Monday, March 2, 2015

Ben Disaster

     I became familiar with Ben’s music about a year ago with his exceptional Close My Eyes EP.  At the time, he just had a series of EP’s and demos but then came his debut full length late last year called See You Next Spring and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. Ben has a knack for writing catchy punk and power pop songs but this particular offering is a sonic fusion of spiraling noise heavily anchored by incredibly infectious Americana melodies, with truthful accompanying words and delivered with a Springsteen-esque passion. The album emits a dark, beautiful, and mysterious atmosphere so when you close your eyes while listening to it you see something similar to one of those Hubble Telescope deep space images on the insides of your eyelids. Like those Hubble pictures, I hope this album is just the start of many cerebral images beamed back to us earthlings from the depth of Ben’s consciousness!    

Interview by J Castro

Hopefully this isn’t starting things off too heavy, but can you tell me who you feel is the single most important musical influence in your life?  
BEN: Eeshh, that’s a loaded question. It has honestly changed over the years I can’t narrow it down to one. It’s the songs that make you feel so alive you wish you could tattoo them to your brain or heart. That feeling alone makes me want to create music always.

From reading your bio, you have been involved with punk rock for a really long time, since you were in 7th grade I believe.  Can you recall who introduced you to this type of music and where you were at the time?
BEN: I feel I lucked out at an early age. While taking the school bus our driver let the older kids listen to their cassettes through the stereo. This exposed me to Green Day, Nirvana, Beastie Boys and the Offspring in grade one. An older girl made me a tape of all the Green Day albums and I listened to that nonstop. It was in rotation with the Weird Al and the Simpsons tapes I also had. 
I didn't really understand what punk was at the time, I was just a brat who didn't fit in with the other kids but wanted to make music that at the time I thought was called “extreme.” Later in life seeing one of my cousins wearing an Exploited shirt and seeing the bright colored spiky hair and studded kids in the city seemed so cool to me. I didn't know how to use the internet that well and for the most part I lived in the country, so when I would go to shows in the city I would look at shirts and patches and slowly learn about what was to shape my life.

Like I said before you have been involved in musical groups for a good part of your life now, what led you to the decision to go solo?
BEN: I really enjoy performing and when I started playing solo it opened up the venues and locations I could play. Places you couldn't normally cram a band into. I also wanted to write a wider variety of music that I couldn't in a specific band. I didn't want to be tied to just punk, hardcore, pop, noise, folk etc. It wasn't something I intended to go as far as it did but I had a lot of great support and I feel I can stop and start it when I need to.

What sorts of things influence your song lyrics? Are there any subjects you purposefully try to stay away from, if so why?
BEN: I personally try and stay away from writing political lyrics, it’s not who I am and I’d just write a failing essay. I would write a lot about girls growing up until my roommates told me not to write anymore love songs. What else is there to write about?  I guess I started writing about life experiences and trying to slip in odd inside jokes that perhaps only I would ever know about. For a couple of years I battled depression and drug abuse and that seems to be a common thread throughout most of my songs. I try and write about what I’m feeling, about a certain moment that stood out to me. Often I find I don't write lyrics to songs but as I sing, they form and then I know what the song is about. It’s not for some time that it’s put on paper.

Your new album, See You Next Spring, came out in the latter part of 2014, was mastered by Mathew Melton (of Warm Soda fame) at his Fuzz City studios. How did you hook up with him?   
BEN: We played a festival in Calgary called Sled Island a few years ago. Warm Soda was one of the bands I was really excited to see but the festival got flooded out and cancelled. A lot of bands headed to Edmonton to play a dryer city. Warm Soda was one of the bands that was on the Edmonton bill but they didn't make it. I was really into the sound they had captured and emailed them asking who they recorded with and who masters their stuff.  Matthew got back to me right away and said he did it and could help me out. We got him to do the Close My Eyes 7 inch that we put out on Crude City Records. I was very happy working with him so we got him to master the See You Next Spring LP right away. I’d highly recommend him and look forward to working with him again soon.

And speaking of your new album, one of my favorite songs on it is “Can’t Hear the Tiger”.  Can you tell me a bit about that song, like what influenced the lyrics or if you remember where you were when you wrote it?  
BEN: As for “Can’t Hear the Tiger” most of the See You Next Spring album was written in my old van. I’d drive around the country or mountains with my guitar and small cassette recorder demoing songs and getting drunk alone spending the night in the back of this red velvet beat up van. I remember I was listening to a lot of Tom Petty while driving around. The lyrics though, came to me in the flooded basement I was living in. A few records got damaged along with some books and all my old show posters got stuck together. I was living with my significant other at the time and things where tense. That song’s about wanting to get out of the many situations I found myself in that night. We both wanted to leave but the water kept us there. She wrote in the flooded kitchen and I wrote the lyrics on the bed that was my island off the molding carpet. Long story short, it’s stating that nothing will ever be solved if you don’t let each other talk. You can’t hear the tiger if you got the cat by the tongue.

Did you have any role models growing up?  I know you’re also really into Baseball too, do you feel like there’s any rock stars or athletes out there people can look up to these days? 
BEN: Perhaps because I was playing shows at a young age I found myself star struck all the time. I remember seeing the New Town Animals and to this day I believe they’re what a perfect band would be: tight, quick, catchy and fully entertaining. 
I was always motivated by the Wednesday Night Heroes for the same reason, how hard they worked and their stage show. I was very lucky to tour with them for months on end with other bands I really looked up to like the Casualties, A Global Threat and one of my all time favorite bands to this day The Briefs.
Like most of them I am now bitter and jaded. I keep thinking I wish I had someone to look to for guidance. Perhaps I should know everything by this point? I love playing baseball. I hate most sports, but baseball I feel is an out of body experience. You have to clear your mind and just absorb the breeze and focus on the ball and the play. It’s like being on stage to me. That being said Peter Perrett has the best singing voice and hooks and I think the Only Ones are a band I’ll adore till my years in the ground.

I always hear people say what wonderful life lessons the game of Golf can teach a person.  What sorts of “life lessons” do you feel being in a band can teach a person?
BEN: These are great questions, wow umm; well I feel it’s a never ending lesson. Each show, practice, photo shoot, video shoot you learn more about yourself and how you want to portray yourself. Perhaps that’s me looking to deep into this but I do think each time it shapes you and you understand more what of your doing and how it really affects you.

I didn't think it was really teaching me anything over the years but looking back I can see how it has. Being in a band has taught me how to work and play with others. It taught me geography, how to drive properly on a highway and how to read a map (thanks to Brian), and how to make the most out of nothing. It has made me more confident and insecure more than anything else I have ever done.

Here’s a short list of simple life lessons: always have good grip on your shoes, stay away from broken bottles, bring toilet paper with you everywhere, don’t lend your keys out, always lock the door, change your strings and socks and underwear often and peanut butter sandwiches are not good when your hung over and dehydrated.

In your bio you describe your sound as “Street Pop.” I thought that was pretty interesting, I’ve never heard that before. It immediately conjured up Johnny Thunders and Stiv Bators solo stuff or more recent stuff like Jesse Malin or Brandy Row. Is that kind of what you had in mind or am I totally off the mark?   
BEN: I’m not sure if I came up with “street pop” though I’d like to believe I did. Coming out of the street punk scene and wanting to write poppier music without just being a pop punk band, “street pop” seamed to make a lot of sense for a genre. Like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe mixed with Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders. The Boys mixed with Sloan. It was just a wide open genre I felt and didn't want to be held down to one thing. I’d say your right on the mark.

What’s the single most valuable piece of advice your parents (or anyone for that matter) has ever given you?
BEN: I’ve gotten to meet and play with a lot of great punk icons over the years. I think the overall message and feeling that I got from them all was: be confident in yourself on and off stage.

