Recycled Rock N Roll

Recycled Rock N Roll

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Lunar Atlantic - Music

Austin White, vocalist and rhythm guitarist for The Lunar Atlantic, met drummer Elias Texel in the second grade, but it wasn’t until shortly after high school that the two met lead guitarist Charlie Sparks and bassist Tim Hergert to form their band.

“We’re roommates now, too.” White says. “We’re lucky because we are all best friends.”

Operating out of its hometown of Cathedral City, California, The Lunar Atlantic performs in the High Desert around Palm Springs when it isn’t playing gigs in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s the austere, lonely vistas of the California desert that influence the band, instilling its sound with an energy best described as sad, sweet and addictively progressive.

“It’s not easy to be a band in a desert. There are very limited places to play,” White says. “The atmosphere really helps our music.”

The Lunar Atlantic has a name that is guaranteed to look sharp on a concert shirt. Where did the members come up with the title? Is it a cool reference, or is it just cool?

“It was a long thought process to come up with a name,” White says. “We had quite a few songs written, and we had been performing for a while without a name. My lyrics were always about the ocean, so we thought about names that were nautical, like we are from the sea. We were all hanging out, and one of us just said it out loud, so that was it.”

The Lunar Atlantic released its very first LP, Eyes, in early 2012. It’s an album full of raucous licks, brilliant breakdowns, introspective bass lines and lyrics that possess the hopeful energy of youth juxtaposed by compositions tinged grey by depression. Eyes is original, but also hints at a lot of deep influences from across a wide spectrum of music.

“That’s a hard question to answer. It’s hard to define yourself. When you do, it’s like you are just putting yourself into the wrong genre,” White says. “If we had to mention one influence, it would be Thrice. They used to really be hardcore punk, but as I grew up their music changed and that was cool because I changed with them. They’ve since retired but they are still my favorite band.

“Another band is The Reign of Kindo. I don’t even know how to describe their songs. They sound kind of like rock music mixed with jazz and a Latin influence, and their music is scored so perfectly. They are such musical geniuses.”

The band draws from some respectable influences but ultimately its sound is entirely original largely because of the unique nature of Lunar Atlantic’s compositions, lyrics included.

“I think as far as writing the lyrics I’m pretty hard on myself in making sure the song is structured and written before the lyrics,” White says. “I want to hear the finished song and think about how it makes me feel. Our lyrics are basically about life, problems in life, overcoming things in life. I’m also into writing about nostalgia and taking myself back to a place where I want to be, and bringing the audience with me.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nichole Preuss - Music

If you've been reading this blog and going through the posts, you've probably noticed I've interviewed a lot of musicians. I don't know how many, probably less than a hundred and more than fifty, but the point is that when it comes to talking to artists about what they do, I have plenty of experience.

This means that I don't have to interview artists that are new on the scene. I could interview Lady Gaga or Maroon 5 or Blink 182 and they'd probably be happy to talk to me. I'm obviously a pro, but those artists are so gigantic that when you email their press reps, they generally never email you back. Those people have plenty of press, they don't need me.

Which is cool because interviewing really awesome, massively popular artists and bands is kind of a drag. Those people fill up stadiums all around the world, and their daily struggles are more about where to bank with their millions, how hard it is to stay in a penthouse suite at the Hilton, and what it's like to never go out in public and really enjoy yourself with some measure of privacy again.

I'm not saying super duper popular artists are boring to interview, but they generally are extremely occupied with staying on top, and saying the wrong thing could ruin their career. As a result, interviewing those artists can feel like talking to an artificial intelligence computer program in that their answers are measured, non-controversial and perfectly selected to please precise middle of their demographic.

New artists, in contrast, have stories to tell. They are excited. They are going up. These artists tend to be more open to talking about the hard times as well as the good moments, without sounding like a commercial. Let's face it, people working their way up still have stories to tell. The people at top tend to have no more new stories to tell.

