Photo above courtesy of Rachael Griffiths at Black Lotus Photography.
Nine years ago I walked into a now defunct rock venue to check out one of my favorite bands, Stuck Mojo. I was running late and worried I wouldn’t make it in time to see them start the show. Luckily, however, I made it before the opening act had finished playing a musical experience that would go on to completely win me over. They were Forever Never from the UK, and to this day, they remain my favorite band that I ever accidentally caught in concert (though there are some close contenders). I followed them until after their second album came out and I lost touch with their music, hearing only that their lead guitarist was leaving the band and the rest had decided on a hiatus. It came as some surprise to me then when the band resurfaced earlier this year with a new song and plans for a full length album. I reached out to them and have been honored to speak with lead singer, Renny Carroll, about their early work, touring the US, and especially regarding their new music. But enough stalling, let’s see what he had to say!
Nine years ago your debut album, Aporia, was released. Looking back on that release and the beginning of the band, what stands out in your mind the most?
Seems like a long time ago, and the songs on that album feel like a long way away from where we’re at now! Like any band’s debut album – the first batch of songs are not necessarily where the band intended to be, but they all make up the first “collection” of material. Still very proud of that album, and I look back on it fondly, but perhaps we were a little naïve going into that. I really wish the production was different now listening back, for example, but we were young and we didn’t really know quite exactly what we wanted.
That same year you took to the road with rap-metal legends, Stuck Mojo, touring across the United States. I maintain to this day that Forever Never is the best band I’ve ever accidentally seen live. Do you have any particularly fond memories from that tour?
That tour was a lot of fun for all of us, and I still feel privileged to have at least been out to America once to play for everyone. I think the tour in general was one long fond memory to be honest, meeting so many people on the road – some of which had never met a real life English person! It was a great cultural experience as well as a musical one.
Being from Great Britain and with your experiences of traveling across the US, what have you found to be most bizarre about us on this side of the Atlantic?
The funniest thing was just the broad spectrum of reactions we got from place to place. I’ve always said in places like Florida or New York, everyone there is pretty aware of tourists, so a British accent is not really a novelty. But when we were in places like Fayetteville, or Charlotte, I don’t think people were quite as used to it. I always tell this story and it kind of highlights this quite aptly: we were stopping off for gas somewhere in North or South Carolina – I forget exactly where – but our guitarist, George, went up to pay and ordered some fried chicken at the same time, to which the lady at the counter said “Y’all got a weird accent. Where y’all from?”, to which George replied “England.” She then replied with “What state is that in?”. We all thought that was pretty funny, but she shrugged when we said “Britain” and “United Kingdom” as well which was more surprising. Don’t worry, we don’t think you’re all like that – we have plenty of untraveled Brits as well! Haha!
The band took a hiatus following the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Metal EP, which I somehow managed to miss. Such a shame too, because it’s a very well done Covers release. But anyway, how do you feel the hiatus has affected the band? Was it necessary?
I think it probably was necessary, and all things considered, I believe it has done all of us some good. “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and “The grass ain’t always greener” are both clichés which come to mind but I think they’re both relevant on this occasion. It’s just put the fire back in our bellies and we are savouring every moment that we are back on a stage!
Let’s talk new material. Forever Never recently put out a video and single for the song “Never Giving Up.” Killer groove and melody, and an apt song title for coming back from a break. Can you tell us about how the band got kickstarted again and how this song came together?
Over the course of a year I spoke to everyone in the band individually at one time or another and it became pretty apparent that everyone was up for getting back into it again. The music to the track was written quite a while before the lyrics, but it all came together pretty easily to be honest. And obviously because of the lyrical content it felt like the perfect song to re-announce ourselves.
I’ve heard that we’re in for a few more singles over the rest of the year and then hopefully a full length LP sometime next year. Any hints or teasers you can share with us about what lay in store?
That’s right, as the plan currently stands, we are releasing another single in maybe October. That’s a track called “One Life,” which we’ve been playing in our live sets. We think it’s gonna be a massive song for us. It’s a massively uplifting tune, and explores more new territory in the FN sound. There’s quite a lot of material written towards the album as well, there’s a really wide spectrum of sounds in there and some real surprises.
Forever Never is known for having some intense and heavy grooves, even some keys, but will we see any electrifying guitar solos on any of the new material?
Yes! Absolutely. We’ve never been a band to follow the same blueprint for every song. We’ll always have guitar solos in our music – they just won’t be on every single song. If the song calls for it, we will have one and it just so happens we can call upon as someone as damn cool as G to lay down some soulful licks. We’ve expanded our soundscapes on the new stuff as well, experimenting with more piano and keys but also with synth bass and synth drums. Like I said, we’re really mixing it up and think it’s a really exciting phase of the Forever Never sound.
Members of the band have guested on other artists’ albums, such as Fozzy’s Chasing The Grail and two Stuck Mojo releases. With your own releases we also saw Benji Webbe from Skindred featured on Forever Never’s cover of “Boombastic.” I’d love to hear how these experiences came about and what it was like to work together.
Well, with the Stuck Mojo and Fozzy stuff, we toured with them both several times and Rich was a fan of my vocals so he asked me to get involved with some guest vocals. Then on the album Chasing the Grail, I actually did vocal production on 5 songs, which was really good fun to get involved with. I came up with the idea of the “Boombastic” cover while we were on tour with Skindred, so it was a simple question at the time really. Was amazing to work on that track with Benji and with Rich, who in the space of 10 years I’ve gone from fan, to friend, to collaborator! Amazing.
Does the new album feature any guests? Can you tell us who you’d like to collaborate with for any upcoming material?
No, it doesn’t. Yet, anyway. I think I would like to have one or two guests maybe on the new album, but not sure on what tracks yet. I would love to do another track (after “Exitdose” [from the album Forever Never]) with a female vocal. Lynn from Pvris would be amazing – think that would be cool as fuck. I’d probably like some unconventional guests on our stuff, from outside the rock world. That’s when some magic happens when you take someone out of their usual world and drop them into a different sound altogether.
Your music is getting attention from MTV Rocks, Scuzz TV, and even Kerrang. The new single has spent weeks upon weeks on Kerrang’s rock chart. Congratulations! What advice would you give to other bands who are attempting to get their music heard?
Thank you! It’s now 7 weeks on the chart (as of August 1) which is amazing. It’s gone down really well and we couldn’t be happier. Two words probably of advice: determination and perseverance. Oh, and sacrifice. You won’t ever get anywhere with music without making some form of sacrifice. It’s a long road, and it has ups and downs the whole time and you have to make some tough decisions, but if you love it as much as I do, there’s only ever one choice to make: Music.
I know the band has seen members come and go throughout the years, most recently with the departure of your longtime bassist, Kev Yates. I don’t imagine that ever gets easier. But what do you believe have been the band’s high point and low point up to the present?
This has been a real tough one as I started the band with Kev, so it has been a difficult one, but we both appreciate each others positions. So it’s at least been cool that we’ve been able to come out of it still as good mates. It’s certainly a low point emotionally for me, but at the same time you have to always see the sun through the clouds and think of the freshness that will come with some new blood. High point for most of us I think would have to be the packed tent at Download Festival 2009. That was absolute euphoria for half an hour. We just wanna do it all over again next year!
I want to thank you, Renny, for taking the time to answer a few questions. It has been a pleasure! To close out, what do Forever Never’s upcoming tour plans look like? Will the United States get another chance to see the group in the foreseeable future?
No problem. Well, we are currently getting our new bass player situation sorted, after which we will be getting in some dates before the year is out, and then we will likely get into recording mode. As for America, it goes without saying that we would love to get back out there, but it’s probably a little while off for the time being. Saying that though, with people such as yourself and the guys at X106.9 KMZK Colorado who have us on their A playlist helping to spread the FN sound stateside… who knows, it might be quicker than I think? Here’s hoping!
For more on Forever Never, visit:
Buy “Never Giving Up” at: iTunes
When I first heard his one-man debut album, Duality, I was as struck as during my initial listen of Opeth’s Blackwater Park. Who was this musical wonder and how was I just finding out about him? So I wrote to the man behind the Seattle progressive death metal band Rhine, frontman and guitarist Gabriel Tachell, and I decided to ask him a few questions. He graciously answered them in full and I’ve enjoyed what he’s had to say. Join me as we talk about how the band came to open for the legendary Sepultura, cabbages, and the group’s second album which is currently in the works!
I’m interested to hear about the origins of the band. What was the intention when you began Rhine, and where did the name come from?
Well, I guess my intentions have always been to make interesting music that draws from all of my musical influences and life experiences. To make good sounding albums that are unique, pushing some boundaries, and can hopefully reach people and inspire them the same way I’ve been inspired by my favorite artists. I’m also trying to create a place that I enjoy being in. That’s kind of how I think about music. I listen to an epic Devin Townsend or Opeth record with headphones and it really takes me somewhere emotionally and creates associations with places and imagery.
The name is taken from the river Rhine for a few reasons, one being that I just think it sounds cool. It’s a single word name that is easy to remember and it’s pretty ambiguous, it doesn’t scream out “death metal.” Personally, I’m very drawn to water and spent a lot of time in rivers growing up, and then there’s also the fact that I lived in Germany for all of my elementary school years, and have fond memories of that part of the world.
Rhine’s debut album, Duality, was really a one-man show. What are some of the moments of creating that album that stand out to you?
It was a pretty frustrating and tedious process, but I learned a lot. One of the cool things was this sound booth I built, mainly to feel comfortable singing without being heard. At that point in my life I had never performed metal music live or been a front man for a band, and I was living with friends who weren’t exactly into metal, so I was pretty shy about being heard. In the room I was renting, I built a 4ft x 6ft isolation booth with double walls. I could literally scream as loud as possible in there with my roommates right outside the room watching TV, and they couldn’t hear a thing. I covered it with black canvas inside and had it lit by a red light bulb. It was a quiet, dark little space for me to get crazy in.
Lyrically, what was the focus of your first release? What should people take away from the listening experience?
The theme of “duality” isn’t strictly adhered to throughout the record. But the idea of duality is something I think about a lot. The balance of good and evil in the world, happiness and sadness, dark and light. The last song explores that theme the most I’d say, moving through happy sounding parts and dark sounding, evil, sad etc. All the songs vary a lot lyrically, some are nonsense, some are politically driven, there’s some cheesy gore, apocalyptic fantasy, social anxiety, satire, whatever. Some people just like the sound of the music without being able to understand the words. I’m like that sometimes. With some songs the lyrics and music evolve together and really click, and sometimes I just write instrumentals first, then try to write words that describe the “environment” the music has already created. I generally prefer music with vocals because they add more emotion, and sometimes you can just make sounds with your mouth and that’s all it takes to get the point across, words are just sounds anyways. That’s something I’ve always thought Devin Townsend was good at, you listen to his albums and you hear all these ooohs and ahhs and stuff going on in the background, all this wordless vocalising. I’m more interested in people taking away the big picture, the vibe, not the specific meaning of each song.
The album cover for Duality looks like it could be a Rorschach ink blot test or a demonic Mickey Mouse. What is the real idea behind the image?
