Earlier this month, I had the great honor of sitting down with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (Sons Of Apollo, Asia) prior to his 3 January 2020 Storyteller show at the Milkboy in Philadelphia. He told us about the beginnings of Sons Of Apollo, as well as their upcoming album, MMXX (due out 17 January); about being in the band Asia as part of the Royal Affair tour; his upcoming solo work; and his signature line of hot sauces. Additionally, you’ll get to hear about some great deviled eggs!
Join us for the next half hour as we talk through this and more. And, if you’re interested, you can check out the photos from the Milkboy show.
In five days from the time of writing this, it will have been five years since I attended my first and only Skitzo Calypso concert. A few months following that performance, I would have the opportunity to interview frontman and singer-songwriter, Brad Cox, for the first time. Over the course of these last five years, the group has peaked its head up here and there, putting out singles and an EP, but otherwise laying low. In their stead, Cox had been keeping busy with a project entitled We Love The Underground, which I have followed intently. But now, as The Underground are on a hiatus, Calypso has returned with a new song, entitled “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” and teased news of more studio work in progress. Once again, I have the distinct honor of speaking with Brad about his current happenings.
Brad, Skitzo Calypso’s first album Join The Cult came out in 1998. Now, marking the 20th anniversary of that release, the band has released a new single with more material on the way. What can you tell us? Had this reunion been in the works for a while, or is it just remarkable timing?
The reunion kind of happened to us. It’s all been a relatively fate-driven event. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that music happens when it’s supposed to happen. The unnecessary trademark debacle really wasn’t what lit the fuse, nor was it the timetable [20 + years]. Basically, as one project was disbanding, certain elements unfolded [almost in tandem] that made this one possible. One of the things I really wanted to convey on this record was the dark side of dream-chasin’ and/or success depression. You can have it all and still feel just as isolated and empty as you did when you started; until you tend to whatever negative elements lurk inside you, you’re never really going to be finished. To that end, and to loosely quote Steven Tyler, ‘how many years will you waste doin’ what you’ve always done to get what you’ve always got?’ That’s the question this album will explore.
Unlike previous singles that have come out throughout the last few years, the band has made it quite clear that this isn’t a one-off get-together. In fact, there’s a new album in the works. Can you share any details about it with us?
Sure. The goal with this effort and whatever it ends up being is to bring it all home – that includes bringing in some of the people that made it all possible. We recently completed a track with Cherry Teresa, who was a big part of the band [2001 – 2004]. It may seem like a small window of time, when you consider the band’s existence, but it was a very impactful period [for us] and she was very much a part of that. We also brought in our former bassist [Zeke Johnson] for a rather thunderous track. To the point you were making, about ‘making it clear that this isn’t a one-off get-together’, we’ve been very conscious about making sure people realize that we’re not just going to record a song and dip back into obscurity. So, we’ll be releasing snippets, pieces of artwork and announcing shows along the way. The goal is summer .
This reunion is stage-bound soon?
Yes! June 2018ish.
What most excites you about the music you’re making right now?
A lot of times, you reflect on what you’ve done and can find yourself dwelling in that headspace, but I really feel like I’m not only growing as a person, but also a musician and that a page has turned; it’s possible to reflect and move forward, with your eyes only occasionally glancing into the rearview mirror. I have a clearer vision for where I’m going and it’s fueling a ton of new ideas. None of us wanted to be tied to the past. One of the things that turns my stomach is watching bands who try to rewrite their catalog and release the same music they did when they were kids; like they’ve become so hogtied to their brand that they can no longer see why they started making music in the first place. Along the way, their souls just died. For us, it’s just the opposite. We may even alienate some of our diehard fans, but that’s been the trajectory we’ve been on since the late 90’s. This time, we’re really going to push that envelope and test the patience of our ‘fans’.
Tony Correlli, your longtime producer and collaborator, added synths to “…Emerald Sky.” While not an official Calypso member, will we see more of him on the record?
The intro riff of that tune started with something Bryan [Holmes, guitar] had been fidgeting with and will be tasked with performing live. I brought in the initial verse/chorus progression. From there, we literally just started throwing riffs around [in messenger] and forming the bedrock of what became “Reaching for an Emerald Sky”. Pat [Sise, guitar/bass] had a big part in deciphering and adding to those ideas and structuring the tune out. Gary’s [Holmes] instincts on the drums brought it all home. We just decided it would be more of a departure to introduce different elements – we wanted to explore that. That said, Tony has a way of translating our ideas when we’re not always able to explain ourselves. Whether he’s a prominent figure in the band or not, he’s always a huge player in the end-product and I anticipate you’ll be hearing more from him as the process unfolds.
While on the subject of Tony: how did that relationship form and become what it is today?
Well, back in 2002ish, we found ourselves looking for a new producer. The producer I’d worked with on the first couple albums was charting a new course [in music], so we began exploring our options [as well]. At the time, one of my good friends had recommended John Grant of Secret Sound Studio, which is where we recorded the bulk of ‘The Shattering’. He did a great job capturin’ the feel we were goin’ for, but we still found ourselves curious to see who else was out there. From there, we recorded the majority of the next record, ‘Between the Lines & Beyond the Static’ with Drew Mazurek – another excellent Baltimore-based producer.
At some point [in all of that], John Grant and Tony Correlli had joined forces. During a session in 2008 and after returning to John Grant for ‘Burning Down an Empire’, Tony Correlli was filling in for John [one night] and got us a final mix for a track called, “Until My Heart 5tops Beating”, which actually wasn’t officially released until this past year [on Ghosts: The Beyond]. Sidebar: It was marked with a ‘5’ because it was originally intended to be featured on a follow-up album called, ‘The Skepsis of the Fifth Sun’ – a teaser written across the bottom of the ‘Burning Down an Empire’ shirts. That theme was later re-explored. Anyways, we were ecstatic with how it turned out [with Tony], so we started booking regular sessions, recorded a couple one-offs [together] and before we knew it ‘Ghosts’ was haunting our catalog.
