Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why SQUEEZE's East Side Story is one of the greatest POP albums EVER!

SQUEEZE

EAST SIDE STORY (1981)



Oh, dear.  I'm in trouble!  Calling this blog post "Why SQUEEZE's East Side Story is one of the greatest POP albums EVER!" isn't doing me any favors right now because people immediately want to know WHY and they want to know NOW!  They are also quietly mocking me... or perhaps loudly mocking me and I just can't hear them.  But believe me, I know that detractors are there and ready to pounce and verbally abuse me... but that's OK, because I truly believe that Squeeze's East Side Story IS one of the greatest Pop albums EVER.  And here's why...

Back before Squeeze songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were dubbed the 'new Lennon & McCartney" they were the quintessential British songwriting team. Difford's lyrics were always clever and Tilbrook knew his way around a melodic hook, thus making them more than just another Pub or New Wave band.  While other groups would seize the moment and create music that was of it's time, not wanting to look too far back into Rock's rich history. Difford and Tilbrook were different - they embraced their influences without copying them.  Before East Side Story, they released their first three albums (Squeeze, Cool For Cats and Arbybargy) to critical acclaim and managed to have a few hit singles in the process.  But with East Side Story, they stripped away the production excesses and recorded an album that was simple, warm and filled to the brim with melodies that were sweet yet tough.  This was the first album where critics started to make their 'new Lennon & McCartney' case, and deservedly so.

With straight-forward production by the great Roger Bechirian and Elvis Costello (who really should have produced a lot more albums than he actually did), East Side Story is charming without being quaint.  It's not an album of twee pop songs for the New Wave generation - its a mature slice of Pop/Rock that still sounds fresh and invigorating over 30 years later. Instead of recreating their breakthrough album Argybargy, Squeeze stepped up to the plate and delivered an album so full of life, love, heartache and joy that its difficult not to experience those emotions while listening to it.

When East Side Story was released, I was 18 years old and had already experienced the highs and lows of every emotion related to a relationship.  This was an album that opened my eyes to a passion that went beyond a love shared by two people.  The songs spoke about things beyond the typical boy/girl fodder that Pop was known for.  They were about real life, real feelings, real people.  The songs were not about the same kinds of politics that The Clash and The Jam sang about.... these were more personal and close to home.  It is an honest album that invites the listener into the band's world, which reflects what was going on around them at the time.  In many ways, East Side Story reflected the lives of the listener: same situations, different characters. Ordinary lives, extraordinary songs. 

From the opening track, "In Quintessence" (the only song on the album produced by Dave Edmunds), the album is a thrill ride through a myriad of styles and moods.  They remained a Pop band, through and through, but they took little detours along the way, building an album as diverse as it was melodic. The hit single "Tempted" (written by Difford/Tilbrook but chiefly sung by new keyboardist Paul Carrack) adds a little slice of Soul to the album while "Labelled With Love" is a Country weeper that sounds incredibly natural and not forced at all.  "Messed Around" is a Rockabilly ditty that comes immediately after "Vanity Fair", which could have been a Revolver track had "Eleanor Rigby" not have existed at the time. The band's desire to experiment is evident in "There's No Tomorrow" and "F-Hole", both of which feature great melodies within musical frameworks that are entirely different to the rest of the album. As for the Pop side of the band, "Someone Else's Heart", "Is That Love?", "Woman's World" and "Piccadilly" are absolutely perfect in every way... from the production to the performance.  

The only blemish on the album is the less-than-stellar "Heaven", which still fails to excite these ears over three decades later.  So, you may be asking yourself HOW can this be a great album if there is a bad song on it?  Well, most people think that Sgt. Pepper is one of Rock's greatest albums of all time, right?  Well, I don't personally know many people who can sit through "Within You Without You" on that album... so I rest my case with that one example.

East Side Story still feels fresh and certainly not of it's time.  It is an absolute delight of an album that raised their profile in the Rock 'n' Roll community and made the band stand out in a sea of 'New Wave' bands (I use that term to define how they were categorized, not how they sounded).  It is entirely unpretentious and is a virtual love letter to the glory, magic and power of Rock and Pop music.

Unfortunately for Squeeze (and for all of us), Carrack left the band after touring for the album and the band began to lose momentum, commercially.  When their follow-up album, Sweets From A Stranger, was released, the simplicity of the band was swallowed up by glossy production and they split after a further single.  They've reunited since then a few times and while their albums have been fantastic, nothing has come close to the magic of East Side Story. Well, OK... maybe some albums did come pretty damn close, but not quite.  Don't get me wrong... a mediocre Squeeze song is still loads better than most band's entire back catalog!

An amazing album that truly is one of the greatest Pop albums ever.  And you know what?  I've heard a lot of albums in my time... and I'm STILL listening to music every day... and very few come even close...

But don't take my word for it... go buy the damn thing and listen for yourself!



Peace, love and Pop,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with YOUNG FATHERS!



Liberated:

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 
with 
YOUNG FATHERS

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee


The first thing you notice while listening to White Men Are Black Men Too by Young Fathers is that it is nearly impossible to categorize. The sticker may say, “File under Rock and Pop,” but the music says something entirely different. If you are searching for music that has a solid identity but exists without borders or barriers, then the sounds of Young Fathers will inspire and challenge you. This Edinburgh, Scotland-based trio G Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi, and Kayus Bankole – has created an aural formula that consists of different elements every time they record. In many ways, their music evolves, morphs and redefines itself with every listen. It is confrontational but not violent. It is melodic without being commercial. It is avant-garde without being pretentious. It is music that operates outside the walls of conformity yet remains commercially viable. It is focused but can be interpreted many different ways. It is an album that takes elements of Rock, Hip Hop, Jazz, Prog, Pop and Electronica and molds those genres into something new. Though nobody in their right mind would classify the band as Rock ‘n’ Roll, Young Fathers has crafted an album so original that it is going to divide the listeners into two distinct groups – lovers and haters. And that, my friends, is what Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about.
The trio of friends began their journey as 14-year-olds in Edinburgh, writing and recording together shortly after meeting each other at an under-16s Hip Hop night at a local club. They spent a few years honing their craft and creating a sound they were happy with. A few years into their career, they settled on the name Young Fathers and recorded their debut album with a local production company, but eventually decided to do things their own way, following their own path. Producing themselves and creating music without the interference of outside forces certainly did the trick, and they released the mixtape/mini album Tape One in 2011. With the industry buzzing about their release and an ever-growing fanbase, they followed it up with Tape Two in 2013. Their first official full length, Dead, was released in 2014 and earned them rave reviews across the board. The album ended up winning the coveted Mercury Prize Award in the UK, which introduced the band to a bigger audience who may have missed – or ignored – them first time around. The trio didn’t take time to absorb the new-found attention and immediately resumed work on their next album, which they had been writing and recording while touring to support Dead. The result – White Men Are Black Men Too – is a completely different beast that roams the same audio wastelands. Young Fathers has pushed things up – and sideways – a notch or two.

Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to toss some questions at the band about the album, and both G and Alloysious were gracious enough to take the time to throw some answers back…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: White Men Are Black Men Too is about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
YOUNG FATHERS: The album is finding the reactions we expected.

SPAZ: The album most certainly defies any categorization. Does casting aside any and all musical barriers make it easier for you to create?
YF: We don’t so much cast the musical barriers aside as never acknowledge their existence in the first place. Why would we want to build our own coffins when there is so much life in our bodies? Box us in when we’re dead.

SPAZ: The tracks on the album sound very powerful, with some of the songs filled with more ideas than most bands can muster on an album. Yet, you are able to achieve this with an almost minimalist approach to some of the recording. Is it easy to achieve this balance?
YF: The approach is simple: keep the good, lose the bad. Like Jack Spratt’s wife.

SPAZ: The album’s title initially created a bit of controversy. Do you think that people may have become a little over-sensitive in this day and age?
YF: No, it’s right that there should be conversations and controversy. We weren’t even sure of the title ourselves. We were sure of the intent, though. In some ways, it’s better that people rediscover their sensitivity if we are empathetic and touchy, then perhaps that’s how it should be. If someone is upset or suffering, then maybe we should feel their pain. If something is wrong, then maybe we should be upset. You sometimes get the feeling in the UK, Europe, USA, that there is a dead-eyed generation being born, happy to embrace the volcano’s blast simply because they are so bored with things the way they are.

SPAZ: Did the success of your Mercury Prize-winning album Dead give you more artistic freedom? Or was there more pressure to come up with ‘the goods’ this time around? 
YF: It was somewhat irrelevant. The main pressures we feel are from ourselves the hardest people to please.



SPAZ: Artists are always eager to move on once they have finished with a project. When you began recording White Men…, did you want to build upon the foundation you created with Dead? Or was it your intention to wipe the slate clean and start fresh?
YF: We are incredibly proud of what we do. It’s never swept away and always acknowledged. But a new album needs its own space and we have low boredom thresholds so the previous album is more like a landmark than a totem. We know we went past it on the journey, we can see it back there in the distance, but it no longer has a relevance beyond history.

SPAZ: Has your approach to songwriting and recording changed since the days of Tape One?
YF: Yes. We are more self-reliant and confident. But certain things remain with us: we need to work quickly, to capture the feeling, the first feeling, which is the best feeling. We also use much the same equipment, which is a grounding thing.

SPAZ: Like some of the classic Post-Punk records of the early ‘80s, White Men… has some great melodies that are often overwhelmed by inventive and dynamic musical arrangements. Do you prefer those hooks to become part of the tapestry of the song rather than the main focal point?
YF: The hooks are there. When we go fishing we always catch something. The thing is, a beat can be a hook, so sometimes you take a melodic hook down in order to emphasize a rhythm. It’s not rocket science but it’s also much more complicated than pouring a glass of water.

SPAZ: For those not familiar with the band’s background, what are your main musical influences? Like I said, it is almost impossible to pinpoint. I hear Hip Hop, Rock, Avant-Garde, Electro, and Post-Punk… but not necessarily in that order and each song leans a different way.
YF: We are the R&B Hits 2003 generation. The influences are so ridiculously varied it’s almost impossible to name them. As much films as music. As much Pop as hardcore Hip Hop. The weirdest and most obscure African sounds and ancient Rock ‘n’ Roll. In-jokes and mind-worms.

SPAZ: Outside of music, what inspires you on a creative and personal level?
YF: Family.

SPAZ: You’ve been working together a long time. Do you feel that you understand each other musically, and that your differences are what make the Young Fathers sound so fresh?
YF: That’s a fine way to sum it up. There is a not so subtle intrinsic understanding between us. We aren’t ashamed or afraid to be blatant. ‘Try this’. ‘Use that sound’. ‘Stand there’. ‘Sing with a smile’. We are like a school choir after their first trip abroad. Everyone has lost their cherry. In and out of the sexual trenches. Connected, but different.

SPAZ: Are there any personal favorites on the album? With each listen, my favorites change – right now, my money is on “Shame,” “Nest,” “Liberated” and “Still Running.”
 YF: Favorites change all the time. My (G) mum likes ‘Get Started’ best, and so she should. But our faves change all the time. 

SPAZ: What’s next for Young Fathers?
YF: A year of traveling the world, even more so than last year. When we have finished, which will be next year, many people will have seen and heard us. The show will grow. We will fight each other and love each other and sometimes make people feel as if the bass has jumped into their mouths. We are looking forward to a nice rest in May, 2016.

SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, record, DVD and Blu-Ray players?
YF: All of us are on a quest for new music to fill the endless requests for mixes. The truth is, after making the album, not much tastes sweet. But we listen to LAWholt and Callum Easter and the Pop music that we bump into every day. Who’s good? Who can say?

Thanks to G and Alloysious of Young Fathers
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, David Scadron, Lori Miller and Nick Kominitsky

YOUNG FATHERS

WHITE MEN ARE BLACK MEN TOO

CD

LP






Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An EXCLUSIVE interview with THE MINUS 5's Scott McCaughey!





Hold Down The Fort:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 
The Minus 5’s 
SCOTT McCAUGHEY

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

   If his immense back catalog and 30+ years in the music business is any indication, Scott McCaughey is a man that still has a passion for making music. McCaughey has certainly kept himself busy over the years and it’s hard to remember a time in the past three decades where he hasn’t been creating some kind of melodic noise. He’s been making records since 1983, beginning with The Young Fresh Fellows, and continues to defy expectations with a myriad of bands he’s involved with: R.E.M. (as touring guitarist and studio hand from 1994 to 2011), The Baseball Project (with The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Peter Buck), Tuatara (with The Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin and Peter Buck), Tired Pony (with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, Belle & Sebastian’s Richard Colburn and that Buck fella again). And, of course, there is The Minus 5 – his most high-profile musical project, which is a collective of like-minded musicians who come and go as they please. At various times throughout their 22 year career, The Minus 5 has included Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Ben Vaughn, Dennis Diken (The Smithereens) and dozens more. Oh, and that pesky Peter Buck has shown up more often than anyone involved apart from Scott McCaughey himself! The Minus 5 may be Scott’s baby, but he manages to wring the best out of every musician that plays with him, creating a body of work that stands the test of time.

