Charlie Haden (1937 – 2014) – A True Legend Has Left Us

Posted in Bass players on July 11, 2014 by Héctor Rodríguez

I just found out about the passing of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Don’t expect a superbly-written article. I just felt like saying a few things about him.

Charlie Haden was – no, IS – one of my greatest inspirations. Here was a musician who didn’t have astounding technique, who didn’t play a million notes per second, or employ wild changes in time signatures to show how clever he was. He just played from the heart.

His work with Ornette Coleman was a revelation, groundbreaking. Among the many, MANY albums he played on, there’s one with living legend Pat Metheny called “Beyond The Missouri Sky” which is a timeless gem.

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Charlie could play only two notes, but man! Those two notes can make a grown man cry. I sure have.

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I managed to see him in concert once. Unfortunately, it was at the Heineken Jazzfest in Puerto Rico, and the bill that night was mostly hot latin jazz. And there was Charlie Haden, playing his understated, subtle music at an outdoor festival to a crowd who’d had maybe too many beers. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have if it had been in a concert hall, but it was still magical.

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Thank you, Charlie, for the great music. For the inspiration to try to say more with less. For the desire to dig deeper. For enabling me to appreciate subtlety, grace, and poise.

May your legacy live on for as long as there are humans on this Earth, and maybe even beyond that.

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Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny

 

Perseverancia y Valentía: Organic Se Mantiene Fuerte Por Más de Veinte Años Y Sigue Adelante

Posted in Bands, From other US States, International, Interviews with tags , , on October 5, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

This interview is available in English. Click here for the English version.

Formar parte de una banda de heavy metal extremo nunca es fácil. Es casi una garantía permanente de que nunca vas a alcanzar gran popularidad, y mantener todos los integrantes a bordo solo por el amor a la música es un reto grande. Aún dentro del mundo del metal, los gustos del público fluctúan de una dirección a la otra según pasa el tiempo. A pesar de todo eso, el metal ha sobrevivido cuatro décadas. Varios de los originadores del género se han mantenido fuertes: Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, y Iron Maiden, para nombrar sólo tres ejemplos sobresalientes. Pero estas bandas no son de metal extremo, y son gigantes que venden muchísimo, tanto de su música como en mercancía. Las bandas de metal extremo, especialmente aquellas laborando arduamente en escenas locales, no disfrutan de esas ventajas.

Organic, previamente conocidos como Organic Infest, es una banda cuyos orígenes se remontan al 1988. Su estilo es uno que mezcla las influencias del death, thrash, y doom metal, entre otros, lo cual resulta en música que le puede agradar a una gran variedad de oyentes. Combinan agresión con melodía, evitando así la monotonía de la que sufren muchas bandas de metal extremo hoy día. Aún cuando estás oyendo melodías, la música te está golpeando el cráneo sin misericordia alguna.

Ellos son de Puerto Rico, al igual que este servidor. Por lo tanto, yo he tenido experienca directa de la escena de la que ellos forman parte.  Además de ser una escena especialmente difícil, Organic ha tomado unas decisiones muy valientes. La principal de éstas fue su reciente decisión de seguir adelante sin guitarra en la banda, optando por utilizar dos bajos en su lugar. Recuerde que ésta es una banda de thrash/death metal, géneros en los cuales la guitarra se considera mayormente como el instrumento principal. El cantante y bajista José, mejor conocido como Chewy se equipó con un bajo piccolo, y añadieron un segundo bajista, Tony, para mantener el retumbo profundo del bajo regular (el baterista Juan complete el trío.) Esta decisión les trajo crítica y escepticismo, pero ellos siguieron adelante, tornando a la mayoría de los críticos y escépticos en creyentes cuando escucharon los sorprendentes resultados. Eso, amigos, conlleva cojones.

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  Fotos por Fran Jaume Photography, excepto la foto de Juan (baterista) por Tommy Galdy Photography

(Chewy contestó todas las preguntas, excepto donde se indique lo contrario.)

¿Qué fue lo que inspiró sus comienzos en la música?

Tony: Yo siempre he admirado el arte y he deseado expresarme a través de la misma. Después de tratar varios tipos de arte, la música se convirtió en mi favorita porque es la que me permite expresarme completamente. ¡La música no tiene límites!

Juan: Mi deseo de tocar la batería surgió cuando comencé a escuchar una estación de radio local (Alfa Rock) a mediados de los ochenta. Bandas como Rush, Saga, Triumph y otras de esa época.

Chewy: Yo crecí escuchando bandas como Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin y Judas Priest. Luego me adentré en la música de W.A.S.P., Iron Maiden y Savatage. Pero lo que me hizo decidir que quería tocar el bajo fue cuando descubrí mi banda favorita y mi mayor influencia:  ¡Coroner!

Cuéntame sobre los orígenes de la banda.

La banda comenzó en 1988 con el nombre Black Cross, y los integrantes eran Pedro (batería), Freddy (guitarra), y yo Chewy (bajo y voz) y era mayormente heavy metal. Ese mismo año cambiamos el nombre a Darkken y estábamos tocando canciones de D.R.I., Anthrax y S.O.D., porque esas eran las bandas que el guitarrista favorecía.

Nos mantuvimos así como hasta el 1990 cuando yo estaba escuchando bandas más pesadas como Possessed, Pestilence y Death, y el guitarrista se interesó en ese estilo y comenzamos a cambiar la dirección de la banda. El baterista (Pedro) se retiró de la banda porque a él no le gustaba ese estilo. A principios del 1991 conocimos a Juan el cual se unió a la banda. Luego cambiamos de nombre otra vez a Concealed Damage. Esto no duró mucho (solo una presentación) y entonces un día se me ocurrió el nombre Organic Infest, el cual le gustó a todos. Ese nombre se mantuvo hasta el 2005 cuando Freddy (guitarra) dejó el grupo. Entonces Juan y yo decidimos acortar el number a sólo Organic. Estuvimos sin guitarrista como por un año. En el 2006 adquirimos un gran guitarrista, Ed Díaz, pero solo duró un año. En el 2007 estábamos buscando un reemplazo, pero nos dimos por vencidos debido a la frustración constante con los guitarristas. A fines del 2007, Juan me dijo en un ensayo, “Mano, ponle distorsión al bajo y toquemos.” Comenzó como una broma, pero luego decidimos hacerlo. Comenzamos con la idea del bajo piccolo y añadimos un cantante (Junito) y Tony en el bajo, y tocamos así hasta el 2010 cuando Junito dejó la banda. Desde ese entonces estamos con los integrantes actuales.

¿Qué les dió la idea de eliminar la guitarra y utilizar dos bajos en su lugar?

La idea de los dos bajos vino como una solución a nuestros problemas y malas situaciones con los guitarristas. Queríamos tocar, y estábamos desesperados. Así que Juan me dio la idea y luego escuché a un bajista llamado Brian Bromberg, quien hace eso en uno de sus discos titulado Metal, y el tipo es simplemente asombroso. Así que me dije a mí mismo, si él puede hacer eso un estilo de rock/fusión, yo lo puedo hacer en metal. Así fue que nació la idea de usar el bajo piccolo.

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¿Este nuevo concepto tomó forma rápidamente, o hizo falta mucha experimentación?

Tomó mucha experimentación. Pasé por mucho para finalmente lograr el sonido que quería obtener del bajo piccolo. Muchas distorsiones, ajustes y ecualización. Pero ahora finalmente tengo el sonido que quería luego de experimentar por tanto tiempo. También tuve que hacer cambios en mi técnica de tocar en general, especialmente en las partes tocadas con “muting.”

¿El hecho de no tener guitarra impactó su método de escribir canciones?

Realmente, no. Yo siempre he compuesto música en el bajo, así que el proceso se mantuvo igual. Lo único que cambió es que ahora toco líneas soloísticas como un guitarrista lo haría normalmente.

Cómo reaccionaron sus seguidores y la escena en general a su nuevo nombre y alineación de integrantes?

Hubo gente que decía, “¿Freddy dejó la banda!? Ese será su fin.”  ¡Estaban tan equivocados! Creían que Freddy lo hacía todo y era el “cerebro” de la banda – de nuevo, estaban equivocados. Yo escribía todas las letras, nombré la banda, creé todo el concepto, escribía la mitad de la música, e incluso hacía los arreglos de algunas canciones escritas por él. Él era un buen guitarrista de death metal, y un buen amigo, pero no era el cerebro en la banda. La prueba está en el hecho de que ahora tenemos mejor música. Por supuesto, siempre están los fieles que se alegraron de vernos continuar y crecer como banda. Acerca del nombre, no creo que haya sido un gran salto, porque ya muchos se estaban refiriendo a la banda como Organic nada más. Era sólo algo que queríamos hacer, ya que nuestras letras no eran sangrientas como antes.

 

Algunos podrían decir que el nombre Organic, comparado con su nombre anterior Organic Infest, no suena muy metálico. ¿Que piensan al respecto?

“Organic” es todo lo que se relaciona a un organismo, seres vivientes, vida y muerte. ¿Que podría ser mas metálico que la vida y la muerte? Organic es un término que es muy amplio y nos permite escribir sobre cualquier tema. Mientras que el nombre Organic Infest sugiere un estilo más al estilo death metal con letras sangrientas, el nombre Organic nos provee más libertad en las letras y también en la música, la cual ahora mismo no es death metal, si no una mezcla de todas nuestras influencias, las cuales se extienden a todos los estilos dentro del género (power, thrash, death, black, doom, etc.) y son parte de nuestro estilo original.

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Tony – Bajo

¿Cuál es el proceso de composición en la banda, y como arreglan las partes de los bajos?

El proceso es diferente para cada canción, pero mayormente se trabaja en sesiones de “jammeo.” A veces escribo una letra completa con versos, coros, puentes, y también concibo el patrón vocal, y luego añadimos la música. A veces escribimos la música primero, las estructuras básicas y amoldamos todo hasta que todos estemos satisfechos, y luego añado la letra. Acerca de las partes del bajo, usualmente yo concibo las partes y luego Tony le da su propio toque y estilo. Con el bajo piccolo toco como si fuera una guitarra, porque esa es la función que desempeña en el contexto de la música.

¿Qué le dirian a alguien que se queje diciendo que su bajo piccolo suena igual que una guitarra, y que por qué entonces no utilizar una guitarra en vez de un bajo?

Bueno, hemos tenido tantos contratiempos tratando de mantener un guitarrista en la banda que decidimos hacer otra cosa. Además, yo no toco guitarra, yo soy bajista, siempre lo he sido, y siempre lo seré. Si hago que el piccolo suene como guitarra, pues esa era la intención – tener un sonido de guitarra sin seguir la tortura de conseguir un guitarrista. Además, algunos son puristas y nunca aceptarían lo que estamos haciendo, y a nosotros nos da lo mismo. A los innovadores siempre los han tratado como locos y muchas otras cosas hasta que otras personas comienzan a seguirlos. ¿No es así que el metal se convirtió en la gran música que es? Al principio la música extrema se consideraba que era solo ruido, y ahora muchos guitarristas, bajista y bateristas están siendo reconocidos como grandes músicos. Es sólo un proceso de adaptación. Lo más importante es que nos gusta lo que estamos haciendo, y cómo lo estamos haciendo. Ante los cambios que hicimos, muchos me dijeron, “Chewy, lo que estás haciendo es un gran error. No va a llegar a nada.” Esos son los mismos que ahora nos siguen, vienen a nuestras presentaciones y dicen, “Wow, lo que ustedes están haciendo es impresionante.”

Chewy, como desarrollaste tu sonido vocal?

Cuando yo empecé, todos los “gruñientes” sonaban diferente, era algo nuevo y tomé como influencia lo que me gustaba de cada uno. Vocalistas como Chris Barnes, Chuck Schuldiner, Frank Mullen, David Vincent, Glen Benton, John Tardy, etc., estaban gruñiendo pero sonaban diferente el uno del otro. Nunca me han gustado las modas, así que cuando los gruñidos era la orden del día yo hice lo opuesto utilizando un estilo vocal más agudo como en el black metal, y cuando ese estilo se puso de moda, volví a los gruñidos otra vez. Principalmente lo que hago es cantar como la parte de la canción lo exige. Es algo que hago a base de cómo se siente, al menos en las grabaciones porque en vivo yo uso varias voces diferentes ara darle textura y variedad a la música.

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Chewy – El gigante que toca el bajo pequeño!

Tú desempeñaste una muy buena voz limpia en la canción “The Deathwish.”  ¿Tienes planes de incorporar más de ese estilo, o va a ser solo “si la canción lo necesita?”

Quizás incorpore más voz limpia en el futuro, pero sólo en canciones que tengan esa onda. Como dijiste, “si la canción lo necesita.” Además de Coroner, que es mi mayor influencia, las otras dos son King Diamond y Candlemass, que utilizan voz limpia. Incorporar eso estaría bueno. ¡Un reto, pero bueno!

¿Cómo ha evolucionado la escena en Puerto Rico desde sus comienzos hasta el presente?

Chewy: La escena en Puerto Rico ha sido una muy diversa, controversial, y difícil. Ha habido tiempos de crecimiento, pero en otras ocasiones se estanca fuertemente. Cuando comenzamos 22 años atrás, era muy difícil grabar y promover la banda. Todo se hacía por correo y por intercambio de cintas de grabación. Ahora es todo más fácil para las bandas grabar y promover su música por la internet, y aún así veo muchas bandas quejándose. Ahora hay promotores que traen bandas internacionales y todo eo, pero para las bandas locales como nosotros es más difícil tocar porque casi no hay sitios disponibles para tocar.

Juan: Siento que aún con todo el tiempo que ha pasado nuestra escena no ha evolucionado mucho. A veces se siente como que estamos resbalando, quedándonos en el mismo sitio una y otra vez.

Tony: Estoy de acuerdo que nuestra escena podría ser mucho mejor de lo que es. Si hubiera más cooperación entre las bandas en vez de ser una competencia para ver quién es el mejor, nuestra escena sería una muy buena.

¿Qué planes futuros tiene Organic?

Organic está ahora más fuerte que nunca, muy enfocados, y muchas cosas buenas están por venir para la banda. Nueva música, nuevas grabaciones, y muchas otras cosas buenas para promover la banda y darle una oportunidad de escucharnos a los que no nos han escuchado.

¡Héctor, gracias por la entrevista y sigue tu excelente trabajo, hermano metal! Saludos!

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Perseverance and Fearlessness: Organic Stay Strong for Twenty Two Years and Counting

Posted in Bands, Interviews with tags , , on October 5, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Esta entrevista está disponible en español. Haga click aquí.

Being in an extreme metal band is never easy. You’re basically guaranteed a permanent ban from mainstream popularity, and keeping a band together basically just for the love of music is a daunting proposition. Even within the metal world, the public’s tastes waver from one direction to another over time.  Still, in spite of all that, heavy metal has survived for four decades. Several of the originators are still going strong: Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden, to give three shining examples. But they’re not extreme metal bands, and they’re giants with huge sales, not only of music, but also merchandise.  Extreme bands, and especially those toiling away in local circuits enjoy no such perks.

Organic, previously known as Organic Infest,  is a band whose origins date back to 1988. Their style combines the influences of death, thrash, and doom metal among others, which results in a sound that can easily appeal to a wide range of listeners. They combine aggression with melody, avoiding the monotony that plagues many an extreme band nowadays. Even as you’re hearing melodies your head is  being mercilessly bashed in.

They’re from Puerto Rico, just like yours truly. Therefore, I’ve had some first-hand experience within the scene of which they’re a part of.  On top of it being a particularly difficult scene, Organic has made some very brave choices. Chief among those was their recent decision to go on without a guitar player, opting instead for a two-bass lineup. Bear in mind that this is a thrash/death metal band, genres in which the guitar is, by and large, the most important instrument. Bassist and vocalist José, who is known simply as Chewy (pronounced “Cheh-wee”), switched to piccolo bass, and they added a second bassist, Tony, to keep the low end rumble going (drummer Juan completes the trio.)  They faced skepticism and criticism, but they forged on, and turned most skeptics into believers when they heard the amazing results. That, my friends, takes balls.

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All pictures by Fran Jaume Photography, except the picture of Juan (drummer) by Tommy Galdy Photography

(All answers by Chewy except when otherwise specified.)

What inspired each of you to get started in music?

Tony: I have always admired and wished to express myself through art. After trying different types of art, music became my favorite because it’s the one that allows me to express myself completely. Music has no limits!

Juan: My desire to play drums started when I began listening to a local radio station (Alpha Rock) in the mid eighties. Bands like Rush, Saga, Triumph, and the likes of that time.

Chewy:  I grew up listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest. Later I was very much into W.A.S.P, Iron Maiden, and Savatage. But when I really decided I wanted to play bass was when I discovered what became my all time favorite band and greatest influence, Coroner!

 Tell me about the origins of the band.

The band started in 1988 by the name of Black Cross with the lineup of Pedro (drums), Freddy (guitar) and me (bass and vocals) and it was mostly heavy metal. Later that same year we changed the name to Darkken and we were playing some originals and some D.R.I., Anthrax, and S.O.D. covers because that is what the guitar player was more into at that time. We were like that until the end of 1990 when I was listening to more heavy stuff like Possessed, Pestilence, and Death and got the guitar player influenced by that music, so we started to change the direction of the band and the drummer (Pedro) left because he was not into that stuff. At the beginning of 1991 the current guitar player (Freddy) and I met Juan and he started playing with us. We changed the name again to Concealed Damage which did not last long (only one gig) and I came up with the Organic Infest name one day at a rehearsal and we all liked it. That name stayed from 1991 – 2005 when Freddy left the band. Juan and I decided to shorten the name to Organic. We were without a guitar player for about a year, and in 2006 we had one great guitar player,Ed Diaz, but it only lasted a year. In 2007 we were looking for a replacement, but gave up due to constant disappointments with guitar players. By the end of 2007,  Juan said to me in a rehearsal, “Man, put some distortion on that bass and let’s just play”. It started as a joke, but later we decided to go for it. We started the piccolo bass thing, and added a singer (Junito) and Tony (bass) and played like that until 2010 when Junito decided to leave, and we have been with this current lineup since then.

 What gave you the idea of eschewing the guitar and using two basses instead?

The idea of the two basses came as a solution to our problems and bad situations with guitar players. We wanted to play, and we were desperate. So Juan (drums) gave me the idea and then I listened to a bass player named Brian Bromberg who does that in one of his albums entitled Metal and the guy is simply amazing. So then I said to myself…hey if he does that in a rock/fusion style, I can do that in metal, and that is when the piccolo idea was born.

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Juan: drums

 Did this new concept fall into place quickly, or did it take a lot of experimentation?

It took a lot of experimentation. I went through a lot to finally get the sound that I wanted out of the piccolo bass. Many different distortions, settings, and equalization. But now I finally have the sound that I wanted after experimenting for so long. Also, it took a lot of changes in my playing and technique in general, especially on the muted parts.

 Did not having a guitar impact your songwriting process?

Not really. I have always composed music on bass, so the process stayed the same. The only thing that changed is that now I play leads like a guitar player would normally do.

 How did your fans and the scene in general react to the band’s new lineup and name change?

There were people who were saying “Freddy left the band??? These guys are finished.”  Oh, they were all so wrong!!! They thought that Freddy did everything and was the “mastermind” – wrong again. I wrote all the lyrics, named the band, created the whole concept, wrote half the music , and even arranged some of the songs he composed. He was a good death metal guitar player and a good friend, but not the mind behind the band. The proof being that now we have even better music. Of course there was always the faithful ones who were really happy to watch us continue and grow as a band. About the name, I think it was not that much of a deal because many people were referring to the band as simply Organic. It was just a thing we wanted to do since our lyrics were not about gore anymore like in the past.

 Some might say that the name Organic, as contrasted with your previous name Organic Infest, doesn’t sound very metal. Thoughts?

Organic is all that relates to an organism, living entities, life and death. What could be more metal than life and death? Organic is a term that is very vast and lets us write about anything that we want. While the name Organic Infest would suggest a more death metal style with gore lyrics, the name Organic gives us more freedom for lyrics and also the music which right now is not death metal, but a mix of all our influences which extend to all the styles within the genre (power,thrash,death,black,doom etc.) and are part of our own original style.

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Tony: Bass

 What’s the songwriting process in the band, and how do you work out the bass parts?

The songwriting process is different for every song, but mostly works in jam sessions. Sometimes I write a full lyric with verses, choruses, bridges, and everything and I even know how I am going to sing them, and then we add the music. Sometimes we write the music first, all the basic structures, and we mold the whole thing until we are happy, and then I add the lyrics. About the bass parts, I usually create the parts and then Tony gives them his own touch and style. With the piccolo I just play it as if it was a guitar because that is the job it does in the music’s context.

 What would you say to someone who complains that your piccolo bass sounds just like a guitar, so why not use guitar instead?

Well, we had so many bad times with trying to get a guitar player that we decided to do what we are doing. Also, I don’t play guitar, I am a bass player, always have been, and always will be. If I got the piccolo to sound like a guitar that was the whole intention of it, to have a guitar sound without having to keep on torturing ourselves looking for a guitar player. Besides, some people tend to be purists and would never accept what we are doing , and that’s fine with us. Innovators have always been treated as crazy and many other things until other people start to follow. Isn’t that how metal became the great music it is? At first  extreme music was considered just noise, and now many drummers, guitar, and bass players are getting recognition as great musicians. It’s just a process of adaptation, but the most important thing is that we like what we are doing, and how we are doing it. Many people told me in the beginning, “Chewy, what  you are doing is a total mistake, it will go nowhere”   That’s the same people that follow us today and now come to our shows and say “Wow, what you guys are doing is awesome.”

 Chewy, how did you develop your vocal sound?

When I started, all the “growlers” sounded different, it was a fresh thing and I took as influence what I liked from each of them. Vocalists like Chris Barnes, Chuck Schuldiner, Frank Mullen, David Vincent, Glen Benton, John Tardy, etc. were growling but they all sounded different. I have never liked trends, so when growling was “in” I was using more screechy black metal-like vocals, then when the screechy black metal like vocals were “in” I did the opposite and started growling low again. Mainly what I would do is sing how the part of the song asks me to. It is more of a feel thing for me, at least on recordings because live I mix several different voices to give texture and variation.

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Chewy: The big man with the little bass!

 You did some really good clean vocals in the song “The Deathwish.” Any plans to incorporate more of that in the future, or is it going to be a “only if the song feels like it needs it” thing?

Maybe I will incorporate more cleans in the future, but only for songs that really have the feel for that. Just like you mentioned “if the song feels like it needs it.”  Besides Coroner, which is my main influence, the other two are King Diamond and Candlemass, which use clean vocals. So incorporating those would be nice.  Challenging, but nice!

 How has the heavy metal scene evolved in Puerto Rico from your beginnings until the present day?

Chewy:  The local Puerto Rico scene has been one very diverse, controversial, and a difficult one. There have been some times of growth, but some times of being stuck very bad. When we started 22 years ago it was very difficult to record something and to promote the band. All was done through mail and tape trading, now things are so easy for bands to record their music  and promotion through the internet, and yet I see so many bands complaining. Now there are some promoters here bringing international acts and everything, but for us local bands to play is very difficult because we almost have no places to play here.

Juan: I feel that even with all the time that has passed, our scene has not evolved very much. Sometimes it feels as if we were slipping, staying on the same place over and over.

Tony: I have to agree that our scene could be much better than it actually is. If there was more cooperation among bands instead of the competition that they have for who’s the best, our scene would be a great one.

 What lies ahead for Organic?

Organic is now stronger than ever, very focused, and many good things are coming for the band. New music, new recordings, and many other good things to promote the band and let those who haven’t listened to our music yet to have the chance to do so. Hector thanks for the interview and keep up the excellent work metal brother, Hails!!!

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Visit Organic on Facebook HERE

Watch some live performances HERE and HERE

The Hackish: Staying True To The Essence and Camaraderie of Heavy Metal

Posted in Bands, Florida (Local Artists) with tags , on June 26, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

I started my journey into heavy metal one fateful day in the late 1980’s, when a schoolmate made me a cassette copy of Metallica’s Master of Puppets.  I remember that moment like it was yesterday. To this day, that album remains one of my all-time favorites. But, I digress…

In those 25+ years, I’ve noticed a strange but welcome dichotomy: Heavy metal musicians and fans tend to be some of the nicest people you’ll meet, with relatively rare exceptions.  This dichotomy is even more pronounced in the more extreme forms of metal. If you watch a band like The Hackish perform, you might think that they’re pissed off psychos whom you should keep at a distance.  But nothing could be further from the truth. There are no traces of their menacing onstage presence in their offstage behavior.  Exploring the possible reasons behind such marked contrasts  is probably best left for a future article, though.

The fact that I’ve been a devoted music listener for over 25 years has turned me into a bit of a jaded prick, if you’ll excuse my language.  But when I cued up The Hackish, my ears perked up, and I noticed my head started banging. The purity and honesty of their unbridled brutality struck a chord with me. I got the impression that they were on a mission to deliver an undiluted barrage of uncompromising musical aggression. On their Facebook page, under ‘Description’, it says:

Sounds like a chainsaw demonstrating the birds and the bees through the back of an unsuspecting head.

Subtle they are not.

The Hackish formed in 2006 in North Port, Florida. They’ve gone through many line-up changes, even performing as a two-piece, utilizing programmed tracks to fill out their sound. Basically, core members Andrew and Sandy did whatever it took to keep the onslaught going. Taking time off to wait for the right people seemed out of the question. They had to keep going, no matter what.

You have to respect that.

The Hackish

Ben, Franklin, Andrew, Sandra. Bassist Adam not pictured. 

All five members took part in the interview: Andrew (guitar, vocals), Sandra (vocals), Adam (bass), Franklin (guitar), and Ben (drums).

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Tell me about the origins of The Hackish.

Andrew: The Hackish originally began in 2006, it was a one-man band. Pretty much gore/grind/death metal with distorted bass and subsonic vocals. Me and Sandra were in another band at the time – I won’t say its name, it’s a bad curse on everybody. That band fell by the wayside by 2008. So, I invited Sandy, and our other guitar player at the time to form what became The Hackish on the ruins of that other band. It was basically the same type of music, which I had written. So, I just brought it over to what The Hackish became.

We’ve had so many line-up changes. We were a five piece briefly in 2009, just for one show. After that pretty much everyone went away and formed another band. Me and Sandy carried on as a two piece with a drum machine. In 2010, Franklin contacted me through Facebook, asking if we’d consider adding another guitar player. I tossed it around for a little while, because we needed a drummer first. But, we agreed to add him, and he’s been around ever since. He’s been a great asset to the band, rounding up what we do.

We’ve auditioned so many drummers and bassists – Ben is the ninth in a year and a half. He’s been with us for about four months. And Adam’s been with us for about a month. Tonight was his first show.

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Can you elaborate on the meaning of the band’s name?

Sandra: What we do is a bunch of stuff, different kinds of music “hacked up” and put together. We don’t have a “type.” We’ve got grind, death metal…we speed it up, we slow it down.

Andrew: Yes, so it basically suggests a group of people “hacking things up.” I mean, death/grind is our base, and then we throw in a little bit of black metal, a bit of thrash, a little doom. Hell, we even got some punk/crust parts in there. So, all sorts, really, but with death/grind at its core.

Ben:  It’s a very tasty arrangement, in my opinion.

Sandra:  We’re different from everybody else.

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 Describe the songwriting process in the band.

Andrew: I write almost all of the music, then I show it to everyone else to see if they like it, and to see if it fits where we are at the moment. And then they learn it, and throw in their arrangements or ideas to it. Nothing ever gets ignored. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Even Ben wrote a song on guitar for us. We’re going to be trying that out in the near future.

That’s pretty versatile. 

Adam: Most of us play different instruments. I’m a guitar player that moved to bass.

Sandra:  I used to be a drummer, and I can play bass a little bit.

Andrew:  Everyone in this band can play drums!

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Sandra, what led you down the path of becoming this dynamo of vocal brutality?

Sandra: I’ve never heard that come out of anybody’s mouth!

I didn’t think I could do it in the first place, but Andrew kept saying I could do it. He heard me sing along at shows and whatnot.

It was hard to do at first, you have to crack your voice. But, once I got into it, it got better and better. I love it, I can’t get enough of it. It’s like a drug for me. And I love getting in there, mixed in with the crowd. It sounds funny, but I don’t like to be onstage. I like to be on the floor with the guys, getting violent, pushing around. It pumps everything up.

 Do you have any specific vocalists that inspired you or influenced you the most?

Sandra:  Let’s see…Chris Barnes [original vocalist for Cannibal Corpse and then Six Feet Under]. I love Coby, the vocalist in [local band] Contorted. I also love Brian Johnson from  Swamp Gas [another local band].

I’m trying to go as deep as I can go. I wanna be different. I don’t want to be the girl that’s out there doing screams and high vocals and stuff like that. I’m down there with everybody else.

Something that I want to stress is that we are a band. I don’t like it when they put a girl in the front and she’s the center of attention. I can’t do anything without these guys. They’re the heartbeat of this band, I’m just standing there. I want these guys to be noticed more than anything.

What specific things did you do to develop your vocal tone and power?

Lots of practice, stretching the vocal cords. Also, I’m an herbalist, so I drink a lot of tea. I always have two bottles of tea with me on the shows, and it’s all herbal stuff. Tastes like hell, but it works. [laughs]

It’s the years of stretching, it’s a process that started in 2008. I’m still not where I want to be.

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Are there plans of  releasing a full-length album, physical copies and all at some point?

Andrew:  Absolutely. We’re going to start tracking drums very soon. We did some test runs, and it started sounding good out of the box. When we sit down seriously, and start putting the songs down, it’s going to be magic.

Ben:  We did a five minute rough mix, and it sounded great. I’m very happy and excited.

How many songs do you have basically ready to go?

Andrew: It’s about thirteen or fourteen. All originals, no covers on this one.

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Have any of you played in a non-metal band before?

Ben:  I played in a reggae band up north in Rhode Island, called Jah Fist. It was originally going to be a reggae/metal band, but it ended up being just three guys getting insanely stoned and just playing reggae. [Laughs] It was nice.

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What’s the most non-metal music you listen to?

Adam:  I listen to a lot of classical music.

Sandra:  I listen to “massage” music, that shit puts me in Zen mode.

Ben:  My girlfriend listens to different things that I kind of get into, like Florence + The Machine, it’s a girl-fronted band.   I like Muse, too.

Andrew:  I like smooth jazz. Me and Sandy could easily find ourselves at the Clearwater Jazz Fest, just chilling out. I like a little bit of 80’s New Wave.

Franklin, say something, man!

Franklin:  I listen to all kinds of music. I listen to grind, death metal and all that stuff that we all listen to. But, I also listen to 70’s music from Sweden and Germany. I also like obscure proggressive music, and electronic music from the 70’s.

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What are your long-term plans?

Andrew:  Touring, lots of touring. As a three-piece – Sandy, me, and Franklin – we did a small midwest tour last year. From Chicago to Baltimore.

We were supposed to go on a two-week tour from Texas to Massachusetts this year. Unfortunately, the booking company – which I should say bad things about, but for the sake of the interview I won’t – they screwed us over. They left us hanging. So, now we’re focusing on getting the full-length CD done.

We’re getting some killer shows, though. We played with Krisiun, and before that with Fuck The Facts. Tonight we played with Brutality, and we’ll be playing with Cattle Decapitation soon. Also with a lot of good local bands that we’re friends with.

So, when the tour happens, we’ll be ready on all fronts.

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Tell me about your lyrics. Who writes them, and what subjects do you like to tackle?

Sandra:  I write them. Andrew writes some, but it’s mostly me.

Andrew:  She writes about 95% of the lyrics. Sometimes I’ll just come up with little eight-liners. Of course, that’s your typical death/grind in-and-out, boom – done.

Sandra:  I overwrite a lot. It’s kinda hard when you’re trying to spit them out fast, so I redo them sometimes. Most of what I write is nasty, horrible subject matter. [Laughs]  The last one I wrote, you’d think I’m psycho.

Andrew:  Yeah, she does a lot of sociopath, gore-type stuff.

Sandra: I watch Court TV and get ideas from that. Also, the ID Channel, with all that stuff about killers and such. He [Andrew] also watches it to make sure I don’t bring a knife in the bedroom. [Laughs]

I think we’re straying a bit into personal territory…

Andrew:  Well, we’re talking about lyrics!

I always have a certain theme in mind. An anti-this, or anti-that. I’m pissed about something, there it is, done.

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What are your thoughts on the local metal scene?

Andrew:  Sad.  [Silence]

That’s it?

Andrew: [Pouting mockingly] Sad Panda. No magic bananas for the little bears.

Sandra:  It’s bad, because it’s not true metal anymore. It’s “clique-y.”

You get these bands coming in with a huge attitude, and they think they’re the best thing next to God. They come in with their friends, play their set, and leave with their friends. They don’t have a sense of camaraderie. They think they’re superstars, and they play and leave. They’re very smug, and that’s not how it should be.  This was the death metal capital, and it’s being taken over by little smug kids. What they do musically, is fine. I’m not putting that down.

I mean, tonight we had a band that’s been around for twenty-something years, basically starting death metal. And some of them left already [headliner Brutality’s set had not started at this time yet].  And, you have to give them some respect. We couldn’t believe we got on this show, and we’re very thankful for it.

Check out The Hackish online:

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More importantly, get some of their merch! IT’S CHEAP! Click >HERE<

The Singing Bass: Lloyd Goldstein’s Path of Self-Improvement And Service

Posted in Bass players, Florida (Local Artists) with tags , , on April 24, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

I first met Mr. Lloyd Goldstein at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa about five years ago.  Every so often, the church has what they call a “Music Sunday,” in which the service basically becomes an open mic for all those musically inclined to stand up and perform. At one of these, I performed an original song of mine, death metal growling vocals and all. Mr. Goldstein had performed a beautiful piece on his upright bass minutes earlier, and he was sitting a couple of feet from me in the front row. Performing my crazy stuff in front of such an educated, advanced musician made me nervous. I fully expected him to strongly dislike my song, to put it nicely. To my surprise, he sought me out afterwards to offer unsolicited compliments about my performance.

That’s the kind of person he is.

He’s extremely open-minded, extremely kind, extremely giving, and extremely supportive.  Extremes  can often be a negative, but when it comes to those attributes, the more the better, right?

But there’s a quality that he seems to have maybe a little too much of: humility. After watching him perform several times, and listening to Singing Tree: Folk Music With a Classical Twist (the fantastic album he made with hammered dulcimer player Ray Belanger), I was a bit shocked at certain things he said during the interview. For example, when asked if he’s doing other projects, he replied that he never felt he had the skills to join any other projects. He also referred to his joining the Florida Orchestra as a “miracle or a semi-fluke.”  My jaw felt like dropping, but I think I managed to avoid that. Here is a musician who performs with grace and fluidity, gets a glowing, rich sound that very few ever manage to coax out of their instruments, and he’s taking the time to point out everything that’s wrong about his playing. Too humble? I’d say so.

Lloyd has been volunteering at The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa since 2005, offering the gift of music to all those who could certainly use it to uplift their spirits, and/or take their minds away from their difficult situation.  He played in The Florida Orchestra for 21 years,  in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony, and has taught at the University of Tampa. He’s also an avid practitioner of yoga, and has published a book of meditations called Inside Yoga: The Gift of Practice.

I sat down with Lloyd at a nice little coffee shop in Tampa. He speaks in a very calm tone, but I could feel the simmering passion underneath. The fact that his answers were often very extensive, digressing as he felt necessary to clarify certain details,  also made it clear that he’s immersed in a journey of constant self-improvement, both as a person, and as a musician.

His bass playing is somewhat like the way he speaks. It doesn’t jump at you. It merely offers itself gently, but those who listen closely can feel the burning passion that permeates it.

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How did you get  started in music?

I was in the third grade, when one day they brought in stringed instruments into the classroom, and right away I was interested in the bass for some reason.  I don’t really know why.

I had half-hour lessons with the violin teacher in the school starting in third grade, up until fifth grade. I played all through school. She didn’t really know how to play the bass. And unfortunately, from then until the age of 20 I never owned a bass or had any lessons. It was just kind of about being around music and the orchestra. The love of it seeped in, but at the age of 20 I had to start from scratch.

What did you do then?

I had kind of a “burning bush” experience. I had not been playing for a couple of years, and I had dropped out of college. I was living in a cooperative community for a few months. One day I cut my finger on a table saw. In that moment, I literally heard a voice saying, “you idiot, you’ll never play the bass again.” It was the only time in my life that I’d heard a voice inside that was so…definitive.

I immediately called my father (we’d been estranged for a while), and I told him I wanted to seriously pursue the study of the string bass. He said, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you put one foot in front of the other and walk  straight.”

That was really the true beginning of music for me.

How did the idea and concept of Singing Tree come about?

I met Ray at the Moffitt Cancer Center. I had been working there for a while, as had he. Someone there said, “You guys should try playing together.” So, we said, “ok.” Then we stumbled our way through a song. Everyone realized that it was a really unique sound, something very special. We decided, basically on the spot, to start getting together to work on music. I always knew that, in addition to doing my solo work, I wanted to do a collaboration with somebody. Not a big band – either a duo, or a trio. And that was the answer. It’s been six years now.

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What’s the song selection process like?

Many of the song selections come from Ray. He has a long history in the folk music world. There’s a huge repertoire of songs that he’s played over the years. He brings a lot of that folk history to the table, and I bring my classical background.  So, a lot of the arranging ideas come from my quarter.

We’ve done three of my original compositions. In creating more and more repertoire for myself at Moffitt, I sometimes come across interesting choices. I want to do “This Little Light of Mine” with Ray, which is a bit of a departure. I also want to do the prelude to Bach’s first cello suite, and I want to write an accompaniment for Ray.

Do you have plans to engage in other musical projects aside from Singing Tree?

I never felt that I had the skills to jump into projects. There’s people out there involved in ten different projects and such. Each of our arrangements takes about six to eight weeks of weekly practice. First of all, to come up with the arrangement, and then to teach it to each other, etc., to refine it to the point where we can perform it.  There’s a lot of time invested in this, so I don’t generally venture into other things. We always have several songs lined up to work on. And then, I’m always working on new repertoire for Moffitt, which is my main job, playing solo arrangements. And those are a lot of work, and you always need more of them.

So, the answer is probably not. [Laughs] At least not in the immediate future. But, as my skills grow – especially my improvisational skills – then I might feel more comfortable branching out.

But, there is one project that I was asked to participate to which I said yes. There’s a gentleman that has been named the best mountain dulcimer player in the world. He asked me to participate in his upcoming solo CD.  That’s the one project that I’m going to bend over backwards to be a part of, if he follows through on his offer.

Describe your listening preferences.

My favorite listening experience is NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. It’s a series of concerts recorded at NPR studios with just one microphone – very up-close and personal. There’s a concert with [cellist] Yo Yo Ma, [double bassist] Edgar Meyer, [mandolinist] Chris Thile, and [violinist] Stuart Duncan. They made a CD called The Goat Rodeo Sessions.  It’s just kick-ass, acoustic, virtuoso, crossover, folk, jazzy…all these things woven together. That’s really been my biggest inspiration as of late.

For a while after I left the orchestra, I didn’t listen to a lot of classical music. But recently, I’ve begun to listen to the local classical music station. It’s so refreshing to hear a good orchestral recording. I go to see the Florida Orchestra occasionally. That music is extraordinary. I really think that most of my ideas and the way I feel about music were molded by that music. So, now I revisit it often.

But, to be honest with you, I’m open to almost anything if it’s good. Like Duke Ellington famously said: “There’s only two kinds of music: good and bad.”  Anyone who’s being creative and honest. Even if it’s very basic, but if it comes from the heart, then I enjoy it.

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Lloyd bass

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Walk me through the path that led you to the Moffitt Cancer Center.

It wasn’t quite the “burning bush” experience that I mentioned earlier with the bass. But, it was similar.  Yoga practice was a big thing for me around the same time that I started re-doing my bass technique based on François Rabbath’s,  which was around 14 years ago.  I credit yoga practice with giving me the openness and freedom to make those changes, without letting myself get in the way.  As any experienced musician will tell you, you have to be willing to not be good and make mistakes for a while. And yoga enabled me to remain present enough to do that.

The idea to go to Moffit came out of the meditations I’d do at the end of each yoga practice. I would listen inside for some kind of message from myself to myself. I kept hearing “go do some volunteer work” for over a year. I finally listened to it, and Moffit seemed like a great choice. So, I went over, and I was told I’d be allowed to play in lobbies and waiting rooms, but not at the bedside of patients unless I was certified. I was surprised to hear that there even was a program called “Arts in Medicine” there.

So, I decided to get my feet wet and started playing in the areas they allowed me to. But, eventually I decided to look into the training, which I completed.  One thing led to another, and now I’m actually a staff member there.

It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and I feel blessed to be there. It’s the most inspiring thing.

Could you explain what a certified music practitioner is?

That’s a term that was coined by a particular organization, which was trying to create a training program so that people could do more consistent, appropriate work in hospitals, but not as a music therapist. With music therapy, the practitioner is actually trying to elicit certain responses and outcomes from a patient.

What I do is much less specialized, and it has no expectations of clinical outcomes.  I just offer the gift of appropriate music to a person who is in a challenging situation. Working at a cancer facility, just a cancer diagnosis can cause a tremendous amount of stress. The music that we offer can provide a few moments of relaxation or distraction. Maybe a connection to the outside world which they might’ve lost, or just remembering times that they’ve had in the past.

Music has a powerful effect on a person’s entire mind, body, and spirit. The big deal about being a music practitioner is knowing how to choose appropriate music in the moment to have it be a gift, rather than an invasion of a person’s experience. We’re trained to allow the recipient of the music to be always in control of the situation. They can always say “no” at any time. It’s all about serving them. That’s the big difference it has with a performance on stage – you’re providing a service first and foremost. You’re offering a gift, and hopefully that becomes a bridge to that person having some sort of release from what’s bothering them.

When I play for someone, and I see them with a frown, and then I look up and their eyes are sparkling, they’re forgetting where they are and enjoying it – that’s huge.

Tell us what it was like to study with celebrated bassist and educator François Rabbath.

He’s a very kind man, and not elitist at all. He never discounts anyone. I was not gifted. I was just a moderately talented person. When I first played for him, I played a Vivaldi sonata. And he said, “Well, you have some music in you, but it’s not coming out because you must change…” and then he listed a few things I needed to change. And that was all he said to me, and then moved on to the next person.

When I saw him play at that first workshop, I couldn’t believe it. It was the way I dreamed the bass could be played, but I’d never heard it played that way. And I had to have that. So, I started bothering him, and all the other teachers there. I spent a whole year after that trying to achieve that sound, but I didn’t have a lot of guidance. So then I went back the second year, and I bothered him. He suggested a couple of adjustments, and said, “try that.” But I kept pulling at his coattails, and he said, “I can’t give you the time that you need here. If you want this, you have to come to Paris.”

So, I did. I went five times, two weeks each time to get lessons with him. After the fifth year, he said, “Don’t come back. You have enough to work on. By the way, go get your wife pregnant, because there’s more to life than playing the bass.” At first, I was disappointed, but then I saw him again that summer in Washington, D.C. at a workshop. I was doing performances which included yoga, recitation, and playing some of my own pieces on bass. Rabbath was in the front row, and afterwards, he said, “You see! You played for one hour! I cut, and you grow!” He took credit for cutting me off and making me think for myself. He’s been really supportive ever since. He’s been very interested in my work at Moffitt.

I got one of the biggest thrills of my life this past winter. I called him on the phone – which I’d never done – and I told him I had performed one of his pieces at Moffitt. I told him I had played it a little differently because the patient was very physically uncomfortable. I explained to him what I did with the piece, and he said, “That’s great, you’re putting the color on it” – la palette sonore he called it. Then he said, “By the way, have I given you your diploma yet?” And I said, “No, I never thought I’d get one of those in this lifetime.”  The people that get these diplomas are the big names, the ones that are a big deal in the music world. So, my wife and I went to Paris, and I received my performance diploma, and my teaching diploma.

When he saw me and Ray perform a while ago,  he said to me, “You must keep him.”

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Lloyd and Ray Warming Up at the Springs

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Aside from Rabbath, who are your other major musical inspirations?

Lucas Drew was my main teacher in college. He’s a wonderful musician, and a sweet person. He was the right person for me, because I wasn’t a quick study, and he was very patient and supportive. He was very musical, and he’d share that musicality with me.

He wasn’t spoon-feeding me technique. He allowed each person to play whatever came naturally to them.

When I got my Bachelor’s, Lucas knew I wasn’t ready to survive. So, he came up with an apprenticeship for me, and kept me for a master’s degree. Right at the end of that is when I was able to get into the [Florida] Orchestra. I consider that kind of a miracle or semi-fluke.

There were two other teachers earlier that were both extraordinary. Mik Groninger was a maniac, a wild man. He was teaching at a community college, and I was his only bass student. He was such a virtuoso. The first thing he told me was, “There’s no excuse for faulty intonation.”

Then there was Vince Cantorski. He was the next step. I got a scholarship to FIU (Florida International University), so I went. He helped me get a job in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony, which helped me to quit my job as a security guard.  I used to practice all the time, on the job. I was a terrible security guard.

Each of these people were hugely influential and encouraging to me.

Has your study and practice of yoga influenced your musical self in practical ways? If so, how?

Yoga connects you with more of who you are. A lot of the time, we’re using small parts of ourselves, and often in a disconnected fashion. Yoga means integration. We forget that we have deeper sensibilities, and that it’s all connected. When you do yoga on a regular basis, you’re using more of your faculties, more fully. So, you’re able to be more focused, more open. All these things are huge assets in making music. Because of that openness and integration, I was able to improve my technique following Rabbath’s method. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do so if it wasn’t for yoga.

I still meditate before each concert, trying to be really present. I’ve slacked off on it a little in recent years. But, I can feel myself getting older at the age of 56. I can feel the limitations in range of motion when I don’t keep up with my yoga practice.

You have such a full, rich sound on the bass. Have you had any musical/technical epiphanies that have helped you achieve that sound?

Part of it is the instrument, I have to give credit to it. It’s never stood in my way or let me down. It has a beautiful, rich, multi-layered sound. I also have been fortunate to acquire a really good bow. I think I’ve been spoiled by this instrument.

I’ve put so much emphasis in sound production, it’s been a constant exploration for me. Rabbath calls it “tone research.” A day doesn’t go by in which I don’t do some sort of tone research. Evaluating what’s happening with my sound in all aspects, etc.

I’ve had to place more emphasis on my left hand recently. Rabbath placed emphasis on the bow, so I focused on the right hand. I still feel like I have light years to go with my left hand technique.

But that thought would never cross the mind of anyone who ever watched Lloyd Goldstein play live or listened to him on the Singing Tree album. 

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Visit http://singingtreeduo.com  and http://lloydgoldstein.com  for more information, and to buy the album! I highly recommend it, to say the least.

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Review of ‘Imaginary Images’ EP by Contacting Nebulas

Posted in Florida (Local Artists), Reviews with tags on February 15, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

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Contacting Nebulas is a band from Daytona Beach, Florida.  They formed in late 2010,  and their EP Imaginary Images was released in March of 2012 (since the EP has been out for so long,  feel free to consider this more of an introduction to the band than a proper review). In such a short time, they have undoubtedly arrived at a style all their own.  Their bio says that they plan on “changing people’s opinions on genres and musical prejudice. Expanding our horizons and being open to new concepts is the only way to progress modern music.”  Listening to their debut release, one can’t help but agree completely.

Imaginary Images only has three songs, but by the time you get to the lone cymbal crash that closes the last track, you might find yourself exhausted. In a good way, of course.  Think “runner’s high” and you’ll be in the ballpark.

The music of Contacting Nebulas is anything but predictable. Their songs go through a myriad of changes – from blast beats, to chugging grooves, to layered contrapuntal parts.  Opener “Illustrating Illusions” starts out with a snare pop, then a spacey melody played on the synth,  while the rest of the band builds underneath. There’s almost always a melodic element going on in the guitars, even on the most brutal interludes. On the song “Meteor Swarm” there are blast beats that pause on a dime to allow melodic guitar licks to shine through.  “Gravitic Warp” opens with blast beats, and later on treats us to some off-kilter rhythms that sound like the bastard child of Voivod and King Crimson.

