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October 28, 2009


Livan rebounds from addiction to make solo debut


The list of rockers with unhealthy vices is a long one, and so is the tally of those who died as a result of their addictions.

London-based singer/songwriter Livan makes no bones about being a recovering drug addict, and he says it’s so much better "to be one of them and not six feet under."

"At the end of the day, all I did was stop doing what I shouldn't have been doing in the first place," he says. "If you want to be a professional in this business, you have to deliver and you can't if you’re off your head."

Livan’s focus on music the past few years has resulted in Happy Returns (Pumpkin Music), his recently released full-length solo debut.

"Musically, there's a lot in there, from Bauhaus to The Cure and from Iggy Pop to New Model Army," he explains. "Lyrically, its all my baggage spilled out with [satire] and sarcasm and with a dose of political incorrectness!

"Some of the songs, like 'Kiss and Tell,' which is about a working girl that used to work the street in front of my house in London, are inspired by human stories. Other songs, like 'Happy Returns,' are my statements on how I see the world at the particular moment when I write the song."

Look for Livan on the road in the United States next spring, and he expects to release new music in 2010 as well.

-- By Chris M. Junior

October 21, 2009


TV connection has served Green River Ordinance well


Count Green River Ordinance guitarist Joshua Wilkerson among those who feel that video and music make for a perfect marriage.

Like so many other acts in recent years, his Texas-bred rock band has gone prime-time by having its songs featured in various television series. In GRO's case, the TV placement of tunes from the album Out of My Hands led to a recent spike in visits to the Green River Ordinance MySpace page, according to the band's label, EMI/Virgin Records.

Wilkerson recently spoke about his band's television exposure, what he and his bandmates are listening to as they travel from gig to gig and other topics.

Medleyville.us: Your band recently began a tour with singer and One Tree Hill star Kate Voegele. Do you think touring with a TV star will bring a different sort of audience to the shows?
Joshua Wilkerson: "It seems to be a younger crowd, which makes for a really fun show. It’s basically made up of a lot of younger girls, some who watch One Tree Hill and some who don’t. Either way, they’re a great group of people who are into music and aren’t afraid to get loud and rowdy."

Speaking of TV: GRO songs have been featured on The Hills and So You Think You Can Dance. With the music industry on shaky ground the past few years, is that type of exposure more important than radio airplay?
Wilkerson: "Well, I’m not really sure if anyone knows what works best and what doesn’t when it comes to the music industry nowadays. The way I see it, being on national television shows is amazing! What makes it so great is that it gets your song in front of massive amounts of people at once but also sets the song up with a scene. For most people, myself included, music and video just make sense together. When you see a scene and the music fits perfectly, you end up liking what you saw and what you heard even more than you would have like them alone. Like scent can trigger certain memories, music can bring a sense of nostalgia with it.

"However, radio play definitely still plays a huge role for the music industry. When a person hears a song 4-5 times over the course of a week, it’s easier for them to determine whether they like it or not. For instance, I listened to the last Jimmy Eat World CD two times through and didn’t really care for it much. I listened to it a few more times and decided that I loved it. The same thing has happened with songs that I’ve heard on the radio."

Was it a no-brainer for the band to sign with Virgin Records, or did some of the members want to stay independent for one reason or another?
Wilkerson: "Well, we’d worked on getting signed for about a year and a half. We had talked with Atlantic and Universal Republic as well as Virgin/Capitol. When we were offered a deal with Virgin/Capitol, it was pretty much a no-brainer for us. We’ve heard horror stories about major labels, but we’ve actually been extremely blessed to have all of the hard-working people at the label. They’ve been nothing but great to us."

Talk about breaking the record for most CDs sold at a performance at Nokia Theatre Times Square in New York.
Wilkerson: "Playing at Nokia in Times Square was a really cool experience for us. We loved playing with the David Cook boys, and that was just a great show. All of our families came out and made an New York City trip out of it, so we got to see all of them after a few months of touring.

"The show sold out, and the crowd was great. After the show, we just went out to the merchandise booth and realized that there was a huge line of people buying CDs. We stuck around and signed stuff until everyone left and we realized that we’d sold 455 CDs. The manager we settled up with at the end of the night was shocked and told us that a band hadn’t ever sold that many CDs there before. We didn’t ask who held the previous record, but there have been a lot of huge bands that have played there, so we were really excited about it."

