80s (and sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Robert Swipe

I’ve had the pleasure of “meeting” Robert Swipe on Facebook. I’m not sure what I did to merit the honor of an invitation to be friends, but I’m very glad he took a chance on me. He has a cutting sense of humor and a way of drawing in his followers to discussion threads by asking some very cool and offbeat questions.

Robert is a very gifted musician who encompasses many different styles throughout his music. His latest offering, an album of songs titled “The Most Beautiful Man In The World,” crosses many genres and brings me to the obvious question, “Who are your influences?”

I managed to ask a few more questions beyond the typical (and obvious) “influential” ones. Robert has graciously provided us with some very candid and insightful answers. Take a few moments to get to know this artist and treat yourself to his latest compilation of deftly woven and music-driven tales.

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Missparker: Mania has a decidedly 80s vibe/feel to it, with a bit of Beatles change-up thrown in for good measure. Can you share your influences for this song?

Robert Swipe: It’s an absolute pleasure to be here Sandy, and thank you for that wonderful build up. This one just came to me while I was doing the washing up and thinking about what a contemporary version of Beatlemania might be like–as you do! The tune for the chorus and the words came to me pretty much as one–which is a very pleasant rarity–so any influence is probably buried very deep in the psyche. But yes, I wanted it to be quite “Beatley” and I’d started listening a lot to T-Rex and realized how much of a Beatles influence there had been on Marc. I used my incredibly cheap (and bad) Rickenbacker copy on this one, hoping it would sound like George on A Hard Day’s Night but, as usual, I got more of a Paul Weller/Jam sound from it. So there’s an odd mix of 60s, 70s and 8os in the guitars. The verses I wanted to sound like sort of 80s post-punk/Rockabilly, so I’m pleased you picked up on that! This was one of the first songs written for the album, so I hadn’t that clear an idea of how the whole album would sound. But initially I’d wanted a sort of grungey, glammy, garage band sound…anything beginning with G, basically, would be an influence.

Lyrically, I was thinking of poor Amy Winehouse, who I guess was a victim of a very modern form of mania. I think her haunted figure was captured quite well on this. I think the Beatles were under a massive amount of pressure during the height of their “mania,” and they coped with it in very similar ways to Amy. But, I guess, crucially they had one another, whereas she was on her own. So for me, it was an interesting idea to look at how someone similarly talented as the Beatles could undergo a similar experience that was the context for such joyful and upbeat music in the 60s, but that ended so sourly and sadly for Amy. Where they were able to channel all that weird energy that surrounded them, she was ultimately destroyed by it. So I guess I wanted to examine how things have changed and how people similarly driven to be creative and make beautiful things could be treated so differently by such similar forces. And to do so in an upbeat, “Beatley” tune, gave it quite an effective dark irony, hopefully.

Missparker: Love the jangly guitars and overall feel on Deborah. Is that someone special?

Robert Swipe: Thank you! Yes, it’s very specifically about Deborah Harry. It’s probably the most autobiographical song I’ve written, actually. Many moons ago, when I was a teenager, Ms. Harry was not only the current but arguably *the* ultimate pop pin up. So this song is a fairly subtle account of that most intimate of relationships between idol and worshipper! I had propped my mattress up on a wardrobe or something, aping a friend of mine who had a mezzanine bed–hence the “elevated bed.” So, about 4 or 5 inches above my head was a massive poster of Deborah with which I had a brief but torrid teenage affair! There’s also a gentle foreshadowing of the theme of the ephemeral nature, not just of pop stardom but of existence itself that’s elaborated upon a bit more seriously in the next song–I like the idea of the poster aging in the same way we do, so she’s “all torn and creased” in poster and human form.

A strange footnote: the song ends with some “Frere Jacques” style singing in the round and the phrase “see her falling down” popped into my head as I was, I thought, just roughing out the end section. “I’ll do that properly with the real words later…” I thought. But it slowly dawned on me that I’d seen Deborah performing in London in the 90s. She was wearing the most colossal high-heeled shoes and at one point she evidently lost her balance and toppled over! So obviously my subconscious mind is a far better songwriter than I am! I had to keep it in after that, but what a great illustration of the way the creative part of us is often buried very deep inside us, and who on earth knows how and why it bubbles to the surface as it does?

Missparker: The track from the album title, The Most Beautiful Man in the World is a stunning, heartfelt tune. It begins as an ambient song and morphs slowly and deliberately into a beautifully orchestrated song.  Can you give us some insight on the origins of this tune?

Robert Swipe: Thank you, Sandy. My producer Doug Chay and I are very proud of this one. I think it’s the key song, really, which is why we decided to make it the title track. This is another one that I was very lucky with, really. I’d been thinking a lot about Marc Bolan and he’d been featuring very prominently in a lot of the Facebook posts I was seeing at the time; and, one or more of these might even have described him as “the most beautiful man in the world.” So I’d had that title in mind as something I could use, and the idea of Marc having survived the crash and living into old age just popped into my head one day when I was walking across the village green. It was, happily for me, accompanied by the tune once more.

So, it wasn’t so much written, as it fell out of the sky and into my grateful lap. Those are the nicest songs. Keith Richards describes that moment when they arrive as “incoming…” I think that describes it perfectly. This one really owes a huge debt to Douglas who somehow managed to carve a beautifully elegant likeness of Marc from the tangled mess of tracks I sent him. We were both also thinking a lot about Tony Visconti and his early work with both Marc and David Bowie, and I think this song is the fullest example of that. With masters like that, the apprentices can’t really go wrong.

Missparker: Speaking of Marc Bolan, Revolution brings me back in time (in a great way) to T.Rex…so, they have been a major influence in your music?

Robert Swipe: It’s really strange but before this project I would have called myself a T-Rex fan, and yet I realize now that I thought of them as being pretty much a singles band. It’s only really as part of this project that I’ve more fully explored Marc Bolan and his work. Even now, I think I only really managed to get up to about 1974, so incredibly prolific were they back in the 1960s–they were weighing in with a couple of albums a year, each with 13 or so tracks, barely any filler…astonishing to us now, in an era when people can spend several years producing…not much! So, to answer your question, no, probably not until now! This song is, as most fans of Marc will tell you, heavily indebted to a song called Beltane Walk. In fact, it’s a direct steal! But I figured, Marc was cool enough about his own songs to steal the lick from The Walk by Jimmy McCracklin for his song, so I can keep that fine tradition going a little longer and give it another spin on the karmic wheel.

With the very early T-Rex music, much as I love it, I must say that culturally it feels very far removed from my own musical roots. I got seriously into music at the tail end of the punk era and that was a very different scene! I have an aunt who used to go to watch the early Tyrannosaurus Rex and I have visions of a lot of people like her sitting cross-legged on the floor nodding into their Afghan coats. So, the key for my understanding the early, underground T-Rex music was really how much it owed to the music Marc grew up listening to which was, by the sounds of it, very early American rock ‘n’ roll, with which I myself was also more comfortable and familiar with. So, my fascination, I guess, is how Marc made something so ethereal, strangely beautiful and, I would say, very English out of such earthy US sounds. So Hot Rod Mama, the first track on the first LP, sounds in places like it was recorded at Sun Studios,but it’s a cosmos away from all that, too.

Missparker: Having lived in Georgia for a time around the turn of the 21st century, I have to say I’m amused/intrigued by the title of Georgia Peach. Have you ever been there and what prompted the title to the song?

Robert Swipe: (Laughs) Sadly not. I have some wonderful Facebook friends from Georgia, though and they’re always telling me how lovely it is. One day, hopefully, I’ll get to find out for myself. No, I was actually thinking about Little Richard, who I believe was referred to as the Georgia Peach. This song started out as an outright Bay City Rollers number that was going to be called ‘ILUVULUVMELUV’ (or similarly archaic spellings!), but Doug initially felt it was a little *too* Rollersesque, even though he’s a massive fan. So, I tried slowing it down and doing it more like Brian Wilson did California Girls, but it still wasn’t really right, so we left it on the shelf for a bit. At some point, bizarrely, I think I was doing the washing up again (you can see where the ley lines are in our house….near the kitchen sink), and I started thinking about the Ronettes and, at about the same time, Little Richard. I may even have been wondering if he was still alive! And for whatever unfathomable reason, I started singing ‘ILUVULUVMELUV’ the way Ronnie Spector would have, only I had to change the tune a bit to make it sound right for her. Then, I thought, “I have to get a tribute to Little Richard in here too, he’s brilliant,” and so, the Georgia Peach image came to me and that was the song complete.

I suppose what I was grasping for was to convey in musical style just how central an artist Little Richard was to a whole strand of theatrical and transgressive pop. He wore makeup, looked like he could be a drag artist, but could bawl like the furies and was, along with another favorite of mine, Jerry Lee Lewis, just the real deal as an artist and a person. I suppose if you think about it, you can’t imagine artists like Bowie and Prince doing what they did without Little Richard Penniman having broken the hard ground up a bit for them first. And I guess it’s my celebration of him still being here and guiding our way when so many others who’ve lit the path for us have now gone.

Missparker: Again, we have a song with a woman’s name as a title. Nancy is a heartfelt track about promises made and (presumably) love lost. Is this from personal experience? Where do you find the inspiration to write such deeply meaningful and personal songs?

Robert Swipe: Again, this is another vignette of the downside of fame and I had in mind Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. It sort of rounds off a suite of songs that look somewhat askance at the whole business of fame and celebrity. We’ve had songs about Amy, Deborah, Marc, and Little Richard, so it felt right to string them together when we were sequencing them. The only way I felt I could write about two ultimately quite tragic figures was through the kind of style that Bryan Ferry perfected around the time of Avalon. I felt that sort of clash between the quite stylized performance and the quite gritty subject matter might be interesting and I’m really pleased that you felt some real emotion came through it all. I think I’m quite detached as a writer, but I sing and play with quite a lot of emotion, so I’m never sure which aspect comes through most fully. I’m pleased it’s the emotion in this case. They were a sad pair, I think. Both in their own ways lived to be famous–at least, that’s the impression I got. And having got it, it killed them. Very sad.

Missparker: I love the 90s shoegaze feel of Twenty5. The bass is pronounced and a wonderful foundation for this song. Do you feel that the shoegaze era was a particularly influential era to some of your music?

Robert Swipe: I kind of missed out on the shoegaze thing, really. I can hear stuff from that period now and it sounds a lot better than I remember it being at the time. Are you thinking of bands like Ride and Lush?

Missparker: Yes, and Catherine Wheel, and so on…

Robert Swipe: I feel more akin as a writer to bands like Blur, who began probably on the fringes of shoegaze and I felt gave themselves a bit more room to spread out artistically, rather than being part of a short-lived movement. I’m not trying to do down the bands in that era, but I personally was zoning out a bit on contemporary music at that time, just a time of life thing where you start exploring earlier music a bit more as you have a bit of a “seen that, done that” feeling about contemporary music. What you start realizing is that it’s always cyclical and that everything always comes around again. So I might start telling people “there’s always been a shoegaze element to my music…” very soon!

I think I had Led Zep more in mind on this one. I had a drum loop that sounded like the kind of thing John Bonham might have played and just started riffing around that. The lyric concerns an imaginary South American girl who sits in her room getting drunk and stoned imagining she’ll set the world on fire then die before she’s twenty-five. There are worse ways to live, I guess. I’m sure she wouldn’t be the first person to take the lyrics to All the Young Dudes a tad too literally. But that’s been a real discovery–South America. Some very cool and lovely people down there who really know their rock and pop and what’s more they know how to treat a female impersonator (that last bit’s from Monty Python, if anyone else is old enough to remember them).

Missparker:  I do (laughs)! I love the orchestration of The World Will End. That brings me to the question…do you work with other musicians, or are the tracks solely laid down by you alone? If it’s a sole venture, I’m very curious to find out how you would take your music out on the road, if given the opportunity?

Robert Swipe: Sadly, I’m completely solo in terms of the playing, at the moment. Working with Doug, though was a big change and a completely beneficial one, so hopefully I can keep expanding and maybe one day end up with a real band…who knows? This one really was radically reshaped by Doug and showed me why it is so great to have a producer. It started out very much aping the song Five Years musically, as well as lyrically. But, Doug stripped it down completely to just the weird vibe part and a drum loop, and after scratching my head for a bit, I suddenly saw a new way of doing it.

My inspiration for the remake was very much Strawberry Fields Forever, with maybe a bit of Blue Jay Way in there, too. Again, there’s a clash between the subject matter and the style that hopefully opens things up in an interesting way. Again, I threw tons of parts at Doug, but he did a really great job as surrogate George Martin on this one, just letting each idea have its moment in the sun and making it a much richer and structured piece than it would have been if I’d been left to my own devices. But yes, I’d really love to put together a band and a show. I think between this album and Glam! there’s the makings of a really good rock show. Anyone out there play the bass….?

Missparker:  Hot Gossip and Beautiful Lie seem to give us intimate glimpses into your soul. Does songwriting provide a sort of catharsis for any major events that may be occurring in your life?

Robert Swipe: It’s odd, I do see myself as a very detached writer–a novelist, rather than a diarist, to use literary equivalents. There are a few autobiographical things in there, but they tend to just be used as accurate detail, the way a novelist might consult a notebook if they wanted to convey something vividly. But ultimately, I see my songs as imaginative explorations, rather than soul-baring autobiography. So, with Hot Gossip, the bit about the glockenspiel is something we did in a music lesson at school, performing a very ramshackle version of Revolution #9–quite! The black walls belonged to a friend of mine. I don’t, sadly, own a swastika garter myself, but there’s always time I suppose! There are oblique parallels with Pandora in the song, and the way I’ve chosen to present the music in a very glam and gender-bending style, I guess.

It probably is tough for people who know me to see all that as the charade I know it is, so I suppose they might be represented by the outraged parents in the song. I’m an orphan now, so a lot of my musings about my relationships with my parents probably comes out in these narratives, but it’s not something I consciously try to write about. I guess it’s the same in terms of the lyrics. You aim to paint a convincing portrait of the person or ideas that you’re trying to give voice to in the song–so I guess one should take it as a high compliment when people mistake what you’re doing for autobiography. But, to say all that makes it sound rather cold and calculating and I certainly don’t feel that way about my work; I am completely transported when I play and sing–well, when it is going well–and I put so much passion and emotion into the music and the writing. But, I think I express my inner being through the whole piece rather than just lyrically, if that makes sense?

Missparker: It does. I have to admit that I thought Glitterball (by its name) would be a disco-based track. Thankfully, it’s not. What does the glitter ball stand for metaphorically in this song?

Robert Swipe: (Laughs) What’s wrong with disco? But seriously, this is very much a composite song that started out in different form quite a few years ago, so it’s quite hard to pin down exact meanings. I guess with the glitter ball I was just thinking of that very late 70s, Debbie Harry singing Heart of Glass at Studio 54 sort of pop glamour. It’s something that has always been very alluring to me, I suppose, in part because it’s gone and is out of my reach now. Nothing is more alluring than what you can’t have. So, it’s the idea of someone being absolutely themselves in one brief glorious transcendent moment.

That’s contrasted with the quite desperate figure that’s painted in the verses; someone who’s very lost spiritually in a very dark and unforgiving world. That seemed to make a lot of emotional sense to me, and I hoped it would speak to other people’s feelings about the way the world is right now. I had in mind a very beautiful North African woman cast into a very dark and gothic Europe. But strangely, when I listen now, I have somewhere like Los Angeles in mind when I picture it all. Go figure. I also liked the way Marc Bolan would take very materialistic or rock ‘n’ roll imagery, and couple them with spiritual or esoteric concepts like Metal Guru, Cosmic Dancer. I figured it might be fun to explore that a bit more bluntly. So, the character in this song is looking for God in back street sex, etc. As you can see, I’m no Marc Bolan!

Missparker: The Spirit of Rock and Roll is a moody song. It also clocks in as the longest on this album. And, I love that you end the song with several declarations of love. What was the inspiration for this song? What do you mean by having the spirit of rock and roll?

Robert Swipe: Well, I think the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is something I’ve noticed a lot across our Facebook groups and friends. People–some of my age group, some older, some younger–who were pretty much knocked for six when David Bowie died. I guess a lot of us have found out quite graphically, through the loss, how much someone like him and what he did when he was alive meant to us. So, I started wondering if that would be a good platform to try and build up a small community of people who’d all been inspired by that brave, questing, experimental music and visual style and to try and force myself to live up as much as I could to what I thought people who liked such music might expect from new music nowadays. As I was recording, I kept wondering whether it was still possible to use that style of music to do “big things” like bring people together and change the world. So, I suppose this album is my attempt to test the promises that 60s and 70s music made to me–and so many of us–and to see if new songs could ever achieve some of the cultural power pop songs once had.

One of the most exciting things for me from the Facebook groups was that there were a lot of young people who had sought that very music out and were experiencing it with the same force it once had for us. So, I guess this song is the most explicit example of that experiment–to see if you could write something as anthemic and generation-defining as, say, All the Young Dudes and whether it could have anything like the same meaning such a song might once have had for its audience. I can imagine precisely how ridiculous and over-reaching that sounds to everyone reading this, but I was genuinely curious! And, following on from that, I did definitely want to send out a message of love directly to the people I describe above–to say thank you for being there as an audience for me. It’s the first time I’ve been even remotely aware that I had one–and to suggest that, even if it’s only for the duration of this song, we can live out some of those old glories. And, of course, it had to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, otherwise everyone out there would think I really meant it!

Thank you, Sandy, for asking such interesting and thought-provoking questions. I hope I haven’t bored you too horribly with my rambling responses!

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It was absolutely my pleasure, and not boring, at all.

To experience Robert Swipe’s music for yourself, check out his music on the following sites:

Robert Swipe’s YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/bobswipe/

To purchase his music:
https://www.robertswipe.com/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Marsden/NYTheSpirit.com Interview with Colin and Rob

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

Sinners of Saint Avenue–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Hopeless Believers–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

London Baby–SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

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

(All photographs copyright (c) Elk Road)

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

Christopher Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WARD @ Lexington Bar (Feb 2017)

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

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

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

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

WARD @ TRIP (DEC 2016)

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

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

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

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

WARD @ Silverlake Lounge (Jan 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Resources~

Website

Get the EP

Facebook

Instagram

Velvet Walls: Official Featured Video

Live Concert Video Footage

Link to more Videos 

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

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

Dan Shea (small)

Dan Wreck

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

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

Marilyn

Marilyn Roxie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixtape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

backcover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Wreck

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

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

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

Other relevant links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nushooz+80s

Valerie and John circa 1980s
Photo Credit: Nancy Bundt

New Wave music of the late 70s and early 80s consisted of many sub-genres. The influences were abundant and varied, and creative experimentation ran high. I firmly believe that’s what made 80s music so unique—the fearless attitude of its trailblazers (David Bowie, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, OMD, Blondie, and Roxy Music, to name just a few), which ultimately opened up endless opportunities for others to carve a niche in one of the most exciting and downright brilliant music periods.

One such sub-genre is a retro funk sound, brought to light by artists such as Yellow Magic Orchestra (fronted by Ryuichi Sakamoto), Scritti Politti, and P-Funk master George Clinton. New Wave funk was born of a unique marriage of jazz, soul, urban, and synthesizers, and was a successful antidote for those tired of, or (in my case) resistant to the emergence of disco.

In the midst of heady experimentation, a group of 12 creative artists from Portland OR formed a band called Nu Shooz in 1979. They released their first album, Can’t Turn it Off in 1982. Subsequently, they scaled back to a group of 7, and worked hard performing and traveling for several more years before signing with Atlantic Records, finally landing on both the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1986. The single that cemented their success is “I Can’t Wait.”

“I Can’t Wait” – Nu Shooz official video:

Jump ahead to 2016. The husband and wife team of Valerie Day and John Smith, founding members of Nu Shooz, are taking their group (consisting of previous, original members) back on tour to promote their latest offering, “Bagtown.” They have graciously agreed to an interview, which unfolds below.

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Sandy Missparker (SM): Of course I have to ask the question that you’ve most likely answered about a bazillion times: Where did the moniker “Nu Shooz” come from?

JOHN: “The Beatles” was already taken.

SM: Who first inspired you back in the late 70s?

JOHN: I was lucky to grow up during the Motown era. First became aware of Soul Music around 1965. It was an exciting time in music, with every next record outdoing the last. But it wasn’t until 1970 when I first heard Hendrix that I decided to become a musician. After that, I got a guitar as soon as I could. Hendrix turned out to be the gateway drug that led me to Jazz. After Hendrix came John McLaughlin, and that led to Coltrane, and that led to Charlie Parker.

VALERIE: I was barely out of high school where, in the art room, we listened to a steady stream of ‘Tapestry’ by Carol King and ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell – still two of my favorite songwriters. Then it was on to learning how to play latin percussion instruments – which meant I was listening to Puerto Rico Allstars, The Escovidos (which included Sheila before she became Sheila E.) and Celia Cruz. But it really felt like I’d come ‘home’ when I picked up a Sarah Vaughn/Count Basie big band recording. Her voice and the arrangements just knocked me out. Turns out jazz was my gateway drug to Motown and R&B. My love of dance and the amazing voices – Aretha, Gladys Knight, Chaka Kahn – pulled me in and have never let me go.

SM: How did you become interested in a music career?

JOHN: At first you’re just trying to learn to play. It wasn’t till the mid-70s that it started to look like a career. I moved from L.A. to Portland Oregon and fell in with the Latin Jazz community. There was a band called Felicidades, and they had Horns! Got bit by the arranging bug, and that band let me write horn charts before I really even knew how. After that, I was pretty much hooked.

VALERIE: I always knew I wanted to become an artist of some kind. I studied dance for 10 years – from age 5 to 15. But the practical side of my teenage mind told me I’d probably have a longer lasting career in music than in dance. My mother was a world class opera and classical singer, so I NEVER thought I would become a singer too. In 1982, when the lead singer in Nu Shooz started missing gigs, I came out from behind the congas and became the lead singer for the band.

SM: How many people were in the original version of Nu Shooz and where did you find them?

Nu Shooz 2015 Photo Credit: Mike Hipple

Nu Shooz 2015 ~ Photo Credit: Mike Hipple

JOHN: In ’79 we started out with four people. I wanted to do Temptations and stuff like that. A year later we added four horns and three backup singers. Then we were on our way. The horn players came from a Sunday night rehearsal band that played at the musicians union hall; the Walter Bridges Big Band.

SM: How did you find your way into the “funk” side of 80s music?

JOHN: Well, before it was 80s music, it was called 70s music. It was a natural progression out of 60s soul, through Latin horn bands to Tower of Power. In the 80s I loved Rick James. That’s what we wanted to sound like, Rick James with horns by the Puerto Rico All Stars!

VALERIE: Right!

SM: What transpired throughout all of the years that Nu Shooz went “silent?”

JOHN: We raised a son. His name is Malcolm. Best thing we ever did. Valerie sang jazz with Big Bands and small groups, played sessions as a percussionist, and taught voice lessons for 20 years. I fell into a great gig writing music for commercials. It was all hard work but lovely too. Something different every day. After all those years just writing for the Shooz, I was ready to write some string quartets and do some heavy metal shredding.

SM: What was your motivation to craft a new collection of songs for release?

JOHN: We put the live band back together. By the end of the summer, we were getting real tight. And we needed new songs to play. So,

Original cover artwok by Malcolm Smith

Original album cover artwork by Malcolm Smith

on October 27th 2014, we went into the studio and started the record that would become Bagtown. We’re gonna spend exactly a year-and-a-half on this. That means we’re gonna be shrink-wrapped on April 25th 2016. AND WE MADE IT! With a deadline like that, you come in focused, decisive. We were determined to have fun too.

SM: Tell us how you came up with the new title for your latest creative effort?

VALERIE: When John went out to our studio to start writing for the record, he began by writing a classical piece. Nope! That’s not quite it! Then out came a couple of psychedelic songs. Hmmmm….that’s not it either! Undeterred, the next time he went out to the studio he found himself making a bag puppet out of a leftover paper sandwich bag. Soon there were more ‘bag people’, and buildings, and cardboard signs and trees. The studio was taken over by a town full of paper bags! I’d say to him, “Hey – how’s the songwriting going?” “Pretty good.” he’d say. “I made a few bag puppets today.” The bags became his buddies in the studio. They were having a party and the party needed some music. So he wrote 33 song sketches. Nine of those ended up being on the record.

“The Making of Bagtown”

SM: What main genre of music can we expect from the new album? Does it deviate much from where you left off?

VALERIE: “Bagtown” goes back to the earlier days of the band before synthesizers and drum machines, emulators and remixes. It’s an homage to the late 70s, early 80s soul, funk, vocal harmony heavy music we were listening to and in love with. Earth, Wind, and Fire meets Steely Dan and have a love child with the Tom Tom Club.

SM: How do you anticipate touring and promotion of your new album to differ from the way it was done “way back when?”

VALERIE: On the one hand, without a label and an army of people to get your music on radio, distributed in record stores, and pitched to magazines, TV and newspapers, it’s tough to get noticed – especially with the tsunami of new music being released every day. On the other hand, we have a stronger connection to the people who love our music the most; it’s a direct relationship that we weren’t able to have with our fans back in the day. We just finished doing a crowdfunding campaign through Pledgemusic that was a blast. Being able to take our audience along for the ride was super fun. As writer/artist Austin Kleon says “Show your work…” as it’s being made. “Way back when” we felt isolated and like we were creating in a vacuum. That is definitely not the case today.

SM: What challenges (if any) do you face transforming what you’ve created in a studio into a live performance?

JOHN: I wish we could afford fifteen people. Then we could make this music as big and as free as it could be.

VALERIE: The good news is that all the musicians who contributed to the recording are in our live band, so they know these tunes inside and out now. It’s so refreshing for all of us to have new material to play. Playing live and studio recording are two COMPLETELY different animals. It’s been really fun for us to bring these songs to life visually for the stage.

SM: I know it’s probably too soon to tell, but do you think there will be future Nu Shooz releases and tours?

VALERIE: John and I continue to tour with 80s shows like The Super Freestyle Explosion, Lost 80’s and more, plus we play with our full 8 piece band whenever it pencils out financially (which at this point means shows close to home in the Pacific NW.) We never imagined that we’d be performing and recording as Nu Shooz again. This feels like it’s one of the best time periods in our creative lives – so who knows? We’ve learned to never say “never.” As long as people are interested and want to hear more, we’ll keep creating and performing.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

In closing, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Valerie and John for candidly sharing their thoughts on originally forming back in the late 70s, taking a “break” from the music world, and making the decision to dive back into the limelight with panache and gusto. Their enthusiasm is highly contagious.

For an informative bio of the band’s history, check out this highly entertaining article. In addition, do yourself a huge favor and explore these additional resources to learn more about this unique and creative band:

Website:  www.NuShoozMusic.com
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/nushoozmusic/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/NuShoozMusic
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/nushoozmusic/

Bagtown is a family production. John Smith wrote the music, Valerie Day performed, and their son Malcolm ( www.malcolmsmithartist.com) provided cover artwork for the city of anthropomorphic brown paper sacks.

“Point of No Return” – Nu Shooz official video: 

“Should I Say Yes” – Nu Shooz official video: 

 

80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/ Bands ~ Rob Stuart is Back with Electronic Dream Factory (EDF)

Excellent music never dies; sometimes it just goes away for a while. And, like a treasured loved one, its return evokes strong emotions of joy, relief, and a reconnection with the universe. That’s what’s happening here, folks. And, I am delighted to be the bearer of the fantastic news.

Rob Stuart first graced Rave and Roll’s pages exclusively as a featured artist back in November 2009. Earlier that year, I had published an article about his Toronto-based band SLAVE to the SQUAREwave, followed by a review of their then-latest smashing release, The Money Shot. Earlier this year (Feb. 2014, to be exact), I was privileged to announce Slave’s return with a jaw-dropping, in-your-face collection of tunes called Asphalt, Sex & Rock ‘N’ Roll. Now, I am thrilled to deliver the trifecta: Rob Stuart’s long-awaited re-emergence featuring an entire catalog of synthesizer-driven musical goodness from his band, Electronic Dream Factory (E.D.F).

Rob agreed to be interviewed so that I can share with you all a little bit about the beginnings of E.D.F., its evolution, the inspiration for the music, and the reason for the decision to re-release the catalog.

When did E.D.F. make its debut in the world?

EDF studios circa 1983

EDF studios circa 1983

Originally E.D.F was and still is the name of my home recording studio. I stole the name from a small British synthesizer company called Electronic Dream Plant which built a very cool monophonic synthesizer called “The Wasp.” My earliest recollection of my first home studio was back in 1981. I decided very early on in my “music career” that rather than pay other people to record in their studios, that I would just build my own and teach myself how to record, engineer and mix.

I was only sixteen back then and gear was incredibly expensive, so my first studio was nothing fancy. I would work three summer jobs to save up enough money to buy studio gear. I still remember purchasing the first real synth I ever owned, a Korg MS-20 for $595.00 at Steve’s Music Store in Toronto. I was so proud walking home with that synth tucked under my arm that day. It was once I started writing original music when I decided Electronic Dream Factory would also serve as a good band name.

Who were the original band members?

Greg Fraser, Rob Stuart, Rob Tennant (1992)

Greg Fraser, Rob Stuart, Rob Tennant (1992)

There have been many incarnations of the “band”version of E.D.F. Version 1.0 is me alone as a solo artist . Long time friend/musician/ artist, Greg Fraser was the first person to become an official member. Our first full-length self-titled album was just Greg and myself. Version 2.0 included Rob Tennant, who was the live drummer.

We soon added Maxx on guitar. Version 3.0 included Emerich Donath on stick bass and Rude Van Steenes on electronic percussion and vocals. I knew Rude back from the Vis-A-Vis days as I was an original member of that band .

EDF Version 3.0

EDF Version 3.0

Why synthesizers and electronica vs. guitars and…?

I’ve always been a synthesizer nut. Ever since I first heard early synth-based music like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Throbbing Gristle, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Gary Numan, John Foxx, and early Human League, I knew I wanted to get into synthesizers.

First of all, they looked so cool and they could make sounds that you’d never heard before. That was really the appeal to me. I would spend hours messing around with my MS-20, plugging in cables, twiddling all the knobs, to come up with unique and different sounds. I’ve never been a person who is comfortable jamming in a rehearsal studio or in a band situation, which is why I don’t really consider myself a musician. I still don’t play that well, but writing, recording, and producing came fairly naturally to me. Writing music always was and still is a personal journey for me, so when MIDI came along it allowed me to create all parts of the music by myself, which I thrived on.

Having said that, I’ve always been a guitar fan, so when I couldn’t fake a guitar part by myself or find the right guitar sample I’d have to bring in a guitar player. Of course nothing can replace the thundering sound and look of a live guitar player on stage. That’s where Maxx came in. He was a cool-looking dude with a great head of hair and a killer guitar sound which added to the live element and gave the studio recordings a little extra grit.

Was E.D.F. mainly a studio band, stage band, or both?

I’ve always been a studio guy, but you have no choice but to play live if you want to promote your product seriously. It’s a great feeling playing your own music live with 3 or 4 other people on stage with the lights, smoke, and (hopefully) crowds of people in the audience grooving to your tunes; however, I also derive immense pleasure spending hours in my studio just writing or playing music by myself.

That’s were the “other” side of E.D.F comes from, as I also record and release ambient, chill out, new age music which I never intend to play live. Our finest moment was playing at Pine Knob in Detroit, Michigan in front of 10, 000 people for a big end-of-summer music festival.

What or who inspired the music?

The “who” is endless. See all the bands named earlier. Inspiration can come from anything, really. It could be a unique industrial sample, synth patch, drum and bass groove or simply a nice chord progression. It’s piecing all of those elements together that makes it fun and challenging.

Did E.D.F. originally get the airplay it deserved, and if so, by whom?

The first E.D.F release was actually a cassette-only; but, believe it or not, we used to get airplay on the radio. CFNY 102.1 in Toronto was the first station to play our music. That station was a huge supporter of local independent music, led of course by the one and only David Marsden who still plays my music to this day on his new station http://www.nythespirit.com. With open-minded people like David and the good folk at CFNY, the song “So, What of Tomorrow” ended up being a winner on a CFNY talent search contest and was released on a compilation CD, which to us at the time was unbelievable.

Other places that would play our music would be University radio stations like CIUT (University of Toronto), CKMS-FM in Waterloo, and CKLN (Ryerson University) who were always great supporters of ours. Local DJs like Ronno Box and Craig Beesack would play us at clubs like Catch 22 and local promoter Billy X was also an early supporter of E.D.F

What’s it like to translate a concept in your head into music that you share with the rest of the world?

It’s fun at first, but it can quickly become frustrating when the business aspect kicks in. I won’t even talk about the music business these days as no one has a clue what’s going on; but back in the early 90s there were still labels you could shop your product around to. For our first album we had some interest from TVT Records which had just signed Nine Inch Nails. For the second album, “Drama Dream” we signed a deal with a label in Montreal, which went bad. For the album “Number 3” I had a distribution deal with Toronto’s The Record Peddler. Financially that was probably the most success I had with an EDF album as they managed to get distribution deals in quite a few different territories worldwide.

What made you decide to resurrect EDF?

One word: “Tunecore.”

Tunecore is a great service that distributes your music around the world to digital music stores and streaming stations. It’s really cheap and allows you to keep 100% of the earnings. They really do get the music out all over the world! E.D.F had a pretty strong following in its heyday, especially in Europe.

As I mentioned above, the album “Number 3” was released and distributed internationally by The Record Peddler. I used to get royalty cheques from airplay I received from places like Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and many other countries. Over the past few years I decided to post some old E.D.F videos on YouTube and found that people were actually looking for the old releases. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to re-master and re-release the whole collection in a new package.

Hence “Industrial Catalogue:” All four E.D.F albums in one, 64 songs in total, reasonably priced at $8.99. I did the same with my ambient/chillout/down-tempo E.D.F music, as well. Four albums in one package under the title ˜Noise Control” with 60 Songs in total.

Are there plans for live shows, and if so, where?

At this point, definitely not. SLAVE to the SQUAREwave takes up all of my spare time with live performances and recording. The last time E.D.F played live was at a rave in the middle of a farmer’s field in Oakville, a suburb of Toronto. This was actually where I met Colin Troy from S2TSW, as we were both playing at the rave that night. I was performing my more “techno” E.D.F material while Colin was doing his Smokin’ Jehovah project, which was a mix of middle eastern music and house. Really cool stuff. We chatted through the night about our love for Bowie, Roxy Music, and electronic dance music. We became instant friends and SLAVE to the SQUAREwave was born.

Do you have any examples of E.D.F. music online that people can preview?

Here’s some of my ambient/chill-out music taken from “Noise Control”:

Will the entire catalog be available for purchase? Where?

“Industrial Catalogue” is available via Amazonmp3.

Picture-#-4.-EDF-Industrial

 

 

 

 

 

“Noise Control (Vols 1 to 4)” is available via Amazonmp3.

Picture-#-5.-EDF-Noise-Cont

 

 

 

 

 

Both albums are also on Spotify, Rdio, Shazam, iTunes, Google play, Wimp, Deezer, beats music and many, many more on-line stores.

Can folks buy single tracks?

Yup! Single tracks are the standard 99 cents.

Will this inspire you to go back into the studio and create new E.D.F. tracks?

E.D.F has never really stopped. It’s just come in many different shapes and forms over the past 32 years and will continue to evolve. I’m getting more and more into the chill-out/ambient stuff as I get older, so you can most likely expect some more music in that vein.

What’s next?

I’m considering releasing some music by a duo group I was in back in the mid 80s called “silent GREEN.” It was an ambient project where the music was ad-libbed and recorded live. I played synthesizer while Bruce Bentley played “ambient” guitar. Bruce and I also had a synthpop band called “Ear Candy,” which was another CFNY-supported band. Tragically, Bruce passed away last year, so I’m thinking of releasing it in his memory. Some of that music is pretty magical.

Thanks so much!

Thanks for your support. I love what you do. You don’t know how important things like this are to a band/artist. You’re really doing a great thing here and it is most appreciated. XOXO