By Tom Semioli  JohnetteNapolitanoAmplifer2007-2








This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, April 2007

“In his diaries, I loved the way Eno described Japanese painters who took all day to prepare, grind ink, and select brushes to be ready for one stroke. So that’s what I did for my first record.”

Known to the rock ‘n’ roll masses as Concrete Blonde’s singer – songwriter – bassist, Johnette Napolitano’s moment has arrived. Though she has participated in highly acclaimed side-projects (Pretty & Twisted, Vowel Movement, The Heads) composed for films Wicker Park, Dead Science and Underworld, and dabbled in electronic music  (Sketchbook and Sketchbook 2), Ms. Napolitano makes her long awaited solo debut with a decidedly kaleidoscopic collection entitled Scarred.

“Before Concrete Blonde, I was a ten year old kid playing guitar on my bed. Call it midlife or whatever, but I need to get back to her and really be that person again.”

Melding folk, techno, garage rock, and punk, Scarred also emerges as a showcase for the talents of Napolitano’s collaborators Will Crewdson and Sultan Ahmed of Catfish Star, whom she met in London fifteen years ago.  Recalls Johnette “Will actually recognized me in a record store! I was so flattered.  We stayed in touch on and off over the years.  Then, about a year ago, he sent me tracks and I just fell in love with them. The songs just wrote themselves. “

Napolitano composed “Save Me” during the horror that was Hurricane Katrina. “I couldn't sleep for a week and just wrote to Will’s tracks. Later we went into a Hollywood studio and the first vocal I laid down as ‘Like a Wave.’ I knew in a minute that it was special, and so did everyone there.” Also on board for Johnette’s bow was ex-Concrete Blonde guitarist Jim Mankey, who served as engineer and guiding light.  “Jim has a lot of respect for Will’s playing and sensibility for guitars…and, in turn, Will has tremendous respect for Jim as well, so the back-and-forth between them was amazing.”

Despite the fact that Scarred  was recorded in different studios over an extended period of time, Mankey’s telekinetic knob-twiddling along with Napolitano’s penchant for working quickly made for a cohesive song-cycle. “After every mix, Jim would comment about a lyric or a vocal he liked and that made me feel confident. We even kept a few of the rough board mixes – I’m a firm believer of walking out of the studio with something you can live with the rest of your life…”

Among two pleasant surprises on Scarred are two unlikely covers: Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”

“Danny Lohner and I worked on the Underworld soundtrack. He received the call for us to cover “The Scientist” for Wicker Park. We weren't that enthusiastic about it because we’re both writers and we would rather have composed something, but of course, we did it. I drove around in my truck listening to the song for a couple of days since I’m a bit of a method actor when it comes to delivering a vocal. I was damn depressed for days!”

“All Tomorrow’s Parties” was Will’s idea. I’d worked on a song for an Australian film, Candy,  which had a Nico temp track ”Wedding Theme” which they couldn’t clear, so they called me in to replace it, which I did.  I’m constantly online with Will and as soon as I told him about it he came up with the Velvet’s song. We did it on one take! Even my die-hard Nico friends love it!

Johnette Napolitano’s Scarred will be released May 29, 2007 on Hybrid Records.





By Tom Semioli Super Furry Animals









This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, May 2003.

Frank Zappa famously opined that rock journalism was essentially "people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk…for people who can’t read." Present company included!  Singer-composer-guitarist-surrealistic poet, Super Furry Animals leader Gruff Rhys is speechless when queried about his band’s highly anticipated new release. "I haven't got a word for it! I'm completely stumped!  I can't think of anything to say."

Whereas the operative for the Super Furry Animals previous album, Rings Around The World,was "extravagance," the upcoming album, Phantom Planet, consequently defies description from its most vocal principal.

Brimming with the more sophisticated elements of psychedelic rock, electric folk, and Brit pop, Phantom Planet aurally (and aesthetically) transports the Welch quintet (comprised of Rhys, guitarist Huw Bunford, drummer Dafydd Leuan, keyboardist Cian Ciaran, and bassist Guto Pryce) somewhere towards the latter half of the 1960s; a decade which serves as their spiritual touchstone for the lads. Rendering six albums in eight years, and touring in support of each release, SFA are following in the prolific road-warrior footsteps of their ancestors from a bygone era before MTV, corporate sponsorship, and ad agencies transformed art-rock into product – and vise versa.  Phantom Planet will be available as a CD and DVD with 5.1 surround sound and further embellished with Pete Fowler's mind-blowing artwork which is most evocative of Peter Max.

Rhys professes that Phantom Planet is a game changer for SFA. "This record was a bit more home-grown. We had our own set up and we engineered everything ourselves." Working sans outside supervision in the studio and perpetually given to experimentation has its drawbacks too. Rhys readily confesses "sometimes it makes the record a little incoherent, it's inevitable..."

However SFA never expected to be in this position in the first place when they debuted with Fuzzy Logic in 1996. Rhys recalls "we tried to use as many strings and brass sections as possible in case we never got to make another album." The singer beams as he talks about SFA’s good fortune: "this lifetime in music is truly amazing. All of us feel very privileged to get the opportunity to do what we do and put out so many records. It's a luxury we'll never waste. This band can never outlive our recording fantasies. I know many people in our hometown of Cardiff who could fill our shoes. We can only take every opportunity we get and make every record as if it's our last album and final statement."

Given the strong sales of every SFA release to date, Rhys’ statement is yet another humble gesture. As excess rules in the studio, SFA on stage are no less treacherous. During the wild and crazy Rings tour of 2001-2002, the band was dwarfed by a video backdrop that evoked comparison to the legendary Joshua Light Show circa the Monterey Pop Festival. Digital technology affords SFA an uncanny ability to re-create their swirling orchestral arrangements and odd sonic sound effects at will. "We felt on the last one that the films were taking away from the music," notes Rhys. "There was too much emphasis on the images. We like to do the songs justice to a certain extent on stage - Cian is very much a perfectionist. He's always trying to get everything just right. We do our best to keep up with him. Fortunately there's enough imperfection in the band to keep it interesting."

The band has discovered a happy medium to satisfy concert goers who wish to go along for the SFA’s visual magic carpet ride in addition to the music. "We'll have animations between the songs, and during the songs we’ll project wallpaper, which is a nice visual because our show is in quadraphonic.

The multi-media atmosphere of the band's last American tour was nearly upstaged by fanatical cyber-savvy followers. "Ah, the power of the internet" exclaims Rhys. On an early tour stop in New York City - just days after the domestic release of Rings - the band couldn't help but notice that fans were already intimate with the new repertoire, which found its way onto home computers and MP3 players.

"It's all glorious. It's changing everything. We don't know where it's going to lead, but I think it's very exciting." For an album-oriented ensemble, the next wave of downloading could render the long-player obsolete. "Albums are getting longer and longer as people's attention span grows shorter and shorter," Rhys emphasizes. "Listening to an album start to finish? We wouldn't want it any other way. But because of the way things are headed, we try to be consistent and make shorter albums. Between the five of us, we can never decide what to leave off. It's a bit tricky. Maybe in the future we'll just need the instant excitement of a hit song. Apparently this album is already on the web. And even though we have yet to perform the new material, I'll be curious to see how many people know the lyrics before the record hits the stores."

The Super Furry Animals look forward to yet another extended journey across the States to spread the sounds of Phantom Planet along with their greatest hits. "We love to tour and perform. The secret of keeping a band together is to not let our personalities get in the way of creativity. Everyone does a great job of keeping their egos in check. We're all very head-strong and have a wide variety of opinions. Perhaps the reason we don't clash is because we're so very different from each other."

In smaller markets the SFA is a welcome surprise to the uninitiated, many of whom show up out of sheer curiosity. "We can be less nervous in places like Indianapolis or Cincinnati. It's a chance to step out of our boundaries, be a bit freer. It's best when people don't know a thing about us." Of America in general, the thrill of it all continues. "I never know what to expect when we come here. It's still fresh and exciting for us. There's so much energy and more diversity than in any other part of the world. America is absolutely mind-boggling. It's really several countries in one."



By Tom Semioli TracyBonhamAmplifer2000










This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, February 2000

"I almost forgot it was Valentine's Day, isn't that cold?" Perhaps that's just the type of comment you'd expect from Tracy Bonham if you only knew her by her 1996 vitriolic mega-hit rant against parental discipline entitled "Mother, Mother." In the flesh, Ms. Bonham is an absolute charmer. "I'm married now and my husband and I are very much in love, so every day is like February 14th." And for the record, the aforementioned anthem that defined the "women in rock" movement in the 1990s was actually a testament of self-frustration, and not the other way around, as it was widely misinterpreted.

Four years is a lifetime in pop music, and it's been that long since the USC Berklee alumnae has released a collection of new material. Two years ago Tracy and her band hit the road for what was to be a warm-up tour to support Trail of the Dust Devil, an album that never came to full fruition. The earthquake that shook the record industry in 1998 nearly swallowed her. "All the mergers caused a rotating record executive situation, which was very unstable. The Island label was crumbling, and then Universal took over, and that held everything back. I thought the record was going to come out in the fall, then it was pushed back to the following January, then to April, and so on, and now here we are."

The long layoff pushed her patience to the limit, however it also allowed Tracy to push herself to new artistic heights. "The album really changed in all that time. Basically, I kept writing more because I was bored. So I kept going back into the studio." The original collection of songs was produced by the formidable team of Mitchell Froom (Susan Vega, Crowded House) and Tchad Blake (Cibo Matto, Elvis Costello, Matthew Sweet). " I did what I thought was a whole record with those guys, who are heroes of mine. I love their stuff with the Latin Playboys (moonlighting members of Los Lobos), and their sense of adventure. I chose them for their credibility and for the way they make records ‘sound.’  And they don't necessarily worry about just making hits. But when I returned to the studio, I needed to get new life into what I was doing, so I enlisted Mark Ender. Mark did a wonderful engineering job on the first Fiona Apple album, and also worked on Madonna's Ray Of Light, which I really listened to."

