Friday, August 15, 2008

the cute lepers - can you hear the handclaps?

The Cute Lepers, condensed but not diminished in the shadow of the full name Steve E. Nix and the Cute Lepers, blast through your speakers from their geographical location of the Pacific Northwest. The precipitation of the area may be heavy and somewhat depressive, but the Cute Lepers use their charm and musical mirth to brighten even the most rain-filled scapes and audiences. Choosing to announce their arrival with backup vocalists embellishing the songs with handclaps and tambourines versus the historical warning sounds of bells, these Lepers are happily welcomed by fans of all ages. Steve E. Nix, formerly of the Briefs, fronts the band on guitar and lead vocals, Stevie Kicks stands his ground on bass, Zache Out wails on guitar, and Josh Blisters pounds away on drums while Meredith and Prisilla take it all in and provide the audience with the titillating addition of backup vocals, tambourine, and rhythmic handclaps. After a set at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, Steve, clad in his striking bleach-blonde hair and a colorful, yet eccentric, wardrobe, enjoyed a well-deserved cigarette and shared the ups and downs of being one of the Cute Lepers.

The interview starts off with Steve making the observation that LA crowds are a bit funny when it comes to attendance at shows in that they are there just for whomever they came to see. And that’s true. The average LA concert attendee isn’t there for the rest of the bill beyond the chosen band over whom they obsess. But there is no doubt that those who came early or stuck around to see The Cute Lepers perform that night got their money’s worth. This man, when compared with the multitude of musicians that I have interviewed, is a charming conversationalist and adeptly articulate with his thoughts regarding the music scene and his place within that world. The catalyst for his musical life was a tape…an ABBA tape. A bit unexpected for this “record collecting geek” but an artifact whose existence is explained: “When I was in second grade I wanted to get a Kiss record,” starts Steve, the but that is to follow lingering mid-sentence. “But my parents wouldn’t let me. They got me ABBA instead…and I loved it. I had the tape memorized.” After that tape, Steve constantly had songs running through his head and it was simply a “natural attraction.”

Aside from Kiss, many influences exist within Steve’s veins. Be it first wave punk rock from England which includes Johnny Thunders, the Buzzcocks, the Vibrators, and all the “good English stuff”, or the Danger House scene in LA like the Weirdos and the Bags, Steve has a love for “raw music with hooks.” Maybe that can be attributed to all the power pop that has been gracing his ears over the past couple of years.

After the dissolution of The Briefs, which happened for various reasons after roughly an eight year stint, Steve decided that he “wanted to create a band that [he] could do no matter what. That would be more of a democracy.” So he set to the task at hand. When one is already familiar with the ways of being in a band and of the logistics of creating a band, the task doesn’t seem that daunting. Kicks came from the Briefs and the remaining musicians were nabbed from the Seattle area. The tracks were first demoed in basements and the songs were put together complete with backup singers. But the final line-up of the band wasn’t solidified until after the recording of the album. A bit backwards from the traditional process, but a successful process nonetheless.

The final lineup provides an “entertaining, heartfelt, passionate, and unreserved” experience for the concert-goer. These may be Steve’s own words referring to what the band itself is striving to achieve with its live show, but it’s a goal that has already been reached. Steve is paying for this creation with his demanding involvement on stage. “In the Briefs I didn’t have to sing all the songs,” he explains. “We took turns singing, and I could just play guitar some of the time. In this band I have to sing all the songs, and I don’t think that I even really want to. It sort of happened by default.” Either intentional or accidental, it’s a happening that is a positive addition to the resume of this music scene veteran.

And this participant in the music scene isn’t satisfied with the music that is churned out by the many bands that flood the scene. Just look at the title of the album: Can’t Stand Modern Music. If that doesn’t scream loudly enough, then what is needed to make the statement clear? In defense of the album title, Steve adds, “I think the majority of what gets passed off as rock music on the radio is terrible. It sounds like it comes out of a factory where it’s just processed to appeal to the lowest common denominator and that’s not the spirit of rock n roll.” But even with a plethora of bands spilling into the greedy public’s airwaves, there is to be something positive gained: if there is bad music in existence, however plentiful, there is going to be good music that is created to “rise against it.” Steve hopes to offer up his own taste to sway the ears of the record-buying public and diminish the existence of “punk-by-numbers bands.” A gallant feat if it can be accomplished. It seems as though people are more compelled to thoughtlessly snag the latest chart-topper while brushing past those albums offering musical integrity.

