Thursday, February 9, 2017

Introducing The Band: MOD HIPPIE




This time, it’s personal.

Full disclosure:
1. Mod Hippie main man Doug McGuire is a longtime friend – his first words to me 40 years ago were, “I don’t like little brothers.”
2. He has played with my brother Mike Schnee on and off for many years – The Leeks and Volkwood Ghost (who put out a pair of albums in the '90s) are just two of the bands they were both members of.
3. I collaborated with Doug on one track featured on BIG WOW.

     With all of that being said, my closeness to this project will certainly make people think I’m being biased when I say that Mod Hippie’s sophomore album, BIG WOW, is one of the best albums of 2017. So, let’s get one thing perfectly clear: from a musical standpoint, I’m much more critical of friends’ music than I am of music created by people I’ve never met. I pretty much figure that if they hang out with me, they can’t be as talented as “Timmy Tagalong” from Australia or wherever.  Boy, was I wrong.  Doug McGuire started out as a good songwriter 30+ years ago and has only gotten better over time. When the first Mod Hippie album – TOMORROW THEN – was released in 2015, I was more than impressed. Even the fact that he used a song with my worst lyrics ever did not sour my opinion of that album.  When he began working on BIG WOW in 2016, I was anxiously awaiting the results. What I was not expecting was something far more cohesive, melodic and powerful. 

     BIG WOW is like a time-travel album – it is very much of the here-and-now but it manages to incorporate bits of pieces of Alternative Rock’s history in ways that are inspiring.  From Psych and Garage Rock through New Wave, Mod and Ska with some tinkly indie bits from the ‘90s, BIG WOW is just that – a big WOW! I suppose it doesn’t hurt that McGuire manages to pull inspiration from some of my favorite eras of music, yet never making it sound retro or dated.  In fact, the album’s influences, production and focus make it timeless. McGuire’s songs work well with the great tracks he managed to pull from Mike Schnee’s immense back catalog. While the cover of Elvis Costello’s “Night Rally” is fantastic (and timely), the 11 originals on the album have a much deeper emotional impact. Not a stinker in the bunch.  This is an album packed with more hooks than most bands can manage in a career. Adam Marsland’s production is inventive and the musicianship is top notch. Albums don't get much more fun than this.

     But enough about my thoughts. Now, I’d like to introduce you to Doug McGuire AKA Mod Hippie... in his own words!

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Please introduce yourselves!
DOUG MCGUIRE – acoustic guitar and lead vocals, I’m sort of a solo artist who makes albums with different musicians under the Mod Hippie umbrella of sound, as it were. BIG WOW, the new album includes:
Adam Marsland from Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band and Cockeyed Ghost produced the record, played keyboards, guitar, percussion , arranged the trickier vocals and probably did a dozen other things I’m forgetting to list.
D. J. Bonebrake from X played drums
David Marks from the “Surfin’ USA” - era Beach Boys played lead guitar on 6 of the 12 songs.
Teresa Cowles from Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band, EZ Tiger, Ben Vaughn Trio and the movie LOVE AND MERCY played bass and sang most of the harmonies
Mike Schnee played guitar, sang harmonies
Matt Zook played lead guitar
Connor Claxton played lead guitar

SPAZ: Can you fill us in on this new little platter of yours?
DOUG: BIG WOW is my second album under the Mod Hippie Moniker. We recorded at Adam Marsland’s Karma Frog studios. It took a year to finish. Adam calls it “Post punk garage pop.” There are 12 songs in all. 11 originals and a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Night Rally,” This is the best album that I’ve ever been involved with. I was very lucky to be able to play with such a gifted group of musicians who all seemed to intuitively grasp the retro psychedelic pop record I was trying to make. It was marvelous getting to meet David Marks and D.J. Bonebrake, two of the nicest and most talented people I’ve ever met. I had no idea that David Marks could play guitar like that – crazy and imaginative with melody just bursting out of his fingertips.

SPAZ: Which song off of the album do you feel best defines the essence of the album and/or what the band is all about, musically?
DOUG: Today, I would say that “Up and Away” defines the essence of what I started out to do with Mod Hippie which was to have a folksy/poppy acoustic guitar type song injected with a strong lead electric. “Up and Away” has both of these elements. Connor’s and Matt’s guitars growl around the edges of what is otherwise an acoustic pop song. I also like the way that the drums drop out at the beginning of the chorus. Also, it is a song about how memories are here and gone and I think the group did a marvelous job of capturing the joyful melancholy that I was trying to write. If you ask tomorrow, you’ll very likely get a different answer.

SPAZ: In this age of streaming, the concept of the album as an art form seems to have been lost in the digital shuffle. Did you approach this project as a whole piece of work or do you view it more like a collection of individual songs that you felt work together well?
DOUG: Definitely this is a group of songs that work together well. I have a number of songs waiting to be recorded. Mike (Schnee) has a large backlog of songs. I really love Mike’s songs and wanted to make sure I recorded a handful of them on this album. I tried to pick songs that I thought were strong and a bit different from each other, and then we tried to sequence and segue the group of songs into a cohesive album.

