Recycled Rock N Roll

Recycled Rock N Roll

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Imagine Dragons - Music

Wayne Sermon is the lead guitarist for Imagine Dragons, an indie rock group hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada. If you’ve listened to the radio, browsed the Internet, watched television or been anywhere near a CD player, iPod or smart phone, you’ve probably heard Sermon’s band’s song, “It’s Time,” a track so pervasive it even ended up on the hit show Glee.

“I haven’t actually seen the episode yet,” Sermon says. The band is on the road so often it doesn't really get a chance to own a television, much less watch one. “When we hear one our songs in ads on the TV it’s a surprise.”  Does Imagine Dragons feel less cool because of its popularity? Nope. Sermon and his cohorts enjoy sharing their music. “Our stance has always been that there’s no reason to hide our music from different groups of people,” he says.

The rock scene in Las Vegas exists, but you have to look for it. “There actually is a really cool, kind of underground music scene out here,” Sermon says. “There are a lot of venues and cool bands that play a lot in Las Vegas.” Many of those groups, Imagine Dragons included, perform at the casinos to make ends meet. “You either have a side job or do that, if you are a musician working in Vegas,” the drummer says.

As a result, Sermon and the band played a lot of hours for a many different groups of people, often mixing in their own compositions next to the popular singles the crowds at the casinos wanted to hear. Sermon is glad the group does because the practice certainly paid off. “We’d play six hour sets every night, all week long.  A lot of bands don’t get that opportunity.”

It wasn't long before Imagine Dragons signed up with Interscope and ended up touring the world over as one of the most talented and popular indie rock bands of the modern era. All that hard work and long hours entertaining near-exhausted, inebriated tourists and gamblers is why Imagine Dragons and its debut album, 2012’s Night Visions, is so damn near perfect—songs from it are everywhere, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Listening to Imagine Dragons can impress from the sheer range of styles in each track on its debut LP. Sermon admits that the band likes to perform a wide range of music because it had to when it was entertaining the crowds in Vegas. “When we were working in the casinos, we’d play everything from back in the day. The Cars, The Cure, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles . . . anything that people would recognize, we’d play it,” he says.

As a result, the band has a keen understanding of what makes a hit, well, a hit. Sermon and the group have played enough of them to know. “When we write a song, we try to make it the best one possible. If you couldn't enjoy hearing it played on acoustic guitar, it’s probably not a good song,” he says.

What’s next from Imagine Dragons? Everyone likes to hear about new albums, but Night Visions was just released in September of 2012. Sermon promises there will be more albums in the future. “Our goal was always to be an album band. We never wanted to just be some flash-in-the-pan. We grew up listening to solid singles and great albums, the kind you enjoyed from the moment you pushed play on track one,” he says.

The group wants some off time before it starts recording the next album, but there are certainly future plans. “We’re always writing melodies or songs and coming up with ideas,” Sermon says. “For every song we write, there are probably a hundred that don’t make it.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Colurs - Music

Max Townsley and Drew Erickson are The Colurs, a contemporary pop group that combines introspective, orchestra-powered grandeur with modern radio sensibilities. The band’s songs possess more strings, horns, flutes and other classical instruments than a lot of other work out there, with an end result being similar to music written by composers such as John Lennon, Brian Wilson or Alan Parsons.

Tracks like “Julia” and “Easy to Love” from its self-titled EP, are progressive yet serene. Each possess thoughtful notes and earnest vocals backed up by compelling instrumentations that would sound overcomplicated in the hands of lesser musicians, but The Colurs pull it off with controlled flair.

Townsley and Erickson both met in high school. “Max hung out with a lot of jazz musicians at a local piano bar,” Townsley says. “He also toured with a rock band called Midlake, while I played organ with my church choir.” The two musicians ended up in a lot of bands together, but eventually decided to form a duo.

The freelance musicians eventually saved up enough money to operate out of their own home studio. “Now we have all the resources we need to completely orchestrate a song to follow the vibe we want,” Townsley says. “Since we also have the luxury of having the skills and resources, we try to take advantage of it.”

“We’ve had absolute control creating our music. I’ve never had to work with another producer who was telling me what to do.” The move also saves money. “Mostly, we’ve done it ourselves for financial reasons. I had to learn to mix because I couldn’t afford to do so,” Townsley says.

Everyone enjoys a little EP, but will fans get something meatier? “We are working on a full-length album. We’re still in the process of recording and mixing everything.” Townsley assures fans that his commitment to the project is absolute. “It will be done the beginning of January, even if I have to stay awake through December.”

While earlier tracks played by The Colurs utilized some prerecorded instrumentations, it’s not the duo’s first preference. “We are getting away from using a lot of programmed music. The songs on our next album are going to have much more live, natural instrumentations,” Townsley says.

What does The Colurs’ first big album sound like so far? “I think it has a broad spectrum of music,” Townsley says. “As opposed to the EP, it’s going to have a wider variation, including ballads and some high-energy songs. We haven’t proposed a name for it yet. Maybe it won’t have a title.”

When asked for more details about the full-length album The Colurs are destined to release in the future, Townsley plays it close to vinyl. “We’re still coming up with a lot of concepts.” The two have a lot of talent and tools, so there have been no final decisions. They also want their first album to be perfect. Why commit to anything too early? “Everything I tell you could be false.”

The young artist assures me that while The Colurs have written a lot of sweet, quiet songs, Erickson and Townsley aren’t confining their future to nothing but more of the same. Elements like hard rock and heavy metal are still on the table for the two.

“I would be open to writing anything,” Townsley says. “I don’t have any preference. My personal taste is all over the map. If a piece that calls for high-energy instrumentation, that’s fine.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Clutch - Music

Clutch released their first LP, Transnational Speedway League, in 1993. Since then the band has made many albums full of hard rock, heavy metal, blues, funk and punk, touring the world playing honest, high-octane music when they aren't hanging out back at home in Germantown, Maryland.

