CAM MAMMINA w/ SLIM GYPSY BAGGAGE

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What got you hooked on rock & roll?  I would have to say my dad and mom were really influential on me musically starting from a really young age. My parents had an awesome record collection and there was always music in the house. Besides the stand-bys of  Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, The Eagles, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I really loved listening to The Stray Cats. Brian Setzer is definitely one of the reasons I was drawn to play guitar (even though I play nothing like him!) At a young age, my parents would also take me to see shows. My dad took me to New Orleans Jazz Fest when I was 10 and I got to see Counting Crows who were one of my favorite bands at the time. My aunt Jenna (Mammina) also was hugely influential. She’s a very accomplished jazz singer and always was playing with great guitarists beyond the music my parents were listening to and the shows we went to, my dad also played guitar and got me started with that from a young age, I think he got me my first guitar when I was 7 or 8. From there, I was exposed to a lot of different styles of music and bands by my guitar teacher who I started taking lessons from around age 10.

Do you recall what bands you were you listening to at 16 when you first got your driver’s license?   My favorite band at 16 was definitely Brand New and they’re still my favorite band to this day. About that time was when my favorite album of theirs came out and I literally listened to it non-stop. It was on when I was driving, sleeping, eating, doing homework… I also listened to a ton of Modest Mouse, Manchester Orchestra, and Minus the Bear which I still listen to often. At that age I was going to a bunch of metal shows and listened to quite a bit of that; my favorite metal bands at the time were probably Mastodon and Between The Buried And Me, they still get a bit of rotation too.

How did Slim Gypsy Baggage come together?  I first met Morgan (our singer) when I was around 16. Her Fiancé (now husband) Dirk and I became really close friends and hung out all the time at his tattoo shop so I met her through him. She was playing out a bit at that point and sometimes would play with our bass player Matt. I ended up meeting Matt when I was 18. Dirk was officiating his wedding and Morgan was one of his wife’s bridesmaids. They wanted someone to play some light music before the wedding and Dirk and Morgan recommended me to them. After the reception the three of us (Matt, Morgan, and myself) sat around and played Grateful Dead tunes. A couple of years later I saw Morgan and Matt playing at a bar in town and we started playing together shortly after that.  After going through a couple of drummers, I met Scott (our drummer) through surfing on Lake Michigan. He quickly became one of our best friends and started playing with us.

How do you guys approach songwriting?   We take a pretty collaborative approach to writing. Normally it starts with a riff or chord progression I’m messing around with and then between Scott, Matt and I we flesh out an entire song. Then Morgan normally starts working on a vocal melody. Sometimes Morgan will come to us with a skeleton of a song with all the lyrics done and we’ll work out the music from there. Recently, we’ve been writing out all the vocal parts together as well as the music with some great results. We’ve been really excited about the songs we’ve been coming out with.

What is your go-to onstage guitar and what amps are you playing live?  My primary stage guitars are a Collings 360 LT-M, a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster that’s been re-finished in a kind of ugly Daphne Blue, and a National Resolectric. The Jazzmaster was my main guitar for the last few years and then I played the Collings and had to buy it. Recently, the Jazzmaster has taken a bit of a back seat to the Collings but it still gets taken out from time to time. The Resonator is used on a handful of songs, normally the ones with a bit more of a country or deep bluesy vibe. For a couple of years it was the only guitar I’d play live but the lack of a tremolo makes it a bit less appealing.  I’m pretty effect-driven in some of the songs we play and I love playing with pedals (possibly more than playing guitar). My pedal set-up has been:

Guitar > ABC Switcher (for ease of changing guitars)>Moog Ring Modulator>Matchless Hot box Preamp/Vibrato> Clean boost> Overdrive> a tube overdrive that my friend made>Wah>Fuzz> Stereo harmonizer> Stereo Delay> another Stereo Delay> reverb> amps. My amps have changed around a bit for the last few years but I pretty much always have an Orange Rockerverb 50 on one side with a rotating cast of amps on the other. Recently, it’s been either a Matchless DC30 or a Vox AC15 HW but I’ve used a couple different Fenders there as well. As long as my amp has two channels and preferably a reverb, I’m pretty happy.

