-tuning and a great deal of talent to get this one just right. Keith (kit) Karlson plays accordion, bass, tuba and piano while Brian (boots) Factor plays drums, mandolin and banjo. They clearly have more instruments than arms, but don’t expect to see them using looping devices or pre-recorded music. “I’m just playing guitar pretty much, but we switch it up a lot, we switch instruments. The songs, sometimes they sound the way the sound on the record and sometimes we decide to play them in a really different way and that’s just part of it. I think its part of the fun of coming to see our band. You don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s not for everybody but I think its cool.” They give you real music in real time; no bells and whistles, just honesty.

They sing about love and pain with an inspiringly candid expression of fear and doubt; but they paint their narratives on a canvas of hope. Although Stephen, who is married, explains, “those particular fears [of never finding love] are not mine but I have fears that my family will feel that I’ve abandoned them or that I didn’t care. So, I think the way I reconcile that is, that your born with this desire, this predisposition to do this job and if I didn’t go out and play all these shows and do all this stuff I wouldn’t be any good to anybody because its what I do, its what gives me my sense of self. So you have to follow your dream and sometimes life is challenging and that’s one of the challenges that we meet. But it also inspires me to want to do better and better at my job and get to spend more and more time at home and be around them. The better we can do and the more [people] we can connect with in shorter amounts of time then the more time well have to be at home.”

“Its one of the old rock and roll clichés because you dream about doing this when your little. You love playing music and then your lucky enough to do it and make a living doing it; then after a couple of years of doing it, your like wow there’s a price tag on the amount of time you don’t spend on traditional day to day life with the majority of your friends and family.” Kellogg also adds that it’s much easier to trace the lines to connect to your friends and family in a digital world; they are always a phone call or an email away.

But, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers didn’t begin traveling cross-country playing sold out shows to hundreds of enthusiastic fans each night. The group of friends formed the SK6ERS in 2003 to begin what they call, “an adventure without regret.” They started out humbly playing coffee shops and college dives and endured a few unflattering reviews. But in July of 2007 the tides turned when they released their 4th album, “Glassjaw Boxer.” Described as “a letter to the world about family and friendships,” it was hailed as one of the top 5 albums of 2007 by USA Today. They have since shared the stage with an impressive list of peers: Guster, James Brown, Jason Mraz, Kathleen Edwards, Josh Ritter, Ani Difranco and Hanson and their song, “Hearts in Pain” was recently featured on the show “One Tree Hill.”

And although these are the things that make headlines and expose the SK6ERS to the masses they are not necessarily the most fulfilling moments, nor are they the moments that define the band. Kellogg explains the moment he felt most accomplished, it “was when we went into New York on Thanksgiving weekend, we played on my birthday last year and the show was sold out at this room that I had gone to see concerts in when I was a teenager, and there it was sold out, and we ended up playing for two hours. We did four encores…it’s a fairly large venue and we finished not plugged in, acoustic, singing Glass Jaw Boxer. Nobody had left and everybody was sitting there singing the song with us and I just thought, this is what I dreamt about when I was a kid; this is it right here, its just, it made me, I cant remember feeling more proud with what we’ve done with our lives than I did that night.”

In December the SK6ERS will begin a new chapter when they head back to the studio to record “American Standard.” Their previous release “Glassjaw Boxer” may have hints of spontaneous prose, having been recorded in only 9 days. And while Kellogg describes the gratifying effect of producing an album as raw as “Glassjaw Boxer,” he looks forward to the time they will spend on “American Standard.” “On the last record I think we thought it would be really interesting to go out and just make a record really fast and not try to edit it all up and that was an experience, but it was a short one and I think that we’re ready for something pretty different. And we just get so much less time generally speaking to work on the different ways of making records so right now we’re really excited to spend a bit more time making this new record and I think it will be, its like everything we do, we’ve never made a record taking as long as we’re about to take on making this record and that’s exciting to me. Its fun to try new things….I just don’t want to rush it, I think we’ll make a more kick ass record if we just wait and make sure the songs are [ready]. We have some really good songs written and I wanted to write some better ones and I think in waiting we have gotten even stronger material.”

The band has only continued to improve and grow stronger over the past 5 years and although one can only speculate, I believe its safe to say, the SK6ERS have yet to reach their peak. As far as their future, Kellogg remarks, “, its hard to speculate what the future holds I know that our litmus test has always been, are these six months more fun and is the music better than it was six months ago, and are there more people listening to it. As long as these questions all come out in the affirmative, I think we will continue doing what were doing as long as it feels right.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Songs You Own Make Your Heart Beat

Sometimes you have to visit the past to remember why you love music. Why you breathe artistic.... Why that needle hitting that vinyl is your saving grace.... There are a few albums that do that for me. And this is one of them.

Give Up The Ghost's We’re Down Til We’re Underground is the fourth release from the influential Boston hardcore band previously known as American Nightmare. And, simply put, it is mosh worthy with so much finger point action I can barely contain myself.

The album lasts a mere 31minutes, but it is a half hour of genius. Every song serves a purpose. The record begins with an instrumental intro that includes…. an acoustic guitar? in a hardcore album? It continues until singer/songwriter Wes Eisold screams a punkrockesque “1,2,3,4!” and leads the band into the adrenaline-pumping hardcore anthem “Love American.” WDTWU culminates with an outro (similar to the intro), bringing the record full circle. This is uncommon in hardcore albums, but gives the listener a sense of closure, especially since (unfortunately) this was GUTG’s last studio release.

GUTG veers away from traditional hardcore song formulation by stripping down the noise and increasing song length while retaining intensity and abrasiveness. WDTWU is organized musical chaos. The desperation of its words are exemplified in the cavernous bass lines propelled forward by taut drums in “Crimescene”. The guitars frenetically claw to the surface from the deep end, moments away from doom or salvation, screaming for survival in “Since Always.” The songs are frantic and fraught but refuse to surrender. WDTWU showcases the maturity of the band with its polished and cleaned-up tracks. It allows for the star of the album to shine through: the lyrics.

Lyrically, Eisold surpasses himself and has created material for the tattoos of many generations to come. His phrasing is simple yet poignant, independent yet needy, cold yet vulnerable. You scream along in “Bluem” as he confesses “My head is red, my bones black and blue. Fever burns; choke on words at the thought of you.” You feel his frustration as he cries “My legs barely hold all of my heart and soul” in “AEIOU.”

This is an album for kids with broken hearts who know themselves too well for their own good. For the kids who love Salinger. For the kids obsessed with metaphors, similes, and allegories. Vocally, Eisold says it best “We Killed It” “[his] voice isn’t great, but at least it’s sincere.” Eisold screams with a passion rivaled by none and gets his point across clearly: I hurt, this sucks, and I hate you.

Since the release of the album that holds my candy heart, Eisold has started the bands XO Skeletons and Some Girls. Additionally, Eisold has opened his old publishing company Heartworm Press and releases not only his works but the works of other amazing artist. All are worth looking into.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Two-Part Evening with Rachael Yamagata

Pt. 1: Riddle Me This (The Interview)

Rachael Yamagata emerged on the music scene as the vocalist for the funk fusion band Bumpus, in Chicago, IL. She spent 6 years with the band and recorded 3 albums but in 2001 left the band to pursue a solo career. It wasn’t long after this that she received a two record deal with Arista. With the release of her second album Elephant….Teeth Sinking Into Heart less than a week away this self-taught pianist stopped by Chicago for a few shows. Between performing and teasing her brain with riddles, I was lucky enough to spend some time with her, talking about her new record ETSIH.

