Friday, October 17, 2014

In Days to Come: The Return of Soulside

It's finally happening.

Twenty-five years after playing their last gig, the final lineup of legendary D.C. band Soulside – singer Bobby Sullivan, guitarist Scott McCloud, bassist Johnny Temple and drummer Alexis Fleisig – are set to reconvene this December for a series of east coast reunion shows. As of this writing, the moving target that is the band's upcoming performance schedule includes two shows at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn (December 17 and 18) and two hometown appearances at the Black Cat (December 20 and 21). The December 18 and 20 shows are long sold out, with tickets for the other nights at both venues likely to be gone by the time this feature greets your eyes. The D.C. shows will occur as part of a weekend-long celebration of the release of Salad Days: The Birth of Punk Rock in the Nation's Capital, director Scott Crawford's long-awaited documentary on the D.C. Punk/Hardcore scene of the 1980s. The film boasts interviews with Sullivan and McCloud as well as live footage of the band in their heyday.

Unsurprisingly, Temple is as excited about the upcoming shows as the people who purchased the advance tickets.

I'm surprised it's taken us so long to play together again,” he says. “I had been hoping for it for years, and the film and Scott Crawford definitely helped to catalyze the situation. The timing was great, of course, because we last shared space together exactly 25 years ago. It's great; it's exciting to part of helping to support the film and have the film help support us.”

Fans can prep for the upcoming shows by checking out a new 12-inch release on Dischord Records that combines Soulside's 1988 Trigger EP with the three-song 1989 single, Bass/103. Released in August on yellow vinyl, the LP serves as a stellar primer for listeners who are just now discovering the band thanks to the considerable buzz surrounding the December events.

It's incredibly exciting,” says Temple of the re-issue. “It was an honor then and an honor now to be on Dischord. The fact that Dischord does things like take some of their early recordings and re-release them in this way is just absolutely incredible and such a huge inspiration.”

Although Soulside haven't been on a stage together in decades, the band's members have remained extremely prolific over the years. In 1990, Temple, McCloud and Fleisig joined forces with bassist/singer Eli Janney to form Girls Against Boys, an MTV-embraced band that enjoyed stints on Touch and Go and Geffen. In 1996, the funds generated from the Geffen label deal allowed Temple the opportunity to launch his own publishing company, Akashic Books, with Bobby Sullivan and the singer's brother Mark. After the demands of parenthood eventually led the Sullivan brothers to depart, Temple steered the company on his own, releasing such noteworthy titles as the best-selling Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, Ziggy Marley's I Love You Too and The Jesus Lizard: BOOK.

In addition to performing in the bands Seven League Boots, Rain Like The Sound of Trains and Sevens, Sullivan's activities in recent years include work with the Rastafarian UniverSoul Order Prison Ministry

Bobby Sullivan (photo by Shawn Scallen, courtesy of Dischord Records)

Pleased to once again perform music with Sullivan, Temple is also looking forward to revisiting Soulside with McCloud and Fleisig, who have been his musical partners for nearly three decades.

I love playing with those guys,” he says. “While I'm busy running Akashic Books, Scott and Alexis are doing a lot of music internationally and all sorts of things. We have a great time playing together and we speak the same musical language. We like to do stuff together, and we've lucky to be able to keep doing so.”

As the gatherings slated to occur during the third week of December will surely demonstrate, the D.C. Punk/Hardcore scene is as vibrant now as it was when elders like the Bad Brains and Minor Threat first hit the stage. Why does Temple feel this region has remained so culturally relevant to the point where a film like Salad Days – and sold-out shows by a band that hasn't played in a generation – would even exist?

I think there's a real challenge among people in bands in D.C. to create their own voice and do something new,” he replies. “It wasn't appreciated in D.C. if a band was just sort of derivative of another band. If you weren't trying for something unique in a band, then there wasn't really a need for existence. That was something that a lot of musicians shared that was perhaps a hallmark. Also, the aggressive activism led by Positive Force, in particular with Mark Andersen, helped to give music a sense of mission. Even if a band wasn't particularly political or singing about injustice, a lot of bands supported playing shows for free and raising money regardless of the content of their lyrics. I think those were two special attributes of the D.C. music community and the era and vein that I was witness to, which is the same as what is in the movie.”

Johnny Temple and Bobby Sullivan (photo by Shawn Scallen, courtesy of Dischord Records)


Monday, October 13, 2014

A Life Time Ago: Henry Rollins on Ian MacKaye, New Jersey and the Birth of the Rollins Band

Image courtesy of Henry Rollins

By the time 26-year-old Henry Rollins began rehearsing with guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Andrew Weiss and drummer Sim Cain in the spring of 1987, he was already a hardened veteran of the international underground music scene. The previous year, his five-year run as the frontman of the legendary Black Flag came to an abrupt end with the departure of founding guitarist Greg Ginn. Wasting no time, Rollins hooked up with longtime friend Haskett (formerly of worth-seeking-out late '70s DC No Wave/Hardcore band The Enzymes), bassist Bernie Wandel and drummer Mick Green to record a solo album, Hot Animal Machine, and an EP of cover songs and parody tunes (credited to “Henrietta Collins & The Wifebeating Childhaters”) called Drive by Shooting. With the arrival of Cain and Weiss (previously of Greg Ginn's instrumental side project Gone and the brilliant New Jersey bands Regressive Aid and Scornflakes), the first incarnation of the Rollins Band was born. By April, the band was performing live; by November, they were in a studio in Leeds, England (with former Minor Threat/future Fugazi member Ian MacKaye serving as producer) recording their debut album, Life Time.