What is the band's mode of transportation these days, and what are you guys listening to on your way from gig to gig?
Wilkerson: "We’re still in our first van we purchased and dubbed Lambchop. It’s a big 15-passenger van and trailer that we bought new in the winter of '06 and have put 150,000 miles on it since then.

"We just got Sirius recently, so we’ve been listening to that a lot. Other than that, we’ve been jammin' Safetysuit, Collective Soul, NeedtoBreathe and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Those are the new ones at least. You can always count on us listening to U2, Tom Petty, Sigur Ros and plenty of other music that’s been around for a while."

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Green River Ordinance on tour (schedule subject to change):

* Oct. 21: Juanita's Cantina Ballroom -- Little Rock, Ark.

* Oct. 22: Diamond Ballroom -- Oklahoma City, Okla.

* Oct. 23: The White Rabbit -- San Antonio

* Oct. 24: Buddha Mansion -- McAllen, Texas

* Oct. 26: Stubb's -- Austin, Texas

* Oct. 28: Take II -- El Paso, Texas

* Oct. 29: Launchpad -- Albuquerque, N.M.

* Oct. 30: Mesa Arts Center -- Mesa, Ariz.

* Nov. 1: Club Congress -- Tucson, Ariz.

October 19, 2009




Personally speaking, I can solidly claim that the very first record ever released on Greg Shaw's Bomp! label, The Flamin' Groovies' 1974 seven-incher "You Tore Me Down," actually caused the sonic earth to move beneath me in ways matched only by, I kid you not, you-know-who on The Ed Sullivan Show, my first discovery of Elvis Presley's Sun sessions and my pal John’s bringing the first Ramones record home to our innocent little Canadian turntables via the Bowery, very very late one long-lost Friday ago.

Yes sir, that little Groovies record, and the joyous singles (and albums and magazines) Bomp! faithfully sent my way duly inspired yours quite truly start my own fanzine. Then my own band. Then even my own record label! You could say, then, that "You Tore Me Down" single-in-handedly spared me from a life of university study and squarely set me down the road to where I type today.

So, just who was this Greg Shaw fella then, you might well be asking?

He was born in San Francisco in 1949, raised on a healthy diet of Presley, Fats Domino and sci-fi zines, and when not hovering backdoors at the touring rock ‘n’ roll revues of the day could be found not only hanging with such folk as Robert Silverberg and Philip K. Dick, but immortalizing all of his thoughts and adventures of same in a series of crude, mimeographed broadsheets he fearlessly circulated to an ever-growing circle of friends, fans and followers.

Why, he'd soon published over 200 such "fanzines," as today they’d be called, one of which even earned him a writeup in The Saturday Evening Post. Come 1966, our hero happened upon a nearby street-corner labeled "Haight" and "Ashbury." Needless to say the next Shaw fanzine, Mojo-Navigator Rock & Roll News, became no less than the socio-musical template upon which another local rag, Rolling Stone, was soon to be intrinsically based.

Too bad. As usual, Greg was there first. But the scene, and the spoils, went Jann Wenner's way.

His blueprint ruthlessly high-jacked, but energy and enthusiasm stubbornly unbowed, Greg by the 1970s had joined that elite-and-then-some tiny circle of scribes who not only knew, but actually wrote about such things as Raw Power and the still-New York Dolls … and in publications that us fellow music addicts could actually unearth and devour at the neighborhood newsstand! Consequently, Greg’s newest publication – and soon label – Bomp! quickly found a rabid, wide-eared audience that truly transcribed the globe.

Lest those ill-informed now be wont to cast all things Bomp! onto the nostalgia heap, here’s a short-list of just some of the bands Greg helped bring to our attention. Ready?

Devo, The Plimsouls, The Romantics, The Soft Boys, Black Flag, Redd Kross, Bad Religion, Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Black Keys.

Some names therein you may not be intimately familiar with, but each and every one of ‘em are without a doubt acts that have proven, and shall continue to prove, instrumental in laying groundwork for most every pop ‘n’ rock genre-du-jour. And once again, each and every one of those acts, to varying degrees, owe their influence – not to mention their initial recording contracts – to Greg Shaw.

Closing words? They should really belong to the man himself. Listen closely, all of you (especially those who deign to nurture musical talent in whatever capacity yourselves), for here was a man who knew of what he spoke:

"I guess I’d most like Bomp! to be remembered as a label utterly dedicated to the people who care most about music: the fans and collectors. I think it comes down to the fact that Bomp! is an outgrowth of my love for music. Where many would view it as a marginal business that barely breaks even, I prefer to see it as a hobby that’s profitable enough to allow me to build my life around it. The opportunity to make more money elsewhere has never once tempted me – but it has drawn many talented people away from this business.

"But we’re still here, doing what we want, on our own terms, answering to nobody, dealing with people in an old-fashioned ‘mom and pop’ kind of way. It’s a satisfying life that I'd never trade for, say, David Geffen's.

"If nothing else, maybe we’ve set an example that might offer an alternative to this increasingly corporate, impersonal society. Or maybe not. At least we’ve had a good time trying … and we’re not done yet."

Greg Shaw passed away five years ago on Oct. 19.

Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M'Lou Music label.

October 13, 2009


Blevins mixes sonic flavors on hyperstory debut

hyperstory_album cover.jpg

When C. Scott Blevins says he conceived the self-titled hyperstory debut album as a studio project, he's not kidding.

Guitarist/producer Blevins used about nine different facilities in the Los Angeles area to program, record, edit and mix the ambient, genre-blending, nine-song effort, which is due Nov. 10 on Pureland Records. (The song "a happening" can be downloaded for free now.)

"Each studio had unique characteristics and equipment," Blevins says, "allowing for some variation in the sound of the record, as opposed to just recording in one studio through the same board and hardware.

"I liked the idea of recording through a lot of different setups in general because it would contribute to more of a heterogeneous texture to the sound," he adds. "We not only recorded in different spaces to achieve that heterogeneity but also used a variety of ambient textures, unique recorded elements and odd sounds to augment the sound of the record. It was important to get a real mix of sonic flavors going."

Blevins' focus on studio characteristics and technology doesn’t mean the hyperstory album is lacking in genuine musicianship. Drummer Joey Waronker (whose credits include Beck and R.E.M.) and keyboardist Deron Johnson (a former sideman for Seal and Miles Davis) are among the disc's guest musicians.

"Joey's just got this touch that's all his own -- it's velvety and smooth, and I think that helped contribute some of the smoothness of the sound as a whole," Blevins says. "Whatever comes out of Joey is just going to be tasty, and I really like the sound he gets on the records he plays on -- it comes from his playing more than anything else.

"Deron Johnson has just got such a depth of soul to his playing; he can really go out there and does so in a few places on the record, in ‘ascension’ in particular."

There are between-song audio bits that give the hyperstory album somewhat of a soundtrack feel; Blevins explains that they’re meant to provide "more room to breathe and more variation."

"To me, it gives the music more impact when you've got nonmusical, but contextually related tracks blended in," he adds. "And I've always liked the visual, soundtrack kind of sound, because it's just more multidimensional to me. That's the reason there are also extended, thematic instrumentals as well as sound vignettes in between some tracks, in order to give it more dimension."

Touring in support of the debut hyperstory album isn’t on Blevins’ radar at the moment, but that could change.

"There's so much ambient stuff going on that the production would be challenging to get right, but I envision if it ever did happen that it would probably need a large group of people to get right," he says. "It might be really interesting, though. I think it could be a show that was really cinematic in scope."

-- By Chris M. Junior

October 01, 2009


Dennis Diken teams up with old friend for side project

Dennis Diken.jpg

Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken is quick to point out that the recently released Late Music (Cryptovision Records) is not a solo album.

The 1960s-flavored pop and rock songs on the album, which is credited to Dennis Diken With Bell Sound, were "hatched," Diken says, along with longtime friend Pete DiBella. Along the way, they had help from Dave Amels, Andy Paley, The Honeys and members of The Wondermints, with recording done in New Jersey and California.

Diken recently sat down to talk about reuniting with DiBella, Amels' role in making Late Music a reality and what the future holds for The Smithereens.

Medleyville: While Late Music has your name out front, Pete DiBella is your main Bell Sound cohort/collaborator on the project. Talk about your early home recordings with him in the 1970s, how you reconnected in the 1990s and the circumstances that led to you guys making Late Music together.
Dennis Diken: "First off, let me say that Late Music would not exist without Pete DiBella. Every song is a collaboration. In some cases, I came up with a melody and/or lyric first and other times, Pete’s ideas formed the basis of a tune. Pete is a very talented guy and I’m fortunate to work with him.

"I met Pete and his friend George Smith in the fall of 1976 when I answered an ad in The Aquarian Weekly, a well-known and respected Garden State music paper, that called for a singing drummer who was into The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. This ad really piqued my interest because the majority of bands that were playing the bountiful N.J. club scene at the time were largely about Southern rock, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, ELP and what have you. The prospect of joining forces with like-minded souls who dug harmonies and the type of pop songwriting I loved was pretty hard to come by back then.

"Pete had already amassed a catalog of several dozen demos. I think he got his 4-track Teac reel-to-reel in 1974 and had been writing and recording like crazy in the confines of his bedroom in Piscataway, N.J. The songs were hooky, quirky, imaginative, harmonious and lots of fun. I think most of them were well under three minutes each! Some were written with George, whom Pete knew from the Rochelle Park/Hackensack, N.J., area. George played fantastic bass and drummed and sang on a number of the tracks -- he also co-wrote some songs with Pete). George became a dear friend, even after Pete and I fell out of touch later in the ’70s and ’80s. He passed away in 1986. I miss him and think about him often. Late Music is dedicated to the memory of my Mom and George.

"So I got the opportunity to play drums -- much to the chagrin of Pete’s peace-loving Dad -- and sing on some tracks and even dabble in songwriting with Pete. This was my first experience with multitrack recording, home or otherwise, and I discovered then and there that this is something I wanted to do for the rest of my life! I think David Crosby put it best when he said something to the effect of 'recording is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.' A year or two later, I paid my first visit to a 'real' studio with Pete when we cut a few tracks at Bob Speiden's Quality Sound studio in Plainfield, N.J., [where] The Smithereens' first session would take place in 1980.

"My eyes were opened to the basics of putting a song together and how a recording was built at those early sessions. Pete was a gifted, self-taught musician who woodshedded with The Beatles' catalog and could play almost any of their songs on the spot. … I did some gigs with Pete -- his band of floating members was called Pix --and stayed in touch, albeit loosely, during the ’80s, as The Smithereens started to get busy.

"I began formulating some song ideas while on breaks during The Smithereens' Blow Up sessions in 1991, and then when my wife gave me a microcassette recorder for Christmas, I started putting down melody ideas regularly and wanted to demo them properly. I had the occasion to meet up with Pete in 1992 and it we discussed the notion of returning to our old hijinx. It was fun to get back together and we started to get together regularly to write songs together in early '93.

"Pete was living in a log cabin in a forest clearing in Andover, N.J., at the time and he had a small toolshed kind of room equipped with a four-track cassette machine. What we now know as Late Music was originally considered a demo project. But as we got deeper into the recording process, it became apparent that a number of the cuts had a vibe we’d probably never be able to duplicate in a ‘real’ studio. So we kept working on what would have remained demos until they ended up as masters!"

This album features the most lead vocal work you've ever done. Who are your singing role models, and did you do anything special to prepare for your vocal sessions?
Diken: "Many people have likened my voice to Howard Kaylan of The Turtles, and I take this as a huge compliment. But I never intentionally tried to sound like him, although I always thought of him as a great pop vocalist and a very unique voice. Some of my favorite vocalists are Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, along with Mike Love. I think Love is highly underrated. I really dig Bruce Johnston, Terry Melcher, Del Shannon and Roy Wood, at least in terms of who I might have ‘channeled,’ perhaps unconsciously, when doing a lead vocal for Late Music. I didn’t really do anything else in terms of prepping for the session, except for drinking some Armagnac.

"Also, I'd like to point out that Pete DiBella is the lead vocalist on both 'Standing in That Line' and 'Temptation Cake' on Late Music."

What's the story behind Andy Paley dreaming up parts for the song "No One's Listening"?
Diken: "He really dug the songs we were working on, and this one inspired him to come up with a great arrangement. He put down guitar, 6-string bass, and keyboards, all the while beseeching us to 'trust me, this’ll work!' He was right! We loved his ideas.

"One morning he called us, all excited. He’d just woken up and wanted to rush over to the studio to record a piano part he’d dreamed! It was very exciting to see someone so passionate about the music we were creating.

"I'm grateful to Andy and his great contributions to the project. He's a very talented fellow, and he kept digging into his storage space to bring over unusual instruments, like the Zellophone, an old, kind of glass xylophone, which he added to 'The Bad Merry-Go-Round,' or the celeste on 'Lost Bird' and 'I've Been Away.' Also, he helped out greatly with some of the vocal arrangements.

"Late Music exists as a finished record due to Dave Amels' unflagging support and belief in the songs that Pete and I were writing. While many of them languished as demos in varying stages of completion over the course of several years, he encouraged me to finish the recordings and get this music out to the world. Although it took untold hours of studio time and lots of focus and hard work, Dave shrugged it off by saying, 'It had to be done.'

"Some of the recordings began as 4-track cassette, then were bumped up to half-inch 8-track, then onto 2-inch 24 track. By the way, 'Standing in That Line' was completed on a four-track cassette! It’s a testament to Pete's prowess on this format. As I said before, we felt we had some magic on the original versions so we followed through with those, utilizing the original elements on most tracks. I'm quite glad we did!

"Dave brought so much to the proceedings, serving as an engineer, producer, keyboardist, coach, etc. I rely on him to get a good vocal performance from me, in terms of checking for pitch, etc. If it weren't for Dave, Late Music may have been issued as an EP. And of course, he released the record on his Cryptovision label."

As a longtime Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan, what was it like to have The Honeys and members of the Wondermints contribute to this album?
Diken: "Originally, I intended to finish the entire album here in New Jersey with Pete, but life got in the way and it wasn’t to be. I was pretty busy, too, with Smithereens gigging and other projects, so we were always trying to find the time to schedule sessions for what was to become Late Music. Plus, we were faced, in some cases, by the limitations of what we had at our disposal in our home studios versus what we wanted to achieve sonically -- especially bass and drums sounds.

"So, with Dave's urging and amazing organizational skills, we tackled the big list of tasks at hand and finished it up. I met up with him in L.A. -- once in 2004 and finally in 2006 -- to work at The Bomb Factory. … Dave had a hand in equipping the place and knew it intimately. What’s more, it was available! So we called on the friends we knew and thankfully they were in town.

"In 1989, The Honeys sang on two songs on Smithereens 11, namely 'Cut Flowers' and 'Baby Be Good,' and I had stayed in touch with them. They were game for the session and did a great job. I love their genetic vocal blend -- Marilyn and Diane are sisters, and Ginger is their cousin -- and they’re total pros. I’ve dug their records for years and it was a special treat to be able to hear their unique sound on 'Tell All The Fools.'

"I've come to know Nick "Wonder" Walusko, Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg from hanging out at Brian Wilson shows over the past few years and have admired their talents. So it was a no-brainer to have them on the record. Nick was jonesing to play electric sitar on something, and 'Let Your Loved One Sleep' seemed like the perfect choice. I loved Probyn's Telecaster work on this tune also. Ditto his French Horn on 'So Hard to Say Goodbye.' After Nick put down the guitar solo on ‘Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long,’ I told him over the talkback that he’d surely had 'too much to dream' the night before! Nelson Bragg was a great asset on the harmonies on 'The Bad Merry-Go-Round' and a great supporter of the project.

"Another guy who added a lot to the proceedings is Dan Markell, a somewhat unsung talent. In addition to his fine bass, guitar and keyboard work, he let me crash at his apartment in North Hollywood, like, constantly!"

The Smithereens have kept busy in recent years with tours and various recording projects, but it's been 10 years since the band last released a studio album of original material. What's the status on an all-new Smithereens album, and what does 2010 hold for the group?
Diken: "We plan to release a new studio album in the first quarter of 2010. And we'll be coming to your town -- hopefully!"

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior