Wednesday, August 19, 2015

JACK TEMPCHIN: An EXCLUSIVE interview!





PEACEFUL EASY TEMPCHIN:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 
JACK TEMPCHIN

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

    Jack Tempchin comes from an era when the ‘song’ meant more to a musician than fame and fortune. Sure, everybody wants to be successful, but there are those songwriters who are far more interested in creating art than decorating their mansions with it. During the Folk scene of the ‘60s, Jack wrote and played his songs to small crowds, gradually building up a repertoire of songs that attracted a larger following and even the attention of his fellow Folk and Rock troubadours. By the early ‘70s, his songs were being covered by his friends, including a certain up-and-coming Country Rock outfit by the name of The Eagles. Glenn Frey and Don Henley and the boys took Tempchin’s “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and turned it into a bona-fide hit single. Jack would then go on to co-write “Already Gone,” “The Girl From Yesterday,” “Somebody,” and “It’s Your World Now” for the Eagles – who of course became one of the most popular homegrown American bands of the Rock era. But it didn’t stop there. Johnny Rivers’ 1977 hit single “Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” was a Tempchin original (penned while Jack was a member of The Funky Kings). He then went on to co-write some sizeable solo hits for Glenn Frey including “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong To The City.” Jack also wrote or co-wrote hits for other great artists including Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Glen Campbell, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and The Desert Rose Band. And believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
    While he has remained a prolific songwriter, Jack’s solo output has remained low-key. A self-titled album in 1978 was released after The Funky Kings split, but it would be 16 years before his second solo album was issued in ’94. For the last two decades, Jack has released his albums independently while churning out songs for other artists. In 2014, Jack inked a deal with the Blue Elan label (his first label deal since signing with Arista in ’77) and began putting together a brand new release. Earlier this year, he issued a digital-only EP (Room To Run) and followed that up with Learning To Dance, an album rich with emotional songs that are definite Tempchin classics. While not exactly a “concept” album, Learning To Dance focuses on a central theme – the peaks and valleys of love, romance and heartbreak.
    Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Jack to discuss this new album and his career so far…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Learning To Dance has just been released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction so far?
JACK TEMPCHIN: I feel great. It’s just wonderful to have been given the opportunity to do the album and to have someone to promote it. That’s been really exciting – the people at Blue Elan having faith in me as an artist. It really woke up a lot of the creativity inside me and I started writing tons of things and recording. Then I was so excited because I met Joel Piper – he’s 29 years old and his music experience is so different than mine. He knows everything that’s happened in the last 15 or 20 years when I’ve been sleeping. (laughs) And he’s just learning about The Rolling Stones and Everly Brothers and all that stuff. He has the ability to amplify my songs but still keep the essence of the song. I’m very excited about the record because it’s really different to what I would have done without him.

SPAZ: It’s been a few years since you released an album. Did you have a backlog of material to draw from for this album?
JACK: Some are brand new, and some were recorded by other people but not me. I’ve had all these songs that I wanted to record but never had the opportunity. I went through my vault and dug up some songs that I’d completely forgotten – I rewrote some of them. As things started to take shape thematically, it turned out to be an album about the different stages of love.

SPAZ: Do you write from experience, or do you place yourself into a situation and write from that point of view?
JACK: I do both. At some point, you trick your mind into writing a song. If someone asks you for a song for a movie, you’ll write it and it won’t necessarily be coming from you, although you make it from you. Same thing for when you have a co-writer. I’m not much for riding horses but my co-writer Carey Ott helped me write “Room To Run.” We said what I wanted to say, but part of it was from his experience. I don’t know if, in the end, it really matters, because the song becomes mine or else I’m not going to sing it.


SPAZ: Love is a powerful emotion that is normally associated with joy and passion. Some of the songs on the album are reminders that sadness and melancholy are also part of the puzzle. Was it difficult to touch on those emotions as well when writing and recording the album?
JACK: Yes. When you’re young and you fall in love you hit the euphoria stage. But then you’re also going to go through all these other stages as your love has to live in the real world. I tried to put all songs on this record that no one has ever heard. That was important to me – I didn’t just want to do another record of songs that I have done in the past.

SPAZ: You’ve been writing songs for five decades. Do you approach songwriting differently today? Do you have a certain regimen you like to follow?
JACK: That’s a good question. I faithfully tried the regimen thing – I’d get up and work these certain hours every morning. After a couple of weeks, I looked and said, “Hey, this stuff’s no good!” (laughs) So, I think I’ve always done it the same way. It’s kind of like listening to music. You listen to some records and suddenly one song catches your ear – you start thinking about it all the time and you can’t get it out of your head. It’s the same way when you’re writing a song – you think of a song idea and it keeps going around in your brain. Sometimes, you try to kill it or get rid of it but it won’t go away until you finish it. I wait for the inspiration or to get excited, so maybe it hasn’t changed that much since I started doing it in the beginning. I’ve done a few videos about songwriting and they are at www.gowriteone.com. They don’t tell you how to write a song – they just tell you how to get excited about writing a song. It’s all about the way you challenge yourself, the way you look at the world and how to get all the other junk out of your way so you can sit down and write one right now.  
SPAZ: Do you approach writing songs for yourself differently than you do for others?
JACK: I would say no, not really. Most of The Eagles and Glenn Frey material, I wrote with Glenn. The Eagles songs that I wrote early on, I wrote them for myself – I didn’t know that they would be recorded by The Eagles. One example: I went to Nashville and wrote songs with others. I talked to a lot of people there that were very successful but having horrible marital problems with their ex-wife or ex-husband and it was costing millions of dollars with attorneys. So, when I came home, I sat down at the kitchen table and I wrote this song called “The High Cost Of Hate.” I thought, “I’m never going to be able to play this song for anybody,” so I just had to write it for myself. But then I got a gig and it turned out it was in front of 200 of the top divorce lawyers in the United States. So, I played them the song and they gave me a standing ovation! My record label liked it and they put the song out on the Room To Run EP. So, I just write the songs for me and then see what happens.

