INTERVIEW: Courtney Lavender Introduces Xs & ARROWs

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Xs & ARROWs (from left: Courtney Lavender, Pam Bluestein, and Susan Peterson). Photo by Zoran Orlic.

Xs & ARROWs (from left: Courtney Lavender, Pam Bluestein, and Susan Peterson). Photo by Zoran Orlic.

 Xs & ARROWs are about to take over the Los Angeles music scene. You may remember the band, formerly known as EXIT, joining U2 on stage in 2001 and again in 2005 at the Staples Center for a legendary performance of “Out of Control.” The trio consists of Courtney Lavender (lead vocals, guitar, and piano), Susan Peterson (bass), and Pam Bluestein (drums).

Xs & ARROWs offer a unique acoustic rock soundscape that seems to marry the California desert to the spirit of Ireland.Their debut EP, From Here will be available in October 2017. The new single, “Questions,” featuring Irish musician Glen Hansard, is currently available to stream on Soundcloud.

Courtney Lavender took time ahead of the release to chat about her band’s music roots, joining Bono on stage, and working with The Frames’ Glen Hansard.

How is Xs & ARROWs different from the previous project, EXIT?

Courtney: In a way Xs & ARROWS is a continuation of EXIT, in that the band is still made up of myself, Susan, and Pam, but in another way, it's a slight deviation. We had a few singers over the years who contributed to the writing process and fronted the band, but now that it’s just the three of us, the seeds of the songs mainly come from me, and I'm singing. This has naturally progressed - perhaps to suit my voice - into a quieter, more acoustic vibe. 


What inspired the band's Irish rock roots?

Courtney: Susan was into U2 from an early age, and got me into them shortly after we met, right at the start of 1997. I made a U2 mixtape for Pam and passed it to her in history class. She loved it and immediately started drum lessons. I posted on a U2 message board looking for singers, and we met our first singer, Nikki. The four of us shared a passion for U2's music, and learned to play together by playing their songs. This became our foundation, our reference point, as we later branched out and began writing music.

In 2002-2003 I started meeting people in Dublin who exposed me to other Irish artists, including The Frames and Bell X1. I would share this music with the others and I think it influenced all of us, but probably me most intensely. I absolutely fell in love with The Frames [Glen Hansard's band]. 

What is your songwriting process?

Courtney: Most often I will present an idea to the others, and we will flesh it out as a group. Sometimes we will still jam something out spontaneously that I will later write over, which is how we used to operate in the past. Other times Pam will contribute melody and lyric ideas that I will build upon. There then is a lot of teeth-gnashing and hair-ripping, a lot of working and re-working -- you know, the usual artistic process! 

Do you come across any challenges as a multi-instrumentalist in the group?

Courtney: It’s a technical hindrance when gigging, since not all venues will have pianos, and switching instruments between songs can potentially interrupt the flow of a set. Sometimes I miss just playing guitar and not worrying about singing! 

Tell me about the time Bono pulled you up on stage?

Courtney: When U2 played at the Staples Center in LA in November 2005, Susan made a sign that said THE GIRLS PLAY ROCK N ROLL, hoping we'd get pulled on stage as a band. Bono had brought another group on stage that tour, and since I'd been on stage in 2001 to play guitar, and Pam and I had been on stage a few months previous to help Bono hold a giant banner, she saw it as her chance to join in on the fun. It worked!

Bono is great with faces and remembered me as a guitarist, which may have helped (and is amazing in itself). They turned their instruments over to us, and we played a song from their first record called “Out of Control.” Within a few seconds of the opening riff, Edge jumped up to grab a guitar, and Bono was joining in with our then-singer, Trevi. It was an insanely magical moment that I'll remember forever.

What was it like working with Glen Hansard? Tell me about his involvement on your new single, "Questions."

Courtney: I've known Glen for years, and he is an innately generous soul. He happened to be in LA just after I'd put down the final vocal for that song. I'd been thinking from the start it would need some harmonies, and it occurred to me, rather cheekily, to simply ask him. I could hear his voice perfectly on the track; it just seemed to fit. He said yes without even hearing the song, and built it up fuller than I ever imagined it could sound, purely on the spot. It was surprising and impressive to watch him work, and such an absolute joy. 

What inspired you to become a musician?

Courtney: I have a distinct memory of watching my mom play The Beatles' “Blackbird” on guitar around age 8 or 9 and yearning to be able to do it myself. My dad played the drums and would have some friends over occasionally to jam, and this also would excite me. Music, for me, felt like a life force even as a small child, so it was the obvious way to turn. The Beatles were the catalyst. The first thing I properly learned to play on guitar, age 13, was “Blackbird.”

Tell me about the new EP?

Courtney: We're very excited to be putting out these songs. It's been a long time coming. A couple of the
tunes I've had around for years while the band went through different formations, and it's finally
time for them to show their face. We feel that as a trio we've been distilled down to our creative
essence. As someone who prefers the sidelines to the limelight, it's a leap for me to be releasing
such personal material that I never intended to be heard. But I think that rawness is what most
people - including me - look for in any art form. All we can do, as creative beings, as humans, is
show ourselves honestly and hope we are received.

INTERVIEW: zerrissen era Discusses Arctic Music

Interview by Jessica Klausing

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Straight outta Baffin Island comes zerrissen era!

This indie multi-instrumentalist creates gorgeous lush sounds and compelling lyrics inspired by his life in the Arctic. His music focuses on the human perception of beliefs about, or knowledge of the world. What better way to ponder life than in the wide open spaces of tundra and sea? This particular environment requires unique recording sessions. 

Due to the harsh temperatures, the production resources are limited in the Arctic. The sound production occurs in an amploo (igloo-lined on the interior with amplifiers) during the winter months. In the summer the sound production occurs in a laavo lined with amplifiers. These recordings result in a meditative acoustic sound focused on a central point. Think similar to the sound baths in the Joshua Tree desert.

zerrissen era chatted with us about his new album and musical influences.

The first thing I noticed was the religious and philosophical symbolism within your lyrics. I know you state that your “music is intended to make us think,” but can you tell me about the inspiration behind your lyrical messages?

zerrissen era: zerrissen era lyrics and music are about the full spectrum of life, and living it with a greater sense of being. Where are you within this spectrum? Have you stayed in one spot your whole life? Or have you ventured beyond into the wild and unknown? Songs, like religion and philosophy, are intangible. But they can govern and shape perceptions that become one's reality. zerrissen era music is about deconstructing this and seeing where you end up.

Can you tell me about the recording process?

zerrissen era: I can’t read or write music. I have ears. I listen. I listen to everything around me; including the silence in between the sounds. Just like when you see the colour of an object and realize that it is every colour except what you see, the silence in between the sounds can be deafening and revealing. 

Consequently, I am always recording ideas and piecing them together. I do everything solo.  Writing the songs happens before and during the recording process. Prior to laying the primary reference tracks down, the full musical structure is typically mapped out on an acoustic guitar or piano. This is the first track. I usually lay the drums down thereafter and build up the arrangements with bass, other guitars, and instruments, and hold off until vocals until last. I listen to the music and let it guide the vocals. As such, zerrissen era music is heavily driven by rhythmic and percussive elements. Mixing and mastering is a long process. I know how the songs sound in my head, so I spend as much time turning dials towards that goal. 

 Who are your musical influences?

zerrisen era: I have been influenced by truly gifted musicians who will never be heard by a broader audience and whose names I don’t even know.  For instance, I remember listening to a Garifuna singer/drummer in a village in Honduras years ago. I am captivated to this day by his presence, how his lyrics and vocals fit with his percussion, and how he managed to pack so much meaning in his work. I don’t know what he was singing per se, but he got the message through.

I listen to people: what they are saying, what they mean to say, what they are not saying and the tone.  I listen to music.  All genres and focus on the songs, their structures, arrangements, lyrics, and overall meaning as one unit. 

To name a few influences, I enjoy the lyrics of Bob Mould, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, and Michael Stipe. I love the impact of Midnight Oil tunes. Throw Robbie Robertson in there and I find myself drifting somewhere down a crazy river in my element: the Outback. Jars of Clay and Jewel are also sources of positive inspiration. My deepest, darkest secret, however, is Robert Smith. His ability to craft songs covering states of abysmal despair to pure elation is remarkable. 

All of your album proceeds go to supporting positive causes in the Arctic. You seem quite passionate about the environment. What was your decision to donate specifically to the Arctic?

zerrissen era: The Arctic is my home. I am privileged to experience it amidst all the social, economic, and environmental change. The people north of 60 know resilience like no one else. Given that the Arctic is a magical place that resides in the psyche of many, and yet only a few will ever be able to experience it, I want others to be able to see themselves in it; through the music, the sounds, the images, and what’s to come through zerrissen era.

