Breathe Easy : The Legendary Trainhoppers Ready New Album ‘Let It Breathe’

I always look forward to talking with Fort Wayne’s The Legendary Trainhoppers. That’s a group of six guys that are at an age of mature comfort. What do I mean by that? I mean they’re middle-aged dudes with careers, kids, mortgages, and all the dad life fixings, but are still willing to take risks for the sake of the muse. After a years-long hiatus from the Trainhoppers in 2015, the guys broke out the mandolins, Telecasters, and tube amplifiers to find that magic they used to make together. They found it and then some. Family Tree was a sweeping and rugged collection of dusty Americana and buzzing rock and roll. It wasn’t a weekend warriors kind of record where dad hangs in the garage with his pals and swills Natural Lights and jams on Petty hits. The boys really did get the band back together and it was glorious.

We’re not even at a year and some change since Family Tree was released and they’re already readying a new record they recorded back in March with Jason Davis at Off The Cuff Sound. It’s called Let It Breathe and it’s their best yet. It features contributions by Cassie Beer and The Hoppin’ Horns. But not only did the guys record an all-analog warm and fuzzy beauty of a long player, they had filmmaker Brad Bores document the whole process. On June 10th at Artslab you’ll be able to hear the guys debut the record, pick up a copy of the album on CD(0r download code if that’s your thang), and see the film and relive the making of the Trainhoppers beautiful new record.

I talked to Matt Kelley and Phil Potts about the record, as well as Brad Bores about the music doc and how he got involved.

J. Hubner: So we’re just a little over a year from the release of the last Trainhoppers album ‘Family Tree’ and now thanks to the wonders of internet voyeurism I know you guys have been recording a new record. The Trainhoppers are in one hell of a creative streak. How did this new one come about so soon? Was it a strike while the iron’s hot sort of situation? Is this a whole new batch of tunes?

Matt Kelley: We definitely felt like we were on a streak, and even when promoting Family Tree, we continued to write—fear that if we stopped, we might lose momentum. All of these songs but one were written in the 15 months since recording the previous album. I think our velocity has been helped by a couple of things; for starters, we’re a six-piece and everyone contributes song ideas (rather than there just being one songwriter), and second, we’ve hit a really great collaborative place where we share ideas very early in the process, and pass ‘em around to be made different and better.

Phil Potts: There are 6 of us in the band and we’re all songwriters, so while having so many creative voices has its challenges, the upside is there is a lot of material. It was a challenge just picking which 10 to record. . .so we recorded 11.

J. Hubner:  So the album’s called ‘Let It Breathe’. You recorded this time around over at Off The Cuff Sound with Jason Davis. What made The Trainhoppers decide to go full-on analog? It seems like a perfect fit. How was the experience with Jason?

Phil Potts: It was a very different process than our last album. With the last one, we made the conscious decision to produce it ourselves. We recorded it in a more modern way, digitally. On ‘Let It Breathe’ we decided we wanted input from someone who could help us best shape the songs for recording. Not everything that is great for a live performance translates well to the studio, so having someone like Jason who has so much experience in that realm was revelatory. Having input from fresh ears was helpful because we’d been living with these songs for a year now. The real artistic benefit to recording to tape in an analog studio, in my eyes, is not some fetishization of  is that there are limitations. Constraints can be immensely beneficial to creativity. You can’t have 100 tracks. You can’t Auto-Tune a bad vocal. You don’t make everything mathematically perfect and that’s what makes it beautiful.

Matt Kelley: Well, we’ve known Jason and known about Off the Cuff for a very long time, but had never been to the studio. We had the option to record in The B-Side again—it’s comfortable (it’s where we write and rehearse) and convenient, and there’s no clock running. Which is to say, it’s an easy option. So, we checked out Off the Cuff, considering it part of our due diligence. About ten minutes into the studio tour, we were in love, and sharpening our resumés in hopes that we might work there someday. Of course, folks often thing “analog tape” immediately when they hear about Off the Cuff, but it turns out that’s the smallest part of the story. It all starts with Jason Davis and his perspective and approach and process to making a record. The incredible collection of instruments is a blast, too. Using real instruments and real gear slows everything down, forces you to make more deliberate decisions, and cranks up the pressure.

So yes, The B-Side would have been the easy choice for us. But easy is a four-letter word, and we felt Off the Cuff was the more challenging direction, and could lead to a better album. We certainly believe that to be the case. It was an experience—grueling, hilarious, brilliant—that the seven of us (band + Jason) will never forget.

J. Hubner: Song-wise did the Trainhoppers go into Off The Cuff with completed songs ready to hit record or did you guys leave space to experiment a bit? What’s the overall vibe of ‘Let It Breathe’?

Phil Potts: We had the songs completed, but we were open to changes. And they did change. Off the Cuff Studios is an inspirational environment.

Matt Kelley: The songs were ready to be performed live. But live, The Trainhoppers are often pretty busy—very loud, everything and the kitchen sink, loud. The studio often gave us the chance to actually play a little less, and be very purposeful with what we played when, and how. Also, of course, the studio’s collection of gear gave us the opportunity to experiment more than we might in a digital environment. If you have a million options, you might just choose the one you know. When you have a dozen, you might find you want to try ‘em all…

Vibe-wise, you know, it wasn’t quite spring, and definitely not summer, when we recorded. Our final pre-production and early studio days were when winter was hanging on, and the rainy season had begun. I think there’s part of that in the album, but it’s also jubilant, and it’s got some real fight to it. We stretch into some places we’ve never been before, including a song pretty much without guitar, and working with a horn section. But hey, if The Replacements could bring in the horns with Jim Dickinson on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” we can do the same, right?

J. Hubner: The album release is Saturday June 10th at ArtsLab. Besides the album, the band will be premiering a film on the making of the LP that evening, too. How did the film come about?

Matt Kelley: I first met Brad Bores when he attended a Rayland Baxter show at The B-Side with some dear mutual friends. We hit it off, and share a love for a certain loose Americana music. We were getting the band together and talking about why we did, after almost a decade off, and I left Brad a five-minute voicemail essay about it, and it just seemed like there might be a story worth telling here.

J. Hubner: Is there any ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ drama in the film? No personnel changes or vomiting mid-mix I hope.

Phil Potts: Unfortunately for the Brad Bores, the filmmaker, we all get along and had a blast making the record.

Matt Kelley: Fortunately—I think—Brad wasn’t there on those days, lol. But really, this band is far more in simpatico in 2017 than it was in 2007. We did have conflict in writing and making this record, but it was always ultimately in service of the song, and the album, and ideas bigger than any of us as individuals.

J. Hubner: So what can folks expect on June 10th at Artslab?

Matt Kelley: We’re really excited to present a very focused show—a concert performance, rather than a gig. We’re doing two shows, one at 6:30 and one at 9:30. Each will open with Brad’s film, which will be around 15 minutes. We’ll then have a Q&A with Brad, and then the band will perform the album in its entirety, and maybe a couple of requests. It’ll be a fun, all ages show. The ArtsLab is an awesome venue, and we’ll have a bar by The Brass Rail.

Phil Potts: They can expect the rain to stop falling and the clouds to part. We advise bringing extra socks because we will have rocked them off by the 3rd song. All of the ladies in the first two rows run the risk of immaculate conception just by looking at our drummer, so sit accordingly.

