Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spends Quality - Music


I've written a lot about hip-hop bands from the Bay Area of California. There's something about the interstitial nature of the Oakland/San Francisco binary aquatic formula up north, where so many contrasts are side-by-side, that creates musicians with talent as unique as the region they hail from. Groups like Zion I and solo artists like Jay Ant make great hip-hop music, but it's not East Coast and it's not just West Coast, it's Bay Area hip-hop, baby, and there's something very rare, and very cool, about it.

Spends Quality is another powerful act from that cynosure of sea, silicon and big city life. His music has hard edges, like many solid artists from L.A., but his songs also possess a seductive, dark allure that you can't find south of Sacramento or east of the Rockies. He's given plenty of thought to his lyrics, and the beats that weave and wind around the vowels and syllables he sings so well contain the same poised, philosophical quality.

One single that made me want to blog about the man was a song called "Midnight" from his Time Peace LP. A tenebrous, addictive tale (word down to www.blogger.com's spell checker for totally not understanding the word "tenebrous") about life in the bad city, I found myself playing it over and over again, thinking about all the times I packed my cash, my car keys and some sort of small, semi-legal, concealable weapon as I went out late at night on any given Friday or Saturday when I was growing up in L.A., trying to find that good time in the big metropolis, driving slow across Santa Monica with my windows rolled down, bumping something respectable with a whole lot of bass on my way to the club. 


When I say interstitial, I mean a lot of things in describing that particular part of California. The Bay Area is where Oakland hits San Francisco, the ocean hits the sand, the fog hits the concrete, the Dead Kennedys hit the big time and where I wanted to hit every single fucking homeless person I came across the last time I was there, many months ago.

My wife's sister went to college up in Berkeley, so I spend a lot of great days partying up there. But, don't get me wrong, I feel bad about the plight of our nation's poor, and give as many dollars as I can every day, but at one point I realized that if another very rude, very smelly, mentally scrambled human being brayed at me for another dead president, I was going to go 187 all up and down Union Square faster than you could say "Zodiac Killer." I know, life is hard, I didn't give you a tip, now please don't scream at/drool on/punch me because I was too nice to the homeless two blocks back, and ran out of cash before I got to you.


So aside from the production quality Spends Quality infuses into each of his albums (he's not just an MC, he's also a producer and the founder of CFO Recordings), I was also impressed by the cool, controlled tones the tracks on his albums all possess. With songs like "Let Go," a tune about movin' on mentally as we travel on through the difficulties of life, or "Place to Be," a jaunty, almost playful paean about making it in the music business, I was surprised there was nothing violent in his albums about lighting bums on fire or spraying them indiscriminately with automatic weapons, which I was about to do about the 1,000,019th time a grown, human adult asked me for change, and when informed that I had none, proceeded to scream his intentions about beating my fragile body up for my temerity. 


Lord forbid I write a rap album about life in Oakland. "Organize a Cull," "Nuke the Homeless Until They Glow in the Dark," and "Donating Physical Head Trauma" ain't going to get me on the news in a good way. So hearing Spends Quality rap about how sweet life can be up there really impressed me. Don't get me wrong, the Bay Area is as bold as it is beautiful, but how that man can endure so many possibly rude people hitting him up for change every day without sounding like a violent psychotic like me is beyond, well, me, which is why I was so surprised that his latest album, "Flight Music," is so disarmingly upbeat.

My wife finally told me that if my life was as hard as it was for the homeless in that area, I'd be pretty rude, too. I had to agree with her. I work freelance, acting, writing, and otherwise, and if my check ain't in the mail by the end of the month I'm usually not polite about it, either, so maybe Spends Quality has come to the same conclusion. That, and he looks pretty tough for a white guy with a goatee, so I'm sure he doesn't get as harassed as my 135 lb., 5'9" self. Anyhow, I'm almost homeless half the time, so I'd better be polite to those people because one day I might be begging them for change, you never know.


The video for "Time Peace" is as pretty as it is poetic. Shot in the local landscapes around the area, it's the kind of song I'd play to give a party I was throwing a cool, funky vibe. I like an artist that doesn't have to preach violence, porn and horror with the same frequency as some of the other acts out there. You get the impression that the person rapping in that video is the real deal, grooving about how good it can be if you let yourself believe. That's some quality music I like to spend time with.

You can purchase some more of Spend Quality's mighty music at CFO Recordings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Finish Ticket - Music


When I first contact an artist (usually on the phone) to interview them, there's this kind of nowhere land after the initial introductions where everyone isn't quite sure if the interview has started yet. Sometimes this is my fault. Interviewing people is social, and the last thing I want to do is come across as clinical when I have to be friendly.

The life of a working musician sucks. The last thing they usually want to do is talk to the press. Usually, their agent is making them talk to me, and it can't be that fun to do when you've been partying/working/traveling until 3 am, and I'm babbling at you at 8:30 am.

That's not always the case, but I will say I've spoken with some very tired musicians. So I try to get to the point and not waste their fine time, but also ease into the "official interview" so they don't think I'm some sleazy hack.

I've even had a few artists ask me, "Has the interview started, yet?"

One gentleman I interviewed a very long time ago basically had a freak out on me, once. He was not a celebrity or musician, he was a union rep, but for a guy who had spent decades dealing with journalists, he sure couldn't talk to me.

That's ok. I certainly do not want to ever bore or scare anyone, but he basically stopped me mid-question and said, "Can I just do what I normally do and read you our official press release?"

I didn't mind, the interview still worked out ok, but I'm glad that the musicians I usually talk to don't have to read prepared statements to me, and instead just answer my interrogations as naturally as possible. With the union rep, I may as well have just done a copy-and-paste job from his press release after he emailed it to me.

It's more fun to have a real conversation with a talented artist, you know what I mean?
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Brendan Hoye (lead guitar) and Alex DiDonato (lead vocals) are both members of the band known to the world as Finish Ticket. Where do they come from? The San Francisco Bay Area. What is the music scene like around there? Pretty cool, according to both of them. “Most of our band is from Alameda, so we’ve played a lot of shows in that area,” says Hoye.

Playing shows throughout the area is a great way to network. “There are a lot of talented bands coming up out here,” Hoye says. “It was like being part of a big family of musicians. Just a lot of the same kids going to a lot of different shows. The whole scene is really thriving out here. It’s also very competitive, which has been so helpful to our band,” he adds.

DiDonato also appreciates the environment. “Definitely having a big music scene was a huge help. We played at a lot of shows, which is how so many people got to know us, up here.” Are there any particular ones that stand out? “Bottom of the Hill,” he says. “It’s a big hot spot for a lot of local bands. We've played there a lot. A lot of great bands have got their big break there.”

There’s a lot of ways to tag the style of music Finish Ticket plays. While the band certainly professes to being pop, like a lot of modern musicians they play a sound to multilayered to place in just one pocket. “We could describe our music as indie pop,” DiDonato says, but that’s being thrown around way too much, now. There are so many bands that are indie pop, or who call themselves indie folk rock. We are definitely a rock band. We play alternative, edgy and melodic, but not bubble pop.”


Finish Ticket’s previous album, Shake a Symphony (released in 2010), is a highly-charged collection of tracks that rock with a positive spirit that makes you feel like driving your car fast with a smile on your face. “New York” brings to mind the uplifting hits bands like U2 created with songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name,” or “Beautiful Day.” Other songs like “Miss Woe, I’m Glad” carry a more somber, sad tone that still possessing a driving force, thanks to aggressive drum work and an imaginative mix of anthem-worthy vocals, keyboards and guitars. When is the next LP?

“We are working on it. It’s going to be a lot darker, though,” DiDonato says. “Our last record felt like the first time we were able to write songs that had a definitive sound.” What’s the title? They can’t tell anyone that, yet. “We are still debating the album title,” Hoye says. “We’re actually nervous about picking a title for the album right now,” he adds.

“It’s pretty much in the same kind of vein as our last record, but it’s a little less pop.” DiDonato says. “It’s a lot more mature, too.” Their next album, set for a release sometime in the spring, is about gazing forward towards an uncertain future and not quite knowing what to do. “There have been a lot more obstacles for us in our career lately, and we’ve had to do things differently,” Hoye says. “Maybe that’s why we’ve experimented so much with the sound of our new album.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

Little Faith - Music


When I'm interviewing a band, there are only a handful of questions I can usually ask. More often than not the article is about the artist's latest album, tour, where they came from and where they are going. After that, it's not like we are going to talk about fly fishing, mud wrestling, or why Kara Thrace came back after getting frackin' blown up to smoldering giblets while flying her Viper on Battlestar Galactica. Was she a Cylon? A Messenger? I don't know, and neither does the band, so I stick to the music.

The real key is to save the best quotes the artist gives me, and making sure the reader gets to enjoy them. If they start to talk about what it was like playing strip clubs in Detroit, Michigan, fine, that's what we are talking about. Otherwise, when I just have 550-600 words to work with, I have to stay on target while at the same time entertaining the audience, or else I don't get paid.
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Jack Maeby, keyboardist for Little Faith, has been a professional musician and producer for decades, having previously worked for industry greats such as Carly Simon, Otis Rush and Buster Pointdexter. How would he describe the music he creates along with his fellow band mates Nelson Blanton (guitar, steel guitar), Nadia Christine Duggin (vocals) and Paul Vitolins (drums and co-producer)?

“I call it roots gospel music,” he says, “because it’s closer to the kind of music people in the South still play.” The music Maeby refers to is often based on the same gospel music being played in churches throughout Louisiana or Alabama. “Traditional American spirituals all have a common link to gospel,” Maeby says. “That’s how we started, as a roots gospel band playing traditional church spirituals.”

Maeby points out that while the band does play gospel music, most of the members of the band are actually atheists. “For all of us, it’s about who is investing in the music. I also like to say we are a secular gospel band.”


On Oct. 1, Little Faith released Shelter, a compilation of traditional American folk spirituals including the classic, quietly incendiary song, “John the Revelator,” served up with style alongside more frenetic fare like the, rocking, thumping and rolling thunder of “Memphis Rising.” Shelter also has funky guitars, bumping drums, seductive vocals and the sweet, signature, country sound of the steel guitar or the juke-joint wail of a saxophone to remind the listener of how truly timeless finely crafted music can be.

Now that the band has had a few months to think about it, how does its members feel about the LP? “We’re really happy with it,” Maeby says. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive response for this album.” As a result of the success of Shelter, potential fans have had more opportunities to tune into Little Faith. “We get really good radio play, including KCSN 88.5 FM and a lot of other local Los Angeles gospel stations,” the veteran musician adds.

The life of a professional musician is often a roller-coaster ride of successes and failures, where the path to a career is never completely predetermined. Why does Maeby do it? “For me and a lot of band members, we just have to play. It’s what we do for pleasure. If we can make a little money while we’re doing it, great.”

The downside of the career is that sometimes people want too much of something for nothing. Maeby likes to work and play, but bills don’t pay themselves. “A lot of club and venue owners believe music should just be free, and they don’t want to pay you,” Maeby says.

With the big local success of Little Faith, the band is planning its tour to spread the good word. “We’re planning a regional tour,” Maeby says. “We’ve all done our best to promote the album, working off of our business connections to plan it, and we also got our own tour bus.” The musician reports that more updates will be available on their website. “So far, we’re heading over to Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona, and after that, wherever we can go.”