The decision to have zerrissen era music contribute towards positive causes in the Arctic is about thinking global and acting locally. The youth in the north, for instance, has so much potential, but are struggling with all the change. It can be hard to see them in the change taking place and many are lost due to suicide, substance abuse, and crime. We are all in this together and we need to play our part. If people can ‘hear themselves’ in zerrissen era music, they can hear others and relate to them. We need more of this worldwide and music knows no bounds.

How do you begin the songwriting process?

zerrissen era: I don’t. Being a songwriter is a constant. I always have something to capture a lyric, melody, instrument, sound, be it a recorder or a good pen and paper. zerrissen era music tends to be written separately from lyrics; however lyrical ideas and musical ideas can inform one another in the process. In general, however, lyrical ideas are crafted based on matters I am working through or I see others working through. Knowing one's subject is important, but unless I can feel what the song and lyrics are intended to evoke, the song is not a genuine experience… and it needs to be. 

What was the inspiration for naming your album, Quilts, Tapestries, and Woodcuts?

zerrissen era: Quilts, tapestries, and woodcuts are the works of diligent hands and are prevalent in the Arctic world. Each and every one of them are depictions in themselves. They each have their own story, personality, spirit, and soul. They are functional artifacts and art that symbolize some of the ‘Northern Comforts’ of the Arctic. 

Do you do any spiritual rituals to prepare for a song?

zerrissen era: Music is both spiritual and a ritual in my experience. I don’t really think about what to do to prepare to express myself while writing, recording, or performing; I like to keep the reel rolling at all times. I know where my strength comes from. I also know where my sore spots are. As an asthmatic, I do not possess powerful lungs so I look for strength to get the job done and message out. At the same time, I would never want to change this as these features make us who we are. Be yourself. Be distinct. 

Check out zerrissen era's CD Baby page to purchase his music.

INTERVIEW: Victor Krummenacher Talks New Monks Of Doom Album

Written by Jessica Klausing

Monks of Doom (from left: David Immergluck, Chris Pederson, Greg Lisher, and Victor Krummenacher.

Monks of Doom (from left: David Immergluck, Chris Pederson, Greg Lisher, and Victor Krummenacher.

Since forming in 1986, Monks Of Doom remain one of the most unique surrealist bands out there today. Their combination of post-punk tendencies and 70’s psychedelic grooves is a breath of fresh air to the progressive rock genre. Their widely imaginative lyrical ramblings have been intentionally left open to interpretation. Twenty years later with their newest release, The Bronte Pin, the Monks prove to be heavier and perhaps, weirder than ever.

Victor Krummenacher caught up with us to discuss the new Monks Of Doom album, his musical influences, and upcoming tour plans.

This is the first new material from Monks Of Doom in twenty years! Why the long hiatus?

Victor: (laughs) You know, it’s a hard band to get together. The drummer lives in Sydney and the lead guitarist plays with Counting Crows. He’s inevitably on tour for three to four months out of the year, and we just try to fit things around. Camper Van Beethoven always works in the winter. The other thing is the Monks Of Doom is the only band that I’ve ever structured like a democracy; everybody gets a vote and everybody has an opinion. Things have to be arbitrated. It’s an extremely long process that also yields rich material. You just have to be patient. Although, I told David Immergluck that I’m not doing another one this way, because If we do another one this way, I’ll be seventy when it comes out!

I’ve always admired the band’s progressive rock sound. How do you capture that in the studio?

Victor: Well, the drummer and Immergluck grew up in a time of pre-punk rock. Chris grew up seeing Genesis and Led Zeppelin. Immy was maybe a little more drawn towards bands like Mott the Hoople. There’s a pre-punk rock informative side to those guys. I grew up seeing LA punk rock, and so those guys just kinda dragged me backwards. I was very much like, nah, this stuff is awful and they were like, no it’s really good! They could see it and I couldn’t see it because of the cultural bias.

The sound of the Monks is the two younger guys fighting with the two older guys. The age range is two of them were born around 1960 and the other two of us were born in 1965--something weird happened in those five years! You were either fifteen when punk rock came out or you weren’t; Greg and I were and Chris and David weren’t. The sound of the band is the tension between the sound experienced as fifteen year olds and the prog rock sound won.

Also, there were always obscure influences like Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe. Now that was a band because they were prog rock but they were like blisteringly fast and tight, which is kind of what we wanted to be.

Victor Krummenacher photo by Chris Sikich.

Victor Krummenacher photo by Chris Sikich.

The Bronte Pin has a lot of instrumentals. Do you go into the studio with a blank slate or an already mapped out musical blueprint?

Victor: Both. This record we deliberately went and did both. Greg does a lot of structured writing. He showed up with a lot of these structured pieces. We decided to jam along in some kind of proto John Wetton-Bill Bruford-King Crimson-esque style and I was gonna edit in Pro Tools like the Radiohead guys. Next, Immy was like, I’m gonna try and play with no time signature at all with a lot of delay on guitar and we’re gonna improvise to that. We had a long 12 hour day in the studio where we did just that. Afterwards we just tore it apart and put it back together and responded to that by writing new stuff.

The Monks always were initially just instrumental and we felt that was one of the coolest things about the band. At a point when we tried to get a record deal, back when that mattered, we ended up becoming more of a vocal band. Some of that stuff was very strong but I don’t think it was our strongest. The band is primarily instrumental first and that’s the language we speak. I just come up with a general thesis. I try not to get too specific because I feel like the Monks’ music is better when it’s indigenous. You can just go with your own impression and let your imagination fill in the blank. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but that’s how it works.

Where do your song ideas come from?

Victor: I usually have some kind of an agenda in mind. I gotta say this new album had no agenda in mind. It was just time for us to get together and work things out. I was inspired by the Nells Kleine influence in Wilco, the Thom Yorke solo records, Tricky, and Massive Attack. Their music is kinda like rock n’ roll but it has a lot of weird ass shit in it. I wanted our stuff to turn out like that.

I’m not an electronic music guy by any nature. I’m not gonna bring up a Linux screen on my Mac and run a Super Collider program because I don’t want to do that. However, I will buy a looper, which I hate people using looping stuff to play a brunch of grooves. I can’t stand that concept but I like what Warren Ellis does in the Bad Seeds. He takes a looper and does some Morpheus ambient loop. We tried to emulate that concept.

For Immy, he has a deep love of things like Roy Harper and Pentangle. He wanted to bring a late 60’s early 70’s sound--that weird area where folk was getting proggy. We have this synthesizer and this mid 70’s Pink Floyd kind of groove, so it’s like putting the chocolate with the peanut butter on a certain level.

What’s it like to self release an album in 1992 vs 2017? Do you feel that the internet and modern technology have helped?

Victor: No, they have not helped (laughs). They just haven’t, I’m sorry. More people hear my music now and I make less money. Here’s the economic numbers--for a very long time I ran a small label out of a PO Box in San Francisco. I would release solo albums and sell 3,000 copies at 15 dollars apiece. Do that math and I could make enough money for myself, pay all the expenses and do it again. Most of the same fans are still around, it’s just now that don’t necessarily have to buy our stuff. They can listen on iTunes, Spotify or wherever. The royalty stream is much lower and you also don’t make the mechanical royalty of selling to the distributor.

 Now it’s just calling in favors or dropping money out of pocket or running yourself like an LLC. All the money I make as a musician goes into my LLC and that money goes to pay for other music. On occasion, I get media placement which is the bread and butter of it. You know, get a movie or commercial license of some sort. You can’t make money on the road and you certainly can’t make money re-releasing stuff.

I noticed some Fairport Convention and Neil Young elements within The Bronte Pin. What bands have influenced the MOD on this album?

Victor: Well, there is a Sandy Denny cover song on it so the Fairport Convention clan is in there. I would say definitely Pink Floyd. There’s a definite nod to that Nick Cave side project, Grinderman. King Crimson and Be Bop Deluxe were a really big part of that sound. We were also inspired by the African and Ethiopian music scene. A riff from an old Ethiopian folk song is turned into a jam on the record. I wouldn’t say exactly Radiohead but I would definitely say the guitar work of Jonny Greenwood is in there.

Beyond the band influences there was the studio environment. We went in with the free conception that everything is an instrument. The Mellotron, Buchla Synthesizers and the analog delay pedal were inspirational. It was all a matter of what sound can you make with this tool and how to respond.

You’re quite the trail blazer with solo projects. You have nine albums out now! Can we expect another one soon?

Victor: I’m working on one right now. I feel that I am lucky enough to have many musical personalities. In Camper, I am just the bass player. I have written many songs and done a lot of arrangements, but I am just the bass player, and I’m good with that. There are enough strong personalities in the band and I don’t want to get in a cat fight. The Monks is an experimental side that I do adore, strongly. It’s a huge part of my life and it has yielded some of the most interesting and best executed work that I have ever done. I am fairly an autobiographical writer when I do songwriting of my own. The more I’ve written the more honest I have become.