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Does SGB spend any time crafting a live show as such or do you guys prefer to change it up night to night?   We try to pick our sets based on the type of crowd we’re going to play for as well as the length of our show. We play a wide range of venues and try to stay busy playing as much as possible so sometimes we’re not going to play for crowds that know our music well. In those instances, we try to do a slightly mellower set and maybe throw in some covers to keep everyone happy and interested. In a perfect world, we’d be playing for hundreds of screaming fans every night and be able to play whatever but we try to be conscientious of who’s in our crowd and make sure they’re having a good time and liking what they’re hearing. We’ve been known to do totally stripped down acoustic shows to fit the venue or be super loud and raw… Just whatever makes sense that day.

Do you, or the band, have a routine pre-show to help get in the right head space for the gig?  I can’t say we have any specific pre-show ritual but we normally all get a drink and walk through the crowd if we’re not playing first. It’s cool to see how an audience is at a show and you never know who you’ll meet or run in to.

What was it like to jam on stage with blues legend Buddy Guy?  Playing with Buddy was a crazy experience. We had Just played the BBQ, Blues, And Bluegrass festival in our hometown and Buddy Guy was set to headline the event. After we got done playing, we were all hanging out backstage having a couple drinks and watching the band that was after us. I ended up getting invited in to Buddy’s trailer and met him and then he offered me to possibly play. I kind of freaked out at that point. It’s not something I had really ever thought of to do and I was really intimidated by the whole thing but I was down to do it. So I watch him play for an hour or so and he calls me up and I am literally shaking. There’s about 10,000 people in the crowd with another 10-15,000 sitting on top of the bluff in St. Joseph, MI watching. I just kind of zoned out the whole time and tried to not mess up. Afterwards, I listened to a recording of it and I played pretty well through the whole thing although I don’t really remember it, it was just that huge of an adrenalin rush. It’s a pretty cool experience and the fact that I got to have that happen in front of my friends, family, and band was so amazing.

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If you we’re to do a 5-song-EP that was in essence a ‘best of’ of your first two discs, DiveBomb and UnderCurrents, what cuts would be on it and what’s the track order?  Interestingly enough, we actually have two more discs we recorded during each of those sessions that we haven’t released; there’s a bunch of songs on those that I really like. Also, we haven’t gotten into the studio this year so there’s quite a couple new songs that I would put in our “best of” over some of these. but If I had to do it based on what we have out and as a concise 5 song that follows a certain feel, I think it would go: “Underwater”, “Wheels”, “Rewind”, “Break Through It” & “Witch Pill”

It’s crazy how much those songs have changed over time, a lot of the songs on both of those CD’s rarely get played live anymore and the ones that are have so many things changed. Hopefully we’ll be getting back in the studio soon to record some of our newer stuff and we’ll probably be releasing one of the other records that we’ve been holding back sometime soon.

What advice would you give to a kid just picking up the guitar?  Keep practicing and try not to get frustrated! It can be difficult at times starting out but just keep at it. Practice your scales religiously to get your dexterity up and try to get some basic understanding of music theory. It will definitely help you out in the long run and make you a better player. Most importantly though, have fun!    —- visit SlimGypsyBaggage.com

BRAD PETERSON

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photo by KIM SOMMERS

How did you come to fix on the Fleur-de-lis as moniker / title for your new release? It seemed to same itself at the last-minute of the last recording, which is atypical from my previous works. Last autumn, I had a couple of songs that I had recently recorded before I came to California for a respite from the Chicago winters: Vale of Tears, and 45.  I played them for an old friend, Peter Bowers, who has been in the music and film world for decades and, in my opinion,  is someone with a unique perspective and proven good taste. After listening to them while we were winding through the serpentine roads near Topanga, he was clearly excited and asked if I had more new songs; I said yes, but they’re in a crude state. He tacitly gave me the go ahead and I proceeded to play for him: Rock Fight, and minor. Being a musician himself, and no stranger to hearing potential in a demo recording, he promptly suggested I finish the work for, at the very least, posterity (and for whatever opportunities that may bring). It was just the encouragement I needed to set up a barebones recording outpost in his garage/office in the beautiful canyons nestled betwixt the Santa Monica mountains, Los Angeles, and the Pacific Ocean. I’m not sure at which point the idea developed to add an additional track, but I half-heartedly presented my least favorite and hardly developed of the bunch: Fluer-de-lis, for which the title lyric had yet to be written. I acquiesced in its procession but as the spirit moved me, and I reconnected to the moments of its inception, those words just came through: “Fluer-de-lis” – like they were always supposed to be. Ureka! The song finished itself. The counterpoint in the last verse was the very last thing recorded and almost has a feel of a reprise-medley trope at the end of an epic film from the late sixties. When I listened back to it, I felt that it was divinely gifted; I had just participated in its revelation as the title of this work.

