Interview with Dez & Mike of TWINRAY
1) How long have the two of you been playing music together? Twelve years. We met playing in one of Chicago’s longest running theater shows but we didn’t start writing together until 2 years ago.
2) What led to the decision to formally become TWINRAY? We had a few days off together in the freezing cold month of February. We had just gotten home from the “Nobody Works in February” musician’s party and we started writing songs for fun. We liked what we came up with and thought it would be great to have a project together. It seemed logical because we were both touring separately and wanted to travel together.
3) How is “The Train You’re On” record coming along? It’s finally finished. We recorded it with the “awesome” Sean O’Keefe (credits include Hey There Delilah by The Plain White T’s, Fallout Boy and Hawthorne Heights) He was amazing to work with. Now you can buy our Cd’s on Itunes, Amazon, Zune, CD Baby, Napster, Myspace Music, several other online stores and of course our website (www.twinraymusic.com)
4) Which tunes are you most excited about?
Desiree: “Crazy In My Mind”, “Do You Wanna Go”, “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Twisted”. Mike: We love all off our children equally!!
5) You guys blend a lot of influences, how do folks categorize your music? We often ponder this. We have come up with describing ourselves as acoustic rock and genre bending. We try not to think about it but we’ve learned that we have to.
6) How does the writing process work for you two? Mike usually comes up with a riff or a groove. I go through my journals and see if I have any lyrics I like, or ideas that match the vibe. Then I write the melody and the sections (verse, chorus, bridge). We come up with the chord progressions and the finishing touches together.
7.) What is your favorite thing about the Chicago’s Underground Wonder Bar? I love that all kinds of music is played there from people from all walks of life. It is the most supportive environment for artists. They are the only bar in the city that will pay you a set fee for your originals. Mike says “I really like the family vibe.”
8.) Do You Always perform as a duo? We have performed with a full band but we find it easier to play together. It’s easier to tour and cheaper!! We are thinking about doing do our Cd release party with a full band.
9) What advice would you give to budding young artists? Write write write and learn as many songs as possible. Study the art form and record yourself practicing. Go out and see live music. Talk to other musicians..and be adventurous and open. Stay focused. Oh, and Mike says “Don’t forget why you do what you do.”
10) Most couples have a ‘song’, what tune is ‘your song’ if any? ha ha…you probably won’t believe this but it’s “Luckenbach, Texas” by Waylon Jennings…and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica :)
Where did your affinity for traditional rock & roll begin? I was a young teenager, living out in the country. A record store in the nearest town opened up, and I’d go there to special order hard-to-find stuff like The Stooges (you can’t find proto-punk in Buffalo Valley, Oklahoma). A cool girl who worked there gave me a gift- a Buddy Holly box set that was on the liquidation shelf. When I heard his rockabilly stuff, primarily the Decca stuff (Blue Days Black Nights, etc.), it was so moving. It was wild, rockin’ music, with country inflections, and full of life. I had a little band then, and we started greasing our hair and putting Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis in our repertoire alongside our Ramones, Nirvana, and Stooges material. A very Oklahoman thing to do, it seemed.
What was the first record you ever purchased, does it still resonate with you? Raising Hell by Run D.M.C. I helped my dad pull apart scrap metal in our barn, and I used that money to buy a tape deck along with that tape. I love that record; it’s certainly a classic piece of American music. Run DMC are the Bill Haley of hip hop. There’s something daring about the drum sound on that record. It’s mixed like an 80’s hard rock record.
Are you happy with how “Sings & Signifiers” turned out? Yes, very – and I’m looking forward to the next. I think we started out just to make a good, traditional Rock N’ Roll record. Somewhere around halfway through the recording process, I summoned the confidence to play Jimmy a couple of song ideas, which were “A Gentle Awakening” and “Signs & Signifiers”, two decidedly, uhhh, “abstract” takes on the Rock N’ Roll medium. He was stoked. We were in agreement. I think for the next record, we’ll be pushing songs in more experimental directions. I’d like to apply contemporary, fresh ideas to everything I love about Rock N’ Roll. There are elements of Bo Diddley in “Signs”, but it’s darker, and meditative. “A Gentle Awakening” has some heavy things happening. Our cover of Tiny Kennedy’s “Country Boy” has some off-center arrangement. I think I mentioned mixing Raekwon from Wu-Tang and and Son House for that track. That’s the stuff I’m most excited about.
What does the album title mean to you? A screwy nod to postmodern semiology. Roland Barthes. Art school pretentiousness. Good times!
At first blush “Signs & Signifiers” seems quintessentially American music, what other influences are you moved by? I’d hope to think I have pretty broad and eclectic tastes. Man, I love American Rock N’ Roll, and I gravitate towards it, but I am ultimately a student of all music.