SPAZ:  When you began the songwriting and recording process, did you already have a fully-formed idea of how you wanted the end product to sound like or did it come together organically?
DOUG: Lots of things about this album were surprising. Connor was supposed to handle all the lead guitar for the entire album. I really love his playing. Unfortunately, he lost interest after three songs and left to pursue other interests. That’s when Adam suggested that we have David Marks come in and lay down some lead guitar. That changed the whole sound of the album. He played his nylon stringed acoustic on “Gone All Day” and it came out wonderfully sad and beautiful.  It’s a more rhythmic and pop album with David Marks than with Connor. Matt Zook also came in and played some fantastic lead guitar, especially on the title track. Without Connor all the way through, it is a very different album than I originally envisioned.

SPAZ:  As a songwriter working in a group with equally talented writers and performers, is there a lot of give and take involved with making an album or were you all on the same wavelength with this batch of songs?
DOUG: Well, as far as this goes, I’m basically a solo act. I chose to do 4 or 5 of Mike’s songs because I absolutely love Mike’s songs. I could have made it an album of just my songs, but I don’t think it would have come out as well. Everyone’s on the same wavelength because I get to have my way about which songs are going on the album. We’re also on the same wavelength because I don’t tell the players what to play. All of them are such marvelous players. The real joy for me is listening while these musicians turn my little folk pop songs into psychedelic garage rock musical statements. They seem to have such fun getting to play retro and I get to have even more fun listening to them do it

SPAZ: Given the opportunity, an artist could tinker with an album for years before finally releasing it to the world.  Are you happy with the release of the album at the moment or are you still in the ‘I wish I could go back and add this or change that’ stage?
DOUG: Oh, given the opportunity, I would tinker endlessly. I’m happy with the way the album sounds, really happy. But there are lots of things I would tweak a little. But then music needs to be heard, so you have to be finished sometime.

(Doug McGuire and David Marks)

SPAZ:  Listening to an album, one can decipher some of the main musical influences that helped shape that artist. However, there can also be some surprising influences as well.  Who would you pick as your chief musical influences on this album?
DOUG: Kinks, Monkees, The Jam, Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets, the XTC Dukes of Stratosphear album .  Adam is way into the Beach Boys and 70’s pop and I think that comes through as well.

SPAZ: Did you have any non-musical influences that inspired you during the making of the album?
DOUG: A few years back, I went to see a friend play in downtown L.A. I walked out of the club and right into the middle of the Occupy L.A. eviction. It was pretty scary with the police really bearing down on the protestors. It made me think of Elvis Costello’s “Night Rally.” Then, with the ugliness of the election this year, I again thought about that song and decided to record it. Is that a non-musical influence?

SPAZ: Was there a particular moment during the writing or recording when you realized that you were definitely making something special?
DOUG:  I’m not sure, in the big scope of music, that we made anything special, but there were certainly some special moments while making the album. D.J. Bonebrake sitting down for the first song and nailing “Guatemala” on the first take. David Marks’ playing my Jazzmaster for the blistering guitar on “Night Rally,” Adam putting in the video game sounds into “Big Wow, or Matt’s beautiful solo on “It Ain’t Like That No More. Overall, I wasn’t very happy with the way things sounded until we were near the end.  Then it all came together nicely and in ways I hadn’t expected

SPAZ: What is next for the band?
DOUG: I would love to do some live shows. A showcase backed by a band that featured David Marks, DJ Bonebrake, Adam Marsland, Teresa Cowles and Mike Schnee would be more than this songwriter has ever hoped for.  Other than that, we’ll start a new album soon. I’m hoping I get to record at least one more album with Adam producing. I was thinking maybe a shorter, acoustic album? Maybe we record a whole band album, but with acoustic guitars only where David could really go to town on his nylon stringed classical. I was also thinking about doing a way-reverbed out album – something like the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Raveonettes.  Maybe we just record another regular album where we do some rockers, some spooky songs and attempt to write some pretty songs.  I’m going to have to make that decision pretty soon and get started. I know I’ll be looking through and recording some of Mike’s back catalog of songs as long as he’ll let me. Plenty of songs are already written, it’s just deciding which ones to record and how to present them

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
DOUG: Rob Martinez, Pacific Soul Limited, Jason Berk, Sylvia Juncosa’s WANNA GOTTA album. I recently put Chissum Worthington back into regular rotation on my car iPod. I just read the Replacements bio and the Pete Townshend bio so I’ve revisited The Who and The Replacements’ albums. My favorite show of 2016 was the Iggy Pop tour with Josh Homme, Dean Fertita and Matt Helders backing. I bought the Blu-Ray of their Royal Albert Hall Concert and I’ve been playing that over and over. I’ve been transfixed by the Bowie clips that Mike Garson has posted nearly every day since Bowie died. And I really love the final Oasis album DIG OUT YOUR SOUL from 2008.  I love every song, the sound and I think there are a million hooks. I’m also the only one I know who loves that album.

Thanks to Doug McGuire

on Karma Frog Records


Also Available


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