80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave (interview with Colin Troy McPhail)

About 10 years ago, I was a novice listener of David Marsden’s live broadcast over the internet from a station out of Oshawa, ON Canada. His style and selection of music (mostly alternative 80s and current off-the-beaten-track tunes) had grabbed me from the first show I tuned into (thanks to a recommendation from fellow music blogger RalphD). One night, I distinctly remember being stopped dead in my tracks when a song came up that I had never heard before. I quickly shot off an email to Ralph asking, “WHO is that?” Ralph’s answer came back with an oddly-named group—SLAVE to the SQUAREwave—and a brief history of who, what, when…

The song at the time was “Sinners of Saint Avenue,” and from that moment on, I became a die-hard “Squarehead.” The melody, the lyrics, the singing…up until that point I had firmly believed that there wasn’t a singer out there that even came close to my longtime idol David Bowie. Well, holy cow, was I wrong! Here was Colin Troy McPhail, backed by the incredible musical talent of Rob Stuart, delivering the range, the pitch, the drop-dead gorgeous passion of Bowie, but with his own distinctive and personal flair. Thank goodness for me that RalphD was himself a huge “Squarehead” and happily pointed me in the direction of finding out more about S2TSW.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to feature SLAVE to the SQUAREwave (Colin and Rob Stuart) several times here on Rave and Roll blog. Rob even interviewed me last March for his “The Mixtape Show” DJ slot on NYTheSpirit.com. This, however, is my first opportunity to interview Colin, the angelic and passionate vocal genius of S2TSW. If you’ve never had the privilege of listening to SLAVE, please give yourself that treat. They release their new album Jigsaw on November 10, 2017. It will be available worldwide on all streaming and music websites with an album release party in the works.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll fall under their indomitable spell and become a Squarehead, too.

(NOTE: At the end of this interview, Colin and Rob have provided a free download of the ambient remix of “Starrs,” a beautiful and moving track. This particular mix is not available on the album Jigsaw that releases on November 10, 2017).

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Missparker: SLAVE to the SQUAREwave’s core musicians are you and Rob Stuart. How did you guys meet up and how long have you been making music together?

Colin: Rob and I met nearly 20 years ago at a rave in Oakville Ontario. He was playing his EDF (Electronic Dream Factory) music, and I was performing a project called Smokin Jehovah. We got talking and discovered that we lived close by to one another. We met up and jammed out some of our own music ideas and began a lifelong friendship through music.

Missparker: As someone who can’t hold a tune in a bucket (me), but is blessed with good ears, I am in awe of your tremendous gift of singing. I’ve mentioned to anyone who’ll listen that you remind me so much of David Bowie in style, range, and expression. Do you consider him an influence? Is there anyone else who has inspired you vocally?

Colin: Of course, Bowie is God (laughs). He is by far the greatest artist that has lived. But musically I’ve been influenced by what I call the Davids—Bowie, Byrne, Gahan, Sylvian, and Lee Roth—all my Davids have been musical influences lyrically, musically, and of course, showmanship.

Missparker: I have to say, after viewing a number of SLAVE videos on YouTube, I feel like I’ve missed out big time on your live performances. You seem to morph into all kinds of different and interesting personas. Are they inner characters that you allow to escape onstage? Do they have names?

Colin: (laughs) HAHA, good question…hmmm…The Characters are mostly influenced by the songs themselves. So performing live, the characters just add to the ability to make the songs visual, as well as lyrical. Live, it’s so much fun—hmmm…I’ve never thought of names—maybe I should (laughs)!

Missparker: I have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my preview of Jigsaw. I’m full of questions, but I’ll try to contain myself and keep it to a bearable number! First, where did the name Jigsaw come from? And the delightfully fun intro “Debauchery”—does it have a particular significance?

Colin: This past year and a half has been a personal nightmare—from losing a job and getting transferred to a different job, which has been frustrating—to having my car stolen—to losing a great relationship (at least I thought was)—to losing my dear sister to cancer this past summer. Jigsaw is about the pieces I’ve lost and trying to put some kind of puzzle back in order.

Debauchery is an ode to musical theatre like Cabaret or Chicago. Just a fun sexy, sassy little number to introduce your ears with.

Missparker: No pun intended, but “The Coldest Night of the Year,” along with “Starrs,” absolutely give me chills. They are gorgeous: instrumentally, lyrically, and stylistically thanks in large part to your poignant delivery. What can you share about the source of the emotion behind the lyrics?

Colin: “The Coldest Night” was written around New Year’s Eve of this past year.  I was in a long distance relationship and because of the lack of physical intimacy, I just was overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness. Eventually we ended it a few months later.

“Starrs” is about my dear sister who died of cancer in August. Her middle name was Starr. We knew she was beginning to fade and her time was coming soon. Rob came up with this beautiful track—I was floored by its musicality—probably the toughest song lyrics to write. We finished the song before she passed away. It’s about seeing her again beyond death’s door. I never played it to her. She never got to hear that song. It was too painful for me to have her hear what I wrote—because it was about the inevitable.

Missparker: I’m so sorry for your loss. The pain that you went through is so evident in the music and lyrics. David Marsden has been playing “Starrs” as a teaser of sorts over the past few weeks. I remember thinking, “If the rest of the album is half as good as this, it’s going to be brilliant.” Well…it’s MUCH more than half as good, so “brilliant” is an understatement. Do you have a favorite track, and what makes it that?

Colin:  “Here Comes My Man.” It’s a hilarious true story of a grindr hookup gone bad.

Missparker: “Honest” has an earnest rhythm driving it from behind, almost reminiscent of island music. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this influence in S2TSW’s music. Is there a specific source that it comes from?

Colin: I love drop beats. Both Rob and I love ska music. Rob had a much more musical influence on that track. I had the acoustic melodies and rhythm, but he brought in the drop beats. It’s his genius not mine (laughs).

Missparker:  My ears perked up at the opening seconds of “Something That I Said.” Did I catch a sample of the sample (twice removed) from Eno and Byrne’s “Mea Culpa?” What’s the story behind this song?

Colin: I think you did. My God, good set of ears, my dear! The song is about offending and being offended by people’s stupidity (laughs). It’s such a simple Talking Heads-like rhythm. Gonna be so much fun to perform live!

Missparker:  And speaking of funk, “Something I Said” is one of several funk-laden songs on this (“Fink Fank Fonk,” “White Kids on Funkk,” etc.) that sound like you and Rob had a blast composing. Are there any musicians/bands that you can point to as funk-influential?

Colin: To me FUNK is the best music. It always lifts me up, and great to dance to. I think Nile Rogers is an absolute genius.  It’s about James Brown, George Clinton, Prince…I don’t know where to start. Funk is the biggest musical influence of my life.

Missparker: “Ascension” is a powerful song. It hints at a deep hurt and a request for a prayer that is both haunting and scary…almost as if you’re asking for help to avoid doing something you’ll regret. It’s well-known that music is a creative way to tame the demons plaguing one’s inner self. Personally, writing and photography are my avenues of sorting out what I can’t adequately express. David Bowie once said that his music was his way of avoiding madness. Do you find a similar comfort writing and singing lyrics—a catharsis of sorts?

Colin: Oh wow. You hit the nail on the head. It’s about knowing you’re about to do something wrong, but do it anyway—kind of masochistic.  If you listen specifically to one lyric it’s very, very masochistic. Music has been and always will be my therapist. I think every writer has demons and the best way to deal with is through writing about it.

Missparker: “Get Out Of My House” is a fun, beat-driven, chair-dancing tune. It’s another teaser that David Marsden has been sticking in our ears over the past few months. I love the whimsical video Rob put together for it. The story goes that you guys created this song from opposite ends of Canada, which is phenomenal. How important a part does technology play in music-making these days, and how has it changed the landscape of creating and producing music over the years?

Colin: Actually, 3 or 4 songs were written while I was in Vancouver with a now ex-partner. Rob and I bounced a whack of musical ideas from Toronto to Vancouver at the time. We share the same software, so I would record and send him the track. He would make his adjustments and inputs and return them to me. Back and forth.

Technology is amazing these days. It allows a lot of freedom, if you use it properly (laughs). It has totally changed music production, both in a good way and a bad way. Good in the sense that it doesn’t have to cost a mortgage to record anymore. Bad in the sense that today’s music sounds thin to me, at times. There is a lack of warmth in today’s sound because of over compression. But, that may be because my ears are getting old!

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As a special gift to all listeners, Rob and Colin have provided a free download of the full ambient mix version of “Starrs.” This version is not available on the album that will release on November 10. Press the graphic below to download your copy. 

