There And Back Again : Clint Roth and Big Jaw

ClintRothNov2014

 

by EA Poorman

Can you remember that first record that blew your socks off? You know which one I’m talking about. It was the first time you heard an album, or just a song, that stopped you dead in your tracks and made you, by unforeseen force, sit and listen. That record that changed you, man. “Thriller was the first record that I remember being enthralled with”, says Clint Roth, the man behind the rock ‘n roll machine known as Big Jaw.  “The next record that had such a big impact on me was years later when I was about 12 and I found AC/DC’s Back In Black in my sister’s cassette collection. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t ever remember her listening to it. I had never even heard of AC/DC up to that point. I think listening to that tape at that time had just about as much effect on me as any piece of music could have on anybody. That record completely changed how I felt about music.”

Clint Roth, in his own way, is making the kind of music that will someday fall into the hands of some kid living between “nowhere special” and “nothing doing” and will change that kid’s perspective on life and open his eyes to the world of rock ‘n roll. Roth is the mastermind behind the modern-rock-alternative titan known as Big Jaw. As Big Jaw, Roth makes music that lies somewhere in that realm of heavy rock where Queens of the Stone Age like to dabble and cover Zeppelin riffs in street grit and glitter. Where Stone Temple Pilots and Sly and the Family Stone get together and trade riffs and shots of Maker’s Mark. Roth’s own take on the heavy groove and even heavier riff is a magical one. But none of this musical goodness was instantaneous. Like everyone, Clint Roth had to start somewhere. “I am from the Fort Wayne area”, says Roth as we talk about his formative years near Fort Wayne. “I grew up in Leo and lived there until I went away for school in Florida.  After school I moved back to Fort Wayne for a few months, then headed out to California. The plan was to move to L.A. and try to intern at a recording studio or a label. While I was at school in Florida I made a friend who was moving to San Francisco after graduation and he and his fiancee invited me to visit them for a few weeks so, they being the only people I knew in California, I took them up on that.  I stayed with them for about three weeks and while I was there I made phone calls to every recording studio I could find about interning in San Francisco but had no luck. So, I got a number of a friend of a friend in Pasadena who was willing to let me stay at her place so I decided it was time to pack up and head south. I told my friend I would be leaving at the end of the week and the very next day I went out to my car to go buy some LA maps (this was way before smart phones and GPS) and found that my car had been stolen. The cop that came to write the report told me to write it off and forget about it because it was more than likely parts in Mexico by then. So, I lived in San Francisco for two years.”

But, with just a chance encounter the former Hoosier saw his life begin to change. “One of my Dad’s friends was very good friends with Kelly Harris’s (Von Iva) parents and without knowing me, she took me in”, said Roth. “She let me stay on her couch. She fed me. She introduced me to her friends. She was great. One night she took me to a warehouse party and on the way we stopped to buy booze and I bought a bottle of Maker’s Mark. On the way into the party she stopped to say hi to one of her friends and she introduced me. It was producer/engineer Billy Anderson and I recognized his name from the credits of a Mr. Bungle CD I had been listening to and reading the liner notes of just the day before. I asked if this was him and he said it was. I told him about not having any success getting any recording studios to talk to me and I asked if he had any advice. He told me if I shared my bottle of Maker’s with him he’d tell me whatever I wanted to know. I never made it inside that party (as far as I can remember) but we sat outside and drank whiskey and talked. He gave me a phone number for Toast Studios and the managers name and told me to call and tell them that Billy Anderson said to hire me. I called the first chance I got and got an interview and that turned out to be an amazing experience. I learned just about everything I know about recording there assisting for Jacquire King (who went on to produce Kings of Leon and a million other things), Jason Carmer (who produced Third Eye Blind, Kimya Dawson ,Explosions In The Sky and million other things), Chris Haynes (Grammy nominated mixer and also the guy who mastered my EP and mixed “Calling Out”). By the time I went to LA two years later (after they found my car in Napa) I was 23 and already up the ranks as a first engineer on a few major label projects. Rising up the ladder in LA where you can expect to answer phones for a few years before you get your big break to be an assistant and possibly never rise above that unless your lucky, I hit the jackpot by having my car stolen and being stranded in SF where there was considerably less competition but still some big projects being done.  Possibly one of the most fortuitous car thefts of all time.”

