Sunday, September 7, 2014

SPAZ takes a walk down Twee Street with THE BLUEBELLS!



The first time I ever heard Scottish popsters The Bluebells was in 1983.  I was at a record shop perusing new releases when I stumbled across a 12" vinyl pressing of a single by them called "Cath."  At this point, I had never heard the band, but I was intrigued by the front and back cover.  I saw that it was on London Records and that the b-side, "All I Ever Said," was produced by the one and only Elvis Costello.  Well, being the Pop adventurer that I was, I decided to purchase the 12" without hearing it first.  When I got home and played it, I was more than pleased with my decision to buy it.  It was like a gift from the guitar pop gods.  With harmonica, slightly jangly guitars, and a few different hooks, "Cath" was an absolute gem. And "All I Ever Said" was just as fab. "Fall From Grace" was haunting and wonderful, too. It was so refreshing to hear a band that wore Beatles influences on their sleeves but mixed it with a folky flair and a knack for writing a cracking tune that wasn't catering to the Synthpop sound that dominated the charts.  It was as if they had been flown in straight from 1966 and were attempting to embrace 1983's recording technology while keeping the whole thing rather simple. At that point, I knew I had a new favorite band.

To make a long story longer, I found out "Cath" was their second single, so I bought the first ("Forevermore") and then continued buying anything the band released from that moment on.  While I was always hip to the singles, I felt their 1984 debut album Sisters, suffered the curse of 'record label interference.'  The album contained some of the previously released singles but the inclusion of the Culture Club-like "Learn To Love" and a few other songs made for an uneven album compared to what my expectations were.  But that is just me.  It did contain some of their finest tracks including "I'm Falling,", "Young At Heart," and a re-recording of "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" so it still has so much to enjoy on it.  The band's first post-Sisters single "All I Am (Is Loving You)" was outstanding.  However, it proved to be their final release.  The band split up and the members went onto other things and the Bluebells were history. In 1992, a CD entitled Second was released on Vinyl Japan Records. The album itself was not a new album but a collection of unreleased recordings (there is no info to suggest when and where the tracks come from, but there are some great moments that make it essential for Bluebells fans to own it). Surprisingly, the following year, "Young At Heart" was used on a TV commercial in the UK and the song was reissued and became their biggest hit to date, reaching #1 on the British charts nearly a decade after it's original release.  This sudden success did not inspire the band to go in and record new material and nothing escaped the vaults either.  Until now...

When I first saw that a collection of early recordings was being released, I was overjoyed.  But the album's title threw me off: Exile On Twee Street?  There was nothing in the Bluebells catalog that even hinted at being 'twee.' The Bluebells were big and robust, not shambolic and jangly! I knew that these recordings dated from 1980-82, but 'twee'? Never!

Now, after listening to the album quite a few times, it is safe to say that The Bluebells that I heard in '83 were definitely a mixture of great songs, great performances and a much bigger recording budget than these primitive, raw and often-times glorious  recordings presented here.  THIS was the sound of The Bluebells in their formative years.  The songs are melodic gems that showcase a band trying to find their sound and not letting low-budget recording equipment stop them from creating great pop music. Perhaps the album is geared more towards Bluebells fans than anything, but those into early Indie Pop/Rock, C86, Sarah Records and the like will find something to love here. 

Of the 20 tracks on the album, 10 are songs they eventually re-recorded during their London years (as A-sides, B-sides and album tracks) but most of those are almost unrecognizable from their later versions, including a fab version of "Learn To Love" that may not have the sonic quality of the album version but it has more heart and doesn't suffer from over-production.  "Small Town Martyr" is another one that is far superior at this stage.  Other songs like "Sugar Bridge," "Wishful Thinking," and "Red Guitars" sound great, although many of the lyrics and hooks are quite a bit different than the eventually released versions.  "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" is the closest any of these recordings come to sounding like the eventually released version, but that could be because this was scheduled to be released on Postcard Records as the band's true debut but the label folded before that could happen.  In fact, many of these songs could have eventually ended up on the label if it had lasted long enough to release the band's debut album. Speaking of Postcard Records, The Bluebells were a lot closer in spirit to the label's Aztec Camera than they were to Orange Juice, Josef K or The Jazzateers, but The Bluebells were unique in their pop craftmanship even at this early stage.

Of the 10 previously unreleased tracks, standouts include "Honest John," "Stand Up Cowboy," and "No One Ever Waves Goodbye." It is interesting to hear the band during this early period since main songwriter Robert 'Bobby Bluebell' Hodgens sang lead on most, basically since he wrote them.  Kenneth McCluskey handled harmonica, harmony vocals and a good amount of lead vocals although Hodgens is more dominant.  That situation turned around by the time the band signed with London and Ken seemed to be the more dominant vocal force.  

Anyone looking for another "Cath" or "Young At Heart" may be disappointed, but the songs here are just as good - they just aren't recorded as well.  These are demos and the sound quality may vary depending on the source, but the historical value is absolutely priceless. The liner notes offer more info on the band than I've been able to find on the net, so that in itself is a bonus. 

The Bluebells are still one of my favorite bands.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

SPAZ reviews the 2CD Legacy Edition of THAT'S THE WAY IT IS!



Yes, he's the King Of Rock 'n' Roll, but anything that Elvis Presley has done since his stint in the Army is often written off as mediocre compared to his classic mid-'50s sides.  Well, I beg to differ.

I agree that he never recorded anything as primal as those Sun and early RCA releases, but he still possessed one of the finest voices in Rock 'n' Roll up through his death in 1977.

His 'movie' period, which lasted most of the '60s, has been overlooked. What people fail to recognize is the fact that the Elvis of the '60s had matured and moved on from his hip-swiveling younger '50s self and had become an entertainer and not a rocker.  Preferring to make cheesy B-movies instead of tour may not have been the best of ideas (thanks, Colonel Parker) but Elvis made the best of his situation and at least attempted to have fun while making a paycheck.  The music wasn't always up to par but his vocals were never short of excellent.  He almost always seemed like he was at least having fun with the material (which ranged from banal to fantastic).

When Elvis didn't 'connect' with a song, it was always obvious.  By the time he worked his way out of the movies in the late '60s, his voice was at its peak.  From '68 up through '71, any song he sang sounded great no matter how much or how little emotion Elvis invested into it.  When he took to the stage in Vegas for the first time in '69, his set consisted of new material, covers of recent hits... and quick run-throughs of his '50s gems.  At this point in his career, what Elvis wanted to sing and what the public wanted to hear were two different things.  As a man in his mid-30s, Elvis felt he had matured and wanted to perform songs that he 'connected' with.  Singing "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" were not a priority for him anymore and he usually sped through them just so he could get to a song that he wanted to sing.  Unfortunately, Elvis' career was built upon these hits so he was obligated to churn them out in each performance.When you listen to any of his live releases from '69 to '77, he never seemed to treat the songs with the respect that they deserved. However, if you listen to some of the newer material that he performed during those same shows, he sounded far more passionate and emotional.  Basically, he wasn't sick of the new material. It was still fresh to him so he gave it his all.

Elvis was treated like an oldies act when all he wanted to do was get up and sing and entertain. He was no longer the Rock 'n' Roll rebel. John Lennon once said that Elvis died when he went into the army and its figuratively true: his wild and youthful abandon was gone by 1960 and he became the consummate performer, an entertainer for all generations.  But the voice was still there, continuing to mature at the same rate his body did.

By the late '60s, he switched his focus from the movies to a TV program (now known as the '68 Comeback Special) and then to the stage - in Vegas!

Which brings us to That's The Way It Is, the soundtrack to the 1970 live performance film of the same name.  The movie follows Elvis rehearsing, recording and preparing for a run of Vegas performances in early '70. The accompanying soundtrack avoids the live versions of Elvis' hits and concentrates on new studio recordings as well as a few live versions of songs previously unreleased by Elvis at the time. First off, Elvis's voice at this point was amazing. He had smoothed out the edges that ignited the '68 TV special and dug deeper into his emotions.  He was still with Priscilla the the time, so his emotion was based around his excitement and energy in connecting with an audience again.  "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", "The Next Step Is Love", "How The Web Was Woven", "Twenty Days & Twenty Nights" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are just some of the studio tracks that feature Elvis at his most dynamic.  And yes, this version of "Bridge..." is a studio recording although applause has been added at the end for some reason. "Patch It Up" and "I've Lost You" were recent single sides but the versions here are live. Of the rest of the live tracks, "I Just Can't Help Believing" is one of Elvis' most essential recordings (and is even better than the BJ Thomas original).  Though the album is both studio and live, it works extremely well as a stand-alone release as well as a companion to the movie.  This Legacy Edition adds a handful of non-album singles - all in their original mono mixes - as well as some alternate takes to entice the casual fan.  The second CD features an entire live set recorded during the same series of shows featured in the film.
(there is also a deluxe box set that features five more live shows on CD as well as two DVDs that contain the original theatrical release of the movie as well as the re-edit and remastered version).

If you are looking for primal Rock 'n' Roll, then this may not be a release for you.  But if you are looking for an example of how great Elvis was as a vocalist, performer and entertainer, then this one comes highly recommended.  One of his finest '70s albums!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

SPAZ reviews the majesty that is THE LEGAL MATTERS' debut album! (UPDATED with new links)





THE LEGAL MATTERS has been reissued by JEM Recordings and is now available everywhere in the universe... except the planet Neptune (who have strange copyright issues).  Bad for Neptunians, good for everyone else!


     Ever since I was a little kid in the mid '60s, I've been a fan of melodic guitar pop.  How could I not be?  I was raised on The Beatles, The Monkees, Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond.  I discovered Punk, New Wave and Power Pop in '77 and I have spent the rest of my days searching for music that hits me in the head and heart and makes me literally say 'Holy shit!' whenever I hear a chord change or vocal melody that kicks me in the gut.  It has happened many times, although a lot less frequently over the last 20 years.  It's not because I haven't searched for great music because I have.  I'm always looking for something that moves me, whether it is a brand new release or a reissue of something I have never heard before.  I can get goosebumps hearing some rare Power Pop single from '79 or an obscure Doo Wop song from '58...  My musical tastes are vast yet my real passion is rooted in the three minute melodic Pop gems that have given me so much happiness over the years....

     I used to co-edit a fanzine in the late '80s called POPsided.  My buddy Jim Roe and I used to write the bulk of the 'zine.  Our main focus was trying to promote the new bands that we felt carried on that Power Pop tradition - although we did tend to review a lot of reissues and old favorites.  Since POPsided folded in 1999, my love for Power Pop and any variation on guitar pop was still strong in my heart, by I became very cynical and jaded about a lot of the music released between then and now.  To me, it seemed as if bands were not interested in writing great verses, bridges, choruses and middle eights anymore. Sure, the songs may have had hook-filled choruses, but the rest of those particular songs seemed to have been hastily thrown together just to get to those choruses.  I wasn't hearing the thoughtful, well-constructed songs of my youth anymore.  While I only heard a fraction of what was actually coming out, it seemed that bands were no longer influenced by The Beatles, Shoes, Badfinger, The Rubinoos, Squeeze, 20/20, The Records or The Beat anymore.  Influences tended to be the less-immediate sounds of Big Star, Matthew Sweet and The Posies - all fine bands for sure, but nothing like the hook-filled glory of what I thought was Power Pop.  I do realize that we all have our own interpretations of what defines a genre, but what I wanted was that immediate connection that I just wasn't finding with many bands over the last two decades. The search for great pop was kind of like going to try a new burger joint in town - only to find out that its just like any other burger joint in town.  Sure, its good, but its not THAT good.  There have been some bands that I've loved over the last 20 years - including Splitsville, Cherry Twister, Holiday and perhaps a dozen more - so my passion for the music hasn't dwindled.  In fact, my search for great pop has intensified over the years.  But the feeling of satisfaction just hasn't been as rewarding.  

But then I heard THE LEGAL MATTERS...

Formed by Keith Klingensmith and Chris Richards (both of The Phenomenal Cats while Chris has also recorded as Chris Richards & The Subtractions) plus Andy Reed, The Legal Matters' debut album is filled with everything I have always loved about Pop: great melodic hooks, glorious harmonies, spine-tingling chord changes, more than one lead vocalist, a complete lack of pretentiousness and a total love of creating pop music. These gentlemen have been creating music in their other projects for years, so the fact that this sounds as fresh and exciting as it does is a testament to their talents. Album opener "Rite Of Spring" is a stunner with those wonderful harmonies and lovely chord changes.  Did I mention the fantabulous harmonies?  Apart from Shoes, who else bothers with great harmonies like this these days? On first listen of the song, I was thinking that every band always puts their strongest song up front to lure you in and they never follow it up with anything quite as good.  Well, that's not the case here because the album is filled with great tunes that are now going to be part of my Pop reference points - "Have You Changed Your Mind?" is beautiful, a real stunning slice of pop glory; "The Legend Of Walter Wright" features the sorely-missed 'oo-la-las' that should be featured at least once on every Power Pop album; "It's Not What I Say" doesn't sound like The Beatles, but it wouldn't be out of place on Rubber Soul (if that makes sense); the goose-bump inducing "Before We Get It Right" could be a lost Jellyfish single; "So Long Sunny Days" is dreamy Summer pop that could be the soundtrack to a romantic sunset; "Mary Anne" is a lovely piano-led ballad with some stunning harmonies and a heart-breaking melody; the powerful "We Were Enemies" closes the album in grand fashion (and reminds me of The Rollers "Hello And Welcome Home" for some reason). The band's only misstep on the album is the fact that it ends... but that can easily be rectified by hitting the repeat button!

It must be said that I award the band bonus points for not featuring a song based on the "Taxman" bass riff.  That's a guitar pop trick that got old some 30 years ago.  

The Legal Matters is an album that renews my faith in modern guitar pop and has re-awakened my desire to track down every worthwhile Power Pop album that I may have missed over the last 20 years.  But will they be as good as this?  I seriously doubt it.

I feel like going to visit each of my friends and playing them this album.  Its too damn great not to share.

Peace, love and POP!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Friday, August 29, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with Power Pop icon PAUL COLLINS!

The Beat Goes On:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     In the midst of the Punk and New Wave movements of the late ‘70s, Power Pop looked like it was going to take over the world. The guitar-fueled bands that made up the Power Pop scene took their musical cues from The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, Badfinger, The Raspberries and many other melodically-inclined bands of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. The songs were short and sweet – usually three minutes and under – and were filled with hooks and harmonies that seemed to come directly from heaven. When The Knack scored major hits with “My Sharona” and their debut album Get The Knack, the gates opened up and all the labels started signing Power Pop bands in the hopes they would become “the next big thing” (or at least “the next big Knack”). Bands like 20/20, The Plimsouls, The Beat and many others were snapped up by these labels, and each of them released some astounding music as the ‘70s came to a close. Like Punk and New Wave only with better songs, Power Pop appealed to longtime music fans who had been searching for the “lost chord” since the mid ‘60s. Even young fans who were frightened by Punk, but not entirely enamored by Synthpop, fell for Power Pop. However, within a year or two, the public’s attention had moved on and Power Pop never achieved massive world domination like it should have. Thankfully, the Power Pop movement didn’t die – it merely went underground where it resides today. There are still new Power Pop bands arriving on the scene every year, much to the excitement of longtime fans who never stopped supporting the scene. Even some of the original Power Pop pioneers are still releasing new music and playing to adoring crowds everywhere they go. Paul Collins, who formerly led The Beat, is one of those artists.
     Paul Collins first came to prominence in an L.A.-based trio called The Nerves. This talented trio – Collins, Jack Lee and Peter Case – released an indie seven inch EP that helped kick start the Power Pop movement. One of the EP’s tracks, “Hanging On The Telephone” (written by Lee), was covered by Blondie on their breakthrough album Parallel Lines. By the time Blondie fans figured out who had performed the original version, The Nerves had split up – Lee went solo (then AWOL), Case formed The Plimsouls and Collins put together The Beat. When The Beat’s self-titled debut hit the streets, it was discovered that there was a British band of the same name. Instead of spending years suing each other, the UK band became The English Beat outside of the British Isles, and Paul’s band became known as Paul Collins’ Beat. After two major label albums, Paul took his Beat the independent route and released more records in the U.S., UK, Spain and beyond. Eventually, he retired the Beat name and continued as a solo artist. Still waving the Power Pop flag, Paul has just released one of his finest albums to date with Feel The Noise. The album’s opening title track may be a little crunchier than Collins is known for, but the remainder of the album brings his hook-laden songs back down to earth in an energetic, almost primal way. The album’s melodies leap out on the first listen and are stuck inside your head by the third. There’s just enough reverb and compression to keep the classic Power Pop fans happy and more than enough youthful energy to remind us why he mattered in the first place. The album’s cover features a younger Paul from 30+ years ago, which works just fine since the songs on the album sound like they could have come from those golden years – they are truly timeless. Feel The Noise more than justifies his place in Power Pop history.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee, a self-confessed Power Pop geek, was able to chat with Paul Collins about the new album, his career and music in general…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  How are you feeling about this particular record and have you had any reaction to it so far?
PAUL COLLINS:  Basically the only song that we’ve been sending out or that I can play for people is “I Need My Rock N’ Roll,” the song we made the video of, which I’m very happy about. So far, people are saying, “Oh wow, it sounds like it could’ve been on your first album,” which of course for me is a huge compliment. It doesn’t get much better than that.

SPAZ:  You’ve continued to make records over the years, but it seems like only recently you’ve embraced the Power Pop scene wholeheartedly again.
PAUL:  All the records I’ve made are important, and they’re important for different reasons. Making my previous record, King Of Power Pop, was important because I’d been off the scene. I’d been living in Europe. I finally moved back to America. I was starting to tour again and I needed to put out a record that represented the kind of work I was doing. I’d just began working with these young bands again, thanks to bands I met when I played South By Southwest. After not being here for many years, I became really tuned into the fact that there was this whole underground network of young bands that liked this kind of music, that were influenced by it and looked up to it. I saw it was this whole network of bands, clubs and fans. With King Of Power Pop, it was important for me to make a record that solidified that time, the kind of music I was doing, and the kind of crowd that I was playing to. It was basically connecting the dots from my past and getting a record that was a Rock and Roll, up-tempo, fun record. I’m not a ‘sad song’ writer – that’s not my area. I’m very sensitive to the bands that fit into the Power Pop vibe and the bands that don’t. And the vibe is very youth-oriented. It’s very rough and tumble. It’s not singing in the sense of this musical style. It’s all over the place. It can be kind of Punky hardcore-ish, very sweet Power Poppy, but there’s a definite scene. I think because of The Nerves, they all look at me like I’m some kind of Punk Rock grandfather, which is fine. I have no problem with that.

SPAZ:  Was the energy from that scene the inspiration for Feel The Noise?
PAUL:  This record was a challenging record because I’d been touring a lot, I had a lot of stress on my vocals, I was smoking and drinking, and I was not singing properly. So this record was recorded several times, and the first time it was aborted because the vocals were just so rough. I finally came to grips with that. I went to a vocal teacher, quit smoking, quit drinking, and I turned myself around. So, it was a physical challenge. I was really up against the wall because I was afraid that maybe I had blown my voice out and that I wouldn’t be able to sing anymore and that my heyday was over. So, I became a healthy man. Personally, that record is a huge accomplishment strictly from the vocal level. The vocals are clean and pure, which is so important. As a singer, it’s a huge thing. Now granted, people don’t go to my music because they think I’m Elvis Presley. They go to my music because they love my songs, but it sucks if the vocals are completely falling apart. And then the second thing was, I start out saying, “Okay, I’m gonna make this Rock and Roll record. The kids want a rockin’ record. Everybody wants a rockin’ record.” But at the end of the day, you start putting it together and you go, “Geez, I’ve got ten shitty Rock songs! Uh oh…this sucks.” There’s nothing worse than ten bad songs. So, at some point in the process, I go, “Okay, let’s stop fooling around here and let’s focus in and let’s get to the heart of the matter.” You need to put together a body of ten to twelve really good songs. Forget whether they’re rockin’ or not. Just concentrate on writing or putting together good music. And that’s what I feel I have accomplished on this record. Now, I’m at the very agonizing time where the record’s done – it’s been done for a while. When I make a record, I listen to it about four million times and then that’s it. Then I won’t listen to it for years. I just get sick of it. I’m already at that stage, so I’m just like waiting to see what the jury has to say. Are people gonna say that I still have the ability to write and sing and put out good songs… or am I an old has been?

SPAZ:  The thing that I noticed about this record is that it has a more primitive, raw Rock and Roll feel to it. Was that intentional or is it just organic?
PAUL:  Yeah, that’s organic and hopefully the next one will be even more so. I think that’s the most flattering and welcome thing that you said, that it’s getting more primitive because that’s what I’m trying to do. Basically, I think all of us, all of these artists that have been out there for a long time, are all trying to get back to where they started from because that’s when everybody loved them the most.

SPAZ:  Did you have a bunch of songs already written for the album when you headed into the studio?
PAUL:  Two days before I went to Detroit to record, I sat down with my guitar in my house. And this was after having gone over many definite options for songs. I picked up the guitar and I said, “Alright Collins, you know what the fuck you have to do…now do it!” And that’s what I did. And I just sat there with my guitar pretending like I was singing to a beautiful girl. Basically, with the exception of two songs, that’s what I ultimately recorded.

SPAZ:  Today my favorite is “Only Girl.” Yesterday my favorite was “With A Girl Like You.” Two days from now, my favorite will probably be “Little Suzy”…
PAUL:  …which features Paul Collins playing drums! That was hysterical because that was the last song of the album. It was really important to me that before we started anything, Jim Diamond (producer) understood it as I understood it, and that we both agreed we had an album – not just like, “Okay, these three songs are great and the rest of them are just okay.” What I did is I tracked the whole album myself before anything happened. Dave Shettler came in and cut the drums and then Jim cut the bass, and then Jim and Eddie Baranek cut the guitar, and then I cut stuff from the vocals. “Little Suzy” was the last song we put drums to. I said, “Look, let me just show you how I think this should go.” The drums were already set up. And so I’m out there pounding away and Dave comes and says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa… keep going!” So I did it.

SPAZ:  Now, you have this legacy and you know inevitably every record you release is gonna be compared to the first two Beat albums. You really set the bar high with those… Is that frustrating?
PAUL:  I would say especially to the first Beat album. I’m a lucky guy. I did something so good that it can be considered a bar of anything. So, no, it’s not frustrating. It’s healthy.

SPAZ:  How do you feel you fit in with today’s Power Pop scene?
PAUL:  There are so many bands out there that say, “Oh, I wanna make a record, get on a major label, and be Top 10 in Billboard.” I’ve always thought that way, and it’s never happened. But I think I’ve gotten a much better grip on what I can and can’t do, and I focus on what I can do. I found that what I can do is extremely rewarding and it’s a lot of fun. So that’s where I’m at. And for a guy my age, that’s not a bad place to be. I’m surrounded by young people, so I get their energy. I get their infectiousness. They treat me very nicely. So, I’m not the jaded rock star: “I need champagne in the dressing room.” You’re lucky if there is a dressing room. It keeps it very honest and it keeps it very real.

Thanks to Paul Collins

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Dana House






Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with director/author/journalist SEBASTIAN JUNGER!

Though I Walk Through The Valley…

An EXCLUSIVE interview
with director/journalist 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     War isn’t just about the good guys versus the bad guys – you can watch any Marvel film if you are looking to draw a clear line between what is right and what is wrong. In reality, war is far more complex. In most cases, one man makes a decision to enter his country into war. Once that decision is passed down through the ranks and moved through the proper channels, war becomes reality. A country sends its young to bravely fight for freedom, or for a cause. War has always worked this way and will continue to do so. War is not nice, nor does it pretend to be. One of the highest profile wars in recent memory has been the fight in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Many lives have been lost in this war, while those that survived have spoken of a life-changing experience they will never forget. The young men that fought for our country carry it with them in their minds, their hearts and their souls. Some never want to speak of the things they’ve experienced, while others long to go back to a place where they protected and were protected by their ‘brothers’ – it was a time of their lives when they didn’t feel alone.
     In 2007, director Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington worked together and spent a year with one platoon in Korengal Valley, which has been called the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. They were embedded with the platoon at an outpost called Restrepo – named after Pfc. Juan Restrepo, a combat medic who was killed in action. With hundreds of hours of footage, Junger and Hetherington managed to piece together a powerful documentary called Restrepo. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011. In the midst of all the press for Restrepo, Hetherington was killed by shrapnel during an attack while covering the Libyan civil war in 2011. In the years since Hetherington’s death, Junger – who is also an author best known for writing the books The Perfect Storm and War – stopped covering the war and moved onto other subjects. During this time, Junger realized that there was still a story to tell based on the footage that he and Hetherington had filmed at Restrepo. This time, he wanted to show the effects that war had on the members of the platoon he got to know so well. Going back to the unused footage, Junger was able to create a riveting and powerful documentary entitled Korengal. In this film the viewer revisits the same platoon they met in Restrepo, but it sheds new light on their emotions and their thoughts. Korengal isn’t a political film – it is a personal one. There’s a heartbeat in every soldier and a bond between them that is often stronger than family. Korengal shows a war far more complex than what you see on any nightly news broadcast. The American troops stationed at Restrepo may be the ‘good guys,’ yet the film goes much deeper than that. It is a film that makes you think.
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Sebastian Junger about Korengal, Restrepo and more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  Korengal is just about to be released. How are you feeling so far about the reaction to the film?
SEBASTIAN JUNGER:  I’m feeling incredibly good about it. It’s been tremendous, and we’ve had a lot of press, which was great.

SPAZ:  The film is at times harrowing, at other times humorous, but ultimately it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Were you trying to convey that in the film – offering the viewer sort of this up and down ride?
SEBASTIAN:  Yeah. The film is about the emotional consequences of combat. Both the positive and the negative, and there are both. Obviously, I wanted it to be in their words. I mean, it’s about them, so I truly tried to find the discussions that we had about the emotions surrounding all of this. You know, in our interviews I really tried to find the parts of those discussions that were really powerful and illuminating, and used those in the film.

SPAZ:  Now, all this footage was shot at the same time as Restrepo?
SEBASTIAN:  Yes. It’s all the same mass of material. The bulk of the footage was shot in ’07, ’08 and then the studio interviews were done after their deployment in ’08.

SPAZ:  What inspired you to go back and continue the story of these men?
SEBASTIAN:  I think that there was more value. We shot a couple hundred hours and we only used ninety minutes of it in Restrepo. I felt there was a lot more value in there and also, we’re at a different point. You know, the wars are ending and now what we’re facing is three million people who have been deeply affected by their experience in combat. I thought I could make a film that spoke to that a little bit.

SPAZ:  Do you feel that this movie gives a face to something that most of us just think of as “war”?
SEBASTIAN:  Yeah. I think people often think about war in very political terms, and they sort of forget that it’s actually fought by young people – and they’re young people just like them or just like their children, you know? This isn’t some other species. It’s us. Soldiers are us, and they have all the reactions that you or I would have in that situation. I think people kind of forget that, and they also forget that the war doesn’t belong to the soldiers. It belongs to all of us across the nation and to the civilians who elect the governments that go to war. It really belongs to all of us. The war doesn’t belong to just the nineteen-year-old soldiers. They’re doing the job that we asked them to do, and that’s it. People really forget that. I just thought, if you make the right kind of film, it will somehow elevate the conversation a little bit about how war affects the mostly young men we send there.

SPAZ:  You were filming there for a year?
SEBASTIAN:  Off and on for a year.

SPAZ:  So you were basically experiencing the same emotional highs and lows that the soldiers were?
SEBASTIAN:  It’s sort of equivalent highs and lows. I mean, it’s not quite the same. You know, we weren’t engaged in the protection of the group. We weren’t carrying weapons. We didn’t have to really worry about inadvertently causing someone else’s death. It really wasn’t our job to protect the group, which meant that we weren’t ultimately as close to those guys as they were together, either. They’re all completely interdependent on each other, and they were not interdependent on us. They liked us a lot because they got to know us, but they weren’t interdependent on us for their safety. We helped when we could. We did stuff, but they weren’t depending on us for their lives. And that’s a crucial difference.

SPAZ:  When editing the film, did you struggle sometimes with what you were going to show and what you weren’t going to show?
SEBASTIAN:  No. Nothing. I mean some of it is very intense, but there was nothing that I thought, “No, that’s too much, a viewer can’t take it.” What we wanted to do was show war. What’s the point of showing a watered down version of war? If it’s too intense to show, it should be too intense to do. And we’re doing war, so if you’re doing something you can’t show, then you shouldn’t be doing it. No, there is nothing I would have left out of there for that reason.

SPAZ:  What do you hope the viewer takes away after watching the movie?
SEBASTIAN:  Well, I think I would like the viewer to take away the fact that the emotional reaction to war by young men is very complex. It’s a complex reaction that happens very much apart from the moral and political discussion about war, and it’s a reaction that happens in war after war. I have a letter that someone sent me from a World War I soldier who was writing to his friend about how much he missed combat on the front lines – World War I, imagine. There’s letters from the American Civil War saying the same thing. There’s also an enormous amount of guilt in soldiers that they’ve killed. You know, that they’ve killed people and it still bothers them. This is not an anti-war statement; I’m not anti-war at all. I think there are some wars that need to be fought, so I’m not anti-war in that sense, but I feel like people are not realistic about the emotional consequences of war for young men. They need to be realistic about it. They need to know that combat fulfills an awful lot of really hardwired tendencies in young men, and as a result, they miss it afterwards. Society really needs to understand that, and they also really need to understand that there is enormous moral damage that comes from killing other people, regardless if they’re right or wrong in the war is completely irrelevant. In other words, I feel like society isn’t being very realistic about what war is when they send people out to do it, and that’s – again – not an anti-war statement. It’s just a reality.

SPAZ:  The film focuses on these troops, but it doesn’t state an opinion like “Taliban, bad. U.S., good.” It feels like the film has a very apolitical view. Would that be accurate?
SEBASTIAN:  Yeah, that’s right. I mean my personal opinion is different, but the film itself, yeah. The film is about the soldier’s experience, and they didn’t have experience with the Taliban. They got shot at by them, but they didn’t have any direct experience with the Taliban, so there’s no way to evaluate the Taliban for the soldiers, other than these are people that are trying to kill us so we’re going to kill them.

SPAZ:  As an author and filmmaker, was there ever any time where you just thought, “What on earth am I doing here?” Did it become so intense for you, being there in the midst of it?
SEBASTIAN:  I was amazed that I was allowed to be out there, but no, I never wondered… I’ve been covering war since the early ‘90s. I felt very lucky to be out there.

SPAZ:  Was it difficult to make the project without Tim?
SEBASTIAN:  Yes and no. I mean, his ghost was sort of in the room, but I knew the story I wanted to tell. I worked with the same editor that he and I had worked with before. We all knew the material extremely well. You know, it wasn’t quite paint by numbers, but I mean, it didn’t feel like a stretch.

SPAZ:  What’s next for Sebastian Junger?
SEBASTIAN:  I stopped covering war after Tim was killed, and I’m just doing other stuff. I have another film coming out with HBO called The Last Patrol and that takes place in this country. It’s a documentary. I’m starting in on another book. Yeah, I’m sort of off the war thing.

Thanks to Sebastian Junger
Special thanks to Craig Van Gorp, Dana House and Holly Schnee





Thursday, August 21, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with IAN ANDERSON (Jethro Tull)!