Although the Rollins Band (who would later include a full-time sound engineer, Theo Van Rock, and bassist Melvin Gibbs) would gain mainstream recognition years later with albums like 1992's The End Of Silence and 1994's Weight (and Rollins would later find considerable success as a TV show host, actor and 30-plus-year spoken word performer), Life Time remains perhaps their strongest and most incendiary studio release.

Now, Life Time is set to receive a much-deserved new life with a vinyl reissue on Rollins' 2.13.61 label (in association with MacKaye's Dischord Records). Due out on November 18, this revamped edition of Life Time has been remastered for vinyl by TJ Lipple and will include updated artwork by Jason Farrell. The record will also contain a complimentary digital download coupon for the nine original album songs plus four tracks recorded live in Kortrijk, Belgium on October 16, 1987. (This is not the first time Dischord put out a Rollins-related title this year: In March, the label released the 1980 demo by his first band, S.O.A, as a seven-inch EP.)

With the upcoming Life Time re-release sure to introduce newer fans of Rollins' work to this important chapter in his musical history, I recently touched base with him to gain insight into the album's creation and the earliest days of the Rollins Band.  

What led to the decision to put Life Time back out on vinyl, and how is Dischord assisting in this process?

Ian MacKaye asked if Dischord could do it. I knew he and Dischord would do a good job and so I said yes. They are manufacturing and distributing the record.

Although Life Time was the first Rollins Band album, you released a solo album (Hot Animal Machine) under your name shortly after leaving Black Flag. Why did you decide to move forward in a band environment rather than embark on a strictly “solo” career?

I thought it would be better to be in a cohesive unit, rather than on my own. I think I made the right decision. I did not leave Black Flag; Greg Ginn called me and said he quit. It was a strange phone call. When he quit his own band, I figured it was over with and got to work on the Hot Animal Machine record that day.

Chris was there with you at the very beginning, having played on Hot Animal Machine and the Drive by Shooting EP before the Rollins Band came together. How important was Chris in shaping the Rollins Band's sound and direction in the early days?

Chris was a good writing partner and was very enthusiastic. You need someone who is really into it to keep you into it. He really made the thing go. Sound-wise, I don’t know if we had a sound; we just wrote and recorded those songs very fast. It was all we could afford. The multi-track tapes were recorded over the day after we left the studio with the mixdowns.

How did you end up with Gone's rhythm section in the Rollins Band, and how did Greg feel about that?

Gone had been broken up for months. I asked them if they were sure they were done. Andrew and Sim said they never wanted to see Greg Ginn ever again. So, I asked them if they wanted to be in a band with me. That was February 1987, I believe. By April, we were practicing. April 26, 1987 was the first show.

Image courtesy of Boogie Buzzard (

Rollins Band at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, 4/26/87 (Photo by Boogie Buzzard:

While Black Flag played musical chairs with their rhythm sections over the years, Sim and Andrew were already a well-oiled, stable duo by the time they became part of the Rollins Band. Considering they had already been together in Gone and Regressive Aid when you started working with them, how would you say their experience and abilities impacted and drove the Rollins Band in the beginning? How did their sound affect the songwriting?

They learned the Hot Animal Machine album in one day. We had new songs within a few days of practicing for the first time. Andrew was the magic. One riff after another, it seemed effortless for him. Together, Andrew and Sim were an unbelievable unit. Incredible. Chris and I just hung on.

The Rollins Band spent a lot of time in New Jersey in those days. What were some bands and venues from the Garden State at that time that still stand out in your memory?

Ween is the one that sticks out the most. I can’t remember other bands that were nearby. I remember City Gardens and the Court Tavern.

The great Randy Ellis a.k.a. Randy Now (legendary promoter of Trenton's City Gardens) was an important figure for the Rollins Band in those days. How did he help the band back then?

He helped book our first tour. He was very helpful. We were just figuring things out and he was there for us.

When I played a show for Randy years ago, he immediately struck me as this super-enthusiastic, over-the-top guy who was really into bands and the music they created. I think this came through in this recent Riot on the Dance Floor documentary about him and City Gardens. What are your thoughts on the film? How would you best sum up Randy?

I never saw the film, but your description of him works. He really loves the music. For him, it’s real. That’s what you want.

How did Ian MacKaye become involved in the recording of Life Time? What was his greatest impact on the creation of that album?

I called Ian on a payphone from England and said I needed help with the record. He flew out immediately and took charge. He made a clear, hard-hitting album in no time, which was all we could afford. Almost everyone in the band had a lot of respect for him and that made things go pretty smoothly. Ian is a very good producer. I don’t think a lot of people know the amazing amount of records he has produced. It’s crazy.

I've always loved how Life Time sounds. As great as the later Black Flag albums are, the production – especially on the drums – always sounded a little foggy to me, whereas things on Life Time are very crisp and coherent. Was this the result of Ian's production, the studio you used, or both?

It was a combination of Sim’s excellent playing [and] recording the reality of it clearly on tape. Ian didn’t mess around. We put up the mics and rolled tape. I think we were done with the whole thing in about a week. It’s all I could afford. Some Black Flag albums were mixed by someone who medicates with marijuana. They sounded a little foggy to me as well.

Rollins and Weiss at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, 4/26/87 (photo by Boogie Buzzard:

Since Life Time was the Rollins Band's first album, what was the greatest thing you learned about working together in the studio for the first time that helped shape the band's working relationship on subsequent recordings?

That Andrew would always be an asshole. That never changed and proved to be the “thing” about every recording we ever made. A distinctly unenjoyable experience every single time.

