Tuesday, November 22, 2016

MATTHEW & GUNNAR NELSON's This Christmas Too: An EXCLUSIVE interview with GUNNAR NELSON


A VERY NELSON CHRISTMAS

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 
WITH 
GUNNAR NELSON

(An edited version of this interview appears in Issue of Discussions Magazine)

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THIS CHRISTMAS TOO, the new holiday release by Matthew And Gunnar Nelson, is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the journey it took to create it?
GUNNAR NELSON: I'm actually feeling fabulous about it — very accomplished and proud of the result. It's been an incredible journey so far. Honestly it's taken about four years to get to this point with this record. THIS CHRISTMAS TOO is a photo negative of the first release of last year. Allow me to explain: when we recorded this record we intentionally overcut by double. On last year's release, half of the record had instrumental versions of these Christmas classics. The other half had vocal versions. This year, THIS CHRISTMAS TOO has the songs flipped. What was an instrumental track last year is now the vocal version and vice versa. Plus we've added two bonus tracks that were not on the first album, as well as the completely new take on our original Christmas hit single 'This Christmas' featuring Carnie and Wendy Wilson, who are driving the whole effort. The good news is, if you bought 2015's THIS CHRISTMAS album, you're not going to get a single duplicate on THIS CHRISTMAS TOO — they're designed to complement each other perfectly.

SPAZ: What inspired you to return to Christmas music again? Do you consider this a sequel, as the title suggests, or just an extension of the original 2015 release?
GUNNAR: Well, I think it's a little bit of both actually. As I mentioned in the previous answer, this record was always planned for from the second we started recording this project. Part One and Part Two — no duplications. We actually offer special collector’s edition packaging for folks who buy both albums that makes it a proper double album. Good times!

SPAZ: In a sense, you’ve returned to your musical roots, exploring the Country and holiday music of your youth. Do you feel that, in going back to the beginning, you’re more connected to your music than ever before?
GUNNAR: That's pretty astute. Yes, as a matter of fact, sonically looking fondly back on what we grew up with in Southern California... watching our father's Stone Canyon Band rehearse down the hallway from us as babies... growing up in the Los Angeles clubs like the Troubadour and the Palomino during the ‘70s and ‘80s... it all feeds into this record as far as the creative approach goes. We're really proud of owning that whole California Country Rock/Folk/Pop thing that we do. Matthew and I realized that we've been actually playing country music with our Ricky Nelson Remembered show for twenty years — far longer than we ever played the Arena Rock from when we started.


SPAZ: How did you choose which direction to take each song? Did you base your decisions on your favorite recordings of these classics?
GUNNAR: Actually, we went out of our way to try to take a fresh approach with all of these classics. We didn't want to pull at all from anything that had already been done. What we wanted to do was make a very honest, heartfelt record regardless of the fact that it was Christmas music — we just wanted to make a great album that stood on its own. How did we decide which approach to take with each song? We let the way each song made us feel in the moment dictate that individual song's direction. All the songs seemed to take on a life of their own, and they bloomed from there. It's important to note that we didn't cut any corners during the process. Each song was recorded individually, meaning that we didn't just sit down and record all the drum tracks in one day, then come back and play all the bass parts the next day, etc. Every song was approached one at a time as if it was its own musical statement. 

I guess the gold standard we tried to aspire to was imagining what it would be like if our heroes in America, The Eagles, or Crosby, Stills & Nash were to ever sit down and make a Christmas album. We wanted it to be timeless. Organic instruments. Real musicianship. Real playing and singing. All recorded through our vintage (circa 1972) class A Neve console. So cool. We want you to be able to sit down thirty years from now and put this record on, and have it sound every bit as contemporary and fresh as the day it was recorded.

SPAZ: Who thought of the idea of re-recording the title track with the Wilson sisters (Carnie and Wendy), and how quickly did the collaboration come together?
GUNNAR: Matthew and I have been working on putting that collaboration together for the past twenty-five years! We've known the girls for a long, long time — ever since we were babies actually — but our schedules never aligned. We've always been huge fans of the way the girls sang together... the way they stayed together through all of the highs and lows that life and this crazy business in particular can throw at you. Every year I'd be at Carnie trying to break her down and get her to get in the studio with us. I just had this feeling that if and when we ever made that happen, it would be magical. I was right. I couldn't be more proud of how it sounds... how it makes you feel. This was always meant to be. It sounds like a modern Mommas and Papas to me. Rock on.

SPAZ: When putting together both Christmas releases, did the memories of past Nelson family Christmas gatherings come flooding back?
GUNNAR: There's no way we could've taken all of the time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears to put this project together that we did, if Christmas wasn't a wonderful time for us when we were kids growing up. Our father worked so hard. He was gone so much of the time. But Christmas was special. It was sacred. It was the time when our father got off the road, got together with his family, and counted his blessings. It was always a safe time in a safe place. Christmas has always been that for me and my brother. And in checking with the girls, it's always been the same for them too. That's what makes this project so special. Nothing but enjoying warm feelings, making inspired music with people that you love and admire. I felt our ancestors (the real ghosts of Christmas past?) with us in the studio every step of the way… and they were grooving like sewer rats.

 

SPAZ: What are your earliest Christmas music memories?
GUNNAR: Turkey dinner the night before at Ozzie and Harriet's house with all of our cousins. Rankin & Bass stop frame animated classics in the background on TV on endless loop. Not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve. Waking up at the crack of dawn to go downstairs and seeing what Santa brought. Being relentlessly excited and loud until Mom and Pop zombie-walked out of their room and went straight for the Mr. Coffee. The content yet weary look on our Pop's face as we opened presents — because there was always 'some assembly required'.

