Monday, October 11, 2010


Philadelphia's Mose Giganticus has been getting a lot of publicity lately for a variety of reasons. First, vocalist/keyboardist, Matt Garfield (the only permanent member of the band) plays the keytar, which is awesome. Second, he tours the country in a van fueled by vegetable oil that he and a few friends converted from gasoline, which is really awesome. Also, he's been known to fund his tours by participating in medical research experiments, which is both awesome and creepy, but still pretty awesome. And Gift Horse, the bands' recently released second full length and Relapse Records debut, which explores the correlations between God and Satan and the inherent flaws in Christianity, is quietly being hailed as one of the most impressive releases of the year in metal circles, which is awesome as well. So things are going great for Mose Giganticus, which is, of course, awesome as well. But...
Am I the only one that sees something slightly, I don't know, apocalyptic about the idea of a keytar wielding bearded metal dude driving around the country hopped up on experimental medicine in a van fueled by discarded french fry goo, singing songs about one of the oldest problems in western civilization to a bunch of teenagers and college kids? It's like some strange relative of Hunter Thompson, Charles Manson, and David Foreman escaped from whatever attic he was being held prisoner in and decided to travel the world spreading the strange, sweaty gospel he'd cooked up while living on the scraps of food his CIA captors would allow. This is the guy your parents should have warned you about - the guy that kept them awake late at night worrying that you'd meet him in some slimey bar once they'd sent you off with all of that college money they'd been saving since you popped out of mommy's belly, and then you'd drop out of business school, start studying the history of Inuit art, develop rampant addictions to heroin, meth, and sex, and worst of all start voting democrat, or even worse for Ralph fucking Nadar or socialists like Obama. This is the guy you're supposed to run from when you see him, the guy you're supposed to avoid at all costs, the reasons cans of mace and home intruder alarms exist...
Which is exactly why I expect to see all of you this Sunday when Garfield brings the socially brutal sonic assault that is Mose Giganticus to The Boobie Trap in Topeka. Luckily we were able to distract Garfield from all of his corrupting of the youth for a few moments to answer a few questions...

The Point: You' re on tour down south right now right? How's that going?

Matt Garfield: Things have been going rather well this year. We've been touring since May and, yes, we're making our first pass through the south right now. We're in Texas heading north to Kansas, then we'll be hanging a right and heading east-bound and down on our way to "The Fest 9" in Gainesville, FL, our second pass through the south. We normally tour in "IZ", our tour bus powered on recycled waste vegetable oil, but IZ is getting some repairs done at the moment, so we're touring in a newly acquired "spare" tour van this time around.

Can you give me a short history of Mose Giganticus? How the band came about?

Mose Giganticus is and always has been my personal project. I started this in 1999 as a solo project, but didn't write anything recognizable as the "Mose Giganticus of today" until about 2005- which eventually became my first record, The Invisible Hand. Once that CD was out, I started touring as a solo act across the country. By 2008, I had brought on a backing band to expand the live sound of Mose Giganticus and released my next EP, Commander!. I booked us an 8-month tour to Alaska and back and put together our vegetable oil powered bus to make the trip in. That tour was amazing, but it took a lot out of me physically, mentally, and financially. In 2009 I started writing and recording my next album, Gift Horse, but the year was marred by a series of unfortunate events such as multiple catastrophic vehicle failures, canceled tours, and financial desperation. It almost knocked the wind out of my sails completely. But, by the end of 2009, I was in talks with Relapse Records over the songs I had recorded for Gift Horse and 2010 has been a complete turn around. We released Gift Horse on Relapse in July and we've been on tour since May, so things are back on track.

Regarding the new album "Gift Horse". You've described it as concept album about the Christian notions of God and Satan, but i've also read that you're an Athiest. How does that perspective help to inform an exploration of Christianity?

Yes, both of those statements are true. Gift Horse is a concept album about the ageless struggle between the mythological figures of the Christian old testament God and the fallen angel Lucifer. Its an amalgam of biblical interpretations, mainstream pop-culture beliefs, and a bit of my own interpretation of how the argument between these two deities may transpire. Being an atheist, the story told is not religious in it's approach. I was raised Catholic and spend 12 years in Catholic school, but started questioning and stopped believing as soon as I was old enough to know better. Not being fettered by the beliefs associated with this subject matter left me free to explore the characters and their interactions without bias. I find the story and religious mythology surrounding the Battle of Armageddon to be fascinating. I'm a sucker for an "end-of-the-world" story.

I read or heard an interview with you in which you said something to the effect of "Every album I do is a concept record and probably always will be. It's just how i work." Why is that?

As most artists might say, I work best when I'm inspired. From time to time, I become consumed with fascination over certain topics. I like to approach each album as a complete packaged idea- music, art, lyrics- all contributing to the overall concept. I wouldn't know how to work with a mish-mash of different ideas for each song. It would feel disjointed and unfocused and would make it difficult for me to gain momentum. Maybe it's an obsessive fault of mine that I can't divert my attention to more than one topic per album? Maybe that will change over time? But for now, concept albums seem to work best for me and I don't intend to change that soon. So for now, I'm in search of the next topic of inspiration to explore for the next album.

The sound of Mose Giganticus seems to have grown heavier over time, and especially with 'Gift Horse'. Is that something that you've consciously pursued or is it just an natural evolutionary thing (or am i full of shit altogether?).

Ha ha, no, you're certainly not full of shit! There has definitely been a sonic progression towards the heavy-side. It's come about through the evolution of my personal musical taste and how I've been able to adapt the resources of Mose Giganticus, as in my personal abilities. I've enjoyed the challenge of working keyboard and vocoder into heavy music in a way that I felt contributed to the overall sound rather than distracted from it. On the last EP, Commander!, I wanted to try to write a heavy, doomy song and the track "Days of Yore" came out of that. I really liked the way the setup of Mose Giganticus (keyboard, vocoder, electronics) lent itself to that style, so with Gift Horse I wanted to further explore that writing style expanded into a full album.

What effect has working with relapse had on your songwriting?

Well, so far, working with Relapse has had very little effect on my song writing because I wrote all of "Gift Horse" before I was involved with Relapse at all. However, Relapse has certainly influenced my song writing through it's previous signees. Relapse has maintained an impressive roster of heavy bands over the years and it'd be silly to think that almost anyone writing heavy music today could be completely outside of their influence. When Relapse heard the first version of Gift Horse that I had recorded, we began talks of a partnership and I'm sure the influence of bands such as Mastodon, Baroness, and Neurosis were apparent to them.

What can people expect from a mose giganticus live show?

Mose Giganticus comes from a long history of DIY touring. We bring that ethos to the show every night. I squeeze out everything I have in me at our shows. Each show starts loud and heavy, and ends with me standing in a puddle of sweat and a coarse rasp of a voice left in me. I've been told on more than one occasion that as heavy as we sound on Gift Horse, it does no justice to our live set.

Mose Giganticus will be appearing at The Boobie Trap, 1417 Sw 6th, in Topeka on Sunday, Oct 17, 2010. (Photo credits: Jana Miller, Geoff Hall)

More Info:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I know it’s weak to start with a quote, but after struggling through the smarmy world of rock music criticism (and the even smarmier world of rock music "journalism") I’ve come to relish the rare moment when a band actually has something interesting to say.

“There’s all these young kids in their twenties and thirties trying to be Nickelback. Let Nickelback be Nickelback and be yourself. Because if you’re trying to chase after a fashion you’re gonna be running forever.”