I've always felt that the studio tracks on Life Time were the closest the Rollins Band came to capturing your live energy on record. Would you agree? If not, which Rollins Band studio recording do you feel best represents what the group was able to do in front of an audience?

I think Life Time and the End Of Silence Demos come closest to the live sound.

What kind of feedback on Life Time, if any, did you receive from former members of Black Flag?

I cannot recall any at all. I am not aware that any of them have ever heard any of those records.

After Come in and Burn (1997), you formed a new version of the Rollins Band with the guys from Mother Superior. What changed in your working/creative relationship with the original band – especially Chris and Sim – that necessitated moving forward with new musicians after spending so many years together?

It was great working with people who were into it, ready to go, were happy to travel, didn’t whine and didn’t talk about money all the time. Playing with the Mother Superior guys is probably the only time I was in a positive environment making music. It was great to be in a band without drama or cliche adult rockstar problems and just play really hard every night.

With the exception of Andrew, the original Rollins Band lineup reunited for a tour with X in 2006. Why didn't this incarnation of the band continue beyond that point?

Because it was a bad idea of Chris Haskett’s that I said yes to. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to fall back in with those people. That’s a summer I’ll never get back. It should have never happened. The playing was good, but the experience was awful. I blame myself only.

In addition to the Life Time re-issue providing newer fans a look into your past, Dischord put out a seven-inch EP of the 1980 S.O.A. demo earlier this year. How do you feel about walking into a record store and seeing an S.O.A. record in the “new releases” section in 2014?

I have no feeling about it. I have never played the record and have not heard those recordings since 1981. If it brings someone some joy, that’s good to go. I think one needs to be careful with the past. If you’re going to release something old, it better be solid. I was very careful with the End of Silence Demos. I listened to them over and over after mixing them to make sure they were good enough to release. I don’t want anyone thinking that their wallets are being raided. If Ian says the S.O.A. demos are good to go, I trust him. Personally, I don’t want to hear the record.

With the Rollins Band now in the rearview mirror, what do you think was the group's greatest accomplishment?

We gave it all we had.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Because He Can: David Bergman Explores Bon Jovi's WORK Ethic

"David is not only one of the finest photographers we've ever worked with, but he's the kind of guy you can be comfortable hanging around with in any environment. At the end of the day, the work speaks for itself. His photos are a work of art.” — Jon Bon Jovi

What's it like to spend every day with the world's biggest touring act? As official Bon Jovi photographer David Bergman has learned, staying on top in a very difficult business comes down to hard WORK.

Featuring some of the most breathtaking images you'll ever see in a music-related book, Bon Jovi: WORK (available on Bon Jovi's official website) offers an inside look into the highs, lows and private moments that defined the band from 2010 to 2013. Weighing nearly five pounds, this oversized, 210-page hardcover art book features images culled from two record-breaking world tours. Unlike most Rock-related books, Bon Jovi: WORK is the result of one man's ability to get up close and very personal with his subject.

This band has given me access that you would never think they would anymore,” Bergman says. “Bands just really don't do this, [but] Jon's one of those guys who really gets it...It wasn't that hard to get him to let me tag along and really go behind the scenes and document them in a way that they haven't really even been documented [in the past].”

Music has always been a major part of Bergman's life. A Berklee School of Music veteran, he eventually sold his drums to buy camera lenses and began his professional career in the early '90s at the Miami Herald. An assignment covering Gloria Estefan on the road made him realize his passion for immortalizing live music performances. After stints on tour with the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan, he set his sights on getting the definitive tour photographer gig.

I went after [Bon Jovi] pretty hard,” he recalls. “It took me a couple of years; it really is not easy to get into that inner circle. Eventually, I was able to get a meeting with the right person. They let me shoot a couple of gigs in the beginning, and I would just do a handful of shows. Over the course of early 2010 and into that summer and by the fall for sure, they put me on a tour bus and I became the official tour photographer. By the end of the year and into 2011, Jon got to know me and my work really well and wanted me really embedded with the band. I was doing so much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that it made logistical sense at that point to bring me into the inner inner circle. The next thing I know, I'm traveling on the private plane with the band every day instead of on the tour buses with the crew...It was just a slow and steady progression, and I always kind of had my eye on the prize and eventually got there.”

Over the course of four years, Bergman shot approximately 800,000 frames of the band on the road. Along the way, he launched, a site that offered prints of Bon Jovi performances for fans to purchase. Fans could go online after the show they attended, look at images of the show they were at and buy prints of various sizes. The right shots were selected from a pool of around 4,000 a night, with Bergman editing down the number before passing them along to Jon Bon Jovi for review and approval. While some major Rock stars might hand off such a task to an underling, Bergman says that Jon was deeply involved in everything regarding his band.

I thought when I came in that I would deal with a publicist or an assistant publicist and I wouldn't have any contact with the band,” Bergan says. “But I found out real quickly that Jon Bon Jovi was actually doing the approvals of my images every step along the way.”

Considering Jon's personal involvement in the WORK project, it's admirable that he approved the inclusion of visuals that don't always present him in the most flattering light. For example, one of the book's most striking series of photos is of the frontman writhing in pain backstage in Helsinki after experiencing a meniscus tear in his knee. The man's agony is palpable.

Honestly, I went immediately into journalist mode,” says Bergman of capturing the event. “Even though I worked for the band, I still want to document everything. We can decide later what's going to be important and what's not, but I'm going to shoot everything. I have these conversations with Jon; I'm like, 'Look, it's always better to shoot it and then decide not to use it or not put it out publicly then to not shoot it, because then you have no options.'”

The incident in Helsinki points to perhaps the greatest secret behind Bon Jovi's enduring success: Not only did he stay onstage for another 70 minutes to finish the show after suffering the injury, Jon also refused to cancel a single show for two weeks. He only paused to have doctors operate on his leg once he had some time off. Bergman went on to photograph Jon's subsequent acupuncture treatment and surgery. (“I was wearing the scrubs and the whole thing!” he says.) When it came time to construct WORK, Jon didn't hold back on sharing the ordeal with fans.

As Bergman remembers, “As we started talking about this and putting it in the book, he said, 'Look, if this inspires one kid who sees this to work through the pain and push through an injury and come back on the other side better, stronger and faster, then it's worth it.'

Jon is really one of the best frontmen in the business,” he adds. “Whether it's the person in the front row or the person at the very top of the back row of the stadium, they all feel like he's singing right to them. That's a unique skill that not many people have.”

Easily one of the most intense visuals in WORK is the shot Bergman took from the roof of the sold-out Soldier Field in Chicago, with the city's skyline in tow.

One of the advantages of working for the biggest Rock band in the world is that I have literally all access,” he says. “I've worked with other bands, and when they go into an arena or a theatre, the local people still have a lot of power – which is the way it should be. You come in and say, 'Oh, I wish I could go here to make a picture,' and they say, 'I don't know; it's an insurance issue' or whatever. Well, when you work for Bon Jovi and you've got that All Access Pass and Bon Jovi management has given you the seal of approval to do whatever you need to do, I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

In addition to showcasing Bergman's skills, WORK offers a series of personal photos taken by Jon himself. These intimate shots range from family vacation pics to stunning glimpses of a safari trip in South Africa.

He's really into it,” Bergman says of Jon's explorations in camera work. “He's really got a good eye.”

Above all, WORK celebrates the strengths of a band that is still achieving remarkable heights three decades after their debut. While many of their '80s hit-making contemporaries ultimately fell by the wayside, Bon Jovi's “Because We Can” world tour grossed $259.5 million last year. Clearly, this group – and the man who documents their triumphs – won't be slowing down any time soon.

These guys still give 110 percent every single night,” Bergman says. “Jon not canceling shows just because he was badly injured says a lot about their character; that's why they're still going. A lot of other bands would have postponed the tour if there was an injury like that. The tour would have been canceled, and they would make [the dates] up in six months. Those guys won't do that...If those guys are physically able to perform, they're going to do it – and do it for two and a half, three hours. I've seen plenty of their shows that just gone on and on. I think the crowds respect and appreciate that. The band has not rested on its laurels. Certainly, when they kick into 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Wanted Dead Or Alive,' everybody goes crazy, but they're still putting out new music. The last album [2013's What About Now] debuted at Number One. How many bands 30 years on are still putting out Number One albums?”

Photo by David Bergman (courtesy of Randex PR)

More information on David Bergman is available at and Samples of images from WORK can be viewed HERE.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - James Williamson: Re-Licked

If I'm going to review this album the right way, I need to talk to you, dear reader, in the first person. Receiving a promo copy of James Williamson's Re-Licked last week ended months of feverish anticipation for me. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of interviewing James shortly before the release of the album's first single, “Open Up And Bleed”/”Gimme Some Skin.” At the time, I was made aware that one of my all-time favorite singers, the great Lisa Kekaula from The BellRays, would be one of the guest vocalists on the project. That was enough to sell me; Re-Licked was already gearing up to be the Album of the Year.  

Williamson developed Re-Licked as way to finally record a number of post-Raw Power tracks that he wrote with Iggy Pop in 1973-74. Although these numbers have existed for years on a number of bootleg releases of varying audio quality, Re-Licked represents the first time these songs were given a chance to grow in a legitimate studio setting. How could this not be amazing?

The seven months that followed my chat with James saw Re-Licked – and the Stooges legacy it celebrates – experience considerable highs and lows. First came a press statement from Iggy Pop that seemed to paint a shaky portrait of current relations within the Stooges camp, followed a few short days later by the unexpected death of Stooges drummer Scott Asheton. On a much-needed positive note, the spring and summer brought news of even more amazing performers jumping on board for the album. The list included Gary Floyd (The Dicks/Sister Double Happiness) and J.G. Thirlwell (Foetus) – two people whose onstage brilliance forever elevated my expectations with other live performers.

As for the rest of the cast of characters, here's a sampling: Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys/Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine), Carolyn Wonderland, Bobby Gillespie and Simone Marie Butler (Primal Scream), Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees/ Queens of the Stone Age), Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line), Petra Haden, Ariel Pink, Ron Young (Little Caesar), Mike Watt (Stooges/Minutemen), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power), Steve Mackay (Stooges), Toby Dammit (Stooges/Iggy Pop/Swans), Mario Cuomo (The Orwells), Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters/Entombed), The Richmond Sluts, Michael Urbano (Smash Mouth) and on and on.

The presence of musical personalities this strong makes sense. During their all-too-short original late '60s/early '70s run, The Stooges set the benchmark for aggressive, real Rock 'N' Roll. Stooges songs are litmus tests: Not only do you have to be the real deal, but you also have to be on the very top of your game to perform these tunes in a convincing way.

Thankfully, there isn't a single note on Re-Licked that was phoned in. Every person involved in this momentous release clearly grasped the importance of the work being presented. Some highlights: Kekaula is her usual jaw-dropping self on “I Gotta Right” and “Heavy Liquid,” while Wonderland delivers a Joplinesque howl on “Open Up And Bleed.” Young delivers a fantastic Blues-tinged take on “Rubber Leg,” while the rhythm sections of Watt/Dammit and Butler/Urbano (both given the hefty task of honoring the late Asheton brothers) rise to the challenge with admirable aplomb.

Naturally, Floyd is incomparable on a blistering “Cock In My Pocket,” while Biafra is Biafra on “Head On The Curve.”

As far as the singers who come closest to mirroring Iggy's snarl and charm, full marks go to Thirlwell (the album's second version of ”Rubber Leg”) and Cardamone (“Pinpoint Eyes”), while Pink adds a touch of James Brown to his iguana groove on “She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills.

Finally freed of the audio crud that plagued the original Stooges versions, the songs that comprise Re-Licked prove that the Pop/Williamson songwriting team was capable of far more than just raw power. Nowhere is this more evident than on the breathtaking (and touchingly sad) “'Til The End Of The Night,” performed here with heartstring-tugging precision by Mosshart.

Of course, Williamson is the greatest star of this show. There's just something about the sound this man gets out of his guitar that....well, if you know, you know. And if you don't know yet, listen to “Wild Love,” “I'm Sick Of You” and the 3:14 mark of “'Til The End Of The Night.” Hell, listen to everything the guy plays on this thing. Few players hit your ears – and your gut – with this level of intensity.

It's fitting and beautiful that quite a few of Re-Licked's participants were either toddlers or not even alive when these songs were written. Their passionate contributions demonstrate how timeless The Stooges' material truly is. For a certain segment of the population, this is our Folk music. And for the guy who's typing this review with a still-healing Stooges tattoo on his arm, having these tunes finally presented with this level of clarity is a deeply emotional experience.

In the words of Scott Asheton, “God loves The Stooges.”

Thank you so much, James. This album means a lot.

Re-Licked will be available worldwide October 29 on CD, vinyl and digital formats worldwide via Leopard Lady Records. For more information, visit James Williamson's Official Website.

01. Head On The Curve (w/ Jello Biafra)
02. Open Up And Bleed (w/ Carolyn Wonderland)
03. Scene Of The Crime (w/ Bobby Gillespie from 
Primal Scream)
04. She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills (w/ Ariel Pink)
05. Til The End Of The Night (w/ Alison Mosshart from
The Kills, Dead Weather)
06. I Gotta Right (w/ Lisa Kekaula from The BellRays)
07. Pinpoint Eyes (w/ Joe Cardamone from 
The Icarus Line)
08. Wild Love (w/ Mark Lanegan & Alison Mosshart)
09. Rubber Leg (w/ Ron Young from Little Caesar)
10. I’m Sick Of You (w/ Mario Cuomo from The Orwells)
Bonus Tracks:
11. Gimme Some Skin (w/ Caroline Wonderland) 
12. C*ck In My Pocket (w/ Nicke Andersson from 
The Hellacopters) 
13. Heavy Liquid (w/ Lisa Kekaula) 
14. Wet My Bed (w/ The Richmond Sluts)
15. C**k In My Pocket (w/ Gary Floyd from The Dicks) 
16. Rubber Leg (w/ J.G. Thirlwell aka Clint Ruin, Foetus) 


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fur Real: David Yow & the Art of Cats

When most underground music fans think of David Yow, they typically envision a drunken, often-unclothed madman slurring to the heavens with The Jesus Lizard, Qui or Scratch Acid. But as of a few weeks ago, he is also the man behind Copycat: And a Litter of Other Cats, a hardcover art book of cat puns.

Yes, cat puns. Check these out:

"Cat Burglar" by David Yow (courtesy of Akashic Books)

"Catatonic" by David Yow (courtesy of Akashic Books)

"Alley Cat" by David Yow (courtesy of Akashic Books)

Billed as “a very important book by David Yow,” Copycat was published in August by Brooklyn-based Akashic Books, who also put out the Jesus Lizard retrospective BOOK earlier this year. As discussed in this site's feature on BOOK, Yow's relationship with Akashic is based on the singer's longtime friendship with company founder Johnny Temple, formerly a member of frequent Jesus Lizard tourmates Girls Against Boys. The idea to turn Yow's cat art into a full-fledged book took shape shortly after the Jesus Lizard tome neared the finish line.

“I don't think [Johnny] did the Copycat book as a favor simply because of the amount of work I put into the Jesus Lizard book, but I think there was a little bit of leverage for that,” remembers Yow. “I think he might not have been 100-percent thrilled about doing a goofy-ass cat cartoon pun book, but I think he got a kick out of it, and the other people at Akashic got a kick out of it.”

Naturally, Copycat has found an audience unfamiliar with Yow's past musical exploits.

“That's definitely something I was hoping for,” he offers. “I think that if it was limited to an audience who gave a crap about the music I've done, I don't think we'd sell a whole lot of those books.”

Unsurprisingly, cats have always been a major part of Yow's life. Born in Las Vegas in 1960, Yow was still a toddler when his Air Force pilot father moved the family to Tripoli in Libya on the Mediterranean Coast.

“When we lived off-base, my sister and I found this kitten,” he recalls. “We asked if we could keep it, and my dad was very adamant that he didn't like cats; he was a dog person. My sister and I cried for a whole day until he gave in and said, 'Okay.'” My father was very clever; he said, 'We can keep the cat, but we've got to name it 'Me Yow.' That'll be the only cat in the world that could say her own name.'”

Fast-forward to 2014, and Yow and his girlfriend are loving owners of three cats - Little Buddy, Penny and Nico. At 20 pounds, the long-haired Little Buddy is the image of regality.

Little Buddy (courtesy of Akashic Books)

“He's so handsome, so striking and so cool that you think he's not afraid of anything,” Yow says. “But – and I hope he can't hear me – he gets really spooked really easily. If you'll drop a pencil, he runs away. But he's such a gentleman. When [my girlfriend and I] moved in together, he had pretty much never seen another cat, and neither had the girls. We figured that because he was so large that he'd be the alpha cat and rule the roost, but instead the girls are just fuckin' bitches to him. They hiss at him, swat at him and growl at him. For quite some time, probably three years or so, he was just like this pacifistic Gandhi-like creature. He would just lie down on his back and look at the girls while they're hissing and growling at him. He'd offer his tummy and be as sweet a gentleman as he could be. That's pretty amazing, I think.”

Penny (courtesy of Akashic Books)

According to Yow, the black-and-white Penny is “really, retarded.” The singer is convinced that she has The Carl Stalling Project playing in her head the whole time. Nico, who is the smallest at nine pounds, is described by Yow as “just a little lady, very prim and proper.” At the time of this conversation, Yow said he and his girlfriend were toying around with the idea of getting a kitten, “almost just to see what these three cats' reactions would be like.”

Nico (courtesy of Akashic Books)

Those who enjoy Yow's art have an opportunity to own some of it thanks to, the custom portrait site he launched in 2012. As of this writing, he has produced roughly 120 portraits of people and animals, all based on photos from customers looking for an artistic experience they won't find anywhere else. To achieve GetFaced's unique results, Yow tends to work with as little outside direction as possible.

“Sometimes, I'll ask questions,” he says. “If somebody sends in a picture of their dog and they don't say anything about it, I'll ask them what the dog's name is, what their favorite toy was and stuff like that. There have been a few times when people would say, 'I like this kind of color palette,' and I kind of don't care. I say on the website, 'I won't print this until I'm proud of it. You have no idea what this is going to look like, but I promise you I won't send it to you until I'm proud of it.'”

On the musical front, Yow made waves last year with the release of his first-ever solo album, Tonight You Look Like A Spider. Yow's ventures into solitary recording began shortly after The Jesus Lizard's breakup, when old friend Alexander Hacke (Einst├╝rzende Neubauten) showed him the rudiments of ProTools.

“It was kind of retarded stuff,” says Yow of his early noise experiments. “I really liked it, but the analogy I like to make is that the music that I was making was sort of the way children draw. There are no rules and almost no parameters.”

Yow began thinking about releasing a solo record as far back as 1998, when Mike Patton (Faith No More/Tomahawk) expressed an interest in putting it out on his Ipecac label. However, Yow's work moved slowly as the years carried on. By the next decade, the idea had lost momentum.

“I think around 2006 or 2007, I just blew it off,” he remembers. “Ipecac quit releasing stuff unless it was The Melvins or Tomahawk. I figured, 'Well, okay, it'll never come out. I don't care.' It didn't seem that important to me.”

That was until Yow crossed paths with Indiana-based label Joyful Noise Recordings, who released his friend Adam Harding's extraordinary Dumb Numbers album last year. Partnering with the label, Yow put together a collection of his years-in-progress recordings as Tonight You Look Like A Spider in June 2013. The album was made available in both a standard vinyl edition and a long-sold-out “Monolith” edition (limited to 50) that was crafted by Yow himself and included an actual cement vinyl-displaying sculpture created from the same mold pictured on the front cover.


In addition to presenting a very cool argument against illegal downloading, the Monolith edition is in line with Joyful Noise's penchant for odd and memorable packaging. (For example, this writer's copy of Tonight... was boxed with a strip of Laffy Taffy.)

“They're pretty cool about packing up goofy little special treats and hand-written notes and stuff like that,” Yow says.

Away from art and music, Yow has maintained a steady schedule as an actor. Recently, he filmed the role of “a party host who hangs out in a shower cap and [his] underwear” for the upcoming film Entertainment, which will also feature such heavyweights as John C. Reilly, Dean Stockwell, Michael Cera and Greg Turkington (otherwise known as Neil Hamburger). At the time of our chat, he was planning to travel to England to shoot his first lead role – “a New York hitman who fucks up a job and has to get out of the country” – in a movie called A New York Story.

Of course, interested parties can also experience Yow's thespianic skills on the Cooking With Yow segments on the brilliant (not-just-for) children's show, Pancake Mountain. Joined by co-host “Rufus Leaking” (voiced by Pancake Mountain co-creative director JR Soldano), Yow (in varying states of coherence) offers tips on cooking things like “Pizza Cake” (get it?) and coconut macaroons while the often-bewildered Rufus looks on. Cooking With Yow is great fun, even if the episodes rarely (if ever) feature any actual food or cooking – a fact that impresses Yow's girlfriend, a behind-the-scenes veteran of reality cooking shows like Chefs vs. City and Cupcake Wars.

“She thinks that Pancake Mountain has done for cooking shows what Breaking Bad has done for regular television,” he laughs. “Nobody in the past who was on a cooking show would ever think of not showing the food!”

With his acting schedule getting heavier by the day, Yow is committed to developing his craft as much as possible.

“I want to get to the point where I can do paintings or something if I want to, or sing on a friend's record, but mostly I want to just keep busy with acting,” he says. “That's the most rewarding, challenging and interesting thing to me right now.”

From pouring cement to create his album's packaging to putting out a book of cat jokes, David Yow has made a life out of being as unconventional as possible. Lord knows what he's going to come up with next, but you can be sure that whatever it is will be worth your time and interest.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Symphony of Survival: Inside Annie Haslam's Artistic Renaissance

Courtesy of Leighton Media

Having a conversation with Annie Haslam, frontwoman of veteran Symphonic Rock act Renaissance, is an absolute pleasure.