SPAZ: Is there any song on this album that is so personal that you really wouldn’t want someone else to record it?
JACK: No, I don’t feel like that. I do feel thrilled that I got a chance to interpret them and put them on the record. If these songs reach people emotionally and they want to record them, I think that’s wonderful. Everybody does their own thing and some people make the magic of the song even bigger when they do it. I’m always thrilled when someone records one of my songs. I’m hoping it was because they were moved by the song – that makes me really happy.

SPAZ: How do you feel when you hear somebody reinterpret one of your songs in their own way rather than the way you had originally envisioned it?
JACK: Most people do reinterpret the song. They have to – they put themselves into it. Like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – when I first wrote it, I had a completely different melody and I was flat-picking it. It was faster but then I had a great idea – I’ll finger pick it and sing it slow. Then, when Glenn Frey heard it, he took it back to the up-tempo flat picking! The song went through different phases even when I was writing it. When I heard The Eagles version, I thought it was a thousand times better than anything I could have imagined. It was just a work of genius. The artist is always really important and they bring themselves to the project – they make that thing theirs.

SPAZ: The music you create has been referred to as Country Rock, Folk Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Roots Rock and Americana. If you were forced to categorize your art, how would you describe it to somebody?
JACK: Singer/songwriter is about as close as I can get. I came out of the Folk era where you got up and played for six people in coffee houses. Guys like Hoyt Axton and Lightnin’ Hopkins were playing. It was real music made by real people. The songwriting thing grew out of that. A lot of us songwriters, some of whom – like Bernie Leadon and Chris Hillman – would be Bluegrass influenced. But then Rock ‘n’ Roll was there, so that just merged the electric instruments of Rock and created singer/songwriters in bands! So, it all comes down to the singer/songwriter thing for me personally.

SPAZ: What’s next for Jack Tempchin?
JACK: I got so excited when I made this record. They said it was a two album deal so basically I went and made the second record, and I’m finishing that. It’s all brand new stuff and moves into different musical areas. Then I’m working on a third record, which is all the songs that other people have recorded of mine. I just keep working and keep recording.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning?
JACK: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s Django And Jimmy. They’ve got some really cool stuff on there. The other night, I went on a video hunt and found a song that’s always been in my brain by The Fugs called “I Couldn’t Get High.” It’s still great. Another song I’ve been thinking about lately is a song that really moves me a lot: Tom T. Hall’s “Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs.” I don’t know why it gets me. This man is in the hospital and the guy next to him is dying, and the only thing he’s concerned about is who’s going to feed the hogs back on the farm!

Special thanks to Jack Tempchin
Special thanks to Niels Schroeter, Becca Kelly and Nick Kominitsky

JACK TEMPCHIN
LEARNING TO DANCE
Available on CD and LP

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RAISE HELL: An EXCLUSIVE interview with Sweden's Thrash masters!


WE ARISE:

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 

with 

RAISE HELL’s 

Jimmy Fjällendahl

    Metal is not a musical genre – it is a way of life. Followers of any and all Metal subgenres – from Thrash to Doom to Viking – are a devoted bunch. They tend to stand by their favorite bands during good times, bad times and line-up changes. Once a Metal fan, always a Metal fan. If Billboard stopped focusing on sales figures and concentrated on fans’ enthusiasm alone, then it is safe to say that Metal would certainly trump the Auto-Tune Brigade that fills the charts these days. While naysayers may insist that all Metal sounds the same, these folks have to remember that 50 years ago, the older, stuffy and uptight music industry veterans said the very same thing about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and insisted they wouldn’t last. Since Metal has been around for four decades, it is safe to say that it won’t be going away any time soon. So thrash on that, doom-mongers!
    For 20 years, Sweden’s Raise Hell has offered up their own unique take on Thrash Metal. While not the most prolific of bands, Raise Hell has made each release a cause for celebration. From their 1997 demo Nailed to their 2006 album City Of The Damned, the band built a loyal following around the globe. Each album was a step forward musically, displaying their ability to integrate different elements into the Thrash genre. With releases on Nuclear Blast and Black Lodge, things were headed in the right direction until the band suddenly went quiet for nearly a decade. Fans have been waiting patiently since 2006 for new music and, thankfully, that wait is now over. Written In Blood sees the band return with a new line-up and an energy that will leave younger Thrash bands trembling in their wake. Massive riffs, soaring melodies and powerful vocals are never in short supply with Raise Hell. Written In Blood is just what Thrash Metal needs right now.
    Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to gather a list of questions and send them off to the band as they prepare for the release of Written In Blood. Vocalist Jimmy Fjällendahl took time out of the band’s busy schedule to update us on all things Raise Hell. Even guitarist Jonas von Wowern got in on the action…
   
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Written In Blood is now available. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
JIMMY FJÄLLENDAHL: First of all it feels great to finally release this beast after so many years. We’ve taken a step into a new Raise Hell era and we have been looking forward to this for so long now. There are many reasons for this delay, but I guess you will ask about that a little later. The response so far has been as expected, I guess! We’ve been very confident about this release and our expectations have been really high. But it would be very naive to think that no one would disagree. The majority of the reviews so far have been really positive. I think we’ve had just one not so positive review so far.