That quote comes from Brian (No Last Name), guitraist for Backlash. It’s a simple logic, but it is one which has fueled the history of rock and roll, inspiring young aritists and visionaries, igniting revolutions in sound and emotion from Elvis to John Lennon, to Iggy Pop, to Sid Vicious, to Kurt Cobain and beyond. The band is always different (Nickelback is only the latest best example) but the sentiment remains the same. Be yourself, play what you like, follow your own vision – be yourself. It’s that feeling that has kept rock and roll from suffocating itself all these years, kept it moving forward (however slowly), and, incidentally, kept people like me from getting real jobs.

Backlash is a Topeka band. Like every other band that’s ever formed in this city, they’re not visionary and they’re not revolutionary, but they’re about as rock and roll as they come. The band was born in North Topeka bars in the early 1990s, at a time when original music in Kansas seemed to be taking off. Lawrence had an active scene, (Paw and Stick had signed to major labels and were on MTV) and Manhattan was making a little noise (Truck Stop Love), but Topeka, though only a stone’s throw from the scummy trails record executives were leaving in Lawrence, was off the map. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t bands here.

“We never played Lawrence in the early days,” says Shawn Ames, guitarist and vocalist for Backlash.

“We were stuck down in North Topeka for years and years. We started as a country band and then realized we could play old rock and roll and still play in country bars. And that was the only way I was able to survive.”

The band survived for years as a cover band regularly playing spots like The Twilighter and other notorious North Topeka honky-tonks.

“At the time it was pool cues and brass knuckles,” says Ames.

“College Hill still existed,” says Brian (no last name tendered), the bands’ guitarist. “If you could dodge a bullet.”

“It was either new country or old rock,” Ames continues. “I got tired of
playing “Achy Breaky Heart” twenty times a night so I was like ‘Come on let’s play some old rock – it’ll be fun!’ And then it just kind of blossomed. We did that from 1993 to 1997 and then one of the members died and it fell into my lap and I just ran with it. Whatever happened is my fault.”

(Left, Shawn Ames)

“Progressively it went from oldies rock to 60s rock, to 60s and 70s rock, up to harder and heavier rock up to whatever the hell we feel like playing,” says Brian.

Today the band has repertoire of over three hundred songs, including covers and originals to choose from, but while, as Ames says, covers are “the bread and butter”, it is the original works that are the main attraction. Hopefully.

“We did our first record in 2003,” says Ames. “I’d always been writing songs before that but we just thought that we had the chance to bump it up to the next level.”

“When I first started writing songs for the band Shawn kept telling me ‘Keep it simple. Keep it simple and stupid,” says Brian. “And I was like ‘This is simple’. And he’d say “Keep it SIMPLE.”

“He would come up with all these glorious riffs and all these lines tacked into these small sections,” laughs Ames. “And I said, look, we get drunk a lot and we play and I gotta be able to teach the guys that come through the revolving door how to play it so keep it simple.”

Their first album, Dressed For Success, was recorded in one day in 2003, and three albums have followed since, culminating in 2009’s self-titled release, which, among their fans, has been the band’s most controversial.

“I knew people were gonna look at it and go, ‘Okay it’s the record without Danny’,” Ames continues. “But we managed to finish it and it all sounds like Backlash.”

“Danny” is Danny Tallent, an incredibly gifted bassist from Oneida, KS who worked with the band from 2006-2008. Tragically, Tallent was injured in a car accident (which took the life of his wife Ashley Tallent) in 2008, and is no longer able to work with the band. Tragedy is nothing new to Backlash – it’s part and parcel of the band, an integral part of understanding where the band comes from these days. In addition to the injury to Tallent and the death of his wife (to whom the band dedicated it’s last record) the band has had to deal with the death of two original members (bassist Steve Miller and guitarist Larry Torneden) and several close friends.

In many ways, the band’s struggle with tragedy is summed up in the chorus of the song “Everything Changes”, the fifth track from Backlash:

“Everything changes,

Nothing stays the same,

Build your empire on shifting sands,

And pray it never rains.

It all seems so familiar,

But at the same time so strange.

Everything changes,

Nothing stays the same.”

“What happens with this band is it gets to a point where it peaks, then somebody dies and you go all the way back to peg one,” says Ames. “Then you go and you peak, then someone dies, then you go back to peg one. That’s why it’s been eighteen years this year in the same band playing the same music.”

But, to alter the proverb, the more things stay the same, the more they change. In addition to numerous lineup changes, Backlash has also experienced a change in songwriting, shifting from their classic, straight ahead, badass rocker sound to a more accomplished, even thoughtful approach.

“The biggest problem we had with the last record is we’d really grown up as far as songwriting goes,” Ames continues. “[The last] record was completely different than the first three. The first record was like three minutes – ‘I’m gonna fuck this girl, I’m gonna drink this beer, I’m gonna drive this car’. This last one there moments where there’s a little Dark Side of the Moon. There’s Beatles elements. It goes from quite to loud without being bombastic. We’ve grown up.

“I got into an argument with someone the other day about how we lost our fan base because of the way we sound now. We just grew up, man… It’s like ‘Wow you’ve got acoustic guitar, you’ve got piano, you’ve got symphony, and the arrangements - you know we’re not just talking about pussy and beer.”

“There’s only one band that can get away with recording the same album over and over again and that’s AC/DC”, adds Brian. “I wish we had that magic where we could just record the same album over and over again”

(Right: Brian performing at Truckhenge)

“It’s like pulling teeth to write a song like ‘Bad Monster’ (track one from Dressed for Success) these days because I’m in a whole different world,” says Ames. “Our second record was basically our rebuttal to The Eyes of Alice Cooper. We were both floored by that record. The second record sounds just like it. For me it’s hard to write that stuff now because it’s so freaking simple.”

And keeping it simple is not something that Backlash seems to be interested in these days. Inside the band, the songwriting responsibilities are shared by Ames and Brian, and drummer Ron Prothe, all of whom have different influences.

(Above: Drummer Ron Prothe)

“Between the two of us our biggest influences would be the glam scene,” says Ames. “We both grew up on Alice Cooper. But where we split is he’s more Motorhead, punk rock era, where mine is going off into Genesis, Marillion, proggy stuff.”

Melding those two influences, which essentially come down to the minimalist punk ethos of less is more, and the prog philosophy of more is not nearly enough, is far from an easy task And keep in mind, after 18 years most bands, regardless of their level of success, rarely “grow” or evolve. For the most part they remain stagnant, rehashing the same shit, playing their greatest hits, reworking their most popular songs, or releasing half-assed crap every few years just to make an excuse to tour (anyone hear the last Neil Young album?). It’s just a paycheck to most bands at that point, and the vast majority of fans are too blind or too drunk to care that they’re being hustled. It is to Backlash’s credit that as fan bases dwindle and venues disappear throughout not only Topeka, but Kansas and the rest of the nation, the band has chosen to continue to grow artistically rather than stick to what fans expect, or even demand.

“It’s a wicked edged sword,” says Ames. “People expect three or four songs on there to be what you’d expect to hear. Fans come and go. I don’t think a lot of the fans realize that we’ve grown up and that things happen with a band that makes everything different. It’s like Brian’s always says, you change a band member, it brings in a whole other crowd of people who’ve come in at chapter 16.

“My days of playing tribute music are just…,” Ames trails off, as if reticent to continue. “You know, I’ve been fucking playing “Sweet Home Alabama” for 18 years every fucking night. It’s a four headed monster because there’s Backlash that plays covers. There’s Backlash that plays its original material. Backlash that does the Pink Floyd show. And then, when we’re fronted by JD Nash we’re JD Nash and Red Circle, and that’s countrified, southern hippie, Indian relations rock. So it’s got four different heads on it. We’re not just pigeonholed into one thing. One night we’ll be with JD Nash, the next night we’ll do covers, and the next night we’ll play The Boobie Trap and do our own material. We cover all the bases, but still we’re like the most loved hated band ever.”