What was the most difficult thing about making Fleur? The most difficult thing in anything, is the discipline or faith to work in the face of doubt and negativity that plague me every day. The ultimate goal is for me to share what I do and connect with other souls. The periods between such moments are long and dark in which I often wonder if what I do is folly and meaningless.
 
Do you see it as a continuation of your other releases, an update, or something unto itself? Depending on context, it could be any of those; it could even be a prequel, chapter, or a supplemental. In literary terms, I think of singles as anecdotes, albums as books, and EPs as short stories. But I think in most cases, to say: “the Fluer-de-lis EP” would refer to something unto itself.
Why did you decide to do a EP this time versus a full album? Albums take a while and I didn’t want to wait. Full disclosure, there’s a part of me that would be happy to just release singles from here out. If I had the resources, I think that’s the direction I’m heading.
fdl-tour (3)How does the song writing process work for you? The evolution of every song is different but the most rewarding songs come in the form of everything-at-once. Melody, lyrics, chords, feel, and arrangement pour over me in a torrent of inspiration. Those are also the songs that tend to get finished.
Describe your head space when playing live in front of an audience?
How the hell am I supposed to pull this off? Because I thrive off of the symbiosis of all who participate in a live performance, it’s quite vitalizing and I experience the joy of communion. However, there is always a delta between what I want it to sound like and what I’m able to produce. I’m figuring out that “not to try” is the trick for all involved.
Did you like to sing as a kid or did you begin playing guitar and start singing later on? I always sang for as long as I can remember; maybe before I could talk.  But, it was when my aspirations for being a drummer were squelched by mom (who didn’t want that sort of racket going on in the house) bought me my first acoustic guitar, that I became the defacto singer/rhythm guitarist at about age fifteen.
Many artists talk about ‘the album’ that changed their life, is there one for you? Yes. From all accounts, in the spring of 1971, my older brother and father were listening to music in the living room of our old farmhouse in Baltimore, Maryland. Mark was around thirteen and my father was a bit of an audiophile with an impressive sound system composed of mammoth Bozak speakers, Scott amplification, and Ampex reel-to-reels. They put on a store-bought reel of the Beatles’ Revolver and it boomed throughout the house. That was the moment I became sentient and aware. To describe the experience using my abilities in the English language that I have since learned, I’d say I was in awe and asked: “what is this wonderful thing?” as I crawled on the carpet. I don’t know what it was or who it was but I’m certain that it was a pivotal moment in my relationship with music and my development as a human being. A few years ago I wrote about this earliest memory of my life called “Crack and Boom”:
What was the first concert you ever attended and what strikes you about it today?  For my first large rock concert, it was either Billy Joel or Roger Waters with Eric Clapton. Both of them were at the Rosemont Horizon when I was around thirteen years old. My opinion then, is as it is now: that is sounded horrible and I would have maybe preferred to stay home and listen to the recordings. The highlights of each were the improvisational element where I gleaned variations of expression in the arrangements of the musicians. I do enjoy live music but I gravitate to smaller venues or living rooms.
If you could take a time machine to any one moment in history (rock or otherwise) what would it be and what would you do once you got there?  It would probably be to a moment that I’ve already experienced, perhaps one from my childhood when I was near my family who I love very much. And, it would be simply to live it again with greater appreciation and notice every little detail. – BradPeterson.com

Continue reading “BRAD PETERSON”

JIM VALLANCE

JimVallanceWHAT WAS THE FIRST TUNE YOU LEARNED TO PLAY ON THE DRUMS?

It was a very long time ago (1965?) but I think the first song I played on drums was “Little Red Riding Hood”, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.

DRUMMER JOKES ASIDE, IT SEEMS THE BEST ARTISTS (AND PRODUCERS FOR THAT MATTER) CAN PLAY SOME DRUMS, OR IN FACT BEGAN ON THE DRUMS: HOW DID UNDERSTANDING RHYTHM HELP YOU AS A SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER?

There’s this presumed orthodoxy that everything begins with piano … learn to play piano and the rest will follow.  That’s why so many kids are forced to take piano lessons.  If it were up to me, I’d say “start with drums and the rest will follow”.  Rhythm is the most basic musical building block.

I took piano lessons like every other kid of my generation — except the ones who took accordion lessons! — but it’s drums that taught me how to play music with feeling.  Even now, when I play guitar, I play like a drummer.

WHAT WAS THE ALBUM THAT GOT YOU HOOKED ON ROCK & ROLL AS A KID?

I wasn’t aware of albums when I was a kid.  It was all about singles, 45 RPM vinyl disks.  The first ones I bought were “She Loves You” by The Beatles and “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five.

RodneyHiggsHOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE STAGE NAME ‘RODNEY HIGGS’ WHEN YOU WERE IN PRISM AND DOES HE, AS AN ALTER-EGO OF SORTS, EVER PAY VISITS TO YOUR MIND SET?

I live part-time in London … I have an apartment in Kensington. I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, that whole Victorian-era thing.  Rodney Higgs sounded like a character from a Sherlock Holmes story.

DID BEING FROM CANADA MAKE IT HARDER TO BREAK INTO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AT LARGE OR DID YOU SEE IT AS AN ADVANTAGE?

I’ve always wondered if it made a difference.  There were hundreds of bands in Los Angles, all of them within walking distance of the big label offices.  Whether it was Devo from Akron or Nirvana from Seattle, I think there was some novelty attached to bands that were from somewhere other than LA.  So yes, I think it helped to be from Vancouver.

IN YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BRYAN ADAMS, HOW DID YOU GUYS WORK ON SONGS TYPICALLY? DID THE APPROACH CHANGE AT ALL OVER THE YEARS OR DID YOU HAVE A FORMULA TOGETHER?

No formula, but certainly a democratic approach to writing songs.  There’s no ego … the best idea wins, no matter who came up with it.  We both write melody and we both write lyrics.  We can bounce lyrics and melodies back and forth until the best idea becomes apparent.  Sometimes I’ll play guitar, sometimes bass, sometimes piano.  It depends on the song.  Bryan usually plays guitar when we write, although he’s actual a very good piano player.

Cars_JimVallanceYOU HAVE WRITTEN WITH A NUMBER OF MAJOR ARTISTS OVER THE YEARS, WHICH WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU AS AS SONGSMITH?

I’m 60.  I’ve been writing songs since I was 16.  You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t.  It’s hard work.
Every song, every artist, comes with its own set of challenges, the main one being, you want to do the best job possible.  I admit I was nervous the first time I wrote with Steven and Joe from Aerosmith — same for Ozzy or Alice Cooper — but you get over that quite quickly.  Then it’s all about focussing on the task, spending the time — hours, days, whatever it takes — writing, re-writing, honing it until you’ve got it right.
Honestly, every song is a challenge.  There’s nothing quite so daunting as staring at a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled with lyrics.  Somehow it just happens. There’s that great story about Andrew Loog Oldham locking a young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a room, threatening not to let them out until they’d written a song.  That’s kinda what it’s like.  That’s what it takes.
ONE OF YOUR CURRENT ‘PET PROJECTS’ IS JOHN LENNON IN GERMANY FROM 60-62: CAN YOU SHARE A PEARL FROM THE YOUNG TOUGHS DAYS IN HAMBURG?

An interviewer once asked Lennon to divulge the secret of the Beatles’ success.  Lennon replied, “We were a really good band!”.  And they were.  Listen to their recording of “Kansas City”, which is straight from their Hamburg set-list.  That’s four guys in a studio, singing and playing at the same time.  No ProTools or overdubs, just a really good band taking their Hamburg club show into a recording studio.  That’s where they got good, playing eight hour sets at the Top Ten Club and the Kaiserkeller.  There’s no substitute for that kind of apprenticeship.

 HOW DO YOU RATE RINGO AND WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OF HIS DRUM TRACKS IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE?

Ringo is one of the best rock drummers, ever. Bonham may have been heavier, and Stewart Copeland may have had more finesse, but you won’t find a more tasteful drummer than Ringo.  Plus, he basically invented the drum fill as we know it.

My favorite  Ringo tracks include “Lovely Rita”, “Carry That Weight”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Rain”.  For that matter, he played great on everything.  Never the same feel twice.

DO YOU STILL PLAY ‘SONG DOCTOR’ AND DO YOU MAKE HOUSE CALLS?