SPAZ: Your transition to Roots/Country began two decades ago. Is it frustrating to think that there may be some critics that will accuse you of hopping on the current Country bandwagon? In your defense, your music is rooted in a more traditional sound while modern Top 40 Country has moved in a Pop-influenced direction.
GUNNAR: Let's get real here. I would have to accuse the current country artists of hopping on our original 80s band wagon... back when spandex was still a privilege and not a right. There's nothing country about what's coming out in country music these days. It's bad ‘80s music with fiddles and mohawks, for crying out loud. Hell, pedal steel guitar is an outlaw instrument now, and that's what we grew up with — Tom Brumley (an original Buckaroo) on the pedal steel with the Stone Canyon Band. I love pedal steel on our records. Our California country is more legitimately country than contemporary Nashville is at the moment by far, and it's OURS. It belongs to us. Our father invented country rock with the SCB, and we've been playing this music legitimately since the Dead Sea was just sick. We're not trying to 'aim' things here. This is who we are to our core. We are California country. :)

SPAZ: You’ve released some of your Country-flavored tracks under the name The Nelsons and now you are recording under your actual names: Matthew And Gunnar Nelson. Does this signify a definite break from the Nelson recordings of the ‘90s?
GUNNAR: Originally that was the intention, but after all is said and done, people are always going to look at me and Matthew as Nelson. The original band name and image was just too impactful to ever be able to fully diverge from. I suppose it's kind of the same thing that happened when our father dropped the 'Y' from his name and tried to go from 'Ricky' to 'Rick' Nelson when he put the Stone Canyon Band together. It was a legitimate move signifying a completely different musical trip, and I understand how he felt. But people always did and always will refer to him as Ricky. It's the same with me and Matthew. No matter what we've tried to call ourselves over the years to try to delineate our forays into different musical expressions, the fact is we will always be simply Nelson in the hearts and minds of millions of people... and I'm totally OK with that now. It's going to be the music that dictates what people think about us and our relevancy in any given moment. And that's a liberating thought, because we'll never stop creating and pushing our limits.


SPAZ: Have you been working on new original material in the studio? And are those recordings traveling the same musical path as THIS CHRISTMAS TOO (sans the holiday theme)?
GUNNAR: Absolutely. Matthew and I do tour about 100 dates a year, so it doesn't leave as much time as we'd like for studio work. But I love, love, love the recording studio. Any chance I get when I'm not on the road, you can find me in the studio until the wee hours of the morning. 11 PM until 5 AM are really my hours of power, and when I get most of my recording work done. We've got all of the songs written for the next record. I have three more that I need to record to make it an even twelve. I'm incredibly excited at how good it's sounding. It sounds so unique — California country pop folk rock led by two lead singers. Kind of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with George Harrison guesting on lead guitar, fronted by the Everly Brothers. Trust me — it's going to make perfect sense for you when you hear it.

SPAZ: What is next for Matthew and Gunnar Nelson?
GUNNAR: Well, right now I can't focus on anything other than promoting this Christmas album and single with Carnie and Wendy Wilson. Once we get through that, we're gonna be focusing on some TV work in 2017, a new Nelson record, and perhaps the first of several records that we hope to make with Carnie and Wendy as a 'double duet', featuring our takes on the singer-songwriter classics that we all grew up to as kids in SoCal (Orleans, Ambrosia, Seals and Crofts, America, Firefall, Todd Rundgren, Paul Davis, Dan Fogelberg, Andrew Gold, Atlanta Rhythm Section, etc.). I can't wait. I LOVE that stuff. Of course, we're going to be doing at least 100 tour dates next year. All pretty exciting stuff.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD/record players?
GUNNAR: Our answer would be different if you were to ask me or if you were to ask Matthew. For me it's all the bands from the ‘70s that I mentioned above. I just simply can't get enough of that music. It not only calms me down, but it keeps me creative as a writer and recording artist. I think that era was a time in music when musicians didn't have any of the tricks that they rely on too much today. No autotune. No ProTools. No computers or synthesizers. To stand above the crowd of the day, you had to have great arrangements guiding great songs, sung by great vocalists and great musicians. That's my jam. Matt would probably tell you that he's into more current music, but The Foos are his all-time favorite.


Thanks to Gunnar Nelson
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, Dave Rayburn and Nick Kominitsky


MATTHEW AND GUNNAR NELSON
THIS CHRISTMAS TOO

THE DEAD DAISIES: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with JOHN CORABI!




MAKE SOME NOISE:

Hard Rock supergroup 
THE DEAD DAISIES 
are here to melt your mind!

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 

with 

JOHN CORABI

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: MAKE SOME NOISE is finally released.  How are you feeling about the journey to make the album and the reaction to it so far?
JOHN CORABI: Honestly writing and recording the record was a blast!!! All of the guy are so friggin’ talented I don't think we're ever going to have a shortage of ideas!!! And the fans have been beyond receptive to MAKE SOME NOISE. They've actually pushed this thing onto a lot of charts around the world!!!

SPAZ: Hard Rock is often defined by how heavy the music is and how powerful the riffs are. This album also adds a strong sense of melody and the songwriting is top-notch.  How do you approach the creative process – do you base the melodies around riffs or do the riffs come later? Has this songwriting process changed for you over the years depending on what project you are involved with?
JOHN: Honestly I write the way I write. I don't think about anything going in. We all contributed equally to the writing process so, we just let the record develop and take us on the ride!!!

SPAZ: Is this a collection of tracks written specifically for MAKE SOME NOISE? Or are these ideas that have their origins in past projects that the musicians have been involved with?
JOHN: We had no songs when we started this. We all just started throwing riffs on the table and ran with it!!!

SPAZ: The album is certainly modern Hard Rock but there are nods to great Rock ‘n’ Roll from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Did you have a specific idea on what musical path you wanted The Dead Daisies to follow when the album came together? Or does the band work together and the songs grow organically from your relationship to each other?
JOHN: The songs just grew from riffs and everybody's input!!!


