The Mavericks Create a Second Act

mavericks_vipteaser2-438x438Eddie Perez was just a couple of years into his tenure with The Mavericks when the band shattered, fragile glass hitting a tile floor and exploding into jagged pieces. Those years before their 2004 breakup, he concedes now, weren’t much fun.
Perez is a veteran rock guitarist who has played with Dwight Yoakam, Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack and others. But when the group first assembled back in the studio four years ago, he was uneasy.

“After doing music all these years with so many artists,” he says, “I can tell you it’s rare for me to get nervous or apprehensive, very rare. But the first time we came together after many years apart in the studio making “In Time,” I was nervous. “

“But once we put the headphones on and Raul (Malo) said it goes like this and here’s the song, from that moment, it was like no time had gone by at all. It was quite bizarre to tell you the truth.”

They did “Back in Your Arms,” that first song, in one take, the first time they played it as a band.

“That was an amazing feeling,” Perez adds. “We’re talking about a nine-year break. We didn’t see each other in the same room for that many years. To come together in a studio setting it was as if no time had gone by. We went from elation to wow, this is a chance to do this thing right again.”

The Mavericks were back, better than ever. “In Time” earned plaudits. The eclectic follow-up, “Mono,” drew universal raves and led to their recent live album, “All Night Live Vol. 1.”

“We started instantly realizing how good we play together,” he adds.

Everybody was, uh, more mature, Perez notes. They’d meandered through life’s experiences, had kids, and played with other artists. Malo had gone off and done solo discs, experimenting with different genres. “Lucky for us he brings his experiences to what we’re doing now and it’s been a completely brand new day for us,” he adds. “It really is a celebration. To be able to come back and have a second act like this is pretty much unheard of.”

The band appears at The Sandler Center in Virginia Beach on Dec. 7.

The Mavericks of 2016 are a dramatically different band than the one that burst on the scene in 1991 and landed 14 singles on the Billboard country charts over the next 12 years. Oh, they can honky tonk like they did on “What a Crying Shame.” They can blend in Latin music to make you shake and bake. They can swing like an old big band. They can get down and dirty with the blues. They can shape a ballad like few other bands.

Malo’s love for Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley and George Jones still shines through his vocals. The man may be the finest crooner today.

“His voice is one of a kind that doesn’t come along often,” Perez says. “And he sounds that good at 7 o’clock in the morning on some TV show after a night of martinis and cigars. It blows us away. I think if anything his voice has gotten better.”
The recent albums have taken the band into ever more varied terrain with songs that would not be out of place on albums by the The Specials, Buena Vista Social Club or a Latin dance disc.

“It is such a luxury to be a musician in a band like this that gets to explore without being confined. We explore all the musical genres that have turned us on and that we have been students of ourselves,” he says. “We all great up on the American songbook. We were inspired by all that, but we’re also complete audiophiles. We collect records. We still shop at record stores looking for records we don’t have. I’m big into jazz. There are a lot of influences there.”

“We just try to make the best, most honest fun feeling music that we can.”

In short, The Mavericks have become their own genre, labels be damned.

“When we’re making this music and writing this stuff, we’re not really conscious and aware of the specific style of song or style of guitar playing,” he adds. “We get in there and let it happen on its own, let it see where it takes us.”

He acknowledges that when he goes back and listens to the early records, it’s easy to hear the dramatic evolution.
They are also now on their own label with the live album their first offering. Perez says it’s a natural evolution. “We’re very hands on everything that has to do with this business from the music and the writing to playing together in the studio and going out and touring,” he says. “It seemed like a natural progression.”

The live show — they’ve played about 120 dates a year since getting back together — is the core of The Mavericks. “Our shows are pretty much parties every night,” he adds. “On the bus, grooving, getting into that head space. When we hit the stage it’s a party and afterwards it’s a party. We all missed playing music together.”

Perez says the band’s renewed passion shows on the disc. “I can attest to how much fun we’re all having right now,” he says.

“I can’t say that was always the case,” he adds, laughing.

 

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Chris Collingwood Moves On

chriscollingwoodmain Chris Collingwood outgrew Fountains of Wayne, simple as that.

Out of that metamorphosis sprouted Look Park, a quieter, reflective solo project that veers in a new direction, but not one severe enough to snap your head back.

“I definitely wanted to start recording songs that weren’t as funny,” he says. “It’s a side of me that I don’t think is really there anymore. I wrote goofy songs in the beginning of Fountains of Wayne and less so over the course of our career. It was just a thing I didn’t want to do anymore.”

