REBECCA FRAME w/ ESQUELA

Rebecca FrameHow did Esquela come together?

John ‘Chico’ Finn and Keith Christopher have a long history together. And so, when John wanted to start his own band, it only made sense for Keith to be his partner in crime. While recording Esquela’s first album, “The Owl Has Landed”, I was invited to do some backing vocals. Soon thereafter, Chico asked me to take over lead vocals. Todd Russell, a friend of Chico’s from high school, was a perfect fit on drums for the evolving band. Chico asked me if I would be interested in playing mandolin, which would have tricky since I have never played this instrument.  But, my friend Matt had.  So, enter Matt Woodin. At some point it was evident that we would need a fill in guitar player, since Keith was busy with other projects. Enter Ira McIntosh and Brian Shafer. Early on we had some other players from the city, who were great guys, but it just worked out better for it to be upstaters.

How does the song writing process work for you guys? 

Chico gets inspired by either a funny story from a friend, an article he’s read, or a documentary he has seen, and of course life experience and puts a pen to paper. Sometimes, with the help of Keith, he records a rough draft and sends it my way. I usually stick to the melody he had in mind, but I get to play around with it a little. Later the band gets together and fleshes it out.

 

Esquela has a late 60’s vibe, what’s Esquela about to you?

Does it have a 60’s vibe? That’s cool. Esquela is about getting together and being free to create in whatever way we see fit for each song, and have a good time doing it. Maybe that’s how they did it in the 60’s too.

Do you have a philosophy when it comes to singing and what do you hope to put across personally?

I guess I just want to do justice to the songs. And try to convey the feel as best I can.  I wouldn’t say I have a philosophy, I just love to sing.

Esquela_cover (2)Where can producer Eric Ambel’s influence be heard most on Are We Rolling? versus the debut, The Owl Has Landed?

I can’t really say anything about the Owl. I just showed up at the studio in Oneonta and laid down the vocals and the rest was up to the fellas.  But with are we rolling it was awesome to work with Eric in a more intimate way. He took more of a directive role. He’s smart and kind of sneaky. hahaha. example: Eric knows that I like to belt out songs, which can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s a little much. so for take one he would tell me to give it all I got (just like I like to). then for take two he would ask me to take it easier and softer, which was a little challenging for me because that’s not how I usually “attack” a song. I think we ended up using more of the second takes. They sounded better. He was right. But, he was cool about being right. It was a good learning experience for me. Also, we have a lot of guitar players in the band. Brian, Ira, sometimes Matt…..so I think Eric helped sort out the chaos of who would do what when. Honestly, while they were doing their thing I was bullshitting with Chico and Todd, so who knows what REALLY went down.

What was the first record you ever bought and what’s your favorite thing about it today?

The first album I bought was the Body Guard Soundtrack. I mean, Whitney? come on! she is (was) incredible.  her voice can move you in a way that no one else’s can. simply beautiful and strong.

Who are your musical heroes?

Chico. he just goes for it. I wish I has his courage when it comes to sharing his work.  you want a famous hero? too bad. I stick with my decision.

When did you realize you could actually sing?

Hmmm…when I was in grade school, my friend had a recorder and we sat on my living room floor and sang “This Used To Be My Playground” by Madonna, which is funny because we were soooo young but we were sooo dramatic about it. then we started our make believe band and would use picnic tables as our stage. I guess the dream was there early. but I guess high school was when I found that I actually had some talent for real.

Was there someone early in your life that encouraged you?

I don’t know if encouraged is the right word. influenced works better for me. My father played the piano every night while I was falling asleep, all the women in my family sing, my sister showed me the awesomeness that is classic rock, and also looked the other way when I stole her SWV and En Vogue tapes. My mom would tolerate me playing her Beatles albums over and over…and over again. I had a wonderful teacher in high school who called me ‘songbird’. that’s encouraging….

It’s said singers get better with time; how do you separate the best from the rest? 

I’m not sure if i agree with that totally. i mean, refining your skills, takes work and time, and yes, you get better at it the more comfortable you are with what you are doing. but, when you are starting your musical journey there is so much enthusiasm, and hope, and drive, and passion. and those things can kind of fade. i think what separates the”best” from the rest, are those who can hold onto the passion that they had at the beginning.

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PATRICK McGRATH

1.0 – How do you compare 2006’s Wet Nurse To A Dirty Bag with the new EP, When Black Is Blue?

Wet Nurse To A Dirty Bag was a recording process that spanned almost two years for various reasons, both good & bad.When Black Is Blue, however, had 2 full days of tracking with a little extra off site tracking. The feel was spontaneous and organic. Musically they meld together being that my live show intertwines the two successfully. Wet Nurse To A Dirty Bag leaned more towards a grungier, darker, rock feel, whereas When Black Is Blue leans towards a more rootsy and, at times, quirkier side.

2.0 – It sounds like it came together rather serendipitously, or is that spin?

Ain’t no spin. It was pretty much a serendipitous affair. I had received a message from drummer, Randy Schrager, that he had a weekend free in between tours for Scissor Sisters and Jesse Malin. I then contacted producer, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, and he told me the weekend in question was free at Cowboy Technical Services in Brooklyn, NY. After rounding out the rhythm section with bassist Jared Engel, we rehearsed twice and went in and cut the basic tracks live.

3.0 – How was it working with legendary producer Eric Ambel?

Recording with Eric Ambel was as enjoyable as it was educational! The professionalism in the studio was the real deal while the vibe was loose and comfortable.

4.0 – What lead to the decision to do an EP versus a full length at this time?

The decision was reached via money or lack there of. I wanted to record a full length and had more than enough material but the budget was rather blue collar.

5.0 – What track on the disc are people gravitating to most?

I would say most people are gravitating towards the title track, “When Black Is Blue,” with “Heavy Thunder” running a close second.

6.0 – As a folk story teller of sorts, do you draw from personal experiences or approach songs as mini-novels?

I mostly tell stories derived directly from my own experience with a few name changes and a little necessary fiction when needed. Although the mini-novel approach is apropos when developing a concept rather than a specific experience.

7.0 – How are the east coast tour dates going for you?

The east coast tour dates have been a cool mix of gigs. They’ve ranged from playing in front of a couple of hundred people when I opened a bunch of dates for the great, Mike Doughty, to driving 5 hours to Annapolis to play in front of 5 people. Both ends of the gig spectrum are good times and lessons learned.

8.0 – Do you prefer the solo dates or fielding a band?

They are two totally different animals that I enjoy but lately, due to a few new collaborations, I enjoy fielding a band.

9.0 – What guitars and amps are you playing on tour? is that important?

It is very important. I play a National Resophonic Junior and a Fender Stratocaster through a VOX AC-15. I play a Martin DM acoustic guitar.

10.0 – Ray Davies stops by for tea, summons you to pick up a guitar….you start playing – what song?

Hmmm? … Bizarre question. Perhaps “Afternoon Tea” in honor of him. I might wanna run my new tune, “At The Rock Show,” by him to see what he thinks.

JOHN FINN w/ ESQUELA

 

1.0   Being an ‘upstate’ band, is it easy for Esquela to identify with, or be even more influenced by, “The Band”? Well, a little of both.  I can certainly identify with them as for how they got started – as Ronnie Hawkin’s band The Hawks – where they played all over Canada getting their chops down.  That is what Esquela has done over the last year by playing out, doing as many gigs as we could and really getting to know one another and trust our musicianship.  As far as The Band locating to Woodstock, I can understand why they did so.  It is a beautiful area and fairly close to NYC .

2.0   Is there an ‘upstate’ scene today? I think there is.  The farther north you go from NYC, the more affordable it is to reside.  I believe you would be hard pressed to find a nice property for less than $1 million in the Woodstock area.  As with the East Village now gentrifying and the new East Village becoming Williamsburg & Bushwick, the same is true here in the Catskills.  There are more artists of all sorts working their way further north. The Andes Hotel (Andes, NY) is one of my favorite venues up here because they support the local scene, are always busy and they take care of the bands.

3.0   How did Esquela come together? Mainly, because of Keith Christopher, our lead guitar player.  I’ve known Keith for close to fifteen years, since he was the bass player in my brother’s band, Disciples of Agriculture, and I was their manager.  Soon thereafter, I started taking bass lessons from Keith and we continued this relationship and he and I would regularly team up in various other bands like TCR/Tony Clifton Revival where we only played CCR tunes with a Tony Clifton impersonator! We also played together in The El Mighty Chicos; Fate Denied Us Victory, Future Farmers of America, Pispoure and ultimately in Disciples of Agriculture. In most cases, Keith was playing guitar or drums and I would play bass. In 2008, Keith and I were riding back to the City after a gig and he asked if I wanted to hear a CD of Fela Kuti. I remember him saying “you probably won’t like it”.  But he was wrong – it was so good that I think we listened to the record two times through during the trip. Fela’s music was very inspiring.  I had just gotten an old version of Protools and I was messing around with it – started dropping down chords and beats and naturally brought Keith up to fill out most of the parts.  I had some lyrics that I had been fooling around with…started putting them together with the songs and the next thing you knew we had a bunch of songs.  My vocals were the scratch tracks and they just weren’t that good and I knew of this one really great singer in our area, Rebecca Frame. I brought her in to record as many as I could convince her to sing on. She liked some of the ones I sang on, so we left that and of course Keith did a great job on “Tin Horns”, so we left that one alone too. Once the record was coming together and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel was involved, Keith and I put a band together to play out.  We knew it would be us two and Rebecca and from there it made sense to add Matt Woodin on mandolin and rhythm guitar, because he plays with Rebecca in their band, The Honest Mistakes.  Richie Tousell is an old friend of Keith’s and they’ve played together a bunch over the years and the drummer who plays most of our gigs is Todd Russell who I grew up with.