Tony moves efficiently. He’s got a really good pulse on modern music and tones. Moreover, he’s extremely helpful, understanding and fair. We’d always see each other at these Father/Daughter dances…so, overtime, we found a permanent home with The Deep End studio. That said, I still had a great dynamic and friendship with John Grant, so when I first started recording the We Love the Underground albums, I enjoyed working with both John and Tony. The cool thing is, Tony has a lot of the We Love the Underground presets in his keyboard, so having him out LIVE is always a pretty simple transition. I’d expect the same opportunity will exist with Skitzo Calypso.
About a week ago, you shared a photo mock-up done by David Weston Gregory Jr., based on the original Join The Cult ‘Girl Afire’ artwork designed by Mike Sacrey. Does this indicate anything about the direction of the new album’s potential artwork?
It does. She’s always represented a seductive muse – an irresistible attraction that draws us in and will inevitably destroy the lives of the people around us and inevitably lead to our own damnation if we don’t learn how harness it and keep our wants in perspective; this could be a worldview, a religion, a passion, a dream or whatever. We’ve already married themes from The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland into the writing of this work, so it seemed appropriate to bring her back. She’s kind of like our ‘Eddie’ [Iron Maiden].
In the mock-up, the Girl Afire is carrying court papers, and you’ve recently been embroiled in quite a legal debacle yourself. To summarize your situation: a rapper in California issued a trademark complaint against your use of one of the words in your band’s name, and said you couldn’t use it any more, to the point that CD Baby wasn’t willing to support you. Can you tell us more about what has occurred with that since we last spoke, as Skitzo Calypso is obviously moving forward?
Right now, we’re going through the process(es). We’ve secured a common law trademark in the State of Maryland and have applied for a federal mark. It’s all relatively asinine. It just shows how petty people can be. And, we figured, well, whatever, we’ll do our due diligence; still, the individual is following us around the web and trying to block our registration. The irony is, I chose the name [in 1996] because it seemed ridiculous that anyone would ever challenge it or want anything like it – it’s not like I called the band a derivative of ‘Earth’, ‘Wind’ or ‘Fire’ or ‘Black’ ‘Stone’ or ‘Cherry’. Truth be told, Skitzo Calypso is not a great band name – it’s a marketing faux pas – but, it’s our band name [all the same]. Plus, in 1996, people weren’t really using Google to search for the availability of band names. To give this perspective, this individual was 7 when our first record dropped. Plain and simple, they didn’t do their homework.
To this day, there is still only one Skitzo Calypso in the marketplace. Meanwhile, there are literally 100’s of rap, rock, metal, DJ, punk artists, etc. running around with some variation of said ‘word’ in their name and this individual acknowledges that – yet, it’s been used as the sole catalyst for challenging us. It’s like, ‘So it’s our fault you knowingly chose a generic name for your project and lack the slightest bit of common sense to think that that might make it difficult to cut through in the digital age?’ It would be one thing if it wasn’t so common and we hadn’t existed for 22 years, but it’s all rather short-sighted. Why? Well, whether this individual succeeds in having our music yanked from various online platforms [because they can’t arbitrate] or blocking our trademark, it isn’t going to erase our digital footprint – over two decades of videos, blogs, reviews, past show listings, free streaming services, etc. won’t just magically disappear. I guess, what’s more, what’s the point? You’re a local artist. In this game, you win more bees with honey. If the person was savvy, they’d try to find a way to network. Plus, if your fans/friends aren’t buying your records, it’s certainly not because of us [or the laundry list of similar bands out there] – it’s because your product isn’t in demand or your marketing is poor. That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the reality of it. But, it’s cool, I lived in Hollywood – I get the mindset. But, wait, aren’t we all stars in god’s sky? Please. Just ridiculous – all of it.
To go out a little into left field, Skittles: When did that start and what is it all about?
That started in about 2006ish. It was just this thing that happened – I suppose because of the ‘Skit’ and ‘Skitzo’ part of the band name; that, and because I’d made it publicly clear that it was my favorite candy. Over time, people started bringing bags of Skittles to shows and tossing them on stage – some bands get roses, we get hard candies.
Is there anything else fans should have on their radars?
Well, Joe Ruggiero and I had started a project called The After Midnights. But, when we finally got around to releasing the material we quickly realized that time wasn’t on our side. He’s got his bands – I’ve got mine. I think, at some point we’ll see that project get longer legs. It generated a ton of interest in a short period of time. And, it’s cool, it’s a poppier departure from some of the other projects and something I feel has a lot of potential.
While the spotlight here is certainly on Skitzo Calypso, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another effort which has taken up much of your time. We Love the Underground is on hiatus, and a wonderful compilation called The Skeleton Key is now available with some previously unreleased material. I’m really curious to know: Is there any update as to the status of this other great band?
It’s resting. In short, and to come full circle, music happens when it’s supposed to happen. We’ll have to let time do its thing, wait and see…
Purchase ‘Reaching For An Emerald Sky’ at: iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp
For more on Skitzo Calypso, visit:
I have the pleasure today of speaking with Brad Cox, frontman of Baltimore-area rock bands We Love The Underground, Skitzo Calypso, and Niki Thunders.
Brad, all those bands must take up quite a bit of your time. How long have you been making and releasing music?
