I can’t complain! I’ve been very busy these days, tour solo and touring with John Fogerty. The new “Mojo Deluxe” record has been getting lots of press and airplay. I miss my wife and my cats an awful lot, but in 6 weeks, I’ll be done with the road for the rest of the year!
When did you start playing the keyboards and what was the spark that led you to play?
At 9 I started taking classical piano lessons. Nothing much happened for the first year, but all at once, something happened, and I became a little virtuoso, almost all at once. After that, they couldn’t tear me away. Around 15 I was corrupted by rock & roll, followed quickly by an introduction to the New Orleans piano professors, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How did you discover your singing voice, has it improved with age?
I started singing because I wanted to write songs and communicate with people that way. I never had the greatest voice, but I always felt it was the best one to tell my story with. And it has most assuredly improved with age!
What is your favorite story from life on the road?
There are way too many to tell! But there was that one time when I took a 6-seat mail plane to this town in the Australian outback and couldn’t get out for 3 days after the gig because the whole town got sick...
What was the first record you brought that you were most proud of and where did you buy it?
The first record I ever bought with my own money was a recording of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. I bought it at the supermarket - they were selling the “Great Composers Series” 0 one a month, for a buck or something like that. I was probably 10 or 11 years old and I still have that record!
You have played with many famous musicians what one piece of advice would you give to a new band or artist starting out today?
Do it for love, and do it to elevate the music, not yourself. Otherwise, no about if success, large or small, will make you happy.
Where is your most favorite place in the world?
How have your keyboards changed over the years and what was the best one?
For piano, I like real pianos, and that’s what I play whenever I can get one. I’ve done shows and recordings on battered old uprights and 9-foot concert grands and they all have a personality and a story to tell. Digital pianos are convenient, of course, but they don’t excite me much, although there are some pretty good ones out these days. I recently did a series of demo videos for the Kurzweil Forte, that’s a nice one. beyond that, all of my favorite keyboards are straight up vintage 70s. Wurlitzer, Hammond B-3, Clavinet, Rhodes. I missed that era as a player, so it’s been great to be able to finally have access to the old stuff these last few years and get to play them live on a regular basis. When touring with Fogerty I play a 60’s era Hammond B-3 through a Leslie, and a red-top Wurlitzer electric piano. And I have another Wurli that I tour with solo (although sadly I won’t be able to get it on the plane to the UK!).
Music for free? Streaming? downloads? Is it just the road where a musician can earn a crust these days?
For those of us who haven’t had hit records, the road has always been the place to make most of a living. So in a way, it hasn’t changed all that much for me. Although, yes, streaming has taken a big bite out of my sales income. I also do a lot of recording session and arranging (horns, strings, musical theater scores) back in LA, so that’s a good source of income as well. And I get royalty checks for TV music I’ve done. Multiple income streams, and all that. It’s all moving and changing so fast I can’t say how it’s going to end up.
You played Glastonbury in 2013. How was that experience?
It was really wonderful - I hope to be back one day! Although after the show I ventured out of the backstage area to wander the grounds and nearly got trampled by about 50,000 people on their way from one stage to another. That may have been a mistake :-)
We last had a chat in October 2013, what have you been up to musically since?
We put out our new album Loved Wild Lost in the United States and have been busy touring it all over the country.
What's the feeling now the new album is done and dusted, are you pleased with the end product?
We are all very pleased with the way the album turned out. It was great working with producer Brian Deck. He brought a leanness to the music I'm not sure we could have achieved without him.
'Loved Wild Lost', the new album is out on 9th October, where did that title come from?
It was pulled from the song on the album Love Your Loved Ones.
Where there any changes in the studio when recording the new album this time around?
Aside from having an outside producer we recorded in a studio we've never used before. It was wonderful to record in such a lovely environment so surrounded by nature. We were nestled in the mountains above Stinson Beach, California. It was a perfect setting to be creative.
Is it practical to make a living as a musician these days or does your music have to be subsidised by other careers?
It all depends on what you are willing to sacrifice. Anything is possible if you want it badly enough.
Now that Apple Music has been with us of a couple of months, how do you think it and other steaming options will influence life as an artist?
I don't think streaming necessary influences life as an artist but there are certainly pros and cons to these services for an artist. Call me old fashioned but I'm still an album centric person when I listen to records and I enjoy making full-length albums. I think a lot of our fans are still of that mindset as well. Streaming seems to cater to a lot of people who like to skip around and listen to a lot of individual songs and not necessary focus on albums. In general we really just want our music to be heard and if people want to stream it then I guess that is fine with me. When you go into the studio and create an album you put so much emotion, thought, money and time into it that I can't help to still feel it cheapens it a little bit. But the cat's out of the bag. And I hear even more so in Europe.
You are coming back to the UK for dates in January, what are you most looking forward to?
I love being abroad. It's always exciting to be in other countries and cultures. I love hearing different accents, eating local food and just walking the streets. I'm looking forward to experiencing the UK in the winter. It will be my first visit during that time of year.
Are there any other bands in your neighbourhood that we should be paying attention to?
I think you're probably already familiar with Natalie Prass. She put out a beautiful album this year. I've really enjoyed listening to it.
Split 7" singles are quite trendy these days, who would you like to be on the flip side of your 7" single and why?
We recently did a tour with Andrew Combs and his fabulous band. It'd be really fun to do a split 7" with those guys. We all had so much fun together!
Are there any stories from the songs on the new record that you would like to share?