SPAZ: This is your first album in nine years. Why did it take so long for the album to come to fruition?
JIMMY: We released City Of The Damned in 2006 and it’s very unfortunate that it’s taken this long, but a lot of things have happened during these years. Actually we started writing new material right after we were done with touring for COTD, but for some reason we didn’t get it down right. I think that we were (without knowing it by then) trying to write some kind of sequel to the previous album, but I guess we kind of reached a dead end. About the same time, the fire authorities closed down our rehearsal place, which is understandable, ‘cause a fire would’ve toasted all of us. No escape doors whatsoever! But we’d been talking about getting our own place for a long time and now we were forced to. We found this place with just concrete walls, floor and ceiling so we had to start building it all by ourselves, from scratch. Since none of us had any experience with this kind of construction, we googled most of it. Obviously this took a lot of time. Then, a lot of things have happened on a personal level. Some of us have become parents multiple times, and if anything is time consuming, that is! Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of people (some really closely related) dying on me during this time, and this is also very time consuming. Our drummer Dennis Ekdahl left the band in the middle of writing this album. This was of course a big deal ‘cause he’s been a part of this band since the start, and it took some time to adapt to the situation. I probably forgot some other issues that made this process take all this time, but at least you get an idea of what’s been going on in the Raise Hell camp.

SPAZ: Has your songwriting style changed over the years? How do your songs come together? Does the riff come first and does that dictate the direction the lyrics will take?
JIMMY: Yes, I would say it has changed for this album. We always used to jam the songs together at rehearsal but this time we’ve been sitting in the studio and recording a preproduction at the same time as we wrote it. At a few times we stepped out in the rehearsal room to jam the riffs but more often than not we just stayed in the studio and recorded it. I personally like to have a completely written riff to write my lyrics to. It does happen that I write “poem lyrics” but then, a lot of times there will be troubles when mixing them with the new riffs. I don’t like to cut my lyrics that much.

SPAZ: The abrupt change in time signatures and catchy melodies on tracks like “Dr. Death” (especially the melodic fade-out), “Demon Mind”, “Six Feet Under” and “A Blackened Resurrection” show your versatility. Do you feel that thrash – and metal in general – is often misunderstood by critics?
JIMMY: I have never really felt comfortable with saying, “We play Thrash Metal!” For some reason people are very anxious to put you in a certain box. When you step outside that box people have opinions. We definitely have a lot of influences from thrash bands, both bay area and European but still we do have a lot of other influences. Our music is definitely not PURE Thrash but if you have to put a name on it I guess it’s the most fitting genre. I don’t find genres very interesting.

SPAZ: While the album is very powerful, it is never ‘over the top.’ Do you often find that you have to reign yourselves in, musically, at times rather than just aurally pummel the listener as some other bands are prone to do?
JIMMY: We write our music strictly for ourselves, without any regard for anyone else! If you start writing what you think other people want to hear, then you’ll soon be one of those “music products” that we all despise!


SPAZ: With such a long break between albums, was their an abundance of material for you to choose from when it came time to decide what tracks were going to make the album?
JIMMY: Well, not really! We’ve cut one or two songs out from the album but that’s about it. Except for the earlier material that went right in the trash bin, of course. The delay of this album depends on a lot of other things, as I talked about earlier.

SPAZ: The band has gone through line-up changes over the years yet your fans have stood by you as you continue to evolve musically. Why do you think metal fans are more loyal to the bands than other genres?
JIMMY: Once a Metal head always a Metal head! I think Metal and rock fans are sort of like football supporters... Damn! I really didn’t like saying that. I’m not into sports at all but you know, you follow your team in ups and downs the same way you follow your bands. It’s the same commitment. I’m a Guns N Roses fan since MANY years and even though it has been a major change in that band I still follow them. And if there will be a new album I definitely will buy it. Why? I don’t know, but I think this is quite unique for Metal/Rock fans.

SPAZ: When the band first started out, what was your local music scene like? And has that changed over the years?
JONAS VON WOWERN: Back in ‘96 the scene was Melodic Death Metal as we had Dissection ruling the scene. Of course we were influenced by that, but Slayer and Metallica was the style we grew up with, so we mixed those styles together and found Raise Hell. Today I think we still have the melodic parts here in Sweden, but now bands are getting influenced by the American Hardcore, and the New Metal that are growing stronger.

SPAZ: Sweden seems to be a real hotbed of Metal talent. Why do you think that some of the world’s most inventive and popular Metal bands come from your region of the world?
JIMMY: I don’t see Raise Hell as a typical Swedish Metal band, even though we probably got some of the ingredients. But I guess the popularity of the bands from this part of the world depends on many things. First there is a typical Swedish (or Scandinavian) sound that put this music in a special box. Regardless of subgenre, you can somehow hear it’s Swedish/Scandinavian. Unlike Bay Area Thrash or Seattle Grunge, this phenomenon goes for all of the subgenres here. Then I think that politics and society reflects a lot, not only the lyrics but probably the music as well. It also seems that our geographical location combined with some mythology plays a big part in all of this. You know, “the lands up north and their Vikings,” and things like that. Makes people think it’s kind of exotic. I really have no idea, this is just my thoughts about this.

SPAZ: Thrash is such a general term for the kind of music you create. Does it bother you to be lumped into one genre? And how would you describe the Raise Hell sound?
JIMMY: I love Thrash, both Bay Area and European and a lot of our music is definitely thrash in one way or another. But we do have a lot of other elements in our songs that do not fit into the characteristic thrash genre. I rather not describe our music at all, other than “some kind of metal” but I guess that leaves a little too much to imagination. Thrash is probably a good word for it.

SPAZ: How do you think this new album fits into the Raise Hell catalog?
JIMMY: Every Raise Hell album has been very different from one and another. So this one probably fits in just fine 'cause it’s really different from the last one. This has always been an issue from critics but this is just the way we want it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the next album is gonna be different from this one, but it might as well be. No one knows yet!

SPAZ: What is next for Raise Hell?
JIMMY: Right now we’re planning a release party for this album. There are also some really cool gigs at planning stage but nothing is settled yet. We’re also looking at tours right now. A European tour is mandatory but we’re also looking at other parts of the world. For example we had a great response from South America, so we’re looking in to possibilities to do a tour there. Other than that we will probably do a lot of single gigs, a little here and there!

