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!





At war with THE BEATLES: Spaz reviews All This And World War II!



All This And World War II:

Culture Factory gives the 1976 soundtrack the love it deserves



Before writing this review, I have to preface it with three questions:

Who the f*** thought it would be a good idea in 1976  to take stock Word War II footage, newsreels and clips of war-era movies, edit them together into a full length feature film and soundtrack all 88 minutes with the songs of Lennon & McCartney as performed by many of the biggest musical artists of the mid-‘70s?

 Did cocaine have anything to do with #1?

 Why did it take so long for this soundtrack to get a proper commercial CD reissue?


     All This And World War II remains one of the strangest ideas ever thrust upon the masses by Hollywood.  Yes, it really was a full-length motion picture made up entirely of stock WWII footage. Yes, it did feature artists like Elton John, The Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, Helen Reddy, Jeff Lynne, Ambrosia, Bryan Ferry, Status Quo, Roy Wood, Keith Moon, Leo Sayer and Frankie Valli performing classic  Lennon & McCartney songs as it’s soundtrack. And yes, it was a monumental flop.  It fared even worse than the atrocious Sgt. Pepper movie that came out a few years later.  In fact, ATAWWII was pulled from theaters after being brutally ripped apart by critics and ignored by movie-goers. However, I think it was an absolutely brilliant idea –  something that should have ended up a cult classic at the very least.  Emotionally, the horrors of war and the joys of music are polar opposites yet both possess the power to move and motivate people. The message may be ‘make love, not war’ yet the end result shows that one only intensifies the other.

     OK, so most of you are familiar with the images of WWII, but what about the music on the soundtrack?  Well, I’m from the school of thinking that nobody – no matter how good they are – can ever better a Beatles recording.  The fab four got it right the first time and you can’t improve upon perfection.  However, I’m open to listening to the songs in a different context and ATAWWII certainly offers up plenty to digest.  While some may be familiar with Elton’s version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (which was released two years before and licensed for this soundtrack) and Rod Stewart’s “Get Back” (one of the only songs here to make it to radio), there are some interesting, entertaining and worthwhile tracks. Most of the artists are backed by a symphony and choir so oftentimes, they seem like guest artists on a classical ‘tribute’ album but that does not distract from the experience. Standouts include Bryan Ferry’s take on ‘She’s Leaving Home,” Jeff Lynne’s medley of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Nowhere Man,” the various tracks by The Bee Gees (pre-Saturday Night Fever), The Four Seasons’ spirited “We Can Work It Out” (which incorporates “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” into the musical arrangement), Peter Gabriel’s haunting voice inhabiting “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Leo Sayer’s tracks, Status Quo’s “Getting Better” and more.  In fact, there are very few tracks that I’d recommend you to avoid. 

     This whole concept was bat-shit crazy and I’m surprised that anyone went along with the idea when it was first presented. Looking back, it does seem that cocaine ran Hollywood at this point and the dealers probably made more money than anyone involved with putting this project together. However, it is definitely worth your time and nearly four decades on, it is time to enjoy this soundtrack in all its glory!

     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.  In the case of ATAWWII, the entire two record album is duplicated here (on 2CDs) in a gatefold mini sleeve housed in a slipcase with booklet (that features art and lyrics) as well as a mini replica of the t-shirt offer that came with the original vinyl set.



     Definitely for fans of any of the artists involved and for music lovers in general.  How could something that seemed so wrong then finally feel so right?  Find out for yourself with this fab reissue!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE SYN: An EXCLUSIVE interview with Steve Nardelli!