In 2008 the band embarked on their most ambitious project to date – a faithful reproduction of the touring version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, complete with the infamous construction of The Wall between the audience and the band.

“The owner of a local bar had an idea to draw people into his bar by having bands do tribute shows,” says Brian. “We were asked to do an Alice Cooper tribute… [But] we decided to joke around, do a Spinal Tap thing and I said ‘I know, we’ll do The Wall and put shoeboxes in front of the stage so it’s sort of a Spinal Tap version of The Wall!”

“We thought it’d be funny to take the biggest arena show you could think of and put it on this little postage stamp,” laughs Ames.

“And then people wanted to pay to see it so we went from shoeboxes to actual bricks,” says Brian.

(Above: The Culmination of 'The Wall')

“[It’s a] hell of a live show,” says Ames. “It’s about as close to Floyd as you’re gonna get because we’ve stayed really true to the show. All the elements we create from scratch. There are only two elements in that show we’ve actually pulled from the album, but everything else, like all the symphony stuff that you hear in “The Trial” I had to create from a keyboard. Took me about six months because I’m not a trained pianist at all – I’m not a trained anything!”

Despite the occasional technical problem (“Fewer than Pink Floyd”, Ames insists, laughingly), and the general apathy of Topeka audiences, the show has been a success.

“That’s been the funnest thing in the last couple of years because for one, and I’ll say this egotistically, nobody else is doing it,” says Ames. “And it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s a hard album to do. But we’ve got it mastered down to a science. So it’s all pieces and bits, it’s all timing and when it all works together, you can’t beat it.”

And as the band continues to grow and explore new areas of songwriting it’s hard to say that their best work isn’t ahead of them. A summer full of shows looms on the horizon and they’re kicking around the idea of recording a new album.

“I’d like to do another album, because I think our best work is ahead,” says Ames. Or at least a good shot at it. There’s really not a showcase venue around here except The Boobie Trap. Times are really tough around here but they’ve always been like that. So if we do something that’s bombastic and fantastic and it’s the best album anybody’s ever heard besides Kansas that’s come out of here, nobody will ever hear it because we don’t get a chance to play it.”

“My whole goal since I’ve been with Backlash is to create a definitive sound so people say “That’s backlash” whether that sound sucks or not,” says Brian.

“And that’s how we’ve been able to survive like a bad cockroach is we adapt,” adds Ames. “We never practice, at all – it’s like pulling teeth to get us into the same room with each other so everything is always done on the fly and some people dig it and some don’t. That’s the only way I think to play music.”

Backlash will be playing July 17th at The Jolly Troll in Holton. Find them on the web at:

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Too cheap to buy
music? Too afriad to steal it? Check out these artists that offer their stuff for
free online...

We're Late For Class, A Hundred on the Hyena, Self Released, 2010
We're Late for Class is a Massachusets based, drug fueled, prog-jazz acid fusion getup that has released over forty seven albums in just a few years. They are signed to no label, have a rotating cast of twelve contributors, and give all of their music away for free on their website. Here's how the band describes their stuff:
'You’re invited to experience something the remainder of the planet will never, ever hear. Something that, by all rights, shouldn't even exist... (We are) Noisemakers who don’t want your money. Improvisers with no ulterior motive for fame. Layabouts lacking the secret desire for padded riders filled with quarts of Jack, spare tube socks and roast beef heavy backstage deli trays A gang of pot smoking, acid dropping, ecstasy driven misfits who do this just because we do." - Coop

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, The Wonder Show of the World, Domino, 2010
This may sound corny, but I still remember the first time I heard Will Oldham. It was one of those life affirming moments that just stick with you and I'm not embrassed to say that it changed the way I thought about not only music but humanity and the world itself. In some small way it made me a better person, and while I may be a total shit, there is a part of me hanging in some basement somewhere that is still decent enough to sit through a whole Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album without getting cynical.
But no one ever calls him on his shit, and there's this general reverential air about him whenever he so much as opens his mouth that is dangerous. Some of the things Oldham has done are downright stupid, such as the time he, Will Oldham, re-recorded the music he made under the moniker Palace, under his current name Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, the most self-indulgent and narcisstic moment of the 2000s. A moment a lot of ciritics (well, me, really) sort of gave up on the idea of indie rock as a living-breathing form of music. Oldham's work has always been more about the image - the backwoods Appalachian outsider artist that never lived in in the mountains and has been commercially and critcally embraced since his debut - than the actual music.
But Oldham has a way of redeeming himself with each transgression that's impossibly endearing. Wonder Show, his sixteenth release, bears witness to Oldham's slow rebirth as the quiet arbiter of antebellum wisdom and bromantically bearded harmonizing ala Fleet Foxes that's so fashionable these days. The opening track "Troublesome Houses" is a simple, folksy acoustic ballad that wouldn't seem out of place on a Crosby, Stills, and Nash meets James Taylor concept album. As would the collossal "The Sounds are Always Begging" - a plaintive ballad about the destruction of a family and the protective recluse that is music.
At times Oldham wheedles into the abstract lo-fi compositions that have plagued his work in the past. "Where Wind Blows" and "With Cornstalks Among Them" find the harmony and grace of the above tracks dissolving into spontaneous warblings that blur the lines between gospel majesty and indie rock in a way that is surprisingly workable yet somewhat unfinished, like a project or experiement instead of a fully formed song. Oldham's distinctive voice mixes well with that of Emmett Kelly (of the Cairo Gang, Oldham's backing band on this record), unlocking harmonic points that thread together with a lonely precision that's both pathetic and remote, glorious and unheard of in their own way - the essence of a great Oldham work. Highly reccommended for fans and newcomers alike.

