EXCLUSIVE Q&A with BLAKE BABIES

DAVE RAYBURN: Looking back at the album SUNBURN, recorded and released over three decades ago, how do you feel it has aged?
JULIANA HATFIELD: As a piece of work, I don’t think it sounds dated or particularly of its time. I think it holds up fine as a multi-generational/perennial listening experience.

DAVE: Who would you cite as being influential musical forces at the time?
JULIANA: REM, Velvet Underground, the Replacements, and for me very personally, X and Olivia Newton-John.
JOHN STROHM: My own influences, my songwriting heroes, were Leonard Cohen, Velvets-era Lou Reed, Big Star, 70s radio pop, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, and some of our contemporaries at the time, especially Evan and Ben from the Lemonheads, J Mascis, Pixies, and Buffalo Tom.
FREDA LOVE: At the time I was in awe of our peers in Boston, bands like Throwing Muses, Buffalo Tom, Pixies, Big Dipper, Galaxie-500. The bands we played with and went out to see all the time had the most direct influence on me.

DAVE: “Girl In A Box” is a curious one. Melodically beautiful. Lyrically twisted and controversial, there have been a wide array of suggestions and interpretations as to who or what this song is about. Is there a definitive story?
JOHN: I wrote that one on my own, I’ll take the blame. I was writing these very sort of sugary pop songs at the time, trying to write big pop hooks. “Out There” is an example of following that through, just trying to really go for it with the pop thing. The tune to “Girl In A Box” was sort of in that vein, I knew it was a strong pop chorus, and I guess I wanted to shoot it in the foot with the lyric. I was into some pretty dark music, whether it was Nick Cave or Black Flag or whatever, stuff that had some really dark lyrics. If memory serves, I saw something on daytime TV about an actual case of an abduction and kidnapping that lasted months, and I just tried to get into the head of someone who would do something unthinkable and just rationalize it as a totally normal thing. I brought it to Evan as a possible Lemonheads song, since Evan has a dark psyche too, and he dug it but thought I should sing it. So, I brought it to the SUNBURN sessions and everybody was just like, OK Strohm, this is all you. That’s the first time I really tried to sing something on mic and I had no technique whatsoever, so the vocal is pretty tentative. I used to hate to listen to it, now I think it sounds vulnerable and I sort of like it. I can’t stand singing that song now, though. I’m not really that guy anymore…I don’t want to make people uncomfortable in that way, but I’m still proud of the song.

DAVE: What are your thoughts on today’s vinyl revival and how SUNBURN may be embraced now by both long-term fans and younger music enthusiasts who discover bands through reissue campaigns?
JULIANA: I think it’s great, the vinyl revival. Records are fun. There was a vinyl release previously of SUNBURN so I guess this new version can replace peoples’ worn-out copies. I think Blake Babies are still a pretty obscure cult thing.

DAVE: Having been in the middle of one of the great evolving music scenes of the time, who amongst your peers do you feel deserved greater attention but were shamefully overlooked or discounted?
FREDA: There were seriously an absurd number of amazing bands in Boston when we were on the scene. One band that I was obsessed with but don’t hear anything about anymore is Dredd Foole and the Din. They were kind of an offshoot of Mission of Burma, I think. I saw them live a few times and it was like walking into a noisy, gorgeous wall of sound. Volcano Suns—another limb on the Burma family tree—remain one of my favorite bands of all time. Both bands should be glorified.

DAVE: What specific memories tied in with making SUNBURN stand out for you?
JOHN: I remember it as a very sober (literally and figuratively) period when we were just getting to work, taking the process very seriously. It’s the first time we had budget to make an entire album at once, and we were determined to get it right. We worked long days and a lot of that was just sitting around while Juliana cut vocals. Drank a lot of coffee and watched movies, daydreamed about the future, once people heard the music we were making and fell in love with our band. That’s what we thought would happen. Then it was a lot harder than we expected.

DAVE: How likely is it that further Blake Babies reissues could be in the works? And, are there any interesting things in the archive that may see the light of day?
JOHN: We have a couple more albums to reissue in the future, EARWIG and GOD BLESS THE BLAKE BABIES. We also have a set of demos for SUNBURN that are really strong. I don’t see why we wouldn’t make those available at some point as well.
JULIANA: There is one demo-ed song called “Radiator”, from the way early days, and there are maybe some live things we could share. As for other unreleased songs, I do remember one long multi-sectioned prog rock song we created and practiced, and I recorded us playing it live into a boom box in our rehearsal space in I think 1987 and I think I still have that cassette.

DAVE: After an eleven-year gap following the release of SUNBURN, Blake Babies briefly returned to release GOD BLESS THE BLAKE BABIES. What triggered the desire for a reunion, and could it happen again?
FREDA: I don’t think it will happen again! I’m retiring from drumming in about six weeks. But I loved making GOD BLESS THE BLAKE BABIES, very glad we did that. It was definitely my pushiness that made it happen—I’d been feeling like the Blake Babies stopped short and was sure we had one more good album in us. I talked John and Juliana into it!

DAVE: With time and experience now behind you, and looking at the modern music world and its young, aspiring artists… what guidance would you offer today?
FREDA: The best advice I can think to offer is to listen to all the music in the world and work hard and be nice.
JOHN: My advice is to keep clear goals and make a step-by-step plan to achieve them, and to learn from failure. Musicians should be prepared to do it for the love of making music, because the money and fame may never come. Do it for the love of it, for the community, and for the satisfaction of making something great. And if it is great, you’ll find an audience. Prioritize making your work the very best it can be.
JULIANA: Don’t be afraid to say No and also: Trust Your Instincts. Your uniqueness and weirdness is what sets you apart and makes you interesting and people will respond to what is true and real. Also, every artist has to grapple with the art vs. commerce question. It’s a really hard question.

DAVE: When all is said and done, what do you wish for the Blake Babies legacy to ultimately convey and represent?
JULIANA: We worked really hard, and we made some cool music!
FREDA: I like to think Blake Babies represent a kind of youthful boldness and openness. We didn’t let ourselves be limited by gender or age or—in my case—lack of technical ability. We all grew up in the seventies and eighties and were influenced by the gorgeous pop songs we heard on the radio and by the rough-edged punk bands we loved as teens, and we mashed those sensibilities together exactly the way we wanted to.
JOHN: I think the music speaks for itself, and I know for a fact that some of these songs have brought people comfort and made them feel less alone. Juliana communicated her struggles through her lyrics, and it meant a lot to a lot of people. That’s amazing and one of the greatest things music can do.

Special thanks to Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm, and Freda Love.
Additional thanks to Mike Donohue, Jocelynn Pryor, Stephen Schnee and Joe Spadaro.

BLAKE BABIES

SUNBURN (vinyl reissue)

6.24.22

EXCLUSIVE Q&A with OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW’S Ketch Secor

STEVE SCHNEE: Now that PAINT THIS TOWN is ready for release, how are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
KETCH SECOR: We are really happy with the response. Our single just spent its second week at #1 on the Americana chart, so that’s cool. More importantly though, given that our fans really are the force that makes it possible for us to do this kind of work, I’m just so excited for the Old Crow fans out there that we’ve got an album that’s this chock full of the sorts of material they’ve come to love from us.

STEVE SCHNEE:
Lyrically, the album paints (no pun intended) very vivid pictures of the real world – real people, real situations, and real emotions. Are the songs based on real memories and experiences or do you prefer to be an observer and express what you see in people you encounter in your travels?
KETCH SECOR: It takes personal experience to write a hard-hitting song, or a joyful one for that matter. But it also takes imagination, and the music write tends to draw from both sources. After 20+ years on the road, I can say (or maybe it’s better sung) “I’ve been everywhere, man…”. But it’s true that all the miles add up to a whole lot of first-hand accounts of the American experience. I’m an observer, but like Goya, sometimes I like to put myself on the canvas, too.

STEVE SCHNEE: How did the pandemic – and the evolving changes it brought on – play a part in the writing of the album?
KETCH SECOR: COVID gave us a lot of time to practice, grow, evolve, adapt, and, above all, to be a band with a purpose. Staying active despite the near total lack of paid work meant staying creative, unified, and hopeful. I like to think some of that hope is on this album.

STEVE SCHNEE: In many ways, PAINT THIS TOWN steps away from fears and worries and offers many glimpses of stability and hope to a world in desperate need of them. Did recording this album bring a bit of both to your own world?
KETCH SECOR: Yes, it did! Making music just feels like the most natural thing to do while everything feels like chaos around you. It’s a natural antidote to spite, hate, anger, fear. If I saw a doctor regularly, I hope they’d say “Make music 12 times a day, Ketch. It’s the best medicine for your heart.”

STEVE SCHNEE: The album travels down many musical paths. From heartland rock to joyful jigs… what inspired this batch of songs?
KETCH SECOR: Mostly, these are brand new songs, written during the global pandemic or shortly before. In that case, I’ll mention John Prine, Charley Pride, and Charlie Daniels as three hugely significant pole stars for this recording.

STEVE SCHNEE: The title track in particular recalls the great Heartland Rock stomp of John Mellencamp although it is still retains that signature Old Crow magic. Are you often aware of your influences – direct or indirect – when you write your songs?
KETCH SECOR: Mellencamp, Dylan, a whole bunch of old hillbilly records from the ‘20s, Lightning Hopkins, The Carter Family, and about 20 other obvious ties—We are a highly influenced band because we play music that’s well handled. Lotta fingerprints on Old Crow music. It’s always had a kind of stardust transparency. We want you to see through us to the chain of tradition that goes back through time.

STEVE SCHNEE: As songwriters, are the final recordings similar to your original intentions or do they evolve over time?
KETCH SECOR: They evolve long after the reducing process once you hear from the people whose hearts they touch. Many times, a song only becomes great in my mind after somebody comes up to say how it’s affected them.

STEVE SCHNEE: How has the new lineup brought a new energy to the group?
KETCH SECOR: I’ve been doing a black history program with Jerry Pentecost today so I’m pretty high on the horse about how much I love the spirit he’s brought (and the rhythm). Mason Via called me while I was typing up this interview and we’re gonna pick and drink some whiskey tonight, so I guess it’d be appropriate to say I love this band of brothers and they make the work of being a working band feel effortless.

STEVE SCHNEE: The album showcases some great songwriting and musicianship. The recordings have many layers, both musically and emotionally, and listeners are going to interpret the songs in their own unique ways. Are you often surprised that some people interpret the songs in ways that you never intended? Or is that an exciting element to creating music?
KETCH SECOR: I’m always curious how people will respond to new material. There is often something precious to me that no one ever seems to pick up on. Maybe that’s cause I’m always channeling some old dead fiddler that everybody else forgot. They can just enjoy the music, or what the lyrics talking about. But for me I see dancing bones.

STEVE SCHNEE: You have recently added the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” into your set, what urged you to pull that one out on stage? And are there any other musical influences that fans might not be aware of?
KETCH SECOR: That song’s kind of COVID pressure release valve. It’s funny how all the sides can pick their fighting words. As a somewhat centrist musical institution, at least in that we draw from both sides of the culture wars, I like having a rabble-rousing song that can mean something to both camps. But it says more about where we stand that we picked the Beastie’s over something like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”….

STEVE SCHNEE: What is next, musically, for Old Crow Medicine Show? The pandemic has made touring a bit difficult…
KETCH SECOR: Another new album…. SHHHH!

Special thanks to Ketch Secor
Additional thanks to Sam St. John, Shari Segalini, and Dave Rayburn

OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW

PAINT THIS TOWN

Available NOW!

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Eli Paperboy Reed

STEPHEN SCHNEE: DOWN EVERY ROAD is now ready for release. How are you feeling about the way the album turned out and the reaction to it so far?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: I am honestly thrilled. This was really a cathartic record for me to make. I had these ideas and arrangements kicking around my head for close to a decade so to see them finally emerge is something special. The reaction so far has been amazing, too. I honestly didn’t know (or really care) if people wanted to hear Soul versions of Merle Haggard tunes, but it turns out they do!

STEPHEN SCHNEE: Between the release of your 99 CENT DREAMS album in 2019 and DOWN EVERY ROAD, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way that many of us live our lives. Did it have an impact on the way that you approached and recorded the new album?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: Thankfully, here in Brooklyn, there’s no shortage of amazing musicians. We were able to record the album in the winter of 2021 with a testing regimen and thankfully everyone stayed healthy. My longtime organ player J.B. Flatt had to bow out of the sessions due to Covid concerns, but he was ably replaced by Colin Brown, who contributed some really inspired playing.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: DOWN EVERY ROAD is a collection of soulful reinterpretations of Merle Haggard classics. What inspired you to approach Merle’s catalog in a whole new way?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: It never felt like a stretch to me. I’ve been a Merle fan for years and I just always felt that his songs could work in this way. Country and Soul music are so similar that sometimes it’s just as simple as altering the syncopation or phrasing to go from one to the other. I had heard the originals so many times that my versions developed in my head and sort of just spilled out in the studio.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: Why did you choose Merle Haggard?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: For one thing, I think that his songs are distinctly “adult” compared to some contemporaries. Merle was not a novelty singer. His songs are truths about love and loss, just like my favorite Soul records are. Additionally, he was not as much of a story songwriter as many other Country artists. I like to say that Soul songs aren’t stories, they’re moments. Merle’s songs work the same way, they describe in detail the heartbreak that the protagonist is feeling right then. That’s why I felt his songs translated so well into a different medium.

 

STEPHEN SCHNEE: A good song is a good song, no matter how it is interpreted. What about each of these songs that made them perfect for this album? Is there a commonality that you found that ties them all together?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: I spent a lot of time listening through to Merle’s entire classic period when I decided to finally make this record. I chose the songs I did mostly because I felt I could create something new out of what was there, while still maintaining the essence of what they were about. Doing an album of someone else’s songs is a very different experience than recording your own songs. You end up being able to really craft the overall arc since there’s so much music at your disposal.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: Were there other songs that you recorded but left off the album or did you just concentrate on recording these 12 tracks?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: Actually, no not this time. I spent a lot of time with the catalog, and these were the songs that I felt made the most sense for the project.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: The album is a triumph and will hopefully encourage fans of both Country and Soul Music to realize that there are so many similarities between the genres. Were you concerned that fans of either genre – and fans of Merle Haggard – wouldn’t understand what you were trying to do with DOWN EVERY ROAD?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: Honestly, no. I think this is a Soul record through and through and if people just pressed play, they would understand that. No matter what, I think people would be intrigued by the project.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: Emotion and honesty are two qualities that inhabit Country and Soul music. When reinterpreting these songs, you managed to keep both of those qualities in your versions. Was it a difficult balance to change the arrangements but maintain the emotional integrity of the songs?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: I appreciate that! That was really my number one goal. I never wanted to sacrifice any of the depth of the songs in order to serve my own arrangement. If I felt I couldn’t take the song to a new place while still maintaining its integrity, it was scratched off the list.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: Did you discover new layers of the songs when recording them for DOWN EVERY ROAD? Were there lyrics or melodic hooks that you chose to accent that were maybe lost in the original versions?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: I had spent so much time listening to these songs that I think I really knew them through and through. That said, I did create accents and countermelodies based on what was there by using the expanded instrumentation we had at our disposal. Having the horn section or keyboards or background vocals be able to increase the visibility of a certain melodic idea was really nice and it gave the songs a new character.