Tim Sult has been lead guitarist for Clutch since the beginning. There are many other genres of music out there for people to enjoy, including electronica, EBM, hip-hop and countless others. After so many years, why do fans around the planet still enjoy traditional rock and roll?

“I think it’s because rock is a form of music that people enjoy seeing performed live,” Sult says. After decades playing in front of audiences, he knows. “For rock bands it’s very important to put on a good live performance, but I think it’s also a necessary trait for any group, whether they play EBM or hip-hop.”

A band can make a lot of mistakes over the course of a career, but to Sult the worst error is quitting. “Too many bands want to sign on to a big label before they go on tour. They don’t want to go out on the road without a major label to sponsor them.” Clutch spent years playing anywhere they could. “You have to play a lot of live shows to build up a good fan base.”

On December 21st Clutch will headline the KBPI “When Hell Freezes Over” radio show in Denver, Colorado at the Fillmore Auditorium. The concert will give the band an opportunity to show off a few of the new songs from their latest album, Earth Rocker.

The new LP will be released on March 13, 2013. “We just finished recording it. It was a long time coming. We spent a lot hours working in the studio, so I’m glad we’re done.” Sult admits that he’d rather play on the road than locked up inside a studio, but the hard labor paid off. “The recording is perfect. It just sounds like a very sharp production.”

Sult believes that Earth Rocker is the best, heaviest collection of rock and metal tracks the band has ever created. “Honestly, it feels like a cross between our first LP and the Robot Hive/Exodus album.” The guitarist also says that Earth Rocker will have a much more modern sound to it, thanks to all the time the band has spent in the studio making it all pitch perfect. “Our old albums can sound more like classic rock, but this certainly sounds like an album from the 90’s and 2000’s.”

The group also composed an acoustic track for the album. “We decided to take a chance with this one,” Sult says. “Sometimes a heavy metal band will write an acoustic song. It either works or it doesn't ” Sult and the group are glad they rolled the dice. “There’s something about an acoustic song that forces you to strip a composition to its bare elements to entertain the audience. It’s a worthwhile challenge.”

Why did Clutch finally put together another LP? “We all felt like it had been too long. We had spent a lot of time compiling ideas for songs without recording any.” If you want premium quality, you have to wait for it. “Our motivation was to write the best record we possibly could.” They all spent long days in the studio until “…the songs came out heavier and faster than anything we’ve done before,” according to Sult, so veteran fans won’t have to worry if they think they’re favorite band has gone soft with experience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Minus the Bear - Music

Erin Tate is the drummer for Minus the Bear, an indie-rock band from Seattle, Washington. Since the release of the band’s first album, Highly Refined Pirates (2002), Minus the Bear has spent a decade composing sophisticated music that challenges conventions and tantalizes the listener with inventive keyboards, progressive bass lines; ferocious guitar licks and brilliant lyrics that can make you think and rock.

Minus the Bear didn’t sell out venues and get millions of hits on YouTube, MySpace and iTunes throughout its career by playing it safe. With its new album, Infinity Overhead, the challenge was to reinvent its formula without forgetting where it came from. “We just want to do whatever makes us happy, but we also want it to sound good,” Tate says. “When we went back to the writing process we decided to just write rock songs with heavy guitars and odd signatures that kick ass.”

Infinity Overhead will kick your ass if you enjoy metal bands that defy modern conventions like King Crimson or Pink Floyd. Psychedelic rock is a broad category that Minus the Bear could almost fit into, but its music feels more post-punk or alternative than something entirely from the 1970's. The band’s signature sound is at the cynosure of many genres, which is why old fans come back for more of what this band makes.

“When you listen to our previous records, you can always tell that it’s us,” Tate says. This challenge exists for every modern band. Change too much and you might lose your fans, but if your music doesn't evolve the band and/or your listeners will get bored, which is when everyone loses. Tate and the band approached Infinity Overhead with that danger in mind. “We wanted to stay out of our comfort zone and try different ideas.”

“On our first record we wanted to play guitars the way people like to hear,” Tate says. It wasn't long before they decided to spice up the process. “After that we began incorporated weird samples and other odd riffs.” A few albums later Minus the Bear wasn't afraid to experiment and combine beauty with the beast. “With Planet of Ice we just went hard with the guitars and wrote intricate songs to go along with it, but with Omni we used a lot of funk,” he says. “I thoroughly believe bands could have longevity if they keep reinventing their own music.”

Infinity Overhead is a broad work. “The record is a really great representation of our career,” Tate says. “Our band has turned 10 years old, so there was this feeling that this album was a tribute to everything we've done so far.” “Lies and Eyes,” one song from the album, is somewhere between pop and electronic, while another track, “Lonely Gun” is a guitar-driven rock song with so much going on its fun to keep up.

While the new album might challenge listeners who are expecting the same thing for a dozen songs, Tate and the band are glad they made an album that has so many angles. “We got a lot of criticism, but we also got a lot of new fans.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hollyweird - Commentary

Do you know that the area around the Hollywood 
sign is haunted by a ghost? I should write a blog 
post about that.

The reason I'm writing this blog post is to explain my hiatus.

Yes, I've taken a long time to post. Aside from being a freelance rock & roll journalist (that is not completely true, but I'm going to keep saying that I'm a "freelance rock & roll journalist" until it's more profitable to be one), I'm also a film actor, and that takes time.

"Takes time" means double for me in that it takes time to "make it" as a film actor (whatever "make it" means, depending on who you are) but it also takes a lot of time from other things you do. Things like family, friends, hobbies and writing.