That's not to put down the super duper popular types, hey, Rolling Stone has to put someone on their cover, but I'm always going to prefer the fighting dogs of music who are still rocking the streets, compared to the pampered penthouse A-list types who are obviously possessed of genius talent, but end up being so famous and so successful that they can't really talk to anyone about what it's really like to be where they are.

Don't get me wrong, I'll interview anyone, especially the A-listers, but artists who are moving up are just easier to talk to, which also makes them easier to write about.
Jazz is an American tradition that conjures up swank, smoke-filled nightclubs and black-garbed, inebriated beatniks, snapping their fingers and keeping it groovy. But beyond the Beat Generation jazz was an art that began with African-American artists from the Deep South who combined traditional beats with deft instrumentals and soul-stirring, improvisational rhythms.

Nearly a hundred years after Earl Kenneth Hines refined jazz piano and helped bring about bebop, the genre is alive and flourishes in the voice of Nichole Preuss and the music she performs at the Hip Kitty in downtown Claremont.

For Preuss, music is in the blood. “My father and mother were both musicians,” she says. “My father is still a working musician in Las Vegas. He’s more into funk and R&B. My mother loved jazz, but she ended up playing a lot more rock music during the ’70s. My uncles were in the band with her but they didn’t really like jazz as much. My mother is really the one that got me into jazz, though.”

Nichole Preuss started playing professionally six years ago, and is a regular performer at swank establishments like the Hip Kitty or Steamers Jazz Club and Café in Fullerton. What’s the secret of her style? “If an artist truly loves the music, they know how to improvise and be themselves. You have to be able to let it flow,” she says.

Improvisation is a key factor, but any jazz musician will tell you that the subtle art isn’t for people who crave loud guitar solos and booming drums. “Jazz is sophisticated. You have to have a lot of skill to play it. You also have to really know your instrument. Some rock and roll artists play chords, but jazz musicians play notes,” she says.

Her premier album, Caravan, is a combination of old and new. Named after a song on the album by the same name, the LP is the kind of crooning magic you’d expect to hear playing out of a juke joint decades ago, miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line being performed right now by a woman in love with the art today.

Preuss noticed during her many performances that “Caravan” was the one track that moved people the most. “I just love it . . . that song is my favorite one to jam, too. People would always call that one out for me to play when I would perform.”

Nat King Cole is a legend amongst jazz musicians, and Preuss has performed many of his songs live. “He worked with so many artists in his day. I listened to him so much when I was a kid. There was something so mesmerizing about his voice, his timing and his style.”

The Hip Kitty is a beautiful, dark jazz joint perfectly designed for the genre, and Preuss has been playing there since the place opened years ago. Does having the right atmosphere help her performance? “The environment definitely helps,” Preuss says. “The ultimate spot is a place that doesn’t have loud talking or anything else that interferes with the performance. Even smaller, more intimate places are awesome as long as people are there to listen to the music”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Deborah Iyall - Music

Deborah Iyall describes her own music with all the appropriate adjectives. “Poetic. Passionate. Danceable. Personal. Fearless. I’m influenced by new wave and punk . . . but the fact is the punk music I listen to isn’t what people think punk music is. I prefer bands like the Talking Heads or Television.”

Iyall has loved music ever since she was a small child. “I was always the kid who knew the lyrics to the songs on the radio” she says. It was because of another performer that Iyall became one herself. “One night I saw Penelope Huston of the Avengers play at Mabuhay Gardens, a really big punk club in San Francisco.”

Iyall saw Houston strut her stuff, and realized she could do that, too. “Yes. I thought, I can sing as well as that. I also had something to say. She was about my age, too. I loved her energy.”

A short while later Iyall had success as lead singer of the legendary new wave band Romeo Void. Two of her hit singles, “Never Say Never” and “A Girl in Trouble” ended up being chart hits.