The idea came from me cutting a cabbage in half to make some sauerkraut and noticing how beautiful the inside was, so I stuck it on a scanner and had some fun in Photoshop. I manipulated it in a way that there’s a mirror image thing happening, trying to keep with the theme of duality, and now when you look at it you can see other images the patterns have created, the most obvious being a kind of “moth” shape, or for you a demonic Mickey Mouse, haha.
Rhine recently opened up for Sepultura at Studio Seven in Seattle. Can you tell us how that event came together and give us some memories of the evening?
It was really fun. Our bass player broke his low B string in the second song, and my volume pedal was half way off cutting my gain way down for the first two songs before I figured out what was up, but the energy was still great. A lot of venues add local bands to open for touring acts. We ask for gigs like this all the time, and this one came through.
Who are the current members of Rhine? How did the band’s present line-up come to fruition?
We’ve got Carlos on drums, Alex on guitar, James on bass, and I do guitar/vocals. James has been a friend of mine for almost 10 years, and he’s been on board to play with me since I started looking for band members. Alex and I hooked up through craigslist and turned out to know some of the same people in other bands. He helped me audition a handful of drummers before we found Carlos, also on craigslist. Once we met him we were playing our first show within 4 months. All great guys and good friends. James is from the northwest. Alex and Carlos are both East Coast transplants. Carlos is actually from Nicaragua originally and immigrated to Florida with his family when he was 11.
The band is currently working on its sophomore release. What can we expect from the new album? Can you fill us in on any details to sate our curiosities?
You can expect improved production quality, better singing (especially clean vocals), and just greater musicianship overall. I personally think the music is becoming more original sounding, also much more progressive on this record. There were originally going to be three tracks that are over 10 minutes long, but I cut one of them out because I want to save it and turn it into an epic 30-40 minute long song like Edge of Sanity’s “Crimson.” That song also happened to be the working title track for the album, so now I’m still working out a new album title. But yeah, I’m really happy with the new material; there’s some really sweet melodies and rhythmic play as well as really dissonant odd time stuff.
Since Duality was really something of a solo album, how does the new release differ in its writing dynamic?
A lot of the writing for this record actually happened the year after I released Duality, long before the band became a real thing. I got side tracked for a while, living in the UK with my girlfriend for a year, then coming back and joining an experimental/prog rock-ish band called Alex’s Hand that I worked on two albums with. I also released a short electronic record at some point there too. Rhine got put on hold for a while, but after I left Alex’s Hand I got serious about recording again. We had a hard time finding a drummer, so I actually hired a session drummer from Vancouver, BC, named Sean Lang to play on the new album. Carlos joined the band after all those tracks were already done, so it’s really just been me again working on it solo. But at least this time I didn’t try to play the drums myself! There is some collaborative writing in the works, you can expect more involvement from band members on future releases.
Listening to your playing, on a variety of instruments, it’s easy to hear how versatile you are. Can you tell us more about your music background?
Well first off, I will say that I’m not actually a good enough drummer to play all the material on that record all the way through. I did record real drums and played them myself, but they were heavily edited and almost all of the double bass was programmed. I didn’t want to make a solo record with straight up midi drums, so I did this as a way to make it sound as real as possible. I honestly don’t consider myself to be a really great guitar player either. I’m pretty unconventional; my rhythm is pretty solid and my leads are just a bunch of legato stuff I’ve figured out how to play fast without actually having to pick very much. I feel like composition is my strength, and my guitar skills just barely keep up with what I write. Coming up with grooves and playing bass comes pretty natural for me, I’ve always been very rhythmically oriented and felt like I should have been a drummer all along, just didn’t get an early enough start. My parents are both classical musicians, so I was playing piano and clarinet from a pretty young age, and singing in choirs. Picked up a guitar when I was 14 and that was that. I got a bachelor’s degree in audio engineering and composition from Evergreen State College, then did an internship at a big studio in Seattle shortly before I started working on Duality.
Who are some of your inspirations, musically and ideologically?
I’ve gone through phases of listening to tons of genres of music, in a truly geek out kind of way. The number of albums I’ve listened to more than 50 times each is huge, and it covers everything from free jazz to afro pop. Some of my biggest metal influences are Opeth, Devin Townsend/Strapping Young Lad, Enslaved, Hypocrisy, Dan Swano/Edge of Sanity, Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, Between the Buried and Me, Ulver, Bloodbath, Lamb of God, Gojira, Arcturus, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum… I also have to mention Prince and Depeche Mode because they are definitely my absolute favorite non-metal artists. Ideologies are a whole other conversation, not really sure where to begin, so I won’t go into it. I’m very liberal… I’ll just leave it at that.
Can you walk us through your gear setup?
I play a 7 string Schecter in drop B tuning. I’ve got a Peavey 5150 II with some mods I’ve done, running through a vertical 2×12 cab I built. I use a Boss Gt-8 for effects and a Morley Bad Horsie wah. The cool thing about my setup is that I’m able to switch my amp channels with the GT-8. Many people don’t realize this, but combined with the 4 cable method I really have endless versatility, and I’m not using any digital distortion or amp modeling. Alex has also got this setup running with his Marshall head now, it’s great. I also use in-ear monitors just for my vocals. I have a cheap little Behringer microMon on my pedal board that I can plug a mic into, then give the thru output to the sound guy. Works like a charm, I have a coiled headphone cable wrapped around my instrument cable, and my earbuds plugged in right by my guitar jack.
What’s the last thing you listened to?
Fever Ray, self-titled.
What is your hope for Rhine’s future?
I’d like to tour all over the world and work on records with producers I admire. I’d like to quit my day job so we can bust out a new record every 1-2 years, and then in 10+ years, we’ll be much better musicians and songwriters with a huge discography.
Why should people listen to Rhine?
To see if they like it.
For more on Rhine, visit:
Buy Duality: From The Band!
All photos courtesy of Elmo Thamm.
I had the great pleasure of sitting and speaking with Carter Gravatt of the Richmond, VA. band Carbon Leaf on April 19. Aside from playing acoustic and electric guitar in the band, Carter also mans the mandolin, violin, banjo, bouzouki, lap steel, cello, and a number of other instruments (he’s in the market for a nyckelharpa). After we knocked out the usual topics such as Game Of Thrones banter, we were able to get into the meat and potatoes of the band and their newest PledgeMusic project, Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat‘s revamping. We also took the time to discuss the making of their last release, Indian Summer Revisited, and a ton of other musician-specific questions, as well as some random oddities. For the full hour and a half audio interview, check out the provided Youtube video (opening it up in its own window provides a Table Of Contents to skip to specific topics). Below, however, is a transcription of some of the highlights, with a focus on the band and their current project!
What’s been going on with you and the band for the last four months?
January we had a little bit of downtime. We usually have a little bit of time off at the first of the year. We had the Rock Boat and we also had been working on a record project which has just now come to light. We were re-recording Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat. So we were starting that earlier in the year. Then we had shows throughout March – some stuff in February – and April we’ve had, for the most part, off. It’s kind of a vacation as we get ready for this Summer. Terry is mixing and working on the record and I’m fixing stuff – shipping instruments away to get fixed – and getting ready for the Summer to start it all over.
On how Carbon Leaf makes setlists:
We’ll show up at a venue and go in and take a look, especially if it’s a place we haven’t played before, and decide what kind of show it’s going to be. Is it going to be a rock show? Is it going to be an acoustic show? Will it be something in between? Once we do that then Barry will make the setlist and he’ll go through the setlist with me and decide what kind of instruments he wants on what songs. And hopefully I can play it!
So is that something you decide on the day of the show?
Yeah, absolutely! Every day is a little bit different. On any tour there will be a core of songs that we want to play or that we’ll fall into a groove with, where everybody is on the same page and playing it well. But we’ll take a look at the last time we were out on the road and what we played. Barry has a list of all the shows, all the venues, all the setlists, and we’ll look and see what we played last time we were in town and the time before that. Then we’ll go through and try to come up with a good list of songs and have the core things that people want to hear, but still have some stuff that we haven’t played, have some new stuff, and try to make a pretty creative list out of it. But yeah, that all happens once we get to the venue.
As you said at the beginning, Love, Loss, Hope, Re-Repeat? Something like that?
Repeat Repeat, or something like that. I’m not sure we’ve settled on anything, haha! Repeat Again?
You guys recently just came off of doing Indian Summer Revisited last year and touring behind that. And now you’re working on Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat’s sequel, so to speak, but this one you said is going to be less faithful to the original songs. You’re going to mess around with it some more?
Absolutely! This one is going to be very different. There are a few things about it that I’m really excited about. There’s a tune called “Block Of Wood” on there and it’s actually, unless it’s been edited without my knowledge, actually has all the words in it now. That tune, I was always a little bummed that we sliced out some of the lyrics, because I didn’t feel like it made quite as much sense. But it’s a great song and now I think the full lyrics are in there.
When we made that record originally it was the first time we did a record not at home or in a studio that we could control the amount of time we had to work on it. The label said, “Look, we need the record by this date.” That was also the first time we’d ever had someone tell us when we had to have something done. We were kind of used to taking our time. We had been on the road touring intensely behind Indian Summer ever since it had come out. We hadn’t had the chance to stop and really develop the songs. The songs that we’d started to develop would be the songs that would end up on How The West Was One, so that was kind of where we were and that was our headspace at the time. A lot more ambient, kind of dreamy material. “Texas Stars” was slated for How The West Was One, “Under The Wire”, some of those songs. So they were kind of supposed to be part of a different project that we didn’t have time to work with at the same time.
We were up against the wall and we went to Nashville to record [Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat] with a producer who was really great, but we had the wrong batch of songs for what we needed to put out at the time and we didn’t have time to finish them. A lot of it, to me, I hear that stuff we didn’t get to put on the record and I feel like we finally got to straighten things out and do the versions of the songs that we would have done, had we had time. There are some things about the original recording of the record that I really do like. “Texas Stars”, the version on the original, I really enjoyed. It was a little bit more aggressive than the original treatment of the tune. There are little things, going back and listening to it, there were things that I really liked. Like “Royal One” was actually, I think, captured in one take. That was Jordan, the drummer, and myself just playing in the studio together. But yeah, there are things I like, but I’m way more excited about finishing up with the new one.
I really do like the record the way it stands, but I know that there are things that you guys have said about it. That it was a very weird time for you all in the studio.
It really was. It was just a lot of different things coming at once. There was the label saying, “We need the record.” There was the producer saying, “We’re not going to have time to do this record the way they want to do it.” Us finishing up our time at Nashville and not having the time to take it home…we basically like to get started, let things percolate, play some stuff and see how it sounds – see if it’s come around – and work from there. So we were really out of our comfort zone with that. And during mastering,…Barry threw his back out and was singing literally right up to mastering, sitting across the street on a couch with ice on his back in a hotel room with Terry. But it was really, really rushed.
Do you feel that the new release of this is going to be different simply based on choice, or also because you have people that weren’t there originally, like Jason and Jon, now taking their own personality and putting it on the songs?
There’s some of that and the songs are going to be different. It’ll be a pretty different sounding record. It’s just one of those things where, when we did Indian Summer Revisited it was nice to have that record as our own again and not be associated with our former label. We had talked about revisiting some of the older stuff, like Echo Echo, a while back. It was one of those things like, “You know, when we get time…” We have a lot of those. The thought to redo the other two Vanguard records has always been…you know, we’ve always wanted another shot at Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat, and we just said, while we’re doing this let’s go back in a re-record Love, Loss… the way we wanted. Because with Indian Summer Revisited we really wanted to be as truthful to the original as possible, because that’s what we wanted. We wanted to have those songs back, and just to have the record again just to be able to sell to fans. We haven’t sold any of the Vanguard records since they sold out years ago. It’s just cost ineffective for us. We don’t sell our CDs for more than $10 at a show, so with the amount we had to pay the label for the CDs, shipping, and then venue percentages, and damaged goods, we were basically paying people a few bucks to take the CDs. We thought we should do something about that. But we wanted Indian Summer Revisited to be very close to the original and I think we did a good job of trying not to ruin it for people. I hope we didn’t! Our hope is not to ruin it for people that liked the original.
To me, the new one sounds fresh, but it’s close enough that I have a hard time telling the two apart.
There are little nuances that you don’t really notice are there at all until they’re not there. And then you’re like, “Wait a minute, something’s missing.” We wanted to minimize those, but there were some things we wanted to not be there. We used drum loops a lot on the original, because we had to, and we wanted to completely avoid that when we re-recorded it. And a couple of other little things, but overall I feel like it was a very honest and truthful recreation of that album. And it was kind of interesting to go back and listen to that record, because I haven’t listened to that record in years! And then to learn a lot of the same parts that I would have improvised in the studio the first time and I had to go back and learn them! That was an interesting challenge. And trying to figure out what I would have used to get some of the sounds to be as similar as we could. Of course, the funny part of that was that a guy that was working on the project with us videoed a lot of it and the video showed up about two months after we were done re-recording. It was like, “Man, I really could have used that a couple of months ago.” Because it’s got a video of all the amps I was using, a bunch of pedals and the order I had them set up in, which was really hard to figure out when you’re just listening to things. Cause there were a few things in there, especially in songs like “The Sea” and “Paloma”, where there are a lot of really effect-y guitars that don’t even necessarily sound like a guitar. So trying to figure out all I’d done, and of course this video surfaces after we’re done and it shows me doing half of it…I was like, “I really could have used that a few months ago.”
You buy the IKEA table, you put it together, and then someone shows up with the instructions.
Yeah, yeah! Like, “Huh, so that’s what happens when you put the legs on top.”
You hardly notice!
Yeah, you hardly notice. It does sit on the floor and it’s really weird, but…it was a lot of fun to do that. And Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat and anything else that we redo, will be a departure from the record unlike Indian Summer Revisited. Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat was the opposite, and I look forward to people hearing it! We’ll see what people think.
On a record of new material:
Barry has been writing. We’ve got 300 to 500 pieces of unfinished music that are just waiting to be finished up. It also crossed a lot of different…I don’t want to say genres.
More than one mood?
Oh yeah, tons! And that’s what Barry does. He separates it all out into his own moods. I’m not sure what he’s writing to right now. I know he’s been working on stuff for a while. Usually when he has a batch of songs done, he’ll bring them back to us and we’ll start picking through and figuring out what we’ll do. That’s what we were going to do with Constellation Prize, but when he brought back the batch of songs there was a chunk that had that Irish thing going and a chunk that was what would ultimately become Constellation Prize. We said, “Alright, let’s stop right here and divide this up and make two albums that kind of make sense together, but not intermingle the two.” So then we wrote out the rest of what would be Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle and then wrote out the rest of Constellation Prize. That way we had two different things and not taking a half of each, putting them together, and going, “Wow, this is a really non-cohesive blob of songs.”
You were talking about Barry bringing batches of songs and you guys going through them. Is that normally how the writing process for the band works?
There are a couple of different ways, but essentially we’ll write the music and then give it to Barry at various stages of “doneness.” Sometimes it’ll be a mandolin piece or a guitar thing, and sometimes it’ll be things that we’ve fleshed out with the whole band and be kind of a finished song. But he’s got all of that and then he’ll pick through and find what he likes and we might start to sketch out some ideas with him. Or he’ll come back to us and say, “I like this and I like this. What I want in here…how about a bridge?” or “Can you take this part out and add in something from this other song?” It’s kind of like Legos! But you know, once things start to move towards becoming a song we’ll maneuver around what he wants to do with it. And some things will be done and he’ll come back with exactly what we gave him and he’ll have written lyrics and it’s done.
For instance, the song “She’s Gone” off of Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle. That was done pretty much exactly like the demo. And “Love Rains Down.” “Ragtime Carnival,” I think, was another one that he just came back with…that’s the most fun ever, actually, is that first time we get together, we’ll sketch out the structure, and we’ll play through it. And to hear what Barry has come up with over what you’ve written is…man, that’s just the best ever. I love that part. It’s the best part of the creative process for me. Like the first time we played through “The War Was In Color.” I was just standing there with my jaw hanging open, going “Could you…could you say that again? Could we do that again, just so I can catch all the words again?” Or, I remember the first time we played “What About Everything?” and going “Wow, I think people are going to like that!” Or “One Prairie Outpost”…so many other songs. It’s so much fun. The first time to hear it and to be there.
Because you guys don’t discuss what the subject matter is going to be before Barry brings it back to you, do you?
Uh, sometimes! Sometimes with some of the stuff I’ve written I’ll tell Barry what I’m feeling or what I’d like to hear for a song. And that’s also amazing, to be able to have a little input. And whether or not it works out for that song, he always files that stuff away in his mind and it’s a really amazing thing. Some stuff off How The West Was One was a lot of stuff that I wrote on my own and had ideas for some of it. I’m always impressed when he comes back with words for it, because I sure can’t write them, heh!
It’s like, “You get me, man. You get me.”
“Yeah, man! You understand me. No one else does, but you get me!” Haha! But yeah, man, it’s fun. That’s one of the greatest things, is finishing songs.
Next month, May 15 and 16, you guys have the Ragtime Carnival Campout. You did this last year and you’re doing it again. You’re going to have bands like Ben Daniel’s Band, Mandolin Orange…
Red Wanting Blue is coming. Trigger Hippie. Golly, I can’t remember the line-up now. But yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
This is going to take place at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, Vir. Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea came from, how last year went, and what you guys are planning for this year?
Well, to set it up we used to do a luau and campout…man, it must have been about 10 years ago. We did all the work ourselves. It was a real ordeal to put it on. It would basically be one day of shows in which you’d camp out and the band would cook you breakfast and then you split the next day. But we just got too overwhelmed once Indian Summer started rolling and just didn’t have the time to put in to make it happen. We wanted to revisit it for a long time and just didn’t have the venue, because the place we were having it closed down. It was an island that was in the middle of the James River, which was great, but it got to the point where you couldn’t put on a show there. So we didn’t have the venue and we didn’t have the time. I guess a promoter approached Barry about two years ago and we had a real good time doing it, and a good turnout. Especially for the first year of doing something like that. I wasn’t completely sure if we were going to do it again and then found out last fall that we were definitely having it again.
The first day, you’ll show up Friday and there’ll be two stages. One is at the bottom of the hill and the other up on top, and it’s a little bit smaller. Slightly more acoustic acts will play up there, but there will always be someone playing. The main stage, someone will play, and then while the changeover is going on the other stage will be going. Then after the show…I think we’re going to try and do a bonfire this year. We were going to try last year but we had some logistic problems. Then the next day the music will start about lunchtime. I think [Carbon Leaf] will start with an acoustic set on the small stage and then a closing set on the main stage that night. It’ll be all day. There’s great trails; I took my bike last year and rode a bunch. Yeah, great stuff to do and really pretty. The weather was really amazing last year, which makes me think this year will be terrible. You can’t get that lucky all the time! But yeah, I was excited about it last year and I’m really excited about it this year.
You mentioned trail biking. You guys have some interesting Pledge Rewards for the new Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat Pledge Music campaign.
You can go fishing with Jason, and he’ll even clean your catch for you if you want to keep it; Jon is offering intro boxing/juijitsu lessons.
Juijitsu probably, yeah! He is super big into that stuff!
And you can do a 30 minute guitar lesson with you or Terry, and you have a Mountain Biking reward, where people can go out with you and mountain bike. I’m taking that this is kind of a big hobby for you.
You know, well, I do try to go riding. So, if somebody gets it we’ll go out and get a cup of coffee, drive out to one of my favorite spots, and ride for a couple of hours. Then probably go get some barbeque or go to one of my favorite little dive restaurants and get a late lunch. Then I’ll happily send them on their way, hopefully dusty and dirty, but nothing broken. Yeah, it’s going to be fun!
For more on Carbon Leaf, visit:
Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat, Re-… PledgeMusic.com Campaign
Bonus – What is Carter listening to right now?
Planxty – “Smeceno Horo” from After The Break
Over two years ago I had the honor of speaking with Agent Cooper and Dreaded Marco lead guitarist, Mike Martin (formerly of Fozzy and Stuck Mojo), about his life in music. It was even more special due to the fact that it was my first interview for Better B# and that it was nearly three hours long. It was a blast and I couldn’t be more excited to speak with him once more to catch up on what has occurred in the time between. So let’s not dally any longer! Thanks for joining me again, Mike. How have you been?
Thanks so much for taking the time! I’ve been doing great. 2015 is already a busy year!
You’re in several bands now. Not only do you have your own solo project, but you’re also the lead guitarist in both the prog rock band Agent Cooper, as well as rockers The Dreaded Marco. How do you balance all of these obligations?
I’m very fortunate to be able to play with such a diverse group of different bands. I’m interested in many styles of music. It’s great to have opportunities that allow me to express those sides of my playing. It can be a bit of a balancing act. This month I’m playing gigs with my solo group, The Dixie Duncan Band, The Dreaded Marco and Stickman. Finding the time and the headspace to keep rehearsals scheduled and attention to the details of all of our music is a challenge for sure. I count my blessings everyday that I get to wake up and make music for a living so I work very hard to stay focused and bring my “A” game to every show no matter the project. I always give 100%.
The Dreaded Marco is your most recent endeavor. They’ve released a few albums on their own prior to this, but you joined them for their newest album, Safe Word. How did you get involved with them?
I’ve been friends with The Dreaded Marco guys for years. Our drummer, Mike Froedge, has been a key player around the Atlanta area with bands like doubleDrive, Speed X as well as having toured with Black Label Society and runs a very successful studio in town where we did some Stuck Mojo tour rehearsals before. The original guitarist, Dixie Duncan, is a very good friend of mine and we’ve been ardent supporters and fans of each other’s work for years. Dixie and I conspired to have me open up their Classy album release show a few years back. I’ve been a fan since the band’s inception. After Dixie decided to leave the band a couple of years ago, the guys reached out to me and Troy McLawhorn from Evanescence, Seether and doubleDrive to fill in on some shows. Troy and Froedge obviously have a lot of history together so it was an honor for me to get asked to join the band and record the latest album with them.