50 Year Technicolor Dream:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

with

THE SYN’s Steve Nardelli

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

  

Ever since 1965, Steve Nardelli has been a busy man. In that year, the British singer and guitarist co-founded an R&B combo in North London called The Syn. Within two years, the band had evolved into one of the hottest psych bands on the scene. By the time the band released their first two singles in 1967, Nardelli had been joined by Chris Squire on bass, Andrew Jackman on keyboards, Peter Banks on guitar and Gunnar Jökull Hákonarson on drums. Their most high profile gig was opening for The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Marquee Club in London – the very same legendary show attended by The Beatles! When the band split up before the year was out, many assumed that The Syn’s journey had come to an end. How wrong they were! Squire and Banks ended up in Yes and the rest is history. When Yes became one of the biggest Prog Rock bands in the world, The Syn’s records became collector’s items. Though Nardelli didn’t cash in on the success of Yes, he remained friendly with the band as well as all of his former Syn bandmates.
  
Various business ventures kept Steve busy for the next three decades, but by 2004 he reformed The Syn with Peter Banks and early Syn drummer Martyn Adelman. They recorded a few tracks that were included on the two CD Original Syn collection, released on Nardelli’s own Umbrello label. When Banks departed, Nardelli asked Chris Squire if he was interested in adding bass to a track, which lead to Squire rejoining The Syn. 2005’s Syndestructible album was one of the most heralded Prog releases of the new millennium. The band toured for the album with former Yes drummer Alan White along for the ride (the live Armistace Day was recorded on this tour). Once the tour was over, Squire and the rest of the band returned to their day jobs and Nardelli formed a new version of The Syn featuring Francis Dunnery (It Bites) on guitar and Tom Brislin on keyboards. The resulting album, Big Sky, was an amazing collection of songs that introduced the band to a new generation of Rock, Pop and Prog fans. The Syn began their tour for the album, but had to cut it short when Nardelli got the call that his eco group’s site at NW Bicester was selected by the government to be one of four new eco towns. Quickly returning to the UK, the rest of the tour was scrapped. The last show performed by the Nardelli/Dunnery/Brislin line-up has just been released as Live Rosfest, a CD/DVD package that includes the brilliant sounding show on CD plus a pair of documentaries on the DVD.

With things moving forward on his eco town project, Nardelli has been recording a new Syn album with members of Swedish Prog band Moon Safari as well as coordinating the release of Live Rosfest. He is even looking ahead to the next Syn project. This is a man that doesn’t seem to slow down, nor does he want to. Thankfully, Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to corner Nardelli for a few moments and chat about all things Syn-related…


(PLEASE NOTE: This interview was conducted 48 hours before Chris Squire publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia. Squire’s death a month later added poignancy to Steve Nardelli’s final statement in this interview.)


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Live Rosfest has just been released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far? It is certainly one of the very few ‘live’ albums that I’ve really been excited by.
STEVE NARDELLI: Thank you. A lot of people have had that reaction. Even when we mastered it, Jeremy Carol at Precision Mastering, who’s the top mastering company in the UK, said, “This is the best live album I’ve ever worked on.” What you hear is exactly as it was played – there’s been no editing at all. It literally was mixed and mastered as it was recorded. There’s nothing there that we had to redo or mess about with. The musicians get a lot of credit for that – they’re absolutely fantastic. It was very well recorded in the first place, which is why we released it. It was mixed by a very good engineer – Stefan Ingles – that I use here in England. We knew it was a good product.

SPAZ: Compared to the early Syn recordings from the ‘60s, this new release is, in my opinion, an entirely different beast altogether. There’s a lot more space and atmosphere in the music yet it has an earthiness to it. Even the new arrangements of older songs like “The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream,” “Grounded,” and “Flowerman” are given a new lease on life. They sound so spirited and fresh...
STEVE: That’s exactly how we approached them. We’re not just trying to do old stuff. We’re trying to create new music. That’s what I’ve done with every Syn album – Syndestructible, Big Sky and then the forthcoming album, Trustworks, which I’m working on with Moon Safari. We’re just finishing it up and I’m very happy with it. But in regards to Live Rosfest, I’m very pleased by the response. You never know how a live album will be received.

SPAZ: Was this the last performance by this line-up of The Syn?
STEVE: Yeah. We did that show at Rosfest and then I had to go back to England because my Eco Town project, which was a government project, had been selected. So, I had to put the band on ice. The idea was that we would reconvene, but the guys weren’t happy. I thought this Eco Town would take me a year – that was in 2009, and now it’s 2015. We’ve just started building now, but it’s been an unbelievably complicated project. So, now that the Eco Town is happening, I have the freedom to look into getting that new album out and touring for it. That’s the plan for the next six months.

SPAZ: A lot of modern releases by “veteran” artists tend to fall into that ‘elder statesmen attempting to sound relevant category,’ but they unfortunately sound like elder statesmen attempting to sound relevant. However, on everything since Syndestructible, I believe that you’ve succeeded in sounding relevant on all levels. Is it because you’ve chosen to surround yourself with fresh collaborators with each project?
STEVE: I don’t know the reason for it, but I do know that when I work with other musicians, I don’t have a fixed idea in my head. I like everybody to contribute. I’m very selective about who I work with. I’ve tended to put together the right people for the right albums. The Syndestructible album – we spent a lot of time on that. The two Stacey brothers are world class musicians. Paul Stacey worked with the Black Crowes, he worked with Oasis –he’s a well-known producer in the UK and fantastic musician. He toured with Tom Jones recently. He’s a top guy. His brother Jeremy is one of the best session musicians in the world. He played with Robbie Williams. He’s the drummer with High Flying Birds, which is Noel Gallagher’s band. I like Noel Gallagher. He was around when we made the album. It was in the studio where Oasis were doing a lot of the work at the time. We were making Syndestructible, so Noel Gallagher was having a good listen to the album. He liked it a lot, by the way. But those two Stacey brothers were great – very much a part of what makes Syndestructible a really good album.

SPAZ: My favorite track off that album is “City of Dreams.”
STEVE: Yeah, me too. It’s a really good track – it flows really well. The lead track, “Cathedral of Love,” went down very well in England.


SPAZ: Do you feel that some of the critics will continually compare your new material to something that you released 50 years ago or compare it to Yes, a band that you were never a member of?
STEVE: Well, sometimes your greatest asset is your greatest liability. The association with Yes is extremely good for The Syn, of course. They’re one of the greatest Prog bands, certainly one of the top two or three in their day. That association has been very good for us and obviously Peter Banks and Chris Squire played with us subsequently as well. But at the same time, The Syn was never Yes. The Syn is The Syn and Yes is Yes. There’s the association to Tony Kaye who played with The Syn. And there’s Alan White who recently toured with The Syn and plays on the live Armistice Day album. In a way, we’ve locked onto that Yes marketplace so I would say it’s been a much bigger advantage than it has been a disadvantage. I think people expect the worst from a band like The Syn who has had a rebirth after a long break but the response has genuinely been very positive.

SPAZ: The great reviews for your studio albums must have been very rewarding.
STEVE: Big Sky was voted by USA Progressive Music as the best Progressive music album of that year – 2009.

SPAZ: That shows me that people care about songs because…
STEVE: There’s nothing Progressive about that album (laughs). It really is an album of songs.

SPAZ: That sounds like Francis Dunnery’s influence. Francis comes from the band It Bites. Ironically enough, It Bites without Francis is more Prog than when he was in the band…
STEVE: Absolutely, yeah. Francis is a song man – he’s all about the melodies.

SPAZ: You’ve been making music for five decades, yet there’s still that freshness, excitement and joy in your voice.
STEVE: I get really excited about recording. I love it. I take the recording of the albums very, very seriously. I had the long break, so it’s new to me in a way. I was doing it in the ‘60s, and then I’ve been doing it now for the last ten years or more. I’ve had this break in between but I’ve always been writing. I’ve got hundreds of songs. I just want to try and get them out. I’m already thinking about getting the next album done and starting another one. I work with lots of different musicians all the time. There’s this guy who just finished work with Peter Gabriel – I’m just doing some demos with him at the moment. He’s got his own studio, and he said, “Come up and we’ll go over these demos.” However, I’ve got this other album to finish first. Music has always been a great love of mine and it’s never left me. I’m excited by it. If you hear that in my voice, then that’s good.


SPAZ: What is next for Steve Nardelli?
STEVE: At the moment, I’m concentrating on promoting the Live Rosfest album. A lot of people have put a lot of work into the album. The filmmaker of the 21st Century documentary, the mastering and mixing guys, the band – there’s hours and hours of work. There’s nothing rushed about it. So, I want to make sure we promote it properly. It’s interesting – there’s quite a lot of interest for Rosfest and that’s not easy with a live album. I’m encouraged by that. We are finishing the new album, which will probably come out later on this year. That’s what we’re aiming for. It follows after this album nicely. That was the idea – building up to a new album. My Eco Town is going to have an Eco Festival to launch it, which is usually with a lot of local bands. So, that’s going to be very exciting. Also, we’ll be looking at a fair bit of touring. And then there’s the question on how we structure a band going forward.

SPAZ: Any chance of working with some of The Syn’s many former members again?
STEVE: Peter Banks sadly passed a couple years ago. Of the originally classic five, there’s only Chris and I left. They were all great musicians. Andrew Jackman was the original keyboard player – he’s the father of Progressive music in my opinion. Gunnar was a fantastic drummer. It’s very sad – they all died quite young. I think Chris and I need to get back together again and do another album at some point.

Thanks to Steve Nardelli
Special thanks to Alex Jimenez, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky
Dedicated to the memory of Chris Squire


THE SYN

LIVE ROSFEST

Available NOW!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Words of LOVE: SPAZ reviews THE LOVER SPEAKS!

     
THE LOVER SPEAKS

THE LOVER SPEAKS
(Expanded Edition)

Available NOW!
    
 Once upon a time, there was a British Punk quartet called The Flys.  In early ’79, I managed to pick up their debut album that had come out at the end of the previous year.  While they didn’t sell as many records as their contemporaries, I thought they were just as good as any of the bands on the scene.  Their second album came out at the end of ’79 and I was, again,  hooked.  Unfortunately, the band split the following year, but it was nice to see that band leader Neil O’Connor joined his sister Hazel O’Connor’s band so at least he was able to get out and see a little more of the world while touring with her. A few years later, drummer Pete King ended up in After The Fire, who released a trio of great records that combined the energy of New Wave, the complexity of Prog Rock and the instant hummability of  Synthpop.  However, the biggest shock came when the other two Flys – David Freeman and Joseph Hughes – became The Lover Speaks and released their self-titled debut album in 1986, a lush, romantic affair that was light years away from their edgy beginnings.


     The album’s first single, ‘No More ‘I Love Yous’” sold rather well at first but didn’t quite hit the Top 50 in the UK before dropping off the charts.  As an introduction to the band’s sound, it was the perfect single.  The Lover Speaks’ album was wonderfully produced and arranged and should have appealed to fans of Eurythmics (David A Stewart helped them get their deal with A&M) , Roxy Music, Breathe and Black (“Wonderful Life”). David Freeman’s smooth baritone vocals were offset by June Miles Kingston’s slightly playful voice (she actually should have been given credit as a band member alongside keyboardist Barry Gilbert) and the whole album drips with the highs of lows of romance. Synths swirl around like the warm aroma of baking bread while Freeman’s lyrics cut through the heart like butter. “Every Lover’s Sign, “ “Face Me And Smile” and the aforementioned “No More ‘I Love Yous’” are highpoints of the album but there’s really no weak track here to speak of. After three decades, the production may sound dated yet the songs still dig deep and capture your heart.   


     Cherry Pop’s reissue adds a non-album track plus seven additional remixes. A wonderful and sadly overlooked album that deserves another chance… and now it is your turn to fall in love with it!

