Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Scorpion vs. Tarantula

This is not your timid 20 something’s on stage staring at their sweat beads on the ground.   SVT bunch play earsplitting, express train punk Rock ‘N’ Roll the likes of which The Valley of the Sun has never seen before.  A singer that prowls around the stage in Blade Runner Replicant makeup programmed with Bon Scott venom and Joan Jett strut and a guitar player that was in one of the best garage punk bands of the mid 90’s, The Chinese Millionaires.  What more can a fanboy ask?   Grab on to something load bearing, I hear the air raid sirens, and the house is beginning to rumble.  Behold, the Scorpion vs. Tarantula Rock ‘N’ Roll hurricane is about to plug in.

Interview by Jay Castro

Whos answering the questions?
Jay Bennett, guitar

Who is in Scorpion vs. Tarantula and what instrument do they play?
L. Hotshot, vocals. Tana Satana, bass, Michael “Cappy” Renfroe, drums.

I noticed you have had quite an assortment of drummers.  Do you think your busy schedule has something to do with this?  You seem to play quite a bit.
Drummers are the most difficult band members to find and they are the most difficult to retain. Ours have come and gone for numerous reasons, but we're happy with the one we've got right now. He's been with us since September 2012.

Band members seem to be from different places around the country, how did you end up in AZ?
L. and I moved here from Chicago in summer of 2005, and we originally are from Michigan, also the home state of Tana. L. and I had been in a band together during our Chicago years. It wasn't until summer of 2008 that we got the notion to get another project going.

What is the origin story of Scorpion vs. Tarantula? 
L. and I put the band together in June 2008 with a drummer called Notah in his house in Glendale. We played our first shows that December. We recorded our first album in the summer 2009 with a friend of Michigan playing bass. Tana joined the band in November 2009. Notah split the band in May 2011 to pursue outside interests. For a while, we had five people. It's been the four of us since February 2012. We made our second album in March 2012. We just recorded our third record a few weeks ago.

Like I said before, you play around the Phoenix Metropolitan area quite a bit, have you taken the Scorpion vs. Tarantula show on the road much? 
Two trips to California is all that we've done. But there will be more, if people will have us.

What are some of the earliest musical influences in your life, when first discovering music as a child that set you on a path to want to start/join a band?
I decided I wanted to play music in the early 1990’s after hearing the early singles and first LP by New Bomb Turks, the early LPs of the Devil Dogs, and the many, many records made by Billy Childish. L. is into much of the same kind of music as I am. Tana likes some of that stuff, in addition to bands like the Muffs, Distillers, and Urge Overkill. I don't know about the drummer. I barely talk to him. He does wear a Descendents T-shirt a lot.

With some of you guys being from the Midwest, I think it definitely shows in the songs,  they have that Motor City toughness to it.  A sound that is pretty indigenous to that part of the country.  Phoenix/Tempe seems to have a large horde of metal fans and thepunkthat is out there, seems to lean toward the hardcore variety.  Although it does seem to be getting better, has it been difficult for you guys to carve out your niche here?
I just really like music from Michigan and the Midwest, and I listened to it most of my  life. Just like people from here are real proud of the musicians that preceded them in Phoenix and Southern California.

As far as carving out a niche, I don't know that we have carved out anything. We've played a lot of shows, seen some good bands, and met some really nice people along the way. I'm not sure what else you can ask for at our level.

People used to buy music and get their water free; now people pay for water and get their music free. How do you think this affects the industry and especially musicians?
I haven't figured out, and probably never will figure out, the best way to apapt to the changes in the music industry. I was in a band in the late 90’s that was lucky enough to have three different national and international labels want to put out various singles and an LP. The LP sold over 3,000 copies, and I even received a royalty check. Three-thousand doesn't sound like a lot, but the idea of selling 3,000 copies now is inconceivable. In a lot of ways, it was all luck and we happened to meet the right people and have them say nice things about us. I don't know how to capture lightning in a bottle again, unfortunately.

