80s (and sometimes 20s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ The Return of Boys’ Entrance/Tim Cain

Nearly 18 months ago, I had the sublime pleasure of interviewing Tim Cain from the band Boys’ Entrance. I had gotten to know Tim’s music through David Marsden’s internet stream, NYTheSpirit.com. The interview led to a fast friendship between Tim, his husband Bill, and me. Taking advantage of living just three hours apart in the fabulous state of Florida, we met up in Mt. Dora a month after the initial interview to view the Bowie/Sottsass Exhibit at the Modernism Museum in Mt. Dora FL and enjoyed each other’s company and the breathtaking exhibit to the max.

Recently, I had a nice phone chat with Tim and he filled me in on his latest efforts, including revisiting the Boys’ Entrance first album Exit or Entrance. Because the album turns 30 years old this year, Tim felt it was a time for a bit of a facelift. He carefully re-mastered the tracks, breathing new life into them. The result: He took something that was a stunning freshman effort to begin with and made it even more outstanding.

Tim Cain (1991)

Listening to Exit or Entrance, it’s impossible to discern that these timeless tracks are three decades old. The lyrics are relevant, the arrangements are gorgeous, and the music is just as fresh and engaging as if it was recorded last week. Tim’s voice is a lush alto that draws the listener in and captivates the soul. It’s no wonder that Boys’ Entrance has earned the accolades of the music industry, and very confusing (for me and for many others) as to why they haven’t earned the public recognition they deserve. But, that seems to be an all-too-common and sad theme for the artists I promote here on Rave and Roll.

In the meantime, here’s a chance to become either acquainted for the first time or perhaps reacquainted with Tim Cain and Boys’ Entrance. Definitely take the time to experience Exit or Entrance because I guarantee you’ll find this classic collection of tracks to be satisfying, riveting, and deftly ageless. Bravo and well done, Tim!

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Tim (left) and Casey Alexander

Missparker: The very beginning of this journey started with an AIDS benefit in San Francisco circa 1991. What happened next?

Tim Cain: It did. My dearly departed friend Casey Alexander was creating an AIDS benefit in City Hall in San Francisco and he needed help.  I had worked with him as a display artist in 1987 at Silvestri Importers. I was based in Chicago and flew to Merchandise Marts around the country to do display work and I met him in the San Francisco showroom. The moment we met, we looked at each other and KNEW we had known each other in earlier lifetimes. It happened twice to me while I was working at Silvestri—which is just bizarre—but Casey looked at me, and I at him, and we both thought, “Oh, it’s YOU!” We picked up our conversation where it had left off in another time. I left Silvestri, but when Casey called, I came running.

While I was in SF, I looked up my old friend from college, Jon Ginoli. We had a complicated friendship. He first met me when I was dating another DJ at the college radio station, WPGU in Urbana, IL. I was the first Out Gay musician he knew of. Jon was the Program Director at WPGU, and they featured some of my songs on the station.

Jon Ginoli

At one point I fell out with my boyfriend, and Jon and I went to see Ultravox in concert. Afterward, he came back to my place. We saw each other for a short time. But it didn’t end there. Jon and I both worked at record stores. Eventually we both worked at Discount Records as managers. He started spinning New Wave dance music at The Bar, a local gay bar, and I was the DJ and music programmer at the Moonlighter. Jon moved to SF, and I thought it would be nice to reconnect.

Jon had been in a notable band called the Outnumbered. But he had just recorded demos for a new band that he called Pansy Division. He played me the demos and sang songs, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. I howled with laughter—which he took very well. The songs were in fact funny. He intended that. But it was the utter shock I experienced at hearing baldly QUEER lyrics, not shielded behind neutral pronouns. He wrote odes to cocks, sucking, f*cking! He had opened new territory. I came back to Chicago with a new mission.

Original inspiration for Boys’ Entrance

Then, one day I drove down Belmont in Chicago and passed a school.  Back in the day, they carved in stone, “Girls Entrance” and “BOYS ENTRANCE.” I almost wrecked my car. I knew that should be the name of my own Queer band.

Missparker: You were a music major in college, giving you an excellent and solid background. You also had a major set-back that would have discouraged anyone else from pursuing music. Can you talk a bit about that?