On Safe Word, which is a really fun record by the way, you not only handle guitar duties but also appear to be the person who experiences quite a few random encounters between songs. Can you tell us about that release and what it was like creating it?
Thanks, man! It was a lot of fun putting this album together. I think that joy comes across in the performances. That’s actually our bassist Scott Williams doing the spoken intermezzo parts. We do sound a little alike too. Even my older brother thought that was me at first!
The guys already had all of the songs on the table written and ready to go when they pulled me in. What was cool was that they already knew that we weren’t going to do a ton of overdubs. We really wanted the album to sound like what we sound like live so they gave me all the room in the world to write my guitar parts. I wrote around Charlie’s parts so we could have a cool complimentary guitar sound. Some of my ideas led the guys to change some of their parts too so it was good to not just be a session guy on the album but actually get to influence the writing process and put my sound all over all of the songs. We’re very pleased with the way it all turned out.
The Dreaded Marco isn’t the only group you’ve been busy with lately. You released an album with Agent Cooper this last year entitled Far From Sleep that slipped under the noses of some people. I gave your bandmate, Sean Delson, a hard time about that when I interviewed him recently, but he made it up to me by saying that new material is currently being recorded for a new album. What can we expect from this next batch of songs? Any idea when we’ll get a taste of it? I don’t suppose we’ll get as lucky as last time with being the first to hear the title of the upcoming album, eh? I’m hoping you all aren’t going with what Sean told me, The Barry Adkins Story – A Tale Of Woe.
Yeah, there are probably things we should have done differently with the completion and release of that. It really is a good album and I like all of the guitar work I got to do on it. I don’t, unfortunately, have any announcements to make about a new album.
That was the first album since 2 Of 5 and the track “Wormwood” that I produced and recorded all of my guitar parts at my home studio. Lots of different tones. We recorded Safe Word, including all of my guitar parts, at Mike Froedge’s studio, Open Sky, in Atlanta. I was very pleased with the sound of the guitars on everything. Since then I’ve made some changes and additions to my studio and I’m getting better tones now more than ever which makes me very excited about my next round of solo recordings.
What is your most memorable moment or story from Agent Cooper’s European tour with Tony MacAlpine?
Getting to work so closely with Tony. I pulled double duty but my main job on the tour was teching for him. Amazing to get to watch him work everyday. Hands down, he is one of the finest musicians and nicest people I have ever worked with. There are a lot of moments that I think of fondly but one that stands out to me right now was spending some time one day after sound check with Tony going over his pedal board and tweaking settings for everything. Incredibly humbling to be working with one of your guitar heroes and influencing decisions that they he was making with his rig and set up. Tony was very gracious to me and I’m humbled that he trusted me with that. We also would go out for coffee and hot chocolate just about every day. Such an amazing time for me!
Last time I spoke with you, you were on Steve Vai’s label, Digital Nations, which re-released your solo album, 2 Of 5. How has that affected your career?
It was a huge turning point for sure! That came right on the heels of my leaving Fozzy so it was exactly the adrenaline shot I needed to keep moving forward. I still get a lot of positive messages and emails about my work with Fozzy and Mojo but the deal with Vai definitely allowed me to keep the focus on my own work. It brought me a lot of new fans from all over the world. Many of them did not know of my work with Fozzy and Mojo so it’s been great to branch out on my own in that way. It really put my feet back under me, you know? Gave me some confidence in myself and my work at a time when everything was in flux and I was very depressed and filled with self doubt. Not just career-wise, but dealing with a family tragedy that was going on all through that transition period along with all of my career changes. Now as a solo artist, I’ve been in a position to open for many of my heroes and some of the best players out there whether it was Steve Vai, Richie Kotzen, The Aristocrats, The Guitar Gods Tour with Yngwie, Bumblefoot and Gary Hoey directly as a result of the re-release. It was a big factor in Tony MacAlpine’s decision to hire me as tech and do that UK/EU tour in 2012 as well since it gave him and his manager a point of reference for promoting the tour since we both had albums out with Vai’s label.
You also had told me about working on a new solo release. How is that going? What lay in store for us?
I’m always writing so that never stops. I’ve had a few things take precedence of my time along the way so I haven’t been in a giant hurry for my next solo release. I needed to get clear of a few things that were taking up some time and energy plus joining The Dreaded Marco and getting Safe Word out definitely needed to be a priority for me. The instrumental market is tough. I’m a touring guy that loves being in a band so I tend to lean towards those experiences first since that’s really what I’m all about. That’s not to say I don’t feel expressive in the instrumental genre. It just is a bit more psychotherapy for me to be that unrestricted with my need to be expressive, you know? I make everything I do very personal and emotional regardless, but the solo stuff has it’s own space in my universe and the most important thing for me is to get that in a context where I can perform it live regularly in an honest, transportive and vulnerable way and that is very hard for us instrumental rock guys to do.
I’ve been pouring over my notes and archives to get a sense of what the next release will ultimately be. I’ve got some heavier riffs that were left over from an album I was working on for a band some years back that have not found a home yet since they weren’t used for that album. I’ve had a lot of fans asking if there’s going to be something like “Wormwood, Part 2”, I have a lot of meditative pieces, so on and so on. A full album may not be next. It may be a string of singles that stand alone or maybe successive EP’s if I find some songs that hang together well enough. As much as I’d like to just throw a full length album out there, it’s expensive to make and expensive to promote properly and those promotional windows can be very short without a decent budget. My thinking now is if I keep putting out a series of shorter length releases it may give me a better opportunity to get the music on the road to be heard live first. All that said, I’m still in the decision phase of all of that. Singles or EP’s mean new music out sooner versus a full length release somewhere in early 2016.
Will “The Redemption Of Purity And Innocence” make an appearance?
You remembered that title! Excellent! It is definitely in the pool of top contenders as a single. It has the potential to be a bit more epic in length so it may just need to be dealt with that way. It’s also likely to get a bit orchestral and as much as I like writing and working with software synthesizers, my classical background makes me yearn for real ensembles populated with real people moving real instruments. But, that is very, very expensive, so we shall see!
All of these bands you’ve been in – Fozzy to Stuck Mojo, Agent Cooper to The Dreaded Marco, and your solo work – all of these have very different styles and attitudes. Do you find that you have to become the rocker, the progger, the jazz guitarist, or are all of these simply aspects of who Mike Martin is as a player which need to stretch their legs from time to time?
They are all facets of my musical identity and psyche, for sure. It all feels very unified in my heart and soul but I do know how confusing that can be when I’m trying to describe what it is that I do. The best way I can possibly express it would be to quote my dear friend, composer and drummer, Quentin Baxter who simply would say it like this: I’m a musician. I play music. The rest are details that are not unimportant, but they can put boxes on the nature of the art unnecessarily. I simply just allow myself to be the thing that I am. The rest sorts itself out. An interesting thing that my brain does when I focus too much on one thing is to just vomit out something completely different to help balance the emotional equation. A good example of that is a ballad I will be releasing as a single entitled “Wherever You Are” that I wrote in the last hours before hopping on a plane to Europe for the first time with Fozzy and Stuck Mojo. I had been so focused on all of that aggressive music and nervous about the tour that it just came out. I was wise enough to record the first sketch on the spot to capture the emotion of the moment.
What are your favorite songs on the recent Dreaded Marco and Agent Cooper albums and what makes them special to you?
I’d have to say “A Positive Message (For A Change)” and “The Lesser of Two Evils” both off of the Safe Word album. They are both really powerful live and I think we captured that energy in the studio. There’s an emotional component to “Lesser” that is very moving to me. I went for a more subtle and understated approach to my guitar parts on that but I really love the way everything comes together. My guitar parts are not so understated on “A Positive Message” but my and Charlie’s parts mesh together in a very cool way. I’m very proud of that one!
On your Youtube page you’ve reviewed a number of guitar amplifiers and surely used many more during your musical life. Is there one amp to rule them all when it comes to chasing that perfect tone? Perhaps you can discuss your thoughts on Solid State versus Tube versus Digital Amplifications such as the work Positive Grid is doing.
That could be an hour long discussion at the very least! There are so many amazing amps on the market these days. I personally prefer tube amps for most of what I do but it’s tough to deny a good solid state amp like a Roland JC120. My go to amp for many years now has been a Peavey JSX. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of guitar tone! There are definitely times when only a Marshall will do what you need, or a Fender for that matter, but I need my amps to give me good variety of sounds. FUCHS amplifiers are amazing as are Orange and I use them both a lot. I’d own one of everything if I could but I have to find other ways of dealing with that. I have a friend here in Georgia that makes boutique overdrive pedals called Jetter Gear and I find they help me fill in the gaps. He really knows how to get to the soul of an amp’s tone and create a stomp box that just works beautifully with them. In a pinch, I have been using the Positive Grid BIAS app on my iPhone and I have to say it is amazing as well. I mainly got it for hotel and dressing room practice and writing sessions when I’m traveling but I’ve now used it on some rehearsals and expect I could use it on a gig in an emergency. It sounds that good. And it’s on my phone?! Crazy! They make a desktop version now too that I have yet to try but I can see where it would be very helpful in a digital recording situation either when writing or re-amping or just auditioning sounds. It’s an amazing time to be a music maker, that is for sure!
I know that you’ve been with with Dean Markley for a while now. How did you find your way to them? Did you happen to experiment with other companies or did you just try DM, like their work, and stick with them?
When I was first starting out I would buy the strings I could afford with the money I made doing chores at home and eventually after I got my first gigs and a part time job at KFC (of all places!) on the weekends when I was 14. I would buy Dean Markley Strings whenever I could afford them. They always sounded great and would last and hold their pitch a good long time. Which was important to me as I couldn’t afford to buy strings very often!
Years later I got a job doing guitar sales in a big music shop here in the Atlanta area called Ken Stanton Music and part of my job was doing maintenance on instruments, restringing customer guitars, setting them up, etc. So I got to play every brand and label of guitar string imaginable! It was a wonderful experience to be able to get to know them all through my job, you know? Blue Steel Strings were a newer product from Dean Markley at the time and I liked them so much when I would put them on other people’s guitars that I started buying them to put on my guitars too.
After I got my first seven string Ibanez in 1998 (which is still my #1 guitar!) I started buying some other brands too since they made 7 string sets which made them convenient. And I liked them as well. Flash forward to 2004 when I started playing with Fozzy, they were a Dean Markley artist so I started getting strings directly from them and have been using them ever since! They really are great strings and they have been putting out a very consistent product all of these years. I’m very demanding of my strings and they have always delivered beautiful tone, stay in tune fantastically under heavy abuse, feel really good under the fingers (that is very important!) and last reliably if I’m not changing strings all the time like I do when I’m on tour or recording. They really have been amazing to work with all of these years and I am so grateful for their support and keeping me on as an artist even after major changes in my career along the way. They’ve been there for the highs and the lows and I can’t tell you how much that means to me!
Now for a more…diverse line of questioning. Last time we talked you spoke about the proper use of turn signals. What other common courtesies have people been neglecting that makes you want to scream?
That’s still a big pet peeve of mine for sure. I think lately I’ve just become tired of the lack of honesty in the world. There seems to be a “fake it until you make it” philosophy that is just pervasive everywhere, not just in the music business. It’s in our schools, our news media, our politics, our social networking, our pop culture. I’m ready to see the world get back to reality.
