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.

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. 

DAHLIA FATALE

SONY DSC1.0 – When did you begin performing live?
I can’t really remember a time in my life when I was not performing. I was introduced the stage as a ballerina when I was 3, and it has been a love affair ever since. I began publicly  performing burlesque in the summer of 2010 with the Urban Bombshells Burlesque Show in Seattle, Washington.
2.0 – How did you chose your stage name?
Research, research, research. I sat down and defined the qualities I wanted in a name. It was important for it to be memorable, easy to say and feminine without being too clean. I spent lots of time looking at name books and historical figures while Googling my potential identities to make sure they were not already in use. Finally I took a spin of my former pin-up name The Lady Fatal and added a flower with a less than bright connotation in modern society the ‘Dahlia’.
3.0 – How would you describe the burlesque audience?
A rowdy mixture. It varies show to show from people who have never seen burlesque before and are just curious to the super-fans who can be seen at every event to the occasional observer. In general it’s just people looking to have a good time with some fantastically different entertainment.
4.0 – Who is your favorite all-time burlesque artist?
Midnight Martini from Colorado. Her movement is so engaging and sexy while still being silly and incredibly creative.
5.0 – Do you have to be into rockabilly to be a burlesque dancer?
Definitely not. While many performers are fans of rockabilly, there are also performers who are strictly metal listeners, some punks, some dub-step fans, rock and rollers and many eclectic individuals. Rockabilly is an important side of the burlesque world, but it is not the only one.
6.0 – Music is a big part of the presentation: what tunes do you like to perform to?
Every act that I do picks its own song. I do a lot of dance focused choreography, and my acts vary from super serious and contorted to fun-loving and free. Probably my three favorite songs I have acts to are I Believe In A Thing Called Love- The Darkness, Idlewild Blue- Outcast, and Ice Ice Baby- Vanilla Ice.
7.0 – What’s the nexus between what you do and punk?
The nexus lies in the DIY spirit and creativity. Both burlesquers and punks frequently design their own costuming, create their own art, and aren’t afraid of offending their audience or causing some out-of-bounds thought. Although I do think the punk communities would agree that we should keep the glitter and sequins on the burlesque side.
8.0 – What was your favorite band growing up?
The Clash. I have been rocking out to “Straight To Hell” since I can remember.
9.0 – What are you listening to today?
Literally everything. Over the course of yesterday I listened to Missy Elliot, James Brown, Prince, Streetlight Manifesto, Bad Brains, Muddy Waters and Fantomas. I find that the more music I listen to the more styles of music I have to pull from for new acts.
10.0 – Where would you go if you could time travel?
100 years in the future….just to see what kinds of fabulous costuming and music we have yet to come up with

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!

TRISTAN FORGUS

1. When did you start writing and what were your initial subjects? 

I started writing in notebooks when I was probably six or eight – it’s hard sometimes for me to discern reality from family myths. Anyway, by the time I was 10, reading and writing had become central to my daily life and very survival. My initial efforts, like now, involved trying to make sense of things and to savor the beauty of the world, the indifference, the chaos and drama. You know, pompous artsy whiny stuff (grin).

2. Who are your main literary influences? Do you emulate any of them? 

This is going to sound clichéd, but if I were to be stranded on a desert island and had only one author’s work, it would hands-down be Tolstoy. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are the best novels ever. By themselves they would be enough.

Another all-time favorite is JD Salinger; I have spent years reading and studying him. I also love Virginia Woolf; I treasure her prose, her lyrical and psychological depth. And Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler, Adrienne Rich. The list goes on. In general, I love books, a lot of different kinds of books, and when I find ones I love, I carry them around for years and re-read them time and again.

Do I emulate my favorite authors? You bet I do – or at least I try to – just like guitarists and drummers and singers, I guess: borrow here, borrow there, add your own two cents.