I started writing and recording music in high school with a good friend and inspiration, Mr. Dave Pace. I’ll never forget the first recordings or people that helped give me a lil’ push on the back [when I needed it most]. I started recording the first Skitzo Calypso album in 1996 – the first track, “Blinds” was penned in a Best Western on Santa Monica Boulevard – the things you’ll never forget. So, to answer your question, about 23 years. Even before Skitzo Calypso, I was releasing cassette tapes under various names/aliases/monikers and guesting on a range of local projects.
I’ve heard that you’ve been having trouble recently concerning a copyright or trademark issue surrounding the band Skitzo Calypso. Could you fill us in on the details?
So, it’s simple, and I hope my fellow local/regional friends can learn a little something here, and that’s that online vendors, such as, but not limited to: Etsy, Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby [and beyond] will not adhere to common sense, arbitrate or defend you in any capacity – essentially, contract law has tied their hands. They won’t even talk to you. Try finding a phone number for iTunes legal, I’ll wait.
In short, last Saturday night, November 4, I received a trademark complaint from CD Baby stating that a rap artist in California trademarked one of the words in our band name and that we were no longer allowed to use said word in our releases: Burning Down an Empire, Between the Lines & Beyond the Static, and The Shattering. Due the complainant’s obvious neglect to challenge our other works, it became clear that the he was simply targeting anyone and everyone with said word in their name. I’m reluctant to even identify which word [it was], because I don’t want to give this person any more attention than he deserves. This isn’t the behavior of an artist or even a savvy businessman, it’s an act of harassment, by exploiting the vulnerabilities of online communities and contracts.
I think my good friend and drummer of Skitzo Calypso/We Love the Underground said it best: ‘You don’t make a name for yourself by trolling the web or buying a word, you do it by putting on solid musical performances and writing and releasing the best music you can.’ He’s correct – if anything this claim just points to the depths of the claimant’s insecurity and lack of actual substance. On its face, it’s a false trademark infringement claim, which I now have the burden of unpacking.
The law is explicit: ‘First to Use’ not ‘First to File’. His profile on the US Patent and Trademark Office website identifies: FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20150120 [IE: January 20th, 2015]. His trademark also only covers live performances, video production and audio production; it doesn’t state prerecorded audio. Aside from the fact that his trademark is completely invalidated by our ‘First to Use/First Use in Commerce’ history, via financial records, tax filings and other such trails of our existence, the online vendor [who caved to an unreasonable ‘takedown request’] will not get involved. They basically leave the burden on the seller to absolve the issue with the claimant. So, literally, anyone could say anything, and your product is coming down until an agreement is reached between you (or your lawyer) and the claimant.
What have you tried thus far to resolve this conflict?
I reached out to the individual and tried a very human approach – I explained our situation, our history, catalog and passion for music, with a request to withdraw his complaint from iTunes. It took him a few days to respond, but he basically stated, ‘As an active musician, there are just too many bands with this particular word in their name. I hope you understand.’ Great, I’m glad that you chose something so generic, that you feel a need to hold other peoples’ music hostage – so, basic! Well, that’s fine, but if he did his homework he’d realize that there’s also a metal group in California that could trump his claim and get his product booted. I’ve done a lot of homework on this guy. He has zero legs to stand on and will be met brashly with attorneys. It’s not really about Skitzo Calypso, it’s about standing up for ourselves [and others that may fall victim to such attacks] and for what’s inherently right.
To put this whole thing into perspective, our first album dropped when this individual was 7. Our first documented online sales [from CD Baby] date back to 2003. That doesn’t include the duplication of records and other various products that pre-date the convenience of online platforms. It appears my only recourse is to follow the proper channels and to lawyer up. Plain and simple, the longer this goes on, the more potential sales we’re losing and fees that will pile up. It’s lose/lose for this individual. They say you catch more bees with honey – if he wasn’t so short-sighted, he’d realize that artists working together [on a local/regional level] can have a mutually beneficial outcome. The world’s a much smaller place in the age of digital media.
From the sound of it, this could easily happen to any musician or band. Do you have any advice for others based on your own experience?
Don’t be bullied. Don’t back down.
Going on four years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad William Cox, vocalist for the bands We Love the Underground and Skitzo Calypso, and now author of a novel entitled “Children of The Program” (review). Additionally, he’s released an album with the same name, and has just completed work on the sequel to that book, called “Children of The Program: Edge of The Fifth Sun,” which is available now.
Brad, it’s a joy to speak to you again. Let’s jump right into the first question. The “blank page” is a constant struggle for artists of all kinds, but which was more daunting: the blank page of the first novel, or of its sequel?
For me, the first novel was much more difficult, for a variety of reasons. Being that “Children Of The Program” was intended to be a trilogy, getting started was incredibly daunting. It’s such a complex story. In hindsight, the first book is almost the appendix in the series, as it lays out all the ground work and ‘rules’ of The Program. It’s littered with characters and details. The new novel is much more linear. There’s not a ton of bouncing around, like before. I also tried to make it possible to read the second one without having to read the first, which was a challenge. So, the ‘blank page’ of the 2nd novel was just like continuing the story – the only real challenge was making it accessible as a first read.
We all know about movie soundtracks, but you and your bandmates in We Love the Underground wrote a novel soundtrack. Was this always your intention, and did it meet your expectations?
Yes. It exceeded my expectations. I tried doing this years ago, but it didn’t pan out, mainly because my writing wasn’t up to par. The book was called, “Fire in the Hands of an Angel.” First off, Patrick Sise, Eric McCullough, Joe Ruggiero and Gary Holmes are amazing people and musicians – I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to work with. We’re all tight, like brothers. No one bats an eye at tackling bigger projects. I started recording it, as a solo project, with “Leaving Tonight,” but as the story evolved and I began discussing the concept, everyone was fully on-board. Eric and I tackled “Back from a Suicide” and then dug into “Paint the Desert with My Heart”, a nod to the Painted Desert. Much like the novels, the challenge was making the songs accessible, apart from the novel. If you read the novel, great, it’s that much more fun. But if you didn’t, that’s OK too!
The last song of the Children of The Underground album is a 12-minute monster entitled “The Creationist,” which makes an appearance on the recent _Intrinity EP along with two other songs: the newly written track, “The Survivalist,” as well as one from Mouthful of Graffiti, “The Isolationist.” Is this a musical prelude to the new novel? And would you be so kind as to elaborate on the EP’s title?
_Intrinity can act independently from “Children Of The Program” or in tandem. It follows the life of a struggling artist. “Children of the Program” does the same, through Neco, but the story around him is obviously much broader and science fiction oriented. With _Intrinity, there’s the innocence of wanting to create [The Creationist] and the pull from above that forces you forward, followed by the desire to keep your dreams alive [The Survivalist], followed by an inevitable fall [The Isolationist] – in short. “The Creationist” was included on “Children of the Program” because it’s a chapter in the new novel and because the bird of life [in the book] is referred to as The Creationist or ISIS [not that ISIS]. Its name is derived from the Egyptian god of magic and fertility. But, as a trilogy of songs, you don’t necessarily need to pair ‘em with the novel to enjoy it. Creation is a large theme in the first novel. In some ways, it re-imagines some of the Christian stories.
I don’t want to spoil the first novel for those who have yet to explore it, but I do want to touch on aspects of the story. Firstly, the twelve characters of the book originate from locations around the globe, though the furthest East it seems to go is Israel. Within the book, this is based on autonomy, but how did you decide on the origins of these individuals?
I don’t want to spoil anything either, but one thing a lot of the readers figured out [quickly] was that the 12 characters of the first book were modeled after the 12 Tribes of Israel. So, if you take the first letter of each of their names, you can match ‘em up with a corresponding tribe. I intertwined a lot of Greek and Egyptian mythology into the book, as well. So, Icarus was placed in Greece. Simon Peter was modeled after Simon the Sorcerer and so on. In most cases, their locations suited the personality I was developing for them, their relevance to my personal life or due to their direct historical ties to a location. All of the first and last names were scrutinized over. For example, the bird of death is Than, which is short for Thanatos, the Greek personification of death. I’d be here all day if I went into each character. But, I’m sure if you dig in, you’ll figure a lot of it out. Some things are best left in the shadows…
Developing one personality completely is quite a feat, but you took on twelve to varying degrees. Who did you have the most fun creating, and who was most challenging?
Dez was hands down my favorite. I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s such a complex character and clever. I had nightmares about him as I was creating him and other readers have suggested that he’s popped up in their dreams. Some have even said that they couldn’t continue reading the book because of him – so, I think I hit the nail on the head with that character. My character [Neco Baal] was challenging because I was forced to be honest with myself and share a lot of aspects of my personal life. There are many autobiographical chapters. They say write what you know, so that’s what got my engines turning. But, the most challenging character was likely Grayson, because I didn’t realize how instrumental he was going to be in the book until the story began unfolding – that’s when I really got a grasp of his significance. He’s so ordinary, yet important. It’s like trying to make vanilla ice cream into rainbow sorbet. And, I simply can’t leave out the bird, Petey. Scratch what I said, he might be my favorite.
There’s a good deal of antagonism in the first book, and I’ll admit it came from a direction I wasn’t expecting. Will the second installment in this series establish a similar cadence of opposition?
The second novel has quite a bit of antagonism, yes – oh, and mysticism. As you’ve probably noticed in a lot of the Skitzo Calypso artwork, my back tattoo or some of my general points of conversation [online and in blogs], I’m very into Aztec, Mayan and Hopi mythology. It’s fascinates me. To be as vague as possible, I tied some of those mythologies into this book. Actually, Skitzo Calypso’s Ghosts was originally going to be a full-length album called The Skepsis of the 5th Sun. It was written on the bottom back of the Burning Down an Empire T-shirts, featuring The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa [also referenced in book 1] on the front. But, when the band lost a key member, we ended up going in a different direction and just doing the EP. Through these books, I’ve tried t’ tie all the album themes in, one way or another. That said, I don’t think people will have guessed where this story is going to take ‘em, but the artwork from the first book foreshadows it. The actual Children Of The Program have a large role in book 2, which I couldn’t get into in book 1 without starting the next installment; it just would have been too much.
With regards to the Hallway of Sorrows, in which our protagonists find themselves at the beginning of the book, does reincarnation always have to come in groups of twelve, or can it occur piecemeal to reach The Program’s objectives?
This is an excellent and important question, due to the complexity of book 1. Yes, the reincarnation must come in groups of 12. So, if you know how the first book ends, you’ll be able to infer where The Program currently stands. Those selected and die without fulfilling The Program are recycled. Those who complete their mission enter The Beyond [a spiritual nirvana of sorts]. When they’ve all died, or satisfied their calling, the spots of those who entered The Beyond are backfilled through way of the Lottery of Souls and The Program resets.
The first book made some headway towards The Program’s original goal, but there’s still much work to be done. How much of would you say the new book focuses on old faces versus following developments of the Crystalline?
There were so many characters, even considering the outcomes of some of those in book 1, that you’ll have plenty of familiar faces to follow. But, there is a heavy emphasis on the Crystalline. You’ll be happy to know that Petey might make a reappearance.
Is it possible to cheat The Program, either in life or in death?
Anything is possible – but it’s best I leave it at that.
“You either steal their hearts or you capture their imagination.” So, how has the response to your first writing-effort been?
