Needfire is probably the most accessible Celtic rock band since Big Country. Less New Wave than those long-missed Scottish lads, Needfire nevertheless inject a power-pop sensibility to authentic Irish-Scottish sounds. Songs such as “When I Get There” and “Fight Where I Stand” are furious toe-tappers that owe as much to the Beatles as to Celtic music.
How are Celtic groups who aren’t from Ireland or Scotland looked upon in Europe? Have you ever encountered any negativity in the U.K. for being a stateside product?
Europe seems to have an open heart for Celtic music. Our U.K. cousins look upon Needfire favorably. Our experience with the U.K. audience has been tremendous and a lot of fun. In fact, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival podcast used a song of ours, “Gravel Walks,” for the theme song last year. Quite a compliment.
The band meshes its Celtic and rock sensibilities quite well. How do you achieve that balance, musically? Is it self-conscious?
In the beginning, Ed [Walewski] was always enamored with traditional Celtic music. I am a Texas guitar slinger/songwriter. We took the Texas blues-rock roots and injected a strong dose of Celtic traditional music into the mix. Everyone was knocked out. It was experimental at first, now we look and craft the right blend. Both rock and Celtic audiences love it.
How long has Needfire been together and how did the band form?
Needfire is three years strong and going for four. Ed was playing with a Celtic band that was headed for the great Celtic music graveyard. They were seeking a guitarist. I answered an online ad and auditioned for the project. It was horrible music, but I got the gig. That band soon imploded and broke up. I called Ed a few days later and said, ” Hey, wanna start a band?” Ed said, “You will never know how bad I wanted you to call me!” We went into the studio and recorded a few ideas and searched through a few musicians looking for talent. Dylan Cleghorn was age 16 and played viola. He asked if he could pick up a fiddle and play a show with us. I consulted Ed with instructions not to crush my son: “Let Dylan play a gig with us while Needfire continues to look for a fiddler.” Dylan came into the next rehearsal and blew everyone away. I stood there with my mouth open. Ed called me the next day, also dumbfounded. We never looked for another fiddler. I have known [drummer] Matt [Henthorn] a long time. Matt was playing drums with a Dallas blues-rock bar band, bowed out, and joined us. Brad Madison, bagpiper, was a long-term friend of Ed’s. We twisted Brad’s arm a bit.
Unlike many other Celtic rock acts I’ve heard, Needfire places an emphasis on songcraft over style. In other words, a number of your tunes could be refitted into a straightforward pop format. Are the songs written on guitar first with the Celtic instrumentation then added? How does the songwriting process work within the group?
Yeah, we are “song first, band second.” I am the main songwriter. Dylan and Ed also write songs. Dylan and Ed allow me to tinker with their songs. I maintain an even hand on our work but encourage their creativity in the process. Often, a new song is first demoed with just guitar and vocals. Not always, but often. I may play a guitar part that later becomes the fiddle/bagpipe riff. Ed and Matt get the luxury of hearing a pretty close final arrangement of a song before they record. I listen to Ed and Matt and say things like “a little more of that or a little less of this.” Sometimes Dylan brings in a killer fiddle part and tells me to reverse engineer it and rock it up. Ed builds bass as he goes, sometimes coming back the next day with a new better part, which I re-record because Ed is right. Brad and Dylan normally complement each other’s musical parts. Normally.
Normally, this would be an article about the Seeded Planet. What they sound like. How excellent their album is — and it certainly is. And while the New York-based group should receive high-fives for not copying hometown heroes the Strokes and opting for a more rootsy style instead, the bigger picture belongs to Sans, who not only speaks about the war in Iraq but has the flesh wounds (and a Purple Heart) to prove it.
Sans, Seeded Planet
Being outspoken about America’s involvement in Iraq, do you worry about accusations from people that you’re using your experiences there to further your rock & roll career?
I wouldn’t worry too much about that. This is a new band yet. No one knows who I am. Still, it’s a point that has come up after other interviews I’ve given. I wouldn’t argue that my Iraq experiences are generating interest even before people hear the music. It would be a valid criticism. Norman Mailer served in WWII and wrote a novel about it. Oliver Stone made at least three of his signature films about Vietnam. I’d like my rock & roll career to stand on the merit of the songs and performances, yes. However, if the Iraq story opens some doors, I will walk through them.
I just want to sing for people. I enjoy what singing does to me. There is a vibration and a resonance that clarifies worry and brings what matters into focus. It’s like getting a tattoo. You start in pain — by the end, you want it to keep going. I’m blessed to be able to sing at all. I got hit in the throat by RPG frags and shrapnel from my own M-16 magazine. I told the trauma surgeon I didn’t care about scars, but please save my voicebox. Told him I was a rock singer. He probably thought I was a prima donna. He was right. But I didn’t care. When I woke up, he said, “You made it … good luck with your singing career.” Then I got interviewed by a spooky guy in civilian clothes about the setup of the ambush. It was like a scene from the Bourne trilogy. Apparently we encountered some hardcore dudes coming up from Saudi. Long story. Iraq was an experience that changed my life. I wouldn’t know where to begin to keep it out of my art.
One thing that struck me about the soldiers in Iraq is how they are able to tolerate such hellish conditions, not just the unpredictable violence but also the barren heat of the desert. Were you conditioned to that prior to going or were you simply thrust into the situation?
I was in an infantry troop, so I was lucky to have had very intense training before I got over there. I was in California training and flying around the desert in topless Humvees when word went around about an opportunity to go over early. Very short notice, but infantry and certainly Special Ops units are always ready to go. I can’t imagine pulling five and six tours like some of the lighter Army units and Marines are. But you have plenty of people over there who want to be there. The more mature special operations types, for example. Look, this situation is madness. Can I tell you something? I wanted to go over there. I was already 33 when I joined. I had studied Vietnam growing up; I was a Boy Scout and all that. There was something sinister about 9/11. Something just didn’t seem right. I never believed in the box-cutter stories. With all the grown men on those planes? Preposterous. I don’t know why, but during summer of ’01 I started thinking about going back into the service.
Anyway, in Iraq, we were good to those people, man. Not the ones shooting at us, no. But the farmers and schoolteachers and kids? I watched medics cover children with their bodies during a mortar attack. I watched men run right into fire to save people after car bombs or ambushes. I watched vehicles and people disappear. I watched mortars land and bloom like green electric trees through night vision goggles.
War rewires your soul.
I’ve spoken to veterans of the Vietnam War before, and to them it was a “loss of innocence.” Would it be the same case for you in Iraq?
I was already in my 30s so not so innocent to the world and the origins of — and manic need to begin — this war by its architects. I think, for me, it was more a case of an intense witnessing of life and death that made the world almost seem to take on additional dimensions. I knew this war was going to be bad. I had a bad feeling about 9/11. I almost feel it was a trigger of some kind.
What politically minded musicians do you feel the most kinship with or inspiration from?
Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jim Morrison (Frank, my guitar player, and the guys at Hoboken Recorders will mock me, but Morrison absolutely was a political artist and poet, just overwhelmed by drinking in the end), Jimi Hendrix (National Anthem redux) Neil Young, Ani DiFranco. John Cage comes to mind. I’m sure there are thousands of artists whom I can’t name who are taking action. I see myself becoming involved in Latin American causes. I don’t know why. I don’t even know the language yet. I’m sure I will find them as we move forward. This is a tough question because the idea of politics tends to be defined and limited by elections and governments. ‘Politics’ to me is more about taking action against inertia, violence, racism. Taking action against the general insanity and decadence and rampant waste being propagated in the modern world.
My music is in no way openly political. Perhaps moreso in the future.
I’m interested in revolution. But the sort of revolution proposed by Khrishnamurti. A revolution from within more so than without. A revolution of the self moreso than an ‘other.’ I am an American. I am far from wealthy but I enjoy a quality of life and a general state of freedom living that I don’t take for granted. I am free to say in print that I feel great rage, mistrust and disappointment in my government, elephant and donkey alike. Everyone comes here to make money, yeah. But culturally and ethically we are like the overweight schoolyard bully of the world. Our leaders shoot their friends while hunting birds. It’s pathetic. If I had the money, I’d move south to Latin America and never look back.
In the late ’60s, youths were more involved in politics. Do you feel that the draft had something to do with that? Do you think that, if there was the threat of being forced to fight in Iraq, that many teenagers would hold picket signs and march around the White House?
That’s a really good question. I have a lot of admiration for American kids today. They’re going to be inheriting a terrible mess, aren’t they? Politically, economically, environmentally. I wish their parents would stop feeding them fast food and sugar water so that we could get a handle on their health. We need every American child to be healthy, educated, and safe. We’ve led ourselves into a valley of woe, and the next generation is going to have to lead us out of it. As for the ’60s versus today? Let’s see. I can’t name one of the architects of the Iraq War who served in Vietnam. Can you? I know Dick Cheney got five college deferments. And he’s a gun lover. He knows what it’s like to shoot a man.
I don’t know how kids would act if there were a draft. I think definitely there would be uprisings against it. With the internet? Blogs, etc.? It could never get off the ground. I would be much more concerned with another 9/11-style get-out-of-jail-free card for whatever remains of the neo-con movement. That’s their only hope to have any credibility at all in their waning years. You have to ask what it is that so fiercely drove these men to get this war started. Was it just peak oil? Or was there some secret Indiana Jones power talisman hidden in the Baghdad Museum? Who knows? But now look at them. They’re each falling from grace, one by one. And snarling all the way down. Like power-mad, corrupt Hollywood cartoon characters. Can we get some young good-looking politicians in the house again? I like Barack Obama. I realize he has to play along and not stand out too much for awhile. I think it’s historically cosmic that his middle name is Hussein. The world and history are a script that we are writing, right now, in this moment.
The war is going to end. I think kids who have the revolutionary spirit should be looking at protecting rainforests, raising awareness of the effects of the toxic and poisonous American diet, working toward a less bipolar, argumentative system of government and more toward a council of peers, globally. The nation-state era is coming to an end. Just in time for 2012.
What is the meaning behind the name: The Seeded Planet?
Oh man, I have to leave that up to the listener! Google it, you’ll find some wild stuff. The name just came to me one day. I didn’t realize the depth of the concept at the time.
Out of curiosity, did you listen to music while on patrol in Iraq? What did you listen to?
I did. Not so much on patrol, but while riding in the LMTV or maybe catching some rack time. I was listening to “Hold On” from Pearl Jam (borrowed from one of the 18-year olds in my platoon) when a car bomb went off behind me. It was meant for the truck I was riding in but got a Humvee instead. That was a bad day. I always had rock music to listen to, and I picked up on what some of the other guys had. I have to say I listened to a lot of Steve Roach. He is an ambient composer out of Tucson, and I’ve been listening to his music for almost 15 years. It’s haunting, tribal, rhythmic, spacey. It’s the kind of music that can take you out of your material surroundings. It gave me a lot of peace during a hard year.
The Mesmers are not a gay band. There are no obvious lyrics about loving other men, nor does lead singer Michael Fitzgerald, otherwise known as Fitz, have an effeminate voice. Moreover, Fitz is the only homosexual member of the group. Neither exactly queer nor straight, the Mesmers find themselves not belonging to either community, which seems to be appropriate since their music resides in a Twilight Zone of its own. Their self-titled album flirts with ’60s Britpop, cinematic scores, pop-punk, and roots rock. Kyrby Raine spoke with Fitz about his role in Queer Nation and the misconceptions of being a gay frontman for a straight band.
Because of societal taboos, it was once verboten for homosexual musicians, even in the rebellious world of rock, to come out of the closet. Do you think that is less of a case nowadays?
The landscape has definitely changed. Gone are the days when most people won’t even consider buying an openly gay artist’s work, but expectations remain. If I said I’m listening to a great black singer you’d probably assume soul or R & B, but not opera – which is unfortunate. Gay artists are similarly burdened. People still shrink from buying our work not so much because they have anything against homosexuals per se, but because they can’t quite wrap their minds around a gay artist not putting out some cliche disco-fest revival. It’s a challenge, and will remain so for a long time.
The rest of the Mesmers are straight but you are gay. Have the Mesmers ever been mistakenly tagged as a “gay band” because of it?
Not so much a “gay band” but there has been a lot of speculation as to who is and isn’t gay within the band. Sometimes it’s quite funny. For example, we once played this bar called Freddie’s and, as we always do, left a recording device on a table to catch our show for later analysis. Listening back to the tape we made a hysterical discovery: A bunch of guys had sat down at that very table, and not noticing the recorder, proceeded to give a running commentary of our entire show. They spent a huge amount of time trying to decide who was and who wasn’t gay in the band. It was funny as hell! They finally agreed that our drummer, Peter, was the homo and Jay and I were straight. The band (and Peter’s wife) has had more than a few laughs over that one.
There are gay musicians, such as Pansy Division, that are not only open about their homosexuality but are in your face about it while others don’t even reference it in their public image and songwriting. Where do you fit in?
