Forget Not The Bass: Cygnus Establishes a Strong Presence in Ne Obliviscaris

Posted in Bass players, International, Interviews with tags , , on January 20, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Every so often (but less and less frequently as time goes by), I come across music that is truly Earth-shattering. Music  so unique, so powerful, so brilliant that as I listen, I feel like time has stopped, and I have entered another dimension. This happened recently when I discovered a band from Australia called Ne Obliviscaris.

Formed in 2003, Ne Obliviscaris (Latin for “lest we forget” or “forget not”)  incorporates influences as varied as death and black metal, flamenco, and jazz.  Their line-up includes the dual guitars of Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret,  the harsh vocals of Xenoyr, and the dynamic drumming of Dan Presland – all elements which are the bread and butter of extreme metal. But it also includes the clean vocals and violin playing of Tim Charles, and the endlessly creative bass lines of  Cygnus, Brendan Brown.

It would be easy for the average bassist to become a mere footnote in a band like this. The sheer intensity and complexity of the music, and the strong musical personalities involved  turn the idea of  fulfilling the bass role convincingly into an overwhelming proposition.  To say that Cygnus more than holds his own in such a challenging setting would be a huge understatement. Instead of laying back and playing basic root notes to anchor the swirling kaleidoscopes of sound, he jumps right in, delivering nuanced, elaborate  lines that are so well-crafted that they could almost stand as musical works of their own.

I haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing Ne Obliviscaris live, as they haven’t toured in the United States yet.   Perhaps if more people over here become fans and supporters, we’ll be fortunate enough to receive a visit from them. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the interview, and more importantly,  their music.

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Cygnus 4

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 It’s no secret that your real name is Brendan Brown. Where did the moniker of Cygnus come from and why?

When Ne Obliviscaris were flourishing, we were young and adventurous and there was a point in time we decided we should have stage names such as bands we aspired to like Dimmu Borgir (Shagrath, Vortex etc.)  I chose the name Cygnus from an Alarum song (amazing jazz-metal band from Australia).  A dear friend of mine who is the ex-guitarist in the band wrote a song on their Eventuality record called Cygnus X-1. The name seemed fitting for two reasons:  my love for astronomy and cosmology and that it is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.  NeO dropped the use of using stage names shortly thereafter, but I kept mine as a musical alias, as I wish to release my own bass solo music and simply label it Cygnus.

 Guitarist Matt Klavins said this about you in an interview: “Brendan had once told me that he used to play simple bass lines and then one day everything just clicked and he understood the bass.” Can you elaborate on that? 

Well, music is all patterns. I don’t know a great deal of theory, just some basic principles:  Minor and major arpeggios and scales. The compositions in NeO are very chordal based.  So if the guitarist is playing an E minor chord (which we often do) I realized that I can play the entire E minor scale over that chord and anything I construct will work musically. It’s when I came to that simple realization that a fundamental group of notes can be used to create a pleasant melody over the most basic of chords. Music then became so much easier to express. So a lot of my bass lines incorporate scale runs, high melodies (above the 12th fret) and lots of octave funk/groove work. I always wanted to be a drummer but my mum wouldn’t allow that because of the noise, so she bought me my first bass when I was 14. The rest is history and finger callouses.

The music of Ne Obliviscaris seems to be orchestrated to the last note. Am I correct, or is there any wiggle room on live shows for any of you to alter your parts at least slightly?

The only people in Neo that improvise ever so slightly would be myself and Dan our drummer. Obviously it’s impossible to hit every single cymbal the same way it was hit on the recording (there were more cymbals and extra toms on the album as Dan put everything he had to make up a mammoth kit in the studio.) I would not improvise a whole new bass line, but maybe add certain accents or certain styles of playing. For example if I am feeling aggressive on stage I might slap/pop some of the notes to accentuate them where as I did not do that exact technique on the album. I think little tiny things like that work well live. When you are a vocalist you can’t just change lyrics or vocal patterns because everyone will notice! I minimally change specific parts to enhance the music to cut through or just reflect the way I am feeling on stage, most people would not notice. I think it was only once my bass student said after a show “you did some cool runs on the end of that riff.”

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NeO Band

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 The band’s bio says you incorporate influences “from progressive to black, thrash, death and melodic metal, and even western art music, jazz and flamenco.”  Can you name any specific artists that stand out for you and your bandmates as important influences?

We all have very different musical backgrounds, but we all clearly share a love for extreme Metal! There is no argument there. Tim [violin/clean vocals]  has a strict classical upbringing,  but he listens to absolutely everything. He is probably the most open-minded out of all of us. He even appreciates some pop, which is something the other guys don’t feel so strongly about! Xenoyr [harsh vocals]  listens to predominately black metal and I grew up with a brutal death metal background. My heart lies with death metal, I listen to it every day. I love all styles of music; as long as it conveys emotion I will like it.
I can tell in 30 seconds if I like a band or not. I love nonmetal bands such as Sigur Ros, Lamb, Bjork, Aesop Rock, The Gregorian Brothers and Portishead. The list is endless. I know Benji [guitar] has a strong love for flamenco and traditional Gypsy music and bands such as Death and Psycroptic. All these elements and influences are absorbed into the entity that is Ne Obliviscaris. Bands that have influenced us would be Opeth, Emperor, Immortal, Satyricon, and Disillusion to name a few, but our music collections are quite extensive.

Clearly, the band’s music transcends the standard structures of verse/chorus/bridge. Where did the impulse to write such expansive musical pieces come from, and what is the songwriting process like?

It can be challenging at times. We don’t intend to write such lengthy songs,  but once we all have our input the musical journey always seems to be around 10 minutes in length. Often a member will come up with some riffs or bulk of a song in their own time and bring it into the rehearsal room and we all jam it out and discuss repetitions, solos, who takes turns,  whether the vibe feels like harsh vocals or clean vocals or even both! It’s a long process most of the time because there are six entities that all have different opinions and may not all agree on the same thing. There have been times where five members loved a part but one did not, we don’t take majority vote, so the part was changed until all six members are happy. It always works out for the best in the end. We transcribe our songs in Guitar Pro so they are easy for each member to learn and add their parts. I find it a useful tool to create interesting bass lines because I have a terrible memory and I need to write down everything. If something isn’t working I can simply delete and start again. Most of my bass lines come from spontaneity and just playing in the moment. There are infinite possibilities. You have to tap into the right one. Let your heart guide you, and write it down as you’re going.

 On a band with two guitars, two voices, a violin, and a drummer playing such complex compositions, most would expect the bassist to play very simple parts, yet that’s not the case in Ne Obliviscaris.   On the quieter passages, you’re playing a very contrapuntal role, but even on most of the heavier passages, you often do not mimic the guitars, but rather remain in that contrapuntal mindset. In my opinion, the fact that you don’t “dumb it down” when the music gets really heavy gives the somewhat abrupt changes continuity. What are your thoughts on this, and how did that approach come about?

I guess it’s just my style.  I may have a bad memory but I have a chaotic mind! I like busy complex things. My mind is always racing and everything I do in life has some form of complexity about it. When I first picked up the bass all I did was play as fast as I could. It was sloppy, it was chromatic, I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to make fast, aggressive music. So I did that for years. Over time,  I became more mature and my active mind started slowing down and I began to understand melody and holding back on the bass. I am self-taught and I learned some basic theory, minor and major scales and arpeggios. It opened up a massive doorway. I have always played in death bands where I just follow the guitars note for note. NeO allows me to explore the bass and I love it. Playing with NeO is the best feeling on Earth, and I love how challenging each song can be.