The people that listen to my stuff are like, what happened to you? Well, on this record, I got a divorce and had health issues, and this record is moving past that, and the record before is when I was on tour with a couple of drug addicts. Those are sub texts and I just try to write about it. Marty Stuart has a new record that sounds like a 60’s Byrds record. My new record has some Marty Stuart elements.  I’m trying to do something that’s not nostalgic but feels contemporary. The music hints at stuff that I grew up on like Pete Townshend and first wave British punk rock. I went off and was more folky and blues influenced with my writing on my past albums. I want to try to incorporate more aggressive elements but still keep that comfort.

On that note, your solo work is dramatically different compared to MOD and CVB. How do you mentally prep for each project?

Victor: Camper, I don’t prep for it. I treat Camper like a baseball game. I just go out there and play the field for fun. For the Monks, I would shed a madman. The Monks is like running a marathon!  For my solo stuff, I take it quite seriously. I don’t drink and I make sure to get plenty of rest before a show.

"Osiris Rising" was a standout track. It was such a compelling balance of vocals and instrumentals. Greg's solo just made the heaven's open up! Can you discuss the making of that song?

Victor: We needed a straight closer and I wanted to write a David Gilmour-esque song that was a little sad, not morose. I have not really analyzed it entirely. It’ll take me a bit to figure out the Freudin- Rorschach test to pin down the psycho dynamic of the record. It’s thematically rooted on Egyptian theology of unlocking the underworld, and that the underworld takes over the living world. The song is a greater metaphor for ecological catastrophe, which is the conundrum going on in the world today.

Will there be an official MOD tour soon? 2012, I believe was the last official show.

Victor: Yes, 2012 was the last time. We really want to play, so I’m going to say yes, there will be some shows! It may be 2018 before we can pull it off but I imagine there will be some shows soon. We have talked about doing it in such a way where it’ll be a west coast run with some Chicago, NYC, Austin, and Georgia dates too.

I know the album just released but it’s not available online. Where can those that did not participate in the Kickstarter campaign purchase one?

Victor: In July, you will be able purchase one on the Monks of Doom official site. The album will be released through Pitch-A-Tent Records, which will be available on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes. We wanted to get the supporters their copies as soon as possible. We held off on an actual release until we were confident that we could secure the rights of our old catalog.  We just wanted to make sure people had access to all of them. The back catalog will release the same time as the new album. You will now be able to find all the Monks of Dooms music on all music streams.

INTERVIEW: Justin Levinson Talks New Album

Interview by Jessica Klausing

It would be misleading to call Yes Man by singer-songwriter Justin Levinson his debut release.

He has released three albums, most notably, 1175 Boylston. Off this album, his single, “City With Two Streetlights” spent eight weeks in the top 25 of CMJ Charts. This song has received airplay from 350 stations across the nation. Levinson has won the Billboard Song Contest, the International Acoustic Music Awards: Best New Male Artist and was nominated for the Sirius Writer Discovery of the Year. His rising career has landed him touring gigs with Tyler Hilton, Anna Nalick, and Howie Day to just name a few. Currently, he’s getting ready to hit the road again in honor of his newest release.

And anyone who thinks this is to be yet another indie Americana album in the industry has another thing coming their way!

Yes Man is a 60’s stylized power pop album that draws elements from his favorite artists of that era – The Beatles, The Zombies, and The Beach Boys. His songs are filled with infectious melodies and nostalgic guitar hooks. Levinson’s retro vision takes us back to an era of innocent lyrics and instrumentals.

Justin took some time to chat with us about his new music.

1. What inspired your particular style of music?

Justin:  Well I have eclectic taste but in terms of writing I really love Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson & Jeff Lynne. I love big arrangements and interesting changes. There isn't really too much new that floats my boat these days. In high school, Ben Folds Five changed my life for sure...Elliott Smith is another genius I draw a lot of my harmonic influence from.

2. What songs off the new album, Yes Man, do you hope fans will connect with? 

Justin:  I'm really proud of the first video we did for "Together Forever". I've got a handful of love songs on this album which is quite unlike my previous catalog. Honestly, right now I can't think of a more opportune time to start to promoting love again.

3. What is your motivation to keep this type of music alive? 

Justin:  I'm just passionate about the harmony, arrangements, production and fashion of the 60's. I'm fairly lost in my current time I guess. All of my friends play to tracks...maybe I just need to get hip. Ha! 

4. What was the recording experience like for the new album?

Justin:  My producer Adam Popick is also my best pal. We had a great time making this album. He played the majority of instruments on the record and arranged it. We've known each other since grade school...nobody gets me more. 

5. Did you have a set direction in your mind of how you wanted your music to come together?

Justin:  Not really. I just really wanted a cohesive sounding album and when things started getting a little Beach Boys-esque I figured it would be really fun to stick to a theme...Living here in LA also contributed to the sunny surf pop sound.

6. How would you describe your songwriting process?

Justin:  It starts with a chord progression and I find a vocal melody. I constantly jot down ideas I have for songs throughout the day. Once I have a progression that fits the mood of my ideas I begin to merge them.

7. Do you have a particular song or songs of yours that mean a lot to you?

Justin:  There's another love song called "I'll Move Closer" which is about moving towards the people you love when they're struggling opposed to moving away from them. My younger self always wanted to just distance myself from the drama...however a really great therapist encouraged me to love from a deeper place and I am forever grateful of that. 

8. Who are your artist influences?

Justin:  The Beatles, Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys, Ben Folds, Elliott Smith, The Zombies, Queen, ELO to name a few.

9. If you could go to any concert in history, past or present, who? 

Justin:  Hendrix live at Woodstock!

10. How would you say your new album is different from the others?

Justin:  It's more thoughtful and cohesive...I also really worked on improving my vocals. Hopefully, fans appreciate that I'm putting the work in. Ha! 

11. Do you have any upcoming music-related plans?

Justin:  I'm performing around LA currently and then touring Europe for a month in mid October-November via Songs & Whispers. There may be a US/Canada run before then...we shall see. 

INTERVIEW: Bose Troubadour Tour: In the round with Megan Slankard

Interview by Jessica Klausing

From left to right: Jeff Campbell, Megan Slankard, Jamie Kent and Matthew Szlachetka. Photo by Jessica Klausing

From left to right: Jeff Campbell, Megan Slankard, Jamie Kent and Matthew Szlachetka. Photo by Jessica Klausing

Bose Professional presented a unique writers-in-the-round performance to audiences across the country this past year. Jeff Campbell, Megan Slankard, Jamie Kent and Matthew Szlachetka took turns sharing a song and supporting each other with their acoustic guitars and voices.

All of these talented musicians brought something special to their folk performance. This felt like being in the presence of old friends that just want to share their life lessons with you. Jamie Kent reminded us about the importance of diversity in “All American Mutt,” Matthew Szlachetka brought us to tears with a beautiful ballad of “Heart of My Hometown,” Jeff Campbell offered inspiring uncle advice in “Fill the Spaces” and Megan Slankard commanded the attention in the room with “Like Always, Alex.”

Megan’s performances had me quite intrigued that night. This young guitarist stood out to me beside the fact that she was the only female on stage. She’s got a strong pitch perfect vocal delivery that sure can blow the ceiling off a venue! Her charming personality shines within her evocative lyrics that will make you fall in love with her music.

There is something to be said about a musician in their 20’s that has sold over 35,000 copies of four independently released CDs.  Her songs have won several awards and nominations which include being a finalist for Best Female Artist in the International Acoustic Music Awards (IAMA).  With the release of her newest album, Running on Machinery, Megan Slankard proves to be an alt-rock force to be reckoned with in the indie music scene.

Megan Slankard photo by Jessica Klausing

Megan Slankard photo by Jessica Klausing

Megan took time between her busy tour to chat with me about Patreon, the Bose Troubadour tour and her experiences as an indie musician.

Megan, I know that you’re a big advocate for Patreon. Can you tell us more about the site?

Megan:  Patreon has been around for a few years now. It’s very easy access for the fans. It works like Netflix in a sense that you just put in your credit card number and have access to a wide variety. You get to pay whatever you want! It’s a great platform for indie artists. Gone are the days of record labels; Patreon was a collaboration by musicians for musicians. I love that Patreon helps fund ongoing creativity instead of just funding for a single project.

How did you discover the site?

Megan:  The first person who inspired me to want to try something like Patreon before Patreon even existed was an amazing artist from New York named Ari Hest; check him out - so good! He had a fan club on his web site that you could join called "52" if I remember correctly - this was many years ago, where he would write and record a new song every WEEK. Lofty goal, but he
did it, and he did it well.

I ended up loving the idea and wanting to apply it to my own art and career in some way. I liked the idea of releasing a new song every month to a fanclub that wanted to hear new releases. This was the perfect excuse to write a new song. I tried a few different ways over the years, but then Patreon came out. My manager, KC, who follows the music scene here in the Bay Area very closely, brought it to my attention. I signed up right away, but it took me close to a year to launch my profile because I wanted to think about the best way to utilize this new tool. Once it launched, I took it nice and slow because it was a new concept to a lot of people, but it's been steadily getting bigger and better for me, turning into one of my favorite parts of what I get to do for my job!

