Monday, December 28, 2015

Remembering Lemmy

Back in 2010 when I was a guest on The Classic Metal Show, host Wendell Neeley asked me the traditional Classic Metal Show question: “How has Lemmy from Motorhead influenced your career?”

Here was my reply:

Lemmy is not a pinup model. You’ll never see Lemmy as a judge on American Idol; you'll never see him host the Grammys because he doesn't fit in the traditional mold of what you'd expect a public figure to be. So why does he do it? He does it because he HAS to, because it's in his blood, in his nature and in his spirit. That's what I've learned from Lemmy – to do what you want to do, and do what you HAVE to do, and not worry about, 'Is the mainstream going to get this?' You do what you have to do and live the life you want to live, and that's what Lemmy's done.”

More than that, I owe my entire professional career to Lemmy. In 2000, I got hired for my first full-time post-college job - serving as the managing editor for a music magazine - on the strength of a Motorhead live review I wrote for an area paper. A week later, I had Nikki Sixx on the phone for an interview and was paying bills doing something I love. How many other people can credit their life's work to Lemmy? I'm sure the list is endless.

What a discography...Listen to those Motorhead albums. That is the real thing. Listen to Hawkwind. How innovative was that bunch during Lemmy’s time with them? Those are absolutely perfect records.

Philthy. Wurzel. And now Lemmy. Talk about a bunch of scraggly, rough, dirty and completely inspirational motherfuckers.

Goddamn. Lemmy's dead. That guy meant something. I hope he died happy.


LIVE REVIEW - The Security Project/Casey Desmond, Tupelo Music Hall (Londonderry, NH) 12/13/15

Left to right: Trey Gunn, Jerry Marotta, Brian Cummins, David Jameson and Michael Cozzi of The Security Project (photo by Joel Gausten)

As previously discussed on this siteThe Security Project is a collection of musical heavyweights exploring the early years of Peter Gabriel's illustrious solo career. Heavily focused on the singer's four eponymous albums from 1977 to 1982 (known among fans as Car, Scratch, Melt and Security), The Security Project has none other than the singer's '77-'86 drummer, Jerry Marotta, keeping the beat. And when this intriguing supergroup hit the stage at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH on December 13, the results were extraordinary.

Considering that Marotta's Security Project bandmates have also carved impressive individual niches performing left-field music (Trey Gunn with King Crimson, Michael Cozzi with Shriekback and Sky Cries Mary, Brian Cummins with Marillion's Mick Pointer, David Jameson with Beyond The Wall), it came as little surprise that the group succeeded in honoring the esoteric spirit of some of the most challenging material in Gabriel's 40-year post-Genesis adventure. 

The Londonderry show's many highlights included the Car numbers “Moribund the Burgermeister and “Humdrum,” Melt's “I Don't Remember” and “Intruder” and Security's “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “The Family And The Fishing Net.” The Security Project also had plenty to offer visually, as the mere sight of Gunn's Warr guitar and Jameson's Eigenharp proved that the evening would not be a typical Rock show.

Photo by Joel Gausten

In addition to beautifully echoing Gabriel's trademark voice, Cummins displayed the emotional depth necessary to capture the heart of this music. From being visibly moved during “Biko” to inspiring pin-drop quiet awe with his surprising acoustic rendition of show closer “Mercy Street” (from 1986's So), the man flawlessly demonstrated the difference between a mere tribute act and a group that truly feels the music they perform.

For a band devoted to exploring such high-brow music, The Security Project's performance at the Tupelo Music Hall was a lighthearted affair. The crowd joined the band in wishing Gunn a happy 55th birthday, while Marotta took center stage towards the end of the set to share some often amusing thoughts on his work with Gabriel. (“What kind of a guy writes things like I've tasted all of the strongest meats and laid them down in coloured sheets?” he quipped, referencing Genesis' “Back To N.Y.C.” off 1974's The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. “What the fuck does that mean? I've been singing that for years. I don't have a clue...”)

While high-caliber musicianship was expected from The Security Project before any of the group's members even walked on stage, equally captivating opener Casey Desmond was a pleasant surprise. The Boston-based singer and one-time The Voice contestant's all-too-brief set offered intriguing Ray Of Light-meets-Little Earthquakes Dance Pop that accentuated her commanding stage presence. 

Casey Desmond (photo by Joel Gausten) 

Desmond's set was bolstered by accompanying electric violinist Mei Ohara (an experimental New England musician whose “Bystanders” video and 2013 track “If You Keep Me Unkempt” are particularly fascinating) and Cambridge, MA synth master Avoxblue. Later, Desmond joined Cummins for an emotional cover of So's “Don't Give Up” and later brought up Ohara to join her and the rest of The Security Project for a spirited run through Melt's “Games Without Frontiers.” This exciting combination of musicians was easily the highest point in an evening full of unforgettable moments. (Furthering the night's King Crimson connection, Desmond's self-titled 2005 album featured an appearance by long-serving bassist Tony Levin.)

Left to right: Mei Ohara, Casey Desmond and Avoxblue (photo by Joel Gausten)

Either collectively or on their own, Desmond, Ohara and Avoxblue are creating some of the most exhilarating current sounds of this or any other scene. See them as soon as you can.

(On a related note, The Security Project guitarist Michael Cozzi's former Sky Cries Mary bandmate Joe Bass is currently battling cancer and can be helped through a special GoFundMe page set up to raise money for his treatment.)


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

FEATURE - Exploring the Eponymous Four: Trey Gunn on Peter Gabriel's Early Years

The Security Project. Photo by Eric de Bruijn (

Any band comprised of members of some of the most revered groups in history would earn plenty of attention regardless of the sounds they made, but what The Security Project offers the world is truly special. Formed in 2012, The Security Project finds master musician Trey Gunn (King Crimson) joining forces with keyboardist David Jameson (Time Machine/Beyond The Wall) and drum legend Jerry Marotta (Hall & Oates/Stevie Nicks/Paul McCartney) to perform the music of Marotta's one-time bandleader, Peter Gabriel. On December 13, music fans in New Hampshire can experience this rare combination of musicians in person when the band brings its show to the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry.

Although Peter Gabriel boasts a massive discography on his own as well as with Genesis, the members of The Security Project focus on the earliest, most experimental period in the singer's long-running solo career. Currently, the band's set utilizes material from Gabriel's first four eponymous solo albums (released from 1977 to 1982) and 1983's Plays Live. (Marotta served as Gabriel's drummer from 1977 to 1986.) Gunn sees working with the group as an opportunity to explore music that has moved him throughout the years.

“I really love that older material a lot,” he says. “In fact, the third record [commonly known among fans as Melt] was just one of those lightning bolt records for me. I was like, 'What the hell is this? What am I listening to? This is so cool. I can't tell what the sounds are; I can't tell how the music's put together, but I just love it.' That record had a big impact on me.”

With The Security Project, Gabriel fans can enjoy a journey through an era that hasn't been explored by the singer for quite some time.

“The idea was, 'What if we really took seriously this older Peter material that [he] doesn't play anymore?'” Gunn explains. “Peter got so huge with the So record and onward; he really focuses on his big hits, so we thought, 'What if we really dig into the older, darker, epic pieces from that period that he doesn't approach anymore for whatever reason? Let's do the things that Peter's not doing [from] this era that we really love.' To me, it was just this great way to explore what I think is just some really awesome material.”

In addition to the three original members, the current lineup of The Security Project includes guitarist Michael Cozzi (a veteran of UK Alternative group Shriekback and the brilliant Seattle-based act Sky Cries Mary) and vocalist Brian Cummins, whose ability to recreate Gabriel's vocal stylings is downright stunning.

“Peter's voice was so specific; it's so particular, and that's one of the beautiful things about him,” offers Gunn. “You either go authentic to his voice, or you go sideways. Brian can do a little bit of both, but he really has Peter's phrasing. It's really fascinating; I can't quite put my finger on the whole thing about why this [group] actually works. By all rights, it shouldn't work, to be honest. (laughs) By all rights, it should be lame, but it's not. It's actually really amazing.”

Since Gunn has been so intimate with Gabriel's music for so long now through The Security Project, what would he say is the man's greatest strength as an artist, particularly during the period that the band is representing?

“One of the fascinating things about going back to any music from that time period – but more specifically Peter – is that this is pre-computer music,” he replies. “It wasn't made on computers; there wasn't digital editing. There was very little editing, because all you could do was punch in and out on 24-track analog giant tape. Music has changed its internal structure so much [since] that time period by computers and putting music onto a grid and being able to edit performances. Music has become a lot more square; it fits onto a grid now. Sections are in symmetrical shapes; that's pretty much how most modern music is made... But [with] these earlier records, the shapes and the phrases and the geometry of the pieces are so unusual and different. I actually was kind of shocked to find this out.”

Gunn cites Melt's “Intruder” as a perfect example of this phenomenon.

As he says, “I thought the song was just Phil Collins playing this drum groove. It just kind of went along and did these different things, but [I thought] that it was basically kind of the same thing all the way through. But it's not; there's a lot of form to it, and the form is very strange. There are little groups of 2/4 bars here, a phrase extends, a phrase gets chopped off and there are funny sections and this beautiful structure inside the whole piece that I had no idea [about].

“Even when you take Peter's music then and put it next to music that was going on at the time, there was just a freedom and a creative flow to it,” he adds. “It was all very musical; it wasn't abstractly constructed. It's frickin' brilliant; it sounds crazily fresh even now – even post-Nine Inch Nails, Tool and all this music that's happened since then.”

Not surprisingly, Gunn's fascination with Gabriel has greatly informed his own work. His latest solo release, The Waters, They Are Rising, features a combination of live performances based on Gabriel's “Here Comes The Flood in addition to music from his score for the film Every Beautiful Thing

Fueled by some of the most adventurous minds in music, The Security Project delivers a truly unique spin on an artist already known to stretch the boundaries of convention.

“It actually is its own thing,” says Gunn of the experience. “It actually is working at a deep, artistic level, and it kind of surprises me. To be honest, the idea of doing a tribute [and] cover material is not inherently interesting to me, but this works.”

The Security Project performs this Sunday, December 13 at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, MA. Go here for tickets. Go here for The Security Project's official website.  


Sunday, December 6, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW - The Danse Society: Reincarnated

A staple of Gothic Rock compilations and a band responsible for more than few unforgettable tracks in the 1980s, The Danse Society have experienced enough twists and turns in their 35-year career to keep fans – including this music writer – busy and confused as they try to piece together a coherent narrative on how Reincarnated came into being.

After releasing a series of albums including 1983's stellar Heaven Is Waiting, The Dance Society (powered by the charismatic voice and gender-blurring good looks of singer Steve Rawlings) ground to a halt in 1987. Fast-forward 22 years, and original members Paul Gilmartin (drums) and Paul Nash (guitar) get inspired to bring the back back. Bringing in keyboardist Dave Whitaker (who originally played in the band towards the end of their '80s run), they briefly reunited with Rawlings before recruiting Italian singer Louisa “Maethelyiah” Pile. This version of The Danse Society released two well-received albums (2011's Change Of Skin and 2013's Scarey Tales) before Gilmartin abruptly left the band in 2014 under acrimonious circumstances. With Whitaker soon joining him, Gilmartin assembled a new Danse Society with singer Brian O'Shaughnessy, bassist Ade Clark, keyboardist Darren Guy and guitarist Elliot Wheeler. In October, this version of The Danse Society unveiled Reincarnated, a collection of newly written material and re-recorded classics.

First off, let's address the all-important frontperson issue. Gilmartin has done the completely unexpected and enlisted a straight-out Rocker in O'Shaughnessy, best known for his work with Oliver Dawson Saxon and New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) stalwarts Seventh Son. Certainly more Ian Astbury than Ian Curtis, O'Shaughnessy brings a decidedly hard edge to Reincarnated, turning Gilmartin's Danse Society into something more akin to the Hard Rock leanings of Craved In Sand-era Mission than the Siouxsie And The Banshees vibe achieved by the Maethelyiah-fronted group on their previous two albums. New guitarist Wheeler is another brilliant addition to the unit, bringing in truly inventive playing and songwriting skills that meet (and very often succeed) the standards set by the original '80 band.

In addition to bringing in an unlikely frontman and a powerful new six-stringer, Gilmartin (who now steers the ship solo following Whitaker's recent departure to focus on studio work) has the audacity to begin Reincarnated with “Message In The Wind” - the exact same song that opened Scarey Tales just two years ago. It's a ballsy move, but the risk pays off because Gilmartin and Co. don't merely reenact “Message In The Wind” and the five original-era tracks included on Reincarnated – they completely reinvent them. The brightest moments of the re-recorded material include the new band's take on the 1983 track “Belief” (which is so drastically different from the original that it's almost an entirely new song) and the Heaven Is Waiting tune “Red Light,” which is given new life here thanks to Gilmartin's additional percussive flair and a particularly strong performance by Wheeler.

With Gilmartin fueling the proceedings, it comes as little surprise that Reincarnated is a drummer's dream. The beat is right up front in the mix throughout the album, while the brilliant title track is a drum-heavy instrumental piece that mixes the tribal vibes of PiL's The Flowers of Romance and Killing Joke's Fire Dances with admirable aplomb. Other highlights of the record's Gilmartin/Wheeler/Whitaker songwriting team include the O'Shaughnessy-driven “Child Of Paradise,” the Closer-era Joy Division dirge of “Seance And Heresy” and the exceptional “More Than Dreams” and “Glory Or Grace.”

One quibble: The new track “All That Shines” unnecessarily utilizes the same drum pattern as 1983's “Come Inside” (already included in re-recorded form on Reincarnated) even though the simpler beat on the fantastic demo version of the number would have served just fine.

Reincarnated ends with the magnificent “Towers,” a track recorded circa 2010 during the brief reunion with Steve Rawlings. Bolstered by the original frontman's presence, the track is as close to the classic Danse Society sound as either current incarnation of the band will get at this point. Those with a careful ear will pick up on the fact that the music on “Towers” was also used for the title track of 2011's Change Of Skin. It works better here.

While it remains to be seen what will ultimately come from the moniker tug-of-war between the Gilmartin and Nash camps, Reincarnated stands on its own merits as an album that not only lives up to the Danse Society legacy, but also points to an intriguing future for this formidable combination of musicians.

Order Reincarnated


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Children of the Sleigh: Introducing Santa Sabbath

As you can figure out by its moniker, Santa Sabbath is a holiday-themed Black Sabbath cover band. The Los Angeles-based group is comprised of singer Bob Lee (The Freeks, The Amadans, Clawhammer, Mike Watt), guitarist Jonathan Hall (Backbiter, The Freeks, Angry Samoans, Motorcycle Black Madonnas), bassist Pat Hoed (The Black Widows, Brujeria, Down By Law) and drummer John Collinson (Legal Weapon, Leather Hyman, Motorcycle Black Madonnas, The Golden Rulers). Boasting Lee's powerful Ozzyesque vocals, the group is currently funding the release of a six-song CD through Kickstarter. The release is slated to feature cover art by legendary artist and photographer Edward Colver and include the tracks “Santa Sabbath,” “Sled In The Sky,” “Electric Hanukkah,” “Children of the Sleigh,” “Frosty The Snowman” (done to the music of “Paranoid”) and “Sweet Tree.”

While it is tempting to simply dismiss Santa Sabbath as a silly gag, doing so would rob you of some genuinely great music. I've heard several reinterpretations of/tributes to the mighty Sabbath over the years (the awesome Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath instantly comes to mind), but Santa Sabbath is without question the very best one that's hit my ears. Yes, the lyrics are obviously corny and the holiday theme gets a bit tired after repeated listenings, but you'd have a hard time finding a stronger, more respectful representation of Sabbath's classic music than what Santa Sabbath put down on this EP.

I had the pleasure of hearing a pre-mastered version of this EP last September when I was visiting Ed Colver in LA and he asked John to swing by and play it for me. I was instantly floored by every second of it, but I was especially blown away by John's drumming, which beautifully recreates Bill Ward's often-intricate percussion with jaw-dropping skill.

The Santa Sabbath Kickstarter ends in a couple of days, so check it out and contribute to making this amazing recording a reality. Ho Ho Ho!


Friday, October 30, 2015

Bloody Kisses in Poughkeepsie: Remembering Peter Steele, Lesbian Nuns & The Misfits' Shocking Return

Twenty years ago today (October 30), I experienced one of the craziest and most memorable nights of my life.

There I was, standing in the crowd at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY and watching the new version of The Misfits – Jerry Only, Doyle, Michale Graves and Dr. Chud – hit the stage during an encore at a Type O Negative show to play a handful of classic songs. It was the first time The Misfits had performed in public in over a decade. It was the start of a new era for one of Punk's most celebrated and influential bands, and I got to see it with my own two eyes.

A lot of things led up to their seven or so minutes on stage. Earlier in 1995, Jerry and Doyle launched a lengthy audition process for a new singer and drummer. As previously mentioned here and here, I ended up meeting the guys during this time and soon started filling in on drums pretty regularly at these auditions/rehearsals. By that spring, it was pretty much determined that Michale Graves and Dr. Chud would be the guys for the job. Plans were set to have the band's first show with the new lineup be at Action Park in Vernon, NJ, with yours truly serving as the event's promoter and organizer. This sounded great on paper, but on the day we solidified the date with the venue, Doyle just stood there shaking his head, saying “I'm gonna call him... I'm gonna call him.” Of course, “him” was Glenn Danzig. It turned out that there was still some willingness on the guitarist's part to at least see if something could be worked out for a proper reunion before moving forward. A few weeks later, the guys went to a Danzig/Marilyn Manson/Korn show at (I believe) the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. After the show, Doyle tracked down Glenn's hotel room and went up there to try to talk to him. Before long, Glenn had Doyle removed by security. (I wasn't there that night, but this is the story as it was told to me back then, so I'm sticking to it.) So, yeah, no reunion with Glenn took place. Not too long after that night, Jerry told me that he decided that doing a big show at Action Park would be premature at that early point in their comeback, so we canceled the gig. (I did put on a show with them at Action Park the following year. One of my personal highlights from the evening was singing backups on “We Are 138” on stage alongside Zombie!'s Eric Weiss and – of all people – Bobby Steele.)

With an Action Park show no longer on the table, the real first live appearance from The Misfits 2.0 would be during the encore at the Type O show. Riding up to Poughkeepsie in the van with those guys, I couldn't get over the fact that I was about to witness history like this. On the way, Jerry gave me one of the band's newest t-shirts, which featured the “Jurek Skull” (a variation of the standard Misfits Crimson Ghost). Because this design had yet to be made available to the public, these shirts were worn as “passes” by everyone in The Misfits' entourage that night. Here's mine, which has held up fairly well:

Although we missed openers Lycia and The Electric Hellfire Club, we arrived in time to catch a good chunk of Type O's incredible set. They were simply amazing, delivering flawless (and quite heavy) renditions of tracks like “Too Late: Frozen” and “Christian Woman” (which featured a guest appearance by two young ladies dressed as nuns, who proceeded to make out on stage during the song.) I had been a fan of Type O frontman Peter Steele's earlier band, Carnivore, and had followed Type O's progress since the days they went by the name Repulsion. I was really looking forward to seeing them. They absolutely fucking blew me away.

A few minutes later, the Misfits story changed forever.

With Type O guitarist Kenny Hickey on vocals, The Misfits stormed the stage during the encore, playing “20 Eyes” and “Vampira” before Graves came out and took over for Kenny on “Astro Zombies.”

Then it was all over. I wasn't alive to see The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, but I saw The Misfits' first time on stage in 12 years. (I'm pretty sure Doyle's first wife was there that night as well and filmed the proceedings. I'd kill to see that footage!)

Later that evening, Jerry brought me backstage. The first person I met was a jovial Thomas Thorn of The Electric Hellfire Club, who was quick to share his excitement over hanging out with The Misfits. And quietly slumped over shirtless in a chair on the other side of the room... Peter Steele. After Jerry introduced me to him, Peter handed me the bottle of whiskey he was nursing and said, “Drink!” Happy to oblige, I took the bottle and started chugging. “WHOA!” exclaimed the man in his trademark baritone before taking the bottle back. Following that memorable introduction, we got to chatting. Since I knew that Peter had roots in the New York Hardcore scene (including writing lyrics for Agnostic Front's classic Cause For Alarm album), I mentioned that I had recently been in touch with Raybeez from Warzone to book the band for a hall show I was putting on in New Jersey the following month. Peter's eyes immediately lit up, and he asked me to make sure I told Ray that he said hello the next time I talked to him. Later, I asked Peter to sign the only thing I had on me at the time – the back of one of my business cards for “Joel Gausten Productions,” which was the name I went by when I used to book shows. (I've moved multiple times in the last 20 years; to the best of my knowledge, that card is currently boxed up - along with a bunch of other personal items - in my family's storage place in the Midwest. I really need to get out there one of these days!)

Although some (hell, many) details of this evening are a blur due to the fact that I was drunk as a skunk for most of it, I do recall Peter being incredibly friendly and quick to make me feel welcome. (He even offered me some of the porn that was scattered around the room!) Later that night, I went with The Misfits somewhere to check out a building (a barn?) that they had converted into what looked like a mad scientist horror movie set. I could be wrong, but I think this is where they shot some of footage for the Chiller Theatre/Fiend Club show they were working on around this time. (This is why I no longer drink when I go out. Memories and details are more important to me than hangovers.) Anyway, it was an incredible night, and I'm forever grateful to Jerry for inviting me along for the ride.

A lot has happened to that evening's cast of characters in the last two decades. The Misfits' “reunion” lineup lasted five years before imploding, with Graves spending subsequent years releasing an array of intriguing albums. Doyle, who apparently forgave Danzig for the hotel incident, has been touring with the original Misfits frontman on and off for the past decade or so. Jerry's currently on the road with a new version of The Misfits with his son of guitar, while Chud has maintained a decidedly low profile in recent times (with the release of his limited-edition doll being a notable exception.) Sadly, Raybeez died less than two years after I passed along Peter's well wishes to him.

Of course, the biggest thing that hits me when I look back on this night is the fact that Peter Steele is no longer with us. Twenty years ago, I saw a frontman and band at the absolutely peak of their powers, quickly building a legend that has only grown in relevance with each passing year. It's a shame it all ended so tragically. A lot of been said about Peter, but here's what matters: That guys was fucking brilliant, and he left the building too goddamn soon. (Just listen to “Love You To Death” off October Rust. Only a truly special soul could create something so powerful.)

With Peter's mortality in mind, I'd like to publicly send this message to Jerry and Doyle:


It's been 20 years since The Misfits came back from the dead, and more than 30 years since your last show with Glenn. Time is nobody's friend. Peter's gone. Raybeez is gone. Dave Brockie is gone. We're all going to end up there eventually. You guys and Glenn are still here and breathing. Please, do it before time steals your chance.

Happy Halloween and all the best -



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW - The Blake Babies: Live 5.9.1989

...And with a free memento from decades past, The Blake Babies were reborn.

Anyone who loves and remembers The Blake Babies and the amazing music they produced from 1987 to 1991 (and again from 2001 to 2002) should take the time to check out the Massachusetts band's official spot on Facebook. Last May, the long-dormant page sprung back to life with a message that the group “was going through a bunch of amazing live videos from the '80s for our Pledge/reissue campaign coming later this year.” Since then, a number of intriguing visuals have appeared on the space, ranging from old flyers unearthed by Lemonheads co-founder Ben Deily to photos that tease of treasurers from the vaults. Then, in the third week of October, the band – bassist/singer Juliana Hatfield, guitarist John Strohm and drummer Freda Love Smith – offered up a free download via Noisetrade of a 1989 live set from Emerson College's WERS. The release was preceded by the publication of Smith's memoir/recipe book, Red Velvet Underground, and followed by the band's first interview in more than a decade. Before all of that, Hatfield made plenty of headlines in the first few months of 2015 by delivering the best album released so far this year. While these things have led to an air of excitement around The Blake Babies' unexpectedly active present and hopeful future, Live 5.9.1989 celebrates the band's glorious past.

The WERS recording (often including a brief post-show interview with the band) has been floating around the Internet for a couple of years now, but this is the first time to this writer's knowledge that these live renditions have been made available with The Blake Babies' official stamp of approval. Despite the absence of the band interview, this group-sanctioned version is an intriguing listen from beginning to end. The WERS gig saw the band settling into their best-known, three-piece lineup following temporary flirtations with fourth members including early bassist Seth White (who played on the band's 1987 debut, Nicely, Nicely) and Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando (who added bass and backing vocals to the band's 1989 Slow Learner EP). It also represents a good chunk of music that would turn up later in '89 on Earwig, one of the most perfect albums The Blake Babies – or any other band, for that matter – ever created.