SPAZ: How did the band come to choose Marti Frederiksen to produce the project?
JOHN: I've known Marti for years although we never worked together. I've been following his career for years and always wanted to write or work with him in some capacity. So when management asked about producers in Nashville we all jumped at the chance to work with him.

SPAZ: With a batch of great songs penned by the band, are there specific reasons you chose to cover CCR’s “Fortunate Son” and The Who’s “Join Together”? Were there any originals left over from the sessions that we may be able to hear at some point?
JOHN: We all LOVE the "classics" so we always throw a cover or two on our records. “Fortunate Son” was something we were playing as an encore last year and it went over great with audiences everywhere!!! “Join Together,” I've always LOVED, so we just gave it a shot. We did have quite a bit of material left over but, we usually start fresh each record, so I don't know if they'll be used or not???

SPAZ: Who would you consider the band’s greatest influences, musical or otherwise? There are so many great musicians involved in The Dead Daisies.
JOHN: I can only speak for myself, but I would have to say, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith!!! But, there's a ton of others as well


SPAZ: Hard Rock seems to be a genre that is far more varied than critics would lead you to believe. However, the Hard Rock scene is still as vibrant as ever thanks to the fans.  Why do you think that Hard Rock audiences are far more dedicated than fans of other musical genres?
JOHN: It's probably the same for other genres, I would imagine. I have friends that are into Country Music that are die hards about that stuff, and I don't know much about that at all???? 

SPAZ: What do you consider the band’s biggest hurdle to overcome in the music business today… especially when many listeners are now choosing to stream your music instead of going out to purchase iit.
JOHN: I guess just getting the word out there to the fans. With MTV being a non-musical entity lately and radio not really embracing bands like us makes it difficult. But we have an AMAZING social media network around us so we're doing just fine!!!

SPAZ: You’re best known as a vocalist but many don’t realize that you’ve been a respected guitarist for years.  Do you feel comfortable in either position? 
JOHN: I actually started as a guitar player and through a series of different situations I wound up behind a microphone. But, it definitely helps with my writing as I don't have to rely on anyone else when need be.

SPAZ: Some feel that a revolving line up can be quite confusing for followers of some bands.  How has the audience response been to the most recent line-up of The Dead Daisies?
JOHN: It's been nothing short of AMAZING actually!!! And due to some circumstances with some members leaving, or having to have someone fill in, we've always been honest with the fans, and I think they appreciate the honesty!!!!

SPAZ: What’s next for John Carobi and The Dead Daisies?
JOHN: At this point we're just touring in support for MAKE SOME NOISE, until sometime in December. I also have a live record coming out sometime this fall so... It's a live recording of the Motley 94 record, called 94 LIVE, ONE NIGHT IN NASHVILLE.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
JOHN: Mostly classic rock from the 60-70's, but I've been listening to Rival Sons, Inglorious, The Struts.

Thanks to John Corabi
Special thanks to Chip Ruggieri


THE DEAD DAISIES

MAKE SOME NOISE

Available NOW!


Stay up-to-date with THE DEAD DAISIES courtesy of their official site!


THE DEAD DAISIES:
DOUG ALDRICH (Whitesnake, Dio)
JOHN CORABI (Mötley Crüe/The Scream)
MARCO MENDOZA (Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake)
BRIAN TICHY (Ozzy Osbourne/Billy Idol)
DAVID LOWY (Red Phoenix/Mink)


Thursday, November 17, 2016

THEATRE OF HATE: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with KIRK BRANDON


ONCE UPON A TIME 
IN THE WEST(WORLD):

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 
with 
Theatre Of Hate’s 
KIRK BRANDON

As the leader of British outfit The Pack, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kirk Brandon’s unique musical vision was far too adventurous to be constrained by the limits of Punk Rock, so he folded that band and moved forward with new ideas. By 1980, he had formed Theatre Of Hate, which included bassist Stan Stammers, saxophonist John Lennard, guitarist Steve Guthrie and drummer Luke Rendle. During their first two years of existence, the band released a few studio singles as well as a live album, HE WHO DARES WINS. By the time the band entered the studio to work on their debut full length, Guthrie had departed and Brandon took over all guitar duties. With The Clash’s Mick Jones in the producer’s chair, TOH began work on what would become a milestone in Post Punk history – WESTWORLD! With a mix of tribal rhythms, Spaghetti Western riffs, Post Punk guitar slashing and Brandon’s passionate wailing, Theatre Of Hate was a band unlike any other. While the band was known for their live performances, they took on a different form in the studio. Pre-dating his Big Audio Dynamite recordings, Mick Jones brought a lot of his experimental ideas to the sessions, which worked extremely well with Brandon’s vision. The end result is still being talked about today…
While TOH folded in 1983 – making way for Kirk’s next project, Spear Of Destiny – their musical legacy lives on. The band has reformed with various line-ups over the years and are now making waves again with both a new album (KINSHI) and a deluxe three CD edition of WESTWORLD. This excellent reissue on Cherry Red includes a remastered version of the album alongside non-album singles, Peel Sessions, alternate mixes and a live concert taped during the WESTWORLD tour. Still sounding fresh and invigorating, this expanded edition is the definitive version of an album that helped pioneer Post Punk in the UK.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee sent off a few questions to Kirk Brandon, who was gracious enough to take the time to respond…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Nearly thirty-five years after it was originally released, WESTWORLD is getting the deluxe treatment that it deserves. How are you feeling about the way this release turned out?
KIRK BRANDON: To me, as to a lot of people, it is long overdue – times a hundred – but it had to be the right kind of release. Something that would be proud to say what it was, and packaged in a way that didn't in any way let the album’s content down. Not a cosmetic release, something just banged out to make a few dollars. This, as I'm continually told, is a 'historic album', something we released in 1982 and even more proud today of its legacy.  

SPAZ: The album itself was absolutely unique then and now, sounding unlike anything else that was happening at the time. What inspired you to move away from the rough and raw sound of The Pack and take this direction?
KIRK: The direction and production was left in the extremely capable hands of The Clash guitarist, Mick Jones. He had the vision what with all the reverbs, tape backwards, film overdubs, forwards and backwards. Mick allowed us to come to terms with being in Wessex Studios and making what was to become an iconic album. Song-wise, as well as sonically, we were exploring, and in them days there was time to explore, on a grand scale. We took it. Jeremy Green was the engineer, who had worked on the Sex Pistols album, Clash albums and The Pretenders albums. Jeremy had a lot of experience at a very young age and was unafraid to take risks.
  
SPAZ: The heart of the album is very tribal, rhythmically, and spacious, sonically. The songs were melodic and emotional. Were you hoping that this combination would be commercially successful or were you not even thinking about hit singles when writing/recording?
KIRK: In all honesty, A.) I never thought the band would actually get to record the album and B.), that anyone would be interested in it. The sounds and songwriting were not typical of the time. This wasn't three chords and the truth shouted as loud as possible while semi blotto in a recording studio dungeon. I know a lot of my early life and experiences were put into the album. For me and the band it was a heart and soul job. Youth did not go against us in this instance I think. Naivety most probably worked in our favour. It was expression with no baggage to weigh us down. As for singles, we were clueless in Babylon. A single hadn't even entered our collective consciousness. But ultimately it was to be as clear as glass, 'Westworld'.

SPAZ: The band was known for their incendiary live shows. Did you try to capture the sound of those shows on tape or were you hoping to venture into new sonic territories in the studio?
KIRK: It wasn't a re-creation of the 'live situation'. For me/us that would have been impossible. It only worked when actually on a stage. This was a departure, even though a lot of people expected us to do just that, attempt to recreate. If you can manage to do that, you have been extremely lucky I'd say. 
SPAZ: The band is now labelled Post-Punk but Theatre Of Hate never really fit comfortably into any category. When the band formed, which genre did you feel more aligned with? Were you still a Punk at heart… or did you try to avoid categorization at all?
KIRK: If it had a handle it would have to be Post Punk, but that phrase hardly – if at all – existed in those days. Bands were moving on after the initial breakthrough of Punk. It was experimental times. Those who had the will and curiosity moved away from emulation of the 1976/77/78 period. That had 'happened' and something new was in the offing in late 78/79/80.  

SPAZ: The band’s line-up included a sax player, which was unique at the time for a Post-Punk band. When you envisioned this new musical path, was a horn player an integral part of your vision?
KIRK: The answer to this would have to be yes. The bass player, Stanley Stammers, and I had had conversations how we'd like to get a sax player similar to what Roxy Music had done on their first album. John Lennard turned up at an audition and it just fitted. I think a motivation almost continually, was to sound very different, John brought that to the band in bucketloads. 

SPAZ: How did you manage to get Mick Jones to produce the album? Did he offer much creative input during the recording sessions?
KIRK: Mick was a friend of Terry Razor who managed Theatre of Hate at the time. Terry did merchandise for The Clash and Ian Dury along with working for Stiff Records. Mick came down to our show at The Venue in Victoria, London, and liked what we were doing. He volunteered to produce the singles and then the album. As I said before, Mick came to the studio and elevated the sounds and performances to a place I never knew existed. It was a magical time and an enormous learning curve working with someone like Mick who was/is a genius.
 
SPAZ: You are a very unique and gifted songwriter – even to this day. However, you are also unconventional, so it’s not always easy to define your influences. Who or what inspired this particular batch of songs?
KIRK: Some songs are personal, some are pure observations and some political. I say political, but maybe socially aware might be a better take on it. I never set out to write a song V/C V/C middle eight/Solo VC etc.…In fact each song has its own reasons for existing, and in the forms that they evolve into. 

SPAZ: Do you feel you achieved what you set out to do with WESTWORLD?
KIRK: We were lucky and achieved much in a great studio, Wessex, with a giant production-wise, Mick Jones. The album WESTWORLD became – as we were to shortly find out – an 'entity' after it was released. It confounded those expecting something more conventional, but showed the way for us the band. The blinkers were off even though we didn't know what it was we were looking at. I always remind myself that, decades have passed, and the perceptions or judgements of today listening to it, are through the lens of thirty-five years or so having passed. At the time it was fresh and new, truly unique amongst those trying to emulate the very recent past of the times.

SPAZ: The album has been re-issued many times over the years but this triple disc edition is the definitive version. Do you feel that it is a really good representation of the band at this stage in your career?
KIRK: I think this is perhaps the definitive release version. A lot of time and care and consideration has gone into it. So too its reissue/packaging. It not only sounds the part but looks the part. A bit of an achievement, so many decades later. I/we can look back to what this album achieved and to what the band achieved in such a very short time in its early existence.
 
SPAZ: While the band did start the process of recording their second album, they split and you and Stan formed Spear Of Destiny. Why did you decide to abandon TOH and essentially start again with a new outfit? And would the second TOH album have sounded a lot like the first SOD album had you finished it?
KIRK: There were several issues surrounding the band at the time of its break up. Some internal, others, bad advice. I look back on some very young guys creating something brilliant, but without the knowledge or having had the guidance to have taken it to where it deserved, in my opinion, to have gone to. If I had my time again, I would have made sure everyone took a break for six months or a year, and reconvened at a later date. After having reflected on what seemed like a ride on a driverless runaway freight train, we needed, deserved, to have had time out and a bit of reflection, and then to have moved on. If the second TOH album had been completed, it would have been a great piece of work I believe, in whatever its final form. Regrettably, this didn't come to pass. In answer to your question, I doubt very much if it would have sounded anything like the first Spear album. Period. Two very different animals. 