On the Obovoid and other Places of Interest

A major part of my job here is to link you guys and girls up with great deals around town. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I've recently had the good fortune of getting my old job at the much ballyhooed (at least in these pages) Murphy's Liquor Exchange, so I'll no longer be able to freely expound upon how great that store is, so you'll be hearing a lot more about the rest of the great deals around Topeka, Lawrence, etc, in these pages from here on out because I don't plan on leaving Murphy's for a loooong time. And, all of you who've emailed me have an open invitation to come there between the hours of 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday and talk beer (or whatever) with me. I'll be the guy trying to look busy.
And that's a good thing. Sean Murphy, who owns Murphy's, knows his shit - he knows and respects good beer and, like all great connoisseurs, opts for quality over quantity, emphasizing how good a bottle or a six pack is over it's name brand. But there are a lot of places around town that simply have no idea what their doing - managers and owners who either order everything just because they can or who stock something because a salesman gives them a good deal. And that's where I come in. It may take a bit of time, but eventually even the most stern-fisted 25% markup asshole will come around to the 'just get rid of it state of mind', and relegate some great treasures into the dusty markdown bins of their stores. This is gonna be fun...
Listen. Obovoid. Grattidge Liquors is a small store on the east side, located in the CaliforniaCrossing shopping center at 29th and California. It isn't a 'destination' store, but offers a nice selection of somewhat crafty sort of stuff. A small cooler of mishap, really, some Sam, some Flying Dog, some of that ridiculous Ed Hardy stuff, nothing Indiana Jones about the place. No risk taking. It has a great location, on the way to the lake, so if you're headed out to Shawnee for an afternoon or some lame party, rather than resorting to the paltry selection at The Dock, that horrid place, you should check out Grattidge. They sell a limited amount of singles (located in a cooler at the end of the wine), most out of season (but not outdated) stuff that doesn't seem to have been mistreated or abused at all. I've recently purchased several winter brews there that tasted just fine. The best buys are by the register, which is where they put the stuff they've seemingly given up on. Currently several bottles of those wonderful St Peters brews are gathering dust for under 5$, but the most intriguing find is the numerous bombers of Obovoid nestled amongst the forgotten stuff for $2.99 - this is surely a find worth mentioning.
I've been looking for a reason to write about Obovoid since it was released back in 2008. If you've never tasted or even heard about the Void here's some background. It's an oak-aged oatmeal stout clocking in at 40 IBUs and 8% ABV in a 22 oz bottle (there are six packs out there somewhere that list the ABV at 6.8%, I've read reviews but never seen them anywhere). It's brewed by the Boulder Beer Company in (duh) Boulder, CO and began as a release in their vaunted "Looking Glass" series, the progenitor of such memorable brews as Mojo Rising, but has become their fall seasonal, though it's rarely seen in Topeka for whatever reason.
Regularly priced in the $6-$8 range at $2.99 the Obovoid is an absolute steal. It's a complex beer, a bit intimidating in appearance, but surprisingly smooth in execution. Pours jet black with a head of nearly the same color which subsides quickly leaving a beautiful graffiti of lacing on the glass. A lot of oat-stouts can be overwhelming, too robust to enjoy, almost like eating a sandwich. The Void resists this temptation, though it definitely approaches the precipice and you can tell that the masters at Boulder, who've been making craft beer since 1979, held back, opting to make a beer you'd rather drink than talk about, my favorite kind.
Speaking of good deals, I hate being the harbinger of bad news but if you're expecting one
on the new 30th anniversary stuff from Sierra Nevada, you're going to be in for a terrible surprise.
They're being offered to stores in the Topeka area in absurdly limited quantities. From what I've
heard the north east quadrant of the state is allocated only four cases. One salesman I spoke to
(well, eavesdropped on, actually) had only four bottles to offer his clients. Take away at least a
case for the inevitable store owner confiscation of a bottle or two and I estimate only about thirty
six people in our area will be lucky enough to buy one of these babies. Hopefully some of you will
Oh, yeah, and the asking price? It'll probably be around $15-17 bucks for a bottle, which pretty much counts me out unless someone from the SN camp wants to toss a 'donation' my way (and, really, I'd take a few ounces delivered via USPS in a sippy cup, I'm not picky). If you haven't heard about it then, not only are you shopping at the wrong store, but be prepared to be blown away: it's a collaboration between Ken Grossman (of SN) and Fritz Maytag (of Anchor). It's a monster, snifter appropriate stout, that weighs in at 9,2% ABV. Early reviews have been excellent, receiving an A- from Beer Advocate reviewers, though you'd have to think that at least some of that is due to the enthusiasm surrounding this release.
The one bit of good news surrounding this whole release is that it is a series. There will be four releases all together, all collaborations between pioneering brewers like Charlie Papazian and Jack Mcauliff, with the exception of the final release, an oak-aged blend of Bigfoot, Celebration, and Pale Ale that is perhaps the most mouthwatering concoction I've ever heard of. This is the one I'm saving my money for (I've stepped up my use of the curse words at home specifically so I can put change into the 'swear jar") - and I don't think I'd be out of line or premature in crowning this monster 'Beer of the Decade' this early in the going. Even if it lives up to 5% of the hype it's going to receive (it won't be released until October, so we probably won't sniff any of it until late November round these parts) it'll be an amazing achievement, setting the standard for the rest of the decades.
That's about all I got right now. With the warmer weather these days, brewpub road trips seem imminent so be on the lookout for me if you're behind the bar at Hank is Wiser or LB Brewing since you're tops on my list of places to visit. I'd also love to do a story on a local home brewer, not only for the opportunity to try your beer and bullshit about beer but I know dick about home brewing (except for the fact that I SUCK at it) so it would be nice to learn a thing or two. And again, you're all welcome to stop by Murphy's and shoot the shit about all stuff beery, or the Royals if you're so inclined. As always, drink safe, drink smart, drink well and share. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blast from the Past #1 - PUKE-O-RAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Fast, loud, and retarded."
That's how Jeremy Yoho describes the sound of the band he used to front, Topeka metal-punk misfits, Puke-O-Rama and, looking back, that's probably the most accurate description possible. Raucous, beligerant, and staunchly anti-social, the band formed in the mid-90s as a trio, the brainchild of guitarist/songwriter Seth Coulter who wrote songs about worshipping Satan, rioting against the cops, hating the fire department... All normal teenage stuff. Yoho was brought in later as a vocalist and the band gave several memorable performances in basements and abandoned houses in and around Topeka/Lawrence.
"Everyone in the band but me was really pretty talented," Yoho recalls.
Blurring the lines between metal and punk was the bands calling card. They mixed grindcore and melody, chaos and collision with tight riffs, and lyrically lambasted everything from love to music, even offering dance advice to listeners.
"Don't do the pogo / When you're jumping up and down / If you do the pogo /I'll knock you on the ground," sang Yoho in the appropriately named party classic "Don't Do the Pogo".
Unfortunately, Puke-O-Rama never amounted to much. The band recorded a split demo with fellow Topeka punks Count Zero in 1995 and Yoho left the band soon after. The remaining members continued on as a trio for a bit before disbanding in the late 90s. Yoho joined the army last year.
"I spend 50% of my time sitting on a mountaintop in Egypt," he says. "Sounds mystical - but it really isn't. The air's thin and it gets mighty cold at night. Presently, I'm sitting in my federally sanctioned bedroom a little bit closer to civilization and I just woke up with a wicked hangover. I don't really drink anymore though, at least not much, so I don't know how that happened."
Puke-O-Rama's legacy, however, is undeniable.
"I heard a guitar riff on the new Metallica album that was exactly the same as one that Seth used," Yoho says. "Not kidding. I'd accuse them of ripping us off if I didn't know that there is no way in hell they've ever subjected themselves to our demo."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Brew News - Spring, 2010

There are a few things that all of my drinking buddies know about me. First, I practically had to rush home and change my pants when I noticed that thirty packs of Iron City cans had arrived at my favorite store (Murphy's, 29th and Topeka). The moment I saw them my mouth began to water with visions of hours of lakeside drinking unhindered by clumsily hiding bottles at the sound of a park ranger's truck. I'm not saying IC is the nectar of the gods, but it's a huge step up from the High Life I'm usually forced to drag with me to the lake, or the occasional dusty case of Yuengling I track down if I'm out of town.
Another thing my friends know is this: I ain't no hophead. Never been one. I've tried. Hell, I've even faked it, to no avail. It's just something about my pallette: almost every high IBU concoction I bring to my lips turns out to be a mistake, and the gnarly shape I somehow contort my face into after the first drink is (I'm told as I've never seen it) both comical and terrifying - an otherworldly cross between the Elephant Man and Jim Carey that defies logical explanation and is worthy of National Enquirer consideration. I've always defended myself by saying things like "I don't put flowers on my steak, why would I want them in my beer?", and "I'll take a Heather Ale over an Imperial IPA anyday", which is ludicrous and untrue. To me, hops are the meat of a beer, the part a patron can really sink their teeth into, and an overly hopped brew is like a steak or slab that's been burned beyond recognition, one dimensional and bland.
That said, I still get excited whenever a new huge IPA hits theshelves, and, though reluctantly, I'll usually end up buying it, dragging it home and forcing myself through it in the hopes of being pleasently surprised. I like being pleasently surprised. It's pleasent. And so, predictably, on my last run to the store I nabbed a few singles that looked promising and sat down determined to approach them with an open mind. Here we go...