Amazing. People have been incredibly supportive. As you know, the first run of books needed a little clean-up, but no one really seemed to mind or noticed. When you’ve spent upwards of a year working on something, everything is magnified. But, when people are just chillin’ and readin’, I think they tend to overlook a lot of things. The feedback and excitement for a 2nd book has made writing it even more worthwhile. Suffice it to say, I can’t wait to share “Edge of the Fifth Sun” with planet Earth!
Purchase “Children Of The Program” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Purchase “Edge Of The Fifth Sun” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Purchase the album(s) at: iTunes | Amazon
For more from Brad Cox, visit:
We Love The Underground: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
Skitzo Calypso: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter
Massimo Usai, or Max as he’s endearingly called, is a busy man. In just a few short years, he’s released an EP and two highly acclaimed full-length albums, as well as a number of music videos, and managed to collaborate with a plethora of talented musicians who have performed alongside such notables as iconic director and composer, John Carpenter, all the way to Madonna. Despite his busy schedule, he’s made time to once again speak with Target Audience Magazine about his newest release under the moniker Confrontational, entitled Kingdom Of Night.
Max, firstly, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
Thank you for having me, Barry. My pleasure as usual, my friend!
Kingdom Of Night is a fantastic synthesized experience. What is it about the night that kindles your artistic fire?
I really appreciate your kind words on the album. The night is where dreams come from. And you don’t necessarily have to be sleeping in order to dream. Some of the wildest dreams I’ve dreamed, I’ve had them with my eyes wide open all the time. The night enhances this condition: it’s the opposite of the norm. To me it’s sacred territory, a place that deserves the utmost respect.
You’ve stated that Kingdom Of Night is the second album of a trilogy, which began with A Dance Of Shadows and will conclude with the next release. Can you explain the overarching vision you have for this trilogy?
Of course I could, but that would cripple the element of surprise, wouldn’t it? Subtlety is something I value highly. I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of discovery, it definitely is something I want the listeners to experience in first person. There are visual elements and cues in the lyrics and artwork (conceived in conjunction with Branca Studio) that portray the story I am telling. I really want it to be a full immersion for the wanderer of darkness that will venture into this journey. All they have to do is carry a little research of their own to find out more… I can remark that this story started out with Done With You [EP], though I can’t vouch for sure if that’s actually how it ended.
If you would be so kind, tell us a little about your musical guests on this album and how you came to work with them?
With great pleasure. Hélène De Thoury is the mastermind behind French darkwave project Hante. I found out about her work while both our albums were at the top of the darkwave charts on Bandcamp last year. Her LP, This Fog That Never Ends, truly made an impression on me. I really love her approach, I think we share a lot in terms of working ethic, and themes we deal with. Her signature sound and lyrics resonate strongly with me. She shares vocals with me on the song “Keep Faith” and I am very proud of what we achieved together.
Tony Kim is half of synthwave titans Dance With The Dead who, along with Carpenter Brut, were the first artists I ever heard that were merging new production techniques with a retro attitude. They really made me realize I could do this, too! Send The Signal is an incredible album, and I’ve wanted to work with them for a long while. Tony loved “Stand Your Ground” and I’m really really glad to have his lead guitars on it.
Ugo Laurenti is the author of the score to Pupi Avati’s cult series “Voci Notturne” (“Nocturnal Voices”), a TV show that lasted 5 episodes on RAI around 1995. I first came across the series in 2008, when my good friend and mentor Giorgio introduced me to it. It made a huge impression, and the soundtrack really blew me away. After years of being connected to a bunch of fans of the show via Facebook I traced down Ugo, and asked him if he might be interested in doing something for the album. To my surprise he was and actually came here in Cagliari to record his parts on “Midnight Wings” – we spent a great week working together and sightseeing around Sardinia a bit.
Lastly, Cody Carpenter: he is the son of my huge influence, director John Carpenter. Cody is a true virtuoso, a lover of music and above all a really fine gentleman. He’s a very big inspiration for me. We had a chance to finally meet in person a month ago at the Live Retrospective tour in London on Halloween. It was amazing and I am so very honored he’s playing on “Crimson Curtains” – his unmistakable lead synth and harmonies are the perfect way to end the album.
Speaking of which, Cody Carpenter seems to have returned once more. Should we expect to see more work between you two on forthcoming releases?
I definitely would love to have Cody guest on the third episode of the trilogy, for sure. I hope he’ll be into the idea! I’d really love to perform live with him one day. That’s on my dream list. He’s simply amazing.
What do you find more freedom in creating: lyrical or instrumental music?
The beauty of being Confrontational is perennial creative freedom on everything I want to do. I am completely unrestrained. Ultimately, I call the shots on every aspect of the final product. I’ve always wanted to be able to find my own balance between tracks with lyrics and instrumentals alike, as I feel strongly about both. I think both LPs have successfully achieved this goal.
A day after releasing Kingdom Of Night it became the #1 best-selling darkwave album on Bandcamp, followed closely by A Dance Of Shadows. Nearly 2 months after its release, it’s still in the Top 20, with A Dance Of Shadows holding strong in the top 10 [as of this interview, 11/29/16]. Congratulations! To what do you credit that longevity?
Thank you! I think people are sincerely enjoying the songs. The retrowave and darkwave community are taking notice, and those listeners usually tend to be very supportive if they find the music deserves it. Also, the presence of all collaborators involved surely is playing its part, and the Bronson Recordings release of A Dance Of Shadows on vinyl has extended visibility among the LP collectors worldwide. I am extremely grateful to all of these amazingly supportive listeners out there and I look forward to seeing them in person once I’ll get to play more live shows next year.
You’ve mentioned that songs have come to you out of nightmares. What is the most unusual way that a song idea has presented itself?
“Like A Curse” off of A Dance Of Shadows is the most prominent so far, which literally was all ready as I woke up after a nightmare. All of it – lyrics, music, the whole arrangement. That’s surely the most peculiar one. Some other times I’ve had ideas while watching movies, or while reading stories. So far, “Like A Curse” is the weirdest that’s happened. I still can’t figure it out.
Are there any books, movies, or artists who can be credited with having impacting you during the making this album? What are some that are impacting you right now?
During the writing sessions, I’ve been influenced by several Italian artists: Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” with its score by Fabio Frizzi, and “The House By The Cemetery” with its score by Walter Rizzati, and obviously Pupi Avati’s “Voci Notturne” with its score by Ugo Laurenti. I’ve researched heavily into my surroundings, namely the Necropolis of Tuvixeddu here in Cagliari. The title itself, Kingdom Of Night, is a definition by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose memoirs made a big impact on me when I read them around 2011. Most of the album was conceived right after the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. I felt, in more than one way, we were all descending in a kingdom of night. The rise of extremism across the world, the way people are caving in to fear. Dark times. One year later those writing sessions, here we are. I’m honestly recovering from the sessions of the album right now, so I am not actively watching or reading anything with a writing mindset, but as of now I’m re-reading a lot of my faves from my fave author, Stephen King. “The Running Man,” “Roadwork.” Very telling stuff. He wrote about the future. I’ve also just watched “Serpico” by Sidney Lumet for the first time. We need more of that kind of courage these days, the courage to stand up to what we know is wrong.
If you received advanced warning of an impending natural disaster headed your way and you could only grab a few things aside from the bare necessities, what would you grab, knowing the rest would be destroyed?
That’s one of the things I fear the most. I don’t know if, facing a situation like that, I’d be able to actually come to my senses and make a conscious decision. Besides making sure my dear ones are safe, I think I’d fill up my car with all of my musical instruments. I’m pretty sure I might die trying.
With all of your collaborations, who have you yet to work with that you’d like to happen in the future?
Oh, the list is never ending. Never ending. I would love to work with so many people. Fabio Frizzi is on the list. Daniel Davies is there too. K.K. Downing. Slash. Johnny and Nile Marr. Marty Friedman. Andrew Eldritch and The Sisters Of Mercy. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Tobias Bernstrup. Miland Petrozza. Eric Peterson. Stefan Olsdal and Brian Molko of Placebo. Tying Tiffany. Light Asylum. Vincent Feit. Kim Gordon. Tommy Victor. Steve Di Giorgio. I’d like to work with Darren Travis and Monte Pittman again. I could go on and on…
If you could only choose one to work with: Guitar or Synthesizer?
No, I don’t want to make that choice ever. But I guess if I really had to, probably forced at gunpoint, it’d be my guitar treated to sound like a synth. That’s actually how I do things on many songs – “Flat / Line” and “In The Line Of Fire” being most notable examples.
Confrontational has now played at not one, but two Synthzilla festivals. Did you notice any difference in how you were received at the latest one? Were there any particular moments that stood out to you?
Both were incredibly amazing and so far, the best shows I’ve ever had a chance to perform at. I’d say the 2016 edition was even more incredible than the first, because more people knew the songs and the whole front row was chanting choruses along with me. And getting to share the stage with Tony from Dance With The Dead for “Stand Your Ground” was absolutely unbelievable – a moment I’ll never forget.
What’s next, Max? And can you give us any hints about the final album in your ongoing trilogy?
I want to perform live as much as possible. Got two shows lined up for January in Italy and after that I want to travel across Europe. As for the trilogy, I can only disclose that if all goes according to plan, the third album is planned to come out on October 1, 2017. That’s what I’m aiming at: three solid albums comprising of 9 tracks each. It makes for a satisfying storytelling arc.
Thank you so much for your time today, Max! It’s always a pleasure to speak with you, and we here at Target Audience wish you the best of luck.
Thank you once more for your time and support my friend. Greetings from Sardinia!
Buy Kingdom Of Night: From The Band
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David Judson Clemmons has had quite an extensive career. He began his musical journey as a member of the duo, Ministers of Anger. Then he was the frontman of the great, but short lived, prog metal band called Damn The Machine, featuring ex-Megadeth guitarist, Chris Poland. But since the mid-90s he’s commanded an array of musical projects, including The Fullbliss, his own solo effort, as well as the subject of today’s conversation, the band which bears his name: JUD.
Check out our interview with Clemmons as we discuss his new album, Generation Vulture (review), the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and what he’d do if he was President Of The United States.
I had the honor of speaking on June 22 with Paul Gilbert, the guitarist for the bands Mr. Big and Racer X, as well as a highly respected and acclaimed solo musician. He’s certainly one of my favorites. You might recall that his newest solo album, I Can Destroy, just saw its United States release on May 27. If that doesn’t ring a bell, head over and check out my review of it. He sat down with me to discuss that album, along with a slew of other points such as how his writing process has changed since his first solo release, becoming a father, as well as giving consideration to the idea of working with former Racer X bandmate, Bruce Bouillet. So come on in, grab a seat, and listen.
Italy’s CONFRONTATIONAL recently released its first full-length album, entitled A Dance Of Shadows. This has been labeled as synthwave, as well as dark retro wave. I’d label it as addictive! I’ve been a fan and follower of the band’s mastermind, Massimo Usai [Max], for quite some time, so when this LP arrived, touting the names of some very esteemed musicians, I dug in with great anxiousness. I haven’t been the only one. It seems that a ton of people have fallen for Usai’s newest effort, and for good reason. Coming off of the Done With You EP, Max has created a truly cinematic, captivating experience. I sat down with him on Dec. 1 to discuss this creation, the involvement of his cohorts, as well as the band’s well-received performance at France’s Synthzilla Festival. Join us, won’t you?
First and foremost, Max, I want to congratulate you on Confrontational’s new album, A Dance Of Shadows, which was released on Oct. 1! I’ve heard it, I’ve reviewed it, and I love it. How has the reception been thus far?
Thank you for taking the time to check it out, Barry! Honestly, so far the reception has been absolutely mind blowing. I’m really grateful and honored to see the album being part of more and more collections on Bandcamp as each day goes by, and the YouTube version of the album hosted by NewRetroWave is already well over 18,000 views (at the time of this interview) since the initial upload on Halloween. Messages of praise are coming in from all over the world… I couldn’t be happier, really!
You’ve garnered some impressive attention: NewRetroWave gave you some love, as did Metal Sucks, which has been hosting an exclusive full-album stream. What do you think it is about this album that has attracted such different audiences?
They all did, along with Bloody-disgusting.com, MetalRiot.com, TerraRelicta and Drive Radio and I am extremely grateful to all of the people involved. I think first and foremost the contributions by Cody Carpenter, Monte Pittman and Darren Travis certainly played a big part in raising interest. Secondly, the songs on the LP are very direct, have pretty big choruses and they showcase a wide array of my influences, which might have also helped. After years spent honing my craft through several projects, I finally found my dimension and I’m very comfortable with how I do things sonically. My unrestrained love for the 80’s is now something that works within the current cultural climate, which made way for the tracks to get noticed within the beautiful synthwave/retrowave scene. My metal roots probably also played a part, I think…
You’ve said that “the old ways stopped working, so I became confrontational.” Can you tell us about the origins of Confrontational?
I was being labeled that way by some people in my ex-band, for apparently wanting to cause distress by addressing issues I saw in the way the band was operating. We were actually not operating as a team at all, so I honestly confronted them with the hopes and expectations I had for that project. I did it face to face, looking straight into their eyes, with all of the passion that I’ve always brought to the music. Apparently, that was wrong to do. I realized then that things had to change for me to be able to make what I really wanted to do with my songs. A number of things had to also work differently in my everyday life, and since quitting that band a lot has changed in my life. It has been weird. I embraced confrontation as a catalyst for positive change. I started questioning a lot of aspects in my life. It’s been a really tough time, but I’d never go back… this is who I am now.
There’s definitely a cinematic feel to the progression of A Dance Of Shadows. If you would, tell us about your inspiration, both musically and lyrically, for this effort.
Music and lyrics are together as one throughout all of the album, really. Most of the songs came about in pretty much their final form, the most notable example being LIKE A CURSE – which really wrote itself upon waking up after a certain morbid nightmare I had. I’ve always been inspired by the works of my fave film makers, George A. Romero and John Carpenter, and around this time I’ve explored the work of two other incredible directors, William Friedkin and Michael Mann. I’ve been a fan of all of them for a long while but never before did I take the time to study them as in-depth as I did during these last months, while writing the album. Being exposed to their films made me realize I had something to say about certain things. So I went on and tried to convey those atmospheres into songs, in the most direct way I could.
Throughout this release we see guest performers, such as Monte Pittman (Madonna, ex-Prong); Cody Carpenter (Ludrium), son of John Carpenter; and Darren Travis (Sadus). How did you happen to get involved with these fine musicians? Furthermore, how did they end up playing the part they did on these particular songs?
I’ve been a huge fan of all three of them, directly or indirectly, for quite a long time. Monte Pittman‘s work with PRONG has always been a fave of mine and I was blown away by his latest solo album – THE POWER OF THREE. That album made me feel sane during really tasking moments of my life in 2014. Monte is not only a true guitar hero (the biggest of our generation, if you ask me), but also a killer singer / songwriter and a very generous human being. LOST THEMES, the Carpenter family masterpiece, is a highlight of John’s decades-long career and made me discover the talents of Cody, which I further explored through his solo project LUDRIUM. Cody is an incredible talent: a stellar musician, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and an author of really compelling songs. He’s also a real gentleman. And Darren Travis… well, what can I say about an absolute hero of mine? The first time I heard him sing on A VISION OF MISERY was total epiphany. I was 18 years old at the time and I felt he was speaking directly to me, of my experiences. Somehow we connected in person, and we have been friends since 2002. They are all incredibly inspirational persons. All of the collaborations with these beautiful people took place because of the way we connected through music – I got in touch and they liked my ideas enough to be a part of the album. I feel blessed and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for making it happen. They really made the album what it is.
You released a music video for “To Live And Die On The Air” earlier this year. The Romero influence here is quite obvious, but can you tell us about how the music and the images came together as they did?
I had the idea for the song while watching TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. by William Friedkin for the first time ever. I just heard the main section of the song playing in my head during a certain part of the movie that had no underlying score to it. My brain just heard these sounds come together, so I had to pause the film to get on my DAW (digital audio workstation) and write the parts. It was amazing. The day after that, I was listening back to the main structure and almost instantly got the idea to pair the music with a single pan shot filmed in slow motion, and that’s when the rest of the clip came together in my head. I’ve been working on it for more than five months with some incredible people, and I am very proud of the final result. It is filled with small references to not only George Romero, but John Carpenter and William Friedkin as well, as I really wanted to pay tribute to their influential work.
At one point, Crazed Pixel Comics was working on a Confrontational-inspired comic. Any news on that and if there will be a collaborated effort between it and the band?