SPAZ: What’s next for Kirk Brandon and Theatre Of Hate? 
KIRK: We have now finished completion on a group of songs we have been working on for several years on and off. This has resulted in a new album titled KINSHI. A Japanese word meaning forbidden. We are extremely proud to have finally completed this album, and as those who have heard it say, 'it has the Theatre of Hate sound definitely'. No better tribute. 

Thanks to Kirk Brandon

Special thanks to Matthew Ingham and Nick Kominitsky

THEATRE OF HATE
WESTWORLD
(Deluxe 3CD Edition)

12.2.16


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

LATIN QUARTER: SPAZ reviews THE IMAGINATION OF THIEVES



Back in the ‘glory days’ of Rock music – the ‘60s through the ‘80s - listeners were assaulted on Top 40 radio by ‘protest’ and ‘political’ music wrapped up in a good melody.  From Bob Dylan to The Clash – just to name two of many – artists were inserting thought-provoking messages into those catchy tunes that you hummed throughout the day. Politics has weaved its way into lyrics for decades but when those artists became mainstream, their messages were embraced and understood by some while others remained blissfully unaware. And while politics has remained a hot topic in music ever since, there is very little that makes it into the Top 40 these days. But do people listen to radio anymore? Think about it – radio, the greatest platform for messages from the heart, has become a desolate desert of manufactured, mindless nonsense. Then again, people do like to feel safe and comfortable, so you can’t fault them for that…


For those who want to stay informed and inspired, there are plenty of musical artists who still make records that are melodically engaging AND lyrically challenging. For the better part of 30 years, Latin Quarter has remained one of those bands. While not as prolific as fans would like them to be, Latin Quarter has not lost the spark that ignited their souls in the early ‘80s. Their 2016 album, THE IMAGINATION OF THIEVES, is perhaps their finest full-length since their 1985 debut album, MODERN TIMES. Although their 2012 ‘comeback’ album OCEAN HEAD and the 2014 follow-up TILT were near-perfect, this release is chock full of lovely moments that evoke a time when songs were written from the heart and not on an assembly line.  Vocalist, writer and guitarist Steve Skaith, who released the excellent acoustic LATIN QUARTER: BARE BONES album last year, is still a master of melodies. 

Where bands like Gang Of Four pounded their messages into your brain with their jagged, edgy Post-Punk muscle, Skaith and LQ are far more subtle. They have a way with a tune that reaches down deep and massages your heart while the lyrics keep your brain cells working overtime. Sometimes, the songs may take a few spins to really sink in but they provide the ultimate payoff – you become emotionally vested in the music.  Far more gentle and acoustic than their ‘80s releases, Latin Quarter has changed with the times while staying true to their cause. Their sound now is earthy, warm and inviting. They are not singing at you, they are inviting you into the room and singing to you.

While the lyrics (by Skaith, Mike Jones and others) are the focal point of the songs, the real charm is in the simple yet powerful melodies that surround them. And there’s no denying that keyboardist/producer/songwriter Steve Jeffries has become an integral part of the band’s sound. As on Skaith’s solo album last year, his keyboard work enhances the beauty of the melodies, creating an ethereal feeling that floats around Skaith’s still brilliantly earnest vocals. Just listen to the beautiful piano melody on “Dylan Thomas Was Right” to fully understand how important his musical input is. 

Songs like “Below The Water,” “Thieves’ Imagination,” “Should Have Been Buried,” “I Am Refugee” and “A Bank Robber’s Lament” are just as good if not better than anything LQ has released in their three decade career. And while the band’s line-up has fluctuated over time (only Skaith, Jeffries and drummer Martin Ditcham remain from TILT’s line-up), their reason to exist is evident on THE IMAGINATION OF THIEVES - Latin Quarter is still one of the most musically and lyrically relevant bands in Pop music today. Long may they run.
LATIN QUARTER
THE IMAGINATION OF THIEVES

Available NOW!



Monday, November 14, 2016

GILLIAN WELCH: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A


EXCLUSIVE Q&A 
with 
GILLIAN WELCH


On her debut effort, REVIVAL, Gillian Welch and her long-term sideman David Rawlings entered the recording studio under the production wing of trusted musicologist T-Bone Burnett. The album that would emerge in 1996 would go on to be nominated for a GRAMMY as the Best Contemporary Folk Album. Welch has since solidified her role as a steadfast champion of the modern day folk/rock scene. Gillian recently took time to answer questions regarding her latest release, BOOTS NO.1: THE OFFICIAL REVIVAL BOOTLEG, an archival set that documents the making of the very collection that put her on the map. 

DAVE RAYBURN: What sparked the idea to release unheard music from your past, and how extensive and varied are your audio archives?
GILLIAN WELCH: We’ve been making recordings for as long as we’ve been playing together, which is twenty-five years now. David and I always assumed we would do something with the tapes, we just never had. The 20th anniversary of REVIVAL was the impetus we needed, because for some artists, as for some people, it is very hard to look back. But, we have an archivist now (Glen Chausse) to help us. Years ago we bought an old studio in Nashville, Woodland Sound Studios, which has been around since the 60’s, and being a proper old-school studio it had a proper tape vault. We’ve just been filling the tape vault with tapes.

DAVE: The title of this set enticingly suggests that this could be the first of further volumes of unreleased material. Are there plans to issue more official bootlegs?
GILLIAN: Yes, the intention is for this to be the first in a series. We even know what the next one will be, though I don’t think I can divulge it yet! And of course it depends on how this volume is received, if people are interested enough in our creative process to want to see the work behind the work.


DAVE: BOOTS NO.1 features an array of alternate mixes, demos and performances of songs that differ from those that appeared on REVIVAL. Listening to these unearthed recordings, is there anything that nearly made the final cut, or that you feel might better the record if swapped out today?
GILLIAN: Happily, no, this didn’t make me wish REVIVAL was otherwise. The last track bumped from the record was a version of a Robert Earl Keen song, “Go On Downtown”. I think it even made it on to a test sequence. But in the end, with T-Bone’s foresight, it was left off in favor of all original songs. I really love Robert’s writing and am really happy that we’re finally releasing this. Sorry it took so long!