What’s in the works in 2015 for Ben Disaster?
BEN: Right now we are doing a big local push for our new LP, See You Next Spring. We are on one of the main stream alternative rock radio stations as “band of the month” and we have a show coming up with No Problem, Slates and Power Buddies for that.

I’m excited about doing a breakfast television show if that works out for this event as well.

Outside of Edmonton we applied to a few festivals and are planning to tour out east and small tour out west this summer and fall. Just North America for now but I have Europe and Japan in my heart and hope to make that work one day soon. We have been busy writing and plan on getting into the studio in a few months to record another LP or a bunch of EP’s. 

Links to promote:

Black Heart Breakers

     For those of you that cherished the glorious racket bands like The Boys made back in the late '70’s or the Exploding Hearts made in the early 2000’s: I ask you to turn your attention to a land that the Romans referred to as Terra Australis Incognita meaning “the mysterious land of the south.” The same land where many years ago mighty beasts like The Saints, Radio Birdman, and The Scientists once roamed. Yes, the island nation known to the world as The Commonwealth of Australia. These lands are fertile with rock n’ roll once again and the primal punk rock sounds of yesteryear are buzzing through the outback once again. Sydney’s Black Heart Breakers took what they learned from power pop, back alley glam rock, late 70’s punk and recorded a debut LP released last year that is sure to go down in Australian punk rock history, if not the world’s! 

Interview by J Castro

First off, who’s all in the band and what instruments do you play? 
Hayden McGoogan – Lead Vocals/Guitar
Ed Barnes – Bass
Sean Anderson – Guitar/Backing Vocals
Steve Woodward - Drums

How did you all meet and decide to play music together?
HAYDEN: Sean and I have known each other since high school, and have been playing together for close to 7 years. We clicked through having similar tastes in music and passion to play it. Woodie was a mate of ours who has played in a bunch of Sydney bands, so when we decided that we wanted to make this band he was the first guy who we hit up. We met Ed through a love of punk rock and beer.  

What’s life like for a punk band in Sydney, Australia these days? Is there a decent scene you guys are part of down there? 
HAYDEN: There’s a bit of scene in Sydney, and in the other major cities, but it’s not really a thing, and in particular the style of Punk/Power Pop that we play. We’re fortunate enough to have some of our best mates play similar enough music to put on a pretty darn good lineup together.

Typically, people don’t associate Australia with punk but there have been so many great bands that have come out of there. Are you guys into bands like X, Radio Birdman, The Saints and stuff like that?  Has early Australian punk rock been a big influence on you guys?
HAYDEN: The Australian punk scene rivals any other punk scene. Of course we love those bands! A huge influence! And you can imagine how fucking amped we were, only 6 months after our album release, to be opening for Radio Birdman on the last leg of their 2014 Australian tour at Manning Bar. Deniz Tek & Anne Laurent actually came to our Album Launch at the Gladstone Hotel previously, which was also a huge blessing. Other influential classic Australian bands include The Angels, AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and Cold Chisel.

You guys released your debut album last year, can you tell me a bit about it: where it was recorded, who produced it etc..?
HAYDEN: After Sean and I put all the songs together, we (Hayden McGoogan, Sean Anderson Steve Woodward, Ronnie Simmons) immediately all jumped in a room and started bashing them out. After less than 5 rehearsals, we went in to record the drums and bass for the album at The Lockup Studios in Sydney with Daniel Antix. (Rhythm section really did their homework!) After that, we took it to my makeshift studio and finished it. We completely self-produced it, no outside influence.

You guys said you recorded your album before playing any live shows first. Looking back, do you wish you would have now?
HAYDEN: Not at all. I really dig the fact that we did it first. It immediately gave us a foundation to build of, and a set of songs that people could feel and connect to from the first performance. After our first gig, you could immediately buy our music. I like as well that no one really does it, “it’s that weird thing that Black Heart Breakers did.” It was fucking hard in a way too, but a lot of fun and love.