From the ashes of Dust Devil emerges Down Here – which effectively channels the pent-up anxieties of a dangling career and uncertainty into heavy dance grooves. "This album shows how much I've grown. After awhile Trail of the Dust Devil didn't have any meaning for me anymore. I couldn't explain it to anyone. At the time it was a real visual image that I had which reflected my state of mind about the music industry and being left high and dry with nothing to feel, which is what the last song on the album addresses. It's a plea to make our souls ignite."

"When you have a hit record like I did, a lot of people think life is easier. Sure, the doors open for you, but they shut just as quick. You don't necessarily get to a safe plateau. I thought I would, and figured that everything else would come smoothly, but it just doesn't happen that way." Coming to terms with the machinations of record company politics, Tracy was able to focus on other things. "The track ‘Down Here’ is my ballad. I felt tired of being bitter about the business, and I no longer want to dwell on it. Fortunately I was able to catch a second wind, and the title track is about asking for strength. I deliberately wanted this album to be more rhythmic and richer than Burden."

Facing the dreaded rock ‘n’ roll sophomore jinx was another hurdle to overcome. "Yeah there was some pressure with this record. I was questioning everything I did. If the writing came too easy, or if it was too catchy, I would accuse myself of being a sell-out. That happened for a few months after the tour ended. Luckily I came to my senses. I started reading books about composing like Songwriters On Songwriting which is a compilation of about fifty artists who discuss their craft. It really helped when I felt troubled. Writing is too personal, and I actually have a hard time sharing it. I don't co-write and I'm very private and protective of my work. When I'm in the process, I usually have a vision right away and it's hard for me to let go of it."

Celebrity does have its perks, however – especially when the self-proclaimed King of All Media is a fan. "The Howard Stern show was cool. When I first got the offer I was terrified 'cause I was not a big fan. Then I heard tape recordings of what he said about me such as 'I don't care if she's a pig, I'll do her,' and 'she hates her mom, I dig that.' He brought up my stepdad, and kept asking me if I was ever molested.  At first I wanted to go in there and burn him, but he's too clever for that. But I had a mission. When Howard went through his typical 'will you take your shirt off' routine, but I just blew him off. The night before when I was preparing for the radio broadcast, I got real drunk and re-wrote the lyrics to 'Mother, Mother' as if it was Howard confronting his mom, and talking about how small his penis was. You have to be on the offensive with him. So I played his game, and he loved it. It was a blast, I didn't want it to end."

Is there still room for Tracy Bonham on the radio? On video? "Four years ago, when I had 'Mother, Mother,' the whole 'females in rock movement' was in full swing. Now I have no idea why that all dissipated. I thought that the door was going to be open forever, and everything was going to be peachy. Maybe the whole Lilith Fair tag got out of hand, and there's kind of a major backlash happening. All I hear on the airwaves are really aggressive male bands, or fluff without any soul behind it. Right now there is a drought, I think that's going to change soon. People will get tired of being spoon-fed all this crap. Less and less people are watching music television. The audience is gradually turning away. Videos are frustrating too, just like radio nowadays. The window is closing and getting smaller and smaller. Even though my chances are not as good as four years ago, I'm gonna try to fit through."

Tracy Bonham's Down Here will be released in April 2000 on Island Records


By Tom Semioli LivingEndAmplifer2006

This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, June 2006.

“I bloody well hope we’ll be around in another twenty or thirty years,” laughs bassist Scott Owen from a land down under. “I saw the Stooges recently and they were still passionate and fresh sounding. I think there’s still a lot of musical ground that we can cover as well, so I expect we’ll have the opportunity to keep making music long into the future.”

Australia’s finest, fittest, and most fervent punk pop export (a quintuple-platinum album, two platinum and five gold discs plus three Australian Recording Industry Association Awards), the Living End’s latest release is fittingly entitled State of Emergency, a collection which finds the band stretching from its original retro revival posture into more musical and intellectually progressive pastures.

The trio’s singer- guitarist-primary songwriter Chris Cheney says of the title cut: “it felt like every time the news comes on, a ‘state of emergency has been declared. The song deals with the paranoia and uncertainty generated from this…it also has a very positive message and promotes unity and not being oppressed by fear, whether it’s a false alarm or the real thing.”

Returning to the producer’s chair is the legendary Nick Launay (INXS, Gang of Four, Midnight Oil, Silverchair). After rummaging through fifty or so of the Living End’s best demos, Launay conjured the arrangements and blended various ideas into a cohesive collection. Quite the perfectionist, Launay forbade the veteran ensemble from dropping any song in mid-progress until he was convinced that a particular track had been completed to his satisfaction. “His experience in recording techniques is what makes him amazing,” Owens reveals. “We set up in endless configurations in the studio before Nick was willing to even begin recording. He wanted us to all be playing at the same time rather than doing layered rhythm tracks. Of course, Nick’s got the ear to get the organic sounds of an instrument, which is exactly what we wanted.”

The Living End were among the numerous bands that came of age during the mid-1990s post-punk explosion which included a slew of California bred stalwarts Green Day, Offspring, and Rancid. Owens proclaims “I don’t think our style has changed much over the years, but we have grown as musicians.  The song writing and recording has definitely become more focused. We’ve worked hard to become more competent in the studio to produce the results we’d originally imagined.” State Of Emergency was released in Australia in February and debuted at #1. The band played a few anonymous gigs under the moniker “The Longnecks” to road test the songs. Cheney recalls “of course, our fans found out about it and blew our cover, but it was a great way to work out our ideas…perhaps we should have worn masks!”

Among the many stand-out cuts is “We Want More.” Cheney emphasizes “I find that in terms of where popular music is sitting at the moment, there is way too much style and not enough substance. That track is probably one of the more rockabilly influenced songs on the album, it has that ‘stomp’ element that I think is a bit of a trademark for us.”

With new fans constantly coming into the fold, The Living End’s oldies but goodies are seemingly always in demand. Owen comments on their impending US invasion via the Warped Tour and their own headlining trek which will take State Of Emergency coast to coast, south to north, and on to Canada “I am always amazed at the sheer volume of everything in America. It is the land of opportunity. Coming from a country with a much smaller population it just seems that everything is so big, maybe too big in some cases. But this is the charm of the States. I also love the way that in the same country, there can be cities that are so very different than each other. America, here we come!”

State Of Emergency is set for an August 14, 2006 release date on Adeline Records.


By Tom Semioli  ArabStrapAmplifier3

This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, April 2006.

"Welcome to the world of Arab Strap" coos Aidan Moffat with a nod and a wink following his world-weary reading of "Stink" from The Last Romance, released just days earlier in America. The intimate confines of lower Manhattan's rustic Knitting Factory, filled to the rafters with collegiate indie rockers pining for the Scottish "post-folk" ensemble's latest tales of pain and angst, provided the perfect backdrop for an evening of symphonic din and bleary visions aplenty. But don't let looks -or the music- fool you.

Arab Strap fans would be shocked to discover that Moffat, known for his bold lyrics depicting the darkest depths of fractured relationships, is actually a jolly lad in the flesh. Burly and bearded, he patiently waded through a nearly ninety minute sound-check simply to his please his partner, the equally confounding Malcolm Middleton.

In the rock tradition of Marr/ Morrissey, Ronson/Bowie, Mick/Keith, the introverted, ornery guitar genius Middleton ("Aw, he doesn't like to talk…let's have a chat after the photo session.") complimented Moffat's baritone delivery by way of spacey sound collages and linear counter-melodies throughout the early evening performance. To reflect their sixth long-player, the band's repertoire was delivered at a brisk pace. Reveals Moffat, “this album is alot more upbeat … like the dark side in Star Wars though – quicker, faster, and more seductive."

Fueled by a muscular backing band (Arab Strap is officially a duo) consisting of keyboardist/guitarist  Steve Jones, bassist Michael Scanlin, and Scott Simpson on drums, Moffat, the only animated performer among the group, served as an invisible catalyst on stage, egging his mates on with waving hand gestures and frequent gulps of beer. They didn’t seem to notice!

"We don't really play the songs live before we record them so we've got that special energy: it's all fresh. Plus, we've had so many different bands, o tour is the same. This time out we based the line-up on The Last Romance which was basically two guitars and a piano. I'm very happy that we brought exceptional musicians on this trip. All we did was give them a finished copy of the album, and told 'em to learn it and we'll see you next week. It's all worked out beautifully."

After a month of rehearsal and a brief UK tour, the '06 version of Arab Strap is a well oiled machine. Ironically, the tune which grooved the most was "Don't Ask Me To Dance." Simpson's primal disco beat sliced through Middleton's wavering arpeggios and Jones' cheesy string effects whilst Moffat warbled "you're no angel from above / you’re the last girl I will…" over a center stage cadre of hip-swiveling female devotees who called out for more, more, more!

"I'm never surprised at the requests" laughs Moffat, "especially the obscurities." Case in point: "there was a song, I can't recall the title right now, that we recorded for a John Peel session years ago and I swear we've only played once or maybe twice in our lifetime. Well, a few people shouted it out last night. I can't believe the memories our fans have, though with the internet and downloading going on these days, people can get hold of anything, no matter how rare. I'm stunned."

“There Is No Ending" ventured into jangle pop as Middleton offered  a warm series of chirpy Byrds-like melodies over Jones' keyboard samples which sufficiently approximated the horn arrangement found on the recorded version. "You get two extra tracks in America," notes Moffat. “That was one of them! We have ten years worth of material to choose from" the singer says with a measure of disbelief. "We do the songs that we enjoy mostly but I would love to rehearse all six albums worth of material along with all the singles and b-sides and play them all…now that would be a challenge!"






By Tom Semioli GomezAmplifier






This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, October 2006.

“We’re baaaaaaaaaack! How many of yer were here last night? How many of yer are coming back tomorrow?”

It was nearly impossible to figure out who was happiest: Gomez or their paying customers. On the second of three sold out nights at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, the veteran British five-piece emerged downright ebullient. Especially keyboardist- vocalist-guitarist Tom Gray, who simply could not wipe a Cheshire Cat grin off his face, nor stop playfully goading his extended family of fans. Attired no different than their faithful in t-shirts, sneakers, and worn jeans, Gomez’ extended residency exuded a frat party atmosphere.