 The band goes from the quietest whispers to aggressive blast beats, which are used rather often in your songs.  Who in the band is the most into extreme metal, or do you all have relatively similar influences?

We all listen to similar bands and are very open minded individuals but we all have genres which we learn towards more. I for one have a huge passion for brutal death metal, where as our vocalist Xen leans towards raw black metal. But we all listen to similar bands such as Cynic, Emperor, Katatonia, and Opeth – the list goes on. We regularly show each other bands we have discovered. A band some of the guys are into lately is called Thank You Scientist. They are far from metal. They can be described as technical groovy funk. They also have a violinist and are phenomenal players. I can’t get enough!

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Cygnus 2

  Describe your gear, and please elaborate on your preference for headless bass guitars.

At the moment I use the Eden Navigator WP100 World Tour Class Bass Preamp, Matrix 800 Power amp, Fractal Axe FX Ultra guitar Preamp, Furman PL-8CE Power Conditioner all inside one rack (so I don’t have a separate unit for guitar and bass, I keep it all together for convenience.)  I run it through an Eden XST 4OHM cab for bass or a Mesa 4×12 cab for guitar.

I prefer headless instruments. I like the visual aspect of it. I feel it gives you a creative edge and something to be remembered by. I could not tell you the amount of times I hear people say “Oh you’re that guy that plays the headless bass.”  I was first introduced to Steinberger guitars by  Alarum guitarist Mark Evans. Not only is he one of the best guitarists in Australia, but having this guitar just made him rise above the rest. It was something I could not get out of my mind since I was 16 and first saw them perform their incredible metal-jazz fusion. I bought a Steinberger bass and recorded the demo and album with that. Now I use a custom made Status m2 headless mahogany bass with gold hardware and a graphite neck.  It’s my dream instrument and I could not play any other bass. I have 9 guitars and basses of different varieties. Two 8 string Agile guitars and a 5 string custom Belman fretless bass to name a few.

 I hear you doing chords sometimes, and tapping. How do you pick your spots? Do you gravitate towards certain chord shapes or voicings?

That would all come from the heart. A good musician must know when to not overplay. When I am shown a riff I learn the root notes to get my positioning on the fret board and from there I hear piano-like melodies that enhance the melodies that are already present. I just play these lines on the bass, if there is something that isn’t working we will communicate it, but it is rare as we all trust each other’s judgment. Obviously I would not do a bass solo under a violin solo, so I will hold back and keep it direct and interesting until the time is right. Generally I find bassists that play very simple bass lines are just musicians that aren’t very skilled or creative. It’s not that the part always requires one simple long drawn out root note; it’s that they can’t think of anything else to play or they’re just following the basic root of the guitar chord which does not enhance the music at all.  It’s a shame because there is unlimited potential there and I don’t believe the bass is there to be a simple backseat instrument. In old Funk and R&B music the bass often takes the forefront with quite complex, chromatic walking bass lines, dead notes and running arpeggios and extremely interesting pulses. I draw a lot of inspiration from those players even though I don’t necessarily like those genres.  I believe that the best use of bass I have ever heard is Spiral Architect’s A Sceptic’s Universe, and Cynic’s  Focus. They are by far my biggest inspirations and still to this day I cannot understand how they came up with those bass lines. They inspire me daily and forever will.

 On one of the videos in which you appear doing bass tracks at the studio, your bass is shown to have a curious pin attached to the strap. It’s a guitar pick crossed out, as if to say ‘No picks allowed.’ Is that just purely in jest, or do you in fact feel very strongly against using a pick to play bass?

I got that badge when I bought an Ebow (an electronic sustain device).  I don’t play with a pick and never will, I am against picks on bass. In my opinion if you play with a pick because you like the “sound it creates” – well, you can use your fingers to sound like a plectrum by angling your nails onto the string. People who play bass with plectrums are guitarists in my eyes, or just plain lazy. Every bass player I look up to plays with their fingers. Although an honorable mention would be my friend Cameron Grant from Psycroptic. He plays with a plectrum but I respect him because he keeps up with their guitarist Joe with some of most blistering fast and complex guitar riffs I have ever seen.  So I forgive him. (Laughs)

 On an interview with vocalist Xenoyr he mentioned that the band changed drummers at one point (from Dan Presland to Nelson Barnes), then went back to Dan.   How was that transition for you, and are there any noticeable differences in their styles?

The band was on hiatus for almost 2 years, with [guitarist] Benji’s Visa problems and personal issues in the band, money, and loss of loved ones etc.  It was a very tough time for all and Dan is someone who has a huge drive and must keep busy whether it be drumming or working. He lost interest in the band because it seemed we were going nowhere and he decided it would be best to step aside and focus on other things. It was very hard to deal with as we believe he is one of the best metal drummers out there, and there is a big shortage of phenomenal drummers. Our dear friend Nelson put his hand up to try out and claim the throne. He did a fantastic job. He really understands the drum kit. He learned the entire album in a couple of months. However, Australia is a very big place and Nelson had to fly down from Brisbane to Melbourne for every rehearsal and gig. It was just not a viable option, but it was the only option we had and did not want to delay the release of the album as we had already been waiting two years. We toured Australia for the Portal of I  album launch and went back to our jobs. We discussed the future of the band, if this is a long term commitment or if it would be best to part ways with Nelson due to the distance between states. NeO need to rehearse weekly to write such intricate music and there was no way we could fly Nelson down weekly,  or even fortnightly at best so we approached Dan again. We informed him that the band was back up and running and we have been touring and playing in front of large audiences and his interest was ignited.  Dan is now a permanent member of NeO again and we could not be happier as he is family to us and so easy to work with. He is the human metronome. As for Nelson, he is busy with his own band The Schoenberg Automaton and they have just released their debut album Vela. It will put Australia on the map because it is absolutely groundbreaking technical metal. They will be huge!

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Cygnus 1

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You mentioned earlier that you intended to do a solo project. Can you please elaborate on that, and if you’re involved in any other projects outside Ne Obliviscaris?

I am in a few projects. There was a point in time I was in 3 full-time bands at once: Aphotic Dawn, Primordial Space and NeO. Aphotic Dawn is no longer around, they also featured Dan Presland on drums. We supported Morbid Angel and Kataklysm but did not release anything. I stepped aside from Primordial Space to focus more on NeO and my other projects. It was a hard decision because I love that band so much and have been part of it for 6 years. We rehearsed regularly but did not get anywhere – just a handful of gigs, no official releases. The band is still together and features Benji from Neo on lead guitar.

As of now NeO is my main focus and always will be. I play in a band called Vipassi with Dan on drums, and Ben from A Million Dead Birds Laughing on guitar. He is an absolute genius, and although the band is moving very slowly, once it hits the live circuit I think people will be quite surprised. It’s definitely the most challenging work I have been involved in. It can be described as a mix of Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega and Gorguts.

And lastly,  I have been working on a solo death metal project called Infinite Density for the last 4 years. I have 22 songs and have been recording them at home over and over,  getting better at producing,  but I am a finally at a stage where I am happy with my guitar playing and producing abilities and will release a demo/EP containing 8 tracks this year.  So keep an eye out and follow me at www.facebook.com/infinitedensity.

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NeO Portal of I

Check out Ne Obliviscaris on the web:

https://www.facebook.com/NeObliviscarisBand

https://twitter.com/NeObliviscaris_

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Larger Than The Sum of Its Parts: The Multi-Faceted Artistry of Christie Lenee

Posted in Interviews, Singing Guitarists with tags , on January 15, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Christie Lenee’s musical self is like a prism.  We’ve all seen that glass triangle (think of the cover art on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon  album)  which transforms a white beam of light into a rainbow of colors. Of course, we’re dealing with a rainbow of sounds here. When you experience her live show, or listen to several of her recordings, you are in for a colorful ride. But all the different  elements you’re hearing come from a single source: Her unwavering commitment to baring her soul with the aim of bringing joy to others. Whether that takes the form of a classically-inspired solo guitar piece, or a danceable tune with uplifting lyrics, what you’re witnessing is simply different hues of the same bright light that comes from her soul as it passes through her musical prism.

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Christie Lenee is a 27-year-old guitarist, singer and composer from Tampa, Florida who moved to Philadelphia a few years ago. By age four she was receiving performance coaching, but later on, a few musical epiphanies shaped her artistic path.

I had the pleasure of witnessing a performance at an outdoor courtyard by Lenee and her band, in which the weather seemed determined to ruin the proceedings. But Ms. Lenee and her band soldiered on, moving all their gear to another spot, while the heavy rain threatened to cause irreparable damage to it. You wouldn’t have known that by watching the performance that ensued, though. Neither Ms. Lenee nor her bandmates showed any signs of distress or disappointment. They played with the same positive attitude they had when the skies were clear. I don’t think there’s anything that could make Ms. Lenee hit a sour note.

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Christie Lenee 3

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Who inspired you to become a musician?

I heard an incredible guitar composition called “Sunburst” by Andrew York in my freshman year of high school and experienced a transforming moment.  Hearing this composition brought about a profound emotional experience that struck a chord in my soul. I exploded with tears and knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do.  Right after the show I ran to John Michael Parris, the guitar teacher at Blake High School.  I told him that I had to play and dedicate my life to music.  And I have.

Were you already into classical guitar music, or was that piece more or less your introduction to that field?

I grew up listening to classical music- Bach, Beethoven, etc.  Though, this was my first introduction to modern classical guitar.  It certainly opened up a new world of possibilities.

Who or what was your inspiration for your “unorthodox” techniques on the guitar?

Michael Pukac, one of  my favorite painters today, hired me to compose a piece for a multi-media project.  I had already started composing the piece, then saw Sean Frenette perform Bach inventions on a three-string guitar using all finger tapping.  I was so inspired by this two-handed technique that this sound ended up permeating my composition for Michael Pukac.  So, Sean Frenette was the first musician I heard use those techniques. Many others have since inspired new ways of using this sound, such as Andrew Gorny, Michael Hedges, and Kaki King.

Hearing Andrew Gorny was when I got inspired to tune my guitar to a low C. It quickly led me to start writing my piece “Evolution” which is about 17 minutes long.

You mentioned bassist Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson on one of your websites. I see some parallels between his work and yours. Another one that comes to mind is Michael Manring.  Were you influenced by them?

Oh, definitely. Victor Wooten is one of my favorite musicians. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is my favorite band, along with the Dave Matthews band. It’s music at another level. I learned a lot listening to them, and I definitely see my instrumental music going in that direction.

 There’s very few proper record stores left.  But, if a store like Borders had ever stocked your music, what section would it be filed under?

That’s a really good question. I’d say my instrumental music would fall somewhere between New Age and Folk. It’s hard to categorize.  For my full-band music, I’d say rock. Or “acoustic rock” if they had it.

Your piece “Evolution” has three movements, which is a concept usually associated with symphonic music. Do you expect the piece to be taken as a classical guitar composition?

Absolutely. It can be interpreted as a modern classical piece. I intend to orchestrate it, and have it performed as a symphony.

As far as the line-up in your band is concerned, would you rather stick with a steady group, changing members only if you have to, or do you prefer playing with different people intentionally to keep it fresh?

Good question. Since I travel a lot, I end up doing a lot more solo stuff than band stuff.

Every musician adds their own little touches to the music, and that kind of keeps it fresh.  I am fascinated by what different people bring to the table. But, at some point I’d like to have a more consistent band.

 What qualities do you look for in your musical partners?

I look for people that are dedicated to their instrument and craft- people who have character to their musical voice and can react in a live setting.  I choose musicians who are enjoyable to work with, will spend individual time with the music, and bring a good vibe to the band setting.

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Christie Lenee 2

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How often do you play solo shows versus with a full band, or is it always a mixture of the two on every show?

In my effort to tour frequently, I do my best to balance solo and full band shows- more solo on the road, and “special event” band shows in Philly and Tampa.  As of now, it’s probably about 75% solo and 25% band. Playing with a band and performing in various acoustic settings keeps things fresh and exciting.  Every show is an experience!

Do you ever perform music by other artists, or is it all original?

My original music is the main source and focus. Of course, I certainly enjoy arranging new versions of popular songs- especially for tribute events, etc.  Learning covers is always interesting when the artist puts a fresh spin to it.  Likewise, I sometimes do it just for fun.

 When you and your bandmates go into solos, I get the feeling that those sections are not entirely pre-planned. How much of it is improvisational?

Certain songs have composed chord progressions and rhythm hits in which a lead instrument (most often a guitar or keyboard) will improvise over it within the structure of the section. For the most part the songs are composed and arranged, but these moments are when the band can let loose a little more.

When working up a song with the band, do you basically tell everyone what to play,  or is it more of a give-and-take?

I always have a vision for the song and do my best to translate it to the musicians. For band arrangements it’s nice to get specific with notated melodies and rhythm parts, but at the least there is usually a chord chart laying out the structure of the tune.

I usually start by recording an acoustic demo of the song, then emailing the band a document explaining the form, vibe and feel I’m hearing on each instrument. At rehearsals I’m known to sing drum parts, bass lines, melodies, and tap out ideas on the keyboard.  Then I allow the musicians to put in their perspectives and see how it feels- add, subtract, experiment.  We’ll rehearse a song until it best fits the initial vision, though of course sometimes it goes beyond what I ever it imagined it could be.  Feeling a composition expand that way is an incredible feeling.

 You play expansive solo guitar compositions, you also play with a full band in which your sound moves into a more familiar rock/funk/folkish pop territory.  I also read you’ve written choral compositions.  To what do you attribute such varied interests? Do you prefer wearing any of those hats more than the other?

I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other, because I feel they’re all integrated. I go through phases in which I focus more on writing instrumentals, and then more on vocal songs, and so on.

What I find really inspiring is composing something that I have a vision for, and then going into the studio and seeing it come to life.

Your online bios indicate that you want to project positivity with your music.  Do you ever see yourself writing an angry song to vent your frustration at some situation or person? We all get frustrated or angry at least once in a while!

A lot of people ask me that. They want to hear that side of me. But music has been a force of transformation in my life, it has been my saving grace. So, whenever I’m feeling upset or whatnot, and I go and play, it comes out more expressive than angry. It’s my way of letting go of it.  That’s why a lot of my lyrics are about moving on, growth, and overcoming obstacles.

Do you ever get any flak for being a female musician? The old  “you play good for a girl” or anything of the sort?

Yeah. When people say stuff like that, I chuckle. I usually say, “There’s a lot of great female artists out there you should check out.”  But people are going to think what they think.

Did you ever take vocal lessons, or do vocal warm-ups before recordings or shows?

When I started performing on guitar,  singing was a sort of secondary thing.  I did have some vocal coaching throughout my childhood in performance and theatre groups. However, that was certainly a different school of thought.  Once I transferred my career focus from acting to guitar, singing and theatre got put on the back burner.  It took years to bring it back and develop it into something that went together.  In fact, during my first attempts to sing and play simultaneously, many people told me I should just play the guitar and have someone else sing.  At the time that really got under my skin and upset me, but it made me even more determined to practice and improve.  So, I took it with a grain of salt and took the necessary steps- started taking lessons and trying to stretch my voice more. I was not going to let anyone discourage me, especially knowing in my heart that I had the music inside of me. The struggle with any person learning could be getting past the elementary stages, but you can really do anything if you want it bad enough.  Especially if you keep your focus on the big picture.

I am still practicing and expanding every day and will never become complacent. As for the vocals, if you listen to the earlier albums you’ll hear how my voice has evolved.  Being a musician is an incredible journey.

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Christie Lenee 1

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What are your short and long-term goals?

I plan on getting my own studio in the mountains with a broad array of instruments and top-tier recording gear.  The main goal is to compose and record an abundance of music, tour, and collaborate with multi-media (film, television, art, dance).

In conjunction with that,  I want to inspire people to follow their dreams and travel the world: teach workshops, do community outreach, help charities, and educate people. Anything I can do to bring positivity to the world, I will.

At my first Dave Matthews concert during my senior year of high school, I had another transforming experience.  This was before I started writing music, when my main focus was classical and jazz guitar.  Acoustic music and singer/songwriters were just starting to come into my life… then this took it over the top.  I was front and center at at a beautiful Amphitheater in West Palm Beach.  Dave Matthews looked out into the audience while singing and an expression of radiance was captured by the stage lights. I imagined what it must feel like to write something so beautiful that such a crowd of people would come together to experience it live- such a community, such joy brought to these people through the music.  I felt the most pure essence of happiness and the gift of giving to the point of tears… just as hearing “Sunburst” for the first time.  Dave then looked directly at me: eyes connected, and something happened. Everything I’d done in my entire life came together– guitar, poetry, singing, acting, dancing – it all became one.  It was then it hit me that I wanted to write music. This intense desire came to light and I began exploding with compositions.  Really, it has continued to evolve ever since.

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Christie Lenee on the web:

www.christielenee.com

www.youtube.com/christieleneemusic

www.facebook.com/christielenee

It’s Time For The Good Stuff, aka Lisa Casalino!

Posted in Interviews, Singers with tags , , on January 12, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Lisa Casalino is living proof that dreams do come true. Of course, it takes talent, hard work, and determination.  Since she’s not lacking in any of those areas,  she’s now reaping her well-deserved rewards.

Casalino’s real last name is Hertzner. But, she adopted her mother’s maiden name, because she says it “sounds prettier.” I think most of us can agree with that! Credit also goes to her mother for getting her started in music, as we shall see. Her dad’s amazing music collection also contributed to her love of music.

Lisa Casalino is a New York native who moved to Florida in 1995, having earned a music education degree from the Crane School of Music in upstate New York. She took a teaching job at a brand new high school in Florida, in which she developed a music program. Years later she took up real estate. Of course, through all this she was also performing as a singer.

Eventually, she decided to give singing full-time a shot. She thanks Tampa for giving her opportunities when all she had was a business card and a smile. The last couple of years have seen the talented singer realizing her dream. She released a Christmas single, but most importantly, she released a full-length album.  Introducing Lisa Casalino includes nine jazz standards and three original songs, also in the jazz vein.

I met up with the charming Ms. Casalino at Love’s Artifacts Bar & Grill in Tampa, where she performs every Friday. We chatted in between a set of mostly Motown classics, and a set which leaned more heavily towards the material on her album.

Whether doing Jazz, Motown, Country, or even No Doubt songs, you can be certain that with Lisa Casalino, you’re getting the good stuff! 

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I read that your dad was a big fan of doo-wop music, and your mother taught you how to play guitar. Can you elaborate further on your musical upbringing?

My parents were big music fans, and my dad had this huge collection of 45 records. We had a jukebox growing up. My mom played the guitar, and she used to play and sing to us.  She taught me a few things, but I was mostly self-taught. I did take a few months of lessons.

I have a bachelor’s degree in music education from the Crane School of Music in upstate New York. I underwent classical vocal training as part of the program.

Which singers did you study the most?

I didn’t really study any singers, per se. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, so singers like Whitney Houston, Cindy Lauper and Madonna were huge influences on me. I also liked Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. I was also into The Go Go’s and The Bangles. I got to meet The Bangles recently. I almost died, “Oh my God, I’m gonna meet The Bangles!”

I recently met Richard Marx, and spoke with him for about an hour. I also met Vince Neil [lead singer of Mötley Crüe] in Paris, just by chance. I thought, “Oh, my God, it’s all coming around!”

Why did you decide to move to Florida in 1995?

There was a brand new high school [Durant High School, in Plant City], and there were no new schools in New York. It was all sort of “established.”  So, that was a factor, and the warmer weather.

You made a studio recording years ago, and you have said you weren’t satisfied with the results. What kind of music was it, and why exactly weren’t you satisfied with it?

I was doing original songs. It was supposed to be contemporary, it wasn’t really jazz. It was pop, I’d say. Some of it was kind of country, actually. I kind of had an idea of what I wanted it to sound like, but otherwise I had no idea of what was going on. So this producer I was working with did a lot of it without my input. But, since I had paid him a lot of money up front, I let him finish it. But I wasn’t really proud of the way it came out, I didn’t want to share that with the world. I may revisit those songs eventually, though.

Do you do vocal warm-ups before a performance?

I used to, but I’ve gotten a bit into bad habits. When I’m not singing, I like to rest my voice as much as possible. Instead of doing warm-ups before the show, I start with songs that don’t push my range to its limits, so they sort of serve as warm-ups.

How did you go about selecting the songs for your album?

I collaborated with [guitarist] Nate Najar, and he co-wrote three of the songs with me. We picked out a bunch of songs that he liked, and that I liked. We just kept going through those, trying to figure out a good mix of songs.

We didn’t want to do anything that was too overdone. The type of signature songs that people recognize an artist for. Songs such as “At Last” by Etta James, or “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” which brings to mind Judy Garland, etc. We wanted to steer clear of those.

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The album harkens back to the classic jazz vocal albums of the 50’s, but with a certain energy that’s all your own. Was it all recorded live in the studio like in the old days, or were the instruments and vocals recorded separately?

It was all live. The only song I added vocals separately to was “Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea,” because I showed up an hour late, and the band had already recorded it. Everything else was recorded with all of us playing together, and with hardly any  ‘punches’ [the practice of going back and fixing just one spot of a performance after the fact.] The track “I Get Along Without You Very Well” was one take.

We never even rehearsed. We just had guidelines for the original tunes. Nate just told everyone basically what we were going for, and we just did it. It was amazing.

Are there any plans to release another album in the future? And if so, is it going to be in the same vein as the first, or should we expect some detours?

Yes, but I don’t know when. I’m still trying to sell this one! I’ve sold over a thousand copies, and it’s been played on the radio, all over the world, which is great.

I’m going to do more originals on the next one. I need to get with Nate on that, because we write together. I wrote a Christmas song on my own, though.  So, I’ll probably do more of those jazz tunes. However, I’ve been writing some stuff for specific reasons, and it’s not jazz at all. They’re more country, actually. I know you don’t like country, but you might like my songs!

Alright! [laugh]

I don’t know that I’m going to do actual albums, though. I did the Christmas song as a single, and singles work good, too.

You mentioned adding more originals to your next recordings. Do you foresee adding a significant number of originals to your repertoire?

Yes. On the first album, there’s three originals and nine standards. On the next one, I’d like it to be closer to half and half. And then eventually move my way into a completely original album.

Which is very brave, especially in Jazz.

It is, but I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the original tunes, and they’re basically my favorites.

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Do you think the general public is really open to fully embracing new, original compositions?

Well, not the mainstream public. If you’re not a jazz person, you can appreciate it for what it is, but you might not get much into it. My mom is not that big into Jazz, for example. She likes the other stuff that I do more. Don’t get me wrong, she’s proud of me and supports me, but it’s just not her style of music.

But, I think for me, it’s about where my voice fits best. You gotta play to your strengths, and I do like Jazz. Some of what I sing is Jazz, and some of what I sing is from The Great American Songbook – standards. But, people basically lump them together, because it’s old school.

Is there anything on your music collection that would completely surprise your fans?

I love A Tribe Called Quest. [laughs] I listen to all kinds of music. Like I said, I grew up in the 80’s-90’s, so when I was in college I was really into hip-hop and rap.  Back in middle school, I was into Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi…all those guys. I love Pink. I’m even going to go see her in concert. I like the Beastie Boys…I don’t stick to just one type of music.

Now, I like to listen to Broadway music, or acoustic music as well.

What are your long-term goals?

It’s funny, because you wonder at the beginning of the year, “Where am I going? What’s important?” I feel like I may be the 12 or 15 year “overnight success.” Things are starting to happen, I’m starting to branch out more. I want to do bigger shows, concert-type settings.

My long-term goal would be to reach the level of a Michael Bublé, or Diana Krall. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get from here to there. I’m just going to keep singing, and doing what I do. I’m not really a person who has an agenda, I just do what comes naturally. So far, it’s been working for me. It’s not always about the destination, but about the journey.

Three years ago I was teaching, selling real estate, and singing. I was doing three full-time jobs. And for over two years now, music is all I’ve been doing. It’s going well enough that I’ve been able to help out other musicians, getting them work.

Any parting thoughts?

Thank you! I think this was really sweet. I appreciate you taking the interest.

Thank you, Ms. Casalino!

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– Check out Lisa Casalino on the web:

On Facebook: Click here.

On Twitter: Click here.

Or her own website: lisacasalino.com

Digging Deeper, Vol. 1: Ava Inferi, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Dol Ammad, and Scott Walker

Posted in Digging Deeper with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by Héctor Rodríguez

Welcome to the first installment of  Digging Deeper.  In my constant and voracious search for unique and powerful music, I sometimes come across artists whom I wish received wider exposure. Alas, the airwaves are clogged with vapid irrelevance. That being the case, this could serve as a little oasis of discovery for folks who, like me, are utterly dissatisfied with the vast majority of (dare I say all) the artists riding the top of the popularity charts.

Without further ado, here are some interesting artists you may or may not have heard of.

Ava Inferi name

This band hails from Portugal, and has been around since 2006. They classify themselves as Gothic Doom Metal, which I can’t disagree with. So far, they’ve released four full-length albums. Their music often incorporates a clean guitar playing nice chords or little figures over distorted riffs, giving the music a really unique atmosphere and texture. The vocals by Carmen Susana Simões are, of course, a highlight. But this band is much more than simply another “chick-fronted” outfit. The music is extremely well-crafted.

The band features the guitar and songwriting talents of Rune Eriksen of Mayhem. Which is quite interesting considering the rather marked differences between the music of Mayhem and Ava Inferi.

Ava Inferi live 2

 

dso name

This orchestra formed in 2003 in Sweden.  Well, they formed originally in 1501, if you consult their Facebook page. While the story is cute, the music is the real treat.

How do you describe their sound? Imagine Mr. Bungle mixed with Squirrel Nut Zippers, add a female operatic singer, and you’re in the ballpark. They have so far released three full-length albums and an EP.

DSO

Dol Ammad name

Masterminded by Greek keyboardist Thanasis Lightbridge, this group utilizes a choir in lieu of a lead singer, which makes them very unique. I don’t claim to know every band in existence, but as far as I can tell, only Therion could be said to have utilized this concept before them. But, even Therion utilizes individual (“lead”) singers, while Dol Ammad focuses solely on the choir.

They categorize themselves as “electronic art metal.” I believe that’s an apt descriptor. In my humble opinion, Mr. Lightbridge has truly hit upon a magnificent formula, which yields music that’s both sublimely beautiful, and aggressively powerful. Truly a marvelous combination of elements.

 Dol Ammad

Scott Walker name

And last but not least, a true oddity. I became aware of Scott Walker just a few days ago. I had been scouring the internet, listening to one artist after another, and being unimpressed, as usual. Then, I clicked on this:

My goodness! How magnificently odd and dark! At first, I’ll admit, I was a bit put off by the vocals. But, the music itself is so deliciously weird, that I now truly get it.

A multi-instrumentalist, Mr. Walker actually was a pop icon in the 1960’s.  His work became increasingly experimental, to the point where his last three albums are often described with terms such as cathartic, terrifying, and difficult listening. At 69 years of age, Walker’s music has the fire and hunger of a mad creative genius at the peak of his powers.

Scott Walker

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 I hope that you’ve at least found one of these artists interesting. It certainly took a lot of digging during several months to find just four artists that made me jump out of my chair. So, as you can see, it’s not a frequent occurrence.

Happy listening!

More Than a Bass Wizard: The Restless Creativity of Oz.

Posted in Bass players, Interviews with tags , , , on December 15, 2012 by Héctor Rodríguez

Overwhelming. Terrifying. Exhilarating. Mind-bending.  If you had to verbally describe a live performance by extreme metal band Prophecy Z14,  it’s almost certain that you’d use some of those words, or some of their synonyms.  Formed in 2008 under the initial moniker of Algorithm in Melbourne, Florida, the band plays music that’s as furious as it is complex. Seven-string guitarists Tommy Marshall and Dan Cannon (who also handles lead vocals) deliver heavily distorted,  pounding riffs that both mesmerize you with their complexity, and pummel you silly with their utter savagery. Drummer Damien Elder’s dexterous yet hard-hitting attack behind the drumkit is like a freight train gone off the rails, brutally carving its own path, but still able to  retain almost-metronomic precision. And underneath it all, the truly astounding 7-string bass virtuosity of a man known simply as Oz.

Their show at the Brass Mug in Tampa was nothing short of stellar. I went right up to the front of the stage, literally inches from Mr. Oz, and I just could not believe what I was witnessing. He was masterfully employing a vast array of techniques, many of them still unorthodox in the death metal realm. If you’re a bass player, his speed, dexterity, and sheer stamina might either make you want to practice more, or quit playing altogether.

Oz is a true connoisseur of music, and appears to be a huge bass geek.  He dropped so many names I had to edit a few out just to avoid feeling like you’re reading a directory of bass greats, instead of an interview.  He’s got so many favorite bass players, I stopped counting!

Some of his musings on metal,  his apparent indecision regarding how many strings his bass should have, his love of both extremely complex and extremely simple music and his struggle to express both in his playing might make him look like a conflicted person. This is not a negative, by any means, but rather the sign of a restlessly creative soul which seeks total freedom of expression. The creative mind itself has no such limits. Those limits are inherent qualities of the physical and conceptual vehicles used to deliver what an artist’s creativity conceives. Musical genres and the number of strings on a bass guitar are simply elements to contend with in the journey toward self-expression.

And, as the saying goes, the greatest art comes from conflict.

Oz

What does the “Z14” in Prophecy Z14 stand for?

It’s [Bible chapter] Zacharias 14. Either Damian and/or Justin came up with that name. It’s based off of that, but they’re not religious whatsoever. Everybody in the band is atheist, except for me.  I’m a deist, and I’m a Freemason and Esotericist.

Are Dan and Damien the only original members of Prophecy Z14?

Damien [current drummer] and a guitarist by the name of Justin, who’s with the Marines, were the founding members.  He’s not in the band anymore, Tommy Marshall replaced him. I met him once, he wrote some of the material, and I wrote bass lines for it.  He’s an awesome guy.

How did you join the band?

I came from California. I lived in Las Vegas for about 4 years. After that I moved to San Diego for about 2 years. I played in a band there called In Perfect Agony. It was more thrash-based.  Before that, I was playing more jazz-type stuff. I was playing in a rock band called Stocklan in Boston. I’ve played all kinds of styles.

When I came here [to FL], it was just to visit my parents. I was going to go back to Vegas. But my parents had some health issues, and issues with their house,  and I decided to help them. So, I decided to stay in Florida. I looked on craigslist, and I saw a death metal band with 7-string guitar players looking for a bass player. So, I thought, “Hey, I play 7-string bass.” So, I called Dan Cannon, the singer.

I sent him some of my own recordings, which are more jazz-oriented, and some solo stuff. He liked it. So, they asked me to come down. I ended up joining and writing bass lines for their songs.

Is there a main songwriter in the band, or is it a completely democratic process?

It’s very democratic. At first, the main songwriter was Justin. Even though he’s no longer in the band, he wrote a good portion of the material we still play. Dan wrote some of the songs, too. My job is similar to Obscura’s bass player. They wanted something a little different. Counterpoint, using more of a Bach-type thing. I play a lot of chords, which you saw me play tonight. Jeff Hughell from Brain Drill [now with Six Feet Under] and Dan Hauser from Veil of Maya play 7-string basses, they’re both amazing players.  But, there aren’t really that many 7-string players in metal.

 Oz live2

What inspired you to become a musician?

My father’s a piano player. I grew up listening to Bach, Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff and such.  Mostly piano music. My dad wanted me to play piano, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to play electric guitar. Then my uncle brought me a bass. I went, “What’s this?  I don’t want a bass, I want a guitar.” My father basically slapped me upside the head and told me, “You take what you’re given. It’s a gift.” So, that’s how I started playing bass.

My biggest inspiration on bass is Sting. That’s why I started playing bass. Him and Paul McCartney.

Sting’s style is extremely simple compared to the music you play.

Yes, but he’s an amazing musician. He’s a real bass player, because he plays upright, and is jazz-trained. He’s a real musician.

You can do all this flashy stuff on the bass, but a real musician can do the vocals, and do everything. It’s the whole package. That’s what makes Sting and McCartney so incredible, and among the best bass players in the world.

What led you to the 7-string bass guitar?

My first bass instructor was Beaver Felton, who inspired me big time. He was the one that inspired me to get into chordal theory and the tapping stuff. I don’t do much tapping anymore, because it seems everybody’s doing it. So, I try to do more chords. I try to take the Jeff Berlin approach. He’s probably my favorite bass player, even though he probably wouldn’t be into what I do, because he doesn’t like multi-string basses  from what I’ve seen. But yeah, Beaver Felton, and Wally Voss were huge inspirations on my approach.

So, it was basically your desire to explore more chordal possibilities that led you down the extended range path.

Yeah. The whole chordal stuff started with the piano. So, I wanted that spectrum of being able to do more chords.

I practiced certain Czerny and Hannon piano exercises with each finger for speed and agility.

Did you play on all the songs that are currently posted on the band’s websites?

Yes, I played on all that stuff.

Tommy Marshall (guitar) is the Guitar Pro genius. He tabs everything out. So, when it comes to working on the music, I sit down with him.

Can you give me a rundown of all the techniques you use?

I use Matthew Garrison’s and Gary Willis’ style. I use my thumb, index and middle finger for the chordal stuff, sometimes throwing in the ring finger. If I’m playing hypersonic, super-fast chordal picking style, kind of like Béla Fleck, I use a banjo technique – the forward roll/backward roll, which was taught to me by a banjo player who I used to work for. I’m very grateful to him for that. I use it on the song “Fragments.”

I also use the Alex Webster/John Myung/Steve DiGiorgio technique of plucking with three fingers. On the super-fast stuff I throw in the fourth finger, similar to Stephan [Fimmers] from Necrophagist. I don’t use the four-finger technique very much. When I solo, I use two fingers, very similar to Stanley Clarke. On the song “Diplomatic Breakdown,” which is really fast, I use that technique, in which I angle my hand over the strings, like Stanley, to pick really fast. I can hit 280bpm with two fingers. I try to use all my fingers, I don’t play with a pick.  Nothing against that, though.

I saw you using a technique in which you basically rotate your wrist back and forth really fast, and it looks like you’re hitting the string as it moves in either direction: with your thumb, and with the side of your third or fourth finger.

I do a weird slap, similar to the Victor Wooten double-thumping. On the song “Letting Go” I’m using that technique to play sliding double-stops. I’m using the thumb to hit the lowest strings, and my third and fourth fingers to hit the chords above. I’m just trying to be original.

When creating your bass lines, how do you decide when to add something “extra,” and when to stick to following the guitar riff as is?

It depends on the song, and what the drummer’s doing. I’m trying to follow the drums more, and hold back a little bit. Death metal is getting to the point where you have to have the separation between the guitars and the bass. I double the guitars on certain parts, but I chord over a lot of stuff. I have to do a lot of muting, it’s pretty hard. And, a lot of extended-range bassists have a scrunchie over the headstock, but I don’t use that. So, I use a lot of left hand muting with the tips of my fingers. People complain that I don’t move around much onstage, I’m like, “Dude, I’m trying to focus! It’s very hard, man!”  When I first got the 7-string, I almost sent it back, it was so intimidating. And yet, I’m thinking of getting an 8-string, like the bass player from Borknagar, who plays an 8-string fretless.

Prophecy band

Do you think going lower (in pitch) is always heavier? Or do you think it’s possible to play brutally heavy and complex music on a 4-string using standard tuning?

Yes, it is. It would take a lot of creativity. Billy Sheehan plays a four, and he could play circles around most death metal bass players, because he’s the master! Sheehan to me is the bible of death metal bass.

Even though he’s never played death metal, to my knowledge.

Well, he could definitely play death metal. He might have to do some gear adjustments and such, but he definitely could.

Here’s something that really bothers me, as a bass player myself: When I go to rock or metal  live shows – big or small – I often can’t hear the bass very well, if at all. Even tonight, I was standing inches from you, your rig was directly ahead of me, and I had trouble hearing you most of the time. The guitars and drums were drowning you out almost entirely.  Thoughts?

This is a major point of contention I have with metal, and one of the major reasons I didn’t want to play metal. One of the reasons I didn’t play metal for years was because the bass is drowned out. On the CD you can year it very well, though. I love the Brass Mug, and I don’t mean to say anything bad about them. But, there’s other venues I’ve played at in which my bass cuts right through.

I could easily turn my bass rig up. I have 1,800 watts of power. I could turn it up to 4 and it would blow up the room. I did turn up a little a bit later in the show, because people were telling me to, they said they couldn’t hear me. I don’t really like to do that, though.

When you’re playing metal, you’re dealing with a lot of distortion, usually two guitars, so the bass gets left behind. Unless you really, really fight for your frequencies. I did with this band. I told them I wouldn’t join unless my bass is heard.

I have a love/hate relationship with metal. I love it, but then it becomes just drums and guitar.

Describe your gear.

If you hear my bass, there’s a lot of midrange frequencies. The gear I use is SWR. I use 2 SM 900 watt heads and two 4×10 goliath speakers. I also use a Sonic Maximizer, a Boss rackmount stereo chorus unit, and a Rockman stereo chorus unit, as well as a Dunlop switchless wah pedal for solos, and a specially modified by Analog Man, Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.

My bass was designed by Fred Bolton, who owns Bee Basses. I was playing Modulus Quantum 6-strings. I love the graphite necks. So, I called Fred. He mentioned a bassist by the name of Edo Castro. He’s an amazing bass player who was playing the original prototype which became the basis for my bass. I talked to Edo, and he was really nice, and he recommended the bass. Mine has a different wood configuration. I went with a bloodwood top and fretboard. It’s a very heavy bass. It has Delano pickups, with an 18-volt preamp.

I use D’Addario Pro Steels strings, I have a partial endorsement with them. I hope D’Addario reads this, because I’m upset with them. Please make a wound .20 (high F) string! That’s what I use, but I have to get that one string from S.I.T.  So, I buy a 6-string set from D’Addario, and then have to buy that extra string from S.I.T.

PROPHECY Z14

What is the most non-metal music in your collection?

That would probably be [flamenco/world music acoustic guitar duo] Strunz & Farah.

What are Prophecy Z14’s short- and long-term goals?

Our goal is to get a big following in Europe and South America. Those seem to be the big markets for death metal. America right now seems to be kind of bleh. Unless you’re playing Ozzfest and all that.

If I ever stopped playing death metal, I’d probably go back to playing Latin Jazz. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. Or, I might end up playing country…it pays well.

You won’t need your 7-string to play country music, I think.

Listen to this: I had a big audition at the Bellagio a while back.  I brought a 6-string bass to the audition. There were about 10 other bass players, all four-stringers. I did some bass solo stuff, because they asked me to show them what I could do. The guitarist and drummer loved me, but the singer did not, so I didn’t get the gig. The lesson is this: If you really want a gig, do NOT bring your extended-range bass.

I love the technical stuff, but I also want to capture the dynamics, the beauty in a simple piece of music. It’s like I have to live in two worlds, man.

I think, eventually, I’ll probably end up going back to the four string bass. I’m a very spiritual person, and since I like Afro-Cuban and Bossa Nova music so much…

I want to say this, though. A lot of guys tell me how I’m such an amazing bass player, how I shine,  etc. But, if I do shine, it’s because of the musicians I play with. Dan, Tommy, and Damien are probably the best, most technical musicians I’ve ever played with. All three of them are extremely talented.

Prophecy Z14 band pages:

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-Héctor Rodz for Eclectic Listener

Josh Lamkin: Electrifying Both On and Off The Stage

Posted in Guitarists, Interviews, Singing Guitarists with tags , , on December 8, 2012 by Héctor Rodríguez

Josh Lamkin is a powerhouse performer.  He’s a 24 year old guitarist, singer, and songwriter that’s been delighting audiences in Florida since his high school years.  I caught up with him at a venue called Ukulele Brand’s. He was playing there with his band, Automatic Heat, which is a trio.  But tonight, the trio became a quartet, adding special guest Rob Stoney on keyboards.  The set was electrifying, as usual.  Mr. Lamkin cued the band masterfully to soaring heights,  quiet whispers, and that sweet terrain in between.

Josh 3

Lamkin is a bundle of energy outside of the stage as well. This makes it clear that his onstage presence is very far from being a put-on.  He’s the real deal.  Sometimes he spoke so fast that my Hispanic ears didn’t have time to decipher every single word he said.  Luckily, the conversation was recorded…

The first time I met you, I saw you waltzing into the venue in your snazzy outfit. Almost everyone went to you, it was like they were idolizing you. My first thought was, “What’s with this guy? He seems pretty arrogant.”  Moments later I was introduced to you, and two minutes into our conversation I felt like a complete idiot for ever thinking that. Then I saw you killing it on stage, and I thought, “Yikes. He’s got every right to feel cocky, yet he’s humble as pie.”  Thoughts?

No, man, it’s just sometimes you walk into a jam like that, dude, there’s a lot of hacks in there. I’m not going to name any names or say anything bad about people, but people have attitude with me sometimes. So, I go in there with the attitude of, “Yo, I’m here to play.”  And I was hosting that night, and there’s people you may or may not wanna play with. So, they’d get up, and I’d just go, “Alright, man, let’s get it on, let’s jam.”

How did you get so good on the guitar? Did you have any formal lessons?

I had a couple of formal lessons between when I was 11 to 15.  I wasn’t really going every week. I’d just take a lesson, and I’d work on it. I started playing when I was six. My dad kinda showed me how to play. He raised me on all that country stuff, and he kinda introduced me to the blues. He took me to see Johnny Winter…I forget how old I was. And I saw him, and I thought, “This is what I wanna do.” And I went from there. I started playing gigs when I was in high school. I had a band, I think all through high school. Trying to get gigs and get out as much as I can. Took me about eight years to meet Matt and Sam – the people I made the record with. I’d been in the studio a couple of times, and I went, “Man, I’m not ready.” I recorded it, but it does not sound good, you know? I had to work on it. But, I finally got something I could be proud of.  It was a  good thing for me to finally get a record out.

 

Do you consider Elmore James, Johnny Winter and Ry Cooder to be your major influences, as indicated in your bio? Who else has influenced you?

Aw, man! I listened to a lot of Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton – the Telecaster masters! That stuff’s cool, man. The Band and Little Feat, bro – that’s…uh! We did [Little Feat’s] “Sailin’ Shoes” on our record.  We had some extra time [in the studio], so I was just like, “Dude, let’s just run through it.”  It’s one of my favorite songs on the record. It just came out great.

How would you describe your guitar style?

Man, I don’t know!  These are hard questions!!  [laughs]

Well, I like to hit hard.

[Laughs] How would I describe it?  I’d like to think that…a lot of people in blues bands spend a lot of time listening to Freddie King. Stuff like that. Freddie King, Albert King.  All those people, like Johnny Copeland – they all play a certain way. Stevie Ray Vaughn was an influence on me. I’d be lying if I said that he’s not. Now, do I think I play the same way [as Vaughn]? I don’t wanna do that. There’s so many people out that are doing it, man. Some of the Johnny Winter-ness…it’s Johnny Winter meets Roy Buchanan. That’s what I’d be going for. Rock…country…I like funk a whole lot, too. I like to dance, man!

You just played “Cissy Strut” by The Meters.

Yeah, that’s cool. That’s where it’s at, that’s where the funk is. But “funky” don’t mean “faster,” and it doesn’t mean more notes. There’s gotta be space.

On your shows, how much original material vs. covers do you play? Does that vary a lot according to the venue?

I would change according to the venue. When you play a bar, people aren’t interested. But I do my original stuff. Anywhere I go, I shove my original stuff down people’s throats whether they like it or not! [laughs]

Songs like “Pride and Joy” and “Red House” I get [asked to play] all the time. And I’m like, “Those are great songs, man, [whispers] but I don’t want to.”

Sometimes we get asked to play AC/DC stuff. I’m like, “Man you… you got a jukebox, play that on the [set] breaks. Do you wanna hear the ‘radio rock’ you hear all day long? You don’t wanna hear us, man?”  I wanna do something different.

Josh 2

What are your current listening habits? Are you into a lot of the current pop music, or do you lean more old school?

Definitely old school.  Actually, I’m into Tom Waits a lot. Tom Waits is the man, dude! I mean, just for the writing. The dude’s a wordsmith.

He’s very quirky. Which leads me to ask: Is there anything in your album collection that would completely shock your fans?

Aw, man!  [long pause] [sighs]

Any death metal?

[Loud laughter] No, no…nothing too scary there.

Well, Tom Waits is pretty obscure. You mention his name to people and they go, “Oh, he was in Bram Stoker’s Dracula…you mean he sings!???”  [Laughter]

It would have to be him and Ry Cooder. He’s obscure but he’s not really surprising.

I like the blues, I like soul, I like funk.

Tonight you have keyboardist Rob Stoney playing with you, but that seems to be a bit of an exception. You seem to favor the trio format. Any particular reasons why?

I like to play all the notes, dude. It’s just me. Nobody else gets to solo, it’s just me.

So, it all comes down to selfishness, huh?  [I asked with a smirk]

Well, in a way. It’s also a monetary thing. It’s easier to book shows. It’s hard to keep a band together, and hard to pay them. I’d rather have three guys that I could pay well, than have that fourth guy…

 Have there been any personnel changes in the history of your band, Automatic Heat?

I’ve been through like, fifty drummers. And, I do pick-up gigs with different bass players and stuff. I think I have a group of guys now that I can really rely on. Rob Stoney, the keyboard player, he’s the guy that played on our record. He was on tour with the Warren Brothers from Nashville. He’s played with everybody. I’m very fortunate to have him.

Josh and AH

What do you look for in a musical partner?

Just compatibility. Somebody who listens, and doesn’t suck. Someone who’s not afraid to “go there” with me. I don’t like timid players.  When it’s go time, it’s time to rock n’ roll, man!

How much touring have you done?

I went to Memphis. That’s about as far as I’ve been. We go to the [Florida] Keys, every now and then, but it’s all mainly in Florida. I’m wanting to branch out and do more. Hopefully next summer we get out to New Orleans. I got a couple friends down there.

What’s your favorite setup when it comes to guitar, amps, and effects?

No effects, man. I play a Mesa Lone Star [amp] special, 30 watts. I don’t think I’ll ever buy another amplifier. I love it, it’s my pride and joy.

I got the Les Paul with P90s [pickups] in it. I was a Tele guy for a long time, because of Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. I like a solid Tele, man! Yeah, anything with P90s in it, anything old.

 

Do you practice guitar by yourself often,  do you prefer to practice with the band, or do you mostly just go in there and let it out with no prior planning?

We don’t rehearse very much. If  I’m bringing in a new guy, we have one or two rehearsals. Once we got it, we play a lot. It’s like a baseball team. You practice during the off season, and then you play games. And, a lot of it is off the cuff, free for all kind of thing.

At home I don’t really practice, I just play. There’s things that I work on, of course. I do a lot of writing, and a lot of exploratory stuff. I don’t really sit down with an agenda. It’s just, “Ok, I’m playing.”

What’s your take on the musical scene in the central Florida area?

It’s horrible. Well, music scenes everywhere suck. The country’s in recession…sad times for everybody. But you just gotta keep plugging away. You can tell the size of a man by what it takes to stop him. There’s no stopping me, I’m gonna do this. I know what I wanna do.

What are your short and long-range plans or goals for the future?

I’d like to do another record in the summer. Hopefully it will be out by July [2013]. I’d like to do that, and be rich and famous, drive Lamborghinis. [smirk]  Naw, man, I’m just trying to make a living. I’m happy just getting to play music with my friends. That’s all I can ask for. Just to play with a really tight band.  Good people.

Thank you very much, Josh. I wish you much success in all your endeavors.

Thank you, man!

Who am I? Why am I here?

Posted in General with tags , on December 5, 2012 by Héctor Rodríguez

This is not a philosophical blog, so I don’t mean that in the existential sense. I’m going to provide some comparatively mundane answers to those questions.

I’m passionate about music. That is the main thing to know about me. But, when I say “passionate,” I really mean it. Music is on my mind most of the time.

I engage in a voracious, relentless search for music. I often spend hours on youtube and amazon.com sampling bands or artists I haven’t heard before.  Sadly, it seems that with the advent of technology, much of the music out there is utterly devoid of substance and originality.  I live for those moments when I discover an artist that sends shivers down my spine. They’re so rare it takes a lot of digging. Some days I listen to ten or more artists, and none of them move me.

Being that passionate about music led me to pursue the craft of music itself.  I’ve been playing the bass guitar  since 1992.  I’ve played in bands of various genres: jazz, metal, punk/alternative, and rock/pop cover bands.  I’m currently playing in a metal band called Project 25.  I also write songs. One day I hope to finish the album I started recording last year. The project is called Voice of the Vortex.

P25 1ST SHOW Mrch 24 2912

Getting into it.

The genres of music I’m into the most are metal in all its forms (I’m a huge death metal fan), and jazz. I gravitate towards acoustic, instrumental jazz for the most part. I’m also a big Latin music fan, as I’m of Hispanic origin. I also love the blues,  funk, reggae, soul/R&B,  various “world musics,” especially Middle Eastern.  Last but not least is classical music. Unfortunately, it seems I don’t listen to enough of it. Days have only 24 hours, though!

In this blog I will be doing album reviews, and interviews with musicians (local only at first.)  I will cover mostly the genres mentioned above. If you like to dig into music beyond what’s being overplayed on the radio and what you see on the celebrity tabloids, if you value originality and substance over image and hype, if you listen to many genres of music, then this is the place for you.

I hope you join me in this journey of discovery.

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