Today’s Feature – May 29-30: Steve Hefter

May 30, 2008 at 8:56 pm (Today's Feature)

Steve Hefter plays “music that makes you want to break up with your girlfriend, get locked up, and write heart-wrenching love letters to her from the inside” (in his own words). It’s the kind of line that shows just how passionate Hefter is about his craft, as well as showcases his clear sense of humor. After all, you need one when you audition for a scholarship to Peabody Prep and play your selected piece in the wrong octave…

Anyway, there’s a lot more than humor behind the melodies of Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends (which includes Mike Ward, Doug Keen, Pat Hughes, George French and Greta Thomas). Matter of fact, a lot of Steve’s songwriting requires he place himself in some unfortunate mindsets. For example; “Knowing you’re headed toward heartbreak or heartbreaking is, in my estimation, next to actually losing a loved one, the most sickening – but also the most human-feeling one can have.”

Just about every songwriter needs to place themselves in such a frame of mind at times to write music… problem is that not every songwriter is all that good when it comes to translating their feelings onto a piece of paper. Hefter and friends however excel – their tunes built out of honesty and accurate perspective mixed with the unique gift to see a situation from more than just a head-on angle. The band explores subject matter while attaching their own signature stitch.

The sophomore release, “Twist and Hold Til’ Morning” is quite the mix, including “some swelling, orchestral moments, and then some stripped-down, bare-bones folkiness… Some of its narrative, some poetic, some just plain nonsense.” No matter how you accept the collection, it’s clear you’ll get the message. The band has been fine-tuning their live performance so find a show and get to it – matter of fact; they’ll be playing with Caleb Stine and The Brakeman, Reed KD and the Armchair Aviators at The Golden West in Hampden on May 30th. Get on it and get into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends – Steve Hefter

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Tell us how Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends first came about. Was music something in your life that was there from the start?

Steve Hefter (SH): Music has definitely always been around me. My father was a music fanatic- he had an extensive, eclectic record collection and from the time I can remember anything, I remember Bebop, the Beatles, Bach and everything in between filling up our apartment. When we moved into a bigger place we inherited my grandmother’s piano and my dad played it for hours every day. My mother forced me to start taking piano lessons at four and my teacher recommended me for a scholarship to PeabodyPrep. At the audition, I played the piece in the wrong octave and, needless to say, ended up in public school.

PEV: You’ve said that you play, “Music that makes you want to break up with your girlfriend, get locked up, and write heart-wrenching love letters to her from the inside.” With that, where do you find the drive and motivation to write and perform music?

SH: I’m sure there are plenty of people who can relate to the age-old theme: being unwilling to let go of relationships we know are inevitably doomed. The moment that I, personally, realize a relationship- at least one I’ve been deeply invested in- has started to go down the toilet has almost always coincided with a sudden resumption of frenzied creativity for me, for better or worse. Knowing you’re headed toward heartbreak or heartbreaking is, in my estimation, next to actually losing a loved one, the most sickening- but also the most human- feeling one can have.

PEV: Growing up outside of Baltimore, Maryland, what kind of music were you listening to?

SH: Nothing specific to Baltimore- or at least I don’t think so. In middle school, lots of hip-hop mixed with Billy Joel and whatever else was popular in the early 90’s. I wasn’t really into grunge or anything that was actually cool, rock-wise. I did get heavily into some obscure indie-christian bands in high school that I still think made some of the best, relatively undiscovered, records out there. Mike Knott, Adam Again, The Lost Dogs- some really great stuff.

I didn’t really start properly digesting the Beatles and Dylan until I was 15 or 16. That kinda loosens the stones enough for the avalanche to begin.

PEV: What were those earlier days like for you in the music business? Like your first shows or open mics.

SH: My first few shows were amazing. It’s weird relating them to “the music business” but I guess they were, in essence. We had to book them, we fliered a bit, and we got paid for one of them- probably more than my band usually gets paid now, in fact.

The first show (with Catalyst- a Christian rap-rock band but not rap-rock like Kid Rock, just rap and rock) was as part of a talent show taking place in the basement of a methodist church in Boring, MD. Yeah. We brought a small AIWA stereo as our PA, a tiny Casio Keyboard, and a few Radio Shack Mics. If I’m not mistaken, we were sandwiched between ballerina girls and a magic show; we played to a packed room of toddlers, their parents and their grandparents, all of whom we didn’t know.

The second show was for a church youth group in a field behind the church. We brought two enormous, ancient mixing consoles and ran extension cords like 50 feet out from the church. There was some kind of problem grounding everything (we kept shocking the shit out of ourselves) and then an electrical storm moved in. All very rock and roll.

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized that you wanted music was going to become more than just a hobby?

SH: It always was. Hobbies don’t make you cry or get you laid. Well, music’s definitely made me cry at least.

PEV: Who have you not collaborated with so far that you would like to?

SH: Hmm. In Baltimore, I’ve always wanted to collaborate in some fashion with a guy named Adam Fisher from the band Good Guise. He’s “out there” in the best kind of way. Fantasy-wise, Emmylou Harris or Neko Case singing backup on a song would be real nice.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

SH: I mean NYC is great if you’re resourceful and strong-minded enough to hang. Nashville’s great if you’re going the country route. But I haven’t spent enough time in enough places to say with any certainty.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you? Good parts? Bad parts?

SH: We’re all workings stiffs so we’ve done the weekend tours- they’re fun though a bit hectic, and definitely not the actual “tour experience.” We’ve done NYC a few times, North Carolina, Philly, Pittsburgh. We did do a 5 show stint recently in California that was more like the real deal- constant travel, crashing on random floors- it was pretty great but sort of a tease- we all knew we were coming back to the grind, all-too-soon. I’m in the process of freeing myself of the things that make that kind of lifestyle impossible- mortgages, debts, etc. I’m getting closer every day, I’d like to think.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends performance?

SH: I’m really proud of the quality of our set. We’ve figured out which songs really work live- that’s to say we’ve learned to play to our strengths as it were, as well we should have after 2 years. It’s a dynamic- alternately sparse and lush- set that I think really caters to fans of smart, structured indie/ folky pop tunes.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist out right now that you think we should all be looking into?

SH: The Felice Brothers were my latest find but I’m honestly always a step behind. Wasn’t supposed to rhyme. Don’t drop a dime.

PEV: What can fans expect from the band’s sophomore album, “Twist and Hold Til’ Morning”?

SH: It’s very eclectic, for sure. There’s some swelling, orchestral moments, and then some stripped-down, bare-bones folkiness. It ranges from flamboyantly rock-operaesque to subtle- almost conversational. There’s shredding and then there’s pickin’. Some of it’s narrative, some poetic, some just plain nonsense; but I think- well, at least to me- it still feels cohesive, like an album. I’m pretty biased though.

PEV: How has your work on this album differ from your previous works?

SH: Our first album was definitely less collaborative. And this one took longer than anything else I’ve ever been involved with- over a year- but that had mostly to do with some strange misunderstandings with regard to who’d mix it and other boring stuff.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Steve Hefter?

SH: I scored 45 points in a basketball game in high school (doesn’t matter that it was JV). I like to make that known whenever possible.

PEV: When you sit down to write, what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

SH: Varies. I like to write or come up with ideas in the car a lot. I’ll record them on my phone- I’ve even left them on friends’ voicemails in a pinch. I also like to pace around my house or on my porch- I’m sure I look like a nut to my neighbors, singing to myself with a blanket draped around me. I guess I feel more inspired- or I can stay in that inspired moment more easily- while I’m sorta on the move.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your musical career?

SH: For the most part, they’ve all always been incredibly supportive. In high school, I definitely hit a point where I couldn’t relate to the guys I grew up with anymore, and there was an awkward transitional period. They became kind of antagonistic and made fun a little- they definitely weren’t supportive- but I was beginning to hang out, almost exclusively, with people I played music with anyway. I’m sure a lot of people who’ve become passionate about any number of things go through similar experiences. In hindsight, none of it was malicious- they’ve popped back up in the past few years on myspace or facebook, and had real nice things to say.

My family has always been incredibly supportive.

PEV: When you are not touring or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

SH: Right now I’m catching up on The Office pretty obsessively.

PEV: Before a show, are there any pre-show rituals you do or is just go out there and perform?

SH: If a few people show up that I don’t want to see, I get real anxious, act weird, and make people uncomfortable.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

SH: A long time ago, my old band- Sons of Buford- had a show in Dundalk somewhere. I should mention the stage area in this establishment was separated from the bar proper, but the bar patrons could definitely hear whatever we were doing, loud and clear. I was blathering between songs about gay bikers when the sound guy shut the the volume down, walked to the stage, and informed me it was a biker bar.

PEV: In one word, describe Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends.

SH: Sporting.

PEV: So, what is next for Steve Hefter and Friends of Friends?

SH: We’re on a stellar bill May 30th with Caleb Stine and the Brakemen and a great band from California, Reed KD and the Armchair Aviators, at The Golden West in Hampden. We played with Reed while we were out in California and he’s a can’t-miss talent.

For more information on Steve Hefter, check out www.myspace.com/hefterandfriends

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Today’s Feature – May 27-28: Angel Band

May 28, 2008 at 10:03 pm (Today's Feature)

From their style, to their title, to their harmonies, Angel Band is hard to ignore or pass over. They’re obviously not your everyday group of artists – an all female trio of lead singers that jump harmonies effortlessly with an all-star cast backing them up with instruments from the guitar and the bass to the dobro, mandolin and fiddle. Specifically, your angels are Nancy Josephson, Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber, and their backup band (known as “Chum”) includes David Bromberg, Bobby Tangrea, Bob Taylor, Jeff Wisor and Nate Grower.

Starting out by covering some of the best folk artists in the business, the Angel Band is now busy writing their own material, slaying audiences with talent across the board, “whether it’s the crazy tight three part harmony, the killer backup playing, the stories, the passion or the compassion, it gets your attention.” Certainly, it’s easy to think that it’s tough for three lead vocalists to get along, but with the entire trio coming from a background that includes “American acoustic music from folk, country, bluegrass and Appalachian music to blues and gospel,” their performances have been seamless.

The newest album is titled “With Roots & Wings,” with songs that are “mostly self-penned, weaving vivid images, powerful lyrics, musical integrity and ‘chops’ to write home about.” Making the work even more exceptional is the contribution from producer Lloyd Maines, pulling together all the best aspects of the Angel Band. Check out the collection – it’s truly a piece of sincere work. And get out to a show; these women are out to have a good time. Jump into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Angel Band

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Tell us how Angel Band first came together? Was an instant connection or did it take a while for the band to really form?

Nancy of Angel Band: Angel Band first started about 3 years ago. David (Bromberg…our guitar player) started having jam sessions on Tuesday nights at a local cafe. People came out of the woodwork..really, really good musicians. David kept telling me about this family musicians who showed up regularly. The mom and daughter sang harmony and the dad and son played guitar and mandolin. After bugging me about it for weeks I finally went down to the jam. These women could sing! I added a high harmony. That was it! Bob Taylor, our bass player, was also an original member based out of the jam sessions.

The family moved on after about a year or so. Bobby Tangrea showed up at one of the jams and took the position of mandolin/guitar and fiddle player. Jen followed, then a series of other singers. Finally, about a year and a half ago we found Kathleen.

PEV: How have your abilities or style as musicians changed since your earlier days of playing music?

Nancy: We’re now writing all of our own material. We started by doing covers of either contemporary folk writers (like Gillian Welch) or traditional stuff.

PEV: Growing up in, what kind of music were you listening to?

Nancy: We all listened to whatever was on the radio as well as a wider array of really good music. We all have a background in American acoustic music from folk, country, bluegrass and Appalachian music to blues and gospel.

PEV: Tell us about the earlier days in the music business for the band? Before you were playing regularly and able to put out album after album.

Nancy: Album after album? We’re hoping and wishing and dreaming and…(to paraphrase Dusty Springfield).

We’ve been fortunate to be tied to David musically. We’ve had opportunities to be playing in front of his crazy audience which means playing in front of perhaps thousands rather than hundreds…or even tens!

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized that music was going to become more than just a hobby?

Nancy: I think when the first incarnation of the band morphed into the second it required a conscious decision about if and then how to go forward.

PEV: Having worked with several top artists, who have you not collaborated with so far that you would like to?

Nancy: We’d love to work more with The Subdudes. I’m also really intrigued by Bruce Hornsby’s music. Emmylou would be someone fun to work with…I guess we just love playing and we’d be happy to play with anyone who also loved playing.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

Nancy: Hard to say…when we travel it’s so we can play. Going out to see others only happens when we’re home. Thankfully Philly has a really cool music scene.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for the band? Good parts? Bad parts? Any favorite spots to hit on the road?

Nancy: Oddly enough this band doesn’t have the drama that many other bands experience. Us girls like to get to a town and walk around. The boys mostly hang, get ready for the gig. Sometimes I’ll write with either Bobby or Bobby and Marc (our sound man). We’ll get to soundcheck, rehearse, have some dinner and go to work.

So far there hasn’t been a place we haven’t liked!

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Angel Band performance?

Nancy: Fun, musical integrity and…more fun.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist out right now that you think we should all be looking into?

Nancy: David and I have been listening to Old School Freight Train a lot. Great playing and singing. Ollabelle is another band fav.

PEV: What can fans expect from your sophomore release, “With Roots & Wings”?

Nancy: All the songs (except Angel of the Morning) are originals. Lloyd Maines’ production work is extraordinary. He took the best parts of the band and put ’em on this CD.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of Angel Band?

Nancy: We’re pretty normal. Kinda just like anyone else.

PEV: When you sit down to write, what kind of environment do you surround yourselves in?

I have to have complete silence when I write. I usually am writing 2 or 3 songs at a time. I have them all on my computer and I go from one to another just throwing out lines or words that fit.

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio right now, what would we find?

Nancy: The exact same crap hanging around from the last practice.

PEV: When you are not touring or performing, what can we find the band doing in their spare time?

Nancy: Kathleen has a landscaping business. Jen works with her Dad…they own some apartments. I do the band stuff and also am a visual artist. David has a violin shop. Bobby works at a computer company. Bob has a woodworking company. Nate just plays the hell out of the fiddle.

PEV: Before a show, are there any pre-show rituals you do or is just go out there and perform?

Nancy: We “tune” our voices. The band tunes up and off we go.

PEV: There are not many all-female trios. Do you find that maybe you have something to prove to the music business, that artists like yourselves can be successful with your current formula?

Nancy: We’re not terribly interested in proving anything. We’re interested in making good, true music. What shakes out is what’ll shake out.

PEV: In one word, describe Angel Band.

Nancy: Beautiful.

PEV: So, what is next for Angel Band?

Nancy: First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

For more information on Angel Band, check out cdbaby.com/cd/angelband

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Today’s Feature – May 25-26: Phantasm

May 26, 2008 at 4:06 pm (Today's Feature)

From day one back in 2003, Phantasm has been locked in, ready for business and prepared to conquer. Their first show, a Battle of the Bands, saw them pull the crowd in with a “funk jam that transitioned into their rendition of Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja by The Lost Prophets,” and they never let go. They tied for first place, earning the right to come right back and open for established alternative act Fastball… and they’d hardly been together for two months.

The music that the Phantasm trio creates has no boundaries; it goes where it wants, when it wants. In a day when overproduced albums can repeat the same formula in every tune, these New Yorkers are attacking from all angles, all of the time. Their “loud rock mayhem and tight rhythms with cleverly executed outbursts of controlled chaos” can be heard in several renditions on their latest album, “Clever Cunning Actor.” A truly exuberant example of “free your mind” sounds and textures, the collection contains multiple “big rock riffs, funk, Middle Eastern rhythms, turntables, and hand percussion.”

Certainly, all of this sounds like a lot to take in. And it is. Their record and live shows are intense. They get into it to say the least, with “a definite element of unpredictability, mostly from Steven… (as well as) 360 jumps by Aaron. They’ve even got their YouTube section to house the madness: youtube.com/phantasmvideos. While the band continues to tirelessly play, they’re also pulling together a new record; a collection that they claim will far exceed their previous work. Keep an eye out for some demos in the near future, and get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Phantasm

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How did the band first come together and begin to play as Phantasm?

Jay: Aaron, Steven and I have been making music together since 2003. We have had a few guys come and go but we have always been the core writing members. Less than a year ago we decided to continue the Phantasm name as a three piece.

PEV: Tell us about the first ever live Phantasm show?

~Date: February 5th, 2003. Venue: Jamestown Community College. Student Union. Battle of the Bands. Location: Jamestown, NY. Time: Noon.

At this point we had only been together for about 2 months.

We opened the show with a funk jam that transitioned into our rendition of Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja by The Lost Prophets. The show consisted of our first set of originals: Pressure and TLC (later renamed The Sunshine State) and some covers of bands that influenced us: Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Underachiever’s Social Club. I believe there was also a medley consisting of Billie Jean, The Rocky Theme and a poorly executed drum solo.

Battle of the bands outcome: Phantasm ties for first with a group of prog rock prodigy’s that called themselves Intuit. Both bands got to open for Fastball at JCC’s Spring Concert the following May.

PEV: Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, what kind of music were you listening to growing up?

Jay: We actually moved to Philadelphia in November of 2007. We all grew up in Western New York State, near Jamestown…

Aaron: Queen, Beach Boys, Korn, Ace of Bass, Bluegrass through his father, Classical music through playing piano and violin.

Steven: The Carpenters, ELO, then he discovered Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix.

Jay: Michael Jackson, Elvis, then Queen mostly hip-hop after that (Busta Rhymes, Redman, Notorious BIG) I got into rock a little later.

PEV: What were those earlier days like for the band? When you were just starting out playing gigs together?

Jay: We thought we were awesome (we weren’t). I dare to say we were even cocky about it. That didn’t last too long though.

We practiced together a lot which helped us to improve as musicians. We did our best to get shows. We played every chance we could. We got screwed over a lot, but the more experience we had the better everything got.

Everything was new and exciting and we always had so much fun traveling and playing shows.

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized that music was going to become more than just a hobby?

Jay: Music has always been more than just a hobby for us. Flossing is a hobby, music is a way of life.

PEV: Who have you not collaborated with so far that you would like to?

Steven: I would like to duet with Ella Fitzgerald or with Mike Patton.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

Jay: We spent about two years touring throughout the north eastern US. Philly always showed a lot of promise. So when we decided to relocate from Western New York to a major market, it was our first choice. After living here for about five months, I still believe this to be true. It seems like a big city with a small town mentality. We haven’t really run into any big egos since we’ve been here.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you? Good parts? Bad parts?

Jay: The Good: Getting to travel around in a van with my best friends and play music every day. Adventure and meeting new people. Seeing places that we would never have seen otherwise.

The Bad: Gas prices. Difficulties locating a shower.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Phantasm performance?

Jay: Three guys playing their asses off. A definite element of unpredictability, mostly from Steven (if he can get his hands on a table width=’100%’ width=’100%’ width=’100%’ saw or giant Canadian Flag). 360 jumps by Aaron.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist out right now that you think we should all be looking into?

Jay: Check out Hierosonic, Grind City and Emok.

PEV: What can fans expect from your latest CD, “Clever Cunning Actor”?

Jay: This record has a lot of sonic textures and genre fusion. Big rock riffs, funk, Middle Eastern rhythms, turntables, and hand percussion.

PEV: How has your work on this album differ from your previous works?

Jay: A lot more together, more focused. The album has a flow to it. One song flows right into the next. Much more time was spent on it.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of Phantasm?

Jay: The number “76” appears as the center two digits of all our social security numbers.

PEV: When you sit down to write, what kind of environment do you surround yourselves in?

Jay: We definitely keep a positive vibe. We set up in a triangle all facing each other. We keep a giant white board for writing down ideas/notes. In the past we have experimented in practicing in different places like a old country home that was being remodeled in the woods, or with only one colored light bulb on in a dark room. Just to try and capture a certain feel or ideal.

PEV: When you are not touring or performing, what can we find the members of Phantasm doing in their spare time?

Jay: Watching episodes of either “House,” “Arrested Development,” or “Futurama” on DVD. Playing Supernintendo. Learning about the occult, and conspiracy theory from a podcast called “Out There Radio”, reading various books on middle eastern philosophy and fringe sciences. Aaron enjoys juggling in his spare time. Steven is an avid cyclist.

PEV: Before a show, are there any pre-show rituals you do or is just go out there and perform?

Jay: We used to listen to Prodigy before shows but we haven’t done that in a while. Steven drinks a lot of water and does breathing exercises.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

Jay: I personally have fallen off the stage at least twice immediately after ending a show. Aaron has hit Steven in the head with his bass more times than I can recall, and more times than he can recall due to the severity of the impact.

PEV: In one word, describe Phantasm.

Jay: Dangerous.

PEV: So, what is next for Phantasm?

Jay: We’re writing an album. These are the best songs we have ever created. Look for some demos online within the next few months and a release shortly thereafter.

For more information on the Phantasm, check out www.EnterThePhantasm.com or on MySpace. You can see some live performances at YouTube.

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Today’s Feature May 23-24: Michael James

May 24, 2008 at 7:44 pm (Today's Feature)

You may remember Michael James from our PensEyeView feature with his band, Fiance`, a band with immense talent and a cast of gifted songwriters and musicians. And even though the Denver-based foursome is in constant demand, James makes time to attend to his own creative devices in his solo act – partly because he is constantly writing music and in part to make sure his mind is never working in just one direction, “I like that I can switch back and forth between the two. It helps to keep me on my game and sharp.”

James is one of those guys whose mind is in constant creative mode. Even at the age of 10, he knew he had to pursue music. Suddenly freezing up while watching the videos that MTV once played, he thought “I have to do that. What am I going to do if I don’t do that?”

Since then, he’s been impressing more and more audiences with his “unique imagery and universal narratives,” honored as a showcasing artist at D-fest, The Hyperactive Music Festival, The Millennium Music Conference and NXNE in Toronto. Now he’s taken some time off to create his latest 5-song EP, “To Raise an Army for Love.” To start, the collection has some all-star backing including Grammy winning producer John Seymour (U2, Dave Mathews Band) and audio master Dom Maita (Plain White T’s, Fall Out Boy). The record carries the kind of material that grabs your full attention, using “hook-driven melodies, a slice-of-life story telling, and atmospheric guitars.”

A Michael James performance is generally “comprised of versions of his songs suited for a single guitar.” It’s not like going to a show just to hear exactly what you were listening to in your car on the way there. It’s personal, a different take on the same song every night. While you catch some shows from James in support of the new EP, you better hurry. He’s a self-titled serial record maker, so you know he’ll be back in the studio before you know it. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Michael James

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Looking back do you remember when you made the conscious decision to become a musician and singer?

Michael James (MJ): I don’t know if it is normal for most musicians and singers, but I remember the exact day I decided music was going to be my life. It was before I owned my first electric guitar and before I had even written my first song. As I recall, I was probably 9 or 10 years old. I had just spent several hours watching videos on MTV (yes, back when they still played videos) and I distinctly remember turning off the television and having this incredible wave of emotion come over my body. It was like I was all of a sudden missing something. It literally almost brought me to my knees. I remember as I stood in the silence of this room, I was talking to myself saying, “I have to do that. What am I going to do if I don’t do that?” The ‘that’ I was referring to was being one of the people I had just spent the last several hours watching on MTV. Being someone who wrote and performed music for a living. The feeling I had was clear as day. There was no question in my mind what it meant and what I was supposed to do with my life. I guess you can say since then my life has been devoted to fulfilling the void that was created that day.

PEV: What were your first years in the music business like? When you were first starting out?

MJ: Truthfully, it’s hard to even say what my first years were…since I’ve been doing it in some fashion for so long now. My career, even in the beginning, has always gone if phases. In other words, when I first started playing shows and working toward a career in music, life was exciting. Sure there were shitty shows in shittier clubs and bars. But, I thought I couldn’t be stopped and success was right around the corner. Then as time went on, I was forced to really develop my work ethic and lean on my passion for music to get me through hard times. I had to go through the growing pains of finding out what kind of artist I was going to be and refine myself as an artist. The reality (at least for me) was that success did not come fast or easy. It took an amazing amount of work…and I am still working to get where I want to be. The difficulty of breaking into the music industry really hardened me, not to mention discouraged me from even trying at times. However, through those tough times, I inevitably built up a really thick skin and learned to take everything (both good and bad) in stride to some degree. I’m to the point now where when I look back at that foolish teenager, I just have to smile. I wouldn’t be here without him, but damn I’m glad I don’t have to go through that again.

PEV: Hailing from Denver, what kind of music were you listening to? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

MJ: To some degree, I am a product of the 80’s and 90’s. The first band I was ever really into was the Beach Boys. I used to mow the lawn and sing ‘Barbara Ann’ at the top of my lungs. But I also listened to everything from Tears for Fears to The Police to Metallica. I had a phase when I was really into hair metal…when that stuff was huge in the late 80’s. Actually, my first concert was the 80’s hair metal bands Poison and Warrant. I was blown away by the spectacle of the whole thing…I remember I could barely walk while I tried to find my seat. It was sensory overload. Granted, I was in 8th grade, but still.

In high school I moved on to bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains. The ‘Seattle’ era of music defined my high school years. Since then, my tastes have only broadened. You might find me listening to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ one day and Arcade Fire’s ‘Neon Bible’ the next.

PEV: Tell us about your first time ever on stage.

MJ: The very first time I ever performed a concert was with the school band. I played the saxophone and I was probably in 3rd grade. I was an absolute wreck right before we started playing…nervous, sick to my stomach, hands shaking, cold sweats, the whole deal. I remember our conductor stepping up to the front of the band and counting us off. For literally the first minute of the song, I couldn’t play a single note. As I recall I was just laughing-you know that really nervous, petrified kind of laugh. I completely lost it. Good thing I was not first-chair, because I would have been promptly demoted. The good news is, I have never been that nervous on stage since then.

PEV: What is a live Michael James performance like?

MJ: Rarely is one of my performances the same from one time to the next. Call me a perfectionist or just easily bored, but I tend to change things up from one show to another (quite drastically sometimes)…even to a fault at times. Thus far in my career, I have yet to play a show (with my solo material) with a full backing band. I have had other musicians sit in with me…but never a full band. So, my shows tend to be comprised of versions of my songs suited for a single guitar. Sometimes, I will mellow them out and do an acoustic version. Other times I will pick up an electric guitar and do a very atmospheric version. However, I don’t usually do the same version that is on the albums. I’ve always thought that the albums are kind of their own thing…and rather than trying to sound like the album version-with only one guitar mind you-I am more inclined to break out from that mold and try something off the wall a bit.

PEV: Having a huge fan base in the college circuit and getting air play on many indie rock stations early on, is there one college that sticks out as the best for you to play?

MJ: I played a school in Delaware, Ohio called Ohio Wesleyan University. It was one of the coolest shows I’ve done in terms of the audience. Colleges, just like clubs, can be hit or miss. You can’t avoid playing to empty rooms on occasion or running into audiences who will talk through your shows. It’s part of the job sometimes. But once in a while, you get an audience who completely surprises you by their attentiveness and how engaged they are. When I played at OWU, you could have heard a pin drop in that room (which can be rare…especially for a solo singer/songwriter’s show). The kids were right there with me the whole 75 minutes I played…hanging on every word. It was an amazing feeling to play for an audience that gave me so much respect. After the show, there was nothing but kind words and admiration. It’s one of those experiences as a performer that you don’t soon forget.

PEV: With that, what can fans expect from your new EP, “To Raise an Army for Love”?

MJ: I think the new EP has a lot of depth packed into a short five songs. While I really focused on making sure the songs felt like they were part of a single collection (and not just thrown together), I feel like each one has a different story to tell, both lyrically and musically. I think it verging on bizarre that a song like “So Long” could be on the same disc as “Stethoscope.” But I think it works. Like I said, I think there is a lot of depth in these songs…and I think it could take listeners several times through it to really wrap their heads around the material. Nevertheless, I feel like the songs make sense together and tell one story together…and that’s what I was aiming for from the start.

PEV: How is “To Raise an Army for Love” different than others out today? As well as different from your previous album, “Everything We Used to Be”?

MJ: I really tried to find a deeper emotional core on this album than with the last one. With ‘Everything We Used to Be,’ I had an overall theme and story in mind, but to some degree, since it was released relatively early on in my solo career, it was more of a collection of songs that were made to fit into a story. With ‘To Raise an Army for Love,’ I think not only is the songwriting stronger, but also the stories are stronger. In my mind, the stronger the story, the more it can connect with an emotional foundation in the listener. In addition, I think these songs mean more to me…they are more personal, and I hope that translates to the listener.

I also had the good fortune of working with producer John Seymour on this EP. John has worked with huge international artists like U2 and Dave Matthews Band, so I felt like he had a broad range of musical experience to share with me during the process. Again, this EP is different from the last albums because John was around. It gave me the chance to bounce ideas off of him-whereas, with the previous CDs, I was my own producer. Being your own producer has its advantages, but I’ve always subscribed to the “two heads are better than one” theory. John and I really worked well together and I think he pushed me in some ways that I may not have gone alone…and I love that fact. At the end of the day, I think the new EP by far outshines my older work.

PEV: Having done a solo career as well as group dynamic (with Fiance`), do you find one more challenging than the other?

MJ: They are both challenging in their own right. Being in a band, you are forced to deal with (in the case of Fiance`) four different opinions. Everyone has the best interest of the songs or the band in mind, but you have to work together and compromise to find common ground so everyone is happy. Even still, sometimes everyone can’t be happy. I think therein lies both the good and bad of being in a band. What make a good band is their ability to seemingly take 4 or 5 different opinions, combine them to find common ground, and in turn come up with something that is greater than anything any of them could have done alone. Sometimes that process just works, other times it doesn’t-which is why we have amazing bands and shitty ones.

I find the challenge exactly the same, yet completely opposite with my solo project. Yeah it is great to always get my way…and to be able to do whatever I want musically. However, sometimes you need the ideas of other people to keep from getting sterile or falling into old habits of repeating yourself. The good thing about a band is you have 3 or 4 other guys to challenge you to be better. With my solo project, I have to challenge myself to be better. Sometimes that can work, but sometimes it doesn’t. In other words, you can be great at a particular sport…but if you have a coach or teammates helping you to get better, you tend to do so quicker than if left to your own devices.

So each is challenging, and I like that I can switch back and forth between the two. It helps to keep me on my game and sharp.

PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourself in when you sit down to write music?

MJ: In general, I like to write in the morning or late at night. If I sit down to write a song at 3:00pm, I find my head is usually not in the right place…not always, but sometimes. I have never needed to ‘set the mood’ with candles and sexy lighting like I was trying to get laid. I just need a guitar and a spark of inspiration or a story to tell. I do find though, that the more I write, the more comes out. I kind of have to get the ball rolling again after time away from songwriting, but once I do, they come naturally.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your success?

MJ: They are all very proud of me. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a lot of people be extremely supportive of my career and my goals. Sure, I’ve had the doubters in my life. I don’t think any kid who says to his or her friends and family, “I’m going to be a rock star” gets an overwhelmingly supportive reaction from the start. But, I can safely say that at the very least, they cannot question my drive or my passion at this point.

PEV: Having traveled everywhere, what city do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

MJ: It is hard to say that anyone city has the best appreciation for music. In my opinion, it depends more on the people at any given show. I’ve done shows in the middle of nowhere at a small college where there is no local music scene to be found anywhere…yet the people at the shows are among the most respectful and best audiences I’ve performed for. On the same dime, people in NYC love music. They go out to certain clubs knowing nothing of who is playing that night, just because they love music and being inspired by new artists. My point is, you can’t necessarily say one city is better than another…really there are music fans everywhere. I just hope I am lucky enough to play for them and have them be my fans as well.

PEV: What is life on the road like for you? Best and worst parts?

MJ: I love to travel. I love seeing new placing and meeting new people and learning about life outside of where I grew up and my little comfort zone. I guess my love for travel makes life on the road that much more enjoyable. Being able to play music every night, and see the country is really a dream job for me. One of the craziest parts of the road is that you tend to just lose track of time. The days begin to just all seem the like the same day over and over again. You drive a bit, you load unload gear, you soundcheck, you perform, you meet fans, and you load up and start all over again. The only change is where you sleep…and even that seems to all be the same after a while. I like to call it ‘getting into the zone.’ That is really what it feels like, even after only a couple days.

Obviously, the worst parts are that after a while you miss your family, you miss the creature comforts of home: your own bed, your own shower, a whole drawer or closet full of clothes as opposed to 3 t-shirts stuffed into a suitcase that are supposed to last for 3 weeks. But, in the end I wouldn’t trade it for a desk job and my own bed every night in a million years.

PEV: In one word, describe Michael James.

MJ: Tall-as-hell. (It’s one word if I use hyphens, right?)

PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?

MJ: There is a band out of Seattle that has been in heavy rotation on my ipod as of late. They are called Barcelona. They have some really powerful songwriting and arrangements in that band. You should definitely check them out.

PEV: With a long list of names you’ve worked with, is there someone you have not had the chance to work with or collaborate with, that you would like to?

One day I would love to work with Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois. They are two of the most talented producers in the world in my eyes and they have worked on some of the most timeless albums of all time. To have the chance to sit down with one of those two guys, and dissect one of my songs only to rebuild it again into something completely different…that would be indescribable.

PEV: When the band is not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

MJ: I am a big eater…I love a good meal. Any chance I get to hang out with friends over a good meal, I will take it. That is one part of daily life that suffers on the road…food choice. So when I am home, I try to eat like a king! I also enjoy staying active. Being a singer, my body is my instrument…so I have to keep the thing in shape! I love a good round of golf…though I have less talent for golf in my entire 6’6″ frame than Tiger has in his ring finger. I also am a big movie buff. I am always waiting to be inspired by a great movie.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about you?

MJ: In another life, I went to college for mechanical engineering. I was horrible at math in high school…kind of scrapped by on C’s. When it came time to choose a major in college, I chose engineering…the most mathematically oriented major there is (aside from a mathematics major itself).

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio what would we find?

MJ: You would find a bunch of guitars sitting around collecting dust. I love guitars…all kinds of guitars. But I tend to be monogamous when it comes to actually playing them. I will find one that suits my fancy and play it exclusively for months. I think I might have a problem…or maybe I just need more variety.

PEV: So, what is next for Michael James?

MJ: I am constantly trying to one up myself. I am always trying to write songs that make my older stuff look like rubbish. I like that perspective, but it is never-Hoending. So, in the midst of releasing this new EP and playing shows to support it, I am already thinking ahead. I can’t wait to do the next one…I am a serial record maker.

For more information on Michael James, check out www.MichaelJamesMusic.com

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Today’s Feature – May 21-22: Val Emmich

May 22, 2008 at 9:21 pm (Today's Feature)

As you might have guessed, I’ve interviewed Val Emmich (he is today’s feature after all)… but I don’t really know Val Emmich. But, I think we’d get along. We seem to suffer with the same condition: attention deficit disorder, or my favorite three letters, ADD. You may call it a disease, but I call it a blessing. Val says “I’m an extremely restless, highly neurotic person who just wants to be productive… If I’m going to be here I might as well accomplish something while I’m breathing.” And boy is he ever producing. He’s making albums, acting on your TV screen and writing friggin’ novels. Sounds like a productive case of ADD if I ever heard of one.

In all seriousness, Emmich is an unreal talent. His music pulls you off your bar stool, through a violently swinging double door chest first, hands in the air. It breathes pure radiance, music that can jump from a low piano key strike to a screaming guitar retrospective. Throw in some lyrics that perfectly balance the liabilities with the credits and its pure majesty. And this style is all Emmich, “The more albums I do, the less I try too hard to do one thing or another. I try to just let each song take me wherever it wants to go… I don’t have a defined sound and I used to think you needed one… Once I got that out of my head, I think my sound got more honest.” And it’s working out perfectly. So well he’s toured with the likes of Dashboard Confessional, Butch Walker, Gavin Degraw, The Honorary Title and Better than Ezra.

The new record is called, “Little Daggers,” a pop collection that strays from the other five albums Val holds to his credit – “So many of my albums are downers. Really emotional and dramatic. I wanted to make an album that was actually fun to listen to but I also wanted it to say something.” Emmich realizes it doesn’t need to make you cry in order to mean something to you. He’s simply taking bits of life and spinning it on its side, showcasing a whole new angle.

Check out a Val Emmich show for a taste of his passion behind the melodies. And don’t expect him to stay dry – he gets into it. You can also see him on the small screen, with appearances on programs such as 30 Rock and Cashmere Mafia under his belt. And keep an eye out for the novel. If it’s half as strong as his musical penmanship, it’ll be a best-seller. Jump into the XXQ’s to learn more.

PensEyeView.com (PEV): The New York Times said you are “A rocker who rocks to his own beat”. Looking back to your first day in the music business, how has the sound of Val Emmich evolved over time?

Val Emmich (VE): I hope my sound is getting closer and closer to really sounding like me. The more albums I do, the less I try too hard to do one thing or another. I try to just let each song take me wherever it wants to go. In that way, I feel less restricted than I did when I first started out. I had a more narrow idea of what my sound could be. Now it can be anything. This answer might sound vague but that’s the point. I don’t have a defined sound and I used to think you needed one. The “business” side begs an artist to have an easily definable sound i.e. punk, emo, blah blah. Once I got that out of my head, I think my sound got more honest.

PEV: Tell us about the earlier days. Was there ever any doubt that you would be where you are today and going in the right direction?

VE: There was doubt everyday and there still is. I think that feeds the music and who I am. I will always be concerned. I take it all very seriously. A few key people in my life just drilled it into my head that I could succeed as an artist. They made me believe that what I was saying was worthy of being heard. I owe them dearly. I had people letting me live in their house, giving me a place to rehearse, and in some cases just listening to my art with open ears and honest tongues.

PEV: What kind of music were you listening to growing up? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

VE: My first concert was insanely MC Hammer. Opening up was Vanilla Ice. I am not being facetious or ironic. Hammer’s pants were in full effect. As a young kid it was all Top 40. Junior high I got into hip hop. EPMD, Naughty by Nature, 2 Pac. Then high school was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead. That was my first introduction into rock and it was via that whole alternative rock craze. Those are the bands that made me pick up a guitar. Then college and drugs opened my ears to more sophisticated and challenging stuff.

PEV: You are also a very busy actor as well. With recent appearances on 30 Rock and Cashmere Mafia alongside Tina Fey and Lucy Liu. How do you balance the acting and music career? As well, is acting something you wish to continue pursuing?

VE: Early on, acting was merely a curiosity that provided me with some money. In college, while my buddies were waiting tables, I was taking the train into the city to do acting gigs. I was in commercials and a few tv shows. I was living off of it. It’s an odd way to be introduced into that art. Only in the last few years did I start to take it a little more seriously. I’ve always been a movie buff but love for the craft of acting came only recently. I’m still really a novice. I have a lot to learn.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a profession rather than just a hobby?

VE: When I signed my first record deal with Sony in 2003 I realized it was my profession. It took me a few months to believe it. Once it sank in it was really liberating. Still, I keep having this fear in the back of my head that it’s going to be taken away from me. I feel guilty filling out tax stuff or whatever and filling in Musician under the occupation slot. Feels weird. But that’s what I am. Maybe that’s because I always thought I’d be doing something else. Maybe a professor or something. I wanted to be a musician but didn’t think it was actually possible.

PEV: What is a live Val Emmich performance like?

VE: Completely unpredictable, depending on my mood. I wish it wasn’t that way but I can’t help it. It’s often on the verge of flying off the rails. Always passionate and always sweaty.

PEV: Tell us about your soon to be released album, “Little Daggers”.

VE: It’s a pop record. I wanted to make a tight, efficient pop album. I love really good, quality pop music. Anything by The Beatles. Early Weezer stuff. It’s not all I love but it’s one of the things I love. So many of my albums are downers. Really emotional and dramatic. I wanted to make an album that was actually fun to listen to but I also wanted it to say something. So often the word “pop” is a dirty word in music. I think that’s because you think of what you hear on the radio which is often dumbed down to it’s lowest common denominator. But pop is really just a sound that is immediate and catchy. That doesn’t mean it has to be dumb and superficial and shallow. John Lennon wrote very sophisticated pop songs with powerful messages. So did Marvin Gaye. And Burt Bacharach. You can call it rock or R&B or soul or whatever. Over time it’s all become pop to me. Just classic, timeless, and catchy songs.

PEV: How is it different from your previous, acoustic EP entitled “The Fifteen Minute Relationship”?

VE: That EP was my first solo release in 2001. It’s very different than that. That was my first stab at trusting my own vision in a musical project. Since then I’ve released a bunch of albums. This latest will be my sixth. The only thing “Little Daggers” has in common with that EP is the subject matter. Both are about love. How fun and exciting it can be and how difficult and trying it can be. The main constant is that it’s necessary. You can’t live without it. It also happens to be the most common subject for pop songs which is why I used it.

PEV: What happens when you hit that “creative brick wall” and feel like a song is just not coming out right? What is your method to cure that?

VE: I just leave it alone and come back to it later. Later can be a few hours later or a month later or years later. I never forget about an idea I had. I always remember it and I always go back. I don’t really try to write anymore when I don’t want to so I rarely experience a creative block. If I’m not feeling it, I just put it aside. It doesn’t bother me.

PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourself in when you sit down to write music?

VE: No. Whenever the mood strikes. The environment will disappear around me if I am inspired to write.

PEV: How have all your friends and family back home, reacted to your musical career?

VE: They are extremely supportive and super enthusiastic about it. They urge me to keep going when I feel like quitting. Without them I would be a mess.

PEV: What city (International or US) do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

VE: I can’t answer that. It’s hard to quantify the collective attitude of an entire city. It’s all about the individuals you meet. I guess Austin, TX would be an obvious answer because of South By Southwest. I don’t know beyond that.

PEV: What is life on the road like for you? Best and worst parts? Any favorite spots along the way?

VE: Best parts are playing to strangers who know your music. That feeling doesn’t get old. Worst part is often the food. Our country’s interstates are full of fast food junk. It’s hard to eat healthy while on tour.

PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?

VE: No. I’m kind of bored at the moment.

PEV: Having toured with Dashboard Confessional, Butch Walker, Gavin Degraw, The Honorary Title, Better Than Ezra and others, is there someone you have not had the chance to work with or collaborate with, that you would like to?

VE: So many people. I always get shy about saying who though.

PEV: When not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

VE: A lot of things. I recently completed my first novel. So writing would be one. Reading. Drinking coffee. Watching sports on tv. Playing video games. Watching bad tv. Watching good movies from Netflix. House chores. I can always find things to do around the house. I’m a home body.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Val Emmich?

Uh. Hmm. I own a huge movie theatre popcorn maker. Makes the authentic theatre kind. Is that surprising? I have no idea. I’m an extremely restless, highly neurotic person who just wants to be productive. My biggest fear is that I’m just sitting here filling up space. We’re over-populated as it is. If I’m going to be here I might as well accomplish something while I’m breathing.

PEV: If we were to walk into your studio what would we find?

VE: A computer, typewriter, posters, guitars, keyboards, microphones, percussion, toys, odds and ends. Scraps of paper everywhere. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

PEV: In one word, describe Val Emmich.

VE: Lucky.

PEV: So, what is next for Val Emmich?

VE: Dinner.

For more information on Val Emmich, check out www.ValEmmich.com

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Today’s Feature – May 19-20: The Band Of Heathens

May 20, 2008 at 10:49 pm (Today's Feature)

Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi, Gordy Quist, Seth Whitney and John Chipman always dreamed of playing music for the world, music that meant something to them completely, winning fans and awards along the way. While they all probably had some inkling that their individual and immense talent would some day lead to such things, they almost certainly had no idea that they would accomplish it with one another. After taking home the 2007 Austin Music Award for “Best New Band” at the start of last year’s SXSW Festival however, they realized they had tapped into something significant.

Each of the five artists that make up The Band of Heathens were playing in separate acts at one point, each with a different time slot every Wednesday night at the same club in Austin, Momo’s. Originally sitting in with one another’s band to shake things up, they called themselves the “Good Time Supper Club,” but that would soon change. More and more attention flowed their way and suddenly local newspapers were labeling them “The Heathens.” After recording “Live from Momo’s” together and playing shows for larger and larger audiences, the fella’s realized they had more than side project on their hands – they had “The Band of Heathens.”

Now they’re wrapping up their first studio album with pal Ray Wylie Hubbard, something that “sounds like an old record that Levon Helm, Ry Cooder and Lowell George buried in a time capsule in 1973.” The unique force behind the collection comes from the efforts of three different songwriters as opposed to one, leading to tunes that reflect styles from ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll to down home country rhythms. Much like the live records, this latest release carries over the same exciting atmosphere that every Heathens show embodies, now fine-tuned for your enjoyment.

While you can check out their DVD/CD live show, “Live at Antone’s,” you can actually sit front row at a gig today. You’ll witness first-hand how every member is “allowed to express themselves and explore their instrument, but is ever conscious of the sound as a whole.” You can also check out YouTube to see the band, as Barack Obama used footage from a rally that the Heathens played for a commercial during the Super Bowl. Check out it out, and then look for shows coming as the CD drops this week. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: The Band Of Heathens

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did the The Band Of Heathens first form?

Gordy Quist: The Band of Heathens was an accident that formed out of a loose residency gig in Austin back in late 2005. We were originally called the Good Time Supper Club but somehow the newspaper ended up listing us as the Heathens every week. We recorded a live show and released it as Live from Momo’s in 2006 and also released a live DVD, Live at Antone’s in 2007. The band is obviously rooted in touring and live shows, but we’re looking forward to putting out our first studio record this year.

PEV: Growing up who were you listening to? Do you remember the first concert you attended?

Ed Jurdi: Growing up my parents had a pretty eclectic record collection. Everything from Mozart to Wilson Pickett. Lots of ’70s singer/songwriters and great bands from that era like The Beatles, Stones, The Animals, Cream, CSNY. We always had lots of blues and soul music playing, Sly and The Family Stone, Sam and Dave, Aretha, stuff like that. The first concert I went to with my parents was probably some folk music, Judy Collins or Peter Paul and Mary; we used to go see a bunch of shows when I was a kid. The first show I went on my own with friends was Bon Jovi and Skid Row, it was in the middle of all of that terrible hair metal, I had the ripped acid washed jeans, and the bandana, I was a total mess, probably 12 or 13 years old at the time. Later that year I found Van Morrison’s Moondance and The Black Crowes Shake Your Moneymaker. Those records saved my life.

PEV: Tell us about the first time you stepped on stage, live as a band to perform. Did you think you’d be where you are now?

Colin Brooks: I think the first time I stepped onstage was when my Mom picked me up so I could reach the mic behind the pulpit at the Church of God (are there any other kind?) in Mio, Michigan. I sang, “I’ll be a cowboy, a Christian cowboy….” When the Heathens (before we were the “Heathens”) first stepped onstage we had no real idea what we were getting into. Nobody had any plans to be a band let alone the “Best New Band in Austin”!! It was readily apparent, however, that there was something special about how we all interacted together and it didn’t take long to become our main focus. We have, from the beginning, been very blessed to gain attention and lots of new fans everywhere we go.

PEV: What is the best part about performing live on stage as a band?

Seth Whitney: This band is very connected and comfortable performing live together. Everyone is allowed to express themselves and explore their instrument, but is ever conscious of the sound as a whole. Anyone who plays music knows what a rare thing that can be, and no one in the band takes it for granted. The best part for me is learning new things about a song within those moments of exploration.

PEV: Was there a certain moment in your life that you knew music was going to be a career for you?

John Chipman: I was fairly young – I knew I was going to college to major in music. I knew as a teen playing in bands that music was the only thing that made sense to me. I could have never envisioned the path it would take, however, and as I have grown a little older I have realized that the important thing about a music career really isn’t the reward at the end of the day, but rather waking up every morning knowing that you are still on the path… and if you are lucky, you stay on the path for the rest of your life.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live The Band Of Heathens performance?

Gordy Quist: A different show every time. Ups and downs. Ins and outs. Lots of rock ‘n’ roll with harmony. And sometimes Seth auctions off his beard from the stage for extra money.

PEV: Tell us about your upcoming work.

Ed Jurdi: I think we’re just in a place where we are making the music we want to. I don’t think anybody in this band is interested in fulfilling any quota or creating music to be identified with anything other than creating things that inspire us. That’s our goal, whether it be a country song or a blues song or rock and roll song. We’re really trying to create music that’s important to us, and hopefully it finds people out there on the wire that are searching for the same thing.

PEV: How is it different from other albums out today?

Colin Brooks: We have 3 egomaniacs in the band instead of just one…. Seriously though, our sound is forged from the fires of 3 individual Oracle/songwriters who each bring a unique vision to the altar but submit to the will of the gods. The rhythm section confers with the gods to see whose ego gets crushed today and who gets the golden chalice from which to drink the blood of the vanquished band member. This of course leads to a very unique product…

PEV: How is the new record different from your previous works? How have you grown from your earlier works to where you are now?

Seth Whitney: Well, first off, this next album is a studio album. Our first two efforts were live albums. The thing about this band is that we’re rooted in live performance, and every night is different. In the studio, we were able to really hone in on the things we liked about particular parts of songs, and fine-tune them. In those earlier albums, we were just playing what came naturally.

PEV: Having won many awards, most recently, The Band of Heathens won “Best New Band” in the 2006-2007 Austin Music Awards, to name a few (Note To Readers: The list of awards The Band Of Heathens have won is extremely long. I recommend looking at their site and be prepared to be impressed). How have all your friends and family reacted to your success?

John Chipman: Their support is fuel that you need to keep going when the train may get derailed from time to time. You invest so much time doing something that is important to you and when your family and friends are on board – it means the world. All of our families have been absolutely fantastic.

PEV: In all your traveling, which city, International or US, do you think offers the best appreciation for music? As well which has been your favorite to perform?

Gordy Quist: Hmm. Denver, Colorado, has been really good to us. So has Atlanta, GA, Houston, TX, New Braunfels, TX…. It’s hard to say. There are lots of great cities that support Americana music. Our hometown Austin, TX, might have to top the list for a city that offers the best appreciation for music though.

PEV: Who is in your CD player or on your iPod right now?

Ed Jurdi: Gary Louris – Vagabonds, Jeffrey Foucault – Ghost Repeater, The Black Crowes – Warpaint, Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson, Drew Smith – Drew Smith’s Lonely Choir, Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist you think we should all be looking into today?

Colin Brooks: We have so many great artist’s here in Austin and many of our friends around the world are so talented that its hard to name just one, so I’ll just name a few. Suzanna Choffel, Soulstress and dream weaver. Sam Baker, storyteller/shaman. Anais Mitchell, magically delicious. Nels Andrews, threadbare scarecrow.

PEV: On the day of a show are there any special rituals you have to do or superstitions you have for a good show?

Seth Whitney: The only ritual the entire band acknowledges as a whole is our use of Nag Champa incense on stage. Everyone in the band also has there own special rituals for shows. They list as follows:

Gordy – Wears the same pair of underwear every show. Unwashed. (This carries over from his days playing football at Dartmouth. Same underwear.)

Ed – Listens to the Karate Kid theme song while holding the Crane Kick pose.

Colin – Writes at least one passage for his upcoming manifesto, to be published sometime after the year 2012.

John – Pumps Iron.

Seth – Wears fishnet stockings under his pants. (Thus the nickname, “Fishnet Pimp”)

PEV: How has life on the road been for you? Best and worst parts?

John Chipman: The road is the best and worst of what we do. Winning over a totally new audience is like a victory of sorts. At the same time, when you go into a place and the crowd stares at you like a dog that has just been shown a card trick, it can be really deflating. Fortunately this band has had very few of the latter. Without a doubt for me the hardest thing has been being away from my wife and son. There is nothing that comes close except for maybe the strange odors that emanate from the van after a stretch of a week or so on the road.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of The Band Of Heathens?

Gordy Quist: We have daily readings of passages from Tommy Lee’s book, Tommyland: The Ride, while we’re on the road. It’s hysterical. Tommy is either barely breathing or a complete genius, we’re not sure which. The latest passage was a list of Tommy’s publicist’s rejection letters from other celebrities that refused to give a quote about Tommy for the book.

PEV: When you are not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your down time?

Ed Jurdi: Hanging out with my family, listening to music, writing, doing the things that everyone else does. We like to break out the grill and hang out with some friends and drink beer.

PEV: In one word, describe The Band Of Heathens.

Colin Brooks: Superkaliphragilisticexpealidotious…or more commonly known as “Supercallafragilisticexpyhaladocious.”

PEV: What has been the most memorable part of your career as The Band Of Heathens?

Seth Whitney: I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, the most memorable moments are when we’re playing live on stage and really locking in. The crowd is feeling it, and there’s a kind of electricity in the air that brings everyone together for a few moments. It’s why I started playing music in the first place.

PEV: What is next for The Band Of Heathens?

John Chipman: We have so many irons in the fire right now. We are really focusing on the upcoming release of our studio album. We will be on the road a tremendous amount this summer in support of it.

For more information on The Band Of Heathens, check out www.bandofheathens.com

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Today’s Feature – May 17-18

May 18, 2008 at 2:29 am (Today's Feature)

Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel weren’t always collectively known as KaiserCartel – but instead existed as aspiring solo musicians and very active supporters of one another. But if the people demand it, you generally have to give it to them. Thus, the Brooklyn-based duo came together in 2004, jumped into their Toyota Prius and haven’t looked back, showing off a rare “earthy blend of folk-rock and pop that will make you laugh, cry, sing along, and want to hold hands with the stranger next to you” both regionally and nationally.

Equally talented vocalists and guitarists, Kaiser and Cartel have played along with some huge acts respectively, from John Mellencamp and The Wallflowers to The Heartdrops and Sean Lennon. They continually find success because they respect the power of music. Courtney puts it best, “I believe that music is the universal language of the world and am happy to be a messenger.” Their album, “March Forth” is an excellent representation of their fire-side approach, a comforting record that tells a story of “two people coming together, talking about their pasts and moving forward with their lives.”

Specifically, the collection includes a complex mix of instrumentation, difficult to execute but easy to take in. It’s hard to believe only two people form this group – it’s simply a huge sound that jumps out of your speakers and entraps you. A live KaiserCartel performance is “like an open door to an honest world,” while not always happy, it is indeed eye-opening and meaningful. They’ll be touring everywhere, so catch a show in the near future. And when you buy the album, check out their coloring contest – an interesting concept to say the least. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: KaiserCartel

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Tell us how you two first came together to form KaiserCartel. Was it an instant music connection?

Benjamin Cartel (BC) – Yes, it was. We liked each other’s music and wanted to tour in support of each other’s solo efforts. Our original working format was that we were playing each other’s songs. The crowd for that tour was very responsive and asked us when our collaborative album would be coming out. So, we joined forces and started KaiserCartel.

PEV: What were your first years in the music business like? When you were first starting out?

Courtnery Kaiser (CK) – We both have had different experiences in the music business as we come from different musical backgrounds, but our experience in KaiserCartel has been amazing. People have been willing to help us any way they can whether it’s by making us dinner, letting us sleep at their house, or booking shows for us. We are so appreciative of all the generosity we have received from fans, family, and friends on many levels.

PEV: Now calling Brooklyn home, what kind of music were you listening to growing up? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

BC- The first concert I ever attended was really strange. It was in the mid 80’s…an all ages show at Irving Plaza where both Dwight Yoakam was opening up for Husker Du. I listened to a lot of 60’s and 70’s pop like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Jimmy Cliff.

CK- In my early childhood, I would sing with Billy Holiday, and with musical records like “South Pacific.” I also loved Julie Andrews. In my teens I liked The Cure, XTC, The Pixies, and Sinead O’Connor. My first rock concert was as a 6th grader. It was Tom Petty and Lenny Kravitz. I remember Tom Petty taking a picture of the crowd with a poloroid camera which he got out of a golden trunk. My friend’s mom made us leave early because of all the pot smoke.

PEV: What is your favorite part about living in New York?

BC- People tell you how they feel. Also, there’s no time to sit around and sulk about yourself. I love Yonah Shimmel’s Knishes.

CK- I agree with Ben’s statement on the honesty of NY. Being a driver, I enjoy the communication among drivers about their driving. Also, I love Red Hook, Brooklyn. I have never lived anywhere else and don’t want to.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a profession rather than just a hobby?

CK- I have been singing ever since I could speak. Music has always been a natural presence for me. There has never been a moment that my life has been without it. I believe that music is the universal language of the world and am happy to be a messenger.

BC- When I was in high school playing my first shows, I loved playing in front of people so much. I couldn’t imagine my life without it after that point. Playing music was really the first experience I ever felt of feeling empowered.

PEV: What is a live KaiserCartel performance like?

CK- It’s like an open door to an honest world. Comical, yet serious. Sad, yet you leave feeling like you just watched a great movie.

PEV: Tell us about your debut, March Forth.

BC- March Forth is an album that came together from all our live shows and first outings. It is a story of two people coming together, talking about their pasts and moving forward with their lives.

CK-I think it’s about our dog Ivan visiting planets in outerspace. Each song is about what he sees and hears:)

PEV: What can fans expect from this album? How is it different from other albums out today?

BC- March Forth is intimate, yet grand. It sounds like the biggest duo you ever heard.

CK-There is extra instrumentation, but we get feedback from listeners that they always think that there is more than just the two of us when they see us play live. Trying to recreate the live show on recording, called for some extra special instruments.

BC- The songs won’t leave your mind soon after listening. Once you have heard them, they will be stuck in your head. Rather than being annoyed by that, you will be comforted.

PEV: What happens when you hit that “creative brick wall” and feel like a song is just not coming out right? What is your method to cure that?

CK- We don’t really have that issue. What we deal with more is being tired after work, and not feeling like writing. Teaching children music all day takes a lot of energy and sometimes there isn’t anything left for us. We look forward to pausing our teaching for now and focusing on writing for ourselves.

PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourselves in when you sit down to write music?

CK- Ben writes on the subway on his way to work everyday. He loves writing lyrics and working on things at that time of day. We both write at home. We love our apartment. It is an awesome creative space.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your musical career?

BC- My parents are very excited about what we are doing. My Dad sings along at the shows and they see us play in NYC as much as they can. I have had more of a positive reaction with this band from my friends than any other band I have played in.

CK- My parents are very supportive. They are a bit nervous about me leaving my music teaching job and having no health insurance, but that is to be expected. All my friends are saying to me “finally, this is going to happen!” They have been waiting for me to have this as my only focus for a very long time.

PEV: Having traveled everywhere, what city do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

BC- That is a tough question.

CK-We have felt a lot of love from Minneapolis. We like to call ourselves honorary Minnesotans.

BC- That being said we have had a great experience in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, and many other places.

CK-Yes, I think there are too many great places to pinpoint only one. We have a lot of love in NYC. I think a lot of people think New Yorkers are a tough audience, but we always had a great audience and response.

PEV: What is life on the road like for the band? Best and worst parts? Any favorite spots along the way?

CK- We drive a Toyota Prius and love it. I like to go thrifting, so we make a lot of little pits stops and see little towns all over the country. I like seeing various city/town centers.

BC- I enjoy meeting people from different places and hearing their stories.

PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?

CK- The Winterpills.

BC- Kristoffer Rangstam.

PEV: Is there someone you have not had the chance to work with or collaborate with, that you would like to?

CK- Tony Visconti and Bjork.

BC- Radiohead and Public Enemy.

PEV: When not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

CK- We don’t really have spare time. We have so many creative friends, that we are going to art openings, or shows…so our schedule is always total mayhem. But if I have free time, I like sewing stuff like clothes or making things.

BC- I like to paint and write until I don’t know how much time has gone by.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of KaiserCartel?

BC- That I try to work out everyday at the gym and neither of us like mushrooms.

CK- That I have never had a pickle.

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio what would we find?

CK- Stuffed animals, a toy piano, lots of suitcases that say “Going to Grandma’s”, drums, guitars, a harmonium, theremin, little percussion instruments, cello, keyboards, a giant penguin, crayons, broken amps, and a ladder.

PEV: In one word, Courtney-describe Benjamin. And Benjamin-describe Courtney.

CK- Comical.

BC- Magical.

PEV: So, what is next for Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel?

BC- Touring until the wheels fall off

For more information on KaiserCartel, check out www.KaiserCartel.com

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Today’s Feature – May 15th-16th: aRk

May 16, 2008 at 9:56 pm (Today's Feature)

Ever since a rooftop birthday party where the two spun together for the first time in 2004, aRk has been on a creative mission to not only perfect their sound, but to take push it to another level. Four years ago, you could hear them mixing a bit of progressive house style music with a handful of dance covers in between. Today, they’re crafting amazing sets, “raising people to a certain level, giving them some air, and then taking them higher.” No more dance covers.

They’ve also been busy developing aRk LIVE, a side project that adds the “live” factor to their shows. There are “DJ’s, there’s live vocals provided by friend and lead singer of (PEV alum) Redline Addiction, Rob Robinson, there’s effects, scratching,” everything. Connecting the best elements of the club with the best of live rock shows, aRk LIVE will likely be more than just a side project in the near future.

Ari and Mark can be heard around the east coast, most often in DC at some premier spots – Glow, Buzz, ULTRA, Chroma, Eye Bar, Spank, you name it. Spend a night with them – they’ll be partying just as hard as you are, so be sure to lose control! And keep and eye out for “The aRkast,” their podcast that currently boasts subscribers from around the world. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: aRk

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Although friends for many years, it wasn’t until summer of 2004 that the duo spun together. Looking back from the bands first performance, how has your music styling changed since then?

aRk: Technically our first performance was on a rooftop in the heart of Manhattan for our friend’s birthday party. Back then we would say our music was a mixture of funky and progressive house with a lot of dance covers thrown in between. Admittedly we hadn’t really formulated our sound yet and were playing things we thought crowds would like. Remixes of whatever was hot at the time…. basically a lot of vocals. The first time we ever played out in a proper CLUB was probably a year later. Coincidently enough, another friend’s birthday party. At that point we had certainly started to come into our own in terms of our musical styling. Gone were the dance covers. Our style was progressive, funky, disco house and at that point we really started to learn the process of building a set; raising people to a certain level, giving them some air, and then taking them higher. Flash forward some 4 years later and again our style has undergone some changes. I [Mark] have developed a bit of a techy, electro, breaks sound accompanied by some tricks and gadgets; where as Ari has moved into a more groovy, but also more driving, sound ranging from deep house to house to progressive to electro. It would probably be silly to think our sound won’t change again. It’s definitely an evolving passion. Music changes, tastes change, your mind opens itself to new things that you may not have really dug before. It would be quite boring otherwise we think.

PEV: What were your first years in the music business like for the group? When you were first starting out?

aRk: We’re still in our first years we hope! But in a word: exciting. You have to understand, we were going to clubs with our friends and older brothers since we were 18. Actually a bit before, but we’ll deny that considering age laws. This was before either of us had even thought of DJing. Once we took it up, we’d laugh at the thought of someday playing these exact clubs in our hometown. Literally – we’d laugh. The first club we played in was relatively small – maybe 200 people max. Awesome club, but fitting for a first gig. That night our friend and also musical director for Glow (Pete Moutso) asked us to open for him at his party. Glow was probably the club party we went to growing up. It’s huge. Playing our second gig there was… again, exciting. To say the least. We went on to actually get some pretty regular gigs and it was awesome. We absolutely loved it. And our friends and family were SO supportive. We can still remember the moment they opened the doors to the main room when we first played at Glow. Our friends came rushing in, maybe 100 at once, and were all just going nuts. I [Mark] was shaking – it was crazy!! Our friends and fans are the best. We play for them.

PEV: What kind of music were you listening to growing up? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

aRk: Believe it or not, the first concert I [Mark] attended was the Monkeys! I got dragged to one of their “reunion” shows with an ex-girlfriend and her family. It actually wasn’t that bad! Everyone knows they’re songs!

I listened to a lot of different things growing up. As a young kid I remember listening to the “oldies” station with my parents. Anytime we were in the car they were playing. The station played anything from Don McLean, to the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Lionel Richie. Being Portuguese, I was also exposed to a lot of folklore (Fado) also. As a teen I listened to a pretty wide range. Hip-Hop with the likes of the Beastie Boys, RunDMC, Slick Rick, Snoop. Latin-style dance music like C+C Music Factory. Rock, 311, 2 Skinny J’s, Rage, Bush. Growing up in the 80’s with an older brother meant I heard a lot of Depeche Mode on MTV. I can still remember their videos. Their sound is so influential in not only what we do, but the entire EDM scene. In my teenage years I can recall the dance anthems that were starting to make their way up the charts. La Bouche, Real McCoy and Ace of BaseÉ I think I have a Real McCoy track on vinyl from before I was a DJ. Go figure. To be honest though, when I first heard “house music”, which was notably different that the dance music popular in the late 90’s, I didn’t really like it. I remember thinking it was really repetitive, dull… all the common misconceptions. It was just the wrong music; wrong DJ. Eventually I started going out with my older brother more and being exposed to this stuff frequently. It was an acquired taste to me. It started sounding better and better; more and more intelligent. I just started to understand it. I learned to absolutely love it. The beat wasn’t repetitive. It was driving. Synchronizing. The melodies and bass lines are hypnotizing. And the DJs, over the course of 4 hours, could take someone from anxious, to ecstatic, to calm and back again. It just made sense.

Being Armenian, I [Ari] also grew up listening to foreign music. Actually now that I think about it, it was a huge influence in the sense that whenever there was a party my parents were throwing or a function that they made me attend, the music was loud and people were getting down, and I mean getting down. So from an early age I learned that people really got moved by music. In my very early teens I feel in love with Heavy metal and Rock music. Before then music was just something in the background. My first love of music came from bands such as Guns ‘n Roses, Metallica and Skid Row. I loved watching these bands perform; they had such amazing energy and stage presence. When you see an aRk show, there’s no doubt you’ll see me going crazy up there and I learned it from guys like Axel. What’s the point of going to a show and seeing the performer being “too cool for school?” If you love what you’re doing, people will feed off of that. Another big influence musically was 80’s pop music. There’s a lot 80’s remixes that are produced in the Electronic music scene and I am a big sucker for those tracks. Then came techno in the 90’s with groups like 2 Unlimited. Finally about 10 years ago I was introduced to this unforgettable sound and scene called EDM. There was just something so exciting about the club and the bass of the music running through your body. It made we want to never leave. Soon after I was exposed to the scene, came along a DJ named George Acosta, trance DJ form Miami. Let’s just say the music he played made me feel funny. I still wonder about some of those tracks he was playing back then.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a profession rather than just a hobby?

aRk: We actually both hold regular jobs. We’d love to make this our careers. So in that sense, we have probably wanted it as a profession from day one. Music in general. DJing, producing, the works. But for now it is a passion. Not really a hobby. It’s a second career. We’re always looking for and trying new ways to get ourselves out there to try and get to that point. We used to laugh at the thought of actually playing out, so… we’ll see.

PEV: What is a live aRk performance like?

Energetic. We’re definitely not the DJs standing still in the booth. We love to interact with the crowd. We love the music, so we can’t help but dance, jump around – egg on the crowd. Musically, we think we bring a unique sound to the table. We each have our own sound individually, and those that know us can usually tell who’s playing – but together, we blend very well. The night will be techy, then groovy, then hard, then progressive. We have this knack though for being able to play off one another. We never really decide how long one of us will play – we just kind of wing it. There’s a good dose of effects and the like going on in our sets as well. So often both of us are standing at the helm, and crowds respond to that. WE respond to that when we see that in a club. We just like to have fun right along with the crowd. As a DJ should!

PEV: Which city sticks out as having the best aRk fans?

aRk: Well, it has to be Washington DC. We have played a few other cities; New York City, Norfolk, but 99% of our gigs have been in DC. Our fans are great. Many are friends.

PEV: Tell us about “aRk LIVE”.

aRk: aRk LIVE is a side project we started working on about a year ago. The concept is just to add a “live” element to our show. So there’s DJ’s, there’s live vocals provided by our friend and lead singer of Redline Addiction, Rob Robinson, there’s effects, scratching, etc. We’ve only put the show on stage a handful of times, but each time it’s been better than the one before. We’ve been working with Ableton more lately and hope to incorporate that into the show as well. The end result will be a combination of decks, laptops, effects, vocals. Obviously we would love to use our own productions in the show, that’s something we’re working towards, but have really only started to produce. For now we play the same tracks we might normally play, but with added layers. Suppose the Ableton portion, once added, would be another ‘original’ layer, as are the vocals.

The great thing about aRk LIVE is that it’s different and exciting to be a part of. The influence for the project definitely came from the likes of Infusion and Underworld – an attempt to turn a normal club night into more of a “rock show” atmosphere. It’s really fun. We certainly look to pursue the LIVE act more and more in the near future.

PEV: What can fans expect from this project?

Development. The beauty of what we’re doing in aRk LIVE is that you can constantly change it! We’re not a group of 2 or 3. The core is Ari, Rob and I – but we could bring on other vocalists, female vocalists (which we have done with friend Laura Weiss), guitarists, percussionists – you name it. That’s something we’re always talking about. What else can we do in the show? What other instruments or processes can we introduce? What strange sounds can we make with our voices, a mic and an effects unit? The possibilities are amazing and exciting.

PEV: What happens when you hit that “creative brick wall” and feel like a song is just not coming out right? What is your method to cure that?

aRk: We haven’t really done too much on the production side yet. So it’s tough to say what are process would be there. However, we encounter that type of situation when we’re either putting together a demo or working on aRk LIVE often. We just move on. Work on something else or another part and come back to the trouble spot later. Einstein said that “the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results.” If we just can’t get something to work, we move on and come back to it later. Try something different. Maybe we come up with another idea while working on something else that helps progress the part that was giving us an issue.

PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourselves in when you sit down to write music?

aRk: Again, we haven’t done too much on the production side – but with aRk LIVE we are coming up with melodies, writing lyrics; and the majority of it is done in our basements. Rob, Ari and I will spend hours in the basement. Ari might be playing a track he thinks will work well for aRk LIVE; Rob might be in the corner with his pad and pen, jotting down lyrics and humming a melody. We almost work separately and then come together to try out our ideas. A lot of times we’ll record our ideas, the foundation and take it to one of our cars; get ourselves out of the studio and separate from all the equipment. It give us a different perspective and almost every time we come up with something to change, add or take out. Sometimes just listening to it on a different system can breed ideas.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your musical career?

aRk: Amazingly supportive. Living at home while learning how to DJ can’t be a pleasant thing. The sounds we used to subject people to in the early part of honing our skills was probably enough to destroy relationships. But our friends and family have been the backbone of what we do. We really do play for them at our gigs. Our families are proud to see us take something they thought was just an annoying hobby and doing something with it. Something real.

PEV: Having traveled everywhere, what city do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

aRk: Well we certainly haven’t traveled everywhere. At least not related to our DJing. But we have had the chance to play in a few cities. New York, DC, Norfolk… More so we have traveled and been consumers of the music. Florida, North Carolina, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, etc. If you’re referring to appreciation for electronic dance music, it’s different everywhere. It’s very easy to say that Europe appreciates it more because it’s so much more prevalent. But I think the party-goers dancing the morning away on the terrace of Club Space in Miami during the Winter Music Conference might challenge you on that. It’s just more mainstream in Europe. There are radio stations dedicated to it there. It’s played in every night club and bar. But it’s not to say that the love and appreciation for the music doesn’t exist here in the United States. It may not be on every radio channel or in every club but its here if you want it. Every city has EDM clubs. Satellite radio has stations dedicated to the music. Internet radio is available at the click of a button. The people dancing to the music in Charlotte are just as appreciative as those dancing in Miami; as those in Lisbon, Milan and Paris.

PEV: What is life on the road like for you? Best and worst parts?

aRk: We’ve only had to travel a handful of times for our gigs. Couple times to New York City; few times to Norfolk, VA. We can’t really say there’s anything bad about it. It’s been great and a wonderful experience every time. The best part is meeting new people. It’s nice to have people enjoy your music that we know haven’t enjoyed it before because we’re not from there. We’ve been lucky enough to have great crowds and great feedback from our gigs on the road. It’s something we want to and very much look forward to doing more of. As we start to develop the aRk LIVE show a bit more, hopefully we’ll get on the road with it.

PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?

aRk: Besides us? Kidding. Yes. Absolutely, but it’s hard to name one and in one industry. The local DJs in Washington DC are great. Everyone should try and support them as much as possible. There’s great talent that people might be missing out on if they don’t. Anyone looking for electronic dance music should look to up and coming label Brandnewvibe Recordings. The guys running this label are friends of ours and are really putting out quality music. In only a few months they have made a footprint in the industry and are getting their tracks played by some really big DJs. Our friends and producers Roberto and Javier Gonzales are also ones to look out for. We have had the pleasure of starting to work with them on a track – actually an original adaptation of something that originally started as an aRk LIVE project. If you’re into rock music you have to check out Redline Addiction. They’re a great group of guys; great music; and they put on a great show.

PEV: With a long list of names you’ve worked with, is there someone you have not had the chance to work with or collaborate with, that you would like to?

aRk: There’s so many. We have plans for the near future to work with some DC legends: Scott Henry and Charles Feelgood. That’s something we are VERY excited about. In the past we have had the opportunity to play alongside Tiesto and Robbie Rivera. The Tiesto show was probably the most fun we’ve ever had. We were one of the openers for his Washington DC leg of the Tiesto outdoor event “Elements of Life”. It was crazy! We were so privileged to take part. It was a massive party; really the first of its kind in DC. Panorama Productions, the same that run Glow, really did an amazing job. DC had never really seen anything like it. And Robbie is probably one of Ari’s favorite DJs and producers, if not THE favorite. So I [Mark] guess I will be selfish and say I want to work with James Zabiela. He is quite literally my biggest influence when it comes to my music – not just with his sound, but also what he does behind the decks. We’d love to share the booth with him.

PEV: When not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

aRk: What’s spare time? We both work regular jobs and that takes up a lot of time in and of itself. Much of the time we have outside of work is when we focus on music. Whether it’s practicing, searching for music, working on production, working on aRk LIVE, the podcast, etc. Obviously we try and get out to enjoy the music of others when we can too. It’s what got us here in the first place and it’s still a rush to hear a great set from a great DJ. We hang out with friends, family; we love sports. We do all the normal stuff too.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of aRk?

aRk: That’s kind of hard to answer. Probably that we both work in the financial industry. We both are involved in financial consulting. Yet we play really loud music in really large clubs at night. There’s a good chance we might lose a lot of clients if they knew our hours!

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio what would we find?

aRk: We each have our own set-up, but when we get together: 3 Pioneer CDJ’s, Pioneer DJM600, Pioneer EFX1000, Korg MINIKP, Macbook, M-Audio Axiom 49, M-Audio studio monitors, M-Audio Xsession, Ableton 6.0.7, a mic, some big speakers and a lot of wires. There’s hundreds of records and CDs laying about as well.

PEV: In one word, describe aRk.

aRk: Progressivelektrodiskohouse. It’s convenient. We came up with that to describe our sound a while back and it just happens to be one word… kinda.

PEV: So, what is next for aRk?

aRk: Bigger and better things hopefully! We’re really working hard on our podcast right now. “The aRkast”. So far we’re only 3 months in and we’re really happy with where it’s going. There’s been great support and feedback. We’ve had listeners subscribe from across the country and overseas. We’ve had great local DJ guests and have some really exciting guests planned for the future, like Scott Henry and Charles Feelgood – those guys are pillars in DC. The podcast is a monthly mix that we put out, plus a special guest mix and interview. It’s interesting to get a feel for the DJ you’re listening to. Getting their tastes, influences, all the things we’ve talked about today – while you’re listening to their set. It gives the podcast a bit of a personal touch. It’s a lot of fun and we really hope to have it become something that everyone is listening to in DC and hopefully beyond.

For more information on aRk, check out www.arkshouse.net

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Today’s Feature – May 13-14: The Accident That Led Me to the World

May 14, 2008 at 8:19 pm (Today's Feature)

Looking at this latest PEV feature, it would be easy to lead off the introduction by answering the question, “How did the name ‘The Accident that Led Me to the World’ come to exist??” It’s simply too obvious a way to kick this thing off… however, their name does lead to an excellent explanation about their latest album… so as I was saying, “TATLMTTW is a concept, and in the beginning stages, it was unclear as to if the band would retain its shape. Behold our second record! ‘The Accident That Led Me to the World’ tells the story of a boy who becomes fed up with the trappings of society and sails off to an island. It is during this self-enforced solitude that we are left – the boy’s lament, ‘The Island Gospel.'”

“The Island Gospel” is the second release for the trio, built with melodies and harmonies that you need to see live, “employing strictly acoustic instrumentation (alternating frequently between guitar, banjo, clarinet, upright bass, strings) and close vocal harmonies.” Labeled as “Modern Folk Music,” this latest collection carries a sense of isolation – sometimes reflecting despair and sometimes discovery. This theme translates brilliantly, oddly enough through three voices as one.

As stated before, the music that TATLMTTW produces is meant to be heard from ten feet away. It certainly isn’t your every day sound, and it needs to be sampled appropriately. Zack, Mark and Raianne will be touring this record extensively, so take on the opportunity. Get into the XXQ’s to learn a lot more.

XXQs: The Accident That Led Me To The World

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Tell us how the band first came together. As well, how has your sound changed since the earlier day when you first started out?

Zack: Well Zack learned how to play…

Raianne: Ya me too.

Mark: In 2004, the idea of working out material containing clarinet, upright bass and banjo seemed like the only intelligent course of action. The sound has evolved since then, but prolonged time spent with anyone will change you. What you hear on the records has changed too, but that’s Jerry’s business.

PEV: What were your first years in the music business like for the band?

Zack: Wickid Haaad! Payin’ dues, payin’ dues, payin’ dues!

Raianne: Make me want to lie down and take a nap, just like in the van!

Mark: Business was hard to come by. However, there is a considerable difference in rate between source and reception. These things take time.

PEV: Calling Webster, MA home, what kind of music were the members of the band listening to growing up? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

Zack: I live in Dudley!

Mark: In high school, I think ‘Greenday,’ and countless ‘TMBG’ concerts.

Zack: My first concert was Metallica, during the Load tour, I went with my friend Mario, who got a contact high and sick in the bathroom, I watched the entire thing with his mom.

Mark: I think Rai saw Iron Maiden.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a profession rather than just a hobby?

Mark: I quit the factory last year.

Raianne: I dream about that day, every day.

PEV: What is a live The Accident That Led Me To The World performance like?

Raianne: Charlie Chaplin.

Zack: I think the record looks nicer. Like the best funeral ever.

Mark: It depends. Last weekend, an older gentleman said that we brought him back to his youthful days. That was kind to say. In this respect, I trust the effect varies. We are currently making a silent film which will highlight the subtle aspects of our performance.

PEV: Is there a certain place you play that stands out as the best The Accident That Led Me To The World fans?

Mark, Raianne, Zack: JAMESTOWN, NY!!

PEV: With that, what can fans expect from your latest release?

Mark: A better recording.

Zack: With what?

Mark: Also, we are trying to incorporate tones of grey into our wardrobe. And no more set lists on stage.

PEV: How is this different than others out today? As well as different from your previous works?

Mark, Zack: IT IS WHAT IT IS, damn it.

Raianne: This material, since it’s so live, requires we use our dynamics and strong harmonies to create an interesting recording.

Mark: I thought Jerry did that?

PEV: What happens when you hit that “creative brick wall” and feel like a song is just not coming out right? What is your method to cure that?

Zack: Mark drinks a lot!

Raianne: Time, patience…

Mark: In all seriousness, periods of “input” and “output” must be embraced and properly utilized. There is no sense in getting torn up about this; however, I personally still often do.

PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourselves in when you sit down to write music?

Raianne: Lots of clocks. And plants.

Zack: Environment only relies on the three of us.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your success?

Zack: Don’t need them anymore.

Raianne: A lot of them didn’t react until we made it into the local newspaper.

PEV: Having traveled all over, what city do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

Raianne: Jamestown, NY.

Zack: It’s not the city, it’s the people.

Mark: Any room that’s listening or genuinely excited about hearing live music.

PEV: What is life on the road like for the band? Best and worst parts?

Raianne: Stinky van!

Mark: Recently, I have developed nervous twitches. The only time this stops is when we’re touring. We listen to Dylan, Van Morrison, Primus; silliness, life slowly. This past March, we had discussed “the waiting.” When on tour, waiting for the show takes up most of our time. I guess we need to find more constructive uses of the free moments.

PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?

Mark: Jerry Fels…and Andy [Tom Thumb] just made a record called ‘The Taxidermist.’ Raianne: Jonny Rodgers, ‘The Aviary.’

PEV: Employing strictly acoustic instrumentation (alternating frequently between guitar, banjo, clarinet, upright bass, strings) and close vocal harmonies, you’ve been labeled as “Modern Folk Music”. With that, how would you describe your sound?

Mark: I labeled us as that!

Zack: Der!

Raianne: Sante Fe.

PEV: When the band is not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

Mark: Making silent films.

Zack: Asking Mark to pour me more whiskey.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of The Accident That Led Me To The World?

Zack: We hate music!

Raianne: There’s little music that the three of us agree on! And we all have day jobs.

Zack: No, we don’t!

Raianne: Yes, we do!

Mark: I am studying to be an elementary school teacher. Quiet down children!

PEV: We have featured a lot of artists and bands with very interesting names (real and made up) but I have to admit, this one my take the cake. Tell us about the meaning behind the band name and how you came up with it?

Zack: It’s the name of the cake.

Mark: TATLMTTW is a concept, and in the beginning stages, it was unclear as to if the band would retain its shape. Behold our second record! “The Accident That Led Me To The World” tells the story of a boy who becomes fed up with the trappings of society and sails off to an island. It is during this self-enforced solitude that we are left – the boy’s lament, “The Island Gospel.”

PEV: In one word, describe The Accident That Led Me To The World.

Zack: Der…no, “the.”

Raianne: Quiet.

Mark: Experience.

PEV: So, what is next for the band?

Mark: The resolution. But first, we will be touring this record for roughly the next two years.

Zack: Tomorrow.

For more information on The Accident That Led Me To The World, check out www.theaccidentthatledmetotheworld.com

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Today’s Feature – May 11-12: Sikamor Rooney

May 13, 2008 at 12:32 am (Today's Feature)

Brad York, Tony Chick and Jeff Plate, the modern rock n’ roll heroes of Sikamor Rooney realize it’s more than just talent and tours that make a rock band awesome – you gotta live the life – breath it, love it and of course, drink it. And Sikamor Rooney certainly is drinking it in – even their manager Buck knows how to party the right way. Well, sort of the right way. On the last tour through Birmingham, Alabama and Virginia Beach, they “were basically on a bender the whole time! Having hotel parties, just complete blowouts, throwing shit off balconies.”

Tony recalls however that what they did wasn’t completely “professional”… however makes for excellent material for some of the stories you NEED to be able tell (as artists of course). Plus, it’s who they are, “The best thing about our live shows is how honest we are with what we are trying to do. We don’t have a shtick or sideshow or gimmick. You just come to see us play live music. We are all there to party and play music. When you come to a Sikamor Rooney show you forget about everything and just have fun.”

While some of their antics aren’t “professional,” they’re pros when it comes to the party on stage; Brad once tumbled ass first during a performance, all while continuing to play and not spilling one ounce of beer. Not bad. The new record is a reflection of the “more professional” Sikamor Rooney, including a new variety of sounds, new instruments, female back-up singers, the whole bit. The collection was recorded at The Dude Ranch Studios in Jersey by Ian Larkin, who has also worked with PEV alum, The Gay Blades.

As you might expect, Sikamor live is intense. Don’t come if you plan on sitting on your hands all night – come to get drunk, move around and see three of everything. The next tour is starting in Chicago most likely, and will make its way down the east coast, so look out for the next stop. And if you can drink more Jager than Tony, you’ll get yourself some free t-shirts. Good luck. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

A lot our interviews are done over the phone or in person. Either way, we usually cut out the small talk in the beginning or end and focus on just the interview. For this one however, I had to keep everything in. It was a conference call with the band and their manager, all of which have an incredibly humorous way of interacting with each other, even when they are all in different areas for the same call. I think it helps you get a better feel for the real side of the band.

XXQs: Sikamor Rooney – Brad York: Guitar, Anthony (Tony) Chick: Bass and Jef Plate: Drums

PensEyeView.com (Richie): Hey Anthony.

Anthony: Hey buddy, what’s going on?

Richie: Where’d I catch you?

Anthony: Driving on 95 south now, in North Carolina. Heading down to Savannah, Georgia with my girlfriend.

(Brad comes in on the call)

Brad: Hey guys.

Richie: What’s up Brad. Are you with Anthony right now?

Brad: No, I’m in New York right now.

Richie: I was checking out the MySpace page on your videos and I was checking out the living room video…

Brad: Yeah, that was where we recorded our album.

Richie: Tell us about the album. What can we expect?

(Buck, the guy’s manager comes in on the line)

Buck: Hey guys.

Brad and Anthony: What’s up Bucky!

Richie: Hey Buck, how’s everything?

Buck: I’m hung over (laughs).

(Everyone laughs)

Buck: Where’s Jeff?

Anthony: I think he’s out getting burgers or something… Richie, what kind of time do we have for the interview?

Richie: Um, it depends, we’ll see. Maybe like 15 to twenty or so?

Anthony: All good man. I got ppppppppppppplenty of time.

Richie: Hey guys, do me a favor, when you answer, say your name.

Brad: Ok… I mean, Brad says ok.

(Everyone laughs)

Anthony: Can I be “Team Bravo”?

Richie: Oh, man…

Anthony: No, no, no I’ll be Anthony.

Richie: Man, this is going to be impossible to transcribe. I really appreciate it guys. So tell me about the latest record, “New York City Gunner.”

Brad: This is Brad. Well, actually that is one that I did before, without Anthony. I did two albums before, that and “Love Hates.” I was in a band before that broke up and then I met Tony, and started the new record that will be out in June.

Richie: Tell us about this record.

Brad: Well, it’s a lot different from the other ones, a lot more professional. A lot more instruments; keyboards, girl back up singers.

Anthony: It seems to more of a focus project, more than “New York City Gunner” and “Love Hates.” Everyone is more in on it, rather than it being a side project; each song is all relevant with one another. The whole thing is a ride.

Richie: What can fans expect from a live concert?

Anthony: (Laughs)… Anything can happen out there man. I don’t know how to answer that.

Brad: This is Brad, it depends on the night… We party a lot. Pretty live on stage and running around.

Anthony: The best thing about our live shows is how honest we are with what we are trying to do. We don’t have a shtick or sideshow or gimmick. You just come to see us play live music. We are all there to party and play music. When you come to a Sikamor Rooney show you forget about everything and just have fun.

Richie: Any embarrassing performances?

Anthony: Yeah! (Laughs)… I do a lot of embarrassing things…

Buck: Richie, you need to read the CMJ review and then you can use your imagination. Brad fell clear on his ass with his guitar and beer in his hand and managed not to spill a thing.

Brad: We’re not trying to be anything or act a certain way and be just total real about it.

(Jeff comes on the line)

Anthony: Hi Jefffffffffffffffrey!

Richie: What’s up Jeff?

Jeff: Hey man, how’s it going, sorry I’m late.

Richie: Not a problem.

Anthony: Jeff, when you talk you have say, “Jeff…” then you talk.

Jeff: Got it.

Anthony: Tony! We are real proud of live shows; we are who we are on stage and off. I’m an idiot everywhere.

Richie: Hailing from New York, where’s the best place to catch great music?

Anthony: Well, the Bowery Ballroom. Terminal Five. The Annex.

Richie: What can we find you doing in your spare time when you are not performing or touring?

(Oddly, they all start to laugh at the same time… )

Anthony: I drink A LOT! I drink in my spare time… and we write.

Brad: We like to party a lot in our spare time… and a little too hard.

Jeff: I don’t have any spare time (laughs).

Richie: It seems like you guys would have a lot of fun on the road, what’s road life like for you?

Brad: (Laughs) The last tour we did, going down to Birmingham, Alabama and Virginia Beach, we were basically on a bender the whole time! Having hotel parties, just complete blowouts, throwing shit off balconies.

Anthony: (Everyone is laughing in the background) Rich, that wasn’t a good tour. What we did was unprofessional… we hit it too hard, too early.

Richie: How did you make up for the rest of the tour?

Anthony: Man, every day it hurt. We’d drive, no matter how short, is seemed like forever.

Buck: But on this next one, things are going to be different.

(Everyone laughs)

Brad: Yeah, things have to change, with the partying and all that.

Richie: What is the next tour looking like?

Anthony: Buck, you got this baby.

Buck: Three, maybe four weeks straight, just trying to get a show every night. It’s going to start in Chicago most likely, then go over to Boston and down to Florida… Maybe to New Orleans. The plan is to play a show every night in the biggest markets.

Richie: Since you get to travel so much, what has been your favorite city to play?

Jeff: I would say Virginia Beach is probably the best place outside of New York. Of course, like Asbury Park is good too, since that area is like our home base but Virginia Beach, we got a really good response from, it was super nice… It was also my birthday there too.

Richie: How have your friends and family reacted to your musical career?

Brad: Um, our friends, we have really good friends; The Parlor Mob and Nicole Atkins. They’re real supportive and try to get us on whenever they can. Our families are really supportive and love our music. They give us money… Tony’s dad really helps us out. And it’s great… our music is really good for young people all the way up to older people as well.

Jeff: My family is definitely into this one more than the other ones. I mean the parties and stuff is lost on them but the music calls back to them.

Anthony: All our friends and family Ð we all have the same friends and family and we consider ourselves family as well. So, they are all real supportive of what we do. A lot of positive energy.

Richie: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of the band?

Brad: (very softly) Yikes…

Anthony: Rich, um, what you would be surprised to hear about or what my band-mates would be surprised to hear about?

(Everyone laughs)

Richie: If it’s a revelation, it’s even better. I’ll let you decide.

Anthony: Um, my band knows me. I’m an open book, inside and out. I don’t think there is anything I can expose right now that they wouldn’t be surprise my band at all.

Richie: Well, what would fans be surprised to hear?

Jeff: They’d probably be surprised to hear we can read!

(Everyone laughs)

Brad: Let’s just leave it at that.

Anthony: Hey, we can read, man!

Richie: So, where do you think the band will be in ten years?

Brad: Either in jail or…

(Everyone laughs)

Anthony: Rich, this is Anthony, listen man, let me just worry about tomorrow ok?

(Everyone laughs)

Jeff: I think realistically I see us doing the Austin City Limits circuit and stuff like that. Like adult audience stuff, rather than, I mean I don’t see us on MTV any time soon. Just go under the radar and play the 500-600 seating clubs. But nothing too huge, you know? Whatever happens, happens.

Anthony: I agree. I feel like we’re not going to be the big commercial success ever or have any desire to do that either.

Richie: So, what’s next for the band?

Buck: I mean, it is pretty much to finish this album up and personally, I want to keep you guys on the road as much as possible. I’m just going to focus on licensing. There are good songs that I think can be all over television and radio. I can see commercials, all kinds of stuff. That’s my personal goal.

Anthony: Well, that makes what I said sound completely stupid!

(Everyone cracks up!)

Anthony: Buck, I mean we don’t spend enough time together, you couldn’t tell me that? (Everyone laughs) Making me sound like an idiot in front of Rich!

Jeff: Well, I think there is a difference in “commercial” success and “success in commercials,” so it was that stupid.

Anthony: Thanks, Jeff!

Richie: Well, before we go, is there anything you want to leave me with?

Anthony: Ummmm, It smells really bad in North Carolina right now (everyone laughs). It’s like bad cheese or something-

Buck: Anything intelligent?

Jeff: When this album hits it is definitely going to open a lot of eyes to what we’ve been working on. We got a shit load of show this summer, so everyone should come out and party with us.

Anthony: Free T-Shirts for anyone that can drink more Jager than I can!

Richie: I’ll put that challenge out. Thanks guys!

All: Thanks man.

For more information on Sikamor Rooney, check out www.myspace.com/sikamorrooney

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