Haven’t heard of Canadian band Church of Trees? Well, keep reading and get ready to thank me.
The band currently consists of core members Bernard Frazer (vocals, synths, programming), Stella Panacci (vocals), Heather Brazeau (vocals), and Bob Prendergast (guitar). Frequent contributors are Rob Preuss of Spoons/Honeymoon Suite (piano, synths, programming, bass, remixes), and Rob Stuart of EDF/SLAVE To The SQUAREWAVE (synths, remixes).
Being a late-in-life Numan fan (roughly the past 25 years), this track both delighted me and piqued my curiosity about the band. Fortunately, David Marsden is a big fan also; so, David’s avid listeners have been delighted by hearing several outstanding Church of Trees songs taken from their successful EP and album releases since 2017 (Primitive Creatures, The Dark & The Light, New Bold Dawn, PAUSE, and Pish Posh). All Church of Trees albums are co-produced by Frazer and Blinker the Star’s Jordon Zadorozny.
Which all leads up to the purpose of this post: A new Church of Trees single – “Progression/Rob Stuart Numanoid Mix”—is slated for release on April 8, 2023. The track is from the forthcoming Church of Trees Album Courage, scheduled to drop on May 5. Mark your calendars, folks—you do not want to miss out on either event. Here’s why:
“Progression” is a very suitably named song. It progresses (see what I did there?) from a very Laurie Anderson-esque intro into the best Numan-influenced industrial/synth recording you’ve ever heard via Rob Stuart’s gorgeous, swelling electronic melodies. His synths are lush, multi-layered, and everything a synth-lover like me could want in a track. Lead vocals are calming, emotive, and beautifully executed by Bernard Frazer, who also amazingly provides harmonic, excellently delivered back-up vocals to complete this magnificent work.
It’s one of those tracks where the more you listen to it, the more it speaks volumes to you.
Watch this space for more information about the release of the Church of Trees LP Courage. In the meantime, get ready to be enchanted by its first released track “Progression/Rob Stuart Numanoid Mix” on April 8, 2023. On that date, get on over to churchoftrees.bandcamp.com for your copy—it will leave you in breathless anticipation of what’s yet to come from Courage.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ricky Humphrey, accomplished and successful musician in his own right. Presently, I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to meet up with Ricky once again, along with his musical partner Luke “Skyscraper” James, as the duo known as “This Twisted Wreckage.”
Their current album, The Way Ahead Is Clear, is a fabulous production heavily rooted in Goth, post-punk, and darkwave. Overall, it’s brooding and moody; yet some tracks are driven by a manic beat, with even some synths thrown into the mix, offering various points of aural interest for a wide audience. Personally, I hear the influence of Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Type O Negative, 69 Eyes, The Cure, and The Chameleons in the melodies, and Peter Murphy meets Andrew Eldritch meets Jyrki69 meets Peter Steele meets Robert Smith meets Mark Burgess in the vocals. It’s an amazing outcome.
I recommend you fire up some candles and incense and turn off the lights before listening. The ambiance will definitely enhance the experience.
Once you become more acquainted with them through their insightful, frank, and unfiltered answers offered below, be sure to check out “This Twisted Wreckage” music on https://thistwistedwreckage.bandcamp.com/
Missparker: The burning question for me is, where did the moniker “This Twisted Wreckage” come from?
Ricky: I can remember hearing Luke singing the line and This Twisted Wreckage just stood out! It sounded so right for what we were doing; it sounded like nothing I had heard before and in this broken and fragile world that we live in, not to mention the fragility of the human mind and people living with disabilities, body dysmorphia etc… it just seems to encompass all those things and is a powerful statement.
Luke: Ricky and I had this almost mystical musical connection right from our first collaboration. To be honest, we were so busy and blown away by what was happening that I don’t recall us even discussing a band name for a while. One of our early songs was called BACK UP AGAIN–an anthem to getting back on your feet no matter how many times you get knocked down–and there was a line in it that ran: “Down in this twisted wreckage where nothing is clear.” Ricky immediately jumped on This Twisted Wreckage as a possibility for the band name. As we try to be brutally honest about the state of the world, while tempering it wherever possible with positive messages, re-building from This Twisted Wreckage made immediate sense. Coming up with a band name can be one of the most frustrating, time consuming, and disagreement-sparking parts of starting a band (in my experience, at least), so the fact that the name arrived organically seemed to perfectly reflect the way we create the music.
MissParker: You both come from fairly diverse musical backgrounds—so, how did you guys meet and hook up to form the band This Twisted Wreckage?
Ricky: It was via the internet–Facebook, in fact. I had contacted Luke and to my surprise, he responded. We spoke of his early days in Fàshiön and bands that he had toured with. I then purchased his book, which is an absolute delight entitled, Stairway to Nowhere. We went back and fourth with our communication, Luke doing his thing, me doing mine; then on the 23rd December 2019, a young lady below us (we live in a two storey apartment block, a converted barrack) committed suicide and blew us up. She had filled her apartment with gas canisters then ignited them. This left my wife and I homeless for four months. During that period we stayed with our neighbours who had very kindly put us up. All I had to my name were the clothes I was wearing and my MacBook. I happened to have a few unfinished Nature Kills tracks that I had been working on and contacted Luke to see if he would be interested in collaborating. To my delight he said YES! To date, we have still not met in person, but we have a great relationship and I really do consider him as one of my best friends.
Luke: A friend of mine, Dave Harris, who was the frontman of a later version of the band I was in in the early 80’s – Fàshiön – suggested I check out Ricky’s music. Ricky was in a band called Ishkah, a kind of chill/trance band. I was heavily into bands like Thievery Corporation and Dreadzone at the time and I immediately loved Ishkah’s music. At some point I contacted Ricky and asked him if he would be interested in collaborating on a piece of music. Little did we know that it would lead to This Twisted Wreckage and an ongoing journey that has produced over 90 recorded pieces of music in the last two-and-a-half years.
MissParker: Is this collection your first album together?
Ricky:EI8HT was our debut. It just happened to be Luke’s lucky number, but the title came about as there were eight songs on the album. I then remixed and reimagined those songs and CULTIV8 was born. Not really a follow up, more of an exercise to see how far we could take things.
Luke: Our first album came out last year and is called EI8HT. The Way Ahead Is Clear is our second album
MissParker: The vocals are so emotive and dark. Who is the main voice?
Ricky: That is Luke. For some reason I have the chorus on the title track The Way Ahead Is Clear. I do a few backing vocals here and there, but otherwise it is all Luke. I have never worked with anyone with such depth to their lyrics. In TTW we have songs that will make you laugh, songs that will make you cry–there is no subject that he won’t tackle.
Luke: I am the main vocalist. I’m very emotional and prone to dark thoughts, but sparks of hope fire in my darkness as well–they’re like beacons. I try to focus on the positive in my life, but feel quite merciless about expressing my fear, horror, and disgust about many aspects of life today. We do have happy songs though, as well … honest!
MissParker: In the intro to this interview, I mention some of the influences I hear in your music and vocals: Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Type O Negative, 69 Eyes, The Cure, and The Chameleons. How close am I, and did I leave anyone out?
Ricky: I, for sure, wear my influences on my sleeve. I do not try to hide them and want people who have a history with music to feel reassured that something new and familiar is happening.
The title track is a definite nod to Gary Numan, “Don’t Look Back” is a nod towards Fleetwood Mac; then, there are the more electronic influences of Depeche Mode, and towards the end of the album a bit of Chic. Of course, there will always be a bit of Bowie in there. They are subtle, but they are definitely there, and not intentionally either, it’s just in my DNA. I have a cauldron of mixed genre soup that I stir up to taste.
Then, Luke does what Luke does, and takes them to another level, adding soul, emotion, and power to the tracks, plus a bit of paprika and chilli.
Luke: I have been told over the course of many years that my voice is everything from lousy to brilliant. I guess I’m an acquired taste. But I‘ve always sung from the emotions that the music inspires or dredges up. That’s exactly how I sing to the powerful, emotive music that Ricky’s compositions inspire. Also, I’m 6’ 9” and I have a long throat so strange noises are likely to occur anyway! But I’d say my main influence has always been David Bowie. I never set out to sound like any particular singer. Between 1978-80, I toured the UK/USA with my band Fashion, opening for a lot of different bands (Name Drop Alert): The Police, U2, Duran Duran, The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Stranglers, The Cramps, Squeeze, B52s, The Tubes–a good deal of whom told me I was a weird singer. To which I said (and say), thank you very much! When Lux Interior tells you you sound like a “g-ddamn weird maniac” onstage I at least took that as high praise. The highest praise I get now is when Ricky is happy with one of my vocal performances.
MissParker: What would you say drives the creative process behind the duo “This Twisted Wreckage?” In other words, what motivates you two to write music?
Ricky: We drive each other–we constantly push and raise the bar. I will present Luke with an idea, he will add vocals, then I will rework it if required or rewrite the track around the vocal. Ultimately, whatever serves the song. There are no egos here; we bounce ideas around constantly, we are both up for the challenge, and enjoy our creative process very much. There is nothing that we won’t try–try and fail maybe–but we will always attempt to improve or enhance on what we have done before.
Luke: The pure joy of creation. Ricky and I have both been through the “being in a band” ego mill, and suffered the horrors of the music business in the past. With This Twisted Wreckage, we have both managed to sublimate our egos such that what serves a particular song in the best way is the most important thing. No preciousness here! But, we are both keenly aware that we, as a species, are throwing everything away, and we want to point out alternatives–but also pull no punches, as far as consequences are concerned.
MissParker: Are the lyrics at any time collaborative?
Ricky: Luke takes care of the lyrics. To date, I have never felt the need to intervene or even suggest a rewrite. Luke’s lyrics just work. And when sung, you can tell that they are from the heart or the darkest recesses of his mind. I do, however, just purely out of finding a great vocal melody or hook impact upon the arrangement, a bit of Bowie-like cut ‘n’ paste, but that is once I have the vocal.
Luke: Ricky writes these amazing compositions that, often on first listen, have lyric and melody ideas bursting out of nowhere. It’s a totally 2-way street; but basically, Ricky writes the music that inspires me to write and sing the lyrics.
MissParker: What about the music/melody—do you ever team up to create it?
Ricky: On the whole, I put together the backing tracks, so the structure is in place, albeit temporary. Once I get a vocal, the arrangement may change. I may find a particular part in the song which is catchy vocally, and extend that or add completely new sections, so as not to interfere with the lyrical journey, but to give space for instrumentation. Luke does embellish with guitar here and there as he is an excellent guitarist and he plays a lush solo on “Safe For Us.”
Depending on what style we are aiming for depends on Luke’s input musically. He is such a gifted guitarist and therefore makes sense for him to play acoustic or flamenco guitar, and any of the more picked styles that he is so capable of. I am totally reliant on effects where guitar is concerned.
Luke: Ricky will often cut and paste vocals when rearranging and mixing the final version of the song. He has an uncanny ability to stop me running off at the mouth and get to the heart of the meaning and narrative of the song. It’s just another blessing about this collaboration–there are many!
MissParker: How did online distance meeting tools that evolved during the pandemic help or hurt the making of this album?
Ricky: Luke and I have only ever collaborated via the net, so lockdown, etc. didn’t impact us in the slightest. I am very comfortable in my own skin and space, and don’t crave to be around people, so lockdown changed very little for me. All I noticed was, the sky and sea were clearer and the air was fresher when I went outside.