You may remember her as the shamefully honest artist who spoke nakedly about love on her first album, Happenstance. And if you don’t know her by name, you probably know her by the sound of her tune. Her songs have appeared on the OC, the L Word, One Tree Hill and in an impressive list of films, including, Elizabethtown and the Last Kiss. She has collaborated with a slew of other musicians including, Bright Eyes, Ryan Adams, Rhett Miller, Jason Mraz and plenty of others. As the list continues to grow, she says she would, “love to have the opportunity to somehow work with Bruce Springsteen someday. I think he’s a fabulous everything. David Bowie, Tom Waits, Babs (Barbra Streisand). She would never do it but I love her to death; I worship her.” And the two I was most surprised to hear make the list, Jay Z and Kanye West. “Kanye would be insane. It would be amazing. I would love it.” Her upcoming release features appearances by Ray Lamontagne, Maria Taylor, and Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine.

Elephants….Teeth Sinking Into Heart is a slightly unconventional record: it is an album in two parts. When asked the obvious question of why she made this two part decision, Yamagata responded, it was a “totally unplanned, yet organically formed concept that happened very near late mixing stages of the record…and it started to take shape literally during mixing and it was a while after that, that I got the right sequence that I felt worked. But it just kind of came about that way; it wasn’t planned.” She says, the “two halves present a complete timeline of the emotions that revolve complicated relationships and the accompanying fallout.” Elephants is “taking a risk even if its not going to end well [and Teeth Sinking Into Heart] is rediscovering your backbone.”

Rachael recently celebrated her 31st birthday and she gained more than just another year. She accumulated that much more love, maturity and experience to purge into ETSIH. Once released, it will have been almost 4 years since the release of her first album and you will find a level of maturity not found on Happenstance. “The ballads got darker and more lush and the lyrics were kind of poetic so we could go the distance with cinematic production and the guitar driven songs are kind of a new territory for me in terms of putting them on a record…but because they were up-tempo and it seemed like it was a grittier lyric more kind of defiant and anthemic…it felt like it deserved kind of a gutsier more raw in your face production as well.”

In the title track of Elephants, she contemplates the animalistic relationship between humans and love, “you can flee with your wounds just in time or lie there as he feeds/watching yourself ripped to shreds and laughing as you bleed/so for those of you falling in love/keep it kind/keep it good/keep it right/throw yourself in the midst of danger but keep one eye open at night.”

While on the second half of the album, in ‘Sidedish Friend,’ she presents courage and its clear she’s not obsessed with the anguish that love might inevitably bring; she sings, “we can stay together till the very end of time/if its understood/I don’t want you hanging out with me/but I want you when I call/we stay together separately/and we wont be lonely at all.”

With Happenstance she found her voice; with ETSIH she refined it. “Its darker than Happenstance. Happenstance has kind of a mixture of things [where you] can be communal with your friends and talk about the songs. And I almost feel like Elephants goes even darker to the point where you don’t really want anyone to invade your space when you’re dealing with it. I think it would be kind of a cool listening experience, only speaking because I’ve done it, headphones, by yourself, once a year.” But, it’s highly unlikely that a singular listening session will be possible; the sounds are too sweet, too elegant, and too gorgeous to only be enjoyed annually.

ETSIH is more robust and composed than previous releases. Rachael naturally went to extremes on this record, “the first side is a very personal, intimate, kind of solo experience. Its not background party music by any means. But its maybe the headphones, rainstorm, your walking by yourself contemplating something your going through experience. I think that’s how it would be very magical. The second half feels more collaborative if you’re sharing it with other people. Driving in your car with a bunch of friends. It feels like it invites rallying of sorts. The first one is so tender in a way.”

She calls her songs “autobiographical interpretative. They are not always me as the central character even if I make myself the central character in the song. In terms of personal experience inspiring each one, they do, but its sometimes my personal observation of something or a close friend or several relationships rolled right into one song coming from my point of view.” But Rachael is not exclusively inspired by relationships and love. Apparently, ghosts can be just as helpful as a broken heart when composing music. The studio in the mountains where Yamagata and her band spent their time recording ETSIH was believed to be haunted. “A lot of the guys in the band, who were staying in this house that was a part of the studio area. When they would do laundry, their clothes would be piled up on the washer then when they would come back, they would literally be curled up into balls and thrown into different corners of the room. Our drummer woke up wearing sunglasses the first morning he was there and he had not unpacked. His sunglasses were in his bag…’Over and Over’ is actually a song that I did kind of inspired by what I thought was a ghost playing trumpet. I heard this trumpet horn in the studio in the middle of the night. So I sat down and traced it on the piano and that became the instrumental part on ‘Over and Over.’ So just random things, but absolutely haunted.”

Unsurprisingly, Rachael believes in ghosts and admits prayer is not one of her nightly pre-show rituals but you may be amazed to hear she’s “extremely and totally, absolutely” stage fright. “I kind of try to forget that I’m performing them live. It’s a real delicate balance of not psyching yourself out in those respects but that’s why I have a drink every now and then.”

Pt. 2: Conversations and Love Songs

The show opened with singer songwriter Kevin Devine from Brooklyn, NY. His songs are stories backed by guitar and set to tune; it was a conversational performance. In ‘Love Me I’m A Liberal’ he openly sings about his democratic party affiliation, “oh I cant get enough of Obama/his message of change speaks to me/sure Naders right about most things but he caused Gore that election you see/so love me love me love me I’m a liberal”. In his Concrete Blond cover, Joey, he sings softly about love, “oh Joey if you hurting so am I/and if I seem to be confused/I didn’t mean to be with you and when you said I scare you well I guess you scare me too/but we got lucky once before and I don’t wanna close the door/so if your somewhere out there passed out on the floor/oh Joey/I’m not angry anymore.” Varying the distance from mouth to microphone, he exhibits complete control over his vocal range. It’s the sort of music that might be enjoyed while tangeled up in a lover or at a Palin protest rally.

Yamagata’s performance was equally as conversational. When I met with her earlier in the night she was drinking whiskey, pineapple and honey as a soothing remedy for her sore throat; it became immediately apparent as she stepped onto stage, she had consumed a few more whiskey’s (sans pineapple and honey) since I had spoken with her hours ago. She admitted to being “totally drunk” multiple times throughout the night. And although I have nothing to juxtapose the evenings performance with, the alcohol seemed to positively affect every ounce of the show. Although she claims to be stage fright, it was not obvious in her demeanor. She alternated between playing piano and guitar while presenting the audience with works from ETSIH and Happenstance.

She entertained by speaking uncensored about love, having conversations with the crowd and freestying on her piano. When a man named Dean called out for her to stop telling stories and play a song, she retorted with, “come up here and I’ll give you a kiss.” And instead of playing a classic, Dean became the character of her affection. She remained playful while reminding the audience, this was her show. She gave some attendees’ hugs and kisses and joked about being single because she always misinterprets what guys say; during her hour and a half set she was witty, charismatic and an explosion of emotions. Seating less than 330 at a sold out show, it was a uniquely intimate experience that is often lost when the crowd gets any larger. If doubt existed, Yamagata proved herself as a musician as well as a performer.

photos courtsey of Jim Kopeny at

Friday, September 26, 2008

From A to C no B.

Originally, I had planned to write a review on the new Punchline album, Just Say Yes. I will leave it at this…. I Say Maybe. Better than 37 Everywhere but not as magical as Action, Punchline delivers an enjoyable album both with moments of musical genius and confusion. But hey! Sobasli is actually hitting notes instead of splattering them and you have the give the band props for not only releasing the album DIY but starting their own label as well! Watch the video and LOL a little bit.

I decided to move on to a more pressing matter- the economy. Fabtastic say what? Hear me out! Flipping through my television last night (after watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, of course) I landed on one of my favorite channels, CNN (The History Channel and Bravo beat it out). This morning I visited their site, as is my routine, and continued to follow the Wall Street damage and credit crisis plaguing the US right now…. And spreading worldwide.