Have you ever written any song lyrics you regret for whatever reason and are there any particular subjects you like to stay away from in your lyrics, is so why?
HAYDEN: Me personally, I don’t regret any lyrics. They’re a representation of how you were feeling about something in that specific moment in time, even if that feeling changes over time. I pretty much stay clear of political and/or world events. I more just stick to what’s going in my life or someone else’s. 

What are some of the worst or most distracting things people do at you shows that drive you nuts?
HAYDEN: Not turning up! Jokes aside, there’s nothing really that is that distracting. When people spend your whole set on their phone that can be a bit annoying, but that’s not really that bad. 

It’s time for the “beauty pageant question” part of the interview: Name the single most influential person in your life and how this person made such an impact on you?
HAYDEN: There’s not really a single person, of course there is all of our favorite bands: The Beatles, AC/DC, Ramones, and Beach Boys as well all the bands that we play with. It’s great playing a gig with all of your best mates and they’re watching you and you’re watching them and you’re both really digging what’s going on. Those bands inspire you to play better each time.

In your description about yourselves on your Facebook profile you said you guys are “the newest band to give a damn about rock n’ roll.” Do you feel like there’s a rock n’ roll revival going on? 
HAYDEN: You’ve got rock n’ roll bands from all corners of the globe that really give a fuck and make excellent music. There are the Biters in Atlanta, the Cry from Portland, Black Heart Breakers from Sydney, Kotzreiz from Berlin, Prima Donna from Los Angeles, and countless others. Ronnie and Woodie’s half Sydney/half Berlin project AUTOBAHN OUTLAW just released their debut record RU12 through GoldenCore Records / ZYX in October & it’s incredible! Kick In the Teeth! I think there is a global community that really cares about and loves rock and roll.

Why do you think rock n’ roll music that used to be so wildly popular with youth culture has now dwindled down and gone underground and been replaced by hip hop/electronic music? 
HAYDEN: I just think it’s the times and what’s played on radio. The general listener listens to what’s played on the radio or at the nightclubs and at the moment that is electronic music. But with the internet now, everyone go and find there whatever music they want.

What lies ahead in 2015 for The Black Heart Breakers?
HAYDEN: Black Heart Breakers are working with Verboten Music Company and are currently setting up an east coast tour of Australia to take place in June in promotion of the 2014 independent release Black Heart Breakers. New songs have started making their way into the set, such as “I Want You” and “High School Lovers,” and people are digging them, so we’re hoping that an EP will be out by the end of the year.   

The Most

Photo Credit: Andreas Säker

     There’s a town in Sweden called Umeå that lies along the Ume River. It’s the 12th largest town in Sweden and is mostly known for medical research and technical education thanks to the University that was established there in 1965. And speaking of 1965, there’s also a wonderful band from Umeå that goes by the name The Most. Their brand of rhythm and blues music is heavily influenced by the pop music of the mid ‘60’s. Much like the musical groups that were birthed along the Mersey River some forty years prior, the Ume River has given life to this new group that similarly fuses the guitar sounds of Chuck Berry and Lubbock’s favorite son Buddy Holly along with elements of Motown soul, doo wop and blues. The time has come for a new global Mod rock resurrection and The Most are just the band to usher it in!            

Interview by J Castro 

Let’s start off with introductions.  Who is currently in the band and what instruments do you all play? 
Frans Perris – Guitars and vocals
Magnus Kollberg – Guitars and vocals
Martin Claesson – Bass and vocals
Mats ’Slimstick’ Westin – Drums and vocals

Where are you all from originally and how did you meet and decide to play music together? 
FRANS: Two Swedes, one half-Italian and one the son of a Finnish war child. We share a common taste in music and we sometimes get along fine!

