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June 20, 2012

SOMETHING TO FALL BACK ON

Friendship is the foundation of The Front Bottoms

Front Bottoms_ by Lucia Holm.jpg

Brian Sella and Mathew Uychich have known each other since their preteen years, and their long, deep personal connection has played a big part in working together as The Front Bottoms.

"We don't really have to worry about hurting each other's feelings because we'll always just know that everything will be fine between us," explains Sella. "We know that we’ll always be having a good time with each other. … It’s the best relationship I’ve ever been in."

That relationship began when singer-guitarist Sella was 10 years old and drummer-bullhorn player Uychich was 8. Their high-school jams led to the formation of The Front Bottoms; Sella says the North Jersey-based rock band's head-scratching name comes from a term Ben Kingsley used in the movie Sexy Beast.

"When we started, we were just grasping at straws," Sella recalls. "We didn't know of any venues. We kind of grew up with this basement mentality, and everybody around us sort of had the same mentality: You can play basements, and there will be people there. But if you play in a venue, there’s a chance nobody wants to pay $10 to come see you. We all discovered this fact around the same time, and that was it — everybody played basement shows.

"That never leaves you — those first shows," he adds. "We still play relatively small shows, and they're always so much fun, but there's a certain atmosphere when you’re walking down the stairs into a crummy basement, trying to figure out where you’re going to plug things into. It feels great — this is what I was born from, so I have to respect it. And you earned your chops because you had to figure things out."

A 12-song, self-titled Front Bottoms album was released in September 2011 on Bar/None Records. It's filled with Sella's witty, sarcastic and self-deprecating lyrics — and they've been interpreted and embraced by fans in different ways.

Sella says, "The one that always catches me off-guard is when people come up and say, 'Is that song about me?’ This will be somebody I only just met briefly or I met one time at a show, and they really, really genuinely think that the song is about them. It feels so good because it's like, 'Wow, this person is really able to connect to something that I wrote.' But in the back of my head, I'm thinking, 'Come on. I don't really even know you. How can this be about you?’ … But it’s great, an awesome feeling, to have somebody relate so hard to something that you [wrote]."

When The Front Bottoms finish up their latest tour, Sella and Uychich will focus on writing a new album. Sella says they already have about six songs finished — and it wouldn't be out of character for one of them to see the light of day ahead of the next full-length effort.

"I'm a big believer in giving people new things as soon as possible — a single, a different shirt design or throw up some different press photos [on our Web site], just to keep it fresh," he says.

— By Chris M. Junior

The Front Bottoms on tour (schedule subject to change):

* June 21: The Firebird — St. Louis

* June 22: Lincoln Hall — Chicago

* June 23: Galaxy CDs — Hamilton, Ohio

* June 25: Grog Shop — Cleveland

* June 26: Club at Water Street Music Hall — Rochester, N.Y.

* June 27: Union Transfer — Philadelphia

* June 29: Gramercy Theatre — New York

* June 30: Mission East — Cambridge, Mass.

* July 1: Ottobar — Baltimore

Photo by Lucia Holm

June 12, 2012

UNEXPECTED TURNS
AND CHOICE COVERS

Alejandro Escovedo and The Sensitive Boys
Maxwell's — Hoboken, N.J.
June 11, 2012

Alejandro Escovedo_photo by Marina Chavez.jpg

For someone who has released some of his most accessible material in recent years, Alejandro Escovedo continues to remain unconventional and hard to pin down — a chief reason why his fans embrace him and, perhaps, why his critical acclaim has outpaced his popularity.

This intimate club date before a crowd of 100 or so, sandwiched between TV appearances in New York to promote his new album, Big Station, was the latest evidence of that, as Escovedo and his five-piece band — the three Sensitive Boys were joined by two female backup singers/musicians — pushed boundaries and a perhaps handful of unwritten showbiz rules.

The 61-year-old Escovedo, a fixture in Austin, Texas, has long been pegged as an alt-country artist since launching his solo career in his early 40s after tours in a handful of bands, but he often leans toward his punk roots and, at the other end of the spectrum, sometimes performs with a string quartet. With that kind of range, musical curveballs are to be expected, and Escovedo served one up to start the night. He and lead guitarist Billy White engaged in a sweet, seemingly innocent dueling guitar intro that led not into one of Escovedo's many melodic songs of love and loss — he is, after all, a sensitive boy himself -— but Big Station's gritty "Sally Was a Cop." How many singer-songwriters would open with a harsh tale of drug-related violence in Mexico?

There were more twists ahead, with mixed results. Midway through the set, after a predictable opening stretch showcasing songs from Big Station and its two equally strong (and radio-ready) predecessors, Real Animal and Street Songs of Love, Escovedo stripped off his guitar momentarily and proclaimed, "It's time to wake up," before leading the band through an intense, sinister reworking of The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," propelled by the chugging rumble of Bobby Daniel's bass. After a rare, crunching guitar solo from Escovedo, they segued seamlessly into his own "Chelsea Hotel '78" — a rowdy ode to his younger days in the New York punk scene. All told, this interlude that served as the set's centerpiece made for a good 10 minutes of surprisingly high energy that did indeed stir the Monday night crowd but also underscored how Escovedo and company exuded seemingly less passion for the new material (though the rousing "Man of the World" was an undeniable highlight among the seven offerings from the new disc).

A short time later, Escovedo made his one reach deep into in his catalog, for the always crowd-pleasing rocker "Castanets," before calling a like-minded singer-songwriter with a punk pedigree — Jesse Malin, of on-again New York band D Generation — to the stage for a covers-heavy encore. There was a rollicking take on Whiskeytown's "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight" (Escovedo sang on that 1997 recording by Ryan Adams' old band), the near-obligatory Rolling Stones cover (an interminable run through "Beast of Burden" that found Malin a bit miscast) and a somewhat clunky rendering of The Clash's hit "Rock the Casbah" that bordered on glorified karaoke as Escovedo and Malin traded vocals.

But before the show could end on such a clichéd note as three straight sloppy covers, Escovedo and the band instead closed with Big Station's finale, the Spanish-sung ballad "Sabor a Mi," which represented one final unexpected turn. Actually, there was one more, if you count the fact that Escovedo did not perform what is probably his best known song, 2008's "Always a Friend." To call it a hit would be a stretch, but Bruce Springsteen did release a live version of he and the E Street Band backing him on the track, and it was used recently in a TV commercial for, of all things, women's shoes.

How's that for unconventional?

— By George Henn

Alejandro Escovedo on tour (schedule subject to change):

* June 13: World Cafe Live — Wilmington, Del.

* June 15: The Egg — Albany, N.Y.

* June 16: Brighton Music Hall — Boston

* June 17: Clearwater Festival — Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Photo by Marina Chavez

June 04, 2012

FIRST THINGS FIRST: MORNING PARADE'S STEVE SPARROW

Steve Sparrow_Morning Parade_by Chris M. Junior.jpg

America got a taste of Morning Parade in March when the group released a four-song EP and showcased at the South by Southwest music conference/festival in Austin, Texas.

The U.K. rock band is offering a much bigger serving this month in the form of its self-titled debut album (due June 19 on Astralwerks Records) and a 13-date U.S. tour (which opens June 4 in Los Angeles).

To coincide with the release of Morning Parade's debut (which contains the standout single "Headlights"), singer/guitarist Steve Sparrow sat down to discuss some other important music firsts in his life.

First album he ever purchased: "Oasis, Be Here Now, in 1997. I got it on CD, and it's pretty much the album I used to learn guitar. I got the record and a book of the chords and locked myself in my room for a few months and taught myself the songs. I think this is where I first began noticing patterns in the chord structures."

His first guitar: "My first guitar was an Epiphone Les Paul Special model, and it was ebony with a rosewood fretboard. I bought it from Denmark street in London for around £150 with an amp. I remember getting it home and not knowing how to tune it! I sold it on eBay to buy a Fender Strat, which I still have!"

First words that come to mind when asked to describe Essex, England: "Fake tan (laughs)! Essex has a crazy spectrum of people and places for such a small county. It has some of the most beautiful countryside in the U.K., but it also has a lot of concrete."

Memories from the first Morning Parade show: "We played at the Marquee in Hertford, which is closed down now. I remember it was packed out with people interested in hearing what this new band would sound like; we'd all been in bands in the local scene before, but no one knew what to expect. I think we played six songs, none of which ever got close to making the record. I'd kinda fallen out of love with music a little bit, but I remember thinking after the show, This is why I make music."

First song written for the first Morning Parade album: "I think it must have been 'Headlights.' I wrote it in about 15 minutes in a hotel room in Bristol, where I was studying. I thought it was a decent B-side type track and played it to [bassist] Phil [Titus] when I got home, and he quickly told me he didn't think it was a B-side. It's been around for nearly three years, so it has changed a lot from its initial shape; the structure, lyrics and arrangement have changed a lot — only the melody and riff have remained."

First impression of producer David Kosten: "David scared the hell out of me; he was the first person who really pushed me and tested me. The music industry has a tendency to surround you with yes-men, and I liked that David was pushing us. When I first met him, his opening line was, 'If you don't think I'm a c--- within a month, I'm not doing my job right.' I love what David did for Morning Parade; he helped us to find ourselves and he brought out a side of us we were maybe a little afraid to show. I learned a lot about arrangement and balance from him."

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Morning Parade on tour (schedule subject to change):

* June 4: Troubadour — Los Angeles

* June 5: Echo — Los Angeles

* June 6: The Rhythm Room — Phoenix

* June 8: Prophet Bar — Dallas

* June 9: The Parish — Austin, Texas

* June 11: Cain's Ballroom — Tulsa, Okla.

* June 12: Granada Theater — Lawrence, Kan.

* June 13: Waiting Room — Omaha, Neb.

* June 14: First Avenue — Minneapolis

* June 15: Lincoln Hall — Chicago

* June 16: The iLounge — Detroit

* June 18: Paradise Rock Club — Boston

* June 20: Mercury Lounge — New York

Photo by Chris M. Junior

June 03, 2012

THE TRUTH BEHIND RUMOURS

Ken Caillat's book sheds light on Fleetwood Mac's defining album

Making Rumours cover.jpg

It's an album with a backstory that's nearly as good as the music.

Fleetwood Mac's members went through a lot of personal turmoil on their way to the creative triumph that is Rumours, which spawned four Billboard Top 10 pop hits, was awarded Grammy glory and achieved multi-platinum sales.

Ken Caillat had a front-row seat for the sessions as a co-engineer and co-producer of the Mac’s 1977 release, and he’s shared his memories in the new book Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album (written with Steven Stiefel). Caillat recently checked in to revisit Rumours and also talk about using what he learned back then to produce the music of a recent hitmaker, daughter Colbie Caillat.

Medleyville.us: What kind of personal resources — diaries, session notes, etc. — did you refer to while writing Making Rumours? And did anything in your files bring back a poignant memory or anecdote you had completely forgotten about?
Ken Caillat: "We did about 60-70 interviews with people who were in the studio. I used calendars; I had kept basic journals when I was younger that had the important stuff in there and a young memory.

"Yes — many things that I had forgotten about came rushing back; primarily a lot of the fights might have been caused by me when I asked the band members to sing the lyrics in front of the other members.”

Describe the members of Fleetwood Mac, each in a single sentence, as you remember them from the Rumours sessions.
Caillat: "Mick Fleetwood: Father figure of the band, backbone of the band who kept the beat on track.

"John McVie: Strong, silent type, genius melody maker and bass man.

"Stevie Nicks: Enchanted songstress, always smiling and always optimistic.

"Christine McVie: Great blues player, one of the guys, powerful female force of the band.

"Lindsey Buckingham: Uniquely talented guitar player and creative musical genius."

Does your book dispel any myths or urban legends that have circulated about the band or the Rumours album?
Caillat: "Yes: It’s been said by many, even including the band members, that they partied all of the time. There was certainly no party that I’ve ever been to. In other words, the band is always saying that all they did was party, but they didn’t party that often. They just kept awake and kept on track through the daunting schedule that Fleetwood had to work under."

Is there anything specific you learned or did in the studio while making Rumours that you used when recording with your daughter Colbie?
Caillat: "Many things. When recording with my daughter Colbie, I used many of the layering tricks I learned with Fleetwood Mac, and I learned to take your time to make sure that every part we recorded for her record was 100 percent the right part and never settled for less."

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Ken Caillat book signings (schedule subject to change:

* 7:30 p.m. June 5: Cinema Arts Center — Huntington, N.Y.

* 7 p.m. June 6: Books & Greetings — Northvale, N.J.