Luke and I use Messenger a lot for communication and WeTransfer for file sharing. We do have the occasional catch-up on FaceTime; this usually includes Pete King, who is responsible for breaking us in the UK.
With regards to working together, this is it–this is how we operate and it works absolutely fine. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with dial-up anymore–what a nightmare that would have been!
Luke: Other than FaceTime, Ricky and I have never met in person, and yet I consider him to be one of my closest and best friends. There is a lot said about how the Internet separates and isolates and it can–BUT, in this case, it has provided me with a kindred spirit, a musical soul brother, and a bloody good bloke as a friend. As with any system, it all depends on how it’s used as to the outcome. Also Ricky has a very sophisticated production studio, Bomb Proof Studios, and the ear and musical sensibility to match the gear he uses. We do hope to meet one day and play music together in a studio or onstage. But for now, with Ricky in the south of England and me in Northern California, it’s something to look forward to.
MissParker: What does a typical music session between you guys look like? Do you meet at certain times/days and for a set amount of time, or is it more a spur-of-the-moment, got a creative itch I’ve got to scratch meet-up?
Ricky: You can’t put a time on creativity. Somedays, there is just nothing there!
Luke and I have always taken an organic approach to what we do. I/we don’t want songs to sound forced or contrived. Some songs almost write themselves, others can be quite taxing, containing great moments, but seem very difficult to develop. That’s fine–we have so much material that a track can be revisited at a later point. But the process nearly always consists of a backing track being created, forwarding that to Luke, where he works his magic, then it is back to me for mixing or reworking, whatever the song requires.
Luke: There is no schedule. It’s either like an avalanche or a waterfall or a sonic bombardment–we’ve sometimes completed songs in the space of two days. I don’t think we’ve spent more than a few days completing any particular song. Ricky has an incredible work ethic–never known anything like it–and that totally inspires me to get off my arse and step up whenever needed.
MissParker: Who handles the all-important production duties?
Ricky: I tend to deal with that side of things. Logic Pro X on my iMac is where it begins and ends, but we have had some positive feedback on the production, for which I am grateful.
Luke: I totally trust Ricky to handle the final mixes and mastering and am constantly amazed at what he achieves. Having been in bands for what sometimes feels like hundreds of years, I can honestly say that this is the best band I’ve ever been in. How lucky am I!
MissParker: So, about that body in the trunk we talked about earlier offline (laughs)….no, seriously, what’s next?
Ricky: I am a huge admirer of John Carpenter (film director/musician)–his influence creeps into all our darkest compositions–so film, gaming, TV, advertising would be great; this is an area that we are relying on Pete King for, to get us that introduction.
We do have another album awaiting release. We put it back several times, as we had interest from a record label, and the negotiations are still ongoing. If not resolved soon, we will probably release that ourselves at some point in 2023. In the true tradition of punk, it is 10 x 3-minute uptempo songs that are somewhat political and are questioning our impact on this beautiful planet.
And… We have two new projects. One is a kind of industrial in-ya-face affair, and the other an ambient jazzy vibe, complete with double bass. There is nowhere we won’t go, as long as it is honest!
Luke and I have the most fun doing what we do. We have both been blighted by the industry and the BS that comes from being in a band with multiple members. We have a real kinship, joining of spirits, if you like, and I consider myself to be very lucky to have this opportunity with This Twisted Wreckage.
And thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk with you MissParker–it has been a real honour.
Luke: We’d really like to get the body out of the trunk and into movie or TV soundtracks. Ricky’s epic sweeping compositions often sound like movie music to me–I think that’s why the lyrical imagery comes to me so easily and powerfully. But the main thing is that the creative process we have now is such an integral part of our lives that wherever it may or may not go, the fact that it is going and continues to go is one of the great joys of my life.
Thank you for talking with us, it was a real pleasure. Now if you’ll excuse me, a new piece of music just arrived from Ricky…
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
What happens when you combine the masterful electronic creativity of two incredibly gifted musicians? An explosion of sound that rivals the force of a detonated H-bomb. Don’t believe me? Keep reading…
Last year (2020) brought out the innovative acuity of many as a sheer survival mechanism when confronted by COVID. People like me became the ultimate benefactors of music, visual art, and the written word that flowed forth freely like the Mississippi River as an endless balm for our collective suffering. COVID may have halted live mass performances, but it did NOT stifle the imagination, artistry, and ingenuity that continued to give birth to innovative expressionism beyond our wildest dreams.
One such venture that has yielded a wealth of fantastic digital music that defies adequate description is the pairing of musical geniuses Rob Stuart (Electronic Dream Factory and SLAVE to the SQUAREwave) and Brian Dickson (Colony Three). The result is a brilliant collection of electronica titled Boӧtes Void that’s a computer-generated music fan’s dream. Put me at the very top of that list.
Boӧtes Void consists of twelve tracks of moody, ecstatic, in-your-face music. Each track weaves a riveting story without words. It’s such a compelling collection that once the last song fades, it leaves one’s soul thirsting for more.
But enough of my humble opinion. It’s best to get insight on the thoughts and creative process that went into Boӧtes Void directly from the masterminds’ own mouths. I had the honor of posing a few questions to Rob and Brian to better understand how such a classic collection came to life and am happy to share the results with you.
MissParker:First, I’ve got to say that you two creating music together is an incredible confluence of electronic mastery. I’ve interviewed you both in the past regarding your own musical accomplishments, but never dreamed you’d combine your efforts to produce such a wonderful album. What prompted you two to get together?
Rob Stuart: I honestly can’t remember how this project came about. I defer to Brian for this one.
Brian Dickson: I defer to Rob on this…oh never mind…(laughs).
When Rob and I met it was pretty clear we had a lot in common musically, and we often shared hilarious stories about our past attempts at collaborations. Born from that was this concept we both agreed to, which was a “no rules” approach, which has worked out really well for the both of us and I think for the music, as well.
MissParker: The burning question that has to be asked—where did the album title originate from and what does it mean?
Rob Stuart: The album title was very last minute. So much so, that Brian and I did not have time to actually discuss it. I had read something or seen a video discussing something about The Boötes Void (or the Great Nothing) which is an enormous, approximately spherical region of space at nearly 330 million light years in diameter, containing very few galaxies. It is located in the vicinity of the constellation Boötes, hence its name. I thought it was something that fit our music perfectly.
Brian Dickson: Rob clearly put a lot of thought into the title, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I thought the title was about a lack of footwear (laughs). As it turns out, it was a very “fitting” title given our “style.”
MissParker: I have to admit—I was drawn in from the opening notes of Monolith, the first track on Boӧtes Void. I think I even smiled. It starts out so mellow and builds to an intoxicating crescendo. What inspired that track? Did it have anything to do with the monolith recently discovered in Utah?
Rob Stuart: I would love to say yes because that would be so cool but unfortunately not. The twelve tracks of the album were written month by month beginning in January 2020. Our only “rules” for this project were to compose, record, and produce a track with accompanying video each month resulting with a final album release at the end of the year.
Brian Dickson: Like Rob, I’d love to tell you that it was that thought out. This track started with a very short 8-second 4 track seed and grew into the final version after being passed back-and-forth a few times. As it was our first track, we were still working out the “how are we going to work together” on the songs and accompanying videos. I think my best memory of this song was that after it was completed, we both agreed that we were on to something.
MissParker: The overall mood of the album rises and falls from ecstatic highs to depressing lows. What sort of consideration goes into deciding the order of the tracks?
Rob Stuart: That’s an interesting question as that is something I usually agonize over when I release a SLAVE album. However, since this album was evolving from month to month we chose to sequence the songs in the order they were written.
Brian Dickson: Once the 12 tracks were completed, we did a few experimental changes on the track ordering, but we always ended-up back at the original. It wasn’t purposeful at the time, but now when I listen through the whole album, I’m glad we landed on keeping the order as it was created.
MissParker: I’ve maintained that lyrics are important to me. Obviously, lyrics don’t factor in at all with Boӧtes Void, yet it paints such vivid mental imagery. When writing electronic tracks, do you have a particular vision in mind that you’re transforming aurally?
Rob Stuart: I’ve always equated music with painting. The instruments are my choice of brush, the sounds are my colors, the canvas my bass and drums. When I write this type of music, the voice and words are replaced by color and tone. Even without someone singing lyrics I think the consideration for a human element is always there.
Brian Dickson: Like Rob I have also visualized music, but more so as a soundtrack to some imagery or a movie scene. A scene can be full of action, or sad, or contemplative, and that really helps drive a given sound and structure to a track.
MissParker: I’m so curious about the track “Ateoate’s Revenge.” I take it to be a play on “808.” If that’s so, and it’s not a trade secret, can you share what that means?
Rob Stuart: Bang on! That’s a track that Brian initially wrote and titled. It took me a while to figure out what the title meant. Duh!! In fact, I love the name so much I have convinced Brian and a couple of other synth friends to use this as the name of a new synth collaboration project we have started for this year. Stay tuned as there will be an “Ateoate’s Revenge” album release hopefully by the fall of 2021. BTW, it should be noted that Brian also put together the amazing video for this tune.
Brian Dickson: Yeah, I was trying to be clever with that name. The original track was something I created back in the mid-90s with an actual TR-808 (that I regretfully sold to pay the bills….sigh!)
I was so amazed with how Rob literally turned the original version inside-out and created this much better final track.
MissParker:It seems the overarching theme is space. Electronica naturally fits in with otherworldly motifs, and rightfully so. Do you see this genre of music defining more grounded concerns like love, life, loss, or even the political landscape?
Rob Stuart: Over time electronica has become more associated with space and otherworldly motifs but when I think back to the early days of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and many others, they were tackling politics with electronic soundtracks like The Sorcerer and Thief. Vangelis handled love, life, and loss masterfully in Bladerunner. I am still inspired by these great works today.
Brian Dickson: I’ve always viewed electronica as something that transcends history, race, and politics. I remember that when I was much younger, places like China, France, or Germany were so foreign to me. All of that changed when I listened to the fans cheering to the music of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Concerts in China or Tangerine Dream in Berlin and realized there were people all over the world with not only the same musical tastes, but also that deep-down we are all the same.
MissParker:The track “Machine Language” takes us through what sounds like a spirited conversation between members of non-human intelligence. Do your machines sometimes appear to have minds of their own?
Rob Stuart: Sometimes, yes! That’s usually because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a self-taught studio engineer and the way I’ve learned is by trial and error. So it’s no surprise I’ve hit the wrong button and the machine appeared to take on a mind of its own. On the brighter side, sometimes it can turn into a pleasant surprise and something cool will come of it. That’s always a bonus!
Brian Dickson: As a huge fan of sci-fi, I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of AI, but more on the cautionary side. When my gear does something unexpected, I try and turn it into a “happy accident.” Most of the time though, as HAL famously said it best…“It has always been due to human error.”
MissParker:Did you collaborate on all of the tracks, or was it more of a merging of the minds—Rob wrote some and Brian wrote the others?
Rob Stuart: Even though we were never in the same room at the same time due to COVID-19, this was a collaboration in the truest sense. Both of us shared old music riffs, partial songs ideas, 8 bar loops, or came up with something new and if anything inspired one of us, we would get to work on it. Then we would ping pong the track back and forth until we felt that it was finished while having constant discussions. The process was always very respectful and free of ego.
Brian Dickson: Rob’s response captures it perfectly! I’ll add that we both remain pleasantly surprised at how it all went so smoothly, only because we are so used to having full autonomy and control over our own tracks. I think what really helped was that Rob and I decided early on that honesty was key. If that fails, we just default to blatant sarcasm.
MissParker: In a traditional group, some members play guitars, others play keyboards, still others may play brass, and of course, there’s a drummer or two. When you put two electronic masterminds together, how do you split up the music duties?
Rob Stuart: There was never really any discussion about those duties. The relationship between Brian and I was so respectful that we kind of knew what to do and what not to do with each track. It may sound corny but usually the music would dictate what was needed and we both respected that need intuitively.
Brian Dickson: Rob and I wear all the hats in our other music, so we didn’t really land on playing specific instruments. Instead, we’d just add what we thought a track needed, either in the addition of new instruments or the composure of the song.
MissParker:Is Boӧtes Void considered a soundtrack, in that when taken together, all of the tracks combine to tell a single, complex story? Or is it more of a short story collection?
Rob Stuart: I’d love to say that it’s some super, clever, complex story but I’m just not that well thought out.
Brian Dickson: It’s a super, clever, complex story.
MissParker: I’ve asked each of you separately at one time or another about your musical influences. This time, just focusing on making Boӧtes Void, who or what can you cite as your influences for this project?
Rob Stuart: My usual favorites such as Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Underworld, Global Communication, The Future Sound of London, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Harold Budd (RIP), John Foxx, Biosphere, Synergy, etc.
Brian Dickson: Ditto on Rob’s list. I also watched a lot of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Electronica-related videos about his more recent collaborations with John Carpenter, Vincent Clarke, Yello, and others.
MissParker: We have the privilege of hearing Kim Stuart’s angelic voice on Slow Motion. It’s a beautiful, moving experience. Was the song made with her contribution in mind, or did you decide another layer was needed while in production and Kim provided it? Either way, it’s brilliant.
Rob Stuart: Brian had written this beautiful piece of music but didn’t know how to finish it. He sent it over to me and I instantly knew what to do with it as soon as I heard it. As I was working on it I was messing around with some voice samples when Kim came into the studio and said, “let me try something on it,” which I thought was a great idea. She did two or three improvised takes and I picked the bits that I thought fit best. It did turn out rather lovely!
Brian Dickson: I am totally amazed with Kim’s vocals on this track. I’ll never forget when I first heard the new version with Kim’s vocals, I exclaimed “It’s Perfect!” out loud; It reminded me of hearing Clare Torry on “The Great Gig in the Sky.” With Rob’s brilliant engineering of the vocals and final track it was the perfect match-up, and I’d say this track turned out to be one of my favorites.
MissParker: I hope to hear more from Kim in future releases. In fact, I hope to hear more from you both, Rob and Brian, whether individually, or collectively. Any plans in the works for upcoming collaborative or singular projects?
Rob Stuart: Since Kim is in the house while I’m working in the studio, she ends up being on a ton of different songs by default, sometimes not getting credit for her contribution; however, with the success of the “Feels Like Heaven” cover with E.D.F, we’ve decided to pair up and try doing a full album of similar songs. We are currently working on our next song and will hopefully have something to release by the end of the year.
Brian Dickson: Rob and I have talked about continuing with our collaboration, and we’re looking to feature other artists in upcoming tracks. As with what Rob is doing with E.D.F., I’m also continuing my journey with Colony Three, with this year being focused on the release of several singles that will culminate to an end-of-year album…not sure where I got that idea from (laughs).
MissParker: Thank you both for agreeing to talk with me and sharing your thoughts about working together to make Boӧtes Void.
Rob Stuart: Thank you so much for being a voice for independent music and for asking such intelligent and thoughtful questions about our music and process.
Brian Dickson: This interview was an amazing experience, Sandy. Thank you for everything that you do in supporting us and our music; it means so much and encourages us all to keep at it!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: One of the best things (and there are so many) about being introduced to David Marsden’s live radio show 14 years ago, and then more recently (2014) to his free-form stream NYTheSpirit.com, is getting to know some incredible music acts and artists that I never would have been exposed to otherwise.
George Rondina is part of this treasure trove of talent. Three of his songs recorded under the moniker Imagination Machine that David has played on his live weekend show have absolutely torn me up: A Northern Evening, Dancing on a Highwire, and True (May the Road Rise). These hauntingly lovely songs are the perfect blend of an internal, aural, emotional journey highlighted by Rondina’s expressive and unique voice. Personally, music is an escape that makes the real world tolerable by pushing it aside and providing a safe haven in which to curl up and fantasize about what life should be. George Rondina’s music is that and so much more—it envelopes the listener within a protective bubble that promises salvation rather than mere isolation.
It’s my pleasure to share this interview with you and to hopefully pull more listeners into the ethereal world of Imagination Machine. Given the reality that we are forced to deal with every day, I believe this is an alternative that many will willingly embrace once its magic has touched the soul.
MissParker: I’ve done some research about you online and am amazed at your accomplishments, most notably the Toronto recording studio known as Number 9 Audio Group. Before I ask you to expand on that a bit, I also read that you were part of several bands back in the late 70s. What can you share about that experience?
George Rondina: I’d like to say, thank you for having me and for the very kind and generous introduction. I started out as a musician and was in a couple of different bands in high school. Once graduated, the musical journey really kicked in and the 3 bands I was in toured Ontario and Quebec.
It was fun for the first few years, but living out of a suitcase in some not-so-swank hotels took its toll after about 5 years and I started to think of something I could do that would garner a bit more of a normal life. After much thought, Number 9 Sound Studios ( Number 9 Audio Group ) was born.
MissParker: So, getting back to Number 9 Audio Group—the name is intriguing, by the way—where did the name come from (I have a guess) and what prompted you to switch from performing to producing?
George Rondina: Ah, so the name Number 9 of course was a culmination of things—John Lennon’s infatuation with the number 9 and numerology, as he was born on the 9th day of the month, and so was I. In 1981, for lack of a better name, Number 9 it was.
We ran the studio in tandem, with playing live on weekends, at first. When my first born came along, the rest of the band approached me about touring full time. I was happy playing weekends and running the studio through the week. It was a very hard decision, but I chose to keep the studio going, as I had no interest in going back on the road at the time and I knew it would have been very hard on my family. So that’s when the switch happened.
MissParker: The “who’s who” list of artists you’ve worked with at the studio is impressive, to say the least. Of the people you’ve worked with, who left the biggest impression and why?
George Rondina: Wow, that’s a tough one, as many of the bands like “The Barenaked Ladies” weren’t famous when we first recorded them. There are a few that I enjoyed meeting a lot, like David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears. David recorded 4 albums at Number 9 and we became quite good friends. Jim McCarty from the Yardbirds and Renaissance would be another. A real gentleman. The work we did with the Stones, Van Morrison, and Will Smith was either rental work or location recording—mostly arm’s length—never got to meet them directly. After almost 40 years there’ve been a lot of great experiences, that’s for sure.
MissParker: Who haven’t you worked with that would be high up on your wish list?
George Rondina: We could be here all night (laugh) . Of the living: Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Pete Townshend and The Who (whom I have met but haven’t worked with), Pink Floyd, particularly David Gilmour, Genesis…The list is endless.
MissParker: I’m curious about your connection with David Marsden. How did you first meet up with him and how long have you known him?
George Rondina: I’ve known David from his radio shows since the 70s, but he’s only known me since about 2017-18, when I released A Northern Evening and he was kind enough to add it to his playlist.
MissParker: I fantasize about having been a part of the music world, but life seems to have had other plans for me. So I’m always curious—what got you interested in music and which instruments were the first you learned to play?
George Rondina: Feb. 9th 1964 The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. That night, I decided that music is what I wanted to do. I was just a young kid. I tried guitar but just couldn’t get the hang of it, where piano came much more naturally for me. Then came the other keyboards and synthesizers, which I have a nice little collection of my favourites now. The only other thing for me was singing. I started in choirs at an early age.
MissParker: Who were your early musical influences?
George Rondina: Well of course, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, and the whole late 60s-70s scene. Later: Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, ELP, David Bowie, Tom Petty—the list could go on almost forever.
MissParker: Even though you’re a musician first and foremost, what planted the Imagination Machine seed?
George Rondina: I’d been writing songs all my life but pushed aside recording them to focus on the studio, raising my kids, and making ends meet. Later in life, which started around 2016, I recorded a Christmas song for a charity to help kids with depression issues. The song was called Shine On. After I finished recording that song, I decided that it was time to start on an album.
MissParker: To me, you have the perfect blend of synths and instrumentation to enhance your vocals on the gorgeous track “A Northern Evening.” The first time I heard David play it, I about fell out of my chair while grabbing my phone to Shazam this amazing song I was listening to. What inspired you to write that song?
George Rondina: It was a long time ago. I wrote the majority of A Northern Evening when I was in my 20s, and adding parts and lyrics in 2016-17 when I recorded it. By the way, I’m very encouraged and grateful by your kind words.
It was an experience I had while in Northern Ontario on a crisp, clear winter’s night while snowmobiling. We reached a peak and gazed into a sky full of stars with northern lights and shooting stars. It was an epiphany for me. I guess the belief that there is something more was confirmed that night and soon after came the lyrics and the song.
MissParker: I absolutely adore “Dancing on a Highwire.” What’s the back story to that song?
George Rondina: That’s a little sad I guess. My father suddenly passed away at 56 when I was 21. Literally died in my arms. The only death I’d experienced before that of someone that was close was my grandmother ( my Dad’s mother) the year before. I went into a bit of a dark place and was searching for something. Not to get too deep into the experience, Highwire is really just about the fragility of life and how we all have the courage to carry on even through the darkest of times.
MissParker: Rooting around YouTube I’ve come across some other Imagination Machine gems that are both playful and lovely. Do you have any other songs in the works?
George Rondina: The other Imagination Machine Songs are Muskoka Trees, Blue Room, and I just recently finished a song called Still In The Silence. Going in the studio this week to start another new song.
MissParker: Please share how we can purchase your music and also be informed of any future releases.
George Rondina: It’s pretty well a one-man show right now. I don’t have a website or FaceBook page just yet for Imagination Machine. The other thing is since I started Imagination Machine there is a children’s group using the same name, so it may evolve into George Rondina and The Imagination Machine .
I think tuning into Dave Marsden’s NYtheSpirit.com is a good way to hear what is going on with Imagination Machine or my personal Facebook page. The songs are all available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube, and more. You can download from iTunes and Bandcamp, which is always preferred by the artist.
And, before we end, I think it’s very important I acknowledge the musicians, engineers and studios that played a huge part in making our songs presentable 🙂. They are: George Koller, Vito Rezza, Graham Walker, Larry Bodner, Chase Sanborn, Reg Schwager, Ciceal Levy and Amoy Levy, Caroline Akwe, John Madill, Aaron Fund Salem, Arron Davis, Bridget Hunt, Carolyn Blackwell, Winona Zelenka, John Switzer, Samuel Bisson, Alex Toskov and Veronica Lee, Loretto Reid, Eric St-Laurent, Anne Lindsay, Bernie Cisternas, Brian Mcloughlin, Alex Lang, Number 9 Audio Group, Alex Gordon, Abbey Road Studios Mastering, Lacquer Channel Mastering, and Noah Mintz.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been a pleasure.
It was truly a pleasure to learn more about this inspiring music maker and producer. Follow the links below to sample some of his incredible work. And, if you like what you hear, be sure to support George Rondina and Imagination Machine using the links he gave us above.
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.
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.
One of the enormous perks of being a part of the David Marsden family of fans and musicians is the priceless opportunity to hear new music that David promotes. A simply fabulous band I first heard on David’s streaming show via NYTheSpirit.com is Boys’ Entrance. What makes Boys’ Entrance even more endearing is that they are based practically in my back yard.
Boys’ Entrance currently hails from the Tampa Bay region of FL. Front man Tim Cain has a timeless alto voice that draws the listener in to the music like a bee to honey. According to the intro on their website, they have been making wonderful music for 28 years—an amazing feat. BE has earned accolades from throughout the music industry—well-deserved and acquired through hard work and talent.
Even though we share a state, I’ve yet to have the pleasure of experiencing Tim Cain and Boys’ Entrance live. I know—sounds strange, doesn’t it? But I’m several hours away (Florida covers a LOT of territory!), and solo road travel is never a favorite adventure of mine. One of these days, though, I’ll find a road-trip buddy and drop in on a Boys’ Entrance show. It’s a bucket list goal I’ve got my sights set on.
In the meantime, Tim Cain has graciously accepted my invitation for a Rave and Roll interview. I’m excited to share his thoughts and opinions on the state of music, the world, and just about everything in between. I think you’ll find him just as real and as captivating as I…and the music…I believe it will be as irresistible for you as it is for me.
Missparker: This is something I tend to ask most of the musicians I interview, because I’m very curious to uncover the “why” behind what you do: What made you decide to form a band and perform in front of people?
Tim Cain @ the original Boys’ Entrance, Chicago, IL
Tim Cain: First of all, Sandy, I want to thank you for your gracious invitation to speak with you. It is a privilege to speak with a fellow traveler in music. We are both devoted to music and I think it feeds our souls. So I feel comforted to know we share a friend, Mr. Marsden and music itself.
My father had a gift. He could play any song on the piano if he heard it. His right hand was where this gift resided. There was a direct channel between his “ear” and his right hand, and he amazed family and friends throughout my childhood.
His left hand was erratic and unguided by his ear. He would bounce back and forth between two or three notes—in time—but not necessarily in key. I suppose he had seen “stride” players play in honkytonks and wanted to emulate their style. But he had never been taught. So, it was a crazy thing to me to watch him, because I had the “ear” as well. I knew how amazing his right hand was, but his left hand drove me crazy.
Years later, I don’t know, maybe I was in my 20s, I callously said, “What are you doing with your left hand? The notes aren’t right.” I never heard him play again, and that is one of my biggest regrets in life. I wish I had just kept my mouth shut. But I opened my mouth and the toad leapt out and there was no taking it back. I know he has forgiven me though.
Missparker: It would be great to have a do-over—I think we all long for that ability at one time or another during our lives.
Tim Cain: I think my whole career—now 45 years—has sprung from my father’s ear. I was always a singer. That came naturally. My proudest moment was when I sang “The Lord’s Prayer” in rehearsals for my sister’s wedding. My mom and dad were sitting in a pew with their backs to me. I sang and the voice that sang through me was astounding. Everyone started to cry. They all turned to watch me, except my dad. When I was done, everyone applauded. My dad sat motionless, until he turned, and I could see he had been weeping. I felt a power I had never known, and I never wanted to stop using it.
My first actual band was called Flyht—our logo was a drawing of Icarus. (Strangely, my husband who is also the bassist in Boys’ Entrance was also in a band about the same time, and it was called Icarus!) So this was about 1975. We covered popular rock songs, and broke up after one show.
“The Wolf Is at The Door” single cover by Julie Perry
My second band was, Talltrees. This band was way more successful. We played around Central Illinois from 1979 – 1986. We appeared on a compilation album of bands from Champaign/Urbana. We had two major labels express interest, and even had a video play on Musicbox Television, (an MTV precursor, in Europe).
I moved to Chicago in 1987 and joined a prog-rock band called, Random Axis. I am still friends with two of the guys from that band to this day. In fact, the bassist, Tom Heslin plays on our “Tunnelvision” album! That band only lasted a couple of years, though.
That takes me to Boys’ Entrance. In 1991, I traveled to San Francisco and met up with my friend, Jon Ginoli. We had been rivals (as DJs), lovers, and co-workers (in record stores), during our college years.
He played me demos for his new project, Pansy Division. I was blown away by his audacity. The songs were the most blatantly QUEER songs I had ever heard. They were in-your-face and unapologetic. While I was the first queer musician Jon had ever known, my songs were always couched in universal pronouns. He schooled me and dared me to do more with my music. Twenty-eight years later, we are both still at it.
Missparker: What an amazing journey! What can you tell me about the current members of Boys’ Entrance, and have you always had the same line-up with them throughout the years?
Tim Cain: Boys’ Entrance began as just me on keyboards, bass, & guitar. It was enabled by my Ensoniq VFX workstation. This keyboard is a sequencer, and it allowed me to record my musical ideas and store them on floppy discs. I am on my third VFX as of this interview. This keyboard allowed me to have a three- decade career with this band because, like my father, I have a great “ear” and “right hand.” I cannot play a song on a piano, using both my hands. But I can compose using this tool. My dad never had that option, but I did.
The first “live” Boys’ Entrance band was a trio—my keyboard sequences, and three guitars! We had no drummer, or bassist. All that came from the Ensoniq. It was I, Cie Fletcher on lead guitar, and Mike Ferro on rhythm guitar. Later we added a percussionist, Amelia Soto. The band broke up after a few years when Fletcher died of AIDS.
Mike and I continued and brought in a real drummer, Christine Anderson, and a Serbian lead guitarist named Vojo. That lasted a year or two. There was a punk trio version, with drummer Timmy Samuel, Mike, and I. There was a version of the band that incorporated my friends from Random Axis. You can see that version on our Jon-Henri Damski video.
All this took a toll on me. My personal life was always in turmoil. I was depressed and sometimes suicidal. I began preparing to die. I had written a lot of material over the years, so I went to my friend, Timmy Samuel and asked if he would record the songs, to document them. I don’t know if he knew why, but he recorded them all. These are the DEMOcrat records on iTunes. There are actually three—only the “Songs from Tunnelvision” is iTunes. There is a record of instrumentals, and a record of covers, too. Once the recording was done, I was preparing myself to depart.
MissParker: I am so sorry to hear that—how awful. Obviously, I’m glad that you didn’t depart this lifetime. Is this how you ended up in Tampa?
Billy Ramsey and Tim Cain at David Bowie Is exhibit in Chicago
Tim Cain: Oddly, when my then-partner placed a gun in our home to facilitate my departure, I realized the problem was my life in Illinois. I fled to St. Petersburg, and have never been happier in my life. I met my husband, Billy Ramsey. I completed the Tunnelvision album with his help in 2016. When the rock opera was produced at Studio@620 in St. Pete in 2017, we were the “pit band” for 8 performances and were singled out by critics as being “amazing.” We were nominated that year in Creative Loafing’s “Best of the Bay” awards as Best Local Band.
The band has had a few guitarists since we began in Florida, but now has solidified into the current lineup: Billy and I, drummer John Spinelli, and lead guitarist Keith Otten.
Missparker: I think I know one of them, but who are your influences, and why?
Tim Cain: Yes, you and I share an avatar in David Bowie. He dominates my aesthetic, musically and artistically. As a songwriter, I emulate his atmospheres, but not his subject matter. I tend to bounce between the poetic and political—much more definitive than Mr. Bowie. But I would say I am filtered through the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, T Rex, Cars, Devo, Talking Heads, and more.
Missparker: Personally, I always find this type of question difficult to answer, and sort of stupid. But, I think it gives people some insight into what makes a person tick, so bear with me. If you were marooned on Mars and only had 5 albums with you, which ones would they be?
Tim Cain: Oh dear! Well here goes: Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane,” Beatles’ “The Beatles” (White Album), Prince’s “Sign of the Times,” Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key of Life,” and Brian Eno’s “Another Green World.”
Missparker: I love the glam look you project onstage. You seem perfectly comfortable with it and well-suited for it. Who does your make-up and clothing?
Tim Cain: You are so sweet, Miss P. I am guilty of my costumes and make-up.
Missparker: Who writes your music? Is it a solo effort, or collaboration?
Tim Cain: I am the sole writer of Boys’ Entrance.
Missparker:What inspires your music? In other words, where do you gather the ideas that you translate into aural artistry?
Tim Cain: Sandy, I believe I am a conduit for music from elsewhere. I am also a filter—so I influence the outcome. When I am in a situation where I have a receptive band, and the ability to record, 7 songs pour into (or out of) me. Once the band learns those 7, seven more will come. It is not always 7, but this is frequently the case. I have experienced riding a bicycle and having a song hit me in the face as though I rode through a spider’s web—the music and words—all at once. Back in the day, I would carry a tape recorder with me and capture the songs as they came. Today it is easier with cell phones.
Frequently, when I am drawn to the Ensoniq, I go into a trance, and the whole song is completed without my remembering how it came to be. I think I am channeling—who knows who—maybe my Dad? Maybe Fletcher? I don’t know. If you listen to the song “Hush” on my “In Through The Out Door” record, that is a one-take trance song.
Missparker: That’s amazing. Additionally, does the current disarray so prevalent in our own world also fuel the creativity as a pressure-valve release, so to speak?
Tim Cain: I sometimes brood over a song or a theme for a very long time. Case in point is a new song that took a decade or so to write. The song is called, “Chant For The Hauntlings” and is about the spirits of all the animals I pray for when I pass their lifeless bodies along our roads. I pray, “ God bless you sweet spirit. Return to the Mother. Return to the Light.” That is the chorus to the song. It will be on my next solo record, I think. So yes, I frequently write about ecology, politics, and spirituality. The songs help crystalize my feelings about life.
Missparker:You’ve shared that you’re working on a collection of David Bowie covers, along with covers of other well-known glam bands and singers. What led you to go in that direction?
Tim Cain: While we are rated the #1 Alternative Rock band in the region on Reverbnation—one of the most amazing reasons I love Florida—the music venues are not geared toward original music. I thought it might be easier if we did our own spin on Glam rock. So I came up with the term, 21st Century Glam Rock. We can play the “tribute band” circuit.
Boys’ Entrance LIVE, cover of China Girl
Missparker: How did you decide which songs and artists to cover?
Tim Cain: Our new project is called, Bowie’s Entrance, and it is all music inspired by Bowie from the 70s, 80’s 90’s and 2000’s.
Missparker:What can we expect to see from Boys’ Entrance over the next 5 years?
Tim Cain: First up, we have a new live album called, “Boys’ Entrance presents, Bowie’s Entrance.” We recorded it this month live in a studio—12 songs in 5 hours and the band is astoundingly good. This is the 42nd anniversary of the release of “Heroes”. So you know we had to record it. The result is amazing. It sounds so alive. All of the songs do. That is what this is all about- keeping the music alive! It is so good to hear it as an audience hears it. Thereafter, who knows? I am sure we will continue recording original music—I have too many sitting around.
Boys’ Entrance LIVE 2015, cover, All The Young Dudes
Missparker: What advice would you give to aspiring singers and musicians? How would that advice differ for members of the LGBTQ community?
Tim Cain: PLEASE, do it if it is important to YOU! Don’t do it for external reasons. Make it MEAN something. Content is key. As for the LGBTQ audience, I wrote music for them for 30 years. They never wanted to hear any of it because it was rock. We have always been more popular with straight audiences because they like rock. Oddly enough, our most popular song with straight audiences is “Mr. Sissy.” I don’t know if it is the novelty of hearing someone say those words, or the defiance in the song. I don’t suppose it matters. For some reason they love it.