J. Hubner: After June 10th where can folks pick up copies of ‘Let It Breathe’?

Matt Kelley: We’ll have hard copies at shows and at TheTrainhoppers.com, hopefully Neat Neat Neat and Wooden Nickel, and digital copies on all the usual outlets, including streaming services. I’m pretty proud of the album cover, so I do recommend the CD to those who still have a way to play such a thing…

J. Hubner: Any favorite memories of making the album?

Phil Potts: There was a game of HORSE. I was draining long distance shots over and over again while missing 5-footers. I think that’s a metaphor for this album. As John Irving said “If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital.”

Matt Kelley: A long, long time ago I worked on the website for a studio in Nashville that was up in the holler surrounding the city, a getaway, a destination studio that was down-to-earth, outside the music industry and all about the song, and the art. This was when I was first discovering this guitar I had picked up was lucky. Well, I never had the chance to be part of recording there, but working with this band, with Jason at Off the Cuff, I really felt like I finally got to live an experience like the one I had daydreamed about all those years ago.


So June 10th, Artslab, and bring extra socks. And if you don’t want to be carrying an immaculate Trainhoppers baby sit in the back row. Seriously get out there. It’s gonna be great, and you’ll get to see the great film about the making of ‘Let It Breathe’ which was directed by Brad Bores, who I talked to as well.

J. Hubner: So how did you get involved in documenting the Trainhoppers recording sessions for ‘Let It Breathe’? Were you a fan of the Legendary Trainhoppers prior to the film?

Brad Bores: Yes but I wasn’t living in the Fort Wayne area for the first coming of the Trainhoppers so I am a newer fan. I met Matt Kelley at a B-Side show back in 2013(?) and when I heard his band was making a comeback a few years later I knew I would dig the music, just from knowing Matt and his musical tastes that align pretty closely with mine. Last summer the B Side hosted a screening of another music doc I made on Fort Wayne Musician PJ Sauerteig. While I was setting up Matt was talking about the Trainhoppers recording a 3rd album and I think it just clicked that this could make a great short film.

J. Hubner: Were there any music docs you were pulling inspiration from while filming?

Brad Bores: There are quite a few music docs I admire and I’m sure subconsciously elements may show up, but I was more focused on the inspiration coming from the Trainhoppers story and how the visual elements of Fort Wayne (trains, rivers, winter) are connected to the themes of their music.

J. Hubner: Did the filming take place specifically with the recording process or were you involved before that?

Brad Bores: I was filming sporadically the entire process starting last fall when they were still writing and assembling the songs. I also spent the winter chasing down countless shots of trains, bridges and rivers leading towards downtown Fort Wayne as well as the harsh winter vibes in general. The last phase of filming was in the studio this spring as they recorded the songs.

J. Hubner: How long have you been making films? Who were some of your early inspirations? Do you prefer docs to scripted films?

Brad Bores: I have been making films on some level since my college days back in the mid 2000’s. My first serious project was a feature length documentary titled “When the Bell Rings” completed in 2013. The Maysle brothers and John Cassavetes would be earlier inspirations with Roberto Minervini being a more contemporary filmmaker I have followed. I enjoy all types of films but only create docs.

J. Hubner: Will you be documenting the album release show on June 10th?

Brad Bores: Nope. I plan to just relax and enjoy the evening.

J. Hubner: What’s your overall takeaway from this experience? Could there be another music doc in your future?

Brad Bores: This isn’t my first music doc and I’m pretty certain it won’t be my last. There is such a strong relationship between film and music that when the right story or theme lines up it makes the process very conducive. I’m excited to screen this film as it is a departure from my typical style of verite into something more visual and stylistic.


Get to Artslab on June 10th for either the 6:30pm or 9:30pm all ages performances. The cover is $12 and includes a CD copy of ‘Let It Breathe'(or a download card.) Brad Bores’ short documentary will be shown first, followed by a Q&A with Bores and then a performance of the full album by the Trainhoppers. Don’t miss this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joel Grind : Master Of His Domain

There’s quite a few talented folks that have mastered the art of writing and performing music. Those numbers drop a bit when you add in the process of recording, mixing, production, mastering, and general studio wizardry. It’s one thing to have some amazing ideas and being able to plunk them out on a few instruments, but it’s a completely different beast to be able to make those ideas a real thing and make that thing sound amazing.

Enter Joel Grind.

Joel Grind is the man behind the extreme metal outfit Toxic Holocaust, which he records all the albums by himself and has a crew that hit the road with him to perform the songs live. He’s also recorded several more experimental and synth-based albums under his own name. One album, recorded under the name X-77, is described as “Sound collage of bizarre sound clips of black masses, LSD trips and documentaries cut up over ambient analog synth drones and arpeggios.” It’s a trip, man. Grind has also opened his home studio to other bands to lend his mixing and mastering expertise. Some of his clients have included Poison Idea, Sunn 0))), Integrity, Midnight, Ringworm, Lord Dying, Black Tusk, Spellcaster and labels such as Relapse, 20 Buck Spin, Magic Bullet, Hells Headbangers & Southern Lord. He’s the go-to guy for some serious metal heavy hitters, and that’s because he knows how to get a live, raw sound in the confines of the recording studio.

I came to Grind’s work through his great synth record Equinox. I was blown away by that record’s capturing of that Carpenter and Goblin magic while never just giving me a carbon copy version. He’s got a unique style. I reached out to Joel to see if he’d be interested in answering a couple questions. He said why the hell not?

J. Hubner: So Joel, where are you from? Have you always been in the Pacific Northwest?

Joel Grind: I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up on the state line between Maryland and Delaware, mostly bouncing back and forth between the two states. I’ve moved a lot in my life though and have lived all over, after moving to the Pacific Northwest about 10 years ago though I decided this is where I would like to stay.

J. Hubner: You’re a pretty multi-faceted kind of musician, playing multiple instruments, writing, composing, and performing all the songs on your albums, and taking care of production duties. You also run your own studio and are a sought after producer. My question is how did you get here? How old were you when you found a love for music? Was there someone in your life that steered you towards music?

Joel Grind: That’s a great question that I haven’t really given much thought to. I think I got here by working really hard, being goal oriented and knowing what I wanted to do. Even from an early age I was always fascinated with music and specifically recording it. My uncle gave me an old cassette deck when I was a kid and I always loved recording things around my house. I feel like with being a musician your heart has to be in the right place with it especially nowadays. I get asked a lot on how to “make it” and I guess everyone’s definition is different, but if it involves lots of money…that doesn’t really exist anymore. You have to truly love it and be willing to sacrifice and lot of comfort and stability to continue with it.

J. Hubner: What instrument did you start out with? 

Joel Grind: I started with drums actually. Didn’t learn to play guitar until I realized there wasn’t many musicians around me into the same kinds of music I was and figured if I wanted to write songs I better learn a melodic instrument.

J. Hubner: What was the first album you bought with your own money?

Joel Grind: I think it was Megadeth “Rust in Peace”. But I get that confused with Motley Crue “Shout at the Devil”, which I had before the Megadeth record but cant remember if I bought it or it was a gift.

J. Hubner: How old were you when you were in your first serious band? Did you play the high school talent show?

Joel Grind: I started jamming when I was 13, but my first serious band that played shows was when I was 15. Never played a talent show but did do local DIY shows.

J. Hubner: When did Toxic Holocaust come into play? Who were some influences on that sound?

Joel Grind: Started in 1999 when I was 17. Venom, Misfits, Black Flag, D.R.I., and Nuclear Assault were the main ones.

J. Hubner: Besides Toxic Holocaust you work with heavy synth sounds as well. I came to the Joel Grind world thru your synth album ‘Equinox’. It’s a great synth album, man. Has all the eerie undertones and Carpenter-esque vibes that get me excited about music. When did you first get into synth music? Were you a fan of horror first?

Joel Grind: I’ve been interested in it for a really long time but started to pursue it more seriously around 2010, took up until the end of 2015 with touring schedules to actually start working on it though. I remember as a kid hearing this type of music and always wondering what made those creepy sounds.

J. Hubner: On both ‘Equinox’ and your 7″ single ‘Fatal Planet’ you list some pretty classic analog equipment that was used in the making of those recordings, including an ARP Odyssey, Moog Sub 37, Elektron Analog 4, and SCI Prophet 600. When working in synth mode do you prefer to use old school hardware as opposed to software? It seems to me it would add to the aesthetic of the work.

Joel Grind: For me it kind of boils down to (without trying to come across too new age-y)the  relationship you have with your instruments. You get to know the quirks they have, especially with vintage stuff. I also enjoy the tactile controls as opposed to pointing and clicking with a mouse etc. I wouldn’t want to play a VST guitar ( if that even exists). I like the feel of a real Les Paul. Even if the sound is equal, I feel like you approach things differently the way you interact with them. That’s not to say I’m anti-software or computer, I just prefer the hands on approach to making music.

J. Hubner: How did you get hooked up with Spencer Hickman and Death Waltz? 

Joel Grind: I just emailed him and asked him if he’d be interested in working together.

J. Hubner: What are your top 5 horror films? Are there any horror film composers that you look for inspiration or have been big influences on your sound?

Joel Grind: I’m not good at these list things because I always forget something, but ‘Phantasm’ is at the top for film and soundtrack. John Carpenter / Alan Howarth music is one of my biggest influences as well.

J. Hubner: What are some differences between composing in Toxic Holocaust mode as opposed to the more film-leaning synth mode? Where do you pull inspiration from? Do you concentrate on one or the other, or do you work on both simultaneously? 

Joel Grind: Inspiration is one of those things you almost cant describe or pinpoint, one day I’ll wake up and have this urge to write something. I do approach both somewhat similarly though, with Toxic it usually starts with a riff, and same goes for the synth stuff.

J. Hubner: How did you get into the production side of music and running your own music studio? Do you enjoy that aspect? How do you like producing and recording other artists? 

Joel Grind: It really stemmed from a lot of years of recording with other people and not liking the results and/or the experience. You know the saying if you don’t like the results…do it yourself.

J. Hubner: What upcoming projects do you have in the works? Will you be releasing with Death Waltz again at some point?

Joel Grind: I recorded a New Age-y type synth record that will be coming out on a label I cant divulge yet. It’s kinda like Tangerine Dream/Klause Schulze/Jean Michelle Jarre spacey synth music. As for working with Death Waltz again, I’m definitely open to it. It’s up to Spencer, really.


Spencer, give Joel a call. As for the rest of you go listen to Joel’s music over at his Bandcamp page grab an album or two. Keep checking back for the new age-y record. I’m sure it’s gonna be amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wall Of Sound : A Conversation With Post Child’s Bryan Alvarez

by EA Poorman

 

Can you feel it? It’s the roaring warmth of summer coming just around the corner, folks. Temps in the 80s, balmy breeze blowing through the car window as you sit at the stop light waiting for the green to tell you to go, go, go. The best thing about the oncoming season change is that first great rock show of the season. Maybe you think you’ve seen it already. At that point maybe it was, but boys and girls there’s a show happening on May 26th at the Brass Rail that will knock your socks off. Local heroes Heaven’s Gateway Drugs and Girl Colors are warming the stage up for our Ohio pals Water Witches and Chi-town’s Post Child. And even better, cruise over to Neat Neat Neat Records at 6pm and watch Water Witches christen Morrison’s all new Hi Fi Lounge with some of their psychedelic magic. Yep, NNN has the Hi Fi Lounge up and running so leave the house a little early and grab some suds courtesy of CS3s pop up bar while you soak up some Water Witches magic.

Post Child are new to the Brass Rail stage and Fort Wayne in general. But if you’re like me and you were drunk a lot in the 90s, alternative rock has a special place in your heart. Post Child capture that post-grunge, in-the-red, hooky indie rock that made so many of us fall in love with rock and roll all over again in the early days of the Clinton administration. When I listened to their newest record Wax Wings I instantly thought of bands like Local H, Marcy Playground, Imperial Drag, Tiny Music-era STP, Blur, and some of the gnarlier Beck. The trick is to take those influences and make it original, which is exactly what Post Child does. They add that Chicago flavor to the sound; it’s that Midwest moxy that is equal parts working class gusto and big-hearted earnestness.

I talked to Bryan Alvarez, Post Child’s singer/guitarist about the band and their show at the Rail.

EA Poorman: So tell me about Post Child. How did you guys get together?

Bryan Alvarez: Post Child was started by me back in 2011 from the ashes of a previous band I was in. I’ve been in a bunch of bands over the years that were group efforts. Post Child was started as a way for me to really hone the sound I’ve been searching for over the years. I wanted something that I could have full creative control. But with that being said, we wouldn’t sound how we do without the guys in the band. They take my songs and transmute them into something bigger and better.

EA Poorman: So who else is in the band? Are you guys all from Chicago?

Bryan Alvarez:  The band is me, Bryan Alvarez, on vocals/lead guitar, Jared Olson on guitar/vocals, Mustafa Daka on drums, and Victor Riley on bass. We’re all from Chicago or the surrounding towns.

Photo by Alen Khan

EA Poorman: Are you all in different bands besides Post Child?

Bryan Alvarez: Everyone is in multiple bands. I used to play in the band Peekaboos (who have been around for a while now), only recently leaving to concentrate more on Post Child. Jared is in Elephant Gun and Dirty Bird, Mustafa is in The Brokedowns and High Priests, and Victor is in Salvation.

EA Poorman: Where are you guys pulling inspiration from? I hear a lot of great 90s alternative bands in your sound.

Bryan Alvarez: I grew up listening to bands like Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Blur, Beck and the Flaming Lips. And I think we all can bond over these bands, who when we were younger were larger than life. But I think a lot of our current sound is influenced by local Chicago bands, like Meat Wave, Peekaboos, Milked, Rad Payoff, Velocicopter (RIP), and Closed Mouths. All of these bands come from the realm of rock and post-rock but are all unique in their own way. Seriously, you should all listen to them and see them live when you can.

EA Poorman: So tell me about the newest Post Child long player Wax Wings. Where did you guys record the record? What’s the songwriting process like for you guys?

Bryan Alvarez: We recorded Wax Wings at Kildare Studios in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago with Joe Gac of Meat Wave behind the board. We recorded it at the end of Sept 2015 and spent 2016 doing overdubs and mixing. I usually try out different methods of songwriting for each album. For Wax Wings, I spent a lot of time trying to write lyrics that were meaningful to me, using music as a way to add impact to them. It was a very introspective and meditative process, trying to get deep into my mind. I was reading a lot of esoteric books on meditation and psychology at the time. The music was a much longer process, sometimes rewriting a song 3 or 4 times over before I was satisfied with it. At that point I would bring all of this to the band and have them add to it and make it sound even better. I think I wrote maybe 30 songs for Wax Wings, we recorded about 20 tracks, and ended up only using 10.