Naturally, any live band stripped down to a trio needs to rely on the actual songs to carry the show. Thankfully, Live 5.9.1989 proves that The Blake Babies' songwriting was up to the challenge. Strohm's guitar shimmers throughout the 11-song set (take a listen to the sterling “Don't Suck My Breath”), while Hatfield and Smith succeed in their less-is-more musical approach. Highlights include the Goth-tinged “Dead And Gone,” an early version of the Sunburn track “Look Away” and a fantastic take on the Earwig highlight “You Don't Give Up.” (By the way, am I the only one who thinks the second half of the song could have sonically fit somewhere on The Cure's Seventeen Seconds?)

Of course, this is a live radio recording of a still-developing band, so listeners should not expect a pristine affair. Smith's tempos often fluctuate, while Hatfield's obvious shyness is matched in many spots by a noticeably shaky voice. But these minor quibbles don't take away from the enjoyment of this collection – a document of a band only months away from releasing one of the finest albums of the 1980s. It's so wonderful to know that this live recording survived. These are truly gorgeous songs; it's a joy to hear them in this preliminary context.

While it is unknown if any of the current buzz surrounding The Blake Babies will materialize into an actual reunion on stage or in the studio, Live 5.9.1989 allows new and old fans alike to experience an exciting era of a band that left us too soon (twice!) and maybe – just maybe – will be sharing their magic with us all again very soon.

The Blake Babies on Facebook


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Steve Mackay: A Tribute

Photo credit:

I had a full evening of projects planned, but when a musician as important as Steve Mackay dies, plans change. As soon as I got in, I put on The Stooges' Have Some Fun: Live At Ungano's. If you've never heard this album, you need to check it out immediately. While everyone in the (then) six-piece band is on fire throughout the recording, Steve Mackay is clearly the star of this show. Years before the great John Zorn began incinerating his sax on stages around the world, Mackay was using the instrument for a similar assault, adding even more fuel to The Stooges' already incendiary machine. Just listen to the guy's playing on “Have Some Fun/My Dream Is Dead.” I can't even put that into words. Nobody can. That's shit you have to FEEL to understand. The man was from somewhere else.

It's hard to take in the reality that we will no longer hear new sounds come from Steve's soul. It's also deeply sad that a player of his history and stature had to have a GoFundMe account launched to help pay off his medical bills. While there is some solace to be found in the fact that many Stooges fans were able to contribute to the fund and give their thanks and support (after all, the man's music is in our collective DNA), the truth remains that humanity has a terrible habit of failing to truly honor and support its living treasures until it's too late. The man should not have had to worry about money. He earned and deserved more than he ever received.

The version of Live At Ungano's that's playing (yet again tonight) in the background as I write this is the vinyl pressing released just a few months ago for Record Store Day. A 45-year-old recording is absolutely peeling the paint off my walls. It's almost TOO good. How many bands hold up that well? And damn...I just realized while listening to these great instrumental parts that those making them -- all five of these cats -- are now gone. I'm sure Iggy realizes that, too. Fucking hell.

But at the same time, it's comforting to know that Steve Mackay went out on top. Two of the best albums of 2014 – James Williamson's Re-Licked and Sonny Vincent & Spite's Spiteful feature his incomparable contributions. Those records wouldn't have been half as amazing without him. And I bet you anything that there will be people picking up Stooges records in 2030, 2050 and beyond and getting their heads blown off by what these men created.

The grooves on those records will never die. The Stooges are immortal. And so is Steve Mackay.

My condolences to those who worked with and loved the man.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW - Killing Joke: Pylon

The greatest band in the world just got better.

When the original four members of the mighty Killing Joke reconvened in 2007 following the passing of long-serving bassist Paul Raven, they immediately rekindled the same spark that ignited the trio of eternally vital albums (1980's self-titled masterpiece, 1981's What's THIS For...! and 1982's Revelations) they produced before the departure of bassist (and future producer extraordinaire) Martin “Youth” Glover ushered in years of fairly regular personnel changes. Although Killing Joke later served as a temporary home to some of the world's most adventurous musicians (powerhouse drummer Martin Atkins, Detroit multi-instrumentalist Troy Gregory and some guy named Dave Grohl immediately come to mind), the combination of Youth, singer/keyboardist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Geordie Walker and drummer Big Paul Ferguson delivers sounds that are truly without peer.

When they are at their best, these four men create music that is meant to be felt – a primitive burst of energy and catharsis that continues to enthrall after more than 35 years. Not only does Pylon prove that this veteran act is still sonically relevant, but the record stands alongside – and often exceeds – the finest moments in the band's decades-spanning discography. Simply put, this is the best album by the original four since their first.