   The Minus 5 has created a stunning back catalog of albums that are influenced by everything from Bubblegum to Psyche, Americana to Garage Rock. Their most ambitious project yet was Scott The Hoople In The Dungeon Of Horror, the 2014 Record Store Day-only vinyl LP box that contained five individual albums, all of which were exclusive to this set. Recorded in McCaughey’s studio, The Dungeon Of Horror (where he also stores his record collection), the box contained some of their most exciting work yet. Keeping with the Record Store Day theme, none of the five albums were available in any other format – not even a digital download. Those who were lucky enough to secure a copy have been able to enjoy an incredible assortment of gems, while the rest of us awaited news of an official CD release of that material. Dungeon Golds is the answer to our prayers…sort of. The twelve tracks that make up this release are songs that were lifted from the box set, yet Dungeon Golds is not a ‘best of’ in the truest sense of the word. McCaughey has gone back and enhanced, remixed and upgraded a few of the recordings, making this essential for those that own Scott The Hoople…and those that don’t.

   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Scott McCaughey about the Dungeon Golds release, the box set and much more…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Dungeon Golds is now available. How are you feeling about this release and the reaction to it so far?
SCOTT McCAUGHEY: I think it’s really strong and I think it’s a good way to present some of that stuff. Of course, I’d love everybody to have the entire five-record set, but we knew it wasn’t going to be that kind of situation, so we made a really limited amount of them. People who got it really enjoyed it, but at the same time, it wasn’t like a real promoted release, so I wanted to put something out that the label could do something with. I tried to make it still as cohesive a record that sounded good together, which I think really worked. I spruced up a few songs and did some remixes, so it feels pretty fresh to me still. I only took songs from three of the records on the boxset, because two of the other records, I still think we might want to do a more general release of.

SPAZ: How did you come to choose these particular songs? Was there a temptation to just load it up as much as you could, or did you try to limit yourself?
SCOTT: Yeah, I definitely tried to limit myself. I wanted it to be more or less like a regular record that I would put out and not cram as much stuff from the boxset on it as I could. The way I was able to handle that was by limiting it to (songs from) three of the records. One of the records on the boxset is called Of Monkees and Men and one whole side is about the Monkees, the band, and the other side is about people I knew or other actual real people. If I was doing an absolute best of the boxset I would’ve put songs from that album, but I wanted to leave those and keep them together. One of the other records is called Hellbent For Heaven and it’s all really slow, quiet, dismal weird stuff. I thought, “You know, I’m gonna leave that stuff off too cause maybe I’ll do something with that record as a separate thing at some point.” Dungeon Golds is kind of the poppier stuff off the records – I picked songs that I figured we would probably play live. It’s pretty upbeat. Listening to it, it really sounds cohesive to me. I was really happy with that.  

SPAZ: Which of the songs did you go back to and tinker with?
SCOTT: Well, “In The Ground” I did quite a bit to. I added some backing vocals and a guitar and I had Peter re-do his 12-string track and add something else, and then I totally remixed it. That one’s probably the one that I did the most on. Some of them I remixed and edited, so they’re shorter than the versions on the boxset. Like “Chinese Saucer Magnolia” is shorter and I think “Zero Clowns” is shorter. “My Generation” might be a little bit shorter. And then there were a couple songs that I just sort of remixed. With “Remain In Lifeboat” on the boxset, Jeff Tweedy is playing the guitar solos on that song and on the tracks that he had sent me, on the second guitar solo, the one at the end, he had done two different passes of it, and so on this one I decided I’m just going to use the other guitar solo. So, it’s a completely different guitar solo on the end.

SPAZ: The album feels like an ode to Rock music’s vast history, but it also remains uniquely original. Do you find it easy to sort of balance the two?
SCOTT: I hope so. I think part of it is – I hate to use this word – ineptness. People hear The Minus 5 and they refer to The Beach Boys, The Beatles and stuff like that, which is just ingrained in me – I can’t get away from it because that’s just the music that I grew up loving. I also love Ornette Coleman, but I can’t really work that into my music that much (chuckles). Like if I actually tried to do something and I think, “Oh, this would be really cool if it sounded like Genesis or The Beatles or whatever.” I’m not really that good at copying something, so whenever I have something in mind, it never ends up sounding like the thing I had in mind. I don’t feel like I’m slavishly bringing back the ‘60s or the ‘70s or the ‘80s. I love a lot of music from all those periods and a lot of recent music too – it all kind of gets in there. You know, if it’s obvious that I love Phil Spector, I’m okay with that (laughs).

SPAZ: What is your songwriting process like? I’ve noticed that not every song fits into a standard Minus 5 formula.
SCOTT: Well, that’s cool. I like that. You know, I never think about any influences when I’m writing a song. I write the song and then when I start playing it, recording it, or arranging it then that’s when the other stuff comes in. I don’t think of anybody when I’m writing the song. I just have some words and get some guitar chords or piano chords and it’s real, real basic and then it can kind of go anywhere from there. I really don’t know where they’re coming from, but they usually turn out best that way. Once I start recording it or playing it live with other people, I let it go wherever it gets taken because I don’t usually have a real preconceived notion of what I want it to sound like. I love when stuff happens that I wouldn’t expect.
SPAZ: So you do allow creative input from a revolving cast of characters?
SCOTT:  Absolutely. Definitely.

SPAZ: Are you the type of artist who feels comfortable at a certain point to let these songs out into the world or if you had time, would you spend years tinkering with them?
SCOTT: That’s a really good question. I worked on the songs from the box set for about two years, but they were just song ideas I had. I would start recording them at my house, not really knowing whether they were going to be demos or if they were going to be finished recordings. Then when I got the idea for the box set, I really got to work the last three or four months and really worked on all the songs and tried to finish them, and get them to a place that I really liked them. Once the idea was firmed up that we’ll do this on Record Store Day, then I had a deadline. So then I thought, “Shit, all this stuff has to be done by November!” Then after that, I couldn’t really think about tinkering anymore. It helped me having the deadline for sure because if I hadn’t come up with the concept, a lot of the songs would be still sitting around and I would still be tinkering with them probably.



SPAZ: Everything on the album was recorded in your studio, The Dungeon Of Horror, right?
SCOTT: There’s four songs that I recorded at a local professional recording studio that I use a lot – Peter Buck and I and all our various bands record quite often at this place called Type Foundry near my house. We went in and we tracked four of those songs: “Adios Half Soldier,” “It’s Magenta, Man!” “Hold Down The Fort,” and “Zero Clowns.” We went in with Peter and I playing guitar, and John Moen and Nate Query from The Decemberists on the drums and bass. We tracked those in the studio and then I did overdubs at home. But all the rest of it was done here in my little basement with the drums set up next to the washer and dryer, and recording stuff in the middle of walls of records that surround me.
SPAZ: You’re surrounded by records in the recording studio?
SCOTT: Yeah. Our basement is just a big open space. There’s no walls in it so I kind of walled off one corner with records and that’s where I work.
SPAZ: Remind me to never become an artist and form a band and record at that studio because I’ll just spend all my time going through your records and go, “Oh wow, you’ve got The Monkees’ Headquarters in mono…”
SCOTT: Yeah, I do! I’m pretty sure actually, because that was my favorite Monkees record when I was a kid. (Short pause) I have the mono Headquarters in my hand right now! (Laughs).