The band is currently hard at work on their full-length album, which I was told will be “bigger and better in every way, shape, and form.”

That was enough to make me shudder in anticipation.

Contacting Nebulas

Visit Contacting Nebulas on the web:

https://www.facebook.com/contactingnebulas

http://contactingnebulas.bandcamp.com

Naysayers Be Gone! We Want To Hear The Clatter of Molds Being Broken!

Posted in Bands, Bass players, Interviews with tags , , on January 27, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

“You can’t play rock without guitar!” The members of Clatter have heard that probably more times than they care to count. It’s unfortunate that in the world of music there appears to be so much resistance to new ideas sometimes.
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Clatter is a duo from Lone Elm, Missouri comprised of bassist and singer Amy Humphrey, and her drumming husband Joe Hayes.  But, that wasn’t always the case. They started out as a band called Clatter Bean in the mid 1990’s, which was a quartet. The singer left, and they started performing as a trio, shortening the band’s name to Clatter.  And then, the guitarist split. The idea of forging ahead as a bass/drums duo then entered the picture.  With  encouragement from Joe, a somewhat hesitant Amy finally agreed to be the sole melodic/harmonic element in the band. And so began the quest to make the bass stand on its own in a rock context.
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They have encountered many naysayers (not surprisingly, many of them guitarists) which have told them that you just can’t do rock music without guitar, or at least a keyboard. One would think that, since music is an art form, musicians would be more open to experimentation, to breaking those overused pre-determined molds. After all, if you take even a casual look at the major developments in the history of music, you will find that most are the result of composers and musicians challenging the so-called “rules.”
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Their latest album, Garden of Whatever,  consolidates the path laid out by their previous two releases.  Full-bodied and hard rocking bass grooves, Amy’s sweet-toned voice delivering empowering lyrics, and Joe’s dexterous and seemingly inexhaustibly creative drumming make for quite a unique listening experience. If you go through the whole album and your only thought is  “it needs guitar,” then you’re quite simply missing the point, and missing out on the Clatter experience.
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The band’s a duo, and they’re a married couple. So, even though I’ve had some brilliant ideas in my lifetime, deciding to interview both Amy and Joe is not one of them.  It was simply an obvious choice.
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Joe and Amy from Clatter

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What did the name ‘Clatter Bean’ mean, and why did you drop the second half of the name?

AMY: When we lived in Seattle, I played bass in an all-female band. We were in that phase of band evolution where we had to decide what to call ourselves. One day, Joe and I were driving somewhere and the name “Clatter” just fell out of the sky into my brain (incidentally, this is how a lot of my lyric writing happens). As a linguist, I loved the way the word felt when it was spoken, and that it conjured up a great sonic image. My bandmates, however, thought the name needed a little something extra, so they chose to add the “Bean” part. I can’t really recall the reasoning behind it; I suppose it added a certain quirkiness that reflected the personality of the band. Eventually Joe became the drummer, and when we parted ways with the other two band members, we decided to lose the “Bean” as well.

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What gave you the idea of playing as a duo? And once that idea entered your mind, was it ever scary for you guys to contemplate that uniquely different path that lay before you?

AMY: It was terrifying. For me, anyway. Once we moved to rural Missouri from Seattle, we found a fabulous local guitar player and continued on as Clatter. Eventually he moved on and we were left with just the two of us. Miles from anywhere. Joe proposed that we give it a go as a two-piece; he had tried for ages to get me to play through a guitar rig just to hear what it sounded like. It took a lot of encouragement and arm-twisting by Joe to convince me that I could shoulder the melodic portion of the band single-handedly. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the bass could stand alone as the only melodic instrument in a band, it was that I didn’t have faith enough in my own playing and songwriting that I thought I could pull it off. Once we finally took that leap, though, I realized how fun and freeing it was to be able to play anything I wanted – and as much as I wanted – without stepping on anyone else’s toes. And Joe is such an amazing drummer and has such a melodic approach to the drums that it’s like having another stringed instrument in the band. We decided to record an album (Blinded by Vision) just for our own gratification; we were shocked when so many people embraced it, especially bass players! That gave us the courage to continue.

JOE: When we played with guitar players, often times they would want to double Amy’s parts, because they were so cool. So I thought “Hey, if we just run the bass through a guitar cab we’ll sound like a three piece.”

I never found the path to two piecedom to be very scary, I thought it was exciting. After parting ways with our last bandmate, we felt it was time to forge ahead with just the two of us. It can be really difficult to find musicians who have the same vision as you do. Amy and I are in sync, and maybe even more so than other bandmates we’ve ever had because we’re married. We complement each other on so many levels, and that naturally flows into the interaction of the bass and drums. We are a unified section. So I figured that we should just forge ahead as a two piece, and that would create more harmony in the band.  Of course, it seems that everyone we told about the project said you can’t have a band with just bass and drums, you need guitar or keyboard. This happened repeatedly until we started to believe what we were being told. So we spent a lot of time working with a keyboard and sequencing layered melody lines, which ultimately relegated us to the role of being the “rhythm section,” much more so than any band we’d been in, which was the antithesis of what we had intended. I think that experience was necessary to help us forge ahead to create the sound we had in our collective heads, and not listen to what anyone else thought. And that’s why the first album is called “Blinded By Vision.” We stopped listening to what other people thought and pursued our idea relentlessly – including walking out of two studios and firing a grammy-winning producer, who wanted to layer in a bunch of sequencer stuff because we didn’t have a guitarist. Hell yeah, we were driven by pure idealism, and Amy almost clocked a guy…that was a sight I shan’t forget. Driving away from that experience we realized that we were blinded by our own vision, and others were blinded from seeing it. It also meant that people couldn’t grasp the concept of what we had in mind. It was all we could see, and they couldn’t see it at all.

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Amy

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Amy, here’s a quote by you: “Because that’s what it’s all about–trying to show that the bass can stand on its own as an instrument.” How strongly does that ‘mission statement’ of sorts figure in your musical endeavors?

AMY: As I mentioned before, I never doubted that the bass could stand alone as the primary focus in a rock band. Having grown up listening to a lot of bands with busy bass lines, especially in the New Wave era, I have always felt that the bass guitar is one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments. I thought it would be so cool to really let that beauty shine in a setting where it is usually relegated to the background: hard rock. Once I finally committed to the two-piece band idea, I knew I had a big responsibility to demonstrate that the bass guitar can stand on its own. I tried to think of ways to showcase the unique and powerful sound of the bass, to magnify and diversify its tonal qualities and blend these together for a full, cohesive sound. Multiple amps, effects units, playing styles…all these combined to help establish the bass as a melodic instrument in its own right and to try to fill in the space normally occupied by other band members. Of course, what I do is just a tiny example of what is possible, and my “mission statement” would probably include not only my efforts to show the versatility of the bass, but even more, to encourage and inspire other bassists to explore all the possibilities of our amazing instrument and to have the intrepidity to try something completely new and different. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a supportive, encouraging bandmate!

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Can you tell us about the worst naysayer you ever had insisting that you couldn’t play rock without guitar? How did you handle it?

JOE: There have been comments from guitarists and drummers who think in terms of traditional roles for instruments: bass and drums are rhythm instruments to be in the background. We seem to appeal to more adventurous souls. We know it’s not for everyone, and really don’t get bothered by that attitude. Heck, we made the first album just to do it. We didn’t have any idea if people would like it.

AMY: I never really know quite how to respond to people when they say things like that. There doesn’t seem much point in trying to convince someone to “get” what you’re doing; either it will resonate with them or it won’t. Most of the time I think I just smile politely and back away.

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Joe, do you ever hum out or actually play bass riffs as suggestions for Amy to use in the songs?

JOE: I used to do that in the long, long ago, in the before times when the world was a dark place full of guitars and crazy bandmates. But after the purgatory of the sequencer years, when Amy plugged into a mighty distorted cabinet and found her new voice as THE stringed instrument in the band, I’ve had one “bass line” idea, and that’s the synth stuff I play on the song Powerful, which I never intended to be a part for Amy to play. Anytime Amy noodles on her bass I think it’s a new song idea. She comes up with the coolest stuff.