DAVE: “Orphan Girl” remains one of your most celebrated songs and was famously included on Emmylou Harris’ pivotal WRECKING BALL album a full year before REVIVAL was released. Is the home demo version included here the very version you passed to her on a tape?
GILLIAN: Yes, as a matter of fact. This home demo is the cassette that I gave to Emmylou Harris backstage at a bluegrass festival in North Carolina. The song was about a week old when we recorded this, so it’s FRESH. Very, very fresh.


DAVE: The songs from the REVIVAL sessions are notably steeped in the sounds of Appalachia, as heard in early Carter Family recordings, but a deeper listen reveals more complex origins. Underpinning tinges of Richard Thompson, Willie Nelson and other contemporaries can also be detected. What influences might you cite as governing your writing and recording during this period?
GILLIAN: I think I was mostly governed by the kinds of songs I wanted and wanted to sing, because I had no songs. I moved to Nashville with two songs, that’s all I had. I would hear other writers and performers and think “I wish I had a song like that. I wish I had a song that good.” Nashville was awash in exceptional song craft, but their language lacked the peculiarity and spookiness that I liked. Likewise, in the bluegrass and old-time world there were great haunted blood and guts stories, but the structures were a little predictable for my taste. I like the left footed. I like a funny note or chord or timing. I guess I was trying to combine the folk sensibility and language with the beautiful economy and artistry of Nashville song craft. That’s what I’m still trying to do.

DAVE: Have any of the unused songs from this collection reappeared in live or recorded fashion since they were originally laid down?
GILLIAN: “Go On Downtown” was intended to be the B-side of the “Pass You By” single overseas, but the tape was temporarily misplaced! Luckily, it was found. We’ve performed many of these songs live over the years, and I think bootlegs have circulated amongst the cognoscenti, still I hope this “official” bootleg will hold a few surprises even for them.

DAVE: Are there any new music projects currently in the works?
GILLIAN: Always. We never take vacations.


Thanks to Gillian Welch
Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Nick Kominitsky

GILLIAN WELCH
BOOTS NO. 1

11.25.16

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

DAVID LINDLEY: Spaz reviews reissues on WOUNDED BIRD!

     

For 50 years, David Lindley has been one of the most respected – and commercially overlooked – musicians in Rock music.  Sure, he made a name for himself with the completely original Psych outfit Kaleidoscope back in the ‘60s and he has been one of the most in-demand session musicians since the ‘70s (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Rod Stewart, Graham Nash, The Youngbloods, Bruce Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, etc.) yet he has never received his due as a solo artist. However, his output has been so eclectic over the years that some of us are still trying to catch up! Do yourself a favor and read up on his career on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the ‘net. For now, I’m going to focus on a few of his ‘80s solo releases…
     At the beginning of the ‘80s, he released two great studio albums with his backing band El Rayo-X – EL RAYO-X (1981) and WIN THIS RECORD (1982) - before disappearing off the U.S. record shelves until his 1988 album, VERY GREASY. What some casual fans don’t know is that he released two import-only albums that have just been issued in the States for the very first time courtesy of Wounded Bird Records!


     Released in 1983, EL-RAYO LIVE is an excellent mini album recorded on tour while the band was promoting WIN THIS RECORD. “Wooly Bully” opens this release and pretty much sets the mood while riveting live favorite “Rag Bag” is a gem. These live versions of tracks like “Talk To The Lawyer,” “Turning Point,” “Spodie” and “Mercury Blues” are raw and loose, often longer and more playful than the studio versions. Thankfully, they don’t stray too far, arrangement-wise, from the familiar album versions although the extended workouts do add an exciting element to the songs. My only complaint is that the original release wasn’t longer!  A definite must for those who want to enjoy Lindley in a rockin’ and bluesy mood.


     MR. DAVE is an entirely different beast. Released only in Japan in 1985, this full-length finds Mr. Lindley in a Pop mood. Though known for his live performances with a variety of instruments, MR. DAVE finds Lindley without the power of El Rayo-X but with more studio equipment at his disposal. While purists may turn their noses up at the thought of Lindley going ‘Pop’, this album is a wonderful addition to his catalog.  With melodic hooks that stick in your head and very earnest and relaxed performances, MR. DAVE sounds like it could have been comprised of excellently-produced demos that El Rayo-X never got around to beefing up. “Pretty Girl Rules The World” is keyboard heavy but has some great hooks. Most of the other tracks – including “Truly Do,” “Look Bad, Feel Better,” and “Follow Your Heart” - could have made it onto any of ‘80s studio albums had El Rayo-X added their muscle. While the album does feature performances by Jorge Calderon, Danny Kortchmar, Bob Glaub, Rick Marotta, Bill Payne and others, the album definitely sounds ‘of its time’ but Lindley’s unique style and vocal performances still shine through.  One of my favorite Lindley albums, Mr. Dave is a splendid collection of songs and another must-have for Lindley-philes. 




     Thank goodness – and Wounded Bird - that these are now available in the U.S. at reasonable prices for the first time in 30 years. Long may Mr. Dave rock!


Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

PACIFIC SOUL LTD.- Introducing The Band


Introducing The Band:
PACIFIC SOUL LTD.