Mainstream pop will always be there, but independent music is where the best bands originate. Outside of the industry the dogs eat the dogs with greater ferocity because it’s the jungle. Because of that, only the best independent musicians get noticed, and Iyall is proud of where she’s at.

“Indie music is better because it’s what you and your friends made,” Iyall says, laughing. “We aren’t trying to reach for the lowest common denominator or looking for a market. The mainstream writes, ‘This Summer Let’s Party in the USA’ because a demographic tells them that the song will be popular.”

Singing Until Sunrise is Iyall’s latest album. The title is a reference to her own Native American roots. “My tribe comes from Washington State. During the big ceremonies some tribes would dance two nights, but our tribe would dance four nights.” Such a commitment to music is certainly in the singer and songwriter’s blood. “Singing Until Sunrise is my own way of saying how I’m going to sing until dawn.”

The album was produced by Grammy Award-winning Francis Buckley, and the quality certainly shows. Singing Until Sunrise has class, evoking the atmospheric tones of Echo and the Bunnymen or the seductive grace of Souixsie and the Banshees.

What would Iyall like her future to be? “I’m performing down here in the southland to get people to notice I’m making new music.” It’s not that she wants to sell out; she just wants to sell out some venues. “My fans still love my old songs, and that’s great, but I still want to cash in on my new songs.”

“I would love to supplement my income with my music. It’s what I love to do, but if I have to carry around the baggage of being a punk musician I want something to show for it,” Iyall says.

To the young female performer, the LP is both a tribute to music and to people in her life who are long gone. “I love knowing I give people thrills when I do play. I’ve lost a lot of friends, some to AIDS, and it’s sad that they aren’t here to enjoy music anymore,” Iyall says. “I feel like I’m a member of that generation, so I have to carry on and represent those people. I have a responsibility.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bro' - Film

"Bro'" is a term we're all familiar with. It's synonymous with "dude" or "G." The slang seems more surfer than anything else. "Hey, bro', there are some killer waves out there today."

In Southern California a bro' is what you get if you combine piercings, blue jeans, biker rings, gangster iconography, Metal Mulisha, Tap Out t-shirts, mixed martial arts, spiked leather belts, lifted trucks, tattoos of "Inland Empire" or "909" with a serious gangster/rock-a-billy/native SoCal flavor, dirt bikes, skateboards and everything else the X Games have to offer.

My description is still insufficient, and I've hung out with bro's forever since I started writing for Skinnie Entertainment Magazine nearly a decade ago. If you live in the Inland Empire, you know what a bro' is, and Hollywood doesn't, for the most part.

Beau Manley and Colin "Scummy" Morrison in Bro'

My point is that any music-oriented youth subculture is always difficult to pin down because that's just the way it is. I was very surprised that Nick Parada, the director of Bro', chose to point his camera at a demographic largely ignored by Hollywood. I still can't think of a single film or television show that seemed to capture the spirit of the Southern California hardcore punk scene I experienced growing up in the 80's and 90's throughout San Bernardino County.

My friends and I listened to bands like The Dickies, the Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag, rode skateboards and wore all of the spiked belts, leather jackets, band shirts and combat boots we could purchase off of Melrose Ave. in L.A. to wear that weekend to the Voodoo Glow Skulls show at Spanky's in Riverside. We were punk, mostly into music produced by Dr. Strange Records, but beyond that no one I ever saw that was supposed to be punk on the big screen ever looked like me or my friends, which is why I enjoyed Bro' so much.

In one of the early scenes of Bro', the main character, Johnny (played by Will Chavez) goes with his new friend, Jesse (played by Beau Manley, a former member of Metal Mulisha) to a party out in the Inland Empire, where we meet Jesse's friend and fellow dirt bike rider, Rudy (played by Colin "Scummy" Morrison of Metal Mulisha) I was blown away. I've partied in Riverside, at houses like that, with people like that. A few minutes later, Johnny watches as Jesse and Rudy beat up and kick out a few other people who came to the party for being posers. I almost laughed out loud, because I had seen something like that happen a dozen times at some of the parties I'd been at. 

Johnny's story is the primary component of Bro'. He's a college kid growing up in Burbank, working at a gym, and that's about all you find out about him, aside from the fact he lives with his mom in the suburbs. He could be anybody.

Will Chavez, Colin "Scummy" Morrison and Rebekah Graf  in Bro'

Johnny picks up on Jesse's sister, goes to her house, meets Jesse, and the story begins. You can't blame Johnny for hanging out with Jesse. Compared to him, Johnny is dull, more mainstream than anything else. That's the point of any coming-of-age drama, though. Oliver Twist, the central protagonist of Oliver Twist, is a nice kid, but he's also a fucking bore. He really doesn't get interesting until he meets the Artful Dodger, a criminal operating in London that provides the nice kid with the reason to rock the streets living a life of crime.

Jesse is the Artful Dodger. He drives a lifted truck, races dirt bikes, is covered in tattoos and seems to run the show. He smokes weed, parties, sells cocaine and buys firearms. He's a badass. Of course Johnny wants to hang out with Jesse and his partner-in-crime, Rudy. The parties alone are worth the two-hour jaunt down the 210E from Burbank, where Jesse just points to a pretty girl and just about commands her to have sex with Johnny. Damn, G, you sure roll funky.

Mr. Parada, the director of Bro', has given us a film that's a snapshot into a whole lifestyle I wouldn't mind seeing more of on the big screen in more films. The characters in Bro' are primarily into dirt bikes, and I would have preferred to see some mixed martial arts up there, but I was still impressed by what Mr. Parada had done because, like I mentioned before, when I grew up punk I never saw anything on the big screen (or television) that seemed to accurately represent what my friends and I were into. In Parada's film, the scene is right there, just like it is out in the High Desert. 

When people think of punk music they typically think of Suburbia. That's because few films could accurately capture what was going on in the Southern California punk music scene back in the day. Other films like Dudes, Sid and Nancy and Repo Man almost captured the spirit, but it was really just a photograph of a reflection of the real thing. If you want to see what was really going on, you have to watch The Decline of Western Civilization

I liked Bro' because the people I was looking at on the screen were involved in a music-orientated youth subculture I could identify with. When Jesse tells Johnny they're going to the I.E., it was surreal. The Big Screen was finally going to show what was going on in my backyard.

Bro' also reminds me of Easy Rider, which is why I enjoyed it. Easy Rider was panned by critics and hated by everyone who was a millionaire in Hollywood, but Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper made a low-budget movie about guys who are into motorcycles, drugs and music, trying to find themselves and get away at the same time. The film made millions because the predominant youth subculture saw themselves up on that screen. They could be Captain America and Billy, all they needed was the clothes, the attitude and a motorcycle.

When I see the desert that is Riverside in Bro', I am reminded of how those areas really are that desolate, where kids grow up dealing meth, cocaine and weed because everyone's doing it and there aren't enough cops to go around. The guys living lifestyle out in places like Riverside are going to see themselves in Bro', too.

That's another reason why Mr. Parada's film is so compelling. Just like Easy Rider, it's a low budget flick, featuring a few relatively green actors in a movie where cocaine is the catalyst for the action to follow, but the plot is tight enough to relate to. Most of the time in a Hollywood crime flick the characters are dealing and stealing millions of dollars. In Bro', the characters are transporting thousands of dollars of cocaine for a dealer connected to hardcore Mexican gang members. It's low-stakes, so it's plausible, just like the violence. When the blood flows there's no reason it shouldn't and the scary fact is it's the kind of thing that really is happening every day, right next door.