SPAZ: You’ve been a part of the independent Alt-Rock/Americana scene for over three decades now. There was The Young Fresh Fellows, you were the fifth Beatle in R.E.M., there is The Baseball Project and others. Does The Minus Five offer you the most creative freedom out of all of your projects?
SCOTT: It totally does because it’s more my thing. It’s less reliant on other people, although of course those people make incredible contributions to it, and it wouldn’t be the same if it was just me doing everything. But I kind of have the final say on everything with Minus Five. It always comes back to me to make the final decisions, whereas in The Baseball Project and the Young Fresh Fellows – those are democracies. I won’t say that limits creativity, but you do have to sometimes compromise with what other people want. Luckily, we’re mostly on the same page because we like the same Rock ‘n’ Roll and we like to have fun, so the fact that Fresh Fellows is still a band means that we get along pretty well. Even though we don’t hang out all the time now, we still all get along and love each other and love to make music together. But it is a different process when it’s a band that’s a full on democracy. The Minus Five will never be just my solo project at all because I meant it to be a collaboration with people, but if I don’t do anything as far as book a Minus Five show or record a Minus Five song, there won’t be any. Nothing will happen. So I’m definitely the one who has to push that one forward. I wanted Minus Five to be a thing where I could be as creative as I wanted and just have anything goes. That was kind of the whole idea of it because with the Fellows – you want to rock out. I didn’t want Minus Five to even think about rocking out. I wanted Minus Five to just be whatever kind of songs that I wrote – an avenue to record them. As it turned out, Minus Five turned into a Rock band, but that wasn’t ever the intention. It was just supposed to be an outlet for weird and fun recording ideas. But things happen and we started playing live, and once you play live you kind of want to have fun and rock out, so Minus Five became a Rock band.

SPAZ: What’s next for Scott McCaughey and The Minus Five?
SCOTT: We’re going on the road opening the whole tour for Tweedy – Jeff’s band with his son – which will be really, really fun and exciting. Then I go straight from the last show in Denver and fly to Florida, and do a week with The Baseball Project. And then we got a couple of weeks with The Baseball Project in May and I fly straight from that to Spain to do a solo tour, which I’ve never done before. That’s going to be real scary and weird. But it’ll be fun because I can play any songs I want from whatever bands, so it’ll be interesting. I’m gonna play solo shows in April around the Northwest just to kind of get my feet wet to see how I do.  

Thanks to Scott McCaughey
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky

THE MINUS 5

DUNGEONS GOLD

CD

LP

An EXCLUSIVE interview with DEVO's Gerald V. Casale!


Are We Not DEVO? We Are HARDCORE!

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 
GERALD V. CASALE

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

   Not many bands are able to achieve critical and commercial success while challenging conventional thinking and the very industry that they are a part of – however, Devo did it spectacularly! Best known for the massive-selling “Whip It,” Devo became closely associated with the New Wave movement – Electronic music in particular – yet never considered themselves part of the hit-making machine. By the time MTV picked up on them, Devo had already revolutionized music video-making. When the band finally made their ascent into the charts, they had already built a strong following with their first two albums and their specific – and prophetic – views on devolution, which is ‘the notion that species can change into more "primitive" forms over time.’ Nearly 40 years after their debut album, social media has only confirmed that devolution is real. Very real.

   Much has been said about Devo over the years, and a quick internet search will give you all that you need to know – especially if you visit the band’s website (www.clubdevo.com). However, it is the band’s early years that remain overlooked in the scheme of things. Many are familiar with their 1978 debut album, Q: Are We Not Men?, A: We Are Devo!, and everything they’ve released since then. Yet their mid-‘70s four-track recordings are a goldmine just waiting to be rediscovered. They’ve been issued on CD – initially as Hardcore Devo: Volume One and Hardcore Devo: Volume Two, then later as a double disc set. But only the dedicated fans are wired in to those songs. Those early recordings, spanning the years 1974-77, are wildly inventive, shocking, riveting and thoroughly entertaining. This was a band filled with original ideas and absolutely no musical boundaries. Many of these tracks were never played live, and sadly enough, were never recorded again for future albums. Band member Bob Casale – AKA Bob 2 – approached brother and fellow Devo member Gerald about resurrecting those songs and playing them live in front of an audience for the first time. The concept went over well with the other band members – Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh and new-ish drummer Josh Freese – and plans were set in motion for a Hardcore Devo tour. Unfortunately, Bob Casale passed away in February 2014. In his honor, the remaining members of Devo decided to move forward with the idea and took their show on the road. Thankfully, there were cameras and recording equipment available when the band played Oakland during that tour…

   Hardcore Devo Live is a triumph in every way. Not only does it reanimate the music with a fresh, contemporary approach, it even manages to convey the feeling of their ‘basement’ years with atmospheric lighting and a sometimes claustrophobic feel to the performance. Those that have never heard the Hardcore Devo releases will at least find some familiar tracks like “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Jocko Homo,” and “Satisfaction” amongst the songs performed. More importantly, there is a treasure trove of fantastic lesser-known songs that sound absolutely electrifying 40 years on. When Bob Casale’s son Alex comes out to play on the show’s final song, you can’t help but feel sadness and pride – a thoroughly enjoyable and emotional moment to savor.

   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Gerald Casale about Hardcore Devo Live and Devo’s career in general. So, sit back, savor a sip of wine from Gerald’s personal vintage wine brand (www.thefiftybyfifty.com) and read on…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Hardcore Devo Live has just been released. How are you feeling about the project and the reaction you’ve had so far?
GERALD V. CASALE: I’m pleased with the fact that, against all odds and by the skin of my teeth, I managed to find a way to get it filmed, and then the result was quite faithful to the actual experience of being an audience member. So, I’m happy with that.

SPAZ: This is a batch of songs that were written 40 years ago, and they still sound so fresh and exciting. What was the initial feeling when you were rehearsing for the tour? Were you amazed at how relevant all this stuff still sounds?
GERALD: Well, it was kind of shocking because, you know, on the face of it the songs are simple, but then if you try to play them – having gone through all the kind of mutations you go through in 40 years – it was like facing yourself in the mirror. Coming face-to-face with who you were. It was very difficult learning to play them right, and then changes are so strange and the fingering patterns are so strange because, in a way, we hadn’t even gelled into a kind of “Devo” sound. This was still just really, really, kind of original and eclectic and completely do-it-yourself. So, these kind of stylings are all over the map in those songs.
SPAZ: Something like “Satisfaction” – it took a few moments for the listener to fully comprehend all the elements going on within that recording – there is so much happening, different rhythms and such. I’ve always felt that Devo were probably the greatest thinking man’s band in the universe at the time.
GERALD: Well, we were once made fun of by Alan Jones, a big critic from Melody Maker magazine in England who said, “These guys are the thinking man’s Kiss,” as a big put down. We were all really angry at the time and then a couple years later I went, “You know what? Thinking man’s Kiss? That’s not a bad thing.” That’d be great…being so popular – if you added a smart message to that, you’d have it all.

SPAZ: What was the inspiration for going back to revisit this material?
GERALD: It was an idea that my brother Bob had. I thought it was a great idea. It was a chance to reaffirm who we were when we were completely experimental, completely isolated in Akron, Ohio – not respected by anybody, either reviled or laughed at by our peer group there. To bring those songs to life other than four track recordings was an exciting idea – kind of like something new. When Bob and I presented it, everybody was on board.




SPAZ: Going back to revisit the songs and learn them again, was it like learning them for the first time?
GERALD: (Laughing) Actually, harder! When you’re doing something for the first time, you’re just so excited and you’re so myopically locked into what you’re thinking then as you make it up – you kind of bypass the barriers. But then when you have to do it again, you’re aware of all the things that are difficult and possibly wrong, and then you have to forget what you’ve learned since, and go back.

SPAZ: When the band first formed, what was the Akron scene like? We all know what happened when you guys broke out – all of a sudden there was an Akron scene. At least for a little while, everyone focused on Akron.
GERALD: There was no scene in Akron. That’s the plain truth of it. There were kids in bands like any other American city but there wasn’t much connection between any of the bands. Everybody was quite isolated. Chrissie Hynde wasn’t really doing what she ended up doing until she went to England, so there wasn’t really a band there. Pere Ubu didn’t think too much of Devo. David Thomas (Pere Ubu vocalist) made disparaging remarks about Devo in the little Cleveland scene magazine. The Dead Boys thought we were just art weirdos and wanted to beat us up. It’s Stiff Records that created this fiction that there was a scene and, of course, they did it by just taking everybody that ever recorded something in that geographical area and putting it together on a compilation.

SPAZ: Have you gone back to Akron over the years?
GERALD: Well, whenever there was a reason to – mostly family. Recently, I went back to have a release party and tasting from my first vintage wines that I released. Yeah, I did it at West Point Market and it went great.

SPAZ: Judging by the original recordings that have been released over the years (as Hardcore Devo), there’s probably four albums worth of material. You did some of these tracks on your first two albums, yet you never really went back after that. This is stuff that other bands would’ve killed for. How come you never really revisited those songs on later albums?
GERALD: You know, a lot of people have been asking that and I don’t blame ‘em. That’s a good question. I don’t have a good explanation except this – we lived with that stuff in these basements and garages, and we were struggling and getting nowhere. I was trying hard to make it reach critical mass and use my connections, and what I was learning about the music business, to get ourselves on the radar. By the time we did, we were experiencing a kind of new creative explosion that we were just so wrapped up in. We only wanted to move forward. We didn’t want to look back, and we really thought we were on to something. We were so wrapped up in this energy. So I really think that’s what happened and kind of turned our backs on the experimental material that kind of had an association of – not failure, but failure to launch.

SPAZ: I believe that people still don’t appreciate how forward thinking you guys were and the music world still hasn’t caught up. Would you agree with that?
GERALD: I often said things like, “We were the pioneers who got scalped. We were the Rodney Dangerfield of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I think it’s just ‘cause we did something first. We were original. Today, every band has to think about what they’re trying to project. They call it a brand now – Who are they? How do they look? What are they beyond the songs? The videos, the statements in the press, the whole gestalt. And that’s what Devo was about. We did that on purpose. We were a multimedia group in the way we thought. Mark and I were artists and so from the beginning – the graphics, the slogans, the videos, the costumes…those were all things that I spent lots of time and energy on. I think it was too much for a lot of second generation hippies that ran radio stations and rock magazines. They kind of resented it because it wasn’t something that they were familiar with, and wasn’t what you were supposed to do as a band, and they retaliated. Maybe if we’d just worn street clothes and acted kind of punky and anti-intellectual and made the same music, they would’ve liked us more, but we were presenting a complete and utter world, really.  

SPAZ: You guys obviously came out before the whole punk thing. Did you mean to align yourself with that movement, or was that a lazy journalistic thing?
GERALD: We were always only Devo and I suppose, in the commodification of the marketplace, somebody saw in our music a relationship with the raw energy and aggression of punk, and then lumped us in. I suppose that was a good thing for us.

SPAZ: Was it frustrating to try to get these messages and ideas across to an audience when there were knuckleheads like me who may not have understood the message at the time, but loved the songs?
GERALD: Well, usually that was enough for us. I mean, like Bob Dylan once said, you should thank people for not understanding you – that’s why you’re popular. If you like the songs and didn’t get the rest of it, that was okay with us.


SPAZ: There’s such an energy and passion in these new performances of the songs. Are you able to reconnect with that energy of old?
GERALD: I can only speak for myself, but I sure do. I can’t even perform unless I’m doing that. I think that’s what performance is about. I look at it like each time you perform live, you’re conjuring up almost like a spell. Exactly what made you do it – what your frame of mind was and what the energy was – and you’re doing that for the people in front of you. You’re not doing it for yourself. So, playing those Hardcore songs for the first time, many of them for the first time live ever (and the last time), that gave it a sense of urgency. Not only that, but the game was upped a whole other dimension when this became a memorial for my brother who would’ve been part of it and couldn’t be, so now we were doing it for him.

SPAZ: When I was listening to this album, I realized that there are sounds coming out of the keyboards that are distinctively Devo – sounds that you only ever heard on Devo records. You can’t say that about most other bands out there.
GERALD: That’s part of being original. We were making that stuff up and Mark was using the Moog to basically find disturbing industrial sounds, not pretty sounds that imitated other instruments like most groups were.

SPAZ: I love the dark lighting used for the show. I assume that you were recreating that basement feel where you used to rehearse?
GERALD: Yeah, that’s what I was trying to do.
SPAZ: It has almost a “cold” vibe to it.
GERALD: Exactly. We were trying to project the experience of Akron. I worked with a really good lighting designer name Andy O’Toole. I drew up some sketches and then talked about what kind of fixtures we could use and he took those things and developed them. We had great back and forth, and that’s where we ended up. We had a lot more ideas of course, but it’s always about money.

SPAZ: I think it’s important to remind people that there was life before “Whip It.”
GERALD:  Yes.
SPAZ: And there will always be life after “Whip It.”
GERALD: Exactly. That was one little tiny moment in time, but of course, that’s the one that rang the bell. What we’d like people to get if they watch this DVD or Blu-Ray is that you can be original. You can do something with no bells and whistles. You can take a do-it-yourself esthetic and make it work as long as you remain true to the vision.

SPAZ: Do you think that technology and social media has aided in speeding up devolution?
GERALD: (Laughing) Yeah, absolutely. It’s just made the mob mentality and the gossiping wad more empowered. So it’s really just watching everybody’s worst kind of characteristics in human nature being empowered and multiplied like bacteria – just the pettiness, the snarking, the mean-spirited stupidity. It’s nasty stuff.
SPAZ: You’d think with information at your fingertips, you could learn from it, but…
GERALD: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s optimistic!


SPAZ: What’s next for Gerald Casale?
GERALD: I keep working on my wines, and I have been writing a Devo musical. I really think that with all the potential Devo had from the beginning, and the fact that we created this body of work, these songs and these videos in a world with slogans and vocabulary that was made up and all of that – that it should be embodied in some kind of entertaining narrative. And what better than a musical where you’re using the songs to drive the story? If anybody should do it, it’s Devo.   
SPAZ: Are you referring to a stage musical or a film?
GERALD: Well, it could be made into a film. We had different ideas for a film, and that never materialized. There’s a script for it, but I couldn’t get anybody to fund it. That was a story that starts in Akron during the time of the Hardcore material and ends at the after party at Saturday Night Live, 1978.
SPAZ: If only Howard Keel was still around. He could play Mark.
GERALD: (Laughs) Yeah.

SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD, record, DVD and Blu-Ray players?  
GERALD: I try to listen to everything new, and it’s just getting so unoriginal and so homogenized I can’t tell one song from the next, one singer from the next…it’s all so overproduced. I still go back and listen to James Brown and Motown, then I’ll listen to Penthouse and Pavement from Heaven 17. I’ll listen to the Bee Gees. I listen to Terry Riley.

SPAZ: One last thing. A lot of people were excited about seeing a Lego version of the energy dome during the performance of “Everything Is Awesome” (produced by Mark Mothersbaugh) on the 2015 Academy Awards telecast.
GERALD: How ‘bout that? I thank Lego and Sony for doing a version of the energy dome that I created in 1980, and now it’s 2015 and I’ve lived to see a Lego version of my design.

Thanks to Gerald V. Casale
In memory of Robert ‘Bob 2’ Casale

Special thanks to Larry Germack, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky



DEVO

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ten Reasons Why You Should Love ANDY WILLIAMS!


TEN REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD LOVE
 ANDY WILLIAMS!

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee



I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I never have. I love what I love and I'm not ashamed in the slightest.

And I love Andy Williams.

I became aware of him via his hit singles and then his TV series in the late ‘60s. I remember borrowing my mom’s Born Free LP and played it constantly on the turntable that my brother and I shared – it was one of those large portable turntables with a lid that you could carry like a suitcase. I even played my folks’ “Moon River” seven inch single, mesmerized by that beautiful melody…

I didn’t actively buy every Andy Williams album from that point on, but I did start picking them up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s along with albums by Tom Jones. I already had all the Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond LPs at that point along with loads of other classic vocalists that my Punk/New Wave friends couldn’t quite handle. As they got older – and I’m talking 20 or 30 years later – I think they all came to appreciate the classic crooners and Pop vocalists of our youth but as a teenager, those artists ‘belonged’ to their parents’ generation. As for me, I could never stop loving that stuff. I’d add “Moon River” or “Music To Watch Girls By” to mixtapes I’d make, sandwiched in between The Human League and The Clash. I wasn’t being ironic or clever – I was just sharing music that I loved. I think people would appreciate that more now, but back in ’83, I got more than a few weird looks!

I’ve only recently gone back and snapped up loads of Andy Williams albums on CD. His wonderfully unique tenor voice still sounds stunning all these years later. In the early ‘60s he may have chosen the standards to sing but from the mid ‘60s to the late ‘70s, his albums were filled with reinterpretations of Soft Rock hits. However, these were not your average ‘aging crooner covers today’s hits’ types of recordings – he would fool with the arrangements of the songs until they became Andy Williams songs. The recordings were always that much better when he’d double track his own vocals or add his soaring tenor as a backing vocalist – in fact, they were quite stunning. Heart-melting.

Andy Williams is one of my favorite vocalists of all time. I listen to him more than I've listened to Frank, Bing, Dean and the gang. He's just as classy as those guys, but there seems to be a real connection between the singer, the song and the listener. Where Frank and Dean could sometimes toss off a song without a thought (an admirable trait since they always sound great), Andy took a little more care and it showed.

One of my biggest regrets as a 'music journalist' is not being able to do an interview with Andy back in 2009. I had the questions prepared, sent them off to the label for approval but then they couldn't fit it into his schedule in time. Shame.

So, I’ve decided to share 10 of my many favorite recordings by Andy in hopes that you hear something you like and decide to take your own journey to Andyland – it will be worth every moment!

P.S. Its pretty difficult to choose 10 and I'm sure that I'll want to switch out a couple right after I publish this post, but I stand by each and every one of these. 

In no particular order...



"MOON RIVER"



"PIECES OF APRIL"



"HAPPY HEART"



"LONELY STREET"



"MUSIC TO WATCH GIRLS BY"



"BORN FREE"



"CAN'T GET USED TO LOSING YOU"



"(WHERE DO I BEGIN?) LOVE STORY"



"GETTING OVER YOU"



"ARE YOU SINCERE"



BONUS TRACKS:

"THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR"



"SHE'S THE ONE"
(NOTE: This is a track recorded towards the end of his life. While his voice was not what it once was - he was in his late 70s when he recorded this - it proves that he still had the passion and desire to embrace 'modern' music.  This is a World Party song made famous by Robbie Williams)




Some of these tracks can be found on:


The Essential ANDY WILLIAMS


Thursday, March 12, 2015

An EXCLUSIVE interview with SEASICK STEVE!