What really funked me up to no end is that I finally got a real live, breathing, professional agent. So now I'm driving to Beverly Hills or driving to work at some studio or driving to the site of some shoot at 3 am (between hair, make up and technical whatever, a morning shoot usually starts the night before) and then going home, only to check my email or get a call from my agent and find out I have to go to another shoot or another audition.

A one-day film shoot typically takes 10 hours, minimum. It takes a lot longer than that for the technical people. However, for action sequences and shots that are outdoors involving lots of people, the shoots can go beyond 14 hours, easily. For the film Angels & Demons, where I played a member of the Swiss guard (the ones who look like members of the Secret Service in dark suits wearing sunglasses, holsters and a very conservative haircut) I worked from 6 pm to 6 am, plus an hour and a half of driving, for nearly two weeks. I didn't write much during that time, either.

My point is, I haven't written a lot because now I'm doing more "real" acting, as opposed to the extra work I did years ago, and it's a drag because my blog is languishing and I missed writing for it, although I'm still doing a lot of professional writing...which has also taken a toll on the blog.

What's worse is (or better) is since I'm now doing a lot of "real" acting, I'm also doing a lot more acting involving shooting at people with firearms, getting shot, acting sequences, chase scenes and whatnot because I'm getting typecast as the soldier type, agent, mercenary, etc.

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

Because those are really complicated affairs, that means I've been even more busy, and then I get back home and I'm so physically exhausted from having some other actor beat me up and/or knock me down that I don't want to type a lot, either.

The time off was cool, though, because film acting is what I want to do and because it allowed me to come up with ideas for the blog, to make it better for visitors.

Now the season is winding down for the holidays, when Hollywood takes a break from filming until February. There's still commercial work, but I'm not going to count my blessings before they happen.

What's weird is that the Angels & Aliens posts have been really popular. Everyone seems to love those, so I'm going to write them more and more often. The guide to Skinny Puppy essays have also been popular, so its time to write more of those.

There's my story. Sorry to talk about acting, this isn't an acting blog so I don't want to get into that subject, but I wanted to explain why I've been absent so often. No, I'm not a massively successful actor that you recognize from a billboard or blockbuster film, but neither is 95% of the rest of the actors in Hollywood, most of the time.

I can't imagine anyone would want to read the blog of a person who's still working in the mail room, if you were to liken Hollywood as some sort of corporation. I'm not talking to an A-lister (or a B-lister or even a C-lister) on a big silver screen, and I'm not in the credits of a hit sitcom or cable channel exclusive, although I've been on shows like Dexter and Monk a lot as a uniformed cop and detective, so you've probably seen my mug.

I'm sorry to break your heart but they don't actually 
film the entire show in Miami, Florida. 

A lot of what I do these days is running around looking like a cop, soldier, FBI agent, scientist or hitman, or wearing a business suit if the show takes place in an office setting. My usual line is, "Yes, sir." I've done plenty of extremely independent films and have had lots of lines (including, dare I say, genuine "acting") but other than that, bands are more interesting to read about than my cool self because I haven't done a terrific amount of professional acting, compare to a lot of the people I take acting classes with.

In conclusion, the problem with acting is that the more work you get, the more you have to work, because the professional jobs take a lot of time. I'm talking 17 hour days, sometimes. But the season is slowing down so soon there will be more posts by yours truly.

I'm the scientist who looks like he's about to beat that
leprechaun up at the end of the video.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Steve Royall and This Indie Thing (Part II) - Comedy

Meet the men behind This Indie Thing (clockwise): M. Devon Dunlap, Joshua Kwak, Steve Royall and Sacaar Williams.

You mentioned in a previous interview that a lot of the jokes in your show come from your own life.

I still draw a few episode story lines were from my own personal experiences. The cookie commercial episode was one. I did a fast food commercial once and the lady handling the food had a sinus infection and she kept coughing on what I had to eat.

Can you tell me about something else that happened to you in real life that ended up in Season 3?

In season 3 there’s a scene where this girl shows up for a kissing scene, and she has a herpes sore on her lip. That actually happened to me. One of my friends even asked me why I didn’t just kiss around it. We had a big laugh. At the time I didn’t have This Indie Thing put together yet, but it was funny so I saved it.
That’s actually happened to me at least three times, where girls show up for a kissing scene with a herpes sore on their lip. All three of the times they have had this attitude like it’s no big deal. And I’m like, no, if the role was reversed you’d better believe that you’d never do this scene. It’s hilarious that some of these actresses act like kissing them is so great that it’s worth the risk.

Were there ever times when you were tempted to use something that happened to you, but decided not to for fear of offending someone?

No. If I think it’s funny I use it no matter what.

Compared to season 3, what will season 4 be like?

Season 4 is going to be about giving up. So many people come to L.A. to try to make it and it doesn’t seem to happen for them. A lot of people finally just go back home. That will be the overall theme.

There’s still going to be a lot of improvisation. I know where it’s all going to go. I’ve already written the next season. In the previous seasons I’d give the actors the script a week before and we’d just shoot it and do improv. But afterwards I’d always think, “I should have said this, I should have said that.”

Now we’re going to meet two days before the shoot to talk about the script everything beforehand. We’re also going to rehearse the scenes more so that people have a stronger knowledge of the original material. I've already told the cast what to expect.

If you could totally start over and write and film it all again, how else would you approach the project? 

I would still do a lot of improv, but I would also have the actors rehearse the scenes a lot more. When I work on this project, there’s a lot to think about. I’m the camera operator, the director, the writer, the actor, the sound guy…everything. I certainly learned a lot since I first started. I really wish we had done a lot more rehearsals before now, but at the time I had my mind on a lot of other aspects of the show.

Now, for the next season you've mentioned how you are going to use a full crew instead of just doing it all by yourself. Will working with a big crew like that crimp your previous style?

The crew and I have a history from previous projects. They know how I work, so it’s not like they are going to impose their own shooting style upon me. That's part of the reason why we need the money to film it. Many of our actors are also union now, so that costs money, too.

Are these characters going to make it? Let’s face it, the industry is gruesome and a lot of would-be directors and actors drop out of the game and go home. Are some of your characters going to give up, too?

You will just have to see. This is what I will confirm. At least one of the characters will quit, and the one who does is not the one people will expect.

Have you hinted at which character it will be?

It might come across as a surprise.

Can you tell me about a scene, character or plot element that you tried to use, but it just didn’t work out?

Yes. There was supposed to be an episode where my character has an older neighbor who was an actress that didn’t make it. She was kind of like a cougar who was trying to seduce my character by saying she was an up-and-coming director. We shot the scene, but it felt like I was just throwing something together. It wasn’t funny so I just dropped it.
I understand what you mean. Editing is just as important as writing. A lot of other shows on the Internet seem like they are all style and no substance. They have pretty graphics and all that, but once people start talking the quality drops.

When I shot This Indie Thing, I was always focused on the writing more than the look. One of the things I’ve noticed with some other shows on the Internet is that they tend to focus too much on the surface appearance. When they don’t put the same effort into their writing, you can tell. It's not funny. The lines sound stiff…something is missing.

I have to admit that in the earlier seasons, there seemed to be a lot going on. Now the writing is much more austere.

Anything that doesn’t work will get cut. I’m going to film exactly what I need. I wrote season 4 a while ago, so I already know what I need to do.

As scathing and serious as This Indie Thing can get, will the next season still be as funny?

Yes, very much so. It still is going to be a comedy. I don’t want it to be too biting. There’s going to be a lot of social commentary in the next season, but it will always be funny.

But for that, you need the funds.

We really need more money if we’re going to shoot this season. I’d really like to finish the story.

I’m sure your fans want to see it, too.

If you'd like to help Mr. Royall finish This Indie Thing, check out this link.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Montage One's New Album: 10.6.3 OGX - Music

If boring, sold-out rap is an enemy that must be destroyed, Montage One has declared war with 10.6.3 OGX, an album straight from the hip-hop underground that is not the same ol‘ banal dross you’ve heard on the radio too many times before. Produced by MasterKraftsmen, Alchemist and others, Montage One’s latest full-length (release date: Sept. 25) features more than two dozen high-caliber artists including Phil The Agony, Planet Asia, Krondon and Madlib, making the work an instant collector’s item for the fan who wants it all.

Montage One’s talent as a decorated lyrical veteran of the Likwit Crew and Gold Chain Military is on full display here, with songs like “Beat2Def,” a roaring blitzkrieg of a single full of groovy ’70s funk organ tones and wicked scratches that knock you down with the rhymes and out with the beats. Track “Return of the Assassin” also delivers with ominous opening acoustics, thunderous bass and that violent gangster-style you know you love.

You can stream the album over here.

Here it is on iTunes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Crocodiles - Music

The video for the song “Endless Flowers” by The Crocodiles is a nostalgia-drenched visual time trip into the teen idol hits of the ’50s. In the video Brandon Welchez, lead singer for the band, serenades a young girl who is absolutely insane over the attention with an infatuation that goes well beyond safe. Singing in the corner of her room, decked out in glossy black Ray Ban Wayfayers and a leather jacket, Welchez is the perfect, crooning heartthrob. Eventually the girl’s emotions take over and the wild waif gouges his eyes out in a bacchanalian display of violence and lust.

“The director had a pretty clear aesthetic that he worked off of. He was into a lot of work by John Waters, especially Cry-Baby, so it affected the look,” says Welchez, who certainly enjoyed being a part of the bloody, satirical look of the music video. “The director was pretty good at bringing out the dark and humorous side of things.”

Formed in 2008 by Welchez and fellow musician Charles Rowell, The Crocodiles are an indie pop band that can be compared to early groups like Gary Glitter or Tommy James & The Shondells, but are also similar to modern, post-punk-tinged acts with the same reverb fuzz flair like The Raveonettes or the Jesus and Mary Chain. But as much as the current influence is good, clean fun, Welchez points out that the band’s current sound is more of a phase than a permanent category.

“When you get into self-definition you are just creating walls for yourself,” he says. By that Welchez means the current sound that The Crocodiles are known for after three albums (which include 2009’s Summer of Hate and 2010’s Sleep Forever) is just temporary, and the groovy duo certainly intend to experiment with different genre’s in the future. With that in mind, why adopt a name that only compromises potential future creativity?

“When we first started, we had a vague concept of having a futuristic, garage-style sound,” Welchez says. Since it’s just Rowell and him calling the shots, it was easy to playing the music without conforming to any particular genre. “After a while we just kind experimented until we ended up where we are, now.” The one thing the two agreed on was that they wouldn’t be a part of any scene. “If Charles came up with a rap song, I’d sing it,” he says.

What’s next for The Crocodiles? “We are about to start our U.S. tour,” Welchez says. “We have a couple of weeks off after that and then we go back to Europe.” Will they still be able to find time to dream up a new album while they are on the road? The young singer’s response is a blend of realism and optimism. “Sure, we have to support the latest album, but we are already looking forward to going back into the studio. We have a shitload of half-formed ideas for a lot of songs, and we want to work on all of them.”

The Crocodiles with Soft Pack and the Heavy Hawaii at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802;; Fri., Oct. 19. 7pm. $12-$14.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hunx and His Punx - Music

There are many reasons why a young man in this modern era would decide to be the lead singer of a punk rock band. For Seth Bogart, the fabulous front man for Hunx and His Punx, the motivation is philosophical. “You’re born naked and you die naked, you’re born punk and you die punk,” he says. “I just love my friends and love music and love to be loud.”