3. OK, now you’ve done it – you are stranded on a desert island, one turntable, no booze, 5 albums….what are they? 

Ha, no booze, interesting! OK, I wish I could just have 5 mix tapes (REALLY, my musical tastes are MUCH broader than the question allows  (I’d like a Brandenburg Concerto, a piano piece by Keith Jarrett, blasts by Coltrane and Mingus and Monk, Satchmo’s It’s a Wonderful World, and the Exploited’s Sex and Violence)), but sticking to the spirit of your question, five albums as follows, followed by five back-ups in case of warping due to sun or saltwater:

First Five: The Clash’s The Clash (U.S. release w.  “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”), David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Leonard Cohen’s The Songs of Leonard Cohen, The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Husker Du’s Zen Arcade

Back Up Five: The Replacement’s Let It Be, Tom Waites Nighthawks at the Diner, Bob Marley Legend, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1

4. What is the status of your long toiled-over life’s work, the semi-fictional “Vicious Circles”

It is virtually done, except for my final confession in the last chapter and the epilogue. Or maybe that’s a gross misstatement; maybe I should just say it’s what it is and I am virtually getting ready to slay the beast one final time. I am working on it part-time now but I think about it all the time and hope to deliver it in-full next year. So, yeah….it’s been sixteen or seventeen or eighteen years, depending on the math.

5. What is it about? 

It’s about a sixteen-year-old Sarah, a girl who ran away in 1977 from the suburbs to the city of Chicago. It’s a true story based on nearly 100 hours of tapes Sarah and I made together. She was of course, like virtually all runaways, exploited. It recounts her adventures and misadventures as a girlfriend, a professional escort, a wife, a mother. It’s drugs, sex, power, survival, Chicago, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, and it’s about running away and, then again, not running away.

6. You are also a chef celebrating the opening of your first restaurant, Fusion Cafe;  is the name autobiographical? 

Well, celebrating is not exactly the word for it, if you know the restaurant business. It’s more like trading in your life and working and worrying all the time, but luckily I love it.

I hadn’t realized it exactly until I thought about your question: yeah, I guess the name is autobiographical. Fusion, the melting pot, my African father, my English mother, my art, my science, my cooking, and on and on and on…. It’s almost like a guiding principle for me, now that I think about it. (see Tristan’s ‘Cafe 101’ cooking blog)

7. You’ve always been an avid indie music purveyor and dabbling songwriter, does music have a nexus with cooking? 

Yes, I think so, very much.  Think in terms of a production, the mix, the balance, the quality of performance, the quality of equipment, and of course the composition itself, the melodies and harmonies, the tempo and rhythms, and of course the lyric…. These all have almost direct analogies to a successful (or unsuccessful) dinner service.

8. What are you listening to these days? 

I’m listening to Pandora a lot these days. I had been listening a lot to internet radio on iTunes a lot for a couple of years really, especially Coyote Radio out of UCal.-SanBernadino and Boot-Liquor, a SomaFM alternative countryish station with a alcohol sub-theme. But ever since I started Pandora when I got my iPhone, I’ve been listening to a lot of Superchunk Radio and stuff like that.

 9. As a writer, do you have to stay busy at your craft to keep your chops up like a musician, or do you have to walk away from time to time to keep things fresh? 

Well, I’m probably the last person to give advice about writing habits, but I’d say both have their place. Like with everything of course: practice, practice, practice is the way to get better and to get things done. Writing though especially takes place not only in the act of writing but in the act of living too.

10. What takes more courage for you, actually writing or reading what you have written?  

Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t know, probably the writing; as much as I love it, I am very afraid quite often and really, you know, it can be hard and it can hurt. I love the quote from Hemingway: “There’s nothing to writing, just sit at the keyboard and bleed.”

In terms of reading, the hard part is getting past the understandable but unreasonable loyalty to what one has written – that is, to approach and see it objectively. to be able to critically assess its virtues and weaknesses and to have the courage to re-write.