STEPHEN SCHNEE: What is next for Eli Paperboy Reed?
ELI PAPERBOY REED: So much! I’ve got some touring planned for this album in both the US and Europe including my lifelong dream of playing at the Grand Ole Opry. Later in the summer, an album I produced by my proteges The Harlem Gospel Travelers comes out and they’ll do some touring as well. In the fall, a compilation of Soul music from Boston that I produced is coming out as well. It goes on like this! More and more to come and hopefully another new album of original songs sometime in the not-so-distant future, too.

 

 
Very special thanks to Eli Paperboy Reed
Extra thanks to Steve Dixon and Dave Rayburn

 

ELI PAPERBOY REED

DOWN EVERY ROAD

Available NOW!

EXCLUSIVE Q&A with The Frightnrs’ Chuck Patel

STEVE SCHNEE: ALWAYS is about to be released. How are you feeling about the release and the reaction to it so far?
CHUCK PATEL: We’re excited for the record to come out and very proud of it. It took a lot of time and devotion. The initial reaction has been positive, and we appreciate that. We weren’t quite sure what the reaction would be since people have come to know us as a “Rocksteady” band following the release of NOTHING MORE TO SAY but besides that LP, our sound was never defined by one subgenre of Reggae, and what is most exciting to us is that the songs on ALWAYS will allow us to better portray our overall sound and vibe.
 
STEVE SCHNEE: Condolences to all for the loss of your vocalist Dan Klein. This album is an emotionally powerful and heartwarming tribute to him and the band itself. How long after Dan’s passing in 2016 were you able to go through and listen to the original tapes that make up the foundation of ALWAYS
CHUCK PATEL: Thank you… The creation of ALWAYS kind of came as a surprise. It took some of us about 2 years to even begin thinking of playing music again. It was a hard time. Personally, I contemplated never playing music again. We did try some things with other singers and different ideas, but nothing really came close to the chemistry and magic we reached as a band with Dan as our singer. We knew we had maybe two or three good demos and when we discovered that we had some isolated vocal tracks of Dan, that was the first positive spark we had in a long while. At that point the idea flourished to try and create full rhythm tracks under the vocals we had. All three of us (Chuck, Preet Patel, Rich Terrana) began doing that and also discussed it with our producer, Victor, and he was onboard with working on the songs. As we began making new demos for the vocal tracks, we unearthed more isolated takes of Dan’s vocals. We saw more light from this and realized we could build a whole album’s worth of material. It was a harrowing task, but as we worked and began hearing the results, we were inspired to see it through. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: In most cases, when a modern group attempts to play Rocksteady, Ska, Bluebeat, Reggae, or other related styles, they seldom harness the true spirit of the music. However, the Frightnrs sound completely authentic, from production, arrangements, vocals… Did this all fall in place organically or did you work hard to achieve your sound? 
CHUCK PATEL: I think it’s really about our chemistry. Also, having a good foundation of understanding our genres and really digging into why certain Rocksteady/Reggae songs sounded so good. When the band first got together, we would relentlessly play common Reggae rhythms and really learn how to play with one another as well. We did that for about 2 years before we ever played a live show at a venue. Eventually we met our producer, Victor Axelrod, who was instrumental in helping create the Frightnrs’ authentic sound because in addition to being incredibly knowledgeable and studied in the Reggae genre – and having the great ear to get the sounds and performances right – it was also very natural to work (and hang) with him in a studio setting. We also had a great deal of trust in each other’s taste which was valuable. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: When the group first came together, was the plan always to write your own material? 
CHUCK PATEL: Yes, that was always the plan. I personally wanted to create a group that would change what the current idea of “Reggae/Ska” bands were in NY at the time and open up the youths’ eyes to a little more… much like the NY band The Slackers did for me when I was younger – they introduced me to artists like Cornell Campbell and Alton Ellis, which was hugely impactful. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: After a few independent releases, you signed with Daptone Records. How did that come about? 
CHUCK PATEL: I think it starts from when we began working with Victor as our producer. We initially worked with Jay Nugent (The Slackers, Crazy Baldhead) as our producer. He saw what we were doing at shows and convinced us we really needed to record and wanted to help facilitate that. He ended up bringing us to Victor’s studio for us to record most of the songs. Victor was just there helping engineer and taking a backseat role but as we were recording, he said a few things that really spoke to the band and later we all spoke to each other and were like, “What’s up with this Victor guy…. I think he gets it??” We eventually started working with him and we at one point had a group of songs we wanted to record – we decided with Vic that we’d just record them and see what happens. Those works eventually were released by Mad Decent, but we had one song from those sessions that we felt wasn’t right for that EP. which was the Etta James cover, “I’d Rather Go Blind”. We had some mutual connections with Daptone at that time – i.e., Tommy Brenneck – and we asked him to pitch the song to them to see if they’d want to release it. We obviously thought highly of them being a NY Soul label and a better fit or the tune. They did like it, and through Victor, tasked us to create a solid Rocksteady album for them. They’ve been wanting to tap Victor for some time on a Rocksteady project and were surprised they hadn’t heard of us before and together we created NOTHING MORE TO SAY
 