The feeling is infectious because the group’s first complete studio album, Too Young To Be In Love, is a combination of pop and punk that has proven to be delectable to the critics who have taste. Dusted, Pitchfork and American Noise have heaped plenty of praises on the LP, which was recorded in New York City by Ivan Julian of the incomparable punk band Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Bogart calls his style of music “young oldies.” “If I had to perform any other type of music, it would be pop,” he says. His previous bands, H.U.N.X. and Gravy Train, were both post-pop groups that allowed the artist to experiment with what worked and what didn’t. Years later, Too Young To Be In Love is the kind of album that gives you more every time you hear it, thanks to Bogart’s previous musical experiences.

There’s also a distinct ’50s vibe to the LP, similar to the Ramones or a garage band equivalent of The Raveonettes, but the darkness underneath all the glitter is deliciously modern, similar to the whimsical sound of The Dead Milkmen combined with the cynical savvy of The Dead Kennedys. Too Young To Be In Love is the kind of album that looks like it should be next to iconic punk records like Black Flag’s Everything Went Black, anything by the New York Dolls or Bad Music for Bad People by The Cramps.

When asked about what influences him, Bogart’s answer is revealing. “I believe everything influences everyone without anyone knowing it no matter what. The only [influence] I am totally aware of and am constantly trying to completely copy,” he says, “[is] Alvin and The Chipmunks.” Artistic influence aside, Hunx and His Punx are the perfect band for people who like sass in their songwriting. Bogart slings his lyrics with the petulant royalty of a drag queen, delivering vocals peppered with coy references to dirty, kinky, funny sex.

You know you are dealing with a pro when Bogart talks about the importance of punk music. “Punk is whatever you want it to be. I don’t believe in some bands being more punk than others. I think The Germs are as equally as punk as Britney Spears running into a budget hair salon and shaving her head bald and smashing a SUV with an umbrella.” Maybe that’s the secret of the unique genius of Hunx and His Punks. Whimsical nihilism has never sounded so sweet. “Just be yourself and do whatever the f@#k you wanna do,” he says, and his music means it.

The Glass House is the perfect place for any punk show, and Bogart is no stranger to the venue. “I performed there once with my old band Gravy Train,” he says. “I love that venue, and the kids in Pomona are amazing. I am so excited to be able to do my thing there.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Steve Royall and This Indie Thing - Comedy

Steve Royall (center) and the cast of This Indie Thing

In a town where getting noticed can take you a lifetime, the ones who want it the most don’t want to wait so they go out there and do it themselves. Instead of taking a turn at the roulette wheel by standing in line at an audition with the rest of the mob some players take the hard route and invest the time, effort and talent to create their own show because they know that if it’s done well the industry will come looking for them.

Steve Royall knows this because for a few years now This Indie Thing, a comedy web series that he writes, directs and stars in, has been a project the artist has done for himself, telling the stories of four young men trying to make it or break it in Hollywood and the odd characters and situations they encounter on the journey.

At first, This Indie Thing was a series of jokes served up improv-style. The situations were comical and the moves the characters all made were done for laughs. As time went on the jokes didn't stop, but we got to know the protagonists, to understand their motivations and figure out who they really are.

In the last season, though, the situation has changed for the four friends. Now, Sean (Steve Royall), Teddy (Sacaar Williams), Kevin (Joshua Kwak), and Antone (M. Devon Dunlap) are more than just fishermen, throwing a pole into any harbor they sail to. They've been in Hollywood for a while now, so being new to the game isn’t an excuse, and old errors come back to blow them off course.

That's what makes This Indie Thing so unique in comparison to its contenders. The show has soul. These characters have grown-up together, and the experience shows. We care about where they want to go because we've seen where they've been. The story isn't just about being funny, anymore.

In one scene, when one character tells another that maybe the girl he’s seeing isn’t right for him (dangerous conversational territory for any man) the sentiment is real because the tension is there. These guys have a history, one Mr. Royall has carefully written for them over the last few seasons, and because of that background, the sentimental discussion between the two has more resonance than the usual combination of one-liners.

Mr. Royall’s cunning use of suspense is a hallmark of both humor and horror. During one scene in the third season, Royall’s character, Sean, encounters the rather large and intimidating new boyfriend of the upstairs neighbor he failed successfully hook up with. When Sean and his friend look up, and up, at the new date who certainly doesn’t respect them, there’s a very real feeling that someone could catch a genuine beating over the encounter.

As a trained director Mr. Royall knows what he’s doing. Horror and humor hinge on the what if, the unexpected shock that makes us laugh or scream. Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks knew how to shock you, whether the results give you laughter in the air or blood on the floor.

With season 3 wrapped up and staring down the barrel of season 4, Mr. Royall is ready to finish the job. At this point the challenge is to gather the funds necessary to do so. The young director has serious aspirations for the finale of his series, but that takes money.

I spoke with him about This Indie Thing, what’s scary, what’s funny, and what’s in the future for Steve Royall.

Halloween is around the corner, so tell me about a horror film that really inspires and/or influences you as a writer and director.

I always thought that the The Shining was pretty good. I liked the psychological aspect of it. It wasn’t just a slasher flick with a bunch of blood. The film really shows a man losing his mind. It’s also unpredictable. With a lot of horror movies you know what’s going to happen. When one guy separates himself from the group, you are not surprised when he gets killed.

“I’ll be right back!” Yeah, I hate that. 

You’ve seen all the plot points before, and because you know what’s going to happen there’s no tension so it’s not scary.

What aspects of the film do you appreciate from a technical perspective?

One of the shots I really liked in The Shining is when the camera is following the kid on the tricycle in the hallway before he runs into the two girls who are the ghosts. Its shot in one long take from his perspective, too. When he sees the two weird twins, and then they are suddenly dead and covered in blood, you know what it’s like to be that kid.