How did Chicago become a part of your story? I was part of a fabulous band, The Stark Weather Boys. Great band, really high-energy stuff. Incredibly loud and swinging drummer. Really the first time I was focusing on musicianship – we were trying to play dual-harmony telecaster leads at maximum volume with total physical commitment. Jimmy Sutton in Chicago happened upon our MySpace page and listened to the songs. He invited us up to Chicago to play some shows, and we hit it off. We started talking on the phone quite a bit, and he eventually asked me if I’d like to record at the studio he’d just finished building. It grew from there. My last trip up there, Jimmy had a gig at Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends, so I tagged along. I saw three or four blues bands that night, and it was like: “Gee, I’m in Chicago, watching blues at Buddy Guy’s place.” It was like going to the Ford plant to pick up a Model T.
How was the album recorded? I had written about half the material on my own in Oklahoma, and the rest was put together in Chicago. It was an incredible experience. Alex Hall, who is an outstanding drummer, and also an outstanding engineer, would run into the control room, get the levels, start the tape rolling, then would run into the studio, hop on the drums, and we’d go. A live performance situation. It was effortless, man! A great story about Alex – he was sitting at his drums, and we were going to rehearse the first song we’d ever played together. It was “Dimes for Nickels”. I said, “Man, I kinda want a “Chuck on Chess” thing for this one. Not that fast, staccato way people usually play when they say “let’s play a Chuck Berry thing”, but that atmospheric, slow, rolling thing”. Halfway through my sentence, Alex pulls out his wallet and lays half of it across his snare, and pulled out his keys and hung them on his ride, and started playing a slow, deliberate swing beat. Boom, it was perfect. I remember thinking, “I’m going to be OK. These guys are listeners.” If you look at the “North Side Gal” video, you’ll see that Alex’s wallet is on his snare!
Does one have to use relics to capture that sound? Your temper and intention can be affected by your tools and atmosphere. Recording live to one or two tracks with all of these amazing tube-powered, gun-metal grey, industrial-looking artifacts affords stacks of atmosphere. I’m not sure you HAVE to use mid-century equipment to capture that sound, but it sure puts you in a mood. Hi-Style studio feels good to be in. It’s a very special place to record. Jimmy has built something special over there. Capturing live performance in-studio is a diminishing art. I recently read that Frank Black likes recording that way – you can catch some very special things.
Would your style be different if you weren’t from Oklahoma? It would, it would. I’m in love with having grown up in Buffalo Valley, Oklahoma. I’m incredibly proud of my state’s rich musical history. Charlie Christian grew up here, for Pete’s sake. I’m very grateful for growing up in a rural environment, and to hear old guys play country music at the Yanush community center, and to eventually drive to Tulsa and watch N.O.T.A. at the Cain’s Ballroom. Can you imagine? Hardcore punk in the home of Bob Wills. At 15 years old, I was playing Conway Twitty songs at pie suppers with my best friend’s Dad’s Country & Western band, and at the same time we were working on our little punk band, driving to Tulsa and Fort Smith to look for Dead Boys records. My Dad is a jazz and blues fanatic, and he was giving me these little Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker tapes. I consider myself to be very lucky, all the wonderful music I was exposed to. Oklahoma is such a great place. I’m even growing more comfortable with my accent in polite conversation.
A spaceship lands in your back yard – they want to understand rock & roll, what do you play them? “Keep A Knockin'” as performed by Little Richard on Specialty Records, 1957. Man alive, that record is a SHOT OF LIFE!
Interview from http://www.WOBBLEHOUSE.com
2.0 Does playing guitar also make one a better drummer? Yes and vice-versa , anything with harmonic/melodic qualities will help a drummer think more musically, and playing drums can certainly help inform other instrumentalists about feel and good time.
3.0 Do you have a favorite stage kit? I like to change it from band to band , tour to tour. My old standby is any good ol’ 4 piece a la Charlie Watts , but sometimes I take it to extremes…last Morrissey tour was a Gretsch USA Custom 6-piece kit, but with and orchestral Bass Drum and a massive 8-ft Paiste Gong as well…oh yeah and about 10 cymbals, all Zildjian.
4.0 Is it okay to be nervous before a show? Definitely, nerves can help step your game up, but to be fair they can also stiffen up a performance. It goes both ways. I don’t really meditate but before a show – I try to find a minute or two to close my eyes and focus my energy…really visualize how I want to play. It really works.
5.0 When you write a song, where does it start for you…. as a riff, a beat, a melody, a lyric? Anywhere and everywhere. I get more song ideas when I am out walking or riding my bike than anywhere…which usually results in me racing home to record it before I forget it. I write more on piano than any other instrument, but when I have the time my favorite writing technique is to spend a few hours going back and forth on the instruments. I might have an idea on guitar, but before I finish writing it I’ll go over to the drums and play with the song in my head, because I’m more comfortable on drums than the other instruments I’ll come up with dynamics and arrangement ideas that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Then it’s always back to the piano to really figure out harmonically what is happening with the song.
6.0 What’s up with MDR? TheMDR is still happening, but a couple of the members have left town so we are focusing more on finishing recording/mixing our last EP. I have been working on a kind of solo project called of1000faces. Its based on my writing but the idea is to record and perform in a variety of contexts with different musicians from all genres. We just played our first show in Chicago a couple of months ago and will be playing again Nov12 at The Bottom Lounge.
7.0 How did the Morrissey gig come about? A few of his band members live in L.A. and are friends with my brother Solomon and ex-Cupcakes band mate Greg Suran. When Morrissey found himself in need of a drummer to tour for “Ringleader of the Tormentors”, my old Chicago pals put my name in for the job which got me an audition….ironically, a year after I became his drummer, the original bass player quit and my brother joined Morrissey’s band as well.
8.0 Any tunes in his repertoire that were more difficult to learn than you may have expected? Some of The Smiths songs are a challenge. Not from a technical stand point, but trying to capture their essence which is largely dependent on the style of drummer Mike Joyce, and the way the drums and bass interacted. Additionally, there was a certain sound they had that lent itself to Morrissey’s vocals – In a live situation, with a catalog as expansive as Morrissey’s, it’s challenging to go from one era to the next in a single set, it’s almost like time travel.
9.0 Who was your favorite 80’s act? Again, how do i pick one?!! Adam Ant, Gary Numan, Icicle Works. Talk Talk, Split Endz, Tears for Fears….its a long list.
10.0 If you could be anybody else in history who would it be? I see this question in some magazine….what is it…GQ? Cosmopolitan? I would be David Bowie because no one can touch him.
Are you happy today with how GREEN’s “The Planets” turned out? The Planets was, to say the least possible, a very difficult and costly album to make. To say the most possible: One member of the group backed out of it at the “practice” stage of the recording. We had recorded some pretty shoddy practice versions of the songs and the recording engineer and I thought that we could use those tracks and magically “ProTool” them into shape. Of course, neither one of us had ever used ProTools! It was no silver bullet. The “record label” that promised to put out the recording, if I would foot the bill for recording it, broke that promise after I’d finished the recording. I’m no longer a billionaire, so the whole process was extremely painful financially. Some of the other band guys and I put up the money to get it pressed on CD. There were a couple hundred other obstacles/roadblocks/judo chops/ambushes along the way, but we got it out. All-in-all, I would rather have recorded it in France with Iain Burgess on a multi-million dollar budget, but I think that it’s still one of the top twenty Rock albums ever recorded.
What led you to do a concept record? It’s a CONCEPT RECORD!?! Oh my Lord–let me look at my notes! Oh, you’re right, it is a concept record, after a fashion. It was originally titled The Music of the Spheres after a really cool ancient/medieval philosophical/cosmological concept that, the planets in their courses produce celestial music as they meander about the universe. Unfortunately, Mannheim Steamroller used that for their tour title that summer and Mike Oldfield used it for an album title that year. As it was the songs ended up coalescing into the concept in and of themselves.
How would you describe the evolution of the GREEN sound? “Give me a C, a bouncy C….”
What were you listening to around the time you recorded your debut “The Name Of The Band Is Green”? Beatles, Beach Boys, the Brandenburg Concertos, Al Green, 50s and 60s Country & Western, Curtis Mayfield, and a lot of Punk stuff from 1976-80. (It’s actually: The Name of this Group Is Green.)
Are you working on any new material? I’ve got a backlog of ten thousand songs, but recently I’ve written enough new material for a double-album.
Live, GREEN always seems to sound like an experiment, is that fair? Sometimes, I have to admit, it was inebriate tomfoolery. Sometimes, it was cosmic soul-searching. Sometimes, it was the best rock and roll band in the world.
Do you have a philosophy about recording? Stop after Iain’s third bottle of vino. Actually, I like the Nick Lowe school of “ram through it a couple times and move along.” Good production, however, is really about getting good performances from the players (whatever that takes), getting good sounds (whatever that takes), having some technical mastery of the means of production, and then lavishing tons and tons of time in mixing the sounds together. That last part–the mixing the sounds is what is tricky, as it usually requires the most money, and therein lies the rub.
Do you have a favorite guitar? I grow extremely fond of my guitars–so much so that it makes it difficult to say which would be a favorite. I could tell you hours of stories (some of them interesting) about any one of them. The one that looms largest in my legend is my mulberry early 70s Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I’ve used it on almost everything we’ve ever recorded, and it’s held up through years of the most brutal, hellish touring you can’t imagine.
What was the best GREEN show ever, for whatever reason? One that wasn’t particularly wonderful in terms of our musical performance or for the fact that Carol Channing appeared on stage with us, but that has a sentimental allure for me, was at a country club in Belgium. It was a really beautiful end-of-summer day. I beat the club’s teen tennis champion in two sets (I’ve wondered ever since if he let me win). Some friends of ours that we’d met over the course of our tour came by to give us moral support and to drink our dressing room beer. The day dissolved into the kind of elegant, glowing evening that only seems to occur in Belgium. We went on at sunset and everything seemed right in the world.
Does Stipe owe you money? – Would that be a Stipe-end?
1.0 Is “Dusk Till Dawn’ your best record? I think whenever you finish a new record you think it’s your best at that point in time or why would you release it? I’m hands on with everything on my records from the first written chorus to the final touches on the cover, no stone is left unturned. At that point it’s really up to the people that buy and listen to the record to decide. This is my fifth released record and I’ve been lucky enough to have fans point out each one as their favorite.
They need each other like hookers and crack.
1.0 What are you working on presently? Getting this album, by a fellow named JD McPherson, out on my small label, Hi-Style Records. We recorded the album in my analog recording studio over the last year. The sound is killer. JD’s singing, performance, and song writing are great. I produced the Album. I’m really proud of this one. It should be out by late September. Getting the studio tightened up and fine tuned. There are still some loose ends I want to take care of. I created the studio as kind of a piece of art. So I still have some more building and creating custom installations to finish.
Also finishing the Hi-Style Records website (www.hi-stylerecords.com) and getting all my other internet platforms squared away. Being internet savvy is always a bit of a challenge for me. I’m also working on some over seas licensing of both the Del Moroccos and The JD McPherson material. Looks like there will be a Japanese CD release of the Del Moroccos’ “Blue Black Hair Album” and also a 10 inch vinyl release of that album too. The 10 inch is going to be released by a record label out of Finland. There are also a couple of tunes off of the upcoming JD McPherson release that are making it onto a 45 RPM 7-inch being released by Witchcraft out of Germany.
2.0 – What kind of gear are you using in your studio? Imagine wanting to record and release records (45s) back in 1961. Well, this is the studio and the equipment that this person would have put together. The studio is one live room and a control room. We start with capturing the performance through tube and ribbon microphones, which are mixed through Ampex MX-10 mic mixers, then the signal passes through a couple of Berlant preamp tube amplifiers and then onto 1/4 inch tape. We’re able to dump all this into the computer where we’re able to overdub and edit, process, etc.. The sound is incredible!
3.0 – Are you on the look out for new talent to record? I’m always on the look out. I still have a bunch of projects that I haven’t even started. One of them being a kind of Chicago compilation of local blues, rockabilly, roots type artist. It’s in the works.
4.0 – How is the midwest jump blues scene today, any fav’s? Mmmmmmm…….I dont really know of any midwest jump blues scene today, but some of my favorites who might not be described as “Jump Blues” would be The Mordern Sounds, and, I must say, The Del Moroccos.
5.0 – Do you ever miss the rowdy Moon Dogs? Nah. I have wonderful memories of the Moondog days, but it’s more interesting and fun for me to look forward. How come you didn’t ask me about the Mighty Blues Kings? I still have plenty of fond memories for that band too.
6.0 – Is it difficult to play a stand-up bass on stage? any tips? No, it’s not difficult for me to do what I do. I have my ups and downs show to show, but for the most part it’s second nature for me. My tip would be to get your stand up acoustic bass sounding and feeling good acoustically. As the old gas station man sez: you can’t polish a turd.
7.0 – Has a song title or idea ever come to you in your sleep? Yeah, a song once came to me in my sleep but later I realized it was already a song out there in the world.
8.0 – What was the first record you ever bought? “Rocket to Russia” – The Ramones.
9.0 – You are a sharp dressed man and have a defined image, when did that all start for you? Oh geez, I don’t know. Maybe when I was a young lad coming to age. Then again, you’ve never run into me at the hardware store? It’s not a pretty sight.
10.0 – Dream gig for Jimmy Sutton; you are on stage and playing with who? Wow, that’s a tricky one. Though you know, I felt like I really did play a dream gig when I was playing bass down at the Pandarosa Stomp about five years ago. James Burton was on guitar, DJ Fontana on drums, and Dale Hawkins was singing his 50’s hit Susie Q. It was great! The old Rockin’ n’ Bowl venue was packed and I was hoping DJ would do one of those crazy SUN records’ drum rolls were the drummer would come out of the roll with the beat flipped upside down. Sure enough, DJ didn’t let me down. I looked across the stage at Mr. Burton, and as cool as a cucumber he looked at DJ, then looked at me and rolled his eyes. I said under my breath, “Thank you God”. These cats were the real deal, and could mess up and it still sounded killer!