As far as getting music for free, that's the way it has evolved, probably to a point of no return. Our music is on Spotify, which for a band at our level, is an excellent service. On one hand, it's frustrating to see that we're getting paid fractions of pennies for the work we've done. On the other, I'm thrilled that a surprising number of human beings are listening to the music I helped create. It's surprisingly given that we have no label, no publicist, no radio exposure. All we have is a Facebook presence and maybe some local word of mouth.

I have followed Scorpion vs. Tarantula on Facebook for a while.  Whoever does the posting seems to have a formidable knowledge and love of pop culture.  What, aside from music, influences you?
Thanks for following us on Facebook. L., the singer, does the majority of the posting because she's really good at it. She has a great sense of humor and a knack for finding good stuff on the Internet. It's the best way to keep in touch with people who may have an interest in the band and what we do. The people in this band generally like all the usual stuff every other white, middle-class, suburban-raised, 1970s and 80s kid grew up with. So let's just say the baseline for everything we do is Kiss and Welcome Back Kotter.

Where can people hear the band?
Spotify, Bandcamp, iTunes, our Facebook page, CD Baby, Amazon. You can buy physical copies at The Record Room, Revolver Records, and Stinkweeds. You can see us at Yucca Tap Room, Chopper John's, Palo Verde, Hollywood Alley, the Ice House Tavern, the Lost Leaf, and numerous other venues.

Whats next for the mighty SVT?
We just recorded our third album. It will be available in the fall. We probably will wind up writing a bunch of new songs and shoot for making a fourth record next summer. We will continue to perform as demand dictates. Hopefully, we will be able to make some out-of-town trips and perhaps even do a weeklong tour or something. 

The Bongos

     The Bongos are a Hoboken staple. They, in a different band incarnation, were one of the first bands to play the legendary Maxwell’s on its opening night and again to help lay the place to rest. Led by “Frontman” and future professor Richard Barone, the Bongos played a mix of British and early California pop. During their heyday, The Bongos were a writing and touring machine, playing over 300 shows a year and releasing three LP’s, in that span of five years before an equal mix of burnout and a call for a solo opportunity took hold. Now back, with their release Phantom Train, an album that should have seen the light of day over twenty-five years ago, The Bongos are out playing again and this time not playing 300 shows this year.

Interview by Ed Stuart

Who’s answering the questions?
Richard Barone

Where is the band from?
Hoboken, NJ

Who is in the band and what instrument do they play?
Richard Barone: Vocals, guitar
Frank Giannini: Drums, vocals
Rob Norris: Bass, vocals
James Mastro: Guitar, vocals

Can you give a brief history of The Bongos?
From Wikipedia: “The Bongos are a rock band from Hoboken, New Jersey, primarily active in the 1980s. With a unique blend of British Invasion-flavored power pop, jangly guitars, and dance beats they made the leap to national recognition with the advent of MTV.” To be honest, that kinda does sum it up for me.

The Bongos seemed liked a highly prolific band for quite a few years releasing Drums On The Hudson, Numbers With Wings and Beat Hotel within the span of five years plus at times playing 300 shows a year. Did the band just burnout or was the desire to try new musical avenues calling?
It was a combination of things. All of us were always trying new things and at one point those different things all happening at the same time made it difficult to continue in the way that we had. There were solo projects, other commitments… Burnout is a harsh word, but in a way there might have been a bit of that, too. We had been on the road and in studios for nearly 6 years straight, after all.

What is the story behind the Phantom Train LP? How did it become lost? It was recorded in 1986, but was never released.
When we started recording the album we had just come off a 300-show tour. I had been writing on the road and had a bunch of new songs, but we had barely come down for a landing before we found ourselves in the studio – first in New York and then to Compass Point in the Bahamas. After a few months of recording we had a lot of mixes and different takes of the songs. Almost TOO many. It was difficult to piece it all together. And we needed a break. It was during that time that I started performing solo shows in the Village. One of those shows was recorded, and became my first solo album ‘cool blue halo’. It clicked on college radio and soon I was on the road again, this time as a solo artist. After that tour I got signed as a solo artist to MCA, through Marty Scott’s Paradox imprint. So we never really went back to finish Phantom Train. It remained in tape boxes until 2013.