By simple twists of fate, Clint Roth got in on the ground floor to some amazing recording projects(thanks in no part to someone stealing his car), but I’d wondered when he’d gotten the itch to make music of his own. “I think I was trying to play music before I even really understood what music was. Not that I really understand what music is now but I have a little bit better grasp on the concept of the world and the things in it than I did when I was six. Or maybe not. When I was five or six, my Mom started sending my older brother Duke to piano lessons. I don’t think it took very long before I made it heard that this was something I wanted to do, too. My Mom was all for it. We took lessons from a woman named Nancy Coolman. Her family ran an apple orchard outside of Leo so there was always apple cider in the mix as well. She taught kind of her own version of the Suzuki method which, in the beginning at least, emphasizes learning music by ear rather than reading notation. I think this had a really great effect, good and bad, on my life as a musician. I have never had a strong grasp of music theory. I still, embarrassingly, couldn’t tell you the names of the notes on my fretboard without counting and only a handful of years ago learned about common chord shapes and the names of the chords (some of the chords) I’ve been playing for years. If you talk about any kind of music theory, no matter how basic it might seem, I’m usually pretty lost. Every few years I make a big push to try to learn and I usually glean a little bit of information that sticks with me but it is a huge effort. On the flip side of that, I’m very appreciative for being trained to focus on hearing what’s happening rather than focusing on the math of written music at such an early age. When I started getting interested in guitar around the time I was 13 or 14 I had even less patience with learning anything that wasn’t directly related to making the sounds I was interested in. I skipped learning scales and modes and guitar theory (which I couldn’t really grasp) and instead jumped in and tried to learn Metallica songs by listening to the tapes. So basically, Metallica taught me how to play guitar. For the first few years I played and learned by listening, reading tabs from guitar magazines, and getting occasional pointers from my friend Jason Howey (Autovater) who was a grade above me at Leo and was a big inspiration while I was learning to play. Later on in my teens I did have the honor of briefly studying with the late great George Ogg, but we focused more on the feel aspects of guitar than the technical. Even more recently, just a few years ago, I had the pleasure of studying and picking up some tricks with the amazing Kenny Taylor.”
So at an early age, Clint Roth gets the bug for music, and by the time he’s in his teens he’s teaching himself to play guitar thanks to Metallica and Guitar World magazine. Then by the time he’s 23 years old he’s pushing faders on some pretty swanky records. When does Big Jaw come into the equation? ” I moved back to Fort Wayne from L.A. in 2006. At the end of my time in L.A. I had pretty much stopped engineering records and was writing music for commercials. I kind of had this idea that I could do that from anywhere and wanted to be back in Ft. Wayne where I could be near my family and friends and live for cheap while I spent some time exploring making my own music after about a decade of recording music for other people. I messed around with a bunch of ideas and then finally got serious about making an actual record around 2008. While I was visiting friends in Toronto for Nuit Blanche, I got inspired to really commit myself to the project and get it done. When I got home I started writing Appetite for Construction and started Big Jaw. My initial thought was to play everything myself but after awhile, I wondered why I, as a mediocre drummer,  was playing drums when some of my best friends are great drummers. So, I enlisted my friend Adam Aaronson to play drums on my records.  He’s a really amazing drummer. When he was young he studied with Tony Williams and went on to play with bands including My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, and most recently We Are Scientists. I would love for him to be an official member but he’s not so interested in touring anymore and that’s the next step for me. So, right now, Big Jaw is just me but I am not Big Jaw. I am Clint and I have always intended for Big Jaw to be a band and accrue other members along the way.”
Roth just released his second Big Jaw album called Photophobia. It’s a great little nugget of crunchy riffs, catchy hooks, and some truly impressive production work. I asked Clint about the time between the releases and differences between the two albums. ” Yeah, this record took a very long time to make.  A little over a month after I released Appetite for Construction I lost a close friend in a car accident and everything flipped upside down for me. It was an intense period and one of the ways I tried to work through it was by playing music. Which helped until it didn’t and then I stopped. I left the music alone for awhile and when I came back to it I found that I had started all this hyper-emotional music and I didn’t know what to do with it because I’m a fairly private person. It was really very uncomfortable for me to open that part of myself up for criticism, but that’s art I guess.   Now that I have put myself out there in that way and that part of my brain that freaks out over things like that can see that it’s not the end of the world to show that you can be vulnerable, I hope I can be be free to say what’s on my mind and in my heart without so much of an internal struggle next time.”
Besides his amazing songwriting prowess and studio wizardry, Roth is a damn fine artist as well. I asked him about the album artwork concepts for his musical projects. “For Appetite For Construction my initial plan was to do a very basic cover for the CD along the lines of Muddy Waters Electric Mud. One day I was randomly looking around some art sites and stumbled on a feature about an artist named French. He did some really great pencil drawings and one in particular struck me as a great idea for a record cover and that was the rooster standing on the skull. I emailed him and told him I was self-producing a record and paying for it myself and asked how much he would charge to give me the rights to use it on my cover. He responded and told me to go had and use it, no charge. It still amazes me how generous that was that a stranger would just say ‘go ahead and use it’.  Then my friend Tim Litton, who is a professional graphic designer,  helped me put it all together and took photos for that first record.
For Photophobia I wanted to commission my friend Brian Phillips to do a painting that I could use as a cover. He agreed and made a really great painting but I kind of had him do it prematurely. By the time the record was finished it was evident to me that what I asked him to do really didn’t fit with how the record turned out, so I’m hoping to use that painting for the cover of the next project (which I already have a title for.) In the end I used one of my own paintings for the cover. I was kind of hesitant to use my own art for the cover because I’m not  as confident about my art as I am my music so I was afraid that if I did the art I might decide that I don’t like it later on. But I felt like this painting really worked for this record so I went for it.  I’m not a graphic designer or anything but I have been painting for a handful of years on my own and I really love it. I started painting about the same time I started Appetite for Construction and it has really become a part of my life. The past year or so I’ve mostly been doing mixed media pieces.”
So what’s next for Clint Roth and Big Jaw? “Next for me is getting a live show together and starting to try to get the word out in earnest. I love playing live and interacting with people and I’m looking forward to getting back out there. But where its truly at for me is recorded music.  I love listening to records. I love making records. It is the form of creativity that is the most meaningful to me. The most exciting part is that by making my records and putting them out into the world I have become a part of something that I love and that can’t be undone.”
Check out Big Jaw’s music at http://bigjaw.bandcamp.com/, and you can check out Clint’s art at http://www.clintroth.com/. Keep up on all things Big Jaw at https://www.facebook.com/bigjawband. And when Clint hits your town, get out there and see Big Jaw.