I love that part in the film. I also like how you never really find out too much about what happened in the hotel. The director doesn't just hand the story over to you.

I noticed in the last season of This Indie Thing, when you and your friend run into the girl upstairs and meet her monstrously huge, slightly threatening boyfriend, you employed a similar technique to create tension as well. When the angle moved from his perspective back to yours, I really felt like that guy was gigantic.

He was actually 6’10”. It was basically an over-the-shoulder shot so you could see I was looking up at him. Then I used a side shot to show the difference in our heights.

I like how the scene is funny, but it’s also frightening, especially when you realize that the girl’s new boyfriend doesn’t like your character because of your history with her. There they are in this lonely, dark hallway, and he's just immense. The silence is unsettling. You just let the angles build up the tension without laying it on too thick with music or excess dialogue.

Thank you. I took a lot of advanced cinematography classes. (Laughs.)

How did you get all four of the characters in one shot as the guy and the girl are going up the stairs? That could not have been easy.

We just tried a lot of angles until we got the right one. She was on the tallest step so he could talk to her directly. I did my best to make sure you could see our reaction to the conversation the girl and her boyfriend are having.

Considering your training, does it bother you when a horror movie sucks? It seems like you’d notice the mistakes a lot more than the average viewer.

It doesn’t really offend me. When I’m watching any horror film, I try to respect what the director is doing. If they choose to do not to do something, that is their choice.

Compared to The Shining, what other modern horror films use cinematography to achieve the same effect?

I don’t compare those other films because they don’t compare.

(Laughs.) Yeah, you’re right…


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven - Music

David Lowery is a successful performer who is very familiar with the business of making music and the fame and fortune that goes along with it. As lead vocalist and guitarist for Camper Van Beethoven back in late ’80s/early ’90s, Lowery had already seen phenomenal success with the bittersweet single, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.”

After Camper Van Beethoven took a break Lowery and Johnny Hickman, lead guitarist, created the band Cracker. The hit single “Low” cemented the group as an independent act in its own right. Lowery grew up in Redlands and met the members of both bands while living in the Inland Empire, so performing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Sept. 15 will be like coming home for him.

“Camper was kind of alternative and folksy, while Cracker was rock with some country elements,” Lowery says. Camper Van Beethoven has its own influences, but Cracker has others. “The ’60s hippy rock band Kaleidoscope is a big influence on Camper Van Beethoven, along with UK’s The Fall and Nick Cave. With our next album we really plan to just carry on where we left off. Camper is more timeless, I’d say.”

Cracker is alternative rock with an Inland Empire twist. “A lot of the IE resonates throughout our entire catalog. We really are influenced by that part of Southern California, where we grew up.” Lowery is part of a proud tradition of music in the Inland Empire, which includes performers like Frank Zappa. “Zappa was here in the ’70s. A lot of surf bands also came from around San Bernardino County. The Rolling Stones even played one of their first U.S. gigs out here.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Junior Toots - Music

Real reggae only comes from Jamaica. Don't get me wrong, the music that ends up making it's way to far-off places like the U.S. or the U.K. is swell, but unless the artist was born, raised, and/or cut his teeth in the homeland in or around Kingston, it's cool but it's not the genuine deal. I enjoy Hawaiian reggae and the American bands that I've heard throughout my career as a second-rate rock journalist, but when I listen to cuts from dudes like Peter Tosh, Junior Murvin or from groups like Burning's like comparing light sockets to lightning bolts.

That's not to bash other artists who aren't blessed enough to be performing anywhere near the city of Kingston. Hey, if you are rockin' roots reggae as hard as you can somewhere out of a smokey bar in Tokyo, Japan, go for it. But reggae, like punk music, demands that it either have an air of authenticity, or be heir to some real authenticity, otherwise anyone listening to the genre can tell instantly that it's garbage. If you hear bad reggae, it's probably the jingle to an obnoxious ad campaign, and that's not music...that's Babylon, man.

It does not get more OG reggae than Junior Toots, who had named his own style "original roots." The artist knows all about the term because he was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and his father is no one else than the legendary Toots Hibbert of the band Toots and the Maytals. If you didn't know that the father of Junior Toots is responsible for the name of the genre (1968's Do the Reggay by Toots and the Maytals made the term so popular it became permanent), now you do.

Junior Toots has walked well in the footsteps of his elders. One of his early albums, Reggae Got Soul, is a far more sophisticated, far more sublime work of reflexive skill than you'd expect from some young dude who hasn't had enough life experience to be that good just yet. You can tell that the man didn't just hear the conversation, music and teachings of the older artists that undoubtedly affected his early interest in music...he listened, too.

The lineage of reggae goes back all the way to Africa. If you listen, too, you can hear the same rhythms, melodies and up-tempo beats you'd find in modern American rock and roll, including artists that took ska and ran with it like The Police or Operation Ivy (ok, Op Ivy is more ska-core than anything else, but you get my point). Junior Toots has got something sweet with his own original roots sound, which is a smooth yet sophisticated composition of roots-reggae, ska and dancehall.

Any great artist takes the music around him and makes it his (or her) own, whether it's a fundamental tweak, a stylistic interpretation, or some other unique characteristic. You know what I mean...AC/DC and the Rolling Stones are both rock and roll bands, but when you compare them to each other the differences are obvious. Led Zeppelin is technically rock and roll, too, but they went to places other bands that call themselves rock and roll have never gone.

While Toots has a personal charisma that shines through his sound and underlines its uniqueness, he still knows what makes reggae good. His father, Toots Hibbert, spent a lot of time with his son while recording music with his band in Kingston, and the influence was a positive one. “I went to rehearsals and studio recording sessions when I was really young," he says. "I also recorded some music with him at an early age so the music is in my blood.”

