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May 25, 2012

ANNIVERSARY PLANS

MxPx marks 20th with U.S. tour dates

MxPx_photo by Jered Scott.jpg

In "The Times," one of the 13 songs on the new MxPx album, Plans Within Plans, bassist Mike Herrera sings a line that can easily be interpreted as a promise to fans of the veteran pop-punk band.

The lyric is "history has taught us to keep playing through." And this spring and summer, Herrera — along with guitarist Tom Wisniewski and drummer Yuri Riley — will shine a spotlight on their history and their new album (released in April via MRI/Rock City Recording Company) by playing select U.S. shows in celebration of MxPx's 20th anniversary.

Herrera recently checked in to talk about the band’s early days, some recent developments and much more.

Medleyville.us: Twenty years later, what is your most vivid memory of the first MxPx gig?
Mike Herrera: "I can't remember much, but I believe it was on July 6, 1992, at my parents’ house in Bremerton, Wash., where I lived and grew up as a teenager. We performed about eight to 12 songs total. We did two sets of the exact same songs. But my most vivid memory was that I lost my voice. I wasn't used to singing that much, and we had started practicing only one week before our first show. This is ridiculous; people don't do this anymore — and they shouldn't. We weren't prepared at all for our first show. I lost my voice from singing every day, and it was horrible."

Online bios written about the band make a casual one-sentence reference to a 1993 showcase in the backyard of your parents’ house that resulted in a deal with Tooth & Nail Records. So how did that come together, and how did the negotiations play out after you were done performing?
Herrera: "I'm not sure where that information came from, but I'm sure there's plenty of wrong information out there. In 1992, we had our first performance, as I mentioned. It wasn't until 1993 that we did the showcase with Brandon Ebel from Tooth & Nail. He came over and watched a practice. It wasn't a show; it was just practice in the same spot where the 'Doing Time' video was made — my parents' garage. Now it's the offices of MxPx, its storage, and it was a recording studio for a while.

"So the negotiations — I don't know. They offered us what we thought was a good deal, and we took it. Bad idea. But at the same time, it's taken us all to where we are today. I can definitely say there are plenty of things that I would do differently in my life. That's not even an interview; that's probably a whole book worth of things. I hate when people say, ‘I wouldn't change a thing.’ It's like, Yeah, right, you would — of course! You have to learn from your mistakes, learn from the things you go through. If not, then it's not really worth going through."

Was recording for a high-profile label like A&M all you had hoped it would be? And how did that experience influence signing with SideOneDummy before returning to Tooth & Nail for a brief second stint?
Herrera: "You know, signing to A&M was great, but at the same time, it's exactly what people said: They don't care about your music, they care if you sell records. Quickly we realized that, you know — not maybe enough to the extent that it was so true. I think we made a lot of mistakes with management and through management. It wasn’t really A&M’s fault as a company. It was just the way it happened. It wasn't the only thing that influenced our decision to sign to SideOneDummy. I mean, everything influences everything, so it definitely played a small factor, but back then I was just making music and not really worrying about the business end of things, and I’d say that's another one of those mistakes, for sure."

Where is your key to the city that you received in 2006 from Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman?
Herrera: "That's a very good question. I'm going to give you the diplomatic answer. It's on my desk in my office. But I do not have an office. So it’s not really on my desk in my office. It’s somewhere in my house. It's not really displayed; it's kept as a memento."

Plans Within Plans is the first MxPx album since 2009's On the Cover II and the band's first original album since 2007's Secret Weapon. Talk about some of the key personal and professional events over the last five years that have contributed to slightly longer gaps between releases compared to the band's output from 1994 through 2005.
Herrera: "The main thing that has affected us touring as much is that Tom and Yuri got full-time jobs with limited vacation time, which makes it hard to tour for long periods of time. It was a part of growing up, but not necessarily moving on, so we've adapted.‬ ‪The fact that we’re still even a band is a testament really to the fans, not even us. The fans who have proved to be tenacious, loyal and outspoken told us, 'We want to hear new music, you need to put out a new record, and we want to come see you live.' It's been a bit hard coordinating schedules, but we continue to push through and give our fans what they've asked for. It hasn't been an easy five-year gap, but music is what I love to do. ‪I'd rather not work for somebody. I'd rather just be my own boss. That’s just me.‬ ‪I feel like my life has been built around this music, and I'm going to continue pushing things through to see if there's anything at the end of this tunnel, which at this point, there is."

Without giving too much away, what can fans expect to see and hear during the band’s upcoming 20th anniversary shows?
Herrera: "We will have some special guests that are in bands that you would know. I'd like to clear one thing up, though: Tom and Yuri will be there. People keep asking us on Facebook and Twitter if Tom and Yuri will be at the shows. Yes, they will be. If it's not MxPx All-Stars, then yes — Tom and Yuri will be there. That would mean it's just MxPx. They can only do weekend shows and a limited amount, so we decided to do some of the major cities, and hopefully we can add more in the future."

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

MxPx on tour (schedule subject to change):

* May 26: El Corazon — Seattle

* June 29: House of Blues — Anaheim, Calif.

* June 30: House of Blues — West Hollywood, Calif.

* July 6: Best Buy Theater — New York

* July 7: Trocadero — Philadelphia

* Aug. 31: Joshua Fest — Plymouth, Calif.

Mike Herrera on tour (schedule subject to change):

* June 21: Orange County Great Park — Irvine, Calif.

* June 22: Pomona Fairplex — Pomona, Calif.

* June 23: AT&T Park — San Francisco

* June 24: Venture County Fairgrounds — Ventura, Calif.

Photo by Jered Scott

May 22, 2012

THE CULT — CHOICE OF WEAPON

Aggressive themes set to a pummeling soundtrack

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On its new album, Choice of Weapon (Cooking Vinyl), The Cult is working with what might seem like a diminished arsenal from the band's heyday.

Ian Astbury's distinct, bellowing voice sounds a bit aged and weathered. Billy Duffy's guitar is cranked up plenty, but his licks and solos aren't so prominent. The disc is largely lacking in the somewhat sleazy, sex-charged swagger that the band rode to prominence on a string of well-regarded 1980s albums full of hard-rock anthems about fire women, li'l devils and love removal machines.

That said, Choice of Weapon — which sees core Cult members Astbury and Duffy reconvening for just their third full-length release since the mid-1990s — is a worthwhile addition to their catalog. In some ways, it is also one of their most impressive efforts, for even as it shows that their songwriting and sound clearly have changed over time, it also finds the band (rounded out these days by bassist Chris Wyse and drummer John Tempesta) sounding hungrier and more cohesive than they have in some 20 years.

As the disc's title might suggest, there are broad themes of aggression, brute force and violence sprinkled throughout, with a pummeling soundtrack to match. The album's opener, "Honey From a Knife," might as well be Choice of Weapon's musical mission statement: Seemingly a chronicle of a chaotic, drug-addled bender on the streets of Manhattan, it is appropriately set to crunching, in-your-face layers of guitars.

Elsewhere, Duffy's powerful squalls drive the back-to-back blitz of "For the Animals" and "Amnesia," with the latter featuring one of Astbury's catchiest hook lines: "Save what you learn, suspicion is sure to return." Lean, mean rocker "A Pale Horse," meanwhile, is grounded in a riff-heavy boogie that would make it a natural fit on a classic Cult disc like Electric or Sonic Temple, while the slow-burning ballad "Elemental Light," laced with the band's familiar tinges of goth and psychedelia, is a showcase for Astbury's still-impressive range.

But for every moment that recalls the band's past, there is a lyrical reminder of just how different a Cult disc this really is. Where Astbury once made his bones with lines like "Do all those things that you do to me," now he offers up musings such as, "I'm a lover but I been known quick to strike," while stanzas like "I'll crush your sweet skull/Yeah you don't stand a chance" and "We'll weave a golden noose/And hang you from the stars" sum up the fierce tone.

In this post-MTV, ultra-fragmented music landscape that can be unkind to veteran rockers, it's been quite a while since most of mainstream America has been exposed to new music by The Cult, and much has changed within the band itself in that span. They may not fully resemble their old selves — and to their credit, this is not the work of a nostalgia act. With Choice of Weapon, Astbury and Duffy at least fire a loud warning shot to announce that they're still here, armed for the fight.

— By George Henn

May 14, 2012

NOT BY THE BOOK

Berklee students cover rock for Under the Influence

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Part of the Berklee College of Music's philosophy is to provide an environment where aspiring musicians "learn how to integrate new ideas" and "adapt to changing musical genres," according to the Boston educational institution's Web site.

That line of thinking is reflected in the playing of the Berklee students and alumni who appear on Under the Influence (Heavy Rotation Records), a recently released covers album featuring their versions of songs by The Pixies, Radiohead, R.E.M. and others.

"There's more to Berklee than just jazz," says producer Paul Kolderie, who was approached in late 2010 by Berklee professor Jeff Dorenfeld and his son about participating in the project. "I liked the idea of a radical cover record using students who, for the most part, knew nothing about these bands."

Kolderie, on the other hand, knows plenty about the bands whose work is reinterpreted on Under the Influence — in fact, he's worked with Radiohead and The Pixies. Armed with gear from his personal collection (including a microphone that Thom Yorke once used), Kolderie convened with the musicians at Mad Oak recording studios in Allston, Mass.

"My job was just to keep it moving and not get bogged down," Kolderie says of the sessions. "I let [the musicians] arrange the songs in whatever style they chose. I wasn't interested in redoing a song the way it was originally, so the radical rethinking was welcome. There were a few places where I had to drag the bands back toward the original a bit, though. You're not allowed to change the chords of the chorus!

"Everyone really played their asses off and brought a great spirit to the project," he adds. "I thought Da'Rayia's take on the Gang of Four's 'Not Great Men' was very cool, and the version they did of [the Red Hot Chili Peppers'] 'Give it Away' was nicely inverted. And of course, the Berklee String Metal Ensemble was a real freight train of sound [on their two tracks]!”

— By Chris M. Junior

May 03, 2012

ALL AROUND THE WORLD

Well-traveled Rachel Platten maps out headlining tour

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For the seemingly always-on-the-move Rachel Platten, summertime will be a relatively stationary period in which the singer/pianist will roll up her sleeves and get to work on a new studio album.

Then again, Platten could end up making another international project, writing and recording in a variety of far-apart locales — just like she did with her most recent full-length effort, 2011's Be Here (Rock Ridge Music).

With travel and relocation so much a part of her life and career, Platten recently found time to talk about some of the places she's been — not long before hitting the road for a U.S. headlining tour in support of her new EP.

In the shadows of Shea Stadium: Platten was born in the Queens, N.Y., neighborhood of Flushing, home of the New York Mets (not her favorite baseball team, by the way). "We moved when I was like 15 months or so," she says. "My parents wanted to get out of the city."

Living near the heart of Red Sox Nation: Raised just outside Boston, Platten remembers her parents acquiring an upright piano around the time they settled in Massachusetts. "I was constantly banging it, and when I was 5, they let me start having lessons," she says. A precocious Platten wrote her first song — about her dog — at age 7. "That might be the most powerful, emotional thing I've written," she says with a laugh.

College in Connecticut: Platten attended Trinity College in Hartford, and it was toward the end of her higher-education years that she started playing gigs in the city's concert venues. "Sully's Pub was one of them," she recalls. "I played my big first show, opening for Rusted Root, at the Webster."

A trip to Trinidad: During her junior year of college, Platten was studying in the West Indies when a band she knew asked for help. "Their keyboard player was sick or something, and they needed a sub." She ended up performing with the group during the finals of the International Soca Monarch competition.

Here, there and everywhere: "The album wasn't intended to be an album," Platten says about Be Here, which features the single "1,000 Ships," a Billboard Adult Pop Songs chart hit. "It was intended to be different songwriting sessions — [in] Sweden, London, New York and Los Angeles. I had a hard time narrowing things down, and I was scared to release something. I was excited that the sound came out to be this international thing. It's pop music, but it has credibility."

— By Chris M. Junior

Rachel Platten on tour (schedule subject to change):

* May 11: Anthology — San Diego

* May 12: Hotel Café — Los Angeles

* May 13: B-Ryders — Bakersfield, Calif.

* May 16: Fulton 55 — Fresno, Calif.

* May 18: Hotel Utah — San Francisco

* May 19: Mississippi Studios — Portland, Ore.

* May 21: Triple Door — Seattle

* May 23: The Venue — Boise, Idaho

* May 24: Kilby — Salt Lake City

* May 25: Soiled Dove — Denver

* May 26: Waiting Room — Omaha, Neb.

* May 27: Vaudeville Mews — Des Moines, Iowa

* May 29: 7th Street Entry — Minneapolis

* May 31: Redamte Coffee House — Madison, Wis.

* June 1: Space — Evanston, Ill.

* June 2: The Intersection — Grand Rapids, Mich.

* June 3: 20th Century Theater — Cincinnati

* June 6: Headliners — Louisville, Ky.

* June 7: The Basement — Columbus, Ohio

* June 8: Beachland Tavern — Cleveland

* June 9: The Fire — Philadelphia

* June 10: Jammin' Java — Washington, D.C.