BRING IT ON:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 

SEASICK STEVE


By Stephen SPAZ Schnee



    Patience is a virtue, and sometimes patience pays off – Seasick Steve is proof of that. Born Steven Gene Wold in Oakland, California in 1941 – yes, 1941 – Steve has spent his life in transit: he’s been everything from a hobo to a record producer. But he never strayed far from music. He was playing live and in the studio with Blues musicians in the ‘60s, and has befriended and/or worked with artists as varied as Joni Mitchell and Modest Mouse. After decades of staying in the shadows, he finally decided to record his first album, Cheap, with The Level Devils in 2004. His next album, Dog House Music, was released in 2006. On New Year’s Eve that year, Seasick Steve made his first UK television appearance on Jools Holland’s annual NYE Hootenanny special. From that moment on, everything changed. Seasick Steve may not be a household name in the U.S., but since that TV appearance he has become one of the most celebrated roots artists in Europe. His unique approach to Country, Folk and Blues is enhanced by his use of handmade instruments: The Three-String Trance Wonder, The One-Stringed Diddley Bow, The Morris Minor Guitar, the Four-String Cigar-Box Guitar all create earthy, emotional sounds that add personality, charm and a distinctly original angle to his music. When touring in Europe, he no longer plays clubs; he sells out theaters and plays at festivals. With each album release, he consistently achieves the rare feat of being a critical and commercial success. He may have been in his mid ‘60s by the time fortune and fame came calling, but it seems to have been well worth the wait. Oh, and about his nickname? It’s quite simple, really – he gets sea sick on boats.
   Seasick Steve’s 2015 offering, Sonic Soul Surfer, is another hearty slab of Country-Folk-Blues that is as energetic as anything Jack White or The Black Keys could conjure up. It is raw, dirty and earthy but far from a standard retro Blues album. Recorded at his home with longtime drummer Dan Magnusson, the album is easily one of his most creative. He doesn’t stray too far from what he’s laid down before, yet he adds some twists and turns in both songwriting and production. There are big, bold, beefy Blues tracks like “Roy’s Gang,” “Dog Gonna Play,” “Barracuda ‘68” and the title track mixed with the tenderness of “Right On Time,” the playfulness of “Summertime Boy” and the ominous tone of “Your Name.” Never once does the album plod along like many of his modern contemporaries – this is an artist with the skills and knowledge of a veteran and the energy of a group of young upstarts. Sonic Soul Surfer proves it’s never too late to Rock ‘n’ Roll.

   Slightly Nauseous Steve SPAZ Schnee was able to chat to Seasick Steve about his new album and his career thus far…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Sonic Soul Surfer is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction you’ve had so far to it?
STEVE: I like the record ‘cause I had fun making it, and so the fact that I still could hear it and listen to it and like it is a pretty good sign for me. We had real fun doing it but you never know what other people are gonna think about it. Everyone who’s been connected with it says they like it and the press people who’ve called me said they like it. In Europe, I’m real famous over there so people are waiting for me to make a record. It’s inspiring because you got people waiting for you to do something so that’s kinda nice.

SPAZ: The album’s first single is “Summertime Boy.” I’ve read that you wrote that about your time in California…
STEVE: Well, actually I wrote it in California. It was about a year and a half ago and it was really bad weather over in England - it was flooding. Because I’m over there a lot right now, I have a lot of friends there and there were a lot of people who were really having a hard time. At first I was just sitting around feeling sorry for everybody. Then I started thinking, “Man, I’m so glad I’m not there getting rained and flooded on!” And then I started thinking that I don’t even like winter at all…and that song just popped out (chuckles). So, it kinda came out of first feeling sorry for the people over there and then feeling liked I dodged the winter bullet! The song just kinda tumbled out.
SPAZ: I’ve watched the video. Is that you actually surfing?
STEVE: Oh yeah, man. I started surfing in 1959. Me and my wife made that video. That’s just me sticking a GoPro on the front of the surfboard and the other part on the beach is just my wife putting the GoPro on the beach. We had a little boom box there so that I could play along with the song. Yeah, that video was super cheap (chuckles).




SPAZ: I guess you are actually a real DIY kind of guy.
STEVE: Yeah. The last video we did, my wife did that. We got in front of a big old hay barn and jumped out of a car and she had the CD in the car playing. She got her iPad out and filmed me one time dancing in front of a hay barn. That video cost like $10 or something to make – it got almost a half a million views. I really like the bare-knuckled kind of thing and it’s the same when we make a record. I mean, it’s not that I’m trying to make a cheap record. I just don’t want to fool around. Like with “Roy’s Gang” (the album’s lead track), my son had a washboard that he played – a real old one – and it was starting to fall apart so I took it out in the barn to fix it. When I was looking at it, I just got inspired to turn it into a guitar. So I just stuck a banjo neck on the end of the washboard, and it took me a while to get it so it wouldn’t fall apart. Then I walked in the house and I wrote “Roy’s Gang” ten minutes later. Dan, the drummer, he come the next day and I just said, “Man I got a new song, but I ain’t gonna show it to you. We just gonna turn the tape recorder on!” So, that song there is one take.

SPAZ: You’ve worked with Dan for a while. Does he instinctively know where you’re gonna take the song? Are you on the same musical wavelength?
STEVE: We have a communication through wine. We’re on the same wine length (chuckles). I think Dan doesn’t care too much what I do. For him it’s all just a ride. He’s definitely crazy – he’s got a few screws loose – but he just likes playing and fooling around. Because we’ve been playing together for a while now, we kinda know the style we like to do. There’s no rules in it, so I think that frees everything up. We just go there and do it, and we try not to practice any song hardly at all. When I’m with him, usually the first thing he plays is gonna be the best, so I don’t wanna beat it into the ground at all. Like “Roy’s Gang” – I didn’t want to show it to him because I didn’t know how it went, and it’s only got one string, and it was really hard to play it, and so it was crazy. But some of the other songs, maybe I’ll show it to him one time, and I’ll just say this is how it goes. Then he kinda sees it and then we just turn the tape recorder on and usually we get it just in one whack.  

SPAZ: Your approach to the music sounds like this wonderful combination of the energy of a young musician, and yet you have the experience and the wisdom of a veteran. Do you think both of the angles help you in creating your music?
STEVE: Yeah, I think you hit it kinda real square there. When we play, we are playing young, but not on purpose – just kinda comes out that way. It’s almost like I got my feet in a deep river. I know that I’m sucking up old things and I’ve have a long life behind me as a person. A lot of young people don’t have all that time behind them to draw from so maybe in some ways that’s good. They come up with brand new things. For me, it’s important to dredge up, to always take from the well and then try to treat it in a kind of crazy way.  
  
SPAZ: You are classified as a Blues artist. However, you tend to stretch that out and cover a lot of musical ground within that framework. Are you okay with being classified as a Blues artist or does something like that not even matter?
STEVE: Yeah, it don’t matter. I partly don’t really like it, ‘cause I never really thought of myself like that. It kinda happened when I got over to Europe and started playing, and everybody else was saying, “Hey, he’s like a Blues guy!” I don’t know why. When I lived in America, I didn’t play much and if no one’s asking you what kind of music you play, you don’t need to have an answer. I always thought of myself as more Country. I know I’m not a Country artist, but if I was to lean a way, I would lean towards Country, Bluegrass or Hillbilly…and also the Blues. I’ve always thought it was really weird when white people say I’m a Blues guy. I know it’s okay and I know there’s great white Blues but when I grew up, the guys who were playing the Blues were all black guys. I never thought about much calling myself a Blues guy. One thing I did that I think was the smartest thing I ever did in my life – once I became popular in Europe, I refused to play Blues festivals. Anything with the name Blues in it, I just didn’t play.
SPAZ: Would you reconsider doing that in America?
STEVE: I wouldn’t play a Blues festival here either. And that has freed me. I play all the biggest Rock festivals in the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but all the guys who go the Blues festival route, they don’t get to play Glastonbury and Reading and all these big festivals. So, it’s a label that don’t do you a whole lot of favors. And you know what? It never did me no favors, so I don’t wanna have nothing to do with it really.