STEVE SCHNEE: Your debut album, NOTHING MORE TO SAY, is an exceptional release that is filled with an obvious love of creating this music. The emotion can be felt within the grooves. The tracks from ALWAYS were recorded during the same period and have that same powerfully haunting atmosphere. What made you set these tracks aside in favor of the songs that made it onto NOTHING MORE TO SAY? 
CHUCK PATEL: At the time we were riding a sort of high, we had just released some music for the first time in a long time and simultaneously through two recognized labels, then subsequently Daptone tasked us with this rocksteady project. WE WENT RIGHT TO WORK. This yielded a sort of golden period for us in song writing. We all had something to bring to the table and devoted most of our time to meeting up as much as possible in our Queens studio and writing and recording demos. The chemistry was at an all-time high and we just rode it out and had a long song/ideas list. This is when we brought Victor in to help figure out what songs were working, etc., and we picked songs together that we felt would be best for NOTHING MORE TO SAY and he helped transform/mold them to fit the Rocksteady sound — most of these songs were written organically and for us that meant they lay more in the Reggae realm or even early Dancehall / touches of Soul. There remained some songs though that we collectively decided should be saved for the next thing – because it was already a vibe, and we didn’t need to mess with it. That was also a goal we set – let’s make this Rocksteady record and then make the record we really want to make with our natural vibes… Most of these tracks are the ones we set aside or older demos we dusted off and gave some love to. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: Before his passing, didn’t Dan encourage the rest of the band to continue? 
CHUCK PATEL: Yes, we certainly had a lot of deep conversations at that time and most importantly, we promised him we would continue making music. That’s one of the reasons this record brings us so much light: we are fulfilling part of the promise. He really believed in what we were attempting to create and was very excited about our next chapter, as we all were. We felt like we had these secret demos with sounds maybe no one has heard yet from us and it was definitely a mission to get these songs out to the people. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: What was the process in putting ALWAYS together from these previously unreleased recordings? 
CHUCK PATEL: Well, it was a long tough process, almost took about two years to fully conceptualize, record, mix, master, etc., to get to the finish line. As described above, we started with the isolated vocals we had from all the takes we took when we were making demos. We would then learn how to play with those and recreate the original rhythms we wrote at that time or create something new. We would also get a sense of tempo and feel for the tune. We then recorded live drums, bass or guitar, and piano/keys live – whatever combination of instruments worked for us three to perform. I would say the hardest work would fall on our producer Vic for all the technical editing and making the music sound organic. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: What was your emotional reaction once you heard the completed album? This is an album that is as powerful as NOTHING MORE TO SAY
CHUCK PATEL: Happy to hear you feel that way – Yes… it’s a trip… We feel happy that we were able to bring more of Dan and the Frightnrs’ music to life and give listeners a better sense of our sound and range. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: Are there more songs with Dan that may see the light of day at some point? CHUCK PATEL: Not from us. I do know one of our good friends and amazing producers Brett Tubin has a tune in the chamber that will be out at some point. 
 
STEVE SCHNEE: What is next for the Frightnrs? 
CHUCK PATEL: Writing brings us light but what we miss most is being able to perform live together which we haven’t been able to do in years. Our next goal is to put together a group that we can not only write and record with, but most important to us, perform together. WE have our eyes on a certain group of female vocalists to potentially work with…
 
 Special thanks to Chuck Patel 
Extra thanks to Steve Dixon and Dave Rayburn

THE FRIGHTNRS

ALWAYS

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: ANGEL OLSEN/BIG TIME

Angel Olsen is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter with a story to tell. And like real life, that story evolves, twists, turns, and heads off into directions that she may not have intended when she first began writing songs as a young teen. And somewhere between the time she joined the band Good Fight when she was 16 to the release of her debut album when she was 25, her story multiplied and became stories. Different avenues and different perspectives but same ‘vehicle.’ Angel’s music comes from a very personal place, yet she still manages to touch on subjects that listeners can relate to. As she knows, if her music comes from the heart, her music will touch other hearts. And that is why Angel Olsen’s story has connected with so many fans and critics throughout the years.

Angel Olsen first came to prominence in 2011 with the release of her debut EP, STRANGE CACTI. She followed that up with the release of her 2012 debut full-length, HALF WAY HOME.  She then signed with the Jagjaguwar label and released her sophomore album, BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS, in 2014. The album was her first release to chart in the Billboard 200 (#71) and was also an international success. Her 2016 album, MY WOMAN, was another success and charted in the US, Australia, the UK, Belgium, France, Ireland, Switzerland, and many other countries. Angel Olsen’s 2017 EP PHASES was another success, climbing to #7 on the Billboard Folk Albums chart, and was followed two years later by ALL MIRRORS, yet another international success. After the release of 2020’s WHOLE NEW MESS (which featured reinterpreted versions of songs from ALL MIRRORS), things changed for Angel Olsen. These changes would inform the songs – the stories – that would make up her next album…

BIG TIME, Angel Olsen’s 2022 release, is her first album of new material in three years. The album’s songs were inspired by several monumental moments in her life: finally coming to terms with her queerness and coming out to her family, which was closely followed by the deaths of her mother and father. Dealing with several different opposing emotional milestones inspired every musical moment of BIG TIME. Even if some of the lyrics don’t reference these incidents, they can be felt in the voice, the atmosphere, and in between the notes of each song. However, there is still so much hope on the album. Much like that moment right before dawn arrives, Angel Olsen’s songs feel like she is walking out of the darkness and into the light. Highlights of BIG TIME include the three previously released singles – “All the Good Times,” “Through the Fires,” and the title track – plus “Dream Thing,” “Chasing the Sun,” and “Go Home.” While each track reveals new layers to Angel’s story, the album really needs to be embraced as a complete whole. It is an album that reveals so much of Angel Olsen’s personal journey, but it is a journey that will connect with others. That’s the magic of music.

ANGEL OLSEN

BIG TIME

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: DECAPITATED/CANCER CULTURE

Formed in 1996, Decapitated is a Technical Death Metal band founded in Krosno, Poland by brothers Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka (guitar) and Witold ‘Vitek’ Kieltyka (drums) along with vocalist Wojciech ‘Sauron’ Wasowicz. The group – which has had numerous lineup changes over the years – released their first demo, CEMETERIAL GARDENS, in 1997 and followed that a year later with their second demo, THE EYE OF HORUS. In 2000, Decapitated released their debut album, WINDS OF CREATION, which was followed by NIHILITY (2002), and THE NEGATION (2004). After the release of their third album, vocalist Sauron left the group and was replaced by Adrian ‘Covan’ Kowanek. However, a year after the release of the band’s 2006 fourth album, ORGANIC HALLUCINOSIS, Vitek was killed in an auto accident that left Covan seriously injured. With the loss of his brother, Vogg chose to bring this chapter of Decapitated to a close…

After two years, Vogg decided to revive Decapitated and began searching for new members. The next album by the group, CARNIVAL IS FOREVER (2011), was their first full length in five years and was their first to appear on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, landing at #11. Their next album, 2014’s BLOOD MANTRA, was an even bigger success, climbing to #11 on the Polish charts and #5 on the U.S. Heatseekers chart. Decapitated continued to gain traction internationally and became one of the most revered Technical Metal bands in the world. 2017’s ANTICULT was their most successful yet, reaching #4 on the Polish Albums chart and #2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. The band spent several years touring and preparing for their next album, which was delayed because of legal issues in the U.S. and the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Five years after the release of ANTICULT, Decapitated returns with their 2022 album CANCER CULTURE. On this album, Vogg is joined by vocalist Rafal “Rasta” Piotrowski, bassist Pawel Pasek, and drummer James Stewart. The album starts off rather tame with “From the Nothingness with Love,” a song that quickly reveals itself to be a battlefield march into the pits of Death Metal. The opener then thrusts you headfirst into the title track, which is truly the beginning of this rollercoaster ride through the pits of uncompromising Metal. From one end of the Death Metal spectrum to the other, CANCER CULTURE’s highlights include “Hello Death,” “Just a Cigarette,” and “Hours as Battlegrounds.” With guest appearances from Jinjer vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk and Machine Head front man Robb Flynn, CANCER CULTURE is a reminder that Decapitated remain one of Technical Death Metal’s finest – and most exciting – bands.

DECAPITATED

CANCER CULTURE

Available NOW!

ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with MARK TREMONTI

 

STEVE SCHNEE: First off, TREMONTI SINGS SINATRA is an immensely enjoyable and joyful release filled with love and reverence to Frank and his music. Admittedly, I never knew this side of you, and it makes me rethink everything that I’ve ever known about Mark Tremonti. Is this an album that will surprise your most hardcore fans?

MARK TREMONTI: I think this album will definitely surprise my fanbase if they haven’t heard of it already. That was the whole point of Take A Chance For Charity. I wanted to start Take A Chance For Charity to challenge people to do something that their fanbases would never see coming to raise money for charity.

 

 

STEVE: All proceeds from the sales of this album are going to be donated to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Can you tell us a little about that?

MARK: NDSS is the largest organization to help those with Down syndrome and families with family members with Down syndrome. It helps them see their full potentials through programs which helps them live independently and helps them get job placement. It also helps them with placement into speech therapies, occupational therapies, physical therapies and many more things.

 

 

STEVE: Obviously, the first thing the listener hears is your love of the source material. However, as the album progresses, you begin hearing your voice and it becomes a more thrilling listening experience. Was it exciting to set aside the guitar – the instrument that you are best known for – and focus all your attention on being a vocalist?

MARK: It was definitely nice to be able to set the guitar down and focus just on vocals. It allowed me to be sure all the vocals were done correctly without any kind of distractions.

 

 

STEVE: What inspired you to record a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra? And was it easy to pick the songs that you were going to record?

MARK: I decided to do it in Frank Sinatra’s name because I was such a huge fan of his and his music. Also, a lot of people are unaware of the fact that he helped raise over a billion dollars for charity. He recorded over 1400 songs, so it was tough to figure out just the right songs to choose. I spent a lot of time filtering through those songs to figure out the right ones for me to record.

 

 

STEVE: You collaborated with surviving members of Frank’s band. How easy was it to get them involved in the project?

MARK: It was difficult at first to organize the group of folks that were going to record on this record because this isn’t a world I’ve ever lived in. These weren’t connections that I’ve had previously. I was lucky enough to have a manager who was taught guitar at a young age by Frank Sinatra’s touring guitar player, Dan McIntyre. He was able to make the introduction to Frank’s bandleader Mike Smith who then organized the group of people you hear on the record.

 

 

STEVE: The album packs an emotional punch – you clearly love the music you are performing. How did you discover Sinatra’s music in the first place?