Thanks to Jimmy Fjällendahl and Jonas von Wowern
Special thanks to Johan Haller and Nick Kominitsky




RAISE HELL
WRITTEN IN BLOOD
8.21.15


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

JACKIE GREENE: An EXCLUSIVE interview!



BORN AGAIN:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

with 

JACKIE GREENE

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

    For the most part, musicians are not born in a box, literally or figuratively. However, through trial and error (i.e. hits and flops), many find their ‘groove’ and attempt to stay there. This not only hinders their creativity, it also brings with it a sense of complacency – they never move beyond their core audience because they are afraid to lose them. Thankfully, there are artists that challenge themselves and their listeners by never placing themselves inside that box. Musical genres come and go – and come back again – but as long as an artist trusts their instincts, they will continue moving forward.
    In the case of singer/songwriter Jackie Greene, he may be classified by many as one genre – Americana – but he’ll be the last person to let that hinder his ability to create music that reaches above and beyond such a simple classification. For the past 13 years, he’s travelled the Roots Rock/Americana road, building an audience by throwing out the map and taking little detours along the way. Apart from his solo work, he’s played with The Black Crowes, members of The Grateful Dead (Bob Weir and Phil Lesh), Trigger Hippy (with Joan Osborne) and so many other projects. Through it all, he hasn’t lost sight of his own musical vision and has just released Back To Birth, an album that continues his trend of mixing the joys of ‘60s and ‘70s Rock with the warm earthiness of Americana. The album is a diverse affair with hints of Blues, Gospel, Rock, Bluegrass, Country and even Power Pop (“Now I Can See For Miles” outdoes any modern Power Pop band in the hook department). Produced by Steve Berlin, Back To Birth is filled with heart, soul and melodic bliss. It never stands in one place for too long yet it is focused, honest and carefree. Don’t place this one in a box – it still has a lot of livin’ to do!
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Jackie about the album and more…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Back To Birth is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album at the moment?
JACKIE GREENE: I’m a little more confident about it now. 2012 was when I first started putting that batch of songs together – I started recording it at my house. I became disenchanted with the whole thing. It really wasn’t going how I had expected. It just wasn’t happening. Fast forward to 2013, I joined Black Crowes for a year and put all recordings on hold. In 2014, we made the record that we are releasing. We made it up in Portland – my friend Steve Berlin and I. It came together a lot easier than working at my own place – it was just nice to get away from my home. I put myself into the work environment again. We finished and mixed it and I wasn’t sure about it. At some point, I let it be and then came back to it. I love it now.

SPAZ: Was Steve Berlin your first choice to produce this album?
JACKIE: Steve has produced two of my records before. I just asked him and he said, “Of course.” With Steve, it’s easy for me. We know each other very well. There’s no ‘getting to know you’ phase – we weren’t wasting a lot of time and went straight for the jugular. With this project, given the limited time frame that we had, the best idea was to have a producer I was really comfortable with.

SPAZ: It’s been five years since the last album. Did you have a large backlog of songs to choose from for the album?
JACKIE: I did and I still do. We had a bunch of songs to choose from – what we didn’t have was a lot of time. Steve and I picked the songs way ahead of time. Normally, we record 15 or whatever songs but this time we recorded exactly what was going to go on this record. It was pretty clear which songs went together. And we needed to have cats that were pretty well-rehearsed and get in there and try and get that feeling in one or two takes. I think it works – a lot of the songs aren’t ‘fancy’ and that is what I was going for anyway.

SPAZ: The album is stylistically diverse. What influences were you drawing from when you went into this project?
JACKIE: I went back to my old influences which are ‘60s and ‘70s Rock ‘n’ Roll and old Americana, Folk and Blues music – that’s always been my bread and butter. In my mind it’s pretty straight-forward. I didn’t want the music to get in the way of the song. When I wrote the song “Back to Birth,” I thought that’d be the title of the record because all of the songs have a ‘back to the beginning’ theme and a lot of the songs have lines that point toward that. I didn’t want the arrangements to get too tricky or ‘fancy’.



SPAZ: Does it bother you to be classified into one particular genre, such as Americana?
JACKIE: I like all kinds of music. That’s the way I’ve always done things – I end up writing different kinds of songs. I can’t sit there and just write Country or Rock ‘n’ Roll songs. I think that is the thing that Steve gets about me and he’s hip to that. I don’t really know anybody who only likes George Jones but doesn’t like Otis Rush. I feel that people who really like music like all kinds of music. That’s the way I am and that’s the way I make music. Half of me says, “Can’t you just get it together and make a record that is one kind of music?” and the other half of me says, “Absolutely not!”

SPAZ: When you sit down to write a song, do you already know what style of song you are going to write, or do you let the moment and the song dictate the direction?
JACKIE: Both of those are true. In the case of “The King Is Dead,” I made a lot of demos and had a specific way that song was supposed to be. In the case of “I Can See For Miles,” that’s a song that had two different parts – the chorus and pre-chorus were a separate thing from the verse because they were in two different keys. I wasn’t thinking that they were going to be together at all. I sat on them for about a year and then I thought they would kind of go together. Once I figured out how it would work, it seemed pretty natural to me so I smooshed them together. It became an organic thing – the song took shape by itself. I didn’t labor around it as much.

SPAZ: You’ve worked with Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule and members of The Grateful Dead. After spending time with these artists, do you now approach songwriting with a completely new set of rules?
JACKIE: I wouldn’t say a completely new set of rules. I don’t think I’ve actually had a set of rules, although I’ve tried to. I just haven’t found any yet that I would subscribe to. In terms of influence, The Grateful Dead has been highly influential on me.  Their songbook is vast. The Grateful Dead have great songs and that is what sets them apart from everyone else – unbelievable songs. Playing with the Crowes was a lot of fun, but it didn’t affect my songwriting, because my job in that band was to play guitar. I definitely became a better guitar player for it.