Johnny is at first a lot more cool than he was in the opening credits, dressed like his new friends, rolling in a car financed and approved by Jesse, but he always seems just a little like the poser Rudy beats up at the first party. He just hasn't been that hardcore for that long, so he's forcing it. Unlike Rudy and Jesse, Johnny really has no fall-back option for being cool. If Bro' is Easy Rider, Johnny is Jack Nicholson's straight-laced, college graduate, vacationing from his mainstream-approved, square lifestyle, only cool because he's in the area of his motorcyclist friends. Without them he's kind of a schmuck. Johnny pushes himself closer to the abyss because unlike Jesse and Rudy, there's no fallback. These are his cool friends, he has to impress them, or it's back to his day job in Burbank and wearing whatever the fuck Sears had on sale that Sunday. 

That's not to diss on Will Chavez. In one of the opening scenes of the film, as he stares into the mirror, high on cocaine, in calamity up to his eyebrows, and there's a loss and desolation in his face anyone who's partied too much can recognize. Just like Oliver Twist, he gets in trouble with the law and suffers for hanging out with criminals. He's a nice guy, and the fast lane wasn't meant for him.

Jesse's character is all about the fast lane. He's a competitive dirt bike rider on his way to the professional big time, but the guns, drugs and gangs posses a gravity he can't escape. The gang members he's dealing with are violent, and Jesse knows it. He owes them. The character should ditch the dealing and stay with racing dirt bikes, but by the time you've met the players he's working for, you understand why not picking up the phone when they call is a bad idea. That, and the money is too much. Who'd ditch that, the parties or the girls?

I draw comparisons to Easy Rider because Mr. Parada's film captures a spirit, a lifestyle, a counterculture attitude with Bro' that people need to see. Hopper, Fonda and Nicholson did the same thing with their own film back in the day. All of the characters in those films are on the edge of society, in their own way. The landscapes in Bro' are a wasteland, at times, much like Easy Rider. They are on the edge of society, even if the lines between the two are ill-defined. 

Danny Trejo,  Bro'

While the film is certainly sturdy enough to head down the highway on it's own power, Danny Trejo's presence in the film is a high-octane booster. Trejo has played it all, but for the most part he's the dangerous gangster you don't want to fuck with. His role in the film carries a gravitas that's impossible to not feel. The actor is, after all, a proven A-lister who's been in scenes with Robert De Niro. His role in the film is a restrained one, but it's the reason Bro' hits as hard as it does.

By the end of the film, there is a perfect synchronicity to all of the plot elements that feel as inevitable as a barrel going over Niagara Falls. We've seen this story before, only this time it's told against a different backdrop, and when each of the characters get what's coming to them you expect it, even though the end result is entirely because of natural choices each person in the story makes, so it's good writing.  

Like Easy Rider, Bro' is not a perfect film, but a low-budget, independent flick doesn't need to be if it's shot and written well enough to show us something new. Mr. Parada has done something very cutting edge with this movie, and I'm sure Hollywood is going to give us films in the future that feature more of Metal Mulisha, real skateboarding, mixed martial arts and the modern hardcore punk scene thriving in the desert down here in Southern California.

The official Facebook site for Bro' is right here.

The official AMC Theaters website for Bro' is right here

The official website for Bro' is right here

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fool's Gold - Music

I write a lot of articles for Inland Empire Weekly. Most of the time, it is about music.

There is so much music out there. I go to the usual places to find out about new bands and check on the old ones, but most of the time when IE Weekly tells me to talk to someone I have some research to do. Sure, it's just the Inland Empire, which is just a sizable section of Southern California, but a lot of groups come through this area from places all over the globe or just from Los Angeles, a city which probably has 10,000 bands trying to make it right now that most of us probably don't know about.

Fool's Gold draws their music from a lot of different sources, which is why it's called, well, "world music." Reading the list of their influences reminded me of large swaths of prose that I've read in books by writers like Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, where the interstitial nature of all cultures in the future and near-future is constantly reinforced by characters wearing dove-gray, Italian cut suits of faux-Japanese design, with buttons of Norwegian bone, or hearing about Bangladesh programmers working for some Russian kombinat, cracking the codes to datafortresses of some London-based zaibatsu.