EA Poorman: So you guys are playing the Brass Rail on May 26th. How did this show come together? Is this your first time in the Fort? Who else is playing?

Bryan Alvarez: Corey from Brass Rail had reached out and invited us to come and play. He liked the band. I didn’t actually ask him how he heard of us. We’ve never played Fort Wayne before, so we’re excited to come out and play for everyone. We’ve had friends come through and tell us it was a good time. So the details, It’s Friday May 26th. Girl Colors are opening, then us, and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs are headlining.

EA Poorman: What other shows do you have lined up for the summer?

Bryan Alvarez: Locally, we’re usually booked up a few months in advance. We have some really great shows coming up this summer that I can’t quite announce just yet that are really cool. But we’re trying to get around the midwest a bit more and play places like Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and so on. We’re working on a longer tour for later this fall. If you are reading this and want to help us book a show in your town please reach out to us!

EA Poorman: Any new music on the horizon?

Bryan Alvarez: I’m actually writing the follow up to Wax Wings right now. I write a lot of music. Much more than we’ll ever release probably. My goal for the next album was to write at least 15 songs before I considered doing any recording. I got to about 14 songs and ended up scrapping almost all of them. So I’m down to like 5. It wasn’t sounding the way I had wanted it. So, I’ve been spending a lot of time on these new songs working on rhythms and beats. We sometimes play a new song or two at our live shows. Otherwise, we might try to put a new tune out later this year.

EA Poorman: In one sentence, how would you describe Post Child?

Bryan Alvarez: We’re really loud. Bring ear plugs. It wasn’t even intentional to be as loud as we are, but it just kind of happened that way. We played a show the other night and someone came up to me and described it as “wall of sound”. I think we write really poppy music overall, we like to do vocal harmonies, double guitar solos, but just to do it really loudly. I like the idea of using sound to take people out of their comfort zone a bit.

So don’t forget earplugs, folks. It’s gonna be great, but loud. And make sure to hit up NNN and the Hi Fi Lounge at 6pm for some pre-main event music goodness with Water Witches and some brews courtesy of CS3. The main event starts at 9pm at the Brass Rail. Get acquainted with Post Child over at https://postchildmusic.bandcamp.com/.

 

Nasty Boyz : The Late Night Sounds Of Video Nasties

Listening to Video Nasties is a lot like watching early John Waters films, reading a William Burroughs short story, or coming across an old Maxell videotape with 4 hours of dubbed cable access children’s shows from the early 80s. It leaves you incredibly intrigued and feeling slightly queasy. Brendan Evans and Christopher Livengood, aka B. Nasty and C. Nasty, savor the old and forgotten. Their music is noisy and disjointed at times, but also steeped in melody. Dusty and fractured, but melody nonetheless. At times their Feeding Tube Records self-titled debut sounds like early Cure run through a broken Radio Shack sound mixer, or Joy Division being pulled into a black hole. They love gadgets and noise makers, and each song is affected in some way or another by tape delay, modulation from Hell, and vintage-sounding synthesizers. If Suicide and Can ever did a bunch of whippets together in the studio and hit play, then that recording would sound a lot like Video Nasties. Maybe throw in a less emotionally stable Devo, too.

Evans runs and curates Strange Maine, one of the few multimedia shops left in New England, while Christopher Livengood is part of the heavy synth duo Victims. Both of these guys have a love for horror, vintage media, and skronky noisemakers, which is what makes Video Nasties such a unique band. Together, these two lifelong friends have a lifetime of late night movie viewings and music excursions to pull from. Video Nasties compiles a few of Brendan and Christopher’s cassette releases onto one LP. Anyone familiar with early Ariel Pink and Mac Demarco’s Rock And Roll Night Club, as well as early 80s alternative and bizarro Euro pop will have an idea of what they’re getting into here. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, enter at your own risk. The rest of you, let’s have some fun.

Brendan and Christopher sat down with me to talk about everything nasty. Enjoy.

J. Hubner: With a name like Video Nasties, I can only assume that you two are horror fans. What’s one of your favorite horror films?

C. Nasty: Very difficult question. In some ways I feel I haven’t found that film yet and maybe that’s why I’ve watched so many over the course of my life. I guess Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession have both at one time or another occupied that spot. They create a palpable sense of dread. Despite having wildly different tones they make you feel under the threat of an unknown, inevitable horror lurking around the corner…and then when that horror is revealed, it’s simultaneously absurd and genuinely frightening. But I also love the Italians and like B, every once and a while find myself daydreaming about The Church, by Michele Soavi. I remember thinking I’d found the perfect movie when I rented that one back in 94…

B. Nasty: How’d you know i was gonna say Demons 3?! Probably because it’s loaded with sleaze, gore, and Asia Argento, plus it’s a 90 minute long satanic music video for Keith Emerson covering Philip Glass. There’s some really brutal and beautiful imagery, some absurd characters and implausible deaths. I’ve loved that movie for twenty years and i’ll never get tired of it. You can have my VHS copy when you pry it from my cold dead dick.

J. Hubner: Being friends since middle school there must be a musical symbiosis happening between you two. When did you realize you wanted to make music together? Did you bond over a band or a movie?

C. Nasty: I think we bonded over our love of bad movies first.

B. Nasty: There’s no such thing as bad movies, just bad people.

C. Nasty:  I automatically felt a kinship with B when I discovered he had co-opted his parents camcorder and was making un-self conscious, totally weird videos that were equal parts sincere self-expression and semi-arch tribute to the movies he loved…just as I was doing. It wasn’t until we were in our twenties that we first played music together. We started an improvisational band. Although at times we made abstract music, we mostly improvised “songs”. A number of the Video Nasties songs were composed in this manner. When “jamming” with B I’ve always had the feeling that anything can happen and that whether or not the end product is something anyone would want to listen to, we both had a great time playing. Whenever it’s not fun we usually just stop and watch a movie or something.

B. Nasty:  Our average ‘band practice’ consists of watching whatever new VHS we scrounged at a thrift store, drinking top shelf whiskey, jamming out some rhythms, watching some fucked up Youtube, and cramming in a few minutes worth of actual ‘practicing’ at the last minute. But back in (junior?)high school, i walked to C’s house with my backpack stuffed with tapes and paintings and I distinctly remember asking him “do you like horror art?” before showing him some weird H.P.Lovecraft inspired art i’d been doing. C proved to me that he could play Sabbath’s ‘paranoid’ on the guitar. We had a five minute debate on how you pronounce Dario Argento’s last name, i stubbornly insisted that it was ‘Argentine’. He introduced me to ‘the internet’ by showing me a nude picture of paula abdul. He played me a Pigface cd. I played him “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson. He lent me a dubbed copy of ‘Evil Dead’. It was the greatest day of my life and i fell in love with him, but it wasn’t until about 12 years later that we finally created the band that we should have started way back in 1994. We’ve been exposing each other to weird shit for a long time though. I can honestly say C introduced me to more bands and movies than anyone else in my life, but he’d still be listening to Boards of Canada if it wasn’t for me.

J. Hubner: Listening to your new self-titled album via Feeding Tube Records I hear so many different things. Lo fi, diy noise, no-wave, post-punk, and experimental all come to mind. What was the idea behind the band for you two? Were you trying to go for a certain aesthetic, or were you two just following the muse? Who or what is influencing the sound of Video Nasties?

C. Nasty: B and I, independently of one another, have been home recording stuff that fits all those descriptors since we were kids. I think we were consciously striving to combine all those elements, acknowledge the influence of all those genres in this record. Perhaps not deliberately Lo-Fi, though…I think that if there’s a homemade, messy quality to our recordings it wasn’t intentional…we were trying hard to make it sound good. It just so happens that we’re not the most technically proficient musicians and we might have lower standards on what sounds ‘good enough’ to be the final take.

B. Nasty: I honesty worried that the record sounded too polished but everyone keeps calling it lo-fi or ‘casio keyboard’ or whatever. We spared no expense, that record has $10,000.00 with of gear on it.

J. Hubner: How did you guys get hooked up with Feeding Tube?

C. Nasty:  In previous projects, we used to play out in Western Mass. with some regularity. We’ve both been fans of the label and the whole music scene out there. Many of our friends have worked with Feeding Tube, including artists like Id M Theftable, Big Blood, MV & EE, all of whom we’ve collaborated with previously. I can’t overstate how impressed I am with what Ted and Byron are doing. Most small independent labels I know of have some specific ‘thing’ they’re selling…they package their stuff uniformly, try to release music that has a preexisting audience…not those guys. In my opinion they’re the riskiest, most exciting label working right now. We felt that we had complete and total freedom to do exactly what we wanted with our record.

B. Nasty: Our buddy Caleb (from Big Blood/Cerberus Shoal) who recorded and mixed 90% of our songs is almost completely responsible for the record coming out on feeding tube. He thought Ted Lee would dig the songs and basically kept hounding him until he put it out. Byron Coley did the write up for the record. We thought he would dig it, but it’s hard to tell from his description. I mean to talk to Byron about that, maybe he’s been reviewing too many records. When you think about it, he’s probably reviewed more records than any other person in human history, so maybe his opinion can’t be trusted the way it used to.

C. Nasty: C’mon, you shouldn’t say that!

B. Nasty: Coley is an ass.

C. Nasty: He doesn’t mean it.

J. Hubner: Should I reach out to Byron for comment? Maybe later, for now how does the recording process go for you guys? Digital or analog recording? Is the songwriting a complete collaboration?

C. Nasty: I think each song was recorded differently. It’s hard to keep track. Some of the songs started as sketches in my home studio with no real goal in mind. I record basic tracks to 1/4 tape, cassette, straight onto a computer, or all of the above. If B and I like something and think it would be right for the Nasties, we use it. Sometimes we add elements in my studio, sometimes we take parts of songs to Tank 28 and build on them with Caleb Mulkerin (our producer/engineer/collaborator/etc….truly a member of the band, at least behind the scenes). There are some songs that we built from scratch in his studio. I know that at least one of them was composed spontaneously there. Sometimes we write that way too…just making stuff up on the spot. But there’s definitely no methodology or strategy. Even after we’ve recorded something and it sounds done we spend a good deal of time adding things, chopping parts up, basically messing with them. I think we were going for the sonic equivalent of an old VHS tape that has lots of different things recorded on it over a great deal of time…some things innocuous, like a home movie of a wedding or birthday party; some things exciting, like a half-recorded slasher movie; but then maybe something you weren’t intended to see…something horrible.

B. Nasty: There isn’t a single song on the record that isn’t a collaboration to some degree… we’ve always egged each other on to make everything more profoundly perverted.

J. Hubner: What’s a Video Nasties show like? Is it as chaotic as you guys on record?

C. Nasty: B and I have large VHS collections and we spend a good deal of time hanging around watching stuff. I like to pick out scenes from our video binges, then, using an old analog video editor/FX mixer, make ‘greatest hits’ tapes that are dubbed/psyched out. We project those over us as we play. I think we both feel like live music can be kind of a drag sometimes…that’s why we recruited a dancer/tambourine player, Cal the Kisser.

B. Nasty: Cal is an old friend of ours who came to all of our shows, he always danced even when no one else was. I started to worry that he’d miss a show so I invited him to join the band. Now he plays tambourine and does back up vocals. He’s fucking amazing. One night he wore nothing but a gimp mask, fairy wings, and a g-string that he accidentally had on backwards. That night we played for two hours, I shit you not. Subsequently we were blacklisted from that venue, it’s a source of some pride for us.

J. Hubner: Are you guys an anomaly in regards to the music scene in Maine? Explain to me what the “Strange Maine scene” is?

C. Nasty: I used to know how to answer that question but now I’m not sure. I don’t go out too much and I’m sure that there are lots of young bands doing cool things that I don’t know about.  I do know that we play with lots of bands that don’t sound like us, yet the shows still make sense, so maybe there is a scene. I like Big Blood, Taboo, Altered Gee, Caethua, SS Cretins, Tom Kovacevic, Herbcraft, Colby Nathan, Synthetiv Vision, Glade Swope, Id M Theft-able, just to name a few bands or artists that we’ve played with at least once (and are, coincidentally, friends)…I don’t think Video Nasties sounds anything like any of them. Maybe all of the above are a little (or a lot) too weird to play the bar or straight-indie scene, which is what my perception of most of Portland’s music is like.

B. Nasty: But we have played nearly every venue in Portland, somehow. There’s really not as strong of a ‘weird music’ scene in Maine as i’d like. Seems like Boston has had a lot more fucked up bands the last few years. I really like New England Patriots, those guys are weird but groovy in a way that nobody in the Maine scene is, other than Taboo or Caethua. Those bands are the vanguard as far as New England weird rock goes. It’s just not common to find bands that are weird, rockin’, and unpredictable. That’s who we want to play with- whether it’s dance pop or noise rock, it needs to be catchy.

I opened “Strange Maine” in 2003, and there have been hundreds of shows there. The last decade or so Skot (Id M Theftable) has been doing most of the booking. If there’s a Strange Maine scene it’s his doing, but I think he and I have both been pretty conscious about using the store as a venue for music/noise/performance that we LIKE but that’s the only criteria. So it stays weird and/or good but it’s never of a specific style of genre. Video Nasties haven’t played at the shop in a long time, though our first couple of shows were there. We used to play at The Oak And The Ax in Biddeford, Maine constantly, that was the perfect venue for us: it felt like a cozy coffee shop/hipster bar but they gave us carte blanche for what we wanted to do, and they just kept inviting us back. Every rock band needs a club that lets them do whatever; that’s what that place was for us.

J. Hubner: If you had to pick just one, who would you prefer to spend your Friday night with: Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, or Mario Bava?

C. Nasty: The one who’s still alive seems like the most fun. I hope he’d bring along members of the family as well; Asia, Fiore, and Daria Nicolodi could round out my dream party.  Mario would be interesting, but I’d hope his son Lamberto would tag along. Lucio was notoriously unpleasant and apparently had questionable hygiene.

B. Nasty: Can we choose from Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, and Ennio Morricone? And Asia Argento is the greatest living Italian director, as far as I can tell. Chris and I have both been OBSESSED with her since she/we were teens.

J. Hubner: Anything new coming from Video Nasties in the near future?

C. Nasty: We have lots of material that we’d like to edit and release at some point before either 2017 or the entire world ends…whichever comes first.

B. Nasty: Caleb has been putting together an amazing analogue recording studio in South Portland. He’s invited us to use it to create our magnum opus, i think we’ll deliver. I think that by the end of 2018 we’ll have written, recorded, and released the angriest and most perverted pop record in the history of the human race. Unfortunately, we’ll all be using crank victrolas to listen to it because society will have totally  broken down. That or maybe we’ll just fuck around and put out another cassingle limited to 50 copies, I dunno.


Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, Ennio Morricone, and Asia Argento. I’m good with all of those. And I’m good with the Nasty Boyz, B. Nasty and C. Nasty. Master curators of the strange. Kings of weirdo rock and keeping Maine weird since 2003.

Paul Gilbert : The Everyman’s Guitar Hero

It’s been close to 30 years so my memory may not serve me correctly, but somewhere in the vicinity of the spring of 1989 I got to see and meet Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert. Why do you care? “Paul who? The Mr. Big dude? Yeah, so what?” Will you please let me finish? Thank you. So in the spring of 1989 my guitar teacher heard that Paul Gilbert was doing a guitar clinic at the now defunct Music Spectrum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Spectrum was the who’s who or what’s what of local music stores. Neal Peart got kits from this place(check some of the late 70s/early 80s Rush albums for the liner notes “thank yous” to MS.) Gilbert was touring the country doing clinics at various music stores for Ibanez, and my guitar teacher Tim Bushong had the forethought to load a few of his in-training guitar slingers into his car and drive us 50 minutes to see Gilbert do some shredding. My older brother at the time was taking lessons from Tim as well, so it turned into a big brother/little brother bonding experience.

Photo courtesy of Paradise Artists

So to give you a little history into Paul Gilbert. Gilbert was from a small suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1966, and by the time he was 15 years old he’d sent a tape to Shrapnel Records owner Mike Varney about auditioning for Ozzy Osbourne. Varney was blown away by the 15 year old from Pennsylvania. Gilbert moved to Los Angeles and attended GIT(Guitar Institute of Technology) and by the time he was 19 he was an instructor there. Soon after he joined the metal band Racer X and put out some premier shred albums. But in 1989 he left Racer X and formed Mr. Big with Billy Sheehan, Eric Martin, and Pat Torpey.

I owned one Racer X cassette. Second Heat was the one Gilbert album in my collection, and to be honest it was just okay. His playing was out of this world good, but musically it just wasn’t my thing. It was too heavy for its own good, in my opinion. Most of the Shrapnel Records roster was like that. Guys that grew up on Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and most of the AOR-ready rock we hear on classic rock stations now, but in order to show off the speed and neoclassical riffs the band pumped up the metal. When I’d read that Gilbert was in a new band with David Lee Roth’s bassist Billy Sheehan I was pretty excited to hear what they would do.

So on a Thursday evening my brother and I headed to Fort Wayne with our guitar teacher, along with a couple other students, to Music Spectrum to see Paul Gilbert in the flesh and hear some virtuosic guitar playing and mentoring. We arrived and the place was packed. There wasn’t any open carpet anywhere in the place. Mulleted teens and men alike(even a few guitar-slinging chicks if I remember correctly) filled the place to its capacity. Gilbert had a stool set up in the front, along with a 4-track cassette recorder and some PA speakers.  I didn’t know what to expect from the guy, really. I guessed by the looks of him he was maybe my brother’s age(he’s actually a year older than my brother, born in 1966), but I’d never seen any interviews with him. After an introduction and some energetic clapping Gilbert walked to the front with his Ibanez guitar and so began the clinic.

Now I can’t remember specifics, so I’ll hit some highlights:

Gilbert played some pretty eye-popping licks for us all to guffaw at. There was a portion of “Name That Tune” where Paul displayed his array of music history knowledge. During this part my brother yelled out and correctly guessed The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear”, to which Gilbert was impressed. Gilbert also previewed a track from the debut Mr. Big album which hadn’t been released yet. With the 4-track cassette player, he played the backing tracks to “Addicted To That Rush” and perfectly followed along with the rest of the band trapped in the confines of the multi-track recorder. I believe there was a Q&A as well, but I can’t quite recall(a lot has happened in 30 years.) It ended with everyone getting in line so they could personally meet Gilbert and get his autograph. I brought along that copy of Second Heat and Paul kindly signed it. One of Tim’s other students brought his Ibanez guitar and Gilbert signed the back of the guitar neck. I thought that was kind of ridiculous, but whatever.

I walked away from that guitar clinic a fan of not only Paul Gilbert’s guitar playing, but of Paul Gilbert the dude. He came across like someone my brother might’ve hung out with and brought over to the house to listen to tunes with. The guy was as relaxed sitting in a room playing and chatting in front of a room full of hungry wanna-be guitar heroes as he would’ve been had he been chatting in a living room with a couple friends, strumming on his six-string. There was no pretentious, “I’m better than you” attitude coming from this guy at all, yet he’d earned it by being one of the best guitarists in the world at the time.

I went on to buy that first Mr. Big album and thought it was a great mix of superior pop hooks, prodigious playing, and pristine metal-lite that could be played loudly in one’s bedroom or on a family trip in the car without any strange looks from the parental units. The guitar/bass combo of Gilbert and Sheehan was a force to be reckoned with. Pat Torpey was a great drummer in his own right, while singer Eric Martin had the perfect mix of sweet and gruff in his voice as to pull off both great pop melodies and the come hither swagger needed to be a proper late-80s rock outfit. I bought their 1991 follow up Lean Into It as well and that one topped the debut. It had the acoustic singalong “To Be With You” on it, but the highlights were “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” and the hefty “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy(The Electric Drill Song). That album made Mr. Big a household name(sort of), and I played that album for the most of junior and senior year.

And then that was it…for me, at least.

Seattle took over and I discovered The Kinks, Procol Harum, and Brit pop. The urge to be a guitar slinger was tampered by the urge to be a songwriter. The Shrapnel Records cassettes I’d amassed were designated to an old shoe box, along with those late-80s hard rock cassettes. CDs were in and so was a new era of music for me.

But I never forgot about Paul Gilbert. Despite changing tastes over the years, I’ve always liked Gilbert and his playing. I’d look into what he was doing every once in a while, but it wasn’t until last year that I’d really starting digging into my guitar slinger past and found a treasure trove of Paul Gilbert videos on Youtube. For the past 30 years Paul Gilbert has never stopped making music or doing guitar clinics. In the many that I’ve watched, these videos show a guy that’s never stopped loving playing for people. He seems to still be that 17-year old kid from the suburbs of Pittsburgh playing UFO covers in his room, or excitedly playing his guitar with an electric drill. He still has that urge to share and show others what he’s learned. He still comes across as a dude coming by the house to listen to records and jam in the basement. I love that.

I think one of my favorite videos that I’ve discovered is of Gilbert on a Japanese game show where guitarists name a band and another guitarist has to name the guitar player in that band and then play a portion of one of their songs in that guitarist’s style. It was Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, and a Japanese guitar player. Gilbert pretty much ruled the game. To me it shows just how much Paul Gilbert loves music in general.

I won’t be on a buying spree for Mr. Big and Paul Gilbert albums(at least not yet.) But it’s great I can jump into the wayback machine while watching his instructional videos or live performances and be reminded once again how much I like the guy. And you should check out his most recent album, Stone Pushing Uphill Man. It’s mostly instrumental cover versions of some of his favorite songs. It’s pretty great. His cover of The Police’s “Murder By Numbers” is particularly awesome.