Junior Toots demonstrates this sanguine sonic connection all throughout his new album, A Little Bit of Love. The album is certainly worth touring over. His personal combination of philosophy and reggae are on perfect display here, with tracks like "Puss and Dog," a quietly clever song about both being as fast and wise as a cat, so you don't end up in jail. Part of that strategy also involves keeping the peace by knowing when to run, something any street player can understand.

Another track, "Physically Spiritually," is a pure message of togetherness the world needs to hear, more. A sweet song, it preaches the wonder of diversity and the miracle of unity. “We need to encourage each other to do well and to stay healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually,” Toots says. Love is a big feature of reggae, and it's always cool to have something positive to play for the party.

You can tell from his songs and interviews that Junior Toots is an artist influenced as much by his benevolence as he is by the desire to make a living playing reggae. He likes to create what he calls, "conscious music."  “When I say conscious music, I mean my lyrics are aware of the needs of everyone: The need to be connected to nature and to other cultures besides your own," Toots says. "I hope my music encourages people to put away their egos and make intentions to heal, to love, and to care. Conscious means to come together.”

You can buy A Little Bit of Love right here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Esko - Music

Esko is a hip-hop artist with his own unique mood, message and sound. Before he came to Los Angeles, California from Raleigh, North Carolina in 2010, the emcee grew up in New Jersey with a mother that didn't want her son choosing LP's over textbooks, so he didn't start messing with the music until the age of 15, thanks to good friends and an easy-to-hide Walkman CD player.

“It was something fun to do between classes,” Esko remembers. “Me and my homie would write during class and then have little battles and compare verses. It grew from funny joke verses to little songs.”

Once he found rap, the self-professed class clown put his humor and imagination to work, composing rhymes about who he was, where he lived and what he knew. Years later Esko is laughing all the way to the studio, living and working in sunny Southern California where the young artist is still writing music about the life he lives.

The Seed is Esko's second album, and it's a perfect combination of experienced poise and youthful energy, which is what you'd expect from and artist who's a veteran to the industry but still comparatively new. His lyrics, beats and rhythms come from a very different place than many of his local contemporaries, and it shows. Drawing influences from such diverse talents as Andre 3000, Method Man and Eminem, Esko is a hip-hop musician operating in Los Angeles without sounding like every other artist in L.A.

In 2006 Esko released Behind the Shades, his first album. A fluid combination of sounds reminiscent of acts like Pink Floyd, Portishead and rap artists from across the spectrum, 'Shades was followed up by an EP entitled The Floor Model in 2009. Along the way he forged new connections, practiced his form and perfected his method, but it would be three years before the world would get another LP from Esko.

There's something magical about that second album. Nirvana had Nevermind. The Smashing Pumpkins had Siamese Dream. Esko's next creation, The Seed, has a similar energy, largely because the artist has had enough life experience since 'Shades to forge his next album from some serious psychological mettle and give it an incisive, philosophical edge.

"The seed has to grow towards the light," Esko says about The Seed. A ten song analysis of what the emcee has seen and experienced over the last few years, you get the impression that the artist has flown far and wide only to hit the ground and have to start over many times during his career, but the spirit of rejuvenation has served him well, and The Seed is an album with layers and levels that anyone who's grown up tough can relate to.

Set for release on August 23, 2012, The Seed is serious fun in addition to being a work of mature thought. There's a yin and a yang to everything, and any rap album that bangs the same emotional gong over and over again ain't going to last long. Thankfully, Esko has had enough life experience to know that pain + time = humor, a formula any stand up comic can relate to. Hate, anger, pain, fun, laughter...they are all ingredients for Esko's banquet, and he serves it up with aplomb.

Produced by Sean Lane, whom Esko met while attending a university in North Carolina, The Seed has a sleek sound that only gets gritty when it has to underscore a message. Along with Lane's technical expertise, the album also has artists like Q-Smith, CAV3 and J-Kits to help pack more power into the LP's punch. Whether you're new to rap or you've heard it all, Esko has served up an audio gourmet feast everyone can enjoy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kottonmouth Kings (2012 Interview) - Music

While they have often been imitated, no other band has been able to match the punk rock attitude, hip-hop style, and ferocious independence of the Kottonmouth Kings. Since the release of Royal Highness in 1998, Brad X, Johnny Richter, DJ Bobby B, Lou Dog, The Dirtball, Dustin Miller and the rest have delivered album after album of highly-stylized, deliciously unique music for audiences who crave something too controversial for the mainstream.

The group was first formed in Placentia, California in 1994. Orange County is a place of surf and sand, but like any other city there’s guns and drugs along with the good times. Those good times can involve marijuana, a subject that can be too taboo for radio, which is how the band ended up owning and operating their own independent studio to make their own music, something Brad X is glad they did.

“It gives us total creative freedom,” he says. “We do it all on our own terms. The band and I have a full set-up including cameras, a green screen, recording equipment and everything we need to produce and mix our own records. We do it all ourselves.”

Brad X

This do it yourself attitude is a hallmark of the punk music movement, ever since Richard Hell starting decorating his clothes with black markers, rips and safety pins. Decades later, not relying on the mainstream means relying on your own wit and resources, something the Kottonmouth Kings have always done.

“I first got my exposure to music because of punk rock. Do it yourself has always been how we do things. Technology has really leveled the platform for independent artists like us. It’s still the Wild West out there on the Internet,” Brad X says.

2011’s Sunrise Sessions was a smash. More dedicated to cruising than rocking, fans and critics alike gave the melodic, almost introspective album lavish revues. A year later, do they feel like they have a hard LP to follow?

“The recording of that album went on for almost two years. It started out as an acoustic, completely organic production. It definitely had a slower vibe because we were setting out to make a more mellow record.” Brad X says.