So while The Cute Lepers are riding in a van from state to state, catch a show. It might break up the monotony of your life just as shows break up the monotony of being on tour for the aforementioned band. But Steve takes pleasure in the characters that he meets on the road and the “sense of humor that goes around. The most retarded things become really funny and entertaining because you have to find something to cover the monotony…you get used to [being in a van for eight hours] but it puts you in a weird state.”

However, come prepared because the Cute Lepers do deliver. So pop in Can’t Stand Modern Music, a “compelling mixture of power pop mod revival and first wave punk rock with some dynamite backup vocals and amazing guitar tones”, and let its sounds take you to a place of wonder and melody. And Steve wouldn’t want you to forget that the show comes complete with “a handsome drummer.”

eyes set to the eyes of a criminal

Eyes Set to Kill, a band hailing from the sun-scorched landscapes of Tempe, Arizona, has overcome an ever evolving and changing line up with a pair of sister being the only constant. Currently set with a group of members comprised of Alexia on vocals and guitar, Anissa on bass, Brandon screaming and playing the keyboards, Greg on guitar, and Caleb keeping the sound steady on drums, they have hit the road with determination taking no shortcuts in seeing their dreams realized. Although fairly musically uninteresting, what the band lacks in guitar riffs and lyrical strengths they make up for in scene-friendly style and enthusiasm.

The band name has its roots in the poetry of the band’s vocalist and one of the band’s fore founding members. According to Brandon, “Eyes Set To Kill is like seeing things through the eyes of a criminal…completing your goals.” Perhaps to get the complete meaning you would have to delve into the band’s personal artifacts and find the very poem that is its namesake.

Sisters, Alexia and Anissa, have always been the backbone of the band and have fought to keep it going. The band, as a concept, came together “about four or four and a half years ago…through the local music scene.” When members didn’t work out, they were replaced through auditions or by the ever helpful word-of-mouth campaigns. Brandon was in a different band at the time and when that fell through, the girls wanted him to be in their band. Caleb was auditioned in and with Caleb eventually came his friend, Gregg. And with that final addition, the line up was complete and Eyes Set To Kill as the scene knows it was born.

Music saturates the lives of the band members, as is present within the environment of any tour van. Without the baggage and street of “serious jobs” it’s their lifestyle. They tour nonstop and “it’s just a really awesome opportunity” for the five individuals. They get to “travel, hang out, have fun, and do what [they] want to do while spreading [their] music.” Meeting people that are affected by the songs they write, fuels the creative process and spurs the desire to churn out more emotionally aware lyrics. “Sometimes we’ll meet people,” explains Brandon. “and they’ll say that a song really helped them through a problem in their life.” It must be comforting to know that your efforts are making other’s lives easier. Brandon’s personal favorite song from Eyes Set To Kill’s material is Violent Kiss because “it’s really energetic and fun to play.” Running a close second, is Holding On, also because of its jovial nature.

First begun in the company of Alexia and Greg, the songs find life when they begin to “start off and just jam.” The guitars lay the foundations and then the skeleton of a song is taken to Caleb and Anissa. If Alexia doesn’t already have some vocal ideas then Brandon intervenes and places screaming amidst the lyrics already in place. The process is one of community and shared ingenuity.

The music is burgeoning with new acts on a regular basis and it can be hard to stand or hard to create a concrete message and place for yourself among the chaotic cacophony. Brandon hopes that the band is sending the message that “Hey, girls can be in the music scene, too,” he utters as he formulates the rest of his answer. “That’s one thing we are trying to push, that anyone can do it.” That and the fact that a band doesn’t have to easily fit into a genre or be pigeon-holed into a specific rack at the CD store. Eyes Set To Kill has some songs that are “super heavy” intertwined between those “that are poppy because you have to have a little more diversity in music…you don’t have to have an album with eleven songs that sound the same.” They have figured out how to mingle aspects from other genres into the unified sound that has come to represent their band.

Already boasting a record contract with BreakSilence Records and touring nonstop across the United States, Eyes Set To Kill has several achievements of which they should be proud. Brandon consults other band members in the van before listing what he considers to be the greatest on that list. Man. You have really good questions. I’ve never had such intense questions,” he offers. “I just don’t know. We’ve been pretty happy with our album sales…it is our first album and all. And it’s on an indie label. We’re really proud of that. Just the doors we have been able to get in.” They haven’t won any awards, at least not at this point in time, but they are quite proud of the distances that the band has been able to travel – literally and figuratively.

Making friends makes their tour experience worth it all. “Pretty much every band we go on tour with ends up being really good friends by the end of the tour.” Brandon explains with a sort of kid-in-a-candy shop excitement in his tone. But there are downsides to making a tour van your home. “It’s basically like being homeless for six to eight weeks at a time.” So if you’re planning on attending an Eyes Set To Kill show let the intensity of the music overpower the scent of unwashed musical travelers. And you will have ample opportunity to see such a show, for in October and September the outfit will take off once again across the United States to greet eager fans. And for those not able to make a live performance, the video for Darling will soon be premiering, so you can see Brandon, Alexia, Anissa, Greg, and Caleb on a computer screen somewhere near you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Carnifex takes it seriously.

How would one define brutal? Not sure of the precise definition but I’m quite sure that the Carnifex show at the Hideaway in Johnson City, TN summed up all possibilities. Between the palpable eastern Tennessee humidity that was only enhanced by the venue’s fans and the intimidating circle pit in the middle of the floor, it was hard to determine which caused attendees to glisten with sweat.

How did the band get together?

Scott: Like September/October 2005. Me and Shawn (drummer) were just jamming…just like mutual friends and we got together like that.

How did you decide on the band name – Carnifex?

Scott: It was a name that…it’s from the Old English dictionary. In the Catholic Church when you would do something against the church – like if they thought you were a witch – where they would send you to get executed was called the “carnifex.” That’s where we got it.

What has music meant to you? How has it been present in your life?

Scott: It’s been very present in my life. I think I really started getting into music for myself when I was...however old you are in fourth grade. Let’s say nine or ten. That’s when I started discovering music for myself rather than listening to what my older sister was listening to or what my parents were listening to. I went from there and I’ve been in bands since I was like thirteen...messing around. You know, I got a guitar for Christmas type thing. I did that and just kept with it. This is about the fifth band I’ve been in.

Who are your major influences?

Scott: Non-metal would be like Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson and Stone Temple Pilots. I’m trying to think who else. Radiohead. Then for metal bands: Cradle of Filth and other bands like Bleeding Through and Lamb of God. Things like that.

Can you describe your songwriting process?

It’s kind of varied over the years. For our record that came out in 2007 and for all the records and EPs that came before that one, our drummer Shawn pretty much just wrote everything. I would write the lyrics of course. But he would write all of the music and the drum parts and do all the arranging. Since we’ve had a lot of member changes as far as guitarist and bass players. Me and him [Shawn] are the only original players. But more recently it’s been Cory and Shawn and Ryan writing. They will write stuff and arrange stuff and then I’ll write lyrics to it after that. You know let them do their thing and then we arrange it as a five piece.

How long have you been with the present line-up?

Scott: This current lineup has been since November of 2007. So nine months I guess.

Favorite song of your material and why?

Scott: I don’t know that I could say I like one out of all of them.

What about off the new album?

Scott: Off the new album maybe the title track…I like quite a bit. “Answers in Mourning” is definitely a song that I really like.

What are your thoughts on the current music scene? What do you hope to contribute?

Scott: I just hope that I can do for fans and listeners what bands that I have listened to have done for me. Enjoy the music…take your mind off the daily stuff. If people are able to connect lyrically with what I write, then even better. Just something that’s more than just heavy or fast music. It’s a whole experience as far as developing a connection. And creating something that someone can relate to rather than just noise.

What do you consider to be your greatest musical achievement thus far?

Scott: Oh man. I don’t have one. Nothing. I don’t know.

How has your experience with Victory been?

Scott: So far so good. I mean we’ve been with them since October…so far so good. There’s always negatives but you get that with any record label and with anyone you are working with: booking agent, manager, or label. There’s always something that you think they could’ve done better.

What is your favorite aspect of tour or least…whatever you want to throw out there?

Scott: Of course. I love being able to perform. It’s awesome. Just being able to meet people that appreciate the music and it’s doing something for them. If someone is enjoying something that we are doing and for whatever we contribute making their day better when they put our record in. It’s entertainment. It’s enjoyment. And if that’s what they’re getting out of it than that’s great.

Any exciting upcoming projects or tours?

Scott: Oh yeah. We’re always touring nonstop. But we’re doing, after this tour we are doing the Obituary tour. And then we’re going to Europe with Unearth and Parkway Drive and Despised Icon. We have some really good tours coming up the beginning of next year. They haven’t been announced yet – so I can’t really say anything.

Any final comments- anything you want to be sure I don’t miss?

Scott: Nope. Thanks.

With a couple releases under their belts (most recently The Diseased and The Poisoned) and a presently permanent band line-up, Carnifex is always out on the road. So there are no excuses not to catch a live show. But be warned - there won’t be a dull moment.

Danger Radio pt 2

Let’s see if your moves are good enough for Danger Radio. If you haven’t wanted to hit the dance floor before the release of Used and Abused, you will now. Having a fairly diverse audience and not catering to a specific demographic, Danger Radio has come to help you find your groove. With a line-up consisting of Andrew De Torres crooning, Andy Brookins and Elan Wright on guitar, Marvin Kunkel on bass, Nico Hartikainen taking charge of the drums and programming, and Spencer Phillips on the keys, the band has quite a rigorous touring schedule. Luckily, after chowing down, Andrew was able to take a few minutes and discuss what makes Danger Radio tick.

Basically it’s nothing new, nothing groundbreaking,, and nothing we haven’t seen attempted before: good music with a beat that you can dance to. And so be it – but at least people are listening. And that is what makes Andrew continue to tour and continue to play shows. Or as he so effortlessly put it: “To actually be able to go out on the road and have kids come see you is great. I feel very accomplished.” And that is quite the accomplishment. Danger Radio may not have any awards or shiny plaques to brag about, but is that what it’s really about when you get down to the core of music? It’s about the feeling that you get when you grace the stage and see the faces staring back at you, singing the words to your songs. And Danger Radio has accomplished this.

Sometimes phone interviews have awkward timing and mealtimes on the road, those rare respites, should never be interrupted. The clamor on the other end of the phone line reminds me of this. Once in a calmer atmosphere, relatively speaking, Andrew tells of how the band got its foundations. Nico, Marvin, and Andrew knew each other from the early times of childhood and grew up attending jazz band and other structured musical outlets. Andrew asked Nico if he wanted to enter a couple local talent shows and that venture led to the eventual creation of a cover band. Then Marvin came into the equation. There were originally two other guitarists at this point, but they disappeared somewhere along the timeline to attend school and pursue other passions. The current lineup has been solid for about two years and counting.

Music, which courses through the veins of most that choose to claim the open road as home and the white dotted lines as the roadmap to that untraditional home, entered into Andrew’s life early on, beginning with the playing of the trumpet in fourth grade. “It’s such an extremely amazing escape to be able to put your entire life into something. Especially with lyrics, being able to tell people stuff that you’ve gone through and see them react to it. It’s just an extremely life changing thing.” A mindset that led to the creation of a piece of paper littered with possible band names with the moniker Danger Radio circled. This very piece of paper was brought to a band practice and handed to the present members with the statement “these are the names [I] came up with and if anyone has any suggestions just let [me] know.” Nothing more in the way of name suggestions was offered and Danger Radio proved suitable for the members. And suitable for Photo Finish Records – that is, it was suitable for Photo Finish when accompanied with their songs and musical resume.

Inspired to pick up and play the guitar by a love for the Beatles, Andrew is also moved by such musical greats as Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, John Mayer and others that have helped to keep his musical spark aflame. These influences combine to aid in the somewhat arduous song-writing process. Nico and Andrew “come up with a concept or a main idea because [they] live together. Then once the song is all mapped out, [they] bring it to the band…and agree on everything and it becomes a song.” Simple enough it seems. But the songs don’t get lost in a set list to which the band is indifferent about performing. Andrew claims Used and Abused as his favorite song because “it’s one of the most diverse songs” that the band has written to date and “it’s really chill.”

Playing daily and touring through cities that may not have been graced by Andrew’s presence otherwise, is on the ever growing list of pluses associated with touring. “I really like just meeting people,” the vocalist offers. “I really like the fact that we go to a new city every night. We all try to mingle around and talk to all of our fans. Some of the coolest people I have met in my life, I have met on the road. You never know when you are going to make new best friends.” Look for the members of Danger Radio passing through a crowd or chatting up eager audience members at their upcoming shows: either on tour with Jonzetta and Meg and Dia or their yet-to-be-announced fall tours.

Whatever shall be unveiled, the guys are certainly not going to stop there. They have proven their commitment with a non-stop touring schedule and a devotion to all those who attend their shows including long-time fans or new converts looking to bust a move. Don’t be shy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Danger Radio - part 1

Let’s see if your moves are good enough for Danger Radio. If you haven’t wanted to hit the dance floor before the release of Used and Abused, you will now. Having a fairly diverse audience and not catering to a specific demographic, Danger Radio has come to help you find your groove. With a line-up consisting of Andrew De Torres crooning, Andy Brookins and Elan Wright on guitar, Marvin Kunkel on bass, Nico Hartikainen taking charge of the drums and programming, and Spencer Phillips on the keys, the band has quite a rigorous touring schedule. Luckily, after chowing down, Andrew was able to take a few minutes and discuss what makes Danger Radio tick.

Sorry to interrupt your eating time.
I was just literally about to order and then you called. Sorry about that.

How did the band come together?
Let me exit out of this place. It’s kind of loud. And then I will fill you in on all that.

Okay. Well, pretty much how it started was Nico, our drummer, Marvin, our bassist, and I, all kind of knew each other from our childhood. Sometime around like 7th or 8th grade, Nico and I were in jazz band together. I just kind of ask Nico if he wanted to do some talent show stuff with me. Yeah. T just kind of went from there. We were a cover band for a pretty long time. Then Marvin joined. We had two other guitarists that we went to highschool with but they left for school and all that. I knew Andy and Leo and then Spencer came pretty much right after them. The current lineup is only about two years old.

Where did the band name originate?
I wish I had a better answer for you to this question (laughs). Pretty much we had to choose a band name. I got really really bored one night and wrote a bunch of band names down on a piece of paper and took them to the band the next day and said “you know these are the names I came up with and if anyone has any suggestions just let me know.” And we just picked that one because it was the one they liked the best I guess. It just stuck around.

What has music meant to you?
Oh well. I would say that music has played a huge role in my life. I started playing trumpet in the fourth grade. It’s such an extremely amazing escape and then to be able to put your entire life into something. Especially with lyrics, being able to tell people stuff that you’ve gone through and see them react to it. It’s just an extremely life changing thing.

Who are your musical influences?
I really like Justin Timberlake a lot. Like Michael Jackson. I love John Mayer. Those guys right there are probably my biggest influences. I love Stevie Wonder. I love the Beatles – that’s pretty much why I started playing guitar in the first place.

Can you describe your song-writing process?
I think for the most part. Nico and I will come up with a concept or a main idea. Because we live together. Yeah then once we have the song all mapped up we bring it to the band and they tell us what they like and don’t like. And then we agree on everything and it becomes a song.

What is your favorite song from your material?
I think my favorite song on our new album would have to be the title track, “Used and Abused.” I think it’s one of the most diverse songs we’ve ever written. It’s really child.

What do you consider to be your greatest musical achievement thus far?
Aw man. I don’t even know. I have no idea. I kind of just feel like being able to survive on the road. And having kids come out to see us. For my friends that are in bands…I feel like there are so many bands trying to do the same thing. And to actually be able to go out on the road and have kids come see you is great. I feel very accomplished.

What are your thoughts on the current music scene?
I think that especially from when I was getting into this. I feel like the music scene has changed a lot…not necessarily in a bad way. Right now bands are huge. The Fall Out Boy’s…when I was growing up it was all rap and ‘Nsync – those were the only bands that were really making big. And it’s coming way from that direction. It’s given a lot of the bands an opportunity to live off something that they love.

Do you have a favorite aspect of touring?
I really like...just meeting people. Like I really like the fact that we go to a new city every night. We all try to mingle around and talk to all of our fans. Some of the coolest people I have met in my life, I have met on the road. You never know when you are gonna make new best friends.

Least favorite aspect of touring?
You don’t get the opportunity to eat very well. There’s just not a lot of time. You’re just forced and you’re very limited.

Upcoming projects/tours?
We’re heading out with Jonzetta and Meg and Dia. And there will be exciting stuff coming up in the fall.

Thank you.

Monday, August 11, 2008

raining in baltimore...

...happens to be gracing my ears at the moment.
It's fascinating how one piece of music can calm you down and help you to focus on the matters at hand. And at this point in time I need to tune into finding a job and promoting the book that I have just published. (I might have a couple of article deadlines as well...but that's to be kept on the down low).

So here's is the space that I have claimed on the internet. Visit it often. As I will update often.
I have several albums waiting to be reviewed - keep me updated on what you wish to see covered and I shall try to acquiesce.