4.0   How much guitar did Eric Ambel play on “The Owl Has Landed? Roscoe really did a great job at adding subtleties to the recording.  I believe he added guitar tracks to most of the songs – but ones that jump out the most are in “Richie” and “Here and Now”.  He also added a honky-tonk type piano on “Richie”. He added keys here or there; vocals; accordion; percussion, etc. – whatever he felt the track needed. Keith can play any instrument.  He would play the drums and make the drums sound like an instrument.  He added keys when needed and played the rhythm tracks as well as the leads. Backing vocals, lead vocals, tambourine; whatever we needed, he did it.

5.0   Are you happy with the way it turned out? Yes, especially after Roscoe finished with it.  He took the rough parts and made it all smooth.  Having never had done this before, I was very apprehensive and had self-doubt.  But by having Roscoe step in and be a part of what Keith and I started, really gave me confidence that this was a nice piece of work.  I am proud of it.  Granted, it may not be for all or not be the most complicated musical compositions – but it came from the heart and I think that passion can translate.

6.0   What are your favorite tracks on the record? I would say “Here and Now” and “Tin Horns” . “Here and Now” was written as a tribute to my Mother, who died in a one car car accident and it was a tragic and early end to a wonderful life.  She was an artist and was very influential to me.  In fact, the cover art, I did in 6th grade when she was my art teacher…on the back it says “A+ well drawn and well-placed on paper – the fact that the owl is small does not detract from the drawing because of good arrangement of other objects in picture – drawing small is your style”.  We had a gig last month in Milford, NY at the Hoedown in the Blowdown, and I introduced this song to the audience and for the first time I said what this song was about and how she had died in Milford, NY.  None of the band new this or what the song was about.  Half way during the song, I was in tears on stage.  That was a tough one to play through, but it was cathartic.  The band really nailed it that day.

I also like the way “Tin Horns” came together.  I had a rough draft of a beat and mandolin and some lyrics.  The next day Keith came upstate to my house and I told him about the song but I didn’t like the melody.  He thought about it and a few hours later he asked if I liked this melody.  He played it for me on guitar and I immediately started recording his acoustic over what I had.  He then played drums and even bass on the track.  My brother stopped by and whipped up two verses to add to the song and within four hours we had a rough mix of the song.  It was the definition of collaboration.

7.0   Any plans for a follow-up? Yes, after our next gig at Rodeo Bar on 10/3 – my girlfriend Wendy and I are expecting a little girl.  So the band is on hiatus.  However, I have another batch of songs in the hopper that Keith and I are planning on getting together for and laying down some rough drafts.  My goal is to release another record in 2011.

8.0   You host a private ‘Livestock’ event annually, how was this years festivities? ‘Livestock’ went great.  Someone asked me: “you’ve had this festival for 8 years and never have had a fight?”. When you think about it, alcohol and hundreds of people and no fights – it is a cool thing. That is the type of festival it is.  Usually whatever artists play ask to come back; Steve Wynn, Graham Parker, Jim Lauderdale, Marah, College Farm, Grainbelt, etc.. Maybe it is just the type of artists they are or the festival is cool.  This year Jason Ringenberg played as “Farmer Jason” which was a hit in the amphitheatre. He also graced the stage with Grainbelt and College Farm and did a few Scorchers’ numbers.

9.0   How did you get the Nickname “Chico”? Unfortunately, I am a NY Mets fan and have been since 1977.  In that era, the Mets were terrible as well.  So bad that SNL would mock the Mets and they did a skit with Chico Esquela (Garret Morris) who was a Hispanic ballplayer making a comeback at baseball at the age of 42.  Naturally, being an older brother who would pick on his younger weaker brother, Dan nicknamed me “Chico” and it stuck. Yes, I still follow the Mets.

10.0 Tell the truth, did you guys have to buy new pajamas for your “Hands On My Jammies” video? I’ll never tell!

ESQUELA: http://www.esquelatheband.com