Many thanks to Colin for his candid and heartfelt answers. To learn more about SLAVE to the SQUAREwave and listen to the fabulous music described here, be sure to check out the following sites:

Get Out Of My House (Video edit)–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

David Marsden/NYTheSpirit.com Interview with Colin and Rob

Big Change (extended mix 2017)–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Sinners of Saint Avenue–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Hopeless Believers–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

London Baby–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

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80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Glamatron (Rude van Steenes and Kurt LaPorte)

Timeless music doesn’t fade away. Fueled by the passion of its creators, sometimes it rises from the ashes to feed ears that are tired of listless, formulaic tunes and hungry for solid, genuine, and soul-thumping Music-with-a-capital-M.

Glamatron! was originally formed in 1981 by Canadian musicians Rude van Steenes and Kurt LaPorte.  Together they produced one Glamatron! album called Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence. There was one other album to follow that never, unfortunately, saw the light of day: Chrome Horizons. After Glamatron! was dissolved, van Steenes and LaPorte then formed Vis-A-Vis in 1984, which was nominated for two awards and won the 1987 CASBY Award for Best Independent Artist.

Prior to Glamatron!, Rude van Steenes was the front man for Canadian punk band ARSON, formed with guitarist Marcel La Fleur and highly visible in the Canadian and American punk scenes during the late 70s and into the 80s. Fast forward to 2013 when Van Steenes and guitarist Marcel La Fleur resurrected ARSON and released a blistering, well-received album called not always about you.

Now, it’s time for van Steenes and LaPorte to reintroduce Glamatron!. And what makes the reemergence of this album doubly exciting is, well, that it’s a double album. Not only is Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence back, the previously unreleased Chrome Horizons is now available as part of the package.  Add to this the influences that its creators point to: Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan & T-Rex, as well as early Ultravox, Wire, and Magazine, and you’ve got a collection of music that will absolutely wow fans of early New Wave. DJ David Marsden has been giving solid airplay to various tracks from Glamatron! on his Internet streaming radio station NYTheSpirit.com, and they have been met with keen interest.

Rude has graciously agreed to be interviewed, and I am proud and pleased to re-introduce you to this wildly gifted musician and his music. I have enjoyed…and will continue to enjoy…Glamatron!’s recently reissued Only the Heart Beats and Chrome Horizons. I know New Wave/post punk fans will, too.

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Missparker: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us about Glamatron!. I think an obvious first question is, what inspired you to reissue Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence and Chrome Horizons? And, who were your partners in crime (other band members)?

Rude van Steenes: Thank you for the opportunity and for all the great work you’ve done in supporting and bringing new life to one of the most creative eras in music! It truly is a pleasure to see this music thriving so many years later while continuing to garner new interest through the great articles you’ve written on the bands and artists and your ongoing support.

So, the question was, ‘What inspired me to reissue these albums and who else was involved?’ Well, the reissue was something I had been dabbling with in my mind for some time. I always thought the initial recording, Inside The Silence, was a diamond in the rough in that it was recorded on an 8 track reel-to-reel deck in a basement studio with little-to -none of the studio enhancements available today. The songs were roughly fleshed out by Kurt (Laporte) on guitar and myself on synthesizers and drums; then, Rick (Krausminc) came in on additional keyboards.

We worked with several players including Max Hutchison on drums and Marky Haughton on bass. Although Max and Marky played together on the same tracks, both left together before the recording was complete. This led to Kurt playing both guitars and bass, Rick on keyboards, and myself on vocals, synthesizers, and percussion while Max played drums on 3 tracks, Ben Elfassey on one, and I played on 2 tracks for the finished product. I think we recorded it over two weekends, mixed it, and borrowed the money for a pressing of 950 copies and that was it!

The cover was designed by Anne Marie Carlson and the striking woman featured is a portrait of her mother. The layout was bold for the time; most akin to the European releases of that era which had appealed to us.

Although critically acclaimed, North American labels in general were not interested as it lacked, in their opinion, “commercial appeal” and was considered “ahead of its time” for their audiences. Remember, the Canadian industry was tethered to their American parent companies and, at the time of release, the popular markets played Eye of The Tiger by Survivor, Physical by Olivia Newton John and Ebony and Ivory by McCartney and Jackson, as well as artists John Cougar, Chicago, Foreigner, and Toto topping the charts in North America, so no one here could or would do anything for us. Although the European scene was much more in tune with our sound, we lacked the management and resources to market ourselves over there.

And that brings us to Chrome Horizons, the previously unreleased, three-quarters completed, follow-up to Inside The Silence. At this time, Kurt, Rick, and I were working on some ideas and were joined by Scott Matthews on bass and Rob Greenway (a.k.a. Brilliant Fish) on drums. At some point, Kurt dropped out, leaving the project guitar-less. This was, of course, a challenge I wasn’t anticipating, and it took a while to adjust ,too as Kurt, for the most part, was my song-writing partner; however, as I had the bulk of the lyrics and part of the music written, it was then up to all of us to complete the pieces in the studio.

We took on the song Call written by Rob and, after a few runs, it started taking shape. Scott’s fluid bass lines combined with the keyboard melodies and stylized vocals, gave the finished song its character. The rest (Intrigue, Photographs, Death In September, Art of Seduction, And We Who Dare) followed suit; however, this was another self-produced indie project and we were again in a financial crunch unable to continue. In fact, one track didn’t make it on the studio version (And We Who Dare), as it wasn’t ready. It is, however, included on the live version of the CD and Bandcamp download. What was salvaged from those sessions remained on master cassette tapes for better than 30 years before being re-mastered by Scott in his studio this year.

Finally, what brought this all to light this year was a message I received from my friend Jacek who has a label called Artoffact/Storming The Base. He was interested in Glamatron! and asked if he could do a re-issue of the original first record. I then told him about the unreleased 2nd album and live tracks and a deal was struck to put the whole package together. They did a wonderful job, packaged the vinyl in optional pink along with a great poster, and the CD has a beautiful little booklet and bonus live tracks, as does the download. Really impressive—their label also has an incredible roster of artists that I’m proud to be amongst—such great influences and talents. (Please see the links at the bottom of this article for more information).

Missparker: To me, it’s quite a shift from ARSON’s pure punk to Glamatron!’s New Wave. What was the reason for switching genres, and did you find it to be a natural progression?

Rude van Steenes: Well, for starters, I think musician, author, publisher Jaimie Vernon probably nailed it best in his description of ARSON:

“Though ARSON was shuffled into the First Generation Toronto Punk deck of cards, one listen to tunes like “Love On A Leash,” “Art School Fool,” “Social Eyes,” “Not Always About You,” and “Motor City Suicide” and 20/20 hindsight reveals that ARSON were/are actually a true-blue American Rock ‘n Roll band owing nothing to The Ramones and everything to Iggy & The Stooges, The MC5, and The New York Dolls” –  Jaimie Vernon, Musician, author, publisher (Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia Vol 1 & 2, etc.).

So, ARSON was always kind of on the outskirts of the scene. For example, our third show was opening for The Dead Boys at the height of their initial popularity and that pissed off a lot of local bands who had wanted to do that show; however, it was the promoters’ decision, and although it worked out well for us, the resentment from other bands was never completely resolved.

Our shows were also more rock ’n’ roll than punk; being fairly agile performers, we would utilize stage lights, fog machines and experiment with different outfits and even characters. I took on every show as an adventure; however, towards the end of 1979, while playing some dates in New York City including Max’s Kansas City, I began to feel restless—restless to do something more creative, a different trip that would incorporate more diverse influences and, I think, we all saw that coming. Things were becoming strained between all of us, the road had taken its toll, the original scene was dying, and we were still broke and in debt. I needed to move on; ‘transition, transmission’ was my state of mind.

We came back home, recorded The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out Of This Place for the No Pedestrians compilation album, and all went our separate ways. Marcel and I were obligated to play a couple of gigs in 1980, so we picked up a few former players for those shows, and after two years of working closely together, we took a break for some 30 years!

At first, I began experimenting with different ideas under the ARSON banner. I found a guitarist I had known, recruited a bassist from another band, advertised for a keyboard/synth player and a drummer and put it all together. We did some of the old material, but focused on new songs and ideas; and at first, things went well. We played a few shows and started recording some demos. I brought guitarist Kurt Laporte into the band, but tensions began regarding direction and I began to sense potential problems that I didn’t want to deal with. So, I walked away from my creation, Kurt followed, and the remains went on to become Boys Brigade.

Immediately after, I started writing new material with Kurt and I came up with the name GLAMATRON!, which was the complete antithesis of ARSON. We wrote all new material and never once referenced the recent past. We were going to be new and different using our musical influences inspired by the UK and European music scenes. Transformation came quite easily, as I had already introduced characters into the previous band; however, this time everything changed dramatically from the music to the staging to the overall presentation. It was going to be more ‘theatrical,’ if you will, more along the lines of a hybrid Roxy/Bowie/Reed/’77 Ultravox-come-Stranglers affair. I wanted to change back from the stripped-down punky stage setting to creating a more engaging environment that rocked; and, the transition was so complete, that only close friends knew what was happening.