The first thing to go in times of economic crisis are the arts. I am not only talking about funding for programs in schools and communities either. With gas pricing rising, inflation, and the devaluation of the dollar, it is becoming increasingly difficult for bands to survive touring. Due to the decline in record sales, labels have started turning to 360 deals to recoup the money they invest in artists; meaning that even some signed bands are even having trouble making ends meet during/after tour. Now is the time for fans to prove how much we love the music. Musicians need their fans more than ever. BUY CDs. GO to shows. BUY merch. I am not saying spend all your money on these bands, but instead of pouring money into a greedy Fortune 500 company put it back into the hands of the artists that you believe in. If you don’t support them, they can't make the music you love! Demand your schools keep their art programs! Refuse to let the drama department be dissolved while the basketball team gets new uniforms!


Because if you don’t….. who will?

Just saying..... yes.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Quilt Won't Unravel

DING DING!. Turn off whatever you are listing to. It is Gym Class time. And here come your Heroes with The Quilt.

Each song on this album is an individual square on a winter project patchwork bundle of warmth. Distinctively different but completely coherent, every tune matches it's predecessor while leaving it miles behind. From 80s poprock ("Papas Song") to reggae swag ("Blinded By the Sun") to ballad fused hip hop "Fly With Me," this album is diverse and shows the bands artistic progression.

The harmonies and melodies on The Quilt are nothing short of phenomenal and supercede what any other hiphop group out there is doing. Singing, rapping and sometimes right in the middle of the two Travis, Erik, and Disashi are changing the face of not only hiphop but indie rock as well. Disashi wails on the guitar with siq guitar solos, Erik breaks down on bass, and Matt is a little drummer boy beating out his heart. Tyler and Dan keep the melodies alive on the keyboards making the band a…. REAL band. You won't find any back tracks here.

Laced with celebrity cameos (e.g. Daryll Hall to Busta Rhymes) GCH is solidifying their now "baller" status. Indie collaboration is also the name of the game with underground sensations such as the Icelandic beauty Patti Crash from Philly on '"Drnk Txt Rmeo" and the rising star Estelle on the opening track "Guilty As Charged."

Lyrically, Travis has left behind the self deprecation of The Papercut Chronicles and the self realization of As Cruel As School Children to arrive at an album full of stories, jokes, fights, love, and heartache (getting the quilt reference a little bit more now?). There is a song for everyone and every situation. And wit has not been spared.

The stand out jam on The Quilt is "Don't Tell Me It”s Over" where Travis lays out how he fells about all the "haters" (to the leeeeeft). Lyrically outstanding and straight up hiphop you can feel the passion in his voice and the intensity in the bassline.

What do I think of this album? Travis says it best for me:
"One hit wonder, my ass. What are you talking about? Let them keep blogging trash, I'ma take the garbage out."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Secret Lovers Singing Covers

Other people write on this blog besides Dan! No! Really! I'm just going to ignore the fact that I've been slacking in my blogging and get right into it.

Cover songs.

I have such a love/hate relationship with them.

I know, I know, every band at some point in their career do a cover song. They're fun and a great way to get the crowd excited at shows. But I feel like 75% of cover songs are just awful. Here are some examples of the kind of cover songs released as singles that make me want to kill myself:

1. The cover song that sounds exactly like the original song.
So, you want to cover a song, do ya? Well, be sure to put NO original spin on it whatsoever! Especially if it was a huge hit--if it worked then, it'll work for a whole new audience now! This is the one that bothers me the most. Bring something new to the table! We want to hear what your band could do with it, not what's been done already (and probably better) the first time around.

2. The cover song that is just tragically horrificly badly done.
I'm talking embaressingly done. It always happens to be of an incredible song, too. Look, there are some artists that are just untouchable for me. Step away from the Bowie...slowly.

3. The ever-popular "ironic" cover song.
"I'm an artist that isn't really hardcore, so I'm going to cover a really hardcore rap/metal song and make it more my style, oh man I am just so crazy bananas!"

But see, then these amazing artists do these amazing covers and I'm left loving covers again. Let's talk about them!

Scissor Sisters - Comfortably Numb

Comfortably Numb - Scissor Sisters

I realize that this song is breaking one of the big three rules (covering a super popular classic), but I don't even care. Truthfully, I HATED this song when I first heard it (and truthfully, I can't stand the original version. College pothead friends kind of ruined it with overplaying). Then, slowly but surely, it grew on me until this was one of the songs I was looking forward to the most when I saw them live the first time. And they KILLED IT. I felt like I was on another planet...They manage to make it completely different while still retaining a very unsettling feel.

Nine Inch Nails - Get Down Make Love

Get Down Make Love - Nine Inch Nails

Of course I included NIN, yes I AM predictable, shut up. Queen is another one of those "untouchable" artists to me, but I've loved this cover since the first time I heard it. Two totally different sounds. They don't do this one live anymore, but they used to--and there are some GREAT videos on YouTube of them performing it. Plus I just like to hear Trent say "You want my body, I give you heat. You say you're hungry, I give you meat."

...shut up, just...shut up.

Cat Power - I Found a Reason

I found a reason - Cat Power

Original song was by Velvet Underground, and I'm hesitant to say that I PREFER this version but....I prefer this version. Argh, no wait, I can't decide. They're both so good. I love her voice on this track and how it makes me feel like I've been punched in the gut, in a good way. That's right, at the end of the day, I'm still a girl who is suckered into emotional chick-on-piano ballads.

Mark Ronson and the Daptone Horns - God Put a Smile On Your Face

God Put A Smile Upon Your Face - Mark Ronson Feat. The Daptone Horns

Wow. When I first heard this song I couldn't pinpoint the cover...I KNEW it was a cover, but couldn't figure out who it was! Once it clicked I was very surprised--mostly because I avoid Coldplay (sorry, Coldplay, but I'm pretty sure you've put out the same record 4 times). This version gave me an appreciation for it I never had before, so there you go, Chris Martin. I want to rollerblade to this song. And yes, I realize how lame that sounds.

That's it! There are many more covers I'm into, but I think this is a good mix. Why haven't any death metal bands covered Disney songs yet? I feel this would be excellent. If these exist, someone tell me. I demand a bearded, tattooed man screaming the lyrics to "Prince Ali." Seriously.

Friday, August 8, 2008

New video from OTGL: Opeth Interview & Bus Tour

by Dan Harpaz

Life isn't all morbid in the world of death metal. This interview and bus tour with Swedish quintet Opeth proves it. (That's right, more Opeth!) We brought our crew aboard the band's tour bus at the Chicago stop of Progressive Nation 2008 on May 13, where guitarist Fredrik Åkesson speaks about the new album Watershed, punching meat, and Swedish Snus!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On the Guest List with Varsity Fanclub

by Dan Harpaz

Varsity Fanclub. Left to Right: Drew Scott, Thomas Fiss, Bobby Edner, David Brandt, Jayk Purdy. Photo by by Marina Chavez. Courtesy of Capitol Records.

If you're prehistoric enough to remember the days you had to drive your Flintmobile to the record store to buy music, you're probably looking at the picture above and feeling either nostalgia or deep-seated disdain. You're probably not even sure why you feel the way you do-- chances are, you've probably never even seen this fine group of gents before. But for some reason, most people (generally speaking) have some sort of emotional reaction to these types of promotional pictures. You're either a lover or a hater. I am, of course, referring to an ancient, mystical (and possibly underwater) species classified by Rolling Stone Magazine as "boy bands."

Now, I'm aware that I'm poking fun at this Rolling Stone article on boy bands in the modern, digital music industry, but it brings up an interesting trend that most people my age (or to make another economic assumption, 16+) probably aren't aware of. I am referring of course to the comeback of the Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, and an influx of new talent, including Varsity Fanclub, the "new" Menudo, and a modest collection of others. The truth is, boy bands and pop stars never actually "ruled the planet." Nor did they ever go extinct. They were, however, a huge commercial success in a time when major labels thrived on physical album sales and traditional, mass marketing strategies that largely controlled our tastes. Obviously, times have changed.