Photo Credit: Lina Lindqvist 

How would you describe your band’s sound to someone that’s never heard you guys before? 
FRANS: People say it sounds like music from the ‘60’s.

The Most is based in the town of Umeå, Sweden. What is it like playing shows out there for a band like yours, is there a supportive scene?   
FRANS: Eh, no scene whatsoever. The two Justins* are big here too. (*Bieber and Timberlake)

By playing music heavily influenced by the 1960’s, do you ever feel your songwriting is restricted in some ways? Do you ever write songs that you feel don’t fit into The Most’s “sound?”  
FRANS: Not at all, there is so much music to draw inspiration from. We sound the way we do because we are the people we are.

Photo Credit: Roger Degerman

What qualities do you think rock n’ roll music from the 1960’s has that makes that era so unique and vital still almost half a century later?   
FRANS: Quality! Of course there are many bands now forgotten that were pretty boring but the large number of good acts that has survived into our times had it down. Experimenting with lyrics, arrangements and sounds changed music very fast in the early ‘60’s and some very interesting things appeared. Later on people started copying each other too much, focused more on image than on the music. Later recording technique suffered as it went to ridiculous multi-tracking.

Do you think image is still important to a rock n’ roll band these days? I’ll admit that if I see a band in suits come up on stage I get a little more excited and curious than if I see four guys in t-shirts and shorts shuffle up to the stage.   
FRANS: There are many aspects to artistry and to entertain is one of them. We suit up of respect to our audience basically.

You guys have made a few videos throughout the years.  You made one last year for the old Tages song “Fuzzy Patterns.” Can you tell me a bit about it, like where it was filmed and who made it? 
FRANS: A real quick job. It was shot here in Umeå, up along the river. It was a very hot day and our good friend and photographer Roger Degerman filmed it. Andreas Säker, also a friend, is one of the main editors from national television and helped us out putting it together. We didn’t have any firm ideas but were inspired by old Tages footage and the scene from Zeppelin’s ‘70’s movie with Jimmy Page sitting near the pond with his Hurdy Gurdy. Ha, ha.

Photo Credit: Lina Lindqvist

If The Most could tour with any band from any era in rock ‘n roll history, who would it be and why? 
FRANS: Howlin’ Wolf!

What lies ahead for The Most in 2015? 
 FRANS: Try to get cool gigs, record as much music as possible and have fun!!

Links to promote

YouTube channel:
The Most

Chain Letters

Chain Letters are really a band for the digital age. None of the members live in the same city and yet the band was still born. A few years ago, Chris Parker (guitar/songwriter) got the idea of writing songs for a band much like Darrin Raffaelli did for The Donnas while driving in his car. What happened next, other than learning guitar and writing songs simultaneously, was a demo that was sent into the stratosphere and attracted the likes of ex-members of Vice Squad and Young People With Faces. Bad Reflection, the debut single, which sounds like a mix of Avengers, Buzzcocks and Generation X was so catchy and highly praised it made fans wondering when the follow-up was coming. 

Who’s answering the questions?
Chris Parker, guitar-player and songwriter.

Give us a brief history of Chain Letters musical background, some other bands you have played in and currently do play in?
Singer Sophia was in Young People With Faces, a punk band from Hailey, Idaho, with three high-school friends. Bass player Johnny was in first-wave Toronto punk bands Tyranna and The Wayouts. Violet has played in multiple punk bands including Vice Squad. I had never played in a band or played an instrument at all before forming the Chain Letters.

Where is Chain Letters from and how did the band start?
The thing about this band and the record we made is that, logically, it should never have happened but somehow it did. I’ve been obsessed by punk since I was eight, totally into records all my life, but I never played an instrument. I just got a crazy idea into my head one day that I wanted to make a record. I heard about Darin Raffaelli, and the way he got the Donnas to record his songs. I didn’t know he had played guitar in Supercharger, I thought he was just some random creative person with an intriguing scheme. I loved the idea that you could be a songwriter for other people, but on a totally lo-fi garage level. That really caught my imagination, so I thought I could do something similar. But then – how do you get a song across to other people if you can’t play? So I had to learn the guitar, which I did by watching people play Ramones covers on Youtube. But then the other problem – the main one – was that I didn’t know a single person who wanted to be in a band OR liked the same kind of music as me. But still – I really wanted to make a record! So once I had put a rough guitar demo together, I sent it to some people whose music I was really into, and miraculously they liked the songs and we became the Chain Letters.

Who is in the band and what instrument do they play?
Sophia Dilley – Vocals
Chris Parker – Guitar
Johnny Bubblegum – Bass
Violet X - Drums

What bands did you have in mind when starting this band?
I love the Zeros, Pointed Sticks, Real Kids – all those bands that put out killer 7-inches that were raw but had really good songwriting. The Avengers blew me away when I first heard them (many years after the records first came out). The first Donnas album was important too. Part of what makes it great is, it seduces you into thinking – how hard could it be to sound like this? And I’m heavily into ‘60’s songwriters from Joe South to Ellie Greenwich.

Since the band members are pretty spread around globally (LA, Toronto, UK) how does Chain Letters get together to practice, write songs and play shows?
We have never played live. I can’t play well enough yet. When we made the record, I just put the songs out there and asked the others to do what they wanted. Luckily Violet is an amazing drummer so we had this really solid foundation for it all. And Sophia came up with some really great vocal stuff that I would never have thought of. I’ve always liked records where you get these little new elements thrown in just as the song is coming to an end – so it feels like everything is getting more intense – and you want to play it again before it’s even finished. I was really pleased with the way the vocals and drums did that on both the songs on the record. I don’t know anything about producing beyond making things louder or quieter. We just slotted it all together and what came out is what’s on the vinyl.

My favorite review is where it claims Chris wrote the songs before he even knew how to play guitar. What is the story behind this?
That’s totally true. I had a habit of making up tunes when I was driving. It was something I did without thinking about it. Sometimes I’d come up with a tune I liked so much, I’d worry about forgetting it. So the first thing I did when I got a guitar was to figure out some chords and words to go with these songs that only existed in my head. And that’s how the songs on our first 45 got written. I think everyone has certain chord sequences that they respond to more strongly than others. This is probably as obvious as saying “the sky is blue” if you are a musician but it was a revelation to me. It seemed like just about every song I had obsessed about had some variation of D-A-B minor-G and those were the chords I instinctively reached for when I started writing the Chain Letters stuff.

What are some things you like about all the digital avenues presented to musicians nowadays (Bandcamp, blogs, blog writers, Facebook, smaller record labels, internet magazines, etc.) to help bands today?  And some things you don’t like?
I don’t think there’s any downside if you’re a tiny band like us. Maybe the pre-internet era was great if you lived in a city with a great punk scene where lots of people were making records and forming bands. Most people will never get to experience that. Blogs like Mick Fletcher’s excellent Just Some Punk Songs, Josh Rutledge’s Faster and Louder, and fanzines like Ripple Rock in Finland and Kevin McGovern’s Fear and Loathing in Long Beach are great because they help build a community of people who like the same stuff. Their enthusiasm encourages music fans to pick up an instrument and start a band themselves. They reflect the scene way better than any pre-internet music magazines did.

The Bad Reflection single was highly praised in reviews, is there any plans to do a follow-up single?
We’re working on it right now.

What was the decision to release the single on the band’s own label Pogo Time? Was this the plan from the beginning or did Chain Letters shop the demo around to other labels before?
I never considered that anyone else would want to put our record out, as we had never gigged and we came out of nowhere. It was always going to be on our label. But we’d definitely consider putting a record out with other people in the future.

What’s next for Chain Letters and where can people hear the band?
Working on the next 45.