     When musicians feel that they’ve finally found their groove, they grow from strength to strength, refining and perfecting their sound. Often times, they end up becoming too complacent, never moving beyond their comfort zone. However, there are those musicians that are compelled to pursue numerous styles of music – their insatiable appetites for something new and exciting leads them down many paths. In most cases, they have no choice – they have a passionate desire to understand and to ‘feel’ the music that moves them and the sounds that inspire them. And sometimes – if we are lucky – these types of musicians end up in the same room, creating music together. And when that music exceeds all expectations, it is a truly remarkable thing. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to PACIFIC SOUL LTD., one such musical collaboration that has resulted in one of the most magical albums of the year. Yes, I said magical!
     Based in L.A., this trio – Norman Kelsey, Teresa Cowles and Adam Marsland – are chiefly known for their individual work with many Indie Pop-flavored outfits over the last two decades. However, their own musical tastes are far more eclectic than their recorded output would lead you to believe. At their core, they are music fans first, having ingested many different kinds of music since they were wee toddlers. Their influences stretch across many musical boundaries and are not limited to the jingle-jangle burst of a Rickenbacker guitar (although they do quite like that sound!). Inspired by their mutual love of Soul, Pop and Funk, the three combined their talents and have released THE DANCE DIVINE, an album packed to the brim with songs that combine their Pop smarts with a distinctly soulful edge. This trio knows that there is no Soul without soul and they bring plenty of it to the table.
     Like vintage AM radio from the mid-‘70s, THE DANCE DIVINE crackles with pure love and energy. Remember when you could listen to a Top 40 station and hear artists like The Delfonics, Paul McCartney, Bill Withers, The Partridge Family, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and Edison Lighthouse in the same music block? Norman, Teresa and Adam sure do, and THE DANCE DIVINE mines those memories to great effect. Mix in a dash of Disco and a flick of Funk. Add in some Beach Boys harmonies (and a killer soulful take on “God Only Knows,” which could have fit comfortably on Dick Jensen’s self-titled album on the Philadelphia International label) and you’ve got one hell of a party platter. Did I already say it was magical? Well, then I just said it again!
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee caught up with the three members of Pacific Soul Ltd. and tossed a few questions their way…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Please introduce yourself yourselves!
NORMAN KELSEY: I’m Norman and I’m grateful.
TERESA COWLES: I'm Teresa and I am very happy to have helped make an album of pure joy with my friends! 
ADAM MARSLAND: Ako ay si Adam at nagsusulat ako galing sa Philippines. (My name is Adam and I am writing from the Philippines).

SPAZ: Can you fill us in on this new little platter of yours?
NORMAN: It’s vintage California pop for the 21st century soul.
TERESA: It's something old, something new, something borrowed and a little blue.
ADAM: It's kind of an amalgamation of soul-pop influences from around 1969 to 1985, filtered through each of our own personalities. 

SPAZ: Which song off of the album do you feel best defines the essence of the album and/or what the band is all about, musically?
NORMAN: "Blue Summertime." It's the springboard into the swimming pool. You can cool out to it, you can drive to it, you can dance to it. We captured that spirit on "Sunset Golden Love," too, which tells me we developed an essence.
TERESA: I would actually say the opening salvo, "Love and Harmony." In just a few seconds it introduces all three of our voices and sets up the album's underlying theme of love and friendship.
ADAM: There's a cool spot at the end of "Sunset Golden Love" where everyone kind of goes off and does their thing: Norm does a falsetto improvisation, Teresa sings a hook in this really earthly California girl kind of voice, and I'm off doing a Teddy Pendergrass riff, and the combination of the three voices play off each other and it really sends that song into the stratosphere for me. You get a sense of what each member contributes to the sound.
"Blue Summertime" was a great track though. When we did the long version of it, we each independently listened to it over and over for a whole weekend. It was hypnotic. We didn't put the long version on the record because we didn't want to grind the whole world to a halt!


SPAZ: In this age of streaming, the concept of the album as an art form seems to have been lost in the digital shuffle. Did you approach this project as a whole piece of work, or do you view it more like a collection of individual songs that you felt work together well?
NORMAN: You hope people will listen to it start to finish. I hear side A and side B. There are singular songs, but it's cohesive, too.
TERESA: It definitely has a form and flow that works really well start to finish but I think the individual songs can be enjoyed as well outside of the whole.
ADAM: When we started doing the album, we agreed that we should start as many tracks as possible on the same day, so that right away we could hear how an album would take shape and flow, and work toward building it that way. The very first day of the album sessions I think we worked on eight songs, so from the beginning we could see a sketch of how it was going to be. 

SPAZ: When you began the songwriting and recording process, did you already have a fully-formed idea of how you wanted the end product to sound like, or did it come together organically?
NORMAN: Single. EP. It just kept on going. We kept having more ideas and encouraging each other. It grew.
TERESA: It's alive!
ADAM: It came on its own. Several of the songs started as basic tracks that could have taken any number of forms. I would send them along to Norm and Teresa, and let them take it where they wanted it to go. The one thing we all wanted was for the album to reflect the characters of each of the different singers more or less equally, though Norm and T's vocals were more of the focal point and I was kind of like John Oates to their Daryl Hall, the contrast. But it did wind up being a really cool three-way vibe overall.
One song that only was on the long version of the album, "Shocking Knocking Rocking" I had envisioned as a kind of Donna Summer "Hot Stuff" kind of thing, but Norm heard the track and said "you have to make this sound like Krautrock, like a German band from 1981, or some '80s Manchester band!" And so I did that. It was all Norman's ideas that I ran with, even down to singing in a very dour, North of England kind of voice. Even though that was a track that I was more prominent on, I never would have done that by myself. A lot of things like that happened.


SPAZ: As a songwriter working in a group with equally talented writers and performers, is there a lot of give and take involved with making an album, or were you all on the same wavelength with this batch of songs?
NORMAN: The collaborations were fabulous, because we had an idea of the overall vibe. There are a trio of solo songs that we brought, but we each contributed extra spices to make them part of the whole. 
TERESA: I am especially proud of the collaborative nature of this album. We all bring some very different things to the table, but to me the combination is so easy and organic it's almost magical.
ADAM: I agree. I've mostly written alone in the past but it became clear early on that I could bat ideas over to Norm and Teresa and let them finish them, and it was going to come out as good or better than, and different from, what I would do on my own. It was so great to have that kind of division of labor. This was really refreshing – I knew that the songs were in good hands with these two.