Most of us know by now that the digital music format has already begun to replace CDs. People learn about music through friends and MySpace today more than ever. The "digital shift" in the music industry has practically overturned the rules of economic scarcity and "shelf-space." But my intention isn't to summarize the pop-econ analyses simplified by Chris Anderson in "The Long Tail." I'm here to present Varsity Fanclub, an LA-based group of talented young dudes who are trying to make it in a world where nearly all musical ecstasy is only a click away. Having already hit it off with the Radio Disney generation with their single "Future Love" (written by Ryan Tedder of One Republic), these guys bring an R&B / soul flavor to what you would normally expect to hear from a boy band. With dance moves as tight as their harmonies, Varsity is set out to conquer the arenas, but not before taking out the utterly annoying, poofy-haired Jonas Brothers. Listen to my phone conversation with Varsity's Jayk Purdy and hear what he had to say about songwriting, the boy band's reality-TV-esque lifestyle, and his 24/7 work schedule.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Opeth Delivers a Beautiful Beast with Watershed

by Dan Solera.

Album cover courtesy of Roadrunner Records.

Leave it to Opeth to surprise us with every new album. Riding on the momentum built by their last two albums and recent successful tours, the Swedish quintet released in May their ninth studio album, Watershed. Known for their wall-of-sound compositions and overall crushing tone, the album starts off with "Coil", a 3-minute acoustic song featuring diverse instrumentation, Mikael Ǻkerfeldt's softer side, and a cameo by female vocalist Nathalie Lorichs. It's quite a bold move for a progressive death-metal band, but it pays off as it leads into the merciless "Heir Apparent", arguably an upcoming single.

From there we are treated to a diverse tapestry of sound, most of which we can call "vintage" Opeth, with several surprises thrown in the mix. The band had received some criticism on their previous studio album, 2005's Ghost Reveries, namely that their trademark loud-to-soft transitions were becoming too forced. Whether or not they chose to acknowledge this criticism is moot, but the transitions in this album are much more fluid and graceful. Songs like "Hessian Peel" grow slowly from folk-inspired acoustic passages to the chthonic assault that makes Opeth such a powerful force. Along the way the band makes use of flutes, ("Porcelain Heart"), and strings to create dramatic effect ("Burden").

Though their 70's-prog influences are still shining in this album, the Swedes are far from going soft. "Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" (Ed Note - or is it the "The Louts Eater"...hmm...) contain some of the roughest, fastest riffage heard since My Arms, Your Hearse. This is no surprise - Ǻkerfeldt has been saying for a long time that it was a worthy successor to the album, released a decade ago. In between, it is clear how tightly the band has honed their craft. Even with a lineup change, replacing longtime guitarist Peter Lindgren with Frederik Akesson and drummer Martin Lopez with the aptly-named Martin Axenrot, there is a definite sense of consistency in the band's catalog. The dynamic, and often frantic, balance between intense and soothing is still there, but not as deliberate and self-aware as it was in Ghost Reveries.

With Watershed, Opeth have created an eponymous album that vastly exceeded my expectations. Much like prog-metal peers Symphony X and their release of 2007's Paradise Lost, they have perfected their style and created a remarkable work of power, consistency, and beauty. Though not perfect, as exemplified by the album's lackluster closer ("Hex Omega"), it is a solid musical statement, driven by Ǻkerfeldt's intricate and disciplined songwriting. Whether you're a fan of the dark side of distorted metal or the serene landscape created by lush acoustics, Opeth will deliver.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Legend of the Devil's Orchestra

And so the tale begins... there once lived a legendary orchestra in Sweden that produced music so beautiful and virtuosic that it inspired the formation of an early equivalent of groupies-- hordes of followers who trekked across Scandinavia to indulge in the divine melodies and harmonies played by what would later be known as "the Devil's Orchestra."

The year is 1501. The Church makes it rain more than Fat Joe himself. As generations passed, the Church became increasingly pissed (and rich.) Despite the Church's global influence via continuous funding through gifts and control over real estate, the orchestra had a way of striking a chord with the people and gave them an alternative outlet that did not directly involve religion. Consequently, the Church fire-and-brimstoned the shit out of the sixteenth century Swedes and labeled the enormously popular orchestra as the spawn of Satan. Forced to live and travel as fugitives, the orchestra eventually realized that its career was coming to an end... but before disassembling, the sextet signed a pact, agreeing that their descendants had the mission of reviving the orchestra in 500 years. They disseminated six sealed envelopes to trusted family members and played one final concert. Upon ending their epic grand finale, the members of the orchestra were arrested, incarcerated, and sentenced to death by hanging.

Flash forward to the year 2003. The reign of Britney Spears is coming to an end and iPods are about to get huge. Two complete strangers individually browse through a music store in Stockholm and bump into each other, prompting a conversation about about instruments, music, and life...until [imagine a pathetic explosion of thunder] they realize that they are both descendants of two of the original members of the Devil's Orchestra. Having each inherited the responsibility of reuniting the Devil's Orchestra, they embarked on a mission to find the remaining successors-- a goal they accomplished within three months of hard searching. Coincidentally, each successor happened to play music.

As the original scores were permanently destroyed by the Church, the descendants agreed to create a modern, rock version of the original orchestra. The sound would be a unique, but relatable combination of metal, swing, and opera. With a drummer, guitars, bass, and a celloist handy, the band recruited a talented female opera vocalist to front the group. Their lineup, and hence, their mission was finally complete. And so, Diablo Swing Orchestra was born... [imagine some more pathetic fallacy here... only this time, in the form of DSO's original "Balrog Boogie"]

Balrog Boogie - Diablo Swing Orchestra

Help Diablo Swing Orchestra take the world by storm again-- buy their album "The Butcher's Ballroom."

[Author's Note: Doesn't DSO kind of sound like the Max Rebo Band in Star Wars?!]

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the Guest List with Katy Perry

by Dan Harpaz.
Photo Courtesy of Capitol Records.

Few people kiss a girl and actually like it. Well, not really. But few people can turn that experience into an infectious hit song and also catch the attention of Madonna… yes, the Madonna. We spoke on the phone with LA based singer-songwriter Katy Perry, whose singles “I Kissed a Girl” and “Ur So Gay” have reaffirmed her place as “The Next Big Thing” (as originally dubbed by Blender in 2004.) But her hit singles aren’t the only thing she has going for her. Listen to her debut album One Of The Boys and you’ll hear a very catchy and emotional blend of pop, punk, and even smoky jazz vocals.

Dan: Hi Katy. How are you doing?

Katy Perry: You know what’s funny is I literally just got home. I took a flight at 6:30 this morning. I’m back in LA and about to go miniature golfing.

Mini golf is one of my favorite pastimes actually.

Mine too actually.

So how was your trip to New York?

It was really amazing because so much came out of it. We just started doing press for the first single “I Kissed a Girl.” …The response is just really overwhelming— radio stations are already playing it before they were really supposed to play it… It was fantastic. I played my first public show. Even though it was only 300 people, it was sold out. And it was awesome, and I wanted to cry because everybody knew the words to the songs it was so weird, like, have you ever had that situation? The record’s not even out yet. I’m sure there’s some downloaders in that audience…

I think I would get hunted down if I leaked anything.

No, you don’t get hunted down— I’ll personally hunt you down and probably write a song about you [laughs.]

I’ve been listening to the album a lot, and I’ve gotta say I dig it. And this is coming from a metalhead too.

You’re a metalhead? …That’s so cool, like here you are and you don’t mind my record?

No, I dig it— so that’s taking it even a step further.

That’s cool. It kind of makes me feel like that girl at high school that could [hang out with] all the different groups rather than having to have only one clique.