The band seems to be from that universe, where international is inevitable, and listening to their music makes you feel so cultured and informed. Congolese drums. Saharan blues. Brazilian rhythms. Taiwanese heavy metal.

This is a good thing, because it reminds you that the musicians around the world aren't just these people creating great sounds in clean little boxes, never paying attention to the music in the world around them. Just as American rock and roll was influenced by traditional southern blues, there are African guitarists who are being influenced by Norwegian death metal, borrowing hooks and riffs to improvise the sound according to the audiences around them.

I'm both over-simplifying and basically slapping adjectives together to reinforce my point, but you get it. Music  is a primal, ever-adapting force. It's a language we all speak, and Fool's Gold is a reminder that the dialogue knows no borders.
Fool’s Gold is a Los Angeles group that combines traditional African rock and roll, modern world music and the energy of American pop to make its own addictive sound for an audience that wants something new from halfway around the planet cool enough to dance to in the club down the street.

Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov formed the collective in 2007. “We had known each other since our college days,” Top says. “We enjoyed being in bands together, but we were also very competitive.”

The two young musicians went on a road trip together and started talking about Kraut rock and world music. “We realized we both had been listening to the same types of bands all of our lives,” Top says. That was when the idea that would become Fool’s Gold was formed. “We became great friends and decided that when we got back home to L.A. we’d create something that was more experimental.”

The two invited other musicians to jam with them and spent long hours just playing with the music, living with it, letting the fusion of friendly collaboration and tribal rhythms guide them.  “We tried to take the same approach as musicians in Africa, who see music as being a social experience,” Top says.

He found the social atmosphere to be in sharp contrast to the beat-or-be-beaten attitude of the music industry. “The L.A. façade is so different. It’s so loud and disparate.” Eventually, the collective had a life of its own. “People just loved coming over and not worrying about anyone else but playing music. We ended up playing in houses, clubs, public parks . . . anywhere.”

World music is a single term for a broad range of music that includes everything from Sudanese guitar, Ethiopian synth, Saharan brass instruments to Congolese blues, and Top says that he and Pesacov enjoy it all. “Basically, we’re music nerds. We listen to music from South America, Ethiopia, Mali . . . there’s so much going on in Mali.”

To Top it’s all just a collection of ingredients for one giant recipe, and the flavor is finer for it. “There’s a deep connection between American rock and African music. There’s a lot of folk music and traditions influenced by Western rock. We take that equation and add our own mix. We are playing African music done as American music done as African music, again.”

It’s been more than a year since the release of Leave No Trace, their last album. Looking back, is he satisfied with their last work?

“You know, it’s hard to say,” Top says. “I think we did a good job. I like the record. I like what we were trying to do, but we had to make it in three months, so we didn’t have a lot of time. I am proud that we made it. We really learned to sculpt our sound into songs with our last album.”

Fool’s Gold intends to release its next album by the summer of 2013. “We are just starting to get into our third record.” Top says the collective plans to take their time with this one, testing the band’s material out on a live audience before recording it, saving the best for the album. “For us it makes sense to perform our songs before we record them. Our music evolves on the stage. We didn’t get to do that a lot on our last album.”

Daniel B. of Front 242 - Music

Here it is, my interview with Daniel B., one of the original members of Front 242 and certainly one of the founding fathers of modern industrial music. Basically, talking to him about music was a career goal of mine, and reviewing his album for ReGen Magazine was an honor.

Not Bleeding Red by Nothing But Noise is yet another side project of Daniel B., and it's certainly not what you'd expect in an industrial album. Listening to it makes you feel like you are hearing the soundtrack to a Ridley Scott cyberpunk flick. The music has a very mature, methodical intensity to it, with sounds that are very unique in that Daniel B. made use of vintage synthesizers he had been keeping somewhere in a sound lab for decades.

I can't post the interview here, so just follow the link to ReGen Magazine if you'd like to read it.