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.

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ADAM LEVY w/ THE HONEYDOGS

What do you feel is the high point of your new release, The Honeydogs; What Comes After?

This whole record feels like a solid offering to me. Hard to pick faves, just like your own children. The ending of “Devil We Do,”  “Broke it, Buy It,” The string arrangements on “Everything in its Place” and “Turned Around.”

What other Honeydogs release would you say is closest kin to the newbie?  

Hmmmmmm.  The record feels like a synthesis of our older roots records with some of the more elaborately arranged records of the last decade.   It has elements of our first two, and a few moments of 10,000 Years or Amygdala.

Now ten albums on, has the process of choosing the album title changed at all and how does “What Comes After” sum up what this record is bout to you? 

Album titles are in some ways like song titles.  They have some significance.  “What Comes After” has a bit of a spiritual ring to it–i was thinking about life and death matters quite a bit in the last year.  it’s also self-referential as an artist–I always like to keep moving forward artistically.  I have a number of projects percolating, and feel in a more creatively productive period than at any point in my career.  I hope to continue to always ask the question, “what comes after?”

How do you work as a band when it comes to new material; has it changed over the years? 

As the band has gotten more adept at learning songs the unit has become accomplished in the art of learning tunes on the spot; this record I brought a lot of songs the band had never heard.  They learned the songs and we tracked them immediately, sometimes in one or two takes.  That said, the band and my songwriting, while having a signature style, has always tried to not be predictable.  We don’t want to retread previous charted territory.  The band as players have developed some great antennae and abilities to learn quickly and fashion parts that feel new. This record was the easiest one we’ve ever made.  We worked with young engineers.  The band didn’t labor over details and we tried to retain as many of basic tracks and vocals as possible.

When is it time to get into the studio for The Honeydogs? Is it an organic process or does it take a lot of pre-production at this point?  

its time to go in the studio when I feel like I’ve got enough songs to work with.  The band loves being in the studio.  We grow a great deal every time we do this.  As I mentioned, little or no pre-production happened on songs for this record.  It is a very collective process of giving shape to a new body of work.  I always have ideas and make suggestions about parts.  But the more we work together, the more I trust everyone’s amazing instincts in this band.

Did you have any personal goals for this record? 

Sometimes not having expectations has some interesting results.  We didn’t have big plans tracking this record.  I felt like the songs were very personal and felt very comfortable in the studio with results happening quickly.  Not having any expectations always leaves you pleasantly surprised.

How did you gravitate toward ‘folk’ as the framework for your expression as a young artist?  

I grew up with the 1970’s pop folk landscape of radio. All of those bands listened to blues and folk and country.  My early favorites were all bands that merged older American musical styles with various other musical traditions.  I studied cultural anthropology in college and managed to soak up a lot of early American music in my studies.  I played in country VFW bands, old school honkytonk, and woodshedded to old blues and jazz records.  My early songwriting leaned heavily on Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Richard Thompson, Dylan…I never wanted to be a museum piece simply curating old musics and always had it in my mind to refer to these musics while offering something different.  My favorite artists have used the past as a touchstone to produce inspired hybrids and fresh interpretations.

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

Ha ha ha ha ha.  Badly or well?  KISS’s “Detroit Rock City”  badly.  “Sweet Black Angel” from the Stones’ Exile on MainStreet.

Who was your favorite guitarist growing up? 

I loved Mick Jones from The Clash.  Jimi Hendrix taught me the most.  I studied him hard.  Keith Richards and Pete Townsend taught me the importance of riffs and funky minimalism.  George Harrison taught me the importance of composing parts sometimes to create memorable music.

What advice do you give young artists looking to hit the road?  

Do it while you have time and freedom.  Create a great band.  Make everyone feel invested, loved, appreciated, and hope they areb equally driven.  It takes time to build a good team.  Be patient but be relentless and learn from failures…over and over and over.  Don’t listen to your parents.  I say that as a parent!