Your album is pop, but it’s also rock at the same time, jazz, and even punk. Do you notice that your fans are just a big eclectic group?

I think the sound is very representational of who I am, I mean, California girl— a bit poppy, a bit punky, you know, chill with a little bit of the smoky jazz vocals every once in a while. I think that initially I get a lot of female girls, like my audience, but like you said, lately there’s just so many different people. I have people in their 40’s, and moms, or women in their 30’s [who] relate to the songs a lot.

And apparently 3 or 4 year old boys jumping on chairs on your MySpace [laughs.]

Yeah I get a lot of that too [laughs.] I got a couple of moms say, “Yeah my son loves ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and he doesn’t even know what he’s singing.” It’s all across the board, and I’m lucky to have that, you know? Because it’s not usual.

I think it’s great if an artist can appeal to a broad spectrum of people and not tie themselves down.

I think that this record is really all… a lot about songwriting. It’s about the songs and actually having songs, rather than just a good beat or something that will come and go on the radio. I like both a good beat and a purpose for having a song. Like, tell a story you know? That’s how I was inspired growing up when I started music. It was like the Beach Boys, it was Queen. You practically didn’t even have to have eyes to hear the music— you could close your eyes and you could have a picture painted in front of you.

Have you ever recorded anything independently before One Of The Boys?

I recorded an independent gospel record when I was really young, when I was like 15, 16. But it was definitely representational of my age then. I’ve been making [One Of The Boys] for like four years or so. And you have so many different ups and downs. I’ve been signed, I’ve been dropped. I thought every year that I was making this record that this record would come out. When I was 19…20… 21… I thought that it would come out… and [it] never did. At the time it seemed like a disappointment. But I’m so happy I had the chance to develop and grow, and mature even as a person outside of the craziness of what we call “Hollywood.”

Having worked with independent artists, I completely understand that.

Dude, you know the days of “pop-tart” overnight stardom [are over.] It’s just not how it used to be, and it’s not overnight, and there’s not really any more room for people that are in the music industry that actually aren’t musical. So you really gotta work hard, and honestly, the one thing that I believe so much is just never give up. Because there have been so many fucking times where I had negative lots of money in my account [laughs.] And I was depressed, or I should have just left Hollywood. I had my parents calling me, asking me, “What are you doing?” And all my friends saying, “Oh yeah sure you’ll have a record out… errr… yeah right, call us when that happens.” You don’t have to be a bitch about it, but you just gotta know deep within yourself that this is what you’re meant to do, and you need to know that you have talent, and you know that your close friends are [there to support] you… Don’t listen to the anonymous commenters or the bystanders because there’s a lot of them. Those people have totally given up.

Negative or positive, it’s always important to stick to what you love and keep going.

For sure. Because God knows that “cutiepiecaliforniaxx1212” loves to send anonymous comments about how you should stop singing or go die in a river. They would never say that to your face, because they know they’re never gonna get caught. It’s like road rage almost, like you know you’re never gonna see that person again, so you [turn into] the devil. That’s what anonymous commenting on the Internet is.

I feel kind of bad for the child stars, like Miley Cyrus and all the negative comments she gets in the press. It takes some strength…

I always say, it really, really takes a superhuman to be a pop star. Unfortunately, as much as I don’t agree with the drugs and the use of whatever the fuck any of these girls like Britney or Amy Whinehouse is doing, I understand why they can be led to something that would take them out of the world that they live in, because that world that they live in is so intense and filled with so many people telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, and it’s vicious. They want to snap out of that world and they turn to drugs, unfortunately, which is not the right thing to do. But… it takes a superhuman to be a pop star.

Onto a lighter topic—

Hold on one second sweetheart. [Katy leaves and returns in a few seconds.]

By the way, let me know if we’re going a little long.

No, no! Probably like 5 more minutes… they’re taping me play miniature golf—how hilarious is that?

I have to ask you about this big Madonna comment on your MySpace that Perez Hilton apparently freaked out and called you about.

Yeah, it was amazing. Imagine being blessed by the Pope of Music. What happened was, I slept in late, the phone kept ringing. I thought, “Okay, maybe something’s wrong, maybe someone really needs to get a hold of me… I’ll answer it.” So I answered it and it was Perez and he was screaming. And [I asked,] “Well what happened?” [He answered] “I’m crying.” I’m like, “Oh no…”

“Who died?”

“Who diiied?” I said that to him and he goes, “No— no one died, Madonna just said her favorite song is your song!” And then I proceed to black out. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And then he sent me the clip of it, and… you should have seen, my fingers have never typed so fast on my little phone. I just called and I was like, “Madonna!” (click, off)… “Madonna!” (click, off.) Half the people probably didn’t even know what I was talking about.

Was it the radio station that sent a clip over?

Yeah, I guess the radio knew that Perez is a believer in the Katy Pizzle team. So they were like, “Wow, we gotta send this to Perez, that’s pretty amazing.” Because it wasn’t like she was just saying, “Oh yeah, I like that one ‘gay’ song.” She knew about the song like she had done her homework, and I was just like, “Oh my God.”

Has she gotten in touch with you herself or is there any chance you’ll be working with her in the future?

I have no idea. They haven’t contacted us. I think her whole initial plan with that comment was just to reply to what the people asked, you know? So I don’t think there’s conspiracy or anything, I just think that— God, if she invited me over for dinner, I would freak out and have to figure out something fabulous to wear. I hope to meet her in the future, most definitely, because she definitely represents to me persistence and just a true artist that can change with the times and the climate and generations and be relevant at all times… and that’s a lot without looking retarded.

Random question— is it ever okay for a man to wear guyliner?

Is it ever okay for a man to wear guyliner… I think it is. Marcus? [referring to a man sitting next to her] Marcus wears a little bit of guyliner! I think it’s fine. As much as I’m taking the sheer piss out of it with the song “Ur So Gay,” I think honestly it’s fine. So long as you can win a fistfight too. And change a tire. If you can change a tire and wear guyliner, then you’re set for life.

I saw the [“Ur So Gay”] music video and thought it was hilarious. I’ve never another music video with little Barbie dolls in vegan cafés.

Yeah, there’s this thing you can YouTube actually—it’s the “Story of Karen Carpenter.” It was done either in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and it was done with all Barbie Dolls, and a friend of mine saw it and said “You should really do something like this.” And I’m just like, “Oh! Yeah.”

That honestly brought the song to a new level for me.

Aw, that’s amazing! It’s really true to life, I mean, what girl hasn’t played with a Ken doll and at the end of the day when she’s changing him and his clothes [are] gone, [and she goes,] “What the fuck?”

What are your ultimate goals with the next album or just down the road?

Well there’s a couple of things. I think especially with my live show, I want that to change and grow and develop. It’s so fun, it’s like a fun game to me, to see all these people come in with the perception of, “Here’s a girl, on a major label, pop tart—bubbly, fun, cheeky. She probably can’t sing. She probably can’t play. I’m probably going to blog about how lame she was.” And then all of a sudden, I speak to them as my own, you know? “I’m not hiding anything— I’m just trying to make music and tell you the story of my life. Just bring it.” Especially to entertain you, because that’s definitely important to me. With all the people that have influenced me, singers, they’ve always been huge, theatrical entertainers, and I definitely want that to be part of my show. So it’s nice to see people’s perceptions of what used to be the norm for a pop act singer to be lame or couldn’t bring it, and hopefully I can turn that perception around and make true musicianship the standard.

Yeah, I noticed you actually sing live, and you’re still pretty spot-on with the heavier, diaphragm rock vocals.

Yeah, there’s bands popping up here and there that can actually still do it. Like Paramore— I really like Paramore, because [Hayley Williams] always sings her fucking heart out and she always brings it. And that’s the thing, is that people like that don’t let anything else besides the music get in the way, I mean, there’s nothing getting in the way. There’s no like, “Okay, who’s she dating,” and that’s gonna make her more of a celebrity. Or, “who’s she fucking?” Or where she shops. Leave all that to the C and D listers, I mean, [Paramore] cares about the music.