I love Pansy Division – very underrated band. I treat the songwriting and band image very much the same as I do my real life: I don’t make an issue of it, but I don’t allow myself to be invisible either. It’s a fine line. You don’t want your music to be defined by who you sleep with, but at the same time gays don’t have the luxury of being totally silent on the issue. If you are you’re gonna get walked on – often unintentionally by people who don’t really mean any harm. I’m a bit lucky on the issue in that I’m not a sexually explicit lyric writer – and wouldn’t be even if I was straight. I have no problem using the “he” pronoun in a love song, but I’m not gonna be writing about “squeezing my lemon”, “masturbating in a magazine” or even wrapping my “dick in a box.” Just not my style.
Have you promoted the Mesmers to the gay community? Why or why not?
Personally we’d love to go more down that route but we’re a bit stymied as to where to start. Where are the gay venues that cater to rock bands? What gay press regularly covers musicians who aren’t divas and dance artists? I do feel there’s a big demand in the gay community for something other than the stereotypical norm but we’re having trouble finding a way to address that niche. So, other than me sleeping with David Geffen (which I’m always being joked about in rehearsal) we haven’t really figured this one out yet.
Tell me about the robot man. What’s his name and when did he join the Mesmers? What planet is he from, and what instruments does he play?
The current version is called the Mesmero 1000 and revealing its exact origin would get us into trouble with Homeland Security – so we won’t. The unit is too large to fit into most clubs but we will be taking his positronic engrams along with us in one of our laptops. He’s very useful for creating recursive rhythmic patters and sound effects to back up our playing.
Singer/songwriter Brenda David is no newcomer, but it took her eight years to release her first album, Scratch, in 1998. However, what genre David belongs in remains an unsolved puzzle. Unafraid of pop experimentation (the genre-leaping kind), David shape shifts so much on her new LP, Better Part of Me, that you might get whiplash. But unpredictable artists generate the most excitement, and David was kind enough to try to explain her chameleon ways.
You’ve been around since 1989 yet your current music, at least the Better Part of Me CD, isn’t rooted stylistically in any time period. How have you been able to stay active playing music all these years and continue to pursue various genres without being tempted to stick to a formula?
There was a time in the beginning of my music career when I was pushed by others to sing cover songs that didn’t necessarily flatter my vocal style and simply didn’t appeal to me musically. That drove me to want to learn how to play guitar and write my own songs. I am far more inspired when I play and sing my own material as opposed to doing covers. My favorite way to perform is as a solo guitarist, and my performances are just like my records. I go from country to blues to Adult Contemporary in 30 minutes but somehow it all flows and people love it. I think that what I do is take these different styles and sprinkle a little bit of myself on top and that’s what makes it all sound cohesive. It seems to appeal to a wide range of people. Also, I use a lot of strategic planning in the placement of the songs next to each other. There’s some underlying invisible string that ties each song together. There’s too much to explore musically to try to stick to one formula…to me that would be more contrived than just going where I think the song lends itself.
There’s jazz, Adult Contemporary, and college rock on your album, but it’s “Behind the Veil,” with its Middle Eastern touches and sociopolitical lyrics about Muslim women that I find most intriguing. What’s the story behind the tale?
I wrote “Behind the Veil” in 1999, before 9/11 and all that followed. I received an email from someone that described what the women of Afghanistan were enduring and how the world seemed to be ignoring their situation. I was so moved by the story of how women who had been doctors and lawyers and mothers and teachers were then being isolated in their own homes, not allowed to make a sound, or learn, or go out in public, or show any part of their skin without being beaten or stoned. I saw pictures of them in their burquas and thought that could be me and my sister and my mom if we had the misfortune to be born in Afghanistan. I wrote that song and started playing it at some of my gigs and always people would come to ask me about the lyrics. It really moved a lot of people to understand what was happening over there. I don’t typically write political songs, but that one truly just wrote itself. I think what makes it unique is that it ties us all to the situation. We are all brothers and sisters on this planet and we can’t ignore what’s going on in another part of the world just because it doesn’t seem to be affecting us directly. As we learned, it all affects each of us.
When you write a song, do you think, “Oh, here’s my country tune,” or “This will be the perfect jazz track.” Are you self-conscious of it or does it flow naturally?
I typically write songs on my acoustic guitar. Believe it or not they all sound pretty similar in the beginning stages when it’s just me and my guitar. Just ask my dog Kelsey – she’s the only one who hears them at that stage! It’s when we get into the studio that they start to morph and take shape into a distinct flavor. The song usually tells me which direction it wants to go. I have amazing musicians who come in and we might try a lot of different tempos and/or instruments before we hit on the right thing but once we do everbody knows it. All of a sudden it feels comfortable, like an old bathrobe. You just know when it’s right. Even if it becomes a heavy metal polka, I try to take it where it feels comfortable and at home!
You’ve been quite successful in Europe. How did you acquire a following there?
Right after I released Scratch I began to receive a lot of radio play throughout Europe and Africa. Scratch had huge success on the overseas radio market, especially in Europe and Africa. I toured Africa, performing all original music backed by amazing African musicians. It was an incredible experience! The overseas market is a wonderful resource, especially for independent and small label artists. Often in the U.S., commercial radio stations dictate what gets played by the Billboard charts and being signed by a major label. The overseas market is wide open to independents and you can have commercial airplay right alongside major label artists. Recording and releasing a cd is only the first, very small step in the process. There are countless hours of work that go into the marketing and distribution process in order to take your music to the world. I’m privileged to have great representation through Sutton Publicity and I’m also thrilled to be represented in the Philippines through Mondo Distribution and in Africa through Uchman Concepts International. We have plans underway for performances in Africa in the spring.
There’s a certain kind of lunacy that has possessed the Boston-based band Infinite Frequency. This is a group that, artistically speaking, cannot be held to a single identity; from jazz to college rock to hip-hop to acoustic pop, Infinite Frequency has tried all of them with the relentless enthusiasm of a child opening his gifts on Christmas morning. It’s that sense of wonder – ooh, what’s this? – that seem to fuel Infinite Frequency’s stylistic channel-hopping. Their debut album title alone, What If…, speaks of possibilities and, from a creative standpoint, Infinite Frequency takes advantage of them all. Leader Ian Franklin took a breather from the group’s hyperactive shape-shifting to speak to Ink 19.
The hybrid of multiple genres is not easy. How did you find members who are versatile enough to handle that juggling of musical styles?
Indeed, it is not too easy. Luckily, I have been able to pull from an extremely diverse and talented pool of players while pursuing my degree in Music Therapy and Songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Being immersed in such a diverse musical atmosphere has allowed my writing to flourish. The membership’s diversity in Infinite Frequency has helped me to fully realize much of my writing.
Infinite Frequency can be interpreted in a number of ways. Who selected the name and why?
Infinite Frequency was conceived by myself. I chose the name for many reasons. The first and most important is that it just came to me, much in the way a song does, and it just felt right. It was a kind of an epiphany. I feel that I am not solely responsible for the writings that come from my pen or the sounds from my voice. I feel I am a conduit who channels much of the creativity that I express. The physical concept of frequency is a part of everything that is. There are vibrations running through all. I chose the name to represent the body of work, the music, the frequency, that I am to produce for as long as I am here in this existence. However, it is beyond in my autonomy. It is about the collective vibration that is infinite in all. I want the music that we produce to move people physically, emotionally and spiritually forever.
What can audiences expect from an Infinite Frequency concert?
They can expect diversity, solid grooves, passion, dedication, excitement and a chemistry among the players on stage that will be sure to invite the audience to embark on a journey. They can expect a raw and genuine performance that is sure to deliver catchy hooks and dancing grooves while still allowing for the spontaneity of a jam band mentality. Ultimately, they can expect to have a good time and to leave feeling like it was time well spent.
Many artists record digitally. What prompted you to go analog?
I have just always been a fan of keeping things real. While I know that there are many perks to recording digitally, such as supreme editing capabilities, I feel much of the worth is lost these days in over-editing and hyper-perfection. I wanted to take my first stab at an album in the raw and organic, much like those artists who have had the greatest influence on me did years ago. I am not really an analog elitist or anything; I just like the sound and wanted to be forced to take songs in their entirety as opposed to cutting and pasting my way through it.
Cincinnati Reds fans shouldn’t be unfamiliar with the name, even though her music hasn’t climbed the charts yet. Raquel Aurilia, wife of Reds slugger Rich Aurilia, is a newcomer to the music scene although she has the vocal smarts of a veteran player. Far from the inexperienced, limited range of your typical greenhorn, Aurilia exudes self-confidence and real emotion on what could’ve been your typical mainstream pop/rock record.
Your album is well-constructed in its arrangements, lyrics, and performances. Describe the experience of making the record.
Making the record was a great experience. Everything from the song selections, to the lyrics, to the recording sessions was a learning experience for me, being so new to the industry. Working with Billy Trudel and Tony Papa was so helpful and helped me to reach the right emotion and energy that each song called for.
What do you think separates you from other female singer/songwriters?
I think that my music on the album is very diverse and each song has its own style. There is a little bit of R & B with “Tears,” a little bit of rock with “One Step Closer,” and even a little bit of rap-rock with “For What It’s Worth.” We tried to include songs on Finding My Way that had a great feel to them and lyrics people (of all ages) could relate to.
Your husband is baseball player Rich Aurilia. Have you performed at any of his games?
I did sing “God Bless America” at one of his games at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco. It just happened to be a playoff game too which made it more intense (thank goodness they won that game). I have not had the opportunity to perform any of the songs off my album at a game, but some of his teammates did attend one of my shows in Los Angeles, so that was great.
What was it like opening up for B.B. King?
Opening for B.B. King was such a great experience. He is so amazing and is such a great performer. The crowd response during and afterwards (with CD sales and meeting people) was amazing. The show went really well for us overall, and on a personal level too. I am glad the crowd responded to our music in such a positive way, because B.B. King is rhythm and blues and my music is quite a bit different. I am so grateful for the opportunity and hope to have more opportunities such as this in the future.
Of all the songs on your CD, which one are you the most proud of and why?
Even though “For What It’s Worth” is a blast to sing live and the crowd responds so well to it, I think the song “The Need” is one that everyone seems to be able really relate to. I enjoy singing it and love the message that it has to offer. The emotion behind it is one that I really feel a connection with, and I feel that I am proud of the way it has turned out.
Smoking hot and completely rocking, Katya is a two-fisted reminder that women can blast the amps with just as much ferocity and skill as any male. Recently endorsed by Carruthers Guitars and picked up for retail distribution in the Philippines, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter is building a worldwide buzz, even attracting the attention of Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, who plays on her self-titled debut.
There seems to be a drought in solo female rockers lately. Why do you think that’s the case? Is it because the music industry is blocking their paths or is there a general apathy among female musicians to rock?
I have not personally experienced this while pursuing my music. Every show that I do the crowd goes crazy. I have so many people in the entertainment industry embracing my music right now. I feel the power of rock and roll inside of me and it’s invincible. It is a force that is constantly moving forward and upward.
What advice would you give to young women who are just now getting into the rock and roll scene?
Never lose focus on your music. Keep moving forward and be positive. Work on making your music the very best it can be. Always strive to reach the next height.
How do you deal with sexist pigs in the music industry?
I have not had that problem at all. Everyone has been really positive towards me. More and more people are helping me get my music off the ground. They think my live show is incredible and compare me to legends. I have a very strong work ethic and in any business that is a plus. I guess I’m really fortunate that the people I meet are awesome.
What artists fired you up creatively in your younger years?
I love all the rock and roll greats. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Ozzy Osborne, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, The Doors, David Bowie, and Rush are just a few of the bands that influenced me growing up. I am endorsed by legendary guitar maker John Carruthers of Carruthers Guitars. He repaired Jimi Hendrix’s guitars and built me a Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster replica. He has built and repaired guitars for many fantastic musicians that are true legends. I feel even more connected now to them because of this.
Where did you learn to play the guitar?
I had a guitar teacher give me a few lessons when I was six years old. After that I started to experiment on my own. I love distortion and feedback. I love making sounds, like a rusty gate opening up with my guitar. My Russian cousin, Mike Kent, was a very gifted guitar player and instrumentalist. He had a huge impact on my guitar playing. He helped me buy my first electric guitar and amp. We would talk about music for hours and our love for rock and roll.
How did you end up working with the drummer of Jane’s Addiction, Stephen Perkins?
I played a local Hollywood club and two producers saw me perform. They thought my live show was phenomenal and offered me studio time that very same night. They told Stephen Perkins I was a female version of Robert Plant. Stephen showed up at the studio the next day to record with me. We recorded the song at the same time. In the second take it was done. I played the solo on the spot and created the weird feedback with a piece of glass. It was awesome recording with Stephen because he plays like John Bonham.
Hailing from New York, the Fast Breakin’ Classics slam so much sweat and energy in the studio that you wonder how many pounds these guys lose in concert. Distancing themselves from hip-hop cliches, the Fast Breakin’ Classics cook a potent brew on Heist City of funk and rap so infectious and mercilessly catchy that it makes everything currently on urban radio seem totally disposable and manufactured.
The FBC sound is the mutant offspring of different genres. How did it come together?
Over the years FBC has developed a large family tree of musicians ranging from 20-something to 30-something in ages. Growing up in that generation of music is where the influence comes in to play. With everything from classic rock to the old days of hip-hop, the FBC takes those influences and incorporates them into our own style of hip-hop that separates us from the more contemporary hip-hop you hear today.
Creatively speaking, who calls the shots in the group — or is it a democratic system?
It’s definitely a democratic system of deciding what we all like best out of all the beats we lay on the table. And as a producer, you have to at a certain point put your foot down as not to let everybody take too many shots in the dark and cause chaos. It’s a good producer who can do his job without upsetting the whole group by helping them decide what’s best rather than saying it’s this way or no way, like most producers out there today.
How does the FBC’s live incarnation compare to its studio sound?
We keep the live feel in the studio as well so we don’t lose that vibe. All the instrumentals on Heist City were recorded and mixed live even though we recorded it in a studio. We could have been on a stage at a show. It wouldn’t have made a difference. I didn’t want to break that connection between everybody by making them record it one instrument at a time.
How did the FBC come together?
The FBC came together as a group of friends from the neighborhood who grew up together and started playing together. The FBC family grew over the years and is still growing to this day.
How does the FBC fit into the New York hip-hop scene?
The New York hip-hop scene is not what it used to be. There are a lot of fakers and wanna-be gangsta’s trying to hype up the scene with the tough talk. But they never last. New Yorkers love the FBC because it’s more than hip-hop. It’s about the old days when hip hop was about dancing to a good beat, not complaining about your Uzi weighing a ton. New Yorkers are hard people to fool when it comes to good hip-hop, and the FBC delivers the goods with heavyweight funk and lyrics that everyone can relate to.
Teenage R&B singer hits Billboard charts with independent single
Teen stars come and go; there have been so many of them throughout the decades that the novelty has long since rubbed off. But R&B singer Josephine Sincere is different. She has landed on the Top-10 of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Single Charts without any backing from a major label. Signed to independent Kixx Records, Sincere is gaining fans through word-of-mouth from both the streets and through the press, a recipe for Next Big Thing status, no doubt.
A lot of young women these days, especially in the R&B and hip-hop genres, are under pressure to use sex to sell their music, either through lyrics or their image or both. Why do you think so many of them do that without questioning the lack of ethics, and how have you been able to be morally grounded?
I think a big part of it is that many young women — whether they are singers or not — feel as though they need to be validated by guys, and the main way they think of to get that validation is to get guys to like them or want them. Plus, if one artist has success doing the overtly sexual thing, then everyone else will jump on the bandwagon, including record labels. And women are so competitive when it comes to getting the attention of men that they feel as though they have to do something even more extreme than the next girl to win the guy’s favor. I think it’s sad, personally. And I don’t think that record companies are doing anything to slow that trend. In fact, I think they encourage it because they think it will sell. But is it really selling? I have been able to stay above that whole thing because of the way I was raised and my core set of values and beliefs. It should be about the music and your talent as a singer and an artist, and if you need sex to sell your records, then you have failed as an “artist.” I also have a record label that doesn’t condone that type of thing and doesn’t want to put out that brand of R&B.
You sound far older than your years. How did you develop your singing style?
I don’t know. It’s natural, I guess. They say that from the time when I really started singing (when I was about 5, I think), that I have always had a mature voice. So I don’t think it was so much a matter of me developing a style, as it was just doing what I was capable of doing and what comes naturally to me when I sing.
How were you discovered by Kixx Records?
I was performing at a church retreat and producer Tab Edwards’ sister was there. She called him and told him that she just heard a singer who she thinks he should listen to. So Tab called me and asked me to come to the studio so that he could hear me sing. I met him there, and I sang a gospel piece. After about a minute of singing, he said that I could stop singing, and he asked me when I could come in and record some songs. And that was how my relationship with Kixx started.
Besides recording music, what does Josephine Sincere do? What are your hobbies?
I like playing the piano and writing songs. I also like trying to learn to play other instruments. Other than that, singing is what I love to do.
Are your parents supportive of your musical career?
Yes, my mother has been supportive from day one. And the fact that Tab and the people at Kixx are such wonderful people made it comfortable for her to let me work with them when I so young. Now, we all have a family-type relationship.
How does it feel to be so young and on the Billboard charts? How did that happen?
Wow! That was really a shocker! I kinda knew what Billboard magazine was, but I didn’t know that it was THE music industry magazine. So after Tab called me and told me that the single was #18 on the chart (it has since reached #10) and it sunk in just what that meant, I was so excited! And when you consider that it was doing better than some big name artists, that made it even more unbelievable. From what I understand, it happened something like this. Producer Saint Martin decided to experiment with my single “The Next One” and put my vocals over a hot Mac G beat that was used for a Nicetown song called “Nicetown Anthem” (I was also part of the Nicetown group project). Anyway, they liked how the song sounded and decided to add it to the album and re-release the album as a bonus CD. People liked that song so much that Tab decided to make it a single for sale to help the album. For whatever the reason (probably because it has 2 versions of the single and 8 partial songs on it!), people all over just started buying the single. One of our record promoters says that people were curious about me because they had heard so much, and buying a $2.99 single was a cheap way for them to see what I was all about. Next thing you know, someone called Tab and told him that they saw it on the chart.
Vocalist Billy Trudel is not as famous as the musicians that he has worked with – but that might change soon. A longtime veteran of the music industry, he has shared the stage with Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Phil Collins, and Sting. However, he is perhaps best known as singing back-up for Elton John as a member of Warpipes. Along with Tony Rader and Bruce Watson, Trudel co-founded Smaktones, a company that specializes in original, witty ringtones that have roots in fairly twisted imaginations. Titles such as “Dying Emo” and “I Hate This Ring” unveil the demented humor that is instilled in capturing the cliches of popular musical genres.
Is there an art to creating ringtones?
There is an art to creating any form of music. Most of the process is already swimming around in your head. Then it’s creating the session, adding the tracks we need to build the song. It usually starts with a beat, then we add from there what it is we need. It all depends on what style of music we are going after.
What comes first – the song or selecting a genre?
In the beginning, we wrote down all the different genres we needed. Then we started the creative process of writing the songs. I think the first one we did was a pop track, so you have to think what is pop music. Fun, light, uplifting. So having that in mind, that is your starting point in writing the song. In our modern rock genre, we had more diversity, so we could think a little more out of the box. Being edgy, aggressive with the music, and a little more creative with the lyrics.
Describe the process of producing ringtones. Do all of you brainstorm ideas first?
Producing a ringtone of original music is like recording a mini-track or a short film instead of a feature – where your have three to six minutes to tell a story you only have 30 seconds or less in a ringtone. So each track has to have all the personality in it you would have in writing a full three to six-minute song. Production is treated the same way you would create a full song. It all depends on the style of the music. Then there is the process of taking all that information and getting it to fit in a file that can be sent to your cell phone. Music files are very large and would never be able to covert to a cell phone. So when making your recording session an MP3 file, you have to convert it to be able to send it to a cell phone. That is a production in itself.
What celebrities are involved thus far?
Valarie Pettiford who is a multi-talented actress of the stage, film and television has come in to lend a hand. She is an incredible vocalist and has given us some great tracks for our ringtones. Essence Atkins, who co-stars with Valarie on a hit sitcom called Half and Half, has been in the studio with us. She is featured in our funnytones section as well as our Latin section. Kojo Obeng is one of the best hip-hop artists I have heard in a long time. Kojo can rap on any beat we throw at him. And then there’s Raymond Delbario who is know best for his skills as a dancer/chorographer from Broadway to MTV. He has come in to lend his voice on our Latin section. A real talent. We are talking with many artists but when dealing with managers, agents and labels, it’s better we don’t discuss who they are at this moment.
Creatively speaking, how does it feel going from writing music to ringtones?
Creatively, writing original music for a ringtone is still writing music. Last week I was in a restaurant and my cell phone went off. I have the laughing munchkin as my ring (you can find that in our funny section), and the entire restaurant turned and looked at me, and started laughing. It was a great feeling to get that kind of response. As a songwriter, when you sit down to write about something, you hope that the listeners will feel something from what you have written. These ringtones have personalities of their own and our intention is to have our ringtones stick out from the crowd. We hope that this will give each person that has one of our ringtones, their own personality so they stick out in the crowd.