Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tom Rhodes - Comedy

At the age of 12, Tom Rhodes knew he wanted to be a comedian the first time he ended up on the stage at a downtown nightclub in Washington, D.C. “My family used to love seeing live stand-up comedy. One night I was wearing a Washington Redskins jacket, and the comedian grabbed me and interviewed me as if I was really one of the team’s players. I never forgot how happy the audience looked. The feeling of seeing those people laugh changed my life. It made me realize that was what I really wanted to do. I got a fake ID and started to perform at the age of 17. I never even considered doing anything else.”

Now Rhodes is a veteran of the stand-up comedy scene. He’s performed all around American and the world, including far-off realms like Cambodia, Peru and even Wales. When asked about the hardest part about becoming a professional stand-up comic, Rhodes responds, “The first ten years. It takes ten years to get good at anything. If you are in it for money you are in it for completely wrong reasons. You have to be like a samurai warrior.”

Rhodes learned early on that one secret was to relax. “When a comedian gets comfortable on stage, that’s when things change. Even a comedian with mediocre material looks better if he just looks confident and comfortable. You can speak extemporaneously.” Rhodes also learned to love to travel, since being a comic required him to hit the road as often as possible. “I had to take Greyhound buses or hitchhike,” he says. Rhodes admits that now travelling can be the worst part of his job. “Joy has left air travel in the US,” he says. “The airlines have cut costs, so you are treated like cattle.”

His unique comedic blend of insight and observation led to Rhodes being a travel writer for The Huffington Post, where his stories of far-off places and the people he meets entertain as much as they inform. “They contacted me after they heard me on Marc Maron’s podcast. The travel editor heard me talking about all of my world travel and how most of my year is doing gigs outside of the US. It doesn’t pay any money, but there’s no deadline and I can write about whatever I want.”

One topic that has changed since Rhodes first began is the legalization of cannabis in America. “It’s long overdue. It’s inevitable,” he says, “although some of the more conservative states are going to drag their feet.  I’ve heard that a recent poll showed that 59% of Americans believe it should be legal.” In states where cannabis has been legalized, local governments are already reaping the benefits. “As strapped as America is right now, you’d think they’d want to legalize weed,” Rhodes says. “The potential nationwide tax revenues alone are worth it.”

The official website of Tom Rhodes:
Tom Rhodes on Twitter:
Tom Rhodes at The Huffington Post:

Tom Rhodes podcast:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pink Martini - Music

At first there was darkness. Then, the groan of metal and beeping of electronics as security systems deactivated, opening the door. Sirens wailed, strobe lights flickered, triumphant music blared and Jasen T. Davis, total fucking badass, entered the room, decorated in regalia spanning thousands of dimensions and delusions, armed to the molars, ready for anything but completely sober. Not good.

"What happened to this place?" 

The Silent Asylum had languished. Cobwebs everywhere. A layer of dust as thick as your pinky finger. Earthquakes had caused large objects to fall down, but the two computers were still functional. The vending machine still worked, but was out of beer. Other than that, the place was intact, although Jasen worried about checking The Armory. Maybe later.

It is good to be back, he thought. Once the Internet works, I can start cleaning up the place and launch this rocket to Pluto. I'd better publish a new post ASAP instead of thinking in italics. 

With a dramatic flash of green lightning, the computer activated. The Internet worked. While the machine put itself into order, Jasen searched the refrigerator and found the necessary chemicals for the appropriate libation. There was a lot of thirsty work to be done.

"I know what would be perfect, right now...a Pink Martini!"

A good Pink Martini is made better with a Storm

“Pink Martini is a rollicking, around-the-world musical adventure,” says founder, bandleader and pianist for the band, Thomas Lauderdale. “If the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we’d be that band.” Lauderdale, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, was studying local politics while pondering a run for governor when he dreamed up the idea for Pink Martini in 1994 after attending one too many fundraisers where the musical entertainment for the evening was often uninspired.
Featuring nearly a dozen musicians playing a multitude of instruments including a harp, guitar, upright bass, drums, piano, trumpet and cello to name just a fraction, Pink Martini is a small orchestra which performs music that is elegant yet accessible, educated yet enjoyable. Blending jazz, classical music, American pop, some cabaret and a little bluegrass this band creates a sound that is ritzy, glamorous and international.
“All of us in Pink Martini have studied different languages as well as different styles of music from different parts of the world,” says Lauderdale. “So inevitably, our repertoire is wildly diverse. At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment, you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or a palazzo in Napoli. It’s a bit like an urban musical travelogue.”
Only a year after Pink Martini formed the group met with near-overnight, international success with their first song, “Sympathique,” where it was nominated for “Song of the Year” at France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards. Since then it has sold millions of albums worldwide on its own label, Heinz Records, and have played at amazing venues across the world including the Cannes Film Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, the Royal Albert Hall in London, New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall, the L’Olympia Theatre in Paris and at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Pink Martini has released more than a half-dozen independent and collaborative albums including 2004’sHang On Little Tomato, 2007’s Hey Eugene! and Splendor in the Grass in 2009. Each of its albums has gone gold worldwide and in 2011 it released 1969, an album featuring Japanese singer Saori Yuki, that has since gone platinum. It has also appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and their music can be heard in films such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and television shows including The SopranosCastle and Sherlock.

