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 ~ George Rondina/Imagination Machine

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: One of the best things (and there are so many) about being introduced to David Marsden’s live radio show 14 years ago, and then more recently (2014) to his free-form stream NYTheSpirit.com, is getting to know some incredible music acts and artists that I never would have been exposed to otherwise.

George Rondina is part of this treasure trove of talent. Three of his songs recorded under the moniker Imagination Machine that David has played on his live weekend show have absolutely torn me up: A Northern Evening, Dancing on a Highwire, and True (May the Road Rise).  These hauntingly lovely songs are the perfect blend of an internal, aural, emotional journey highlighted by Rondina’s expressive and unique voice. Personally, music is an escape that makes the real world tolerable by pushing it aside and providing a safe haven in which to curl up and fantasize about what life should be. George Rondina’s music is that and so much more—it envelopes the listener within a protective bubble that promises salvation rather than mere isolation.

It’s my pleasure to share this interview with you and to hopefully pull more listeners into the ethereal world of Imagination Machine. Given the reality that we are forced to deal with every day, I believe this is an alternative that many will willingly embrace once its magic has touched the soul.

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MissParker: I’ve done some research about you online and am amazed at your accomplishments, most notably the Toronto recording studio known as Number 9 Audio Group.  Before I ask you to expand on that a bit, I also read that you were part of several bands back in the late 70s. What can you share about that experience?

George Rondina: I’d like to say, thank you for having me and for the very kind and generous introduction. I started out as a musician and was in a couple of different bands in high school. Once graduated, the musical journey really kicked in and the 3 bands I was in toured Ontario and Quebec.

It was fun for the first few years, but living out of a suitcase in some not-so-swank hotels took its toll after about 5 years and I started to think of something I could do that would garner a bit more of a normal life. After much thought, Number 9 Sound Studios ( Number 9 Audio Group ) was born.

MissParker: So, getting back to Number 9 Audio Group—the name is intriguing, by the way—where did the name come from (I have a guess) and what prompted you to switch from performing to producing?

George Rondina: Ah, so the name Number 9 of course was a culmination of things—John Lennon’s infatuation with the number 9 and numerology, as he was born on the 9th day of the month, and so was I. In 1981, for lack of a better name, Number 9 it was.

We ran the studio in tandem, with playing live on weekends, at first. When my first born came along, the rest of the band approached me about touring full time. I was happy playing weekends and running the studio through the week. It was a very hard decision, but I chose to keep the studio going, as I had no interest in going back on the road at the time and I knew it would have been very hard on my family. So that’s when the switch happened.

MissParker:  The “who’s who” list of artists you’ve worked with at the studio is impressive, to say the least. Of the people you’ve worked with, who left the biggest impression and why? 

George Rondina: Wow, that’s a tough one, as many of the bands like “The Barenaked Ladies” weren’t famous when we first recorded them. There are a few that I enjoyed meeting a lot, like David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears. David recorded 4 albums at Number 9 and we became quite good friends. Jim McCarty from the Yardbirds and Renaissance would be another. A real gentleman. The work we did with the Stones, Van Morrison, and Will Smith was either rental work or location recording—mostly arm’s length—never got to meet them directly. After almost 40 years there’ve been a lot of great experiences, that’s for sure.

MissParker: Who haven’t you worked with that would be high up on your wish list?

George Rondina: We could be here all night (laugh) . Of the living: Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Pete Townshend and The Who (whom I have met but haven’t worked with), Pink Floyd, particularly David Gilmour, Genesis…The list is endless.  

MissParker: I’m curious about your connection with David Marsden. How did you first meet up with him and how long have you known him?

George Rondina: I’ve known David from his radio shows since the 70s, but he’s only known me since about 2017-18, when I released A Northern Evening and he was kind enough to add it to his playlist.

MissParker: I fantasize about having been a part of the music world, but life seems to have had other plans for me. So I’m always curious—what got you interested in music and which instruments were the first you learned to play? 

George Rondina: Feb. 9th 1964 The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. That night, I decided that music is what I wanted to do. I was just a young kid. I tried guitar but just couldn’t get the hang of it, where piano came much more naturally for me. Then came the other keyboards and synthesizers, which I have a nice little collection of my favourites now. The only other thing for me was singing. I started in choirs at an early age.

MissParker: Who were your early musical influences?

George Rondina: Well of course, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, and the whole late 60s-70s scene. Later: Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, ELP, David Bowie, Tom Petty—the list could go on almost forever.

MissParker: Even though you’re a musician first and foremost, what planted the Imagination Machine seed?

George Rondina: I’d been writing songs all my life but pushed aside recording them to focus on the studio, raising my kids, and making ends meet. Later in life, which started around 2016, I recorded a Christmas song for a charity to help kids with depression issues. The song was called Shine On. After I finished recording that song, I decided that it was time to start on an album.

MissParker: To me, you have the perfect blend of synths and instrumentation to enhance your vocals on the gorgeous  track “A Northern Evening.” The first time I heard David play it, I about fell out of my chair while grabbing my phone to Shazam this amazing song I was listening to. What inspired you to write that song?

George Rondina: It was a long time ago. I wrote the majority of A Northern Evening when I was in my 20s, and adding parts and lyrics in 2016-17 when I recorded it. By the way, I’m very encouraged and grateful by your kind words.

It was an experience I had while in Northern Ontario on a crisp, clear winter’s night while snowmobiling. We reached a peak and gazed into a sky full of stars with northern lights and shooting stars. It was an epiphany for me. I guess the belief that there is something more was confirmed that night and soon after came the lyrics and the song.

MissParker:  I absolutely adore “Dancing on a Highwire.” What’s the back story to that song?

George Rondina: That’s a little sad I guess. My father suddenly passed away at 56 when I was 21. Literally died in my arms. The only death I’d experienced before that of someone  that was close was my grandmother ( my Dad’s mother) the year before. I went into a bit of a dark place and was searching for something. Not to get too deep into the experience, Highwire is really just about the fragility of life and how we all have the courage to carry on even through the darkest of times.

MissParker:  Rooting around YouTube I’ve come across some other Imagination Machine gems that are both playful and lovely. Do you have any other songs in the works?

George Rondina: The other Imagination Machine Songs are Muskoka Trees, Blue Room, and I just recently finished a song called Still In The Silence. Going in the studio this week to start another new song.

MissParker:  Please share how we can purchase your music and also be informed of any future releases.

 George Rondina: It’s pretty well a one-man show right now. I don’t have a website or FaceBook page just yet for Imagination Machine. The other thing is since I started Imagination Machine there is a children’s group using the same name, so it may evolve into George Rondina and The Imagination Machine .

I think tuning into Dave Marsden’s NYtheSpirit.com is a good way to hear what is going on with Imagination Machine or my personal Facebook page. The songs are all available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube, and more. You can download from iTunes and Bandcamp, which is always preferred by the artist.

Here are a few links:

Muskoka Trees ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music

True (May the Road Rise) ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music

Blue Room ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music

Dancing on a Highwire ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music

Still in the Silence ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music

A Northern Evening ~ Single ~ available on Apple Music

And, before we end, I think it’s very important I acknowledge the musicians, engineers and studios that played a huge part in making our songs presentable 🙂. They are: George Koller, Vito Rezza, Graham Walker, Larry Bodner, Chase Sanborn, Reg Schwager, Ciceal Levy and Amoy Levy, Caroline Akwe, John Madill, Aaron Fund Salem, Arron Davis, Bridget Hunt, Carolyn Blackwell, Winona Zelenka, John Switzer, Samuel Bisson, Alex Toskov and Veronica Lee, Loretto Reid, Eric St-Laurent, Anne Lindsay, Bernie Cisternas, Brian Mcloughlin, Alex Lang, Number 9 Audio Group, Alex Gordon, Abbey Road Studios Mastering, Lacquer Channel Mastering, and Noah Mintz.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been a pleasure.

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It was truly a pleasure to learn more about this inspiring music maker and producer. Follow the links below to sample some of his incredible work. And, if you like what you hear, be sure to support George Rondina and Imagination Machine using the links he gave us above.

True (May the Road Rise)


A Northern Evening


Dancing on a Highwire


Blue Room

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

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

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

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

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

nushooz+80s

Valerie and John circa 1980s
Photo Credit: Nancy Bundt

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN: “The Beatles” was already taken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nu Shooz 2015 Photo Credit: Mike Hipple

Nu Shooz 2015 ~ Photo Credit: Mike Hipple

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

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

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

VALERIE: Right!

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

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

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

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

Original cover artwok by Malcolm Smith

Original album cover artwork by Malcolm Smith

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

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

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

“The Making of Bagtown”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gary Numan ~ The Amazing 80s Icon is Back Stronger Than Ever

From the “it doesn’t get much better than this” department….Gary Numan’s live set presented by KCRW in its total exquisiteness.

This was merely a warm-up for the mini-eastern US tour he was about to embark on, and the later more extensive UK tour.

Unfortunately, I missed Numan in Sunrise, FL when he opened for Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails on October 30. I had a ticket, but circumstances way beyond my control prevented me from attending.

Next time…and there WILL be a next time, so I hear. Perhaps in March 2014.

Until then, there are always quality videos such as this–and my dreams–to sustain me.

With thanks to Andrew Lister for calling my attention to this video.

80s (and sometimes 00s) Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ Tim Langan

Time to meet a wonderful current artist who would have been vital in my favorite musical decade, as he is today. Tim Langan has a very full and impressive musical resume. He gave me the opportunity recently to get to know him and I’d like to share the experience with you. Be sure to take the time to check out Tim’s music on YouTube, as well as the various websites posted at the end of the interview.

Tim_bass_3Tell us about who or what (or both!) has influenced your music.

From the time I was very young, I have known that I wanted to be a musician. My very early experiences in grade 1 involved singing the National Anthem first thing in the morning.

My mother likes to recount a story of being called in to the school by the principle and being told that I had a very good voice and they were recommending that I be sent to a choir school, as they felt that I had a sense for music inside me. She and my father decided that I was a little bit too young to be travelling downtown on the subway every day for school, so they decided instead to get me involved in piano lessons.

What is your first significant musical memory?

The singing of the National Anthem was one of the very first things that I remember about my discoveries in music; however, there were a few other things that were to come that also stick out in my mind.

I was the youngest in my family. My 3 older brothers liked music a lot. They were between 11 and 16 years older than me. I remember for my eleventh birthday getting 2 vinyl records. One was Elton John’s Greatest Hits and the other was Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run. I was hooked. I also enjoyed sports as a kid and used to spend hours hitting a tennis ball against our garage door. My brother had a Volkswagen beetle with an 8-track player in it and I remember specifically listening to Jeff Beck’s “Wired” over and over again while smashing the tennis ball off of the garage door. I must have listened to that album 1000 times as a kid and still enjoy giving it a listen today.

CD CollageHow soon after that did you decide that’s what you wanted to do?

I have almost always had a sense of wanting to be a musician from a very, very young age. It has always seemed like the natural and obvious thing for me to do.

In fact, I have tried to make it “go away” on several occasions, but it just won’t seem to leave me alone.

What was your first group/band and what part did you play?

My first performance with a band was in grade 8 when I performed with 2 friends at our grade school. We played 3 songs together. I believe we opened with Elton John’s “Rocket Man” with myself playing piano with drum and guitar accompaniment. Then I switched over to bass guitar duties and we performed Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” – I don’t recall whether any of us wanted to actually sing these songs, so we may have played them as instrumentals. I find it amusing that this still seems to be a trend for me in my own writing, as the vast majority of the music that I am involved with, somehow seems to bypass the urge to add vocal to the song.

The name of this band was “Jupiter” and my next door neighbor, who was 4 years older than us wanted to be our manager and went out and bought us matching bracelets that had “Jupiter” engraved on them. We used to joke, what could be stupider than calling a band Jupiter?

The drummer in that first group was my lifelong friend Sascha Tukatsch, whom I have had the privilege to write and record with on so many projects over the years, including our high school band, which started as Reign, which would later be released on CD under the name “The Harrison Fjord”

Do you prefer to perform in the studio or live? Why?

Tim_bass_1

I love both. The studio offers the very unique experience of capturing your ideas and how you were feeling at that exact moment for the rest of time. That is very special indeed.

The live experience is also very special, because there is a nervous energy and adrenaline that is created from performing in front of people, with the pressure of wanting to perform perfectly and put on the best show possible for all of the people who have come out to see you play.

What inspires you to write your best music?

This is a difficult question to answer. Inspiration is taken from so many potential sources. Music is also very subjective, so who can really say what is “best?”

My own compositions are so varied in style from one to the next that I have a hard time trying to define what it is that grabs me or guides me in a certain direction. Usually, I am just a conduit that the music flows through. Most of the music that I write happens very quickly, indeed. People, places and events are most often secondary to the writing process. In peak writing times, I just sit down and compose and usually at the end of the day/night I have a finished piece of music, whether it is a short pop ditty or a full orchestral score.

Tim_bass_2What was the best concert you’ve ever attended and what made it so special?

Concerts are a wonderful experience for me. I usually do not attend massive venues, as most of the musicians that I tend to be inspired to watch, are lesser known, virtuoso types of players.

While I have been to may rock shows in large venues, like Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Queen, Aerosmith and Rush in the late 1970’s, it is the acts that perform in the smaller venues that I truly cherish.

Performances by Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin & Paco DeLucia with Steve Morse as the opening act, The Pat Metheny Group, Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Return To Forever, Yes, Uzeb, King Crimson, Joe Satriani, Youssou N’Dour, Level 42, Adrian Belew, Marillion, Hugh Marsh, Manteca, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Alain Caron, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Steve Vai, Victor Wooten, Dream Theater, King’s X, Michael Manring, Fishbone, UK, Zappa Plays Zappa, Tommy Emmanuel, and Porcupine Tree are stand outs in my mind over the years; but probably one of the greatest shows that I ever saw was Andreas Vollenweider and friends on Oct 16, 1989. My reasons for liking this show specifically over all of the others is musicality. The inspiration that I drew from all of these shows is incalculable, but this one Andreas Vollenweider show was indeed something very special.

If you had a “do-over,” what would you do differently?

While I do read and write music, perhaps I would have tried to go to a “music” school to acquire a piece of paper with my name on it, although, I guess it is never too late?

What’s coming up next?

I have been quite busy this year adding my musical voice to many different recording projects. I have recently finished playing bass for a guitarist, singer, songwriter, named John Jamieson. I am hopeful that this CD will be completed and ready for release by the fall.

The Green Rain ProjectAlso, I have recently re-connected with a guitar player friend of mine that I worked with about 20 years ago. Her name is Irene MacKenzie and she is very talented indeed. Irene called me, asking if I would record with her and her son MacKenzie Coburn on a piece of music that she wrote for her Mother, who had passed away from pancreatic cancer 20 years ago, shortly before MacKenzie was born. I had always enjoyed working with Irene and given the music that she and her son were jamming on, I immediately agreed. We initially sent a bunch of ideas back and forth through the sky drive in a common email account over the internet and when we were ready, I drove out to their home studio to record my bass and keyboard parts on the CD.

We are currently in mixing and mastering for this debut CD and I am very anxious to get this one out. The CD will be released under the name “The Green Rain Project” and the disc will be entitled “ToRUTH” – Irene and I have talked a great length at working on many more CD’s together, as the music for this CD came together very quickly.

Another project that I have been recording and performing live with is “Lisa Smith’s Powerhaus” – I had been asked to join this band after Lisa Smith Powerhouse_4they had released their debut CD “Maze Of Souls” and we have been working to put the finishing touches on the band’s second CD – “612” – I am hopeful that this disc will be completed and released later this year. I am confident that this disc will be well received by fans and critics alike, as I feel the writing is very strong within the rock genre.

I have also been recording and performing with The David Bacha Band. This has been quite a long term project for me and I am hopeful that 2013 will be the year that we finally get this one to the market. We shall keep our fingers crossed.

David Bacha Band_2Lastly, I continue to write and record at my home studio, as this is just something that I have to do to maintain my sanity.

I have my entire musical catalog, (11 CD’s) which does not include the 5 CD’s that I was commissioned to do for a friend’s record company, that I am trying to get remastered and up for sale online. It would be a major achievement for me to get all of these up to CD Baby and iTunes this year, I remain vigilant in trying to complete this task.

What advice can you give to aspiring musicians?

Follow your dreams, work your butt off to be the very best you can be and don’t stop doing what you love for any reason.

Where can people listen to and purchase your music?

While some projects are currently available for purchase online (try Google to search out the band names) some are available through CD Baby or iTunes – (The Harrison Fjord – Machine Tree / Splub – Splub )

Most of my catalog is not currently available for purchase, although I am trying to rectify this problem.

Should you wish to check out a lot of my music and several of the bands that I have played with and currently am playing and recording with, I have over 100 videos, slideshows and music posted at my youtube channel, which can be found at:

http://www.youtube.com/TimsTunes/

Also, be sure to check out these related sites:

John Jamieson – http://www.johnjamieson.ca

The Green Rain Project website, which is still under development, but can be found here: http://www.greenrainproject.com

The David Bacha Band: http://www.davidbacharocks.com

Lisa Smith’s Powerhaus website: http://www.lisasmithspowerhaus.com

The Harrison Fjord website: http://www.theharrisonfjord.com

80s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/Bands ~ I Start Counting

I start countingIf you’re lucky, you’ll remember this short-lived electronic band from North London. If you’re like me, you haven’t a clue who they were, but after listening to them, you’ll know you missed out on something really good. Fortunately, a dear rare 80s blogging buddy featured them on his blog Mine for Life a few years ago, otherwise I may never have had the pleasure of experiencing them

Electronic, poppy, somewhat dark, somewhat trippy….all the major ingredients for 80s music success, right? Once again and in this case, something was definitely missing in the equation; like so many other talented artists, this band went totally under the radar.

I Start Counting was actually a duo made up of college friends David Baker and Simon Leonard, who, according to Wikipedia, shared a love of pop music. The Wikipedia article goes on to report:

Baker and Leonard had met at Middlesex University; both had affection for pop music. In 1982 they began to DJ together which led to them to form the I Start Counting project. Leonard specialised in the technology side and Baker was biased toward the musical side of the project. They approached Daniel Miller with some demos of their recorded material. These demos led to Mute Records signing the duo in 1984.

In 1986, I Start Counting recorded and released their debut album, My Translucent Hands. This accomplishment led to them becoming a I-Start-Counting-My-Translucent-Handssupport act for Erasure the following year. They released a second album in 1989, Fused, which included a new version of “Lose Him” comprised entirely of sampled voices.

The duo would morph into two more groups, Fortran 5 and Komputer, migrating to a different sound and experimenting with the dance/techno genre. Needless to stay, the enduring success they deserved eluded them, and they faded into 80s rarity oblivion.

Purchase I Start Counting music here.

Discography

As “I Start Counting”

1986 – My Translucent Hands (Mute Records)
1989 – Fused (Mute Records)

As “Fortran 5”

1991 – Blues (Mute Records)
1993 – Bad Head Park (Mute Records)
1995 – Avocado Suite (Mute Records)

As “Komputer”

1998 – The World of Tomorrow (Mute Records)
2002 – Market Led (Mute Records)
2007 – Synthetik (Mute Records)
2007 – Intercom (Self-released)

I Start Counting ~ Letters to a Friend ~ via YouTube user GeneLovesBowdie:

I Start Counting ~ My Translucent Hands ~ via YouTube user The Jesbel:

I Start Counting ~ Modern Sunbathing ~ via YouTube user MilesFiles2008: