JOHNNY IGUANA w/ THE CLAUDETTES

What are you working on right now and why are you excited about it?  Right now, I’m writing, writing, writing. The Claudettes already finished our third full-length album (our first two albums and EP are here), which will come out later this year. It was produced by Black Keys/Old 97’s producer Mark Neill. It’s something special, I can’t wait for people to hear it. But I’m so inspired by how the four-piece (two-singer) lineup of the Claudettes has come together over the past 12 months that I’m now really dialing in how to write for THIS assemblage. That’s the ticket to the best music right there: not just having songs and parts you write just to be writing, or because you have ideas that excite you, but also knowing the musical strengths and sweet spots of the musicians and singers who are actually in the band with you RIGHT NOW. I like to quote Duke Ellington, who said he scored all those hits because he always asked himself, “What do THESE guys do well?”

Did you grow up with music in your family?  My mother listened to a lot of classical music, but loved rock music, too. My uncle played and worked in music, and still does. I never stopped playing after I started classical lessons at age 8 (continuing to age 13, at which point I had bands for the rest of my life).

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  The aforementioned uncle was a road manager and significant creative influence for the Cars. I went to see them in Philly, where they opened for Foreigner. Seeing Ben Orr backstage with a feather boa, sunglasses and a woman on each arm…even at age eight, I said to myself, “That looks cool. I want that.” As of now, my personal record is one woman. But I’m working on better and better songs all the time.

What was your first public performance?  I remember playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” at a piano recital, and I messed it up badly. The demon in my head kept asking, “Hey, buddy boy? What’s the next chord? I bet you’ll forget it and blow the whole thing.” To this day, live performance for me is still a contest with that demon. As long as I don’t provoke him into asking me those questions, all goes beautifully…but it does happen sometimes, at which point I just smash all the keys and proceed with anger at myself as my primary motivation.

How do songs come about for you?  Very often, I have words in a notebook that develop from a single lyric to a full song. Sometimes, I then write music to accompany those words. Other times, I spontaneously come up with new music (often by just happening on one unusual or even accidental chord change), then go upstairs to flip through my notebook and see if I’ve got something that seems like a match.

Do you have any day-of-show (or pre-show) rituals that help you get in the right mindset to perform live?  Truth be told, I like a couple drinks. My drink is two drinks: a bourbon and a beer. It puts me just right. There is DEFINITELY such a thing as too much, and it turns me into a sloppy player. There’s good sloppy, as in the best blues, but then there’s just messy. I do like to remind my band mates to not worry about perfection…it’s much, much, much better to put your whole heart, soul, joy and sadness into this performance than it is to get all the parts and changes right. That kind of perfection without a wellspring of emotion is boring to the audience and it’s especially boring to me.

Who is on your musical Mount Rushmore?  My teenage musical heroes were Junior Wells (the blues band I was in at age 16 in Philly took 2/3 of our repertoire from Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues”and “South Side Blues Jam” albums and his other recordings), Mike Watt (of Minutemen and fIREHOSE) and Joe Strummer (The Clash, of course). I managed to join the Junior Wells band soon after I finished college (I met him in NYC, then moved to Chicago when he asked me to join the band) and I got to tour with him for three years, and record with him, too. My band oh my god ended up opening for Mike Watt at the Double Door and his band mates told me that we were the best band they’d played with on that tour (which was probably around 70 dates). Mike and the band slept at my house once (on another occasion, when I just went to see them at Double Door). Mike stayed up late with me, talking about music, Minutemen and D. Boon. I gave him bad parking advice (I found out that night that the Ford Econoline is a bit taller than the Dodge RAM; as a result, they had to park on the street), and their van was ticketed and was just about to be towed when Mike walked over to the van to check on it. Great job impressing your heroes, dufus. And oh my god was on the short list to open up for Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros when I was driving home from the dentist and heard a Clash song. Then, I changed stations…and heard another! “Yes!” When the third station I flipped to was playing the Clash, my heart sunk…after the song, they announced that he had just died at age 50. I was so, so sad that he was gone, and that I didn’t get to complete my triumvirate of wished-for hero experiences.

What advice do you give to young musicians seeking their path?  I’m not qualified to offer advice, ’cause I’m not satisfied yet myself. Just practice a lot, record the practices and know that those practice recordings don’t lie. If the Jimi Hendrix Experience made a basement tape, guess what? They wouldn’t be saying, “Oh, you can’t really hear the bass, that’s why this doesn’t sound that good.” Nah, the best artists sound spectacular, no matter what the mix. To sing or play the best, you need to do it a lot. Ray Charles practiced scales when he was 65 years old…daily, so he said.

You are to perform at the Grammy’s but they want you to do a cover, what tune do you choose and why?  I don’t know. I feel like I’d promise a cover and then switch over to my most demented instrumental…you know, Elvis Costello SNL-style. I think this cover-song culture we’re in is weak and lame. People singing “Superstition” on “Vermont’s Got Talent.” “Oh, he’s WON-DA-FUL!” The world needs a new crop of songs and singers…get to work…

You and a friend are given to access to a time machine called ‘The Day Tripper’ in which you can attend any concert in history — what are your coordinates and who do you bring with for the ride?  I’d probably set the machine for ‘Pedro in the early ’80s and see the Reactionaires evolve into Minutemen, and talk to D. Boon a lot after the sets. I wouldn’t need to bring anyone with me, I’d just go talk to the band about tones and chord changes and influences and great records.

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STEVE KARRAS

What are you working on right now and why are you excited about it?  Currently am involved with The Mourners, putting a 2017 spin on Chuck Berry and other beloved Blues and Soul artists and getting people to stop gazing at their navels. Also collaborating with Detroit-based muso and personal heroes Robert Crenshaw (Marshall Crenshaw band) and enlisting the great Don Dixon to produce and play on it. The two played on my 2015 demo Brady Lane.”

Did you grow up with music in your family? There was always good music playing throughout my childhood. Between the 50’s-era fare and a steady flow of great country music – everything from Eddy Arnold to the New Riders of the Purple Sage – my dad liked a lot. Then there my brother’s own evolving musical tastes that included Weather Report, Stanley Clarke, Bob Marley, The Grateful Dead, which really made an impact. My love of new wave and SKA came from my best friend’s older brother Rick Goldman.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  Going to Blues Fest in Chicago exposed me to Dr John, Robert Cray, Willie Dixon, Lurie Bell, Lonnie Brooks was terribly important. There’s a toss-up between Los Lobos/Dave Alvin and the 1986 UIC Pavilion show featuring REM and Camper Van Beethoven as my life’s seminal show going experiences. After hearing REM’s first four releases, including the EP “Chronic Town,” I felt part of a movement of indie-minded youth. If you met an REM fan, circa 84, there was an instant mutual admiration society in the making. I was also blown-away by Elvis Costello’s Spike Tour I got to see at Poplar Creek, outside Chicago.

What was your first public performance?  Aside from playing open mics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my first professional show (where I got paid) occurred in Chicago at a club called At the Tracks. It went ok but I was far from where I wanted to be. My first bon-a-fide show in a band was with my group Sourball, opening for Living Colour’s front-man Corey Glover.

How do songs come about for you?  For me they come SLOW but they always start with some kind of hook and melody in my head. Thanks to iPhones I quickly record the idea with the voice memo app. The lyrics either come quickly or I go to a note-pad and mine words from the stream of consciousness drivel I regularly jot down.

How do you feel about playing covers and what are your personal go-to’s?  I love covers but ones most would call “deep-cuts” (I hate that phrase almost as much as the word “iconic”). There are amazing tunes out there to snag.

Who are your favorite 3 artists of all-time?  This is tough but I never stray too far from Elvis Costello for his clever word-play and infectious melodies. The same goes for Richard Thompson who is not only my favorite guitarist but tunesmith. Sam Cooke (with or without the Soul Stirrers) hits an emotional place, deep down in my soul. Shit, only 3 artists? There’s a lot more. The Band is probably number 4.

What advice would you give to a young musician seeking a path?  In the words of famed Texas football coach Darrell Royal, “Dance with the one that brung you.”

Are you jazzed about any new artists or releases we should know about?  I really like the Irish artist Hozier. The song “Someone New” has all the great qualities you’d find in Paul Weller and Graham Parker. There’s something about Europeans and the way they can infuse R&B with pop.

You are to put something personal in a time capsule headed for the outer reaches of space — what is your offering for mankind?   Probably Duke Ellington’s Jazz take on the Nutcracker Suite just to show the universe what mankind was capable of creatively and how a descendent of slaves could transcend race with genius.

MURPH DANIELS w/ WOOD SHAMPOO

MURPHY's lawYour new record as Wood Shampoo is a greatest hit of sorts; must be great to get 17 songs off your chest?

If feels like we just won the WBA title against Mike Tyson and we even have the bite marks to prove it.   We took some of the best songs we had written in the last couple of years that no one has ever heard and a few new cuts as well and we started up the band’s Lear and headed up to Gateway Mastering Studios in Maine to see the master himself, Bob Ludwig. After Bob performed his magic, we were all systems go.

It seems so few records these days have a sense of humor unless it’s tied in with a band’s gimmick overtly, where does Wood Shampoo fit in that spectrum?

Our motto is simple: we have nothing to lose, so let’s have so fun for crying out loud and try to put a smile on our fan’s faces. Life’s tough enough, so we want to give everyone an outlet to escape from that. Anything goes in our writing: from sexy girls, vampires, aliens, the crazy world of the stock market, dead rock stars, crack, cover girls, gambling – you name it, we probably have a song about it and if we don’t, then we will for the next album.

Do you think being from New York gives you some sense of entitlement when it comes to rocking (hard)?

That’s an interesting question. Would you be able to make that a multiple choice question and give me a wink when I am near the right answer (that used to work for me in my high school French class)? I think there is so much top-shelf quality homegrown music here thrown in with the greatest bands in the world always stopping by to make NYC an extremely competitive market. You just cannot survive in front of the NYC fans unless you are at your best because they will not settle for anything less. They’ll take you out in stretchers if you’re off your game – they’re that sledgehammer tough. Even my own family throws rotten tomatoes at me in those cases, so use your imagination.

WOOD_SHAMPOO_coverWhat are your favorite cuts on the disc and which is your least?

Every track on the disc was picked by a panel of experts in the field using our proprietary analysis of qualitative and quantitative data. In other words, we like all the cuts. That being said, some of the ones that stand out for us are Wanna Be A Dead Rock Star, Top of the World, She’s So Fine, Cover Girl, Where’s the Party Earthling?, You Suck (Mr. Vampire), Ticker Tape, One More Chance, and of course our title track Crack, Crack Heart Attack. They just have a certain je ne sais quoi.  They are packed full of radio friendly hooks on every level and that’s how we like them. You’re lucky enough to get one or two on an album and here you are getting a lifetime supply. Go to our website, WOODSHAMPOO.net and hear them for yourselves and you be the judge and leave us a comment while you’re at it. We like to read them at breakfast.

I would say the cut that’s our least favorite is Three Cheers because it doesn’t fit into the format as well for this album, but we put it on there due to popular demand. It’s like early Bruce Springsteen meets Lou Reed and they decide to take a walk on the wild side. There’s great sax on that one from Frankie Tee.

What’s the story behind Crack, Crack Heart Attack the tune? I understand the CIA was involved?

What I’m about to tell you is the absolute truth (writer’s note: be aware Murph Daniels is currently wired up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and has been connected to a Delco car battery by a couple of independent contractors who work for a nameless agency. They are also wearing cheap suits.). We were in the studio and one of my producers, who also happens to be a guitarist on the record, Eddie Martinez, asked me to play him the day’s songs I had written for the session. Turns out nothing caught his ear that day and we just don’t waste our time with a song that doesn’t make that first cut, so he suggested a song I had done on a Murph Daniels’ solo record that he really loved, but thought we could do it much better now. That song was Crack, Crack Heart Attack and everyone at the session knocked in out of the ballpark that day. On a crazy side note, when I get a bad headache, I have found if I play this song really loud in the car, it will cure me after a play or two. Try it for yourself, I’m not kidding. JJ Cale had been an inspiration for me with the writing of this song because I thought if he could have a hit with the song Cocaine then why couldn’t someone have a hit song with the drug crack. He just passed away and will be missed.

WoodShampooThere are some monster players on the album: how does one assemble such a line-up without a major label budget?

Well, without getting into the budget, because the accountants are watching me 24/7, it’s really quite simple. You don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on studio costs, so why not get the greatest musicians alive to come down and do it right in one or two takes. Co-producers and guitarists Tommy Byrnes and Eddie Martinez are masters at their craft. They also put a crack (excuse the pun) team together. We not only captured Wood Shampoo at its prime, but had fun doing it. I called up Gateway Mastering and sent them the tracks and Bob Ludwig and team thought it was something they could definitely work with. They brought out sounds from the mix I had never even heard before. Bob is a genius and just an all around great guy. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned from working with him. And let’s not forget our fifth Beatle, Rich Gibbons. He was our engineer and mixer on most of the tracks and always had Wood Shampoo’s back. Rich fits in so great and I think part of the reason is that he is a Senior Producer at The Howard Stern Show and with that job comes a great sense of humor.

How does the writing process work for you and how do you know or feel a song is complete and ready for recording?

I usually hear or read something that catches my attention and knocks me off my feet. I then use that phrase as a building block for the rest of the song. Other times I come up with a catchy riff first and the lyrics follow somehow as I play the riff over and over again on guitar. I take the songs to my producers, which usually is Tommy, and they continue the process. Inspirations for some of my songs have been from hearing someone saying “you suck” to their parent and wanting to find a funny way to use it in a song which turned out to be You Suck (Mr. Vampire), to having my best friend ask me for years if he could have my guitars when I die and that one later turned into My Best Friend Died (and Left Me His Guitar).

What’s the first album you ever bought and the first you ever tossed out in a disappointment (if any?)?

I think the first album I ever bought was Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” I was truly amazed by the musicianship. I think I probably traded the albums I didn’t like for the ones I wanted at a local store so I never actually would throw one out.

Gun, or billy club, to your head: what are your favorite three albums of all time?

I’m a huge music fan and I really love a mix of everything from Talking Heads, The Clash, Guns N’ Roses, Elvis Costello, Nirvana, Otis Redding, James Brown, Johnny Hallyday, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, The Jam, Al Green, Joe Williams, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Roy Orbison, Hoodoo Gurus, Moby Grape, Toots Thielemans, and Johnny Hallyday. Stop me when I pass three okay?

If you had put out a Wood Shampoo double-live opus in the 70’s, what would it have been called and how were sales?

I think we would have called it “Wood Shampoo: One Lump or Two?” and it would have been a limited sold-out run of one million copies in blood red vinyl. 

CRAIG ELKINS

1.0 – How long did it take you to write, record, and finally mix the new disc, “I Love You”?

Most of the songs on “I Love You” were written over a 3 year period -2008-2010 where I was struggling in every conceivable way. I’ve always struggled. But the walls were really starting to collapse inward financially & relationship wise. Los Angeles is an expensive ride and we literally didn’t have enough money to get a tire fixed.

Most of the record was recorded at the Pass (RIP) in Studio City, CA (a studio once owned by Tom Jones!) in 2 days. 99% of the vocals are live. All of the rhythm tracks are live. My friend Rynne came in and did some background vocals for us (she’s now in the band), Marko, our bass player and producer/mixer of most of the tracks on the record, had his 11 year old son play tuba on “Most of the People”. Mixing was a slower process because it took us a while to figure out that Marko was going to mix the whole thing (or most of it – Zeph Sowers, who works with TV on the Radio mixed “Gravel”, and Todd Solomon recorded and mixed “This House”). Then it was a matter of fitting it in around the daily minutia of middle aged white-guydum.

2.0 – Did you have a vision for how the album should sound before going in or did it evolve?

It evolved – pretty quickly. My friend Jason Karaban, who I wrote “Tumbleweeds” and “Tell em My Story” with (he’s got his own version of “Tumbleweeds” coming out on his record this summer as well) is friends with a handful of super great, generous musicians – Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Dave Immergluck & Charlie Gillingham (Counting Crows) and Niel Larsen (Leonard Cohen). We had no idea how it was going to sound, I don’t think, until Niel played the piano solo on Gravel – then everything sort of started to take on the same flavor. Later on, I brought in Dr. Steve Patt – family practitioner to the stars and ridiculously talented musician – to play pedal steel and we ended up with a kind of mid 70’s Merl Haggard record.

3.0 – Did you approach the record on a strictly tune-by-tune basis or were there themes you wanted to get across?

I wrote these songs during a tumulteous time in my life and so everything fits nicely together theme wise. I didn’t set out to write an album of 9 melancholy songs about middle aged angst but I wasn’t writing about anything else either so, yes & no.

4.0 – Which tracks are fans and friends gravitating to so far?

The ones where I get the girl or where my lady does me wrong and I exact revenge by buying a nice car.

Craig-Elkins-Band-Color-hi-rez5.0 – It’s been over a decade since the Huffamoose Billboard Hit, “Wait” (#34, 1998), and yet the new stuff maintains the dry wit that was a hallmark of the band, where does it come from for you?

hmm – well, I’ve spent most of my life in music pretending to know what I’m doing. I never had the intellectual staying power to really dig into song crafting, the language of songwriting, etc. I barely listen to music- so maybe that’s how I can muster up just a smidgen of originality –  I sort of found my way to my own voice in this ass-backwards way. I know my dad and I like to laugh at the same things. So do my daughter and I.  The other members of Huffamoose seemed to share this sensibility too.  I know that I’m extremely attractive and attractive people tend to be really creative and fun to be around.

6.0 – Has living now in California impacted your music or outlook on life in any way?

Well, I’m not sure if it’s California, but I certainly have had my toughest years here. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have written these songs in Philadelphia, but who knows. LA can be this amazingly gorgeous prison. You look outside at the wonderful sunshine and the air smells divine but you can’t go out and enjoy it – you’re too busy trying to make your rent – at least that’s been my experience – no mortgages in my present or near future. That’s another odd thing about LA…I feel like I’m the only one who struggles. Everyone else just drives to and from meetings at Starbucks in their BMWs.

7.0 – What got you hooked on rock & roll as a kid?

The way the towel looked on my head when I was pretending to be a rock star in the bathroom mirror. That and the Bread song “Guitar Man.”

8.0 – What was the first song you ever learned to sing and play at the same time?

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

9.0 – What three 70’s albums should be in every music lovers collection?

1. Presence – Led Zepplin

2. Tapestry – Don McClean

3. Something Anything – Todd Rungdren

10.0 – Is it really true that you “Can’t Stop Being A Dick”?   

It is 100% true. It is an absolute truth. I literally wake up every moring with the best of intentions and by the time I shuffle out into the kitchen and ignore my wife or yell at one of my 5 cats, I’m back.

MATT MAGUIRE

1.0 – Are you happy with how your debut Larabee EP Expose A Little Wire has been received?
I am happy. I didn’t know what to expect when I made the decision to release the songs.  It’s been a pleasant surprise to have total strangers listen to the songs and react to them in a positive way.  I’m hoping more people will get to hear the songs as well.

2.0 – Did you have specific goals in mind for the release? There was no master plan for the release of Expose a Little Wire other than to follow in the footsteps of other DIY musicians.  It’s a tricky time in the music business because somewhere along the way people began to assume that music should be free.  So financial goals are difficult to assess.  The main goal is to put the music out and make a connection with people.

3.0 – Are there any plans for a full-length follow up to the EP? There are definitely plans for more recorded music.  I’d love to record a full-length album.  I will probably put out a single or another EP before a full-length because I have songs in the can that I would rather release than hold onto for too long.

4.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to recording?  My philosophy on recording is to get a song to a point where you feel as though you could listen to it forever.  The most frustrating thing about recording is to put in the time, effort and money and come out with something that you can’t stand to listen to.  From a sound perspective, I like classic 1960’s and 1970s recording sounds and styles because on the whole those sounds have staying power.  There’s nothing sadder than to put on a 1980s recording that you loved at the time and realize that the 80s big drum sound ruins the track.  I wish I was more technically oriented so that I could have a better working knowledge of the recording process.  That’s something I need to work on going forward.

5.0 – Your video for “Little Liar” has a great old school vibe & look, how did it come about? Thanks.  I saw other videos that used old footage from various places and came across a neat website that compiled stuff that was no longer covered by copyright, so it was fair game to use.  In searching through the archives I found pieces of a film called “Coffeehouse Rendezvous.”  It was really cheesy but I liked the overall look and feel of it.  Parts of the film were originally shot in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, not far from my house, so I used those bits and pieces as a nod to my hometown.  Throw in an iMovie editing feature, and you have yourself a video.  There, I’ve given away all of my video creation secrets.

6.0 – When did you get hooked on rock & roll? what songs early in life left a mark on you most? Probably by age 5.  I am the youngest of five children and I used to sit in my room for hours playing my older sisters’ records – hairbrush microphone in hand.  That stack of 45s was full of Motown, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Foundations, The Monkees and The Beatles.  From the stack of 45s I think The Foundations “Baby Now That I Found You” got a lot of play.  Seriously, how can anybody resist the “ba da da da” background vocals?  A little later I would say that Elvis Costello’s “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes” left a big mark.  That song was really my introduction to The Byrds because of the jangly guitar sound.  Nick Lowe’s Labor of Lust album in it’s entirety is fantastic as is Please Panic by The Vulgar Boatmen.

7.0 –  Have your tunes always had a twang to them or did that develop over time? I think the twang developed over time, but I was always drawn to the twangy stuff by The Monkees did (Papa Gene’s Blues, What I Am I Doing Hangin’ Round), Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe.  I also had some old Faron Young records as a kid.  I suppose that sound keeps kicking around in my head.

8.0 – Do songs come easy to you or are they labors of love that have to steep before being ready for prime time?  The songs couldn’t come any slower if I tried.  I wish that I could be one of those writers who can bang out song after song.  I am always amazed when I hear someone say that they went into the studio with 30 new songs and whittled it down to 10.  Once written, however, the song structure doesn’t tend to change drastically.

9.0 –  Is there anyone in your life, outside the band, that you trust as sounding board for new material?  I have a friend from high school, Gerry, who used to help manage my old band.  He’s listened to everything I’ve written since I started playing.  His opinion matters because he knows good music and he understands what makes a good song good.

10.0 – Dreaming late last night you got a call from ‘Mr. Bigg’ about a summer tour, what act are you going out in support of?  It would have to be Elvis Costello, but only because he was touring with the spinning wheel of songs from the entirety of his career.  So many great songs.  And because this happened in a dream, all of the fans at the show would become Larabee fans.