In contrast, their latest album, Mile High (to be released on August 14th) is calculated to be a barn burner. “This one is a complete polar opposite. We have slamming beats, big rhymes, huge jams…its Kottonmouth Kings on steroids,” Brad X reports. “We’ve been working with this new type of bass, it has a really powerful, original sound to it, and it’s going to blow stereo systems away.”

While the ‘Kings enjoyed creating Sunrise Sessions, Brad X admits it might have given some fans the wrong impression. “I think maybe people thought that as we were evolving and becoming more melodic we were also getting too mellow.” Mile High is a scorching reminder that the group is still aggressive. “We still have a lot of fire, a lot of passion. We have a long way to go. Sunrise Sessions was cool. It was a left jab, but Mile High is a right hook.”

Brad X reports that the album will show a big punk rock influence combined with dubstep, reggae and rock. The Kottonmouth Kings has spent hours perfecting the beats, jams and bass lines that will end up in the album, inviting artists like Saint Dog, Twiztid, and Mickey Avalon to get in on the action.

“There are eighteen tracks on this album,” Brad X says. “The beats are just insane with this one. We have a couple of punk tracks like the song, ‘This Addiction,’ and hard slammin’ party songs like ‘Roll It Up.’ There’s another heavy song called ‘Boom Box’ that we just shot a video for."

It’s great when your favorite band puts out another LP, but you always want more of the same to go along with some of the new. “As much as Mile High is turbo-charged, the overall sound and lyrics is still vintage ‘Kings,” Brad X says. “It’s progressive, though, and the guest artists introduced many new elements to the album.”

The Kottonmouth Kings have put a lot of new elements into their tour as well, Brad X is proud to report, from the scary stylings of Prozac to the underground hard-hitting power of Big B. There’s even a jolt of country hip-hop thanks to The Moonshine Bandits.

“We are always pushing ourselves to keep from being stagnant,” Brad X says. “I’m not really big on nostalgia. I’m really into embracing the future, living for today, but going through it all and then looking back at our past to get something out of it.”

The artist is serious about his statement. The band has been through a lot together, including failures and successes, but Brad X acknowledges that the pain has made them all stronger. “Some of us have lost friends and family, but we’ve also traveled the world and have had great experiences. All of that is reflected in our show. Music gives us resilience and perseverance.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Montage One and "Beat2Def" - Music

The news that Montage One had just released an original single from his next album onto the hip-hop scene is good, indeed. He’s representative of the new breed of rap artist where innovative sounds, literary-worthy lyrics and unique vision are parts to the whole machine. I feel bad saying it, but with lesser artists, it's common to end up with two out of three.

By that I mean Montage One stands out from the impressive population of hip-hop artists out here in California because with his music, it’s not just the words, as much as I like them. Sure, with Montage One lyrical excellence is pretty much a given. Hip-hop is defined by rap, which is delineated by poetic genius. If you cannot compose rhymes that reference modern concepts listeners can relate to in fresh and inventive ways, you will be lost against the thousands of other voices that sound just like you who are also operating in the industry.

“Beat2Def,” Montage One’s latest single, is a solid piece of work. The title alone is worth the price of admission. “Beat2Def.” I’m going to beat you to death. Better yet, these beats are def. No, wait, these beats are so def that you will literally have your music sensibilities beat to death by the power of this song’s coolness. Better yet, on one hand this song has beats, but on the other hand it's def. Word up to Montage One for bringing back one of my favorite 80's hip-hop slang terms. 

But “Beat2Def” is also a solid song, even without the lyrics. I’m a listener who has been enjoying this stuff since Yo! MTV Raps. I was jamming to Easy E in junior high. Kool Mo Dee still makes me become very quiet out of sheer respect for the magnitude of philosophy he put into every rhyme he wrote. Sure I love the Beastie Boys, but I really wish people talked about 3rd Bass more. I remember buying Ice-T’s singles on cassette tape at Music Plus, when they came in little cardboard boxes wrapped in plastic. You gotta work hard to impress my experienced tastes, sorry.

So I was very pleased with how Montage One’s single delivered because of the instant, classical vibe it expressed in the first few seconds. I mentioned old-skool rap in the last paragraph to underline how pleased I was with hearing ice cold, completely groovy, 70's funk-worthy organ tones with so much soul all you can do is listen.

At that point the song could probably jet across the stratosphere on it's own, but the MC's choice to throw in 80's-worthy scratching effects was impressive. I was suddenly back in junior high, listening to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." Remember how fucking cool that song was the first time you ever heard it? That's ok because with "Beat2Def" the scratch is back, a parallel and contrast to the luscious tones coming out of the synthesizers. Producer Jlisted has done some great engineering, here, and the diligence shows. 

This was gratifying because when it comes to singles, there are rules. It has to be representative of what the artist has done and can do. When "Shadrach" came out as a single before Paul's Boutique, you knew the Beastie Boys were making a promise to you that their album was going to keep. I remember listening to "Higher Ground" before Mother's Milk came out, relieved that the Red Hot Chili Peppers next record was going to rock.

Let's face it, we like the artists we listen to and all of us attempt to preach accordingly. I had a few friends over, and to show off Montage One I blasted "Beat2Def" as loud as the rattling windows would allow. They were totally won over by what they were hearing. A proper single should do that.

Ras Kass and Guilty Simpson brings some serious heavy artillery to the song, too. This is in addition to the cuts being performed by DJ Revolution. Part of why "Beat2Def" has so much power is because of the talent that's been packed into it. You have to respect lyrics that combine references to Nebuchadnezzar, the regenerative power of amphibians and the prowess of MMA superstar Randy Couture, plus flying saucers. You probably have to replace the batteries on your thesaurus after composing something like that.

If the single is a promise of things to come, 10.6.3 OGX looks guaranteed to make it one hot autumn. The LP is set for release on September 11, 2012. If you like what you hear, you can find it all here.