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

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

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

Tim Cain (1991)

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

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

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Tim (left) and Casey Alexander

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

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

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

Jon Ginoli

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

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

Original inspiration for Boys’ Entrance

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

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

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

Ensoniq VFX

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

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

 

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

Tom Mohbat (recent)

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

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

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

Tim Cain recording (circa 1991)

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

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

Original cassette artwork (1991)

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

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

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

Tim and Tom recording (1991)

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Cain recording (circa 1991)

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

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

Original cassette artwork (1991)

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

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

Tim Cain (circa 1991)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.boysentrance.com

www.reverbnation.com/boysentrance

https://boysentrance.bandcamp.com

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Boys’ Entrance ~ Ziggy Stardust

 

Boys’ Entrance ~ “Heroes”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MissParker: Who are your musical influences?

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

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

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

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

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

Arin Ex: Ha! Are you ready for this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MissParker: Can we expect future family collaborations?

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

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

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

It’s not up to me what they do.

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

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

https://scorbie.bandcamp.com/

Can I go now? 

Thanks!  🙂 xx

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

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

Anytime, Anywhere ~ Arin Ex (Scorbie)

Buddha’s Testicle (pilot movie)

Scorbie – Traitor (from Lethologica)

Scorbie- DamnAge – Live – England March 2013

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

 

80s (and sometimes 20s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ EDF and Colony Three Combined

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.

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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!

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Go to The Boӧtes Void Bandcamp page to preview the music and grab your copy now. Also, there’s a wonderfully creative video for each of the album’s songs on the Element115 Music YouTube page.

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Meanwhile, here are a few of the videos for your viewing/listening pleasure:

~Slow Motion (feat. Kim Stuart)~

~Ateoate’s Revenge~

~Machine Language~

~Lucid Dream~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MissParker: Does Elyce write music or lyrics or both?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin Russell: As broad as possible!

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

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

MissParker: How important are the lyrics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Show your support for these incredible artists:

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

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

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

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

Bandcamp: https://benjaminrussell.bandcamp.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mtl_bar

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

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Videos

From Shikasta Suite~THE LEAF 

SHADOWS 

From SUNDOG~BABYLON BABIES 

LOVER

From GURU GROAN~HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN

From ROCKHILL~DECEMBER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Stuart: I’ll defer to Colin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was 20 years ago today…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Stuart: Colin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model Citizen ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

Headphones ~ SLAVE to the SQUAREwave

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

 

 

80s (and sometimes 10s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Beverley Beirne

This is the epitome of stepping out of a comfort zone to do an interview about a genre of music of which I have nearly zero knowledge. But it is so worth it, I found, as I was sucked into a maze of woven sounds that seemed familiar, yet not quite….

(c) Stephanie De Leng

An interesting comment on my “About” page brought me to a website where I could listen to snippets of jazz-infused covers of 80s New Wave tunes. At once astounded by the prospect, as I thought about it further, I realized that there are very few “pure” music genres. Everything that we know to be a specific music style, e.g. Rock&Roll, New Wave, R&B, Hip Hop, Funk, Punk, Post-Punk, Industrial, Grunge, etc., has been built upon a foundation of musical DNA that has existed since the first cave man banged some rocks and sticks together.

There are many, many extraordinary artists out there who successfully infuse different sounds into their craft and the outcome is outstanding. Beverley Beirne is one who has taken quite a unique route by capturing a nearly pure jazz inflection and melding it flawlessly with styles inherent to the 80s, a very eclectic period to begin with.

Beverley has graciously indulged my wide-eyed interview questions about her style and her forthcoming collection titled “Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun” (or “JJWTHF” for short), scheduled for release on June 15. Please read on for an in-depth glimpse into a ground-shaking, axis-tilting artist’s craft.

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MissParker: What initially piqued your interest in Jazz?
Beverley Beirne: I was brought up with jazz in the house as my Dad was a huge jazz fan.  So it wasn’t unusual to hear Erroll Garner, Sarah Vaughn,or Ella Fitzgerald.  But my Mum was into Abba and 80s music, so I guess that explains this album a little!

MissParker: Who can you cite as your influences?
Beverley Beirne: All the beautiful singers I have ever heard I’m inspired by.  Coming from a classical background, I really appreciate the stamina of classical singers.  But, having said that, listening to Sarah Vaughn you hear that but with so much expression.  There are also so many amazing pop voices–Kate Bush, Kirsty McColl, Eddie Reader–these ladies have beautiful voices, but tell a real story too.

MissParker: Are you professionally trained, or does this beautiful gift come naturally?

(c) Stephanie De Leng


Beverley Beirne:  Yes, I trained classically when I was in my late teens and I did really love it.  It’s something I’ll always be grateful for this early time in my singing career, as I learned so much technically about the voice.  My only issue, for me personally, is that it’s really hard to be individual within the classical constraints, which is, in the end, what drew me into jazz and being able to really express my own individuality. Over the years, I’d say my voice has become more authentically me.

MissParker: You mentioned your mum was into 80s music. Is this why the 80s have a special meaning for you?
Beverley Beirne: This was the era when I was listening to Top of The Pops and heading into town to party at the clubs.  Definitely my party era! They were a lot of fun, these songs.  But you know when you really listen to them, there’s some great melodies and a lot of the lyrics are really fantastic. And, the singers back then–they were really great.

MissParker: What does your core audience look like?
Beverley Beirne: It’s mixed, depending on the venue.  Jazz does tend to attract an older audience, but saying that I get a lot of the younger generation turning up and this album especially is attracting a younger crowd.  It’s been a real education to me that kids in their teens and early 20s are really into this music–they actually know all these tracks really well!

MissParker: Who are your backing musicians?
Beverley Beirne: I’m incredibly fortunate to work with some fantastic musicians.  On this album, I have some of London’s leading dynamic young musicians; we have the hugely talented Sam Watts who is also my co-arranger on this project, Flo Moore on double bass, Ben Brown on drums and percussion, and Rob Hughes on sax, bari, and flute–all of whom I have the greatest respect for.

(c) Goat Noise Photography

MissParker: Are the interpretations collaborative with your musicians, or does someone take the lead and the rest follow?
Beverley Beirne: This album was in the making two years before I went to the studio.  I had a lot of fun choosing the tracks and trying to make them work. I then created lead sheets for them and figured out how I wanted to do them–I then went to London to work on the arrangements with pianist and co-arranger Sam Watts.  We both really felt we had something special after the first morning.  Sam then worked on the final parts/harmonies.  But saying that, even when we went into rehearsal prior to recording, we’re not a dictatorship, so we were both really open to what the band had to throw into the mix.

MissParker: Do you do original material, as well?
Beverley Beirne: This is something I do for my own pleasure, at the moment.  I’m working on developing my piano playing, which I’m really enjoying and this really helps with this.  I have a project I’m tinkering with and enjoying, but it won’t be out there for some time yet.

MissParker: How would you say that Jazz has influenced contemporary music (rock, new wave, post-punk, industrial, etc.)?
Beverley Beirne: Well, the blues influenced everything, especially jazz which started from the blues.  But it is really interesting to look at the flow of this into rock and pop and R&B. Contemporary jazz now is often a fusion of a variety of different styles, all informing each other, so it’s always great listening to the new vibes in London and in the North of England.  We’re really fortunate with so many creative jazz folks creating beautiful original music.

MissParker: Do you ever get any feedback from the original artists about your interpretation?
Beverley Beirne: I’ve been really lucky to have some feedback from Noddy Holder, Limahl, and Robin Scott from M, all of whom have been really supportive of the project. Noddy and Limahl have given me a couple of fantastic quotes to use, and Robin was really interested in how we managed to create his track, which is a real hip track on the album.  You have to remember that I’m a real fan of these guys–this is why I chose their songs, so to have their approval means the absolute world to me.

(c) Goat Noise Photography

MissParker: Do you have a favorite track on the forthcoming collection? What makes it so?
Beverley Beirne: This is like choosing your favourite child! I love Prince Charming ( I love the vibe with the hand claps); Bette Davis Eyes and the 5/4 vibe which is really great to sing against; Cruel Summer is a fantastic track and has always been a favourite; Waiting for a Man Like You, as I sing in a more gospel style voice I don’t always use; and I have to say Come On Feel The Noize, as this was the first interpretation that I did and had been singing at a Christmas Gig for four years. Because of the huge audience response to it, it was the seed that started me down creating a whole album of these pop interpretations.

There you have it—Beverley’s gift/my challenge to you: new musical territory to explore. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Visit: JJWTHF/Beverley Beirne website

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Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun – Teaser

Beverley Beirne – Cruel Summer

Beverley Beirne – Too Shy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Links:

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

Duran Duran Videos:

The Reflex

Union of the Snake

New Moon on Monday

Come Undone

Ordinary World

 

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

(All photographs copyright (c) Elk Road)

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

Christopher Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WARD @ Lexington Bar (Feb 2017)

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

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

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

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

WARD @ TRIP (DEC 2016)

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

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

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

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

WARD @ Silverlake Lounge (Jan 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Resources~

Website

Get the EP

Facebook

Instagram

Velvet Walls: Official Featured Video

Live Concert Video Footage

Link to more Videos