SPAZ: Given the opportunity, an artist could tinker with an album for years before finally releasing it to the world. Are you happy with the release of the album at the moment or are you still in the ‘I wish I could go back and add this or change that’ stage?
NORMAN: I wouldn't change a thing.
TERESA: You could pick it apart under the headphones and of course there would be many little imperfections that you could change, but to me that is what makes it sound like a real record made by real people. It's beautiful in its little imperfections that go by and make it all that much better.
ADAM: As I've gotten more experience as a producer, the recording process has gotten very spontaneous for me. You can make almost anything work if you do it well, and what was fun about this record was it came together with very little forethought – we keyed it off the general idea of "soul" and the three personalities (with me kind of being the "baritone R&B guy"), and let that go wherever it wanted to. We all had ideas and we'd just throw them down and mostly they worked and we kept them. If they didn't, we junked them, no arguments and no hurt feelings. But the rule was: don't fix it if it's working.
One example of that is "The Dance Divine." My keyboards on that are all over the place. It's basically one take of me messing around trying all these Funkadelic/GAP Band things and some of them are pretty out there, on the edge of WTF. But that's how a lot of Bernie Worrell's tracks were done, too – they just had him do one take and they made him keep it! So at the end of the day I don't think we fixed a single thing on that keyboard track. It was pretty loose, but it was right. If something sounded wrong, we fixed it, but if it was imperfect but sounded good, we kept it.
That's the problem I think with a lot of records these days and why those older records sound so fresh – people had limitations in budget, time, and number of tracks, and at a certain point they had to make it work or move on. You lose that immediacy now with digital recording, where you almost have to deliberately insert a mistake, which is ridiculous. My own instinct is to always try to capture a spontaneous performance, and then take advantage of digital to get rid of the things that don't work – but wait until towards the end of the recording when a lot of the little imperfections will fade into the mix and become part of the special sauce...Also, with everyone having busy schedules and wanting to finish by a certain deadline, nobody wanted to belabor anything. We valued everyone's time and when we were together, we all wanted to make the most of it and get as much usable stuff down as possible.


SPAZ: Listening to an album, one can decipher some of the main musical influences that helped shape that artist. However, there can also be some surprising influences as well. Who would you pick as your chief musical influences on this album?
NORMAN: I was feeling 1974 to 1978, in general. That's the joy of this record. We had freedom to explore. Adam does this Bob James-thing on "Aching For You" that gives me all the feels. Dazz, man. Disco jazz. It's totally Adam, but that's where this record is at. It's not nostalgia, but it's evocative.
TERESA: Definitely mid to late ‘70s soul and pop records with some ‘80s thrown in as well.
ADAM: Bee Gees, biggest influence on PSL I would say. And for me personally, Stax, Thom Bell, and Hall & Oates. It was so fun for me as a guy known for power pop to fully get into this kind of sound, instead of just doing a song here or there. My roots are as much in '70s soul as they are with power pop. More so, actually, and with Teresa and I having played so much with Evie Sands over the years it definitely rubbed off. And with Norman, the common vocabulary was there, so we were finishing each other’s thoughts with arrangement ideas and such. 

SPAZ: Did you have any non-musical influences that inspired you during the making of the album?
NORMAN: Los Angeles. The freeway. The sunlight. The sunsets. The neighborhoods. The whole vibe. I come at it with this ideal of living in some cool imaginary past, but I'm digging our time.
TERESA: Norm said it well but I would add an overall California influence, today and in eras passed. 
ADAM: The spirit of friendship and positivity reflected in song.

SPAZ: Was there a particular moment during the writing or recording when you realized that you were definitely making something special?
NORMAN: Recording the vocals for "Blue Summertime." Singing with Adam and Teresa is a mystical experience. When the voices blend and we multi-track and playback, I could listen to that on loop forever. Every cut had magic. By the time we got to "We Go High," it was ridiculous. I couldn't get over how much fun I was having. 
TERESA: "Tomorrow Brings Tonight" was my first inkling that we were really on to something special. That was the first track where we went back and forth and really co-wrote to a large degree. Adam had the basic track and the pre-chorus lyrics in place, Norm came up with the verses and I came up with the choruses. Having done very little collaborative writing in the past, the fact that it actually worked as a cohesive (and in my opinion very good) song, and that it was a fairly quick and painless process made me sure good and interesting things were going to happen.
ADAM: Agree. With "Tomorrow Brings Tonight," Norm and I couldn't agree on the direction the song would take, and Teresa walked in with a new part that made the whole thing work, and Norm and I just stepped back and went "whoa." Right away it became clear that this was something that was going to work, as everyone had their own crucial contribution to make.


SPAZ: What is next for the band?
NORMAN: Making sure people dig this album.
TERESA: Making sure people hear the album and releasing a new video!
ADAM: Norman and Teresa tell me they are going to be doing the Ellen show while I am off living on a tropical island. So there's that. 

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
NORMAN: You know I love my vinyl. Been listening to the Monkees, Prince, Wings and this new cat named Jodie Abacus. 
TERESA: Last three albums spun (each purchased for a dollar at a sidewalk sale at Amoeba last weekend): The Best of Bill Withers; Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown; and Badfinger, No Dice. All awesome!
ADAM: Loved the Monkees record. I have been so busy with recording that I have not listened to much outside music, but while I am in Asia I plan to use the downtime to check out the music being made here. I'm especially interested in Asian pop bands from the '60s and '70s, finding out about all that stuff. And I'm going to listen to Jodie Abacus. Or buy an abacus. Depending on what's available here.

Thanks to Teresa Cowles, Norman Kelsey and Adam Marsland
Special thanks to Nick Kominitsky



PACIFIC SOUL LTD.
THE DANCE DIVINE

Available NOW