It’s all about the music.

I mean I have all that other stuff going on in my life for sure, but if any of that other stuff gets in the way or takes away from [the music,] then it won’t be there.

Well I really appreciate your time— have fun at mini golf. I’ll be rooting for you.

Thank you! First, I’m rooting for me…and Marcus.

Always look out for #1— that’s the right way to do it.

Awesome Dan, thank you so much.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On the Guest List with Alter Bridge

We take you to the front row of the sold out Alter Bridge concert in Chicago on May 3, 2008 and bring you backstage for an interview with Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's All about the Breakdowns with All Shall Perish

by Jake Serek

(Ed note: we sent writer Jake Serek to Reggie's Rock Club on Monday to catch the Chicago stop of the "Sun Your Bunz" tour and interview All Shall Perish. I hereby declare this "Metal Month of May...and a Half." All photos courtesy of the author and his photographer Ross.)

What better way to cure the Monday blues than by assaulting your brain with heavy, raucous, metal music and slightly-less-than-suicidal hardcore dancing? I wasn’t the only one with this idea when I decided to catch All Shall Perish with headliners The Acacia Strain and supporters The Warriors and Since the Flood. I entered Reggie’s Rock Club just as Since the Flood was walking off stage (sorry fellas— here’s a shout out anyway.) I then proceed to the alley behind the stage to find Matt Kuykendall and Mike Tiner, respectively the drummer and bassist for All Shall Perish. They were sitting in folding chairs surrounded by their equipment, chowing on some local good eats like a pair of campers (or hobos) around a fire.

Both Matt and Mike were gracious enough to let me ask them a few questions, although as you will see, Mike is clearly incapable of emitting any serious responses. “Our bassist (Mike) is the worst dude,” warns Matt in a half joking, half concerned tone.

Jake: So there is about a month left on this tour. How has it been thus far?

Matt: Great, the turnout is incredible, the dudes are fuckin’ awesome.

What’s your favorite band on this tour?

Mike: Acacia [Strain]! (Howls)

Have you found that they have been rubbing off on you at all?

Mike: Only when we sleep with them… they’re fuckin’ heavy as fuck.

For those unfamiliar with your music, could you sum up the ‘essence’ of All Shall Perish in a few words?

Matt: We are a death metal band that enjoys melody and breakdowns as well.

Mike: And dudes….and fat girls with fat asses.

How did you come upon this style of music?

Matt: Well, we all used to listen to a lot of New York death metal like Internal Bleeding and Suffocation. We really like Pantera, Hate Breed, Blood Has Been Shed, and Irate. We also like Weezer and Michael Jackson a lot.

Mike: And Britney Spears!

Matt: But we’re also really influenced by the Swedish bands: In Flames, Dimmu [Borgir], Dissection, and Opeth….and Abba (laughs).

Mike: Ace of Base!

Matt: These days we released a few death metal, breakdown records and we’re just trying to keep writing interesting and innovative music. Our new record is really different— really diverse. It is us paying homage to more of our other influences, some of the Swedish influences.

So would you say the new album is a radical departure from your last album, The Price of Existence?

Matt: I wouldn’t call it radical, but just generally very, very different.

How is recording? Are you still in the process?

Matt: Done, we’re done. It’s being mastered right now.

As far as writing new songs, could you walk me through the typical process you guys use?

Matt: Everything starts with a riff, and from there we start making sections, and then we turn it into either a beginning or a middle, you know. And we just work from there. A lot of times we’ll have a song that we thought was a beginning forever and it ends up being an end.

Mike: A lot of times we end up with a riff that we thought was awesome, and it sucks.

Matt: Yeah. And lyrics and vocals are always last. They are written once the song is done.

How do you go about forming the set list for a show?

Mike: Whatever is clever, just like sex with dudes.

Do you ever play songs from your first album Hate.Malice.Revenge live?

Mike: No, are you kidding me? That’s the fucking worst album.

I saw on your MySpace page that you have the option for fans to vote for the songs they want to hear you play at your concerts. Do you take these polls into consideration when making set lists?

Matt: We do. Really the way we make a set list is whatever makes sense for the tour. This is a fucking heavy ass tour, so we play all the breakdown songs.

It’s all about the breakdowns. Have you been playing any of the new, unreleased songs at these shows?

Mike: Yeah, three of them.

Have you found that by playing new songs live, you can tell what works and what doesn’t so you can go back into the studio and alter the songs?

Matt: We never play a song unless its 100% done and 100% practiced.

Ok, now a serious question: In your opinion, what is the first metal band?

Matt: First metal band? Probably [Black] Sabbath. (Looks to Mike) Sabbath right?

Mike: Do I have to say Sabbath? I don’t really want to. I’m going with Slayer.

Kyle the Sound Guy: Beethoven.

There you go. Wagner (laughs).

Mike: (To Kyle) You said metal band, Beethoven’s one dude, that’s not a band. I’m telling you it's fuckin’ Slayer….Judas Priest, there we go. Done. It’s over. I win.

Matt: Our bassist [Mike] is the worst dude.

What do you guys have coming up after the new album is released?

Matt: We’re going to Europe to play some festivals and some Carcass reunions. We are also going to go on tour with Job for a Cowboy.

Okay! Anything else you guys want to say?

Mike: Send nudes.

(Laughs) Thanks for your time, have fun tonight.

After a few laughs with the rhythm section for All Shall Perish, I returned inside to the sounds of The Warriors, a hardcore outfit from California. Their tight, mid-rangy sound and mammoth, plodding riffs suggested Rage Against the Machine, but with less rapping and more screaming. Despite this somewhat complimentary comparison, the riffs were stock and the band lacked any charismatic stage presence.

Now to fast forward to headliners The Acacia Strain’s set. One guitar shy of All Shall Perish’s lineup, they had no problem rocking out just as much low end. A benevolent bunch, Acacia threw water bottles into the crowd before their set. The same water would later be sprayed onto the crowd via the mouth of lead guitarist DL. As if the stage wasn’t enough of a pedestal for them, DL and bassist Jack Strong brought additional risers on stage to heighten their stage presence. The Acacia Strain were slightly more gloomy and sluggish than All Shall Perish, but similar nonetheless.

For All Shall Perish’s set I moved to the balcony, which not only provided refuge from thrashing arms and legs, but it was also fully equipped with plush seating— a perfect haven to sit back and soak in all the details. Don’t get me wrong about the hardcore dancing. I love the idea of punching perfect strangers in the head, but I would at least want to look cool doing it.

All Shall Perish’s set starter did not destroy my eardrums as I had expected it would. It might have to do with the fact that they are the seventh band that I have heard perform in the past two days, but I am going to go ahead and blame Reggie’s Rock Club. But in the band’s defense, a measly five minute sound check is hardly enough to ensure proper inner-ear abuse. So, all the sonic kinks weren’t worked out until at least the second song, which, with its relentless streams of lead guitar notes and double trouble bass drums was a veritable adrenaline junky’s wet dream. Did I mention that lead guitarist Chris Storey can shred? Like E.V.H.? Yeah.

Song three was basically an extended breakdown complete with security guards wrestling youngsters out of the dance pit to salvage lives. The band saved some of its more popular numbers for the end. This included “Eradication” which earned sufficient approval by the crowd just at its mention. I’m always moved when death metal and grindcore vocalists find it in their hearts to give front-row audience members a taste of fame by letting them scream some lyrics into the microphone. Although, it was a bit distracting, even humorous, to hear lead man Hernan ‘Eddie’ Hermida’s beast roars interrupted by a squawky pre-pubescent male voice. Along with Hermida’s hefty stage presence, Mike Tiner’s jokey personality transferred well onto the stage, adding a lively energy to the set. Luckily, no one "perished" in the dance pit, but in being aurally pummeled, we certainly all did.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On the Guest List with OK Go!