Tim Cain: In 1977, I had a car accident. I was driving my sister to school, and was T-boned by a semi, smashing my side of the car into the middle of the car. I sustained broken ribs and collar bone, and a concussion. I had amnesia for a year and a half. I was at the time a music major, and returned to piano class with no knowledge of what sheet music was. I dropped out. Forty years later, I was experiencing neuropathy and an MRI showed I have two areas of scarring in my brain. This I can only assume was from the car accident.

Ensoniq VFX

Missparker: What prompted you to buy your first synth and who were your influences?

Tim Cain: Well, Art Rock, and New Wave were my thing:  Beatles, Bowie, Stones, Devo, Cars, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Ramones—and now it was Nirvana and the Pixies that were in my sights. All of these are in the mix of the first Boys’ Entrance album. As for the synth, I was in a music store, and found the Ensoniq VFX—at the time, a sequencer with the most powerful computer in a synth available. It had onboard samples of other venerable synths, as well as acoustic instruments. It was not only the analog synth sounds, but the natural piano and bass that sold me on it.

 

Missparker: Tell us about the studio where the original recording and mixing took place.

Tom Mohbat (recent)

Tim Cain: I came upon Bad Dog Recording Studio in Chicago by accident. I don’t recall how. I was thrilled by the LIVE sound of the main room that was 30 feet tall, with plaster walls. The echo in that room was astounding, and I instantly saw the possibilities. Tom Mohbat was the studio owner and engineer.  He was very handsome, which didn’t hurt either. Sadly, he was married at the time and unavailable. He was straight, but very welcoming. He made me feel at ease. He understood somehow that I was doing something very personal and he nurtured it/me.

MissParker: Who were some of the key players on the tracks back then?

Tim Cain: It’s mostly me. I recorded the synth tracks at home and brought finished pieces to the studio to download. I added vocals, and piles of backing vocals—exploring the range of expression I had only dreamt of in earlier bands. I played rhythm guitar, and even a lead guitar part on one song. But I needed help on a few tracks. Tom brought in a fellow, whose name I don’t recall, to play a “blues” solo on “Light In The Darkness.” I met a guitarist named Glass, who loved the same bands as me, and who played using an Ebow to imitate Robert Fripp’s sound. And he played on “Yellow Sun,” and “Your Secret Fear.” A well-known jazz saxophonist, Pat Mallinger also played on “Yellow Sun.” And, a woman named Miriam played Gospel piano on “Your Secret Fear.” I don’t have a detailed list of credits, as they were lost over these 30 years. My apologies to the musicians.

Tim Cain recording (circa 1991)

Missparker: What was first and foremost in your mind as your goal while you were originally putting this great collection together?

Tim Cain: I had never played keyboard in my bands. I couldn’t recall how to play due to the accident.  I somehow channeled the music through my subconscious. I recall once being in a music store in my college years and standing at a Yamaha synth. I raised my hands and went into a trance, letting the music pour through me. It was as though the synth was playing me. When I finished, I looked up and everyone in the store was looking at me, and one woman yelled, “Don’t Stop!” The Ensoniq spoke through me, too. The songs played me. I recorded them on the sequencer-freed from my inability to replicate them. I layered sound as a painter layers pigment. The synth captured it all. I was only at the beginning of finding my Queer voice. The songs capture glimpses of my gay life at the time.

Original cassette artwork (1991)

Missparker: You shared with me what the actual first release of Exit or Entrance was like. Can you describe that experience for us?

Tim Cain: It was an art project, top to bottom. I had 100 cassettes duplicated. I then handmade each cover using photographs of me dressed in a black bag, à la Martha Graham. I then lifted the image using a decoupage technique which allowed me to stretch the image and distort the image to my liking. I applied the transparency to crinkling tin foil, and then applied a clear colored plastic to the image to preserve it. I don’t own any of these covers today.  I know one is with Tom Mohbat in his studio to this day, though.

Missparker: Did you promote Exit or Entrance with live shows? If so, what types of venues did you play and were you as glam then as you are now?

Tim and Tom recording (1991)

Tim Cain: I did not.  There was no band for three years. The cassettes were distributed and then I moved forward recording with Tom at Bad Dog. We recorded an EP called the “Ballad of Freddie Mercury” after Freddie passed. Then we started in on the second album, “In Through The Out Door,” during which time I started to solidify the first LIVE version of Boys’ Entrance with Cie Fletcher on lead guitar and Mike Ferro on Rhythm guitar. Our first live show was in Lincoln Park, 1993 I think, for Gay Pride.  I wore a polyester floral sundress, à la Kurt Cobain.

Missparker: Fast-forward 30 years later. How has technology changed the way you record and release your music?

Tim Cain: Oh my goodness! First of all, this record release would not have been possible were it not for the Internet. It allowed me to send the music to Tom Mohbat, who now lives in Hawaii and it also allows me to place it on Bandcamp, and other digital services to be heard the world over.

Missparker: Did COVID play a part in your decision to re-master and rerelease Exit or Entrance? Or was it strictly because of its anniversary?

Tim Cain: As you know, I got Covid at a Boys’ Entrance show on November 14th.  I literally got a fever after I left the stage.  It was very scary. I thought I was going to die because I had been having premonitions before the event.  I was convinced something bad was going to happen and I would never record again.  I posted an email to fans on Reverbnation.com/boysentrance that sounded pretty dire.  It alarmed Mike Ferro, and Tom Mohbat, whom I was unaware was a fan on Reverbnation.  They both reached out to me to support me.  I started chatting with Tom, reminiscing about recording together. We talked about me getting better and finding a way to record together again. Then I realized we were coming up on the 30th anniversary of our first record and asked him to re-master it.  The result is amazing. It’s also the beginning of our work re-mastering all the early Boys’ Entrance recordings. More music will follow.

Tim Cain recording (circa 1991)

Missparker: Prior to Boys’ Entrance, you shared with me that you were in a group called Talltrees. You also told a hair-raising story about a studio and an exorcism. Please dish the details!

Tim Cain: I asked Tom what he remembered most about recording the first album and he said it was my having an exorcist come into the studio to smudge the space with incense and bar “negative influence.” All true.  I had a dear friend who was a priest, and he was in the last class of priests to be trained as exorcists. I felt this extraordinary step was necessary due to the last experience I had prior to the Bad Dog sessions.

Original cassette artwork (1991)

I was recording a song called, “Read My Heart” under the band name Talltrees in Urbana, IL. I don’t recall the studio name. This would be about 1984. I had a guitarist named Keith Harden in to play, and he was recording an ostinato passage in the studio. I was in the control room with the engineer, Adam. Adam’s back was to me.  Keith played his part which was beautiful. We also heard a demonic choir—very operatic bass voices.  Keith ended his part and there was silence.  Keith asked, “Did you get that?”  I said, “Yes, hang on a second.” I said, “Adam, what did you hear?” Adam turned around slowly and was white as a sheet. “Voices.” I said to Keith, “Please come in and listen with us.”  Keith came in the control room, and the tape was played back and the voices were on the tape.  The three of us were freaked out. I then “heard” a voice that let me know that this was the deal…this was the “crossroads” moment for me. It was even more ironic given that the song is a plea to God for protection.  I began praying to God for protection. I had to make a decision.

We discussed what could be causing the voices—harmonics? Vibrations? We had no explanation except the obvious one. I asked if Adam thought the voices would remain if we recorded it again?  He had no idea. We only had the one track available to record on, so we didn’t have the luxury of keeping the first track.  I made my decision while praying, “God, if this is of you, let the voices stay. If it is not, make them go away.”  Keith re-recorded his part, and the voices left. This is why I began my Boys’ Entrance career with an exorcist.

Tim Cain (circa 1991)

Missparker: Since our last interview a year and a half ago, you’ve released a collection of David Bowie covers. We’ve talked about this, and I’m going to say it publicly—I was a little apprehensive about hearing your versions of Bowie songs because I’m a bit of a “Bowie covers snob,” to put it mildly. However, and you witnessed my sincere and spontaneous reaction firsthand, when you cued up the first cover, I was literally blown away, and remained so for the entire collection. How much courage did that take and how have your Bowie covers been received?

Tim Cain: Well, Boys’ Entrance was always a band that performed originals. As such, you are always facing audiences who are unfamiliar with your music. That is very difficult. I sang “Rebel, Rebel” and “Fashion” back in the 80’s in Talltrees. It was always a positive experience because people always told me I sounded like Bowie.

Tim Cain and Billy Ramsey in front of the Boys’ Entrance inspiration

After I met my husband Billy Ramsey, he would take me to a local restaurant that had karaoke.  I would sing China Girl and it always got an ovation.  So that was the beginning of me feeling like I could do it.  Billy is the bassist in Boys’ Entrance, as well. So, we started talking about incorporating more Bowie in our shows.  I had a realization that “Boys” sounded similar to “Bowie’s.”  So we created an alter-ego for the band called Bowie’s Entrance to perform Glam Rock classics.

These songs are songs that were influenced by Bowie’s world-view. I created synth treatments for the songs, and the band did the rest. Keith Otten is an amazing guitarist. He convinced me that I didn’t have to play guitar now. He would be able to handle the guitar, which allowed me to perform and entertain. So the Glam factor of our shows went way up.  Billy plays acoustic guitar and bass and our drummer is nationally known and loved—John Spinelli.  John has four patents on drums and owns his own drum company called Spinelli Drums.  He makes drums for national acts and they are amazing. I am essentially fronting a power trio.  Their sound is very powerful.

We recorded “Boys’ Entrance Presents Bowie’s Entrance Vol. 1 & 2,” 12 songs in 5 hours, LIVE in Blacktoe Studio. Nobody does that, but we did, and the record captures the energy of our stage shows and the sound of the band.

Missparker: COVID has forced musicians to be flexible and creative when delivering music to their fans. On that note, you’ve got something truly exciting and magical planned for the month of May. What can you share with us?

Tim Cain: We will be headlining at our home base, the VFW Post 39 in St. Petersburg, HOPEFEST—an outdoor COVID concert with 6 punk bands. It’s being put together by Jim Pacifico of the band Fear the Spider. We played our last show with them at the Post, and I love their “Iggy energy.”

Missparker: As always, it was such a pleasure to talk with you and get the inside scoop on what’s happening with you and Boys’ Entrance. I look forward to visiting with you and Bill up close and personal once restrictions have ended and there’s some semblance of “normal” life again.

Be sure to check out Boys’ Entrance and support their music:

www.boysentrance.com

www.reverbnation.com/boysentrance

https://boysentrance.bandcamp.com

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Boys’ Entrance ~ Ziggy Stardust

 

Boys’ Entrance ~ “Heroes”

 

80s (and sometimes 20s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Arin Ex (Scorbie)

Everyone who’s gotten to know me over the years recognizes the fact that I positively adore electronica. When it started to gain traction in the late 70s and 80s, I was hooked. The evolution over the past few decades and the vast pool of gifted electronic musicians has given a depth of life and breath to this genre of music that few would have dreamed of in the beginning.

I’ve known Arin Ex (formerly Scorbie and also Aaron Hannum) for over a decade, thanks to FaceBook and the wide world of Interwebs. Music is my lifeblood and I’m constantly rattling around looking for new and inspiring tracks. I’ve been a fan of just about everything that Arin Ex has laid down during the past decade+. His music is both varied and cutting edge, moody and stabilizing, an escape and an in-your-face challenge to grasp tighter onto reality. It can ground you or set you free. The possibilities are endless and he’s not afraid to explore the dark crevices and poke the potential monsters that lie within.

Arin Ex’s latest foray into electronic is a collection of tracks titled Elektropolis ’21. Even though he’s been creating and distributing incredible music for many years, this can be considered the debut of his “Arin Ex” persona. And what an entrance it is.

From the opening notes of the mind-bending “Any Time, Anywhere,” until the closing strains of “Hikaeme (Edo Mix),” the listener is given an epic and unforgettable journey. Many people in today’s messed-up world are looking for a ticket out of COVID-created depression and drudgery—Elektropolis ’21 is the perfect escape. It takes you anywhere you want to go. Your destination is limited only by your imagination.

Arin Ex has agreed to give us a look into his interpretation, expression, and creativity via the awe-inspiring world of computer-generated music.

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MissParker: I just made the comment in a recent interview that to me, electronica paints a picture without the use of lyrics. What do you have in mind when you sit down to create a song? Is it a scene, a theme, a story—all of the above?

Arin Ex: It’s nothing so ‘artistic’ really. I just turn everything on with a vibe in mind and see if it happens. If it does, great. If not, then I turn everything off and my night is ruined. I seriously get in a mood. (laughs)

It’s different with my synth rock/vocal stuff. I get a vocal melody in my head, or a bassline, a groove, whatever, and try to make it happen. With the techno stuff I just run with it, tweak it, and see what happens.

MissParker: Tell us a bit about the equipment you use.

Arin Ex: Ahhh, who cares?! It all does the same sh*t. I have the full arsenal of Native Instruments plug-ins on my Mac. It’s great. But I find more inspiration from hardware synths.

At the moment, I’m using Novation’s Ultranova and Bass Station 2, Arturia Matrixbrute, Yamaha MODX6, ARP Odyssey MK1 (’73 Whiteface), ARP2600, and I’ve recently picked up Behringher’s reissue/copies of Roland’s TR808 and TB303. They’re amazing for techno—really inspiring kit at a fraction of the corporate cost. 

MissParker: What musical training have you had? Did you have any formal training in using synths in particular, or are you basically self-taught?

Arin Ex: I’m 50 now and got my first Moog when I was 11. I was lucky enough to hear Bowie, Kraftwerk and Numan when I was very young, due to my mother’s DJ career in the 70s, and ended up with one for my birthday. I learned how to use it by ear.

I also love Frank Sinatra and briefly studied jazz piano in my late teens, only to learn how to play ‘All Of Me’ and ‘Summer Wind.’

MissParker: Who are your musical influences?

Arin Ex: David Bowie has always been number 1, followed closely by Gary Numan, up until about 10 years ago when he lost the plot.

A simple list goes like this: Bowie, Numan, Severed Heads, YMO, Brian Eno, Scott Walker, Skinny Puppy, Thomas Dolby, Kraftwerk, Orbital, Cluster, John Foxx, Ultravox (including Midge!), The Psychedelic Furs, DAF, Sinatra, Covenant, Japan/Sylvian, and so many others, usually from the 70s/80s.

MissParker: Is there anyone in particular that inspired the making of Elektropolis ’21?

Arin Ex: Band-wise? Obviously Orbital, Cluster, Music Von Harmonium, and Aphex Twin. Duh. (laughs)

MissParker: Tell us about some of the musicians you’ve had the opportunity to work with.

Arin Ex: Ha! Are you ready for this?

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins—an old friend. We haven’t talked in years but, yeah, we used to do Numan covers in my basement in Chicago in ’84. Then he went off and got famous.

Jay Younger from White Zombie. He taught me how to play guitar. He was in an old punk band in Chicago called Rights of the Accused. We hung out a lot. Legend.

I had an opportunity to work with one of the guys from Icicle Works here in the UK many years ago. Turned it down. Also had a chance to try out for keys with Peter Hook & The Light which I also turned down. A major regret, but family comes first. They tour too much!

I can’t claim to have ‘worked with,’ but certainly did two gigs with the legendary Steve Strange of Visage. This was due to being invited by my friends in the UK’s biggest electronic 80s tribute act ‘Electro 80s’ as support, while Steve was working with them. I not only had the distinct honor of applying make-up with him in the dressing room, which I pointed out (he wasn’t bothered), but also introducing him to the stage.

It was surreal. Here’s me: a mid-40s Ex-Pat yank in the UK, old New Romantic, introducing a legend to a huge crowd! I also played his tribute gig after his passing with original members of Ultravox, Visage, and Heaven 17. That was a big gig. Even had my oldest son, autistic and 12 at the time, on stage in front of 1000 people! Out of my depth to be honest, but it went down well. 

MissParker: Are there any collaborations with other musicians planned for the future, or are you pretty much planning to remain solo?

Arin Ex: I’ve recently been invited to join the UK’s ‘premiere 80s electronic’ cover band. Seems fitting that I never quite made it and I end up in a very popular UK act with none other than Ade Orange, a longtime Gary Numan collaborator and synth player. I’m pretty excited, actually.

The guy who leads the band ‘Blue Electro,’ aka Dave Hamilton, a Scottish legend, invited me to support them on many occasions throughout the UK over the last 8 years. He had a falling out with the other members and kicked them out. So Ade Orange and myself are in.