Are you faced with any deadlines?

Megan:  That’s the beauty of it—no deadlines! If an artist does not put out a song, then there is no charge. There is really no time to record a song on tour. I put enough pressure on myself to keep the creative juices flowing.

What is your process of getting your music out there?

Megan:  I’m a thrifty person so I ate a lot of beans and rice to fund my last album. My team consists of me and my manager. Kickstarter is a great platform to get help from your fans. However, you are put on a specific timeline to get your project done. A strict timeline does not work for me (laughs). I know I talk about Patreon a lot but I’m glad it focuses on more time to be creative and less time to make money.

How do musicians get involved with Patreon?

Megan:  Writers, painters and poets can get involved as well. It’s easy to join and become a creator for free. My friend Jen Harris is a spoken word poet. She does such beautiful work! I’m supporting her and a lot of other friends. She will put out a new piece once a month.  If you enjoy it, consider signing up. The Patreon team is super open about you coming down to the studio.

I’m going to switch gears and ask about the Bose Troubadour tour. How did that come together?

Megan:  I met Jeff Campbell years ago in San Francisco. We both have been touring together for forever (laughs). The other guys, I met through venues out on tour. We talked about it and wanted to go out on tour together. We all share a strong love for the Bose L-1 sound system; it’s easy to use and sounds great!

What was the decision to play “in the round?”

Megan:  It’s so much fun as an artist! We love playing off of each other. We are all fans of each other’s music that we play together all the time. The audience gets to hear four different artists in one show. Very exciting!

Do you follow some sort of a setlist?

Megan:  It depends. We talk about the songs that we want to play that night. Sometimes it is just spontaneous on stage. Everyone jumps in and knows when to hold back.

Will the Bose Troubadour release an album?

Megan:  Not an album but we do have some stuff recorded together. We might release something in the future. We are all good buddies! Matthew is recording a new album at the moment. He asked us to do some harmonies.

What was your inspiration to play music?

Megan:  I get these feelings inside my body. I will sometimes get an urge to pick up a guitar and start playing; even when I don’t know what to do I will just feel like writing. I’ll sit down and strum for no reason. My songwriting and musical process all happens at once. Everything is spontaneous. I have a music corner in my house. I open my laptop and write in front of my recording gear. I’ll make a demo first to just record as I go then I’ll add the harmonies in there later on.

How do you go about writing lyrics?

Megan:  Hard to nail down. My lyrics are based on personal experiences mixed with other stories. “Like Always, Alex” is about a woman escaping prison. It’s not based on anyone in particular. Everything I write is not necessarily a personal experience but I connect to the lyrics when I’m playing it. I always write for myself. I write about what makes me happy, ignoring all the rules. I try not to be like everyone else. You gotta hold on to yourself!

What are your experiences as a young, indie musician?

Megan:  It’s great living in San Francisco because it’s a big overall music community. The artists try to support each other to keep the art alive. There are so many talented musicians out there. It does not make sense for all of us to compete against each other to be mega superstars. Instead, we all try to help each other out by buying music or help book a show.   I feel like I’m making more of a difference to help support other artists. We should all go back to basics like buy music to share with friends.

Any music industry advice?

Megan: Make writing a priority! You want to make your craft your priority because it is easy to be distracted. Make something that’s true to you not because it is for fame and fortune. Don’t let anyone make you quit, even if someone thinks you suck, keep going.

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You can check out Megan Slankard’s Patreon page right HERE.

Megan will be performing a special solo show at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, CA on October 23rd! Anyone in town should come check her out. You will not be disappointed! Her chipper crescendo and infectious guitar riffs will have you hooked for more! You can buy the tickets HERE.

Below is a recently released music video for "Bones Live Forever," a song off of Megan's new album, Running On Machinery.

INTERVIEW: Catching up with Counting Crows' Adam Duritz

Interview by Jessica Klausing

The questions were provided courtesy of the Counting Crows Merry Murder of Fans Facebook group.

This interview is featured on Los Angeles Digest

In 1993, Counting Crows was put on the map with their successful debut album, August and Everything After. A seven-time platinum award winning band, Counting Crows is still going strong as ever today. Currently, the band is touring throughout North America, Europe, and Australia in support of their seventh album, Somewhere Under Wonderland.

 I spoke with lead singer, Adam Duritz on a stop in Southern California over the weekend. We discussed stage preparations, rumored new releases and if he still lurks on old fansites.

Adam Duritz during soundcheck at Irvine Meadows photo by Jessica Klausing  

Adam Duritz during soundcheck at Irvine Meadows
photo by Jessica Klausing
 

What did you think of Ryan Adams' cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 album? Would you consider covering an entire album?

Adam: I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. Yeah, I could see us doing something like that in the future. I love interpreting other people's material. Our tour mates, Hollis Brown, has done something like that. Their second album, Gets Loaded covers Velvet Underground's Loaded. It's a great album!

Are you working on any new material?

Adam: Not really right now. I am preoccupied with the tour. It's hard to make myself write something on the road.

How do you physically and/or mentally prepare for a certain song on stage?

Adam: I try not to think too much about it. I don't have a special way to prepare. I just start singing. All of the songs have different feelings and there are different ways to interpret them. You just get on stage and do it.

How do you expend so much energy--give so much to the crowd and then adjust to the silence afterwards?

Adam: It was something I had to get used to after a while. In the beginning, it was weird for me to try to connect to ten thousand people and then become isolated. I don't mind it so much now. The quiet can be nice. After all it does give your voice and ears a break.

What's your favorite Rock N' Roll antidote on the road?

Adam: I really enjoy playing gigs. It does have a lot of strain on my voice. So, I try not to do a whole lot of talking in between shows. I had a friend that bought me a white board as a joke since I mostly have to text and email to communicate. I do talk when I absolutely have to but I mostly just hang out in a room and be quiet.

Out of all of the songs you have written, which either song or line has the most personal significance to you and why?

Adam: All of them are very personal. I never pick a favorite. The same goes with making the set list each night. We only pick songs that we feel like playing that night. That way we never get tired or sick of certain songs.

Are there any plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Recovering the Satellites next year?

Adam: Not really. I just thing those anniversaries are gimmicks to get people to buy things. At one point, Recovering the Satellites was my favorite record. We have talked about releasing a deluxe set of footage from that tour. We do have a lot of film from that time period.

What happened to the unreleased song, "Suffocate?" Will we finally hear a studio version?

Adam: Oh yeah, I remember that song! It was going to be on the album, Recovering the Satellites. The song was never finished. I just don't think it's good enough to be released right now. We have tried playing it and just never really got it.

Will you consider another impromptu project like your All My Bloody Valentines? The fan interaction was unique.

Adam: Yeah, my girlfriend and I had broken up a week before Valentine's Day. I didn't want to sit around and be miserable so I decided to learn a different song for each day of the week. I didn't sleep for about a week trying to learn those songs. All I had were recorded versions on my cellphone. So, it was a bit difficult at times. Afterwards, I tweeted for fans to submit art covers for the album and then had them vote for their favorite on Facebook. I might do something like that again someday.

Who is your guilty pleasure on the radio?

Adam: I don't listen to music on the radio, just online. The Weekend has that song from Fifty Shades of Grey that gets played a lot. That has to be good, right? For favorites I really love Miguel. He has such an incredible ear for melody! I think it's disrespectful to the artist to call them a guilty pleasure though. I remember promoting Justin Timberlake's first album on the Counting Crows website when it first came out. That pissed a lot of our fans off. Music moves people in different ways. If it's something that you enjoy then you shouldn't be ashamed of it!

Do you ever lurk on Counting Crows fan sites (Annabegins.com) and Counting Crows fan groups (Merry Murder of Fans)?

Adam: No, I haven't. I used to back in the day interact on the old AOL forums. I was able to build a community that led to the message boards on our website. There was no social media back then. Now I just communicate on our Twitter and main Facebook page.

Brother Sal and The Devil May Care: Whorehouse Congregation

Written by Jessica Klausing

Brother Sal. Photo by Marytrini Garcia-Hernandez

Brother Sal. Photo by Marytrini Garcia-Hernandez

The first time I heard Brother Sal and the Devil May Care was on a night the band decided to play in the style of 1920's saloon music. You know, the kind of thing you hear walking through the Mainstreet USA part of Disney World. However, I was quite intrigued from what I heard that night. They certainly did stand out among the other Los Angeles bands. 

I came back to see the band again and again. Each time witnessing a more unique setlist from the last. From the beautiful soft cover of Andrae Crouch’s “Take Me Back” to the soulful rockin' “Old Devil’s Whelm,” This piano centered band is the real deal. This is raw talent at its finest, folks.

Sal refers to his band’s genre as whorehouse gospel. If that phrase alone does not intrigue you then I don’t know what will in this world. 

According to Sal, “It’s the same thing you hear in a dirty whorehouse and the same thing you hear at a church. It’s the good and bad that’s deep within all of us.” 