Damian of OK Go making the girls cry at Manifest / Photo provided by the author (me!)

When I arrived at Grant Park to meet with Damian Kulash, lead singer of native Chicagoans OK Go, I soon realized that this was no casual Friday for Columbia College students. Sure, those city kids are, on average, a bit more stylish than, say, Northwesterners—every student rocking that unique, non-conformist hipster look— but I thought something was off when I passed by the library and saw someone dressed exactly like Wonder Woman. A New Yorker at heart, I shrugged it off— when a few minutes later, I peered out a window from a local Subway restaurant only to find two students walking on stilts and pretending to ride ostriches. Fearing that I accidentally fell asleep on the El and woke up in New Orleans, I rushed out of the restaurant and snatched the first newspaper I could find (out of the hands of a man dressed like Sweeney Todd, nevertheless.) When I read the headline, I was relieved to find out that I was indeed in the right city, and that OK Go was actually in town that love Friday, May 16th to headline a show for Manifest Urban Arts Festival. After my adventure, Damian and I met up during sound check and embarked on a new mission: to find the best café on the block.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

On the Guest List with Kataklysm!

Album art courtesy of Nuclear Blast.

After reading the numerous quotes provided by press releases and reviews describing Canadian death metal band Kataklysm and their latest studio release Prevail, I was convinced that this was the most evil metal album ever. Something about the combination of chains, skeletons, and evil creatures in the artwork was unsettling in the best way, while track titles like "As Death Lingers" and "The Vultures Are Watching" only perpetuated my darkest expectations. I can't say I was too surprised when I first listened to the album, which is set for release in the US on May 27, but I've got to hand it to these guys-- Prevail is melodic and technical enough to please the casual fan, but also technical and heavy enough to satisfy every metalhead's primitive need for something fast and, well... "death metal" to the core.

I had a chance to speak with Maurizio Iacono, the lead vocalist of Kataklysm, about the new album, touring, and life. Our phone interview is split up into 15 short clips.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prog Metal Heroes Rock Chicago

by Dan Solera

Ed note: to kick of Chicago Avenue's "Metal Month of May" we had guest writer Dan Solera submit his perspective on the Progressive Nation 2008 concert in Chicago on May 13, 2008.

Dream Theater, Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Records.

For a progressive metalhead, the thought of seeing Opeth and Dream Theater at the same show is like taking a toddler to Six Flags and then Disney World all in one day. Just having the two progressive metal mavens under the same roof is enough to cause a stroke, so naturally my presence at this event was a necessity.

Progressive Nation 2008 at the Rosemont Theater on May 13th opened with New York rock band 3, whose stage setup and band lineup raised several eyebrows. For one thing, it's not exactly commonplace to find a frontman thrashing with an electro-acoustic guitar; nor is it the norm for bands to have a percussionist in addition to a drummer. But any doubt or criticism was immediately expelled when the band members came together to deliver 3's experimental soundscape. Once unfamiliar with the band, it did not take long for me to be floored by singer/guitarist Joey Eppard's riffing when combined with Billy Riker's lead sequences and Joe Stote's conga-style percussion. Towards the end of their set, Eppard took a solitary moment to showcase his guitar skills in "Amaze Disgrace" by finger-picking his electro-acoustic guitar at impossible speeds. Though still rising in the ranks of prominent metal bands, I became a fan of 3 after their brief set list.

Between the Buried and Me followed afterwards. I was equally unfamiliar with the North Carolina foursome, but was not as impressed as I was by 3's world-influenced metal. BTBAM's sound is characterized by heavy guitars, raspy screams, and songs with a sectioned structure that rarely reprise – though to be honest, since the lyrics were inscrutable, it was difficult to ever know if the lyrics were ever being repeated. Though I was impressed to hear such evil sounds coming out of singer Tommy Rogers' pipes, the never-ending noise that the metalcore band's songs delivered ran a bit long.

Opeth, Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Records.

Fortunately, I had Opeth to look forward to. It was my third time seeing the band, whose lineup had changed significantly since the first time I saw them at the House of Blues during their Damnation tour. Not only had they added keyboardist Per Wiberg as a full-time band member, but they had replaced drummer Martín López with Martin Axenrot and second guitarist Peter Lindgren with Fredrik Ǻkesson. But in spite of such changes, singer/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Ǻkerfeldt's charm has gone completely unchanged. Known for his deep, eloquent voice and surprisingly goofball remarks, he still has the same air of commanding confidence that makes him almost loveable.

His personality contrasts starkly with his music: brutal, mercilessly loud, and unapologetically long. In their 60+ minute setlist, they only played six songs, five of which were from their four most recent albums, and one from their upcoming "Watershed" release. Each song in one way or another explores two sides of the Opeth coin: firestorm guitars and breakneck drums ("Wreath", "Master's Apprentices"), and serene acoustics layered with Ǻkerfeldt's clean voice and Wiberg's atmospheric keys ("In My Time of Need", "The Drapery Falls"). With a growing fan base and a proven track record, Opeth continues to ascend.

And now, onto the main event. As the crew disassembles Opeth's gear, the curtain is raised to reveal Mike Portnoy's colossal drum kit, Jordan Rudess' keyboard altar, numerous projectors, screens, and the papier-mâché ants that characterize the album art for Dream Theater's most recent album, Systematic Chaos. After a whirlwind introduction that documented the band's musical history over the last 20 years in just under a minute, the American quintet kicked off their 90-minute setlist with the first half of "In the Presence of Enemies", the opening track on Systematic Chaos. Another band known for its long, elaborate songs, Dream Theater, through Portnoy's careful research, are basically forced nightly into meticulously picking out a balanced setlist for each city.

At the Rosemont Theater, they played anthemic heavy songs ("Misunderstood", "Forsaken"), progressive monoliths ("Beyond this Life", "Voices"), ballads ("The Ministry of Lost Souls"), all of which gave each member their chance to shine as only these master musicians can. Complex improvised sections and virtuoso musicianship have become staples of any Dream Theater show. During an extended version of "Metropolis Pt 1", Jordan Rudess temporarily abandoned his keyboard shrine with a futuristic keyboard-guitar and "dueled" with guitarist John Petrucci before returning to the song's main thread. Sequences such as these allow for vast musical tapestries to be painted, all of which have their own corresponding video projected behind the band as they play.

At the end of the night, all of our senses had been assaulted. From the deafening guitars provided by every band, to Opeth's projected spider webs and Dream Theater's videos and gigantic ants, it was a visual spectacle as much as it was an auditory onslaught. It is rare for two prominent metal bands such as these to team up for a tour, and I'm glad to have seized the moment to rock out. An international bill of artists from Stockholm to New York, Progressive Nation rocked Chicago by the sounds of innovation.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On the Guest List with Yelle!

As Mika Miko would say, "Get Excited!" because this is the first episode of my new series "On the Guest List." We bring you backstage for interviews and concert diaries of the hottest artists. Our show is uncensored, so you'll witness all the fun and hilarious moments we share with the artists and their diehard fans. And now I give you Yelle (note - I also write for a publication called North By Northwestern, and this is what I submitted for them):

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Solo Decemberist Colin Meloy Rocks the Park West

After parking four blocks away from Park West in Chicago, my photographer and I speed-walked to the Colin Meloy show on Monday and arrived during the opening set. I stop by will call, slap on my photo pass, and eventually find my way to the front of the stage. Before her last song, indie singer/songwriter Laura Gibson commented on Colin Meloy and Decemberist fans’ better than average vocals, and joked that her set would help warm everyone up. My photographer may not have been the poster child of that sentiment, but regardless, the fans certainly had no shame when it came to interacting with the artists on stage. After Laura’s set, the dimming lights bred typical pre-show applause, and Colin Meloy, front man and lead singer of cult indie rock band The Decemberists, stepped up to the microphone and casually introduced himself. He then picked up one of four acoustic guitars on stage and started the set with catchy, but powerful Decemberist songs “Leslie Anne Levine” and “We Both Go Down Together.”