“That’s really not my personality anymore,” he adds. “I don’t drink any more. Mostly when I’m home I’m reading nonfiction sitting around complaining about politics. I’m not a drunken young person anymore.”

He particularly tired of playing that big, old goofy song that’s become a punchline, “Stacy’s Mom,” night after night. “It’s like a comedian telling the same joke without ever updating the material,” he says. “It was something I wanted to move past.”

Collingwood is in San Diego after a seven-hour drive along the Mexican border from Phoenix, a trip he describes as beautiful. He’s out on a tour that brings him to the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club on Oct. 27.

For the first time in his life, he’s touring in a van without a tour manager. “I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s painfully obvious to everyone,” he cracks.

He will bring his van and his trio to the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club on Oct. 27 for a show open to members and their friends. Want a ticket? Ask somebody who belongs.

For the Look Park album, Collingwood worked with longtime producer and Grammy nominee Mitchell Froom, who has produced records by Peter Case, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, Los Lobos, Indigo Girls and numerous others. At times, Look Park sounds a bit like stripped-down offerings from one of Froom’s past production par

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tners, Crowded House. The disc features catchy pop like “Stars of New York,” the reflective “Minor is the Lonely Key,” the soulful “Breezy” and the wordy, quietly anthemic opener “Shout Part 1.”

“I was trying to write a national anthem” he says about “Shout.” “The words f

or that are way longer than the actual song. There are a lot of words.”

There are 243 words in the liner notes for “Shout.”

You got your freedom
And it weren’t for nothing
If you can hold down the note and sing it out
Remember you were born to the whispering world
With a shou
t

Collingwood writes using Evernote, a database program used by a lot of journalists (including me) and he says song files often end up with tons of discarded lyrics at the end.

“I try to edit a lot more now,” he adds. “I revisit stuff. Something that sounds right to me one day doesn’t feel right to me another day. That’s definitely true of “Shout”.”

There’s a lot of Mellotron, the Sixties instrument favored by The Beatles sprinkled throughout the album as well as piano that gives it an open, enticing feel.

Collingwood makes it clear he’s done with Fountains of Wayne and snarky power pop in general. He says during the making of the last FOW disc in 2011 it was clear he and co-founder Adam Schlesinger were splitting. They even went to a sort of couples’ therapy without luck.

“Adam and I just fought constantly making that record,” he says. “We stopped making that record in the middle of making that record to try to work out a whole bunch of things that were going on between us. We saw a psychiatrist and tried to work things out. “

In the end, they reached an agreement to finish the album, tour a bit behind it, and then go their ways.
“In the middle of recording that record, I knew I was going to go and make my own record,” Collingwood adds.

He wrote at home in Northampton, Massachusetts, and had the better part of 20 songs ready for Froom. Some were written during the last Fountains of Wayne tour. They recorded “Look Park” in two sessions in Los Angeles.

The songs come when they come. There’s no routine.

“I really wish I had a process,” he says. “Adam is that kind of writer. He sits down every single day and works on something. I’m not like that. I can’t focus most of the time. I have these fleeting ideas. I recombine and paste. Sometimes the whole thing will come out at once. Sometimes, it’s a labor that takes me months.”

lookparkThe good news is he has plenty of songs in reserve and is considering popping into a studio to record a second Look Park disc.

Collingwood stopped drinking in 2006 after alcohol interfered with his work recording a FOW album. For a while after he left the hospital, he took anti-psychotics. He says he doesn’t think about drinking.

“It’s behind me,” he adds. “I’m not speaking the language of recovery. I have great respect for people for whom it’s a struggle. I hit rock bottom so hard it was never an issue about going back. I don’t struggle with it.”

He does struggle with winter, suffering from seasonal affective disorder, sleeping a lot.

“It’s beautiful here in California,” he cracks. “I think I want to move out here. I could see myself getting a lot of work done in California.”

 

 

 

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Frank Turner’s Passion Play

frankturner2A Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls show is one of those rock and roll nights of magic, an exchange of joy and energy and abandon.

Turner acts as much as ringleader as performer, an undeniable combination of showman and punk folkie (or is it folk punker?).

So the first thing to explore in an interview is the genesis of that passion.

“It comes from growing up with punk rock, particularly the underground hardcore scene,” he says on a call from the road, where he basically lives these days. “I remember very distinctly going to my first punk show. The first band finished and jumped from the front of the stage into the front row and the next band jumped up onto the stage out of the crowd, grabbed their instruments, and played.”

“That was a very simple demonstration of an idea, the idea that this is not separate,” he adds. “That this is a community of people who like music and who are going to communicate.”

This is a man, after all, who played 24 shows in 24 hours for a video of his song, “The Road.” This is a guy who lives on the road although he spent a couple of weeks before our interview, unplugged relaxing on holiday. “That was a rare thing and a welcome thing,” he admits. “To spend two weeks almost not being me. Not being the public me.”

That comment indicates just how much Turner identifies with being the master up on stage, whipping up the crowd with singalongs like “Photosynthesis.”

And I won’t sit down
And I won’t shut up
And most of all I will not grow up

Turner became a solo act a decade ago after his punk band, Million Dead, shattered into so many pieces. “We were touring for four and a half years,” he says. “In that time, we learned to hate each other with a particularly succinct precision. We were never really friends. We were sort of co-conspirators. In the short term, that made us a better band. We had different ideas about what we were trying to do. It made us more than the sum of our parts. But it also meant we were doomed to failure.”

During that time, laying on his back in the rear of a van, he listened to artists like Johnny Cash during his American Recordings period, Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” as well as Bob Dylan, Townes van Zandt and Loudon Wainwright III.

“All of which was new to me because my parents did not believe in modern music,” he explains. His original entry into modern music as Iron Maiden followed by Nirvana. Merge all of those artists from metal to trad country to spare Springsteen and you get a sense of a Frank Turner show and album.

He was looking to challenge himself, get outside his comfort zone. He thought getting on stage with an acoustic guitar was worth a try. And that’s how Turner came to create his driving, frenzied live act that makes a nod to The Pogues, The Clash, Springsteen and Black Flag.

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His latest disc, “Positive Songs for Negative People,” was recorded live in the studio over nine days. Ten songs, nine days. Esme Patterson, who so beautifully duets with Shakey Graves, lends some vocal support on one of his favorites, “Silent Key,” a tune about Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the Challenger explosion.

His previous record, “Tape Deck Heart,” was one of those where he spent a long time in the studio crafting a collection of breakup songs with himself as the bad guy.

“I wanted it (“Positive Songs”) to have that kind of (live) immediacy,” he says. “It was also a reaction to the previous record, going down rabbit holes arrangement-wise. There was a vibe that this time I wanted to do the opposite, more on the fly. A common criticism – that I think is legitimate — is we haven’t made a record that captures the vibe we have as a live band.”

Two tunes on “Positive Songs” hit home particularly hard and personally. “Silent Key” formed out of the hazy memory he had of the disaster as a four-year-old. “I cannot quite remember the Challenger disaster,” he says. “It’s something that happened on the edge of my subconscious memory. There was a sort of tragic poetry to the situation. She was engaged in the space program to get people more interested and dies on international TV. That just seemed like something interesting to explore lyrically.”

“I really love that song,” he adds. “I try hard to be sensitive to the idea she was a real human being with a family. I did not want to sensationalize it, but it seemed like a story worth telling.”

Another story he told was of a longtime friend, Josh Burdette, who worked security at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club in “Song for Josh.” Burdette took his life and Turner achingly asks in the song why he didn’t call. To complete the circle, Turner recorded the song live at the 9:30 Club.

He says he does not shy away from tough topics. He’s drawn to them.

“I think there are boundaries about how the material relates to other people,” he says. “In terms of relating to myself, I try quite hard not to have boundaries. I have a thing I mentally call the wince factor. If I write something that makes me wince, I often feel like that’s a good thing. It’s making an emotional dent of some kind and that’s something worth pursuing.”

His sixth disc, “Positive Songs” is more introspective in places than his others. Part of that may be that Turner has sworn off political songs after dealing with a backlash. “Three-minute pop songs are the worst format for having any kind of adult discussion about politics,” he says.

He’s become more interested in music as a unifying force than a dividing force. “Thirdly,” he adds, rolling now, “I shy away from that kind of conversation, from the arrogance that says because I have a platform with music, my positions are more important than anybody else’s.”

That’s Frank the punker, talking, of course.

He says he’s something of a contrarian. Punk is where he headed after school with the British elite, first at Eton (where Prince William and other nobility learned) and then the London School of Economics. He’s careful to point out that he attended each on scholarship and that is grateful for the fine education. Oh, and Joe Strummer also went to boarding school.

“Once the wider social implications (of boarding school) became clear as soon as I was old enough to understand them, they were uncomfortable to me,” he says.

His solution was to turn to The Clash and Black Flag. And to turn to the road.

“It’s just kind of like I ran away and joined that circus,” he says. “That’s driven most of the rest of what I do with my life.”

 

 

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Squeeze Returns Stronger Than Ever

squeeze-2016 Ok, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the songwriters in the sublime pop/rock band Squeeze, repeatedly were labeled the next Lennon and McCartney during the 1980s.

It was not a publicist’s hype. Their songs were catchy. It seemed like you’d heard them before from the first spin. The melodies wormed into your head and stayed for days and days. The lyrics explored everything from meditations on love to fractured internal monologues. The sophisticated songs shifted from slow burns like “Black Coffee in Bed” to the wacky, pulsing “Pulling Mussels from a Shell” to the Stones-country-era twang of “Labelled with Love.” The Velvet Underground’s John Cale and Elvis Costello produced albums for them.

But they never became superstars. And then it came apart, as it does for so many groups. Difford is sober and has been for years, but in those days he had a rapacious appetite for booze and drugs.

Difford and Tilbrook didn’t speak for nine years. Difford focused on management and writing for others. Tilbrook toured, paying his dues again, solo and with a Squeeze-like group, The Fluffers.

They got together, then broke up. Then tried to write again and failed.

“I thought after that after the last time we split up, I was pretty sure that was it,” Tilbrook says by phone.
It wasn’t. Television — the BBC — brought them together one more time.

When the BBC decided to turn the autobiography of TV reporter, host, and DJ Danny Baker into a comedy series, they approached the duo.

Difford and Tilbrook had not written together since a try at one song in 2004. They gave it one more try and this time, they reconciled. Slowly. “I’d come on as a writer. I respected what Chris had done (since then),” Tilbrook says. “It was important to have that time apart and the experience of learning something new. Still it was hard to get started. It was hard to get properly working in the same room. That took a while.”

Their first song, “Cradle to Grave,” became not only the title to the album first Squeeze album in 17 years, but the title of the series. The producers were thrilled.

So was Tilbrook. “I thought that’s right up there with everything we’ve done,” he says after finishing the tune. “It had a sort of joyfulness to it, a bounce to it, things that are quite important to Squeeze.”

Over about six months, the two wrote about 25 songs, most for the television show, which is based in the 1970s when Barker is going to school as a young boy. The time coincides with the period that when Squeeze was forming after Tilbrook answered an ad that Difford posted on a sweet shop window in southeast London.

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“The BBC series gave us the impetus, A, not only to write, but, B, we created a more nostalgic record than we would have otherwise,” he says. “See, we shared a lot of those experiences. It was fun. Our job was to look back on that time.”
From the bouncy beat of “Cradle” to the keyboard disco opening of “Nirvana” to the soulful story of a wedding in “Open” to the New Wave-y groove of “Honeytrap,” the album sits easily alongside “East Side Story,” “Argybargy,” and “Sweets from a Stranger.”

While the songs were inspired by the script, they also stand as album tracks. In fact, Tilbrook notes that “Open,” about a wedding on the show is really about Difford’s wedding. “I knew what it was when I read it,” he says. “It’s about Chris’s wedding where he and I both disappeared. It’s a very emotionally-charged occasion. To see him settle down with his wife. It was just lovely.”

The two had long promised new material after getting together to play as Squeeze in 2007. “We’ve been back together since then, but the always difficult thing was going to be moving forward,” Tilbrook says. “Up until about four years ago, we were the best Squeeze tribute band playing the songs faithfully.”

He says Brian Wilson does that and does it well. So it wasn’t horrible. “”If you pay attention to detail and also remember it’s got to be fun. It’s not just the thing you do to subsidize your life. It’s got to be with a passion,” he adds. “Otherwise, it doesn’t work.”

But the new record means a future, not just a past for Squeeze. They’ve already recorded one song for a new album and will get together to write a new record next year. “We’re proud of our history,” he says. “We don’t ignore it. But the thing that propels us forward is there’s a current thing (album) that stands up to the rest.”

The set list features a healthy dose of the classics with a few from the new disc thrown in. So far, one of the group’s great almost-lost songs, “Annie Get Your Gun,” has not appeared. It was a casualty of their first breakup. The two had written it and “Action Speaks Faster,” offering the group to choose one. Squeeze chose “Annie,” while “Action” ended up on the Tilbook and Difford duo disc.

When they got to the studio to record “Annie,” the engineer had set up the backing tracks. “I’m very proud of that record,” Tilbrook says. “It was made on a Fairlight (an early computer music synthesizer) and we just sang on top of it (the track),” he says. “So it was a bit like being on The Monkees. Of course, the way it was going, the writing was on the wall.”

They broke up before the Squeeze album with the song was released, then got back together a few years later, lasted for a handful more albums, and then split again in 1999.

Difford and Tilbrook are the only original members in the band, but then Squeeze has always been a revolving-door band. “We’re in such a good place,” he says. “The band is incredible. I think the album reflects that.”

Tilbrook also thinks he brings different things to the band and the writing room. He wrote with Ron Sexsmith, Aimee Mann and others. The split freed him to do more touring solo and with The Fluffers, who are now essentially the rest of Squeeze. “It was really back to basics,” he says. “We were sleeping on people’s couches. I was paying my dues all over again. That’s what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be an accountable musician.”

Now, he’s a musician with accountants. The new album is a hit in the UK. “So to be where we are now — this record has done better than any other Squeeze record — is quite amazing. People are going crazy for us like we’re a new band. It’s a strange and humbling experience, but a really beautiful one.”

Squeeze with The English Beat Monday, Oct. 10 at The NorVa.

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Firefall Endures As Songs Find New Fans

firefall2Jock Bartley is the one member of Firefall who has been with the band through its 40-year run opening with a debut album that produced enduring radio hits like “You Are the Woman,” “Livin’ Ain’t Livin’ ” and “Cinderella.”

Over those years, he’s seen band members pass away, leave and return. Original bandmates David Muse and Mark Andes have been back in the group over the last four years, but it’s a relative newcomer, Newport News native Gary Jones who may make the biggest difference.

Jones and Bartley go back a couple of decades in Nashville, but Jones didn’t join Firefall as its lead singer until a couple of years ago. Original vocalists and songwriters, Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett, aren’t up to touring, Bartley says.
Jones, though, brings the band back to the days of those early hits, making Firefall another long-standing band that’s found a new lead singer who lets fans close their eyes and imagine.

“To have a guy who sounds like Rick in the band is really great because we’re sounding like our records except it’s 40 years later,” Bartley says on a call from Colorado, his longtime home. “There’s still an incredible amount of energy. It’s really cool to still be doing this. We all know how lucky we are.”

So the band has found its groove again? “We’ve been in the groove, but the groove is definitely more pronounced,” he answers.

Firefall was a comet in the universe of Southern California soft rock, releasing a debut that dominated the airwaves then slipping away into the night sky.

Bartley looks back at how important timing was for him and the band. “So many bands never get a chance to go out on the diving board and jump in the big pool and see if you can swim,” he says.

Firefall, which appears at The Neptune Festival on Oct. 2, had a winning few laps in the deep end with the debut album’s hit and later winners like “Just Remember I Love You,” “Mexico,” “Strange Way” and “Goodbye, I Love You.”
Why has the band endured?

“That’s easy. Looking back over 40 years, it’s all attributable to the songs. There are hundreds of thousands of great bands out there who just don’t have the songs. And sometimes they have the songs, but don’t get the right break. All the other things have to lead to that point,” he says. “But it really all starts with the songs.”

Those songs came from Burnett and Roberts. Roberts, a former member of The Flying Burrito Brothers, had worked with Bartley in Boulder and was contemplating a third solo album when the band formed. Burnett was driving a cab in Washington, D.C.

“Rick would write commercial “You Are the Woman” type of things,” Bartley says. “He really knew about the game and getting radio airplay. His stuff was melodic and wonderful, but it was a bit formulaic and destined to get airplay.”

“Larry Burnett wrote songs that purged from his gut,” he adds. “Their songwriting styles were so different. One of the reasons we made great records was the difference between the two songwriters and their songs. It was magical.”
Bartley’s journey into the group involves a bit of magic as well. He attended the University of Colorado and settled in Boulder. By the early 1970s, many of the big names of the SoCal rock scene had moved into town. Caribou Ranch Recording Studio was there, the recording home to Chicago, Carole King, Rick Derringer, and Elton John (who named an album after it), among others.

Stephen Still, Chris Hillman, Richie Furay, Dan Fogelberg, and Willie Nelson spent time in town. When Firefall was forming, it wasn’t uncommon for Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, or Fogelberg to sit in at a live show.

Bartley got his break a few years earlier when Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. The first stop of their 1973 tour with The Fallen Angels was Boulder, where they were booked for three nights. The band was woefully unprepared on the first night. Parsons promised changes. On the third night, Bartley sat in with them. Parsons hired him on the spot.

“The next day I was on the bus, learning the songs and trying to play the James Burton guitar parts,” he says. Burton, Elvis Presley’s guitarist, had been hired to play on Parsons’s album, but the ill-fated songwriter couldn’t afford him for the tour.
Their next stop was another three-night stand in Houston, where Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young joined the band on stage. “Oh my god,” Bartley says. “I was not able to pay rent three days ago and now I’m on stage with Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young. The finish to that story is a lot of things happened that are fated to happen.”

firefall3Parsons completed the tour and his next studio album before dying in September 1973. Bartley returned to Boulder after meeting Rick Roberts during a Fallen Angels show at Max’s Kansas City in New York. They played for a bit in Chris Hillman’s band.

In 1975, they got together there with bassist Mark Andes, who had been in Spirit, and invited Burnett to join them. For the drums, they auditioned a bunch of locals, but finally settled on Roberts’ old Burrito Brothers compadre, Michael Clarke, who had been in The Byrds.

Roberts took the name from Yosemite Firefall, a summer tradition of dumping flaming embers off Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.

Signed to a deal with Atlantic Records, they recorded the debut in a month at Miami’s Criteria Studios (Caribou was too expensive at the time). Stephen Still was working on a record there. So were The Bee Gees.

Bartley recalls playing his big solo on “Mexico” in the studio, telling the producer after that he wanted to go back and clean up a few things. No need. Just come into the control room. He walked in and there was Eric Clapton, enjoying the session. “Had I known before I was playing for him, I couldn’t have even held a pick,” he says.

Their debut, “Firefall,” became the label’s quickest release to one million in sales, effectively giving Bartley and the band a lifetime career. “It’s a privilege to still do this,” he says. “Music becomes such a big part of people’s lives. It’s just so great to have meant a lot through our music to millions of people throughout the world.”

Clarke died of liver failure after his bouts with alcohol in 1993. Andes left then returned. Burnett and Roberts went on to solo careers and no longer tour. Jones joined fulltime in 2014. He grew up in Seaford. His first concert was The Statler Brothers and Mel Tillis opening for Johnny Cash. He soon picked up the guitar and eventually played in local bands. He first crossed paths with Firefall watching them play a 1977 show at William & Mary Hall. By 1996, he’d moved to Nashville where he met Bartley. He sat in once with the band in 1999, but didn’t become a member until 2014.

Now, he’s the Firefall frontman for a new generation.

Bartley says he’s always surprised signing autographs after shows when fans in their 20s and 30s come up for autographs.
“The music is still vibrant,” he says. “We still enjoy playing it.”

 

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Shakey Graves Has Faith in Spooky BS

 

Shakey GravesAlejandro Rose-Garcia
3/13/14
Billy Reid showcase at Weather Up

Shakey Graves — Alejandro Rose-Garcia

Shakey Graves says he’d taken psychedelics plenty before so he’s not sure why that one time in Los Angeles in 2010 was different. But that mushroom trip launched him into another songwriting plane.

The child actor — “Spy Kids,” “Friday Night Lights” — who grew up in Austin as Alejandro Rose-Garcia says up until then, he thought writing songs involved picking up a guitar, thinking a lot about lyrics, and then pulling together a few chords to churn out one of those “I love the girl, but she does not love me” songs.

“There wasn’t a lot of room for interpretation,” he says. “It felt very human and very teenage.”
But after he went on a three-day rant in LA that ended with police admitting him for observation at a mental hospital, everything changed. “It’s a long story, but some crazy shit happened. It kind of opened the door that in some ways I guess has never really shut,” he says one afternoon as he and the band are loading their bus for a tour that brings them to The NorVa on July 27.

“It was basically seeing through the veil,” he adds, on a roll now. “It’s one of those things that when it happened the message to me was no one is going to believe you anyway. No one is going to believe you’ve seen something, now you know there’s mysteries in the universe. congratulations, you get a medal and now you get to learn how to fly and shoot laser beams out of your eyes.”

“It gave me a sort of faith, I suppose, a faith in spooky bullshit,” he adds. “I’m not sure how else to describe it.”

“Why does this all matter in the first place? Is our whole life being afraid of being a dead person? Is that what we’re all doing? Constantly not dying? Is that it? No. There’s something more beautiful that all of this. There’s this miraculous mystery that at my best I try to speak about eloquently.”

He became Shakey Graves not long after that. It was partly a grin. But it’s also dark in a way. “Grim, but also playful,” he says.

He moved back in with his mother in Austin and started playing everywhere he could around town. He says he took lessons early so he wouldn’t hurt himself playing guitar, but he’s largely self-taught. He’ll go up to someone else and say listen to this bizarre thing I found. That’s a diminished chord, is the snarky reply. His songs are filled with odd time changes and chord progressions.

“The way I play is just an extension of my body,” he adds. “I learned how to fingerpick from “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. If you want to learn how to fingerpick get that down and you’re good. “

He says keeping his mind out of it worked best. “In a lot of ways, my body knows what I’m doing much better than I do,” Rose-Garcia explains. “If I keep myself out of it, I usually play better.”

That takes him back to the Los Angeles bender. “There’s a good analogy to the experience we were talking about,” he explains. “I had a Peter Pan moment. I lost my shadow for a long time. I finally stitched it back onto my body. It’s me and the intuitive side of me now. They have communication. That’s a pleasant thing in a lot of performance. Dance. Singing. Most physical arts. You let the spirit flow. “

“Music as an experience can be very cheap and recreational, nothing wrong with that,” Rose-Garcia adds. “But it can also be an intensely profound experience. I try and tow that line. To keep it like a really profound joke.”

His time in Austin was a sort of apprenticeship. He wrote hundreds of songs. He learned how to play for three hours, blasting through songs and figuring out what stuck with listeners. He went through a series of versions of his one-man band, eventually settling on guitar, vocals and keeping rhythm on a foot pedal and a suitcase.

He thought he had something. Then he went to an open mic in New York and got his ass kicked. “It really put me in my place,” he says.

Over time, he created a live show that remains his signature. Eventually, he added Chris Boosahda, his drummer and producer. He became huge on the festival circuit.

His 2011 debut, “Roll the Bones,” was a one-man affair. With “And the War Came” in 2014, he expanded with a full band. For that disc, he worked with Esme Patterson, who had just left the Colorado band, Paper Bird. They created arguably his biggest hit, “Dearly Departed.”

“I was branching into something bigger,” he says. “There’s a lot of human emotion and personal stuff that goes down with sharing the songwriting process. It was way more challenging than I assume. Shit’s weird. You have a life. I have a life. It was unfair to drag you around to play in my show,” he says, talking partly to himself and Patterson, it seems. “There was a lot of reality that I discovered. How delicate a songwriting collaboration can really be.”

For this tour, he’s playing with a band of four, including his old LA buddy, Patrick O’Connor, on guitar. They would play awful music and say, man, one day we’ll be in a band back in the day. Now, they are. “We’ve had more than one moment sticking our heads out of the tour bus at 5 in the morning screaming, ‘I can’t believe it,” Rose-Garcia says.

Adding a bass player completed the group. “The band has never sounded better. We really started being a band this year,” he adds. “We’ve all kind of fallen into the pocket finally.”

He says the live show is inspired by The Talking Heads movie, “Stop Making Sense.” “It’s really kind of genius, starting stripped-down and by the end it’s an entire production,” he notes. So at times during the night it’s a one-man band, it’s a duo, a power trio, and a four-person electric or acoustic group. They don’t always start slow, though. “The set list is malleable. Every night is an ordeal. Some nights we’re all hungry so we kick it off with all four,” he says. “Some nights I will go out and play.”

The plan is to go on hiatus next year and perhaps collaborate on a new album. It’s another writing challenge. “It’s still one of those things. I’m not sure how people write together,” he says. “I don’t know the routine. I don’t know how other bands do that. This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to writing as a group. I guess the contact is me. It’s my project. Lyrically and musically I have the final veto. But my goal is to stay out of my fellow musicians’ ways, start with what they hear.”

That sounds about right. Graves may be a singular player, a guy who doesn’t just jump over the boundaries, but never sees them. So collaborating with a band seems like it will be no different than collaborating with psychedelic mushrooms or Boosahda and Patterson.

“We have a ton of unfinished material with great potential,” he adds. “We play these licks over and over again. The baby wants to be born.”

Debut Album: Overman’s Odyssey Calls Him Home

willovermanGrowing up in Virginia Beach, Will Overman picked up the guitar at an early age thanks to his dad. When his father turned 40, they decided to learn an instrument together.

“A big part of our relationship has been music,” he says. “It’s just always been festering throughout my life and has grown to be something I hold very dear.”
Those lessons started Overman on a winding journey both through the geography of the East and the craft of songwriting that led this month to the release of The Will Overman Band’s self-titled debut album.

“I think that once I tasted it and started performing and being able to express myself, I just couldn’t stop,” Overman says from Charlottesville, where he’s a rising senior majoring in sociology (and playing in a traveling band). “I played sports when I was younger. I had other endeavors. I’m a big backpacker. But as I thought about other life paths, nothing ever seemed as fulfilling and satisfying.”

He writes because he has to write, he adds, quoting a Springsteen line about even if he was an electrician or a plumber, he’d still come home to write every night.

Overman’s physical journey on the way to building the band and completing the album began with writing songs at home in Virginia Beach.

“Son,” the first single, began when he was 16. It appeared on his solo EP, but was rerecorded for the album and included at the insistence of the band. Now, it sounds like Springsteen-gone-country on “Tunnel of Love.” Overman’s world-weary vocals are framed by a sighing pedal steel.

“That was the kind of song through high school when we all drank too much, we would pull out the guitar and play it,” he adds. “It was definitive of that era of my life.”

After high school, Overman hiked the Appalachian Trail, then headed off to the University of Vermont. He lasted one semester. He returned to Virginia, went to community college in Charlottesville, and then enrolled at UVA. “I definitely took the scenic route through college,” he cracks.

In Charlottesville, Overman knew he wanted to start a band. So he did what every Internet savvy musician does: he posted an ad on Craigslist.

Guitarist Daniel McCarthy, who is classically trained, joined him first. They played as a duo for a while before the wild card, drummer Chis Helms, was added to the deck. Helms, who is welder a few decades older than Overman, knew the friend of a friend from Virginia Beach. He came, he played, he stayed. A backup singer played a few gigs but couldn’t commit to the group. Then Brittney Wagner came to see them play and ended up joining to sing. That was it. She signed on.

Bass player J Wilkerson didn’t arrive until the winter of 2014. The band went a long time playing without one. In the interim, Overman made it through two rounds of The Voice auditions in Nashville in 2013. He was interviewed by producers, but was not chosen to be on the show.

“I learned that I really wanted to make music and build what it stood for organically,” he says. “That almost seems antiquated in the current music climate. But I really think there is a lot of value in a band scraping their way through, earning their fans one at a time. The music I want to write and I want to create is made for that process. “

The band created a Kickstarter campaign with a $10,000 goal. They surpassed that quickly, reaching $12,000 to record and release the album on CD and download. “We luckily have a pretty devout following for how long we’ve been around,” Overman says.

He says The Beatles made him a music fan, but he’s loved The Avett Brothers since childhood. “My number one influence,” he adds. “They still are. Loved their raw energy. Seeing them live made me love that band. Their live influence is more so than the writing. I try to take that raw live performance and apply it to our shows.”

He ticks off a list of top shelf songwriters as influences. Ryan Adams, Guy Clark, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Josh Ritter and The Woods Brothers.

He likes to stay up late, writing when the birds stop singing and everyone is asleep. “I can think and be critical, write my better songs,” Overman says.

The songs for the album were road tested, ridden long and hard on trips down to Nashville and up to New York and Philadelphia as well as bars and festivals that should not have been called festivals, he jokes. “Anything to get our name out there,” he adds. Overman scheduled his classes Monday through Thursday so the band could hit the road for long weekends. He also worked a part-time job, but confesses he’s since been fired for missing work.

The sound fits his influences with the foot-stomping folk-rock energy of the Avetts on a cut like “All I Say,” but the introspection and craft of a Guy Clark on a cut like “The Gravedigger.” It’s an effort that from beginning to end makes you want to hit replay as soon as the final notes of the last cut, “Pilot Mountain,” fade. The disc is not just a promising band debut; it’s a catchy, accomplished album.

They recorded at Monkeyclaus in Roseland beginning in February and adding the final touches in May. Throughout, there’s a Virginia vein in songs like “Assateague Island,” “Ode to Virginia” and “Pilot Mountain.”

“Pilot Mountain” was born on a road trip as the band drove back through North Carolina and saw it in the distance. They hopped off the Interstate and onto backroads, a decision that featured watching a mama bear and her cubs and a jump into the New River.

“It was revitalizing. It got us ready for our next gig, which just happened to be in an empty room with just bartenders,” he says. “That song means a lot to every person in the band.”