 

Sad Man Noble Poet : Steve Henn Talks About His New Book, New Perspective

 

by J. Hubner

Photo by Joni Earl

Sometimes the most interesting minds are hiding in plain sight. Maybe it’s some guy at work in the break room quietly reading A Confederacy Of Dunces while FOX News blasts in the background. Maybe that guy at the local Starbucks making you a peppermint mocha has a Masters in Psychology and has written nine unpublished novels but fell on hard times. Or possibly that woman in your kitchen that wakes you up in the mornings to go to school who’s currently making your dinner. Maybe she used to travel the world and was passionate about the dada movement and had dreams of being an artist and living in a mud hut off the grid before you showed up. Or maybe that teacher of yours. The one you have for 5th period that quotes Vonnegut and you see reading George Saunders short stories at his desk before class. Maybe he’s a gifted poet that writes about life’s ironies and tragedies in a humanistic way.

Well that last one might just be Mr. Steve Henn. Henn’s a Midwestern poet who teaches high school English by day, raises four smart kids, and when time allows writes poems about life(yours and his, and everyone else’s that’s ever felt both the swelling sting and innate beauty of living.) Henn has been published in the past(check out his works at http://www.therealstevehenn.com) and he recently released his newest collection called Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year through Wolfson Press.

Steve and I sat down and talked about the new book, his inspiration, and a particularly nasty bout of Vertigo.

 

J. Hubner: You recently released onto the world your newest collection of poetry called ‘Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year’. How did this one come together? Is this your first book with Wolfson Press?

Steve Henn: I was invited by an editor at Wolfson to submit a manuscript, although it was made clear that an offer to look at a manuscript was not a guarantee of acceptance – that would be up to the Wolfson editorial board. Thankfully, they took it, and from there there was a lot more work involved with Joe Chaney as the lead editor for my book, Sky Santiago as the designer, and several others involved in the process as well. This is my first book with Wolfson – my first full book not on the NYQBooks label. Wolfson Press is a university press at IUSB. I’m very happy with the care and attention all parties involved gave to the book – at times the process felt laborious, but the end product is worth the effort.

J. Hubner: Are the poems in this collection all fairly recent pieces? Or are there some that date back before your second book ‘And God Said: Let The Be Evolution!’?

Steve Henn: The poems are mostly 2013-2015 poems. One of the oldest ones in the book is “Poem for the Girl Next Door” which was written a few weeks before Lydia (my ex-wife, mother of my children) died [in August 2013]. I don’t think there’s much, if anything, in the book that predates that poem.

J. Hubner: When you go into putting poems together for a book, is there a common theme between the writing? You seem to use your own life, both when you were younger and now, as origin points for your poems. But is there a concept to the book? 

Steve Henn: This one was very much influenced by the era of my life in which I was writing – after Lydia died, as I was acclimating myself to the pressures and challenges of full time single fatherhood. I found myself looking back to my own childhood, and also found I wanted to catalog experiences with my children – I wanted to think about what Lydia had chosen to leave behind. There’s not a distinct intention to form a certain theme or concept to the book, but the finished product suggests that family and fatherhood were big ideas I was ruminating over in many of the book’s poems.

J. Hubner: Where did the title of the book come from? 

Steve Henn: The title of the book comes from one of the early poems (I think it appears 3rd) called “What Facebook Knows.” The “Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year” award is a facetious award I grant myself for my status as single dad, in that poem.

J. Hubner: Besides your writing, the book was illustrated by your children Franny, Lucy, Oren, and Zaya. Were they aware they’d be illustrating ‘Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year’? Was it the plan from the beginning to make it a family affair?

Steve Henn: I encountered a book of poems by the excellent young poet Franny Choi called Floating, Brilliant, Gone. The book included some illustrations that linked up with the poems they illustrated somehow. We had originally discussed including some of Lydia’s artwork in the book – some of her paintings, which are amazing, are still hanging at the Blue Pearl in Pierceton – but the feel of the art didn’t seem to fit the feel of the poems quite right. So I suggested bringing in a bunch of drawings by the kids and seeing if any of that worked. It was really the book designer, Sky Santiago, who is responsible for the ingenious pairings of poems and illustrations in this book – page after page, there’s some element or another in the drawings that seem to sort of comment on or compliment the poem it’s lined up with. I really think that aspect of the design – the selecting of drawings to compliment the poems – was so excellently handled by Sky. I’m glad the kids had a hand in the book too – the book is dedicated to the kids. I suppose I wanted the book, in part, to codify how much I appreciate having them in my life – without my kids I’m certain I’d be a great big mess and be making all sorts of stupid choices. Or would have, at least, if they’d not placed a necessary and providential burden of responsibility on me.

J. Hubner: Now you’re also doing a few readings to promote the release of the book. How has the feedback been so far?

Steve Henn: It’s been fun to do readings. Probably the best one so far has been in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, at the University of Pitt-Greensburg campus. I read to a roomful of Lori Jakiela’s energetic and talented senior creative writing students. We spent about an hour together and it was worth the 14 hours or so round trip. For a bunch of creative writers, poets, etc., the kids seemed abnormally sunny, well adjusted, and supportive of each other. A real good group.

J. Hubner: Reading your piece ‘On The Presidential Election Of 2016’ I could totally relate to the panic you had in those moments, thinking you were dying. I had some bouts of anxiety for the first time in my life back in 2014. That feeling of helplessness and the feeling of the world closing in on you is a terrible one. I can only imagine that first bout vertigo is a similar feeling. Have you had any more bouts since the day before the election?

Steve Henn: Cool, that’s on my blog then, the existential humorist on tumblr – which I’ve neglected since that post. It seems maybe sort of ridiculous, maudlin looking back on it but as it was happening I was truly worried my heart was failing. Suddenly being super aware of all one’s physical sensations is a strange place to be for a writer used to spending so much time exclusively between his ears. I have had ongoing vertigo issues since – nothing as catastrophic or as alarming as that particular day mentioned on the blog, but less alarming versions of vertigo occur often enough now that it’s the new normal for me. Hooray for growing older.

J. Hubner: I loved your poem “Requiem”. Beautiful ruminations of your childhood and memories of your father. I particularly love the line “I wanna travel down the telephone cord from the kitchen to the living room where my mother sat in her chair telling her mother a little too loudly how the kids were doing in school.” It’s a scene I can recall in my own childhood. Do you still take to rights out of the neighborhood and go visit your dad at Oakwood? 

Steve Henn: No, I actually never visited my dad beyond attempting to a handful of times in the month or two following his death way back in 1991. I felt foolish standing there trying to talk to a plaque in the ground. I never felt like he was really there. I generally don’t experience his presence as any sort of awareness or sensation at the gravesite or elsewhere, but I do remember certain scenes and situations from time to time. I used to get very sad or sometimes angry thinking about the end of his life and his death but anymore, mostly, I’m happy that there are scenes that stuck, that I recall, and that generally remind me that he was an honest man doing the best he could. I don’t feel comfortable at his grave. I’d rather imagine him sitting in his big black recliner cracking up while reading essays by Andy Rooney.

J. Hubner:  If there’s some sort of life learnt wisdom you’d like to bestow upon your children, what would it be? 

Steve Henn: I suppose the only wisdom I can claim about life is knowing what most of the poets are trying to tell us, which is that it has an end. It has an end, and as the poet and essayist Thomas Lynch reminds us in The Undertaking, it’s a good idea to maintain an awareness of that. Understanding that we will die encourages us to live with care and attention and kindness, and, if we haven’t been, to understand and accept that we’ve only got so long to get better at this before we’re done.