The Bongos had their Numbers With Wings was nominated for a Best Direction Award at the first MTV awards, and the band received a Proclamation from Mayor David Roberts commending them for their substantial contributions to Hoboken's culture and heritage? How does the band feel receiving such accolades?
As you can imagine, we were thrilled. We work very spontaneously and instinctively, and we don’t think much about those kinds of awards and honors. But when they happen we really couldn’t be happier.  Or more grateful.

50 years ago people used to buy music and get their water for free, now people pay for water and get their music for free. How do you think this affects music in any way especially considering it seemed an end goal for a lot of bands to sell LP’s, get their videos played in heavy rotation on MTV as opposed today bands where make more money off merch and YouTube has usurped MTV as the chief video content provider.
That’s an interesting thought about water and music. I think some music has always been free. I.e. listening to broadcast radio (as opposed to satellite radio) was always free. Even decades ago, if you wanted to, you could record music off the radio for free and not buy records. But people did buy records, in the millions. I think some music can still be free, but it should be up to the artist and label what they distribute for free and what they sell. As far as YouTube, etc., I think it’s all good. It’s a great way to get the music into peoples’ homes on demand. There are always new ways of doing that. The thing that makes it difficult to develop acts they way they used to be developed is that, unless a video on YouTube goes truly viral, everyone is rarely if ever watching the same thing at the same time, the way people did when the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan TV show or Michael Jackson’s Thriller video was on MTV. Everyone saw the same thing at the same time, which is very, very powerful. Now everyone sees things at different times, and there are millions more things to see, so it’s very scattered. The entire dynamic has changed in the music industry, and you’re right, it’s all about the merch now. The best place to sell albums, CDs and singles seems to be at the merch table at shows, and of course the digital version on iTunes and Amazon. The one good thing about the sea change that took place is that despite the loss of the brick and mortar record stores that used to sprinkle the country, there are more outlets that ever to get music out there digitally. Small consolation, but one nonetheless.

What was it like playing Maxwell final show considering that Bongos had played there so early in their career? Didn’t The Bongos play the opening of Maxwell’s too?
Yes, the Bongos, in our first incarnation as “a” (the original three Bongos and Glenn Morrow of the Individuals) were the first band to play Maxwell’s, and The Bongos were the last band to play. It was a emotional but celebratory night. The final song played on the stage was “Thank You Friends” by Big Star. There was not a dry eye in the house.

How did the band get involved with Moby? Whose idea was it to re-record a new version of The Bulrushes?
Moby is a friend and was a fan of The Bongos early on. He had performed The Bulrushes himself and had his own arrangement ideas. So when we were re-issuing the album in a special edition I asked if he would like to produce a bonus track, and The Bulrushes was the clear choice.

How did you get involved with Carnegie Hall and become a professor at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music?
I first produced a concert at Carnegie Hall in 2003, a tribute to the great Miss Peggy Lee, with an all-star cast. Later I performed a musical reading of my book “Frontman” at Carnegie, which was a real thrill. The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music first invited me to lecture, which I did twice, and then asked me to develop a performance workshop. All of those worked out well, and they soon asked me to develop the workshop into a full, 14-week course, which I now teach there: Stage Presence and the Art of Performance. “Frontman” is my textbook. It’s a fulfilling experience and a new challenge each semester. I really love it.

Where can people hear the band?
Well, people can sign up for my newsletter at http://RichardBarone.com to get news and updates for shows, and they can also find an upcoming shows link on the site. We will be performing here and there as Phantom Train is released, starting in New York City on October 15th for the CMJ Music Marathon. That concert will be recorded for broadcast on SiriusXM Radio’s The Loft, Channel 30.

What’s next for The Bongos?
We hope to be doing shows between now and spring 2014. I will also be doing solo dates along the way, and working on my next solo album, so people can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarone, or follow The Bongos @BongosOfficial. You can also find us on Facebook at /RichardBaroneOfficial and /TheBongosOfficial. We never really know what’s next, so you’ll just have to stay in touch and find out!