Ranger India Pale Ale, New Belgium Brewing Compnay, Fort Collins, CO

Honestly, you could see this coming a few years ago when New Belgium released the Mighty Arrow Pale Ale in their sampler 12 pack. It was obvious that they were testing the water for something new and you could tell that a simple pale ale, while good, wasn't their ultimate goal. The funny thing is, I spoke to a very nice representative at New Belgium about the Mighty Arrow at the time of it's initial release and she told me very enthusiastically that it was "The big one, a whopping 35 IBUs!" which, at the time was quite high for NB. After all, I got a little pissed when they drastically raised their prices during the hop shortage a few years ago because Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat aren't exactlyhyper hopped brews, so what gives? But bygones are bygones and I dropped my ill-advised boycott of NB a while ago and I'm glad I did, otherwise I would have missed out on Ranger.

At 70 IBUs and 6.5% ABV Ranger is pretty ambitious for an American Belgian style brewery, particularly one as high profile as NB. Ommegang has nothing like it. Even Boulevard's Single Wide is only 59 BUs, so Ranger seems like a great leap forward. It's like if Anheuser Busch came out with some sort of slightly hoppy ale or dumped a bunch of lime juice into Bud Light.... Oh, yeah, nevermind.

I fell in love with Ranger pretty quickly after pouring it into my trusty Old Style mug. It's a beautiful looking beer, strongly copper in color and sporting a fluffy pillow of tasty foam that laces the glass with crinoline etchings of delicious residue as the beer sinks sip by sip. It's incredibly drinkable, and while the hop presence dominates the smell and taste of the beer it doesn't attack the pallette. The bitterness is slight, just a mild tingle towards the end of each sip that tickles the back of the tongue. Hops are the dominate taste, but Ranger doesn't fray the tastebuds with a shocking hop bath. Instead, due to an intense dryu hopping with Cascade hops, it's almost like a hop flavored amber rather than a typical IPA. It's a fun beer to both to drink and look at, and surprisingly sessionable - exactly what I've come to expect from NB.

Something unexpected, however, (at least for me) is a enjoyable Imperial IPA. Unlike a lot of people, I've never been impressed with the "Imperial" tag brewers have been slapping on their brews. To me, it's a great example of the nauseating self-propaganda techniques ad-execs use to make a quick buck, but hey, there's enough simpletons out there to make it profitable, so whatever. To me, it ain't Imperial unless it's wearing white armor and walking around the Death Star. That said...

Hop Czar Imperial IPA, Bridgeport Brewing Company, Portland, OR

It would be unfair to say that I was underwhelmed by the Czar. But it is Bridgeport's fault for calling it Imperial. When I hear Imperial expectations are raised. That's the point of calling it Imperial. I get prepared for an experience. It's irrelevant, really, whether it's good or bad - I'm looking for something memorable. Which is not what you get with the Czar. Don't get me wrong, you get a great beer, one that you'll want to drink regularly. And at 7.5% ABV and 85 IBU's you can drink three or four of these a night a few times a week and be perfectly happy. Fulfilled even. But you're not going to be blown away.

In many ways Hop Czar epitomizes Bridgeport itself. It's a great, flavorful beer that doesn't over-achieve or over-shoot it's boundries. It's recieved good reviews but nothing stellar, and provides a nice back bone for a style that's been plundered and pillaged like a Viking conquest over the last ten years. The IPA and Imperial IPA may be close to running it's course and it's nice that both of these powerhouse breweries have finally contributed their two cents to the conversation.

Well, that's it for now. Be back next month with a few more thoughts and such, and maybe one of those brewery visits I promised last time. Cheers! - jack

Spoon, Transference, Merge Records, 2010

From the beginning Spoon has always seemed like a career rather than a rock band, and leader Britt Daniel has always seemed like more of an investment manager than a rocker, more Colonel Parker than Elvis, more Malcolm Mclaren than Sid Vicious. Spoon has been the next big thing for the last fifteen years but have never pulled their tour van over the hump, and there's a good reason for that. Spoon has always epitomized what people distrusted about indie rock - they're pretentious, pregnant with their own self esteem, and hung up on a smug confidence in their own abilities.
Like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, bandleader Britt Daniel has always wanted to "make it" in the real world, and has had a sense of entitlement to rock stardom that never sat well with the listening public. Even as the biggest and most respected indie rocker in the land Daniel has seemed unhappy, ready to compromise whatever necessary in his desire to transcend his meager, but dedicated fanbase.
Spoon has never made a great album. They've done some great songs but have never been able to hold it together long enough to really wow someone. Until now. While Transference, their seventh full length, may not be a 'This is Our Music" statement, it is a "My my, hey hey" kiss off to the both the haters and lovers that have expected so much out of the band. Dropping most of the pretensions that have plagued the band, Daniel strips the sound down to the basics and does what he does best: basic, rooty rock ditties that are flightly enough to dance to but still have the teeth to stick in your head all the live long day. It's quirky without being weird, poppy without pandering and it's the first Spoon album that just seems like a Spoon album, rather than an attempt to set or defy trends. Daniel is not a trendsetter. He's not a rebel either. He's not a lyrical genius, and he's not a guitar god. He never has been. He's the leader of a decent rock band of mild influence and appeal. For once he seems to be comfortable with that. Now he can finally get to work. - Stacks

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reasons to be Good - A Short Conversation with Ryan Davis, State Champion of Kick Ass New Bands

I first stumbled upon Louisville, KY newcomers State Champion while bumming around music geek message boards one night and didn't think much of them.There was a buzz about the band, but something about their crunchy, guitar driven alt country just didn't sit right. The songs seemed confused and sloppy, the country punk seemed romanticized at best and contrived at worst. A few days later I gave hem another chance and I don't know, maybe it was the right combination of a few Pabst Blue Ribbons and the early evening light of a long and frustrating day, but it just hit me, the music clicked in my brain and I 'got it'. Since then I've listened to their first full length, Stale Champagne, about a thousand times, played it for every friend I have, found myself humming the tunes while doing the dishes, and relished the fact that I've reserved a spot for myself on this bands bandwagon before they get 'big', which is bound to happen any day now.

The band is the brainchild of Ryan Davis, a Kentucky bred art student turned songwriter who spent the better part of the past decade writing songs in a flat in Scotland and ploughing the fertile fields of the Louisville underground to piece his band together. Unlike most bands, which develop naturally through a core of bud's and beers, State Champion went through countless changes in lineup and arrangement, from Davis performing solo, to a two piece, to Davis solo again, etc.

"I struggled for a long time with what it meant to perform solo," he says. "If it was the kind of music I was intending to make or if it was only reflecting my laziness and lack of resources. I eventually hit a wall performing alone and began collaborating with anyone I knew with an instrument. Whether he or she was worth a damn or not was entirely secondary."

"Some were better than others," he continues. "Some were more interested than others. Almost all of them were friends, roommates, borrowed musicians of more established bands. I eventually arrived at a group of folks with whom I clicked enough to consider keepers. They were committed enough to tour and understood the songs well enough to make up for my shortcomings."

Exactly what those shortcomings are is a mystery. On record the band is nearly flawless. Unabashedly blending endearing lo-fi sensibility and polite farm boy twang with 90s-ish guitar heroics, Champagne is a major power surge for a scene which has been thirsting for authenticity since everyone starting pretending Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a masterpiece. The songs that make up the record have a natural and honest feel to them, and they're possessed with a 'love 'em or hate 'em so what, we're not trying to impress anyone', attitude that's undeniably, well, impressive. More than being a genre record, it's a record of the Midwest, a record of experience, from influence to execution. Davis cites songwriters like Will Oldham, Conner Oberst and Jason Molina as major influences, but it's more than that.

"You grow up in Kentucky with this warped view of the world, wishing you were from New York City or somewhere in California," Davis says. "You listen to Nirvana and Jesus Lizard growing up, anything to avoid what came long before you, historically. I remember buying a Misfits shirt in 5th grade before I'd ever even heard them because I knew it was good. Then I went to the mall and bought Collection II and was like "What the fuck? This sounds like Elvis!" Took me a minute to wrap my head around it."

"When I was in Glasgow, alone in that flat with an acoustic guitar that I barely knew how to play I was coming from a year in American art school," Davis says. "I was having new bands shoved down my throat. Le Tigre, Animal Collective, all this wacky shit. But when I sat down to write that first batch of songs, it came out kind of sounding like country music. I didn't understand it, but I guess there is something inherently Southern that was just sort of boiling over the years, soaking in it for so long.

"Now that this record has been getting a little press, people talk about how we are paying homage to the greats of alt-country. Bands like Uncle Tupelo and Drive By Truckers and I have never heard a single one of these bands! Just makes me wonder if dudes like Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams started writing songs like that for the same reason I did. Because they loved both The Byrds and Black Flag, and that's just how their brain chose to deal with it."

Check out State Champion at their MySpace:
Buy Stale Champagne here:

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Wolf in Punk Rock Clothing - Wolfgang and the Noble Oval and the Early Days of Punk Rock (An Interview)

Like most local scenes in the early days of punk, the history of punk rock in St Louis is a largely untold story lost somewhere between the haze of youthful hangovers and the slow alzhiemers of fruitless job hunts, countless changed diapers, and well, just growing up. But unlike most scenes, the origins of punk rock in St Louis can be pinpointed, almost to the exact minute, with the formation of Wolfgang and the Noble Oval in 1971. Comprised of two individuals who would later become among the cultest of cult legends, vocalist/guitarist Wolf Roxon (of NYC proto punkers The Tears, The Metro’s, and Walkie Talkie), and Jon Ashline (vocalist and drummer for midwestern noise-freak legends The Screaming Mee-Mee’s), Wolfgang and the Noble Oval predated the faintest grumblings of punk rock, making music that defied conventional notions of what music could be and, more importantly, who could make music. In an age dominated by the grandiosity of larger than life bands like The Eagles and Led Zepplin, Roxon and Ashline simply locked themselves in a bedroom and pounded out raw, stripped down rock songs that eschewed the style over substance ethos of the popular rock music of the day.

"The bulk of music in the late 1960's and early 1970's had lost its primitive, rhythmic appeal," Roxon recalls. "Rock'n'roll was basically dead except for oldie shows. The contemporary guitar and keyboard stars were showing off their fine-tuned skills, the writing was either pretentious or banal, and everyone looked like spoiled, boring 'rock stars.' In short, we loved basic, root rock, not overproduced spectacles."

With titles like ‘Whoa, Jonny Gimmie That Beer" and "Eva Braun, Spinnin’ Round", Ashline and Roxon's recordings provoked confusion among listeners accustomed to the pandering so prevalent in the music of the 1970s.

“Most [listeners] expressed horror and couldn't believe their ears,” recalls Roxon, who now lives in Vermont, of the reception of the bands recordings.

(Left: Roxon post-W+NO)
Roxon and Ashline met as teenagers in 1968 while working at the same Burger Chef restaurant in suburban St Louis. Both considered themselves normal teenagers at the time, but something about their relationship must have been a bit different since rather than spending their time tossing the old pigskin around, the pair spent their time obsessed with music.

"We usually hung around Jon's house, spending most of our time producing what were called “break in” recordings," Roxon says.

A predecessor to modern day sampling techniques, break in records were popularized in the 1960s by Dickie Goodman. His recordings consisted of an interviewer asking questions to real or imaginary individuals, which were met with responses cut from popular music.

“We would pretend to be interviewing fellow workers at Burger Chef and might ask, ‘What do you want from this job?’,” Roxon recalls. “The answer might be a ‘sample’ from the Beatles version of ‘Money’—the sung line ‘Just give me money—Thats what I want.’

(Right: Ashline in the mid-1970s)

“It may sound stupid and mundane today,” Roxon continues. “But that was high tech stuff back then. The average person thought we were engineering geniuses and our bosses couldn't figure out how we could be smart enough to pull this off yet unable to make a decent tasting hamburger!”

"But the real importance of this hobby," he continues. "Was that, in searching for music samples, I plowed through Jon's record collection. He was light years ahead of me. I mostly listened to top ten hits. Suddenly, my exposure to offbeat music was greatly increased by hanging around Jon who led me down the road of ruin by introducing me to record collecting."

Through Ashline, Roxon discovered the music of The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, The Godz - music which today holds a heralded place in the history of rock, but at the time was obscure and strange. Punk was still a few years out and bands like The Stooges and The MC5, while critically acclaimed, were receiving more death threats than royalties. Mixed with their burgeoning creative desires, the music inspired the duo to create their own music as well. Over time Ashline and Roxon began to experiment with writing actual songs using actual instruments and actual recording equipment in 1971.

"There comes a point when you want to do produce something of your own," Roxon continues. "I practically begged Jon to form a group with me."

"I had been writing lyrics since childhood," Roxon recalls. "I played a little guitar and could bang out a few current hits, that is, on a good day when my guitar was in tune. Every so often we would manage to have a practice session and usually, in the end, there was a mutual agreement that rock stardom was not in our cards."

But it was by the grace of fate (or Santa Clause) that the duo actually came together as a band.

"The watershed moment of our history came when Jon's little brother received a toy drum set for Christmas from K-Mart marketed as The Noble Oval. It was a toy set, not a cheap set of adult drums. You could pick up the entire kit with one hand."

"They were crap," recalls Ashline of his first drumset. "Made out of tin. The heads were crap. The bass drum was oval shaped, that’s why they were called that."

New rhythm section in tow, Roxon and Ashline began to record in Roxon’s bedroom. The sessions were impromptu with lyrics and music largely conceived in the moment.

"We started playing our own compositions basically, on the spot," Ashline says. "One take songs, we did a couple covers. Most of the stuff was recorded on real cheap cassette players in his bedroom because we had no studio per se. We’d just get the recorder out, press record, and start playing."

"Only Jon Ashline could have played those drums while singing and, simultaneously, creating lyrics," Roxon says. "Jon had natural rhythm. A solid, steady driving beat was his forte. I give him a lot of credit."

"Jon even attempted a drum solo with his toy set of drums," Roxon recalls. "We debated rerecording the solo by just throwing the drums down my basement stairs. It was a tough choice."

The second session was similar in approach but carried a different attitude.

"I had written a song called 'Eva Braun-Spinning 'Round' but we once again composed the rest as the tapes rolled," says Roxon. "The four letter words were really flying out of our mouths in this session. Both Jon and I had been dumped by our girlfriends and we were loaded to the gills with anger, frustration, and Michelob."

"After the sessions," Roxon says. "We would get together with Bruce Cole (future member of The Screamin' Mee Mees) and drive to Steak and Shake or the midnight flicks at the Varsity Theatre in University City, MO and listen to the tapes. Bruce really got a kick out of the recordings and helped us decide which songs were keepers. He also named the group by calling us 'Herr Wolfgang and the Noble Oval.'"

(Below: Roxon, center, with The Tears at CBGB, NYC)
What emerged from the sessions is an endearing snapshot of two young men fumbling through the short history of rock music in an attempt to discover their own little niche. The songs are largely simple, but not simplistic; often comedic without being flippant or absurd. You can hear the elitism of The Kinks mixing with the street corner prophecies of The Godz and The Fugs, the venomemous blasphemies of Iggy Stooge emerging from the polite innocence of Buddy Holly. It was, in a word, the optimistic beginnings of rock and roll wrestling with it's tortured future. While the recordings may lack the nihilistic bite of the punk that would come later, the Noble Oval songs were created with the same spirit that made groups like the Sex Pistols and The Ramones possible.