Cult of Youth : Final Days

Cult-Of-Youth-Final-DaysI’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of friendly smiles, high fives, and general chuckling in the studio when Sean Ragon was recording his newest long player as Cult of Youth. In fact, I’m thinking laughing and cajoling was frowned upon. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily throw Cult of Youth in the same sinking, blood-strewn boat as say his label mate Pharmakon; but he definitely makes Bauhaus seem like a bubblegum pop band. Final Days is exactly what that title suggests; a downtrodden, end-of-days dirge into the darkest corners of darkness, with an occasional break in the black sky for a bloody smirk.

“Todestrieb” is all crackles and squeaks. It sounds like a whipping post in Hell, with the occasional moan here and there. Post-apocalyptic and tribal. It’s the sound of no hope. But then we’re immediately treated to “Dragon Rouge” which has the vibe of early Echo and the Bunnymen. “Empty Faction” breaks out even further with a mix of post-punk bravado, complete with a sound that pulsates like a Joy Division/The Birthday Party slugfest. “God’s Garden” is another song that could be considered upbeat, as far as Cult of Youth are concerned. It’s a driving post-punk track that has Ragon barking bloody spittle on the mic as musically the track is reminiscent of a time before Robert Smith teased his hair and put on eyeliner. Not so theatrical; more visceral and groove-filled. “Down The Moon” has the vibe of a campfire acoustic session, with an almost bluesy vibe.

Up to this point Final Days, while still dark in mood and tone, has a flow to it. It’s a sound that I’d call “industrial folk” or “post-apocalyptic post-punk”. When we hit “Of Amber” the curtain raises to reveal Ragon on a mountaintop strumming to nothing on the horizon. Ornamented with horn, percussion, and distant screams, it’s the kind of song that gets to the heart of the album. It’s the sweet and sour. Pretty and ugly. “No Regression” gets all tribal like Crocodiles-era Bunnymen. “Sanctuary” is over nine minutes and is epic in noise and anger. It starts out with acoustic and tribal drums, slowly building into an explosive squall of noise before simmering back down to the acoustic and electric guitar just under the surface. It’s like Love took some bad acid with Richie Havens and Atomic Rooster. “Sanctuary” is the result of said trip.

You know, once you pass through Sean Ragon’s world a few times and things become more and more familiar the darkness isn’t so bad. In fact, you feel this almost empowering vibe that permeates throughout Final Days. It’s like Ragon is looking into the abyss and seeing the death of humanity. But instead of being overcome by it he’s celebrating it. Last track “Roses” says it all. It’s pretty and painful; it’s delightful and dour. Gothic folk for post-apocalyptic punks.

7.9 out of 10

This Will Destroy You :: Another Language

this will destroy youIt’s hard to describe the overwhelming joy that emanates from the speakers as opening track “New Topia” -off of This Will Destroy You’s newest album Another Language- plays. It’s both extraterrestrial and of this earth at the same time. Pure light extracted from the beginning of existence. This Will Destroy You have toiled in this kind of territory before, their self-titled debut record and 2011s excellent Tunnel Blanket set the tone for where this Texas band was heading and what stories they wanted to tell. But on Another Language they have extracted the essence of their musical scope and have created this bountiful and overwhelmingly beautiful noise concentrate. “New Topia” is the introduction to This Will Destroy You’s new world. That world is called Another Language, and it’s amazing.

It’s easy to just throw these guys in the same music section as their Texas brethren Explosions in The Sky, but that would be a huge mistake. While both create vast landscapes and contemplative moments of musical journey, they couldn’t be more different in arriving at their respective destinations. EiTS are very heart-on-sleeve and simple in that what you see is what you get. This Will Destroy You layer their sound and their songs with white noise, distant voices, and on earlier works a feeling of calm doom. On Tunnel Blanket they created one of the most beautifully sad and hopeful pieces of music I’ve ever heard in “Killed The Lord, Left For The New World”. It feels like the moment where the black, engulfing sky cracks momentarily to reveal pure, otherworldly light at a funeral. Hope amidst grief. With Another Language the band has come full circle and have both expanded and compressed their music.

“New Topia” is ecstatic in its energy, and once the jagged drums kick in you feel an almost spiritual release. “Dustism” is like this perfect bonding of slowcore and doom metal. It crawls rapturously with ethereal noise and the squall of something darker in the distance. “Serpent Mound” sounds like a musical marriage of Mogwai and Sigur Ros. It’s beautiful on the surface with something slightly alarming underneath a thin layer of ice. The ice breaks midway through and you fall into the icy depths and into something both sublime and visceral.

The “sound” or “style” of music This Will Destroy You have created on Another Language -and in turn have evolved into- is something more ambient than straight ahead rock. It’s somewhere between doom metal, shoegaze, and soundscapes. If that scares you let me put those fears to rest: this music is absolutely beautiful. It’s also harrowing, overwhelming, contemplative, and vast. Each song is an emotional journey. “War Prayer”, “The Puritan”, and “Mother Opiate” act as mini-suites creating this flow of what could be a celebration of life and/or death. “Memory Loss” is hypnotic, moving in and out and surprisingly lulling even at its most intense. This great song makes me think this is what Sigur Ros would sound like as a doom metal band. “God’s Teeth” is as striking as the song title suggests. It’s moving and a beautiful note to end on.

I feel with Another Language, This Will Destroy You have transcended any style or genre. They have created a modern piece of orchestral music. Much in the sense the classic composers composed works of music to become closer to God, I imagine that this album could indeed bring you closer to some higher power through its notes, swells, movements, and emotion that lie within the grooves. Where do This Will Destroy You go from here? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to see.

9.5 out of 10

 

Oneohtrix Point Never : Songs Darkly Lit

oneohtrix_opn_a_9013c-copyYou know the old saying, “If you look long enough, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for”? Well that’s not really an old saying. In fact I just made it up right here. It’s that sayings debut. Take it. Let it loose out into the world and tell everyone you saw it here first.

What I’m babbling about is something I’ve come to find out in my nearly 41 years on this big blue rock we call home, and that’s when you think you’ve seen and heard all the great stuff something will always appear from out the ether to further blow your mind. For me, I’m always looking for some great new artist to light my fuse, butter my bread, and/or rock my socks off. Just when I think everything is stale and same-y, along comes a band or artist that grabs me by the lapels and shakes me until my retinas are detached. Oneohtrix Point Never is that artist as of late.

So I was familiar with Daniel Lopatin, aka OPN(that’s Oneohtrix Point Never just abbreviated. Why? Because I’m lazy.) I’d heard last year’s R Plus Seven and liked it. There were many references to John Carpenter and “spooky music”. While I did find some of the album “spooky”, I found it harder to hear those Carpenter references. So I jumped back to the album before that, Replica, and was still kind of on the fence. I don’t think I was quite ready for Lopatin’s synth landscapes and analog narration.

Well fast forward to three weeks ago and on a whim I played R Plus Seven again and something clicked. It was dark and eerie as I’d remembered from last year; but there was also a depth to the album I hadn’t noticed before. I immediately jumped back to Replica and was floored once again. I think a lot of my newfound love for Oneohtrix Point Never stemmed from my recent analog synth binging with the likes of Jakob Skott, Bernard Szajner, Rudiger Lorenz, and Sinoia Caves(aka Jeremy Schmidt.) These artists completely opened my mind to what can be done with a stack of Moogs, Juno Synths, and TR-808s. Lopatin’s most recent albums resemble haunted houses created with vacuum tubes and square waves. Buzzing swaths of tension and dread. Ghosts swoon amidst the static and synthesizer stabs. Replica and R Plus Seven show a drastic shift in Lopatin’s musical communication. Once I jumped back to his first few self-released albums he had definitely begun in a more ambient, textural landscape.

Betrayed In The Octagon is definitely more Tangerine Dream than John Carpenter. It’s more soundscapes and set adrift than haunted and tense. Drawn and Quartered, Russian Mind, and The Fall Into Time all keep that vibe going as well. 2010s Returnal shows a shift in composition, though. It feels more in-your-face, harsher, and a definite shift to what he did on Replica and R Plus Seven. 

I am quite fond of both musical sides of Daniel Lopatin. Being a huge fan of Tangerine Dream I’m drawn to his earlier work. I find myself putting on the earlier albums quite a bit lately. They are conducive to a glass of stout and deep reflection on the couch. “Behind The Band” and “Parallel Minds” on Betrayed In The Octagon are two favorites, while “Woe Is The Transgression I” is an epic opener that brings to mind Vangelis’ work in Blade Runner. Vangelis does pop up now and again on the earlier albums as an artist that comes to mind in sound. But Lopatin dabbles in musical corners more darkly lit. His musical world is filled with many shady alleys and coarser, blacker skies.

Another thing that impressed me is that his earlier stuff was all self-released. A guy toiling in an apartment making these synth collages for the love of the music. It reminded me of another synth loner, Rudiger Lorenz. His masterpiece Invisible Voices was recently reissued thanks to Mexican Summer and Kemado Records(Kemado has been reissuing Lopatin’s earlier albums as well.) Rudiger was a German pharmacist by day and by night he made these albums filled with synth collages in his home studio. I think it’s great he’s finally getting some recognition for his great work.

I’ve gone on long enough. If any of these words I said above this line meant anything to you, then give Oneohtrix Point Never a listen. For those fans of Tangerine Dream, Carpenter scores, and those other cats I mentioned.

 

 

 

Big Jaw :: Photophobia

big jawHow dare Clint Roth, aka Big Jaw, write music like he has on Photophobia well into the 21st century. What kind of music am I referring to? You know, the kind with big, meaty guitar riffs, mammoth drum beats, and that thing called melody. It goes completely against current music standards. In particular, Music Standards 4.1 which states, “Music shall not be titillating, spine-tingling, or have any semblance of groove.” Has he not read the Brooklyn Music Accord of 2007?

Well, I suppose since we’re here we might as well discuss this slab of gutter pop and dirty glam rock called Photophobia. Fair warning though, once you hit play on this one you will uncontrollably tap your foot, play air guitar, and generally want to just rock out like a fool.

Back in the 90s there were a handful of bands that appeared on the music radar for a short time that made extremely catchy and heavy rock that you could play and not feel emasculated if you were caught listening to it. Bands like Dovetail Joint and Big Wreck made big, heavy, riff-laden music that was equal parts Electric Warrior, Physical Graffiti, and Are You Gonna Go My Way(and not in that order necessarily.) You can throw Stone Temple Pilots and Imperial Drag on this list as well. It’s that kind of rock that appealed to the stoners, rockers, preps, and greasers(basically the cast of The Outsiders and Dazed and Confused could all jam together here.) Big Jaw keeps that catchy metal flag flying high on Photophobia. “Walk Away” opens this album with some serious Queens of the Stone Age/Them Crooked Vultures strutting, Roth himself even having a Homme-esque snarl in his vocals. It’s a killer riff and killer tune. “Never Coming Home” has riffs and attitude for miles, and something the old timers used to call a “guitar solo”. There’s talk of drinking whiskey and forgetting names. This cat is lovelorn and is wearing his heart on his torn, bloodied sleeve. There’s a “Custard Pie” vibe in the groove and guitar riffage here as well. This is the kind of music you crank through your Pioneer speakers as you cruise in your 1974 Chevy Nova. Hell yeah. “This Is All There Is” stomps and rocks into your brain. This is the kind of track Lenny Kravitz used to write before he got concerned about the fashion runway and Oscar nominations. It’s got a classic glam crunch in the guitar that harkens back to Dean DeLeo, circa 1995.

Besides some serious riff ‘n roll going on, there’s some moments of weird and cool experimentation, like the short “Not Who I Will Be”, which has some backwards voices and what sounds like German being spoken, which leads into the deep and soulful “Calling Out”. This is yet another violation of current music standards, in particular Music Standards 5.3 which states “Artists shall not, in any circumstance, write any music remotely resembling heartfelt, earnest emotion without including ironic undertones.” Roth shows some serious studio prowess besides serious songwriting and arranging prowess throughout this record, and this song is a culmination of those strengths. “Light” ends this album on some serious vocal work and starry-eyed wonder.

So, if you want to be non-compliant with current music standards then give Photophobia a spin. You’ll find yourself sucked into the riff-heavy world of Clint Roth and Big Jaw. Just be prepared to not look back and to say the hell with those standards, Brooklyn be damned. You know what? Forget the standards. Hit play on Photophobia and turn it up as loud as it’ll go.

7.9 out of 10

“What It’s Like To Die”: The Return of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs

2014-10-27 09.54.09

Photo by Adam Garland

by EA Poorman

Way back in April of 2013 Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Heaven’s Gateway Drugs dropped their full-length debut called You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. It was a psych-pop menagerie of both late 60s psych and garage rock and British Invasion pop with a modern twist. HGD hit the road and played a few festival dates and countless other shows promoting the record, as well as making new fans and friends along the way. Becoming weekend road warriors hitting pavement and stages as close as Muncie, IN and as far as Austin, Texas, the guys honed their chops and dug in to make album number two. By December of 2013 they had completed what would be their sophomore record.

Then, things got a little quiet.

Fast forward to October of 2014, and the boys in Heaven’s Gateway Drugs have finally released their sophomore record into the universe. Apropos is every bit the record you’d imagine it to be; tripped-out psych pop, desert death trip rock, and heavy, gritty garage rock done up all acid-burnt and sundazed. But the band didn’t get to this point without a few scratches, bruises, and even an existential crisis or two.

“It’s been a weird year”, says Derek Mauger as we discuss Heaven’s Gateway Drugs’ long road to Apropos. “Our original bassist Josh Elias and his wife had a baby and he understandably wanted to devote his time to being a family man. Eric Frank and C. Ray Harvey left separately over the course of the next few months to focus on their jobs. When C. Ray officially announced he was moving I asked him what he thought we should do. Ben answered immediately by saying, ‘I think it’s obvious that we have to keep going.’ Had he said it was time to stop, it would have broken my heart, but I would have pulled the plug. The silver lining to losing all three of those guys was that all of them were supportive and encouraged the rest of us to keep the project going. So when it came time to find a new drummer, Eric played a part in teaching James the songs and the same was true with C. Ray helping Brandon out. So the transition between the original members and the two new guys ended up being pretty seamless.”

I asked Mauger about the making of Apropos and how the loss of three original members of the band affected that creative process. “We went into the studio in December of 2013 to record all the songs that would be on Apropos. At that time we knew Josh would be leaving but we felt it was important for him to be on the record since he was instrumental in developing that batch of songs. The songs were then mixed by C. Ray and sent out to a few labels to see if we got any bites. Around the same time some heavy personal drama came up outside the band, the mix was played around with some more but never quite finalized. Weeks and months went by, Eric announced he’d be leaving to focus on school and his job and it was looking ever more apparent that C. Ray would be moving and we still didn’t have a final mix of the album. Enter Jason Davis(owner/operator of Off The Cuff Sound, as well as being guitarist/singer for Streetlamps for Spotlights) to save the day. He recorded and mixed the first EP we did and offered to clean up and finish what we had. We agreed that what we left his studio with would be the final mix and from there it would be sent out to be mastered. By this point it was now Summer of 2014, I looked up open dates for the Brass Rail and picked Oct. 18th and worked backwards from that to line up artwork and the printing process so we could finally have a tangible finished copy of the album.”

So what are some differences between You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs and Apropos? “The biggest difference between the first full length album and “Apropos” was with this record we were more comfortable with the fact that some of the things we wanted to do in the studio we wouldn’t be able to pull off live. For example, a lot of my guitar parts ended being overdubbed by strings or keys on the record.” I immediately asked Mauger how the transition was for the new guys in the band. “Transitioning James and Brandon in to the band was incredibly easy, almost too easy. They are both fantastic musicians and really have a great understanding of what we are trying to do musically. Both of them palled around with us to out of town shows before they joined and those trips were initiations/interviews of sorts to see how they handle being on the road. They passed with flying colors. James first show with us was the end of June and Brandon’s first show was early on in August. So the majority of this summer was spent rehearsing our back catalog and getting the new guys up to speed on enough songs to have a solid set for shows. From August to October we really focused on hammering out all the songs from Apropos that would be regulars in our set with Brandon picking up the vocals on songs C. Ray sang. Along the way we wrote a few songs new songs but since the release show that’s been are sole focus.” Has the band’s sound changed at all with the new guys? “I would describe the new sound as a natural progression of what came before it. While every song is written it goes through Ben for processing and that gives everything a certain cohesion. The wheels roll on.”

I asked Derek how the songwriting process worked before with C. Ray Harvey and himself, and how it’s working now with the new line-up. “For the most part, our songwriting process has been that I bring some idea to the table- whether it be a riff or a fleshed out song, and the rest of the guys help fill the song out”, said Mauger. “C. Ray excelled at presenting possibilities. If I showed up to practice with a riff, in a few minutes he would have 3 different options for what we could do with it. He was also a huge asset in the studio when it came time to arranging keys or strings on the songs. So the original communal aspect remains unchanged. I still show up with some kind of idea and let the other guys make their mark on the song. As we work more and more on new material, James and Brandon are putting more of themselves into the songs and it is really starting to show with some of the new songs we’ve written.”

On October 18th Heaven’s Gateway Drugs had their official album release show at the Brass Rail in Fort Wayne and it was an amazing experience for all involved. Derek went into a little more detail about the show. ” I don’t think I can adequately articulate what the release show meant to me. “Apropos” was my Moby Dick this last year. It seemed like the universe was conspiring against us for reasons we still don’t understand. We had this album that all of us, past members and present, were incredibly proud of that was just collecting dust. On some level, the release show was like getting the proverbial monkey off of my back. It would have felt that way if 5 people showed up, but the fact that the Brass Rail was packed with people who were there to celebrate with us completely overwhelmed me. And to add an additional emotional punch, our friends in Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor from Detroit showed up unannounced to celebrate with us. Now that we’ve released the album, it finally feels like we can move forward.”

I asked Derek what the band has planned for the remainder of 2014 and beyond. “We are crazy busy from now until the end of the year. This week besides the Wunderkammer show, we will be at the Brass Rail on Thursday night playing with the Paperhead from Nashville who are on Trouble in Mind records. Saturday we head down to Muncie to one of our favorite venues, Be Here Now for a show. November we’re also going up to Grand Rapids and Detroit for Echo Fest.” And what about new material with the new band members? “Yes. We’re recording new material starting the first weekend in December at Off The Cuff with Jason Davis. “Apropos” was a real learning experience, so expect the new stuff to be out early in 2015.”

Get out there and grab a copy of Apropos at either Neat Neat Neat Records on South Calhoun St in Fort Wayne, or order a copy at http://heavensgatewaydrugs.bandcamp.com. Keep up with all things HGD at https://www.facebook.com/HeavensGatewayDrugs, and if you can make the trip, head up to Ferndale, Michigan on November 15th and see HGD at Echo Fest. It should be a hell of a show. Check out the line-up at https://www.facebook.com/EchofestDetroit.

 

 

 

Bonfire John :: College

bonfire johnOwen Yonce is Bonfire John, and Bonfire John is Owen Yonce. Somewhere in-between there though is a band that makes up the live version of Bonfire John. But alone in a room inside a house is Yonce putting on many hats and making records all by his lonesome, occasionally with the help of a friend or two. Back three years ago Yonce put out the Bonfire John debut and he showed tremendous songwriting chops coming from a barely adult 18-year old just graduating high school from somewhere around Carmel, Indiana way. Three years later(and now possibly at legal drinking age) Yonce gives us his messy, jangly, folksy, and sometimes gritty rock ‘n roll sophomore effort under the Bonfire John moniker called College. It’s a record filled with solid songs; done with the spirit of the Old 97s, Pavement, Jonathan Richman, and even another Indiana songwriting savant named Josh Hall(aka, Thunderhawk.)

There’s a laid back feeling to College that frankly is missing in a lot of current music. It has the air of a cat sitting in a living room with some drums, mics, and amps set up around him. Hitting record after a swig of beer from a half warm bottle, hands still chilled from that last smoke out on the porch, he goes into opener “One Night” and proceeds to lay the track down with ease. You see, despite the fact that Owen Yonce is still a young dude, he writes and performs songs like a crusty lifer with tons of stories to tell under his belt. “Everybody” sounds like John Prine re-imagining Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” after a whiskey bender and a few uppers just to keep him upright. “My Name Is Bill” has the simple vibe of a Daniel Johnston track, but the sly smirk of Stephen Malkmus under the surface. It’s like the Moldy Peaches came out of Stockton in 1992, especially with that vocal help from Kate Haldrup. “Runaway Dog” has a ramshackle feel of early Sebadoh before easing into the nice country feel of Son Volt(at times Yonce’s vocals do resemble that of Jay Farrar’s delivery, but just sometimes.)

Here’s the thing, anyone can put a faux country twang in the voice, strum an acoustic, and pretend to be the hipster Woody Guthrie. It’s been done and is still being done(I can hear someone doing it right outside my window.) But Owen Yonce comes across as someone far more interested in making honest-to-God art through music. He leaves empty spaces in-between the notes. He lets the songs breathe and expand as they leave the speakers. Listening to College I hear a guy with a sense of humor, an ear for melody, and a old soul writing though a young-ish dude. Around these parts we call that kind of songwriter the “real deal”. You can’t write songs like “To The Light”, “You Haven’t Got to Leave”, and “Wanting You” without possessing that essence of the true artist. Proof? Just hit play on College and see for yourself.

There’s so many artists Bonfire John’s College puts me in mind of; Pavement, Old 97s, Wilco, Son Volt, and even a drunken, lo-fi Jayhawks at times. But give Owen Yonce and Bonfire John one more album and it’s simply gonna sound like Bonfire John. College is a hell of a record.

8.4 out of 10