Billy Martin & Wil Blades "Mae Mae" (7/5/12) Manchester, CT [6 Camera]

Billy Martin & Wil Blades "Mae Mae" (7/5/12) The Main Pub, Manchester, CT [6 Camera]
all audio and video production by Clinton Vadnais 


Wil Blades/ Billy Martin interview (Shimmy)

(l to r) Wil Blades and Billy Martin
On one level it sounds like dogged persistence paid off.  Billy Martin is in San Fransisco doing a drum clinic, the young organist Wil Blades whose built a name for himself at the Boom Boom Room thinks he can swing a duo money gig together, presses the manager, and apparently he passes the muster. "We just got up there and played, there was no preparation we didn't really have time for any of that with Billy coming in to do these clinics there just wasn't any time.  So we basically did a quick soundcheck got up there and played.  And that's basically been our whole thing ever since," recounts Blades from his San Fransico home.

What is thought of as their first gig was actually their second, a late night gig, at the Blue Nile in New Orleans during the annual pilgrimage- the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival. "That was the gig that really made us be like 'wow this is cool we should do something with this'... It was just easy, there was an audience there they were supportive from the first note everything felt good all the way to the end.  The audience was really into it and you know it felt good which is the most important thing it just felt good which is more important than music being perfect."

Something about the chemistry of the two players spoke to everyone involved.  "We listen. Our ears are wide open and we have a conversation that leaves each player some time to make a statement. In large part, that's what makes our music so appealing," says Martin

How the 33 year old organist, who for reference sake was seventeen and graduating high school when Medeski, Martin & Wood's Shackman was released, found himself possessed of such a unique talent on the Hammond B3 organ that the proposition engaged Martin is a story worth exploring.  "He'll be the first person to tell you, the last thing on his mind was to start another project with an organ player."  For his part Martin freely admits "the chemistry was undeniable. It was something fresh I had not experienced with anyone else. I wasn't looking to play with another organist, but it really is special the way we play together on the stage. It couldn't be denied and when that happened I had no choice but do dive in!"

Blades spent his formative years in Chicago picking up drums at 8, guitar at 13 and getting into pretty typical early nineties fair which he was learning on guitar. As he got a little older he noticed all the bands he was getting into Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Santana all had one thing in common.  "The sound of the organ started to pique my interest.... I actually can pinpoint the first time I really recognized I thought the organ was a great sound.  We would do these gigs in church basements, I think I was playing drums and he was playing keys and he put on the organ and I was like 'yeah that's the sound for me'. I really can remember that moment."

The instrument stayed on his radar and his fascination grew from the Hammond to the Leslie speaker that brings it to life. "It sort of throws the sound around the room so it's not such a static, dry sound. You get this real dramatic tremolo effect".  A senior in high school "I saved up money, this is like some classic storybook stuff, I saved up some money from painting a fence that summer. I got it in my head that I was going to buy a Hammond organ so I was able to buy a Spinet which is a smaller cheaper version of a B3, I found a place in Chicago that had 'em. So I put it in my basement and I kind of fiddled with it at this point my senior year I was getting more into jazz like Jimmy Smith and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Which is the first time I'm hearing Billy too which is funny enough."

A music education and the west coast came calling at a very small music college when a storied sideman and instructor Herbie Lewis wanted to see more progress on one instrument than the three (drums, guitar and organ) he was practicing.  "He pretty much gave me an ultimatum to pick one so without even hesitating I picked organ and I think to this day that was the best decision I could have made musically and career wise."

Presenting himself no doubt as a green, overeager and accomplished young player he "started playing at this club in San Francisco at the Boom Boom Room, it was a blues club it was a real deal blues club and I was playing with these older guys Oscar Mayer's Blues Beat.  All the guys in the band were seasoned guys who'd played in blues bands and R&B bands all their life and I was just this white kid trying to hang with them and for some reason Oscar decided he liked me and took me under his wing and that band- that was the other half of my learning education, my music education.  And it was a really old school way of learning."

Blades is clearly an ambassador of both his instrument but also the jazz organ tradition he finds himself on the vanguard of.  "Without even knowing it I got this real old school education, and without even knowing it that was instilled in me this kind of traditional carrying through.  It's not that those guys wanted me to play traditionally it's that they kind of let me in this lineage that they were a part of.... Even though I don't want to be playing necessarily traditionally you can't take it out of me."

This is in let's call them the early days of the internet.  There was no youtube to look up a clip and see what someone was doing with their hands.  There was no way to learn other than in the voracious listening and the doing.  Blades- who'd made a probing study of the instrument began an exhaustive exporation of it's heritage.
 "I really just had to figure it out on my own I listened and played along with alot of Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard 'Groove' Holmes, Shirley Scott records."  Of Jimmy Smith - whom he describes rightly as 'the Charlie Parker of the instrument'- he is unabashed about how deeply he and all organists after him are both in the thrall of and under the tyranny of his influence.

Jimmy Smith
"He revolutionized the instrument and everyone to follow is really pretty much stuck under his umbrella. I mean it's insane how much vocabulary that man came up with on the organ it's impossible to play the Hammond without referencing him... What he brought to it, well let me start with what was happening before him was Wild Bill Davis and Milt Buckner guys who played more swing style organ, big block chords and lot's of vibrato.  Wild Bill Davis specifically was doing big band arrangements on the organ and that's how the organ combo thing started is it was this way of getting the sound of a whole orchestra with like three or four guys usually guitar, drums and sax.  And so club owners wouldn't have to pay a sixteen piece band they'd pay a quartet or a trio to basically emulate that.

So when Jimmy Smith came along he was really influenced by Wild Bill Davis especially if you listened to his first recordings you can really hear the direct lineage.  But what Jimmy Smith did was he took that and applied all the Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell you know he was a bebop guy, blues and bebop guy.  So he was playing the bass lines and playing all this bebop stuff and he was unreal, he was amazing. Miles Davis was quoted as saying he was the '8th Wonder of the World'.  He was really an unbelievable musician...  So he really just permeates you as an organ player he created a whole language just like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk and these guys created with bebop, Jimmy Smith created a whole language on the organ that really has set up what everyone else is doing from that point on.  There's been very few people to get out of that umbrella.  Larry Young is one, pretty much the only to get out of that Jimmy Smith umbrella.  I mean everyone has their own personalities and styles within that it's not to say that everyone's just Jimmy Smith clones but Larry Young was the one guy to really get out of that really heavy Jimmy Smith influence."

What does Billy Martin make of all this?  "I don't know anything about the organ tradition. He's a drummer on that thing!!"

After the gig at the Blue Nile in 2011 a west coast tour followed which ended with a recording stint in Berkeley.  A few numbers that made it onto their new release Shimmy (via Royal Potato Family) stemmed from that second gig.  Deep In A Fried Pickle a hands down live favourite is one with it's rumbling bass, played largely with the left hand and accented by the foot stomps, and drum fills two breaths faster than a death tempo.  This album isn't all Hammond organ mind you, the Clavinet is an important fixture here as on a handful of other numbers. That night in New Orleans, Billy slipped into a Mardi Gras groove and Wil started into Down By The Riverside- that one made the album too.  Wil had a few compositions of his own that were staples of his repertoire.  Les and Eddie,  "is a tribute or homage to Les McCann and Eddie Harris", with interpolations of their song Compared To What from their seminal Swiss Movement album.  Blades also does a strong reading of Harris' Mean Greens on Shimmy.

Having lapsed six or seven hours of studio time the organist and the drummer asked the engineer how many minutes of material they had in the bag- twenty five minutes they got back.  This cultivated a sense of urgency and two of the albums finer songs Toe Thumb and Pick Pocket were the result of these late stage, deep bond improvisations which Martin later edited down a bit to shape them into songs.

The coda of the album is an incredibly gentle number Give that also worked it's way into their repertoire.  There is something very contemporary, not to mention righteous, about this song but it reminds Blades of Hendrix with it's Clavinet and 'washy' sound.  It lets him show that "side of my personality that I don't get to express that much... that swirly psychedelic side of myself" the funk gigs he normally plays have no place for.  There's a gathering quality here, as we're being drawn in just a breath further.

The last song on the album is a heart breaker and a heart maker.  Fittingly it was the first thing they recorded together.  "We were standing in the studio talking and I was just sort of playing this little thing without really thinking about it and Billy was like: 'Record that. Now. Go press record.  So I just played it, stopped, did another longer pass of it and I think we used the first take. To me that's how the record should end.  That means Good Night in Ethiopian."

Billy Martin & Wil Blades Duo
The Shuffle Demons
Jailmate (featuring members of The Burt Neilson Band)
plus DJ Jive Express (Sweetback, Chameleon Project)

THE GREAT HALL 1087 Queen Street West www.thegreathall.ca
Tickets: $25 - Soundscapes, Rotate This & Play De Record
Ticketweb Link: tktwb.tw/OryUOO
Facebook: on.fb.me/Rz5XxD


Bob Weir Wife

John Barlow, Bob Weir, Natascha Muenter

One of the most searched phrases that seems to land people on this site is 'Bob Weir wife'.  People seem to really want to know who Bobbie's taking his cutoffs off for these days.  Bob Weir maried Natascha Muenter in Mill Valley California July 15th 1999.  The ceremony was officiated by a Tibetan monk who spoke 'the discipline of marriage'.  Bob's best man John Barlow decried: "I never thought I'd see this day!"

In the just released insider documentary The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir -  while glossing over difficult times in Bob's life and perfomances - the film talks at some length about Bobbie's life as the ladies man (and only suitable suitor) in the Grateful Dead.  The film briefly touches upon Bob's meeting Natascha at the tender age of 14 when she would hang around backstage at Grateful Dead concerts.  One segment refers to her being present but not participating in what sounded very much like a menage a trois.  All of this is related tastefully of course.

According to the GD Forum:

The ceremony, held near Weir's house in Mill Valley, was officiated by a Tibetan monk, who spoke of "the discipline of marriage." Bobby was in a formal kilt, and his best man was John Barlow, who remarked "I never thought I'd see this day!"
The wedding was a very small affair; Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Steve Parish, and Ramrod were among the attendees. Natascha held Shala Monet in her arms during much of the ceremony. 
After the wedding, the party retired to Weir's house for a Vegan dinner. The reception was held at the Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club, with the newlyweds arriving in a horsedrawn carriage. The Dave Ellis Quartet provided the music (Dave Ellis on reeds, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, Peter Barshay on bass, Deszon Claiborne on drums) for the reception. A jazzy version of "Terrapin Station" was rousingly received by the guests. Others in attendance included Wavy Gravy walking his fish, all the members of Ratdog, Bobby Cochran, Eileen and Cassidy Law, Cameron Sears, Peter Coyote, Deborah Koons, and Vince Welnick.


Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers) from hired gun to missile defense advisor

While living in the Maritimes of Canada an annual New Media conference often brought one curious and extremely well liked individual: Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter.  As a session guitarist he was onhand for some of Steely Dan's finer moments and as a proper member of the Doobie Brothers he was a more permanent fixture in the American Rock canon. It was well known in certain circles at the time that Baxter's real sideline for many years has been as a missile defense advisor- although god knows what he might be advising on these days.
 Skunk talks about the transition in this article titled The Way We Live Now (New York Times 06/10/01)

Q: How does a Doobie Brother become a national adviser on missile defense?
A: It started with consulting for musical-instrument companies. I would read the defense magazines to find out what the latest technologies were and try to apply them to digital recording.
Q: Really? Is there a lot of crossover?
A: A data-compression algorithm that might be useful in a military arena would have much the same utility in a recording arena. As I read the different magazines, I started to gather information on things like the off-boresight capability of an AIM-9 missile.
Q: That wouldn't really be too helpful in a future Doobie Brothers reunion.
A: No. However, one day I sat down and wrote a paper about converting the Aegis system, which is a defense system for American carrier battle groups, to do theater missile defense. I didn't know what to do with it. So I gave it to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who's a friend of mine. Congressman Curt Weldon asked me to form a citizen's advisory board for missile defense.

Physical Therapy - Drone On (feat. Jamie Krasner)

Now finally here's some EDM (Electronic Dance Music) with balls.  What sounds like it's just one of countless Brooklyn (yes, Brooklyn!) producer/vocal duos with droning vocals cues an air horn just past the minute mark and shakes loose something verging on a good and proper '94 Jungle beat - bringing the whole piece up a notch considerably. 
Drone On  was released by producer Physical Therapy on his Safety Net EP on July 24, 2012.  A strong remix (for free download)  by Supreme Cuts also plays up the stems of the bed track nicely.


Billy Martin & Wil Blades Duo (Toe Thumb)

Billy Martin (famously of Medeski, Martin & Wood) in 2011 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival paired with a young west coast B3 Hammond prodigy Wil Blades for what was supposed to be a one-off encounter.  The collaboration was so successful that a west coast tour followed with a recording session in Berkley that resulted in the splendid album before us Shimmy.

Toe Thumb is a Blades composition as is the whole album shy of a couple of covers and is a good representation of their throw-down grooves, bluesy R&B and Funk. The Martin Blades Duo played election night last night in Mobile, Alabama (probably a pretty Democratic crowd that goes out to see an Organ Drums duo?) with seven dates left on their Northern and Central American tour.

The phenomenal Shimmy LP is available direct from their label Royal Potato Family (on vinyl LP and CD).  The duo is in Toronto on November 17 as part of the NuJazz Festival.  Martin has said, if you're familiar with the album, "that’s pretty much how we sound. It’s straight-up and honest, that record, Wil and I have a really great chemistry. It’s basically groove-oriented.  We had a perfect match, so it’s really a lot of fun, you know. We can be in the moment and sort of improvise, stretch out the tunes.”

November 8 | The Melting Pot | Athens, GA
November 9 | Five Spot | Atlanta, GA
November 10-11 | Bear Creek Music Festival | Live Oak, FL
November 17 | The Great Hall | Toronto, Canada    ***NuJazz Festival
November 27 | The Space | Evanston, IL
November 28 | el Lunario Auditoria Nacional | Del. Miguel Hidalgo, México
November 29 | Barreamericano | Guadalajara, Mexico
 Toe Thumb - Live from New York City


Trey Anastasio aids victims swept away by Hurricane Sandy

A photographer for The Gothamist happened to spot Phish frontman Trey Anastasio in Red Hook, Brooklyn distributing diapers and batteries in front of  the flooded 158-year-old Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church.  Anastasio was apparently in the area helping a friend whose "house is under water. I've spent the day helping him, pulling out dry wall. It's really bad here. Really bad."

Salt Of The Earth (Rolling Stones, Axl, Izzy)

Perhaps one of the true golden nuggets in the Rolling Stones is Salt of the Earth from the 1968 album Beggars Banquet was recorded at London's Olympic Sound Studios from May until July in 1968.  As on the rest of the album the song features Richards acoustic guitar work and notably Richards sings the lead vocal.  The song has been played historically only six times, once at the request of Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin when they were asked what song they'd like to perform over the course of three nights at Atlantic City in '89 on the Stones Steel Wheels/ Urban Jungle tour.  Richards and Jagger have only played the song twice since at the Concert for New York City and in London in 2003 on the Licks tour.



Dave Azzolini (Golden Dogs) archived interview

The following is an archived  in-depth interview (originally published May 3, 2010 dealing largely with The Golden Dogs forthcoming release (Coat of Arms, release date July 27), the songwriting and recording process and in the end a helpful but largely irrelevant (given The Golden Dogs stark originality) list of influences.


Q: Who are the exact personnel on Coat of Arms and who plays what instruments (presumably multiple).  

A: There's so many guests and such, but mostly it's Me, Jess, Taylor Knox, with Carlin Nicholson and Mike O'Brien. Afie (Jurvanen) came in for one solo, Rob Drake drummed on Dear Francis, Neil Quin played on a couple tracks, and a whole lot of people came in for backing vocals and group vocals.  

Q: Did Carlin (Nicholson) engineer and produce it or who is the producer?

A: The Producer cred is "Produced by The Golden Dogs with Carlin Nicholson and Mike O'Brien". Most of the arrangements were solidified in the demo process. There were a couple of tracks that we saved for the studio which Carlin & Mike had a hand in: For instance, When the Movie’s Over was sort of a hybrid song that came about when we were jamming out some new songs at our place. It started out as a jam and I started making up the verse melody with bogus words, then Carlin came up with a piano hook. Then Jess suggested that a chorus from one of my other songs would fit. So I plopped that in there, finished off the words and we recorded it pretty soon after. That doesn’t happen with me very often. I like to think about songs for awhile before I put them down on record. Lester was another one, although the arrangement was finished, Mike offered the lead guitar hook, which is an important part. Underwater Goldmine was another one. Mike developed that intro slide guitar part. Goldmine was one where me, Jess, Mike & Carlin came together and just knew where to take it. It is a pretty magical recording.

Q: When did you first start thinking or not start thinking about the album setting out to as it were to let the album come together in an organic way. If Lester was the first song unexpectedly recorded in a gap in the recording of Zeus’ album Say Us what was the first song written for instance?

A: Burst and Weapon I think – they were finished at the same time, winter of 2007. More than half of the album was written on piano, a Yamaha CP 70 electric piano – it’s Carlin’s, but we’ve had it for years now. Jess loves playing it, and if it wasn’t 200 pounds, we’d bring it on the road. Even songs that are heavy guitar arrangements like Permanent Record and Old Hat were started with the piano. Weapon was actually written on guitar first even though it's a heavily piano arranged song, that opening riff was written on guitar. Darkroom (the chorus at least) was developed at Taylor’s place on an badly out-of-tune piano and cheap old church organ with foot pedals and ridiculous drum beats. Songs like Dear Francis and As Long As You Like were sort of developed at the same time. They have a 50s girl group kind of feel. Jess was originally going to sing Dear Francis, which is why the key is so high, but when we went to do vocals, she wasn’t feeling it and insisted that I do it. I did it too…in only a couple of takes.  

Q: Over what time period would you say you were writing songs for this record and at what point did you start to work up arrangements?

 A: The seeds of some date back to the period right after we finished the last record, so late 2006. I always have bits that I record. If the songs keeps bugging me to finish it, then it gets special attention. Jess is great for remembering bits and pieces and pushing me to finish melodies that she really likes. Cheap Umbrellas was one I had started a long while back. I had sort of let it go and Jess pushed me to finish it and said that she would sing it. There's always songs like that where, say, I can't finish it all at once, but the melody keeps needling me until I have to finish it. Songs usually come in twos or threes. There are always songs that are related to each other in theme, or at least in terms of the point in my life that they were created. Burst / Weapon are two that definitely go together. Goldmine / Lester ; Dear Francis / As LongPermanent Record / Old Hat. The last song arranged was When The Movie’s Over.

Q: How would you say Coat of Arms is a product of Ill Eagle Studio, the East End vibe, the shared responsibility etc.  

A: That studio has a drum sound. Getting the drums to sound good is half the battle and they have that figured out. It's a very dry, small room sound, but that's the way I like it. The recording vibe was such that there was no real huge time pressure while we were tracking…this was good for getting the right feel on songs. One song though, Travel Time was the first song recorded at Illegal, but it ended up not having the right feel and I wanted to scrap it, but Taylor insisted we have one more crack at it, but by that time, the studio was unavailable (Danielle Duval was tracking). So we did it at Taylor's place in the west end just off Spadina. We ended up liking the track a lot better. Better performance, big drums sounds – it has a nice place on the album. The east end vibe is mostly that it's very residential where we were. Parking is easier...hahahah. Not too many distractions, very laid back. The studio was just the best place to hang out at the time. Whether working on our stuff, Zeus stuff or Danielle's stuff, or just goofing around.

Q: What is the official release date for the vinyl LP and what is the overall release date.  

A: I think it's all July 27. It's a summer release. I think most of the music industry goes on vacation in August so it'll be interesting to see how this works out.  

Q: What can you tell me about your excitement about having your own piece of vinyl, and also what does it mean to be on a label like Nevado with artists like Afie that you clearly admire?  

A: I can finally do scratching on my own piece of vinyl! Besides that, I hope it means that the real music lovers out there will dive into the new album a bit. Vinyl does have a romance about it that's undeniable. Each side of the album has it's own vibe. We think that the second side is just as good as the first side. We hope others will find that too. We spend a lot of time on album art….the whole winter actually making these specialized song signs…vinyl is a great canvas for artwork. Having something to stare out or zone out on while you’re listening to the music. It’s very important to us.  

Q: It seems slightly odd that one of the most common questions to ask an artist is their influences but you seem to remind so many people of so many different bands (The Cars seems a common reference point for instance) that The Golden Dogs sound ends up being so rooted in pop tradition but bracingly original. Maybe by way of the bands and artists you started to introduce Jess to when you first met perhaps you could talk about who your big influences are as a songwriter, guitarist and producer. I'd imagine that by now you're so hip deep in the music that your peers are making that they are the greatest influences but if you can point to any other contemporary examples of original bands that inspire you or craftsmen whose technique you applaud that would be helpful.

A: I hope people hear this album and don't immediately think "influences". I think we really got our own thing going on this new album but obviously, rock and roll is almost sixty years old and there are going to be references that pop up in every band playing music today. Arcade Fire - Springsteen/Talking Heads/Modest Mouse; Broken Social Scene - Dinosaur Jr.; I could do this for every band almost... Radiohead - Can/Pink Floyd/ Beatles; Everly Brothers/Buddy Holly/Little Richard/60's Girl Groups; Beach Boys - Phil Spector.   It's fun to do for sure... Anyways... I digress...In terms of influences I just heard some of the new New Pornographers and was pleasantly surprised. I went right to listening to Permanent Record afterwards and felt that we fit right in with this music. Is it Prog Pop? I just think it's just Pop with definite English pop leanings. I felt like we were like the Pornographers minus the slightly faux English accents and the oblique and grandiloquent lyrics- (I looked that up, it means someone who uses big words!). Plus, perhaps we have a bit more of, say maybe, a Neil Young influence going on? Not overtly but...I don't know. A definite directness anyways. If this is a fair universe, the Golden Dogs would get a spot playing with the Pornographers. If we're talking about who we'd love to play with? I'd say Spoon, Pornos, Wilco, Walkmen, I just heard the new MGMT and thought they were doing some interesting stuff too. I thought of Burst when I heard the new MGMT album, I immediately put Burst on and felt really good about our album. Jess and I were talking about how fun it would be to do a covers album and release it on our website only. For free.

Here's the list we came up with, I think it's a pretty good list of influences too:
 Harry Nilsson - Without Her  
Wilco - I'm A Wheel  
Frank Black - Headache  
Kinks - Tired of Waiting  
Hayden - Dynamite Walls (Jess sings this one great)  
Cypress Hill - Insane in the Brain (don't think we could pull it off, but it'd be fun to try)  
Modern Lovers - Hippie Johnny Elliot Smith - Independence Day  
Guided By Voices - Glad Girls  
Brian Eno - Needle in the Camel's Eye
 Ween - The Mollusk (didn’t I put that on the list?)

As far as the music I started with at 12, it was all about learning every Beatle chord back then. That's what got Jess hooked too. It's the blueprint for great pop. Great for learning and having fun learning music. Beyond that, Stones, Dylan and The Who made me love Rock & Roll at that age too. That shit took me through most of my teens right there. It's not that esoteric a list but it worked. I couldn't get enough of that stuff.


Eric Earley - Up On Cripple Creek

In the second of a series called the Deschutes River Recordings (intended to raise money and awareness for the Deschutes River Conservancy in Oregon) features Eric Earley and a few of his bandmates from Blitzen Trapper.

Much like his SubPop labelmate Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats (who was the first in the series with a riverside recording of the Byrds Ballad of Easy Rider), Earley is a multi-instrumentalist and near prodigy having picked up music at something like the age of 3.  As a dyed in the wool fan of The Band I can't think of too many reasons to listen to Up On Cripple Creek these days even after Levon's passing.  Earley and the Trapper turn the song a bit on its ear and the outcome in the great outdoors is in perfect relief.

This rendition of Up On Cripple Creek can be downloaded for a donation (or not) of your choice.


Zeus - Strong Mind (backyard footage)

Zeus perform the Neil Quin penned Strong Mind in their backyard as part of the house concert television series neighboursdogtv. 


Zeus Biography (Drake, Quin, Nicholson, O'Brien)

(l to r: Drake, O'Brien, Nicholson, Quin)

When Zeus proper first emerged (out of the ashes of a band called Paso Mino amongst other things) the notion of multiple songwriters was central to their origin story.  Guitarist Mike O'Brien (everyone plays every instrument except Rob Drake who largely sticks to the drums and the occasional Pac Man keyboard solo on the mini Moog) and bassist Carlin Nicholson are always credited as co-founders.  Most everyone had shared history, hailing largely from Barrie's Bay north of Toronto.  O'Brien and Drake were members of Paso Mino (Carlin did front of house sound) although O'Brien and Nicholson had been writing together since they were 13 or 14.  Paso Mino backed Collett on seminal lalbums Idols Of Exile and Here's To Being Here.  After the recording of Here through various circumstance (including bassist Michael P. Clive pursuing a career as a chef and guitarist Afie Jurvanen -now performing solo as Bahamas- went on tour with Feist) the band dissolved as a band in their own right and as a backing band for Jason Collett.

You might call this account of the birth of Zeus as the Zeus Family Tree.  Close to the genesis of the band was another bassist Jeremy Little (Burt Neilson Band) who had handled bass duties for Collett after in particular Clive's exit touring in support of Here's To Being HereGregory Macdonald (the fifth member of Sloan) was also brought in to play keys at the same time until his multiple Sloan commitments conflicted.  Then Carlin was brought in to play keys.  About the time that Collett mounted the Bonfire Ball Revue tour with Bahamas and Zeus in a revue style show, Little (known affectionately as Jer Bro) became the 5th member of Zeus for a period acting as sound technician, playing auxiliary synths from the boards and road manager.  Little now plays in the Peter Elkas Band (curiously Peter Elkas also appears on their most recent album Classic Zeus although the vocal recordings date from the original Say Us sessions).  During this whole period Mike and Carlin were recording tunes in their Riverdale garage/studio (now properly dubbed Ill Eagle Studios).  The nature of these sessions was goodhearted and rekindled the childhood friend's appreciation of each other.   Their personal history went back to high school when they also started the 6ixty 8ights, a band Carlin would keep going for 10 years with Mike leaving in 2002 for Paso Mino.  With Mike frustrated with Paso Mino being spread all over the place and Carlin feeling lost in 10 years of 6ixty8ights, the zeus sessions begun.  Carlin and Neil Quin had both been members of the ferocious live group The Golden Dogs under the tutelage of Dave Azzolini and his wife Jess Grassia

Rob Drake
For the original sessions Mike and Carlin were joined by Dave and Jess as well as Taylor Knox from their band (Taylor and Quin also had a band together Major Grange).  With the Dogs being their own thing Rob Drake and Neil Quin cemented the Zeus line up.  The following tour Zeus was asked to open for Jason Collett and Neil was asked to join the Jason Collett Band as well.   These sessions resulted in their definitive debut EP Sounds Like Zeus (2009) but no doubt they were likely already working on songs for Say Us (2009).   In a recent interview with American Songwriter they showed a kinship with other bands with multiple songwriters (their companero Matt Murphy's Super Friendz, Beach Boys, Kinks, Sloan, Queen, Dr. Dog). Busting Visions (2011) features material written by O'Brien, Nicholson and notably Quin whose contributions such as Strong Mind (originally a Major Grange song reworked for Zeus) set the benchmark for their newest material.  Collett has gone so far as to say that Quin, who seemed so tenderly young when he joined the band, has "the best rock ‘n’ roll voice I’ve heard in 20 years".
Neil Quin

Of Busting Visions O'Brien has said "the story of this record is it's our first as a band" acknowledging that Say Us ultimately drew from a revolving door of collaborators.  Visions is also their first effort produced, recorded and mixed alongside longtime collaborator Robbie Lackritz (Feist, Jamie Lidell, Bahamas).  It is also their first album to record in two settings; Ill Eagle Studios and Leslie Feist's ranch studio. Each Zeus songwriter readily admits to a healthy amount of competition in the band, "you bring your best every time" says Nicholson. Since the release of Busting Visions Zeus have toured extensively across North America and Europe accumulating accolades and enviable tour slots (including an opener for Belle & Sebastian at Massey Hall in Toronto).   During this period they have also produced albums for their compatriots including The Golden Dogs and Danielle Duval.  In various interviews they've indicated that they'd like to turn their vintage Ill Eagle studio into a new millenium hit factory - a type of Motown North-  making them something like the Canadian version of the Funk Bros. or  Booker T & The MG's which sounds about right.


Marco Benevento - TigerFace interview

Marco Benevento is one of the premier jazz pianists improvising in a rock context today.  He is a bandleader in his own trio Marco Benevento, came to prominence through his Duo (Marco Benevento and Joe Russo), and tours as a member of Garage A Trois and Bustle In Your Hedgerow (alongside Dave Dreiwitz of Ween (RIP)) - a band that enthusiastically revisits and revamps the Led Zeppelin catalog.  He came to national attention when he and his longtime friend and collaborator Russo were chosen by Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish to collaborate on songwriting and a studio recording Bar 17.  The success of this collaboration led to the announcement of a nationwide tour in 2006 by the four musicians sometimes dubbed GRAB by their legion fans.  The younger duos intuitive lock, demanding chops and youthful energy proved the perfect antidote for the core of a band that continued to flirt with hiatus and retirement.  Marco's focus these days is on his family and extensively touring his trio in support of his breakthrough 4th solo release TigerFaceNorthernHeads had a chance to catch up with Marco for an interview while waiting out Hurricane Sandy.

Q: You were born in Livingston, New Jersey but grew up in a town called Wyckoff, NJ picking up piano at age 7. What drew you to the piano at that age, later 'discovering jazz' at 15. Who were the artists that you became interested initially and who have stayed with you as influences?
A: My folks bought an upright piano and my older cousins would come by and play. So that was the very beginnings of being interested in the piano for me. I took lessons for a while as a kid but what really drew me in were synthesizers. I remember seeing my first Moog keyboard in the school auditorium and freaking out. I was in bands as a kid, played sweet sixteen parties and did battle of the bands, but what got me thinking about music was learning about improvisation and jazz during my first year in high school. I played all sorts of music as a kid. My dad is into Neapolitan Songs so we'd sing those together after dinner or whenever family came over. I played a lot of classic rock too, Traffic, The Who, The Kinks, The Doors. I got into jazz through Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson, and later through Miles, Larry Young and more electric rock jazz. Brad Mehldau was a pianist that really turned my ear around and I really got into his playing and actually became friends with him and got a long lesson at his house one day. Led Zeppelin has stayed with me as an influence! That band is so freakin good!
Q: My impression was that your connections to a lot of your frequent collaborators (Joe Russo, Andrew and Brad Barr, Marc Friedman) dated to your attending Berklee. Is that the case? One thing I've read you say about Berklee is "everyone plays with everybody, everyone collaborates with everybody, everybody writes songs with everybody’. That seems like an ethos that you’ve carried with you throughout your career. Would you agree and is your new album Tigerface a good example of that sort of collaborative mentality or are you really driving these compositions and the other musicians are helping give voice to them.

A: That's a great question. The answer is basically both things you mentioned! TigerFace is a good example of the collaborative mentality AND I'm driving these compositions as the other musicians give voice to them. Well put, you said it yourself! I was a bit more spontaneous with recording process for this record. Mike Gordon stopped by for the day and he wound up testing some basses at my house and I thought Mike is sitting here playing bass through my amp and there is a mic right there. . . record it! Why not play him the tune you need bass on and see what happens. Same was true when Matt Chamberlain texted me, "hey I'll be in NY tomorrow night." I texted him back "LET'S RECORD." I had no idea really what to record the next day but lots more than expected came of it. Reed Mathis and Andrew Barr were on tour with me on the west coast and we thought while on tour, let's record at the end and see what happens. We made it happen with a small handful of ideas on the table and had a blast doing it. The tunes that were more shaped than others were Fireworks, This Is How It Goes and Soma. And even those tunes had some spontaneous writing happening in the studio. Andrew and Reed are really creative in the studio and extremely supportive of the music. We've known each other for a while and can do some musically intuitive things together that go above and beyond our expectations. The band now with Dave Dreiwitz and Andy Borger is getting to that same point, which is exciting to have happen. We've played tons of shows together as a trio and that intuitive thing is getting really deep and energized between us.

 Marco Benevento - This Is How It Goes (instrumental)

Q: You are also credited as being a regular contributor to the New York contemporary improvisational scene. Who amongst the players that you've played with (in settings like the Knitting Factory, Tonic or elsewhere) have truly guided your musical education? Who do you consider your contemporary jazz peers?

A: It's interesting that you learn from your peers basically without saying one word while you're on stage. It's true your music education continues after "school." Getting tossed into NYC after Berklee was the best thing for me. I met so many people that inspired me and I've had the pleasure to play with. Joe Russo and I started at the Knitting Factory as the Benevento/Russo Duo and we grew into playing around the country and developing a little following. I wound up playing with Wayne Krantz and Ari Hoeing in NYC a handful of times - those guys can really play. I played with Medeski Martin and Wood in Brooklyn and that was incredible. Those guys are on a whole other planet, I love them.

Q: On this tour in support of the album you’re out with long time collaborator in various contexts Dave Dreiwitz on bass with Andy Borger on kit.   Your own group Marco Benevento is typically a trio (with some guests) - the classic lineup seems to be with Reed Mathis on bass and Matt Chamberlain (more recently Andrew Barr) on drums. TigerFace is remarkable for it's continuity of sound considering there are no less than 3 bass players and 4 drummers playing across the ten tracks. Could you talk about the personnel on this record and perhaps the recording setting at SOMA (Electronic Music Studio).

A: SOMA was incredible! Being with John McEntire (Tortoise, Sea and Cake, The Red Krayola, owner/producer SOMA) for two days is something every musician should do in their life. I basically showed up with a piano track that I pre recorded to a click. John set up his kit and played along to it 5 or 6 times and he dialed in some great drum sounds. John really knows his way around every piece of gear in his studio and it ALL works. I overdubbed Moog bass and he overdubbed some Simmons drums (during the end) and we were basically done. We mixed it the next day and went out to dinner after it all. SOMA rocks !
Matt and Reed are so fun to play with and they really helped me get my own music out there and are still helping me just not as frequently mainly because of all of the different bands that we're all in. As I'd mentioned, Andy Borger and Dave Dreiwitz have been the guys that I go on the road with. We're sounding way more evolved, mainly because we've been playing the tunes a lot and opening the them up on stage has been a great thing to watch or hear I should say.

Q: On this your fourth solo disc TigerFace, you’re making some bold steps forward in terms of defining your sound. It strikes me as a very theme or melody based sound working loosely within a jazz framework. In your recent interview with the Huffington Post you reflected a bit on your creative process including that you do some ‘loop based writing’ but often it’s just you and the piano. There are many sounds coming out of TigerFace from piano, to what sounds like harpsichord, plucked harmonics, to electronic drones that sound like they could only have come out of your jerry rigged equipment. I wonder if you could describe how your relationship with your equipment in your home environment or on tour has influenced your sound on this record?

A: Sometimes it's fun to get a loop pedal out and plug a circuit bent children's toy into it and see what sort of loop you can make. After making the loop, sometimes, I'll walk away from it, do the dishes, casually ignore it and eventually I'll start to hear a bass note or a bass line or I'll hear a melody that might go over it. Loop writing can be pretty hypnotic and can bring out some harmonic ideas that your hands and mind might not have naturally gone to.

My relationship with my equipment in my home environment is essential like you mentioned. I do have a little studio in the country. I'm constantly messing around with running the acoustic piano through effects. I've found that the tube amp is really important for amping the piano. On TigerFace I mainly used this old Ampex 620 as my piano amp and the piano runs through distortion, tremolo and vaious other guitar effects. Getting good sounds and figuring out how to do what you want to do with sound has been a side study next to the piano for me over the last 6 years. I've been around some great engineers who have showed me a little here and there about amps, mic pre's, keyboards, I've found that to be very interesting and very helpful when recording your own music.

Q: When travelling the long highways of these continental United States, touring in support of your various ensembles, what is your favourite song to hear come on the AM radio dial? The FM radio dial? Or what is a song that you have heard playing somewhere (like a grocery store) that really stopped you in your tracks?

Infinity Guitars - Sleigh Bells - - that track blew my mind
Southern PointGrizzly Bear - - great band, great tune
Don't Do It - The Band
Mashed #5 - B. Bumble and The Stingers
TIGERFACE Fall Tour :: Third Leg

November 07 | The Southern | Charlottesville, VA (Purchase Tickets)
November 08 | Pisgah Brewery | Black Mountain, NC (Purchase Tickets)
November 09 | Ciderhouse | Knoxville, TN (Purchase Tickets)
November 10 | New Earth Music Hall | Athens, GA (Purchase Tickets)
November 11 | The Pour House Music Hall | Raleigh, NC (Purchase Tickets)
November 12 | Tremont Music Hall | Charlotte, NC (Purchase Tickets)
November 13 | The Soapbox | Wilmington, NC (Purchase Tickets)
November 14 | Jewish Mother | Virginia Beach, VA (Purchase Tickets)
November 15 | Capital Ale House | Richmond, VA (Purchase Tickets)
November 16 | U Street Music Hall | Washington, DC (Purchase Tickets)
November 17 | 8×10 | Baltimore, MD (Purchase Tickets)
November 29 | The Westcott Theatre | Syracuse, NY (Purchase Tickets)
November 30 | The Haunt | Ithaca, NY (Purchase Tickets)
December 1 | Red Square | Albany, NY
December 7 | River Street Jazz Cafe | Wilkes Barre, PA
December 8 | Appalachian Brewing Company | Harrisburg, PA ^^^ (Purchase Tickets)
December 13 | Arch Street Tavern | Hartford, CT
December 14 | The Met | Providence, RI
December 15 | Empire | Portland, ME
December 28 | Highline Ballroom | New York, NY (Purchase Tickets)
December 29 | Water Street Music Hall | Rochester NY ^ (Purchase Tickets)
December 30 | Higher Ground | Burlington, VT ^ (Purchase Tickets)
December 31 | Higher Ground | Burlington, VT ^ (Purchase Tickets)

^^^support Lydia Loveless^supporting Rubblebucket


Bear In Heaven Fader Mix (download and tourdates)

Jon Philpot
Bear In Heaven are one of the most exciting psychedelic groups to come along in the past decade.  Admittedly it wasn't until I caught their devastating live show at the Ottawa Bluesfest a couple of summers ago, touring in support of Beast Rest Forth Mouth, that I realized that the lead singer was a man.  Listening to the record was vexing and not entirely comfortable.  It was one of those things you picked up because it landed in Pitchfork's top 50 and though you're convinced Pitchfork's utter shit there's probably something interesting going on from 30-50 on their best albums of the year.  Beast Rest Forth Mouth proved a long shot favourite.  In hindsight credit where credit's due they did give the incredibly deserving group their 'Best New Music' award nailing bang on what made the 2010 release so vexing:

"Beast Rest Forth Mouth is as familiar-feeling as it is difficult to pinpoint. Mostly made up of textural, spacious three- to four-minute pop anthems with towering choruses, BRFM is a welcome reminder that an album doesn't have to be bombastic to feel huge and important. Take out the earbuds and let it fill a space: This is music that's bigger than your iPod—music you'll want to feel all around you. Though not quite coming out of nowhere, BRFM seems like a surprise gift—a striking consolidation of the spiky psych-prog tendencies of their debut into a pop framework." [2]

Jon Philpot - Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest July 10, 2010
Seeing the band live I was duly chuffed, at a festival that opened it's first day with an epic performance by Furthur (the post-Grateful Dead vehicle fronted by Phil Lesh and Bob Weir), when leader Jon Philpot emerged wearing a Europe '72 Grateful Dead t-shirt.  Though Bear In Heaven's, who largely hail from Georgia but are thought of as a Brooklyn-based band, brand of psychedelia bears faint if any resemblance to groups like the dead or fellow southerners the Allman Bros. Band.   Their influences are more obviously krautrock and electronic music but their intent is quite consistent with psychedelic values of yore.  Where most psychedelic bands play a lot of notes (often accused of playing far too many) Bear In Heaven weaves dense textural landscapes of sound over which Philpot in his preening falsetto scatters his somehow meaningful but half-heard lyrics.   Bear In Heaven is concerned with the weave of notes back and forth just as much as they are concerned with the wail of sound.  The fabric they fashion is always lush, inviting and somehow questions and prods the listener on into a braver future.

Bear In Heaven Fader Mix (download)


Cex – Enter Carter
Kyoka – Hadue
Factory Floor – Lying
Andrew Pekler – Misty Blue
Craig Leon – Donkeys
Alpha Wave Movement – Beacon 2
Oblio – Factory Of Reincarnation
Invisible Conga People – Cant Feel My Knees
Andrew Fitzpatrick – Coyote Prism
Bear In Heaven – Kiss Me Crazy (Certain Creatures Remix)
Diamond Age – Opening Credits
Bear In Heaven – Greece Sun
Harold Budd – Wanderer
"You lose work, you find work, somebody steals your stuff, you sell some stuff to replace the stolen stuff. In the course of change, a hole is formed and then filled. It could be there for a second or you could stand at the precipice for years. For better or worse, Bear in Heaven is always changing. Some bands don’t change, often out of a desire to keep their listeners. We’re of the mind that we shouldn’t fight nature’s ever-shifting sands. At this point time, the ground is caving in. We’re years away from who we were when Beast Rest Forth Mouth came out and one year away from when we finished I Love You, it’s Cool. This mixtape is the sound of us deciding whether we should start filling the hole or just dive in. It might be fun, we might not hit bottom. We might fly to the other side of this strange dimension. Will you let us do it? Will you join us? We’re playing some shows in October and December. Come see us stand on the edge. In the meantime, enjoy this mix. It’s filled with music by our friends, people we’d like to be friends with and sounds from the road." - Jon Philpot

Tour Dates:

10.24 – Johnny Brenda’s – Philadelphia, PA * !
10.25 – College of William And Mary – Williamsburg, VA *
10.26 – Moogfest – Asheville, NC #
10.27 – MOTR Pub – Cincinnati, OH *
10.28 – Brillobox – Pittsburgh, PA *
10.29 – Black Cat Backstage – Washington, DC *
12.05 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – New York, NY * $
12.07-12.09 – All Tomorrow’s Parties By The National – Camber Sands Holiday Camp, UK

* with ERAAS
! with Pink Skull
# with Miike Snow, Squarepusher, Explosions In The Sky
$ with Small Black


Diplo Halloween Mix (download)

Mad Decent label honcho and star of credit card commercials Diplo has just come out with a 3 hour Halloween mix for BBC!    The set touches on everything from Africa Bambaata to a special Major Lazer dub of Rihanna's "You Da One" as well as de rigeur cuts from Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke x Lunice).  Keeping it dark Diplo throws in The Prodigy and Misfits.

The last hour Diplo hands the reinds to System D-128, who close things out with a heavy mini-block of Three 6 Mafia.