Their music is filled with religious undertones that connect the beauty and struggles of everyday life.

Sal hails from Virginia, where his grandmother taught him the piano. She taught him how to play old gospel tunes. From her Sal learned to use the left hand. This would lead him to start playing in jazz ensembles and house parties for fun. 

“Playing piano keeps me sane and from just going fucking crazy. At the time, I just sat down to play for myself, still continuing to do so to this day," says Sal.

Due to the encouragement of friends, Sal began his musical trek by playing at local jazz clubs. He received strong reception and was able to book gigs several times a week as a professional piano player. 

“I started trying to write but to do that you need to have a voice. Going through fatherhood my voice changed. I had more to say. I tried to see life through my newborn son’s eyes. After divorce, my voice changed again. This time my writing became deeper and more meaningful.”

From left: Sal (Piano), Craig Macintyre(Drums), Erik Kertes(Bass), and David Immergluck (Guitar). Photo by Marytrini Garcia-Hernandez

From left: Sal (Piano), Craig Macintyre(Drums), Erik Kertes(Bass), and David Immergluck (Guitar). Photo by Marytrini Garcia-Hernandez

Sal stays motivated by reading and listening to music. 

“The most important thing is understanding literature. Reading expands your mind to become a better person.”

 He’s an avid record collector with influences that range from: Randy Newman, Hank Williams, The Band, and Bob Dylan. But it’s the American classics like Stephen Foster that hold a special place in his heart. 

“These cowboy prairie songs are the ones that we never forget. The lyrics and melodies were perfect. It’s much more important to look back than forward. Back then people sung about what they knew about. That’s something that should never go away—that’s American music! America, for all that it is never takes away how good our music is— it’s something that has affected our world for a hundred and fifty years.”

Brother Sal does have an album currently available titled, Blood and Dust. The album teaches us to keep our faith even through the tough times. Sal writes as if his soul is reaching out to grab you and pull you in the story. He provides listeners with the use of imagery, metaphor, poetic allusion and irony. This is all of the musical brilliance without the autotune or other overrated industry filler.

One of my absolute favorites on the album would be “Scenes On Sunset.” The title is actually an acronym for the SOS distress signal, which foreshadows the tone of the stories.  The song is based on a young prostitute and a homeless man that Sal encountered on Sunset Boulevard. 

“I was coming out of the studio late one night and met this young woman. She was a twenty two year old college student that found out she could make fast money walking the street. She lived this life to help support her daughter. One year later, as I was driving down Sunset, I see this guy falling out of the bushes. I offer him a ride while listening to his outlandish stories about the Bible. He wanted to get back to his ex wife and kids that had abandoned him and didn't want him back.”

The crescendo along with the soft piano makes it such a hauntingly beautiful piece of work. This is the type of heartfelt song that makes you just listen closely and forget the world around.

Brother Sal’s newest album, The Other Side of Sin will be released soon. The album was recorded at Boulevard Recording. I was lucky enough to get to hear a sneak peek of the song, “Poison.” I have to say that I was not disappointed in what I got to hear. It sounds like this new album will feature more of the band’s electric side of the spectrum.

Below is "A Good Hearted Man," one of the songs that will be featured on the new album.

I want to take the time to introduce the rest of Sal’s band, The Devil May Care.

The band consists of a powerhouse of talented musicians: Eli Wulfmeier, Frederik Bokkenheuser, David Immerglück, and Jonathan Flaugher. These guys are simply amazing to watch live. The band has no rehearsals so listening to each other is quite crucial. There are times that Sal may step off stage for a minute leaving the band to improvise. I was lucky enough to get to chat with all of these incredible musicians.

Eli Wulfmeier- Guitar/Vocals

Eli Wulfmeier- Guitar/Vocals

Eli Wulfmeier

Not only is he a talented guitarist but he has worked as an actor and producer. Right now he is currently working on a solo project under the name “Leroy From the North.”

What was your journey like venturing out becoming a professional playing gigs and releasing CDs? Do you feel like you've reached your goals? 

I moved to LA from Detroit about eight years ago to pursue a career in music. At the time, I did not know anybody, so I just started playing with other bands and eventually ran into Sal. As far as reaching my goal that would be a no. My ultimate goal is to keep playing and recording as much as possible.

Is there a significance to the setup in terms of the sound or genre of music your currently making? 

It’s more guitar driven similar to americana or psychedelic.

Do you have a particular approach to songwriting? 

I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go to write down any inspiration I have. I do try to write at least five minutes everyday to keep going. Other times, I will sit around and just play guitar and then try to decipher the lyrics, sound, subject matter and melody.

Do you have any favorite LA venues? 

The Troubadour, I used to go there about every day of the week. The Piano Bar is a big family there. Ryan, the manager takes care of us.

Is it hard to balance the guitar work with piano/vocals on an album? 

The band has great chemistry. We have all played together so long that we have learned to listen to each other. The basic structure is Sal will play a verse and chorus and we all see where it goes. Sometimes, he calls out who is gonna do a solo. You just have to listen to know when to hang back.

What about your experiences working in film? 

I recently got to help write a score for a film called The Widow Son. They needed a Neil Young type soundtrack. It’s different watching the footage and seeing how the characters react then trying to make the music fit the scene.

What can we expect from your solo project? 

I am currently working on a solo record under a working title at the moment. The band is called "Leroy From the North." The music has similar elements to Brother Sal without the piano but much more in the style of Leon Russell.

Frederik “Freddy” Bokkenheuser-Drums

Frederik “Freddy” Bokkenheuser-Drums

Frederik "Freddy" Bokkenheuser

Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, he started playing drums at the age of seven and started playing professionally at fourteen. After gigging and recording for a decade around Europe, he continued his career in Los Angeles playing with Jay Nash, Joshua Radin, and Ryan Adams.

What's it like working with Sal? 

The thing about working with Sal is it is such a fun gig-- like a musical playground. We never rehearse or have a setlist. Sal sends us a text that afternoon saying “Let’s play this song in the key of..” Between the covers and originals, we have over a hundred songs. We never know what we are gonna do but just go with the moment.

I have always heard that drummers were hypersensitive listeners. Is this true?

Always. There are times when you have to take lead over the song, so I'm always looking at Sal for cues. It is very important to have that connection with the other musicians.

What are your favorite originals to play?

 "Poor Richard’s Almanac" has become Sal’s anthem. "Old Devil’s Whelm" is another favorite. 

What are your thoughts on the natural ability vs the practiced player? 

Hard work goes a long way. If you don’t have certain mechanics down it will be hard to play freely. You will be constricted.

Any updates on the new album? 

We are hoping to get it mixed soon. David Immerglück produced it.

What was your inspiration to become a drummer? 

I was a huge fan of The Police album, Zenyatta Mondatta.  I remember looking at pictures of Stewart Copeland and tried to emulate his style. From then on, I would put on whatever rock N' roll album I could find.

David Immergluck-Guitar/Mandolin/Vocals

David Immergluck-Guitar/Mandolin/Vocals

David Immerglück

This man right here needs no further introduction. He’s a multi instrumentalist who is best known for his work in Counting Crows, Camper Van Beethoven, John Hiatt, and Monks of Doom... just to name a few. He’s a versatile musician and producer with an insane record and CD collection that ranges in the thousands.

What are some of your favorite guitar riffs? 

"Oh Well" part 1-Fleetwood Mac, "Dancing Days"-Led Zeppelin, “A Woman like You"-Bert Jansch, "Clear Spot"-Captain Beefheart, and "Smokestack Lightning"-Howlin’ Wolf.

Which of your gear can you not live without?

I have a 68' silver face Fender Vibrolux that has some cool mods in the caps. As for guitars that would be my 72' Les Paul Junior.

Do you have any producer influences?

I listen to a lot of records from the 70's. I especially like the Rolling Stones style so I try to produce in that direction. As for producers, Don Smith, he could identify the magic early in a song. I'm also a big fan of Dennis Herring and Jimmy Miller.

How was recording the new album?

Great! The process went by rather quickly. We managed to finish in three days at Boulevard Recording.

How did you become a part of the Devil May Care?

 Sal was playing a gig at the Hotel Café. I was sitting on a bar stool next to Brian Wright. Sal just stuck out as the real deal among all of the other acts. I listened to his record and knew I had to be in the band! It was the kind of music that I grew up wanting to play.

What are you currently listening to at the moment? 

Bob Dylan-Sidetracks

Do you have a particular music routine? 

I am constantly listening to music 24/7. Playing live is the musical gym for me. It's always great to exercise the musical muscle by playing new material.

Jonathan “Jonny” Flaugher-Bass/Vocals  

Jonathan “Jonny” Flaugher-Bass/Vocals

 

Jonathan "Jonny" Flaugher

Jonny holds a masters at the Manhattan School of Music and has worked extensively in New York as a jazz bassist. Since then he has began his career working alongside: Ryan Adams, The Weepies, Shakira, and Vanessa Carlton. He's also composed for film and is currently producing various artists.

Sal was telling me that the bass has been the quintessential part of the band. Do you agree?

Every role is important. Music is our language. Sal and I have a very similar musical background. We've played jazz, ragtime, and gospel. All of that goes in Sal’s band.

How and why did you first pick up the bass? 

I was inspired by my uncle, who is not blood related, he was a bass player. I played clarinet but wanted to play bass clarinet. I have always just been interested in that kind of stuff. In high school, I borrowed a friend’s bass. Soon after that I started playing the upright bass.

What are your types of musical influences? 

Mostly rock N roll, jazz, country, Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Paul McCartney.

Is there a unique significance to the band's set up? 

Our rhythm section plays pretty actively. In the beginning, Sal was not sure of the setup. He had more people in the band than the audience. Now its much more stripped down.

How did you meet Sal? 

I came to LA to record on different records. When I met Sal at Hotel Café, he had a gospel band. We both had a similar musical background. He wanted me to come play on Blood and Dust at Sunset Sound in 2008. After recording that album, I became a permanent member.

What are your long term goals? 

To keep getting better and better. I have worked hard to get where I am. I  just plan to keep improving and learning more.

Tender Mercies: A Timeless Essence

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Tender Mercies can be simply summed up in six words: Indie folk rock at its finest!

The music's stripped down  to the core without the use of today's technological fillers. It sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around a room making homegrown music. The album has this timeless essence like a classic vinyl approach to Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

From the soft guitar intro in "Safe and Sound" to the beautiful mandolin in "Almighty Trial," this record provides a nostalgic mellow listen. The kind of songs to listen to on an afternoon road trip.
 

Even though it took twenty years to release the record, Tender Mercies have been around since the early 90's. Dan Vickrey (Vocals/Guitar) met Patrick Winningham (Vocals/Guitar) at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. The two would soon play many gigs along with Kurt Stevenson (Vocals/Bass), Charley Gillingham (Vocals/Keyboard), and later on Jim Bogios (Vocals/Drums).

The band came to a halt in 1993 when Vickrey left to join Counting Crows alongside Gillingham. Songs such as "Four White Stallions," "Mercy," and "Wiseblood" have been kept in the Counting Crows set lists throughout the years. It wasn't until last year that Tender Mercies reunited and decided to finally release a record.

It's difficult for me to recommend favorites. I would just end up naming half the record. However, "Scarecrow" and "Angeline" receive honorable mentions.

"Scarecrow" is perhaps the 'bluesiest' song on the record. It stands out among the quieter tracks with the exception of the Honky Tonk-esque "Ball and Chain." Plus, the guitar outro just slays at the end! You can almost feel the raw energy bursting out of the guitar!

 "Angeline" is a song that really strikes a cord in me. It's been a long time since a new song has actually made me cry. This might come across very cheesy but I get teary eyed every time I listen it. Infused with gentle slide guitar, violin, and mandolin among the heartfelt lyrics just makes it such a beautiful song.

Overall, I highly recommend the album. It's a nice listen for the alt-country fans at heart.

I even had the pleasure of talking to Dan Vickrey and Patrick Winningham about the album, musical influences, and upcoming plans.

You guys have had several band names. How did you finally settle on Tender Mercies?

Dan: We didn't have anything else (laughs). At the beginning we took the name Bakery Boys after the bakery we used to rehearse in. For a while we were known as the Patrick Winningham Band. But Tender Mercies just seemed to be the most fitting name.

Patrick: I just really loved that Robert Duvall movie (laughs)...just kidding. Back when I worked at a club, I played in a band with Jeff Trott, Charley, and Kurt. We didn't really have a name. We would just use my name whenever we played mostly my stuff. As far as Tender Mercies, I have no idea where it came from.

How do you divide lead vocal roles?

Dan: I just sing my songs and he sings his songs.

Patrick: We sing our own material. Originally Dan wanted me to sing "Perfect Hour." Jim and I listened to Dan's demo and thought he should sing his songs.

After listening to "Four White Stallions" It sounds like there's a lyric difference in Tender Mercies and the Counting Crows' version. 
This is what it sounds like to me:


Tender Mercies: "There's nothing left of me in her."

Counting Crows: "There's nothing left of me and her."

Dan: The stallions lyric is the same in both versions but the pronunciation is different. The actual lyric your hearing is "There's nothing left of me AND her."

Patrick: I wrote that song in a heartfelt place at the time. We change the interpretations from time to time. We do the same with other songs as well such as "White Freight Liner" by Townes Van Zandt.

How did you become interested in guitar?

Dan: I started playing by ear since I was 14. My neighbor wanted me to join his band. I'd listen to records such as John Mayall, Tom Waits, Eric Clapton, and The Beatles.

Patrick: I started playing around the age of 14-15. I played rhythm guitar in my friends' bands. I was influenced by Neil Young, After the Gold Rush era, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, The Beatles...all the good stuff!

How does the songwriting process work?

Dan: I generally just write my own stuff. Kurt wrote "Mercy" and Patrick just added lyrics on his own to it.

Patrick: Most of the songs such as "Wiseblood" are worked out on the spot. We'll just start playing and decide if we want a guitar solo here or another lyric there. Sometimes we'll even get Dan Eisenberg on piano to add a quieter feel.

What about the recording process?

Dan: It went great! We hired an engineer to set up microphones and Pro Tools in the music room of my house and just recorded everything live in that room.

Patrick: It was a very enjoyable experience! We recorded in Dan's house for a mellower live sound. We sat around in the room and just started playing. That's the beauty of the happening! I think it was Bob Dylan that once said "let it roll because you never know what your going to catch."

Do you have a particular favorite song on the album?

Dan: I'd have to say "Wiseblood." It was the first song I first latched onto around the time I met Patrick. It holds such fond memories for me.
 

Patrick: It's hard to pick a favorite. The songs are like my children! "Perfect Hour" holds a special place in my heart. I also love "Mercy," "Safe and Sound," "Four White Stallions," and "Almighty Trial." There's also this one song we do that's not on the record called "Penny in the Sky" that I'm real fond of as well.
 

How do you go about making your set lists?

Dan: Patrick and I usually come up with the songs on the spot that we want to play. Other times we just improvise.

Patrick: Usually Dan and I bang them out, Kurt doesn't care, and Jim will speak up if he doesn't agree with a particular choice.

I really like the album art! Who's the kid on the cover?

Dan: The artwork was done by my friend, Oliver Arms. That's his nephew in the picture. Oliver and I worked together at Tower Records back in the 90's. He's a talented artist so I went to him for the cover art. Inside the album is a picture of a ferris wheel that I took in Australia and my music room.

Patrick: The cover art was a picture from Dan's friend, Oliver. We were looking for album art ideas while searching on Dan's computer one day. I was looking for a picture of a guitar but stumbled across that ferris wheel picture. I thought it was the coolest thing and told Dan we had to have it on the album!

Are there any upcoming plans for the Tender Mercies?

Dan: Patrick is the process of assembling live recordings of some of our shows.

Patrick: We hope to start working on a second album sometime in October or September. The newer stuff will be a bit darker than our old stuff.

Tetrarch's Will to Fight

Interview by Jessica Klausing

tetrarch2 (1).jpg

Hailing from Atlanta, GA, Tetrarch is a thrash band like no other. The sound can best be described as an old school mix of Metallica with a newer twist of Bullet for my Valentine.

 The style is similar to Disturbed in that the music has heavy riffs but doesn't over do it. Tetrarch formed in 2006 by Josh Fore (Vocals/Rythmn guitar), Diamond Rowe (Lead guitar), and Tyler Wesley (Drums).

 Wesley was replaced by Jared Vann and Ryan Lerner (Bass) was later added to the line up. 

Their first EP, The Will to Fight was released June 5, 2011. I'm usually not too big into the thrash scene but these guys are well worth the listen! They focus more on singing than the screaming aspect as opposed to the traditional death metal format. I also found the lyrics to be intense with profound underlying themes.

For example, one of my favorites is the title track, "The Will to Fight." The narrator sings of the human nature to fight for something to believe in. A never ending struggle in which we can all relate to. You can almost feel the intensity in Fore's voice.

Ryan Lerner and Diamond Rowe took time off in the studio to chat about their musical influences, songwriting and their new upcoming EP!

Tell me about the uniqueness of Tetrarch's style?

Diamond:  Well I think today a lot of bands focus more on how heavy and "brutal" they can be, or how many breakdowns they can have. I feel like we are different because we try to focus as much as possible on writing great, memorable songs. We love to mix the heavy parts of modern metal with the structures and catchiness of older bands. 

Ryan: I think we definitely stand out. We sound a mixture of the old school with the new school. We're not too extreme but we do have something for heavier listeners.
 

I recently read that you guys are releasing a new EP. What can you tell me about it? 