What is your drink of choice?
Bourbon, whiskey or scotch with a good cigar is a nice treat these days. Bulliet Bourbon seems to be my go to as of late.
What has been on your playlist as of late?
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Big Wreck, Animals As Leaders, Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats, KXM, Ty Tabor, Beitthemeans, Meshuggah, Rene Marie, Dead Sara, Angel Vivaldi… lots of stuff. I always seem to have some Rush and Frank Zappa on hand too. But I’ve been writing and arranging a lot the last few months so I haven’t been able to listen to too much other music.
You mentioned that you like to make songs for pets; your cats specifically. Were you aware that music has been made specifically for cats? Perhaps there is a market for your pet projects after all?
No! I’ll definitely have to look into that. I have no doubt that if my cats could get away with using my credit card, they would definitely go shopping. Even though they get free dinner and a show here at home every night! Maybe I should consider branching out into that. I seem to have the perfect test subjects and control group here. They’re all critics!
In addition to music for cats, music has been made recently using patterns found in ocean microbial formations, as well as by analyzing the ring patterns of trees and assigning them audible notes. They make for some surprising songs! Seems rather Frank Zappa-esque to me. What do you think about undertakings such this?
I think it’s great! This whole universe seems to be held together by vibrations at the quantum level. Even Pythagoras pondered the Music of The Spheres and the harmony of the universe so long ago. The more we study nature, we will learn about ourselves, our art and our existence. I am all for it!
What is your craziest personal story? Doesn’t matter whether it is music related or not.
While I have found myself in the company of some colorful characters and bore witness to some crazy situations, I’ve always been pretty nerdy and responsible. I have to say I don’t really have any crazy stories. As far as you know…
What is the dream of your musical career?
It probably sounds cliche but I have already done so much that I feel like I am living the dream. Every day I wake up and I know that even though I struggle, this struggle is mine and I’m thankful to be in the fight and still able to swing for the fences. I have a lot more music in me and I just hope and pray that I’ll be blessed with many more years of good health and the ability to keep on this journey. I don’t ever want to lose this spark or the fire in my belly.
What is next for Mike Martin?
Got some cool shows coming up in the next few weeks opening for Jake E. Lee with The Dixie Duncan Band and we are looking at some possible tour dates this summer with that project as well as getting some recording done.
The Dreaded Marco are doing a big fundraiser for a cancer charity at the Atlanta Hard Rock Cafe and we are opening for dUg Pinnick and Corey Glover when they roll through Atlanta late this month. We have some plans for shooting some videos and talking with a couple of labels and booking agents now about taking this thing to the next level. We already have about half of our next record written too.
Along the way I’ll be getting out with my solo band more the second half of the year as I’m working on finishing my next releases. Hopefully I’ll find a way come up with the appropriate budget for that and start paying on my student loans before they haul me off to debtors prison! And to top it off, I’m actually going to be playing a show in Atlanta with my friends’ band Stickman and we will be playing on the same bill with Fozzy.
I really appreciate being given the opportunity to speak with you once more, Mike. It is always a delight. In case I’ve missed anything, or you’d like to plug something, feel free! Otherwise, best of luck and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see more of you real soon.
Always a pleasure, Barry! Thank you so much for keeping up with me and my projects. You are a big part of the support that allows me to keep doing what I’m doing and I can’t thank you enough for that! For anyone wanting to keep up with my projects and guest appearances like on Bonz from Stuck Mojo’s new album Broken Silence, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, check out my website http://mikemartin.net and you can find all of that plus more demonstration videos on my YouTube channel and get information about lessons with me via Skype and iChat or just drop me an email and keep in touch. And if anyone buys my music I promise I’ll use that money to make more music!
For more on Mike Martin, visit:
Buy his solo album, 2 of 5 from: iTunes | Amazon
Buy The Dreaded Marco’s Safe Word from: iTunes | Amazon
Buy Agent Cooper’s Far From Sleep from: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby
B#: I normally go into a spiel about the person I’m interviewing, giving people a bit of background on with whom I’m speaking. However, I thought I’d try something different this time. If a stranger walked up to you and asked, “Who is Ron Thal?” how would you reply?
I’d point both my thumbs at my face and with a big smile, yell “THIS GUYYYYYYYY……” Haha, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m the guy that wakes up, pees, eats breakfast, and starts his day like everyone else. Others may see something else… unless they’re watching me do all that. Well, if I’m described by what I do, I make music and try to make life a little more colorful for anyone in arm’s (or ear’s?) reach.
[Ron has released 10 solo albums, [at the time of this interview] was part of rock band Guns N’ Roses, has toured and played guitar for Lita Ford, and produces/mixes/records for countless others.]
B#: Your new album, Little Brother Is Watching (check out my review here), was released at the end of February this year, your first solo release since your last digital single release in 2011, and your first full album release since Abnormal in 2008. Have you been saving the new songs up for this album, or did they all hit you at once?
There were a few songs I was keeping in the fridge for the right time, waiting for the right home for them. When the writing began with a new album in mind, everything found its place. Writing began in December 2013 thru July 2014, recording was May 2014 thru Jan 2015.
B#: You’ve released quite a few studio albums in your career. However, as I mentioned, for around a year you were releasing digital singles on a monthly basis instead of as a full-length. With Little Brother Is Watching you returned to the full album method. Have you found that one way is better than the other?
Both have their pros & cons. With an album you’re waiting for a big pot to boil, where continuous singles keep a constant simmer going. It makes more sense to go physical (CDs, vinyl) with a full album. With singles, each song can be accepted as its own short story, where albums might be more expected to have a concept or binding thread throughout the songs. Each has its charm, and it’s great that we have choices, options as to how music is shared.
B#: The title of the album is a reference to George Orwell’s seminal work, 1984, and the title track certainly makes a powerful statement about peoples’ use of technology in today’s world. What do you think will become of the world which sees Big Brother pitted against Little Brother?
I think the two brothers will always function side-by-side. I think the bigger battles will be over structure vs. chaos.
B#: One of the weirder songs on the new album is entitled “Cuterebra.” The music is haunting and the lyrics do their best not to put the listener at ease. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this tune?
The song compares the life cycle of a parasitic fly to that of gossip, how the seed is planted under the skin, feeds and grows its wings. I wrote the song on tour a year ago wandering the stairways of a hotel in Buenos Aires, it’s some of my favorite lyrics…
B#: You’ve been endorsed by Vigier Guitars for a long time and have used a wide variety of their models. Simply watching the ‘Making Of’ videos for the new album, one can see that you don’t stick to just one. Are there certain tones that you’re trying to achieve that make you reach for a particular guitar?
When I want something more organic I go for the Vigier ‘G.V.’ guitar, the Vigier ‘Bfoot’ signature guitar is great for hi-energy soloing, the ‘Flying Foot’ guitar gets nice resonation due to the chambers for the wings. And of course there’s the ‘DoubleBfoot’ fretted/fretless, my favorite.. 🙂
B#: We decided to take some questions from the fans. GuitaristicNY, from your BumbleForum, would like to know about your favorite movie score. Also, if you could rescore any film, which would it be and what would it sound like?
Close Encounters Of the Third Kind. Re-scoring a film, never thought about that, hmmm… I can’t say, too many possibilities…
B#: Mirta Rosangela tweets, “Why do you have a beard when you’re already so handsome?”
You’re gonna get such a hug, you!
B#: I have a friend with a beard that would be worthy of a nod from Billy Gibbons, and have noticed that people have strong reactions to facial hair. Have you noticed a difference in how people have treated you as you’ve gone through the phases of beard growth and style change?
It’s not the length of the beard, it’s the grooming. If you’re ungroomed, people are rude.
B#: Devin Heemstra asks: What were some of your favorite practice routines/licks as a young guitarist that you used to improve certain skills?
Playing sloooowly to a 40bpm metronome click, trying to lag behind each beat. Nothing tougher than that for a hyper young shreddy kid… builds discipline.
B#: Speaking of practicing, you’ve contributed quite a few lessons to JamPlay.com, teaching people how to improve their skills at guitar. How did you get involved over there and are there plans for you to give any more lessons?
I did about 20 lessons, and 4 ‘song breakdowns’ where I show how to play the songs ‘Vomit’, ‘Guitars Suck’, ‘Guitars Still Suck’ and ‘Spaghett.i’ It’s a fantastic site. I’d do more if I can come up with more things to teach! Haha…
B#: You’re a lover of spicy foods, and have even come out with your own line of hot sauces in conjunction with CaJohns in Columbus, Ohio. My wife, Kristen, is a huge fan of hot sauces and spicy foods as well. She’s wondering, do you have any plans on releasing a new hot sauce flavor?
I have lots of ideas for new flavors, just gotta convince CaJohns to let me back into their kitchens!
B#: Speaking of hot foods: what’s the hottest thing you’ve eaten as of this point and what was your reaction to it?
A pepper known as the ‘Carolina Reaper’. Created by Ed Currie, it’s the hottest pepper on Earth, holds the world record. He’d give me bags of them and I’d bite off little slivers of them until I was all spaced out…
B#: Vegard, from the Bumbleforum, asks do you have a role model when it comes to honesty in music?
John Lennon, Harry Chapin…
B#: Your biography tells of your early days of music, your desire to play bass guitar and how the music store told you the law required you to play guitar for two years before moving onto bass. While you do play all the bass tracks on your new album, do you feel like they did you a favor or vastly undermined your bass player potential?
I’d have to hop onto another plane of reality and check out the alternate outcome. I think it worked out the way it was meant to.
B#: What was the most enjoyable part of the new release’s recording?
I enjoyed doing the backing vocal harmonies. And doing the ‘Making Of’ videos and sharing the process…
B#: You’ve made it a habit of using your skills for good causes. You’ve played a Navy Seals Benefit concert, “Rock Against Diabetes” for diabetes research and a children’s hospital, not to mention quite a few others. How do you usually find yourself involved in these events?
Just from meeting people and talking with them. It’s always personal. When I travel I try to include these things whenever possible, visiting Autism schools, and fundraising to help children.
B#: You’ve created a band with twin brothers Jon and Vince Votta and bassist John Moyer (of Disturbed). It even features vocalist Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver)! How would you describe this release and when can we get our ears on it?
To me it sounds like grungy metal, with a lot of stellar vocal melodies. Should have an announcement about the release date very soon 🙂
[Edit: Release date for USA: June 2nd / Europe: June 8th]
B#: You’ve been helping out Darryl McDaniels (DMC from Run DMC) and Generation Kill (feat. members formerly of Exodus, Pro-Pain, and more) in a collaboration they’ve been doing. A song entitled “Lot Lizard” was just released, described by yourself a one “nasty, nasty song.” How has that project been going and can you give us any more information on it?
We’re having a blast with it! Just finished another song, a real sports anthem. Everything is sounding great. Love making music with these guys!
B#: You’ve just released a new solo album, are about to see the Art Of Anarchy album drop, and are contributing to a rap metal collaboration. Is there anything we’ve missed, or simply haven’t been told about yet?
Corfu Rock School. Spend a week with me on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu, we spend the first half of the day working on guitar studies, spend the afternoon at the beach and sightseeing, a chef making lunch and dinner, in the evening we work on songs and then hit local pubs and play gigs, jam all night… It’s August 1 – 8, more info at www.CorfuRockSchool.com 🙂 There’s also a contest run by the German music company ‘session’ where First Prize has tuition accommodations and airfare from Europe paid, all who enter the contest get 10% off tuition. Here’s detailed info from my newsletter…
B#: Assuming your schedule was miraculously open, how would you fill the time?
Making music. I love what I do, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing 🙂
B#: Thank you, Ron, for being so gracious with your time. Is there anything you’d like to tell everyone before you get back to your busy world? Don’t forget to floss? A recommended showering schedule? The proper way to wire an out-of-phaze guitar pickup?
Thank you all for *your* time, everyone! Appreciate you checking this out, thanks! Hope to see you all soon!
Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal
For more on Bumblefoot, visit:
Purchase Little Brother Is Watching from: iTunes | Amazon | From the Band
I’m honored today with the privilege of speaking to an incredible musician and bass player to the stars, Sean Delson. Sean has been a part of bands such as Salem Ash, rap-metal innovator Stuck Mojo, The Duke Project, Fozzy (featuring Chris Jericho), and now Agent Cooper. He’s traveled all over the world to perform, from the United States to Australia and far between. He’s even played live with former-Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy, and been served shots onstage by Pantera drummer, Vinnie Paul, all in the same night!
Hello again, Barry! The honor is all mine. That was a great night you just mentioned. All that happened at the famous “B.B. King’s” in New York if memory serves.
Thanks Sean, and you’re correct. Fozzy rocked the house that night! Anyway, I wanted to talk of your beginnings for a moment. What brought you to the bass guitar over another instrument? What inspired you about that sound?
I’m not exactly sure, but it may have something to do with sitting first chair playing trombone in school for 4 years. I also remember my piano teacher commenting on how unusual it was for a student to be so comfortable with the left (bass side) hand parts. Maybe it was just meant to be?
Trombone? How did you end up playing trombone, of all instruments? And can you tell us more about you trying your hand at piano?
To be honest, Barry… I need to ask my parents about that one. I think I took to the piano after the “Trombone/Braces” fiasco. Hence that leaning to the bass clef side of things. Yes… that is it. It was post trombone days. I still have a nice 88 key weighted keyboard in my studio for writing purposes, and just to tinker on when the mood strikes. Thinking about it now, I really should spend more time on it. Believe it or not, my very first instrument for the school band (Middle school band in sixth grade) was the flute! I thought I was being clever by NOT having to carry a huge case to and from school. Have you ever carried a tuba in its case? The flute and I really didn’t get along, and the teacher asked the class if anybody would consider the trombone as there was a shortage in that section. I jumped at it, and really took to it fast. That part, I can’t explain, but it just came easily. Learning to play trombone and the songs at the time was very easy to me. Hell, I have no clue why.
Which musicians had the most impact on the development of your style?
I always have to list Geddy Lee, Andy West, and Steve Harris as the top 3 for giving me my chops foundation. I loved coming home from school and playing to the records of Rush, Iron Maiden, and The Dregs. When I moved out to California to attend BIT (Bass Institute of Technology), I met a kindred spirit in Dave Benner. He was attending the school as well, and is a GREAT bassist! He also helped shape my approach and I give him credit as being a major influence. And of course, there’s no way I can leave out my older brother Corey! Bless him for helping me so much and teaching me songs when I first started playing bass.
And who are some of your favorite musicians today?
WOW! That list almost has no ending. I think we would have to break it down to styles, genres, etc. It’s a long and varied list! There is so much going on today in music. But as I think about your question, I asked myself. “What is it that you go to when you just want to ‘hear something?’” Believe it or not, it’s usually really old school RUSH or Martina McBride. I bet you didn’t see that coming…
Martina McBride? That certainly comes out of left field considering your playing style, though you do have an eclectic catalogue. Speaking of which, can you paint me a picture on how progressive rock outfit Salem Ash came together?
Remember I told you I went out to CA to attend MI (Musicians Institute)? Well, we (now-famous drummer Matt Laug and I) left Florence, SC in my brother Corey’s van and drove 3000 miles carrying all of our belongings with the hopes of “making it” in the music business. As you do. I grew up listening to all of the progressive bands due to Corey playing all of those records, so I guess it just was “normal” to me. That was the style that came naturally as a result of the many years being bombarded by the genre. Bands like Kansas, Genesis, The Dregs, Jethro Tull, Styx, and of course, Rush to name a few…. That should paint the picture, yes? Back to Salem Ash: Approximately 1 year after leaving for Hollywood, Corey moved out there as well so we could form a band. I knew of, and jammed with, a drummer named Dodd Lowder at the school (another kindred spirit from NC). On a side note, Dodd was roommates with Dave Benner. Salem Ash came to life in Hollywood, CA with Corey on lead vocals and guitar, Dodd on drums, and me on bass. A 3 piece was born. We bounced around LA for a while and then decided to set roots in Atlanta, GA.
Matt Laug! Really? This was long before his time of playing with everyone from Alanis Morissette to Alice Cooper to Christina Aguilera. What sent you both your separate ways?
Yes, that was long before then! I was 17, and I think Matt was 18, when we packed up and headed out to Hollywood. We lived together back then, and had 2 different approaches on how to be successful in the Music Biz. My only goal was to be in “a band.” A band of brothers that wrote, recorded, and toured together. Just like a lot of the bands I mentioned earlier. I never really wanted to be a “session guy” or a “hired gun.” I wanted THE FAMILY. Call me greedy, but that was what my soul told me to go for. Matt, bless him, approached it in a different way. He wanted to audition into an already successful band, and he definitely worked his ass off studying, practicing, and honing his chops and feel. He’s earned every drop of his success, and continues to play with the TOP recording artists alive today. I always say to him, “Damn son! Your resume looks like a lie!” But it’s not!
I don’t think I mentioned it earlier, but Matt played on the last 3 songs Agent Cooper just recorded. When he came to stay here at the lake house this past summer, we agreed that we somehow HAD to do something together on a record. So let it be written, so let it be done! And you too can have Matt play on your record. He has built a brilliant website setup to where he can record his drums in a top notch studio in Los Angeles while you watch and hear it live streaming! A true miracle of the digital age if you ask me. Given that I’m technologically handicapped. Please do yourself a favor and check out www.mattlaugdrums.com and see what he’s up to, or have him play on your record!
Also, you mentioned that Salem Ash started in LA but relocated to Atlanta. Why Atlanta?
That was largely due to the music business teachers at the school. The two largest Music Mecca’s at the time were, of course, NY and LA. Nashville if you were into country. The study showed that Atlanta was the second most up and coming music scene. So, being that we were all from “The South,” it just made sense for us. We figured we’d go to Atlanta, set up camp, and forge a career in music there. The theory was sound, anyway.
Salem Ash only released one EP, is that correct? I’ve heard the songs and they are phenomenal. What was the main reason Salem Ash didn’t last with such great material?
That fast forwards us a few years since moving to Atlanta and adding fellow “Florentine” Doug Busbee as the lead singer. We had a few member changes over the years, with Corey switching between guitar and drums several times. Frank, who you know as Bud, Fontsere was in there as well for a few years on drums. I assure you none of that material has gone to waste! Many of those songs written in the Salem Ash days ended up on the Agent Cooper records. We are always mulling over old songs to see if we can salvage them, even if it’s just a few parts. Some make it, some don’t.
After Salem Ash, vocalist Doug Busbee went off and formed Agent Cooper. Meanwhile, your brother Corey Delson, former Salem Ash guitarist, put together a project called Throkmorton. You can be heard playing with both of them. What can you tell us about that period and the different projects?
At the beginning of that period, it was hard on me, and somewhat stressful. Corey wanted to really focus on more of a pop songwriter sound, and Doug was not about to veer off the progressive sound we had been working on for so many years. I was caught in the middle really. I tried to do both as best I could.
Rich Ward, of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy, has always called you one of his favorite bass players. No doubt why he turned to you to join him for those and projects like The Duke. How did you two meet?
Good old Rich. I owe him so much. Way back in the day, there was a very young Stuck Mojo. We (Salem Ash) played a lot of gigs together around Atlanta, and just became friends. That was heightened when I landed him a job with the landscaping company I worked for. We rode around together listening to music and plotting how to “make it.” Hahaha!
Can musicians live on music alone? I know you helped out a number of musicians the same way by getting them day jobs at that landscaping company.
Of course, many musicians eke out a living from just playing music alone. Then, there is the less than 1 percent that go on to do REALLY well…. You know, the Taylor Swifts of the world. But back to the harsh reality of the landscaping days. YES, at some point I feel like every musician in Atlanta worked there at some point! I got everybody a job that needed one. Music is a bloody tough racket! When even the likes of Jon Bon Jovi says in an interview that if he started music during these times, he probably wouldn’t have made it…. Well, that just about says it all.
What were you up to when the call came in asking for you to join Fozzy?
Getting called to play in Fozzy was a direct result of Rich asking me to play on his debut solo album. It seems that the current bass player of Fozzy, at the time, took offense at not being asked, and decided to quit, I believe. So Rich called me and asked if I would learn a set of music for a gig in NY that Fozzy was playing…. In like 48 hours! The rest, as they say, is history.
Up to that point, Fozzy had been almost strictly a cover band. Had they already settled on writing original material by the time you were offered the slot?
Yes. I joined the band when they turned the corner from wigs and covers to really making a go of it as a serious band. “All That Remains” was my first Fozzy record.
Speaking of slots, how’s your Mum?
JESUS! It never dies…. That whole “Sean’s Mum” chant and T-shirts gimmick grew so large that I had to sit down with my parents and explain the whole “mom joke” thing. That’s funny as hell looking back on it all. In the UK, it even made a write up in a Nottingham newspaper!
Did your participation in Stuck Mojo come as a given with your involvement with Fozzy and The Duke Project, or were you re-asked to join in for that one? While on the subject, which of these was your favorite to participate in?
Pretty much from moment I played with Rich on The Duke Project, that was it for all the bands. The core band remained the same, and only the singer changed. So it became a “cycle” if you will. We would record a Fozzy record, then a Mojo, record. Many times we would also stack the tours. For example: Fozzy would do a 3 week run across the UK and then into Europe. Let’s say the tour ended in Paris. CJ would fly home after the gig to fulfill his WWE obligations, while Lloyd [Nelson] would have been flown over to see the gig, and then a Stuck Mojo tour across Europe and possibly the UK would begin. It must be said that making all this work out smoothly is largely due to Mark Willis. He’s the man behind the curtain that manages EVERYTHING for the 3 bands. He even helps Agent Cooper, so hats off to Mark. As for my favorite, that’s tricky. Talk about 3 totally different bands. From a sheer musical standpoint, I would have to say The Duke Project. I can expand on that if you wish. Fozzy was so much FUN! Of course having a world famous superstar celebrity as your lead singer really opened a lot of doors that afforded us many great opportunities that we may not have otherwise been offered. I’m sure you can see that. MOJO was a machine. Plain and simple. The vibe was very different in that band, and the crowds that it drew. Intensity! So they each have their place, you see?
Absolutely! And I’d love to hear more about what makes The Duke Project your favorite musically.
That’s an easy one. If you’ve heard that record, you will know that it was a serious departure from Stuck Mojo and Fozzy for Rich. It was his solo record and these songs were so much “from the heart”. The songs came from a “different” place. Not the angry riffs everybody was used to. There is so much musicality on the record and I enjoyed having the freedom to write and create my bass lines on those songs. Even pulling out some fretless bass, which you don’t really get to do that much in metal! Working with Rick Beato was great as well. There’s nothing wrong with riffing, mind you, but this record was nothing like Rich had ever done and I was honored being given the task to play bass on it.
You’ve toured all around the globe. Where has been your favorite place to play and where are you itching to perform that you’ve never had the chance to before?
Of all the Globe Trotting, I must say…. Australia was probably my favorite place. Now that may be because we did so much other stuff, like visiting zoo’s, boating, and just plain old exploring. Australia has a huge boating community, and you know how much I like boating. A place that I’ve never played? There is one place that we tried to go to, but for some reason… it just never happened. That place is Japan. I really want to play Japan…. Bad.
In 2011, Fozzy’s lead guitarist, Mike Martin, left the group. Later that year you also announced you were leaving to focus on Agent Cooper. I imagine that was not an easy decision to make, as steady work for a musician is hard to find. What was the main factor that led to your departure?
No, it wasn’t easy. In between the touring, I was still, as much as I could be, involved with Agent Cooper. We would try and do something: plan a record, book some gigs, etc… and a Fozzy or Stuck Mojo tour would always come up, taking me away. With Rich, touring is a constant! Which is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But year after year, I felt like I was letting the AC boys down. What started out as “Can you help me with my solo record” turned into nearly 10 years worth of recording and touring. That’s not a complaint! It was a blessing. Stepping down was simply a personal choice that I had to make. All of the years spent touring that I have done, has been nothing short of “Living the Dream.” Yet, always present, was the longing to do that with Agent Cooper. To complete my personal “Music Bucket List,” I had to do it… And I made it happen when Agent Cooper toured Europe with Tony MacAlpine. It was a dream come true for me. I know Rich and guys could all relate to that feeling. The need to fulfill that “inner voice’s” calling. We all have it in some form or another.
Agent Cooper is filled out by the ensemble of vocalist Doug Busbee, guitarist Mike Martin, keyboardist Eric Frampton, drummer Ganesh Giri Jaya, and bass player extraordinaire, Sean B. Delson. How did this reincarnation of Salem Ash come about?
It started many, many years ago, as you have now read, in Hollywood. Salem Ash, in a nutshell, just kind of morphed into Agent Cooper. Nothing was really ever lost. The spirit of it has always remained a constant for us all.
In 2012, Cooper released a six-song EP called From The Ashes, an apt title considering the origin of the band. The band then took this release to the road as main support of guitar virtuoso Tony MacAlpine’s Dream Mechanism European tour, as you just mentioned. What sticks out in your mind about this tour?
Of all the touring I have ever done, this tour was the most fun of all. I can’t explain it, but the bus was full of so much camaraderie it was amazing. The very last night of the tour we were in Paris. How do we always end up in Paris? We ALL were a bunch of sorry-looking, beat up skeletons after many nonstop weeks of touring. All of us tired and looking quite gaunt. But I wandered into Tony’s dressing room, and could tell everybody was feeling sad. Sad to see it come to an end. Let me tell you, that on most tours, a lot of people are like, “I can’t wait to get home!” or “Just two more shows and it’s over!” Not on this tour… I said to all members of both bands the following fantasy: “OK guys, (and Nili Brosh) here is a big red button. If you press the button, the tour carries on for another month. It doesn’t stop. If you don’t push the button, we all can go home.” Barry, everyone in that room, some tired, some sick, some both… Everyone said they would push the button. I know it’s hard to explain what that moment felt like, but it sums up the tour. None of us wanted it to end. Damn…
Things have been pretty quiet on the Cooper front since the band returned from touring Europe. However, earlier this summer you snuck the full-length album, Far From Sleep, right under our noses. Why such a quiet release for an album of such great music?
It has been quiet. A little too damn quiet. Right after the MacAlpine tour, the plan was to finish the record and tour again with Far From Sleep that Fall to coincide with the release. Would you believe that we had 3 tours “implode” in a row! It was awful. Mind you, this was no fault of our own. It was “so and so went into rehab again” and “So and so’s band has just quit so there will be no tour.” It was crazy. All that time lost. We held on to FFS for way too long, waiting for a tour. Finally, we were well on the way to having another album recorded when impatience lead us to just throwing it out there. The music biz as we know it, is totally different than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. All we want to do is just keep making music that makes us happy. Throw it out there… it’s all we can do. Let the cards fall where they may, dammit. There are no more labels to speak of like it used to be. Now I will grant you, we probably should have hired someone clever like yourself to help us release it properly. We really do need a “social media” guru in that respect! Perhaps we will discuss this a little later, yes?
I’m always happy to help, as you know. Speaking of social media, the band released a digital holiday charity single of the classic “Walking In The Air” last year to benefit the Claire House children’s hospice. Can you tell us about Agent Cooper’s involvement with this charity?
Well, we have always talked about doing a Christmas song, and we all agree that there needs to be more good in the world. So we made up our minds to do a Christmas song for a charitable cause. You know my wife is British, and every summer we always have a house full of British girls to soak up some sun and enjoy the lake we live on. When we started kicking around the idea of a song, my wife and all the girls immediately said “Walking in the Air!” It’s a British CLASSIC. But here in America, it’s not very popular at all, sadly. There are very few people here that have ever heard of it. England has always been really good to us, so I presented it to the band and we just started working on it. It was a nightmare getting all the clearance(s). I’m serious, that was very hard. Our charity of choice was to be Claire House, in the UK. It’s a children’s hospice. Claire House was a great, great choice. For more information about Claire House, and or to see the video and hear the song, just click here: http://vimeo.com/81089508
Daniel Craig introduced the video, I mean… come on! I’m so happy to report that we were able to raise some good money for this worthy charity. We will be pushing it again this year. A loud shout out and big thanks to a very old friend of mine, Mike Carr and his production company, Mummy Cat Productions, for putting it all together. The animated feature, called “The Snowman,” is from 1982, and always plays during Christmas in England. It’s a beloved classic and I can’t be happier with how it turned out. I have it on my Playstation at home and, every once in a while, I’ll turn it on and crank it up on the big screen. It’s very emotional.
What can you tell us about the future of Agent Cooper? What do we have to look forward to, and will it be soon?
A few days ago, I had a very serious discussion with Mark Willis about it. He wants to see us back out there as well. I told him “Just let me get through this year, and we will revisit this, in great detail, in January 2015.” I’m very excited and optimistic about that. I’m not sure how we will handle the newest record yet, but we have some very fun stuff being recorded!
So there’s a new record in the works! Sounds great. I don’t suppose there’s an official name for the album yet, is there?
We haven’t settled on anything yet, but we are seriously considering, “The Barry Adkins Story – A Tale of Woe.” Thoughts?
Well, that’s flattering! I’m really not sure how well a comedy album would sell though. You mentioned earlier that you have an affinity for boating. When did you first become interested in maritime activities? And on any given weekend, what can Sean B. Delson expect to be found doing?
I grew up on boats thanks to my parents. Sailing, fishing, cruising, you name it. On any given weekend, you can find us beached up on some island getting into various forms of hedonism and evil. Not really so much the evil part, but I thought it sounded cool.
You’ve had a signature bass designed by Halo. It looks interesting! Is it in production and for sale, or is it a one-of-a-kind affair?
It’s much more than “interesting”… it’s a bloody work of art! It is for sale on a custom, order by order basis (search “Delson”). I won’t bore you, unless you want me to, with the details on how it’s made and it’s specifications… It’s a bass taken from my head, and brought into this world by Jeff Lee at Halo and his team of luthiers. That was another “Bucket List” item checked off… The Sean B. Delson Signature Series Bass.
There’s undoubtedly at least one person craving to hear more about what makes this bass tick. Can you give us more specifics about it?
When I was first offered the opportunity to create and have a signature series custom bass guitar, I was told to “make it your own… your own design, specs, etc.” So I really sat back and gave it some thought. If you look around, so many builders, including Halo, are going with all of these outlandish designs. Futuristic looks, if you will. Then I thought, let’s take it back, let’s get back to the roots of where it all started. Following that, was the idea, “What would happen if a classic Beatle Bass married an old school Gibson SG bass?” In my mind, that was the shape I wanted. If you look at the bass, you will see that Jeff Lee at Halo also sprinkled in a little BC Rich, and the SBD Bass was born.
On the technical side, I just combined all of the custom goodies that I have applied to my session basses over the years. It had to be a neck thru body (not bolt on), full 24 fret with easy access, ebony fretboard, and the electronics had to be 2 EMG’s custom wired to have a separate volume for each pickup AND a master volume to control the whole bass. Not a standard “mix” knob. Separate “bass” and “treble” knobs in addition to a sweepable stacked pot cut/boost midrange control. Taking it one step further, I wanted a custom 27 volt cavity for three nine-volt batteries to power the electronics. That extra voltage really gives you more headroom and lets the low end really “blossom”. Especially helpful on my six-string basses, and really heavy low tunings like Mojo and Fozzy use. I’ve never really had a Sunburst Blue instrument, so I went with that color. Quilted Maple, of course. The white banding was Jeff’s idea, and I like it. In my best handwriting, I signed my signature, and it can be seen in Mother of Pearl inlaid into the headstock.
A lot of people have said to me, “I can’t believe you didn’t make it headless!” I really contemplated that, and on a 6 string model, I definitely will go headless. It becomes a balance issue really. With a headstock full of six bass tuners, our good buddy gravity will really pull you down on your shoulder due to so much weight hanging out there. I don’t like that. With a headless setup, you can NEVER knock it out of tune. It’s so much easier and faster to tune with your right hand while muting with the left. Also the bass really sits right in your gut without that weight on the headstock. It’s like you become one with the instrument. And surely we don’t need to go into the advantages of eliminating the odds of smacking your band mates in the face or knocking down a mic stand whilst running around the stage. Plus, fans love to grab on to “anything” they can get their frenzied hands on. That’s disastrous with a headstock! If that’s not enough and more details are needed, I can keep going!!
Haha, no. I think you nailed it. Now, you mentioned earlier that you played trombone as first chair at your school for four years. Are your ever saddened by the fact that you could have been a world famous trombone player to the stars?
Is there such a thing? I’m afraid me getting braces stopped a very lucrative career as a trombonist dead in its tracks. The very same “train tracks” that I had a mouth full of! I did enjoy it, to be honest, and I was getting really good at it, as far as you know. It was sad not being able to play…..
What should we know that we haven’t already covered? Would you like to plug anything? Websites, music, or a bridge in London you’d like to sell us?
I really would like to ask for everybody reading this to please check out the Clair House video and pass it along. “Like” it, “tweet” it and any of those other fancy new internet inventions. I could say go to AgentCooper.com and buy our albums, but the charity is more important to me. Please help us help those kids this Christmas!
Last year, after becoming infatuated with learning the mandolin, I stumbled upon a young woman’s Youtube video in which she played Bach on an octave mandolin. Her name was Eva Holbrook, a member of the all-sister four-piece called SHEL from Fort Collins, Colorado. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that the group was playing at a venue just up the road in Washington D.C. I didn’t need to think very hard about attending, as I’d already been impressed by each of them via their homemade music videos which were posted online. Though the venue itself was questionable, they still put on an astounding show and all of them were very down to Earth when I approached them after the performance. We tossed around the idea of doing an interview and, after a few scheduling issues, I was finally able to ask the eldest Holbrook, Hannah, a few questions about the band and her new solo piano EP, Late Bloomer.
Interview with Hannah Holbrook of SHEL on February 18, 2014.
All of you are accomplished players, but I know Liza was originally learning the harp before discovering her love for percussion. Did the rest of you immediately know the instruments you wanted to play, or was it more of a trial and error of love?
We all tried to start with guitar, but it didn’t really stick. Sarah and Eva play it now, along with bass and Eva plays cello. I picked piano and fell in love. I can’t seem to put that kind of time and energy into any other instrument.
Originally you four were a back-up band for your father’s music. You’ve also played with your brother, Isaac. Was it because of this upbringing that it was obvious you’d form a band with each other, or did some of you test the waters with other musicians before “coming back home”?
We had and still do have solo projects and little side projects here and there, but SHEL is a full time gig and we’ve been thinking about it that way for about 10 years.
Who came up with the idea to use each of your initials to form the band name? Were there any other band names thrown out there before “SHEL” was settled on?
I’m not sure who to give credit on this one. We were sitting around the kitchen table brainstorming a band name and someone, maybe mom, took all our initials and wrote them out in random order on a sheet of paper. We had HESL (in order of age), we had SEHL… meh… we had LESH… we had SHEL. Well, that makes the most sense.
All of you are, deservedly, endorsed by various instrument companies. How did you arrive at using the brands who sponsor you?
I think it all starts with word of mouth. I had been hearing about Kurzweil keyboards from a very young age. I tried out some other brands when I first started, but, being a pianist and a purist, I wasn’t satisfied with the fake piano patches. Nothing sounded remotely real until I tried out a Kurzweil 12 years ago at the recommendation of my father. I’ve been hooked ever since.
As you told me you’d be going by plane during this interview, I was wondering about instrument travel. I’ve heard horror stories about musicians who have their instruments mishandled by airline staff. Do you have any horror stories of your own in this matter, or tips for those musicians who are worried about keeping the tools of their trade safe?
No horror stories. We fly SouthWest 😉
And my advise for the worried traveler is pretty obvious: if your instrument is to big for the overhead bin, a flight case is always a good idea, or do what I often do as a keyboard player, back-line/rent your instrument and have it delivered to the venue.
How does the writing process work in SHEL? You mentioned on social media that you’re starting to write more songs together, so I take it that the dynamic is evolving?
Historically, Eva would write a song and bring the chords and lyrics to us. Then we’d each arrange our parts and go out and perform it. Now we all find ourselves sitting down and writing out the chords and lyrics together. It’s a different sound, a different style, and it’s been great learning to collaborate together with way.
You recently released a solo EP of piano compositions called Late Bloomer. The title is interesting because you’re the oldest sister. Can you tell us more about that release? What separates that music from the rest of SHEL’s writing?
This is a collection of pieces I’ve been working on for a couple years. Some of them I started in college, a couple of them I actually just finished days before recording. I played one of the compositions for one of my former piano teachers and she said: “Wow, Hannah! I didn’t know you had that in you. You really are a late bloomer.” She used to tell me that from time to time in high school… and when she said it that last time, I thought it was a fitting title for an EP that I would have liked to have released a few years ago, but I wasn’t quite ready. This is a very different style from SHEL’s writing. It’s influenced primarily by classical, jazz, and contemporary composers like Mozart, Rachmaninov, Chopin, Gershwin, and Ennio Morricone. The solo piano element also sets it apart.
Whose idea was it to include “The Battle Of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin on the full-length album? Obviously it’s one of the greatest mandolin rock songs ever, so it makes sense, but was there a particular moment where you all decided it needed to be on the record?
Our dad kept telling us to learn it. Then a couple fans told us. Finally, Scott Borchetta with Big Machine suggested it. After we learned it, it felt like a natural fit.
What do you find yourselves doing as of late, alone or together, in between concerts to keep yourselves entertained?
There isn’t a lot of downtime these days. Music is very much our lives during the day and at night. But occasionally, we’ll sneak out for a movie. If the weather is nice – a hike, a run, some Ultimate Frisbee. And if we get a day off, we’ll be spending it with family or close friends catching up.
Why does Liza punch people when she sees a Dunkin Doughnuts?
It’s kinda like that Punch Buggy game where you punch someone when you see a Volkswagen Beetle.
As always, each of us is faced with the large, blank canvas of the future. What’s next for the ladies of SHEL?
We’re working on our second full length album right now. We’ll be in Nashville writing and recording that until June, then we’ll hit the road!
I want to take a moment to thank each of you, Hannah, for taking the time to answer these questions. To close, what one piece of advice would you give to yourself if you could go back and speak to yourself ten years ago?
I would have told myself to keep writing what I loved and not worry quite so much about trying to write what other people might want to hear. When you have something on your heart, it’s worth putting it out there.
For more on Hannah and SHEL, visit:
SHEL Official Website
Buy SHEL’s debut album: iTunes | Amazon | From The Band
Buy Hannah Holbrook’s Late Bloomer EP: iTunes | Amazon | From Hannah
SHEL on Facebook
SHEL on Twitter
SHEL on Youtube
Brad Cox is a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and frontman for a number of bands, including Skitzo Calypso and We Love The Underground. He's had his hand in writing and releasing over a dozen albums from the mid-1990s all the way to the present. When I first met him, it was at a concert in Baltimore earlier this year with Skitzo Calypso. His energy was contagious, and even though I wasn't familiar with any of the band's songs, I couldn't help but watching what he'd do next. Exploring more of Skitzo's music, as well as his newer solo project, We Love The Underground, I have discovered just how talented and tenacious Brad Cox is. That's why I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for Better B#!
Take a few minutes and get to know this fellow a little better. You'll be glad you did.
I'd like you tell us the story of Brad Cox. How did you begin this crazy adventure in rock n' roll?
In a nutshell, I grew up in a very religious household, so rock n' roll became my escape. From a very young age, my parents really didn't want me listening to certain types of music; I naturally became drawn to it. At 18-years-young (August 10th, 1996), I packed my little red Toyota Tercel and left for Los Angeles, California with an acoustic and some clothes; this is what my heroes did. I followed suit. I really didn't know what to expect, but each moment was pulsating with energy, excitement and fear - everything was surreal and amplified. It made me feel alive; I'm still drawn to these types of gambles. The first Skitzo Calypso song I recall writing was a song called, "Blinds". So, from there, I just started writing lyrics, like a diary. When I returned home, I began putting music and arrangements to these muses.
While in California, I had a band called Ananda with now-professional surfer, Sharon Schaffer. She was a mover and a shaker actress, living in Playa del Rey; she had a hell of a voice. My step-brother put us together, but it fizzled out pretty quickly when I was fired from Tower Records for trying to unionize the store with a couple o' friends. Before we met, I was told, 'Your singer is the woman who gets burned in the subway toll booth in Money Train'. So, I was instantly impressed. But, post-Tower, she didn't really want much to do with me; Tower Records was a rite of passage for any up-and-coming group and I had soiled our chances of utilizing it as a stepping stone.
My father was also a musician and had a miniature studio in our basement; he'd let me experiment. There was a song on a cassette tape called, Guitars that Rule the World called, "I Understand Completely" by Paul Gilbert. I was mesmerized by the guitar work and began writing guitar compositions without lyrics. I was probably 12 or 13-years-young at the time. Over the years, I began realizing just how accessible writing and recording my own music could be and began seeking out ways to do it.
Somewhere along the lines I found a certain comfort level with darker music and themes; I guess it made me less accessible and therefore shielded me from judgment. Most of the music was cynical, jaded and angry; the themes were typically centered around society and my snarky perception of it (including but not limited to: peer groups, initiations, the seven deadly sins, judgment, drug abuse, self-destruction, mass media impact and revolution). Being that I was releasing demo records annually, it also became a running diary of my life. My upbringing, blended with my personality, inevitably brought to light a lot of juxtaposed ideas about society and religion; I guess I had a lot of inner conflict.
I loved bands like Faith No More, Guns n' Roses, Led Zeppelin, etc. The music had to move me, but it also had to have a brain. I can totally fall in love with mindless rock n' roll, but I really can't bring myself to write it. It's just not me.
Anyway, fast-forward 10 Skitzo Calypso releases and 100's of shows later and that's the gist!
Both of your bands' have unusual and interesting names. First there was Skitzo Calypso, which you started in the mid-1990s, while We Love The Underground developed just a few years ago. Where did these names originate and why did you decide to use them?
To me, Skitzo Calypso means 'Psychotic Paradise'; I just found a fun way of saying it. Being that a lot of the musical themes were centered around social changes/issues, I felt this was a fit. In the liner notes of the first CD, Join the Cult it says, "What is Psychotic?" It was answered in the follow-up CD liner notes with the word, "Reality." That was my mission statement; perhaps I was pointing out the obvious, but if you stop and look around, our world has lost it. The first record, Join the Cult, was about our tendencies to be drawn to certain peer groups - a group of individuals we feel share the same ideals. Premeditated Acts of Stupidity covers just about all of those groups (via genre hopping) and focuses on the rules we follow and the compromises we'll often make to fit in. The whole record is tongue-in-cheek.
If you think about it, the only thing crazy about people is the world they're asked to live in. It's mind-boggling how people keep their lids on at all; it's actually a miracle. We're pulled in a million directions [daily] and even more so now: we have social media documenting our every move (sometimes willingly, sometimes not), we have the ability to create alter egos, which require a bit of management, we answer 100's of emails daily, we have the pressures of work, family, friends, etc., we have often-unacknowledged social pressures, psychological disorders, temptations - you get the idea! It's maddening.
I can confidently say I have absolutely nothing figured out, although I may posture as if I do.
After years in the club scene, I realized that I really liked the escape it provided. Sure, I was often in my own world and selling it to anyone who was willing to listen, but there was also certain understanding amongst my musical brothers, sisters and those who hung out; we could be anyone or anything we wanted to be, albeit 'for the moment.' So, I can confidently say We (do) Love the Underground! It's a place, time and mentality that we simply can't allow ourselves to let go of. As Mick says, "Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind!" There are so many people, as you get older, who gave up or are simply aggravated and want nothing more than for you to join in their misery (cult). They are often beautiful people, who just got beaten down by life and want a way out. I think it's important to keep the free spirit alive; it creates hope!
"It sucks you in; before you know it, it can become your identity. "