SPAZ: What’s next for Jackie Greene?
JACKIE: When the record comes out, we’ll be touring. Hopefully, it will be well-received and we can make the rounds and do all the shows we need to do. I used to live on the West Coast and now I live in Brooklyn. That is interesting for me – I’m riding a bike everywhere I go now. (laughs) I’m being fully immersed in Brooklyn living. We’ll see how that influences the next batch of songs. I’m already working on those. I have a little apartment here and it is set up just like the way I used to record demos in San Francisco – I have to do it really quietly because of the neighbors. (laughs) But we’ll see. I’ll just continue writing songs, playing shows and try to stay alive out there.
Thanks to Jackie Greene

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Nick Kominitsky




JACKIE GREENE

BACK TO BIRTH

IRIS DEMENT: An EXCLUSIVE interview!



HYMNS TO HER:

An EXCLUSIVE interview

with 

IRIS DEMENT

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     When Iris DeMent released her debut album Infamous Angel in 1992, it was a turning point for Folk and Country. Entirely removed from the commercial gloss of the Country music that was being played on the radio at the time, Infamous Angel was both a glance back at the roots of Country and a look forward to the direction it should be heading. While it may have taken another 20 years for Americana to reach an audience, that debut album became a landmark release still beloved today by fans and critics.
     Even though she has built up a devoted fan base, Iris does not cater to the desires of the music industry and prefers to work at her own pace. Quickly following up her debut’s success with My Life in ’93, it took another three years for The Way I Should to be released. Things went quiet for the next eight years but Iris came back as strong as ever with 2004’s Lifeline. Sing The Delta followed after another eight year gap. While perhaps not the most prolific of artists, Iris has never disappointed her fans, and her albums are always a cause for celebration.
     Just three years after the release of Sing The Delta comes The Trackless Woods, an album inspired by the works of 20th century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Through Akhmatova’s poetry, Iris has sought to better understand her adopted daughter’s past and culture. Once she connected to Akhmatova’s words, she was inspired to set them to music. Instead of creating something contemporary or mimicking Russian music, Iris reached back into her own past and composed melodies reminiscent of old folk songs and church hymns. The resulting album, The Trackless Woods, is a loving tribute to the poet AND her daughter as well as an emotional journey that brings two cultures together in a powerful way. Though the words and melodies are haunting and often sad, hope is never further than a heartbeat away. A lovely album from a truly gifted artist.
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Iris about the album and much more…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  Your album, The Trackless Woods, is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album?
IRIS DEMENT:  I had no preconceived notion that I was going to put this record out and sell millions of them. I just wanted to honor Anna’s work and get lost in the project and enjoy myself, which I did. I hope some other people can hear it and appreciate it, too.

SPAZ:  What is it that initially drew you to Anna’s work and inspired this project?
IRIS:  The whole thing is so mysterious to me. I can tell you the actual thing that happened, or I can tell you what my brain made of it later – those are two different things! (laughs) My husband and I adopted our daughter from Russia when she was six, so naturally there is a link there to that culture just by way of her curiosity about her world. A lot of Russian things seem to show up at our house by way of friends. So, there was this book of Russian poetry that I found these poems in. That part isn’t all that mysterious – what led to making this record is mysterious to me. I never thought of setting anybody else’s poetry to music and I wasn’t familiar with Anna. But I read one of her poems and it was like a spiritual experience. I felt as if I was told to set it to music. It wasn’t a plan that I plotted and brought to fruition – it wasn’t like that. “Like A White Stone” was the first one I read and next thing I knew, I had set four or five to music. It was really only after that that I started learning about who Anna was, and I started toying with the idea of making a record. It was a mysterious “what’s happening here” experience that I just went with.

SPAZ:  The words of a Russian poet and American folk/hymn music may not seem a likely pairing but this album unifies those two cultures. Was that your intention when putting this album together?
IRIS:  I know this sounds stupid, but I don’t really know what my intention was. I was just really following my heart and this connection that I had to this work and      trusting that. I know that there were things that I intended NOT to do. I intended to not try to mimic “Russian-ness” – I decided early on that that would be a really bad idea. (laughs) It seemed obvious to me from the start that these poems were really getting to my heart, my spirit, and they felt familiar to me. It seemed natural to do them in a style that was also familiar to me. I felt that was the best way that I could honor her work. She lived and worked in a way that was true to herself and I thought it only made sense to do the same. I felt that my truth and her truth would go together. I just had the sense they would and I feel like they did. I don’t know how she would have felt, but I feel a strong connection to her.





SPAZ:  On the surface, the album is haunting and beautiful, yet there seems to be a real feeling of hope.
IRIS:  Which I love. She has that quality in her work that is in all those great old hymns. I grew up with those and they all have that quality. They are talking about the tough side of life like no pop song knows how to do. Those great old hymns are talking about real stuff, but there’s always that light in the darkness. They set those two things together, which is what you have to have if you’re going to get through life. I think that I recognized that in her writing instantly. I did a lot of the songs in a hymn-like style – that’s what they felt like to me.

SPAZ:  The recording is very warm and intimate. Did you purposely keep the arrangements stripped down to capture that feeling?
IRIS:  Yeah, Richard Bennett and I both figured out early on that that was what the songs were largely calling for. The first decision was to make it in my living room – my living room is ‘home’ and there’s nothing quite like it. I couldn’t imagine recording these songs outside of that space. I had a roomful of players all week – wonderful musicians that I not only admire for their talents but also their presence. Even the songs that are just me without any other instrumentation, all of them are in the room and I’m singing to them. That was really important to me.