An EXCLUSIVE interview 
Jethro Tull’s 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     As frontman for the legendary British band Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson is one of Rock’s true renaissance men. From Tull’s beginnings as a Blues band in the late ‘60s to their transformation into a Folk/Progressive Rock hybrid in the ‘70s and their constant desire to challenge themselves with each release, Ian has been the band’s driving force and sole constant member. As lead vocalist, songwriter and flautist, Ian and Tull have tackled numerous styles of music and art over the last 40+ years and have remained as creative and inventive as ever. They’ve come face to face with numerous musical trends over the years and have outlived most of them. Tull’s classic material is still played on the radio while their back catalog is being carefully remastered and remixed by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree/No Man). Showing no signs of slowing down, Anderson continues to create thought-provoking music including the albums Thick As A Brick 2 (2012) and this year’s Homo Erraticus. While his music retains the Prog-Folk flair of Jethro Tull’s finest work, he has chosen to release the albums under his own name rather than rely on the trusted Jethro Tull ‘brand’ and will continue to do so in the future.  But Jethro Tull is far from dead—unless you are talking about the famed agricultural pioneer who the band was named after. In that case, Jethro Tull has been dead for more than 200 years. Long live Ian Anderson!
     Homo Erraticus has been receiving kudos from critics and fans alike, and the tour in support of the album has been generating excitement from fans old and new. Also released this year is the deluxe remixed and remastered four disc edition of the beloved Tull classic A Passion Play. This release features two CDs containing a new stereo mix of the original album as well as a new mix of the aborted early sessions for the album, which are now known as the Château d'Hérouville Sessions. The two DVDs include 5.1 mixes of both the album and the Château sessions, as well as a straight transfer of the album’s original mix and more. All of the new mixes were done by Wilson, who has given the recordings a new sparkle.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Ian about his latest album, the Tull remasters, his current tour, the REAL Jethro Tull and more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:   Homo Erraticus is already on the shelves and you’re just about to start your tour in support of the album. How are you feeling about the reaction so far?
IAN ANDERSON:   Well, it’s been a very good reaction to the album. I thought it would do okay, but it’s been very well received and more importantly, it’s the very well-received live performance which is the most gratifying thing. We get to go onstage and perform new music, and clearly the audience is entertained by the way we present it.  Because of course, many of them are not familiar with the music, but we dress it up with a lot of video and theatrical elements that make it entertaining for the audience. Then we return after the intermission to play the very best of Jethro Tull set, and we continue with the video and theater stuff, and give it all a little pizzaz, which I think means the audience goes home at night feeling they’ve been well entertained. That’s good for me and good for them.

SPAZ:   I think that the album is just as timeless as anything that you’ve done in the last 40+ years. Do you think your diverse musical influences have ensured that your music remains timeless?
IAN:   Well, when I’m writing songs, what I try to do is just be moved by the moment and get on and do it. But I’m a great editor of my work, and when I get something down musically or lyrically on paper, then I try and keep up the momentum. I write quickly and I want to get somewhere with it quickly.  But the point is, you then gotta go back and be a little merciless in the way that you fine tune it and edit it. That’s when I’m going to bring in a little more objectivity, because I am a record producer. That’s part of my job.  And I have to think of a way to present this music and give it those sonic qualities that are perhaps going to be—whether it’s in your words “timeless”—or as in my words, just not too anachronistic.  It doesn’t fit uncomfortably in one sort of place and time. I want to make it work in the way that it’s connected to my area of work. I want to see some continuity, but I also want to make sure that it stands alone and it doesn’t just repeat the same qualities and musical values that I’ve, perhaps, done forty years before. So, that’s a bit of careful reworking, careful refocusing of the song and ideas as they take shape. That’s what I’m here for.

SPAZ:   As a writer, when you think of a “concept” for an album, do you write a certain melodic/lyrical theme and base the album around that theme? Or is it something that sort of naturally presents itself over time during your writing?
IAN:   Well, to begin with, conceptually I’m gonna start off probably with something that is more lyrically conceptual—content conceptual rather than musically. The music for me is the easy burden. But I need to have a simple clear-cut concept if there’s going to be a concept album as opposed to just a collection of unassociated songs. And so, in the case of Thick as a Brick 2, the concept was very simple. It was, “Whatever happened to Gerald Bostock?” To look at what might’ve happened to a young boy forty years later. How would he have grown up? What different path might he have taken in life? But it’s simple, kept encapsulated in one simple sentence. With Homo Erraticus it’s one simple word: migration.  Not just the migration of people in search of something better, but migration of what people create in terms of arts and culture, of commerce, industry, science, engineering, and the spiritual world.  So, I had been looking at a lot of snapshots and constructed the bullet points of the album early on. In that case, maybe by the end of the first day, beginning of the second day, I kind of had pretty much the whole album sketched out in terms of just these simple reference points that I could keep returning to, to try and develop each one into a piece of connected music. That’s when the idea of musical themes, which can recur, can be developed, can probably come down to five or six musical themes that will form much of what the album is about musically. So you keep returning to some of those ideas, whether they’re rhythmic ideas, melodic ideas, harmonic ideas. You keep coming back to them and then sometimes reiterating them, maybe quite like you heard them twenty minutes before.  Sometimes you will decide you’re going to take that and push it in a different direction, to take that music or theme and represent it in a different context in a different way.  That’s what writing is about.

SPAZ:   I’ve noticed that over the years there’s been a lot of humor in your lyrics, and I think that a lot of the critics either miss or forget that. Do you feel that to be true?
IAN:   Well, what critics say, I don’t really take too much to heart unless it’s a pissy, withering comment. In which case I can applaud the journalist’s sarcastic wit and maybe their viciousness.  But if it’s something that delves more into the artistic side of things, I usually feel it’s a little bit embarrassing, and I tend not to really want to read it when it starts to get too scholarly. So when it comes to trying to deal with the bigger topics of morals, of ethics, of society, of culture, you know, that’s kind of what I do. But I don’t really want to have to think about it and talk about it after I’ve finished a record so reading people commenting on those sort of things, I’m sort of disquieted by it in a way.  I feel a little self-conscious.  But, there comes a point really when you’ve got to leave the more intellectual argument behind and concentrate on the performing of that music as a performer—as an actor, if you like—because you’re taking on characters and personalities and bringing it to life on stage. So you have to leave the more kind of intellectual analysis behind at that point and start to think really much more about the passion and what comes from the heart without trying to make it too clever. But, being clever is part of the writing…that’s for sure. (laughs) There’s just a point when you’ve got to leave that behind. 