I found out about Crazed Pixel Comics via Alex Murd’s incredible re-imaging of MARTIN, which was posted on a George Romero fan page on FB. We got in touch and expressed mutual respect for our works, exchanging ideas, thoughts and playlists. She came forth one day to let me know how much she enjoyed DONE WITH YOU, my first EP, and she went on to show me this amazing comic that according to her was completely inspired by the songs on the EP. You can actually find the digital version of the comic here. When I first read it, I must admit it felt as if somebody cracked my skull open to take a look into some of my most intimate thoughts – and coincidentally, some of the stuff I obsess about. I’m not sure how, but Alex captured a good portion of my psyche, re-arranged it and filtered it through ink and paper. I guess that’s what happens between artists who are fine tuned on the same range of frequencies… I’m blown away each time I read it. She’s a very talented author, I am a big fan of her work. We have been talking about the possibility of doing something together, and personally I would love to make it happen. Fingers crossed!
Not only is A Dance Of Shadows available digitally, but you have also made it available through a limited edition CD and cassette tape. There’s even a limited edition poster! I know that there has been a resurgence of love for vinyl records, but what drew you to make a poster and cassette edition?
Cassettes are definitely back, big time. Just ask METALLICA. I wanted to spice up the interest for collectors worldwide and have a chance to do something that I’ve actually wanted to do since starting out on music around 1998 (but that’s a whole different story). It was interesting to come up with the artwork for the different layouts and I wanted this to be a special occasion. It’s a very limited run of 50 copies, personally signed and hand numbered. As for the poster, the cover by BRANCA STUDIO (Barcelona based masters of doom) looks so damn good that it just had to be done. It conveys the perfect cinematic aspect and feel to the music. And I figured, with the digital album priced at 5 euros, you add 2 more and get a physical copy of something that looks gorgeous. Why not?
These days I’m trying to find out if there might be label interest to also release a vinyl edition. But it’ll have to be under proper conditions. If that won’t happen, I’ll try to get it done via crowdfunding after all of the tapes and CDs will sell out – it shouldn’t take long now at the current rate.
Confrontational participated in the Synthzilla Festival on Halloween in Lyon, France. What was it like to perform your material there and how was the reception?
Simply mind blowing, the very best performance of my entire life! The crowd was beyond amazing, incredibly receptive, totally into the tracks. I’d stare down the mic and see people singing together with me – it’s something I’ve never had the chance to experience before in such a capacity. A very humbling experience. The club was packed, the sound was flawless, the other artists on the bill were really friendly and professional. The staff was so great, the organizers are some of the sweetest people on Earth and they treated us like long-time friends. It was so beautiful and I just can’t wait to perform in France again, hopefully very soon.
What does the future look like for Confrontational? Tours, releases, and music videos?
As far as touring goes, we need to spread the word out there before taking the band out. There has to be some sort of notion of the music existing, for us to be able and book some shows. We’ve been blessed with the invitation to SYNTHZILLA and I’m trying to see if we can get booked into similar situations. Every little bit of help is vital, so I’ve been asking all of the new listeners to share pics of the LP on their social media to help spread the word. People seem to genuinely care about this music, so it’s really exciting to work together towards this common goal!
Right now I am working on the MAKING OF clip for TO LIVE AND DIE ON THE AIR, and it should be ready quite soon. I’ll also resume work on more upcoming videos soon. Finally, I’m also working on new songs – I can’t seem to stop doing that. I got 8 new track ideas and a working title for a new release. But I want to take my time before entering the studio again… I don’t want to rush it.
Thank you so much, Max, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me! If you could say just one thing that you think would convince a skeptic to check out your music, what would it be?
DARK RETRO WAVE. Isn’t that enough? Thank YOU for having me here and for your time, Barry. It’s been a true pleasure, as usual!
Buy A Dance Of Shadows: From The Band
For more on Confrontational, visit:
The first time I encountered A Sound Of Thunder, it was live at the Empire NoVA in Springfield, Va. My thoughts at that time were ones of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, all rolled into one band! I quickly bought up their music and have been following their work ever since. I even reviewed one or two…and then another. So with the release of their newest album, Tales From The Deadside, a concept record that follows the Shadowman comics from Valiant Entertainment, I knew it a great time to request an audience with this class act. To my pleasure, they obliged! Join me, if you will, as I speak with vocalist Nina Osegueda and guitarist Josh Schwartz as we discuss their new LP, its charting on Billboard alongside groups like Ghost and the Scorpions, as well as their love of geekdom!
As always, check the video description for a complete table of contents to navigate the interview.
I’ve been a fan of Annihilator and Jeff Waters for a number of years by now. I don’t remember precisely when I first heard the music, but it must have been just before their self-titled album arrived in 2010. It’s safe to say then that I’ve had some time to develop a taste for this Canadian thrash band’s blend of brutality and melodic repose. So when I heard that the group was about to release their 15th album, entitled Suicide Society on September 18, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I received a great honor in the opportunity to interview Annihilator mastermind, guitarist, and now vocalist, Jeff Waters. He’s quite a sociable fellow!
Please join me in Part 1 of my interview with Jeff (we spoke for over an hour!) as we discuss the new album; the departure of former vocalist, Dave Padden; and the development of metal through the 1990s! There is a “Table Of Contents” in the YouTube description for those of you who wish to skip around.
In Part 2, Jeff returns to give you further insight into the process for creating Annihilator’s new album, Suicide Society, as well as giving you his thoughts on the new Slayer and Iron Maiden albums (with a little look to the future for Judas Priest). We discuss cookie monster vocals, as well as touch on the new(er) metal scene with artists like Trivium, Children Of Bodom, and Lamb Of God. We round out our 20-plus min. segment by talking about the advent of digital recording and the pros and cons of being able to create songs while being thousands of miles apart.
In this final segment we discuss Jeff’s time as a musician’s advocate, getting them out of crappy record deals and contracts; a spat he had with a former bandmate over the release of Annihilator’s “Ten Years In Hell” DVD; as well as delving into whether he’s ever ghost-written any pop or country tunes. Tune in to find out!