I don’t like the “song doctor” label.  It sounds like all I do is fix other people’s songs, or contribute the last 10% to fine-tune the song for radio.  I might have done that a few times over the years, but 99% of the time I start from scratch, sitting in a room with Bryan Adams or Steven Tyler, blank page, no clue where things are headed, and somehow you come up with a song. That’s a great feeling.  That’s what I love about my job … creating something from nothing. – JIM VALLANCE 

JOANNA CONNOR

JoannaConnor1.0 – As a kid, was it the blues or rock & roll that grabbed your attention?

The first record I remember vividly was Louis Armstrong singing “Hello Dolly”… I can still remember trying to sing like him.  It was a hit on the radio.  The craziest thing is that I did the math and realized I was 2!  The first two albums to grab me between the ages of 4 and 7 were Taj Mahal’s Giant Step/The Ole Folks at Home and Sgt. Peppers.  I also loved Beethoven, Fiddler On The Roof, and James Brown.  Later came Hendrix, Zep the Rolling Stones. I saw Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells when I was 10 in 1972… . It blew me away.

2.0 – What was the first record you ever bought and how did it make you feel?

I don’t remember the first record I bought. I was poor growing up.  I remember the first one I stole… a 45 of Billy Preston… Nothing From Nothing… Ha! I loved the radio then. I loved soul and funk and Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell and jimmy Cliff and all kind of stuff.  Music was my escape, my world.  I spent hours every day dancing, singing, and playing air guitar in front of my parent’s Zenith stereo.

3.0 – What was your first guitar and do you still have it ?

My mom bought me a Sears classical guitar when I was 7.  I asked for ballet lessons. She gave me guitar lessons. Lord knows what happened to it.

4.0 – What was the first actual blues lead lick you learned, from what song?

I took blues guitar lessons from an amazing guy in Worcester named Ron Johnson when I was 14.  I played acoustic.  He turned me on to the early delta, piedmont, ragtime and slide stuff.  I think the first blues lick I learned was a Mississippi John Hurt tune.

5.0 – What’s the blues scene like today in Chicago versus when you originally moved here?

The blues scene now is still jamming in terms of the clubs being packed and bands performing but it is a pale 3rd string version of when I first moved here talent and skill wise.

6.0 – As a blue guitarist, are there still classic ‘showdowns’ that determine a pegging order among and between the players?

It’s a boys club. It’s like high school. The cool table in the cafe.  They are all peacocks.  The king in my opinion right now is Carl Weathersby.  There are always battles here.  Each guy thinks they are the champ!

7.0 – How do you retain vitality playing a form of music that is nearly a hundred years old, if not older?

I always played the blues in my own way when I went on my own, mixing all of my influences in what I did. I was never a purist. It always stays fresh for me that way.

JoannaConner8.0 – Which release of yours do you feel is most representative of what you are all about?

Big Girl Blues.

9.0 – Do you enjoy writing lyrics and titles or is that ‘work’ part of the song writing equation?

I almost always  hear the groove first. With Big Girl Blues I wrote the words first.  My second love in life is literature.  I have been a huge reader my whole life. I have written a lot of poetry. I find song writing a chore however and only write for projects… I don’t know why.

10.0 – What gets you off more live: when you know you are singing really well or playing guitar at your best?

Playing the guitar is my passion. It takes me out of myself and also drives me into my soul.  Singing can be cathartic but I have to sing 4 to 5 hours a night and it is physically very taxing, and more of a chore.

See Joanna Connor’s 2013 tour schedule at SongKick

GWENDOLYN

1.0 – How would you compare your new disc Bright Light (September 20th release) to your debut Ultrasounds back in 2000? 

Ultrasounds is collection of recordings I made here, there and everywhere I could over five years. I was experimenting – trying all kinds of sounds and recording techniques with friends of mine. At the time I didn’t imagine they would come together as an album one day – happily, they did! I love that album – It’s like looking at old photographs of myself.

Bright Light on the other hand was born out of a clear intention. With a pocket full of country-folk songs and very little time, we recorded the album live in 3 days and then invited our favorite musicians to come and play on it. The whole thing was mixed and in the can within three weeks. We knew the album we wanted to make. And producer Ethan Allen navigated those waters masterfully.

2.0 – “Discover Me” is a great introduction to both the record and new fans, is it your favorite track?