SPAZ:  Do you feel that there is less pressure releasing a new record under your own name rather than the Jethro Tull brand? There may not be the constant comparison…
 IAN:   Well, I haven’t in any way left the name Jethro Tull behind. Jethro Tull is still the repertoire that I play. It’s the twenty eight different musicians I’ve played with over the years, but I can’t possibly step onto the stage with all twenty eight of them for a number of different reasons. Jethro Tull goes with me everywhere. It’s on all my paperwork and documentation and my insurance policies. I’m joined at the hip to Jethro Tull, but I have to remember it really is somebody else’s name. It’s the name of a historical character that our agent named us after back in 1968; I have really felt increasingly awkward about it. To put it in a nutshell, there was a time when if you googled Jethro Tull, the top ten Google hits were only about me and Jethro Tull the band. It didn’t mention Jethro Tull the agricultural inventor. I think he found himself maybe with one hit in Google in the top ten returns for Jethro Tull. I’ve actually got him up to number two now. I think it’s because I really have talked so much about him and really tried to direct people to the origin of the name and who and what he is about. He’s sort of, arguably, a much more important person than I am. He is the father of modern agriculture. And I feel a little bit awkward about it, and I’m not trying to ditch the name or go it alone, so much as just trying to remind people that Jethro Tull in the musical sense is still with me, still with us. But I prefer not to just simplify it to making out that somehow I am Jethro Tull. I am not.  Jethro Tull is a dead guy. Or it’s the name of a band. Unfortunately, some of them are no longer with us and some of them are not feeling terribly well right at this moment as we speak so…I guess there are many reasons I feel probably it’s time to semi-retire that name, in the sense of it just trying to be the active unit of musicians that weren’t with me or originally played as members of Jethro Tull, when it was simply being called Jethro Tull. So yes, I am indeed joined at the hip to Jethro Tull, the name for all that music and all those records and concerts and musicians who’ve been part of my big extended family. I’m not about to leave it behind, but I’ve just tried to put it in a little bit of a perspective.

SPAZ:   The expanded four disc version of Passion Play has also just been released.  Are you amazed at what Steven Wilson does with these mixes? What specific qualities does he bring to the remix/remaster work? He really seems to understand the music. 
IAN:   He grew up with a strong awareness of the bands that had begun that journey into more progressive rock music.  He’s obviously a bit younger than I am, but he came to my attention at a time when EMI were looking to remix and remaster some of the old things in 5.1 surround and so on. I read about Steven Wilson doing some work with Robert Fripp remastering some King Crimson stuff, so I thought, “well, obviously this guy knows what he’s doing.” So I directed EMI to Steven who said yes, he’d like to have a go at doing something. I think it was Aqualung he started with, and he went off and did a couple of test mixes, which he sent to me and we talked about it and I thought this guy has got a lot of sympathetic natural ways of listening to things to give you a clarity, a little edge, a little definition, but not to fundamentally change either the stereo layout, the positioning of instruments, or to hugely change the sound and the balance of things.  He just gives it clarity and polish and I know exactly how he does it because I worked with Steven on it. Two days ago I was listening to Steven in the studio as we were working on a remaster of the War Child album from 1974. He’s a good guy and I’m sure he will do a good job as long as he wants to keep doing it… but he’s got his own life to live, and I have to feel sometimes a little embarrassed that he keeps being given yet another old Jethro Tull album to remaster.  So, I mean, I think his enthusiasm at some point will wane. I’ve said to him, “Steven, you know, when the moment comes and you’d rather be washing your hair or practicing yoga or making a health food supper or whatever you do, just say the word.” Because the last thing I’d ever want him to do is feel obligated to have to remaster thirty albums.  He’s already done about six, so I feel a bit embarrassed about the hours that he has to put in on all of this.

SPAZ:  Do you feel that downloads and streaming have decreased the attention span of the average music buyer who is more interested in songs than albums?
IAN:   Well, I don’t think that it is responsible. I think the reality is that some people don’t really have the time in the day to sit and concentrate and focus just on listening to a piece of music. Music is a backdrop. It’s something that is around them. They listen to it in the car on the way to work or on the train or on the bus or on the airplane. It’s something there without really having to think too much about it. I have to accept that some people will listen to my music that way, so I’ve got to cater to them, as part of the job of giving people choices to how they listen to music. Those who do want to sit and close their eyes with a great pair of headphones on or some wonderful speakers and really kind of absorb themselves in the music—I’ve got to cater to that too. You have to give people all the options whether they’re in the digital domain or whether they’re listening to a vinyl cut. I’ve got to do [vinyl cuts] as well again these days. It’s all about recognizing and respecting the fact that people have different ways of listening to music and different needs for listening to music. I have really got to make sure that as a record producer I am there to try and cater to those needs and give people a choice. 

Thanks to Ian Anderson

Special thanks to Kevin Day, Anne Leighton, Tony Valenziano, Bill Kopp and Dana House

Click HERE for up-to-date info on 
Ian Anderson tour dates!