Opening with a rambunctious reading of their sunny folk rock anthem “California,” Gomez immediately settled into a comfortable groove which characterized the evening. “Hopefully we can continually reinvent our songs” opines Gray. “It tends to happen over a long cycle. Some songs have managed to change year in and year out and are eternally part of our set. Although, we do love to pull out an obscure tune we haven’t played for several years just to see if we can get a feel for it again.”

Upon their debut in the latter stages of the 1990s Brit-pop explosion, Gomez distinguished themselves not only by the fact that they had three singers and four songwriters in their potent line-up, but they steered clear of the Beatles worship (Oasis, Verve) that made much of the decade seem like a pleasant, albeit re-cycled, rock ‘n’ roll affair. Based in blues, acoustic rock, experimental and old school busking, Gomez have carved out a cult niche, however the band’s record sales have yet to match their critical acclaim.

This year, with a new imprint (ATO), new producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters), and a strong new record of well-crafted pop tunes entitled How We Operate, Gomez appear primed to stay in the game for as long as they wish. Fresh off an appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, the band’s current trek across North America is a hot ticket. Nearly all the gigs are sold out. “We never practice to speak of,” notes Gray. “We’ll do a rehearsal before taking a new record on the road, but after that we just wing it. I don’t feel that our music ultimately benefits from being over-worked. The naivety gets sucked out and everything can become affected.”

Though Ben Ottewell’s raspy vocals – most familiar to the masses by way of the band’s cover of the Beatles’ “Fixing A Hole” in the Phillips Electronics commercial in 1998 - is Gomez’ most identifiable recorded moment - Gray and guitarist Ian Ball’s harmonies and leads are pleasantly unpredictable. Ian’s solo break on “Charley Patton Songs” and an off-the-cuff rendition of the blues warhorse standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” which collapsed after two verses, were among the many enjoyable surprises.

With ten years worth of albums and touring under their belt, cat-calls for Gomez tunes went unabated. Gray is continually amused. “There is a daft out-take on Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline entitled ‘Shitbag.’ It’s absolute nonsense, but once and awhile, a voice, usually male, will cry out ‘shit---bag!’ Whether that’s for personal amusement or out of a genuine wish to hear the song, I cannot say.”

The title track to their latest collection featured intricate guitar play between Ball, Gray and Ottewell as the latter’s staccato lead vocal stopped and started on the verses in absolute sync with bassist Paul Blackburn and drummer Olly Peacock’s funky rhythms. Peacock’s jazzy brushed snare on “Notice” along with Blackburn’s reggae lines showed the band to be growing even more dexterous and diverse as they approach middle age.

Akin to a grizzled uncle affording advice to the younger generation, the band’s foot-stomping reading of “See The World” came off as well-intentioned mirror of their own life experiences. “Scouting for good restaurants” are among Gomez’ many off-stage on-the-road diversions revealed Gray. “And playing ukulele…or watching downloaded UK television comedy. As for their fans’ continued devotion, nothing surprises Gray, who has seen almost everything imaginable from the stage. “Fighting, getting naked, pissing …occasionally, all at the same time!”




By Tom Semioli M83AnthonyGonzalez








This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, November 2004.

"The French are always listening to American bands" exclaims M83 brain-trust Anthony Gonzalez in his endearing Meridional Franco-phonic accent. Finding the proper words to express himself in an unfamiliar tongue is actually an enjoyable endeavor for the Antibes native. "It's almost like we speak the same language!"

Appropriately named after a celestial galaxy, M83's third official release is essentially a Gonzalez solo opus. His former partner in electronic shoe-gaze pop crime, guitarist/producer Nicholas Fromageau, with whom Gonzalez has recorded two acclaimed albums (an eponymous debut and Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts), has departed on good terms to pursue other projects. However the thought of going it alone does not faze the young multi-instrumentalist who favors discarded keyboards, abrasive e-bow guitars and odd instrumental configurations that most singer-songwriters dare not consider.

"Ever since I was a teenager, I've always done things by myself. I like to be my own boss.” He pauses again to choose his words carefully. “Like Brian Wilson!" Suddenly Gonzalez backtracks, correcting himself and recounting that Mr. Wilson had quite a bit of input from his fellow Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks, and a bevy of top-shelf session players. "Nicholas was always there to help me. He's a fantastic, talented guitarist with a great sense of improvisation. My partner pointed me in new ways and inspired me to go in many different directions."

The new release Before The Dawn Heals Us continues M83's pursuit of Mussorgsky meets Mogwai meets Sonic Youth meets My Bloody Valentine. Gonzalez, who still resides in the seaside town of Antibes, composed the entire album in six months and recorded it all a mere month: broken down into two weeks of actual playing with a drummer and bassist and two weeks of mixing. Though the record packs a sonic assault on the senses - the surroundings had little to do with the content. "It all came together in a little house in the country, just outside of Paris," he notes. "It was very quiet, very serene."

Bouncing abstract ideas off sound engineers, session musicians, and his manager, Gonzalez captured the reverberations in his head for the pop world to figure out. "My parents used to play records from ridiculous French pop singers" he recalls with a laugh, "so, like any kid, I went against that, buying heavy metal records by Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest. Then as I grew older I became more interested in electronic music from Germany, and artists like Can and Brian Eno. It's important to me to have a wide variety of music. I'm always downloading songs and buying records. It's a great way to absorb different cultures and influences; essentially, I am my record collection."

From the heartening, anthemic character of the disc's first single "Don't Save Us From The Flames" to the bizarre avant-garde yearnings of "*," to the exploding sounds of fireworks that punctuate "Let Me Burn Stars" to the campy, nationalistic romp of "Farewell/Goodbye, to the epic conclusion of "Lower Your Highlights To Die With The Sun," Gonzalez has crammed a half-century's worth of pop magic into fifteen tracks. The spoken word vignettes stitched into the fabric of "Moonchild" and "Car Chase Terror," the latter composed by Gonzalez' brother Yann and recorded by American theater actress Kate Moran, afford Before The Dawn Heals Us a cinematic aesthetic that vacillates between high drama and kitschy sci-fi flicks." My brother and I love horror movies. First I had to make a good record, then I had to find a solution to play it live."

Bringing Before The Dawn Heals Us to the United States for M83's first extended concert tour requires a slight change of plans for Gonzalez. Whereas making records is a slow deliberate process for the artist, playing gigs presents a myriad of hurdles to overcome. "I want to play something different and more interesting for the audience. It was important for me to change some things and give new life to the songs." Gonzalez cobbled together a dexterous line-up drawn from notable French bands, namely drummer Ludovic Morillon, bassist Stephane Bouvier, and guitarist Philippe Thiphaine. The super-group gelled immediately. "I didn't tell them what to play," Gonzalez reveals with a measure of relief. "We just 'felt' each other. Everyone brings their own ideas into the music, and though we're very different, there is unity. These are very well-known musicians whom I really admire."

With only two weeks to rehearse M83 crossed the ocean to commence their trek on the east coast of America. "Since we came together it has been very intense. No time to sleep!" Gonzalez laments. "It can be scary, we really didn't practice that much. Fortunately when you are scared, you don't have time to worry."

Though France and America are officially at political odds, Gonzalez feels that the two cultures share common ground. "We see many movies from New York and Los Angeles, and we're glad to be here and experience the diversity of people and different points of view. In France we know that all Americans do not think like President Bush. But we are also concerned about how Americans view us because our government chose not to participate in the war."

Since the release of their sophomore effort Dead Cities, M83 have become stars in their homeland and the UK when their debut performance at the legendary Victoria & Albert Museum won the band raves which rippled throughout the indie rock grapevine. American record chain clerks championed their noble cause, playing the M83 record in stores and voting the disc as one of the most distinctive new releases of the year among other imported European acts such as Faithless and Keane. In early 2004 M83's gigs in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were sold-out within hours and hard-to-find copies of their first two albums were snapped up in a hurry.

Yet despite all the hoopla, Gonzalez' immediate plans are rather modest. "We don't have a lot of time here, especially in New York. Right now I want to check out American record shops and guitar stores. You can really get good stuff here at a low price. We'll figure out how to pay for it later I guess…"




By Tom Semioli TheZutons


This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, September 2004.

"God save The Zutons!" someone screamed from the balcony as Liverpool's acclaimed "scouse-pop" ensemble materialized on the Irving Plaza stage in New York City. Their indefinable debut release, oddly titled Who Killed The Zutons, has catapulted this young, spunky ensemble from relative anonymity to rock ‘n’ roll celebrity. These Zutons are now revered by their contemporaries the Scissor Sisters, compared (somewhat unfairly) to The Coral in their bustling, music-crazed hometown, and hailed as true descendants of “Captain Beefheart via the Kinks,” in a major UK publication that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. Lead singer, chief songwriter, and tireless ring-leader Dave McCabe affords a simple answer to the question of what it means to be a Zuton. "We're just a home grown band and have never really been the 'hot,' 'cool' or a 'hype' group" he reveals with a poker face. "What I love about us is that we've grown organically. I think we get an honest reaction. People like us for the right reason, which is the music!"

McCabe, a husky 23 year-old lad with shoulder length blonde hair and a voice like sand 'n' glue, built The Zutons from scratch in 2002 with the divine intention of crossing jazz, funk, rock and soul akin to his heroes Sly & The Family Stone, Dr. John, and the Talking Heads. With kindred spirits Boyan Chowdhury on lead guitar, drummer Sean Payne, bassist Russell Pritchard, and the band’s final addition - super-charged saxophonist Abi Harding, The Zutons set in motion "the soul-funk-voodoo vibe which we suddenly realized made us exciting." With their debut record already a huge hit in Europe, The Zutons are primed to conquer the mainland in the grand tradition of their hometown Fab Four forefathers on their first American tour opening for The Thrills.

Commencing with their rave-up theme-song "Zuton Fever," Pritchard's rumbling Fender bass lines provided the anchor for Harding's maniacal staccato sax licks whilst McCabe’s raspy vocals and chunky rhythm guitar navigated the rapid shifts in the band’s dynamics and tempos. Harding is obviously the Zuton's attention-grabbing sex symbol. All eyes are on the lithe, shaggy coiffed figure with her Soul Train inspired dance moves, and alluring lip-synch of McCabe's every utterance. Laying down harmonic accompaniment in the absence of a keyboard, tossing off short, sharp melodic solos, and rendering backing vocals as a femme fatale foil to McCabe - Harding overtly appealed to both sexes in attendance – many of whom approximated her gyrations with stunning accuracy!.

Playing America is a dream come true for these merry Liverpudlians who are soaking up the culture as fast as they can –from fast food to record shops to clothing stores. "Yes, your country is wild," exclaims McCabe. "One day it's the hardest place in the world, the next day it's the best place. I can never quite comprehend how massive it is, especially on a cultural level. It's a continent disguised as a country." "Pressure Point" afforded Chowdhury and McCabe an extended opportunity to exchange scratchy guitar solos as Payne kept time with a sturdy cow-bell / bass drum pattern worthy of a Blue Oyster Cult Saturday Night Live spoof.

Introducing "You Will You Won't" as a song "your mum will like," McCabe led his posse through a wild array of electric soul grooves that you’d expect on your parents’ dusty Chambers Brothers Greatest Hits collection. McCabe is pleased with the comparisons to his American heroes. "We made this album as a complete statement so that people could have a cool thing to put on," he emphasizes. "All the songs are different, but they are us – which is what makes a great record." On the fate of the long-player as opposed to the instant gratification of "i-Pod mania" the singer shot back in his thick brogue "people still care about records! If entire albums ever die, it'll be because there's no good music about." Slowly McCabe turns…step by step…

The folksy mid-tempo tale of hard labor and hard love lost, "Railroad," featured sweet four-part CSN &Y reminiscent harmonies. Slinky grooves, throbbing tom-toms, sinewy riffs, angular sax lines, and a gradual rise in intensity defined the marathon reading of The Zutons first English hit "Dirty Dancehall" which concluded with a cacophonic meld of guitar feedback and fans gone blotto.

McCabe notes that "in the States, folks come up after the gig and praise us, which is great for our confidence. And they always invite us to come back again, which we're looking forward to." Liverpool and New York City are worlds apart to McCabe, yet he is quick to note that the two cities share certain similarities. "Manhattan is huge, and there's plenty of nice women. Our home isn't even one-third the size of here. But Liverpool is also a port city. There's a lot going on. The music scene is booming, we enjoy so many good local bands like the Little Flames, Dead 60s, and 747s. On this tour, I'm going to get me a switch (credit) card and buy some guitars and records. The one bad thing about being in a successful band is that you don't get time to do anything normal anymore!"

Politely declining an encore to make way for the headliner act The Thrills, McCabe and company are eager to return. "The wildest behavior we've seen here so far was someone smacking his own head and face to the beat of our music. It was out of celebration…of course!"


By Tom Semioli ThePierces










This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, January 2007

You’ve seen them in NME, Rolling Stone, Interview, The New York Post, and a fully clothed Playboy feature. However in a media landscape peppered with deception and fake news, can a pop music fan actually believe anything they read nowadays? “Well, there is a bit of truth in every tale…” says Allison Pierce with a hint of evil irony. Her equally mischievous sister Catherine concurs.

The pretty, perky, precocious Pierces debut disc Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge is rife with stories of passion, murder, deceit, lesbianism, ménage a trios, and random acts of mayhem. And as far as we know as of this printing, neither has announced a candidacy for the Oval Office. Rendered in a folk rock fashion that harkens back to the early 1960s sounds of Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio, and Ian & Sylvia, the torrid twosome are not adverse to a bit of digital dalliances to abet the vintage bells, whistles, glockenspiels, mandolins and other organic instruments which decorate their songs.

The Pierces were born and raised in rural Alabama by Boehme parents. “They were hippies” notes Catherine, “but they were also Christians, so that still gave us something to rebel against.”  Now residing within the chic environs of Manhattan’s East Village, the sultry sister act has emerged as a hot topic in the ever-burgeoning New York acoustic indie rock scene. “We were too drunk the first year we moved here to notice any cultural differences” laughs Allison. “But when we woke up in the gutter in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, yes, we were quite shocked!”  Though Catherine is romantically linked to a local rock deity -The Strokes’ guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.- the Pierces have forged their own identity and fan base.

Backed by a tight ensemble of electric bass, guitar, and keys (whom the Pierces neglected to introduce by name), Allison and Catherine were gracious hosts on their home turf, encouraging the male and female fans alike to inch closer and closer to the stage to better bask in the glow of the Pierces’ presence. Unlike most of the artists who make indentical requests at the tiny Mercury Lounge, these attendees obeyed without hesitation, shuffling forward with enthusiasm not seen since Night of the Living Dead. After an obligatory drink and instrument tuning, “Boring” their mocking homage to the Big Apple jet set was rendered by both sisters in a monotone delivery that would have made the oft robotic Grace Jones green with envy.

Evoking a light-hearted lascivious comparison to Randy Newman’s classic “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” the naughty “Lights On,” which weaves images of cross-dressing and sex under bright lights, vacillated from torch song verses to outrageous disco beat choruses - very impressive. “That was Prince inspired” confesses Allison. In Vaudeville mode, Catherine’s campy performance of “Boy in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” may or may not have been in reference to Mr. Hammond as she emphasized the lyric “I swore I would never fall in love with a boy in a rock ‘n’ roll band…”

The waltz vamp “Turn On Billie,” a kinky yarn which professes a desire to “paint the town blue because red is so passé” afforded Allison and Catherine an opportunity to harmonize unison as their band punctuated every coo and whisper with staccato rhythms and grinning faces. The gal’s rustic roots shone through on the tearful ballad “Ruin” with Allison pining for a lover to come crawling back akin to Lucinda Williams at her most desperate.

Whether Thirteen Tales… will bring The Pierces fame and fortune remains to be seen. But they do reveal a contingency plan: “We are putting one million copies of this record in a time capsule for future generations to enjoy.”



By Tom Semioli BNL








This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, August 2006

We record….you decide!

Toronto’s favorite adult alternative-rock sons, the Barenaked Ladies, are set to release their eighth album-  Barenaked Ladies Are Me. Sort of. It’s your job to choose the tracks, running order, physical format, artwork, and method of delivery.

Fear not, Barenaked Ladies fans who have little or no experience on the bandstand, in the studio, record company boardroom, art department, pressing plant, and retail- you have options aplenty: purchase the physical thirteen song compact disc on September 12 in stores; or download the thirteen songs plus two bonus-tracks; or opt to download the twenty-seven song digital package Deluxe Edition; or access all of the above or combinations thereof by way of a USB flash memory stick with two extra tracks. Sound easy?

“The Barenaked Ladies are learning to let go,” reveals guitarist / vocalist Steven Page. “Historically the album was only a construct of what the technology could hold and what labels and publishers were willing to pay for. We are certainly conscious of the fact that so many fans listen to music in shuffle mode, and we’re not offended by that. You can still be an artist with integrity and allow your fans some level of control with regard to how they use your end result.”

The eclectic platinum-selling quintet continues to meld folk and pop with a healthy dose of humor. Comprised of Page, Ed Robertson (guitar/vocals), Tyler Stewart (drums), Jim Creegan (bass) and Kevin Hearn (keyboards), BNL have witnessed births, marriages, deaths, and near death in their two decades running musical sojourn together. Are Me, whichever way you choose to hear it, finds the band refreshed, melodic, and accessible.

Explains Page “we performed all the songs live in the studio, but the guitars and vocals were often replaced. They were redone to get better sounds and, in my case, better performances! The foundations of the tracks have the feeling of a band that has played live together for nearly twenty years—which is the truth.”

Though the band produced Are Me, legendary engineer Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, Pretenders, Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow) shares the credit for recording the Ladies in all their resonate glory. “We have always been a fan of his work, especially Crowded House’s Woodface album, which has been something of a touchstone for our band. He was our catalyst in the studio.”

Are Me essentially began when Page and Robertson met up for a writing session in the spring of ’05. With three songs composed, “Home,” “Rule The World With Love,” and “Wind It Up,” they split for summer vacation. It was back to the grindstone in fall at Robertson’s cottage. Fifteen or so songs jelled in a mere four or five days. Meanwhile Hearn was “writing a dozen songs per day” across town. (Stay tuned for Hearn’s eventual solo album.) When all the Ladies convened in winter, they pared the list “down” to twenty-nine tracks. Eschewing Page and Robertson’s usual method of elaborate demos, all the band members put their personal stamp on the tunes, thereby making Are Me the most accurate representation of the group dynamic on record.

“We were sick of saving things for soundtracks, b-sides and whatever. By releasing it all, we could move forward as artists. A double album can be very pricey at retail, so we chose to divide the physical content into two chunks, which is also easier to digest for the more traditional CD buyer, and the second of which, Barenaked Ladies Are Men, comes out in early 2007.”

The Barenaked Ladies Are Me and Barenaked Ladies Are Me: Deluxe Edition from Desperation Records will be available whichever way you choose it beginning September 12, 2006.



By Tom Semioli  AllisonMoorer







This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, June 2006

"I tend to be short, sweet, and to the point. There's no sense in being long and drawn out about things. If you can say something in two sentences, why use six? Besides, I don't think I'm talented enough to hold someone's attention for much more that that."

The last bit of Allison Moorer's declaration is somewhat debatable. However her sixth and latest release, aptly titled Getting Somewhere (release date 6/13/06 on Sugar Hill Records) harkens back to the golden age of vinyl wherein artists had ten songs and thirty minutes to make their case and step aside. Moorer’s new album clocks in at 31:01. "That's exactly how I designed it," the 33-year old singer -songwriter-guitarist boasts with confidence aplenty. "I trusted my instincts on how I put this record together." Breaking news: for the first time in her career Alison Moorer has written all the songs on an album.

Recorded in just ten days and produced by her new husband, Americana icon Steve Earle, Moorer rocks rougher and harder than she ever has, kicking off her half hour of ragged glory with the down 'n' dirty "Work To Do," which wouldn't sound out of place on side three of Exile On Main Street.  Though Earle renders guitar on two tracks and Moog on another cut, the majority of this effort is primarily Allison and her razor sharp posse. "Steve chose the band. Luckily we got all the players we wanted. Bassist Brad Jones sounds like Paul McCartney on this record and as for drummer Brady Blade; well, you can't get any better than that."

Opting for first takes in many instances, Moorer plows through her tales of personal struggle and revelation with a decidedly jagged edge. "I was in the booth singing and playing at the same time so that's why you hear the 'good' bleed on the vocals from my guitar." Her phrasing and timbre on the rambling "You'll Never Know," the mournful "Hallelujah" and the plodding "New Year's Day" are all eerily similar to her celebrity sister Shelby Lynne, whom Moore maintains a close relationship with. "My sister and I try to write letters to each other once a week. I love her and think she's fantastic. We can get on the phone and talk about nothing and laugh for hours."  The track "Where Are You" was written for Lynne, and features a regal string arrangement by long-time collaborator / band member Chris Carmichael along with Moorer's sultry double-tracked harmonies.

Moorer and Earle, who split their time between Manhattan's chic West Village and Nashville, thrived in the studio. "Sure there were some rough spots," she laughs, "but we're still married! Moorer elaborates "the way I describe music is foreign to some people. I'll say something like 'make that guitar more red,' and I get a look like I've gone crazy. But that would happen with anybody because creating music is a very hard thing to do. It's tough to get your brain on the same page as another person."

"If It's Just For Today" is Moorer's song to her husband, noting "I aspire to live and love this way every day - as if it's my last one. I suck at it most of the time, but like I said - I aspire." Old (and young) Beatle fans take note of Jim Hoke's multi-layered horns and the band's four-to-the-bar backbeat which sounds like a working demo to "Got To Get You Into My Life."

"I like records that hang together as records" states Moorer regarding the personal themes which underpin Getting Somewhere. "The one thing artists like myself have going for them is that it's still really, really difficult to make a good living in this business.  So it keeps you honest to a certain extent. Yeah, there are worse jobs than going out on the road every night and making music -but it's still tough work." And though the long-player may be on the endangered species list to some, Moorer will hear none of that. "Real artists will not allow it! I like a body of music that takes me somewhere and has a beginning, middle and end - just like a great book. I love short stories, but I want to read the novel sometimes."




By Tom Semioli  Jackson Analogue





This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, November 2007

“Trust me, the inside of a one-hundred fifty year old Victorian water tower is neither comfy nor distracting” proclaims Jackson Analogue brain-trust Jim Holmes. “It had a sixty ton steel roof with no windows…it was always dark and cold.”

No kidding! The structure Holmes speaks of served as a makeshift recording studio for JA’s gut-bucket blues drenched debut effort, ironically titled And Then, Nothing. The intention was avoid outside interferences, however the ghost of her majesty Queen Victoria prevailed. “We didn’t get a look at the old bird herself, but I have to tell you…we all heard strange things….footsteps up the staircase, knocks on the door. None of us will ever go there alone to this day!”

This Isle-of-Wight quintet, comprised of Holmes, brother Rob on guitar, bassist Matt Winsor, drummer Craig Watson, and a Hammond organist who only answers to the name “Beast” (“If you spend thirty seconds with him, it would make sense. The man is a bearded keyboard smashing monster!”) forge a sound as American as mom’s apple pie and great-grandpa’s musty old ‘78s.

“I grew up listening to the blues” reveals Holmes. “Artists like Robert Johnson, Skip James, Charley Patton and David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards. But I also loved Creedence  Clearwater and grunge as well… Pearl Jam, Soundgarden…”

The album title stems from the band’s two year battle to free themselves of their Island/Universal recording contract. Though details will remain secret for now, Holmes is noticeably upbeat. “By the time we finished the record we’d felt like we’d been through a fucking war! And Then, Nothing refers to that end point of coming out from the other side of the storm as ‘and then nothing went wrong, everything was fine.’ It’s always taken negatively but we don’t correct people,” Holmes adds with a sly wink “they can assume what they like, that’s half the fun of a good title.”

Co-producer and engineer Head (PJ Harvey, Massive Attack) was a major factor in capturing JA’s maniacal energy for posterity.  Coming into picture towards the end of the sessions for the purpose of recording vocals, Head wound up mixing the entire record. “As soon as that red ‘record’ button lights up, people do the weirdest things,” exclaims Holmes. “Sometimes you can struggle to re-create a vibe, especially if you do it over and over again. Head is a genius and the coolest person we’ve ever met. His confidence rubbed off on us and in a few days we felt invincible.”

As for Jackson Analogue’s immediate future, they’ve already commenced work on their sophomore effort, tentatively titled Snakes and Wolves. Bolstering their self-assuredness, the band recently opened for  The Who on a recent UK trek. “It was every bit as amazing as you could imagine. To hear a stadium cheer is a sound I’ll never forget…better than sex!” Holmes pauses after his last thought. “Well, better than sex with me!”

Jackson Analogue’s And Then, Nothing is out on Groove Attack December 2007




By Tom Semioli MSPAmplifier









This feature appeared in Rock Feedback.Com, July 2007

"I can't even begin to imagine what a Richey James lyric would be like now" confesses a rather startled singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield. "I think he would alienate everybody in the world! I do miss that element sometimes."

Twenty-one years into a career that has seen incredible highs (platinum album sales, stadium filling concert tours), controversy aplenty (provocative haberdashery, unashamedly leftist politics, stinging oratory in the UK rock press and radio) along with inconceivable lows (the self-mutilation and mysterious disappearance of founding guitarist/lyricist Richey James in 1995) Wales' mighty Manic Street Preachers are back to what they consider to be the "basics" on their eighth studio release Send Away The Tigers.

"Nick (Wire, bassist /lyricist) and Richey believed in a lot of the rhetoric they came up with" recalls Bradfield with a wisp of sentimentality. "I didn't buy into some of it. For example, they wanted to be the Sex Pistols - make one great album - burn brightly, then fade away. I always had my eye on 'plan B, which was longevity over legacy. After all, I was playing in a band I loved and I wanted to keep playing with the guys."

With drummer Sean Moore, the self -proclaimed "generation terrorists" now sound comfortable in their own skin, though by no means complacent. Writing sessions for Send Away The Tigers commenced in late 2005. With Dave Eringa once again behind the boards, recording sessions stretched from March to November 2006 in Cardiff and Ireland before the tapes were sent to Chris Lord-Alge to mix in all its sonic glory in California. Named after a common phrase used by comedian Tony Hancock whenever he started drinking, Tigers emerges as a complete statement as opposed to a collection of songs. This redeeming characteristic is not lost on Bradfield, who sees the long-player format as an endangered species.

"There can be something very symbolic about an album" notes Bradfield. "It can sum up a time and a place and a mood. It's a scary thought to realize that the album, which is the benchmark by which you judge a band, will soon disappear. It's like losing a novel and being left with only short stories. Whenever I've connected with people, the one way I managed to define a person was by their favorite album. That's why we have certain acts which we call 'one hit wonder' because they're just defined by one song. An album is integral to a band's identity, if they want an identity."

Tigers succeeds at recapturing the Manics' initial spark, according to Bradfield, thanks to his and Wire’s recent solo albums (The Great Western and I Killed The Zeitgeist respectively) which were nothing less than cathartic. "It's like a bit of self-help therapy," he laughs, "which is really kind of strange because I don't like getting into psycho-babble at all. But those records we made apart from the band did 'de-clutter' our minds. And it helped us become more focused on the past and allowed us to re-frame our future." The band had also re-examined the youthful idealism of their earlier masterstroke Generation Terrorists plus their two biggest inspirations, the Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Fittingly, another idol crops up on a hidden track: John Lennon. During the recording of his solo album Wire submerged himself in Lennon's fiery, self-confessional Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1970). Rendering a forceful remake of one of the fallen ex-Beatle's most notorious social commentaries –“Working Class Hero” was a natural extension of the Manics' own history. "When we grew up in the 1980s we lived in a period of great turmoil in terms of domestic politics. Our domestic situation was black and white. There was Labour and Conservative. And in our eyes, back in the working class values of Wales, we saw this woman named Margaret Thatcher systematically destroying everything we stood for."

And of interpreting Lennon's initial vitriol for a new generation, Bradfield illuminates, "well, in a bittersweet ironic way we grew up in a glorious period where you defined yourself by what you were angry at. Now it's much more of an international stage in politics. That's harder to write about, say the war in Iraq or democracy verses democracy."

Yet Bradfield feels that the Manics can succeed where even their heroes have failed. "The two greatest albums from the Clash are the first one and London Calling. But when they wrote Sandinista! which I love incidentally, they tried to detail internationalist politics and they missed the target. It's much easier to write about what's going on your own doorstep than to write about things on the international stage."

On a more tempered note, we're warned not to miss Bradfield's duet with The Cardigans' sultry Nina Persson (pictured with the band above) on the album's first single “Your Love Alone” which Wire describes as "Keith Moon drums... Pete Townshend power chords... and sonically similar to Hole's ‘Celebrity Skin!"



By Tom Semioli IanAndersonMartinBarre






This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, October 2003

Martin Lancelot Barre is a humble man with a self-effacing, affable veneer. Especially when he's assured that materializing five minutes late for an interview is no big deal for a musician of such historic renown. "I forgot I was a rock 'n' roll legend, thank you for reminding me!"  Says his working partner of thirty-four years, the extremely talkative and confident Ian Anderson, "without Martin Barre, there would be no Jethro Tull."  Anderson and Barre need no introduction to classic rock fans, nor to each other. Landmark albums such as Aqualung, Thick As A Brick, and Benefit gave birth to arena rock, air-guitar, and established the importance of FM radio in the 1970s. The band is still filling stadiums worldwide, and a retrospective DVD entitled A New Day Yesterday will stuff many a Christmas stocking.  This year, the prolific duo have unleashed two wildly different solo albums for entirely different reasons.

Barre's effort, Stage Left, is an devil-may-care instrumental excursion into blues, jazz, classical, and heavy metal, save for one vocal track, ironically titled "Don't Say A Word," rendered by a local pub singer and friend, Simon Burrett, from Martin's hometown of Devon, England. "I've never had to live up to anything because I've never been a guitar hero," opines the youthful Barre. "My reputation is of someone who is particularly under-rated. That's fantastic; I can get away with murder." With no specific game plan other than to "get on with what I want to do," the guitarist soars. Among the many stand-up  cuts is a rather noble attempt at traditional blues entitled "As Told By." Barre transforms the rudimentary twelve-bar three chord template into twelve chords and endless melodic tangents. He laughs "that's my problem; I can't leave well enough alone. I find it very hard to be simplistic. Then again, I try not to be a smart ass. My music sounds easy, but has depth to it."

Barre turned his sidemen loose in the studio with minimal instruction. "Nelly Returns" features stellar fretless bass work from current Jethro Tull member Jonathan Noyce, whom Barre drafted fresh out of music school. The swirling effects employed on "Celestial Servings" were borne as a result of Noyce's noodlings with a device which drove Barre "bonkers" every night backstage during a recent Tull trek.  Barre confesses he hated the sounds at first. Then he fell in love with the contraption and made it the basis of a song. "Winter Snowscapes" exudes orchestral ambitions with grandiose, cinematic textures. Recalling the misstep of Jethro Tull's A Classic Case, an album of symphonic greatest-hits, Barre waxes ala Monty Python: "I'd like it done properly." Nudge nudge, wink wink. "Oooooow, aren't I a bitch!"

Modest as he may be, there is one jewel missing from the crown for Martin: the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. "It's a shame, I don't know what's gone wrong" he notes with sadness.

"I used to think that stuff didn't bother me, especially after we won the Grammy. That award means a lot to me now. I'm quite proud of it. I'd be honored to be in the Hall. Jethro Tull has never taken a year off. Somebody there doesn't like us I guess."

As one of rock's premier showmen, Ian Anderson is accustomed to the spotlight. Tull traditionalists will be overly pleased to discover that Rupi's Dance, Ian's fourth solo outing, evokes the warm, acoustic trappings of Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses. Anderson pontificates "part of being around for a long time is looking back and taking stock of what you've done and not existing in a mindless bubble, chasing the next thing. For me this album is like Cezanne and Monet, who spent their latter years re-examining what they perceived years before."

Relieved from the constraints and responsibilities of writing for a band affords Anderson the freedom he relishes every now and then. Rupi's Dance delves into more personal, intellectual, and emotional areas than do the group efforts. Ruminations from a table in Starbucks ("Calliandra Shade: The Cappuccino Song"), voyeuristic delights ("Photo Shop"), a paean to a famous Italian flautist ("Griminelli's Lament"), confessions of a CNN junkie ("Not Ralista Vasileva"), adolescent insecurity ("Two Short Planks"), artistic rivalries ("A Raft Of Penguins") and fear of failure with the opposite sex ("A Hand of Thumbs") coalesce via English folk motifs, jazz licks, progressive-rock leanings, classical passages, and rich melodies. With a work ethic that forgoes demos, re-tracking, and multiple takes, Anderson's song-cycle is fresh and exuberant.

The album's centerpiece is the title track. Rupi, the object of Ian's desires, is not a woman, in fact, she's a cat. "The song explores the way in which we personify animals. There is a sexy thing that parallels between the way a cat moves, and plays with you emotionally and physically. I don't intend to hoodwink anyone. The emphasis is on the grace and femininity of the feline form…or a sexy, dark haired lady who is trying to get you to go to bed with her."

Rupi's Dance will be represented in Ian's solo ongoing "Rubbing Elbows" tour, an interactive event featuring local guests from television, radio, and print media. "It would be easy to say it's David Letterman with a flute." Intrigued by the masters of the talk show format for their improvisational prowess and quick wit, Anderson looks forward to the mental challenge of blending dialogue and music with a rotating cast. Remembering his numerous stints on Late Night and the Howard Stern Show, Anderson exclaims "I don't really know what I'm going to be talking about until it comes out of my mouth." Intimate concerts have their drawbacks. "I just did two shows in Greece and noticed that most of the men folk have yet to discover a bar of soap. There was this acrid smell in the audience. It was the same in Turkey. The Italians: probably one-in-four had a hygiene problem. The Germans are clean as a whistle, they love showers." Is Anderson willing to go public with his research? "I'm a CNN guy, but I think I'd choose my moments before I talk about stereotypes. Yet it wasn't the women. I went out and sniffed a few, and they were fresh as roses!"

Ian Anderson’s Rupi's Dance and Martin Barre’s Stage Left are out now on Fuel 2000




By Tom Semioli The+Thrills+565967_356x237






This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, October 2007

Teenager is an album about youth and growing up” declares Thrills singer/songwriter Conor Deasy. As for the two pubescent juveniles in the throes of passion which adorn the Dublin based indie-pop band’s new album cover, Deasy notes “That’s not me on the bed! I just didn’t want the art to be cryptic like our last one…”

No great album goes unplanned. Deasy and his cohorts Daniel Ryan (guitar/bass), Ben Carrigan (drums), Kevin Horan (keyboards) and Padraic McMahon (bass/guitar) set out render a collection that will stand the test of time. Integral to achieving this goal was to bolt the sunny, safe Southern Californian environs of their previous two releases (So Much For The City and Let’s Bottle Bohemia) in favor of a derelict area in the Gastown district of Vancouver BC.

“Sometimes those juxtapositions work” says Deasy, whose vocal character and tone on Teenager could easily be mistaken for Flaming Lips’ mastermind Wayne Coyne. “I like the fact that we didn’t know anyone there.”

The Warehouse Recording Studio, which is owned by Canadian rock super-star Bryan Adams and was recommended to the Thrills by their former tour mates REM, was once a morgue and allegedly inhabited by ghosts. “It was perfect for the big 1980s rock snare sound” enthuses Deasy. “We had to build a makeshift small room within the big room – the last week we were in the haunted basement studio.”

Otherworldly interference aside, producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air, Smashing Pumpkins), who also helmed the band’s debut, was an important catalyst. Hoffer and the band chose eleven of the best songs from over the thirty that were recorded. “He’s very loyal, hard- working, and funny. This was our ‘difficult’ album – not a record finished in one breezy session. One of Tony’s rules is that anything recorded after 1 a.m. is unlikely to sound good the next day – though there are exceptions. If we didn’t catch a song quickly, we’d move on to something else, or go get lunch.”

As the title implies Teenager froths with the conflicts most adolescents face: loss of innocence, anxiety, and youthful optimism. Many of the tracks take on an orchestral bent via layered vocal harmonies, mandolins, wailing harmonicas, bravura motifs, swift swinging rhythms, fluttering piano trills, and the occasional anthem – all signature of the range of emotions in an age when hormones rage.

Written mostly in Co Wexford in the South East corner of Ireland, Deasy demoed a few songs at first, and for others, he simply worked on them in the flesh along with the band members. “That’s when the years started disappearing” recalls Deasy.

After sharing the stages in major venues with the likes of the aforementioned R.E.M, U2 and Oasis, The Thrills are primed to make a lasting impression stateside. Reviews of Teenager, which was released in Europe this past summer, have been nothing short of worshipful in all the major rock rags across the pond.

Taking all the accolades in stride, Deasy draws a deep breath. “I was definitely quite hard on myself this time around.” Did he set that new standard for the band and himself? “Yes, we achieved it!”

The Thrills Teenager will be released on October 23, 2007 by Capitol Music Group



By Tom Semioli Scissor-Sisters-02








This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, July 2004

"Someone described our music as a Trojan Horse," laughs Babydaddy from his London hotel room. "It's the idea that we're presenting something in a very wholesome package, but deep down, we're a bit more subversive than everyone realizes."

The "wholesome package" the fashion savvy keyboardist/bassist speaks of probably refers to the Scissor Sisters' campy stage attire, yen for mischief, and fun-loving approach to the serious business of making chart-topping music. The hip shaking, thought provoking grooves rendered by New York City's most valuable new pop export emerge as a lavish amalgamation of 1970s kitsch in the vein of Elton John, the Bee Gees, and David Bowie, combined with an even deeper affection for the shameless excess of 1980s icons George Michael and B- 52s. The Scissor Sisters (FYI- a slang term for lesbianism!) are all the rage in Europe and the hottest underground band in the United States.

While dueling singers Jake Shears and performance artist Ana Matronic use sex as a tongue-in-cheek weapon, Babydaddy, drummer Paddy Boom, and guitarists Del Marquis and Derek G. are masters of the pop idiom; recycling and reinventing the notion that if it's got a melody and you can dance to it, you have a hit, regardless of what genre you happen to exist in. So far, their ticket to ride has been a shimmering, tub-thumping remake of the hallowed Pink Floyd anthem "Comfortably Numb," which was fortified by a sexy, surrealistic video too far out to begin to decipher without a Master's Degree in Psychology (you can see it  for yourself on MTV2).  Babydaddy swears the stroke of misplaced genius was all Shears' responsibility. The flamboyant co-vocalist was alone on his parents’ Virginia farm in the midst of a vintage record listening binge when he arrived at the realization that Floyd's biggest songs were underpinned with disco beats, thereby validating his already revolutionary tendencies.

As with everything the Sisters touch these days, the break-through hit was not without controversy. "People said it was a song about heroin turned into a song about ecstasy," Babydaddy happily recalls. "I can see how that works, though it wasn't conscious for us to do that. It's an update of the song for different times as a rollicking dance track with a dark edge, especially for all of us who live in Manhattan after 9/11. We may be making joyful music, but there's an undercurrent of something that's far more foreboding." Luckily for the Sisters the cut crawled to #9 in the UK, which didn't quite brand them as a novelty act which simply cashed in on Johnny “I Hate Pink Floyd” Lydon/Rotten's dinosaur rock nemesis . "Our original intention was to slip the song on a b-side of a twelve inch for a tiny indie imprint."

With the February 2004 release of the Scissor Sisters' self titled debut achieving  platinum status in the UK, along with a second smash single "Take Your Mama Out," the purposely mismatched fearless five-some were welcomed with open arms on the lucrative European festival circuit, and have shared the bill with few of their heroes, namely Sir Elton and Duran Duran. "We have comrades in the British," Babydaddy  proudly proclaims regarding the political tensions that circle the two continents. "They're our allies in this whole mess. I get the feeling the people of both countries feel equally stupid with what's going on. There's no hostility. They know that when artists blow through that we're the most liberal representatives of the bunch."

Now, as the American market-place beckons with a late summer domestic release of their UK debut and a fall tour, the Sisters are standing strong in the face of record industry pressure. "We've fought like hell just to get this album out here with all the songs in tact. The decision was made by us not to put the album in Wal-Mart, and not to make a clean version. We did have to slap a parental warning sticker on the disc, which is completely absurd. I think a kid listening to Eminem is getting a much more negative message that what we've been putting forward. We've only got one 'shit' and a few 'tits!"

Dedicated to the album format, the Scissor Sisters labored for months over the track order, sonic nuances, and overall length. Inspired by the classic rock albums of thirty years past, the goal was "to create a perfect pop rock album that would pick you up at the beginning, take you on a journey in the middle, and set you right back down in the same place at the end. Every step we took, we looked at history." By making the album as short as possible, the Scissor Sisters put their best feet forward without resorting to the need to include filler or repeating themselves.

With the proliferation of downloading songs now running rampant in Europe as well as the States, Babydaddy has equal faith in the past and the future. "I think we as a culture are going to need entire albums in addition to just 'songs.' I have a great love for the pop song, Lord knows we all have a short attention span at times. Yet there are days when you want to watch a sitcom and other days when you want to see a film. The song and the album are clearly two different circumstances. When I look back on my childhood, my most profound experiences were sitting in my room listening to entire records. That to me is a pensive, personal moment when an artist speaks to me and relates an entire story, not just a little anecdote."

Artists are used to dealing with failure, but success often poses a different set of jet set problems. Babydaddy exudes optimism. "Fortunately, from an artistic standpoint, we have yet to see the money that comes with success. It's a slow process, and it's very expensive to be out on the road like we are. We've all worked day jobs that gave us the time to do what we love, which is music. I'd say we have fairly sturdy heads on our shoulders. But we do discuss 'success' all the time. What's it going to be like when things get easy? Or will things ever get easy? We're not tempted to run off on a vacation just yet."






By Tom Semioli CTAmp







This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, May 2006

"The way I learned how to play guitar was by playing along to TV shows such as Have Gun Will TravelDa-da-da-da. Diddle-de-dum-de-dum. Gunsmoke and Bonanza too. Dum diddy dum diddy dum dum. Peter Gunn was another good one.   Who needed lessons when you had a TV set and nothing else to do all day?"

In late 1970s four guys from the Midwest rescued the pop music world from Tales of Topographic Oceans, Rumors, and conceptual diatribes of how and why a metaphorical Lamb Lied Down on Broadway. "There was a lot of that wasn't there?" laughs Cheap Trick founder, songwriter, and iconic guitarist Rick Nielsen, safe at home in Rockford, Illinois. "Actually there were other things we wanted to get rid of too. Return to Forever? I think it was them and Dance Fever as well!"

Cheap Trick's hearty embrace of Beatle-esqe British rock, bubble-gum, heavy metal and the almighty power chord seems quaint nowadays. However back then, as nihilistic punk, jazz fusion and politically tinged reggae resounded in the major cities and on college radio, Neilsen, bassist Tom Petersson, drummer Bun E. Carlos, and vocalist Robin Zander effectively stamped out the “me” decade with a healthy dose of irreverent eccentricity and impossibly catchy melodies that everyone could sing. Humor was also an integral part of the Check Trick equation, “rock ‘n’ roll needed to be fun again” Neilson reminds us!

It didn't come easy. In the late 1960s Nielsen and Petterson started out as Fuse in their hometown; their first and only record bombed. After migrating to Philadelphia and rechristening the group as Sick Man of Europe they sought fame and fortune to absolutely no avail. Enter Carlos and former folk-singer Zander. Incessant touring in support of 70s super-groups Kiss, Santana, AC/DC, and Queen, among others afforded the newly named Cheap Trick ample opportunity to hone their song-craft and high-energy stage persona for the masses.

Cheap Trick's self-titled debut and sophomore effort In Color were moderate movers in the USA. However the foursome laid claim to the now tongue-in-cheek term "big in Japan" as Cheap Trick records routinely hit gold status in the land of the Rising Sun where their concerts were instant sell-outs. After 1978's Heaven Tonight which yielded their first domestic hit "Surrender," the band released their magnum opus live collection At Budokan. A certified smash in America, the double album was a chart mainstay for over a year with "I Want You To Want Me" emerging as their first Top Ten entry. From then on the band's back catalog began to move and they rocketed to headliners in their homeland. Expectations were high for Dream Police, the band's fourth studio disc, and it did not disappoint with the title track and "Voices" topping the charts.

By 1980 all was not well within the ranks. Petersson left the band, missing out on the legendary John Lennon / Yoko Ono Double Fantasy sessions which did not see the light of day until the 1990s when ex-Beatle's alleged conflict with Cheap Trick producer Jack Douglas was resolved. Beatles producer George Martin came on board to produce All Shook Up but as the tsunami of new wave and hard rock artists latched on to the Cheap Trick formula (infectious riffs plus well crafted pop) the band's commercial appeal began to wane. One On One (1982), Next Position Please (1983), Standing On The Edge (1985), and The Doctor (1986) were workman-like at best. Petersson returned to the fold in '88 and Lap Of Luxury pushed the band back into the Top 20. However that second taste of success was tempered by the failure of Busted (1990) and gaps in recording.

Their first record for Warner Bros., 1994's Woke Up With A Monster went unnoticed. Epic put out Budokan II culled from the same gigs that gave the band international status. Then the tide began to turn in a most unexpected manner.

Cheap Trick finally received what Rodney Dangerfield had pined for all those years ago: respect! The grunge and alt-rock generation, most notably Kurt Cobain, openly praised a band which had uniformly received backhanded compliments from the rock press throughout their storied career. In 1995 Cheap Trick was a special guest on a Smashing Pumpkins tour and the group was a featured artist on the all important Lollapalooza Tour the following year. Box sets, celebrated tours reviving the band's first four albums in their entirety, live albums, a 25th Anniversary DVD/CD set (Silver) and a few more studio efforts (their second self-titled album and 2003's Special One) all proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Cheap Trick has plenty of gas left in the tank.

So what do you do when you've done it all?

You bring it all back home. Boasts Petersson "it's by far our best work yet…this new record has all the best elements of our entire catalogue.”  Kicking off with the anthemic "Welcome To The World" the band sounds comfortable in their own skin for the first time in ages. Neilsen opines "Whatever we do will always be compared to what we've done in the past, all the big records. I don't feel like we're competing with ourselves anymore. I think of it more as adding to the list of our inventory."

Unlike some of their earlier efforts Rockford was written communally and self-produced.  "We just went in and did it" Neilson says matter-of-factly. We knew we were bound to make a few mistakes. But we have to look at it like we kind of know what we're doing, so we're bound to do something right as well."

However they did enlist a little help from their friends. Legendary knob twiddler Steve Albini came in and mixed Rockford to afford the project a uniform veneer.  "We did this record in Chicago, Rockford, New York, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, we were all over the place with this thing" recalls Neilson. "Steve made it all stick for us."

For the first single "Perfect Stranger" the band deferred to a fan with a pretty decent track record: Linda Perry, who also co-wrote the track.  "She actually asked us if she could work with the band" notes Neilson. We love her, she's diverse like us. Linda is a fabulous singer.  I don't know if she can dance, but she's an engineer, a musician, a producer, writes songs… she can do it all. If people like Linda like us, we know that's a pretty good indication that we're still viable."

Hooks abound on the syrupy ballad "O Claire." The blues get a work-out on "One More Day." Romantic self-reflection underpins "All Those Years." Fab-Four fueled melodies define "Dream The Night Away" and "Come On Come On Come On." Paranoia peppers "Decaf" (a potential anti-Star Bucks call to arms if there ever was one).  "On every record we've made – probably 95% - we've always gone with the first few takes" explains Neilson as to why this record sounds as if the band is in the room.

Neilson is also proud of the band's newfound elder statesman status though he has strong opinions on modern rockers. "It seems as if everybody thinks they're a star. More people know how to dance than play music."  As for Cheap Trick's legacy “everything we do is a body of work. We never went on a whim of 'I feel like recording today' or 'we have to put a new single out.' If that were the case we'd have one out every month. We make records because that's what's important to us. Our music is diverse enough where one song certainly does not define us. If it did we wouldn't be around today."

Yes, there will be more Cheap Trick albums in the future. "It's still difficult but it's still fun," cackles Nielsen. "Isn't it cool that we picked a hobby that others would classify as our job?"



By Tom Semioli LBTAMP1





This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, May 2007 

“I still haven’t given it a proper listen from start to finish” reveals Ladybug Transistor mastermind Gary Olson from his Flatbush, New York headquarters with a hearty laugh. “One of these days I’ll get around to hearing it.”

Olson’s exasperation is understandable. From demos to rehearsals to inviting guest musicians to recording sessions to overdubs to the final mix, the singer and chief songwriter was present every step of the way. “By the time we finished, I didn’t know what we had at all. Was it good? Everything became a blur.”

Can’t Wait Another Day is Ladybug Transistor’s seventh release. Along with Olson and the official band: bassist Julia Rydholm, guitarists Jeff Baron and Ben Crum, keyboardist Kyle Forester, and drummer San Fadyl - Ladybug’s roster of friends for this outing includes stellar contributions from various members of Aislers Set, Architecture in Helsinki, The Clientele, Jens Leckman, Kevin Barker (Currituck Co., Vetiver), Heather McIntosh (Circulatory System, Instruments), and Roy Nathanson (Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers) among others.

Since their 1995 debut Marlborough Farms – which takes its name from the band’s enchanted Victorian Flatbush hangout and studio, Olson’s collective has refined their idiosyncratic brand of lounge pop to a higher level of sophistication akin to the finer works of The Polyphonic Spree and Of Montreal as influenced by Burt Bacharach and The Left Banke.  However, Can’t Wait… offers a few notable twists and turns.

“I purposely positioned ‘Always On The Telephone’ as the first cut because it’s very different than what we’ve done in the past” quips Olson. “I’m hoping that Roy’s (Nathanson) saxophone solo break might divide some of our old fans!”

Olson credits his work ethos with Forester and co-producer Bill Wells as to why Can’t Wait… displays more of lively feel than the band’s previous releases. “Bill, who is a couple of generations older than I am, taught me everything I know. He was a tech engineer at a radio station where I did a high-school internship. Bill has always been there for me, from setting up microphones to giving me advice and providing a good set of ears.”

Forester is responsible for the seductive string arrangements that afford Can’t Wait… a timeless elegance. “Kyle was very eager and quick when we started work together about a year and a half ago” says Olson. “He helped put the songs together when I just had sketches of ideas. Kyle would blow through the studio for an hour or so and by the end we’d have another song ready to go.”

No Ladybug release would be complete without memorable cover art. Can’t Wait… with its image of Olson and a female companion seated face to face in a elegant 1917 New York City subway car is no exception. “We snuck into the Transit museum” recalls Olson. “It’s located in a station sealed off from the rest of the New York subway system. You’re not allowed to take photographs down there, but I hid a tri-pod in a trumpet case. Everything was shot in about five minutes, we heard footsteps coming just as we were finishing up.”

However one uninvited guest crashed the photo shoot. “That furry thing to my left is a cat. Apparently it lives underground and somehow snuck into the picture. We loved the look.”

Ladybug Transistor’s Can’t Wait Another Day will be released on June 7, 2007 on Merge Records


By Tom Semioli






This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, July 2004

"I don't have big shoes to fill," laughs a relaxed and outwardly confident Melissa Auf Der Maur before her first solo headlining show at the Mercury Lounge in downtown New York City. "I've always done everything backwards anyway."

Imagine a rock goddess that looks forward to paying her dues! After anchoring the two premier alt-rock juggernauts of the 1990s: Courtney Love's ill-fated Hole and the very last incarnation of the Billy Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins, the waif-like Canadian bassist shut down for two years, put up her own money and recorded her dream record with a supporting cast to kill for: Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) Eric Erlandson (Hole), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), John Stainer (Helmet/Tomahawk) and Steve Durand (Tinker). Now, instead of Lear-jets, limos, paparazzi, and arenas, it's back to the bars, vans, hand-held video cams, and AAA stops.

For fans of Melissa's now defunct former bands, her self titled debut wipes the slate clean. "It was made on a very low budget and on a spontaneous schedule. Later on, I was given the resources to mix it on a very high level, so we captured a raw energy and that organic feel and slick veneer that I love about big rock music."

Thanks to Melissa's sky high profile for the past ten years, girls gone bass are a chic, necessary limb of alternative rock ensembles. "I feel very comfortable in the bottom end position. Perhaps there's a flash of temptation in everyone to be out front, not just bass players. I never pined for a solo career. I just had so many songs in my head that if I didn't make an album, I'd go crazy!"

Melissa's command of the stage rivals her former bosses' bravura from the moment she straps on her vintage Fender Jazz and rips into a harrowing solo laden with distortion and   ear-shattering feedback. Sexy and loud as hell, the Auf Der Maur Band echoes their leader's Led Zeppelin - Black Sabbath - Jimi Hendrix Experience fixation. Adorned in a skin tight black leather mini-skirt, high-heeled boots, and a sleeveless white top wrapped to the neck in lace, Melissa's dominatrix-like delivery of "Lightening Is My Girl," "Head Unbound," "Taste You" writhes with sly autobiographical references atop lumbering motifs and sinewy melodies.

The Auf Der Mar Band shines and no one is more proud of it than the person signing the paychecks. Melissa's ultimate goal of representing her record in a live forum has come to fruition. "Kim is a great girl from San Francisco who plays guitar. Julian is a fantastic French Canadian drummer. Josh is a boy from Wisconsin whom I originally met at a Pumpkins in-store. He was wearing a shirt of a band I love. A few years later he came in and auditioned and we bonded over that moment and he was in. Steve is an old friend from my very first band Tinker. Since I returned to my roots in making the record, I went back to him. These are basically all brand new musicians that have never had the opportunity to tour. Every musician dreams of seeing the world through music, and since I was given the opportunity, I feel it's my responsibility to give it back. They're not jaded and they don't take it for granted that you can just pick up a guitar and make a living. We all see it as the special thing it is."

Samples of galloping horses precluded the driving, syncopated beats of "Skin Receiver" as shards of guitar noise filter through Melissa's long, pained phrases. "I Need I Want I Will" incorporated surrealistic images of seduction and desire abetted by multi-layered vocal effects. In cabaret diva mode "Overpower Thee" was rendered with just Melissa accompanied by piano and the thud-thud-thud of the microphone knocking on her forehead between each verse.

"I'm a pretty in the moment person," she reveals. "I never got to do the in-between stuff, like feel music. I was in a small band in Montreal for less than a year and the next thing I knew I was with a bunch of strangers in Hole playing to 65,000 screaming fans at the Reading Festival. I'm a musician that just wants to make music, so whether I'm in somebody else's band or in my own band or playing trumpet in my high-school orchestra, it's all music and I like to do it in which ever shape it comes in."



By Tom Semioli  IanHunterAmplifer

This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine Online,  July 2009

"Various lunatics!" proclaims Ian Hunter when asked how he went from being an All American Alien Boy in 1976 to a Man Overboard  in 2009.  "I’m kind of sad, in a way, that old George (Bush) has left the building—there were plenty of 'words' coming when he was in! I just feel so much more optimistic now. The political thing just doesn’t seem to have the same appeal as last year."

Ian Hunter still has plenty of vitriol (and sentiment) left in him as evidenced on his latest, luckiest 13th solo album since his long lamented departure from rock's greatest underdog ensemble, Mott The Hoople, in early 1975.

Akin to his distinguished rock poet peers - you can count Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith among them, Ian is rendering his best work both live and on record. Ever a man of the people, Ian affords props to his veteran road ensemble for MO's aural sense of urgency: producer/guitarist Andy York (John Mellancamp), drummer Steve Holley (Paul McCartney & Wings, Joe Cocker), bassist Paul Page (Dion), guitarist Jack Petruzzelli (Rufus Wainwright, Joan Osbourne), guitarist James Maestro (Patti Smith, John Cale), and keyboardist Andy Burton (The Db's). For the record (pun intended) Man Overboard only took a week to record and a week to mix.

"Andy was so committed that he should be" jokes Hunter. "It’s very 50-50 with me and Andy – it’s kind of like a marriage in a way, I’ve got my weak spots, and he’s extremely good in those spots. It’s not like I’m over here and the band is over there." Continuing the momentum of the highly acclaimed Shrunken Heads (2007) album boiled down to one simple tenet.  "Commitment!" says Hunter once again.  "Not only with me, but with anyone my band has worked with. It spreads…like good seeds."

And like good seeds, Ian Hunter songs will grow on you. For fans of "Irene Wilde," "Ships In The Night," and "I Wish I Was Your Mother" - you have a new romantic epic to cherish "Girl From The Office." Ruminates Ian "she was pretty gorgeous at the time. Most of my songs have an element of truth in it - I just employ a little poetic license."  "The Great Escape" which kicks off the album, is a classic Ian rocker worthy of his old Mott mates. "The thing with that song is it’s kind of like the odds are always against ya' – and if you think about it and you analyze any situation you’re in – there always seems to be a way out even if you’re on your own and that’s a good sort of thing to know in life!"

In age of Tweets, Facebook, MySpace, file-sharing, pod-casts, and other digital foolery (and thievery), the long-player format remains sacred to Hunter.  "My business is to make albums – I like a complete album whether it’s in date or out of date.  I don’t care what anyone else is doing –that’s my way.  I love making music! I’m not really concerned about the 'music business." The appeal is obvious to Ian and his dedicated following, though it may be lost on the current generation: how foolish would a dramatic video of "All The Young Dudes" or "Crash Street Kids" appear in modern times? Ian elaborates: "Use your imagination – that, to me, was the big attraction of it. That’s a wonderful thing for a kid – to just imagine. When I started out and listened to American acts – Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis and all those people - my imagination ran rampant."

And thankfully, Ian gives no concession to age. "I think there’s a place for anybody who wants to connect" he opines on the most taboo subject in our youth obsessed culture: longevity.  "People are wide open to it, as long as you deliver in some way, shape or form. On the ‘pop’ side of things you wouldn’t get away with it, but in the rock field – yeah! The blues guys are still going at it. When we were pop artists and we had hits and stuff and I could see that 'longevity'  could be detrimental – getting old and doing pop stuff." Ian begins to measure his words. "But the kind of thing I’m heading for…and it’s okay because there’s an element of….the thing you have to watch out for is…." He pauses, then finds the perfect word to describe his modus operandi: "Dignity!

In addition to Man Overboard, 2009 will mark the most improbable reunion of all for Ian - Mott The Hoople. Five 40th Anniversary shows are slated for the first week of October at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo in London with all the original members on stage- Ian, Mick Ralphs, Dale "Buffin" Griffin, Verden Allen - and a man who hasn't been seen by the general public in eons, the charismatic guru of glam, bassist Pete "Overend" Watts.  Says Ian of Overend "I talk to him on the phone all the time, but I haven't seen him. He must be fit, he walks all over Britain - twenty five miles per day - though not in those platforms I'm sure." No word from Ian on Overend's retention of his signature metallic hair, we'll have to wait for the gigs.

Ian Hunter's Man Overboard is out on New West Records on July 21, 2009