While most of the bands in the 30-40 age range are clearly running on fumes at this point ( or – even worse – hitting the geriatric circuit with only the founding triangle player in tow), Killing Joke have given the world a new album that doesn't let up for a second. Every minute of this thing is molten, anchored by the strongest Youth/Big Paul rhythmic interplay captured on disc since Revelations. Still one of the most innovative human beings to ever pick up a guitar, Walker is the greatest hero of Pylon, delivering perhaps his most evocative performances since the days of Thatcher. (Just listen to the guy's playing on “Dawn Of The Hive,” the Night Time-tinged “New Cold War,” the 2:23 point in “Euphoria” and the could've-been-on-the-1980-album “Autonomous Zone” and “Delete.” The master.) And after giving his toms scant attention on the band's previous two albums (2010's Absolute Dissent and 2012's MMXII), Ferguson finally brings back the classic Killing Joke tribal beat on a number of tracks including “New Jerusalem,” perhaps his most arresting work on record since Fire Dances.

Of course, Killing Joke's greatest power has always been their ability to balance menace with melody. When not delivering his typical cigar-drenched vitriol, Coleman does a fair amount of actual Brighter Than A Thousand Suns-level singing on Pylon, particularly on the soaring “Big Buzz” (which sounds an awful lot like a smoothed-out version of one of the demo songs Geordie had up on Myspace circa 2008) and the closing “Into The Unknown” (a track that will surely appeal to fans of 1986's “Wintergardens”). Naturally, there is also plenty of guttural nastiness to be found here, especially when the Black Jester dons his conspiracy theorist cap on the blistering “I Am The Virus.”

Like any classic album, Pylon grows in strength with each passing listen. With its release, the reformed original Killing Joke have now made as many albums as they did during their initial '79-'82 run. I hope they continue. Even after all this time, this incomparable band still sounds like they're just getting started.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Clearing the Static: Huntress' Jill Janus on Surviving Schizophrenia

Imagine fronting one of the most esteemed and successful new Metal bands around while fighting the ongoing urge to take your own life.

This is the struggle in the heart of Huntress frontwoman Jill Janus. While the past six years have seen the California band gain an international following, Janus has experienced a life fraught with a variety of psychological issues including schizophrenia. At one point, Janus' mental disorders led her to become a topless DJ named “Penelope Tuesdae” and pose nude in the April 2004 issue of Playboy. Even as Huntress' career took off, the Opera singer-turned-Metal priestess still struggled to overcome her inner turmoil. The process of recording the band's recently released third album, Static, saw her overcome various hospitalizations and suicide attempts. Not surprisingly, the album's deeply personal lyrics detail the Hell she went through to simply stay alive during the album's creation. 

Just as Huntress reached the finish line with Static, Janus was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent a hysterectomy. With Static finally completed and awaiting release, Janus revealed all in the August/September issue of Revolver, offering insight into her long-running struggles for the first time. Of course, these revelation left many Huntress fans wondering how the trauma surrounding the band's singer would ultimately impact what they were about to hear on Static. Fortunately, the obstacles that Janus and her bandmates faced only served to intensify their output. Fiery from start to finish, Static is not just the latest album from one of the most powerful bands on the scene today - it is a statement on strength and survival under horrific circumstances. Instead of hiding her battles from the public eye, Janus uses Static to air her journey and stand before the world as nakedly honest as possible. That, dear reader, is fucking Metal.

I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Jill for a frank discussion on the making of Static, the response she received to the Revolver piece and the current state of her mental and physical health. Jill is an extraordinary person, and I wish her peace and strength as she moves her life forward. 

The release of Static follows some very intense revelations from your personal life. Its rare to have someone in the industry be so honest about the things you've opened up about. What kind of feedback have you received from friends, family and fans since words got out about the Revolver interview?

Honesty is something I’ve preached for years. No matter how brutal the truth is, I prefer to have it out there rather than people weaving lies about my life. I’m no stranger to sensationalism, but so far, I’ve received only amazing support from fans and the Metal community.

One of the most admirable things about what you have revealed about yourself is the fact that you are succeeding in a very difficult profession despite having these obstacles. How have your bandmates in Huntress been able to not only understand these issues, but help you through them?

The things I’ve achieved with Huntress, under these very difficult circumstances, would not be possible without the support from my bandmates. When I first began touring in 2012, I was terrified that my band would implode because of my odd behavior. It nearly did fall apart with relentless touring and my drama. But the opportunities kept coming, and I had to learn how to control myself, which I still struggle with. It’s always a challenge, but the vision keeps me going.

On a lighter note, your PledgeMusic video was brilliant. How important is humor to what Huntress does?

There has been so much darkness in my life that the only way to stay alive is with humility. I’m very serious about my career, yet I never take the small stuff to heart. I see the big picture and I want longevity. Huntress likes fun; we’re all having a blast when things are running smoothly. Humor is vital to my existence. I’m not politically correct, which I catch fire for sometimes, but I just do not give a fuck what others think of me.

Considering that you are a trained Opera singer, why does singing heavier music with Huntress appeal to you as a career choice?

I’m a very versatile vocalist and I love expanding my abilities. Growing up with bipolar disorder came with violent and aggressive behavior. I spent years fighting with directors and actors, always wanting to run my own show. I was a nightmare, quite the little diva with a massive ego because I had a rare four-octave range by the age of 13. I’m a coloratura soprano. Metal was so appealing to me because the aggression and interesting compositions made my brain calm. Black metal is the most soothing music to me. Metal saved my life. 

Of all the songs on the album, why was “Static” the one that ultimately became the album title?

'Static' was the first song idea. I wrote it in a rest stop bathroom on tour. All three Huntress albums start with an “S,” which I had planned since signing with Napalm Records. The triple S. It all ties in with numerology and reveals instructions to the Stargate. 'Static' represents the world being controlled by a monster who exists within electricity. Eating up brains, turning you into a Zombie of the Noise, thriving off mediocrity. Kinda like the state of humanity today.

Which song on the album was the most cathartic for you to write? Which track was the most difficult to create in terms of expressing what you wanted to with your lyrics?

'Mania' was probably the most cathartic. It’s inspired by my intense bipolar mania, which nearly killed the band. This particular disorder has affected [guitarist] Blake Meahl the most. He’s the closest to me and has pulled me out of the deepest, darkness caves of my insanity. I wrote it for him, really.

It's clear that music has helped you overcome some of the issues you experience in your private life. What are some other ways you are able to find peace when things become difficult?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great tool, getting me out of potentially bad situations before they start. I’m also medicated. Some people try to avoid meds, but I have no other choice. I will be on psychiatric medication for the rest of my life. Luckily, it’s finally stabilized me after 20 years of trying.

What advice would you offer someone – especially a younger listener – who might be facing or acknowledging his or her own mental issues for the first time?

I’m not one to give advice; I’m still figuring it out! But one thing that is vital to my existence is sobriety. I am a raging lunatic if I drink or abuse substances. I have come close to being arrested, and drinking has caused me to be placed on 5150 holds in county psych wards. However, I’m not a purist because I do smoke marijuana to ease acute anxiety and drink the occasional shot of  Jägermeister, the only liquor I will ever enjoy again. Huntress is partnered with Jäger Music for a reason. It’s not only a great sponsorship; I find a shot of Jäger medicinal after a show. I found out what works for me, but I know many people with duel diagnoses like alcoholism and mental illness, and the only thing that works is strict sobriety. 

Your past as “Penelope Tuesdae” has been covered quite a bit in the music press in recent years – with some of it being rather condescending and sexist. How do you respond to those Metal fans who might negatively judge this era of your life and pass Huntress over as a result?

I don’t respond to them ever! I keep my goals away from trolls. Sensationalism has always followed me. I chose to share very personal struggles when we completed the third album, Static. I have calculated my moves since the beginning of Huntress, all of the albums leading to the absolute truth. Penelope Tuesdae became another identity - not a persona, an identity that replaced me for years living in New York City. She made choices I never would have, the most brutal is coming out of a manic state to discover I had breast implants. I don’t remember the surgery, payment, nothing that had happened a month earlier. I did have friends looking after me; I call them 'keepers' who remember details, but I’m uncontrollable when I want something. My family took me home; I spent time in Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY. I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder [DID] and schizoaffective disorder, which developed into schizophrenia. I’m an uncommon success story; I’ve survived with no health insurance for most of my life in the worst possible mental states. But music has always brought me back to sanity, even if it’s fleeting.

As a result of your recent Revolver interview, it is possible that fans will be paying greater attention to your lyrics than ever before. Ultimately, what is the message or vibe that you most want listeners to walk away with after listening to Static and experiencing your words?

Every album in the Huntress Trilogy, the first three albums on Napalm Records, represent three phases of the Triple Goddess – Maiden, Mother, Crone. I waited until the Crone phase, representing wisdom and death, to unleash all these very personal things. I was possessed by this nasty, evil cunt who was a version of the Crone; I had violent, terrible mood swings and hallucinations writing Static. I was hospitalized at least three times during the process and attempted suicide twice. Blake literally saved my life. Then, on the final day of recording vocals, the Crone left my body, but within my womb she left her disease. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 uterine cancer during the recording of Static; the lyrics hold so much of my anguish. I was often crying in the vocal booth. It was brutal. I delayed surgery and had a hysterectomy on June 29. I’m now cancer-free. The vultures can wait.

*Some portions of the above interview were edited for clarity. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Official Huntress Website

Huntress at Napalm Records

Huntress on Facebook 


Inside My Record Collection: Part 3

A lot of friends have asked me to do music-related videos on YouTube, especially regarding my personal music collection. Here is the third in a series where I go through some items of personal significance in my collection. (PS: Sorry, this was filmed were the others in this series. Oh well, a lesson learned for the future.) Discussed in Part 3 of this video: GITANE DEMONE, CHRISTIAN DEATH, THE SLAVES, A FISTFUL OF ROCK 'N' ROLL VOL. 4.


Inside My Record Collection: Part 2

A lot of friends have asked me to do music-related videos on YouTube, especially regarding my personal music collection. Here is the second in a series where I go through some items of personal significance in my collection. (PS: Sorry, this was filmed were the others in this series. Oh well, a lesson learned for the future.) Discussed in Part 2 of this video:  MISFITS, 100 FLOWERS, SUPER HEROINES, SACCHARINE TRUST, POMPEII 99.