A Welcomed Storm
In 2010 when the original lead singer for the band, China Forbes, underwent vocal cord surgery, Lauderdale asked Storm Large, a formidable and influential producer, musician and singer in her own right, to join the band as a lead singer. Since then, Forbes has recovered completely, and the two singers have continued to perform together onstage with Pink Martini.
Large lives in Portland, Oregon, and is a veteran of such bands as Flower SF, Storm and Her Dirty Mouth, Storm, Inc. and Storm and The Balls. Compared to her previous gigs, what does she like the most about playing with Pink Martini?
“We are all capable soloists in our own right,” Large says. “Everyone is a star player and gets their moments to shine. I’m like a glorified back-up singer, so a lot of the normal lead singer pressure is off of me.”
While her own eclectic background is of no small magnitude, working with Pink Martini has shown Large many other vistas. “I’ve learned so much from hanging out with them,” she says. “Just the suggestions alone have taught me so much about music. I’m an old punk rocker who grew up listening to bands like Public Enemy and Metallica. Punk rock music is anti-establishment, and what I love about Pink Martini is how they have always remained independent,” Large says.
Growing up with a last name like hers was a challenge, but the bitter experiences made Large see life as being a lot sweeter, later on. “It’s a great stage name now, but if I were to pick another name it would be more feminine,” she says. A tall girl with a blue-collar background and an artistic nature, Large stood out from her wealthier, more popular classmates. “I was an unhappy, angry teenager going to school with the richest, most beautiful people in the country, and they didn’t treat me well.”
Time has moved on and now Large is a professional who is thriving and influencing in a music industry that has only grown more vicious with time and the internet. Now she is proud of her unpopularity in high school. “If life is tough growing up, you will be able to handle the real world later on,” she says.

Global Pop
With so much Pink Martini to listen to, a listener will soon notice two predominating themes its  music is heir to: Joyful multiculturalism and sincere empathy. “Thomas says it best, Pink Martini is global pop. Beautiful melodies hand selected around the world, celebrated by a miniature orchestra,” Large says. When the band hits any city, Lauderdale will venture to a record store, searching for vintage gold, usually older artists and rare composers. “It has to be a beautiful melody, first and foremost. It has to be a tortured love song, full of longing.”
While Pink Martini is certainly very different than anything Large has ever done, given her history in punk rock and her predilection for music that isn’t mainstream, the experience has been a labor she enjoys. “I love touring with Pink. It’s like being a part of a big traveling circus. Performing with the band has been really good for my singing voice. It’s not as aggressive or intense as I normally get, because I play a different character onstage with them,” Large says. “It is very challenging in its own way, especially since its classical music.”
As much as she travels extensively Large still loves Portland’s own home-grown music industry, as well as its army of local artistic talent. “The creative vibe there is constantly changing. Because Portland is such an affordable place to live, you can have a part-time job, live well and still have a budget left over for your art. That really fuels creativity,” she says.
Get Happy is Pink Martini’s sixth studio album, an Earth-exploring array of all the band has to offer including collaborations with artists such as Rufus Wainright, the von Trapps, Phillipe Katerine, Portland’s own Meow Meow, the incomparable Ari Shapiro and even a special performance by comedy and entertainment superstar, Phyllis Diller, who sings along with the band for the song “Smile.”
According to Large, this album will pack a different recipe than Pink Martini’s previous punches. “What’s different about this album is that it is a lot darker. It has a lot of depth. It is also not as sparkly, compared to what we’ve done before,” Large says. “We have a lot more collaborators on this record, nearly nine different singers. Lauderdale really likes to have a lot of people on the stage.”
On the cover of Get Happy is a small boy looking up into the air, dapperly dressed, surrounded by big, bright, happy looking balloons. Rather than being just a simplistic piece of visually uplifting photography, the cover is actually a reference to a popular childhood French story. Large explains.
“Basically, a sad little boy meets a red balloon. The balloon makes him happy, but some bullies chase the boy down and pop the balloon. Just when the boy is sad that the balloon is gone, thousands of red balloons suddenly fill the air above the city and come down to scare the bullies into leaving and carry the little boy away.” Large says. “So the photo is supposed to make you happy, even though the songs on the album are, to be honest, all kind of sad.”
Even the title of Pink Martini’s latest creation, Get Happy, says something deeper. Large tells the tale. “Lauderdale wanted to put out an album that was really joyful, because he was tired of all of the negativity in the media,” she says. With wall-to-gutter coverage of political scandal, economic depression and senseless violence, the band wanted to offer something uplifting, for a difference. “A lot of the songs we were drawn to were still dark, moody and intense, but the album still ended up being called ‘Get Happy,’ so you could say the title is an imperative.”
As with most of Pink Martini’s potent mixtures, each of the songs on this album resonate with a tone that is meant to conjure up a past existence that, for our forefathers, was no less challenging that what we all face today. “The songs date way back,” Large says. “Some are from the 1800s, others are from the 1960s. We picked each of these songs because they are snapshots of dark, desperate times. What we want to say to the audience is, hopefully, we will get through these hard times and have an easier time understanding why it all happened to us, later. Get Happy is a call to action. At least, that’s how I saw it,” Large says.
Pink Balls of Steel
Pink Martini first formed for the purposes of entertaining wealthy donors to causes, political or otherwise, that are intended to help people and the communities they live in. Decades later, with millions of dollars to show for their talents, the band still believes in making lives better whether it’s performing for Occupy Wall Street or to help raise funds for bipartisan, charitable causes. “We always try to show our support for good causes,” Large says.
While a lot of other musicians might be afraid to state their opinions, lest their record sales suffer, but Large and Pink Martini have never let that bother them. “There are some fans that have this attitude that an artist should just shut up and sing. But I feel that just because we draw more attention as artists doesn’t mean we are any less important,” Large says. “An artist might draw some fire, but we have a responsibility to get involved. There are too many people who like to go online anonymously and give their opinion, but it takes balls to put your name, reputation and career out there and make a stand.”

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'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.