Today’s Feature – July 28-29: Ernie Halter

July 29, 2008 at 8:45 pm (Today's Feature)

Since day 1, Ernie Halter has always been a step ahead in his musical career. Just starting out, he was playing wherever and whenever he could, which included the occasional bustling coffee shop; shouted orders and busy blenders part of the territory during his sets. How would you react to this stage setting? Personally, I’d likely just get pissed off. However Halter is probably the only artist that would use the blenders to his advantage, creating tones that worked and mixed with the noisy machines. It’s this innovative approach that has no doubt aided Halter in getting the word out on his stellar sounds and songs.

You can see him on his own YouTube series, covering songs by fan request. Some of them appear on the new record “Starting Over” including, “Just Friends” from Musiq Soulchild, “Pretty Girl” from David Ryan Harris and the very popular “Cyclone” from Baby Bash (Have you heard that one yet? It’s solid). Speaking of the new album, the entire recording process was broadcast over the net from their New York City studio, something perhaps no one has ever done. The collection’s material is autobiographical, detailing some of his recent experiences including “the end of a marriage and the birth of his son.”

The music on “Starting Over” remains consistent Ernie Halter, echoing his belief that “a soulful heartfelt vocal is the most important part,” and that the “perfect groove or rhythm hypnotizes you and makes you want to nod your head, shake your ass.” When you get the chance, shake your ass at a live Halter performance. He generally attacks the stage with only a guitar, and prides himself on stories about his travels, porn and “the dangers of drinking and baking.” You can learn more about this and so much more by simply diving into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Ernie Halter

PEV: Tell us how you first jumped into playing music.

Ernie Halter (EH): It kind of was. I was always playing around with instruments from a very young age. My mom forced piano lessons on me, and that part I hated, because it was classical training. Way too rigid. I had much more fun with piano after I quit taking lessons and started teaching myself to understand chords and music theory, rather than playing a Bach invention note for note.

PEV: Born in Inglewood, CA, raised in Orange County, what kind of music were you listening to growing up?

EH: I was raised in Tustin CA, but technically born in Inglewood, which I think will make a hilarious introduction when I finally get the chance to sing at The Apollo Theater in Harlem one day. Growing up I listened to what my older brother Alex was listening to. Everything from Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, to The Who, Van Halen, but I he played me my first listen of the Beatles (Abbey Road, Sgt Peppers, Revolver, etc) and it changed my world forever.

PEV: You said, “I was a musician for hire for a while… playing wherever and whenever I could to pay the bills.” With that, tell us about the early days in the music business for you. What were your first performances like and what was it like working your way into gigs?

EH: I would pretty much play anywhere I could make a few bucks doing it. I played a lot of coffeeshops. I remember having to play over the sound of the blenders and barista’s shouting coffee orders in my left ear. I figured out one day that the blenders made a certain tone, and that I could transpose my songs in that key so that the two sounds would compliment each other. No one else noticed but me, but that’s ok.

PEV: Now, how has your style and stage presence changed from those first shows?

EH: I feel like years of touring has really radically improved my show and stage presence. I’ve learned how to work rowdy crowds, pull them into what I’m doing by including them. I tell stories and work them into introductions to my songs, so that my audience can relate their own lives to my music. After all, we’re all selfish. Tell your listeners why this song is about their life, and they’ll pay attention.

Stylistically I feel as though I’ve stayed fairly consistent. I’ve always felt that a soulful heartfelt vocal was the most important part, and my accompaniment has stayed fairly simple. I believe in the power of “the pocket”, that perfect groove or rhythm that hypnotizes you and makes you want to nod your head, shake your ass. I think a lot of acoustic singer-songwriter types neglect this because they’re not playing with a drummer, but I’ve always felt it was extremely important. Back then I played with drum machines, now I play with loop pedals. Anything with perfect time, that I can groove to. Even if its just a guitar and my voice.

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

EH: I acted in high school and before that as a kid. Music was a hobby, and acting was more my focus. But one day I got into an argument with my acting teacher, and I quit and joined the jazz band. Later that year I attended a summer program in LA hosted by Berklee School of Music. I met other serious young musicians for the first time in my life, and I knew then that this was all I ever wanted to do.

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

EH: I would die happy to write with Elvis Costello or Paul McCartney, tour with Bonnie Raitt, or record a duet with Stevie Wonder.

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

EH: Music overall or singer-songwriters? That’s a tough one because I’ve only really worked the music scene in LA. Still I think Atlanta has a really good music scene for the acoustic thing. Nashville is great because its such a songwriting focused community and there is so much great talent there to collaborate with. Though playing shows in Nashville is tough, as in any big music city, because of over saturation.

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

EH: Mostly good. I love meeting new people, catching up with old friends. I’ve got friends everywhere pretty much now, which is nice. Feels like a bit of home everywhere I go — because otherwise the road can get lonely. It’s hard to find time in the day to catch up with family and friends back home. Even as I type this, I’ve got 15 minutes till we hit the club in Richmond for sound check, and we’re late.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Ernie Halter performance?

EH: Full frontal nudity. Not really. Not yet anyhow. I tell a bit of off color stories of my various travels, talk about porn, the dangers of drinking and baking, and whatever else comes to mind during my 40 minutes. Musically speaking I usually play solo – just myself and a guitar. Take requests from the crowd< and otherwise deliver the most heartfelt performance I possibly can.

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

EH: I like to write a setlist and also a “storylist” which has all the things I feel like talking about that night in between songs. If I’m feeling like a prissy vocalist I’ll drink some tea with honey and cleanse my sinuses with Alkalol and a Neti pot. now that’s a party we’d all like to be invite to.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

EH: Some girl flashed me her boobs once. the funny part was that it was one of my first gigs ever — at a coffee shop called Al Cappuccino. There were 3 people there, including the girl who flashed me. I was like, um ok, wtf?

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

EH: My friend Dave Barnes is amazing. others you should definitely check out: Tony Lucca, Tyrone Wells, Josh Hoge, Sylvie Lewis, Eric Hutchinson, and I cant get that new Katy Perry song “Kissed A Girl” out of my head.

PEV: What can fans expect from your upcoming release, “Starting Over”?

EH: Fans can expect a much more autobiographical record. The songs detail some of what I’ve been through in the last year. I strived to make the message as universal as I could, even though the material came from very personal experience.

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

EH: On Starting Over, I did more solo writing than on Congress Hotel. On the songs that I did co-write, I feel like I’ve had more influence as a lyricist than ever before. I wanted to deliver a soulful record that wasn’t too polished or over produced, for example, tracking vocals in the control room for more of a live feel with no editing.

PEV: In one word, describe Ernie Halter.

EH: F’awesome

For more information on Ernie Halter, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 26-27: Bag Of Toys

July 27, 2008 at 6:53 pm (Today's Feature)

Whether you’re talking with em’, hanging with em’, or listening to em’, it’s hard not to have a good time with the gentleman of Bag of Toys. Yea that sounds corny – after all their name is “Bag of Toys” – but Robert Tait, Steve Cowgill, Joe Schewe and Robert Stadler know that playing a show or creating an album is more than just hard work – it’s a party. And what better setting than Northern California for this good time, and music “completely original, infectious and drenched in the sun and sand.”

Their latest offering “Afternooner,” much like their 2006 debut “Nooner,” contains “acoustic surf-rock that doesn’t suck,” garnering both great reviews and fan loyalty. The main difference here is that Nooner was recorded in Tait’s apartment for a small sum of cash – Afternooner was a little different. While their style is maintained, Bag of Toys took on a more collaborative approach in the record’s songwriting, assuring fans the new collection wouldn’t sound like “Nooner” on repeat. It was also record at Gadgetbox Studios in Santa Cruz, produced by Andy Zenczak and mastered by John Cuniberti (Dave Matthews, The Grateful Dead, Aerosmith). You’ll notice the influence from the new setting, “incorporating elements such as funk, country, and Latin rhythms.”

Like I said before, a live show with these guys is a party, so get out there to one. And it helps if you like beer. No doubt, Bag of Toys enjoys a brew or two. The new album is available now, so add it to your collection and get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Bag of Toys – Steve Cowgill (lead guitar) (PEV): As a band, has music always been a passion for you? How did you first form as a band?

Steve Cowgill: Music has been a huge part of my life as long as I can remember. We started as a band thru the musician’s section of Craigslist. Robert Tait (singer/guitar) and I met first and decided to start a band. Then we started auditioning bass players and drummers and were lucky enough to find Joe Schewe (bass) and Robert Stadler (drums). Then The Bag was at full power.

PEV: Now calling Northern California home, what kind of music were you listening to growing up?

SC: I’ve never really been into country or really hardcore stuff, but I have gone thru tons of different musical phases while I was growing up. The classic rock phase, the 80’s phase, the punk phase, the grunge phase, the hip hop phase, the indie rock phase, the surf rock phase, etc…

PEV: Tell us about the early days in the music business for you. What were your first performances like and what was it like working your way into gigs?

SC: Our first performances were actually really fun because the crowds were about 95% full of all of friends, so it was always like a big party every time. And having a built in crowd of friends made it pretty easy for us to get gigs when we first started. Then it was a matter of building an actual fan base so we weren’t reliant on our friends to pack the house.

PEV: Now, how has your style and stage presence changed from those first shows?

SC: I don’t think our style has changed all that much from our first shows but our stage presence has really improved over the years. Our stage presence was pretty freaking horrendous when we first started out, (and I still think we have a lot of room for improvement), but we’re definitely getting better.

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized that music was going to become more than just a hobby? As a band, did you find it more comfortable to have a support of the group, when you decided to enter the music business?

SC: For me, I have always taken this band seriously from the very beginning. I felt like the songs we had were really something unique so I never really treated the band like a hobby. Although, as I type this, all four of us still have full time jobs so I suppose technically this is still a hobby. But things seem to be moving pretty fast right now so hopefully this new album takes off and we can do the music thing full time.

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

SC: We really haven’t collaborated with anybody other than ourselves at this point but I know we’d love to do something with G. Love or the guys in Stoopid.

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

SC: We haven’t been out on an extended tour yet, but we’ve done some mini-tours down to so-cal. And that’s a great scene for our music.

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

SC: Since we’ve only taken mini-tours I can only comment on life on the mini-road, but it’s been great. Cruising around and playing music with your buddies is pretty damn fun. The only bad part I can think of right now is all the travel time. But I’d probably have more to bitch about if we went out on an extended 3 – 6 month tour instead of the mini-tours we’re doing now.

PEV: Any favorite spots along the road?

SC: San Diego. Sun, blue sky, gorgeous women and tons of good burrito spots and bars. Heaven…

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Bag of Toys performance?

SC: Hopefully a good ole fashion drunken rock show.

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

SC: Check out an album by Sean Hayes called Big Black Hole and the Little Baby Star. Also, check out The Pat Jordan Band. Good stuff.

PEV: The group released their full-length debut album, “Nooner” in 2006. Which got great reviews and propelled the band into the next level of music. Did you expect the album to be so well received, and so fast?

SC: I was surprised and not surprised all at the same time. I really believed in the songs so I wasn’t all that surprised that other people seemed to like them as much as I did. But at the same time, we recorded that CD in Tait’s apartment for almost no money at all, so it was pretty surprising to see what was essentially a home recording getting such a great reaction.

PEV: Now set to release your second full-length album (July 1st) entitled “Afternooner,” what can fans expect from this? How is the music different from “Nooner”?

SC: Fans can expect more of what they liked from Nooner, but also some movement into some new styles and some new grooves. The songwriting on this album was much more collaborative on Afternooner, so it’s not just a repeat of Nooner. But we wanted to make sure that we grew as a band, but still stayed true to that vibe from Nooner that we loved so much.

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

SC: We hate jean shorts.

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

SC: It’s usually either one of four things. Tait writing solo at his place. Me writing solo at my place. Tait and I writing together at my place. Or the full band jamming out at my place. Either way, there is usually some beer involved and some sports on the TV with the sound off.

PEV: Ten years from now, where will the band be?

SC: Not a clue. I’m not even sure where we’ll be in one year. Hopefully out on a national tour.

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

SC: Since we all still work full time you’d be most likely to find us at our jobs. Or you’ll find Tait surfing.

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

SC: Is beer a ritual?

PEV: Playing so many shows and touring so much, there has to be some great live stories. Tell us, do you have any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

SC: I don’t know if this is a great story of not but the first one that comes to mind is one time when we were waiting to go onstage and just kind of hanging out at our merch table while another band was playing. This guy walked up and started talking to us a bit and was checking out the merch. He was really excited and was clearly very into our band. He picked up a CD and he said “this is the band on stage right now, right?” So it became immediately apparent that he had no idea at all who we were and he was digging the band on stage and not us. He seemed pretty disappointed but for some reason he ended up buying one of our CDs anyway. I think the guy was just embarrassed.

PEV: In one word, describe Bag of Toys.

SC: Burpy.

PEV: So, what is next for Bag of Toys?

SC: Releasing after-nooner. Then hopefully some solid radio airplay and a national tour.

For more information on Bag Of Toys, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 24-25: Stanfour

July 25, 2008 at 10:41 pm (Today's Feature)

For much of the viewing audience, Stanfour is a new name for the vocabulary. It’s understandable. But if you mutter the term somewhere near Germany – hell, anywhere around Europe – folks would know who you were referencing before you made it into the second syllable. The gentlemen of Stanfour grew up on the small, yet quite beautiful island of Foehr in northern Germany, and after a successful takeover of their local market, are poised to attack the American charts like no other pop-rock band before them.

And Stanfour knows success isn’t far, referencing the open way many young American minds think: “It seems like the American fans become very interested a lot faster. Rock music has a great tradition in the States and people over here are a lot more open to new bands than in other countries.” Hits such as “Do It All” and “For All Lovers” have grabbed numerous newcomer awards from German magazines and radio stations, and both are selections from their latest release, “Wild Life.”

The album is a mix of ballads, up-tempo rock songs and even tracks that will get your feet moving on the dance floor. Guiding the best from pop and rock into wonderfully blended melodies, Stanfour has added attention grabbing elements to this record, such as big string orchestras and exceptionally passionate lyrics. Some huge names helped make this collection; names you’ll recognize whether you’re from Germany or the states. People like Max Martin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson), Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Kiss) and Lindy Robbins (Backstreet Boys). It’ll be tough to catch the guys in America over the summer, as they jump festival after festival in Europe. But trust me – this won’t be the last you hear of Stanfour. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Stanfour (PEV): Tell us how Stanfour first started out. Was it an instant connection from day one?

Stanfour: We got to know each other almost five years ago working for a different artist. We started writing songs right away and it felt really natural being together as a band. So instant connection is probably the right term!

PEV: Growing up in small, beautiful island of Foehr, in northern Germany, what kind of music were the members of Stanfour listening to?

Stanfour: Some favorite bands/musicians are:

Alex: Journey, Toto, Michael Jackson.

Konstantin: Queen, Incubus, Coldplay.

Eike: Nirvana, Taking Back Sunday, Green Day.

Christian: Coldplay, Three Doors Down, Nickelback.

PEV: Already a household name in Europe, and getting air play in the US as well, how are the fans in Europe different than the ones in the US?

Stanfour: It seems like the American fans become very interested a lot faster. Rock music has a great tradition in the States and people over here are a lot more open to new bands than in other countries.

PEV: What’s one thing that you love about Germany, you can’t find in the US?

Stanfour: There is one thing – soccer! It’s the most popular sport in Europe but not that big in the U.S.A… yet. But we know David Beckham is going to change it.

PEV: Tell us about the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio. Do you remember that feeling and excitement?

Stanfour: That was after a show with John Fogerty. We were all sitting in our tour bus heading for the next city. Everybody was talking about the gig and suddenly we heard the intro of our song on the radio. It got quiet immediately, a very special moment.

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

Stanfour: Music has always been more than just a hobby for us. It is a privilege being able to spend every day with writing, recording or performing music.

PEV: You have played with John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Daughtry, One Republic and have a show coming up with Bryan Adams. Who have you not collaborated with so far that you would like to?

Stanfour: There are so many great bands and musicians out there. A lot of bands have an impact on our music and it would be a great honor to play shows with bands like Three Doors Down, Lenny Kravitz, Snow Patrol, Nickelback or Coldplay – to name a few..

PEV: Having traveled all over Europe and traveling in the US, in all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

Stanfour: In Europe it’s probably Stockholm (Sweden), which offers the best scene for Rock/Pop music. The city is not that big but has an amazing musical output. Hundreds of artists and producers are working in small studios all over the city and Swedish productions are dominating the charts all around the world. We recorded most of our songs in Stockholm in different studios. It was a great time in a beautiful city!

Los Angeles is of course one of the most important places for band, artists and everyone involved in the music business. There are cool clubs and festivals for young talent to present themselves and a superb recording infrastructure for established artists. Alex and Konstantin have been living and working in LA for a couple of years now and are opening up a small studio this fall.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you? Good parts? Bad parts? Any favorite stops along the way?

Stanfour: We just love to perform our music in front of an audience and we love to travel, being on the road is the perfect combo for us. You get to know great people and cities… Touring has no big down sides, except maybe sleeping in a bus next to 12 other men every night. Our favorite stop so far has been Brussels (Belgium), it is great city that has an amazing crowd.

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

Stanfour: Performing live means a lot to us, but in the end it’s all about having a good time and a big party with our fans.

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

Stanfour: About 45 minutes before the show starts we all gather in our backstage room, then we just go through the set really quick. Afterwards, everyone has his own pre-show routine. Some are powering themselves up with music while others are calm and focusing on the show.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

Stanfour: It’s actually a thrilling story; One of our shows with the Backstreet Boys in Europe had to be cancelled due to a fire. It broke out in one of the wardrobes of the Backstreet Boys while our crew member was sleeping in the room next door. He was trapped inside on the second floor and the only chance to get him out was by smashing the window from the outside and rescuing him through the broken glass with a cherry picker. Gladly no one was seriously injured and the tour could be continued.

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

Stanfour: George – an amazing singer/songwriter managed by Howie from the Backstreet Boys. Great performer!

PEV: Already a massive hit in Europe, what can the US fans expect from your release, “Wild Life”?

Stanfour: It’s basically a melody focused Rock/Pop album. We wrote and produced over 50 songs and 13 ended up on the record. There are ballads, up-tempo rock songs and even tracks that make you want to dance. It’s a good reflection of the last couple years that we have had together as a band…drama and fun.

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

Stanfour: We had the opportunity to work on our debut with some outstanding writers and producers such as Max Martin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson), Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Kiss) and Lindy Robbins (Backstreet Boys) among others. Making this album was an amazing experience. We wrote and produced in our own studio in Germany, in Stockholm/Sweden and in Los Angeles, it was quite a journey.

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

Stanfour: We all have our own personal history in the music business. Alex used to work as a film composer in a studio in L.A. for a couple of years. Konstantin joined him and later he was picked by Brian May to perform in the Queen show “We will rock you”. Eike was working as a producer for a local radio station where Chris hosted his own daily show.

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

Stanfour: The environment can be totally different as long as you have an acoustic guitar and something to record your ideas on. We have our own studio on a small island in Germany and that’s where we wrote and still write a lot of our songs. The sea and the beautiful nature of the island is a great inspiration to us. It frees your mind and you are much more open to music than in the hectic nature of a major city.

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

Stanfour: When we’re not touring we’re usually in our studio working on new songs. But since our studio and home base is on a small island we love to hang out at the beach, playing soccer and having barbecues. We love barbecues!

PEV: In one word, describe Stanfour.

Stanfour: Melodies.

PEV: So, what is next for Stanfour?

Stanfour: We have a lot of shows and summer festivals all over Europe coming up. Then in late September we will be on the road with our own club tour.

For more information on Stanfour, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 22-23: Amber Weinberg

July 23, 2008 at 2:39 pm (Today's Feature)

Looking at some of the work from our latest feature, you’d have no idea that she just very recently graduated with her BFA in graphic design. You’d probably be even more surprised to learn she’s running her own business, Lost Spots Design, at the age of 22. But Amber Weinberg has been taking on the art of graphic and web design from a whole new angle for years, combining knowledge gained from both classes and self-taught lessons.

Her take on design is unique of course, combining elements from a variety of experience. She explains she was once asked to describe the work her company does in 7 words or less – She went with “I make your business visible and appealing. Visible to the outside world of customers, and appealing them to come inside.” Seriously, check out her site and look for yourself. There’s some great stuff in there, from packaging, to business cards to all sorts of art. Clearly, what we here at PensEyeView enjoy most are the posters and designs geared towards music, and luckily Ms. Weinberg has some great taste (A Perfect Circle fan? Awesome). Anyway, you can learn more about her designs at, and so much more in the XXQ’s below (especially if you are interested in a career in graphic design as well).

XXQs: Amber Weinberg (PEV): When did you first get involved in the art world, let alone design?

Amber Weinberg: I loved reading manga (Japanese comics) when I was in middle school, particularly Sailor Moon comics because the artist’s work was absolutely beautiful. I feel in love with those comics so much I decided I wanted to be a comic artist and taught myself to draw by copying those comics. (Of course by the time I hit college I decided drawing was not my dream anymore). As far as graphic design goes, I never knew it until high school but my Aunt is also a designer in Boston, so I guess it runs in my family. (Even my little sister is getting started now). I started out by making websites in the sixth grade in simple HTML and editing photos, and was actually allowed to tutor other students! Back then, however I was on a crummy little windows 95 machine, so I never really learned anything advanced until college. Web design is really what got me into other aspects of design, and I never realized I could actually make money until my last year of high school or so when I finally decided that’s what I really wanted to do for a living. However, I actually lost my taste for the web for a while and was completely interested in print design until about a year ago when I realized how much I missed web design. The college I went to actually doesn’t teach web programming, so everything I know on the web has been self-taught.

PEV: Growing up, what kind of artists or artistry sparked your interest?

AW: I’ve always been a huge manga fan like I said before, but I also love Old World paintings, my favorites being Botticelli and Degas. I always wanted to paint, but unfortunately never had the talent to 🙂 As a kid, though, I ALWAYS loved doing anything that required my hands; helping mom paint the house, arts and crafts, hammer and nails, whatever I could build. I actually almost cut off one of my fingers trying to build a cardboard “phone booth” at day care once. 🙂

PEV: What was life like for you in college when you were first taking the step towards a career in design?

AW: College was an awakening experience. I went from being an A honor student in high school to almost losing all of my scholarships and dropping out. It was also hard to realize that art was probably the hardest degree one can ever get because it’s so subjective. What one teacher loves, another may hate so I had to deal with learning different styles of art in order to stay alive, so to speak, and I almost stopped trying. But by the last semester of my Sophomore year I think is when I finally woke up and realized that college was serious and I needed to be serious about it to survive afterwards. I really owe the rest of my college experience to my mentor, David Bieloh, who took the time to make me try, and if it wasn’t for him I probably would never be the designer or the graduate I am today.

PEV: Having started your own firm, Lost Spots Design, in May of 2006, what has been your biggest challenge so far?

AW: Having the time to actually spend on my business. When you have a million other things going on in life, its so easy to forget about your small business, even though that�s what I really want to do in life. Now that things are finally calming down for me, I’m planning on spending a lot of my free time marketing and just getting out to network, because I’ve been told by many that�s the most important aspect of running a design business.

PEV: Starting a business at such a young age (22 currently) can be somewhat daunting on a career. Do you find age to be a plus or minus in helping you spread your name?

AW: I find it both, depending on the situation. Some clients love the idea that I’m so young, because they know I have a fresh take on design and I keep up with current trends (and programming for the web stuff) Other clients have not been so easy, and some tend to not want to listen to my input because they think since they’re older they know better, even though they hired me to do this job. So sometimes I just have to suck it up and try to work the best I can with each type of client.

PEV: What has been your favorite campaign to work on?

AW: The Saucy Sisters campaign has been my favorite. They are two older ladies that are completely fun to work with and they listen when I tell them what’s better for their audience and what’s not. I’ve done so many projects for them it’s amazing. Now I hear they have a radio show going on, too.

PEV: Between logos, brochures, posters, websites, etc. is there one particular genre of design that tends to be your favorite or strongest?

AW: Websites are my favorite to do, although they are actually my most frustrating projects to work on because you really have to keep up with the programming, and you actually don’t see very many programmers/designers in one person. I can understand that a lot because both sides have so much going on. In the print world, I love posters and band projects and would actually like to move into the music world and do exclusive posters and CD designs.

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

AW: It really depends. Normally I’m by myself but I absolutely HATE silence. I always have to have some kind of music to listen to, it helps me get creative and in the zone. Right now I’m either working at the office at my full-time job, or out of my armoire because I lost my office after the divorce. Someday I would like to buy one of those double buildings in downtown Nashville with an apartment on top and business on bottom, and have my own studio down there, while living upstairs. I’d also like to get a new Mac Book Pro and work in Starbucks. I’ve always wanted to do that.

PEV: What kind of music are you currently listening to?

AW: I’m totally a rock lover, lately I’ve been into 80’s hair bands such as Guns N Roses and Skid Row, but my favorites are also My Chemical Romance and A Perfect Circle. My new favorite is a Canadian band called Billy Talent.

PEV: In your opinion, which company (international or US) has the best brand identity?

AW: Apple of course. No matter where you are in the world anyone can recognize an iPod, even in the poorest of countries. Sometimes I wish I could move to California and work at Apple, but the cost of living is way too much for me! I love their entire identity, all the way down to their package designs. It all coincides, is completely simple, recognizable and just plain beautiful design.

PEV: Have you ever dealt with a client that you wish you could fire?

AW: Oh yes, I’ve had a few. My worst was a web design client who had five people in the company, and each of them told me something completely different every day! They also kept calling at 11 at night and making completely ridiculous claims, but I tried my hardest to please them, hoping to get some referrals. I must have changed the pictures and background colors at least a hundred times. The site was already live, though incomplete, and I received a check from them for the remaining balance and then they just dropped off the face of the earth! I emailed them a few times and finally found out that they went with this (horrible) place in Nashville and never thought to tell me that they “fired” me.

PEV: Ten years from now, where do you see yourself and Lost Spots Design?

AW: Hopefully in one of those two story buildings I mentioned above, and making enough money to support myself and a nice client base. I really would like to work with some rock bands, and the rock scene in Nashville is really growing, so now is the perfect time to get started I think!

PEV: What is the story behind the name Lost Spots Design?

AW: It means a couple of things actually. It was originally referring to four the CMYK dots that a printer mixes to make all of the colors of the rainbow. I had a printer that ran out of cyan and the print was less than beautiful looking, and a friend made a joke about the print’s Lost Cyan Spots so I just thought it was a neat phrase. It was also around the time I really started to get into photo editing and I enjoyed removing cheetah and lady bug spots during class. I really did goof off so much during school, you shouldn’t do that!

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

AW: Most of my friends are actually designers and programmers themselves, so it was great to be able to vent and ask them for advice. My family was actually really receptive to the graphic design career, since my Aunt is really successful, however my Dad is very supportive of the business, but my mother insists that I stay at a full-time “career”.

PEV: What kind of advice can you offer someone who is thinking about pursuing their own business in graphic design?

AW: Make sure you spend plenty of time marketing, but don’t spend a lot of money. I wasted a lot of money on a postcard mailer once that didn’t even bring in one lead. Go out to business meetings and luncheons, join the Chamber of Commerce, and the most important thing is YES you HAVE to have a portfolio on the web. People who say otherwise are unfortunately stuck in the 90’s because the web is where most of my clients find me.

PEV: In one word, describe Lost Spots Design?

AW: Fresh.

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

AW: I’m trying to learn to play the guitar but haven’t had much time to spend on that, although I ended up buying that pretty Slash model Epiphone. I’m a huge movie buff, and since I graduated I’ve made a bunch of new friends so I’ve actually haven’t been home very much. I also started a “Life after Divorce” scrapbook and intend on filling it up with lots of fun things.

PEV: How have you developed as an artist from “day one”?

AW: Well I went from all hand drawings to basically all computer work, except for preliminary sketches. I would say that I’ve grown to a more “mature” clean design, I like lots of white space and one of my friends is starting to push into the whole Web 2.0 look with gradients and reflections, although I still think simple is more effective.

PEV: If you could travel the world, which one city would stay the longest?

AW: Italy. Roman architecture and art has ALWAYS been my favorite, plus I have a little Italian in me, so it’s partly home.

PEV: So, what is next for Amber Weinberg and Lost Spots Design?

AW: My plan for this year is to start spending more time marketing. I just updated my portfolio and my website is now fully done in CSS and PHP (which is important for web people) But now I need to take my own advice and start going “out there” and finding my clients, instead of just hoping they’ll find me.

For more information on Amber Weinberg and Lost Spots Design, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 20-21

July 22, 2008 at 8:57 pm (Today's Feature)

When Curtis James says he performs as part of The People’s Party – he’s not joking. It’s quite the group. The band includes: Curtis James on guitar/vocals, Tony Glaser on bass/vocals, David Garner keyboards/vocals, Orlando Boyd on drums, Will Volume on electric violin/guitar, Justin Kirk on trombone, Robby Marshall on sax and finally Chris Bautista on trumpet. Whew. That’s a crowd!

And speaking of crowds, that’s usually what the band performs in front of… random ones. Yep, people often don’t realize they’re part of the People’s Party audience until the first couple notes blast off from their “People’s Portable Party Platform,” a 20,000 watt stage that transforms out of a truck with a push of a button. The band that combines a seamless mix of “funk, hip hop, jazz, and everything in between” is “dedicated to spreading love and unity in the celebration of life,” as well as bringing the music whenever, wherever. Their performance is the definition of spontaneous. They’ll simply pull up into your city; find a crowded intersection or college campus, and bust open the truck. Hell, lead singer Curtis James recalls “we went on a two and a half month national tour with an eight piece band and basically no shows booked, no places to stay, and no permits.”

Their album, “We Am One” reflects their support for progressive social ideals for the evolution of individuals and communities. It also reflects a slightly different sound than their usual storied live show – a more polished feel than the truck version, this studio record also contains hard to find positive lyrics that the scene generally lacks, certainly in this day in age. The music described as “Hippie Hop” was crafted on the album with the help of Grammy Award winning engineer Bob Tucker, adding even more credentials to the talented bunch.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in the middle of a People’s Party performance, take in as much as you can. The police often show up in a hurry to shut things down (they want to see a permit or something – ridiculous). The band is preparing for a fall tour in support of the record while at the same time registering as many people as possible to vote. A pretty good deal. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: The People’s Party (PEV): My first question has to be about the massive truck the band travels in, that transforms into a 20,000 watt stage at the push of a button – “The People’s Portable Party Platform” or “The Platform” for short, which enables The People’s Party to set up and play anywhere, anytime. How on Earth did this come about?

Curtis James (CJ): David and I manifested it one day in the studio. We were talking about how cool it would be to have a vehicle that opened up into a stage where we could do guerilla shows all over the place. Later that afternoon, Angelique, David’s wife and an absolute angel, found the truck on Craigslist. Paul Ivazes, a great guy from northern California, had built it a few years ago for his son’s band after having a dream about it. We contacted him and went from there. He had received a bunch of offers from other people, but really vibed with our music and what we are about.

PEV: What is it like when “The Platform” rolls into an event and just “opens up shop” right then and there? What is the general reaction?

CJ: People are pretty much in shock when we start playing. Nobody has really seen anything like the truck before. Not to mention the fact that we roll up to some spots that don’t typically have live bands, like in the middle of a college campus or pulled over on the side of a busy street. Overall, people are really supportive and into what we are doing. Police are a bit of a different matter. We rarely, if ever, have a permit to play, so we often get shut down after ten or fifteen minutes by the police. We’ve kind of learned to deal with the cops at this point, so we don’t get tickets. We let them go on their power trip and just play dumb, like “Oh, it’s not cool that we’re blasting music in the middle of the day on the sidewalk? Oh, sorry. We’ll take off.” When you allow the police their power, they turn into little lovebugs. Usually they are apologetic that they have to shut us down. By that time, we have pretty much made our presence felt, so it’s all good. It only takes us a few minutes to get moving again, but we usually hang out for a while, register people to vote, and talk with new friends.

PEV: Now calling Venice Beach, California, but originally from Massachusetts, how did you form The People’s Party?

CJ: I found Orlando and Dave a few years ago on Craigslist. I love Craigslist. There was a moment when everything in my life I had found on Craigslist– my band, my apartment, my girlfriend. Anyway, I met them, Anton Cuyugan, a tremendous bass player from New Jersey and Brian Landau, a gifted saxophone player, and just fell in love with them. As musicians they are top notch, but they are also incredibly beautiful human beings. We clicked right away and started working up material that I had written and David had written. They added such great ideas and brilliance to songs that I had been working on by myself. We played as a five piece for many months, with drums, bass, keys, guitar, and sax. Then we added some more singers and kind of lost our direction. We broke up for a little while before we were really able to record much, only a few songs for a demo, but thankfully got back together to make love through music again. We picked up Tony Glaser, a friend of David’s from high school, on bass. The present lineup, with a full horn section and violin, allows us to bring a lot of different sounds and textures to the table, which is incredibly freeing musically.

PEV: Tell us about your earlier days in the music business when you were first starting out. How have you, over the years developed as a musician?

CJ: Before I moved to Los Angeles, and for about the first year I was out here, I was doing mostly singer-songwriter type stuff, doing open mics and coffehouses. I still love doing that and feel it brings out a certain part of my personality that feels really good, but felt limited in my expression. Putting the band together and watching it grow into the 8 pieces it is today has felt like a really natural progression. Musically, I think songwriting has always been my strength. I’ve always written on the guitar and so have been pretty decent at rhythm guitar in order to accompany myself. More and more, I’ve worked on my lead guitar chops, which, to me, is a different animal than rhythm. It has come a lot harder to me. It’s really been cool learning from players on other instruments as to how they craft their solos. It has helped me to look at the guitar in a different way than I used to as just a rhythm guitar player.

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

CJ: A big moment for me in realizing that music was going to be more than just a hobby was about four years ago when I went on a Vipassana meditation retreat in northern California. For ten days you don’t talk, you don’t read, you don’t write, you don’t look other people in the eye, you just meditate, look within, and observe what arises. In the process, you let go of a whole lot of old, limiting, belief systems, fear, doubt, and confusion. All that is left is clarity. At that point it was evident to me that I was going to play music for a living. I was making the conscious choice to play music for a living. There really was no doubt after that. Everything since has simply reinforced that decision.

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

CJ: I would love to get together with a really serious dance, techno, electronica type producer to do some stuff, some shit people can roller skate to. I think that would be a lot of fun. There’s nothing like a good dance party, especially with roller skates. That and David Bowie.

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

CJ: I don’t think there is any place that rivals New York in terms of variety of music, level of musicianship, originality, energy and just sheer amount of music. There are other scenes that are very cool- Austin, New Orleans, LA, but nothing compares to New York. For someone like me, who is into many different genres of music, New York is like a musical playground. It’s like a buffet in Vegas. A good one, though, not like The Frontier or Circus, Circus. More like Wynn or the Bellagio.

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

CJ: The road is a lot of fun. It’s an absolute dream come true. I kind of have an infatuation with truckers, so I get to act out a fantasy every time I’m on the road. Also, being part of a team that is all looking out for each other feels really good. You develop a brotherhood with all of the guys in the band, like platoon mates in war or something.

It can get pretty tiring, though. It’s hard to maintain a good exercise schedule, so the body gets pretty worn down. Not to mention the difficulty in eating healthy. I like to eat organic as much as possible, but it can be difficult to find organic, natural food in the middle of Arkansas at 2 am.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live People’s Party performance?

CJ: A lot of energy. A lot of fun. And a lot of love. There’s nothing like sharing in the moment of a live show with the other guys in the band and with the crowd. The transfer of energy is really a beautiful thing. We can come with a few different looks musically. Most of the time we have our full horns and a violin, so we have a really big, full sound. Though sometimes we are a lot more stripped down, maybe just drums, bass, keys and guitar. Our sets definitely vary immensely depending upon the lineup. Also, the venue can impact things a lot. Sometimes off the truck we’ll be playing for a mixed group, ranging from toddlers to geriatrics. We tend to keep it a little more family friendly for that kind of audience. If we’re playing at a club, though, you can definitely expect a raucous, high energy show to get everyone dancing their asses off.

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

CJ: I try to take a minute before every performance to go within and be present. I close my eyes, focus on my breath, feel my heartbeat, and really allow myself to be in the moment. There is no better way for me to tap into the well of creativity and expression than to shut off all the distractions of the outside world and focus on what is real, what I’m grateful for, what I love. A lot of times I either forget or am too busy to take a minute for myself. I can definitely tell the difference in regard to my feeling connected during those performances.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

CJ: I could probably go on for hours about the hilarity of our shows. I think the fact that we went on a two and a half month national tour with an eight piece band and basically no shows booked , no places to stay, and no permits is pretty funny in and of itself. It is a little embarrassing to roll into a city and have someone ask what venue you’re playing at and being, “uh, well, actually, we were going to try to play at the corner of 15th and main street, but we may get shut down pretty quick, so then we’ll probably try cumberland and red coat, but we might get shut down there too.” It’s kind of a double edged sword not having shows booked. For every six times we get shut down after ten minutes, we have one magical show that couldn’t possibly have been planned or permitted. The ability to be in the moment with the truck is amazing.

It always cracks me up when the cops come and try to shut us down when we are playing. At first, we try to pretend that we don’t see them by looking the other way or shutting our eyes and pretending to be completely lost in the music. Eventually, though, we have to acknowledge their presence. Then I’ll get down from the truck and talk in circles for as long as I can while the rest of the band plays. I think this may have hurt my ability to have real conversations with anyone anymore, as I have perfected the art of dragging conversations out well past the point of usefulness. Oh well.

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

CJ: There’s another artist on our label, Maesyn, who is absolutely incredible. She plays violin, sings, clucks, hisses, whoops, whistles and dances around like a wild banshee. She is one of the most amazing performers I have ever seen. She used to play with us, but clearly needed her own band to front. I would definitely check out what she is doing. She has one of the more unique sounds I have heard as well- soulful vocals and virtuoso violin over some funky, kind of hip-hop beats. It’s really good stuff.

PEV: Your sound has been described as “Hippie Hop”. What is exactly is Hippie Hop and how does it feel to be a pioneer of such a new style?

CJ: Hippie hop is kind of a blend of rock, funk, hip hop, jazz, folk, and maybe some soul. Growing up in a time where so many different styles of music are at our fingertips, it’s impossible not to love every type of music and have it affect you. I don’t think I ever sat down and said, “I want to blend rock with funk, and maybe throw in a little hip hop,” it just naturally comes out as it does. Although I do recall, when I was maybe twelve, wanting to do a cross of Paul Simon with A Tribe Called Quest. I’m not really sure if that is what we’re doing. Trying to explain what the music sounds like after it comes out is a weird thing. People seem to like to define things, though, so we call it hippie hop. It sounds better than rofuhijak…or does it?

PEV: What can fans expect from “We Am One”?

CJ: They can expect an eclectic sound unlike other stuff that is out there. It’s a lot different feel than the live show. There is a lot of production that went into the album, so it’s much more polished than when you hear us live. I think there is a lot of different sounds from song to song as well. I’m not sure if people are going to like every song, but I’m sure that everyone can at least find one song or sound that we’re doing that they resonate with.

PEV: How is “We Am One” different than other albums out today?

CJ: Between the styles and the instrument arrangements, the album is pretty unique. Also, we keep our lyrics on the positive tip, which unfortunately isn’t really the norm today, especially with music on the radio and television. We take some chances that a lot of artists, especially those on major labels, probably don’t have the ability to take. We are blessed to be able to create the music we want to whatever extent we want. I’m very grateful for that.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Curtis James and the members of The People’s Party?

CJ: We have ritualistic sex with each other and each other’s pets. Just kidding. Though that would be surprising, wouldn’t it? Seriously, though, we are just little kids trying to figure out our place in this crazy universe. Just trying to be happy and spread that happiness, that love.

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

CJ: A lot of my songs come when I am in transit, walking around or taking a train or driving or something. I get some lyrics and a melody and write it down. Later on, when I’m with an instrument, I try to remember what melody went with the lyrics, which isn’t always so easy. I definitely don’t have a system for writing, I just try to be as open to inspiration as possible. I can feel it when a song wants to come out, though. When I feel it knocking, I am just looking to get out of the way and allow it. After the initial little burp is when the work comes in, putting it to music, arranging, etc. Although calling it work is kind of a misnomer. It’s always play, even when it might feel a little tedious. There is one environment, I guess, that always seems to illicit a song, though it tends to be my more singer-songwriter type stuff. I’ll sit on the couch, turn the lights off and light some candles. Playing just for myself, when nobody else is around, is one of the true pleasures of life. It feels like I’m making love with the unseen.

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

CJ: I love to meditate, run, hike, eat deliciousness, talk social theory and philosophy, look at beautiful things like art or trees or children. I’m really trying to just be present in everything I do. Be making love at every moment.

PEV: In one word, describe The People’s Party.

CJ: Evolution…no, love

PEV: So, what is next for Curtis James and The People’s Party?

CJ: We’ll be posting up in Venice Beach for the summer, releasing our album, registering people to vote and informing them about Barack Obama, having some beach parties, gearing up for a fall tour of the United States. David is in the studio right now recording some brilliance. I’m hoping to put down a couple of new songs this summer. Tony is getting his bikini line waxed. You know, just more of the same.

For more information on The People’s Party, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 18-19: The Low Stars

July 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm (Today's Feature)

Fortunately for all of us, Chris Seefried, Jeff Russo and Dave Gibbs of the LA-based Low Stars found each other naturally – nothing forced, nothing manufactured. Just a group of talented guitar-swinging vocalists who happened to know one another, and by chance blend together as wonderfully as legendary acts such as Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Eagles.

These guys are making melodies that borrow bits of the musical past that people want to remember. They’re not the only ones who miss the vocal harmonies and guitar rhythms of years ago – just look at their loyal following or inside any Starbucks – their album was released on Hear Music through Starbucks in February of 2007. Part of their formula that has led to so much success is the fact they capture the truth of the music within the studio. Chris Seefried states “When I make records, I try to get as much live performing on tape as possible. Guys playing in a room together as opposed to overdubbing everything, which has become commonplace because of the home studio and one man band concept. With Low Stars, we always track the vocals live, get a good take and then double it live around one mic� They really do give the recording a lot of magic and life.”

These guys are in constant collaboration with other artists, so you may find it tough to catch em’ all together on one stage. If you caught that Springsteen tribute at Carnegie Hall though, then you would have seen the trio (receiving a standing ovation). Keep and eye out for more work from The Low Stars, as well as side projects such as Seefrie’�s work with Jay Nash, Joey Ryan and Rosanne Cash as well as supporting his solo record, “Denim Blue.” Get into the XXQ�s to learn so much more.

XXQs: The Low Stars (PEV): Having been involved in music for a very long time, how and when did you first get started playing music solo, and then into a band setting with The Low Stars?

The Low Stars � Chris Seefried (CS): I started playing in a band in 5th grade on Long Island where I grew up and played with some of the same guys all through high school, Gary DeRosa being one of them. We both moved into Manhattan and formed a duo. I’d play some solo gigs on Bleaker Street but mostly worked with Gary as a duo, with him playing keyboards and me playing guitar. The Duo got signed in England to Chrysalis Records and did two singles and one album that fortunately never came out!

After that I started the band, Gods Child, with Gary and got signed to Warner Brothers. The first record “Everybody” came out and we moved to LA to record the second album, �Aluminum.” Warner Brothers didn’t pick up our next album, so I started working on new music which became most of the songs on the first Joe 90 record called “Dream This,” which we released on Adam Duritz�s record label through Geffen.

We toured a lot with Counting Crows and the Dave Gibbs band, Gigolo Aunts, who were label mates of ours. This is how I got to know Dave.

I then started working on my first solo record. I was moving away from layered rock records and started writing and recording more organic singer/songwriter stuff. As I got close to completing “Denim Blue,” I started playing shows at Hotel Caf� in LA and Dave Gibbs. We got more into singing and playing together and started talking about doing an acoustic harmony type group around these songs. And that’s how Low Stars got it’s start.

PEV: Born and raised in New York, but now calling the west coast home, what kind of music where you listening to growing up?

CS: I started on a steady record buying diet of Beatle 45’s and albums as a kid and then got into FM radio, which was rock radio. There is a station on Long Island called WBAB that played a lot of East Coast artists, like Lou Reed, Patty Smith and BOC , that you never hear on the radio in LA. And artists like Bruce and Billy Joel are never not on the radio in NY!

PEV: When and where was your first live performance? How have you changed since that first one?

My first big shot was in the assembly hall of my elementary school. I wrote my first songs for this group and we played some cool covers. Our keyboard player was actually really accomplished for a 6th grader so we played “Light My Fire” by the Doors and let him solo for an hour. I remember I would fake the G to A chords because my hand would start to hurt. We had 3 guitar players and no bass player!

I’m basically the same guy, just taller.

PEV: Tell us about your latest work. What can fans expect from it?

I just produced Jay Nash’s new record “The Things You Think You Need,” which is fantastic! Jay has a great voice and is an all around good dude! David Immergluck and Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows played on it along with me, Jeff Russo and Dave Gibbs of Low Stars. It’s got a real good vibe. I also just finished the Low Stars recording of “One Step Up,” the Bruce Springsteen song we performed ant Carnegie Hall last year for the Springsteen tribute. For the recording, Chris Hillman of The Byrds and Burrito Brothers came in and played beautiful mandolin.

PEV: How is your work as a solo artist and with The Low Stars different from other music out today?

CS: When I make records, I try to get as much live performing on tape as possible. Guys playing in a room together as opposed to over-dubbing everything, which has become commonplace because of the home studio and one man band concept. With Low Stars, we always track the vocals live, get a good take and then double it live around one mic. This is what David Crosby called air mixes. They really do give the recording a lot of magic and life.

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

CS: I always write in a quiet place, usually in my studio in the back of my house in LA. Writing comes from experience, so you gotta live to write. Songs will come from the band I just saw, the person I just met, the movie I just watched , the book I read, the conversation I just had with my wife, my daughters opening salvo in the morning, anything can trigger it. You see all these screen-writers in LA sitting in coffee shops with their lap tops, so much of what is written down comes from what people say as they come and go. I do this too, transcribing. People say and do the most outrageous things, you can’t make this shit up!

PEV: What is your take on the current mainstream music scene today?

CS: I don’t listen to a lot of mainstream music but I like that MySpace and other social networks have evened the playing field for a lot of good artists. There is always an underground scene and that’s always where the real shit is.

PEV: How has your musical styling changed since your first years in music or over the years?

CS: I’ve always been a singer who plays guitar, that’s my identity. I started with The Beatles, then got into the Stones and found out about Elvis and country and blues through these artists. Growing up, our house keeper used to play the NY oldies station (1950’s music) and she would bring me all these great do-op records, 45’s , so I got deep into singing harmony, listening to these records. Around college I got into mining Motown and Philly soul, and Stax. In NYC, I got into garage bands, punk and psychedelic music and then got into hip hop and making collage records. I had a studio in the Westbeth building in the west village but the room was small, so we’d cut loops. This was around “Paul’s Boutique,” so I was trying to do that with rock records. That led to the first “Gods Child” record, “Everybody.” In LA I got inspired by singer/songwriter stuff and California country while studying English and American folk music at the same time which lead me to bluegrass and playing live with Rosanne Cash. So I’m always changing my thing but all the influences are always in the room. Music is such an enjoyable endless study.

PEV: Tell us about the first time you stepped into a recording studio. What was going through your head?

CS: I live here.

PEV: What is “road life” like for you? What are the best and worst parts?

CS: The shows are the best part obviously, that’s why we’re out there. But on the last “Low Stars” tour, I remember being in the bus, in the jump seat, late afternoon as the sun turned orange and purple. Gibbs was DJ-ing and filling my glass with outrageously good Pinot noir that he’d brought from home and we were talking about our favorite records… That was pretty good.

PEV: In all your travels and having lived overseas, which city (International or US) do you think offers the best music scene?

CS: I don’t know, but NY is still the best city on Earth.

PEV: Who is currently in your CD player right now?

CS: I just saw “Shine A light,” which amazed me. Mick Jagger is Muhammad Ali! Keith was always my stone and Brian, but Mick really has no rival at the front man position. Great singer, still, great writer, tireless, unreal performer, he’s the best. It made me go back and get into the Stones, so today I had “Aftermath” on in the house. The car is usually filled with stuff I’m working on.

PEV: Is there an up and coming band that you think we should all be listening to?

CS: Jay Nash.

PEV: Having played with several elite artists in the business, who would you wish to collaborate with that you have not had a chance to yet?

CS: David Crosby.

PEV: What do your friends and family think about your musical career?

CS: Well, my friends have their music careers to think about!! My family digs it. My father has an artist’s sensibility, he has good taste and can really hear music. My mother has a writer’s heart. My sister is a designer and has collaborated with me on art work they always encouraged me growing up and still does.

PEV: What has been the most memorable part of your career so far? Why?

CS: Playing Carnegie was awesome. We roomed with Bruce and my family was in the audience. We also got a standing ovation, freaky.

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

CS: Hmmmm…

PEV: Where do you think you and the band will be in 20 years?

CS: I’ll be making music as long as I’m here. If I’m gone, I hope someone is listening to it mom.

PEV: What one word best describes Chris Seefried?

CS: Blue, no green.

PEV: So, what is next for you?

Playing solo dates with Jay Nash and Joey Ryan. I’ll play mostly stuff from my just released solo record, “Deninm Blue,” on Artist Directory – NovaTunes Also finishing a new record’s worth of songs, so I’ll be recording them, too. Producing other artists if and when they’ll have me, playing live if and when they’ll have me and playing with my daughter, if and when she’ll have me. Raise a glass!

For more information on The Low Stars, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 16-17: Todd Carey

July 18, 2008 at 12:03 am (Today's Feature)

Chicago based singer/songwriter Todd Carey isn’t the type of guy to half-ass anything. He’s worked hard to get where he’s at. The guy did after all build up quite the following on the competitive southern California music scene with his band Telepathy before heading back to his hometown of Chi-town. And in no way was his return a step-back – he was just looking to fully grow as an artist the best way he knew how. He states he came back home because “I missed playing shows for audiences who really want to grow with their artists.”

See what I mean? The guy put in the effort to build up a supremely loyal base of fans – fans who can say they’ve been there since the start, watching this artist mature and develop into the talented performer he is today. That maturity has lead to some impressive lyrics behind his tunes, most of which come from an actual story in the life of Todd Carey. His latest release, “Watching Waiting” showcases these stories – “largely shaped by Carey’s recent experiences, the album’s themes of restlessness, displacement, homecoming and triumph are universally resonant.” The music stands out just as clearly on the record. Carey says “I spent a lot of time trying to give the tracks a unique flavor by adding the atmospheric and lead guitar tones that I identify with on a personal level.”

His single, “Ain’t Got Love” has been making its way through some of bigger U.S. markets and will likely be humming in your ear soon if it hasn’t already. Be the aggressor and get out to a show to hear it live. Todd prides himself on always delivering on stage – he knows fans only truly connect with artists who can bring the music to life right in front of their eyes. Check the schedule – he’s a touring machine. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Todd Carey (PEV): Born and raised in Chicago, what kind of music where you listening to growing up?

Todd Carey: My parents played every kind of music around the house. I remember a lot of Stevie Wonder, Beatles, Miles Davis, Sinatra, and Mozart. My dad is the kind of guy who has every cut Sinatra ever recorded, and downloads the newest Rhianna track off iTunes.

PEV: Tell us about your creative process. What kind of environment do you have to be in to write music?

TC: The environment generally dictates the process itself. I’ll write differently when I’m in the Northern Woods of Wisconsin (where I did many of the songs for “Watching Waiting”) than when I’m in a studio in LA. I’m in Japan right now, and it is greatly effecting my output.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Todd Carey performance?

TC: Energy. I will never give you a lackluster performance. Ever.

PEV: Tell us about your first performance. How have you changed since that first show to where you are now?

TC: I think the performances have become naturally more refined. It used to be all about the rush, and it still is, but now, I’m spending the time on the details that make for a lasting experience…hopefully, an experience the audience member can take home with them and remember long after the show is over.

PEV: What can fans expect from your new release, “Watching Waiting”?

TC: Cohesiveness, an overall emotion, and a statement of purpose. The record holds firm and true to me from beginning to end.

PEV: How is this album different from your past projects?

TC: I think past projects we’re more eclectic- not necessarily a bad thing- just different.

PEV: How would you describe your sound?

TC: How would you describe it? You guys are the journalists right? Haha.

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

TC: I’ve been to 30+ Phish shows!

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

TC: I don’t think there was a particular light bulb type moment. Music for me has always been a slow, rewarding craft that has unfolded slowly.

PEV: What one word best describes Todd Carey?

TC: Hahaha! Ummm… spaz?

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

TC: Best part: When the shows are good, it’s like showing up to a party in a different city every night!

Worst: The food. If your not careful, your eating cheese whiz straight from the can.

PEV: In all your travels, which has been your favorite city to play (US or International)?

TC: My home town CHI TOWN!

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

TC: You can never change in your family’s eyes. I’m still and will always be, for better or worse, the same person to them. Friends? they just wonder how I have so many fake friends on MySpace.

PEV: What can you be found doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

TC: I’m in Japan right now traveling! Its these types of things that open my eyes and seep back into my music.

PEV: Which artist would be your dream collaboration?

TC: These are good questions. Definitely a female artist, because I think something happens to an audience when they hear a male and female voice in harmony. I’d like to write and play guitar with Brandi Carlile.

PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for?

TC: There are so many…Check out Brendan James out of Brooklyn, NY. Jonathan Clay out of Austin, TX. The Paper Raincoat out of Brooklyn, NY.

PEV: What is your take on today’s mainstream music scene?

TC: I’ll address the overall music scene. It’s better than it ever has been. There is music for every niche’ imaginable. With the internet spreading recorded music and helping spread buzz about live performances, the scene is absolutely limitless.

PEV: Ten years down the road, where will you be?

TC: Doing what I’m doing now. Writing songs every day, playing shows every night, and recording/producing albums.

PEV: So, what is next for Todd Carey?

TC: A new album!

For more information on Todd Carey, check out www.ToddCareyMusic.

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Today’s Feature – July 14-15: Jo Dee Messina

July 16, 2008 at 1:59 am (Today's Feature)

As huge as the country music scene is today, there will always be artists that started the genre’s big push into the most visible mainstream spotlights that it’s ever been under – Superstars such as Garth Brooks, Reba, Tim McGraw, and today’s feature, Jo Dee Messina. For more than a dozen years, starting with “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” Messina has influenced the country artists of today and undoubtedly the ones of tomorrow with hits such as “I’m Alright,” “Bring on the Rain” and “My Give a Damn’s Busted.”

No doubt an inspiration as one of the strongest female leads in music, Messina has had nine #1 singles on the Billboard country music charts and has been honored by the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and was even nominated for a Grammy. Of course, we can’t forget to mention that she was the first female country artist to land three multiple-week #1 songs from the same album as well. Her latest record, “Unmistakable” is just as capable of such greatness. Messina says, “Topic wise, there’s something for everybody. Musically, the sound is very real. It really sounds like a live show. For years, people have told me you sound great on your records, but you sound better live. We just stripped down the whole process that people usually go through when making a record. What’s happening in the studio is what you get on tape.”

You’ve probably already sampled songs such as “Biker Chick” and “I’m Done,”but the rest of the collection brings it just as hard. You must check out the Jo Dee Messina performance that you’ve probably already heard so much about to see these tunes belted out in person. Jo Dee is as close to her fans as an artist can be, even having her fan club party broadcasted live on XM this past June. So expect a lot from the live show. Check out “Unmistakable” and get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQ’s: Jo Dee Messina (PEV): Hey Jo Dee – Where’d I catch you guys?

Jo Dee Messina: We are in… Atlanta, Georgia.

PEV: So, how did it your career really start? How did it all come together? I know you worked with Tim McGraw very early on.

Jo Dee: When I moved to Nashville, I was doing a talent show to win a chance to perform on a radio show, and that’s when my producer (Byron Young?) heard me and he was working with Tim McGraw at the time and that’s how I met him. It seems like forever ago, but it also seems like yesterday. We worked great as a team – we just knew each other, it was just a natural thing.

PEV: What were your musical influences growing up?

Jo Dee: I was listening to all sorts of music but I gravitated towards country music because it was very real, it made sense. When I was a kid I was listening to Alabama, Hank Williams Jr., Debra Allen, Reba, that kind of stuff.

PEV: You grew up in Boston and I hear you’re a big Boston sports fan – you even sang at the Predators and Red Wings playoff game. How was that?

Jo Dee: They won! The Predators won that night, so it was a really good thing. You grow up in New England, so you’re going to get your share of sports, that’s for sure. Today, it’s like how it was when I was a kid – Boston ruled!

PEV: So you’re a hockey fan?

Jo Dee: I was a bigger one when I was a kid. When I was in high school, I went to the Stanley Cup finals. That was pretty rocking. I used to actually play ice hockey and street hockey – it was part of growing up on that side of Boston.

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio right now, what is something interesting we’d find there?

Jo Dee: Haha, probably the trash bag that the dogs went through (laughs). They just tear it up.

PEV: What kind of dogs are they?

Jo Dee: They’re both mutts.

PEV: When you sit down to write music, is there a certain environment you need to surround yourself with?

Jo Dee: No, not really. I can write a song just about anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a major ordeal, it can just be walking down the street when I come up with a tune.

PEV: I’ve been listening to a few songs off of the album, “Unmistakable.” What can people expect from the album?

Jo Dee: Topic wise, there’s something for everybody. Musically, the sound is very real. It really sounds like a live show. For years, people have told me you sound great on your records, but you sound better live. We just stripped down the whole process that people usually go through when making a record. What’s happening in the studio is what you get on tape.

PEV: Is that what makes this record in particular stand out?

Jo Dee: I dunno, you tell me (laughing)!

PEV: (laughing) I was listening to a few of the new songs, like “Biker Chick” and “I’m Done.” And I agree, even as a guy, I feel like it’s something that does appeal to everybody.

Jo Dee: O, why thank you!

PEV: I saw that XM did a live broadcast of your fan club party in June. What’s it mean to you to stay so tight with your fan base?

Jo Dee: I love getting out there, you know and just hanging out for a few hours and visit. It’s an important thing to me because they’re the ones you make the music for.

PEV: How’s life been on the road for you?

Jo Dee: We’ve been to some great places this year – we just came from Nashville. It’s been a really good pace – not too crazy out here on the road. But it’s good to get home. Being with the band is great – they’re a huge part of my life. They’re like family.

PEV: Does a city stand out in particular as the best scene for music?

Jo Dee: No, not really. I’ve been to a bunch of these cities several times. They each have their own thing. We’re just so lucky to get to so many cities. Every place has their own magic to it.

PEV: So what can fans expect from a Jo Dee Messina live performance?

Jo Dee: We have a lot of fun, a great time on stage, very high energy. There’s a lot of crowd involvement. I don’t like for people to just feel like they’ve been to a show and not been part of the show. Even people who are not familiar with the music.

PEV: Before these performances, do you have a pre-show ritual you need to do?

Jo Dee: I usually do vocal warm-ups.

PEV: Is there a dream collaboration with someone you’d like to see happen that hasn’t yet?

Jo Dee: I would love to do some work with Bonnie Raitt. That would be really rocking.

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

Jo Dee: No… I have no answer for you (laughing).

PEV: Is there one thing we haven’t heard about Jo Dee Messina that would surprise us?

Jo Dee: Nope. I think you pretty much know it all (laughing). I was thinking about that just the other day – there’s not a lot that people don’t know.

PEV: Is there something you really enjoy doing in your spare time?

Jo Dee: I spend a lot of time tending the garden in my backyard – the rose bushes in my backyard. I always go around and smell them every morning.

PEV: In one word – could you sum up Jo Dee Messina?

Jo Dee: Um. No (laughing). How bout you?

PEV: (laughing) I probably couldn’t either. It’s a tough question.

Jo Dee: Yes it is! (laughing) But it is an interesting question. But no, I can’t.

PEV: I know what you mean – I know I couldn’t answer if someone asked me that on the fly.

Jo Dee: Still a very good question – how about real?

PEV: Very Cool. So what’s next for Jo Dee Messina?

Jo Dee: Well, we’ll be launching this record and I’ll be supporting this single, trying to get it on the charts. More shows and that kind of stuff.

PEV: Thanks so much for talking with me today.

Jo Dee: Alright, take care. Bye.

For more information on Jo Dee Messina, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 12-13: The David Wax Museum

July 13, 2008 at 3:13 pm (Today's Feature)

Talk about learned music – Dave Wax and his museum (aka: The Dave Wax Museum), are bringing sounds and textures to the scene that haven’t been heard before and are completely packed with purpose. Taking in lessons at Harvard in poetry and Latin American history, Dave Wax has used the influences of his education on the Cold War in Latin America, the Mexican Revolution, and the novels of the Latin American boom to create powerful tones you probably haven’t heard before – a style called “Mexican Son,” a bit of Mexican rural folk music.

Dave Wax actually lived in Mexico to study this music for a year, “most interested in being part of a vibrant folk music culture.� He saw folk music playing such a vital role in the communities where he lived. �It just blew me away,� he recalls. And Mexican Son really hit a nerve because “it was so mysterious. Something about the music hit me very deeply, I was extremely moved by the music, but I couldn’t decipher it.”

You can sample this unique offering on his release, “I Turned Off Thinking About.” There’s an interesting formula behind it, using Mexican folk instruments and rhythms and melodies to build what basically becomes American folk songs. Dave calls it a “North-and-Latin-Americana hybrid.” If you’re ever around the Cambridge area up north, by all means check out a performance. The band tries to bring out a new tune with every show (as Wax continues to write nearly a song a week). The list is together to produce the next album, so expect something new in the spring of next year. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more

July 12-13 The Dave Wax Museum XXQs: The David Wax Museum (PEV): Living in Missouri to California to Mexico – How did the The David Wax Museum come together in Cambridge?

Dave Wax (DW): Well, I am from Missouri but have been in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on and off for the last couple of years. It really wasn’t until I got back from Mexico in the Fall of 2007 that I decided I wanted to be playing music full-time and get a band together. I knew the bass player from when I had previously lived in Cambridge in the Harvard Dudley Co-op. I heard the dobro/mandolin player Jiro at the Cantab Lounge, which hosts a bluegrass night here in Cambridge. And I connected with Suz, the fiddler, through an old friend who I went to school with in California. It all came together pretty naturally, unlike my Mexican folk band — we found each other on the Internet.

PEV: What were you listening to growing up?

DW: I grew up listening to James Taylor, Yanni, American musicals, and TV theme songs. This was the music of my parents.

Like many singer-songwriters and musicians, my earliest personal influences were The Beatles and Bob Dylan. I decided to buy a guitar after I heard “Rocky Raccoon.” I think there’s certainly something strange but very revealing to the fact that it was these British musicians imitating American honky tonk that really turned me on to country music. The Beatles led me to Dylan in junior high.

The more interesting influences came in high school when I started listening to Uncle Tupelo (who used to play in my hometown in Columbia, Missouri, quite frequently, and continued to do so in the Wilco and Son Volt projects of Jeff and Jay). In Uncle Tupelo, I felt like I was hearing the soundtrack of Missouri. I felt a sense of ownership about it that I had never felt before. The mid-Missouri bands that also influenced me were an alt-country outfit Trailhead (now Celandine), a bluegrass quartet called Ironweed, and a jazz trio led by Tom Andes.

PEV: You went to Harvard to study poetry and Latin American history – What sparked this interest?

DW: I was mostly interested in studying Latin American history because of my fascination with the modern-day Zapatista movement in Chiapas. I was particularly excited about a social, political movement that used literature to communicate its ideas. I majored in History & Literature and focused on Latin America. While I remained a strong supporter of the Zapatistas, my academic interests led me to other things: the Cold War in Latin America, the Mexican Revolution, and the novels of the Latin American Boom. I studied poetry so I could maintain a creative outlet. I took workshops with Jorie Graham, Peter Richards, and Sam Witt, all wonderful teachers. Poetry seemed like the most directly relevant classes I could take at Harvard for songwriting. And what I learned doesn’t translate directly to my songwriting, but it has certainly informed the way I write, what I read, and my obsession with and belief in the power of images.

PEV: You lived in Mexico for a year to learn about their rural folk music – What specifically about Mexican folk music grabs your attention?

DW: Well, I was most interested in being part of a vibrant folk music culture. That’s not to say that such a culture no longer exists in the U.S., but I think it’s getting more and more scarce. My cousin, for example, studies Missouri fiddle music with Ozark fiddlers. So this does exist in the States. But I had worked for two summers in Mexico while in college and I saw folk music playing such a vital role in the communities where I lived. It just blew me away. I wanted to be a part of that, which is certainly a little weird as a white kid from the Midwest. But I wanted to learn folk music and be a part of a musical community in a place where folk music mattered.

Mexican son — which is what I play — particularly struck me because it was so mysterious. I could listen to it but I couldn’t quite get inside it. I couldn’t just figure out the rhythms and the way of singing and the meaning of the lyrics by just being a bystander. Something about the music hit me very deeply, I was extremely moved by the music, but I couldn’t decipher it. I didn’t want to over-analyze why it moved me but I did want to understand how to play it. I just felt compelled to play it.

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

DW: Well, I had my first inkling of it at Deep Springs College, where I completed my first two years of university. It’s a small, agricultural college in California. And I mean really small – just 26 students. So you have 50 people in an isolated desert valley the size of Manhattan. It was there that I started to value my role as a musician. Music was often what brought us together in positive circumstances. I began to see that it was a very tangible and comfortable way for me to contribute to that community. I previously hadn’t valued it that way.

But it was really in Mexico when I was writing songs and learning Mexican son as a full-time endeavor that I realized this was ideally how I wanted to be spending my time. That it was a sustainable thing, at least emotionally and intellectually. I know that might sound funny to a lot of people. But for me, someone who was always very academically-centered, I somehow assumed I would get bored just playing music and not working in a scholarly setting. Being in Mexico, though, really showed me that playing music wasn’t just a hobby for me. It was a way of engaging with the world that I wanted to devote all my creative energy to.

PEV: When you hit that creative roadblock, how do you work through it?

DW: I often make word lists or I force myself to do stream-of-consciousness writing or I just listen to a lot of music and try to find something that excites me. Then I’ll use that song as a model. Sometimes, if I can’t write any lyrics, I will find a poem and start playing something and try singing it. This can often help me generate some good ideas. Sometimes I reach a point where I just decide not to try and force it and so I focus my energy on learning a new song by someone else, tweaking old songs, or working on the Mexican music I play.

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

DW: A stack of poetry books (James Wright, Yehuda Amichai, Neruda, Denis Johnson), a steel-string guitar, a classical guitar, a pump organ, a jarana jarocha, a jarana huasteca, a huapanguera, a stereo, and a yerba mate gourd.

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

DW: I like to work at a big table where I can spread out everything in front of me. I usually work best for the first three hours of the day. A lot of songs are written in response to other songs or poems, and so I surround myself with great poetry and lots of old folk CDs (the Harry Smith Anthology, the Smithsonian Folkways CDs, Antologia de Son from Discos Corason). I find that drinking yerba mate is the best creative stimulant I can use, so I usually brew mate and drink it all morning while I’m writing.

PEV: What can fans expect from your release, “I Turned Off Thinking About?”

DW: Some surprises, especially when I play the Mexican folk instruments and use Mexican rhythms and melodies to build essentially American folk songs. My uncle Jack told me he liked the CD because it sounds real. It’s a home-made album made by three musicians who really love to play music. I mostly play a $30 classical guitar I bought in Ecuador, my friend Taylor had a magical, old (almost antique) upright piano, and I play hand-made Mexican folk instruments that I picked up in the countryside from the guys who made them. Most of these songs are ones I worked on over the last four years and have been endlessly tweaked. Some were brand new and were finished the day before they were recorded. Hopefully the listener can tell we put a lot of thought into the instrumentation and when we decided to incorporate accordion, fiddle, and percussion.

PEV: What does this collection give to the music scene that can’t be found anywhere else?

DW: I think the North-and-Latin-Americana hybrid is its most unique contribution. Certainly, other bands are bridging this gap. Calexico comes to mind, although their interest seems to be more in Mariachi and northern Mexican music. I haven’t heard anything else that draws on these particular currents of Mexican son.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you? You, after all, “wandered the U.S. on a Greyhound” for a while.

DW: Life on the road has been okay. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend traveling for four months on the Greyhound to anyone, but it is a great way to see this country and hear a lot of interesting stories. In general, it’s exhausting, though, and I think Greyhound is an awful and disorganized company. Having a monopoly on bus travel means traveling by bus in the U.S. is so much worse than bus travel in Latin America, which I usually find to be a wonderful experience.

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

DW: It’s hard for me to say because I haven’t necessarily been a part of the music scene in all the towns I have traveled to. I know Boston the best because it’s the only big music scene where I’ve invested a lot of time, and I think it’s a great place to be. I also really love Minneapolis.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live David Wax Museum performance?

DW: Well, I make a point of trying to incorporate a new original song each performance. As our gigs are getting more regular, that becomes a bit more difficult, but I basically write a song a week and have a back catalog of songs that the current iteration of the Museum hasn’t heard yet. So there is always new material for us to work out.

I’d like to think that our performances leave an impression on people, that the audience ideally remembers each song. The stylistic range of our songs, the different instrumentation that Jiro and I use, and our refusal to just play filler songs hopefully makes each performance a memorable experience.

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

DW: I don’t have any pre-show rituals. I like to have lots of time to set up, sound check, and just relax before a show.

PEV: Do you have a dream collaboration?

DW: Not really. Sometimes I just wish I bring the band in Boston together with my friends back in Missouri who I grew up playing with and with whom I recorded I Turned Off Thinking About.

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

DW: Los Cojolites, Annie Lynch & the Beekeepers, and Sonex. Los Cojolites and Sonex are two innovative son jarocho groups from Veracruz, Mexico.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of The David Wax Museum?

DW: Jiro was in a Japanese bluegrass band back in Osaka. Jack wrote his college thesis about sacred harp singing. Suz helps teach yodeling. I crochet hats and sometimes sell them at shows.

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

DW: Well, Suz, Jiro, and myself all play with other groups. So a lot of time our time not spent working on the Museum is given over to the bands. I spend most of my spare time going to hear live music in Cambridge/Somerville.

PEV: In one word, describe David Wax Museum.

DW: Latin-Americana.

PEV: So, what is next for David Wax Museum?

DW: We have all the songs for a new CD and are just trying to figure out when exactly we want to get back into the studio to record them. I am imagining a 12-song CD that would be released in the spring of 2009.

For more information on the Dave Wax Museum, check out

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Today’s Feature – July 10-11: Mikel Knight

July 12, 2008 at 2:37 pm (Today's Feature)

You know, Mikel Knight has a point. You can’t deny the unreal success of the rock-rap connection, with bands like Linkin Park constantly dominating the charts and the airwaves. Nor can you deny the craze of Raggaeton, as hip-hop successfully blends with Spanish stylings. So, why not combine two of the most popular genres in the world? What would the world be like with a country-hip hop connection?

Listening to Mikel Knight, it sounds pretty promising. Growing up listening to Lionel Richie and Alabama, as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Stevie Wonder, Knight is winning over fans around the world with his new formula of country hip-hop. The formula includes ‘hip-hop drums, the swing of rap music that makes a kid want to dance. Then add the musicianship, the lyrical content that country has.’ And Knight trusts this equation to excel; after all, Snoop Dog was just on the CMT awards.

And he’ll tell you he isn’t the first one to think about this. But he has best demonstrated it on his new album, ‘Urban Cowboy.’ He says all you need to know comes from the title, ‘It’s the urban side of life and the country style of life. It’s big-city country boy music.’ Check out his single ‘Saddle Up,’ and see if he can make you into a believer. His performance might win you over too along with his band The Outlaws. He looks to the best for inspiration in showmanship – guys like Kid Rock and Garth Brooks.

While Mikel Knight will continue to tour tirelessly, you may catch him around the movie set as well. He’s been directing videos and acting for some time, and now he’s written a film. Somewhere down the road you’re going to run into this guy. So keep your eyes open. And get into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Mikel Knight

PEV: Hey Mikel, how are you?

Mike Knight (MK): Good – hey, are we recording this? Or do you have a fast hand and you’re jotting it down?

PEV: Nah, we’re gonna record it.

MK: Alright good, sometimes I’m kind of informative and I can talk fast so boy you would need to have a really fast hand.

PEV: (laughing) Oh no, we’re going to record it, don’t worry. So where are you right now?

MK: Actually I’m in Nashville right now. I’ve been here for about three days. I have a gig on the 31st – it seems I travel every other day. I’ve basically been on the road for about a year and a half straight. But as well as the single is doing I could very well be on the road for the next year and a half.

PEV: How do you like life on the road?

MK: I actually chose this line of work because I’ve always been one of those guys that never complained and remembered that I worked for myself. I see a lot of people around me who are 6, 7,8 year college students and it’s only because mom and dad paid their rent while they were still in college. Some people make the decision to do what I do early on – I was doing this at 17. Kinda worked out for me. Can’t really complain. Life on the road has it’s up’s and down’s definitely but I work for myself.

PEV: What’s been your favorite city to play?

MK: Oh man! To play? Or be in?

PEV: (laughing) Well to be in might be a more interesting answer so let’s go with that one.

MK: Well actually Tokyo to play and be in. One of my favorite places I’ve ever been in my life. I was very well-received – sort of like my comeback to music. I was actually very big in Japan, so playing there was pretty awesome. Other than that, I love LA because I’m into the entertainment and the movie side of things – I write films as well as direct my own videos. But I’m also a Texas boy – I’d never marry a woman from LA (laughing). I still love the people of Texas, the people of Tennessee.

PEV: That’s pretty cool. I think people would be surprised to hear that Japan has such a large country base.

MK: Japan just has a need for new things. They’re up on their technology and on their fashion, but behind on their music. But it’s the hip-hop side of country that they love.

PEV: What kind of hip-hop music were you listening to growing up?

MK: It was before hip-hop – when I left home my mom gave me a big milk crate of vinyl records so I was listening to country and soul – Lionel Richie and Alabama. Or it was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Stevie Wonder. That was what my mom had in her record collection. That’s probably where I got my love for music period. Growing up though, I really started to enjoy hip-hop, kind of how my son is now. I mean if you were one of those first 750,000 people that bought MC Hammer of the Sugar Hill Gang, you literally took hip-hop into the forefront of the music world, the most lucrative genre in the business. I was one of those kids. My first rap tape ever must have been The Fat Boy’s Crushin.’ I must have been 8 year old. I don’t even think I had permission to buy a tape at the time. And then all the way into Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and Tupac. LL Cool J. I really followed it as a whole – I wasn’t into just one certain artist.

PEV: Your sound is actually very interesting – it’s been described as “country hip-hop.” Tell us about this new style you have.

MK: There’s a formula we have. The one thing I want to tell everybody is this has been thought of for a long time. It may not have been accepted 2, 3 of 4 years ago, but the bottom line is that people have been thinking about this because we’ve seen rock and rap like Kid Rock and Linkin Park, Reggaeton is just Spanish music and rap music mixed. The only thing left in this world that hasn’t been mixed aside from polka and rap (laughs) is country and rap. Snoop Dog was on the CMT’s the other day – that tells you right there that somebody has already thought of this. The powers of country music have already seen the youth and where they’re going today. Guys like Cowboy Troy aren’t authentic – he’s an older man. He grew up listening to country, but more power to him. I took a more genuine stance on it. Growing up this became a way of life for me.

Here’s our formula – we take hip-hop drums, the swing of rap music that makes a kid want to dance. Then we add the musicianship, the lyrical content that country has. Country artists take 3, 4, or 5 artists writing their songs. No other genre can move me with lyrics like country.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Mikel Knight performance?

MK: You would probably get the energy of a Kid Rock and Garth Brooks, but I have my own style, from the outfits I wear to my demeanor – it’s always really come from Texas, with a little bit of spice added from LA. My voice doesn’t really sound too Texas, but my show will definitely capture my image that I’ve grown up with. And I have a great band called The Outlaws.

PEV: What can people expect from the latest release, “Urban Cowboy?”

MK: It kind of says it in the title. It’s the urban side of life and the country style of life. I like to tell people, if I could chance the way I grew up, the places that I’ve been and the way I’ve come up, maybe I would. But you can’t change the way you grew up. It’s big-city country boy music. I spent a childhood in the country but grew up at that crucial time between 14 and 21 years old in the city. There’s some different songs like “All on my Own,” which talks about how nobody believed in something like country-rap music. No one could have told you some years ago that Snoop Dog and Willie Nelson were going to do a duet. The song has to do with the decisions I’ve made, right or wrong. Then there’s the new single, “Saddle Up.” Now, I know that any day God can take me away from this Earth, so you better live every day with a smile on your face, every day you wake up. That song is just a fun song, a song for the club, a song for people to smile and dance to. I’m sort of in that era with songs without cursing in them, songs without the bitches and the ho’s. Expect a lot from this record. It’s genuine Mikel Knight.

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

MK: I used to not believe in God. I was the kid who went from nothing to something – when I was a kid I didn’t believe in much. I had to go to prison to find God. We’re all here for a reason. Everybody has a gift – we just need to figure it out. I believe in destiny, that’s why I have it tattooed on my neck. I could have died 5 or 6 times, so it took some time for me to figure it out. Also, my mom’s my best friend, and I’m a gentleman.

PEV: Speaking of your mom, how have your family and friends reacted to your career?

MK: My mom is my biggest, most amazing supporter in my life. She gave us very good values – really pushed my brother and I to be the best we could. It’s not so easy to support a son who has promise, and then goes to prison. I gotta give my mom a lot of credit. I think it makes her smile to see me grow up into a man that really changed for the positive.

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

MK: Taking care of my daughter and my son. I just had a baby girl named Brooklyn about nine months ago, and my son is a little wild child like me. I also run a company with the same 12 friends I’ve had my whole life – an overseas distribution company for other artists. I always wanted to be a business man. I also write screenplays, and I just shot another video. I love acting and directing. I spent a lot of my life having, but now I’m really focusing on the business side. It’s still fun, but I’m really trying to better my company, 1203 Entertainment.

PEV: I actually just had a daughter – any words of wisdom?

MK: With a little girl? Mine changed my life in a different way than my son. It will hit you when you see her. I wasn’t expecting that, but I knew right away the different kind of bond between a father and a daughter. I already have a rule that she can’t date until she’s out of the house – I’m going to be that kind of dad.

PEV: Tens years from now, where do you see your career?

MK: I have really known for a long time that I had something in me to make me do the things that I’m doing. I should have stopped a long time ago when record labels were first turning me away. I know years ago things would have been different when it comes to country-rap music, and years from now someone may be doing it better than me. But I know that country-rap music is going to be here to stay. I’d like to one day see a country-rap category on the CMT’s.

PEV: So what’s next for Mikel Knight?

MK: My “Saddle Up” tour probably continues for another year and I might sign a joint-venture deal. I’ve been independently successful, and I’ll never sign another record deal, but my label might take on a joint-venture deal with a major label. I’ll be overseas as well, and I have a new film called “The Plex” about an apartment complex, a comedy mix between “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels,” “Half Baked,” and “Friday.” Got some new material as well on (web site). I’m into making records, and I’m going to break the sound.

PEV: Great! Well, thanks for talking to me today Mikel. I know you’re a busy guy.

MK: Thanks for taking the time sir. For more information on Mikel Knight, check out

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