Having always written lyrics and vocals driven by a rhythmic feel from my drumming days and being influenced by a wide variety of jazz, blues, rock, and soul pioneers like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, the Walker Brothers, not forgetting  Bob Dylan, Van Morrison,  Joe Cocker, Jim Morrison & The Doors, Todd Rundgren, Peter Murphy, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, etc., etc., at the time, I felt the limitations of the genre that ARSON had become was somehow preventing me from exploring other areas. As much as I loved doing what I did, I wanted to do more.

Writing was always important to me; it was an outlet to express myself whilst defining the moments of my interactions with life and all of its trappings. I grew up with books; I’m still an avid reader with a couple of books-in-progress left throughout the house. Great writers and poets have always fascinated me, particularly when their stories have the power to hold you as if a spell had been cast and you can’t leave until that spell is broken or the story ends.

Writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Edgar Allen Poe, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Anthony Burgess, Christopher Isherwood, Rod Serling, and Martin Amis, amongst others, could transport you right into their scenes with such vivid descriptors that if you closed your eyes, you could almost feel your senses open to the experience you just read about. So many other wonderful writers—each one has its influences while the best ones leave their mark.

When I came into the music scene, the last of the Beat poets were rolling up their influences in the old coffee houses of Montreal. Allen Ginsberg, Tuli Kupferberg and The Fugs, Jack Kerouac, Lou Reed and The Velvets, etc., had all drifted through and left their mark. It was all good and hung over with hints of old-world/Beat romanticism lingering in the air, giving it a sense of creative freedom. Switching genres was not really difficult, but more of a natural progression.

Missparker: You mention some fabulous influences in the release notes. Can you expand a bit on the elements of some of these artists that gave helped life to Glamatron!? Was it appearance, musical style, a bit of both?

Rude van Steenes: Well, I’ve been musically inclined for as long as I’ve known; my first instrument was drums and I was self-taught. Within two years of practicing, I was playing high schools, parties, and special events. Life at home wasn’t great, and in 1967, I left home and went to the west coast, finding myself in San Francisco for part of the summer of love. That experience opened up so many different avenues in music, poetry, art, and film that it easily became the creative extension of the Beat generation.

While many of my then contemporary influences included The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Dylan, and Frank Zappa to Paul Butterfield to John Coltrane, the Velvet Underground to Motown to Miles Davis and on the British side, John Mayall, the Stones, Animals, Who, Troggs, Them, etc., they were now joined by The Doors, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Small Faces, Moody Blues, Cream, etc., and styles from American garage to psychedelia to glam incorporating Bowie, Bolan, Roxy, Todd Rundgren, et al. All of these influences impacted throughout the seventies and into the eighties, constantly regenerating and further exploiting the boundaries of creativity, which at that point, showed no limits. Rock and Punk had bred New Wave, Goth, Hair Metal, Nu-Metal, Industrial, and Grunge—all variations on a theme!

My personal tastes have always leaned more to the other side of the pond with exceptions, of course; but in general, there appears to be a greater appreciation for music and the varieties and styles seem to co-habit in more of a non-competitive environment in comparison to the North American artists. I’d love to go over there and play some dates—we’ll have to look into that!

So as a direct answer to “was it appearance, musical style, or a bit of both?” The answer would have to be a lot of both!

Missparker: I have to say, when I put the CD in my player, you had me at Passport. I love the marriage of guitar and synths. What made you include an instrumental, and particularly as the opening track? Were you making a statement?

Rude van Steenes: Passport represented a number of things to us as it starts the adventure. First, the sound—a joyous, up-tempo instrumental that signals a new direction. It starts with the synth drone and church bell that opens into a bass sequence before the guitar and drums kick in. The song evolves around Kurt’s guitar lead and builds with momentum as it progresses; timbales kick in, the tempo remains strong, focused as the guitar counter plays against itself until the final stanza when the drums double up to punch out the last notes followed by the synth drone from the opening coming back and leading into Facial Saviour. Second, as the title implies, this is your ‘passport’ to the rest of the record. And, you’ll notice that just as in the beginning of Passport, the pealing bell is repeated at the end of the closing track Porcelain Doll, after the shattering sound of the doll breaking, to signify the end of your adventure.

The record was planned that way in my mind, albeit subconsciously. It emulates the cycle of birth, life, death, and reincarnation while incorporating all the trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows that we encounter on our journey. In the end, we’re reborn; hopefully wiser, stronger, and better individuals as a result of our experiences and encounters. A passport is always a beginning to something, it never ends.

Missparker: Even though “a little birdie” had given me a heads up that Glamatron! was coming to David Marsden’s live stream, I sat straight up in my chair when I first heard Porcelain Doll on his show. My initial reaction was, “Wow—who’s this?” Is this the reaction that you were hoping for from other New Wave fans?

Rude van Steenes: Of course, but it always comes as a surprise that the song still has that kind of impact. Porcelain Doll was a song that was very carefully arranged from the opening strains of the toy piano to the ‘Gregorian-style’ chorus and the off-kilter guitar that drunkenly wanders throughout the song right down to the child’s voice in the song’s midst. The fact that we were able to incorporate all these tracks with multiple bounces and not lose too much clarity on an 8-track reel-to-reel deck was a bit of a miracle onto itself! As it was also the last track we recorded, there were glitches to overcome. For example, we were going to have a drummer for the session, but he cancelled at the last minute. So, I ended up playing drums. Time was also tight, so we had to scramble to lay down all the tracks and, of course, things never go as planned when you’re jammed. We had to level the toy piano samples as they recorded too “hot,” the guitar parts had tracking issues, finding the right “shattering” sound for the ending, etc., etc.; but, in the final hour, it came together. The first time I heard it 35 years ago, it took my breath away and I hoped it would do that for everyone who heard it.

Missparker: Death in September has such wonderful overtones of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy days. Is that era of his music something that you found valuable to your own work? The reason I ask is because he took a trouncing in the press for his music during that period, but Glamatron! seems to embrace it fearlessly, without regard for critical backlash.

Rude van Steenes: Well, in all honesty, I’ve never written to appease critics and I’ve always admired and respected artistic individuality and integrity as part of the creative process. Lyrics, poetry, prose etc., are an extension of your soul, a diary, if you will, of experiences, encounters, and interpretations that you have witnessed and composed creatively into words. Every artist has their own ‘vision’ and license to explore and interpret in their own way, as to how they perceive the intricacies of life.

David, as we know, was a master of that process not only during the Berlin trilogy but before and long after as well. His poetry and lyrics from early on and throughout his career are, for the most part, shining examples of life experiences woven into a variety of musical fabrics representing every era, so many of which he himself helped create.

The song Death In September was originally titled The Word from the first record and yes, the dark influence was definitely intoned throughout that first album; however, I felt the original version could be improved upon, so we re-recorded it focusing on contrasting the lyrics with a pronounced dance rhythm and a heavier synthesizer track and it pumps so much better now!

Missparker: Personally, I’m drawn to the 80s for the very style that Glamatron! emotes. I think it’s safe to say this collection is very appealing to that generation of listeners. Do you think you have a market with the current generation of music consumers?

Rude van Steenes: I’ve always believed that markets are created and not necessarily by the talent alone, but by a number of factors that include radio airplay, video play, label support, a strong promotional team, and motivated management. With those initiatives in place, I firmly believe that audiences can be created for any genre of music.

Unfortunately, the North American industry has always been “trend” focused in that they would hold back and follow trends rather than set them. Once a trend was established, everything else was put on hold and that’s where the indie labels had some clout. With savvy marketing campaigns, smaller labels could pick up acts, record and distribute them accordingly, and achieve success.

Of course, the majors didn’t like that and started buying out a lot of the smaller labels and either taking them over or gutting them depending on the individual success of each. This totally backfired as the smaller labels had a better understanding of their unique artists and often had chosen talent over profit, something the majors couldn’t understand.

In the early nineties, the industry began suffering major setbacks affecting artists, labels, and consumers and their markets continued to shrink throughout the next two decades. Once upon a time, there was a thriving industry that was able to invest and nurture and grow talent and although it wasn’t perfect, it certainly helped a lot of artists throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Money for investing and promoting, recording and support for musicians was available, and it was, for some, a great community to be a part of.

By the mid-2000s, we saw the decline of the rock star and the rise of the reality TV star, which implies it is basically only about the image. Music took a back seat. When people don’t buy music anymore, the record industry responds by promoting stars with a marketable image. That created image has to then fulfill an objective with commercial potential, thereby stripping out any artistic quality for the sake of sales revenue. In essence, many of today’s songs are not reflective of the artist, but rather carefully written lyrics and hooks assembled by multiple writers with the subject matter designed to appeal to the reality show culture. In other words, today’s pop hits are usually manufactured.

The industry today is almost non-existent, and why bother? With shows like American Idol, hundreds of people can “sing” and they all want to be stars. Why would an industry develop an artist when they have access to clones of today’s stars for nothing?

Do I think that there’s a market for the 80s sound with the current generation of music consumers?  Yes, because good music withstands the test of time and because audiences still seek out good dance music and the 80s had that in droves! We just have to have a solid fan base that can help sustain us in order to continue producing and recording our music.

Missparker: I love, love, love (did I say, “love?”) Call and Art of Seduction from the Chrome Horizons collection. The fretless Mick Karn-ish bass riffs and the Sylvian-esque off-kilter singing absolutely slay me. Was that a nod to the group Japan, or just a coincidental and fabulous collision of incredible sounds?

Rude van Steenes: Well, I would have to say both in this case! We’re all fans of Japan and I would be remiss in denying that there was some influence; however, Call was written by Rob (Greenway) and when we were laying out the track before recording it. Scott (Matthews) was experimenting with his fretless bass while Rob and I experimented with vocal stylings as a progression of the overall “GLAMATRON! sound.” The rest fell into place and we recorded it.

When it came to Art of Seduction, this was a little trickier as the song flowed around the vocal, which had actually started out as a poem I was writing influenced by a series of books I had been reading by Christopher Isherwood called “The Berlin Diaries.” Once we started playing around with some ideas, the lyric developed a flow. Scott again incorporated the fretless bass and the nucleus started taking form. I wanted to keep the background somewhat dark to contrast the bass and vocals and that’s where the notorious Prophet 5 synthesizer came in. I was able to layer several ghostly ‘creeper’ tracks that wove in, out, and between the vocal, bass, and percussion layers. There were other pads that I wanted to add to flesh it out a bit more, but time was a factor.

Missparker: There seems to be a distinct difference in sound between Heart and Chrome. The tracks on Heart are a bit more upbeat, where those on Chrome are a bit darker (and actually appeal to the Goth tendencies in me). What type of evolution had the band gone through to bring about that difference in style? Did that have something to do with not releasing Chrome when it was first made?

Rude van Steenes: Yes, there definitely is a distinct difference in sound between the two which was brought about by a number of mitigating factors. Following the recording and release of Heart, Scott came on board and we did our first live show at a place called The Domino Klub. It was a well promoted showcase; however, nobody, save a few close friends, knew who we were. There were no clues to the past (i.e. ARSON, etc.), and we decided that the less we say, the more intrigue got to play and it worked! The ‘intrigue’ portion played out on national television as a segment of The New Music show where reporters were filmed chasing the band to the dressing room without getting an interview—all in good fun!

It was shortly after that show, when drummer/percussionist Rob came into the picture joining Kurt, Rick, Scott, and I and we started thinking about recording a follow-up record. In addition, we were offered a television taping for a future broadcast. Once the taping was done, it was time to get back to writing.

I think that one of the primary differences in our evolution was that with the first album, Kurt and I wrote the songs and parts and the guitar was always there. Now, with two new fulltime members also contributing, somewhere in the process, Kurt seemed to sense a directional change that he may not have been comfortable with and took a break from the project. As some of the tracks had been written with Kurt’s parts, we had to change those with alternate parts and that was tricky at times. Everything was revamped and all told, Rick, Scott, and Rob did an incredible job breathing new life into the songs.

Other factors include the variety of influences we were affected by in the process of developing the GLAMATRON! sound. As an avid reader and observer, I’m always armed with pens and paper and usually end up with all sorts of scraps of paper with partial lyrics, ideas, etc., in my pockets. At home, I have at least 5 scratch books in different rooms for the same purpose. Scott, Rob and Rick would also gather ideas and throw them on the table; some worked and some didn’t, all parts of the puzzle.

As for not releasing Chrome sooner, there were still tracks to be recorded and mixed, final touches that we weren’t able to finish and like most indie bands, the money is always an issue. Although we were in a slightly better studio with a bit more money, it really wasn’t nearly enough to finish the album. As such, the project was shelved for almost 35 years. What you’re hearing was culled from cassette masters and carefully re-mastered by Scott in his studio.

Of note, one of the incomplete tracks, And We Who Dare was never fully finished although there is a live version on the CD and Bandcamp versions.

Missparker: Only the Heart Beats … Inside the Silence and Chrome Horizons is such a nostalgic trip for me. I just want to put on my dancing shoes, spray my hair up high, and go clubbing. Will there be more—in other words, would you be open to creating more music in the traditional New Wave style?

Rude van Steenes: Well, with the support I’ve been getting from fans, old and new, and of course from David Marsden and his nythespirit.com radio programs, as well as opportunities such as this wonderful interview with you, I’m encouraged and delighted that after all these years, the music and the sounds of that era are still very much alive.

Personally, I’ve never really stopped writing and I do have at least two albums worth of lyrics that easily would fit into that, shall we say, timeless style. Also, let’s not forget, GLAMATRON!’s “successor,” thrice nominated CASBY Award nominees and 1986 winners for Best Independent Artist, Vis-A-Vis!

Vis-A-Vis was actually the continuation of where GLAMATRON!’s founding members, Kurt LaPorte and I, were reunited. Bolstered by our mutual friend and current nythespirit.com host Rob Stuart on synths, along with Gene Burda on keyboards, Gord Baker on drums and Gene D’Onofrio on bass, you had the first version of that band! More on that for another occasion as there may be a CD release in the future.

So, back to your original question, I would have to say yes, there is material there and I’m working on it as well as scripting a video for Porcelain Doll. The hard part is finding like-minded people to collaborate with as many people involved with these projects have moved on and had families, careers, and other projects and pursuits. For example, on my end, I got together with Marcel and some old friends and reignited the band that preceded GLAMATRON!, ARSON. I’ve known these guys since the late 70s and we decided to have some fun and get together, do some shows, and release a CD.

Former GLAMATRON! bassist Scott Matthews works in theatre now in Stratford while former drummer Rob Greenway records under the name Brilliant Fish and plays in various bands. As for Kurt LaPorte, I understand that he gave up playing professionally years ago to focus on career and family. Rob Stuart went on to create EDF following Vis-A-Vis and I was quite honored to be part of his band as a vocalist and percussionist and a contributing writer to tracks on their first CD. Rick Krausminc survived both versions of GLAMATRON! and was a significant contributor to the GLAMATRON! sound. A very talented piano and keyboard player with a great sense of humour, Rick could easily defuse any tense moments. When GLAMATRON! left the room with Elvis, Rick went back to his DJing at clubs and built a successful career.

I should also like to thank Greg Baker, who in the beginning stages of the band, was there and really believed in the project and helped out with all the managing chores and contributed his energy and experience. Also a special thanks to Brian Masters for his contributions to the second album, Chrome Horizons. Playing with all these amazing musicians has been a privilege and something I would love to do again, as so much good has come out of those collaborations, so many creative ideas spilling over and birthing other ideas that flow like paint on blank canvases breathing life into a cascade of colorful notes and leaving something that spurs memories and good times, tears and laughter, love and loss, but always a time that sparks would fly and live dangerously in love with the creative muse.

Be sure to check out Glamatron!’s music and legacy music on the following sites:
https://www.facebook.com/Glamatron/
https://www.facebook.com/VisAVismusic/
http://www.facebook.com/arson.music
https://twitter.com/ARSONBAND
http://www.reverbnation.com/arsonmusic

80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Duran Duran (as told by “Durandy” Golub)

OK, before the critics come out of the woodwork to complain about the title of this post, here’s a preemptive strike: I agree that Duran Duran largely received the recognition they deserved in the 80s through heavy rotation on MTV and the like, but there is so much more to their music that wasn’t played ad nauseum that should have seen the light of day.

There exists a whole network of fans who call themselves “Duranies” and who are dedicated to spreading the true word about their beloved band. They have all of the same fervor and passion that I have seen with Bowie devotees and Numanoids alike. And, there is one uber-fan, Andy “Durandy” Golub who stands out in the Duranie crowd.

I met Andy through social media and was invited to visit his website and also review his painstakingly and lovingly crafted tribute to the band he obviously cherishes. Andy has put together a book of Duran Duran posters and fan memories, “The Music Between Us: Concert Ads of Duran Duran,” that is a gorgeous testament to the band who has deeply affected and formed his very life.

It’s touching to see one’s lifelong passion given a context that can be enjoyed by others of like mind. My own love for David Bowie knows no bounds, and I wish I had taken the time to carefully collect and archive the highlights from his many concerts and accomplishments. I live vicariously through the collections and personal accounts of a network of Bowie fans; Andy is the one who has cultivated the respective treasured memories for those who love Duran Duran.

I consider it an honor and a privilege to have been welcomed into this special world of Duranie fandom. Sit back and have a glimpse into the mind of a Duran Duran super fan who has managed to accomplish what most of us can only dream about.

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MissParker: An obvious question is, what is your first recollection of Duran Duran and what was it about their music made you a fan?

Andy Golub: I love seemingly obvious questions, because they often prompt me to consider my answer with renewed perspective! My first recollection of the band was catching the “Rio” video on MTV at a friend’s house, sometime in early 1984. I wasn’t yet primed to receive the spark at that point, but when I heard “The Reflex”… I sat up and took note. The video cemented my interest.

From the glossy Ragged Tiger album artwork to the band’s riveting stage presence, or even the charismatic photo sessions that filled the local magazine racks, Duran Duran presented an extraordinary visual identity and youthful confidence that captured my imagination. I found myself mesmerized by every track on the Ragged album, eager to absorb all the merchandising I could find, and dedicated to transforming my bedroom walls into a pin-up gallery. I recall the emotions that would swell up within me as Simon launched into the chorus of “The Reflex,” leaving me with little choice but to close my eyes, sing along, and attempt some of the moves I saw him make on stage. The band delivered more than catchy songs… there was a look. A style. An experience – one that I wanted to be part of. The path to passion was swift and merciless.

MissParker: How many concerts have you attended and which one is your most memorable?

Andy Golub: I’ve only seen about twelve shows, a lot less than some people expect. The first show is always memorable because there’s nothing like seeing the band for the first time – mine was in ’87 with Bowie – but then, seeing the original lineup for the first time in Costa Mesa (2003) also earned its place as one heck of a milestone. Perhaps the most meaningful concert was in 2011 at the Everett Events Center, when the band helped me propose to my fiancée, Christine. I often reflect on how I probably should have brought four other rings with me.

MissParker: Do you have a favorite Duran Duran song and/or album? For the record, I know how difficult a question that is, as I would have a very hard time answering the same about David Bowie, but can you at least narrow it down a bit?

Andy Golub: You are correct – picking a favorite is a formidable challenge. However, I feel very loyal to Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the record that introduced me to Simon’s distinctive vocals, Nick’s rich synth arrangements, Roger’s thundering beats, John’s velvety grooves, and Andy’s searing riffs. “The Reflex” hooked me, and the whole Ragged album sealed my fate. Each track stood out with its respective musical personality, while the entire record worked together as a sonic escapade – exciting my senses, charging up my emotional battery, and giving me comfort when I needed it most.

MissParker: When did you first get the idea to document Duran Duran’s concerts and the respective fan impressions?

Andy Golub: After my first book, my thoughts turned to what comes next – seems like I’m always looking toward the future, while dedicated to preserving the past! I felt Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran succeeded at honoring the band in a straightforward chronicle through memorabilia, and for a follow-up, I wanted to hone in on the impact that DD makes on their audiences… a much more personal examination. Viewing the band through the eyes of fans seemed like a logical next step, and the concert adverts were a perfect vehicle for that context; it’s exciting to open a newspaper and find a full page announcement of your favorite artist coming to town, and filling a book with such ads, linked with memories from those shows, evolved into a more rewarding, personally satisfying project than I ever expected.

MissParker: What does the band think about what you do?

Andy Golub: The band and their management have expressed steadfast support for my endeavors over the years, which is a thrill that I still struggle to process fully. Whether it’s been exhibitions, books, videos, social media presence, or even radio appearances, I’ve always strived to celebrate Duran Duran in a sincere, humble, and respectful manner with no expectations. To have the band’s trust, to know they believe in my archival efforts and encourage me on this journey –It’s deeply meaningful. John and Nick are the prominent collectors in the group, so I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing their delight with my books; when Nick wrote the Foreword for Beautiful Colors, I couldn’t have imagined a more profound show of support.

MissParker: Is it safe to say you are an 80s music fan? If so, what other musicians/bands from that era do you listen to?

Andy Golub: It is absolutely safe to say that! ‘80s music holds such warm, visceral emotion for me, carried by memories that never fade; my loves are vast – from Howard Jones, Wham, and Pet Shop Boys to Camouflage and New Order. It’s not just the songs I cherish, but the way ‘80s artists embraced  visual flair, creating a persona with fashion, makeup, hair gel, and a style all their own. There was also a palpable sense of brand loyalty back then – fans of Spandau Ballet were fiercely loyal to their pop heroes, while Morrissey devotees forged their own unique subculture. The ‘80s music scene was a rich, colorful melting pot of stars who filled up the pop charts with catchy tunes, connected with their fans in issues of Smash Hits, and inspired public expressions of devotion –I still view a Duran Duran badge as an essential part of my daily wardrobe.    

MissParker: I’m curious to know how you feel about contemporary music. Personally, I find much of it lacking and boring, and tend to gravitate to those current musicians with an obvious New Wave/Post Punk/New Romantic influence. What are your state-of-the-current-music impressions?

Andy Golub: I must admit, I don’t keep up much with today’s music… although there are some standouts I’ve grown quite fond of: Halsey’s Badlands album is utterly captivating, Adele’s work is incredible, and I love certain tracks by Walk The Moon, Katy Perry, Kimbra, and Ellie Goulding. I must say that, to my ears, contemporary music seems to lack the fun, enduring ingredients that populated the ‘80s. I believe the dizzying pace of pop culture’s ‘flavor-of-the-week’ appetite, the vastly different ways in which new music is accessed (and marketed), and the general shortening of attention spans have all contributed to a musical landscape devoid of significant, memorable material. However, I am quite aware and appreciative of how Duran Duran’s influence continues to be seen in contemporary artists like Mark Ronson, The Killers, and The Dandy Warhols, so there’s still hope out there.

MissParker: One of the images in your book depicts David Bowie and Duran Duran in Toronto during Bowie’s “Glass Spider” tour. It melted my heart to see that for many reasons, mostly because I saw DB in Miami back then. What a dream collaboration that particular billing must have been for Canadian fans! What have you heard about that specific leg of the tour or anything else about the Bowie/Duran Duran connection?

Andy Golub: What a brilliant chapter of Duran’s story! I was fortunate enough to catch the band sharing the bill with David in Vancouver B.C. on that Glass Spider tour – it was definitely breathtaking, between seeing DD live for the first time, and then witnessing Bowie descending from the rafters, clad in red, singing into a phone – owning the stage in his inimitable style. Duran Duran has a very large, passionate Canadian fan base, and I’ve relished hearing many experiences from those who caught the band with Bowie on that tour. The posters I’ve acquired from those Canadian shows are counted among my favorites, testifying to a legendary pairing that might only recently have been paralleled when Duran began touring with Nile Rodgers… a spectacle to behold.

MissParker: We won’t tell anyone…do you have a favorite member of Duran Duran? If so, can you share why?

Andy Golub: A favorite member… aren’t we supposed to see the band as a box of chocolates, each one with their own unique flavor? LOL! I respect, admire, and appreciate them all. I suppose I harbor a special affinity for John and Nick as they are fellow collectors, artists, and have played such a pivotal role in the band’s visual branding.

MissParker: Please tell us more about your book “The Music Between Us: Concert Ads of Duran Duran,” when and where it will be available for purchase, and anything else about your passion for Duran Duran that you care to share.

Andy Golub: I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to reach out to Duranies with the new book. I wanted to honor the fans, their experiences, and to give them a voice beyond the delighted screams that the band hears as the lights go down. Every Duranie has a story to tell, all different – yet remarkably similar, revealing a profound common thread that binds a global community of fans. If nothing else, I hope the book brings fresh meaning to fans’ own memories and shows them how far from alone they are.

The Music Between Us: Concert Ads of Duran Duran can be purchased on Amazon US, with very low international shipping rates to most countries. For Duran Duran Appreciation Day, there will be a glorious 24-hour sale on Amazon – 40% off the listed price. What better excuse to pamper your coffee table, revel in the band’s legacy, and honor your Duranie devotion!

Signed copies can also be purchased directly from me, for just $10 additional, plus shipping. It’s a sheer joy to pen a message to fellow fans, and I invite anyone to write me with their address: contact@durandy.com

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “I wish I felt about something the way you do about Duran Duran.” I never grow tired of learning about the passion in others – it reminds me to honor my own. Whether it’s producing books, running an online DD radio station, maintaining a blog, or just singing a little louder in the car whenever Duran plays on the way to the grocery store, I’d love to see every fan listen to their heart, recognize their passion as a strength, and take pride in who they are. That’s worth celebrating, right alongside the band.

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Links:

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Music-Between-Us-Concert-Duran/dp/0692634827
Andy’s email for anyone who wants to order a signed copy of the book:  contact@durandy.com

Duran Duran Videos:

The Reflex

Union of the Snake

New Moon on Monday

Come Undone

Ordinary World

 

80s (and Sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ WARD

(All photographs copyright (c) Elk Road)

Once again, it has been my good fortune to be contacted by a musician who is promoting his band’s music. I say “good fortune,” because when I pulled up Christopher Ward’s music to preview, the band had me at the opening bars of “Liars.” These hungry ears were fed a heaping helping of lyrical, melodic nourishment that makes them want to go back for seconds, thirds…heck, how about just plain binge-listening.

Christopher Ward

Everything that I’ve heard so far from the Los Angeles-based band WARD embodies the absolute best of pre-grunge, pre-shoegaze, post-punk power pop 80s. What a combination! It’s a more-than-welcome trip down memory lane, and a testament to the fact that great music genres never die—they just get re-purposed. Some artists are gifted to do that more successfully than others, and WARD is one of the best.

Christopher Ward was gracious enough to be interviewed for this article. Take a few minutes to get to know him and his supremely talented band, and put your support behind them to give them a much-deserved push into the spotlight.

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MissParker:  How long have you been making music in the L.A. area?

Christopher Ward: It’s been a whirlwind. I think it’s been six months, max…yeah, we’ve been a band only since Dec 1 (2016). A short time; we’ve played 14 shows for almost 1000 people.

MissParker:  Who exactly is the band and what brought you together?

Christopher Ward: Up until about a year ago (Summer 2016) I was a corporate vice-president for a global technology company working in the Empire State Building in New York City. I had played in many bands in the long-ago past, but had hung up on my dreams perhaps 10 years ago. For many reasons, I did what many people do, what they think they should, what will be safe, what will be secure. My life was increasingly successful, but also increasingly unsatisfying. One day I plopped down at my desk and flipped on my music player. The Joshua Tree came on Pandora and I just started crying. Bawling. Nostalgia is a greek word meaning, ‘the pain of a homesickness.’ In that moment, I knew surely that I wasn’t home, where I needed to be. I had forgotten for many years, until that moment, how much I wanted to play rock music, was meant to play music, and how much my heart yearned to be back home: writing music, singing, and performing on stage.

I left New York last summer and got a place in Culver City, CA. I wrote most of our songs in a couple of weeks over the summer…they all poured out quite fast. In late fall, I started putting ads out on Craigslist and a few other places. It was tough sifting through the respondents, but I ended up with a great band that has come to be WARD: Darren Edwards on drums, Karim Elghobashi on bass, and Mauricio Munguia playing guitar, along with me signing and playing guitar. WARD played our first show Nov. 30, 2016 and haven’t stopped since.

WARD @ Lexington Bar (Feb 2017)

MissParker:  You mention in your promo that Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, and The Stone Roses are all influences. I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I actually hear a bit of early U2 and the British band Ride, among others. Who else do you feel has influenced your music?

Christopher Ward: It’s so funny, everyone seems to have a different take on who we sound like; everyone from The Ramones to Ryan Adams. The early 80s (80-85) has been a target for me, simply because that’s where I’m starting and it’s where I have been harkening back to for a more raw, earnest and live rock sound that I feel is missing from L.A. stages. Tom Petty was the first artist I adored, and always will: His defiance of the establishment and the music industry itself. His songwriting, melodies, and chords are very apparent to me in my music, even if the ‘sound’ is quite different. I love the swagger of The Doors and Echo and the Bunnymen. But more than any other band, I will always adore the ambitious hopefulness U2 continues to dare to bring to music. No band is cooler at being uncool; and yes, their sound is certainly a thread through everything I do.

MissParker: I’m really curious as to what makes a contemporary band go “retro.” Not that it’s a bad thing—on the contrary, I love the trip back to what I feel is the world’s best era/genres of music. But you have veteran musicians like the late, great David Bowie who made it a point to keep pushing forward, pointedly avoiding the past. And another favorite of mine, Gary Numan, has been very vocal about his dislike of being funneled into “nostalgia acts,” preferring to evolve instead of looking back. Yet, as a contemporary band, you do it very well. Why?

Christopher Ward: I adore David Bowie. And in fact, he described himself as a “tasteful thief,” and admitted he would steal happily from other genres, artists and histories. Bowie would be the first to tell us we should readily take ideas from other places, as long we create something unique with that material. The live and raw ‘sound’ from early 80s music, the idealism and arena ambition is incredibly inspiring to me right now, amidst a quite polished and subdued indie rock climate, especially in L.A. I aim to create something new from the known. While WARD is starting with these sounds, I know we will end up someplace else. Our best music is yet to come, and I have no idea what that will sound like. I admit that I started this band on a note of nostalgia, and am happy giving overt nods to the bands that started me down this road. That said, I’ll definitely keep borrowing to make it my own.

WARD @ TRIP (DEC 2016)

MissParker: Who writes the lyrics? Do they deal with a central theme, or are they born of a current state of mind?

Christopher Ward: I write all the lyrics. Love, drugs, and sex cover the themes of many of my favorite songs. Right now, I’m more inspired by introspection about our life choices. Many of the songs have a ‘carpe diem’ sentiment: why we so readily choose safety over the love of our souls, why we are lulled into thinking we have time to waste. I suppose in that way my lyrics obtain more to the introspection of 90s grunge: apathy, confinement, and freedom.

MissParker: I always have to ask this, as trite as it sounds; but as a writer, I’m naturally curious: which typically comes first, the lyrics or the music?

Christopher Ward: Music comes first. Always. I work better as a sketcher than a planner. I think the tone of the songs write the lyrics. I have a book of words I am always looking to insert into great melodies. I’m always trying new things, so that may change some day.

WARD @ Silverlake Lounge (Jan 2017)

MissParker: I know traveling is a huge expense, especially when you have to drag equipment along with you. I am of the (possibly mistaken) impression that cross-country bus trips are turning into a thing of the past.  Do you play anywhere outside of the L.A. area, or do you solely rely on the Internet to get your music out worldwide?

Christopher Ward: We have over 30k fans online, who watch videos, purchase music and give us great feedback. But while the Internet is a powerful thing, nothing will replace live show experience. Live videos can work well to reach more people, but still, the reality is that videos are a sad replacement for the real live show. I think that’s because there’s a very real aspect of theater that goes along with live music: what is special is the moment and space shared between artist and audience. This can’t really be replaced with video. We are still quite new, but very hungry for festivals and live tours outside the L.A. area. And I’m very thankful for your interview with me today. Hopefully, press and interviews like this will help us to connect with the right professionals and start playing outside of L.A. very soon.

MissParker: Your site mentions that you’ve recorded an EP and that the full album is coming soon. When do you expect that to happen?

Christopher Ward: Oh, well good news! Since we first chatted, the EP is now live and available! You can download for free or pay any price you want for it here: http://ward.band/ep. Enjoy!

MissParker: I have come to know a lot of musicians who spend every waking moment trying to get their music played and heard by others. It takes a certain amount of bravery to throw all that you have behind your craft, to the exclusion of everything else. What motivates you to do that?

Christopher Ward: After too many years of my life spent trying to do anything else, giving it my all doesn’t really seem like a gamble anymore.

MissParker: I’m sure we haven’t covered nearly enough territory in this brief interview to give a full picture of the creative force behind WARD, and its ongoing journey. What else would you like to add?

Christopher Ward: Simply to say, that the world needs more people to live the life meant for them and to be who they are, instead of the lives others want them to be. I can certainly thank Bowie for that sentiment, and finally, I feel I am doing my best to live that life. Right now, I think all of us in this band are that, more than anything. It was truly a pleasure to connect with you. Thank you.

~Resources~

Website

Get the EP

Facebook

Instagram

Velvet Walls: Official Featured Video

Live Concert Video Footage

Link to more Videos 

Life Without David Bowie

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Photograph (c) Mick Rock

It’s hard to believe that it will soon be a year since David Bowie passed from this world into the next–nearly as difficult as imagining, back on that darkest of days in January 2016, what the world would be like without him. Well, we’ve all since gotten a taste of life without Bowie over these past 11+ months, and it hasn’t been pretty. In fact, the whole of 2016 was very much like a poorly behaved child who acts out when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Oh, 2016 you’ve gotten way more than you deserved.

print_bob_masse_resized_2

Bob Masse limited edition giclee

For me, the past year was spent stuffing the recesses of my empty life with music and memorabilia; a futile search for something to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside–for the psychological spackle that would fill the huge gaping holes in my soul. I busied myself replacing original Bowie vinyl with CDs, building a humongous digital playlist to play over and over, day and night, in an effort to soothe the inner pain and immense feeling of loss. While that helped a tiny bit to take the edge off of the all-consuming grief, I continued my quest for peace by acquiring (somewhat) affordable artwork to display throughout the house, and am currently toying with dedicating a room (my home office) to all things Bowie.

I’m obsessed, much like I was several decades ago when I first discovered this incredible being who made such an impression upon me that it led to the life-altering decision to clean up my act and become a productive part of the human race. A small cog in a big machine, perhaps, but I didn’t end up killing myself, which is what my abusive habits would have surely yielded. And the ultimate prize was being smacked upside the head with the fact that it was OK to be “different.” Not only OK, it was downright cathartic. All because of one impossibly talented and other-worldly creature named David Bowie who flounced into my life on red patent leather platform boots, dressed in the finest of glam, and adorned with the most exquisite make-up palette ever. Even when he eventually eschewed the glam accoutrements, and let his inner Bowie shine brightly, he was always a vision of beauty, peace, and artistry untouched by any other.

tattoo_finishedI’ve spent hundreds of hours poring through YouTube videos, watching classic David Bowie performances, interviews, and cameos and collecting photographs from the Internet. I’ve invested in limited-edition artwork heralding Bowie’s physical beauty, in an effort to always remember him in a perfect light, frozen in time. My first-ever tattoo, inked last May, is a Ziggy caricature along with Blackstar, signifying the “beginning” to the “end.” I even brought Ziggy Stardust photographs to the nearby hair salon and asked for a Ziggy-esque shag. I’ve not yielded quite yet to the ginger color, but that may be achieved in the not-too-distant future.

Even though I continually strive to acquire Bowie-related “things,” something is obviously missing–because I still feel like shit. I felt much the same way when my husband Dan died over 4 years ago, and I should have known from experience that it never does get better, no matter what the “cure” appears to be. But, I honestly thought that with Bowie the hurt would ease up much faster because, after all, I didn’t know him personally. Or perhaps I did–more than I could ever have imagined.

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Photograph (C) Jimmy King

David Bowie laid himself open, raw and uncensored, physically and spiritually, for all to see and to share. He let us glimpse into the darkest reaches of his soul through his music, his numerous interviews, his recollections, his personal relationships, his vast collections of books and art, his collaborations, his frustrations, his passion, and his unequaled genius. We all knew him intimately, because he allowed us into his life. It was a bit of a shock when he backed away from the spotlight for nearly a decade, but we also understood, because he made us privy to how much he loved his family and wanted more time with them. The only thing he decided not to share with us was that he was dying. Why? Only David Bowie knows for sure, but I think he wanted to spare us, and him, the worry and despair that such news would bring. Instead, he decided to throw himself into everything he had the strength to tackle, and allowed us to go along blindly and naively with our own lives, without the burden of opening the news each day to see if the end had come.

So, when it came, it hit us hard. We weren’t prepared. But even if we had known, it still would not have prevented that huge, sucking hole that opened up in the universe and swallowed our Starman, catapulting him out of our lives and into a dimension that we, the living, can never fully comprehend. He may be physically gone, but his legacy lives on–through his vast music catalog, his images, both video and still, his band mates, his friends, his family, and of course, through us, his devoted fans.

And, I’ll continue to build my own personal collection of Bowie memorabilia, knowing fully that it will never make me feel completely whole again; but also understanding that if I can’t have the flesh and blood Bowie in my little corner of the universe, the tangible mementos of his brilliant life will just have to do.

80s (and Sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Neurotic Wreck

Anyone who has followed this blog over the years knows that I have a huge soft spot for 80s alternative music, synthesizers, musicians who think outside of the box, and sultry British voices. When Marilyn Roxie (founder/creator of net music label Vulpiano Records) asked me to review Neurotic Wreck’s latest compilation, I must say I hit the lottery on all counts.

Dan Shea (small)

Dan Wreck

Neurotic Wreck is the wildly successful cumulative and solo efforts of musician Dan Wreck. He is a one-man battering ram of musical and lyrical genius. The variety of styles ranging from electric-folk to synthesized electro could be a holy train wreck (pun intended) in the wrong hands—but it works flawlessly on his superb album called “Glow Ghosts.”

This wonderful collection of tracks transported me back to such tremendous musician favorites as Underworld, Jesus & Mary Chain, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and a short-lived but fantastic group called Ashengrace.  There’s even a covert reference to a well-known Gary Numan song, but I am not going to spoil the experience by disclosing which one. The tracks are relatively short, extremely captivating, and arranged in such a brilliant way that the segue from one to another keeps the listener glued to the playlist. And, the fun part is, the artists I’ve named here are by no means the complete list of influences that the listener will identify.

Marilyn

Marilyn Roxie

The best way to introduce you to the up-and-coming artist Dan Wreck (a.k.a. Neurotic Wreck), along with Marilyn Roxie, the backbone of his label Vulpiano Records, is to share some questions that I asked both of them. As this post goes to press, the intended release date for “Glow Ghosts” is July 14. This is a must-have for any 80s or even contemporary alternative enthusiast, and may be purchased via pay-what-you-want here:
http://neuroticwreck.bandcamp.com/album/glow-ghosts

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Sandy Missparker (SM): I’m going to show my hand up front and admit I was blown away from my first listen. You had me at “The Wakeup Call” which was, indeed, a wake-up call for me. Typically, I’m a bit skeptical when first asked to listen to a new (to me) artist’s work, but that all went out the window pretty quickly, once the playlist got rolling. So, I’m curious: how long has Neurotic Wreck been making music?

DAN WRECK: As Neurotic Wreck, I’ve been doing this since 2011; steadily putting out collections of songs compulsively to a deafening silence, a name known to literally fives of people. I’ve been in bands from an early age, though (as most artists worth anything have been, I know). There’re other projects I’m involved with, but it’s not fair to elaborate on those, (because) if I do that people’ll go “Oh Dan obviously came up with this bit” if they like what I’ve done here, and quite often the things people pick out as me having contributed–I haven’t!

SM: I clearly hear some of my favorite 80s artists influencing your music. I’d love to hear from you specifically who it is that influences the direction of your music, and what attracts you to theirs?

DAN WREurope's Missing SonsECK: Here’s where I get to be tedious and nerdy!

You already picked out the Numan thing, and like recognizes like there: one autistic monomaniac has to recognize another. I first heard Numan as a teenager and went on about how great he was to very disinterested friends. Prince is another big influence on me, another case of like recognizing like; not that I’m as technically gifted as him, but like me he was an androgynous, sexually ambiguous weirdo and artistic control freak. Also from the 80’s there’s New Order, as you’ve likely picked up from the tracks where I’ve shamelessly stolen Peter Hook’s style of playing bass. On the subject of bass, there’s also Barry Adamson: stuff like Speak In My Voice and After The Quiet sort of bear his imprint. As well as having played with many of my favorites at some point, his solo stuff manages to be soul and jazz influenced while still being very North West English; and let’s not forget the North Will Rise Again.

Then outside of all the obvious synth-pop stuff, loads of 60’s girl group records like I Never Dreamed by The Cookies, immortal solid gold pop; the drama and the melody in them is what sticks with me. Scott Walker for similar reasons. Rowland S Howard, undoubtedly, lingers over everything I do, but I could drone on about him forever (and in an article on Dennis Cooper’s excellent blog which Google have in their infinite wisdom taken down for no reason, I do). Coil is another one; I’m not sure it’s apparent from Glow Ghosts, but Jhonn Balance is a similar spectre pacing through things I’ve written. Maybe it’s apparent from Rune Cloud and some of the more esoteric lyrics.

Mixtape

MARILYN ROXIE: Here’s where I have to chime in, because it is Dan’s influences that I shared as favorite artists, both literary and musical, that caused me to pay more attention to his music submission, which was from an email he’d sent to my old music blog A Future in Noise back in December of 2012 with his Leave Tonight – Mixtape Side 2. Not only that, but the way that he is able to integrate it all together with his own personal style instead of the hopelessly derivative way that some artists do–that’s what really impresses me. Our mutual love of Coil and Dennis Cooper were initial conversation topics and I immediately invited him to also release material on my netlabel Vulpiano Records, which I don’t ask everyone. Vulpiano is really my own little curated paradise of independent and unsigned artists who I really love; and now Dan and I are together actually as a couple, as well, so it is very exciting to be able to work together more closely on what is happening musically.

SM: I have a deep fascination for single artist “bands” (and even duo-artist such as Underworld) who create such intricate orchestrated melodies. What does your studio look like and what types of instruments/devices do you use to develop your music?

DAN WRECK: My studio is basically wherever I’ve plugged in my digital 8 track recorder: it’s a Boss BR-600, and basically all I do is record on that, then export the tracks onto an old Window XP desktop with the Reaper Workstation installed on it. There I mix, add effects, and sometimes add software synths into it; but most of the sounds come from an electric guitar with 4 strings, a bass with 3 strings, a Novation synth with a key missing, and an old drum machine. Most of my equipment is at least cosmetically broken. Being able to afford more expensive equipment would be great personally, but wasted on me because I’d just dither around with it trying to make cool sounds rather than writing songs. I have to work within limits.

SM: In order to take your music out on the road, would you be willing to train other musicians to play various parts, or is it something that you could reproduce live as a solo act? Is live performance even something that you would consider doing?

DAN WRECK: Live performance is something I’ve done with other projects and will continue to do so because I love doing it. But as Neurotic Wreck, it’s quite unlikely, frankly, for the time being. Never say never, but for now it’s not on the menu. I don’t see the point of getting other talented people in and then getting them to just play what I ask them to when they may well have better ideas than me. So, if it does happen, then it’ll most likely be me doing it solo. That said, who knows? It’s under the name “Neurotic Wreck” not “Dan Shea:” it could, down the line, become more of a band. It has been, briefly, in the past.

SM: What got you started making music initially? Did you wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a musician,” or did a specific person or event set you on that path?

DAN WRECK: Well, I’ve been around music from a very early age: my dad is a very talented songwriter, so it’s probably in my blood. I didn’t set out to be a musician or a songwriter; in fact, sometimes, to be quite honest, I wish I wasn’t. I wish I could be one of these people who’s happy just to be a consumer, rather than a producer. Ignorance is bliss, after all, but that’s not the way it worked out. In fact, for quite a long time I thought everyone could do what I do: being autistic, as I’ve mentioned, I just assume everyone can write songs or play an instrument, because if I can do it, it must be easy! Then I’ve spoke to people about it and they’ve looked back at me like a dog being taught a card trick, so it’s only recently sunk in that I may actually be quite good at all this.

SM: How would you classify your music? In other words, does it fit neatly into one genre, or does it span several different types?

coverDAN WRECK: I’ll give you a short and a long answer

Short answer: Just call it post-punk; no one knows what it actually means, but it’s an accepted bit of terminology. And if you say “post-punk,” people just nod and assume you know what you’re talking about.

Long answer: I don’t think it fits neatly into one genre, but I don’t think a lot of music does. There’re so many genres out there and they exist more as a marketing thing than as any remotely helpful guide to what you’re actually getting from the music. I’d say genre is more the domain of the gate-keepers, if you will: journalists (who I like) and publicists (spits over shoulder and crosses self). It spills over a bit but I’d say mood is a more useful way of categorizing music than genre tags. It is for me, anyway. To each their own.

MARILYN ROXIE: Post-punk makes a lot of sense as a descriptor…also, experimental synth, a dash of neo-folk that goes counter to people’s expectations around that genre as it can be overly anti-fascist. I do agree that it isn’t necessary to think of genre when he can do so many different styles with ease.

SM: It’s not unusual for artists to evolve their musical direction over time, but there is an evolution of sorts that happens in the span of the 13 tracks of this one dynamic compilation, a la David Bowie. Was that intentional?

backcover

DAN WRECK: It may have been intentional, but it wasn’t my intention. I got Marilyn to order the tracks because I think if you’re looking at something as an album rather than purely a collection of songs (important distinction even if it is an irrelevant one for many people these days), then the order is incredibly important. You’ve just mentioned Bowie, so a case in point would be 1.Outside: at the end of what is a fairly heavy-going album, especially from a multi-platinum megastar, there’s “Strangers When We Meet,” which is one of his most moving songs and even more effective because of what it’s come after. If it had been in the middle, as an individual song it’d still be wonderful; but the right sequence of tracks, as someone who still believes in the album as a viable format, is utterly crucial.

MARILYN ROXIE: I’m obsessive about playlists so I spent a lot of time working with Dan’s tracks to get the order just right. I always knew that I wanted “The Wakeup Call” to be the first track and “Tell Me What to Swallow” to be last, but finding the right ebb and flow of the softer and punchier songs was a challenge and I’m glad the flow came through in the end. Many of these tracks are from totally different recording periods.

SM: What is the hierarchy of lyrics and music—for example, do you write lyrics and then formulate the music to enhance them, or is it the music that gives birth to the lyrics?

DAN WRECK: It changes from song to song, really. If the song has a definite purpose, then it’s usually the lyrics come first: “One Skin Too Few” is something very personal about my feelings on gender and also the treatment of the mentally ill, and “Speak In My Voice” is about these same themes. They both started from lyrics. “After The Quiet” became something very personal, but that started from the descending melody line after the lyrics are sung in the choruses and expanded outwards.

SM: The label behind the promotion of “Glow Ghosts” is Vulpiano Records. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing its founder, Marilyn Roxie, for about 7 years now, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs. Marilyn, you are an extremely gifted keyboard artist in your own rights, but you seem to get a lot of satisfaction promoting others. Can you give us a little background on what makes Vulpiano Records (and Marilyn Roxie) tick?

Vulpiano RecordsMARILYN ROXIE: Vulpiano started off just as my idea of having a place to host exclusive content from independent and unsigned artists that had submitted to my old music blog (A Future in Noise, now on a bit of a hiatus). It isn’t always easy promoting yourself and throwing your content out there and hoping for the best; in the past few years, a lot of blogs have ceased to exist and only the super-popular remain, so the whole landscape is really different than it was in the late 2000s as well. Creative Commons and places to host free and legal music like Internet Archive and Free Music Archive have persisted, however, and there are a lot of exciting online radio and podcast platforms. I’m always searching for ways to share all of the great music I have gathered up.

Vulpiano is really representative my personal taste and artists I have become friends with that I think are really interesting across genres and want to show to other people, though experimental, electronic, and folk tend to predominate a bit. I do have plans to do another album of my own, which I’ve not put out since 2009 with New Limerent Object, but it’s taken me awhile to really figure out where I want to go with my own music. I am gravitating towards drone and shoegaze a lot lately, but I don’t want to just copy my favorites. I am a little too hard on myself, like many musicians. I enjoy seeking out new and exciting material so much sometimes it is hard to stop and actually go back to doing my own music! I am also involved in video art now and thinking about ways to combine that with my own music. I’ve been making videos for other people, including Dan, so I may want to make an album that has a music video for every song, or something like that. I am really interested in doing something multimedia, at any rate, but I’m not entirely sure of the final form just yet. I hope to do this late this year or early next.

SM: What can we expect in the future from Neurotic Wreck (and please don’t say it was a one-off—that would be SO disappointing!).

Dan Wreck

DAN WRECK: Well, after the huge stream of free releases over the last five years, I’m finally charging for something: Sandalphon, which will be out on Small Bear Records on the 22nd of September, the Autumn Equinox. Sandalphon is something of a genre exercise; two years ago when I recorded the bulk of those songs, I started investigating the genre of neofolk. Again, as I said earlier, this genre tag is just a convenient way of linking things with a similar ethos together; but that influenced Sandalphon an awful lot. Although, not to worry, there’re no banjos on it, the guitars are still plugged in, there’s still lots of synth, and the drums are still as mechanized as God intended. So that’s what’s coming up next. After that, who knows?

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So, there you have it. I can’t emphasize enough the brilliance of this album, “Glow Ghosts,”, and urge you to add it to your music collection. The beauty of creative genius is that it keeps our lives interesting, gives us a positive outlet as listeners, and promises us always something exciting to look forward to.

Further information at Vulpiano Records and alternative stream and download options as Internet Archive, Free Music Archive, and Mediafire are here: http://vulpianorecords.com/post/147400571616

Other relevant links:

Vulpiano Records
http://vulpianorecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/VulpianoRecords
https://twitter.com/vulpianorecords
http://neuroticwreck.bandcamp.com/

Neurotic Wreck – Funeral of Roses
Music video by Marilyn Roxie; premiered at Artists’ Television Access in San Francisco:

Marilyn Roxie and Neurotic Wreck – Obsidian Offerings
Tribute video for Jhonn Balance for CHAOSTROPHY exhibition at LUDWIG in Berlin:

80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Nu Shooz

I’m so excited to share this interview from the 80s funk group Nu Shooz. John and Valerie are funny, warm, interesting, and downright amiable–an interviewer’s dream. Sit back and enjoy their journey that began nearly 40 years ago, and promises to continue on for many more rollicking years to come.

Source: 80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Nu Shooz