MARK: I discovered it like most other people. It was playing around the house, watching movies, hearing it in commercials. During Christmas time, you couldn’t get away from it where I grew up in Detroit, MI. Frank Sinatra was all over the place.

 

 

STEVE: How did you record the project? Did you perform live with the band at all?

MARK: We recorded the record live up in Chicago. What you hear on the recordings are one take from the band from start to finish. The only exception was for the layering we had to do with the saxophones, because we couldn’t fit everybody in the room at the same time. The vocals I would then record after the band was through. We’d do a few takes so I could be in the same room and have that sound that Frank Sinatra got back in the ‘60s recordings.

 

 

STEVE: Out of all the songs on the album, is there one that you are particularly close to? And which song was the most difficult to perform as a vocalist?

MARK: I think “The Song Is You” is probably the most important song to me on this record because that’s the song that made me want to do Frank Sinatra. It is also the song I sing to my daughter Stella every day to put a smile on her face, but I have many favorites on the album. The most difficult song to perform would have to have been “Wave.”  It has an extremely low note – I think it’s an E flat – when I say “together.” That note only comes out at certain times of the day for me. It is usually early in the morning I can hit that note, but not later at night.

 

 

STEVE: While not assuming you are going to record more Sinatra songs for a future project, does this give you more confidence to explore more unexpected musical avenues?

MARK: This made me comfortable with using my lower register. I’ll definitely dive deeper into using that in the future.

 

 

STEVE: Are you hoping to introduce a new generation of listeners to this classic music?

MARK: I would love to introduce a lot of people to specifically Frank Sinatra’s huge catalog because it’s not all “My Ways” and “New York, New Yorks.” There’s a lot of great songs in there that a lot of people aren’t aware of that I absolutely love.

 

 

STEVE: Can you tell us a little about the album cover? Apart from the title, it doesn’t reveal what you are about to hear, but it certainly reflects what you are about to feel.

MARK: The album cover was inspired by my good friend Kevin Chiaramonte. He also happens to be my publicist. He said to me Frank Sinatra’s an artist and you are an artist; it would be great if you could try and do the artwork for this record. My wife had bought me an art book
on Frank Sinatra and his works, and I just loved it. A lot of his stuff is kind
of abstract and modern art, so I took that route on the cover art. I had a
great time doing it.

 

 

STEVE: What’s next for Mark Tremonti?

MARK: Next for me is finishing recording the new Alter Bridge record which comes out October 14th.  It will be called PAWNS & KINGS. I’m headed to Europe on May 27th – the same day the TREMONTI SINGS SINATRA record comes out – to do a five-week tour of Europe. Then back to Europe later this winter when the Alter Bridge record comes out. Hopefully, we can pepper in some Sinatra shows along the way.

 

 

Special thanks to Mark Tremonti

Additional thanks to Mike Donohue, Kevin Chiaramonte, and Dave Rayburn

 

MARK TREMONTI

TREMONTI SINGS SINATRA

5.27.22

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MAVIS STAPLES & LEVON HELM/CARRY ME HOME

When worlds collide, they can often create a universe that is greater than the sum of both worlds… and so much more. So, using that analogy when talking about music, the end results are either glorious and inspiring or insipid and dull. To be honest it all depends on chemistry and how naturally things fall into place. To make things work, they cannot be forced. The 1986 collaboration between rockers Aerosmith and rap trio Run DMC was inspired. The Beach Boys and The Fat Boys collab in 1987’s “Wipe Out”, not so much. More recently, modern Country music has been infiltrated by Hip-Hop and Rap artists, creating a new organic musical movement that may not make sense on paper but sounds great on the radio. And why does Country Rap work? Because the artists – and the audience – grew up on both genres. And that is the same reason why CARRY ME HOME by Mavis Staples and Lavon Helm works so well.

Mavis Staples is one of the most respected Gospel and R&B vocalists in the world. For over 70 years, she has followed a musical path yet has gladly taken detours and embraced many other musical genres along the way. Her many musical reinventions have added to her longevity in the music business. As the only surviving member of the legendary Staples Singers, she carries with her a musical legacy that has inspired legions of fans across many different genres. Levon Helm, on the other hand, came to prominence as the drummer of iconic Rock group The Band. Levon and the rest of the group were raised on everything from Folk and Country to Rock, R&B, and every other form of music born alongside the dusty roads that made their way across America. And many of those roads intertwined with the same ones that Mavis Staples’ traveled. So, when Mavis Staples appeared at The Band’s final concert in 1976 – captured on film as THE LAST WALTZ – her world collided with Levon’s and a friendship was born.

That friendship became the collaboration that is CARRY ME HOME, a live performance from 2011 that is finally seeing a release in 2022. The album was recorded in Woodstock, New York, as part of Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble series. Helm had initially started the Midnight Ramble gatherings in 2003 in order to raise money and keep his house out of foreclosure. By 2011, the Midnight Ramble had become a celebration of music, art, love, and faith. So, when Mavis Staples joined Levon and his band, two worlds collided, aligned, and danced across the sky. A concert that feels like a tent revival, CARRY ME HOME lives up to every expectation… and exceeds all of them. While Staples and Helm were unaware that this was the last time that they would perform together – Levon died in April 2012 – this set contains performances filled with excitement, joy, and a love of making music. While there are many highlights, CARRY ME HOME ends with a passionate take on The Band’s “The Weight”, the song that Mavis performed in THE LAST WALTZ. It is the perfect ending that feels like a celebration. Of love. Of life. Of Levon.

MAVIS STAPLES & LEVON HELM

CARRY ME HOME

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: KYLE DION/SASSY

Soul music changed when Prince came on the scene. Right before his arrival, there were only a handful of artists that were being taken seriously as ‘artistes.’ The Soul, R&B, and Funk music that had been so dominant in the ‘60s and early ‘70s had given way to Disco. And while the genre itself was uplifting and invigorating, Disco was so popular that everyone jumped on the dance bandwagon. Within a few years, Disco’s innovators were pushed aside in favor of one-off cash-in releases by labels, musicians, and performers, essentially draining the heart and soul from the music. But when Prince came along in 1978, he recalibrated Soul, Funk, and R&B, taking control of the musical narrative and putting the artist/artiste out front. And by doing so, he kicked open the gates and encouraged future generations of artists to do the same.

While not comparing him to Prince from a musical standpoint, Kyle Dion is the direct result of Prince’s musical breakthrough more than four decades ago. By taking the ‘music’ back from the ‘business,’ he has managed to create music that is unique to himself yet is easily accessible to a larger audience looking for a good time. Kyle Dion became interested in music at a young age, writing his first song at the age of 9. By the time 2014 rolled around, he was releasing his first mixtape, SIXES & SEVENS. Over the next several years, Kyle Dion released a series of Soul and Hip Hop-influenced singles and EPs before finally issuing SUGA, his debut album, in 2019. The critically acclaimed album brought him to the attention of a wider audience. Ever since the release of that album, audiences and critics alike have been awaiting his next move…

SASSY, Kyle’s sophomore album, has arrived to unanimous acclaim. Combining Soul, R&B, and Hip Hop influences with a modern twist, SASSY is the album fans wanted… and so much more. Rather than revisit the sounds of SUGA, he has restructured his ‘formula’ and reinvented himself. Far more experimental than his debut, SASSY sees an even more confident Kyle Dion take control of his musical narrative and steer it in any direction that suits his fancy. And unlike so many current Soul, Rock, and Pop albums, he realizes that the best tactic in songwriting is to ‘leave the audience wanting more,’ with no song on the album exceeding the three and one-half minute mark, and most of them timing in at less than three minutes. Kyle Dion knows what he’s doing and he’s definitely feeling comfortable as he controls his own musical journey. Highlights include “I Could Be Your Girlfriend,” “Fix Vision” (featuring Chanel Tres), “Placebo” (featuring Ja Rule), “Cookie,” and the first single, “Parmesan.”

KYLE DION

SASSY

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: AWOLNATION/MY ECHO, MY SHADOW, MY COVERS

Formed in Los Angeles, California in 2009, AWOLNATION was founded by singer, songwriter, and musician Aaron Bruno. His career began when, while still in high school, he formed the Punk band Insurgence. By 2000, he had founded the band Home Town Hero, who released two albums during their four-year career: HOME TOWN HERO (2002) and BITCH CITY (2004). After Home Town Hero dissolved in 2004, Aaron and bandmate Drew Stewart formed the band Under The Influence Of Giants (UTIOG). Between 2004 and 2008, UTIOG released the EP HEAVEN IS FULL (2006) and their self-titled album (2008) and several singles before splitting up. Never one to remain idle for too long, Aaron Bruno set his sights on his next musical project: AWOLNATION.

While AWOLNATION is a band, Aaron Bruno remains the singer, songwriter, and sole constant member since their inception. AWOLNATION made their recorded debut with the release of the BACK FROM EARTH EP in 2010. A year later, their album MEGALITHIC SYMPHONY (2011) was an international hit, charting in the US, Canada, Austria, the UK, and other countries. 2012’s RUN was even more successful, climbing into the Top 20 in the US, Austria, and Canada. AWOLNATION’s next two albums – HERE COME THE RUNTS (2018) and ANGEL MINERS & THE LIGHTNING RIDERS (2020) – were also hits in several different countries, proving that AWOLNATION were here to stay. With a series of hit albums, EPs, and singles in their back pocket, Aaron and AWOLNATION were up for a new challenge…

2022’s MY ECHO, MY SHADOW, MY COVERS is an album that finds Aaron and his bandmates collaborating with guest artists on a series of surprising cover versions. Instead of knocking out faithful retreads of the originals, these songs get a fresh AWOLNATION spin to them and end up sounding both comforting and exciting at the same time. The songs don’t lose their original charm as Aaron and Co. take them apart and put them back together with a modern twist. Highlights include Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” (featuring Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath), The Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky” (featuring Beck), Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” (featuring Midland), Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” (featuring Incubus’ Brandon Boyd and Portugal. The Man), Madonna’s “Material Girl” (featuring Taylor Hanson), Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” (featuring Nothing But Thieves’ Conor Mason) and The Cars’ “Drive.” An uplifting experience from start to finish, MY ECHO, MY SHADOW, MY COVERS is new nostalgia at its finest.

AWOLNATION

MY ECHO, MY SHADOW, MY COVERS

Available NOW!