Saturday, May 23, 2015

JAZZ CORNER Presents: Pete La Roca - Basra (1965)

What a sincerely fun piece of work this is ... from the onset, there is a nice heavy bottom created by the piano and bass, evoking an intensely warm feeling ... like winds blowing music across the desert floor.  That south of the boarder feel, is no doubt a response to Pete La Roca’s life time love of Latin Music ... hence the name La Roca.

Of course, when he’s laying down the licks with the like of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or Jackie Mc Lean, he goes by his given name of Pete Sims ... and interesting consideration being how to file him in your music collection ... less of course you divide your collection into Bad, Fair, Good, and Excellent ... then it’s a no brainer, just use the “Excellent” section. 

I find his use of a sure bottom one of the most interesting aspects on this release ... giving the listener someplace comfortable to return, and as consistently recognizable as a road sign ... you will not loose your sense of direction here.  This is nice playful music that does not demand your attention, so much as it exists all around you, making it as impossible to avoid as the air you breathe ... and just as refreshing.

Review made by Jenell Kesler/2015
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Föllakzoid - Föllakzoid (2009) review

Föllakzoid - Föllakzoid (Blow Your Mind, 2009)

Föllakzoid are nearly unparalleled in the hypnotic lysergic drenched neo-psychedelic experience.  The band do several things that other bands traveling this course fail to achieve, first there is a sense of restraint, in that the band’s members have managed to keep their egos in check, and thus seeing the music as a whole, as a continuum, devoid from soaring solos that do little for the atmosphere they’re creating.  Secondly there is a more than delicate interplay of concepts and designs, where they’ve calculated the listener’s space, filled that space to the point of drowning, and then seem to pull back before the ceiling is floated away.

The final aspect for you consideration is the sound quality.  Their numbers are tight, seeming to be more of a recipe than a musical script, with every element is carefully dropped into the mix, where these elements evolve, morph, and take on second and third characteristics of luscious dimensions and haunting dreamscapes ... at times light and airy, and at times as inwardly heavy as you can imagine [think Moon Duo meets Hawkwind].

Listening requirements: Stereo, Couch, and a Ceiling to wander off into, with the company of a Good Friend ...

Review made by Jenell Kesler/2015
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chamaeleon Church and The Lost, an interview with Ted Myers

Chamæleon Church – official photo (1968). L to R: Ted Myers, Tony Scheuren, Chevy Chase, Kyle Garrahan.

Chamaeleon Church formed in the '60s and were part of so called Bosstown Sound. The group formed after Ted Myers of garage rock band the Lost got together with some other musicians to complete the lineup (including well known actor Chevy Chase, who was the drummer). The band only released one LP in 1968, which I would consider as one of the very best in psychedelic pop genre, but  lack of promotion made this album slowly fade away. Here's our interview with Myers about how all did come together.

Did your first band, The Lost, all come from the Boston area?

No. I was born and raised in New York City. I went to college at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and that’s where I met the other musicians who formed The Lost. That was in the fall of 1964. Of the original five members, three came from the Boston area – Willie Alexander, Walter Powers and Hugh Magbie. The drummer, Tony Pfeiffer, came from the Philadelphia area. Within just a few weeks of starting rehearsals, we landed our first gig in Burlington, VT, at a club called the Cave.

The original lineup of The Lost (fall 1964). L to R: Walter Powers III, Ted Myers, Tony Pfeiffer, Willie Alexander, Hugh Magbie.

How did you form Chamaeleon Church?  Did you all come from different bands?

After the demise of The Lost, I moved from Boston to my native NYC. This was in spring, 1967. An old friend of mine, Ray Paret, was managing a Boston band called Ultimate Spinach that was doing quite well. Ray introduced me to their producer, Alan Lorber, who was also producing a number of other bands out of Boston. I played some of my songs for Lorber in his office and he offered me a publishing deal, which gave me an income. He told me that, if and when I formed a band, we could make an album for MGM Records. I met Tony Scheuren through Ray as well. He was working as a road manager for Ultimate Spinach, but was an incredibly talented songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist. Tony and I started writing songs together, and we clicked as collaborators. At the same time, an as yet unknown Chevy Chase, who had been in a college band with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (later to become Steely Dan), was lobbying me hard to form a band so he could be the drummer. The final piece fell together when I ran into my old lead guitarist, Kyle Garrahan, on the streets of Greenwich Village, and the band was complete. We rehearsed and wrote songs for several months, then went into the studio with Lorber and cut the album.

What inspired you to start playing music?  Do you recall the first song you ever learned to play?

I started taking guitar lessons when I was 13, mostly learning simple folk songs. That same year, late in 1958, a girl in my class in junior high asked me out on a date – my first date. She had tickets to The Dick Clark Show, which was broadcast live from a New York City theatre every Saturday night. This was a concert format, as opposed to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, which was a dance format. The night we went we saw The Diamonds (“Little Darlin’”), Jimmy Clanton (“Just a Dream”) and the piece de resistance, Richie Valens, doing his double-sided hit, “La Bamba” and “Donna.” I was especially taken with Richie, as he both sang and played – electric guitar – and he wrote his own songs. I bugged my parents to get me an electric guitar, and eventually they did. The moist talented musician – in fact, the most talented person – in my school was a blind Puerto Rican kid named Jose Feliciano. One day I brought my electric guitar and amp to school and jammed with Jose. I let him play lead on my electric while I played rhythm on his acoustic. I believe we played “La Bamba.” That must have been right around the time that Richie Valens was killed, along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, in a plane crash in February of 1959. In case anyone out there has not heard of Jose Feliciano, he went on to considerable success, most notably with his version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which made it to #3 on the pop charts in 1968.

When did you begin writing music?  What was the first song you wrote?  What inspired it and did you ever perform the song live or record it?

I think I wrote my first song in my first semester of college. It was no great shakes, and I can’t even remember the title of it. It was slow and the lyric was very self-pitying, but at least it had a fairly interesting and original melody and chord changes. I never recorded it. At that point I had recorded once in a real recording studio when I was in high school, back in 1963. I had formed a folk trio with two sisters (sort of a reverse Peter, Paul and Mary – I guess I was Mary!). Their mother, who was a hipster, knew some guys in a recording studio, so she fixed it for us to go in there and record. We did an old folk song, “The Water Is Wide,” which I had arranged for guitar and three-part vocals. I didn’t record again until the fall of 1964 with the original lineup of The Lost at college. That’s when my songwriting really started to take shape as well. We would tape our rehearsals. A few years ago someone sent me a CD of a live tape of The Lost someone had recoded at Bard College when we went down there and played in 1964. It was pretty raw – I was surprised that a) we had the guts to get up and perform in that inchoate state and b) that people actually liked us and encouraged us to keep going. It was a very different time.

Before we move forward to talk about Chamaeleon Church I would like to hear more about The Lost, an incredible garage rock band you were part of. You released a couple of singles, yes?

Yes. Our college had a work term in the middle of winter, so we would vacate the campus and go get jobs during the months of January and February. We (the original lineup of The Lost) all decided to go to Boston and try to find jobs and also gig as a band. At the end of the work term, Tony and Hugh decided to return to school, but Willie, Walter and I had decided on our career path – to become rock stars – so we dropped out of college. We found two new members – Kyle Garrahan on lead guitar and vocals and Lee Mason on drums – and started our career in earnest. In August of 1965 we were “discovered” at a club in Boston called the Rathskeller (or “The Rat,” as it came to be known) and signed by Capitol Records. We became quite popular in Boston and all over New England and Upstate New York. In those days you could become a “regional rock star” – famous in your local area and completely unknown everywhere else. The Lost never had a nationally charting single, so Capitol never let us release a full album, although we recorded an album’s worth of material. Only two singles were released (three if you count both versions of “Violet Gown,” but that’s another long story), the first, “Maybe More Than You,” charted locally. We were on the bill for several big concerts, opening for The Shirelles with Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Sonny and Cher in Troy, NY, and The Supremes at Brandeis University. In 1966 we toured with The Beach Boys. In 1999, after ten years of trying to license the lost Lost masters from Capitol, Erik Lindgren of Arf! Arf! Records and I were able, with the help of Rhino Records where I was working, to license those unreleased masters and release the definitive Lost compilation on CD.

The final lineup of The Lost (1965). L to R: Kyle Garrahan, Lee Mason, Walter Powers III, Willie Alexander, Ted Myers.

Tell us about the early days of  Chamaeleon Church. Where did you rehearse? Where did you play at the beginning and with whom did you share stages?

When I moved back to New York after the demise of The Lost, I rented a loft in Lower Manhattan with my wife, Eve, and this became our rehearsal space. Chamæleon Church did very few gigs. Mainly, we just rehearsed and cut an album. We appeared on a TV special on ABC Television Easter Sunday, 1968 called Preview, lip-synching our single, “Camillia Is Changing.” After the album was released and bombed, we all moved up to Boston, where Ray Paret, who had become our manager, was able to get us a few gigs. But after playing only three live dates, Kyle and Chevy decided to move back to New York. Tony and I stayed on in Boston and were drafted into the third and final permutation of Ultimate Spinach.

Chamæleon Church in their rehearsal loft, New York City (c. 1967). L to R: Tony Scheuren, Ted Myers, Chevy Chase, Kyle Garrahan.

What's the story behind the band's name?

I think it was Tony who came up with the idea for the song “Camillia Is Changing,” about a mysterious girl who blends into her environment like a chameleon, and out of that was born the name Chamæleon Church. It conveyed spirituality, which I was heavily into, and also the elusive qualities of the chameleon. We used the archaic spelling with the Greek letter æ in there, just to be tricky.

What would you say were some of the band’s influences?

Tony and I were huge Beatles fans. The Fab Four were at the peak of their popularity in 1967 and ’68 when we were writing most of those songs, and one could not help but be influenced by them. But Tony and I both had come from a folk music background, as did Kyle, so a few of our songs were influenced by the Greenwich Village folk scene. I was a big fan of Tim Hardin, Jimmy Webb and also Bert Bacharach & Hal David.

What was the writing and arranging process within the band?

The songs were all written either by me alone or me and Tony. I got Kyle to sing lead on a few of them, since he had this cool blue-eyed soul vocal delivery. We worked up the arrangements for the basic tracks in our loft and laid down demos on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, then played the tapes for Alan Lorber, who made the final decision as to which songs would be on the album.

Where did MGM catch you performing that made them decide they wanted to make a deal with you? What was the original contract?

Alan Lorber had an overall deal with MGM Records. They released anything he brought them. We had little or no contact with the label. Everything was controlled by Lorber, and he still owns the masters.

There was a pretty big promotion effort behind the “Bosstown Sound”…

The notorious hype behind the “Bosstown Sound” ended up backfiring on those who perpetrated it and cast all the bands involved in a negative light. It was like “The Emporer’s New Clothes” – somebody in the press pointed and said “but there is no Boston sound – it’s all over the map.” And then everyone in the press piled on and took great relish in ridiculing Alan Lorber, Wes Farrell (another New York producer who tried to make hay out of the Bosstown Sound), and all the bands involved. As an example of the lack of homogeny between Boston bands, Ultimate Spinach was sort of a knock off of the San Francisco psychedelic sound (which actually was a “sound”), and Chamæleon Church was clearly influenced by The Beatles and the British Invasion. Another band Lorber produced, Orpheus, was kind of pop-rock, like The Association or Gary Puckett & the Union Gap.

How did the critics receive your albums?

I don’t wish to be disparaging toward anyone, but your question forces me to confess that we (the band) all hated the way the album came out. Lorber promised to include us – or at least me – in the entire recording and mixing process. But he wrote and recorded all the orchestration by himself and mixed the album by himself – behind closed doors, as it were. We were, well, “disappointed” would be an understatement. We were appalled. At the time I regarded it as the total annihilation of 11 of my best songs. Everyone else in the band, to a man, felt the same way. So, when it was either panned or not reviewed at all, we agreed with the reviewers. Billboard magazine, a trade publication that never pans anything, called it “pleasant.” That was the kindest thing anyone could come up with!

But, in an effort to be balanced, I add this: Many years later I was interviewed on an Internet radio show called Now Sounds, hosted by Steve Stanley. This show caters to the present-day niche audience of ‘60s psych fans. Now Sounds targets an even smaller sub-group of fans, who are into the softer, loungier psychedelic rock and pop of the late ‘60s. Steve, who is several decades younger than me, told me he thought Chamæleon Church was one of the greatest albums of the decade.

Trying to listen to it through his ears, and with the added objectivity that time affords, I think I can now see some of what Lorber might have been going for. The excessive echo and watery instrumental tracks give the album a dreamy, ethereal quality, which is consistent with a lot of the songwriting. Tony and I had a strong preconception of what we wanted the album to sound like: we wanted Sgt. Pepper’s. But we didn’t play like The Beatles and we didn’t sing like The Beatles, and we could hardly blame Lorber for that. Instead of going head-to-head with The Beatles, Lorber went in a completely different direction and, although heavily flawed, the album does sound quite unique. It’s very hard for an artist to remove himself and his ego from his work, but after all these years, I’ve tried to do that with my early work, and I’ve achieved some level of reconciliation with it.

Did your debut album sell well? By that I also mean did it garner much airplay or chart in any markets?

Absolutely none. It sank like a stone. MGM put no money into promotion at all. I think it was Lorber that got us on the TV show, but that was all.

Where was your debut recorded?  How long did the sessions last?  Would you share some recollections from the sessions? 

The album was recorded and mixed at Mayfair Studios in midtown Manhattan, the only studio in New York City at the time with eight-track mixing capabilities. I think the sessions took place over a period of about two weeks. The engineer, Eddie Smith, was an affable older guy, who, like Lorber, didn’t have a clue about “psychedelic.” It was clear early on that Lorber and I would have creative clashes, and the sessions were fraught with disagreements, which Lorber always won. To say he was dictatorial would be an understatement.

What was the dynamic between songwriting and playing?  

As soon as Tony and I would finish a new song, we would try it out with the band, which would rehearse nearly every day. If it seemed like a good fit for the album (and I don’t remember writing anything that wasn’t), we would work up an arrangement. The arrangements were usually with the full band, but one – “In a Kindly Way – was just Tony and I finger picking electric guitars and Kyle played a very simple line on electric bass. The only percussion on the record was a backwards tambourine. Tony and Kyle both played guitar, bass and keyboards and Chevy was more proficient on piano than he was on drums. This was a good thing for the studio, but it was a bad thing for live shows. We found that it took a lot of time to switch instruments between songs, which made for a slow-moving show. By the time we figured out that we had to approach our live show very differently from recording, the band was ready to break up.

Did psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes?

Most of the songs I wrote back then were informed by the spiritual and philosophical revelations I experienced on psychedelics. There were only a couple of people in my life I felt comfortable tripping with, and I don’t recall ever tripping with any of the band members. I might have with Tony, but I’m not sure. The psychedelic experience did not mean the same thing to everyone, and I couldn’t understand the people who used it as recreation. For me, it was not entertainment, but a deep exploration into my inner self and the true nature of the universe; that which is hidden from us in everyday life. I don’t think Kyle and Chevy ever did the stuff. I would never attempt to perform live or to record while tripping. I actually tripped very infrequently, because the experience was so intense, but you could certainly call it a songwriting tool.

Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?    

Come Into Your Life 
The verse melody is somewhat reminiscent of “Elenor Rigby,” and I was hoping for a George Martin- like string ensemble, but it didn’t turn out that way. I love the melody and harmonies on the chorus “And the joy will come into your life…” the melody really reflects that lyric. The lyric definitely preaches the gospel of psychedelia.

Camillia Is Changing 
Tony took the lead in writing this. He also sings lead and I add the high harmonies. That chorus still holds up to this day, although Lorber’s production, with all that backwards and repeating echo, waters it down quite a bit. Tony and I had a good time writing together, and I think it shows here.

Spring This Year 
One of my favorite songs on the album. The verse section with me singing lead and playing acoustic guitar, survived Lorber’s production pretty well, but the chorus did not. He added so many special effects (including Chevy playing the part of a carnival barker, an idea we all thought was great – until we heard how it came out) as to obscure the lyrics and the melody almost entirely.

Blueberry Pie 
I wrote this on my own, but gave it to Tony to sing the lead. A bit of social commentary, and throwing a pie in the face of the ultra-trendy, hipper-than-thou New York crowd, like that at Max’s Kansas City.

Remembering's All I Can Do 
A ballad about heartbreak – one of my specialties. Again, I farmed out the lead vocal – this time to Kyle, because I liked his voice better than mine. I hear Burt Bacharach’s influence here.

Flowers in the Field 
Again, the Beatles influence comes through (“Penny Lane,” perhaps?) and the lyric preaches the psychedelic gospel: “With everything one thing, wouldn’t that be something? Yes, indeed!”

Here's a Song 
I figured if Ringo could sing lead on one song per Beatles album, Chevy could sing one on ours. He was pretty self-conscious about doing it, but I got it out of him. This song was inspired by a book I had just read and loved: Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The guru in that book kept saying how man wastes so much time always asking “why?” There was another song, in 1975, that also quoted from Cat’s Cradle, “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” by Ambrosia – nearly a decade after mine.

In a Kindly Way 
My favorite track on the album, and one of my favorite songs on the album. My favorite track because it was the track least fucked with by Lorber – just a voice, two guitars, a bass and a backwards tambourine, all recorded straight, without a lot of unnecessary effects. As a song, it withstood the test of time so well that I included it on my 2012 solo album, LifeAfterlife, the only song on that album that had been previously released. This time I did it even simpler – two acoustic guitars, no bass, backwards + forwards tambourine. We duplicated the beautiful lead guitar part that was written by my late comrade, Tony Scheuren, note-for-note.

Tompkins Square Park 
Sometime in 1967 or ’68 my crazy wife moved out of the loft and got herself a lovely apartment on East 7th Street between Avenues A & B, the southern border of Tompkins Square Park. After one of our many reconciliations, I moved in there with her and gave the loft to Kyle and his girlfriend. So this song was written one hazy gray day, as Tony and I sat in that apartment and looked down on Tompkins Square Park. In one of the verses we mentioned “kids on a bench getting high,” and Lorber would not let us say “getting high” on the album, for fear it would be banned some places. He made us change it to “getting by,” which makes no sense at all.

Picking Up the Pieces 
An uptempo rocker. We needed at least one of these, and I wasn’t writing many of them in those days. I thought the fuzz guitar track that Kyle added was a good touch for the arrangement.

Off With the Old 
An obvious homage to George Harrison’s explorations into Indian music. Again, this is Tony singing lead on a song I wrote alone. The sitar and tamboura were added by Colin Walcott, one of the few studio cats in New York who played those instruments, so he was pretty busy in those days. As with all of the tracks that Lorber overdubbed, I was not consulted about the part and was not invited to the session. In spite of this, I think it came out pretty okay.

Your Golden Love
This was recorded but not included on the album. It was released as the B-side of “Camillia Is Changing.” I wrote it alone and thought it would be best suited to Kyle’s voice, and I think he killed it. I was totally blown away by his electric piano part. I had known him for years and years, we had been in two bands together, and I always thought of him as a lead guitarist. I never knew he could play piano like that. It can be heard on the compilation CD Family Circle, Family Tree that Lorber put together for Ace Records UK in 1996.

Was there a certain philosophy in the band?

I was really very much the boss of the band, and I think I laid out my spiritual philosophy pretty well above. I was really into the hippie ideal of peace and love, and spreading it for real around the world. We really thought at that time that our generation, with psychedelics and music and yoga and Eastern wisdom, could change the direction of the human race and lead us to a new state of peace, love and understanding. How naïve we were!

How big were you compared to other bands that were part of so called “Bosstown Sound”?

Not big at all. Chamæleon Church came and went very quickly. The album received no promotion or publicity, it bombed, we only played three gigs and that one TV special, and we were gone. If you sneezed, you missed us! Sorry, but if you don’t want honest answers, best not to ask the questions.

Were you friends with those bands?

I knew people in Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach (a band I ended up joining after Chamæleon Church fell apart). I’m still very close friends with Harry Sandler, who was the drummer in Orpheus and who I met again when he moved to L.A. I think I met some of the guys in Beacon Street Union and Earth Opera. I no longer remember which bands were considered part of the Bosstown Sound. I was friendly with Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band since high school, and Barry & The Remains were very close friends with The Lost back in 1965 and ’66.

What was the actual scene in your city? Where did you hang out? What clubs were hip? 

I guess I should preface this by reiterating that Chamæleon Church were not a Boston band, we were based in New York. In the early ‘60s I would hang out in Greenwich Village a lot and frequent the folk music coffee houses, where I would rub shoulders with people like Richie Havens, Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan. When I moved back to NYC in 1967, the cool hangouts were the Tin Angel on Bleecker St., where I met Joni Mitchell and David Clayton Thomas. Across the street was the Garrick Theatre, where I saw The Mothers of Invention in their year-long residency in 1968. And, of course, there was Max’s Kansas City, where a lot of the Warhol set would hang out, but I was not too crazy about them – a bunch of zombies! And there was Steve Paul’s The Scene, which had live music, and where I heard some epic jams, including one night when Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and Peter Green all got up on stage with The McCoys (who were the house band) with John Lord of Deep Purple on organ. Unbelievable!

What happened next? 

As I mentioned previously, Tony and I joined the Boston band Ultimate Spinach in fall 1968. They had recently fired their founder, leader and songwriter because his behavior was causing all the original band members to quit and he was alienating audiences as well. Tony and I alternated as lead singers, with Tony filling the keyboards slot. There were already two guitarists in the band – Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (who went on to Steely Dan and Doobie Bros. fame) and Barbara Hudson, so, although I played on the album, in our live shows I got to be front man/lead singer sans guitar. Tony and I wrote and cut the third album with them, which bombed, then we went on a tour in the winter of 1969, which culminated with a two-week residency at a club in Aspen, Colorado. Upon our arrival back in Boston, several members of the band were busted for marijuana and, in April 1969, I took off for California, ostensibly for a two-week vacation. I never lived on the East Coast again.

Have you been involved in any musical endeavours following the dissolution of the band?

I feel very fortunate that I have been able to make my living at doing music for my entire adult life. After moving to California in 1969 I was signed to a publishing deal by Tree Music. In 1972 I wrote a song for a movie, X, Y and Zee with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine. It was recorded by Three Dog Night and showed up as the B-side of a hit single and on two multi million-selling albums. I was subsequently signed to a number of publishing deals, but didn’t land another record deal until 1977, when I recorded the album Glider for United Artists Records. (Um, please don’t ask how many copies that sold, or if it received any promotion or good reviews!). I formed and fronted one more band, Incognito, in the ‘80s and recorded an album’s worth of masters that were never released. In 1989 I started my career as a compilation producer at Rhino Records, where I worked for eleven years, picking up a Grammy nomination along the way. After that I worked for Concord Music Group for another four years. Between 2006 and 2012 I recorded one last album (my first solo!) called LifeAfterlife I released it quietly on my own imprint in 2012. If you look, you can still find it on Amazon, CD Baby, etc.

Ted Myers’ 2012 album, LifeAfterlife

Would you discuss some of your most memorable moments in The Lost and Chamaeleon Church and what made them so?  

When The Lost was signed to Capitol less than a year after we moved to Boston, I thought “This is it – nowhere to go but up from here!” But that did not turn out to be the case. The Lost felt like rock stars, though. People in Boston used to recognize us on the street. It was a great time to be alive and making music. During the Chamæleon Church era, Chevy started working with this improv comedy group called Channel One, who would record their bits on video tape and show them on large TV monitors in their little theatre. In one bit, Chevy had us play a naked rock band to Ken Shapiro’s overdressed lead singer. We were actually all naked except for our instruments. Meanwhile, Kenny, who was a short, fat guy with glasses, was dressed like a cross between Janis Joplin and Liberace, with lace-trimmed bellbottoms and dripping in love beads. It was pretty funny.

Thank you very much for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Sorry if some of this came across as a downer. You wanted the real skinny about Chamæleon Church, and you got it. But I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s. The important thing is the journey and the lessons learned. You’ll be able to read about all this and much, much more in my forthcoming memoir, Making It: Music, Sex and Drugs in the Golden Age of Rock. Watch for it in bookstores and gas stations everywhere!

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2015
© Copyright

Beyond the Silver Sea - Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab (2015) review

Beyond the Silver Sea 'Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab' (2015)
“Because everything made sense, no-one ever asked if there had ever been anything that didn’t make sense. But it didn’t matter because, surely, if it hadn’t made sense, it didn’t make sense to believe that it ever existed.”

The malformed lovechild of x and y. Like so-and-so on such-and-such yesteryear drug. Idle comparisons are catnip for amateur musicologists, and generally to be avoided, but what to do when faced with an album as richly referential as Beyond the Silver Sea, the sophomore set from Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab?

Sit back and enjoy yourself, that’s what. Half the fun is figuring out over the course of an hour what main Labmen Stu Kidd and Joe Kane’s record collections must look like. The other half comes from the joyous way they ping from one musical planet to another - mid-song, mid-verse, whenever the mood strikes - all the while remaining in orbit around the solar fulcrum of Adam Smith’s characteristically brilliant storytelling.

Smith - himself a prolific songwriter and artist par excellence - is a long-time conceptual collaborator of Kane’s. Here, he tells the story of Max, a ‘Sense Factory’ worker who spends his days ‘making sense of stray ephemera that hadn’t made sense before.’ After a vision of the mysterious ‘Silver Sea’ instils in him an appreciation of the power of unreality, Max undergoes a Damascene conversion, throwing off the shackles of social conformity that he might find a less cosseted but ‘truer’ way to exist. 

In the grand tradition of eccentric dystopian fiction, the story tackles themes of urban oppression and techno-centric bureaucracy, executed with Lovecraftian prose (‘time vehicle’ instead of ‘time machine’) and a smattering of the sort of hyper-logical, linguistic knot-tying wit familiar to fans of Douglas Adams. 

Bubbling under the narration is another treat for influence-spotters: musical vignettes that pastiche library-music iterations of classic pop. When, for instance, our hero goes back to mid-sixties London, we hear a litigation-proof take on Whatcha Gonna Do About It. Baby You’re a Rich Man (‘The Sense Factory’) and Cabinessence (‘…Something Else’) also get cheeky looks-in.

Styling these vignettes after the soundtrack to a ropy low-budget documentary on the Sixties is a swingin’ idea, further ramping up the meta preoccupations of an album which is - you come to realize - the very ‘time vehicle’ of which it speaks. 

It’s the stellar song-smithery that really takes the listener Beyond the Silver Sea. Psychedelic pop wasn’t born in Glasgow but it’s enjoying semi-retirement there. I’m telling anyone who’ll listen: Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab make a Scottish sound. They might not use it to sell whisky to Americans, but they should. It’s subtle, and yes, partly down to the faintly-detected dipthongs and suprasegmentals particular to the accent, but there’s a certain dinnae-ken-whit about it that’s much harder to define. It’s there in Teenage Fanclub and Beta Band. BMX Bandits have it in spades, as does Bandits alumnus Kidd. Paul Morley would probably call it ‘a brooding pop sensibility’ or something. This stuff is peculiar to the west of Scotland, and although it shares commonalities with its more famous west coast counterpart, Glaswegian pop-psych is liable to veer suddenly off-course with a jolting cadence, before returning you to familiar territories.

Those territories include the heavy psychedelic blues of Blossom Toes’ second album (‘Dr. Chester’s Pleasure’); Arthur-period Kinks (‘Face of Another’); and even the rock-spiritual vibe of Pacific Ocean Blue (‘The Stars My Destination’). The best moments are when the influences come thick and fast in a single song, as on ‘The Storehouse of Fools’ which starts out like Gudbuy t’Jane and morphs briefly into Suffragette City before Wild Honey-era Beach Boys sees things home. ‘Pie, Mash & Liqor’ is an unabashed style parody of Chas & Dave and a supremely enjoyable two minutes of music for it. 

Amongst the self-aware nods to vintage sounds is some Grade A pop music. ‘City & the Stars’ and ‘In Lieu of Something Better’ possess all the attributes songwriters hanker after: infectious melodies, pin-sharp harmonies and uplifting progressions. With its tidy cocktail licks and cod-muzak setting, ‘Time Enough for Love’ is a lovely song, unencumbered by the archness and irony that afflicts much 21st Century art. ‘The Mirrors Reflection’ is another gem amongst gems.

That Kane, Kidd and Smith have realized a power-pop sci-fi concept album at all in 2015 is remarkable. The fact it’s such a treat for the ears from start to finish borders on the miraculous. Word on the street is, Sugarbush Records plan to release their equally excellent debut album Ever Evolving Lounge on vinyl later this year which is good news for popsike fans everywhere.

Review made by Nic Denholm/2015
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

JAZZ CORNER Presents: Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else (1958)

Perhaps I’ve watched too many movies, because I pictured my adventure into the world of Jazz as being more cerebral, more intellectual and more scholarly ... but, to my delight, what I found as I walked through the differing syncopations, is that my taste in Jazz runs along the same lines as my taste in rock.  As with rock, I like it “Stoner,” and laid back, with just enough edges to hold my attention, designed around a core that develops and moves me deeper within myself ... and while Jazz at first seems to control the environment, it didn’t take me long to adjust my seating, find my footing and slip into the groove, totally engulfed ... and here on Cannonball Adderley’s release “Somethin’ Else,” I’ve found a kindred spirit.

Julian’s forty seven year saxophone career was far to short, by the time he should have been hitting his stride, and shifting into high gear he was gone.  Cannonball came from a very technical musical background, not only playing but teaching music, which is no doubt one of the reasons his particular form of Jazz both connects and resonates so well.  Those who exist within their own sphere of art tend to produce works that express an inward journey, while Julian was so acutely in touch with his surroundings that he was able to include the listener ... understanding how spacing, bars, and chords worked their magic.  While he rolls along on his sax, one can easily hear the biting clarity of Charlie Parker.  Yet he wasn’t about to have his music sound cold, he went about developing warm round tones reminiscent of Benny Carter ... but don’t go thinking all of his music is as soulful as that found here, Adderley was a seminal influence on the driving style of Hard Bop, and there was no holding him back if he decided to rip loose and swing with faster tempos ... yet, even in the face of poly rhythms and poly tonalities, which appeal to a certain elite, Cannonball would not forsake, or forget his roots, raising the bar, yet preserving the music, keeping it understandable by using the vocabulary of Blues and Gospel.

Adderley’s band was as tight and compact as he was in stature, and it’s brilliant to hear on this record, the songs on which Miles Davis steps in, participating in like style and fashion, yet letting those signature Miles Davis elements shine through ... he was truly a generous man.  Art Blakey will attest to that, so will Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Sara Vaughan, Dianh Washington, John Coltrane, Sergio Mendes, Wes Montgomery and Nancy Wilson ... Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones is said to have named both of his children Julian, in honor of Mr. Adderley ... and I’m sure I’ve left out a dozen more.

This is the Jazz I love.  “Alison’s Uncle” is the only song on this release that did not strike a chord with me [and that was because of the brassy drumming], but that’s just my taste ... this music is so cool, and so smooth that it is infectious ... working it’s way into the mind, body and soul.  As brilliant as each note is, those same notes seem understated, floating like smoke, sustained just long enough for rhythmic perfection.  Trying to find something you don’t dig on this album is just what you are going to have to do ... but I don’t believe that you’ll have much success.

Review made by Jenell Kesler/2015
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Friday, May 15, 2015

Heaven’s Gateway Drugs interview with Derek Mauger

Indiana keeps popping up on my radar for one reason or another even though I try not to lock myself down geographically speaking when it comes to music too much.  There’s just something about the music that’s been coming out of Indiana for the last ten years or so that catches my ear every time, well at least every time it’s done right.  I think it might have something to do with the relative sense of isolation and individual creativity that bleeds from the music that’s what flips my switch, or at least I know that’s the case with Fort Wayne’s Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.  Utilizing occult, psychedelic and religious imagery and retrofitting it to suit their own twisted needs and desires Heaven’s Gateway Drugs personifies the psychedelic resurgence of garage bands over the past twenty years.  They sound like they fell directly out of 1968 and commenced to unleashing music that would have been labelled subversive at the time – the world now ready to finally accept their hypnotic call to arms.  Reverb drenched guitars rumble and twang behind tight snapping drums and an absolutely thunderous earthquake of bass.  The combination of swirling keyboards and dreamy echoing vocals are undeniably catchy, the composition is just killer.  I’m a big fan of the loud-quiet dynamic and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs seem to be masters of it, summoning rave-up after rave-up in a single song bringing the sound to explosive crescendos at will, before retreating again into a comfortable calm groove as if nothing ever happened.  After something of a changing of the guard that accompanied a lineup change last year the band has been hard at work again recording more of their own brand of occult psychedelia and making plans for upcoming Midwest and East Coast tours later this year (2015).  In the meantime I decided it was high time I tracked the guys down and had a little conversation about stuff.  Thanks for all of us singer/guitarist Derek Mauger took time to answer my usual myriad of questions.  So kick back with a tall frosty one, put on some music and enjoy a journey into the world of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – I know I will.
- Listen while you read:

Andrea Harvey

What’s the lineup in Heaven’s Gateway Drugs right now?  Is this your original lineup or have you all gone through any lineup changes since the band started?