Apparently I’ve made an impact on a few unfortunate souls in the UK since I relocated here from Chicago many years ago! (laughs)

MissParker: Do you sample voices or other common “worldly” sounds to use in your compositions, or do you let the machines do it for you?

Arin Ex: No and uh, I dunno. If you mean do I program all of my own sounds? Sort of. A lot of ‘synth’ guys will say, ‘I hate presets! I make all of my own sounds!’ That’s not always true.

Just like guitar players, us synth guys have an arsenal of equipment at our disposal, presets or not. But we still use what’s been designed and put in front of us. It’s what we do with it that counts.

We hear a sound, tweak it a bit, and stick it in and see if it fits. I have synths with presets and I also use modular synths that I’ve actually physically built myself. So what? I didn’t invent it. It’s an oscillator and a filter. It makes sound and I use it. It all comes down to the song.

Is it any good? Not usually in my case. If you plug a guitar into an effects pedal, same thing, not as much effort maybe, but same thing! Is the song any good?

MissParker: In addition to creating some fabulous music, COVID was a time of visual creativity for you, as well. “Buddha’s Testicle” is a hilarious send-up of martial arts films that you and your children conspired—um, collaborated on together. What inspired “Buddha’s Testicle” and what was it like working with the kids?

Arin Ex: OMG. When I was a kid, say 10-14, I did Karate and Kung Fu. I also grew up on all the Chinese Kung Fu films from the Shaw Brothers and loved Bruce Lee. Then I had kids.

Guess what? Martial Arts time! After Ice hockey naturally. (laughs)

So, lockdown one arrives. I’ve got all this gear: Pro Tools and an iPhone with a great camera. ‘Hey boys! Let’s make a movie!’

We already had a dojo in our dining room, and I actually have a Japanese-style garden I built over four years and some 14 bonsai trees. Yes, Mr. Miyagi and all that sh*t, so we decided to make a movie for YouTube. Visual and audio effects, the lot.

I directed and edited everything. The music, sound effects, etc. My oldest son Chris, who’s 17 now, helped with the plot, script, and camera work. I directed my younger boys to do the scenes and say their lines, but I overdubbed their dialogue to make it as terrible, rude, and authentic as possible. We had a f*cking blast! Well, I did at least. 🙂

It was hard work editing, overdubbing, and creating music for it. I added it up one day. Every five minutes of footage took me about 12 hours of work! Either way, it was something to do during the first lockdown and everyone on Facebook told me how great a dad I am, so it must be true!  (laughs)

MissParker: Can we expect future family collaborations?

Arin Ex: The twins are almost 12 and approaching that age when anything ‘dad’ related might become very uncool. We shall see. Chris however, who is 17, is now studying film making in college, so that may very well lead to more bad Kung Fu movies with dad. Or maybe videos for me? Just thought of that! Hmmmmm….

MissParker:  I don’t want this to sound like a stupid question, but do you support the idea of your kids following you into music, film making, or both as their primary careers? The reason I ask is because I actually know of parents who have discouraged their kids from following a similar path due to the risks involved.

Arin Ex: They will do whatever the f*ck they want. I’m here to provide a supportive, loving environment.

It’s not up to me what they do.

MissParker:  Thanks so much for sharing some of your time with us. Please tell us how we can purchase your music and also be informed of any future releases.

Arin Ex: I’ve shut my website down due to downloads wiping me out. It’s all Bandcamp and SoundCloud these days.

https://scorbie.bandcamp.com/

Can I go now? 

Thanks!  🙂 xx

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It was genuinely a blast to work with Arin Ex and pick his brain for a look inside his creative process. Be sure to follow the links above to sample/purchase some of his incredible work. Oh, and by the way, he just IMd me (sorry Aaron–hard to keep a secret) that he misses Lethologica-type stuff…that it’s been too long and he’s getting an itch to go back to it… So, my best advice is, stay tuned!

Have a look at some of his visual creations/music videos:

Anytime, Anywhere ~ Arin Ex (Scorbie)

Buddha’s Testicle (pilot movie)

Scorbie – Traitor (from Lethologica)

Scorbie- DamnAge – Live – England March 2013

Electro 80s (w/ scorbie)- I Die: You Die, Manchester UK 01 July 2011

 

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)