Sometimes when you hold on to songs too long they can become heavy in your heart. You may outgrow them or just plain ol’ forget how they go.  Many of the songs on Bright Light had been kicking around my guitar case for a while.  What I like about “Discover Me” is that it came to me a week or two before we went into the studio. It was fresh and made me smile to play it and share it while it was still so relevant in my life. I especially love how Tony Gilkyson played guitar… with Danny McGough on the B4 organ just barkin’ back at him… and Josh Grange on the pedal steel sort of floating over it all. Beautiful talent!

3.0 – You have a flair for the whimsical, does that come naturally?

I actually looked up “whimsical” (1. spontaneously fanciful or playful 2. given to whims; capricious 3. quaint, unusual, or fantastic) and I thought, hey – that’s not too bad… at least it’s not boring!

4.0 – When did you first start singing and who did you enjoy emulating most? 

My parents used to sing together. My dad would play guitar and my mom would sing harmony and we’d have little hootenannies in our living room. So I suppose I emulated a lot of my dad’s record collection growing up… Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Incredible String Band, The Beatles… I also attended a school with an active choir and arts program – so singing was a big part of my childhood. Although I never considered myself a “singer”… I knew I had a love for performing but it wasn’t until late in my teens when I picked up the guitar that I actually started singing more seriously. I suppose it was more about the writing for me.

5.0 – How did you write your first song ever? 

I came home one afternoon and found my sister (four years my junior) playing my dad’s guitar. So of course I wanted to do it, too! My first song was a two string bluesy folk fusion about a woman destitute in love – talking about how some man came and ate her heart but it go stuck in his gossiping throat. The lyrics were like something out of a Salvador Dali painting. The chorus was complete Celtic gibberish but super catchy. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I loved that about it. I forget what it was called.

6.0 – Do you write the same way today or is it more collaborative with the band?

Leave me alone with my guitar and inevitably a song will come. These days with work for TV, family and other projects, I have less time to write for myself – but back in the day I was quite prolific. My band understands the natural ebb and flow of the creative process. And they generally like my songs. I just start singing and they play along and somehow it all comes together… like stone soup.

 7.0 – How did the current band come together and what is your favorite thing about them as a team? 

I played solo for quite a few years. The first person I played with was Roger Park (on upright bass). He got busy with life and shortly thereafter I started to play with high school pal Douglas Lee who had just moved home from living in New Orleans. He was going on about some kind of glass instrument he was planning to build and I encouraged him to build it cause I wanted to start a band with him. Then Robert Petersen (another high school friend) moved home from the Bay Area where he was playing in Thumb Of The Maid (now known as The Moore Brothers). So together we started playing as quite a weird little folk trio (well, weird for 1996). Eventually we met Brandon who wanted to join us on the pots and pans and found objects he could bang on. That suited us nicely. By now, we’ve been having so much fun we’ve been playing for about ten years together. More recently, Scott Doherty rounds out the band with his keys and various guitars. And guess who’s on pedal steel? Roger Park! So it comes full circle. My favorite thing about them is who they are as people. At this point we’re friends first and band mates second. It’s really quite a nice group of friends.

8.0 – How did the WEEDS show placement come about for you? do you like the show? 

LOVE the show! I can’t think of another show that has reinvented itself so fantastically over and over again. The writers and actors are so good at what they do. The folks we work with allow us to constantly try new things – it all makes for a creative Camelot. It’s been a hugely positive experience in my life. And it was all luck of the draw, really. Well, sort of. My dad always told me there are two rules in life: 1 – be ready. 2 – keep showing up. So there I was playing in a band I have for preschoolers called Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang. Turns out the creator of Weeds and her three kids are big fans (true Hollywood story). Being “whimsical” as Jenji can sometimes be, she asked if Brandon and I would audition to become the second season replacement composers for her show.  Now granted, there were hundreds of composers and we were just throwing our hat into the ring. Faithful to my Father’s advice, I never turn down an opportunity… Turns out, they really loved what we did and gave us the job… That was like six years ago and we’re still working on the show – very lucky! And very grateful – it’s taught me so much about music and storytelling and what it means to make my living as an artist.

9.0 – When you explain your music to new friends who inquire, what words come up most? 

Uhh… folk. Country folk. True stories. Stuff I’ve written. Mostly, I’m stumped for a description.

10.0 – Your standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and you see a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac that’s slowing down to take a look at you….can you trust them?  

Oh, sure. But number one rule still applies. You know the old saying… nobody rides for free.


MIKE “MICK” FLORES

1.0 – What (or who) got you hooked on rock & roll?

I discovered mom and dad’s record collection at an early age. They had at least 100 or more albums. I wore out my first Sears black and white suitcase turntable since I figured out how to use it .I must have been at least 5 years old when I was using it on a regular basis. I am pretty sure I fell in love with rock and roll when I heard Elvis Presley for the first time. I think it was “Love Me Tender” or “Jailhouse Rock”. I listened to a really wide variety of music. Elvis, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, The Godfather Soundtrack. I discovered The Beatles on my own. My Mom ,Dad and Grandma bought all my music when I was growing up. Every Sunday we would do the family thing and kill the afternoon at the shopping mall. The family would split up and I would get lost in the record store checking out all the music in the store until they dragged me out. Fortunately ,with another Beatles album under my arm.

2.0 – Does the inspiration come from the same place today as it did then?

A lot  of my inspiration has come in random creative spurts of twenty minutes to a few hours at a time. My biggest fear is to dry up creatively. I have always thought of my musical gift as an antenna. I keep my mind open to receiving the melody that finds me.

3.0 – What records did you play along with as a kid?  My favorite records to play along with were Elvis, The Beatles, The Monkees and lots of top forty radio hits of the day. I still go through phases of listening to songs over and over again to pick apart arrangements,lyrics and production value. I am still a student of hit songs.

4.0 – How has the Chicago rock scene changed since you and Zac started Gidgets Gaga in 1999?

The Chicago rock scene is has gotten better and worse in diffferent aspects. There are better venues to play in the city than ever before. Great sound systems and good sounding rooms, but with that gain their are more clubs that do not want to pay the talent. Couple that with cover bands and the sheer number of original bands and it can make it much more difficult to ferret out the cream of the crop. Great music can get buried by those factors. We have learned to branch out more now. We constantly create multiple income streams to make a living via music licensing,merchandise and the occasional ponzi scheme.

5.0 – Any new recordings in the works?

Ah, yes we are working on a new ep titled “The Night Is Young”. We are making a major label quality recording on our own without major label financial backing. And it is taking a long long time. I am really pleased with the results thus far. The end result will definitely be worth the wait for our fans.

6.0 – How do you guys approach writing? (has it changed from when you started?) Songwriting is the most fun of the process.I am a stickler on the arrangements of our songs. Our arrangements sound decievingly simple but there is quite a bit of musicianship in them. I ‘d like to think we are getting better at writing.performing and recording.Some songs come really quickly while others need love and tweaking.

7.0 – What usually triggers a tune for you? a riff, a melody, a subject, a situation, a phrase someone says? Usually, it is all of the above. And most of the time the inspiration comes at the oddest times like when I’m on the can or in the shower. Sometimes Zac or Leslie will say something and I’ll end up using it as a lyric.

8.0 – Is there a quintessential gig story that is dear to the band’s lore? 
Best gig story ever! So we get a gig at a club on the southside of Chicago on a Wednesday night.I won’t mention the club. The important thing here is it could have happened at any club. I sort the details for the gig with (let’s call him) ‘Big Bird’ and score the band a great guarantee. The gig is set. We shake hands and speak a week before gig on the telephone. Handshakes still mean something to me, but as you will find out , it didn’t mean a thing to the booking agent. So far so good. We get to the gig with our gear and take an elevator up to the second floor  with all our gear. It’s decided right then and there we need roadies! We set up and rock the joint. This is the best part of the gig. We do what we do best for the 30-40 people who are at the club that night. What I did notice was a lot of drinking. This was a professional drinking crowd. All in all, its not a bad night but its not a great night. I’m talking more about the vibe of the club. The vibe doesn’t feel right to me. We play pretty well. I slip in some dirty jokes and we hit a few clinkers but no one seems to notice nor does anyone seem to care. I ‘m thinking the band may very well be winning the crowd over. Every club date is an adventure with bar staff, patrons and lets face it some outta hand drunks. Tonight, there are no tomatoes, no hecklers, no cuts and no bruises. Our four hour gig is over without incident. We do a little after the gig shot. Think we even did a little dance. Time to get paid for the night. The guarantee was a righteous booty, a real score for indie rockers writing and singing their own tunes. At least we didn’t have to play any covers! We’ve managed to avoid playing any covers by playing acoustic versions of all the songs as well as full on electric versions. But for, the record, we butcher other artists material at rehearsal for shits and kicks.

‘Big Bird’ is not at the club tonight. It’s his night off. I speak to the bar maid working behind the bar. She informs me the gig isn’t up! As in, we have to play till closing time if we wanna get paid. I am a bit tired but more irritated by this, but I put on an instant poker face. I think on my feet and have the bar maid call ‘Big Bird’ at home….feathers are ruffled as he was fast asleep, he informs the bar maid not to pay us unless we play till closing time. The problem with that was that is not what we agreed upon. The only two people who know the details of the gig are BB and myself. The bar maid hands me her cell phone and I hear  him rant – his redneck accent is straight out of the movie Deliverance. We’re all a little tired and my bandmates are restless and want to split . I catch the last thing ‘Bird’ hollers at me “Boy!.. you best let a dead dog lie! Or you’ll never play in this town again!” He slams the phone and hangs up on yours truly. So in a split second I think of what Joilet Jake (Belushi’s character from The Blues Brothers) would do at that very moment. What would JJ do? I pretend I’m still on the phone with him. The barmaid is 10 feet away she has no clue what I’m doing. I pull out my best Joilet Jake impersonation on BB: “We are so sorry about the misunderstanding about how long we were supposed to play.” Throw in some dramatic pauses for effect and continue a non existent conversation. I go on and thank him for letting us play such a cool club and  how everyone was so friendly. We have to book another gig. I catch the bar maids eye. I want to reel her in a bit to watch me work BB. I go on to say we’d love to come back and play and I m glad we sorted out the misunderstanding. I walk slowly toward the bar maid still on the phone and say “Big Bird, thanks again!” I hold my hand over the mouthpiece and tell the barmaid “Big Bird” says to go ahead and pay the band. I hang up the cell phone. She turns to the register and counts the money and hands it over to me. I put it in my pocket . I give the bar maid a wink , a smile and a thank you. Walk over to the guys and without missing a beat, I  smile and say “Lets get the hell outta here”! They know somethings up but I don’t have the time to fill’em in on what happened. My new problem is the bouncer standing at the elevator door. We have to get past him. Luckily, we’re a power trio,we travel light and I’m Mexican. We were packed and ready to head out in less than 5 minutes. “Big Bird” calls back – we’re at the elevator with all of our gear. The bouncer has to operate the elevator so we’re stuck. The bar maid is having a full on conniption fit. She knows she has been had. The bouncer has a little sidebar conversation with the bar maid. It felt like forever. The bouncer walks to me with the biggest grin on his face. It’s fight or flight and there is nowhere to run. He tells us he liked the band set and doesn’t care for “Big Bird.” He holds the elevator and helps us load out. The bouncer goes on to tell us BB has had a reputation of ripping off bands for years. I’m pretty sure the  bouncer was watching me the whole time on the phone but never let on. The bouncer was a pretty rough biker type and we made his night. He was happier than we were that someone finally got over on ‘Bird’ and I’ m sure the fact I was not a caucasion male made it even a bit sweeter. We unloaded the gear back home and called it a night.

In the wee of the night I heard the answering machine go off . The next morning I hear a drunk dialing angry ‘Bird’ try to form a sentence but all I can hear is some muttering about how we’ll never play in this town again. He was really drunk, totally pissed off and feeling a bit out smarted. You could hear it in his pained redneck voice and that, my friends, was priceless! We played that message over and over for weeks until it was accidentally erased. I think I peed myself it was so hilarious. The only regret I had was the message was accidentally deleted. We wanted to open the EP we were working on at the time with the voicemail. Note to indie musicians everywhere: Let my cautionary tale be a reminder to keep emails, voicemails and any other records when making gig arrangements. And as always, for those about to rock, we salute you!

9.0 – Westerberg stops by for smokes; what Gidgets Ga Ga tune do you pop on?

I ‘d let Westerberg pick between three songs:Dreamer, The Sorry Song and Forever and a Day. It would be great if he really did stop by to listen he is a hero of mine.

10.0 – Branding infringement aside, does Lady Gaga get kicked out for snoring? Musicians with Ga Ga in their moniker are most likely to be talented! Lady Ga Ga has written songs for some of the biggest names in the biz. She is the most talented in her genre of music for sure. I have to admit it I listen to all of her stuff my favorite song is  “Speechless.”