Our current lineup is Ben Carr on percussion, Brandon Zolman on vocals and bass, James Wadsworth on drums, and myself on vocals and guitar.  Brandon and James both joined the group last year when a few of the original guys left for family and work reasons.

Are any of you in any other bands or do you have any side projects going on at this point?

James drums with a couple of his friends’ groups, but this band is everyone’s main focus.

Have you released any music with anyone else in the past?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about that here?

Everyone but Ben has played with other bands at some point or another.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

I’m twenty-eight and born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  All the other guys are also from here originally. 

What was your home like when you were growing up?  Was there a lot of music around?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?

Growing up there was always music playing in my family’s house.  Both of my parents love music and are open minded about listening to new stuff, which was great for me when I was figuring out what kind of music I liked.  My dad is a guitar player and taught me everything I know.  He’s also a Beatles freak, so that was my introduction to pop and psychedelic music.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in that scene?  Do you feel like it played a large role in shaping your musical interests or the way you perform at this point?

Fort Wayne is a working class town so there’s always been a lot of punk and hardcore around.  By the time I was old enough to go out to shows I’d already moved to Bloomington for college, so I was absent from the Fort Wayne scene until I moved back.  The punk DIY ethos is sort of engrained in everybody here because it’s such a small town.  You have to make your own way.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

My parents took me to a lot of concerts when I was a kid.  I think the first one was Tom Petty when I was in second grade.  He had a dog on stage and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.  I also remember thinking it was amazing how loud the music was.  Between going to shows with them and there always being music on at the house, I was surrounded by it.  

If you were to pick a moment where everything seemed to change for you musically and your mind was opened up to the infinite possibilities that music presents, what would it be?

That’s tough.  I went through a blues phase, which somehow led me to Captain Beefheart.  The Safe As Milk album blew my mind.  It’s blues, rock, and R&B but he turned all of that upside down, and yet overall, the record is still really accessible and catchy.  Up until that point, I erroneously assumed pop music couldn’t get that far out, that it had to be straight forward. 

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get it?

Guitar.  My Dad has played guitar since he was a kid and when I was growing up he always had a few guitars around.  When I was real young, his Les Paul was off limits unless he was there to supervise but I would sneak in his office when he was at work and open the case and just look at it.  The inside of the case is this fake pink fur that I thought was so cool.  I was in awe of that guitar.  My parents got me an acoustic with nylon strings when I was real little but I didn’t play much until I was a bit older and got a Squire Strat.

When did you decide to start writing and performing your own music?  What led to that decision?  Or was it more of a natural progression of being given an opportunity to create something of your own and express yourself?

It was more of a natural progression; I was always making up songs when I was a kid.  By the time I got to high school I was actually sitting down and working on songs but didn’t have the desire to perform them, or I was just too insecure about performing.  A friend of mine asked me to play guitar in his band and after awhile I got more comfortable with performing songs I’d written. 

When and how did the members of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs meet?

The original lineup of the band started out at work.  C. Ray Harvey and myself were working at the same place and I met Eric Frank, the original drummer through C. Ray and it went from there.  After we played our first show, Ben approached us about joining the band as an opportunity to express himself and his ideas.  That was early in 2012.  The new guys, Brandon and James, we knew through the music scene here.

What led to the formation of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?  When would that have been?

The last band I was in left me feeling a bit jaded about playing with a group, but I missed performing and the creative process of working on songs with a group.  Eric and C. Ray were in a band that had just broken up and Eric wanted to start a psych band and he knew I was really into the 60’s stuff, so he kept saying we needed to get together and play.  I caved and started working on material and eventually we started jamming and it went from there. 

What does the name Heaven’s Gateway Drugs mean or refer to in the context of your band name?  Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it?  Are there any close runners up that you almost went with you can recall?

We wanted something memorable and tongue-in-cheek.  There were a lot of names tossed around but Heaven’s Gateway Drugs seemed to carry more weight than the others.  The name marries cults and drugs, which are both things that fascinate me.  Led Bundy was a contender; it’s funny, but I’m glad we skipped that one.

Is there any sort of shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares, spoken or unspoken?

The overriding mantra of our group is “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.”  At shows, only Ben speaks between songs and that’s all he says.  We want our shows to be as inclusive as possible, meaning the audience is a part of what we’re doing and vice versa.  Nothing can kill the energy at shows as much as someone’s stupid banter between songs.  It also plays into the cult aspect of our band name; Ben becomes the obvious figurehead of our group, he’s the focal point and the mouthpiece.

Where’s the band located at?  How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at?

We’re based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  It’s about two hours north east of Indianapolis and three hours east of Chicago, just two hours south of Detroit – the crossroads of America.  The music scene here is strong in the sense that any night of the week there’s a show going on somewhere and for being such a small town, there’s a large concentration of talent.  The Brass Rail’s a venue here and it’s a favorite stop for touring bands and we’ve been really lucky to play with some amazing bands there like Night Beats, Corners, Holy Wave, Holydrug Couple, Electric Citizen, Radio Moscow, the list goes on and on…

Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene where you are?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows or anything like that?

We’re the only psych band in the scene here, so we end up being the de facto opening band for psych touring bands.  But we also go to plenty shows around town when our friends are playing or to just hang out.  It’s amazing getting to open for some of our favorite bands, but sometimes it’s just as fun to play an all locals show with our friends.

Has the local scene played an integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, or do you feel like you all would be doing what you’re doing and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were at or surrounded by?

That’s hard to say.  No one was really playing psychedelic music in our town before we started, save for a Grateful Dead tribute act, so we were looking outside of Fort Wayne for those influences.  I’m sure that the geography of where we are does have an impact on our sound.  There are a lot of wide-open spaces around.  Maybe that’s why I love reverb so much, who knows?

Are you involved in recording or releasing any music besides your own/Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?  If so, can you talk about that briefly here?

Our friend Jason Davis owns Off The Cuff Sound, an all analog recording studio here in town that we’ve used frequently.  Sometimes I help press buttons in the control room for other bands’ sessions but that’s it.  Heaven’s Gateway Drugs is my only musical outlet.

Whenever I talk to bands in interviews I inevitably have to describe how they sound to a growing number of people who’ve never heard them before.  It’s a sometimes extremely daunting task and I always feel like I’m screwing something up and putting too many of my own perceptions of stuff in there.  Rather than feeding to this growing neurosis, how would you describe your sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before?

At our most basic level we’re a pop band.  Beyond that our sound pulls from a variety of places, from paisley pop to stoner desert rock, The Beach Boys to Black Sabbath.

You guys have a really interesting sound that pulls from a bunch of different places while obviously remaining firmly rooted in others.  Who would you cite as your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, 13th Floor Elevators and contemporaries like Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thee Oh Sees and White Fence.  Almost without fail we end up listening to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood in the van when we’re on the road.  Outside of the psych genre though, each of us has our own unique set of wide ranging influences that come play into our sound. 

What’s the songwriting process like for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?  Is there someone who usually comes to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea for a song to work out and compose with the rest of you, or do you all get together and just kind of kick ideas back and forth until you hit on an idea that you’re interested in working on and refining?

Usually I come to practice with some sort of idea in mind to show the other guys and we go from there.  Brandon is starting to bring some of his songs to the table and its exciting getting his perspective.  There have been a few times where we’ve been warming up and something interesting happens that later turns into a song too.  That’s always fun.

What about recording?  Recording has been the death of many great bands over the years, and while I think that most musicians can appreciate the end result of all the time and effort that goes into recording an album when they’re finally holding that finished product in their hands, getting to that point can be extremely difficult to say the least.  Getting things to sound the way you want them to, even down to getting things mixed and mastered properly can be difficult, especially with a full band.  What’s it like recording for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?

Recording is typically a sprint for us.  Since we usually go somewhere to record, and time is money, we typically try and knock as much stuff out as we can in a weekend.  To help stay on track and move things along, we all keep lists of additional things we want to try and do on each song. 

Do you all like to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle things mostly on your own time and turn so that you don’t have to work with or compromise on the sound with anyone else, or do you like to head into a studio and let someone else worry about that headache so you can concentrate on the music and getting things to sound the way you want them to?

We put recording into other people’s capable hands.  When you record yourself, and don’t constrain yourself to a budget or timeframe, you run the risk of tinkering with the record ad infinitum.  It’s nice to just focus on my parts and not be worrying about the levels or what pre-amps are going on the vocals, etcetera.  We’ve been really fortunate to work with some great people who can take our descriptions of what we want things to sound like and make that a reality.

Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out exactly how a song’s going to sound before you record it with the arrangement and composition locked down and airtight before you record, or do you like to get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like while allowing for some change, evolution and variation during the recording process where you feel necessary?

Before we record, we always get drums/bass/guitar/vocals locked in and then we talk through what overdubs we want to hear on the track.  Once in the studio the mantra is “less is more.”  There are always ideas that happen organically in the studio that we never considered beforehand, but for the most part the songs are pretty much written in stone by the time we hit record.

Despite the, at least in my opinion, ass backwards drug laws across the globe right now people have been tapping into the altered states that drugs produce for the means of creating art for thousands of years.  Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?  I’m always curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally consume and enjoy and I think a lot of people may misconstrue your band name in that sense as well.

Nobody gets high before practice, or before shows or during recording.  Maybe that’s surprising because of our name but in those situations we have a job at hand and we want to be on top of our game.  I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never written a song as the direct result of a drug experience.  There’s potential danger in relying on alcohol or drugs as a method for creation that could lead one down a dark path.  We’ve all personally had positive experiences with psychedelics but we don’t see ourselves as “drug evangelicals”.  

The first thing that I know of you all released was back in 2012, the self-released digital single “Come Summer” b/w “Psychic Sidearm”.  Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of those tracks?  When and where were they recorded?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you or more of a nerve-racking proposition at that point?  Who recorded those songs?  What kind of equipment was used?

Those songs were recorded at Off The Cuff here in Fort Wayne.  It was a pretty loose affair because at that time we weren’t actively playing shows and outside of our close friends, no one really knew we had a band.  Jason Davis owns the studio and is a good friend of ours and he’s great to work with.  Everything at his place is analog, tape, echo chambers, tubes…  It’s like stepping back in time, especially because it’s an old farmhouse. 

Later in 2012 you followed up the digital single with your self-titled cassette tape on Chain Smoking Records.  Was the recording of the material for the Chain Smoking Records tape very different than the session(s) that resulted in “Come Summer” and “Psychic Sidearm”?  Can you tell us a little bit about recording that material?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Is that an open ended release or are the tapes limited at all? 

It was exactly the same!  We went right back to Off The Cuff and recorded the rest of those songs.  It was great.  We recorded that during the summer and even though the studio is in the same town we all live in, we camped in the backyard the entire weekend.  None of us left the studio for more than an hour at a time, but it felt like a giant party.  We invited a bunch of friends over to cookout at the end of the day and some people even ended up doing some group backing vocals on a track.  We did a limited run of the tapes in time for Cincy Psych Fest that fall. 

You unleashed your first full-length album in 2013 in the form of the You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs CD.  Was the recording of the material for You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug very different than your earlier session(s) for those first two tracks or the Chain Smoking Records tape?  Do you feel like you all had learned a lot since then?  When and where was the material for You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was that CD self-released and is that still in-print at this point at all?

You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug was recorded in Detroit with the guys from Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor.  We played with them a few months before and really hit it off and they invited us up and we couldn’t refuse.  It was a ton of fun, maybe too much fun.  They record to tape like the first few things we had done, but that time we bounced to a computer to do the mixing.  Doing so allowed us to use patches for mellotrons and church bells and other fun sounds we would never normally be able to use.  We released the CD ourselves and there are still a handful of copies in our *merch case. 
[*Editor’s Note: merch case/stand – a table, stand or often suitcase a band puts merchandise that is for sale in or on while at a live show or performance.]

You self-released your sophomore album last year (2014) on CD.  Entitled Apropos did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for Apropos?  What can our readers expect from the new album?  Can you tell us about the recording of the material for Apropos?  Who recorded that and when would that have been?  Where was that at?  What kind of equipment was used?

Apropos was a result of our natural progression as a band.  This time around we were less concerned with capturing our live sound and experimented more with swapping out guitar lines for keys or strings for the record.  We recorded Apropos at Tempel in Fort Wayne and mixed the record ourselves. 

Does Heaven’s Gateways Drugs have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a demo or a single that I don’t know about?