Diamond:  Yes! It's called Relentless and its going to be released early September We recorded our new EP atAudiohammer Studios in Sanford, FL with producers Jason Suecof and Eyal Levi. It is definitely something that we have wanted to do for a while now and it is great that we have finally gotten the chance to. The songs definitely sound different than anything we have ever done but they also have Tetrarch written all over them. We really wanted to focus more on song writting on this one. Really catering to the songs and trying to make people feel something more so then riffing out like we used to. There's still some great riffs on this EP but they are done really tastefully! 

Ryan: The new stuff will be a bit heavier than our previous work but it'll be more singable. The theme deals more with wrath and angst. We draw our inspiration on experiences that have happened around us.

How do you approach the songwriting process?

Diamond:  When it comes to songwriting, usually Josh and I will sit down together and look through some of the ideas that each of us have. One of us may have a riff that we want to build on or even a full song. Once the music is done, we try to ask ourselves "how is this going to make people feel something". Whether its the dynamics of the songs or the lyricsthe most important thing is that people feel an emotion while listening. That is the best way to connect with anyone.  

Ryan: It's mainly a mixture of swapping/passing demos between each other. We try to figure out how we want them to sound before getting in practice. Josh and Diamond do most of the songwriting. Occasionally, Jared and I throw in suggestions. It can be a bit distracting to build a song when everyone's around. Josh is an independent songwriter and comes back to share what he's got then we all put together what we have each worked on. When I'm creating my bass lines, I listen carefully to the rhythm to emulate sounds that reflect the tempo. 
 

Diamond Rowe (Photo by Angelo Valentine)

Diamond Rowe (Photo by Angelo Valentine)

Diamond, How do you approach writing your guitar parts?

Diamond: When writing guitar parts, neither me or Josh approach it as if we are super technical guitar  
players. We like cool, intricate riffs, but riffs that you can sing back. We kind of compliment each other though because I always like things to be super heavy, and Josh is the complete opposite (laughs). So we generally meet in the middle.

Diamond, I know that on top of your duties as lead guitarist you have also pulled doing double duty as the band's publicist. What kind of responsibilities do you carry out for the band?

Diamond:  Well, fortunately we just joined with a new Management. We are now with Outerloop Management so that is going to be GREAT! But I just try to get the bands name out there in anyway I can. That can be getting us interviews, posting things on our facebook page, spreading the word at shows etc. You really start to see the benefits from promoting and its very rewarding.

What are your musical inspirations?

Ryan: As a group we are inspired by Metallica and Bullet for My Valentine. I love Rush and Iron Maiden. Josh likes Green Day, Jared is a huge death metal fan and Diamond is more into the hardcore bands as well.

Ryan, Do you have a favorite song to play live?

Ryan: My favorite song would have to be "Set the Flames." We usually open up our shows with this song. It's a great song to get pumped.

Ryan, What kind of challenges did you guys face in the studio and on the road?

 

Ryan Lerner (Photo by Angelo Valentine)

Ryan Lerner (Photo by Angelo Valentine)

Ryan: Cramming everything into a time limit. Bass and rythmn guitar takes a couple of hours but vocals and drums take a while. As far as being on tour its mostly just learning to live in a van and how to be an entertainer. 

You recently completed a mini tour last summer. Were there any memorable moments?

Ryan: It was a big turning point in our lives. We really came together as a live band. With our new drummer, Jared, our music has become tighter and flows more smoothly. Our goal is to tour a longtime and to take over the world!

Diamond: (Laughs). Well there are definitely a lot of memorable moments. We went on a thirty two day tour of the east coats. Basically the whole trip was amazing. We definitely learned a lot about each other and played a lot of fantastic shows. We cant wait to get back out there. 

Tyler Stenson: The Last True Artist

 Interview by Jessica Klausing.
 

Although Tyler Stenson has been in the music scene throughout the early 2000s, this singer/songwriter from Portland is just starting to get the attention he deserves. He was recently named "Best Male Artist" at the 2011 Portland Music Awards and was a lineup in the 2011 SXSW. Stenson served as the frontman and songwriter for his former bands Lander and Rhetoric Tuesday but soon left the rock N roll scene to pursue his western roots as a solo artist in 2007.

He released his first solo album, Bittersweet Parade in 2010 and has continued to release beautiful americana albums that takes the listener on an autobiographical journey through human existence. Stenson does this through the grace of his acoustic melodies in a minimalist approach that remains true to his sound without ever conforming to the industry standard. I highly recommend checking out Stenson's songs. It's not everyday you find endearing lyrics that simply soothes the soul.

Tyler took the time to talk to me about the challenges of the music industry, the songwriting/recording process and his newest album release Another Gleam.

What gave you the inspiration to make music?
 

Tyler: My mother can ultimately be credited with my love for music...she didn't necessarily inspire me to begin making my own music but she instilled the love, the passion and the basic appreciation for the art. Since I can remember she filled our home with music and has had me singing along. She was also the one to place me in voice lessons my senior year of nigh school (more or less against my will) soon after, between my mother and my vocal coach, I realized I had some ability and adopted it as a person.

Ultimately, it was Garth Brooks and Dave Matthews that inspired me to begin making my own music. In high school I loved country music so Garth was always my vocal idol but seeing Dave Matthews on VH1 Storytellers hit me like a ton of bricks. It inspired me to write abstractly and pushed me to look beyond simple country songs. It showed me the art in music, not just the commercial side. I had written a couple of songs prior to seeing that episode of Storytellers but my songwriting world was rocked upside down from that point forward.

What gave you the decision to become a solo artist?
 

Tyler: I was always the "songwriter" and the driving "vision" behind my groups but my vision inevitably veered off course when I allowed things to be democratic. My songs on stage didn't sound like the song I painstakingly crafted in my room. They got away from me.

It got to the point where I was trying to wear all of the creative, administrative and managerial hats at once and running myself ragged as a result. All of this, coupled with the role of making sure everyone in the group was happy at all times, started to detract from the music. It turned a passion into a job. It turned a stress release into a stressor. I knew something had to change. I came to the realization that my musical road might be more enjoyable if I walked it alone. Just me and my guitar and no external weight.


How do you think you have evolved musically from your earlier bands, Rhetoric Tuesday and Lander? 
 

Tyler: The biggest difference between my art then and now is that I have refined my craft. It's simply more mature. If you look at my earlier music, especially with Rhetoric Tuesday, my songs were typically 5 minutes long but now, most of them are around 3:30. The most exciting part of this growth is that I haven't sacrificed the integrity of the content, in fact my lyrics are tighter than ever, I've simply cut the fat. Each year I've learned more about my processes (and music in general) and I believe the maturity is tangible.
 


You've been recognized as a straightforward folk musician. Is there a particular reason your partial to folk music? Also, Do you have any major folk influences?
 

Tyler:  Because I grew up listening to Dan Fogelberg, Garth Brooks, James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel, my folky singer-songwriter leanings were pretty much engrained. So, it was no surprise that when I fist picked up the guitar, I ultimately envisioned myself as a country singer (and learned about 10 country songs before anything else). Of course, like any college kid in the early 2000s, I eventually stumbled upon Dave Matthews and Counting Crows and that's when I started writing more pop-oriented tunes, however, that's when I started to feel a bit insincere. I was emulating rather than innovating. To bring it full-circle, in the late stages of my pop-rock band Lander, I then found a singer-songwriter named Josh Ritter and with a lightning bolt, I was inspired to return to my roots -- from that point forward, my style is a lot like pairing the dramatic delivery of Adam Duritz with the rustic poetry of Josh Ritter and laying it over the folky melodic bed of James Taylor.

Have you ever had to overcome any obstacles in the music industry?
 

Tyler: Each and every day is an obstacle in the music business. I'd say it's more of a mental match than anything. Some days you feel on top of your game and within arms reach of your goals and the next you feel like a foolish little fish in a huge ocean. It takes really thick skin to wade through the tens of people to find that one that may enjoy your brand of music.
The fact is that my music is not for everyone so I experience a lot of No's before hearing any version of Yes. The road is filled with self-doubt and fierce competition. The obstacle is balancing that doubt against your courage and blindly pushing forward- ignorant of obstacles.

How does technology help an artist like your self make it easier to record music?
 

Tyler: Technology is a beautiful thing--it allows me to record clean tracks in the comfort of my bedroom with nothing more than a laptop and a microphone. With this humble set up, I have the luxury of testing songs before I spend major money in a recording studio. It allows me to work out the bugs on my own time and finesse my songs long before they see the recording studio.
The beauty of technology is that the cost of recording if forever reasonable. Equipment is becoming more affordable which allows for a greater number of quality recording studios to enter the market place. The more studios there are, the more competitive the engineers will be when it comes to pricing. All of this equates to the fact that technology is giving musicians more options for places to record while keeping the price down. 

How does the songwriting process begin for you?
 

Tyler: I am much more limited by my composition skills than I am my lyrics, therefore, I always come up with a guitar part first -- it's easier for me to craft lyrics that sit within the music, as opposed to crafting music that supports the lyric. Once I have a guitar part that is remotely unique, then I usually establish the title of the song and craft a series of lyrics that support the title and that lay within the chords I've chosen. In fact, of the 110+ songs that I've written, I think only Babysitting the Cowboy was lyric first -- and I think that's somewhat obvious based on the odd cadence of the tune.

Your newest album, Another Gleam is a re-recording/re-mastered version of your 2008 See that Gleam album. What was the decision behind this?
 

Tyler: Oh, what a learning experience! To put it simply, I recorded See That Gleam before I had made the "turn" in my artistic maturity. It was produced by a younger me. Upon completing the album, it just never sat right with me, in my gut, but I couldn't put it into words or even explain to myself what the discomfort stemmed from. After releasing it, I pretty much just listened to fan feedback and observed the download and licensing trends -- it quickly became clear that A) Nobody was really talking about it B) In all of my licensing opportunities, it was being completely ignored. Of course, this raised the alarm. So, the reasoning behind my decision was 2 parts:

1) In my heart, I believed the songs were good but the recording did them no justice. It wasn't the songs themselves that didn't sit right with me, it was the production value. I suppose I got what I paid for ... but was determined to right the wrong.
2) When it comes to licensing your songs on film and television, it is very important to have both the vocal and instrumental versions of your songs (not having the instrumental version can sometimes exclude you from a song being placed). That said, because See That Gleam was recorded live (vocal at the same time as the guitar), I didn't have a purely instrumental version -- hence the tracks being ignored for licensing. That said, the decision to re-record was business. In order for me to have a vocal and a pure instrumental version, the record was going to have to be re-recorded from scratch, therefore, I bit the bullet and made it happen.

In the end, Another Gleam is the same record as See That Gleam, only this time done right.

I know that your music deals with sentimental and sincere themes such as romance, heartbreak, nostalgia, etc. I even read somewhere that "The Road" was inspired by a Cormac McCarthy novel. Is there a major reoccurring theme that is the basis for "Another Gleam?"

Tyler: While most of the songs on my records are written within close proximity of each other (usually a one year span), and therefore share a common state of mind, the interesting thing about Another Gleam is that it is a collection of songs from a very large window of time (a span of about five or six years). The whole story behind See That Gleam in the first place is that I had written a number of songs up to that point; some that I felt were cool full-band songs (eventually recorded by Rhetoric Tuesday and Lander) and some that I kept for myself. Later, when someone asked for a recording of Better Be Us All, I didn't have one because it was one of those ultra-intimate songs that I had kept away from my former bands, therefore, that sparked my first solo album -- See That Gleam -- a collection of brittle ditties that were always intended to be solo songs. I hate to disappoint but, long story short, the songs on See That Gleamand Another Gleam are not that closely related -- the only thread being that they are the intimate songs that I deemed sacred enough to withhold from my bands at the time.

Do you have any favorites among your songs that you especially like to perform on stage?

Tyler: I share the sentiment of Jewel when she said her favorite song to play is "whatever is newest." 

However, I will say that Babysitting the Cowboy is my personal favorite song that I've written and, if a crowd is willing to sit and pay it proper attention, I get a rush each time.

How would you like to be remembered as a musician?

Tyler: Timeless. When I'm writing songs, I write fearlessly for myself and have always attempted to stay true to my art rather than the industry. I have a deliberate style and brand and I'm therefore more concerned with maintaining that than playing the pop game.

With that said, my goal has always been to establish a cult following rather than any kind of mass appeal that involves a sacrifice of my musical integrity. I am self-aware enough to know that not everyone will like my songs but the hope is that those that do, will love them. I can deal with 9 out of 10 people not liking my songs as long as that one individual in the bunch becomes a soldier for my cause.

I want to be remembered as a guy that spoke his heart in his own way and carved a niche for himself...even though it didn't mean superstar status...he stated true to the art. I want to be forever appreciated for my authenticity and widely known as one of the last true artists. 

Recording with Counting Crows' Dan Vickrey

This article was originally published in RECORDING Magazine.
Interview by Jessica Klausing with Lorenz Rychner.

Photo by Andrea Henn

Photo by Andrea Henn

When Counting Crows emerged from the San Francisco Bay area in the early '90s, home studios were not nearly as common as they are now. Counting Crows is one of the most successful bands to have created music in a home studio. The band made reference to their albums as being recorded "in a big house on a hill", beginning with their first multi-platinum selling album, August and Everything After.

 Counting Crows continue making groundbreaking albums, such as their newest release, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.

 I had the pleasure of speaking with Counting Crows' lead guitarist Dan Vickrey during a telephone interview, and learned about how the band turns ideas into albums at home, with an emphasis on getting signature guitar sounds thanks to Dan's role in the band.

Dan, talk to me about some of the guitar equipment you use in the recording studio?


Dan Vickrey: My Fender Esquire 1954 is amazing! It's very flexible and the pickups help give a more "twangy" rockin' sound to a song. Also, my Epiphone Casino is great for reducing microphone feedback.

My secret weapon involves using my White amps (Forrest White Fender models) from the '50s for picking parts. The White amps give a different personality to a guitar, they have a transformer that doesn't sound anything like the other Fender amps. My other amps include a 1966 Fender Vibrolux, 1982 Marshall JCM800 50-watt head, 1964 Vox AC10, 1964 Vox AC30 TB, Magnitone 280, and 1960 Fender Vibroverb.

What about effects?


Dan: I love my ZVex SHO pedal, it can sound like sparks are flying from it...I have other pedals, like the Tech 21 SansAmp, Hughes and Kettner Rotosphere, ElectroHarmonix Memory Man, DOD FX10, MXR Distortion+, the BOSS VB-2, DM-2, HR-2, PN-2, and PH-1, Way Huge Red Llama, and Danelectro DanEcho. All the pedals are powered from a Custom Audio Electronics [Bradshaw] rack, it controls up to 16 individual effects pedals on true bypass loops. That rack has a controller that allows you to program presets for each song or part of a song. There is also a 4-channel amp switcher included in the setup.

How about distortion and feedback?


Dan: Smaller amps with 8' speakers tend to give me a better frequency response with distortion. A small amp turned to eleven can have a greater effect than a distortion pedal. So that's what I use on songs like "Hanging Tree" from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.

Feedback can be controlled, or it can sneak up on you as a happy accident, like on "Angels of the Silences" (from Recovering the Satellites) where we ended up liking the chaotic vibe it gave so we decided to keep it. We re-visited the idea again with "Cowboys" (from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) and used it on the guitar solo, with a Les Paul through a Marshall amp in the beginning. For a much louder sound they recorded me standing in front of that amp cranked to ten while playing [laughs].

Do you use loops?


Dan: We're not really a looping band, we all like to really play our instruments, but on "Sundays" Jim (Bogios, drummer) brought in a percussion loop that the engineer then put into Pro Tools. That was a neat exception.

Tell me about the writing process?


Dan: It could be that Adam (Duritz, lead vocalist) begins with playing the piano and the rest of us listening and focusing. Usually me or Immy (David Immerglück, guitarist) start to play, and Dave (Bryson, rhythm guitarist) joins in. Songs such as "Insignificant" and "Come Around" (from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) were created from everyone's improvisational input. We decide then if we want two electric guitars and one acoustic or vice versa. You just play what you want to play and then tape it. We experiment by trying different combinations of guitars.

It seems to me that your band has no fear in taking chances. Does the improvisation come as naturally in the studio as it does on stage?


Dan: There are a lot of guys in the band, so we mostly listen to each other and make the decision if someone wants to jump in or if too many people get involved. There are moments during a song where it will be left open if anyone wants to take it.
The key to success on stage as well as in the studio is simply listening. Anyone in a band has to listen carefully to how the other one plays to make the decision in which direction to go in the song. Sometimes you have to know when to back off or not overdo it, which can be very hard for a guitarist...

What's the order of tracking?


Dan: We usually start with a scratch track where most everybody plays, with vocals, too. Then we use that as a guide for individual overdubs--starting with the drums, bass, rhythm etc.

What about tracking guitars?


Dan: Generally all three guitarists are in the control room, with the amps out in the tracking room (s). We do very little reamping if any at all. We like close-miked guitar amps, typically with Shure SM57 mics up against the grille.

Has playing for Counting Crows matured you as a recording musician since your earlier years playing for The Naked Barbie Dolls as well as for Patrick Winningham?

Dan: It has for me on a personal level. I like to think I'm playing more passionately and just using my own style. In much earlier years, when I was just learning guitar, I would listen and try to match and emulate sounds of musicians such as Eric Clapton and George Harrison. In the end you should just be playing what you want to play and working to generate your own sounds. If you're not doing this and enjoying it then you should not be playing at all.

What advice would you give to a fellow recording musician?


Dan: Just make sure your main tactics for making music are love and passion. Don't be afraid of working to create and experiment with your own sounds. We are in an era of music where it is more convenient to record at home than in an actual studio, so basically just explore, to find what sounds right for you, and go for it!

Check out the Counting Crows website for any additional information on the band.