(P.S. Eurythmics' Annie Lennox would later score a hit with her version of "No More 'I Love Yous'")

Peace, love and pancakes,
SPAZ

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

BEE GEES box: Spaz shares the love!




BEE GEES

1974-1979

(5CD)



In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I was a fan of the Bee Gees’ hits that I’d hear on AM radio.  I was particularly infatuated with ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” “I Started A Joke,” “Run To Me” and a few other gems.  But since  I was still a kid and the internet was still a few decades away, I knew nothing about them apart from the fact that there were three brothers – Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb – and I thought one of them had a funny voice (which turned out to be Robin, btw). But hey, I was six or seven years old and found pretty much everything funny. As I grew older, that ‘funny’ voice moved me in so many ways – I began to hear the heartache and sorrow in every word.  But I digress…  Anyway, imagine my surprise when I first heard “Jive Talkin’” in 1975 and found out it was the same band!  And then I heard “Nights On Broadway,” and loved it even more.  But towards the end of ’75, I heard the song “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” and I knew I had to own the Main Course album. After saving a few allowances (I was 12 at the time), I bought the album and fell in love with every song. The songs were just as wonderfully melodic as their early tunes but were definitely more soulful and ‘modern’ (i.e.: Disco). But since I loved a lot of the Disco hits on the radio (“Rock Your Baby” was a big fave at the time), I was good with what I heard.  It was always the melody that drew me in anyway and Main Course has so many great songs, it makes me feel guilty to say that “Fanny” remains my ultimate favorite song on the album because EVERY one of the songs has been my favorite at one point over the years!


 So, why am I babbling on about the Bee Gees?  Well, the five CD box set Bee Gees: 1974-1979 has arrived and it is one hell of a musical joyride. This set contains the four albums the trio released in that span of time PLUS a fifth disc –titled The Miami Years – which gathers their songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack plus a few extras. The centerpiece for me is Main Course (my favorite Bee Gees album) but the other four discs are definitely worth your time. 

1974’s Mr. Natural is a luscious slice of musical melancholy and acts as the perfect ‘bridge’ between their older material and the direction they took on Main Course.  (Note: one of the tracks on the bonus disc, “It Doesn’t Matter Much To Me,” was originally a b-side from this era and is a fucking heartbreaker along the lines of “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.”).  

Main Course and Barry’s falsetto came next but I’ve already drooled over this album (see first paragraph) so we’ll move on to the next one…

The Children Of The World album from ’76 has some amazing hook-filled pop and dance tunes, but it also has the atrocious “You Should Be Dancing,” one of the few Bee Gees songs that turns me into a cantankerous psychopath when I hear it. OK, so maybe it is only the chorus that pisses me off, but I can’t listen to the rest of the song without hearing the chorus so off with its head! “Boogie Child” isn’t much better, by the way.  Thankfully, “Love So Right,” “You Stepped Into My Life” and many other great songs are here to balance out the bitter taste of those two less-than-stellar tracks.

Spirits Having Flown was their post-Saturday Night Fever album and it contains some fantastic stuff (“Tragedy,” “Too Much Heaven,” ‘I’m Satisfied,” and more). The trio’s transformation to ‘60s hit makers to ‘70s mega superstars was complete with this album.  The brothers Gibb were masters at the Pop music game… but then they always were. The only misstep on the album is ‘Search, Find,” which doesn’t float my boat. At all. 

The previously mentioned Miami Years CD is chock full of hits from Saturday Night Fever, a few original Bee Gees versions of tracks that were hits for others and some rare b-sides. All top notch classics that you can cuddle with at night.  “Night Fever,” “Staying Alive”, etc.


This set gets an “A” grade from me despite not liking the three tracks mentioned within the review.  That still leaves 49 Bee Gems for me – and all of you - to enjoy! 


Peace, Love and Barry Gibb,

SPAZ