Steve will be reading at Voyageur Book Shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Friday July 21st with Wisconsin writer Troy Schoultz. There is also talk of a book release in South Bend where it will be a kid-friendly event, though this is still in the works. If it happens, it will happen in May. Check out www.therealstevehenn.com often for event dates. Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year is available now at Amazon.com or contact Steve through his website. Steve will also have ‘Sad Man’ tour t-shirts available through his website as well. Grab one while you can.

 

Dark Soundscapes : Timothy Fife Talks ‘Black Carbon’, SxSW, and Giallo Films

Timothy Fife. Heard of him? No? Well stick around and let me introduce you. You see, Timothy Fife made his presence known to me last year in the form of the synth duo Victims. Their 10″ release with Death Waltz called Form Hell was one of those jaw dropping experiences for me. Along with Chris Livengood, Fife laid out two epic heavy synth tracks that felt like the universe slowly expanding and then retracting onto itself. To my ears the music Victims create is of the intellectual sort. Music that evolves and reshapes every time you listen to it. Soon after that release there was word that Fife was releasing his solo debut with Spencer Hickman and Death Waltz sometime in 2017. That day finally came a few weeks ago. The release is called Black Carbon, and it’s a stunning album of moody compositions that run the gamut from eerie epics to ambient excursions.

Fife is one of those well-rounded musicians, composing scores for films, collaborating with other artists, and just generally expanding minds through circuitry. He’s also a guy that keeps moving forward. I reached out to Timothy Fife and asked if he’d mind talking a bit about the new record and what’s next for him. He was happy to reply.

J. Hubner: So tell me about your experience at SxSW. You re-scored a portion of ‘Kwaiden’? How did this come about? What was it like working with Antoni Maiovvi?  

Timothy Fife: SxSW was great. I did my first solo set there and I re-scored over an hour’s worth of music for Kwaidan with Antoni Maiovvi.  Working with him was pretty much effortless, he is a really great musician and can improvise really well.  The Kwaidan rescore was a collaboration between Holodeck Records and the Austin Film Society.  Antoni and I were the only artists that rescored Kwaidan that weren’t on Holodeck so it was a real honor to be picked for that.

J. Hubner: Would you go back to SxSW?

Timothy Fife: Oh definitely.  I didn’t see a lot of really commercial stuff when I was there and a lot of what I saw was really great electronic acts that all had their own thing going on.  Austin is definitely a great place for synth music right now, and very little of it was “synthwave.”

J. Hubner: So let’s talk about your Death Waltz Originals debut ‘Black Carbon’. It’s an incredible album, man. How long have you been working on these tracks?

Timothy Fife: I actually made that album really quickly.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that record, so I really just banged it out.

J. Hubner: Was there anything influencing you? Influencing the direction the songs took?

Timothy Fife: The whole thing about Black Carbon came from listening to a report on Public Radio about climate change.  The country just seemed to be going crazy with the elections at that time, so hearing something that was even worse about the environment really made me want to have those feelings as the undercurrent in the record.  Obviously I’m still heavily influenced by Berlin-School music but I really wanted elements of noise in there.

J. Hubner: I can hear that undercurrent in “Sydney at Night”. 

Timothy Fife: When I was finishing up with the track I remembered reading something awful about Sydney, Australia and I thought “that title fits.”

J. Hubner: I really dig the bonus track “Alebedesque” ,only available on the download version of the album. This one almost has an industrial vibe to it. Why didn’t it make the vinyl cut?

Timothy Fife: Yeah, that was just something I was working on potentially for the record and I just didn’t think it made the cut. I was definitely inspired by noise acts at that time.  Some people really liked it, so I decided to make it a “bonus track.”   But I think the definitive version of the record is the one Death Waltz released on vinyl.

J. Hubner: Speaking of Death Waltz, how is it working with Spencer Hickman and that crew. They seem to really get the whole synth scene really well. 

Timothy Fife: I owe a lot to Spencer.  I was basically a nobody from nowhere and he liked my work enough to want to release it on the best label out there.  I’m on the same label as Bruno Nicolai, that’s fucking nuts.  He is also really hands free if you want him to be and he gives you complete artistic freedom toward your release.  For Black Carbon, I didn’t have art set up like I did with the previous record, so Spencer asked Eric Adrian Lee to do it because of his awesome work on the Death Waltz giallo records.

J. Hubner: When did you start to get into Giallo films? 

Timothy Fife: I would say I was in my mid-twenties.  One of my friends was really into foreign exploitation films and he would show me Joe D’Amato and Jess Franco films a lot.  When I first saw it, I kinda didn’t get it but I liked the style and design in them.  Around that time I became really addicted to the soundtracks, and the Giallo ones were some of the most incredible ones I’ve heard. Loving those scores really got me into that genre.

J. Hubner: Someone coming into the genre green, where would you recommend they start?

Timothy Fife:  I guess if someone didn’t know the genre and they wanted a good start, it would definitely have to be Argento’s Tenebrae or Profondo Rosso just because they are still kind of like Hollywood films.  If they were enticed by those then Sergio Martino would be the next great giallo director to check out.

Timothy Fife(L) and Antoni Maiovvi at SxSW 3/17/17. Photo courtesy of Holodeck Records.

J. Hubner: Since we’re on the subject of films, at this point do you prefer film composing over writing original music?

Timothy Fife: No preference, at least right now.  Whenever I do non-film music I’m always eager to get back into film composing and vice versa.  It’s definitely more personal to write non-film music, but my style if you want to call it that certainly comes out of film composing more than anything else.

J. Hubner: So what’s up next? Any live shows?

Timothy Fife: Next week I play a few shows in New England and testing the waters with performing more.  I was a composer for film for so long I kind of forgot how to play live in a way.  I’m playing with Tyler Gorman from the band Dust Witch.  He’s one of the best musicians I know and we like the same stuff so it’s cool.

J. Hubner: Any new Victims releases in the works?

Timothy Fife: As far as Victims goes, I believe Chris will be coming back from NYC soon and we already have some ideas for a live show.  We have like 30 Victims tracks we never used so we want to put something else out with that material.

J. Hubner: It seems like performing something like Black Carbon would be a challenge.

Timothy Fife: I’m not going to play anything from Black Carbon live, at least not for now.  When I played my first show with Tyler I did open with a version of sorts of Low Plain Landscape, but those compositions really aren’t meant to be played in front of an audience.  I really see Black Carbon as more of a mood record of sorts.  For these shows the music is way more cheery and you could probably dance to it.

J. Hubner: Is getting back into performing something you’re excited about, or something you feel you need to do? Maybe a little excitement and dread?

Timothy Fife: When I played my solo set at SxSW I was really nervous.  I had never done that before and I think you could tell if you heard the performance.  I still haven’t developed my live set yet completely so every time I play it’s going to be pretty different from the last show.  I am excited about it, and so far everyone seems to be into it so I’m OK with that.

J. Hubner: Before we go, are there any dream/future collaborations you could share with us?

Timothy Fife: I have about three tentative collaborations set up already.  Wish I could tell you about any of them right now because they are all really cool.  As far as musicians go, I’d love to work more with people that influenced me.  Alec Empire would be cool.  As far as directors go, my dream gig would to score a Cronenberg film.


Head over to Mondo and grab a copy of Black Carbon on vinyl, or if downloading is your poison grab some digital goods at Mondo’s Bandcamp page.