80s (and sometimes 20s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Benjamin Russell/Balance

It has been a decade since Benjamin Russell and I first interviewed. I seriously can’t comprehend where all that time went. Back then, we had a chat just before his CD “Rockhill” dropped. I was so moved by the collection that I wrote an impromptu review soon after. I know that Benjamin has been busy creating and releasing since then, but somehow life got in the way, and here we are 10 years later.

I was given an exclusive first look at Benjamin’s latest CD “Balance,” an emotional and insightful journey scheduled to drop on February 26. The tracks speak to a rich life, a full life, a life filled with tales dying to be told. The overall tone and lyrics have me imagining the patriarch of a family gathering the members together in front of a fire crackling in the living room hearth and sharing stories in a way not to instill fear, but to endear, with lessons to share.

My impression is that the more we listen to “Balance,” the more the depths of Benjamin’s life are laid bare for all to see. It’s done not with melancholy, but with a sense of triumph and joy. The upbeat undercurrent tells us that whatever we might learn from the stories he spins, it’s to our advantage and to his great relief.

Benjamin and Elyce, his writing partner and soulmate, took some time out of their busy schedules to indulge a few questions from me. The upshot is that we all have an opportunity to enjoy this latest heartfelt creation from one of Canada’s most gifted musical story weavers. Remember: this creative and inspiring album drops on February 26, so mark your calendars!

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MissParker: So what have you been up to the past 10 years?

Benjamin Russell: After the release of ROCKHILL, I put a band together and played shows with Peter Marunzak (former drummer for one of Canada’s most popular 80s bands, LUBA), Peter Patrick (guitarist from Nova Scotia’s NAKED LUNCH), composer, Sandra Chechik on keyboards, and Jose Sierra on bass. It was great to be playing live again!

I was on a high, creating music like crazy, but all over the place. The muse kept jolting me with stuff ranging from acoustic folk to aggressive electronic dance as well my more 80s pop style. I decided to split myself in three. But then everything came to a screeching halt.

There’s a reason there’s such a gap in communication since ROCKHILL. After that, I made an album under my name, SUNDOG, and 2 EPs: BUY THE BOMB, under the name, Guru Groan, and ALL FOR YOU, under the name, River of Stone. These nearly didn’t see the light of day as, just when they were about to be released in 2013, Elyce (my music and life partner) was diagnosed with a slow moving but incurable cancer, a form of leukaemia called, CLL. I stopped making music and had no time to promote it, making the decision to just spend every quality moment together.

MissParker: I’ve seen Elyce listed in the songwriting and video credits. Has she always been so involved?

Benjamin Russell: We met when I had just turned 19 and have been together ever since. A year later, I typed out two copies of the lyrics of all the songs I had written and bound them together into books as gifts for my best friends. They were divided in two parts: Before Elyce and After Elyce. There were already more songs in the second half. She gave me lift and I flew. Since then everything has been a collaboration.

MissParker: Does Elyce write music or lyrics or both?

Benjamin Russell: She doesn’t write music but she’s influenced me incredibly. Elyce is one of the original Beatlemaniacs. Friends and family made fun of her for loving them before they were so big! She has eclectic taste and she turned me on to stuff I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. As the son of two university professors, I grew up in a home where “commercial” and “popular” were dirty words. I was a musical snob when Elyce opened me up to more than rock, classical and male singer-songwriters.

Elyce: Yeah, he was a real chauvinist! (laughing) Not really, but he hadn’t listened to Barbra Streisand, Laura Nyro, Roberta Flack, or Buffy Saint Marie.

Benjamin Russell: The lyrics are collaborations. Mostly, I start writing something and ask her to tweak it but often I get ideas from something Elyce said or wrote. Some songs are all nearly all her, TRYING TOO HARD, on GENTLE MAN, for example. On that one, she talked while I rearranged the words into lyric form.

MissParker: I feel like I’m forever asking this same question, but it seems to add context to what we’re listening to. What inspired the creation of “Balance?”

Elyce: As I used to tell my high school students, my husband’s best and worst quality is that he’s very sensitive! The smallest thing can inspire him to create but sometimes to extremes. He has so many ideas and projects, and needs be grounded. Balance has not been easy for him to achieve.

Benjamin Russell: Yeah, Elyce has kept me tethered to the mother ship. There have been many times I could have rocketed off this planet entirely if not for her!

I gave up my job in August 2018 to be with Elyce. We began the best years of our life, and Elyce encouraged me to start recording again. We were well into BALANCE when we realized we were working on not one but two albums. Elyce started it – she said, “This should be a rock opera!”. We put BALANCE aside and quickly wrote and produced SHIKASTA SUITE, which came out in November 2019. It’s based on Nobel Prize winning author, Doris Lessing’s science fiction novel, Shikasta.

MissParker: Do you find that the more life you’ve lived, the more reflective your music tends to be?

Elyce: I think it’s always been a big part of his music. A song like BROKEN-HEARTED LOVERS, his first vinyl release back in 1981, was a punk/pop song, but I know the real story. The lyrics say, “Sat up late last night with the headphones on, listening to some music, crazy love songs…” Ben was actually listening to Beethoven’s 9th and Bach organ fugues while he decided whether to ask me to marry him after we’d been seeing each other for only 10 days. 

Benjamin Russell: Ha ha, that’s true. Reflection. It’s like hiking. You get IN THE ZONE, and just climb your mountains, but every once in a while you come to a break in the trees and can see for miles. That’s kind of where we are now.

MissParker: Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write your songs?

Benjamin Russell: As broad as possible!

Elyce: I tell him to be free as an artist and not pigeon hole himself.

Benjamin Russell: That being said… (laughs) I want this album to resonate with fans of my 80s music who’ve supported me and have been waiting a long time for a followup to my 1984 album. I had done remakes and videos for MIRACLE (on SUNDOG) and SHADOWS (on SHIKASTA SUITE), but this is fresh material with a vibe that’s being recognized. Some have compared BALANCE to Pet Shop Boys and New Order’s later stuff.

MissParker: How important are the lyrics?

Benjamin Russell: That’s a great question. When I started writing songs, they were always first but now it varies from song to song and music has become increasingly a focus. I’m always writing melodies in my head. Many of them have been lost over the years because I didn’t write them down. Now I do, and lyrics might come later.

Elyce: What we’re saying is important to us. There are fewer words now but they are carefully chosen.

MissParker: Did you perform all of the musical parts for “Balance” or did you have help in the studio?

Benjamin Russell: I did everything with the exception of some of background vocals. I had help from Oliver Russell and Erin Ilagan on WORD (YOU MAKE ME FEEL) and REFUGE, and that’s Elyce in the tag to I AM A STRANGER.

I played electric and acoustic guitar. I really enjoyed playing bass especially the solo on ALONE, as well as doing some parts in real time on my computer QWERTY keyboard (the solo on IN THE ZONE, for instance). I combined real playing with sampling on BENT OLD MAN AND MULE. I was going to call it a “landscape for voice and banjo” and wanted it to be just me plucking and singing live, but it grew into a full electronic, sampled and looped production.

I’ve come a long way from the days when everything was actually played on instruments. Now my main axe is the computer! When I made the album in 1984, I didn’t have one, but I had to be a programmer. Anybody who used a drum machine or sequencer back then had to bend themselves to the weird and conflicting operating systems, so most of what is on that album is actually played. Computers have made composing so much easier.

For me, everything changed radically in the last couple of years. I used to write out the words with chords, put together beats and build on top of that. Now, I almost always write out the melody first in actual music. I use a program called Notion. Some of the instruments are written straight in there. Then I’ll export it and continue in my main music program, Logic. REFUGE is a string quartet and was completely written in Notion before I sang on it.

MissParker: How much do current world events influence your music, or is it mainly personal experience?

Benjamin Russell: That’s a big question! How can you avoid current events without sticking your head in the sand? THIS SKIN is intensely personal, about being ready for an internal change, but on another level, it’s a statement of solidarity with everyone struggling to be seen for who they are, not their race, religion or gender.

I AM A STRANGER came from a dream. I was in a big crowd at some event, a conference or something. No one knew each other, but before it started, everyone stood up, faced their neighbours and sang a song together. I told Elyce about it and we wrote this song. She calls it an anthem. My waking dream is that that could happen one day, that everyone could sing it with me.

Elyce: This is where I step in and tell him not to get carried away! (laughs) I just know that it makes me feel positive and hopeful.

Benjamin Russell: We need to remember that the world is many individuals and each one is important, crucial even, in unique ways. IF asks and answers the question: “What if you were never here?” BLINDED BY NEED, shows how we get so caught up in our own pains and insecurities that we become blind to each other. Are these personal or are they issues everyone in the world has to deal with? I believe it all starts with each one of us if we want to heal our world.

MissParker: I know no one is really performing live at the moment, but prior to COVID, had you been performing at venues? When the COVID crisis is over, do you plan to take your music on the road?

Benjamin Russell: These days I’m strictly a studio artist due to our situation.

MissParker: Do you think the creative solutions that artists have come up with to circumvent COVID restrictions and get their music out to the fans—Zoom, YouTube, Streaming—will permanently change future live music performance?

Benjamin Russell: There’s nothing like a live concert. Whether in an intimate club or a huge stadium, the experience is so much more than just the artist and music. Everyone’s energy contributes. Fans and feedback generate something on a whole other level. That’s what’s so hard about not performing – it starves an artist’s need to connect.

That said, thank God for the internet! It’s helped me keep in touch with fans all over the world and allows me to release an album like BALANCE without touring. Videos on Youtube give a taste of what a performance might be like, but like everyone else, I can’t wait for live performances to come back!

MissParker: I’ve spoken to other artists who say the creative flow never stops—that even though this album is complete, there’s so much creativity waiting to get out that more songs are already writing themselves. Does that ever happen to you, or do you try to take a break between each completed collection?

Elyce: Try and stop him! Creating for Ben is like breathing. If he takes a break from music, then he’s doing photography, poetry or painting. Lately he’s even managed to combine them all in his Instagram posts which I think would make a great coffee table book. Knowing him, the next album could start with the cover design, a drawing which inspires us to write a song.

Benjamin Russell: I don’t know. If I never made another album after BALANCE, I’d be OK with that. It’s that important to me – a distillation of what we have learned.

I’ve already finished more songs which could have been on this album, but a lot of thought went into the flow and balance and they didn’t quite fit. I’m working on a remake of ONE LOVE from my 1984 album. People keep requesting the original, but I don’t have the rights to the recording and TGO Records, my label back then, is defunct.

Missparker: Where can people listen to and purchase your music?

Benjamin Russell: All my music is online (except for my 80s albums which are out of print but even they can only be found on Ebay, Discogs, or whatever). My vinyl and CDs are available on Bandcamp. I’m on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Youtube, and anywhere else you get your music online. Streaming doesn’t pay much per play, but when people put you on their playlists, it adds up. And I know people are listening, which keeps me creating.

Missparker: This has been fun! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your music and your thoughts with us. Looking forward to future releases!

Benjamin Russell: Thanks for asking. You do so much to support independent music and spread the word. It has been a real pleasure and it is wonderful to reconnect with you!

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Show your support for these incredible artists:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2yw3ijBg4Tenp3Ul1zuoPg

Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/benjamin-russell/47225251

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/tcbemusic

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Benjamin-Russell/e/B003CHAZR6/digital/ref=ntt_mp3_rdr?_encoding=UTF8&sn=d

Bandcamp: https://benjaminrussell.bandcamp.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BenjaminRussellMusic

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mtl_bar

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bar.mtl.poetry/

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Videos

From Shikasta Suite~THE LEAF 

SHADOWS 

From SUNDOG~BABYLON BABIES 

LOVER

From GURU GROAN~HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN

From ROCKHILL~DECEMBER

80s (and sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave Again!

Be forewarned—I’m going to drop the stuffy, professional interviewer persona and let my fan-gurrrrl flourish…

OMG—they’re back! And not a moment too soon! I’m excited beyond words!

This year has been the year that keeps on giving, and I’m not going to rehash that. It has been the year that will forever go down in history as sucking rancid canal water. So lately, whenever there’s a glimmer of hope, it tends to shine like a blinding beacon through the storms of hell.

That said, SLAVE to the SQUAREwave, the incredible duo of Rob Stuart and Colin Troy MacPhail, is back with an outstanding 90-minute collection of new music that, even if this year hadn’t been the epitome of everyone’s worst nightmare on steroids, would STILL rise like a phoenix above the ashes of contemporary music. These guys have been at it for 20 (count ‘em!) years, and the music is still as fresh as any debut album, let alone the latest in an already brilliant catalog. So what’s the album called? Why, “20/20” of course. Get it? Twenty extraordinary years of musical collaboration that just happens to coincide with the infamous calendar year 2020.

What makes S2TSW’s music really shine is that it always has something for everyone. Rob and Colin are not pigeonholed into one particular sound or style. They unabashedly experiment with sound, lyrics, instrumentation, orchestration—you name it, the sky’s the limit. This album is no exception. But lest you think it’s a hodgepodge of random notes forming a mishmash of unrelated songs under the guise of a collection, think again, honey. The progression is deliberate and logical and delightful to aurally behold.

And one last fan-gurrrrrl observation. I am a David Bowie fan, pure and simple. I’ve written in the past about my undying love for Bowie because he literally saved and validated my life over 40 years ago. And, that’s what makes S2TSW so important, so relevant, so vital a part of my life. In addition to the brilliant rhythm, melody, arrangement, and production that Rob brings to the table, there’s Colin’s voice. He has Bowie’s range, emotion, and creative delivery all wrapped up. This duo has filled an enormous void for me—both when Bowie retired and when he unfortunately passed on. Few musicians can make that claim. I’m making it for SLAVE to the SQUAREwave with deep-felt love and sincerity.

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MissParker: Well, here I am in the enviable position of asking my favorite duo questions about music I adore. Can it get any better than this? OK, before I absolutely embarrass myself in front of you guys, let’s get started.

It’s been 3 years since the last album release, “Jigsaw.” When did you first realize that it was time for another album?

Rob Stuart: It’s just natural for us to start working on a new album right after we’ve released one. It’s in our blood!

Colin Troy: It’s quite funny, I told Rob after we had finished the new album that I was a bit burnt out but of course 2 days later, I was jamming a new baseline for a new song. It’s a bit masochistic. (Laughs)

MissParker: The album’s name is just so perfect. When or how did it dawn on you that not only had you guys been doing this for 20 years, but that you’d have another album release in the year 2020?

Rob Stuart: Colin put that together. It was the perfect motivation to attempt to write 20 songs and meet a tight deadline. I can’t believe we did it!

Colin Troy: Actually, I believe we never intended to write 20 songs. However during the past seven months or so a lot of good and bad things occurred, so there was a lot of inspiration to continue writing. I agree with Rob, I can’t believe it either.

MissParker: David Marsden, God love him, has been teasing us by playing selected tracks during his live broadcasts for quite some time, now—maybe a year? So that tells me this album has been in the works for a while. Do you have a process that you follow for writing and recording songs? For example, I know that Colin generally writes the lyrics and Rob creates and arranges the music…is it usually lyrics first, then music? Or does Rob come up with a concept melody and add the lyrics later? Or a little of both?

Rob Stuart: It’s all of the above. I don’t write lyrics, only music. So, I’ll write a solid, structured music bed with a verse/chorus/bridge etc. and send it to Colin who will write a lyric and melody. In the past he would come over to my studio to record the vocals but during COVID he recorded most of the vocals in his own studio. Depending on the lyric Colin comes up with we will rearrange the song. Sometimes the intended chorus becomes the verse, the bridge becomes the chorus or the verse can become the bridge, or not. There are no rules. On other occasions, Colin will send me a fully realised track with music and lyrics already completed and then I’ll put on my producer hat and get to work by chopping it up or adding to the song to finish it off.

Colin Troy: I find writing the music the easier part of song writing. The lyrics are usually the last thing to put down because I find it is the most difficult part of song writing.

MissParker: I’m big on lyrics—it’s probably the frustrated poet in me. To me, the lyrics are just as important as the overall song. I feel the lyrical angst in some of 20/20’s tracks, which makes a whole lot of sense, given the state of the world. But, I also feel joy and hope in others, and I love the balance. It’s like you’re saying, “It’s been a shit year, but hang on, there’s something good around the corner.” Was that intentional? If so, how did it evolve?

Rob Stuart: I’ll defer to Colin.

Colin Troy: It’s funny—when I listen to the new album, I view it in two parts—the 2019 lyrics versus the 2020 lyrics. With the exception of a few songs written in 2020, most of the material became quite personal due to what was going on in my life these past 6 months. There was no intention other than writing in the moment. The only evolution I would say is letting mother nature take its course.

MissParker: I love movies that you watch over and over, only to discover something new each time. I gotta tell ya, I’ve been listening to 20/20 over and over again the past few days and it continues to sound fresh and new each time, hearing something different with each play. I truly believe that ability is deliberate and couldn’t possibly be accidental, and something I enjoy to this day with Bowie’s music. I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but what in the world is your secret?

Rob Stuart: We put a lot of work into our music, so I appreciate the question. Some things do happen by accident but a lot of thought is put into our music. A good example of a happy accident is the lead vocal cutting out in the last chorus of “Something’s Kind of Weird.” That was unplanned, but it added drama and suited the song, so we made the decision to leave it in. The other day our good friend, Scott MacLean, called up and said that he was just listening to our song “Supernatural” from our first album and had just noticed me whispering in the bass breakdown even though he had listened to the song many times before. That was something I had done deliberately. I think adding layers like that is fun for a producer and is also rewarding for the listener.

Colin Troy:  Accident or not, when it comes to producing music, no one does it better than Rob.

MissParker: Does Colin lay down all of the vocal tracks himself, or do you guys use other back-up singers?

Rob Stuart: Yes, Colin has such a versatile vocal range that he lays down all of the vocals himself although my wife, Kim sings backing vocals on two or three tracks on the album. A good example of them singing together is the opening of “Souvenirs.”

Colin Troy: We have used backup singers before on previous albums. A great singer named Liz Tilden, Coco Brown, and also a great singer, Penny Robillard,  who also used to join us for the live shows who now lives in Australia. The past couple of albums, Kim has stepped up to the plate which is great because she softens the belting back-up from me.

MissParker: OK, I have to admit it. For some reason, I’m always looking for influences in music. With that in mind—and I mean this as a huge compliment—if Kate Bush were male, don’t you think “Something’s Kinda Weird” would be her musical doppelganger?

Rob Stuart: That is a huge compliment. Colin and I have always equated Kate Bush as Peter Gabriel’s counterpart. Now that you mention it, I could see both of those artists taking on that track. Wouldn’t that be great!

Colin Troy: I absolutely love Kate Bush. She can sing any of our songs at any time.

MissParker: And the intro to “Hot Mess” made me sit up straight in my chair. It puts me in mind of Trio’s “Dah Dah Dah.” What a blast from the past and a breath of the 80s—am I right?

Rob Stuart: You’re bang on. That is the sample from Trio. Actually that track is loaded with sampled drum loops. There’s the DA, DA, DA Loop, Eminence Front Loop–The Who, Sound Of The Crowd Loop–The Human League, Crabs Loop–Jean Jaques Burnell, Dancing Fool Loop–Frank Zappa, in the bridge, Conversation Piece Loop–David Bowie, and throughout the song, Read My Mind Loop–The Killers. My goal with this song was to make it sound reminiscent of Devo.

Colin Troy: Again, Rob is a genius producer. I near s*** my pants with laughter when I heard the initial Trio sample.

“It was 20 years ago today…”

MissParker: And I have to mention “Model Citizen.” It’s a brilliant song all on its own, but the video totally takes it over the top. What was the inspiration for the screenplay? And, before you answer, let me just throw this out there—I didn’t think there was much left that would make me blush in my old age, but Colin—wow!

Rob Stuart: That video was all Colin. (Pardon the pun!)

Colin Troy: Ha, ha, ha! The inspiration for that song, and in particular the video, comes from working in the service industry for so long. I have seen a lot of “business suit facade.” I have seen a lot of skeletons come from those business suit closets. And, it ain’t pretty!

MissParker: Can we look forward to other music videos for tracks from 20/20?

Rob Stuart: Yes, a video to “Hot Mess” is on its way. Colin will explain.

Colin Troy: Yes, David Raetsen and I teamed up together again and shot a video last Monday. We are still in the editing process and the footage looks a lot of fun and will be released next Tuesday (Dec 22).

MissParker: Woo hoo! One of my favorite tracks on 20/20 (and coincidentally, there are about 20 of them) is “Bonnie and Clyde.” I’m intrigued by the lyrics and what inspired them. Oh, and I couldn’t help but hear the reference to “Station to Station”—very clever!

Rob Stuart: Colin!

Colin Troy: I have to confess that “Bonnie and Clyde”  is a kind of continuation of “Texan Thugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” It’s about two people being badasses. I’m not a badass, only on stage! (Laughs)

Of course I had to make a reference to Bowie because he was the ultimate on-stage badass, right?

MissParker: Absolutely! And speaking of badass, I’m completely gobsmacked by the various instruments in each of the songs, some sounding like you have a backing band of at least a dozen eclectic musicians. Does each instrument’s unique sound have to be layered in individually, and if so, about how long does it take to lay down so many tracks?

Rob Stuart: We work with a lot of loops but as we’ve aged we’ve had a harder time keeping up technology which has forced both of us to go back to basics by playing live. I’ve never had the patience to figure out technology beyond its use for my personal requirements, so rather than waste time figuring out how to make things work, I’ll just play by hand. My lack of technical ability has actually made me a better player. These days my main tool for sounds is my iPad Pro. You can literally take all of the beautiful, old synthesizers and analogue drum machines that I have in my studio, plus much more, and put it into an iOS device.

It does take a long time to lay down individual tracks, but depending on the song the time can vary greatly. Most of the time, we are working with 60+ tracks. Those tracks will usually be mixed into sub-mixes before the song is finally mixed down and mastered.

Colin Troy: Personally I believe that you should use every music tool that is available whether it be an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, a drum loop, or an electronic synth loop. The beauty of sound is endless. I tend to write a structure and I will let Rob flourish with all the details.

MissParker: I’m curious to know how you come up with the melodies. I know a lot of musicians will hammer out a rough draft on a piano or guitar. Do you guys have a favored method, or does the magic just happen?

Rob Stuart: Sometimes the melody can be obvious and I’ll know where to go with it, other times I’ll sit at the keyboard and hammer out a melody line over and over again until I find something that works. Then I’ll usually figure out a counter melody or harmony.

Colin Troy: Honestly, I find writing the melody the easiest part of the song. I may not have a structured lyric but I will still sing a gibberish melody that sometimes becomes an unconscious lyric. Kind of like speaking in tongues.

MissParker: Totally selfish question here—are there any songs currently under development for another SLAVE album in the near future? One can only hope the answer is “Yes,” and that we won’t have to wait another 3 years!

Rob Stuart: We have some songs left over that did not make the final album that need finishing but we did cut this one close. Colin wanted to add a last minute funk tune, so he wrote the song “20twenty” while I was actually uploading the tracks for final distribution. He played me the idea over the phone, so I knew it was going to be a great track. We got it done at the last minute, but that being said, I think we are all tapped out for songs at the moment. Knowing us, that never lasts long. As I said, it’s in the blood!

Colin Troy: Don’t get mad Rob, but I’ve already started working on a new tune. (Laughs) I really do think I’m a musical masochist!

MissParker: I want to sincerely thank you guys for the two decades of hard work and absolute listening pleasure you’ve given us. There’s nothing better than the gift of hope, and over the years, that’s what your music has been to me, and others I guarantee.

Rob Stuart: Thank you so much for supporting independent music and for your support of S2TSW.

Colin Troy: Awwww, thank you so, so, much for your support and love. AND to all the squareheads who love and dig our music! We can’t wait to see you guys at a live show soon. I know we’ll all be dancing and singing and having a great time together again!

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SLAVE to the SQUAREwave’s album 20/20 dropped on December 15, 2020. What on earth are you waiting for? To miss out on this fantastic collection of life-relevant songs really would put the year in the dumper. So, get over to wherever digital media is sold and grab your copy now. It’s the perfect antidote to a year the likes of which we’ve never seen before and hope to never see again. Consider it an aural vaccine.

Model Citizen ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Headphones ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Feet Don’t Fail Me Now ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

 

 

80s (and sometimes 20s) Music  Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Ward Band Album “Bring Me Low” Review

Photography by Warren DiFranco

Imagine being the first band on the planet—and quite possibly in the universe—to release an album for the 2020 decade.  An amazing feat, right? Well, there’s a band on the west coast of the US who achieved just that—I kid you not—and the name is Ward.

Initially I had the privilege to make the band’s acquaintance in June 2017, via an interview with the band’s vocalist, Ward himself. A gracious and interesting interviewee, it was such a pleasure to get to know him and his music in more depth.

Now, I’m excited to familiarize all of you with (the band) Ward’s latest release. As I said, the band purposefully released this creative effort on January 1, 2020 at exactly 12:00AM (UTC+14:00), the dawn of the new decade. In addition to being a collection of beautifully crafted and executed tracks, Ward has designated proceeds from the sales of the album “Bring Me Low” to go to NAMI, a well-respected organization that helps individuals cope with depression and other bouts of mental illness.

“Bring Me Low,” a compendium of songs carefully and concisely illustrating the struggles that creative people find themselves in when battling depression is available for download HERE.

So, here are my thoughts on this brilliant album. I’ve listed it out by title track, each title encapsulated by a few lines of streaming consciousness/impressions scribbled out as I listened. But, please don’t take my word for it. Preview and fall in love with “Bring Me Low” for yourself. And, when you make this album a part of your music collection, feel proud in knowing that you are playing a major part to help musicians, as well as all the rest of us, battle mental disease.

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Album Title: Bring Me Low 

Photography by Warren DiFranco


Artist/band: Ward
© January 2020
Drums: Ryan Dietzenbach
Bass: Chris Gongora
Guitar/vocals: Ward
Guitar: Mauricio Munguia
Photography by Warren DiFranco

All songs by Ward except Further From The Edge (Ward & Munguia), Leave It On (Ward, Gongora, Dietzenbach) and All The Things I Want (Ward, Gongora, Dietzenbach, Munguia)

All songs mixed by The Elk, except Swimming and Leave It On, mixed by Jason Haag and The Elk, and Whatever Takes You Home, recorded live in one take at the lovely Rev9 studio.

Leave It On—My first thought as the song opens is that the melody resembles a very welcome throwback to the post-punk era of the music that I adore. A seriously wild bass riff anchors driving guitars and a frenetic beat that eventually morphs into a slower pace. But, the vocals never quit/slow down. The frantic lyrics and passionate vocals make listeners feel as if the vocalist is taking us along an anxious journey to a destination unknown.

All The Things I Want—Even though the lyrics are dark and full of introspection, the melody/tempo of this track consists of uptempo rhythms and jangly guitars that perfectly complement the vocals. There’s a definite urgency that is clearly conveyed, and yet the listener is given the sense that perhaps the desires/results the singer longs for have been placed out of reach and ultimately abandoned.

Photography by Warren DiFranco

I Can’t Fake It Anymore—The vocals make no bones about the singer/subject being at the end of his rope. We’ve all experienced this state of mind in some form or another during our lives and this song encapsulates perfectly the anger, frustration, and disappointment that result.

Bring Me Low—An angelic anthem that tears at the soul. As a title song, it bears the burden of the entire collection, from introducing the theme to setting the mood. This beautifully haunting song is a success on both counts. Backing vocals harmonize over a bluesy and emotional melody, which then segues into a graphic description of a low point in one’s life and a plaintive plea for relief. It’s a song rife with the struggles and obstacles encountered on the journey to becoming clean and sober.

Photography by Warren DiFranco

Further From The Edge—Ward’s range on this track truly takes us to the edge, then draws us slowly back into our comfort/safety zone. It’s like a roller coaster ride that is both exciting and terrifying because we realize we are not in control. All of us, at one time or another, has felt as though life keeps us hurtling along at its own pace, not ours, and this song is a graphic picture of the emotional tumult.

Swimming—Aurally, we are caught in a whirlpool of emotions. If this is what confusion of thoughts and loss of control sounds like, this track facilitates what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone in the throes of mental illness. It’s not a pretty place to be—this song eventually has an end, but for some who suffer from depression, it can seem like no end is in sight. The lyrics and Ward’s vocals take us to that place so that we can understand it more fully.

Unsettled Souls—This is an unapologetic explanation of why the singer is who he is. What you see is what you get, and we are advised to deal with it. Most of this album lays bare the essence of a person in the midst of mental illness, but this one track sums it up concisely.

Dirt—The message here seems to be that we all have the ability to choose the path our lives will take—up to a point. That path, once chosen, means there is no going backward, only forward to deal with it the best that we can.

Photography by Warren DiFranco

Whatever Takes You Home—The lyrics in this track tell us that it’s up to us and us alone to figure out how to maneuver our way through life. It’s difficult for each and every one of us, fraught with mistakes and bad decisions, and sometimes we have to fail before we can successfully reach our destination. This is an honest look at what we all face, and Ward’s vocals pull no punches.

There are three bonus tracks/add-ons that are included with the download: Helter Skelter, Don’t Be Scared, and Sober.

Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience this incredible album, as well as contribute toward a wonderful and important cause. Again, the album Bring Me Low is just a click away and can be downloaded HERE.

And finally, Ward is pulling together a music compilation of peers and other international musicians to raise money for the Australian firefighting efforts. 100% of proceeds will benefit The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund.  Do your part to support this important and heartbreaking cause. Download/listen HERE.

Ward ~ Swimming (Official)

 

Ward ~ Whatever Takes You Home (Live)