Sometimes during the writing process I'll write a song about someone else; a friend, a stranger, a phantom. My friend sent me a picture of a Rodeo Queen from a rodeo she was at in California. The image really struck me. I started to write about her and ended up with my song Queen of the Rodeo. After finishing the song, recording and performing it live I began to realise that the song wasn't about the girl in the photo. It was about me. Funny how those things work out sometimes.
The band was formed in 2012, how did you all meet & start playing together?
I sat in Berlin, smoking a lot for a few months. Then my wife left for Israel and I didn't join her because I was terrified of flying at the time. That's when most of the first LP's songs came out, and that's when I sent them to Dan and Yuval in Israel. We started practicing when I came back from Germany in 2012.
What were your ambitions for the band in 2012 and where do you think you have reached with the evolution of the band in 2015?
I think it took about two years for us to understand who our friends are in the USA, and we have been working with them since. Burger Records, Austin Psych Fest, Windish Booking, have all but super important to our first steps. Israel isn't a very well-known country in the sense of exporting international indie acts, so it has been steady and slow. We record new music all the time and create video content we love. We tour in the US and now have plans in the UK. We are cool with working hard and with things being slow. As long as the partnerships are natural and real, it's cool and we enjoy it.
New Album, 'Sinking the Stone' is due for release in the UK on 25th September, what are the main differences to 2012's 'The World is Well'?
Sound wise we learned a bit better how to record ourselves. We do all the technical recording of the albums at home. Other than that, this new album is more lyrically direct. The first one had a more generic, sci-fi way about it. I think its part of process I'm going through of being more and more able to simply capture what I am feeling, rather than going a long way to explain it.
You sing your lyrics in Hebrew. Lots of bands choose to sing in English to make their music more widely accessible, why did you feel it was important to stick to your native tongue?
Self preservation, in the sense of me, remaining close to myself.
What music were you influenced by when progressing through college and do you still play the same albums today?
I loved music where I felt a regional feeling about it. Feelies felt mid-western in a wonderful way. Velvet Underground were very NYC. I like how northern music from the UK sounds northern, foggy, cold. When I approach making music it's always while thinking of history, geography, images.
Please explain the band's name?
Kind of a double meaning: It means both a committee in charge of dealing with irregular cases in any institution, and at the same time it means "group of misfits".
Is music your 24/7 career or do you all have other jobs as well?
Oh no. I'm (Juval) a publicist. Dan works in industry. Yuval is a video editor.
The new record is part on a trilogy, what comes next and when?
Berlin. Probably a record about Berlin, leaving Israel, going to Berlin.
You have a UK tour booked for next month. Is this the first time you have been over to the UK on tour and what are you most looking forward to?
Marks and Spencer's sandwiches on the highway. Indian food. Driving on the left. hard to choose from so many fun things.
Are there any other bands from Israel that we should be paying attention to?
Well, sure. Listen to Ryskinder, and REO.
If you could tour with any other current band, who would it be and why?
We love YUCK and are friends with them since we opened for them in Tel Aviv, so with them!
The band will be playing their first ever UK shows on the dates in October;
How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you down this musical career path?
I took piano lessons and was attempting to write original songs when I was very young, but I quit when I was 10-11 and became an athlete. I dabbled in singing in rock bands and attending open-mic nights when I was a teenager. My father died when I was 19 and for a brief period I wasn’t afraid to try a number of new things, so I moved from Eastern Canada to Austin Texas in 1999.
It was in Austin where I was inspired to sing and teach myself how to play acoustic guitar. A series of strange encounters between Austin and Germany really sparked my desire to try writing my own songs and singing in rock bands. I got the itch to be on stage and perform pretty quickly in my late teens and early twenties and found myself singing with The Young Heart Attack at SXSW in 2001, soon after I was booted out of that band, but found myself opening for Wilco with my own songs days before releasing my first solo album ‘Pretty Things’ in 2002.
From that point on I wasn’t really sure I could do music professionally, but in 2007 I was back in Nova Scotia and there was a lot of support for emerging musicians, so I was able to dig in and make some shit happen with my second album Two Hearts. Since 2008 I’ve been completely obsessed and committed to trying to make a sustainable career for myself in the music business.
You music has just touched our radar. Tell us how you would describe your music for people that have not heard you before?
I would describe my music as Pop/Rock with Americana influences. My musical influences are pretty broad but what turned me on growing up was what was popular on MTV or the radio. I don’t listen to any current pop or rock, but I remember being mesmerized by Eurythmics, Tom Petty, Tina Turner and during my time in Texas I was introduced to Americana artists like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt. Basically I’m a fan of music that makes me feel something, anything, whether it be the lyrics, the music, or both.
I’ll Be Alright’ released this year is your fifth album. How has the recording processed changed from Album No.1 to No. 5?
I’ve learned that I don’t really enjoy the actual recording process, when it comes to tracking. I’m happy to be involved in the later stage of the mixing process, and everything leading up to tracking. I used to enjoy tracking vocals, but now I find that painfully tedious. However I enjoy singing live more than ever now and want to be a better entertainer.
I love writing songs by myself, and collaborating with other musicians and my producer before actually tracking the songs. I was pretty timid starting out in the studio. With experience and a lot of mistakes, I’ve learned to trust my gut and not be afraid to ask for things. I think I went into the studio more prepared and I took time with each song to really try and create individually strong pieces, and worked closely with Dale Murray and other great musicians to have an overall piece that sounds and feels like an album, that makes the listener feel something.
Are there any particular stories that you would like to share from any on the songs on the new album with us?
Some of what I feel comfortable talking about was expressed in two interview sessions, so people can see some behind the scenes footage of me rehearsing with the musicians who played on the album, recording the album live off the floor, and I reveal some bits about the inspiration behind the songs:
Ironically the recording of the music ran pretty smooth for this album. That was the easy part. There were a number of other struggles, which were not captured on video that really challenged me personally and professionally this past year. I learned that you have to be very careful with who you trust with your business and your money. And for some reason I stopped trusting my gut for awhile… that was unfortunate.
You seem to be on the road a fair bit. Do you enjoy touring and what are main differences being on a UK tour & Canadian tour?
If I’m in one place for too long I start to get really anxious. I’m always working on getting back on the road. It gives me a sense of purpose and I like to keep moving. It’s also easy to feel like a failure when you are not out playing music, I don’t know why, but for me if my calendar is empty I start to feel like I’m not doing my job, or I’m a total failure.
The main difference between touring in UK vs Canada is that in Canada each province is about the size of a European country. You can drive between 8-10 hours to get from a gig in one province to another city if you are doing a National tour. In Canada we don’t have the population you do in the UK, but we have thousands of musicians wanting to perform. It gets a bit tricky planning tours in Canada.
But there are more similarities between touring in UK & Canada. I noticed in UK you can get healthy food at some of your BP gas stations that partner with Marks & Spencer. That comes in pretty handy when you are trying to stay healthy on the road and don’t know the area. But you can find great food and friendly people all over, and you can also find terrible food and assholes without trying too hard. It’s always an adventure!
Spilt 7” singles are popular these days, who would you like to share a single with?
I would love to share a single with Daft Punk. I would probably be a stretch for them, but I’ve always dreamed of singing on dance and funk music.
Now that Apple Music has been with us of a few weeks, how do you think it and other steaming options will influence life as an artist?
It’s too soon for me to say whether Apple Music and other streaming options will make my life more difficult or increase my audience and therefore my ability to sustain myself as an independent artist. I would prefer for people to purchase my full album via iTunes, in record stores, or online direct from my website, because I see a greater benefit and it is easier for me to monitor. I don’t feel that I am paid a fair price for my music being streamed, but I hope that that will change with future policy changes and advocating for bigger percentages of membership fees paid for streaming services going to the owners of the masters of sound recordings.
Tell us about your current band and who are you bringing to the UK next year for your tour?
I’ve been friends and family with most of the people I recorded with on this album. Brian Murray plays drums and is my brother-in-law. He has a great feel for playing Rock, Alt-Country, Americana and other styles… and although he is extremely forgetful, it’s really fun having him in the studio and on the road. We have been working together since 2007.
Jason Vautour has been playing bass on my albums and in my band since about that same time. He is 100% pro, super gentlemen, bringing his broad influences from metal, funk, rock and pop with him to sessions. He is also a lot of fun to watch perform live, and a great overall human being to have around.
Dale Murray is my guitar player, backing vocals, and also has been producing my music since 2007. I’m pretty biased since we are inseparable, but he’s the most tasteful guitar player, and our voices over the years have started to blend really well. Our guitar tones compliment each other, I’m just starting to get my tone now with a vintage Princeton and Duesenberg electric guitar, but Dale is definitely my partner in crime and has been with me through thick and thin.
We had the band touring with us on our last UK tour, but come March 2016 it will be Dale and myself touring as an electric/acoustic Duo. Times are a bit tight and costs double for me to bring the band from Canada to tour in UK. I need to work smarter and sell more albums before I can bring the band back, and that’s a completely different show. I have fans that prefer the stripped down intimate shows and other fans prefer the band performances, but then some people like both. It breaks my heart not to bring my band to every show, but that is something that I can always work towards doing in the future when I can afford it.
What was the first record you ever brought and your last?
First album I ever bought – Don McLean’s Greatest Hits… I bought it because it had a song called ‘Vincent’ on it, and I didn’t know who Don McLean was, but I fell in love with that song on the radio when I was 7 or 8.
Last record – Daft Punk- Random Access Memories – Because it makes me dance!
How do you approach songwriting? .. When the spark strikes? On tour?
Right now I’m not writing anything, I’m just too overwhelmed with ‘the business’ of keeping my touring and everything else going. Eventually I’ll get back into writing in the mornings, but it’s not always about songwriting, usually just journaling. My journal entries are extremely boring.
If I can simplify my day-to-day then I will probably get back to writing when a spark strikes. But sparks don’t normally strike me unless something out-of-the-norm is happening in my own life or around me. I typically will write in my home office, or while I’m in transit on a plane, train or by myself (which isn’t often anymore).
Words and music often come simultaneously, although not always the case. There is no strict rhythm to my songwriting. Sometimes there are stretches where I just don’t write, and not much is going on in my life. During the times I’m not writing music, I’ll try to take guitar or piano lessons to keep my fingers moving and my brain active.
I'm backstage at The Leadmill in Sheffield with White Reaper, who are Tony Esposito (Guitars, Lead vocals), Ryan Hater (Keys), and twin brothers Nick (Drums) and Sam Wilkerson(Bass) to have a chat before tonight's show.
This year you've released your debut album (which people should be buying) 'White Reaper Does It Again', which I bought after hearing a track on NPR's All Songs Considered podcast.
We really appreciate that , and hope you enjoy the show. It blows my mind that people this far away have even heard our music.
I hear on the album some Ramones, early Strokes, New York Dolls, Nirvana, was that the stuff you were listening to growing up in Louisville?
Yeah, basically all those bands you just mentioned. plus some punk shit. Everybody loves Nirvana, Nevermind, is one of the first CD's your friends show you. We didn't consciously try to make album that sounded like that but it's going to happen.
Looking at your logo and the character on your band merchandise (who's the spitting image of Eddie), were you Iron Maiden fans as well?
It's a direct rip off. We liked the Iron Maiden merch, their look and Eddie so much we decided to rip it off. It's a tribute. Nobody does that stuff anymore, everyone wants to get all artsy it's a straight metal ass T-shirt. If I went to a show and saw one of those T-shirts I'd want to buy it.
Does your guy have a name?
We call him Deadie, (laughter in the room) we've never properly called him that but that's our joke.
Tell us something about the music scene in Louisville?
It's cyclical over a decade, you'll look up and there'll be 20 new bands appeared, which is kind of where we are now, but it can also die. We were born out of a lull there wasn't too much going on, there was a really big all ages scene we were part of, basically a punk scene. There was a venue called Skull Alley which was the one all ages venue in town got shut down and we were what are gonna do now? But it's back now and it's pretty good, but a lot of people move away they'll do high school band then leave, most kids want to go to a big city.
East Coast, West Coast?
More like Chicago, it's closer and cheaper than New York. I'm not knocking that, it's kind of how the scene works, everyone wants to go to a big city.
I know My Morning Jacket are from Louisville. Are they still based there?
Yeah, they're the big band from the area. The guy that recorded us Kevin Ratterman, he has parties every now and then and everyone from My Morning Jacket are at his parties, they're just guys who hang out. They played Forecastle (a Louisville festival) with us.
Tony, you're the songwriter in the band. The last track on is album is B.T.K I've read through the lyrics and can't work out a reference to B.T.K.
Have you seen the movie Scream, at the end of the movie it's revealed that Billy's the Killer, so BTK.
And the track Wolf Trap Hotel ?
It's a real hotel. We stayed there in Virginia and it's definitely haunted. It looks like it hasn't been touched since the seventies, its old school. We turned on the TV and it was just fuzz, definitely more than one murder has happened there.
I noticed the tour has a couple of days off. Are you planning to do anything?
We're still trying to work it but. if we have to play a basement show for free we'll do that, we just want to play. We hate having days off, we like to play all the time. Days off are just so slow. I think we're all going to get tattoos this weekend. We love getting tattoos on tour. Ryan - I think I'm going to get 'Free bird' ( the Lynyrd Skynyrd track) across my arm, they're my favourite band .
You played SXSW in Austin this year. Tell us about that.
We only played three shows, which is ridiculously low for a band playing. But it ended up being really fun for us we had a free place to stay; they gave us the keys to their house. There were so many bands we wanted to see that were playing. Not to mention you get to meet a lot of people. We played our label showcase and met a lot of people we've never met before; we met Alvvays (who White Reaper are supporting on this tour).
Are there any US based bands that people should check out?
Broncho who are from Oklahoma they're super poppy, rock and roll kind of like us. Twin Peaks who are probably the most accurate modern interpretation of The Rolling Stones, like if the Stones broke into hardcore punk every once in a while. Jawws, who are from Nashville who are one of the best bands I've seen. They're so young, so cool. We really listen to mainly old stuff. It's really hard for me to like a band until I see them live, I very rarely fall in love with a band until I've seen their live show.
For a young band like yourselves, is the prevalence of downloading and streaming a benefit?
On the one hand I love it that,... I think it's beautiful that so many young and un-noticed people can come up through the internet, but on the other hand I want to hear bands that record and tour a lot, they're really serious about being in a band. So many people come up to us, and tell us on the way to the show we listened to you on Spotify and really got excited about it and that's great , but I'd much rather you just listen to our record, the whole thing.
I think it's a great compliment, somebody told us you could illegally download our album , like wow are you serious . That means far more to me that somebody's made it available for others to listen to. To answer your question the Internet makes it easier to listen to our music, but you should definitely see us live.
Finally. You've got the rest of the UK tour with Alvvays, then what's next for you guys?
We do Canada with Alvvays, then we do the US. We going to try and record a few splits (Split 7” single) with bands we like and try to put out some new music really soon. Ideally we'll be recording some new songs back in Louisville in December or January in the same studio cos he did such a great job on the album.
The UK tour with Alvvays continues until the 11th September. Their debut album White Reaper 'Does it Again' is out now.
Well, after we finished our tour opening for Jeff Mangum's comeback--before he put the band back together as Neutral Milk--we took a few few years off, just doing a few festivals here and there. There are kids in the mix these days, and being in New York was important to us.
What's the feeling now the new album is done and dusted, are you both pleased with the end product?
I'm super pleased, and I think Aaron is, too. We got to reconnect with people we've worked with over the years and do a different kind of recording--and of course spend time together, which is a big part of our thing. We're close friends.
What was the main difference this time around with the recording process?
This time around Aaron was super busy, so I wrote the tunes and recorded the barebones stuff myself (guitar and vocals). Then I had all sorts of musicians we know and loves improvise and elaborate on it.
We met Scott Minor on tour with Emily Haines years ago when he was her drummer and I loved his drumming. (He was a member of Sparklehorse, too, which is thematically close to what we do.) Anyway, he's also a great engineer, so he did all his percussion work remotely from Knoxville Tenessy. After he finished we had the structure set up, and everybody else layered on top. Then Aaron and I did all the guitar overdubs and he mixed/ produced it with my help.
How do you go about creating new music, do you have to been in a certain space, mentally and physically or is it, just when the spark strikes?
I think we both write all the time in fits and spurts. Aaron really locks into one song and labours on it until it are perfect. I quickly write a ton of tunes, then throw a bunch away, then go back and fix what I don't like.
What is your opinion as an artist about the shift by the likes of Apple and Amazon into the streaming market, will that be the end of downloads?
Speaking for myself, I think it's just another form of decentralised labour, where amorphous online entities broker decentralised work from all over the place and drive the price down in an attempt to raise profit and defray costs--royalties in this case. It's just like Uber, or Etsy or Amazon or whatever. The upshot is that more folks can participate creatively and make a small amount of cash; the downside is that the number of people who rely on a single profession is shrinking fast.
Split 7" singles are quite trendy at the moment, who you like to share your split 7" record with?
Again, speaking for myself--but I'm guessing Aaron would be stoked, too--I'd love to do one with Bardo Pond.
Are there are particular stories from any song on the new record that you would like to share?
The title track is Ghostlight. When we were doing theatres with Jeff Mangum, I was introduced to the phenomenon of Ghostlights. In some of these old places, the stagehands and actors put out a single standing light in the centre of the stage before they go home. The practical reason is that nobody walks into a darkened theatre and falls into the orchestra pit. But, around that was built a whole mythology, where the light is left out to comfort the ghosts in the theatre. Sometimes the even put out a snack and a cocktail.
I thought it was cool, and it reminded me of my relationship with Aaron. I'll always put the Ghostlight out for him, even if the stage lights go dim for a while.
How was the experience of the ATP festival you played in Iceland recently? Any UK dates planned?
Hopefully we'll hit the UK early next year. Iceland was rad! Packed house, they laughed at our jokes, and the folks we hung with were super smart and fun-loving. It really is like no other place I've ever seen. It's like being on the moon.
Just how difficult is it to earn a living wage from being a musician these days and where would you say is the bands strongest fan base domiciled at the moment?
Honestly, Tall Firs has never paid the rent for either of us for any long stretch of time. We do it because we love it and we think the endeavour has value. We know a lot of folks who make they're living solely as artists, but it is the exception not the rule.
It's pretty hacky, but do this if it enriches your life--and it has enriched mine tremendously. If your first thought is the monetary reward, you're never gonna get all you can out of it.
I dunno where the fans are. If I did I'd be busking on they're street.
Finally, what is the one piece of advice you would like to pass on to any new band starting out today?
Go out and see and meet other people who do what you wanna do. I'm pretty shy, and because of it, I've never done enough of this. That said, when I was able to, the experiences and friendships and creative cross pollination was worth it's weight in gold.
Initially living in Brooklyn, guitarist/vocalist Brady Keehn and drummer/vocalist Melissa Scaduto made a jump to Los Angeles on a whim as the financial climate in New York became too much. Within months of being in LA, the two met bassist Kenny Elkin and guitarist/keyboardist Eddie Wuebben ...................
Your debut album ‘A Thousand Hands’ is due 21st August, how would you describe your songs for people that have not heard your music yet?
Primitive Post Punk from outer space
How did the process work that you found yourselves with a label and in a position to get studio time to record an album?
We played our first show at the Echo. Jeff at Felte saw us there and a week later we signed with him.
Where was the album recorded and over what period? Were the songs already complete before you went into the studio?
The album was recorded in LA, in the back shed of this place Brady was living at. It was quickly completed in a month and the songs were written during this period as well.
What is your song writing process and where do you tend to write. Any particular places you draw inspiration from?
Brady wrote most of the material. We tend to start with a simple sound, rhythm or some kind of progression, it all varies. It's always the music first, and then a vocal stream of consciousness to develop melody and rhythm. And depending on whether the lyrics during that part of the process work or not, we may go back and re-write proper lyrics to the idea. We draw inspiration from everywhere and anything.
Are there any particular stories you would like to share behind the songs on the record?
No, we'd rather not.
If you could choose to be on the cover of a magazine, which magazine would that be and why?
News of the World
Split 7" singles are quite the trend at the moment, who would you like to have on the other side of your 7" single?
How and when did the band come together and what are your early ambitions for your album?
We formed through number of years in a series of lucky timing and coincidental circumstances with enough Kevin Bacon degrees of separation to make it happen. That's the short story at least.
I think our early ambitions for the album are for people to hear it, spread the word and get some traction on a few different fronts. We've never put out a real album before, let along a 13 track, full length, so this is sort of our coming out. We want it in as many people's ears and stereos as possible, preferably at high volumes. Not to mention trying to find some licensing/commercial deals for some of the tracks. And now that we have something to show people, we are starting to look for a label as well. This first album is the foundation for all of that, hopefully.
How important do you think it is for new artists in 2015 to find a label?
Good question. I guess I wouldn't know because we don't have one... yet. I think ultimately you need a label for sure. Whether you create it yourself or not though, somebody is going to have to that work, and it's a LOT of work. I don't think it's realistic or beneficial to have the band doing the artistic side and a majority of the business side as well because it takes away from both at the end of the day. Plus, with a label, I think there’s more of a family vibe and they help immerse you into more of a community with a connection to other bands, people and places. It takes a village…
How would you describe your songs for people that have not heard your music yet?
We have never been able to boil that down to a concise answer. I’d say we are a blend of spices. The main ingredient is gritty rock, with a heavy dose of soul, a handful of punk and a pinch of jazz. The side dish would be funk and desert would be hip hop. You combine all of that; you get a nice taste of the Benjees.
Where was your debut album 'Alright, Alright, Alright' recorded and over what period? Were the songs already complete before you went into the studio?
We recorded at Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn, NY with Rocky Gallo and had a great experience with both. But studios are expensive and like most bands, we’re broke- so being well prepared helped save us a lot of money. We had an agenda, literally. I typed out a production schedule for recording because we didn’t have any time or money to waste and we needed to get a lot done. We had already written and recorded 18 demo tracks to narrow down and choose from, before we hit the studio. We pretty much knew exactly what we wanted to do, we just had to do it in a nice studio with a good engineer. Two full days into night, a full moon, flasks of whiskey, beers, a few jazz cigarettes, Chinese food delivery and some Williamsburg pizzas later, we had recorded 13 tracks and the album was finished.
How do you go about creating new music, do you have to be in a certain space, mentally and physically or is i t, when the spark strikes?
It depends on the song but usually the music comes first either way. It also helps me to be in a really good mood or a bad mood. Any extreme emotional state is gonna help dictate the nature of the song and those ones tend to write themselves more so than the others. The emotion is there is just needs to come out. Lyrics are a different story though. They involve a lot of the same parallels, but I feel like they can’t just be pure gut feeling like the music is, because I want them to tell some type of story and that usually involves finessing things a bit more and re-drafting until there are some spots of clever word play and more of a through line to the character or situation. But yeah, it’s definitely a “spark” kind of writing for me. It’s there or it isn’t. And it’s funny, some weeks are spark heavy, and others are the complete opposite and turn into practice weeks instead of creative weeks, so striking when the iron is hot is key for us. Get it while the giving’s good.
Split 7" singles are quite trendy at the moment, who you like to share your split 7" record with?
We have played some shows with the Whiskey Bitches and they know how to have a good time and are a great band on top of that. We love you bitches.
How do you approach getting your music heard and making an income and what are you feelings about Social networking as a means to musical recognition?
If I had a good answer to that we’d be a richer band. We do the usual Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram, Bandcamp, and blah blah blah and all the other sites… but we have tried to take an interesting approach in some aspects because we make short sketch videos to help promote whatever we are doing at the time. Check out our our youtube page, we probably have 12 of them by now maybe, www.youtube.com/thebenjeesrock .
I would say PR is also important. If a band makes an album in the middle of the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? The answer is a hard “no”. And when it comes to making money playing music… I’d say licensing is the best option to get paid an actual amount worth bringing to the bank.
I think musical recognition stems from repetition and having good songs that people will share on media or pick up on blogs and whatnot. It has to be good music first and foremost, but creative music videos can help a band stand out from the crowd too. I think anything creative and unique that helps the band show their personality will help with recognition.
What are your plans for the rest of 2015 and how far do you actually plan ahead when it comes to your musical activities?
We will be debuting our second music video in August, recording another music video during the summer and a tour is happening in the early fall. Then we're going to head back into the studio and record another album in late fall. We’ll have shows in the city throughout that time and will keep making promo videos. In general, we try to plan ahead a fair amount because everybody in the band is busy. We have our record release show on July 10th at Bowery Electric and want to pack it out as well! So mark your calendars.
What was the first gig each of the band ever attended?
The first show I saw was the Roots, Joe’s was a Jurassic 5 I think. Martin's was Linkin Park... and Grahams..? Not sure.
And finally …. Your views on Apple Music are?
There are so many platforms available now for “selling music” and they are all basically the same, to me. Spotify, Pandora to Apple, it’s the difference in fractions of a penny to an indie artist. I don’t think the music or television industry knows what to do with itself at the moment because the internet changed everything. And the contracts and bureaucracy can't keep up with the speed of technology and the dramatic change in entertainment consumption. At the end of the day, most musicians are not profiting on plays from any of those platforms and could probably make more money selling five T-shirt at a show than they would for a quarter’s worth of profits from one of any those places. What’s 10,000 plays of a song multiplied by .007 of a penny? Grocery money. But $70 goes a long way at C-Town. We could cook you a tasty meal with all that.
Wow, 40th Anniversary tour … where has the time gone? No shit!
The band came together in 1969/70 Do you collectively still have any ambitions left or is it now about enjoying the legacy? When your ambitions die you will die with them. We do enjoy ourselves immensely when we play. I personally want to work on Broadway! Maybe the West End stage in London also!!!
What can we expect on your 2015 tour, is the old magic still there? Absolutely! Our current show features 7 or 8 character/costume changes. We are a 5 man band now, 4 original members. The production is not as gigantic as it was in the 80's but still very high energy and enjoyable!
How do you approach getting your music heard by a younger generation and what are you feelings about Social networking as a means to musical recognition? We are still old school. Not a big fan of social media. Too many haters. Our fans bring their kids now and they dig it.
How would you describe your songs to that younger generation who may not have heard your music yet? Complicated, interesting, not your typical 3 chord rock, Sarcastic, parodic, sometimes pedantic!
What was the music you listened to back in School/College days, that you still draw inspiration from today? Zappa, Hendrix, Captain Beefheart, Sinatra, Pavarotti and of course Beatles!
Where did you play your first gig and last gig. Any particular memories of both? Our first gig was in the cafeteria of the San Francisco Art Institute. Haven't played our last gig yet, I hope! Playing Vegas on Saturday! Hate Vegas!!
What was the most satisfying record you recorded and why? The Completion Backwards Principle. First time working with producer David Foster. First rock record he ever did. First big radio hit.
How do you feel the music industry sits in 2015? Is it a better place than 1975? No, not even close. It's all a very corporate business now. No people just analytics.
Is there any place that you have not played that you still need to tick off the list? Many places. South America, need to play polo in Argentina!
Some of the Tubes songs or even The Tubes story would fit onto a Broadway or West End stage, do you any ambitions to write music for theatre or films?
I want to act on the Broadway stage and the West End stage more than anything!!!
Rex Haberman is a Minneapolis-based rocker who plays around one hundred shows a year with his band War Poets. In 2014, Rex met young Galway vocalist Aileen Henderson via twitter and the pair started sending song ideas back and forth and ended up recording a fully produced EP without ever actually meeting face to face. They will finally get together in person this August as they embark on an Irish tour. We asked him about this unlikely project.......
How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you both down this musical career path?
Both of us have been playing since an early age. I have been in bands since being a teenager and Aileen has been singing with her family as long as she can remember. It seems that once we started to play, in very different situations, we both became seriously attracted to performing and once that gets in your blood, it’s almost impossible to remove. We have different influences. Aileen was influenced by country acts like Dixie Chicks and I more so by songwriters like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. This combination is what gives Light Over There its characteristic sound: messages in songs with great vocal performances.
Aileen you come from Galway, Rex you come from Minneapolis. How do you get together for band practice?
The truth is, at the time of this interview, we haven’t practiced together. Mainly because we haven’t met face to face and won’t until August 15th, the day of our first official rehearsal. Don’t think that the band won’t be ready for the tour though. We have an A-list band that will be fully prepared to rock on!
How would you describe your music for people who have not yet heard your songs?
The genre is Americana. Our songs are all about a message or a story played with music that has melodies that stick with you. Aileen has an unmistakable vocal sound and style, so when you hear it you know you’re listening to Light Over There. The songs captivate the listener to follow the story lines and is consistently present, so even though one may be humming along with the melody, the story will become clearer as If a light suddenly is turned on or to say: “oh, that’s what they mean.”
How did your collaboration come about?
My other band War Poets followed Aileen on Twitter then she responded by following back and sending a direct message to me with a link to some of her You Tube videos. I looked and listened then asked if she would be interested in songwriting and collaboration. Aileen said yes so I sent her the lyrics for Solitude Gratitude. After a week or so, Aileen sent me a demo of her singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was a huge success, as we both really liked the demo. Subsequently, we traded ideas on 4 more songs then headed to our studios to record.
Touring in Ireland in August, is there anything you are particularly looking forward to on this tour and are there any UK dates to follow?
We are looking forward to delivering great shows for people. The band includes acclaimed guitarist Cory Wong, Nashville bassist Adam Beard, and former Gin Blossoms drummer John Richardson. The level of playing will be very high so the audience can expect the best performances possible. We are of course looking forward to playing in Aileen’s hometown of Galway. This is the opening night of the tour and should be a lot of fun. We’re also very happy to play the other cities: Cork, Limerick, Connemara, Belfast, Bray, and Dublin. Our opening act, Dave Moore, is from Belfast so we’re looking forward to playing there.
You are working with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland on the tour. What was the inspiration for this?
Our first song on the EP is called Where Memories Live. It is about Alzheimer’s Disease and the toll it takes on families. I decided to write lyrics about Alzheimer’s because my father in law suffers from it and I wanted others to be aware, including younger people that may not think about it much. Aileen wrote the music and delivers a great vocal performance with studio vocal backups by Nashville singer Lizzy Herder. As part of the tour, we didn’t want to lose sight of its importance, so we reached out to the Irish society and we’re glad they’re with us in Galway.
What was the music you both listened to back in School/College days that blew you away and still does today?
Some of the classic rock bands that focused on socially relevant topics were inspirational for me, being heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. Aileen always had an ear for country singers like Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift but also liked Ray LaMontagne and others similar.
Light Over There is the polar opposite to War Poets, or is it?
It is different because War Poets is more of a rock band with a definite agenda for writing and playing socially conscious songs, including topics such as American gun violence, income inequality, poverty, and homelessness. Light Over There songs have messages too, but are more about family issues and individual struggles and successes.
Rex, do you ever give Aileen advice on life in the music business and if so, what would you share with new bands starting out today?
Aileen and I talk virtually every day about any topic you can think of. I have given her advice, but she is fiercely independent and far more mature than her age would predict. Having said that, there are certainly aspects of recording and playing music professionally that we’ve discussed at length. My best advice to new bands is to stick with it for the long term if you’re so inclined. There is much more money in cover bands, but if you’re playing original music, you have to develop a fan base that will follow you. That is a significant challenge especially if the band has no label to back it.
How has the response been to your debut EP released on St. Patrick’s Day and are there anymore songs in the pipeline?
The response has been very good, but as with all original projects, you must have a strategy for get the news out to people. We feel confident that once people listen, they’ll love the songs. Our strategy has been to focus on social media with Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve seen success working with CyberPR from New York City. Now we hope the tour will bring an entirely new group of fans to the music. We’ve been approached by some Nashville producers about writing more songs and doing more recordings. It makes sense to keep a good thing going, so we’ll see what happens.
Been scratching at the gate for years, just got in but am now waiting in the lobby.
You recently played a show in London and have a show in Dublin coming up; what's are the striking differences between a London & Dublin crowd?
There's no actual difference, there are perceived notions about both towns gig goers that are positive and negative, but it all depends on whether you have a good night or not. I've triumphed and blundered in the two so I speak from experience.
Having just released a lovely double A-sided single … when is the album due and do you have many songs written and ready to go?
You better believe there's an album ready, I just need a wealthy Svengali to facilitate it
How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you down this musical career path?
Realising I was my father's son, he used to perform as a classical singer you see.
What was the record that blew you away in your schooldays that you still play today?
Alice by Tom Waits, it made me long to mature like English oak and sing with an effortless depth.
If you could tour with any other band or artist, who would it be and why?
Right now it would be Girl Band, love those guys.
Where is the closest record store to where you live?
Freebird in Dublin, they used to sell promo singles left over by radio stations, I'd find myself buying almost three a day and discovering the most random music, I also found some really ropey stuff but that's part of the chase baby.
Who do you consider as direct or indirect influences on your sound?
Probably Van Morrison, funny looking Irish guy trying to be soulful, no brainer really.
How do you go about creating your music, what is your writing process?
I have a catalogue of hooks; whenever lyrical inspiration strikes I pluck a hook and get rolling.
Do you have an old trusty guitar and do you play any new instruments?
I have my 1972 fender acoustic, used it to record my first solo record and I'll be dammed if it doesn't have a soul in itself.
When and how did you learn to play the guitar in the first place?
I knew I had some kind of musical ability but could never express it despite how hard I tried; I flunked out of learning the clarinet, guitar, saxophone, flute and piano. What I didn't realise at the time was that I was dyslexic and couldn't deal with academic situations. One day however my brother bought home a cheap classical guitar and before heading out with his mates gave it to me saying "why not give it a go" within a couple of hours I could play about 20 different notes and that was it, all I had to do was teach myself.
Just what is the feeling when you pick up your guitar, before the first song on stage?
On far too many occasions I've thought "I hope I'm not interrupting their lunch"
Hi Guys, You have just completed your first UK tour, how was it?
It was amazing! I know every band that tours the UK would probably tell you the same, but we are really telling the truth. The kids on the shows had so much fun headbanging to our music, even though a lot of them had never heard of us. The feedback of the crowd was impressively great, so as you can imagine, there couldn’t be a better feeling for a musician to play shows like this far away from home.
What are the main differences you discovered when touring in the UK as against your home country?
We had been told really bad things from other bands about touring the UK. For example, the fact that there is no catering and food is not great, the crowds are hard to please, and there are hooligans all over the streets at night. But from the first show of this tour we knew that this was complete nonsense… well apart from the no catering but everything else was great! The people at the shows are so open minded and went crazy when they met us after the tour. Everyone stood right by the stage and we’re not really used to this in Germany. If a venue isn’t packed, you usually see people standing around all over the place.
How did the band form and with what ambitions?
Annisokay was actually founded back in 2007. We were just a few boys trying to make some cool music together. We had all those Nu Metal idols back then and tried to get, at least, a little close to the great sound they achieved back then. Over the years we changed a few members, to finally find some guys that really want to make music for a living and whether it’s playing for 100 kids in your hometown every two months or bigger tours. We’re still far from making a living from the music, but it’s a dream coming true to be able to visit different countries, play your music to so many people and have fans all around the world. We get messages from people every day who tell us that our music means the world to them, and that makes it worth the energy, work and sacrifices in a band.
Do you write on the road or, is all composing done away from touring? What is usually the spark that drives you to create a new song?
We honestly can’t write music on tour. Touring is stressful and your day is pretty full with all the stuff that needs to be done, so finding a quiet hour or two to write a new song isn’t possible most of the time. When we write songs we start out with the lyrics. This makes us establish the concept behind the song so we can start writing the music. The song should tell a story or have a deep meaning, and the atmosphere of the music should support this.
Your third album 'Enigmatic Smile' was released this year. Did the recording process for this record differ to that of your previous two albums?
It was totally different because we travelled to the US this time to work with our favourite producer Joey Sturgis (Of Mice & Men, Attila, Miss May I) . As I’m a producer myself, we’ve been a DIY band up until then and didn’t have any experience working with someone else. It was initially hard to trust someone else to find the sound we want instead of me, that’s why no one else but Joey came to our mind. He did a sick job in taking those songs to another level. Originally we only wanted to record an EP with him, but that the songs he produced were too good to simply throw them out on an EP. An album tends to get more attention, so we planned a second recording session. As Joey unfortunately was tied up with another project, we asked another favourite producer Will Putney (Northland, Bury Tomorrow, Suicide Silence) and he was totally down to work with us. It was a weird process overall, but it was definitely worth it as the album came out exactly as we wanted it!
Are you all musicians 24/7 or does being in a band these days still require you to have other jobs?
Although we’ve been on the road for nearly 3 month within the first 5 month of this year, we still need other jobs to earn our rents. Music, especially in our genre, simply doesn’t create that much income, which allows you to live from it. We can at least pay our bills, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore! That’s a big thing for us already, because we simply love being on tour. Maybe, if our fan base grows even more, we might be able to get a pool someday...
If the band could choose to be on the cover of a magazine, which magazine would that be and why?
We really want to tour the US someday, and being on the cover of their big name magazines, like Revolver or Alternative Press would be a dream come true! Maybe we should create some kind of scandal, so we get on the cover of the Bild (German Newspaper) or The Sun!
How is the metal scene in Germany in 2015, any other bands we should be paying attention to?
Germany has many metal bands that are huge in Germany, but not somewhere else. We toured with two of them, called Callejon and Emil Bulls. These guys are great and play some sick music. One thing that is also really popular in Germany right now is party electro metal like Eskimo Callboy. These are some really good friends of ours and are huge at the moment. And then there are a few big names everyone knows, like Rammstein or Heaven Shall Burn!
What are your plans for the rest of 2015 and how far do you actually plan ahead when it comes to your musical activities?
LOADS! First of all we will shoot a couple more videos for our current album Enigmatic Smile. All the touring kept us away from being able to shoot those, so we really have to catch up on this. We will also play a few German festivals this summer, and then we have out second headline run through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg in October. We will have our UK friends Fearless Vampire Killers as support. After that we already have a few other tour options, but nothing set in stone yet. We’d love to head back to the UK!