Interviews

Diary Of An Eternal Dreamer - In Conversation With Michael Marquart ( A Bad Think)

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Sometimes, humans can only take life one step per time, especially those that had to go through some difficult, personal downfalls. They all have a different way to express their anxieties, feelings or emotions and overcome them in their own way, either through physical expressions or, in the case of musicians, through their own artistic skills.

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Michael Marquart, aka A Bad Think, knows one thing or two about going through difficult, emotional journeys in one's personal life. Through the years, his records have constantly shown Marquart's ability not just as a great composer of songs but also as an acute observer of everyday's life and how much that does impact relationships among people.

His brand new album, The Tragic End Of A Dreamer, is the artistic parabola of an ill-fated dreamer that goes through a series of highs and lows in his life's journey, superbly narrated by Marquart and his impeccable song-writing style.

Together with writing and producing the whole album, as Marquart has always done for every A Bad Think release, this time around the artist from FT. Atkinson, Wisconsin, has played also most of the instrumental and the vocal parts on The Tragic End Of A Dreamer.

When Bluebird Reviews has finally the honour to talk with the ex-A Flock Of Seagulls drummer about the release of A Bad Think's new album, Marquart sounds in great humour and explains briefly the length of time it took to write and record The Tragic End Of A Dreamer. "It took about two years of writing. The songs came to me gradually and the whole process, as I said, took almost a couple of years between writing, recording, mastering, etc. and I am very happy and proud about the finished result."

Undoubtedly, A Bad Think's new record sounds even more personal than any other previous release, digging deep into what it might have been, presumably, a difficult moment of Marquart's life. "Yes, it certainly was. As you know, all my albums are very personal and self-reflective. As many things happening in most people's lives, I guess, this album mirrors things happening in my life going along in a way, expecting to end as well in a certain way. Then, when you realise that things didn't actually go in the way you originally planned, rather than being upset, you start thinking "Well, perhaps that was the way I unconsciously thought that things were going to end like", almost in a sort of awakening way. All in all, rather than being a Tragic End, as my album title would suggest, this record sees a rather happy ending for me, which is good news!".

Marquart has always been a very prolific songwriter and A Bad Think's new record is an ulterior proof of it. The Tragic End Of A Dreamer sees an artist paying a meticulous attention on each note of every song, almost to accentuate the message that Marquart is carrying already through the lyrics. Given the time spent not just on A Bad Think's new album but on every album, Bluebird Reviews is wondering which of the two aspects, between songwriting and recording/producing is more time consuming for Marquart when it comes the time to make a new record. "Well, you hit it right on the head. I spent so much time on every note, even thinking about the spaces in-between all the notes or how certain lyrics need to go with certain chords. I think about all aspects, while making a record, including the most minute. It's always a very emotional and draining process for me, working on an album. There isn't a one particular part in the making of a record that is more time consuming than the other. It's all connected, the music, the lyrics, the atmosphere that I create, the feeling, the emotions that I try to deliver to the listeners. It's a kind of multifaceted experience for me."

The Tragic End is an album that carries many different layers of sound, sometimes verging into Ambient, some others into Southern Rock, Folk, Alt-Rock, even little hints of New Age, showing clear signs of a versatility that Marquart must have been carrying within since the early stages of his career. "Yes, music has always been kind of all over the map since I was a teenager. I have been, in the past, in all sorts of bands, Heavy Metal, Punk, Folk, you name it. As I write my songs, I always let them go freely without trying to steer them in a certain direction. I don't try to railroad them down in any particular genre, I just let them go wherever they want to go. Rather than trying to control where they are going, I just try to get myself out of their ways (laughs)!"

 

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A Bad Think's new album is, in many ways, the ultimate modern Alt-Rock symphony. Marquart's songwriting on The Tragic End Of A Dreamer is exquisite, especially in the central section of the album, with that superb trio of songs that are The Animal, Loyal Men and For What It's Worth. A wonderful album which surely, on some stages must have had some particular tunes a bit more trickier to write and record than others. "The trickiest one would either have to be No Way Out or Loyal Men. For Loyal Men, I had to fight with that one for a while. The reason is that there was something that kept bothering me about that song, something I thought it was not quite right about it. It took me a while to figure out how to put together the pieces of that puzzle but in the end, I managed to do that. No Way Out, well, that particular song has got 115 tracks on it, which are all used on that tune and it was a bit of a challenge to keep it like that, as you can imagine. They were certainly the two tracks that needed a lot of extra work to be done but I am completely satisfied with the outcome."

Modern society can kill one's dreams but can never kill the dreamer. For an artist like Marquart and considering his personal vision of what music is all about and stands for, we are intrigued to find out how difficult it is, in nowaday's music business, to be able to remain true to himself as an artist without compromising any aspects of his art. "That is such a good question, because it is really difficult these days for artists to be able to do what they really want to do. If you happen to get lucky enough to land on a record deal, they try to make you sound and look in a way that it's not really you and, as a consequence, it really gets hard to stay true to yourself as an artist. I am very privileged and fortunate that Windmark Records lets me do whatever I wanna do and they create the leeway for me to be able to generate my music and my records. But it is really tough for any musician, experienced or up-and-coming ones, especially for the latter."

Once upon a time, music was considered a very therapeutic art form and it had a massive impact on people's lives. Bluebird Reviews was just wondering, in Marquart's view, how much can, in these days and age, the power of music be still therapeutic for people as much as it is for who creates it. "I still believe that music is very therapeutic. Back in the days, music was so powerful that you could hear a song, a pure piece of music and that would actually change your life and you could become a better person, simply by hearing that tune. I still believe that music has still got that power, even now. I feel that perhaps younger people get very distracted by things like Social Medias like Facebook, Twitter etc. and music becomes simply background noise for them. Perhaps I am a dreamer, but I still believe that there is people out there that takes time to listen to music and let the music take them to places of their souls that they did not even know they existed. That is the reason why I keep doing what I do, when it comes to make music, because I want to try and keep that belief alive."

Some of the lyrics in A Bad Think's new album quote "Sometimes the movie starts without a sound, and sometimes the movie ends too soon". Should Michael Marquart be able to look back to the beginning of his career and where he is right now, as an artist and as a human being, how would he describe the movie of his life so far? "You know, the older I get, the wiser I get and the happier I am. It's almost like a process in reverse, for me. When you are younger, everything looks great to you, you are happy and feel invincible. When I think about all the music that I played with different bands, in the past, I see that as a part of a whole process to get me through to realize that you really need to be true to your music, always. At the end of the day, what I play is who I really am and what I have to say and it's the best that I can do, as a musician, in that particular day. I wish I had this point of view and learn that lesson when I was younger, rather than playing the stuff that was popular at the time. But the good news is that, hey, I am still alive, I still keep going and I am still enjoying the ride. It's getting better and better as the years go by and I feel really good about where the movie of my life is taking me to."

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

 

 

 

 

The Tragic End Of A Dreamer is out now and it is available via Windmark Records

Trying To Be Me - In Conversation With Eric Johnson

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Sometimes music artists spend relentless period of times trying to nail the right sound effects, to write the right lyrics, find the right producer or to cut the right vocals in the hope to make their albums a true masterpiece.

Rather fortunately, though, there are still musicians out there able to play a more stripped-down music style, still achieving brilliantly their ultimate goal, which is to bring their music to the masses.

Eric Johnson, the Texan-born veteran guitarist and one of the most talented and versatile blues/rock artists worldwide, has totally and perfectly embraced this concept, by releasing, towards the end of 2016, the very first acoustic album of his career, simply called EJ.

The album is a total revelation for old and new fans of Johnson's music. An eclectic collection of superbly balanced songs, plus some instrumentals and a bunch of covers, the whole executed in such a phenomenal style, a true pinnacle in Eric Johnson's career.

When Bluebird Reviews has the opportunity and the privilege to discuss with the legendary Texan guitarist and singer/songwriter his brand new album, Johnson is affable as always and sounds in a really good humour.

 

BBR - Hi Eric, thank you so much for talking to us at Bluebird Reviews. EJ, your brand new album, is your first ever acoustic one after three decades in making music. Which criteria did you follow in choosing the songs that ended up being on EJ?

EJ - I just went in the studio and recorded a bunch of songs that I had in mind to record for a while plus a couple of new ones that I wrote and included in the record. I believe I managed to capture, on EJ, the best performances of songs that I played live that I had a good take of. Few of the songs I had in mind, they didn't quite make it, compositionally, so I kind of threw them back in the pond but the ones that I thought were good compositions, I just kind of over-recorded them and looked for takes on which I did a good performance on. I actually have a bunch of more acoustic tracks that I am considering to put on a possible EJ Vol. 2 but I just need to get good enough performances of those songs, because I just want to get the best takes possible on the next album, as I always try to achieve on all my records.

BBR - EJ sounds a bit like a therapeutic album for you to record and something you truly enjoy doing, something that allows you to let your artistry completely break free. What triggered this sudden desire to explore the beauty of playing and recording music in a more stripped-down form?

EJ - Well, playing acoustic it's something that I have always done in my private life which, for various reasons I have never included that much in my electric albums. I guess that, generally, my style of playing nods more towards electric kind of stuff but on this album, I thought that the fans wanted to hear a more stripped-down version of my music. I think that in the last couple of years I have arrived to the conclusion that I want to include more stuff, especially acoustic, on my records, which is something I totally enjoy. All in all, through an album like EJ, I just wanted to be a bit more balanced, musically, with everything I like.

BBR - Your new album features some of the most inspired instrumental tunes I have heard for quite some time, from your own version of that timeless classic that it's Mrs. Robinson to some authentic jewels like Serinidad, Once Upon A Time In Texas and Song For Irene. Have such tracks been composed long ago or are they the spontaneous outcome of your improvisational skills, at the time you recorded EJ?

EJ - Actually, Song For Irene is a song that I wrote in the studio, while I was making the record and I think that it was the last thing I did on the record because it just came to me just like that. For Mrs. Robinson, well, I was looking to find the right way to start the record with and I though that making an instrumental up-tempo version of that classic was the best way to launch off the album. They just came in different times, all the songs. There are probably two or three songs on the album that I actually recorded several years ago, the rest of the album was written and recorded in the last six, seven months prior to the end of the recording process.

 

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BBR - We all know, at Bluebird Reviews, your great love and respect for a guitar giant like Les Paul, to which you paid an artistic homage on The World Is Waiting For Sunrise. It was, though, slightly unexpected to see two Simon & Garfunkel's songs featured on EJ. How much did their music contribute to your artistic growth?

EJ - Well, they are kind of one of the soundtracks of my childhood. I liked to listen and I still do to a lot of folk music. It is something that, despite the fact that I did not include in any of my previous records, it's part of my musical DNA. I grew up listening to these guys, as I did listen to a lot of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and stuff like that, so, in answer to your question, it's something that has always been in the back of my mind because it has been part of my musical formation. The Simon & Garfunkel songs included on EJ are such great songs and I just wanted to work on them with different arrangements, approaching them in a different way. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song, regardless of what flavour you apply to it and how you do it.

BBR - Even when you don't touch your guitar, you are still able to gift memorable music moments to your fans, like that goose-pumping tune that is Water Under The Bridge, executed with just piano and voice. What is the story behind the wonderful lyrics of that song, Eric?

EJ - I think it's a song about not holding everybody or keep tabs on everything. I think it's pointless to do that, it's important to forgive people on stuff of the past and to focus on moving on in your life. Regardless whether we have got a reason to hold on on stuff or not, if you keep going on about this type of things in your personal life, it kind of becomes poisoness to yourself in the end. It's much better and healthier to let it go and move on.

BBR - How many different guitars have you been using on EJ?

EJ - I mostly used a 1981's Martin D45 and I also used a Ramirez Classical and a Silvertone Acoustic on Song For Irene.

BBR - Texas is America's holy land for guitarists, either born and bread there like you or people like Billy Gibbons or adopted one like Lance Lopez, Omar Dykes or Mike Zito, just to mention few. Have any of you considered, one day, to join forces and take on Tour the cream of Texas guitar players?

EJ - Oh, boy, that would be real fun! We should call the project T3, rather than G3, wouldn't that be just fantastic!

BBR - Eric, in November 2016 you finished your Solo Acoustic Tour around the Statest with a fabulous hometown concert at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. Is there any plan, so far, to tour the EJ album also in Europe and the rest of the world?

EJ - We are currently discussing the possibility to extend the Tour even out of the States but it's all about to manage and fit it with my current schedule but I would be really up for it. I'd love to go back in places like Europe, for example, I have such fond memories of that part of the world and the fantastic crowds over there.

BBR - George Gershwin once stated that "True Music must repeat the thoughts and inspirations of the people and the time". What thoughts and inspirations does the EJ album carries within to describe where, right now, Eric Johnson and his music are?

EJ - I guess that what I am trying to do right now is to be more sincere, more honest, genuine and spontaneous. Most of all, trying to make people feel more inspired and lifted through my music. I don't know if I am succeeding in making people feeling that way, but that, believe me, is my ultimate aspiration.

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

 

 

 

Thunder Roads - In Conversation With Colleen Rennison (No Sinner)

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                                                                                                         (Photo by Celina Dasneves)

 

The story of a musical turnaround. That is, perhaps the best way to describe what happened in the last 6-7 years of life of the Canadian collective No Sinner, from being on the casp of calling it a day to make a massive come back with a brand, ballsy and beautiful new album, the 2016's Old Habits Die Hard.

Colleen Rennison, No Sinner's band leader, has been through a very long journey with the band so far in her career, a true Thunder Road, paraphrasing a famous song. Despite all she has been through though, since their 2014's well received debut album Boo Hoo Hoo to the new one, an album that sees the sound of the band turning more into rock territories, Rennison looks happy and very satisfied when talking to Bluebird Reviews at The Borderline in London, UK, about their new album. "Boo Hoo Hoo did actually come out in 2011 but just released by the label in 2014. I would say that Old Habits Die Hard reflects more our true sound and who we are, as a band and as we have always been sounding live on stage. Boo Hoo Hoo was written with an acoustic guitar, with one friend on a kitchen floor while Old Habits is more on what No Sinner is all about and it was a great shame that the album was not released earlier. I feel, in some ways, that Boo Hoo Hoo misrepresented who we are as a collective because the songs on the new album have been ready and played many times before on stage since 2011. A lot happened since Eric (Campbell, the band ex-guitarist) and I were together in the band. There were good times and less good times and sometimes it felt like everything was falling apart but, in the end, it's great still to be here. This European Tour that we are just due to complete has been a splendid experience for myself and the band. To get to play overseas, where you may think that not many know our music and then to be overwhelmed by so many people attending our shows, buying our records... Man, that is such a gift. It shows that people really care about us and our music, which is great".

A sound that has certainly changed a lot, since the departure of Eric Campbell, with a new line-up that make the No Sinner's sound more primitive and powerful. "I would say it's definitely raw, heavier and more real than what it used to be on our first album. I think it's a matter of connecting between musicians, rather than how good you may be as a musician. When Boo Hoo Hoo came out, after we agreed on the album's release, although the songs were fairly old for us, the band fell apart and we felt that we didn't give a damn about No Sinner anymore. There was a lot of tension between all of us at the time but I couldn't let go the whole No Sinner project because the songs that ended up on Old Habits were already there. With the new band, it felt refreshing to me to play those songs and to feel different and exciting vibes and a new found enthusiasm with the new guys in the band because we really connect with one another. We have such a ball all the time we are together and play, I just love these boys. I think you can sense how well we do get on by watching and hearing us playing live on stage. You get a real sense of a band giving it all every time, a true cameraderie going on stage. I cannot wait to start writing new material with the boys because there is finally the feeling that No Sinner is a strong musical entity and that was something I have missed for a long time".

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The Canadian artist, prior to the release of Old Habits Die Hard,  has been working with producer Ben Kaplan, somebody that has worked a lot with bands in the past with robust rock imprints and our website is wondering whether his work as a producer has shaped the songs of the album in a different way, in comparison to how they were originally created. "Not at all. Ben Kaplan had very little to do with the album overall. We had the opportunity to select a couple of producers for the album but in the end, we went for Ben because he was there and available at the time that our record label gave us the financial "go ahead" to complete the recording. I feel kind of bad that the album did not reflect exactly Ben's vision about a rock album but all that I wanted was to get it finished. At that stage, I did not even have a band, there was just myself and Ben in the studio and, not having any producing experience, it was a great relief for me to have somebody like Ben being there and helping to finish the album. Completing and releasing Old Habits almost killed me and perhaps, the overall sound of the album it's not exactly the one I intended in the first place, but I am glad it's done and it is out there. I couldn't allow myself to walk away from a body of work that carried through my twenties without finishing what I started back then. No way".

The No Sinner's band leader is one of the most versatile, talented singer/songwriters and performers around. Through the new album, one may appreciate even more the beauty and the power of her beautiful voice, something that she might have discovered to have from the early stages of her career. "I didn't think that my voice was that fabulous in the beginning but I started singing when I could walk and talk, you know, it was just something I was doing naturally in my everyday's life. I don't think it was a proper discovery but, I can surely tell you that I knew I had a good voice before anybody else knew it! (wink)".

Old Habits Die Hard introduces, among the many qualities of the record, also a witty side to Rennison's songwriting style through the closing track of the album, Mandy Lyn. The song is robust, thunderous and wild and sums up perfectly the philosophy of No Sinner as a band but does really Mandy Lyn exist or is she just a fictitional character? "We wrote that song even before Boo Hoo Hoo came out. The story behind it is true and it was referring to when myself and Eric went on a crazy road trip with this photographer, Mandy Lyn, actually a very good photographer. She is a F&%$ing bitch but she really is a great photographer! She was starting flipping out while we were in a hotel in Reno, she was losing it and starting to have an episode. Eric and I, at that point, we did not really know what to do so we started playing this song that we made up on the spot, a bit like an improvised nursery rhyme. After that episode, our relationship changed and she ended up doing some really crazy things in her life. We added to that song this Zeppelin's typical 70's sound and turned this made-up nursery rhyme into a song and added in the lyrics all the bullshit that the relationship brought between me and her after that episode. As I said, Mandy is a very talented photographer, a firecracker and a very serious person but she can be a bit of hard maintenance, when we were hanging out together. To cut it short, the song is about somebody that was a friend of mine in the past and no longer is".

One of the virtues of Old Habits Die Hard is the ability to carry, throughout the album, the sound of different decades of rock and roll. "You know, due to the fact that this is an album that has been released through a long period of time since its creation, I guess that, as many musicians do, you just go through different phases and stages. I remember that there was a period where Eric and I listened to a lot of Prince's records, or periods in which we were either hooked on David Bowie's stuff, or Allman Brothers or Joe Cocker, it varied. You can feel that kind of musical schizofrenia throughout the album and, in the songs of Old Habits, I can perfectly see the different influences we went through to during the last 6-7 years. When I listen to the record now, it's like I am almost hearing many different people and different sides of myself and Eric, our musical metamorphosis. You don't realise how much you change, as a person, the kind of evolution you go through especially in a crucial time of everyone's life, like the twenties are and this record is the perfect demonstration of the musical journey we went through".

Whilst Rennison was in the process of having Old Habits Die Hard released by her record label, she was offered the opportunity to record a solo album, See The Sky About To Rain, a delicate and eclectic collection of Canadian folk and country music covers, a challenge Rennison truly enjoyed a lot. "Well, it was a cool challenge for me because I had to dive into the Canadian songbook. When you have people like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young or The Band, for example, with such rich repertoires, that was never going to be an easy task to deliver. It was a true discovery, for me, to find out songs that I have never heard before, like Leonard Cohen's Why Don't You Try. I must confess that we tried to cover Chelsea Hotel but it didn't really feel right because we wanted something a little more obscure that would have represented the work and the nature of this great artist. Either than that, some of the songs on See The Sky About To Rain are more related to my childhood, something that I would have always dreamt, since I was a child, to be able to sing one day and put on a record. Blue Wing (by Tom Russell), is such a personal and powerful song for me because it reminds me of the only place where I have ever heard of that tune, which was the back seat of my dad's car. I have absolutely loved making this record. Funnily enough, this album was supposed to be released even before Boo Hoo Hoo but because my record label had to delay the release of our debut album, as a consequence, also See The Sky's release was postponed".

No Sinner are from Vancouver and the sound coming from one of the biggest cities in Canada has certainly gone through a lot of changes and evolutions through the years, something that Rennison has lived on her own skin too. "Definitely, the city has moved on a lot. As for many other parts of the world, Vancouver too has certainly felt the positive impact of social networks like Facebook, for example, which has allowed many artists to be able to make their music available to millions and millions of people. That includes No Sinner too. As a band, through those social platforms, we had the opportunity to connect with people and for them to find out about us and our music. It has been a true game changing for us as No Sinner, for all Vancouver's artists and for thousand of musicians around the globe. We have now this amazing social DIY tool that allow us musicians to expose our music and spread it directly to the masses. This is certainly, in itself, a massive step ahead not just for the future of music but also for the freedom of creativity of many artists. Sometimes, through this new media platforms, you don't even need to be very good as a musician to be popular and to make your own niche in the music business, as long as you are cool and interesting for the people out there. You can pretty much create your own profile as a musician because the Worldwide Web allow you to do so, avoiding to go through sometimes painful processes within the music business. In that way, you can maintain your integrity as an artist because you won't have anyone breathing on your neck and just shows your artistry in full without limitations. Steps forward for music independence like these are always very welcome".

It's always refreshing and exciting to meet Colleen Rennison. The canadian artist carries into the songs she writes her strong personality, both as a woman and as a performer. Before parting company with Rennison, Bluebird Reviews asks the Canadian artist how much does music give to her emotionally every time and how much does she feel she is giving back to music through her artistry. "Music means life to me. It's such a big part of who I am, I need it like I need water or oxygene to be able to live. If I don't get the chance for a long time to belt out and express my feeling by singing my songs, I kinda get crazy, I feel like I am exploding, it's the way my body works, I guess. Music gave me a lot, it gave me my friends, these awesome guys in the band, the opportunity to travel the world, it gave me freedom. As a consequence, I always try to treat music with respect and approach it with integrity and honour, for the gift that I have been given. I always try to be as honest as I possibly can in my songs and write them from my heart and soul. I never try to sell an image of myself that is not the real me, because I don't want to bullshit anybody. What you see is what you get".

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Blessed Mistakes - In Conversation With Kjartan Holm From For A Minor Reflection

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You need to go to Iceland to understand what makes a country like that so magical and the people living there so truly unique and open-minded. The darkness of their landscapes, the majesty of their glaciers and even the feisty, cold winter wind that blows from Rejkjavik to Eskifjordur is all part of one of the most special countries in the world.

 

All those aspects certainly must make an impact on the artistic creativity of the Icelandic people, given how much this country has gifted the music scene with artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros or Emiliana Torrini, just to mention a few of them, through the last four decades.

 

When in 2007 four young teenagers from Rejkjavik, Kjartan Hólm on guitar, Guðfinnur Sveinsson on guitar too, Elvar Jón Guðmundsson on bass and Jóhannes Ólafsson on drums (then replaced by Andri Freyr Þorgeirsson) got together to record in few hours their debut album, totally instrumental, called Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (meaning Rise and Shine, the Sun's Up...), nobody would have expected the impact that their sound made not just in their native Iceland but in many countries worldwide. Their music is instinctive, raw, travelling in the same way a locomotive may do, with sonic acceleration and deceleration executed with the heaviness of an experienced rock band and the ethereal fluidity typical of the Icelandic music sounds. The band decided to call themselves For A Minor Reflection.

Opening for Sigur Ros in their 2008 Tour, gave the opportunity to the band to have global exposure in the music business, something that allowed them to create a more sophisticated second album, a year later, called Höldum í átt að óreiðu" (Heading in the direction of Chaos). Their second record did, commercially, very well too and the band continued their career as For A Minor Reflection until 2013, by releasing the live EP Live At Iceland Airwaves.

 

The band, although not officially dismantled, has stopped their activity since that live album and the band members have all gone for separate ways, getting involved in new music projects but still maintaining a great relationship and, who knows, maybe the doors open to the future for another release as For A Minor Reflection. 

 

Bluebird Reviews meets one of the main creative forces of the band, guitarist Kjartan Holm, to talk about the career of such a seminal band like For A Minor Reflection, in proximity of the 10 years since the release of their debut album. Holm has just released a new album with his new band called Tofa, a highly interesting post-rock music project. the album, their third as Tofa, is called Teeth Richards and, despite the pressure for the ongoing promotion of Tofa's new album, Holm kindly accepts to take us through the history and career of an extraordinary collective like For A Minor Reflection.

 

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                                                                                                     For A Minor Reflection - 2007 circa

 

 

BBR - Kjartan, welcome to Bluebird Reviews, so good to talk to you. For A Minor Reflection is one of the most original instrumental rock band of the last 10 years, recognised as such by the worldwide music press since your debut in 2007. Was the choice of creating music through instrumental suites a deliberate choice for the band since Day 1 or were you initially thinking of adding a singer to the band's line-up but then things just changed?

KH - Well, originally we thought about having vocalists in our band but, as we started playing together, we found ourselves increasingly more comfortable just being an instrumental rock band. So yes, initially we had other plans but when we realised that we were feeling more comfortable expressing our music in that way, we said "Hey, this is the way that works for us, let's keep it that way". Funny, when I think about it, because currently I am working with a band that includes vocalists and I feel very comfortable as well working with music in that way. I just enjoy exploring different sides of music and have an open mind. I think it helps me, as a musician, to be constantly challenged.

 

BBR - Your debut album Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (Rise and Shine, the Sun's Up...) sounded so immediate. It was the work of 4 creative forces improvising on the spot and able to carve music in continous movement, with changes of tempo that then defined the band's style for years to come. Who have been yours and the band's music heroes that fired up the extraordinary creativity that the whole band express in their sound?

KH - It's interesting that, within the band, we all liked different type of music. I remember, back in those days, to be listening to a lot to artists like Blink 182, mainly that kind of College Rock Music. Gudfinnur instead was very much into Coldplay, Andri liked a lot of metal kind of stuff while Jon was listening to a lot of material of the English band The Smiths. As you can see, none of the bands I just mentioned had anything to do with the music that we were playing, which is kind of ironic. We shared though, within the band, a common love for the sound of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and given how different were our music preferences, our inspiration was really coming from many different musical directions. Which is what helped our sound to be constantly on the move, rather than being static, which is not the type of art making we wanted to create. We just plugged in and away we went. As you said, our music was really a genuine combustion of four musicians carrying their own backgrounds, amalgamating them and creating something that we thought it was truly unique, back then.  

  

BBR - In 2010, on the back of the huge impact of the 5000 copies that your debut album sold, you recorded the follow up to Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft at Sigur Ros' studio in Iceland, in Sundlagin and mastered the new album, Höldum í átt að óreiðu" (Heading in the direction of Chaos) in Los Angeles. Given the more substantious budget you had at the time, do you feel that your second album shaped up the band's sound in a slightly different way or was the album just a natural progression of the band's musical path?

KH - I think that the way our sound shifted, on our second album, was due to the fact that it was planned in the recording, rather than doing it in the same way we did the first album. As you were saying, the success of our first album, touring a lot, partly with Sigur Ros, made possible that we could get the right financial platform on which we could build our second record. Whilst the first album was written in two months and recorded in just about 5 hours, in a garage, with a raw sound, full of improvisations and somehow also mistakes here and there, (if you really listen carefully to it), the Komin Á Loft album was instead super clean, in a way. Recording in a proper studio, with fantastic equipment, made certainly an impact on the way our second album sounded. You are certainly right about the fact that working in a proper environment changed the shape of our sound but I also thought that, because we wanted really to give to it a proper stab, like other bands out there were doing, we might have sounded a bit too refined, borderline commercial. In retrospective, I enjoyed much more working instinctively on the music in a more raw way as we did on our first album, because it's the same way I like to work right now with Tofa. In my opinion, it also captured more the essence of our art as a collective, while on the second one we were colouring our sound a lot more, by building some layers on top of our music and making it sound far too polished for my personal liking. We spent three months in L.A. making that album and that timeframe sounded like an eternity for someone like me, used to write music and record it on a much faster pace. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy working on music adopting many different approaches, including the way we did on the Komin Á Loft album but the way we sounded on our first record was more a clear mirror of my idea of making music.

 

BBR - The band has not recorded new material since the 2011 EP and there has not been a new release from FAMR since the 2013 live album Live At Iceland Airwaves. Is the band planning to surprise their fans with a new album anytime soon, to celebrate your 10th anniversary together?

KH - We were just discussing this the other day, it would be really fun to do something about it together next year. There are some logistic issues, though, due to the fact that we are now all living in different countries and we are all focusing on our individual projects with other bands. All that I can say is that we are not making any new music at the moment but we have a lot of unreleased material that we have accumulated through the years. It might be possible that, should we be able to find the time to get together and work on this yet unreleased material, one day we may release it on a new record but, at the moment, we are all focusing strictly on our own projects. To be honest with you, the material for a new For A Minor Reflection album could be already there to be released but, call it maybe being lazy or any other way you want, at the moment to work on a new For A Minor Reflection album is not our priority. We will see what happens in the future, anything is possible.

 

BBR - Kjartan, we are aware that the best part of the tunes written by the band came from your inspiration. What does help you to put you in the right state of mind when it comes to create new songs?

KH - When we made the first album, all the songs came from a very emotional part of ourselves, as a band. You know, coming from a country like Iceland where the weather is never really great and sometimes it's a bit depressive, it kind of triggered the state of mind that brought us to record the album in that way. I guess you may call it "atmospheric", in terms of general mood but I felt it was very simple and straight forward, in its lyrics. The second album was a bit more warm, not just in term of sound but about the style of the lyrics too. As I said before, we tried to apply to our sound a bit more colors that might have somehow, influenced also the general mood on the album. Thinking about your original question on writing songs, I guess that the real answer to you would be that I really don't know precisely what my state of mind was, when I wrote the songs on both the studio album. Maybe there was just an unconscious wish to express my happiness to be alive through the songs! (chuckles).

 

for a minor reflection 2

                                                                                                For A Minor Reflection - 2009 circa

 

 

BBR - Yourself and Andri, your drummer, are currently involved in another side project with a different band, right now, Tofa. How different is the sound of such bands from the For A Minor Reflection's one?

KH - It's a lot different from the FAMR's one. The current project in which myself and Andri are involved to, as you said, it's called Tofa. It is certainly full of energy, very noisy, almost brutal in its rawness, that's for sure! (chuckles). We record our songs ourselves in the way we like the most, without pulling any strings or spending too much time on mixing or adding any trickery. We have just released our third album, called Teeth Richards and, in comparison to FAMR's music style, with Tofa we have vocals through our singer, Allie Doersch. The songs are much shorter and faster and it took me a while before getting used to leave time for somebody within the band to sing, rather than blasting my guitar all the time. But in the end I got the nag of it. (chuckles).

 

BBR - Kjartan, in the last 10 years the music industry has suffered the biggest blow ever in its history. How difficult does it get, nowadays for young artists to self-finance and produce themselves and therefore to be able to express their artistry?

KH - I remember when we started as For A Minor Reflection. There were certain more opportunity for artists and bands to make records and travel abroad to tour, back in those days. As you said, nowadays everything is much more complicated. There is no more money left in the pot of the music industry, therefore everything is becoming much more, like Do It Yourself kind of attitude. It's definitely much harder to try and impose your art, within the business but it is not impossible. Just keep believing in yourself and do things on your own, a bit like I am doing right now with Tofa. I like to believe that there is always a way that things in music, as in life, work out in the end, as long as you keep investing in yourself and in your art.

 

BBR - Iceland is a magical country that has been so finely described through all its most favourite muses. Sigur Ros express through their music its nature and beautiful sceneries, Bjork all its different otherwordly, natural colours and Emiliana Torrini its mood, through delicate vignettes of Icelandic's daily life. Which of Iceland's many values do For A Minor Reflection carry through their music?

KH - Difficult to say. My first instinct would be to say that there is a certain connection with nature, as it often happens with Icelandic music in its globality. I remember when Sigur Ros released that splendid DVD called Heima, where their music was expressing all the different colors and movement of the Icelandic life. I feel that, at the same way, For A Minor Reflection's music, through its waves of alternated heavier and softer interplay within our songs, captures that same kind of vibes, although in our own way. Personally, the first thing that For A Minor Reflection's music makes me think of are the streets of Rejkjavik, the colors of the houses, the people, the vibes of our capital city.

 

BBR - The music genre that For A Minor Reflection has been labelled with has been often defined either as avant-garde rock or post rock. To the eyes of Bluebird Reviews, your music is just the natural chemistry between 4 skilled musicians. On an average, how many hours of jamming and music improvisations the band needs to record on tape, before deciding which material get chosen for any of your records?

KH - Well, believe or not, we never did a pre-recording session on any of our albums, to try and find the right mood for any new material we wish to record. We just plugged in and go.  When we felt we had something we all liked the sound of, we were just going for it without thinking too much, just going for it. A very simple approach, perhaps old fashion, some might say but that is what worked better for us.

 

BBR - Kjartan, Bob Marley once said: "One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain". Has music ever served you as a healer in any moment of your personal life or in your career as a musician?

KH - So many times. I listen to music, daily, a lot, until it gets time to go to bed at night, just to give you an idea. I can listen to stuff like, say from Bizet to Rihanna because for me there are no bridges with music, I can listen to either pop music or classical one without having to compromise with any of them. Every genre, every style creates a different connection with my emotions and it really doesn't matter what the musical source is or where it comes from. Music is certainly the best therapy I can think of. Well, perhaps that and some beers too! (chuckles).

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

 

 

 

Welcome To The Machine - In Conversation With Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule)

When Warren Haynes, Woody Allen and Matt Abts decided to convene in June 1994 at Tel-Star Studios in Bradenton, Florida, to work on what it supposed to be the debut album of a side project that would have allowed themselves to bring their alt-rock influences to a new level, they were far from imagining that such sessions would have generated one of the most successful music machines in the world, the Gov't Mule.

Those sessions though, never saw the light of the day until now in 2016, when Warren Haynes, frontman and band leader of Gov't Mule, finally decided to give justice to what can be considered the musical genesis of the band by releasing this material that captures perfectly the essence of three highly talented musicans and the excitement of the early days of The Mule.

Read more: Welcome To The Machine - In Conversation With Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule)

The Challenger - In Conversation With Sari Schorr

Sari Schorr rob blackham 1

(Photo by Rob Blackman)

Summer nights are often blessed with starry skies, with some stars more brighter than others. It's no coincidence that, on this hot, summer evening, the sky on Maidenhead, south of England, has left an empty space to allow the shiniest of all the stars to land in this part of the world, Sari Schorr.

The singer and songwriter from New York City has been not just the talk of the town but of the entire blues/rock community, in the last couple of years. Her debut album, A Force Of Nature, due to be released this week, has been unanimously named by both the music press and the fans as one of the most awaited album of 2016.

Schorr has made her mark into the blues/rock circuit through her legendary live performances worldwide and by being on tour with blues/rock icons like Popa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker.

Read more: The Challenger - In Conversation With Sari Schorr

The Wizard Of Aus(tralia) - In Conversation With Matty T Wall

Blues is one of those genres that never had any frontiers and never will. From United States to England, Italy, Colombia, Scandinavia in its entirety, just to mention few places, blues has and will always have one of those music languages that speaks to anybody the best and most understandable language in the world, that sonic Esperanto able to reach everybody, no matter whether you are rich or poor or the colour of your skin.

A country like Australia, not just blessed with beautiful landscapes and amazing blue sea but also with outstanding musicians, couldn't remain, of course, insensitive to the fascination that the blues carries with. One of the most acclaimed debut albums of 2016, Blue Skies, comes coincidentally from this wonderful part of the world, thanks to the artistry of Matty T Wall, a young and absolutely formidable guitarist and singer/songwriter.

Blue Skies is a musical journey of epic proportions that allow the listeners to travel into several decades of music. An album that is a true homage to blues and all its transformations during the years, transformations that have then gradually converged into jazz, rock and roots. Wall's vision of how the blues has moved on through time is first class and the success and attention that Blue Skies is getting not just in Australia but also worldwide is very much deserved.

Bluebird Reviews couldn't miss the opportunity to talk not just to a very inspired artist and talented guitarist but also to a very friendly and polite gentleman.

Read more: The Wizard Of Aus(tralia) - In Conversation With Matty T Wall

(K)armine Chameleon - An Interview To Carmine Rojas

Carmine Rojas

You must be born with those natural gifts that just people like Carmine Rojas possess, otherwise you will never be able to build or acquire them through time and experience, because they are so unique. A truly positive person, surrounded by an aura of pure karma every time that he speaks or smiles, Rojas is not just one of the most talented bass player of the last half a century of music but he is also in body and spirit, one of the youngest looking 63 years old artists that Bluebird Reviews has ever met.

His palmares, as a musician, is something that belongs to the elite of music history, given the fact that throughout his glorious career, Rojas has played with giants of the music business, artists like David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, BB King just to mention few of a very long list. After the end of his long-lasting collaboration with blues titan Joe Bonamassa, Rojas is now currently working with one of the most talented blues/rock artists and an old friend of Bluebird Reviews, Ryan McGarvey. Whilst on tour in Europe with McGarvey, our website had the opportunity to meet Rojas and talk about his remarkable career plus his ongoing side projects.

Read more: (K)armine Chameleon - An Interview To Carmine Rojas

Blues Is All That Matters - In Conversation With Russell Alexander Of The Hitman Blues Band

Russell Alexander Graham Chapman

(Photo by Graham Chapman)

 

"Russell will be here in a second" announces the gentle voice and the smile of Joanne Alexander, member of The Hitman Blues Band and, most importantly, wife of Russell "The Hitman" Alexander, frontman and band leader of this fabulous collective from New York. The band has released just few months ago one of the most entertaining albums of the 2016, The World Moves On (previously reviewed on our website) and Bluebird Reviews couldn't miss the chance to meet and discuss about the new album with The Man Himself,  Russell Alexander.

We meet the band in one of their European dates, more precisely in London, UK,  in one of the most iconic and historic venues of the UK capital, The 100 Club. Alexander is immaculately dressed in his stage suite with his typical Blues Top Hat that he loves to feature almost every time that he performses and welcomes Bluebird Reviews with a huge smile and warm handshake.

 

 

BBR - Russell, welcome on Bluebird Reviews and many congratulations on your new album The World Moves On. How long did it take to assemble together the tracks, old and new that ended up on your new record?

RA - All together, probably about three or four months. I started the pre-production in January, then got few things sorted and then we started recording in February. The record had to be done by the end of March. I was told by my publicist that end of March was the ultimate deadline and if we didn't have the record ready by the beginning of April, there would have been no promotion opportunities for the forthcoming tour at all. As you can understand, no pressure at all!  (giggles). But despite all that, I am very happy about the end result and everything worked out really well.

 

BBR - The Blues has been defined, through the years, in many different ways. How would you define, in your own words, your very personal take on this genre that you like to call Original Modern Blues?

RA - See, the blues is a collective genre. You can go back all the way to the W.C. Handy days and then do a kind of progression up, by going through artists like Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Patton and then moving another notch to people like Johnny Guitar Watson, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf. By creating such a great music platform, the artists belonging to the rock scene grabbed on and said "Oh, so this is where our genre come from!". Finally understanding where all this started, the rock artists made their own things, filling the gap, through their artistry, between the Chicago Blues style and the rock scene, based on the roots created by the artists I mentioned before. People like Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Eric Clapton, then as the days went by, guys like Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan did so really beautifully. All of us musicians apply our visions to what we consider blues because we all have a different view about what blues is. Even Stevie Ray Vaughan, back in those days, he was told: "Man, that is not blues". But sure it was, it was performed just in a different way. If we want the blues to survive and I am certain that it will survive, it has to evolve because any music genres need evolution, including the blues, otherwise it's going to disappear.

 

BBR - During the making of The World Moves On, did any of the songs change their shape, whilst you were recording the album?

RA - A lot of times that does happen but on this particular album it didn't. When I walked into the studio, I knew already pretty much how I want the album to sound like. We had a keyboardist, Kevin Bents, who came in and threw in a lot of his own ideas. Some of the songs were starting in a way and finishing in a completely different way. That was the way we used to work on some of our earlier albums and if you hear the original demos of those albums and the way the tunes actually came out, they were completely different. But this one was pretty smooth and I have gotta say I might be finally getting the hang of it at this point, I am not sure but I feel I am getting there (smiles).

 

BBR - The band has been together for quite some time, now. How much has the sound of The Hitman Blues Band developed, through the years?

RA - Well, as you know I had many different players with me over the years. I started the band in 1989 and at the time, it was merely a cover band. Since those days, I went into a lot of changes of personnel and I believe that the only musician that has been with me the longest is Mike Porter (bass guitar), which has been with me for 12-13 years. I have worked previously with Mike Snyder, who is now playing with us both Baritone Sax and keyboards, many times before, since the mid-80's in different other projects but not on a long running like with Mike. This new record is a bit like the sum of our history, as Hitman Blues Band. You can hear in it new versions of songs from my previous records, like Catch 22 Blues from my very first album. That tune has got a special meaning for me, because I had the honour of having my father (Ray Alexander, excellent jazz artist) playing with me, which was a real treat. But then, if you compare, say, that track to the newer stuff, something like I'll Be Moving On or The World Moves On, for example, you can certainly hear the different approach we had on the new songs in comparison to the older one we revisited on the album. I guess that approaching songs in a different way, through time, is part of the evolution of any artist. One great thing was that, once I heard the job that the Team did in re-mixing and re-mastering versions of the older tunes, I was over the moon. Some of those tunes go back all the way to 2000 and it is amazing how fresh and so contemporary they sound still now

The Hitman Blues Band

BBR - Our viewers are very interested to know about the genesis of your nickname The Hitman, Russell. They really hope you have never shot anybody in your life!

RA - No, I can reassure you on that. "They called me Hanging Johnny, away boys away but I never hang nobody" (Hanging Johnny by The Great Big Sea).  I have got that nickname first because I knew so many tunes from the blues charts, back in the days, stuff from, I don't know, 1920s to 1970s all by heart. As you get older, however, you tend not to keep up quite as much as when I was younger and due to the fact that I am so focused and concentrated now with my band, you obviously lose, through time, any incentive to keep up with the Blues Charts and all that. The way that I dressed, also, already back in the mid-late 80's was very much noticed by the fans. I remember, in that period, a friend of mine coming to see me playing in an open jam session and when I walked on stage, he shouted "Hey, look, here comes The Hitman".  So I thought that, considering that so many people called me in that way for many different reasons, it was wise for me to keep that name and that is what I did.

 

BBR -  When we reviewed your record at Bluebird Review, we truly admired the capacity of the band to stick religiously to the tradition of the blues and at the same time, the ability to spice up that sound through your personal artistic touch. Which blues artists have inspired you and made you love so much this genre from the beginning?

RA - Oh boy, how long have you got? That's a huge list to make because there are so many different kind of blues. All the different styles of people like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Patton, just to mention very few, they had such a big impact on my musical formation. But that is not all. If you go through each decade of blues with me, I can go on for hours. Maybe the first time I was really exposed to blues, as genre, was by listening in my young age to people like Cream, Canned Heat, Jethro Tull and a lot of Progressive Rock. One day I started listening to Elvis Presley's Sun Session album and I was amazed by how that album was based on blues. Through the years, then, people like Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Blues Brothers revitilised the interest about blues even further and that was really a cool moment for the genre. Then I started working my way backward, musically, discovering, a bit like the rock artists of the 70's I mentioned previously, that the fundament, the ground of that music was the blues. I guess that this is one of the positive sides of getting older. You get a bit more patient, sit down and dig deeper into the sound that was the genesis of what came after. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate where all started and how it started, something that when you are a younger and maybe blinded by the current music you hear on the radio, you don't consider at all.

Russell Alexander SD Photography

(Photo by SD Photography)

 

BBR -  How come that you decided to add to the new album five re-worked tracks from your previous records and not doing an album of all original material?

RA - I had a lot of people saying to me "Hey, you have got these older albums with plenty of great tunes, you should really consider to re-release them because they really sound cool. I had already some new songs ready and I didn't want to make an album made entirely of my old tunes either. So, we asked to the fans and we also discuss within the band which songs of our back catalogue would have been more appropriate to be chosen for this album and in the end, I have got to say I am pretty happy with the ones we chose.

 

BBR - Russell, you have been in Europe to play many times before. How different do European audiences react to your music in comparison to American ones?

RA - The typical answer would be that in Europe they are much more respectful, they listen carefully to the songs and so on. In reality, I don't think that there is so much difference between European and American audiences because our American fans can be as respectful as the European crowds. I also think that, another similarity we find often in our crowds is the amount of loudness, which is mostly the result of how much alcohol consumption there has been on a particular show, it doesn't matter where you are! (chuckles). There is also a fair amount of dancing but, again, it would be entirely depending by how much the crowd would be sober or not sober. Either way, what I generally find awesome about any type of audiences is that they will come and listen to the blues, no matter if it is Delta, Chicago Blues or any other kind of. Because it's the spirit of the blues that bonds them together, it's not important matter of what nationality they can be or their blues preferences. They come just and only for the blues, because they find a connection with it. They come because they want to support it and feel connected to it. Most of all, they want to see it performed live and feel the power of the blues.

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Family Values - An Interview With Walter Trout

walter trout 3 by greg waterman small

(Photo By Greg Waterman)

 

It doesn't happen very often that we humans get so close to Afterlife and, for some unexplicable reasons that we like to call miracles, we manage to make a comeback and live our lives in perfect harmony.

Walter Trout from Huntingdon Beach, California belongs certainly to this very restrict elite of people able to make an extraordinary comeback to life. When virtually everybody was convinced that he would never, even if he would have survived to the liver failure disease he went through, make a return to the music scene, this very talented guitarist and singer/songwriter took by surprise the whole world making a full recovery.

In the space of a year, Trout didn't just make his return to music activity but also released a studio album called Battle Scars, the chronicle in music of his battle for life, followed by a brand new live album called ALive In Amsterdam.

Bluebird Reviews is honoured to reunite, once again, with not only a Blues/Rock Guitar Hero but also with an old friend of our website to discuss about the new live album, why the concept of family matters so much to the American artist and why Amsterdam and The Netherlands have got such a special place in his heart.

 

BBR - Hi Walter, thank you so much for talking to us again at Bluebird Reviews. ALive In Amsterdam is a live recording that frames an important moment of your life and career, given what you have been through during the last 2/3 years. Which are the immediate memories that you have of that fabulous night of music?

WT - Well, I remember it was, to be perfectly honest with you, a rather stressful night. There were many logistic sides to be put together. My wife Marie was trying to coordinate all the different aspects of the concert and its recording so it was rather stressful for her too. I do particularly remember one thing, though, about that night. When I walked on stage, that roar from the crowd and the incredible love that the fans showed me in Amsterdam had the same intensity of the one I felt at the Royal Albert Hall in London, for the Leadbelly Tribute Night. It was truly special.

BBR - I guess that The Netherlands is one of those special places for you, as an artist. That is the place where the first Walter Trout Fan Club started and among all the places in the world where you have been playing throughout your career, The Netherlands is a country that feels a special connection with your music. What is the secret of the special bond that links you and your music to the Dutch crowds?

WT - I couldn't tell you, really. From the very first time I played in The Netherlands with my band, they have just embraced my music and myself completely. The first time ever I went there to play with the Walter Trout Band, I was amazed by the number of the people that showed up. In many countries where we had previously performed, at our very first concert there might have been something like ten people, because we hadn't made our mark yet, in such countries. Then the numbers would have increased with each passing gig. When we did our first show in The Netherlands, in those days, we were expecting pretty much the same amount of people we had in other places. Instead, the whole place was sold out and when we walked on stage the crowd went completely crazy and it was such a beautiful sensation. I was also very lucky, in a way, that in the very same country, later in 1990, I had this major hit with the song The Love That We Once Knew. That song was so successful, in The Netherlands, that it reached the No. 1 in their music charts! I couldn't believe that my song was at the top spot, followed by Madonna, Bon Jovi and Brian Adams. You have no idea how great that felt on many levels. Not only because, for once in my career, I reached the No. 1 with one of my songs in a country but also because The Love That We Once Knew allowed me to reach, through that Number One spot, a bigger and wider audience, becoming also a phenomenal radio hit. You can hear, on my new live album that, as soon as I go into that song while I was doing the Encore, they all start singing it. There is also another song of mine called Say Goodbye To The Blues, present on the live album too and written in cooperation with a dear friend of mine Tim Jahnigen which, for five consecutive years on the national Classic Rock station in The Netherlands has been voted by the people as the best blues song of all time. What a honour for me. Those two songs have been my most important hits in that part of the world and I am so thankful and overwhelmed for the love that the people of The Netherlands has showed me since the beginning. Words cannot even start to explain my gratitude to them.

BBR - ALive In Amsterdam's tracklist includes, as one would expect, many tracks from your latest studio album Battle Scars. Do you ever feel uncomfortable to play certain songs from that album that rewind back to a difficult time in your life?

WT - I don't feel uncomfortable but sometimes some songs affect me emotionally, because, as I am singing those lyrics, it feels like I am re-living the experience. Occasionally, it really takes that pain back in my mind and I must confess that more than once, on my last tour, at the end of one or two of the songs of that album, I needed to hide for few seconds from the audience and have a little moment on my own. I always like to be able to live the lyrics of the songs I write but I guess that, in Battle Scars, there are times in which that emotional involvement and by living those lyrics in a particular time of my life it gets a bit too much even for me. 

Walter Marie

Walter Trout & his wife Dr. Marie Trout

 

BBR - This live record sees an energised Walter Trout on many levels. Your ability to play guitar is second to none but the really surprising factor is that your singing style has reached some new fabulous highs. How much has the first leg of the Battle Scars Tour helped you to reach this new found and incredible singing versatility?

WT - That is hard to say, because, when I was very ill, I remember I could barely speak. I did not have any strength at all and if you remember my vocals on the album The Blues Came Callin',  I finished that record after a really long and painful process, right before I went to the hospital. There was a song on that album that I wrote for my wife Marie, called Nobody Moves Me Like You Do and when I hear that song, I can remember and hear the struggle I faced in recording those vocals. I literally had to sing that song one line at the time, take a break for five minutes, get a bit of strength back and then press the Record button again to sing the next line, because I did not have any energy left in me. So, when I started to get my strength back, to sing became a brand new and rather joyous expression for me, like I never felt before. It was the same for the guitar playing. When something like that is taken away from you and then that thing comes back through hard work, it becomes more meaningful and important for you then it was before. When I am singing, it feels very liberating for me because I feel like I gained that power again, in my voice. 

BBR - You have covered a few songs of some of your fellow blues/rock musicians throughout your career, as also shown in this new live album in which you play songs from John Lee Hooker, BB King and Luther Allison's repertoire. Has the fact that you have been recently to Jeff Healey's memorial inspired you to record one of his tracks, in the future?

WT - I might do that but, to be honest with you, I had not really thought about it. I am just starting to think about making another studio album, to be made probably in January or February 2017 and that is on top of my agenda. But it would be a good idea recording some of Jeff's music. I loved his music and I was very lucky to get to know him even before he became famous worldwide. When I went to play in Canada, back then, there was, as opening act, this local kid that I had never heard of and I remember that myself and Coco Montoya sat in the wings of the stage and we had our jaws dropping to the ground by watching Jeff playing. I have got to watch him go from being a little, local kid in Canada to become an international music hero. I have been so privileged to see him blossoming, not just as an artist but also as human being. Jeff was really a very special person in many ways.   

BBR - You allowed a lot of artistic freedom, on ALive In Amsterdam, to Sammy, Michael, Johnny, your son Jon and your long time friend musician Andrew Elt. Do you feel like this new album is not just your personal "Thank You" to all the fans that have supported you through thick and thin in your career but also to your "On The Road" family?

WT - Of course. Those guys were there with me all the way. When I was sick, they told me that if I could ever get back to music, they would have been there for me. They had the chance to go on and play with other people but they waited for me. Michael (Leisure, drummer of the band) once told me: "I don't care if Roger Daltrey hires me to play drums. If you get to the point where you can play again and you really want to play again, I am here for you". All the boys in the band told me that. I so much love those guys. I am so in debt with those fellas for hanging there with me for almost two years. They prayed and they waited for me, having no idea if I would ever get back again to music and I want always to be there for them as much as they were there for me. It is a real family On The Road. All of them auditioned for me, no matter whether they have been in the band just for one year, like Johnny (Griparic, the band's bass player) or something like 9 years for Michael or even for 16 years like Sammy (Avila, the band's keyboard player). But they all auditioned and when I hired each of them, I said to all of them from Day One that I wanted to make this band feel like a family because I want us to be a family, when we are on stage. I want that feeling to translate into our live shows. We are not just four guys going up there, trying to play together and put up a good show but we are four guys that really care, respect and love each other. I want us to communicate that to the crowd, as we play. I always wanted that.  I remember the time when I started to be a musician, age 14. My ultimate goal that I really wanted to achieve was to be in a band like The Beatles. They really blew my mind and I saw their cameraderie and their tight, close relationship, especially when they first came on the scene. They stuck together like one sole unity, like one person and I thought that was a wonderful thing, what an incredible bond. The actual concept of a tight, close, hard working band like The Beatles, that was exactly what I wanted my band to be.

BBR - Amsterdam, coincidentally, is not only the place in which you recorded your splendid new live album but also the place in which you shared the stage with the all-stars project called Supersonic Blues Machine, on their very first live performance ever. Can you share with us any hidden backstage and onstage tales of that special concert?

WT - Man, that was an incredible experience and that band is really an amazing group of musicians. One thing I can tell you is that, all those guys, as accomplished, revered, esteemed and respected by the world of music as they are, they are all just so down to earth and a group of very humble people. We got there a couple of days early to do a bit more rehearsal because we never played together live before, so I got to be around them for a while. I was amazed about the fact that there was no egos involved, no attitudes and we truly enjoyed hanging out together. We all became very close friends and, since that show, we all keep in touch very frequently. We exchange a lot of e-mails between myself, Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford or even, at times, jam together, like few nights ago when Fabrizio (Grossi, bass player with Supersonic Blues Machine) came to a club where I was testing some songs with my band for the forthcoming Tour and he just joined in on stage with us. They are, sincerely, a great group of guys. We have another show, as Supersonic Blues Machine, coming up in August in Norway, at the Notodden Blues Festival and funnily enough, I am going to headline one night with my band and then next night I am going to play with those guys. Joining us as well, that night, there will be also another fantastic musician, Steve Lukather. It's an absolutely joy playing with them. I mean, take somebody like Alex Alessandroni on keyboard, which has played with artists like Christina Aguilera or Stevie Wonder. What an incredible musician Alex is and he is just the nicest guy! Then there is Doug Rappoport on guitar, insanely great musician too. Then you have, of course, the three fellas which are the core of the Supersonic Blues Machine. Kenny Aronoff on drums is a real force of nature, it's like heaving a steamed locomotive within the band. Lance Lopez on guitar, a truly fabulous guitarist and such a humble guy. Fabrizio Grossi on bass is a hugely talented bass player and the nicest guy ever. As an extra added bonus, I have got to tell you also that, after the show in Amsterdam with the SBM, I felt this tap on shoulder and there was Bonnie Raitt, congratulating me for the show! I have always been impressed by her immense talent. The first time I saw her playing was in 1970, at The Philadelphia Folk Festival. She was there, alone on stage playing acoustic and I was so mesmerised by that performance. I still am. I gotta tell you also that, after that show, we were just going away from the venue and I got this message via a Social Network from Bonnie's bass player Hutch Hutchinson, which coincidentally played bass on my albums,  Common Ground and The Outsider too. The message said "Hey Man, we were looking for you because Bonnie wanted you to sit in" but sadly, by that time, we had left already. What a shame, really. To play a song with Bonnie is something that I really want to do before I die.

Supersonic Blues Machine by Pat Scalabrino

(Photo By P. Scalabrino) From L to R: Walter Trout, Doug Rappoport, Lance Lopez, Fabrizio Grossi, Billy Gibbons, Kenny Aronoff & Alex Alessandroni

 

BBR - You have just started the 2nd leg of the Battle Scars World Tour. Have you planned to play pretty much the same setlist present on ALive In Amsterdam or are you going to surprise your fans by playing different songs from your extensive catalogue?

WT - We have  few songs now that we have added to the show. I call them new songs but, in reality, they are old songs that we rehearsed lately in front of people by doing few unannounced club gigs so we could test those songs in front of a crowd. I am talking about tunes like May Be A Fool or Prisoner Of A Dream, amongst others. The nucleus of the show will be still though my latest studio album, Battle Scars.

BBR - Have you had any chance to write new material, while you have been on tour in the past 12 months?

WT - Haven't thought about it at all, no. I am not the kind of guy that write songs, whilst On The Road. I do write lyrics, when I am travelling. I do sit in the back of the van, sometimes, with my headphones so I can tune out from the world. I think about things and I write them down, making those lyrics becoming poetry as best as I can. Then, when I am back home, I try to put them to music and combine the two together. Every time that I get in my hotel room, after a show, I am not the type of guy that gets out the guitar and play. I rather prefer to save myself and my energies for the stage. After all, I am on stage every night for two hours and I completely immerse myself, mentally and physically to the live show. I think it's just wise for me to use my strength for the shows and write new stuff when I am back home.

BBR - "Music is my healer" is one of the most favourite slogans of a fabulous young guitarist and dear friend of yours, Laurence Jones. How much has music been your healer, not just in recent times but throughout your whole life, Walter?

WT - It's been my healer for my whole life. That's why I called my book Rescue From Reality. Music provided me a refuge for a very insane childhood. It provided me a sanctuary that I can escape into, where nobody could touch or hurt me. After the period in which I have been sick, to be able to come back up on stage, in that splendid venue that is the Royal Albert Hall in London and, after almost two years of absence from a stage, to get that reception from the crowd, it lifted my spirit and my soul in an indescribable way. I realised, after that night, that music is now for me something different, something that allows me to get even deeper into myself and closer to my emotions. It gives me the chance to experience a part of myself and my emotions that I didn't even know it was there.

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

 

Ground For Evolution - In Conversation With Dan Patlansky

Dan Patlansky by Sean Brand

(Photo by Sean Brand)

 

It's one of the most gratifying feeling, for who writes about music, to see that there are still artists out there capable of making their sound to grow and evolve and still be successful and original, rather than trying to feed their fans with the same ole music recipe over and over again.

The South African guitar prodigy Dan Patlansky is, undoubtedly, one of those rare above mentioned exceptions and we, at Bluebird Reviews, are truly privileged to catch up once again with this tremendously skilled artist whilst he is touring Europe to promote his brand new album called Introvertigo. Where many were expecting Patlansky to repeat from A to Z the same formula that took his previous record, Dear Silence Thieves to the top of the blues and rock charts all over the world, his new album, Introvertigo, instead takes the listener to the next level of the South African artist's musical journey, moving into territories that embrace genres very close to Patlansky's heart, like blues, rock and funk. When we start our conversation with this very charismatic musician, it's almost inevitable for Bluebird Reviews to ask Patlansky whether he feels that Introvertigo is the natural development of the 2014's splendid album Dear Silence Thieves or it's rather another step in the musical journey of an artist in continous evolution. "I think it's a bit of both. It's an ongoing evolution, that I feel it will never stop evolving. This is due to myself having  a whole lot of different musical influences each time I make an album. I am very open to different music styles and when I find something that really intrigues me, in a particular time of my life, I like to dig deeper into that particular genre, study carefully that music direction and make it my own. I do believe that in many ways, as you were saying, this album is the natural evolution of Dear Silence Thieves. Having said that, I also think that Introvertigo is very close to Dear Silence Thieves in many ways because I used the same producer, the same guy mixing the album and the sound is, at times, resembling parts of the Dear Silence Thieves album. In essence, Introvertigo is a record with a bunch of new songs, moving towards a slightly different direction than my previous record. But I feel it's a kind of an obvious thing to happen, being my music in constant evolution".

One thing that Patlansky has not changed on Introvertigo is indeed the producer. Theo Crous has been worked with the South African gunslinger on both Dear Silence Thieves and on the new record too. "Naturally, given the great success of Dear Silence Thieves, I thought that was common sense for me working again with Theo Crous. Introvertigo was much easier to record, in comparison to Dear Silence Thieves because this time around there was a better understanding, a better chemistry and a better trust between myself and Theo. On my previous record, we were arguing a lot more about the direction I was going to take musically but the outcome of Dear Silence Thieves proved that his input on the album was spot on. When we enter the studio for the Introvertigo sessions, we knew already the way we both like to work, therefore the recording process of the new album was much smoother than the previous one we did together. Theo comes from a music background that has not got the blues on the far front but he rather comes from a more commercial rock scene. That aspect worked perfectly with me, because the core of my music is essentially blues and, as I was writing the new songs, I found this common rock ground with Theo in which my music core was fitting perfectly in. The outcome of Introvertigo was very satisfactory both for me and Theo because I have got what I wanted musically from the album and he has got what he wanted the record to sound like. In my opinion, it was a win-win result for the two of us and we hope, for the fans too".

During the last couple of years, Patlansky has been in Europe to promote his latest two albums several times, including this one. Out of the many countries in the world in which this young and talented artist has performed, the United Kingdom seems to have built a special bond with Patlansky and his music. "Personally, I have always thought that the United Kingdom had stronger musical traditions and knowledge than many other countries in the world. When it comes to blues/rock, in particular, you can easily sense that there is a strong music scene in this part of the world. One of the aspects that I have noticed in this last couple of years, whenever I had the chance to play in the UK, was the fact that when you get people in UK that is really into your music, they will become your most loyal fans ever. The crowds here in UK are really great ones to play for, very appreciative of my music. In a short amount of time, I feel that myself and the UK fans have built together a very strong connection. I am not saying this because we are in London right now, as we speak, but please believe me when I say that the United Kingdom is among my most favourite places in the world to play live. There is such a healthy music scene here, not just for me but also for other artists and I am very excited to come back here in the UK and play whenever I have the opportunity to do so".

Dan Patlansky Bakkes Images02

(Photo by Bakkes Images)

 

One of Patlansky's fondest memories, as a musician, goes back to 2015, when he had the opportunity to tour together with the Guitar Maestro Joe Satriani. To play with such an enormously talented musician, must surely have inspired Patlansky musically in the build-up to record Introvertigo. "Without a doubt. It has been one of the greatest honours of my life to be on Tour with such an incredible artist like Joe and trust me, the Man is a real force of nature. He is such a nice guy and from a personal point of view, one of the nicest artists I have ever met in my career. He made myself and my band feel at home every day, when we were touring with him and his crew. When you are a support artist, sometimes you may feel like you are in the way of things but that was not the case at all with Joe. I learned a lot from him, how can you not? What I really appreciated of him beside his stature as a guitarist,  is the incredible level of consistancy he applies in his performances, night after night. He never has a night off or plays under par, never. That shows really how much he has got his head right, which is a skill that just masterful musicians like Satriani have. It was a world class experience working with him that I shall treasure forever".

Whilst touring with Satriani in 2015, Patlansky had the opportunity to test live, in many occasions, two very powerful tracks with his audience that ended up then in Introvertigo, Run and Stop The Blessing. Bluebird Reviews is curious to know whether Patlansky thought already, at the time, that those two songs would have been the driving force of the new album, in terms of radio airplay. "To be honest with you, the only reason why we were playing those two tracks in our setlists while touring with Satriani, it was because at the time those songs were the only two tracks ready from the new album. Playing those tracks gave us the opportunity not just to test them live but also the chance to get an immediate feedback from the crowds long before the album was released. The fact that Stop The Messing became a single here in UK, on radio stations like Planet Rock, was purely coincidental, as it was just coincidental what brought those two songs in the spotlight too. But I am glad it happened that way, because it gets always tough for me to pick a single song from any of my records and decide which would be a better single than another or more radio friendly. Every song is like a child for me and you don't get to pick and choose any of your kids, because you don't want to disappoint anybody, therefore I am glad that radio stations do that job on my behalf". 

Patlansky is a truly eclectic artist on many different levels. Not only a fabulous guitarist and an excellent singer, Patlansky's songwriting gets better and better as the years go by. One of the songs from Introvertigo, called Western Decay, is not just a splendidly written tune but also one that gives the real feeling that the South African artist means every word he sings, when he worries about the future of the world we are living in. "That is a song about how much the world has changed from when I was a kid and the amount of freedom I had as a young boy, in comparison to this present time. I guess that life in South Africa, back in the days, was pretty much like here in Europe or in the rest of the world. You could go out with your friends, coming back when the sun was down and my parents wouldn't worry at all, because everything was going to be good. It's a total different game, now. Since I have become a father, I can actually sense on my own skin how much things have changed and it's a sad thing to realise. You get the feeling that those days of freedom are long gone and they are never coming back again, because the world is getting more and more crazy, as the years go by. That's what the song is all about. As I said, it really means a lot to me because it makes me appreciate even more the way that I have been raised and I feel blessed for that. At the same time, it makes me feel even more responsible about trying to be the best parent I can possibly be, especially in crazy times like these".

Dan Patlansky Bakkes Images

(Photo by Bakkes Images)

Introvertigo is an album that doesn't just showcase Patlansky's love for blues but also for a quintessentially 90's rock sound, superbly executed through his unmistakable artistic touch. We ask Dan Patlansky which were the 90's rock bands that made a particular impact on him. "Definitely Soundgarden. They were such a big influence for me. Them and the Rage Against The Machine. When the project Audioslave came up, back in 2000, that was for me the best of both worlds I could possibly ask for, musically, because that band was including 3/4 of the RATM plus Soundgarden's Chris Cornell as the lead singer. Cornell is for me one of the best singers ever. Obviously, I listened to many other big rock bands of the 90's, people like Nirvana, that kind of stuff. Truth to be told, I don't think that the 90's was the best ever music era, at least for me personally but there were certainly some decent stuff made in that decade".

Another highly interesting tune present on Introvertigo is, without a doubt, Heartbeat. In this song, Patlansky displays in full his ability on both acoustic and electric guitar, by mixing and alternating the two different guitar types on the same track with very inspired brilliancy. "The genesis of that song it's quite interesting, because that was the last song we recorded for the new album. The only thing I had for that song were the lyrics but I had no music ready at all for that tune. So we started messing around in the studio and then, little by little,  we came up with the riff, then the melody and so we thought "Hey, we are getting somewhere, here!". One of the winning factors about that song, for me , was that it wasn't an over-thought tune at all. It was almost a last minute kind of thing. We did not know until the very end whether Heartbeat was going to become an acoustic tune or an electric one, because we had the platform to build the structure of the song in both ways. I like to play my music differently, either whispered in a more soft and gentle way through an acoustic gutar or more loud and boombastic through an electric guitar. It's a great accomplishment this song, for me, because it shows two different dimensions of my music style. Although it's complicate to play this song live, because I cannot play the acoustic and the electric guitar at the same time when I am on stage. You need some kind of magicians to be able to do that! (chuckles). It's possibly one of my most favourite tracks of the albums, because of the unusual dynamic occurring on Heartbeat".

Patlansky is a truly eclectic musician able to express his talent using different layers of music, in the same way he expresses his personal feeling, through those different music layers. By using different music styles as instruments of expressions, one would hope that, at least, the musical Vertigos are finally over for the South African artist. "Possibly. I agree about what you just said about feelings. Music is a platform that allows me to express who I am, as every art form does with any artists. It can be a painter, a photographer, any kind of. Obviously, rock is  a far easier platform for me to express feelings like anger through, because has got a raw sound in itself, an "in-your-face" type of music approach. You may be able, I guess, to express anger through blues too but, because I love both genres, I guess that this album gave me the opportunity to dislodge feelings like anger and love using different sounds, the ones I really love. Fundamentally, my idea of Introvertigo is like, say, going out shopping at Xmas time and be surrounded by hundreds of people doing exactly the same. That idea of chaos surrounding you, the feeling that you don't want to be there, that is kind of what I was trying to express by using a made up word like Introvertigo. But you know what? You can dislodge any kind of feeling for a while through a record, but an Introvertigo kind of feeling is something I feel I have to live for the rest of my life with, because chaos is something that will never cease to exist, in every aspects of modern society. With the sole exception of when I am on stage playing my music or being surrounded by the love of my family, the best feelings ever in the whole world".

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Introvertigo is out now and it's available on Amazon

Out On The Tiles

BJ Thomas at Springfield Symphony Hall, March 27th, 2010

thumb bj_thomas_012I was not only lucky to have seen BJ Thomas perform live, but had the privilege of meeting him after the show. His Southern hospitality warmed the Springfield Symphony Hall, with award winning favorites such as Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song, Raindrops, The Most Beautiful Girl and many more. The show opened with a spectacular performance by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. The direction by Kevin Rhodes was energetic and inclusive. Thomas' voice was warm and rich with impeccable form as he exchanged songs and stories with the audience. Collaborating with humor and mastery, Thomas and Rhodes shared the stage with Thomas' band and orchestra accompaniment. They all looked like they were having a blast !

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Dont let the name fool you! Maine Music News provides live concert reviews and photography for shows throughout all of New England. Our photographers cover shows in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and anywhere else we can! Our writers provide detailed album reviews and expertly written interviews as well. We may be called Maine Music News, but we dont let the Maine border stop us!