SPAZ: There’s a lot of honestly in your music, a lot of emotion, but there’s also an air of mystery. What are your influences both musically and otherwise?
STEVE: I feel like I’m just a big old American stew. I like a lot of things from Nat King Cole to Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and all them old Country guys. I like the old Country Blues. I didn’t really like much Electric Blues. I like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Willie and all them people. I like that kind of Country thing and the noisy part of what I do – I’m not sure why. I mean, I like Jimi Hendrix, man! I liked all them bands back in the ‘60s. I was up in San Francisco then, so I liked Quicksilver (Messenger Service) and The Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape. I liked all that kinda stuff, too. I just never was very good at that kind of music, I don’t think, I was much better playing Country music.

SPAZ: Which of your instruments made it onto the album?
STEVE: The one string washboard guitar!
SPAZ: Did the Three String Trance Wonder make it?
STEVE: You know, this is the first record that it didn’t get on. I recorded a song with it, but somehow it didn’t get on the final record. But there are some other odd instruments. There’s that one thing I have made out of hubcaps – that’s on there. And then I got another guitar that’s made out of an air cleaner from a Ford – so that is a four string air cleaner guitar. And then there’s my cigar box. I think those are the weird ones on there.
SPAZ: What about a regular six string guitar?
STEVE: I made this one guitar. A friend of mine cut a body out of a piece of driftwood –real driftwood. So then I had this old Danlectro neck and I found these old pickups and some oil cans and I made that into a guitar. That’s on there on a few songs – the driftwood guitar.

SPAZ: Do you prefer being able to experiment in the studio or do you like the spontaneity of performing live?
STEVE: I don’t like recording in the studio. I have my own studio at my house, but I don’t really like recording. Although this one was pretty fun, I would rather get out there and play. When I’m making a new record, I’m trying to make the record like I’m playing for people. I really think about that a lot. If I’m gonna record, I wanna be able to go play it without too much fuss.
  
SPAZ: Do you feel a kinship with a lot of your young, modern Blues/Rock/Garage contemporaries?
STEVE: I just love that they’re taking from that old thing and making something new out of it. I think that’s the thing I like the most. If it can’t grow into the future, it’s dead. I know there’s a big Americana thing with a lot of young people. I hope they take it and make it something new and kinda change it. Otherwise, it just dies away…
  
SPAZ: Why do you think the Europeans respect and embrace classic American music far more than the Americans do?
STEVE: I don’t know! It’s like America’s always been the last one to pick up on its own thing. I remember in the ‘60s talking to some of the old Blues guys who went over to Germany and played, and they were just so blown away by the audience clapping and that they actually got paid (chuckles). All the Jazz guys were going to France and Sweden. There’s always been that kind of reception, but not for everything. That’s the weird thing I’ve learned. A lot of bands think that they can go over there and just wave an American flag and everybody’s gonna fall over, but it ain’t the case!  There’s some secret there that I ain’t exactly sure of. They like certain parts of the Americana world. And then the other ones, they’re not interested in, so I think it’s just gotta vibrate in a certain way.

SPAZ: Your records sound modern, yet there’s an authenticity to what you do. I think people tend to be more receptive to that.
STEVE: That’s what I see over there. I don’t know why. I mean, why me? I can pat myself on the back all I want, but it’s just an odd thing that what I’m doing seems to be doing something over there. When I was doing it in America, no one cared. So, it’s a mystery to me. The one thing I see everywhere we go play is this hunger in young people’s eyes. I don’t mean just for me, but they want this kind of raw thing really bad. I have learned it’s gotta get served up a certain way and if it’s served up a little bit wrong, they just think it’s boring.

SPAZ: Which format would you prefer people to listen to your music on?
STEVE: A record, man, thank you very much. On my new album, there ain’t no computer involved at all. It’s recorded on tape and then we mixed it onto tape. A lot of people make LPs now, but they’ll make a digital record and then transfer it over to LP. Even if they’ve recorded an analog record, they’ll do it part analog and then mix it on ProTools and then go to a mastering place and dump it onto a computer and then it gets dumped onto the vinyl. But, this record is absolute pure, just like it used to be years ago.
SPAZ: This is all analog?
STEVE: Everything. There ain’t a bit of computer within reach of it.

SPAZ: What is next for Seasick Steve?
STEVE: We have a tour in April and then kind of roll right off into all the summer festivals. They’re already setting up a fall tour so I’m gonna be on the road. I’ll be out playing until November.
SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, LP, DVD or Blu-Ray players?  
STEVE: Funny enough, a friend of mine is involved somehow in Norway with Nico and Vinz. They had a huge hit this last year in America. These guys are from Norway. First of all, almost no one ever gets heard of outside of Norway, but they’re just gigantic. They had this big song, “Am I wrong.” A friend gave me the CD before we got here and you know, I didn’t wanna listen to it. My wife made me listen to it and you know, it was good, man. I got kinda forced into that, but I’m just telling you the truth. I’ve listened to that, and I brought some stuff. I actually got Fred McDowell CDs and then I got the best of the Chambers Brothers. Then when we go on the road, we’re on the tour bus, and we take a record player, and we listen to vinyl.

SPAZ: When you tour, do you still go record shopping?
STEVE: Dan – he’s absolutely sick about buying records. He’s crazy. He’s probably got 20 or 30 thousand of them. And then he’s like an addict. He’s the one who buys records all the time and every once in a while drags me with him. No matter what town we’re in, he can smell a record store driving down the street. There’s no indication there’s a record store and then he goes, “I think there’s a store here.” And sure enough, there is. I’ve never seen anything like it – he smells them out. Man, if he’s in a record store, you can’t get him outta there. He fills up his suitcases with records. He lives in Sweden, and then he leaves all his clothes at my house so he can take records home. We have a storage place in London where our equipment is, and half of it is his clothes in there half the time. So he’s left all his shit there so he can take more records home. So yeah, we do go record shopping.  

Thanks to Seasick Steve
Special thanks to Steve Dixon, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky.




 SEASICK STEVE

SONIC SOUL SURFER

CD

LP