"Today, whenever I play our songs for anyone, their first response is “That's not punk rock!!!,” Roxon says. "The problem is that the average person defines punk rock as music sounding and influenced by the Ramones, Sex Pistols and other groups in the scene in the later 1970's—what became the sonic definition of punk. But, to us in 1970, the punk rock movement was still six to eight years in the future. Punk, at that point, had not been defined. It was more of a spirit, an attitude and an image. And if it wasn't defined in 1976-77, it certainly wasn't in the early 1970's. So we, in our own way, were redefining the character of rock'n'roll. It should be fun, energetic, aggressive, rhythmic, spirited, and simple. In the end, a whole new generation of rockers discovered what we already knew.”

“In the early 1970's,” Roxon recalls, “So many musicians emulated and imitated the stars who stood at the top of the heap. Other than the ability to imitate, they offered little. They played in the same style, wrote songs that sounded the same, and looked the same. They laughed at us because, not only were we lacking in musical skills, but we had no desire to sound or be like them."

(Right: The Screamin' Mee Mee's)
Wolfgang and the Noble Oval didn’t officially break-up. Ashline went away to college and eventually (with friend Bruce Cole) became one half of the infamous proto-garage mindfuck rockers The Screaming Mee Mee’s. The Mee Mee’s would continue terrorize eardrums throughout the ‘70s and '80s with basement recordings that carried on the ‘push record and play’ aesthetic Ashline had championed with The Noble Oval.

After Wolfgang and the Noble Oval Roxon formed the cult proto-punk outfit The Moldy Dogs in St Louis before moving to New York and forming The Tears, The Metros, and Walkie Talkie, for whom, legend has it Madonna once auditioned as a vocalist. Roxon rejected her.

"My later groups were serious attempts to become successful in the music business," Roxon says. "while we always had our kicks, especially in Walkie Talkie, we also had our disappointments, frustrations and failures lurking at every step up the food chain. Wolfgang and the Noble Oval never had this problem. We kept our musical aspirations simple and, in that sense, we were purist. As for the contemporary, universal rejection by our peers, it fueled us instead of infuriating us. We could have cared less because we really loved what we were doing."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Running Down Paul Schneider

On the Corner
Support Local Music
by Jack Partain

Sitting in his office in Rundown Studios, producer and engineer Paul Schneider seems less like a geeky recording tech than an ambassador for the craft as he explains the philosophy of his studio.

"I’ve had bands of my own." he says. "But the main thing that I was never happy about is that most studios if you’re a struggling band you’d go record and they’d just give you a rough mix and if you wanted a pro mix then you’re talking $700 hundred bucks a song and most people can’t afford that."

"So I opened this studio with that in mind, trying to provide a professional level mix with-out as much cost."

Intelligent and articulate, Schneider, who is also a local fireman and veteran musician, knows the importance of quality recording for a young band.

" I will do demos for people," he says. "But I really don’t like to. I think it’s detrimental to the band. If they’re gonna record they might as well just go all out. People make a decision within the first 15-20 seconds and if it sounds like it was recorded by the band people don’t even give the song a chance. But if it has that polish and production on it people will give it a chance. The body and the message of the song will have more of a chance to come through."
Discreetly located in a converted central Topeka storefront, from the outside Rundown Studio's is doesn't seem like the hip spot for local musicians it is quickly turning into. But inside, the building seems like the perfect place to get the creative juices flowing. Comfortable and lacking in pretension, Rundown is different from a lot of other studios in that it doesn't flaunt it's hipness. Perhaps because it reflects the personality of it's creator.

"I started construction in July 2008 and I built the whole thing myself," Schneider says. "It was just an empty space."

After officially opening in January, 2009 Rundown has pro-duced an interesting array of artists including hard rock (Come Ascendancy, Brass Knuckle Betty, Another Day Gone) emotronic (Lawrence's Shout it Out Loud!) and classical/celtic (Kansas City's Rehtaeh). A major reason for this popularity may be Schneider's hands on approach to production.

"I pretty much do everything from engineering right on up to producing," he says. "So when a band comes in, I’m the guy setting up the mic’s, I’m the engineer, I’m the guy picking what pre-amps we go through and how it’s mic’d and how it’s played and then of course I do the mixing and then I also do the mastering.

"I’m one of those guys that Iikes to do everything," he continues."I'm kind of a control freak."

Largely misunderstood by the listening public, paradoxically the producer is often overlooked in the recording process, many times thought of as little more than a knob turner sitting in a dark room pushing buttons. Schnieder says it's more than that.

"As an engineer I’m able to apply everything that I know about music and really delve into things," he says. "Take it to an art form level which is what a lot of producers don’t do. They never delve into 'If I take the EQ on a guitar and dramatically change it, what does that do?'

"Everybody’s different in how they produce, how they mix, how they record," Scheider says. "I’ve got my own little way to do things, a little bit of a unique sound, even though in todays market a lot of bands, most bands will come in and say that they want a live sound, but when you get down to the finished product they want what they hear on the radio and a lot of the time what they don’t understand is that takes a lot of backend work and of course you have to get what you need on the front end. My philosophy, the way I do things probably might be different from some peo-ple but, most of the time, the music comes out with the feel of what the band is doing."

And like any great producer, Schneider says it's easy to see himself as part of the band he's working with.

"That’s one of the fun things about it," he says. "Yes, you do become just like a member of the band. They joke around with you and you have your place in the band. What you’re doing is taking all the elements of the band and bringing them together to make a specific sound. So a producer or mix engineer ends up being very important to the group. If you stick with a person then that’s what defines the final sound. And a lot of major bands, that’s what they do, they get a producer and they stick with it."

And sticking with it is something Schneider knows something about. Music has always been a part of his life.

"I played guitar, piano and drums since I was a kid but I al-ways played other peoples stuff," he says. "I was a big Van Halen fan."
"When I was thirty I started writing music and put out a CD called Movin On. When I listen to it now it’s about the most horrible production I could think of. But it still sells on iTunes. I don’t understand why – Europeans have a weird taste for music."

And his experience in production is lengthy and nearly obsessive.

"I’ve been mixing for fifteen years," he says. "But as far as producing other people, probably the last four or five years since I’ve had a band come in and I feel comfortable giving what I consider the best for the song in my opinion."

"I’ve always loved music," he continues. "Production gives me the ability to go so far inside music. There so many things, so many sides of it, from a production side. This year I've probably spent a good thousand hours in here."

In the next year Schneider plans on focusing even more on his work and finding new bands to work with.

"I spend so many hours in here," he says, without complaining. "It’s hard for me to go out and listen to bands and approach them and say I’d like to produce you. I’d like to be able to do more of that."

But what about getting rid of that pesky ghost? Artists at Rundown have reported sightings of ghostly activity within the studio, and Schneider has photographic evidence. Paranormal fan or haunting critic?

"It's not a mean ghost," Schneider says. "A lot of bands hear about it and are like 'Yeah, that's cool'."

Visit Paul's MySpace for more info:

Artists that have recorded at Rundown Studios:
Shout it Out Loud!, Emotronic,
Another Day Gone, Metal,
Rehtaeh, Celtic/Classical/ Gothic,
Tiger Team Eleven, Metal,
Jerrod Guth, Acoustic,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Talking Ex-Patriot Blues - Bruns on Japan

Editors Note: Todd Bruns is a native of Lawrence, KS currently living in Seoul, South Korea where he slaves away as a professional vacationer and taster of odd alcoholic concoctions. Occasionally he gets a paycheck for instructing Korean tweenagers in the wonders of the English language, of which his mastery is legendary amongst bartenders and broken-hearted girls worldwide. He also happens to be the best friend of the editor of this publication, and one helluva guy. Without further ado, his latest offering...