We might have something up our sleeves but you’ll just have to wait and see.

With the release of Apropos not too long ago at this point are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon for Heaven’s Gateways Drugs at this point?

About a month after Apropos was released we headed back to Off The Cuff to record some new songs.  Having a new line-up we felt like it was important to document our new sound, especially with so many new ideas happening.  The new songs are mixed and we’re plotting our next move as far as how we want to release them.

Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up your music at?

There are copies of our CDs at Neat Neat Neat Records here in Fort Wayne.  We have copies with us at all of our shows so come introduce yourself to us and we’ll get you a CD.  There’s always the online method, like Bandcamp or iTunes, etcetera.

What about our poor international and overseas readers?  With shipping the way it is I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up imports as I can!

Do the download method if you can live without a physical copy for now.

Are there any major plans or goals that Heaven’s Gateways Drugs is looking to accomplish in 2015?

More touring, more recording, more new songs, more growth.  More, more, more.

What, if anything, do you have planned as far as touring goes at this point?

We’ve got some stuff shaping up for the Midwest this spring.  Hopefully late summer we can make it out East.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring?  Do you enjoy being out on the road?  What’s life like on tour for Heaven’s Gateways Drugs?

We try to get out of town as much as possible.  All of us really enjoy it.  We’ve made a lot of great friends and gotten to visit a ton of amazing places.  Fortunately we all get along well, so the time spent in the van seems to go by quickly.  There’s an old TV in the van and we have a bunch of old NASA VHS tapes to help kill time. 

What was the first song that Heaven’s Gateways Drugs ever played live, do you remember?  When and where would that have been at?

My memory is failing me.  Our first show was opening for Night Beats, that night is a blur at this point.  The adrenaline erased my memory.

© David Federspiel

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to play with over the past few years?

There are so many…  Holy Wave, Night Beats, Elephant Stone, Paperhead, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Electric Citizen, Acid Baby Jesus, Holydrug Couple, Spirits and the Melchizedek Children, Dead Leaf Echo, I could go on and on…  We’ve been really lucky to play with a ton of amazing bands.

© Drew Allegre

Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent?  Stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, cover artwork and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re attempting to convey with the visual side of Heaven’s Gateways Drugs?

There are certainly a lot of occult or psychedelic themes that are reoccurring visual elements for us, but overall we just want striking images that catch people’s attentions.  The albums have all had more significance, usually relating to the title or the themes on the record. 

Is there anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to the visual side of things for Heaven’s Gateways Drugs?  If so, who is that and how did you get hooked up with them?

Adam Meyer is a friend of ours who has done quite a bit of artwork for us.  He did the cover of Apropos as well as countless flyers and band photos.  His aesthetic lines up with ours, so we can just give him something to work on with very little direction and he’ll come up with something we’ll love.  There’s also BrainTwins in Indianapolis who did our newest t-shirt with a creepy Marshall Applewhite on it.  They’re fantastic.  I kept seeing flyers they’d done online and emailed them out of the blue, they have been awesome to work with.  Another Adam, Adam Garland lives with our drummer and he’s an amazing photographer.  He gets to hear our songs as we’re working them out and understands what we’re going for better than most people. 

With all of the various forms of release that are available to musicians today I’m always various why they choose and prefer the various methods that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why that is?

Digital is ubiquitous now.  It’s the easiest and fastest way to get your music heard by the most people.  But that also makes it easy for music to get lost in the ether of the internet.  I think people still like holding something in their hands, especially people who want to support an artist.  There’s more meaning in having a tangible object to show support rather than a file on a computer or in a cloud somewhere.  That said, we’d love to do a vinyl release someday because the fidelity is so great, but at this point the cost has been prohibitive without having the support of a label. 

I grew up around this enormous collection of music and both of my parents really encouraged me to listen to just about anything that interested me from a pretty young age.  I think it was my dad taking me out to the local shops on the weekend and picking me up random stuff that really sparked my obsession with physical music products though.  I developed this whole ritual or listening to music where I would rush home, grab a set of headphones, read the liner notes over and over again, staring at the cover art and just let the whole experience carry me off on a whole other trip.  Having something physical to hold and experience along with the music that I was hearing, having a concrete connection to it somehow, has always made for a much more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Absolutely, I love listening to vinyl.  I work in a record shop, so I’m surrounded by it.  Outside of becoming friends with an artist you like, I think owning a record gives the listener a connection to the artist that doesn’t exist with any other medium. 

Like it or not right now digital is here in a big way.  I think it mostly depends on how you deal with things, as there’s always going to be upsides and downsides to anything.  I mean, on one hand, you have people being exposed to all this really amazing music for the first time and not only from around the globe, but even their own hometowns.  On the other hand though, while people are being exposed to all this amazing new music they’re really not that interested in paying for it at this point.  A lot of people have begun to view music as a disposable form of entertainment to be used and forgotten, a kind of free soundtrack to their lives that will always be there regardless of whether they pay for it or not.  And while I think that people’s interaction and relationship with music is constantly changing and evolving, I’m pretty unconvinced that digital music has done anyone any big favors in that regard.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

The internet helps to level the playing field in terms of exposure for bands like us who are from small towns.  Outside of touring, broadcasting our music out on the internet is the best way for us to get heard.  As much as I loathe services like Spotify for paying artists so little, I’m guilty of using them to discover bands.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I can but to say it’s a little overwhelming sometimes would be a complete understatement.  With all the access that we have to music these days it’s hard to even know where to start sometimes.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?

Metavari are a great band from Fort Wayne that is really doing some interesting things.  They’ve got a weird and unique electronic sound, yet still super catchy, and live they have an amazing stage set up with lights they’ve built.  The Snarks are an awesome 70’s proto punk band, they’ve got a 7-inch out and just recorded some new stuff that I can’t wait to hear.

What about nationally and internationally?

Sisters of Your Sunshinve Vapor from Detroit are amazing, and total dudes.  Heaters, also from Michigan, are really, really good and we’re excited to be playing some dates with them this May, Moss Folk from Milwaukee, Thee Open Sex from Bloomington, Indiana…  I could go on and on.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me so in-depth about the band and your histories, it was awesome getting to learn so much about you all!  Since you were so kind and generous with your time I’d like to open the floor up to you for a moment here.  Is there anything that I could have possible missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?

Thank you, Roman.  Here’s to a weird and wonderful 2015.

© Adam Garland

(2012)  Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – “Come Summer” b/w “Psychic Sidearm” – Digital – Self-Released
(2012)  Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Digital, Cassette Tape – Chain Smoking Records 
(2013)  Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug – Digital, CD – Self-Released
(2014)  Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Apropos – Digital, CD – River Water Native

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2015
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