SPAZ:  How did you end up working with Richard? I remember when he was part of Neil Diamond’s band in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
IRIS:  He goes way back before Neil Diamond. He’s been a studio musician since he was 15 – he just started barging into studios and trying to get work. He worked a lot of years with Neil Diamond, he’s in Mark Knopfler’s band now, he’s produced records for Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris… he’s been one of the busiest session people out there for many years. He’s a very knowledgeable, well-rounded and amazing person to be in the studio with. Anyway, Richard came in and played on one of my records years and years ago and then years later, Pieta Brown, who is a good friend of mine, was opening some shows for Mark Knopfler and since Richard was in Mark’s band, they became really good friends. When I went to make Sing The Delta with (co-producer) Bo Ramsey, who was also on that tour, Bo asked about bringing Richard in. I said, “Absolutely,” so Richard co-produced Sing The Delta. It was a wonderful experience – I didn’t have to think twice about asking him to work on this album. Amazingly, he was in from the beginning and as committed and devoted to this project as I was.

SPAZ:  You’ve always worked ‘outside the box.’ Do you tend to follow your instincts and not focus on what is expected of you?
IRIS:  I’ve never given any thought to that stuff. I’ve always thought more in my spiritual world – and my connection to whatever brought me here and whatever is going to take me out – than any notion of a career. That’s always been overriding for me. I felt so blessed to have work come to me, to have a calling. Everything else is rated so below that. I wasn’t chasing a million seller or a hit – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I certainly see the advantages to selling millions of records but that wasn’t what I was after. I’ve just done what came naturally to me and I’m very happy that a handful of people have appreciated it.

SPAZ:  What’s next for Iris DeMent?
IRIS:  Right now, I’m going to tour this album for maybe six months. Go out and play these songs with many of the people who made the record with me. Also, I’ve got a bunch of things I’ve been working on. I’ve got bits and pieces of things but I’ll have to sit down by myself for a few weeks or months and figure out where they go. I hope to make another record… and I expect that I will.


Thanks to Iris DeMent

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Nick Kominitsky


IRIS DEMENT

THE TRACKLESS WOODS


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SMALL FEET: An EXCLUSIVE interview!




Big Shoes:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 
SMALL FEET’s 
Simon Stålhamre

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

    The music charts may always be dominated by American and British artists; however, there have always been vibrant music scenes in every country across the globe. In particular, Sweden has been a hotbed of amazing sounds and styles. While some may immediately think of ABBA, Roxette and Death Metal, there is so much more to the Swedish music scene than commercial Pop platters and grinding metallic grunts. Ace Of Base, Swedish House Mafia, Robyn, Tove Lo and Avicii have successfully invaded the Dance music charts while Beagle, This Perfect Day, The Merrymakers, Eggstone and The Wannadies brought a fresh spin to Power Pop. The Indie/Alt-Rock world has embraced such Swedish bands as The Cardigans, Miike Snow, Lykke Li, Backyard Babies and The Knife, all of whom have built a devoted fanbase around the globe. Make no mistake, though – there is so much more to the music of Sweden than the few acts listed here. In fact, it would probably take a few books to cover it all.
    Thankfully, the Swedish music scene is still vibrant and exciting, overflowing with talented bands with unique musical visions. One such band is Small Feet, a trio led by guitarist/vocalist songwriter Simon Stålhamre, and joined by bassist/producer Jacob Snavely and drummer Christopher Cantillo. Small Feet don’t assail the senses with loud instruments or incessant dance beats – they prefer to touch the listener with stripped down, haunting arrangements that recall Jeff Buckley and the softer side of Radiohead without sounding anything like either of those artists. On their debut album From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean, their gentle, moving approach to music making is both harrowing and hopeful – melancholy without the sad moments. Initially influenced by the Grunge movement 20 years ago, Simon has come into his own as a songwriter, preferring the power of emotion over the volume of a guitar. In fact, the loudest moment on the album occurs 30 seconds before the album ends with “Dagmar.” It’s as if he briefly returns to his early roots before bidding it a fond farewell. It is a lovely record that looks beyond Sweden without turning its back completely.
    Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Simon about the album and all things Small Feet…



STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: How are you feeling about the way the album turned out and the reaction to it so far?
SIMON STÅLHAMRE: I’m really happy how it turned out. Feedback wise, I’m super excited. It’s been great so far.

SPAZ: Sweden seems to be a breeding ground for some great music. Did you find your early inspiration in Swedish music or did you prefer sounds outside of Scandinavia?
SIMON: I listened to music from America, mostly. I did listen to music from here – you can’t NOT do that. In playing music and writing my own songs, that came from listening to Nirvana in the beginning – that was what started it. When the Grunge thing hit, I was really into that. I’ve always written in English from a very young age. I was 12 or 13 when I first started writing my own songs – always in English.

SPAZ: Do you think that your environment in Sweden informed your songwriting? Would your writing have been any different had you moved somewhere else… like Boston or Dubai?
SIMON: I most definitely think so. Where you’re from informs who you are. I would definitely be a different songwriter if I was in Boston or Philly or wherever. Maybe I’d be into rap music. I mean, I am into rap music… (laughs) Maybe I’d be an emcee instead – that’s always been my secret dream! Dammit, I’m outing it now! (laughs)

SPAZ: Did the songs on the album end up sounding like you had originally intended?
SIMON: I think Jacob – my manager and bass player in the band – was always pushing me to go a little bit further. That was very much needed from my perspective – to get everything together, to get it going and make it happen. It also made me doubt my own delivery during the process of making the record. It took us a while to do this – all three of us had kids while we recorded this album. Jake played a big part in how this record turned out. He really made me stretch myself, delivery-wise. I’m really happy about it in the end and how it turned out. I was doubting myself, but I always doubt myself so that’s nothing new. (laughs) I just felt I was stepping into bigger shoes and that made me a little scared at times.  

SPAZ: On the surface, the songs are sparse and haunting, but repeated listenings reveal more layers. “All And Everyone” is very atmospheric on the surface, but at its core, it’s a great pop song. Was it difficult to balance between what you wanted to record and what you felt people expected?
SIMON: “All And Everyone,” for example, is a song I recorded a couple of times. It’s always been the same song – the song hasn’t changed at all. The foundation of the song – the drums, bass, guitar and vocals – was the same throughout the whole process, but we went back and forth with it. I went totally overboard for a while when I got left alone with that song – I added a bunch of things. I just went nuts for a while. Then Christopher and Jacob came back and listened to it and they said, “What the hell are you doing?” I was like a mad professor! (laughs) But that’s just how it goes – you go further and further in and then you scale things back and find the song again.


SPAZ: When you write, do you have your own formula, your own set way to write, or does that change with each song?
SIMON: It evolves with each song. I’m always experimenting with the way I write. Maybe I’ve had different formulas over the years, but nowadays, I’m going where the song takes me.

SPAZ: When recording, did Jacob and Christopher have input on the arrangements? Do you feel that they totally understand where you are coming from, musically?
SIMON: Definitely. That’s what has been inspiring to me since the beginning. We all agree that the song is the most important thing. We add things and we take them away and think about them - we try to present the songs in the best way we can.

SPAZ: How did you hook up with Barsuk? Were you shopping for a label or did they happen to come upon your music in another way? They are a great label. I think Barsuk and Small Feet seem like the perfect match.
SIMON: I do too! The Grunge scene was the start of writing songs for me and then this record finding a home at Barsuk in Seattle – for me, it had come full circle, which was amazing. We had finished and mastered the record and had quite a lot of material. We had started talking to the same people. We talked to Secretly Canadian in the beginning before the record was even finished but they passed in the end. It was going back and forth. Some people passed and others would say, “Yeah, we love this record but we don’t have time – there’s too much on our roster this year,” and stuff like that. We found Barsuk through a band that Jacob managed. In the end, it turned out that they loved the record. I’m really glad that they liked it.

SPAZ: How much did you end up recording for the album? Did you have a lot of tracks left over?
SIMON: We probably ended up with 20 songs. We went back and forth with track listings – we all had trouble making attempts on a track list. We had to leave some stuff out that we really liked, but everybody had a say in that. Inviting people into this process – I’ve learned how important that is. When I’ve been on my own with my songs, nothing was finished. So, for me to invite Jacob and then Christopher into the process of recording, producing and arranging the songs – that was just the beginning. Then inviting Barsuk in to help put an album together that is good. It’s been a learning process for me and I’ve really enjoyed it. For the next record, I have a better idea of what I’m doing in the sense that I have more confidence to say, “This is the way that I’d like to go.” Not to say I’m rigid about it – I’m totally open to suggestions and ideas. But I’m really looking forward to making a new record. That’s the way I’ve always been – I’ve always jumped to the next thing and had trouble finishing stuff.

SPAZ: How did you come to choose the band name Small Feet?
SIMON: At the time when I came up with the name, I just wanted to have a non-macho, non-cool name. (laughs) That’s where Small Feet came from and it stuck. It’s always difficult with band names – either you find a great band name and start a band… or you just find a name that doesn’t suck! (laughs)


SPAZ: What is next for Small Feet?
SIMON: We are going to the U.S. to tour, which I’m looking forward to a lot. I was just over there and did a little press tour and it was really exciting for me. I’ve been wanting to go play music in the U.S. since I was 15. There’s this 15 year old within me that is doing somersaults over all this and is incredibly happy… and then there is this pragmatic 33 year old with a kid who is saying, “How am I going to make this work?”

Thanks to Simon Stålhamre

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Nick Kominitsky




SMALL FEET


FROM FAR ENOUGH AWAY EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE THE OCEAN

Available NOW!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS revisited: SPAZ reviews the Warner Bros. Years box set!




THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
THE WARNER BROS. YEARS:  1971-1983
(10CD)

   By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     The Doobie Brothers are the personification of Americana music.  I am aware that they don’t fit the description of what is normally perceived as an Americana band in 2015, but let’s look at the facts.  First off, this is how Wikipedia describes ‘Americana Music’: “Americana is an amalgam of roots music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the American musical ethos; specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other external influences.” I’d say that description also fits The Doobie Brothers pretty darn well.  Along with Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band, The Doobies were one of the few American ‘Classic Rock' bands to blend numerous homegrown genres together into a hearty musical stew and sell loads of records doing it. While they may have been fans, the Doobies skipped the British Rock influences of their contemporaries and focused on all the music that grew from U.S. soil.  The multi-racial band didn’t form in the mid-west, deep south or in the smoky mountains – they were Northern California-based. However, their music really ‘felt’ like the band had crawled straight out of the heartland and into the charts. They had soul, they were funky, they were down-home and they rocked. There was absolutely nothing insincere about The Doobie Brothers – they were truly one of the most authentic American Rock bands of their generation.



     While a hits collection is going to give you all the songs that you are familiar with – “Listen To The Music,” “Black Water,” “China Grove,” “What A Fool Believes,” etc. – The Warner Bros. Years: 1971-1983 puts you right back into the middle of the action and reveals the band’s growth and influence over the course of 10 original albums. It is nice to experience those hits in a new light - by revisiting them in their original context as album tracks. The debut album from ’71 introduced a band that was unique but still finding their footing.  By the second album, Toulouse Street, the band expanded their musical vision with the addition of new members and settled into their groove. With Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons as their main creative forces, the band crafted some amazingly varied albums that explored new avenues while never straying too far and losing their audience.  For a while, The Doobies were unstoppable. A lot of credit goes to producer Ted Templeman, who twiddled the knobs on all 10 albums included in this set. He knew how to harness their diversities and focus their energies on creating delectable aural slices of American Rock.

    
     Over forty years after their first album, the Doobies are still extremely popular but don’t get nearly as much respect as they deserve. And to be honest, that might be because there were two phases of the band’s career: “The Tom Johnston Years” and “The Michael McDonald Years”.  There was a brief period when both were in the band together, but essentially, when the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle wore Johnston out, the band brought in Michael McDonald to fill his boots. Johnston was a rocker with a funky edge so it was initially shocking when they brought in McDonald, who was a Blue-eyed Soul singer with Jazz and Rock leanings. Both of them were enormously talented but worked on different ends of the musical spectrum.  During his time in the band, McDonald steered the Doobs away from the swamplands and into the suburbs – which was a direction that older fans did not appreciate. On the other hand, with McDonald, they were more commercially successful than ever.  No matter which era you prefer, the band’s entire career brought some astounding music.  Sitting back and listening to these albums again will remind you of that.



     I also have another theory about the band not getting enough respect – The Revolving Door Effect.  This is what happens when a band’s line-up changes over time.  Fans can be extremely devoted creatures and they emotionally attach themselves to a certain line-up of a band.  When that line-up shifts, it disrupts the universe and the devoted continue to follow the band, yet they don’t feel the same attachment to them that they once did. Apply this theory to many bands that have had line-up issues and you'll realize that the Revolving Door Effect is quite common...



     While I have owned these albums in the past (apart from the 1983 live album), it’s nice to have them combined into one set.  Each CD comes housed in a mini LP sleeve (four of which are gatefolds, replicating the original vinyl release) and all are packaged in a nice flip-top box.  If the album came with a printed inner sleeve (lyrics, photos, etc), those are now inserts in the mini LP sleeves.  There are no additional booklets included but that is hardly a complaint – the music will tell you everything you need to know. 

     

Peace, love and bong tokes,
SPAZ

Saturday, July 18, 2015

THE BEAT goes on! Spaz reviews Paul Collins' Beat!



PAUL COLLINS’ BEAT

Culture Factory reissues two Power Pop 

classics in mini LP sleeves!


Ever since I was a wee lad, nothing in this world raises my spirits like a great song.  It all started for me with The Beatles and The Monkees back in ’66 or so and has continued for 50 years.  One of the most exciting musical eras in my lifetime began in ’77 and continued until ’82.  Music was great before and has been ever since, but those five years were simply magical for this young kid who discovered Punk in ’77 and embraced all the new sounds and genres that came next. From Mod and New Wave to Synthpop, I didn’t just listen to it – I absorbed it! The genre that I felt the most kinship with was Power Pop.  It was reminiscent of the melodic guitar pop of the ‘60s but it was fueled by Punk’s energy.  My love of the melodic side of Punk was strong but when Power Pop walked into my life, everything changed. At that point, I didn’t have to hear a record in order for me to plunk my money down.  I would buy practically anything by a band whose name began with ‘The’ and/or wore a snappy suit.  When I first heard Power Pop,  I don’t think I even knew that it was a genre and that genre had a name – I just knew that I loved the hooks and energy.  So, I was pleased when the popularity of The Knack opened the floodgates and all the labels started snapping up guitar-fueled Pop bands. One record that I was immediately drawn to was the self-titled 1979 debut album by The Beat.  I’m not even sure I knew that leader Paul Collins had been in The Nerves before then, but I knew that the album just looked like I should own it.  When I got my allowance, I rushed to Licorice Pizza (where I purchased a lot of albums that would enrich my life) and bought it. 


     To this day, The Beat remains one of the most amazingly perfect albums I’ve ever heard. From start to finish, The Beat delivers hook after hook with enough energy to power a small Indonesian village for 2000 years. The combination of Collins’ skill as a songwriter and Bruce Botnick’s crystal clear production, The Beat is an album that thrills with every listen (and I’ve listened to it a lot over the last 36 years). “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl” starts things off with a punch and the album just keeps going from there. “Let Me Into Your Life,” “Don’t Wait Up For Me,” “U.S.A.,” “Walking Out On Love,” “Different Kind Of Girl,” and ‘Work-A-Day World” are absolute Power Pop classics – they are bursting with energy and stick in your head the moment you hear them.  Even the one ballad, “You And I,” strikes the right chord without sounding maudlin or forced – Collins’ voice contains just enough angst to convince you that he’s feeling the song and not just walking through the token ‘ballad’ on the album.  The Beat is so perfect that if someone were to ask me, ‘what is Power Pop?”, I would just play them this album and all their questions would be answered.


     Due to a UK based outfit of the same name, both parties had to alter their band names: the Brits became The English Beat and this quartet became Paul Collins Beat.  In 1981, Paul and his mates released their second album, The Kids Are The Same.  The Power Pop craze had died down by then and the music industry was moving on and embracing Synthpop and more commercially-viable forms of New Wave. Where did this leave our heroes? As this sophomore album shows, they were pretty much sticking to their guns, albeit it with a slightly harder edge. As hook filled as the album is, Larry Whitman’s guitar work was more rock-oriented than their debut. Album opener “That’s What Life Is All About” is as perfect as anything on the debut but then things get a little heavier moving forward. “Dreaming” is classic Pop glory with a few delectable hooks that will woo the heart. But then…. Next up is “On The Highway,” a track that reminds this writer of cock rock geared for FM radio stations.  Was this at the urging of their label or a natural progression? I know that a lot of fans like this track, but as the third cut in, it almost derails the album for me.  Thankfully, the hooks come back hard and fast with ‘Will You Listen,” “Crying Won’t Help” and the rest of the album.  Well, “Trapped” isn’t quite up there, but it’s no mood-killer like “On The Highway” either. While not as perfect as the debut, The Kids Are The Same doesn’t suffer from the curse of the sophomore slump and most of the songs are slices of Power Pop yumminess.  The Kids Are The Same is a solid effort that you can cuddle with at night and not feel ashamed in the morning.  

     There’s a reason why Paul Collins is considered a Power Pop superhero.  Give this man a cape!

  The excellent Culture Factory label has been on a crusade to bring the vinyl experience back to those who still prefer their music on CD. All of their releases are mini replicas of the original vinyl release. The CDs have the original vinyl label  printed on the disc, they have printed inner sleeves if the original LP came with one and they have remastered sound, which sounds crisp and punchy. If you don't own either of these albums, then these are the versions to get!