From Colin’s self-proclaimed worst song he’s ever written, “Dracula’s Daughter” (as featured on his latest solo album Colin Meloy Sings Live!) to “O Valencia,” every song stood out as a crowd pleaser, without one dull or somber moment at any point during the set. Even without a live band, Colin managed to engage the crowd and have fans vocally fill in the gaps. For instance, Colin stepped away from the microphone while the crowd humorously sang the high-pitched guitar solo in “The Perfect Crime No 2.” As a special treat, Colin brought Laura Gibson back on stage for a harmonized duet performance of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” Most impressive, by far, was Colin’s interactive finale, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” in which the members of the crowd sang falsetto verses, played drum rolls on the edge of the stage, and flailed their arms to impersonate a giant, angry whale. The story-based Decemberist songs couldn’t have worked better for a solo show— the crowd was as much a part of the show as Colin himself. Members of the audience had smiles on their faces the entire show, as Colin’s humor and knack for crowd rapport established an entertaining, but intimate mood.

And according to Laura Gibson, the “family feel” transcends the live show. After the conclusion of the body-swaying, foot-banging, Gogol Bordello-style epic, I caught Laura at the merchandise table for a quick interview. Contrary to what she might have expected, this being her biggest tour yet, Laura has found herself not only improving through her opening performances and on-stage duets with Colin, but she feels as though the tour bus is a home away from home. Laura explained, “With Colin, his fiancé Carson, and their two year old son Hank, it’s been so relaxed and very family-feeling. I’ve come away with this understanding of Colin not as a big rock star, but as a good dad. And they’ve been really nice.” A charming entertainer on stage and a good guy outside of his indie-rocker persona, Colin Meloy not only rocked Chicago, but he left us “Shit-towners,” as Colin facetiously mispronounced it on stage, feeling warm by the end of a chilly spring night.

Photos by Dan Harpaz / Chicago Avenue

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One on One with Three

What do the Beatles, Prince, and Stanley Kubrick have in common? Well, if you’re checking out a band and you read a list of influences this eclectic, you’d probably expect some incoherent, bizarro Girl Talk mashup of sorts. But listen to the album “The End Is Begun” by progressive rock act 3 (yes— the band’s name is a number,) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that these boys from Woodstock, NY take in all their influences and produce a unique sound that actually works.

If you’ve checked out my last blog post on 3 (see “...And Then There Were 3”), then you’ve probably gotten a taste of the music, as well as my own interpretation. But why take it from me? I had a chance to get the real story behind the band from the main man himself Joey Eppard. Before I get to the interview itself, you might be asking yourself why you just read about Stanley Kubrick in a music review. When I asked Joey about some of his eerier falsetto lines in the song “These Iron Bones,” we both freakishly jumped to the same comparison— it sounds like a scene straight out of “The Shining.” “I don’t know, it’s like a horror movie, you know? …To me, songs are like movies. And that’s what that scene is about,” Joey explained.

Writing and playing for 3 isn’t the only way Joey Eppard keeps things interesting. Always looking to break fresh ground, Joey’s kept busy with solo albums, a project with members of P Funk called “Drugs,” and quite possibly, a collaboration between 3 and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree on the Woodstock quintet’s next studio album. For good music and tour dates, check out 3’s MySpace at: And make sure to catch the Chicago stop of the Progressive Nation 2008 tour in Rosemont on May 13th! Without further ado… here are the highlights of my one on one conversation with Joey Eppard of 3:

Interview with Joey Eppard (March 7, 2008)

Dan: Just to start off—if my voice craps out on me, I’m sorry. I woke up a little under the weather today but I’m holding up.

Joey: Right on, well we just finished a rehearsal, so my voice might cut out too (laughs.)

What was your most memorable experience from the PT tour?

I mean, there were a couple of cities that were just so amazing. Houston was just such a connection. The crowd in Dallas— Houston and Dallas both. It was like— somehow from the first note, they were with us, you know? When you’re the opening band, that doesn’t always happen (laughs)— to say the least. But I really felt this great connection with Porcupine Tree’s audience in particular…

I heard really great reviews from Steven Wilson. He said a really nice thing about you guys, like you guys were the best band that he’s ever played with?

Yeah, he just made some really amazing comments. We really appreciate that.

That’s awesome.

He was like, “Please keep me in mind when you guys make your next record, because I’d love to do it with you.” So we might get together on that depending on their schedule and our schedule.

Speaking of the Progressive Nation tour now, you must be pretty excited. I know Dream Theater and Opeth are huge, and Between the Buried and Me I actually just recently heard about. But is one band in that lineup, in particular, musically inspiring for you guys?

All three of those bands are really amazing bands. And we’re looking forward to the osmosis that takes place when you’re out on the road with other musicians. So there’s something really special that happens when you tour, so we’re looking forward to that. We’ll definitely just absorb things—and you might not even be conscious of it, but you’ll just absorb. And they’re all such great bands.

… I’ve also noticed that you brought a lot of really unique influences and techniques into your music that I’ve never really heard in the context of rock before. In particular, you brought in these flamenco-esque guitars and Middle Eastern style vocal techniques. How did that all start?

That’s just where sort of those beautiful scales are. To me, in Middle Eastern music, you have these scales where it’s almost like no note is a wrong note. Somehow they’re all right and it’s so beautiful. To me, it just takes melody to a whole other level…

It’s definitely very unique. And that’s what caught my ear the first time I heard it. It was just one additional aspect of the music that really attracted me to it, so I’ve really enjoyed it. And the Middle Eastern scales that you’ve been talking about kind of reminded me of more spiritual music… Do you think [Middle Eastern scales] add to the spirituality of the music?

Well, I mean, music is a spiritual thing to me. I don’t look at it like it’s some sort of cold product. For me, the process of writing and creativity—all of it’s a sacred process. Yeah, that kind of singing makes you feel spiritual, because it is. I’m not particular about any particular denomination or anything like that, but I guess music is sort of my religion.

I want to ask you a couple interesting things about the music. First question, kind of weird, but do you listen to Michael Jackson?

Michael Jackson? Oh, come on man, I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. Back in the day, I was like, eight years old (laughs.) Honestly, I’ll take Prince over Michael Jackson… But Michael Jackson… yeah man, that’s some bad ass shit!

Because whenever I listen to Diamond in the Crush, I always hear this split second part that really reminds me of Michael Jackson, and all my friends and coworkers think I’m crazy for it. So now…

…(laughs) You know what’s funny about that song? I spent an entire day working on the vocals for that song. Right? Like I put more work into than I had any other song. And then, the end of the day, I played it back and I listened and I was like, “Damn… this sounds like Chicago!” (laughs.) …So I actually got weirded out by that and didn’t put that song on “Wake Pig.” And then I kind of popped it on when we were looking for songs [for “The End Is Begun”], like what songs we were gonna do, and we heard it and we were like, “Oh man, we gotta do that song.”

…What is your ultimate goal in the music industry, and as far as your career goes?
Well, you know, obviously our goal is to break some rules and prove that those rules could be broken in a successful way. There’s sort of this whole umbrella of music that is around us and that we’re a part of, and I’ve always wanted to sort of take it all with me, and take it all to that level of where we could really headline any place in the world. That’s where I’d like to be…I’d like to see people realize that an artist can be multi-dimensional and that’s just something I’ve always been.

Anyway, thanks so much for your time…


Full interview will be available for public viewing soon! (Photo by Daniel McCabe / courtesy of 3)

- "The Real" Dan