Friday, August 17, 2018

Words for Jill

Photo source: facebook.com/huntresskills


.

I am completely heartbroken to learn of Jill Janus' suicide.

In 2015, I interviewed her about her struggles with schizophrenia and history of suicide attempts. She was nothing but a fighter - as those who combat those impulses typically are. It shatters me to know that the battle became too great for her.

I wish we could all rise above our demons. Some of us can't. It's incredibly hard at times to find a reason to keep moving. My love and support to those who continue to do so...and my love, understanding and sorrow for those who cannot.

Unsurprisingly, news of a known musician's passing often leads people to either reflect on that person's body of work or discover that work for the first time. Both are certainly happening today with respect to Jill.


I've been listening to what now stands as her final album with Huntress all day today. When I first heard it in 2015, I knew this wasn't just a typical Metal album. It was clear this woman was suffering.

I'm grateful that Jill allowed me the opportunity to help share her story in the interview she gave me. I'm having a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that the story didn't have a happy ending.

Below is the song that I feel sums up what she was trying to communicate and achieve on Static.

This and the other songs on the album were the mark of a strong and courageous soul. She kicked ass and deserved more.


I'm so sorry, Jill. Thanks for staying with us as long as you could.

My interview with Jill can be read here. 




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Sunday, July 22, 2018

An American Drummer in London




Outside my father's childhood home. (Photo: Roger Ebner)


With the jet lag finally disappearing and my internal clock somewhat back to normal, it’s time to reflect on one of the greatest musical and personal experiences I’ve ever had.

Last week, I flew to London for the first time to take part in a special private show by The Ladyboys, a band featuring my dear friend and Pigface bandmate Martin King (Test Dept/Subgenius/Dogtablet). This particular show also featured Pigface saxophonist and Chicago resident Roger Ebner.

My friendships with Martin and Roger began through the Pigface 25th anniversary shows at Reggies and the House of Blues in Chicago in November 2016. Martin toured with Pigface in the late ’90s (a few years before my arrival in 2001), and Roger was a new recruit. The three of us had become Facebook friends leading up to the gigs, but we truly began hitting it off when we met up in Chicago. I’ve kept in touch with Martin in one form or another almost daily since that time, and Roger and I have become close friends and frequent travel buddies. (Best of all, the three of us are currently working together as part of a 12-person recording project that will be releasing a dog rescue charity single in the not-too-distant future.) When Martin extended an invite to me late last year to be a guest drummer at the next Ladyboys show, it was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse.


Exploring London with Martin and Roger

I had more than just this amazing musical opportunity in mind for my trip. My father grew up in Redbridge, and my childhood was filled with stories of his life in England prior to his arrival in the US five decades ago. Unsurprisingly, visiting London had been a dream of mine since I was a kid. On July 17 – my 41st birthday – Martin was kind enough to drive me out to my dad’s childhood home. It was incredible for me to connect with my family roots, and I’m beyond thankful that Roger snapped the photo of me outside the door of the house that appears at the top of this piece. 

There’s so much to remember from my stay in London – the food (Black Pudding! Fried Slices!), the pints, the wine, the great conversations, the sights – but what struck me the most was everyone’s intense politeness. From my Ladyboys bandmates to the sweet lady who served me breakfast in Camden Town, everyone enriched my experience through their kindness. Of course, I must put Martin and his lovely wife, Penny, at the top of the list. They were extraordinarily warm and giving hosts who truly made me feel at home. What wonderful, wonderful people they are; I cannot thank them enough. I must also thank the queen of the castle – Martin and Penny’s beautiful greyhound, Connie – for allowing me to occupy so much of her Mum and Dad’s time during my stay!  

My birthday dinner with Martin, Penny and Roger

Obviously, “Ladyboys” means different things to different people (and is a word I wouldn’t recommend running through Google if you’re solely interested in learning more about the band!) In this case, the moniker was inspired by The Ladywell Tavern, a boozer that’s been frequented by the core members of the group for ages. Years ago, they decided to play occasional gigs for fun. This particular show was the first such occasion since Martin’s 50th birthday three years ago. The set was comprised of an eclectic list of covers of The Clash, Iggy Pop, Magazine, The Undertones, Joy Division, Davie Bowie, The Velvet Underground, etc. The show – held at The Lexington in Islington – was invite-only, and attendees were encouraged to donate funds towards Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. While several Ladyboys have performed a fair share of proper professional gigs over the years, this was meant to be a laid-back evening of good mates playing music and enjoying themselves. 


The all-important pre-rehearsal at The Ladywell Tavern with Roger, Julian, Roberto and Martin

The Ladyboys’ loose nature was reflected in the sole rehearsal I had with them, which consisted of a lengthy stop at The Ladywell, kebabs for dinner and plenty of wine – and a few songs thrown in here and there! Every member of The Ladyboys was good-natured and great fun to be around. Practice took place at the home of one of the guitarists, John. He’s a devoted veterinarian who was busy helping animals in need before and after rehearsal. While the rest of us were having drinks late in the evening, he was back out on a call. That is a man worthy of profound respect.


John from The Ladyboys with a special appearance by Roger's fingers

There were seven of us at the rehearsal, but the final live Ladyboys lineup boasted at least 12 people. Much like a Pigface gig, players and singers came and went from the stage throughout the performance. And much like Pigface, it was a thrill for me to be a part of a great set with people I only met days – or minutes – before showtime.  


Meg Lee Chin (Photo: Neil Gaffney)

For me, the greatest highlight of the gig was the appearance of someone I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years. The immensely talented Meg Lee Chin was one of the core touring members of Pigface when I first played with them at The Limelight in NYC in November 2001. Her classic 1999 album, Piece And Love, was a critical part of my college soundtrack, which made sharing the stage with her in ’01 a huge honor. Aside from a brief backstage chat that evening in New York, I hadn’t crossed paths with her for 17 years. It was exciting to see her walk through the doors of The Lexington to join us for soundcheck – and fantastic to talk with her at various points throughout the evening. She was in high spirits, which showed in her unforgettable performance. We were firing on all cylinders by the time she hit the stage to front our renditions of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and her presence elevated an already incomparable night to new heights.  


With Meg Lee Chin (Photo: Pete Jones)

After several years out of the spotlight, Meg is making new music again. It’s an overdue and very welcome return. Here’s her latest video, which was posted on YouTube late last month:




A truly gifted musician, Roger was a critical part of the show’s success. His playing is always of the highest possible caliber, and it was amazing to share this adventure across the pond with him. (As he exclaimed to me more than once during our trip: “Hey, Joel…We’re in London!”)


Roger Ebner (Photo: Neil Gaffney)


One of the best parts of the week was meeting Martin’s Dogtablet partner and Ladyboys bassist, Roberto Soave. Although he has some pretty tremendous musical accomplishments under his belt (including stints with The Cure, The Associates and Shelleyan Orphan), you certainly wouldn’t know it from his humble, friendly and relaxed nature. A great guy and one hell of a musician!


Joel and Martin back in business (Photo: Neil Gaffney)

Shortly before the gig, I looked at the two drum kits set up on stage and couldn’t stop smiling. When I first met Martin a few short hours before the Pigface rehearsal show at Reggies on Thanksgiving 2016, neither of us had any idea which songs we would be playing – and if we’d be drumming on that material together. (This lack of pre-show information is pretty much standard practice on Planet Pigface). Without any planning whatsoever, we eventually found ourselves drumming side by side on “Steamroller” (a song I hadn’t listened to in years!) and “Suck.” There I was, playing alongside someone I just met and breaking my drum-duet cherry in front of a packed house at the same time. We were thrown into the fire together, and we fucking nailed it. That telepathic magic returned the following night at the House of Blues when we hit the stage to do “Steamroller” a second time. Being able to play with Martin again was a great birthday gift. He is a powerful and groove-laden beatmaster, and bashing away next to him has been the highlight of my 32 years as a drummer. I hope we can do it again.


Selfie time with Mike and Rob

In addition to providing a lifetime of onstage memories, the gig gave me an opportunity to finally meet some longtime friends in person. I’ve known iconic artist/designer/videographer/photographer Mike Coles (Killing Joke/Malicious Damage Records) for years, both as an interviewee and as a social media friend. It was a pleasure to finally sit and have a chat with the bloke. Mike brought along his mate Rob Moss, whose band Headcount was a regular part of my life’s soundtrack when I lived in Los Angeles years ago. Also, it was absolutely fantastic to finally get a chance to hug Pete Jones (Public Image Limited/Brian Brain/Department S), whose long history with me includes his exceptional bass playing on my 2011 solo EP and on a single by the Effectionhate project I had a few years ago with my then-wife. I’m so pleased our paths finally crossed in this way.


Having a laugh with Pete Jones (Photo: Rob Moss)

As I wrap this up, I must thank Pigface bandleader Martin Atkins for bringing so many great people into my life through that group. Those special friendships made the London trip and the gig with The Ladyboys possible. Pigface brings out the best in its members - as musicians and as people - all because Martin had a crazy and beautiful idea 27 years ago.

Late Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven once told me he made lifelong friends through Pigface. I’m honored to be able to say the same.


Ladyboys performers: Martin King, John Hackinson, Roberto Soave, Roger Ebner, Meg Lee Chin, Joel Gausten, Jim Norman, Mark Valance, Julian “BBC” Blythe, Jamie McQuillan, Jeremy Tishler, Paul Frederick, Pete Curtis. Emcee: Neil Gaffney  


A few Ladyboys in action - Left to Right : Roger, John, Jamie, Joel, Julian, Martin and Roberto (Photo: Gemma Margaret)



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Thursday, July 5, 2018

LIVE REVIEW - Poptone/Automatic: The Middle East, 6/26/2018



Photo courtesy of Shameless Promotion PR


As previously discussed on this site, Poptone is a trio comprised of Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets and Haskins’ daughter Diva Dompe. Since April 2017, they have been regularly touring with a live set of material by all three aforementioned bands. Recently, they hit the Boston area for the second time in less than a year, this time in support of a live album recently released by Cleopatra Records (and recorded in conjunction with Los Angeles’ famed KXLU).  

The formation of Poptone last year was a welcome occurrence in the history of Alternative music. Tones on Tail’s two-year existence was over way back in 1984, while Love And Rockets – the trio completed by Haskins’ brother, bassist David J –  last stepped on stage together nearly a decade ago and haven’t released an album since 1998’s Lift. As for Bauhaus… well, that’s a decidedly more complex affair. Since briefly reuniting in the studio in 2006 (and posthumously releasing 2008’s underrated Go Away White), the group’s four members have split into two camps: Ash and Haskins are currently together in Poptone, while J and singer Peter Murphy are gearing up to do “40th Year Ruby Bauhaus Anniversary Tours” together at some point in the near future. While fans understandably bemoan the apparent end of the Bauhaus collective, the idea of audiences having double the opportunities to see the former members perform classic tunes live is certainly appealing.  

Sadly, Bauhaus music was not on tap when Poptone touched down at the Middle East in Cambridge last week. Fighting against the venue’s curfew and Ash’s case of the flu (which led them to cancel the following night’s performance in Wantagh, NY), the band cut their set short after performing 13 songs, leaving off the 1983 Bauhaus gem “Slice Of Life” and a few other numbers. Fortunately, what they did deliver was an absolutely brilliant show celebrating some of the brightest moments of the other two bands’ back catalogs. It has been nearly 35 years since Tour on Tail briefly toured the States, which made the inclusion of “Christian Says,” “Go!” “Movement Of Fear,” “Performance” and other tracks from that era’s sparse discography a long-overdue treat. Musically, the band was on fire, with Haskins’ intense drumming (matched grip, no less!) on Love and Rockets’ “Mirror People” being one of the evening’s many highlights. Dompe delivered her uncle’s iconic bass parts (plus some occasional percussion) with skill and grace (especially on a slick rendition of Love and Rockets’ “No Big Deal”), while Ash’s voice remained strong despite the obstacles presented by his illness.





Formed this past January, Los Angeles’ quite wonderful Automatic opened the show with an all-too-brief set of beautifully lo-fi sounds that fell somewhere between Low-era Bowie and The Raincoats. In addition to their stellar original material (currently available on an eponymous EP that’s worth a listen), the trio – which includes Haskins’ daughter Lola on drums and vocals – hit all the right spots with a cover of Delta 5’s “Mind Your Own Business.” Automatic is an exciting young band with endless promise; check them out as soon as possible.

While all current signs point to a very unlikely future for Bauhaus, all four musicians responsible for the band’s incomparable output are thankfully still out there sharing their gifts with the world. As the powerful post-Bauhaus material they played at the Middle East showed, Ash and Haskins still demonstrate a level of chemistry and sonic magic that can only come from people who were truly meant to be on stage together. Few musicians are ever blessed with a 40-year career, but it is a fitting and unsurprising achievement for two players who effortlessly continue to amaze and inspire. 





Interview with Poptone

Official Poptone Website 

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