"Japan Thing"

It’s hard to write about Japan without going with the usual “Japan is weird” angle. Everybody’s seen Lost in Translation. Everybody knows about the weird shit you see, like pigeon-toed mini-skirted 20-something girls carrying around large pink teddy bears for no apparent reason. Robots, game shows, 4-story 24 hour arcades, capsule hotels, and anime porn; they’re all there, and they come to no surprise to anybody. Japan is different.

My relationship to Japan is also different than that with most countries. Keep in mind, I’m no weeaboo. I don’t watch anime, I don’t read manga and I’m not into any otaku bullshit. Yet, when I’m there, I think a lot about what Japan means, what it is, and where I fit into it during my short stay. My consideration of the Japanese ethos never ceases throughout the duration of the trip. I’ve spent time in a lot of countries, and when I’m in, say, Belgium or Singapore or Spain or Thailand, I don’t fret so much about this kind of thing. I’ve been to Bangkok twice, and I was certainly bewildered the first time, but the second time I landed there, I felt like I knew it, I owned it, and I sold my Lonely Planet my first day back. My recent trip to Japan was my fourth, and the third to the city of Fukuoka, but I still spent the whole time halfway lost (the lack of street names doesn’t help) and pondering the idea of “Japan.”

I presume this level of introspection comes from my familiarity with Korea. My first trip to Fu-kuoka was only three weeks into my Asian sojourn, so I didn’t recognize a great deal of differ-ence between the two countries. My friend CC was living in Fukuoka at the time, and she kept me under her wing to some degree. While talking with her, it came up that a lot of the strange idiosyncrasies of Japan exist in Korea as well - society frowning on women smoking outdoors, mini-skirts in cold weather, amazing multitude of convenience stores, people dressing their dogs, karaoke being in a small room with friends rather than at a bar, and others. Plus, at this time, I couldn’t speak or read a word of Korean, so both Korean and Japanese were total moonspeak to me.

My second trip was to Fukuoka as well, three months later. Much like the first trip, I was in town for one night to get a Korean visa. This time, armed with an extremely rudimentary under-standing of the Korean language and the ability to read it, Japan suddenly seemed vastly different from Korea. Plus, an extra three months of Korea under my belt accentuated the difference be-tween Korea and any Asian “other.” Suddenly, I noticed the cleanliness, the quietness, the less oppressive architecture, and the markedly more expensive transportation. Japan and Korea were nothing alike. I could read a menu in Korean, and I could order food. Again, I was under CC’s wing, but less so this time, she had to work more so I explored more on my own. My school had booked my hotel and paid in advance, so all I had to do was show up. When circumstances for the first time dictated that I had to find a meal on my own (between a couple meals with CC and free hotel breakfast, this only happened once), I copped out and headed to the dreaded Macdonalds.
The notion of Japanese menus and total lack of language knowledge was too much for me. I’ve eaten local in plenty of countries where I didn’t know the language, but its a lot easier to figure out, say, a German or French menu written in letters than completely indecipherable Japanese script.

My third trip to Japan was to Tokyo for five days. Tokyo is an international city. Like New York or London, it’s the capital of the world. It’s weird, sure, but it’s not that hard to figure out. I mean, New York is a challenging city to deal with, but some random Sri Lankan dude who doesn’t speak English would have an easier time dealing with New York than, say, Cincinnati.

This brings us to my most recent trip to Japan, again Fukuoka, again for a visa. This time, CC was no longer there, and the school didn’t reserve a hotel. The boss gave me a couple hundred bucks for expenses, and I was on my own. I did my usual trek out to the Korean consulate, a path I know all too well, before searching for lodging. I originally planned to stay in a capsule - they are cheap, and would make for a good story, but then it occurred to me that it would just be another “Japan is weird” story, so I headed to the only hostel in town in hopes that they would have a single room available and that there would be some cool people to meet, since I was on my own. Score on the first portion, they did have a room so I could skip the communal bunks. Miss on the latter point, after napping in my room for a bit (I was on no sleep), it seemed that nobody hanging out in the hostel’s common room had any interest whatsoever in leaving it. Not me, I had company money to spend. That, and Fukuoka is widely known for its Ramen. I wasn’t about to repeat my previous timid Mc-mistake, I was getting world-class ramen, language barrier or no.

Japanese people are widely reputed to be shier than Koreans, but this is not the case regarding the language. Koreans that work in restaurants often are reticent to speak to foreigners in Korean, and try to use the four or five English words that they know, even when it is apparent that the foreigner in question understands some Korean. This is not how things work in Japan. At the noodle shop that I ate at (reputed to be the best in town, and it was fantastic), the wait staff always spoke to me as if I were fluent. At the pachinko parlor I went to later (stupidest game in the world, pachinko, I’ve never had less fun losing 10 bucks gambling) I ran into the same situa-tion, the worker who taught me the game spoke the same way (then again, pachinko parlors are so loud, he could have been speaking English for all I know). It grew to the point where I was embarrassed about not knowing Japanese, although I was only in town for one day. Again, this doesn’t happen to me in other countries.

Maybe the reason I focus so much on Japan and it’s Japan-ness while I’m there is because it is the most similar place to Korea. The only other country I’ve had such a hyper-awareness of what country I’m in at all times is Canada. Canada is almost exactly the same as the US, except for the amazing multitude of differences that I can’t help but focus on every minute that I’m there. Is Japan Korea’s Canada? Well, pop-culturally and socio-economically, it would have to be the other way around. Maybe that’s why Japan perplexes me so. It causes me to think of myself as an Asian Canadian. Yikes.

From the Vaults #4

Witch, Witch, Teepee Records, 2006

From the Vaults
Witch is a Vermont based doom metal band featuring Kyle Thomas on vocals and guitars, Dave Sweetapple on bass, Asa Irons (Feathers) on guitar, and guitar hero J Mascis (Dinosaur JR) on, um, drums. Anti-climactic? To say the least. While it is hard to believe that the old fart resisted laying down a single lick on the bands self-titled debut, especially since metal is the one genre of sub-rock which has never devalued or mocked the majesty of the lead guitar, Witch is a grand album that revels in metal tradition without being regressive.
They might tell you it sounds like Sabbath but it doesn’t, Witch is a great deal less focused. Their compositions are tangled, hazed out mantras that drift strung-out and lazy through the subterranean echoes of Witchcraft’s sonic spelunking, and Dead Meadow’s winding chaos. But this ain’t stoner rock and there ain’t none of that southern rock nonsense metal bands get distracted by too often these days. Mascis does a respectable job on the kit abusing the skins, and Iron’s astounding resume, from the avant folk to lo-fi whispers and now metal may just prove him some sort of genius. Or the band could just be a big joke; its still to early to tell. -Jack
From the vaults is a regular series compiling the previous output of our fearlessly fearful, constantly on my ass editor/boss/friend Jack Partain. For those who don't know, Jack spent ten masochistic years toiling in the wonderfully tedious and poverty worshipping world of rock music criticism, writing inspired reviews of bands no one would listen to before he decided to tell everyone to get fucked start doing his own thing, which he should have been doing all along.
We're going to publish some of these things here from time to time in the hopes that someone will actually buy these albums that he loves. Some of these things may not even be legal to print due to copyright restrictions, which is why, in case your some lawyer asshole, we're not going to mention where they were actually printed first. So good luck tracking it down through all the indie rock detritus if you want to sue us. Oh, and when you do, tell the editor to send that check he promised. Whatever. Rock on, fuckheads.
Much love,