Throughout our 90-minute chat, it was clear that this music industry veteran looks on the bright side of life. A wonderful conversationalist with a penchant for playful laughter, Haslam spoke from her Pennsylvania home about everything from her artwork to her upcoming touring plans. At 67, her infectious love of life is as impressive as her five-octave vocal range. And considering what it took her to get to this position in life, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Change and challenge have been major elements of the Renaissance story for more than four decades. After all, just charting their evolution in personnel over the years would probably require three times the length of this feature. Heres the short version: The UK bands often-rocky story dates back to 1969, when former Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty put together the first incarnation of the group with Relfs sister Jane on co-lead vocals, pianist John Hawken (later of Spooky Tooth) and bassist Louis Cennamo. Although the bands lineage (as well as the strong single “Island”) helped Renaissances self-titled 1969 album score considerable attention from the masses, McCarty and both Relfs were out of the picture by the time the sophomore release, Illusion (featuring the debut of Renaissance mainstay Michael “Micky” Dunford on guitar) hit the shelves in 1971. After a brief stint with American singer Anne-Marie Binky Cullum, Renaissance recruited the operatically trained Haslam for 1972Prologue. From 1973 to 1980, the bands “classic lineup” included Haslam, Dunford, keyboardist John Tout, bassist Jon Camp and drummer Terry Sullivan. This configuration produced the 1978 UK Top 10 hit “Northern Nights” and a series of classic albums including Turn Of The Cards, Scheherazade and Other Stories and A Song For All Seasons. Reduced to a trio of Haslam, Dunford and Camp at the start of the next decade, Renaissance released two New Wave-flavored albums (1981Camera Camera and 1983s Time-Line) before calling it a day in 1987. The 90s saw separate albums by both Haslam and Dunford under the Renaissance name until the duo (along with Tout and Sullivan) reunited for 2001’s Tuscany. Fast-forward to 2009, and Haslam gets a call from her old friend.

I knew exactly what Micky was going to say, because over the years he’d ask me if I wanted to get the band back together,” she recalls. “I just didn’t want to do it because my life is different. I started painting, and I’ve got my solo projects. I didn’t know whether I wanted to go back into the past. [The “classic” lineup members] were all older, and everybody’s different. I’m very different in the fact that I’m a lot stronger as far as doing the business side of things, which in the early days I never even thought of and never got involved in. I just sang and followed everybody else; I had no interest in going there. So I was a little concerned about the strength I had built up myself as a person…In the 70s, it used to be Jon Camp and Michael Dunford who really did the business part of the band...I don’t know why I said it, [but] I said to Mick, I’ll do it if [legendary east coast concert promoter and former Renaissance manager] John Scher would be interested in taking this on.’ I didn’t think he’d be interested in a second, because John’s a very well-known promoter and he’s done a lot of things on Broadway recently as well in the last few years. I thought, ‘He’s going to be too busy; he won’t be interested.’ He said yes! I could have fell over!”

Before long, the remaining members of the band's classic 70s lineup signed on for an extensive 40th Anniversary Tour. Unfortunately, the reunited band wouldnt stick together for long.

Jon Camp had something that he couldn’t cancel,” Haslam says. “John Scher said, ‘This is the tour; I’ve worked on it. This is what it’s going to be, or nothing.’ We decided to carry on. Jon didn’t do it, then Terry backed out and then John Tout backed out, so it was just the two of us.”

Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam (courtesy of Leighton Media)

Haslam and Dunford quickly recruited previous Tuscany touring members Rave Tesar (keyboards) and David J. Keys (bass) and new members Tom Brislin (keyboards, best known for his work with Yes) and drummer Frank Pagano. Despite the initial personnel woes, the 40th Anniversary Tour soon became an overwhelming success.

We were worried that people would say, ‘Well, it’s not the original band.’ But you know what? Very, very few people said anything,” Haslam recalls. “They were so in praise of the band we had that it didn’t matter. I don’t want to take anything away from the other guys, because they’re brilliant as well. But with the technology that we have now – and these musicians – it was fantastic.”

The tour led to subsequent trips to Japan and Korea (with Rufus Wainwright keyboardist Jason Hart filling in for Brislin), a three-song EP entitled The Mystic And The Muse and the release of the 2011 DVD Renaissance Tour 2011 – Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade & Other Stories Live In Concert. With Renaissance fully back in action, the band decided it was time to release a full-length album. Like an ever-growing number of artists, they turned to Kickstarter to get the funding necessary to commit new sounds to disc. Incentives offered to pledgers included everything from Haslam's personal copy of the first Renaissance album (which she used to learn songs for her audition in 1971) to the dress she wore for the band’s performance of “Northern Lights” on Top of the Pops in 1978. Initially setting their Kickstarter goal at $44,000, the band ended up raising an astonishing $92,531.

Songs for the new project included the gorgeous “Symphony Of Light,” a lush 12-minute number inspired by the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, who of course was known as “the Renaissance Man.”

I looked around on the Web to see if anyone had written a serious piece of music or song about him, and I could not find anything,” Haslam shares. “I just thought, ‘Gosh, this music is perfect for it!’”

As the recording of the new album moved on, the band brought in guest musicians for the first time in their career. Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson contributes his trademark flute to “Cry To The World,” while Haslams close friend John Wetton (King Crimson/Asia), who filled in on bass for four Renaissance shows in the 70s including the Reading Festival, added vocals to “Blood Silver Like Moonlight.”