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Amy, do you ever alter a bass part or a vocal melody in order to be able to perform them both simultaneously?

AMY: I haven’t done so knowingly. I usually don’t have much trouble singing and playing at the same time. If there is a phrase I have trouble with, I will just practice it until I can play and sing both parts properly. I’ve never actually tried to simultaneously sing and play “Trance” from the new album; I think that one could be pretty tricky!

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Amy and Joe live

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On the band bio it says that you worked a lot on your singing. Could you elaborate on that?

AMY: I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer; I’ve always been a bassist first and a singer by default. What’s funny about that is I’ve had a lot of vocal training and zero bass training. My vocal background, though, is more choral and technical, and I have come to realize that that has hindered me as a pop/rock singer. Until recently, I always focused on the technical aspects as I was singing: pitch, vibrato, tone, breath support, etc. I knew I was singing “correctly,” and yet I was constantly criticized for the way I sing, and I found it very frustrating.

I have a fantastic vocal coach out of Boston who explained that when it comes time to record or perform, all those technical nuances need to happen automatically, without thought; the focus needs to be on the meaning of the words, the intention of the song; little mistakes or imperfections are important clues to the listener that the singing is genuine and heart-felt. As self-evident as that may seem, it was a big revelation to me. So when I say I worked on my singing, in some ways, I worked at not working on my singing. As I was recording the vocals for Garden of Whatever I tried to let go of years of constant scrutinizing and analyzing and just put everything into the emotion of the lyric. Listening back, I’m really happy with my progress and am looking forward to continuing to improve that aspect of my musicality.

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On your website, you only list two influences: Rush and Duran Duran. I have a hard time believing there’s only two! Care to share a few more of your influences?

JOE: I have a background of listening to some proggy stuff, metal and some punk. Amy listened to lots of heavy rhythmic pop, alternative / underground and punk. The first summer we were dating, Amy took me to see DOA and I took her to see Iron Maiden. We had a blast at both shows, and became mutual fans immediately. We still rip into “Killers” by Iron Maiden once in a while in the studio. Our latest mutual influence would definitely be Mastodon, with their amazing combination of heavy and melodic. Their new album The Hunter has great harmonies and the coolest grooves. When we put those influences together we get Clatter.

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On your latest album, I’ve noticed more vocal and bass overdubs, and perhaps for the first time some additional sounds beyond those made by bass, drums, or voice. The songs “Strawberry Park,” “At the Gates of…” and “Trance” come to mind, among others. How did these come about, and how do you plan on recreating that live?

AMY: As far as vocal harmonies go, I probably did as much on this album as on the other two; I have absolutely no restraint when it comes to layering harmonies! The extra vocal parts are the one thing that we fly in for our live performances, since Joe doesn’t sing and probably wouldn’t want to tackle something in my range anyway. Since we play to a click track live, we’re able to trigger anything we want, but most of the time it’s just background vocals.

There are only three songs that had bass overdubs: the little ska-like bit at the beginning and middle of “Tree of Secrets”; the outro in “Glowing”; and the middle and end of “Downstream”.  If we were to play “Tree of Secrets” or “Glowing” live, I’d just not worry about recreating those additional parts. The extra parts on “Downstream” were actually written with the looper in mind so that I could play one phrase, loop it, then play the other phrases over the top. The rest of the bass on the album was recorded as one take. If given half a chance, I would go crazy in the recording process layering all manner of bass parts on the songs, but my goal has always been to only record what I could recreate live.

JOE: The songsStrawberry Park,” Powerful” andTrance” all feature melodic parts played on my Roland SPD 20 Electronic Percussion Pad. I’d been messing around attempting to play melody lines on the percussion pad while also playing a drum beat on the acoustic set, and these song ideas just started popping out. I wrote the gist of those parts spontaneously as I was banging around on my drums. I run the signal through a Boss Distortion pedal to give the parts some bite. Sonically it reminds me of what Keane do with their electric piano.

I recorded the electronic parts for “Powerful” and “Trance” live with the drum set. For “Strawberry Park,”  I recorded the drum set first, then layered the electronics as an overdub. Ironically, Strawberry Park”  is the only one of those song we’ve played live so far. It’s actually very natural to play, with the exception of the first half of the bridge, which took me weeks to get together. It was a fun challenge! Plus, it’s cool to play the bass part on parts of Powerful,”  while Amy plays chords on one of her Waterstone twelve-string basses.

“At The Gates Of…” features one of our mixers, Rich Veltrop, playing a Roland SH-101. I thought it would be fun to have some kind of vintage synth sounds on that song, kind of an homage to 70’s prog music, and Rich went nuts with it. I sent him a breakdown of the song sections, as I see them, and he did a fantastic job of interpretation. I think it came out perfectly.

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Amy2

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The song “At the Gates of…” is an instrumental. Would you ever do an entirely instrumental album?

JOE: I could see us doing another instrumental song just for fun, but not a whole album. I really enjoy writing lyrics, and am always eager to hear what Amy will come up with next for her lyrics. She has such a great style of writing- it’s so picturesque. Even if we ran out of lyrics, I’d still want to hear Amy “Ooh” and “Ahh” over the music.

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Joe, I noticed that on the new album you’re credited with electronic percussion for the first time. Could you elaborate?

JOE: Well, that’s a good question. I’ve played electronic and acoustic percussion on all three albums and the live DVD, Blinded in Boonville, but I don’t know why I decided to list it differently this time. The other albums say just “percussion,” so I figured that was all-encompassing.

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Do you ever jam with other people just for fun, such as going to open blues jams or the like?

AMY: I’m just not a jamming type of player, unfortunately. I don’t have the versatility or training on bass to improvise or wing it when playing with other people spontaneously, and I never really learned more than a couple really obscure cover songs. I have a good ear so can pick things up pretty quickly if need be, but I don’t think I would have much to add to an open jam.

JOE: I used to love jamming, and would get together with anyone I could. I also spent hours jamming with different guitarists from bands I was in over the years. Just two guys playing non stop, one idea melding into the next. Looking back, I think that was due to a mutual need to break out of the confines of our defined roles in those bands. As for blues jams, I’ve only played at one. I got on stage with a bass player friend, and we sat in with a keyboardist, a vocalist, and five or six guitar players: yes, they all did solos. I never went back…

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Joe and Amy

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Do you see yourselves ever participating in other projects, perhaps with more conventional instrumentation, whether together or separately?

AMY: I enjoy working with other musicians from time to time and have contributed bass tracks to friends’ projects, which was fun. I recorded a vocal album of traditional Christmas carols with my mom and sister several years ago and would enjoy doing something similar with them again. I even performed in a locally written and produced musical, including out-of-town shows. Even though the internet facilitates musical collaborations to some extent, the fact that we live so far from anywhere makes it difficult for us to explore other musical projects. The advantage to that, of course, is that it forces us to be more creative and try new things with just the two of us.

JOE: At the moment that is an area I’m considering with a very long pole. The idea of playing with other people isn’t really all that appealing, as I get to express myself without restraint in Clatter. There are no rules and anything goes. That being said, if a situation presented itself that would be a fun challenge (and offer another revenue stream) I would consider it.

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My most important question of all is this: Vinyl, CDs, or downloads?

AMY: Definitely downloads. I always enjoyed the photos and artwork on vinyl albums in my youth, but now I appreciate the portability and accessibility of a digital music library. Any lack of fidelity in the digital realm is lost on me anyway because I tend to listen to music in noisy environments, especially the car. And physical copies just occupy so much space and require storage!

JOE: Definitely downloads. I’d just as soon download music – with proper compensation to the artist – than have to mess with a disc. We sold our entire collection of CDs a few year ago, because once we loaded the music into our computer library we just didn’t use the discs. Well, I couldn’t part with my Judas Priest Painkiller CD, but that’s a completely different deal.

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P.S.  I want to thank Amy and Joe for inspiring me in pursuing a similar path.  When I started writing songs in 2009, the idea of a guitar-less line-up crossed my mind, but I was a bit hesitant.  After all, my songs are more in the heavy metal realm, which is even more guitar-driven.  But when I heard Clatter, the sky opened up. Their bravery and originality emboldened me, and I haven’t looked back.

Clatter Garden of Whatever

Clatter on the web:

Band website:  Clatter.com

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