interview_lewisblack-forblog

LEWIS BLACK: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A

BLACK TO THE FUTURE
 
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: BLACK TO THE FUTURE has just been released on DVD and CD. How are you feeling about the way the whole project turned out?
LEWIS BLACK: I am thrilled and couldn’t be happier, especially since this is the first time I’ve produced a DVD and CD on my own label.
SPAZ: Even though this show was taped before the election, I sense that you knew how it was going to turn out. As you imply during the show, the jokes write themselves. Did you realize just how crazy it was going to get?
LEWIS: I wish. I wish I’d actually began writing a book once he had started running. It would have been interesting to see if I could have really captured the crazy that was too follow. But I just didn’t have enough imagination to imagine it could really happen. Every step of the way I thought, “This can’t get more insane” and then it did.
SPAZ: Why do you think that humor helps people understand the way this world really works? Your humor is biting but your messages seem to stay with people.
LEWIS: I think it’s because it helps provide a framework for all of the nonsense and hoo-hah and B.S. that life throws at us. It allows folks to step back from the madness, as they laugh, even if it’s just for a moment and be able to realize that this too shall pass.
SPAZ: I believe that the reason you remain so relevant is that you never pretend you have all the answers because you seem just as befuddled by political shenanigans as the rest of us. Do you think that helps you to connect with your audience?
LEWIS: Yes, I do. I also think because as many folks have said to me throughout my career, “You’re just like my dad, only funnier.”
SPAZ: BLACK TO THE FUTURE’s bonus CD contains additional material that didn’t make it to the show. How much prep does it take to put together a show when you know it is going to be filmed for prosperity? And do you tend to cut a lot of material before that taped show?
LEWIS: Once I finish putting a special together and getting it filmed, I begin working on the next one. Sometimes, I already have new material that I have been working on and I start there. Other times, I am starting from scratch and so I set out trying to find what I want to basically yell about and find the arc of a story I can tell. Along the way I cut pounds and pounds of material and eventually when I feel I am getting close, I start to figure out where we will shoot the special.
SPAZ: A comedian’s stand up show must change and evolve at a rapid pace, especially when there’s so much inspiration for new material. Do you tend to tape your shows right before you set aside (or retire) certain material? People don’t realize how difficult it must be for a comedian to constantly have to change his/her act in order to survive in this industry.
LEWIS: Actually, there are many comics who don’t change their material, they continue to hone it, which would drive me nuts but which other comics find satisfying. I tape every single one of my shows, probably because I am crazy.
SPAZ: After the laughs subside and the audience heads home, what is the most important thing you want them to remember after the show?
LEWIS: That they had a good time.
SPAZ: You’ve been doing segments for The Daily Show. One of my friends said that you should have taken over from Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. Is that something you’d even think about doing or would you feel uncomfortable having to edit yourself to fit into that show’s tried and true format?
LEWIS: They were interested in me, but I wasn’t interested in dealing with the powers that be at CBS or the limitations imposed by the show itself.
SPAZ: The recent political climate has ripped friendships and families apart like never before. There’s so much finger pointing, name calling and shit slinging… and that’s just from the White House! Do you think that social media is to blame?
LEWIS: God only knows. What I know is that social is social and media is media and maybe the two shouldn’t have met.
SPAZ: In regard to those that influenced you in your career, are there any artists outside the comedic field that inspired you along the way?
LEWIS: If you mean outside of comedians I would say, writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Paul Krassner, and Herb Gardner to name a few. Then there’s the Marx Brothers, Madeline Kahn, Judy Holiday, Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen and Sid Caesar and his crew. I could go on and on and on.
SPAZ: What’s next for Lewis Black?
LEWIS: Another special sometime down the road, when I get a grip on what is going on these days. Hopefully some more voice-over work and maybe a couple of nice acting roles. I’d like to write another book or play if I could find the time.
SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD, Blu-ray or record players?
LEWIS: I’ll be watching all of the DVD’s of films and TV shows that I am sent to try and convince that they should get some sort of award or another. I like to play the brilliant CD’s of Jazz artist Jane Ira Bloom.
Thanks to Lewis Black
Special thanks to Larry Germack, Clint Weiler, Tim Elliot and Dave Rayburn
LEWIS BLACK
BLACK TO THE FUTURE
(2CD)
LEWIS BLACK
BLACK TO THE FUTURE
(DVD)
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MODERN ENGLISH/Take Me To The Trees review!

If your only encounter with Modern English is “I Melt With You,” then you need to sit down, kids, because there is more to this British outfit than meets the ear. The band’s moody and artsy Post-Punk beginnings were a perfect match for 4AD, the label that released their first three albums. However, by the second album, 1982’s AFTER THE SNOW, the band had matured and were writing better songs, moving away from their dark past and gaining a lot more confidence in the process. That second album contained some of their best moments to date including “Someone’s Calling,” “Life In The Gladhouse” and, of course, “I Melt With You.” The latter song became one of the tracks that truly defined the ‘80s and became a blessing and curse for the band. Modern English next album, RICOCHET DAYS, was nearly as good as AFTER THE SNOW but did not contain a hit like “I Melt With You” and the band found itself falling out of fashion. Another album – STOP START – came and went and the band split. Over the years, vocalist Robbie Grey and various line-ups of the band have recorded and toured as Modern English, even releasing some very fine albums along the way, In 2010, four of the five original members – Grey, Gary McDowell (guitar, vocals), Michael Conroy (bass, vocals) and Stephen Walker (keyboards – reunited for a few tours and received a hero’s welcome by fans. Seven years on, have finally delivered TAKE ME TO THE TREES, the first studio album since 1984’s RICOCHET DAYS to feature these four core members. While the band wisely continues to avoid attempting to re-write “I Melt With You,” they certainly haven’t lost the desire to re-explore dark places with melodic flair.

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JUSTIN HAYWARD/Moving Mountains (reissue) reviewed!

While not the only lead vocalist in The Moody Blues, Justin Hayward is the most recognizable. His silky smooth voice can be heard on nearly all of their hits including “Nights In White Satin,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “The Voice,” and many others. One of Rock’s finest front men, Justin Hayward has also released a handful of fantastic solo albums over the years that have come and gone without much notice by commercial audiences. That is definitely a shame since Hayward always has something interesting to say and he has a lovely way of saying it.

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THE ADVENTURES’ The Sea Of Love (Expanded Edition) reviewed!

     The Adventures rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Irish Punk/New Wave band Starjets. Vocalist Terry Sharpe and latter-day guitarist Pat Gribben formed the Pop-oriented outfit (along with Pat’s wife Eileen, Spud Murphy, Tony Ayre and Paul Crowder) and released their debut album in 1985. Depending on which country you were in, the album was called THEODORE AND FRIENDS (in the UK and Europe) or THE ADVENTURES (in the U.S.). While essentially the same album, each version featured different mixes of the core tracks (“Send My Heart,” “Another Silent Day”, etc.) and different artwork. The album’s shimmering, glossy production accented Gribben’s melodic flair and Sharpe’s vocals. The addition of Eileen’s vocals added a nice depth to the harmonies, of which there were plenty on display. While the album received good reviews and they earned significant airplay on both sides of the pond, The Adventures didn’t achieve the success they so richly deserved.

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PLASTICLAND reissues on Wounded Bird Records!

Milwaukee’s Plasticland – founded by Glenn Rehse and John Frankovic (who has since left the band) – have remained unjustly overlooked for years… yet they have also been absolutely adored by critics off and on since they first formed some 36 years ago. The band has managed to stay on the fringe of the Alternative Rock scene but have never been fully treated like the Psych-Rock/Garage icons that they are. And I’m sure this review isn’t going to inspire a mass pilgrimage to the record store but if it piques the interest of a few of you, then we’re getting somewhere!  Even though they signed to the esteemed Enigma Records in 1984, Plasticland couldn’t be bothered to cater to the mainstream. Their blend of Acid, Garage and Psych Rock wasn’t merely a tribute to the sounds that they loved – it was obvious that this music was part of their DNA. The band was capable of writing catchy songs with a built-in atmosphere that sounded both retro and modern at the same time.  Perhaps that is why their recordings remain timeless today.  Plasticland are to Psyche what The Fleshtones are to Frat/Garage Rock and The Cramps are to sweaty, swampy, primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll. They could have sold out in their early days and become ‘the new R.E.M.’ like a host of their contemporaries. Thankfully, they chose to stick to their guns and remain Plasticland.

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ALLIANCE ENTERTAINMENT: Supplying the vinyl revival, and beyond

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Alliance Entertainment’s 661,000-square-foot distribution center in Shepherdsville, KY.

 

Raise your hand if you predicted the hot recorded music format of this decade would be…the vinyl record. In the U.S. alone, sales of the throwback records have climbed from under a million in 2007 to a whopping 11.9 million in 2015, their highest total since 1988. Aside from the questions this raises about listening habits and technology, here’s one more to consider: Who’s providing all the records? For about 50% of vinyl record sales in the U.S., the answer, at some stage, is Alliance Entertainment. Based in Sunrise, Florida, Alliance is a distributor for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and vinyl records, as well as musical instruments, pro audio, and a variety of other entertainment products. It’s Alliance’s focus on recorded media, however, that centers it in one of the fastest-changing—and most disrupted—categories of this century. Digital media and streaming services have irrevocably changed the market for CDs and DVDs, yet Alliance has set a blueprint for how a company in this arena remains at the top of its game. It’s currently billed as the nation’s leader in vinyl record sales, and the largest U.S. home entertainment wholesale distributor to mass merchants, internet retailers, and independent stores.

“Technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to home entertainment media,” says Jeff Walker, president and CEO of Alliance Entertainment. “It has put some of our competitors out of business, but has allowed us to grow a brain trust of unmatched industry insiders and given us perspective to innovate and be more forward thinking when new products or opportunities come to us.”

jeffwalkerJeff Walker

For Walker, who started his career as a music retailer, heading up Alliance Entertainment is the latest link in a chain of moves through the music and entertainment industries. His original music distribution company, Super D, was founded as a side business—but emerged as a powerhouse that acquired all of its competitors: Phantom, MSI, Infinity Resources, and finally, in 2013, Alliance Entertainment, which lived on as the name of the merged company. Under Walker, Alliance would distinguish itself by the “one-stop” nature of its model. While some competitors have made their living on a relatively narrow, curated selection of music and film titles, Alliance carries the entire depth and breadth of its vendor catalogs, stocking a physical inventory of 400,000 titles within its distribution center. It’s a wholesaler to 2,900 customers and ships to 14,500 locations throughout the U.S.—as well as retailers in 76 countries worldwide. In addition, Alliance produces exclusive children’s home entertainment products through a dedicated subsidiary company, NCircle, and a full line of vinyl preservation and care products through a second subsidiary, Vinyl Styl. Its industry-leading AMPED Distribution operation offers physical and digital distribution services for both audio and video.

It’s Alliance’s success in this core category that’s allowed it to diversify, expanding from recorded media into categories as varied as video games, comic books, health and fitness products, and collectibles. With a formidable network of facilities, the company also provides third-party logistics (3PL) for some of the largest retailers in the world. Its inventory control systems, electronic data interchange (EDI), and data warehousing capabilities are also cutting-edge, “allowing us to maximize use of time and minimize costly mistakes,” says Walker. “With our dynamic sales and purchasing teams, even in lean years we have been able to survive and thrive. Our ability to adapt, quickly using state-of-the-art technology to face a changing economy, helps us to serve our ever-expanding customer base. We are the model of a 21st century one-stop distributor.”

For Alliance, the newest piece of the puzzle arrived just this summer with its acquisition of the AN Connect LLC retail music business. In purchasing AN Connect’s business and assets, which include vendor-managed inventory accounts for Walmart and Best Buy, Alliance added to its SKU base a huge assortment of CD, vinyl, DVD, Blu-ray, and electronic products. “With this acquisition, we will likely surpass the threshold of being a billion-dollar company,” says Walker. “We continue to expand our reach and service level domestically and internationally, as the world grows smaller through technological advances. We plan to keep chasing the dream of being the largest one-stop distributor in the world, while supporting our retail partners and allowing them to grow with us.”

 

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(This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Music Trades/www.musictrades.com)
Interview_MichaelSchenker_ForBlog

MICHAEL SCHENKER: An EXCLUSIVE Interview!

 
ATTACK OF  THE MAD AXEMAN:
 
An EXCLUSIVE interview 
with 
MICHAEL SCHENKER
    There’s a reason why German guitarist Michael Schenker is considered a music  legend. He carved out a successful career as a hard rock pioneer with German  rockers Scorpions (1969-’73 and  ’78-’79) and British heavy rock band UFO  (1973-’78) as well as his own projects The  Michael Schenker Group and McAuley-Schenker Group throughout the ‘80s and beyond. His manic playing, songwriting skills  and knack for creating extremely memorable riffs has earned him legions of  devoted fans all over the world. And let’s face it – Michael Schenker is the  only guitarist that has ever made the Gibson Flying V guitar look cool. Many  have tried but only Schenker has succeeded. And now, with his latest project Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock, he  is proving once again that he still has plenty of fire, skill and energy. Even  though he has been a professional musician for nearly fifty years, he has never  lost his mojo.
    Schenker’s first claim to fame was joining his  older brother Rudolph’s band Scorpions in 1969. He and vocalist Klaus Meine joined the band at the same  time, although at fifteen, Michael was the youngest member of Scorpions by a  handful of years. He also just happened to be a unique guitarist and gifted  songwriter. He honed his skills with Scorpions for four years before leaving  the band and joining British rockers UFO. With UFO, Schenker became an
international sensation, steering the band away from their early Space Rock  leanings towards an edgy Hard Rock sound. UFO became a force to be reckoned  with, but by the end of 1978, he left the band. And to think he was barely into  his twenties at this point. Schenker rejoined Scorpions right after leaving UFO,  but soon realized he wanted to focus on his own thing. So he left – again – the  following year. The Michael Schenker Group was his next project, although he  moved away from the commercial sounds of his previous bands and embraced his  experimental side. For the next thirty years, he focused on various other  projects including a brief reunion with UFO, the McCauley-Schenker Group and  other endeavors. By 2008, he was ready to embrace his illustrious Hard Rock past and formed Temple Of Rock. The band has had several line-up changes over  the years but the most recent – and best – features Schenker joined by former  Scorpions members Herman “ze German” Rarebell (drums) and Francis Bucholz  (bass) plus guitarist/keyboardist Wayne  Findlay and powerhouse vocalist Doogie  White (Tank/La Paz/Rainbow/etc.). While on tour for their excellent 2015  sophomore studio album, Spirit On A Mission, the band was  approached about recording their live show using a new technology called 3D  Listening. The results can now be heard with the release of On A  Mission: Live In Madrid. On this release, you can practically ‘feel’  the atmosphere of the venue even on the normal stereo mix of this recording.  There’s even a version of the release that, with the correct audio equipment,  will make it seem as if you are there in the audience enjoying Michael and the  boys giving it their all on stage. The material during this scorching  performance spans Schenker’s entire career including Scorpions, UFO and, of  course, Temple Of Rock.
   Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat  with Michael Schenker as he prepared to embark on a series Michael Schenker Fest  shows, which feature appearances from three original vocalists he has worked  with over the years – Gary Barden, Robin McAuley and Graham Bonnet

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An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with PETER BJÖRN AND JOHN’S Peter Morén

Swedish trio Peter Björn and John have created a musical universe that is constantly evolving. However, they’ve managed to retain their unique charm that made them press darlings a decade ago with “Young Folks”. What many didn’t realize is that that hit’s parent album, Writer’s Block, was the trio’s third in a career that has seen them stretch the boundaries of Pop music. While Top 40 radio’s Pop guidelines are pretty rigid, Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson treat them like elastic rubber bands, bending and twisting those guidelines into new and exciting aural avenues. They’ve even managed to carve out musical careers outside of PB&J while never lowering the quality control level on the albums they record together. And can you believe they even collaborated with Canadian hip hopster Drake a handful of years before he became a musical sensation?

Breakin’ Point, their first album in five years, finds PB&J offering up a collection of songs that are so instantly lovable that you’ll swear you’ve been in love with them for years. Every track on the album is a potential hit single – the melodies leap out and grab hold on the first spin. Their songwriting is based in classic ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s Pop/Rock, but the production, arrangements and inventiveness is thoroughly modern if not outright forward-thinking. They’ve sidestepped the experimental moodiness of some of their past albums and embraced their more playful side. This isn’t an album that tries to revisit their past glories – it creates new ones.

Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to track down band member Peter Morén, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Breakin’ Point, PB&J and more…

 

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