In September 2012, Haslam and Tesar were busy mixing the album when the singer started experiencing strange pains in her back.

I thought that maybe it was because I had been sitting in the wrong position in the studio, which was true,” she recalls. “But it got really bad, and I went to see somebody. It ended up that I had a compression in a vertebra on my spine. We had to cancel three quarters of the [then-upcoming] tour, and we were just building momentum up…It was so devastating.”

In addition to being advised by her doctor not to fly or travel by automobile for more than two or three hours, Haslam wore a metal brace on her back every day for nine straight months, even when singing. Naturally, this situation had a chilling effect on the bands booking schedule. Although Renaissances planned tour was reduced to a handful of shows on the east coast, she soldiered on. Then, the life of this hard-fighting woman (who survived breast cancer in the early 90s) became even cloudier.

I’d go onstage and when those lights hit, it started up this thing in my left eye,” she remembers. “Everything went foggy and hot around the eye. Every light had a rainbow around it, wherever I looked.”

The odd phenomenon ended up being acute angle-closure glaucoma, yet another obstacle to hit Haslams road to rebuilding the Renaissance name.

My God, it was a challenge, but I sang really, really well,” she says. “I sang my heart out. Sometimes, you do your best work in times of sadness or pain. The human spirit comes through.”

Sadly, Renaissances troubled year was about to take an even darker turn. After performing a show at Collingswood, NJ, the band was alerted that Hurricane Sandy was about the hit the area. Luckily, Dunford was able to catch the very last flight home to England, while the rest of Renaissance (augmented on this particular tour by fill-in drummer Joe Goldberger) accepted the fact that the next show wouldnt happen (resulting in a considerable financial loss) and braced themselves for what was about to come. Thankfully, Dunford made it home safely, while Haslams Sandy woes were confined to a phone outage and a damaged maple tree in her front yard.

Considering the ups and downs that defined the previous months, it appeared that the remainder of 2012 would be quiet. Tragically, that serenity was shattered on November 19, when Dunford’s wife called Haslam with the news that he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The next day, he was gone.

That was the biggest shock of all,” Haslam says. “I’ll never forget that day as long as I live...It was very strange year full of so much joy and happiness, and then completely the opposite...disaster and devastation...I wasn’t sure whether I would carry on, but I know that Micky would have wanted us to, plus the fact that we just worked on this beautiful album that everybody needed to hear [and] also needed to experience live with the band.”

As Haslam began to pick up the pieces and carry on after Dunford’s death, it became apparent that he wasnt ready to say goodbye just yet. According to her, Dunfords children began seeing white feathers – an occurrence commonly interpreted as a message from the dead. Haslam soon had her own experience with this during the soundcheck for her first Renaissance show after the guitarists passing.

I’m very particular about how things look, particularly since I’ve been painting,” she remembers. “Everything’s got to be symmetrical and it’s just got to look right. I go out and say, ‘Right. Let’s move those guitars over there...I went down to the front, and everything was great on the stage. I go back on the stage, and right in front of my microphone was a pink feather on the floor. I knew that was him, and I knew he made it pink because he knew it would make me laugh.”

(Unfortunately, Dunfords death wasnt the only significant parting to affect the reformed band: Lyricist Betty Thatcher, who had worked with Renaissance since the Relf days, passed away in 2011.)

In addition to more touring for Haslam and company (with guitarist Rych Chlanda joining the ranks), 2013 finally saw the release of the Kickstarter-funded album Grandine il Vento on the Renaissance website. Earlier this year, the album was re-released to a wider audience as Symphony of Light with three bonus tracks (including “Renaissance Man,” a tribute to Dunford) on New Yorks Red River Entertainment.

Shortly before Symphony Of Lights release, Renaissance took part in Cruise to the Edge, a jaunt from Miami to parts of Honduras and Mexico with a vast array of artists including Yes (naturally), UK, Marillion, Queensryche and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. But with another Renaissance undertaking came another example of Murphys Law: During the bands first show in the indoor theater, the boat was ht by a storm and began rocking from side to side.

I had to hold myself tightly to the microphone stand most to the show because I could have fallen over!” laughs the singer. “The show went fantastic, but that was really a trial in a way.”

Two days later, the band played poolside – with 60-mph gale force winds adding to the festivities. Haslam knew before she even hit the stage that the dress she picked out for the show wasnt going to make it.

I had to walk back to my cabin and change into a black outfit; it really wasn’t a stage outfit, but it was all I had,” she says. “I had a painted hat that I was going to put in the auction on the cruise. I put that on and pinned my hair up and pinned the cap onto my head. The wind was so strong that I had to hold the cap down for an hour and 15 minutes while I was singing. (laughs) I had to cup my right hand around the microphone so that the wind didn’t go into my mouth and blow me up like a balloon! I had these visions of being blown up like a balloon and drifting off to Brazil! (laughs)

You could barely stand up,” she adds. “You know that advert for Memorex with the guy from Bauhaus [Peter Murphy] sitting in the armchair? That’s what the keyboard player in Renaissance looked like!”

In her time away from Renaissance, Haslam keeps busy working on her impressive artwork. Her works include the covers for Grandine il Vento and Symphony Of Light. A special lithograph of the latter is available through the Renaissance website (see below).

After overcoming hardships that would have easily defeated other bands, the rejuvenated Renaissance shows no signs of slowing down. East coast dates are set for late October/early November, while Haslam hopes to bring the band to Europe next year.

I feel that there’s more life for this band yet,” she says. “As long as I feel that, I’ve got the desire to keep it going.”

Photo by Esa Ahola

Renaissance and Annie Haslam online: