Interviews

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS

(Hilton Head Monthly, March 2011) Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings do automagically what trained technicians with expensive equipment can spend days trying to perfect in the studio: Capture the rich, sultry sounds of the classic soul era defined by names like James Brown and Aretha Franklin — and they do it with, get this, real instruments. Born in Augusta, Ga., but raised in Brooklyn, Jones struggled with an early music career — which included a brief side job as a prison guard at Rikers Island — before her sultry stage presence and her band’s retro sound found their audience. Since catching on nationwide, the band has been everywhere, releasing four albums, opening for Prince last month at Madison Square Garden and placing a song in the opening credits to the 2009 George Clooney film “Up in the Air.” Jones spoke from her mother’s house in Queens.

Q: Do you ever get back to Georgia?
A: I just bought a home in South Carolina, right over from Augusta. I wanted to get my mother out of these projects. I got my sister, whose spouse recently passed away. I was like, “Look, come on down here, move with Mom. I bought a house. You take care of Mom while I’m back on the road.” Hopefully, maybe another year or two, I can get a place of my own somewhere. But right now, I finally got my mother out of the projects.

Q: What was it like opening for Prince?
A: We did that song “A Love Bizarre.” He had me do a duet with him and everything; he called in the horn section. He had Binky (Griptite, the Dap-Kings’ guitarist) play his guitar. Prince don’t let nobody play his guitar! At the after party, Mos Def got on stage. He wanted to actually rap while Prince was playing. I don’t know anything about rap. When he came on stage, I thought he wanted to dance. I was like, “You played Chuck Berry in that Cadillac movie: Do that Chuck Berry guitar dance!” And he did it. And then I made him do the boogaloo with me. It was cool.

(READ THE REST [or click the image above] because I’ve got betta things to do than paste it here for you.)

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DARIUS RUCKER: You can stop calling him Hootie now

(Hilton Head Monthly, November 2010) Veterans of the local music scene talk about a time, 20 or so years ago, when it was still possible to hit local bars like the Old Post Office and see bands on the brink of national fame. At the time Hilton Head played host to a good number of future stars, including Duncan Sheik and Edwin McCain, but nobody blew up nearly like the University of South Carolina classmates in Hootie and the Blowfish — which you already know if you ever left your house in 1994-95.

Popular music marched on, of course, but Hootie stuck around, dropping occasional records, returning to Hilton Head for big local gigs at Honey Horn and Sea Pines and generally maintaining a career of consistent, unsurprising solidity.

The surprise, when it came, was a good one.

In 2008, pretty much out of nowhere, Hootie singer Darius Rucker released his debut solo country record, “Learn to Live,” on the Capitol Nashville label. Haters chuckled, but the single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” speedily reached the top of the country charts, making Rucker the first solo African-American artist to chart a No. 1 country hit since Charley Pride in 1983 — which is why, these days, you don’t find Rucker having a beer and feeling sorry for himself.

This month, Rucker releases his second solo country album, the hometown love note “Charleston, SC, 1966.” We caught up with him on tour to talk about old times, check in on Hootie’s 25th anniversary and attempt to instigate a rivalry with Stephen Colbert.

Darius Rucker: “When I play Hootie songs, I see some people who have no idea what I’m playing.”Q. What are your first memories of Hilton Head?
A. I got tons of them. My first memories are playing the Old Post Office — they used to have the band play all night, then they opened up the doors and let the sun come in. I remember walking over to the tiki bar the first time I saw Edwin McCain. I knew I was seeing something special.

Q. This is your second solo country album. Is it safe to say you’re sticking with the country thing?
A. I love it. I love where I am, I love doing what I’m doing. I’ll probably do it until I don’t make music anymore. Country music is my day job now.

Q. What music were you exposed to as a kid in Charleston?
A. In the ‘70s, especially when I was sitting around listening to AM radio, you could hear Buck Owens and Stevie Wonder and the Beatles on the same station. That’s one thing you always find on there: that country feel. We listened to so much country music at the time.

Q. Are the fans coming to your solo shows the same ones who come to Hootie shows?
A. It’s a little bit of both. When I play Hootie songs, I see some people who have no idea what I’m playing. It’s always amazing to me. You’ve got a brand new crowd.

Q. The city of Columbia announced they planned to erect a statue to Hootie and the Blowfish in October. How did that come about?
A. The city asked us to do it for a couple of years, and we agreed to it. We spent a lot of years in Columbia trying to make it. You feel really proud that the city wants to acknowledge you that way. We’re just some bar band that got lucky. It’s pretty wild that there’s going to be a statue in Five Points.

Q. I was at a taping of “The Colbert Report” and asked (Charleston native) Colbert about your getting a statue in Columbia before him. He said, “Oh, that doesn’t count. You want a statue in Columbia? I’ll get you a statue in Columbia.” So does that mean there’s competition between you and Colbert over who is really the favorite son of South Carolina?
A. (Uproarious laughter) That’s pretty good. Absolutely not. Stephen’s got a TV show. We can’t beat that.

Q. Next year is Hootie and the Blowfish’s 25th anniversary. Any plans?
A. We aren’t planning anything yet, but I’m sure we will. I didn’t even think about it until people started calling me. We played four or five shows last year, I’m sure we’ll do the same next year. We’ll probably eventually do another Hootie record, another Hootie tour.

Q: Your new song “Southern State of Mind” discusses what it’s like to be a Southerner traveling the country. What do you miss most about the South when on the road?
A.The big thing we do, every Saturday, we fly the Gamecock flag loud and proud over the bus wherever we are.

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THE HOLD STEADY IN SAVANNAH: “EVERYBODY’S INVITED TO THIS PARTY”

(The Guide, 5/20/10) Brooklyn-based rock outfit the Hold Steady has been fitted with the title of “America’s bar band,” thanks mostly to their raucous, salutatory guitar jams, which are evocative both of the epic narrative arcs of Bruce Springsteen and the simple rock fundamentalism of Thin Lizzy.

But the title is slightly inaccurate for several reasons. First, the band these days is too much of a big deal to be stuck playing the grimy pubs evoked by their music. But mostly they just don’t spend that much time in bars anymore, since some of its members, such as guitarist Tad Kubler, now have young children (even if his 5-year-old daughter does like to come on tour occasionally).

The Hold Steady earlier this month released its fifth studio album, “Heaven is Whenever.” It’s a payoff of sorts, one that hits on the themes of reward and struggle — something the band sees firsthand as gets lauded by indie sites like Pitchfork while seeing its albums on the featured rack at Target.

“I think that the one thing that we strive for and really enjoy is to become a bigger band,” Kubler said by phone last week. “I always felt that we’re very inclusive. Everybody’s invited to this party. I think people are quick to write us off as cool kids or hipsters or whatever people refer to people who live in Brooklyn as. That’s the opposite of what we’re about.”

The Hold Steady, Twin Tigers

When: 9 p.m. May 25

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St., Savannah

Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door

Information: 912-233-1192, livewiremusichall.com

The Hold Steady’s songs are densely packed with literate lyrics and a cinematic scope, telling the challenges of young people in America and unrequited emotion. Kubler said “Heaven” represents some maturation for the band and its ability to find synergy between lead singer Craig Finn’s lyrics and Kubler’s music.

“If there’s any theme for me its that we’re just kind of growing as a band,” he said. “This record shows more than any of our previous record shows the music and the lyrics coming together and being singular more than any other. “

The band’s appearance at the Live Wire Music Hall in Savannah on Tuesday will be its first in the area — and a cozy fit for a band used to headlining festival stages and major venues. But Kubler said such smaller shows help remind the band how they got successful in the first place.

“People ask you what are your favorite shows. It’d be easy to say L.A., New York or Chicago or a major market like that,” he said. “But to be able to get a few hundred people out and even in some of the smaller clubs, it seems like a real testament to where we are as a band.”

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Lewis Black: backer and blacker

(The Guide 4/1) Did Lewis Black, the frazzled and perpetually angry “Daily Show” commentator and comedian with a liberal bent but an intolerance for foolishness of all varieties, realize he had booked a show next door to the home territory of Joe Wilson, whose outburst at the president last year made him a frequent target of late-night mockery?

“Perfect,” Black said when this was brought to his attention during a phone interview. “That explains the ticket sales.”
Black is making his first-ever appearance in Savannah on Thursday, though his broad appeal and track record as the frustrated, indignant Greek chorus to the nonstop drama that is the nation’s political and cultural ridiculousness gives little doubt he will have trouble filling the Johnny Mercer Theatre.

Lewis Black

When: 8 p.m. April 3

Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave., Savannah.

Tickets: $35-$55

Information: 912-651-6556, 800-351-7469, www.savannahcivic.com

In fact, Black has gone from an exasperated mouthpiece for informed discontent with his “Back in Black” segment on “The Daily Show” and occasional Comedy Central specials to something resembling a mainstream comedian. He’s now got two HBO specials under his belt, as well as a series of movies and voice-over roles, a “Law and Order” role, a History Channel special, various commercials, several books and a stint on the 2007 USO tour with Robin Williams and Kid Rock.

It was in 2005, when The Weather Channel asked him to do a series of segments, that Black felt he’d finally broken out of his niche comedy market. “I had done a tour on Comedy Central. They said ‘Do you want to tour on your own?’ I said, ‘Sure, but good luck,’ ” Black said, saying he doubted that anyone would be interested. “People started showing up.” A few years later he was doing a benefit show in front of 8,000 people in a hockey rink in St. Louis with Vince Gill as an opening act. “To follow Vince Gill is as mainstream as you get,” he said.

That’s not to say he’s toned down his ire, not when the carousel of political absurdity is displayed with breathless conflict on cable news all hours of the day. Black is often categorized as a liberal comedian and commentator, but that’s not quite right: like the “Daily Show” in general, Black doesn’t target his barbs at Republicans, religion, conservatives or Democrats specifically, but rather at the overall inanity of the level of public discourse today and the ridiculousness of the system overall.

Even on the phone, some of his comments are punctuated with his trademark angry screech that sounds his voice is being squeezed through a cheese grater.

“We are now maybe possibly one of the stupidest countries on planet Earth,” he said, referencing the recently passed health care legislation. “We win. Our inability to come up with a health care plan for ourselves without it turning into a battle is appalling. We’ve now reduced it to one side is a group of idiots; one side is a group of fruitcakes.”

“How is it easier for us to go to war not being sure if there are weapons of mass destruction? That’s simple,” he said. “But us taking care of ourselves is nearly impossible.”

As for his first appearance in Savannah, Black has high hopes.

“I’m looking forward to coming down there,” he said. “And I hope that Joe’s in the audience.”

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Mayor looks back, forward

(Hilton Head Monthly4/30/2010) The single angriest moment I ever witnessed from Mayor Tom Peeples during four years covering the town happened in a meeting on the contentious debate over limiting the airport’s future runway length in 2007 The meeting drew one of the largest crowds in town history into a standing-room-only council chambers as the public both for and against expansion gathered.
The debate wore on, the crowd grew restive and some skeptics shot jeers and boos at council members on the dais. With a sharp whack of the gavel, Peeples brought the room to silence, lifted his voice to its full-bodied boom and told the crowd they could either quiet down or get out. About half the room picked up and left.

The single most emotional moment I witnessed out of Peeples also came at the same meeting, a few minutes later. With the public comment portion of the hearing closed, council members were left to state their positions on the measure that would prevent the airport from expanding the runway without first getting town permission. As Peeples explained that the town was taking the controversial measure because it defended the core ideals of the island’s founders, his voice began to crack and waver, and it appeared, to those in the audience at least, that a few tears lined his eyes.

“It guarantees that you, the citizens of Hilton Head Island, can come to a public process just like this if there is a need to discuss lengthening the runway,” Peeples told the crowd. “Obviously the fact that so many people are here must (mean) that’s a good idea.”

That broad swing of emotions — transforming from forceful arbiter to spokesman for personal passion — is indicative of the balance Peeples struck over his 15 years as town mayor. Never too much a dyed-in-the-wool politician, Peeples positioned himself as a pragmatist and consensus builder, but wasn’t afraid to let people know when something went against what he saw as the values of Hilton Head that first drew him to the island and local politics many years ago.
Peeples made a surprise announcement in April that he won’t run for reelection this November after serving four terms. It opens up room for an exciting election season, and one that will usher in a new era of leadership for the town that has known the same mayor for more than half its lifetime.

READ THE REST

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REO SPEEDWAGON’S KEVIN CRONIN: “WHEN WE PLAY LIVE, IT’S A RIOT”

(The Guide, 3/12/10) The upside to being a band that’s persevered for more than three decades is that you can play anywhere from Mexico City to Savannah and draw a lively crowd.

The downside is that styles and trends change quickly, and your fans tend to best remember your early days. REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin, for instance, is often asked to sign copies of the band’s 1979 album “Nine Lives,” the cover of which features the group clad in tight black spandex and leather, with tail-wearing vixens hanging on them and a black panther on a chain in the foreground.

“At the time it was considered cool,” Cronin said with a chuckle in a phone interview last week. “It definitely wasn’t who I was, that’s for sure.”

REO Speedwagon, Edwin McCain

When: 8 p.m. March 13

Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave., Savannah.

Tickets: $45-$55

Information: 912-651-6566, http://www.savannahcivic.com

Cronin, now 58 and definitely wearing less spandex these days, still draws legions of fans out to hear the soft-rock powerhouse’s many hits, such as “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take it On the Run.” Those fans include people of all ages, and a lot of what the band calls “girls nights out,” groups of moms dressing up to relive high school and college. Still, Cronin said he’s able to appreciate the fan support and the ability to play in front of huge crowds much more now than he did when the band was at the top of the charts.

“I look back on those days fondly. The success in those days was phenomenal; it’s what every kid dreams of. We played Live Aid. we played everywhere across the world,” he said. “(But) you’ve got blinders on, working so hard, touring, being in the studio. When you finally do hit the big time, there’s a feeling of entitlement. We didn’t really appreciate it when it was happening.”

But what is it that brings fans out to see a band like REO Speedwagon, whose body of work, after 15 albums and thousands of shows, may be as familiar to fans as it is to the musicians themselves?

“It’s one thing to hear a song on the radio or on a record, (and another) when you hear a song played live by the artists that created it,” Cronin said. “I think it’s a very basic, caveman sort of thing. It’s a common bond you share with other human beings. There’s a feeling of camaraderie that comes from that. Here you are in this big room with all these strangers, it’s just life-affirming on some level. It’s loud, the lights are happening, the video screens are blaring. When we play live, it’s a riot.”

WHEN EDWIN MET KEVIN
REO’s show in Savannah will feature special guest Edwin McCain, whom REO’s Kevin Cronin met several years ago at a jazz festival in Jacksonville. When McCain followed up with an e-mail saying the two should write some songs together, Cronin initially thought it was a prank. “I didn’t think Edwin McCain would be calling wanting to write songs with me,” he said.
“I ignored it.” The two eventually reconnected and have been friends ever since.

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KELLER WILLIAMS 2.0: THE SINGER HAS BECOME A ‘ONCE A WEEK FREEK’

(From The Guide, 3/5/10) Keller Williams’ last local show was his 2008 New Year’s Eve gig at the Shoreline Ballroom on Hilton Head Island. The musician — known as a one-man jam band for his ability to play and loop different instruments — put together a three-pronged show that featured a regular set, an all-request set and a bonus set of “grunge-grass,” his name for bluegrass versions of ’90s hits from Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and the like.

And even though Williams is of the genus of musicians who treats every show like a unique moment meant to be shared by tapers, you won’t find the Hilton Head appearance in the vast pantheon of his music online.

“I was thinking about releasing it, but got talked out of it due to all the licensing issues that have happened to Pearl Jam and Nirvana,” he said. “They keep that stuff pretty close to the chest. But I might sneak it in in my ‘Once a Week Freek.’ “

Keller Williams

When: 9 p.m. March 6

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St., Savannah

Tickets: $20 in advance, $23 at the door

Information: 912-233-1192, www.livewiremusichall.com

That “Freek” is basically Keller Williams 2.0. After a 16-year career spent holding on to the traditional concept of the “album” as a physical and complete identity, Williams last summer decided to start selling individual tracks of unreleased studio material, outtakes and live shows through his site.

“That was just me finally coming to grips with the digital downloading world,” Williams said. “I’ve been bringing along a group of people who record (a show) and put it on disc and sell it right away. I think that’s great. But it’s not something I was eager to get into, the whole downloading idea and the absence of the idea of the album (as) a group of songs put together in an order and meant to be heard in that order. Now what happens is that album is up and you can just choose what you want off of it.”

The experiment is an example of the dilemma many musicians are facing as fans turn away from record stores and turn on iTunes instead. Williams uploads one song a week that fans can download for 99 cents. The releases include his latest album, last year’s “Odd,” which appeared on the site a track at a time before it was available as a hard copy.

Williams said the venture isn’t a huge moneymaker, but it’s been great to pore over his old catalog and pick out gems from his early days, like recordings from a pool hall 15 years ago where you can hear the cue ball hitting the rack and bottles clinking against the trash can. It could be the model for all music distirbution in the future.

But for now, Williams still has two old-fashioned albums in the works. The first, “Thief,” is a follow-up to his 2006 album “Grass” with Larry and Jenny Keel, an all-covers set that’s due out in May. The second is an album of kids’ music he’s been sitting on for a while.

“I’m holding on to that romantic idea of the record,” he said. “There’s still some people who want the compilation and the artwork and to hear it the way it was meant to be heard.”

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MARTHA STEWART at the Brooklyn Flea

(Brokelyn 10/25/09) Stalked Martha Stewart for hours until she talked to me in Brooklyn.

As it happens, Stewart also has a bit of Brokelyn cred. “I’m a very frugal person—I love Costco,” she confessed. Really? The woman whose web site recently polled readers: Which of Martha Stewart’s homes would you most like to visit? (Skylands obvs.)

When pressed on her skinflinty ways, she revealed that she frequently wears hand-me-downs. “I don’t have very many clothes,” she told us. “And I wear clothes for years and years and years. I’ve had these boots for eight years.”

Read all about it.

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Blue October

UPDATE: Yikes. So just a few days after talking with Justin Furstenfeld about how positive he was feeling these days and how excited he was to bring his message to people on this tour, Blue October cancelled the tour because Furstenfeld has been hospitalized to deal with mental health issues. Here’s the release from the band’s web site:

BLUE OCTOBER ANNOUNCES THE CANCELLATION OF
THE PICK UP THE PHONE TOUR 2009
DUE TO LEAD SINGER’S HOSPITALIZATION

(New York, NY – October 22, 2009) The Pick Up The Phone Tour 2009 has been canceled due to the hospitalization of Justin Furstenfeld, lead singer of the tour’s headlining band Blue October. Furstenfeld, who was also the spokesperson for Pick Up The Phone Tour 2009, is being treated for suffering from an extreme mental anxiety attack. His doctors have ordered that the tour—which was committed to reducing the stigma associated with mental health, depression, and suicide—be canceled to allow for his recovery.

“Mental health diseases are unpredictable,” says Furstenfeld. “And on the eve of this tour in support of a cause that means the world to me, I am in need of time to heal from a setback in my own personal life, which is severe enough for me to seek hospitalization. I hope that my action to seek the strength and safety of treatment will inspire others that are suffering to do the same.”

In other news, Mike Ness is considering cancelling Social Distortion’s appearance on Hilton Head to deal with grief after discovering the pool hall he loved as a kid is now a 7-11.

Blue October’s seasons of change (or not?)

(The Guide 10/27/09)  The most unexpected place that Justin Furstenfeld, lead singer of the Houston alt-rock band Blue October, ever heard his hit song “Hate Me” was on the radio while driving through the vast barrenness of rural Kansas.

Furstenfeld was on his way to Nebraska when someone called a local Top 40 radio station and requested the song — even though it had been two years since the 2006 single had its reign near the top of the charts.

The caller said he had hurt his girlfriend and was ashamed of himself, and he wanted to send the song — Furstenfeld’s brutal vocal exorcism of his demons — out to his girlfriend before going into rehab.
“And man, I had to pull the car over,” Furstenfeld said last week. “It really touched me, it really opened my eyes.”

Blue October

When: 9 p.m. Oct. 24

Where: Shoreline Ballroom, Ocean Center, 40 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head Island

Tickets: $10.61

Information: 843-842-0358, www.shorelineballroom.com

It’s that kind of experience about the redemptive quality of music that helped Furstenfeld transform himself from a terminally depressed drug addict unable to cope with bipolar disorder into a force for positive change. Blue October’s current tour is a suicide-prevention endeavor that’s part of the Pick Up the Phone campaign; it raises awareness of depression and mental illness while letting people know how to seek help for themselves, friends or family members. “It’s a chance for us to be able to spread our wings and do something about some of the subjects that we’ve been singing about,” said Furstenfeld, who was scheduled to appear before lawmakers on Capital Hill this week as a spokesman for the group.

While Furstenfeld’s songs come from dark places  — with the band’s angry guitars roaring under lyrics about drowning, dramatic weight gain and the desire to choke someone — he’s trying to use music to break through to fans who feel the same way.

“Most critics call it overdramatic,” he said. “You guys have no clue. Call me overdramatic, but you’re a little late. I’ve been that way for 10 years.”

Talking from his home, where he took occasional breaks to distract his 2-year-old daughter, Furstenfeld said he’s been coping with the fact that the most depressing period in his life produced his most successful music to date, particularly “Hate Me.”

“Am I proud of who I was when I wrote that song? Absolutely not,” he said. “I used to cover up all kinds of pain with drugs and lies. Now I want to be good role model for my daughter and my wife.”

The band’s latest album is indicative of that transformation. “Approaching Normal,” released in March, is a deliberate mix, with bouncy, near-joyful tunes mixed in with the pallet of lament. It got a boost from legendary producer Steve Lillywhite who has worked with U2, the Rolling Stones, Morrissey and the Pogues.

Furstenfeld was protective of his highly personal songs at first, but he quickly learned to trust Lillywhite. “If Jesus Christ was sitting there mixing my album I’d probably still be sitting there with him,” he said. “But it came out to be probably one of my most positive and confident albums.”

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An Horse riding to a indie success

(The Guide, 10/1/09) An Horse rose from the obscurity of an Australian record store basement stage to the “Late Show with David Letterman” in a little under two years, which is a head-slapping, needle-scratching-across-the-record fast time frame, even in today’s speedy, blog-amped music scene.

This is how things seem to work for the Australian duo. Just a few months after Kate Cooper and Damon set up a PA in the store and started practicing, they were invited to join Canadian indie-pop twins Tegan and Sara for a major U.S. tour. That led to an opening slot on an Australian tour for Death Cab for Cutie, another U.S. tour with Appleseed Cast and their current tour with Silversun Pickups, which will bring them through Hilton Head Island on Wednesday.

Silversun Pickups, Cage the Elephant, An Horse

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 7

Where: Shoreline Ballroom, 40 Folly Field Road, Ocean Center, Hilton Head Island

Tickets: $25 in advance, $28 at the door

Information: 843-842-0358, www.shorelineballroom.com


Somewhere in there, they got invited to play the “Late Show” stage for their first television appearance, and the duo allowed themselves just a moment to revel in the glory that Letterman had actually come over to shake their hands. But not too much.

“What you see on TV is how much you meet him for,” Cooper said by phone. “I have heard that if he shakes your hand afterwards (he liked) your performance. We were pretty happy about that. If I had known that beforehand I would have probably rushed at him afterwards to shake his hand.”

Of course, after that moment in the national spotlight, the band climbed back into the tour bus and watched the broadcast from a motel on the side of the highway before playing a show for a scant handful of people. “Every day I’m like, ‘Why do I do this? I have no money. I’m going to die alone.’ It’s a crazy reality check constantly,” Cooper said.

Self-effacing mindset aside, An Horse (yes, that’s how the band’s name is written, and no, it’s not a nod to some odd Australian grammar rules) deals in power indie-pop marked with unironic emotion that has found fans in the states, Australia and beyond. Their songs resound with narrative self-reflection, full of yearning and strained attempts at bravery. And Cooper tends to sing an unsteady internal monologue; witness her vow to overcome adversity on the uptempo single “Camp Out” or her lyrics “I got so scared that you might be a better me than me” from their first full-length, 2008’s “Rearrange Beds.”

The band’s quick popularity is also metaphorical: While the fast pace of the modern music industry helped them break out of Australia, it also meant the doomed the Brisbane record store they started in. It closed just a few weeks after they left for tour.

“It was a real bummer,” Cooper said. “It was a really great record store. The decline in sales was so rapid and obvious. When I started, there were tons of people working there on the weekend. It was the place to go to hang out. Twelve months later, it was a ghost town.”

So, to attract new fans, the band will continue to tour from the buzzy streets of Brooklyn to the quieter climes of South Carolina.

“You know what, I feel like the smaller places are better,” Cooper said. “I think it can only be the case that people are more aware. The kids in smaller cities are more on it because they’re on the Internet all day. They discover things and they hold on to them. We played Calgary recently. Who’s heard of Calgary? But it was awesome.”

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Band of Brothers: N.C.’s Avett Brothers poised for a major breakout

(The Guide 9/10/09)

North Carolina’s The Avett Brothers

Bob Crawford feels bad for the warring siblings of rock ‘n’ roll. The Gallaghers, Robinsons and Davies of the world that turned Oasis, the Black Crowes and the Kinks into as much a public forum for family drama as a conduit for collaborative music.

The Avett Brothers, the North Carolina trio whose brotherly frontmen are helping elevate the band from small folk-ish mountain music hit to cross-genre popular sensation, have no such troubles.

“They get along amazingly well,” Crawford, the band’s bassist, said in a phone interview.

“I can remember one or two instance in eight years where they would go behind closed doors and work it out. They don’t fight any more than any of us will get into an argument or disagreement. The conflicts we have with each other are always mundane, never serious.”

That dynamic is one of the things that holds the band’s music together and reflects the harmony of eastern North Carolina where the brothers grew up — brothers who, by the way, first launched a neo-punk band before returning to the bluegrass roots of the region.

Now, after more than eight years together, and with five full-length albums and a handful of independent EPs under their banjo straps, the band is perched on the edge of a national explosion with the release of their first major-label album later this month. “I and Love and You” unites the band with legendary producer Rick Rubin, who has smoothed out their sound into an amalgam of catchy styles and smart, energetic piano with eclectic harmonies that could attract a broad swath of new fans.

Critical descriptions of the band’s sound run a creative gamut from grunge-folk to roots-punk, but the band has avoided self-categorization.

“We just do what we do, and that’s just because it’s us,” Crawford said. “It’s not, ‘Let’s play that rocking slam-grass music that we do.’ We’ve never set out to create a sound in a certain way. Now we’ve got access to more tools, so the song is written, and we decide what instrument will best represent the sound.”

That free-ranging sound already has helped the band draw a following from the indie rock world, earning them praise on indie music bible Pitchfork and making them feel equally welcome at festivals from the indie-heavy SXSW in Austin to the hippie-friendly fields of Bonnaroo. Their songs can be personal and probing, looking at the nature of lost loves and false friends on one song, but them jumping to a wild guitar rhythm or Beatles-like pop harmonies on another.

“It’s got to have something to do with what the music is. It truly is a hybrid of several things and, first and foremost, there is an honest American quality to it,” Crawford said. “For some reason, it touches people somewhere, and all kinds of different people.”

The new album (out Sept. 29) creates a mega-alliance of the innovative sounds of the Avetts’ pianos and kick drums with the studio prowess of Rubin and the distribution arm of Sony Music, something Crawford said could help bring the band in front of new audiences.

And even though the title track of the new album is a love letter to Brooklyn and the big city life that Crawford said these country boys once were so afraid of, shows in the South, like the upcoming appearance at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, are where the band feels most at home, Crawford said.

“I think it’s fever pitch,” he said of the crowds. “It seems like the South really is home. There are places that treat us like home around the country, but it can be really, really intense to play a show in North Carolina or South Carolina.”

 

The Avett Brothers

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 17

Where: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive, North Charleston.

Tickets: $26

Information: 843-529-5050; www.coliseumpac.com

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Les is more: Bass-master Claypool on his animal fetish, ‘South Park’ and real guitars

(The Guide, 5/21) First things first, Les Claypool, because we need to clear up a very important safety matter: Is swine flu transferable by someone wearing a pig mask?

“That’s a very good question. I think if you put on a pig mask after (someone) flu-ridden, there’s a good chance,” Claypool said by phone from his home in Northern California last week, ruminating on one of his trademark stage-costume pieces. “There’s a lot of condensation that comes when you wear a pig mask. The inside of a pig masks is generally a horrible place. It’s kind of like a free facial. It clears the pores.”

Luckily for Hilton Head Island, Claypool does not have swine flu or any other porcine-related malady, so fans of his funky bass trickery and imaginative, meandering songbook can see his first island appearance Thursday at the Shoreline Ballroom as part of his biggest tour outing in a decade. His schedule has been pretty full otherwise, too: he just finished his first novel, directed and released “Electric Apricot,” a “Spinal Tap”-esque movie parody of the jam-band scene and even has a wine in the works.

“Making records is easy,” Claypool said. “Making movies is like climbing Everest wearing a Speedo.”

As the bassist of ’90s bizarro-rock band Primus, Claypool’s signature slap technique — and its resulting thick, heavy bass lines — became one of the more distinctive sounds of the era. He’s been involved in a series of other projects since then, including Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and Oysterhead, a jam-band supergroup that included Trey Anastasio of Phish and Stewart Copeland of The Police.

But on his latest two albums, “Of Whales and Woe” (2006) and “Of Fungi and Foe” (2009), Claypool stuck with his own name for the first time.

Those previous albums and bands basically were solo projects with a rotating cast of background players, Claypool said, but his latest tends to stand on its own. “So now I’ve dropped the whole second moniker, partially because my agent said he was tired of booking shows and not knowing who I was showing up with,” he said.

“Fungi,” he said, is “a little moodier, it gets different shades of dark and light. “It kind of reminds me of a cross between some old Peter Gabriel and Captain Beefheart. I just like the vibe of it.”

You might be wondering why all Claypool’s projects involve animals in some way, between the pig masks, Frog Brigade, Oysterhead, “Of Whales and Woe” — Primus once was even called “Primate.” Frankly, Claypool is wondering that, too.

“I think that might be a question for some form of analyst,” he said. “Because I really don’t know. I tend to like animals, I guess.  I don’t really know why they keep creeping back in my world. Maybe it’s the whole Gary Larson thing.”

Even that wine he’s got in the works hails from the animal kingdom: Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir.

But in addition to all that, Claypool also has become the go-to man for a particular brand of project that appeals to a certain demographic of cartoon-watching gamers: He has written the theme songs for the shows “South Park” and “Robot Chicken,” soundtracked the game “Mushroom Men” for the Nintendo Wii and contributed a new Primus song to “Guitar Hero 2,” one of the game’s few original tracks.

His kids have the game, but Claypool said he still hasn’t picked up the plastic guitar and tried it. “But I probably would suck,” he said. “I have real guitars. I’m an old guy. Cartman said it well: ‘Real guitars are for old people.’”

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The Wailers stage an ‘Exodus’ on the island

(The Guide, 5/15) There are still a few recession-proof jobs out there these days: grocery store worker, tax lawyer and, apparently, membership in legendary reggae band the Wailers.

“I really did not think that all our shows would be sold out,” lead singer Elan Atias said about the band’s current tour by phone from Los Angeles this week. “I can count on one hand (the ones) that didn’t.”

The most recent tour by the Wailers — which still contains some of the original members who served as backing band to Bob Marley and other reggae kings — has traveled, as is customary, throughout American and Europe. Atias thinks that’s because even in a recession, people turn to reggae music to escape their worries.

“The message in the music is to stand up for you rights, to be the voice for the oppressed,” Atias said. “All the wars, all the environmental problems, all the economic problems, it’s so much. It’s so much more than in the ’70s.”

What his band provides, he said, is escape. “We are the out. People still need their entertainment. People still need to have that getaway from the worries and problems and dealings of every day.”

The Wailers, frequent visitors to the area, will make another stop on Hilton Head Island on Tuesday for a show at the Shoreline Ballroom. Marley’s music is played year-round on the island, of course, but this concert will feature some of the actual hands that helped craft it, namely Aston “Family Man” Barrett, one of the original Wailers. Other members signed on the band as the group went on to other projects before and after Marley’s 1981 death, including playing with Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear.

Atias was recruited to join the band 10 years ago while still a young Wailers fan. Since joining, he said, he’s brought his own style to the words of Marley. But his strained, raspy voice is so close to Marley’s that fans tell him they can close their eyes and still see Marley on stage.

“I’m not trying to be him,” Atias said. “I’m trying to do the music justice, to have people hear it the way I would have wanted to hear it. I’m a fan, first and foremost. I’m not trying to fill his shoes, I am myself. I think that’s what people respect.”

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Hard-rock outfit Chevelle keeps it simple, with riffs, energy and, of course, doozh

(The Guide, 4/24) The hard-rock band Chevelle has maintained a solid following and steady success over the past decade while other bands of its genre have faded away, and they’ve managed to do so without changing their sound much from album to album. So don’t expect to see, say, any duets with Kanye West.

“Although I wouldn’t be against it if he called me,” lead singer and guitarist Pete Loeffler said in a recent interview. “But I’m not going to be calling him anytime soon.”

That is, in brief, the reason the band has continued to tour, release albums and draw fans even as their peers in the hard-rock resurgence of the ’90s lost momentum (Remember Trapt? No, of course you don’t). The band knew its formula, heard it resonate with radio listeners and stuck to it. They created spacious riff-driven songs, such as hits “The Red” and “Send the Pain Below,” that specialized in sonic resonance best described as “doozh,” which sounds exactly like it’s spelled. The sustained, building strain of Loeffler’s voice stretched across the tracks earned the band comparisons to Tool, the masters of the genre.

“With this band, it’s just a hard-rock band. We don’t go that far off our original idea, which is just to write good hard rock music,” Loeffler said. “Every record has a different vibe. But we’re still doing what we’re doing.”

That means no rap-rock crossovers, no overemotive neo-power ballads, no experimental noise rock.
“We’ve never gone to mainstream radio,” he said. “That’s one thing that could be do or die: You put out a song that could be alienating to some of your fans.”

When the band first started in Chicago in the mid ’90s, they were the ones facing alienation. There were a lot of pop-oriented bands out at the time, but not many from a hard-rock background. The band members came up watching fellow Chicagoans the Smashing Pumpkins hit it big — a band Loeffler fantasized about someday being successful enough to work with.

The band went to Las Vegas to record its last album, 2007’s “Vena Sera,” to feed off the city’s energy. But for the follow-up they’re currently working on, they took the opposite approach, recording in the quiet woods outside Nashville. That process is creating a product that was much more intrinsic, Loeffler said.

“When you’re out in the country and you sort of need to get that excitement, you have to create it from nowhere,” he said.  “There’s nothing around you that you can get hyped up about. I love all our records but this one happened to be a lot more work for me. It was a good thing, a lot more
focused.”

That album could be ready by June, he said.

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Victor Wooten on Hilton Head: Home bass

(The Guide, 3/20/09)
Early in Victor Wooten’s novel “The Music Lesson,” the main character turns to the mysterious skateboard-riding teacher who has suddenly appeared in his home and asks, “What instrument do you play?”

The teacher responds, “I play music, not instruments.”

Wooten decided to write the novel a few years ago after overtures from friends that he finally put his legendary and innovative bass skills in print. Wooten knew they were looking for an instruction book, but he didn’t want to create a strict “method” for others to follow. A novel was more in line with his playing style, something that could be rhythmic and spiritual but also free-flowing and open for interpretation. It’s similar to why he incorporates musical thinking into other aspects of his life, from his martial arts lessons to the music and nature camp he holds every year.

That approach is what has made Wooten’s career stand out. His virtuosity has earned him acclaim as one of the best bassists of all time, and his time playing as a member of Bela Fleck’s Grammy-winning bluegrass-jazz band the Flecktones has brought his electric bass sounds into millions of ears over the years.

His latest album, 2008’s “Palmystery,” features fresh twists on jazz, gospel and afro-rhythms, which he’ll bring to the Shoreline Ballroom on Hilton Head Island on Saturday.

Like his book, Wooten’s music always has focused on getting a message across by embracing a holistic approach, sometimes forgoing lyrics.

“Moreso than tell stories, I like to create moods,” he said. “I like to create feelings in people. The moods make you reminisce and think, rather than tell you what to think. It’s just like scoring a movie: there’s certain types of things you can create with music, certain types of chords. For the most part I like to make people feel good.”

“I was the smallest”
Wooten grew up the youngest member of the family band. When Wooten was three, his brother took two strings off a guitar and put the instrument in his lap to begin teaching him to play. By the time he was five, he was touring with the band. “I always got the spotlight because I was the smallest,” he said.

The brothers’ band, even though young, always was a hit with crowds. “They were looking for a tape recorder because they don’t think we’re really playing,” Wooten said.

Wooten would quickly grow up to be one of the most respected bass players of all time. But it didn’t happen immediately. “Kids don’t like to practice,” he said. “Sometimes my friends would be outside playing and I’d be in a room learning bass parts. I could remember those days not wanting to do it. But when a song got together, it was worth it.”

With such high acclaim throughout his career, Wooten said he still feels pressure to innovate on his albums. But the biggest pressure, he said, is that which he puts on himself to keep the music and shows interesting for fans.

“I’ve made it a point to make each record I put out different from the last so the public doesn’t know what’s coming. I like that,” he said.

Wooten and the other members of the Flecktones have been performing fewer shows lately as each of their side projects becomes bigger (though the Flecktones will appear in Charleston in December). The band just passed its 20th anniversary, so Wooten said it can withstand a little downtime.

“It was such a different type of band that people had a thirst for it. For us musicians, it was just a blast.”

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Change has come to Ani DiFranco

By Tim Donnelly • Special to the Guide

Change is in the air in Washington, D.C.

Yes, there’s the skinny guy in the big house making decisions now. But two miles down the road, Ani DiFranco also is feeling a lot different these days.

Her first daughter turned two on Inauguration Day, and her songs are now channeling positive themes after years of frustration — and occasionally outright anger — at the government, cultural conformity and struggles over love and identity. The feminist icon, neo-folk hero and owner of her own label, Righteous Babe Records, has released more than 20 albums over two decades, and her fan base has stuck with her even as her music has evolved and grown up.

“I was already on a personal mission to write my joy into music more,” DiFranco said by phone from the back room of Washington’s 9:30 Club, where she performed last weekend. “Now, as it turns out, political songs and happy songs don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
Q. You’ve been successful for a long time. Have you seen your fans change over the years as you have?

A. It’s hard to articulate specifically, but it’s just parallel to me. Having spent so much of my evolutionary years on stage, I sort of play the role of reflecting those lessons we learn along the way, the changes that befall us. I think there is always a new contingent of mostly young women who come along and connect with all these songs written by a young woman with those experiences, that experience of becoming yourself and sort of elbowing out a room for yourself in this world.

Q With having your daughter (in 2007), you spent a lot more time than usual between your previous album and last year’s “Red Letter Year.” Did that allow you to do anything different with the final product?

A. Yeah — time, the final frontier. Who knew (laughs)? I’ve always made records really quickly because I’ve always done everything really quickly. ‘Go, go, go,’ that’s my scene. The baby has slowed me down quite a bit. It’s just what the doctor ordered for me — having more time to develop more perspective. It’s more kind of ambitious production than I usually have on a record. I feel more solid about it — having not plowed through in the moment.

Q. Does that mean you’ll be taking more time with future albums?

A. Yeah – it’s definitely a lesson to be learned, one of the many my kid has taught me so far. Slow down, look before you leap.

Q. Do you think the new era of leadership in the country will affect your song writing?

A. Oh man, it feels so different. It’s a total atmospheric change if you ask me. It’s a great atmosphere, all over the world. I just got back from tour of Australia, and, you know, people everywhere are psyched. Obama’s election was a victory for democracy, the very concept. It was a victory for the people versus the corporate elite, the oil tycoons.

There’s nothing more that I want to do than support those who are doing good in the world. I think we get caught in sort of trying to fight the great evil, slay the great dragon. That’s kind of beating your head against the wall. For the left, it’s more important to lift each other up, support each other with our causes. It’s great these days to have sort of momentum to contribute to, momentum in a positive direction.

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Hinder brings “dirty, fun” rock back to the Shoreline

FYI: They said sleazy, not meFYI: They said “sleazy,” not me
The Guide, Feb. 26, 2009

Two things about Hinder that make them sound like every other hard rock party band of the past two decades: They drink Jagermeister, and they love Motley Crue.

Two things that prove they’ve broken out of the pack and found success: They are sponsored by Jagermeister, and they’re on tour with Motley Crue.

For a band that started out playing bars in their hometown of Oklahoma City, that’s about as close to living the dream as you can get (and don’t forget to throw in the videos full of scantily clad women dripping off the band members, a Web site that solicits “catfight” pictures from female fans and a hit song advising fans to “Get Stoned.” And when you’re a band like that, you get license to scream lyrics such as “She always leaves and makes me feel kind of sleazy / It’s kind of cool because she already pleased me” in front of writhing festival crowds.

“For us, we actually have a real rock ‘n’ roll band,” said Cody Hanson, Hinder’s drummer, who co-founded the band in 2001. “It’s dirty, fun, sleazy rock. And we were doing it coming up at a time when emo was big.”

The love of the archetypal ’80s big, loud party band (see: the Crue, Guns N’ Roses) was what first drove the band into making music, Hanson said, to try to reclaim music from the arty, sad types ushered in by Nirvana in the ’90s and echoed in a million emo-oriented MySpace pages today.

“We want music to be fun again, we want music to have big sing-along choruses and hooks and things,” he said. “We want people to come to the show and we want them to have fun, not be angry or cry. When emo came out, then everybody was crying about everything.”

As it turned out, quite a lot of fans were ready to welcome that big, party band experience again.

Hinder’s 2005 album, “Extreme Behavior,” sold three million copies and led the band to tours with Buckcherry, Papa Roach and 3 Doors Down. But it was the single “Lips of an Angel” — one of the band’s relatively quieter songs — that saw huge success, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Pop 100 chart.

Hanson said the band wasn’t surprised that the softer song became such a success. “Everybody likes a guitar ballad,” he said. “Even guys, they won’t admit it but they like it.”

Being from Oklahoma City — not exactly the epicenter of the music scene — allowed the band to create its own niche, Hanson added. “It’s cool because you get the chance to kind of be who you are,” he said. “There’s not pressure to follow what’s going on in the coasts.”

Their 2008 album, “Take it to the Limit,” features guitar work by Motley Crue guitarist Mick Mars, and the band currently is on a 29-city tour with the music legends as well as fellow rockers Theory of a Deadman.

It’s been, as you can imagine, a good time. “Anytime you get to tour with people you look up to and people that influence you, it’s great,” Hanson said.

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Tom Rhodes to help re-open Comedy Club

 

(The Guide, 2/1/09) It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when comedy had to flourish on TV before Comedy Central, before “Chappelle’s Show” and crank-calling puppets and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s nightly sanity checks. But if you’re going to thank someone for helping end the tyranny of network sitcoms, comedian Tom Rhodes, who is helping re-open the Hilton Head Comedy Club starting Feb. 3, is as good a person as any.

Rhodes received Comedy Central’s first-ever development deal in the mid-’90s, and his long-haired mug became an early face of the network. He’s since trimmed his mane, but he’s proud of how far the network has come. “I think they’re one of the best networks period,” he said. “Stewart, Colbert, those are American icons now that actually influence our political system. Comedy at its greatest should inform or teach people.” During his swing through Hilton Head Island, Rhodes will celebrate his 25th anniversary of being a stand-up, a career he launched a week after he graduated high school and which recently included a talk show on Dutch TV.

There’s been a lot to laugh at about America overseas in the past eight years, Rhodes said. But, he adds, President Obama is fair game too. “That’s the great thing about America: We can make fun of our president, and we always do,” he said.

Tim Donnelly, special to the Guide

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Loretta Lynn at Shoreline: ‘I still think there’s great country out there’

(From The Guide, 1/16)

Country legend Loretta Lynn tries to take at least a little time off in the winter these days.

After all, she has 21 grandchildren who visit on Christmas Eve.

“I got out of cooking,” she said, a note of relief evident in the twangy voice that has ruled country for four decades and become one of the most recognizable in the genre.
But the break won’t last too long. Lynn will kick off her nine-month 2009 tour with a show Jan. 16 at the Shoreline Ballroom.
Loretta Lynn

When: Doors open at 7 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m. Jan. 16

Where: Shoreline Ballroom, Ocean Center, 40 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head Island.

Tickets: $45-$55

Information: 843-842-0358, http://www.shorelineballroom.com
“When I go on stage, I don’t think about it being the first show or the last show,” she said in a recent interview. “If I start thinking about it, it will bother me. I just go on and do my show and it doesn’t upset me.”

Lynn once was best known as the “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” whose honky-tonk Appalachian-based style earned her several No. 1 hits in the ’60s and ’70s and made her the unofficial spokeswoman for the feminist viewpoint in country music.But her career saw a major resurgence in 2004 when she teamed up with Jack White of the White Stripes for the album “Van Lear Rose.” White produced the album and provided guitar and vocals, and the record went on to become a crossover success, putting Lynn’s music in front of a new generation of fans.

“I think me and Jack both are kind of surprised,” Lynn said. “Of course Jack, he believed in me all the way. I said, ‘Now Jack, I don’t know if country people will accept it or not.’ But they loved it.”

But even before that album, Lynn said young people always have been a staple at her shows. “It thrills me to death,” she said.

Over the years, Lynn has stayed true to her Kentucky country roots, never — even when working with White — bending to trends or fads.

“Everybody was saying country music was going pop, and I came in singing just about as country music as I could sing,” she said. “Country music just kind of got back on the track, I guess. It’s been going forever. I haven’t lost any crowd no matter how I go. I still think there’s great country out there. If you don’t sing real country music, it’s you that’s going to lose.”

With songs such as 1966’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” Lynn introduced a strong female voice into country, an influence felt four decades later in artists from the Dixie Chicks to Neko Case. It takes dedication, she said, and some of today’s rising artists don’t seem willing to invest the time.

“You know what’s missing? It’s not the voice, it’s the work,” she said. “I think they think if they put a record out there everybody will play it, everybody will buy it. But if you don’t put out the work, you’re not going to make it big.

“It takes everything. It takes the touring. You have to work the disc jockeys, you have to work the record.”

She’ll soon be back to working her own records again. Lynn is in the studio, collaborating with Johnny Cash’s son on re-recordings of her No. 1 hits — something to satisfy old fans, she said. New material also is in the works and could be out as early as summer.

As for that big family, Christmas is over, but they’re still around. Lynn often includes her son, twin daughters and granddaughter as part of the live show these days, a way to keep family around while continuing to work. “Usually I get a good hand everywhere I go,” she said.

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Keller Williams to jam through New Year’s Eve on Hilton Head

December 25, 2008

(The Guide, 12/26/08) Forgive the hippies. They really aren’t trying to stop you from selling your house. They simply have a deep appreciation for groovy, hip-moving, light tunes from an artist who’s best known as being a one-man jam band.

So you’ll understand why, in the early ’90s, when Keller Williams first started to become known on the scene, it was common to see fans at his shows holding still-muddy Keller Williams Realty signs, ripped from nearby lawns.

That practice has mostly abated, which is a good thing, as Williams is coming to the land of prime real estate when he plays a three-set New Year’s Eve show at the Shoreline Ballroom on Hilton Head Island. The concert will include a special all-request set and an extra-special “Grunge Grass” set featuring bluegrass covers of ’90s alternative hits from the likes of Nirvana and Alice in Chains.

But the rest will feature Williams alone on stage, using his signature method of looping his own performance on different instruments to create a bigger, multilayerd sound.

Question. What’s the deal with this all-request set?

Answer. When you buy a ticket, you’re allowed a request. We’re doing a set of just what people requested. There’s no rules, you know. The majority of the requests is stuff that I haven’t played in a long time, like off early records. Sometimes (fans) request something off the wall, something they want to hear covered. I definitely don’t do it often — maybe one or two a year, just to try to make it more interesting.

Q. How did you get started doing the looped recording?

A. It was just me wanting to go further with just what I had — me and a guitar and a microphone. I was out on tour with (the String Cheese Incident), and I started to try the loop thing. That’s when people started to respond. I guess it was me wanting to go further, create more of a dance-vibe as a solo act by pressing some sequencers. I wanted to keep it more organic, kind of create the loops myself, bring the studio to the stage. I didn’t come up with it, but I expanded it, maybe. I always wanted to have a band, but I was never able to afford it. I love playing in (a) band. The energy way surpasses my solo show, but the solo thing is kind of what I do. It’s the day job.

Q. What was your worst New Year’s?

A. Two years ago, the day before, we lost my dog, Earl, who’s been with my wife and I. It was super crushing. That was by far the worst.

Q. And the best?

A. I opened for String Cheese so many times. They know how to put on a show. They would sink so much money in New Year’s Eve: lasers, trapeze, circus performers, concepts. The band would rev up the audience so much where the energy was just incredible.

Q. Do you worry someone will buy a ticket to the show and think it’s a real estate seminar?

A. I will welcome that personally. That will by far help me out in a great way. I might even make some new friends that way too. If you’re looking at property anywhere, please let me know. I’ll be happy to set you up with a proper representative.

Q: I think you will even pass at least one Keller Williams office on your way to the show.

A. I’m everywhere, man.

New Year’s Eve Extravaganza, feat. Keller Williams, Grunge Grass and DJ Moe Marsh
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31
Where: Shoreline Ballroom, 40 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head Island
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 day of show
Information: 843-842-0358. http://www.shorelineballroom.com

Categories: hilton head · interviews · keller williams

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Blind Boys of Alabama still preaching the gospel

December 8, 2008 ·

(From The Guide, 12/4) –The Blind Boys of Alabama have succeeded in doing something nearly unheard of in the music scene: They’ve taken gospel music — real gospel music, ripe with references to Jesus and salvation and all that Sunday morning fare — and parlayed it into a career that has shattered the longstanding boundaries between rock and church music and won a great many mainstream fans along the way.

That means instead of playing church picnics or small Southern music halls, the Blind Boys have belted out soulful lyrics about conversion and faith to the mud-covered hippies at Bonnaroo, heard their cover of a Tom Waits song appear on HBO’s “The Wire” and shared the stage with Prince.

But it took a staggering seven decades — a preposterous span in music today — to get there. In those years the band adapted its style, said singer Jimmy Carter, shifting from traditional church songs to something more contemporary. But it’s all still gospel, he said, with the same core spirit.

“As time went on, gospel changed. You have contemporary gospel, you even have rap gospel now,” Carter said in a phone interview from his home in Montgomery, Ala. “You have to learn to please anybody. We sing different kinds of music, but its all gospel.”

The crossover success with mainstream artists has helped the band stay relevant and
attract young fans, but it’s those other artists — such as Ben Harper, who cut an entire album with the band in 2004 — who usually seek out the Blind Boys, Carter said. Harper, for instance, approached the band overseas and told them he had some gospel tunes they might be interested in.

“You got to understand now, most of these guys we work with, they came out of the church, they are gospel people,” Carter said. “They just chose to do another kind of music. They have gospel roots.”

The Blind Boys formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939, with Carter as one of the original members. But it’s in the past decade or so that the band has seen mainstream success, playing different festivals, working with Aaron Neville and Peter Gabriel and lending their music to soundtracks from Disney’s “Brother Bear” to the TV show “Lost.”

“This is not a brag, but there are not too many people now who do not know about the Blind Boys,” Carter said.

Carter attributes their success to the broad appeal of a spiritual message. The lyrics may capture Southern-roots gospel, but all crowds, from Los Angeles to Bonnaroo, can identify with spirituality.

“Everybody has a little bit of God in them. When people hear gospel, they think about God. Everybody has his own religion, or his own what-he-wants-to-believe. We sing gospel, and we might not make a believer out of (people), but we have a message, and they receive the message,” he said. “As long as we can tell somebody about the goodness of the Lord, that’s what we’re all about.”

Link: Official Blind Boys of Alabama site.

Categories: ben harper · blind boys of alabama · gospel · interviews

Mommy, can I go out and golf tonight? The Misfits come to Hilton Head

December 8, 2008 · No Comments


(From The Guide, 12/4)

Hilton Head Island still has its baby teeth when it comes to this whole “punk” thing, seeing as the island’s first major punk show took place just two months ago when Against Me! and Ted Leo blew through town.

But now that the Misfits are on their way, it’s time to grow up fast, kids.

The Misfits are responsible for one of the most recognizable symbols in all of punk rock: the “fiend skull,” the grinning white skeletal outline on a black background that’s become a keynote symbol of the genre, right up there with the three-chord riff, the Ramones’ seal and the purple-highlighted mohawk.

With their performance at the Shoreline Ballroom this week, the Misfits will bring to the island a 30-year history as one of the most theatric, macabre and long-lasting names in all of rock. It probably will be the most hardcore show in Hilton Head history, with the emphasis on themes of horror, sci-fi and gore (very rarely, for example, does the island host bands with lyrics like, “Your future is in an oblong box”).

It’s the hardcore fan base — the Fiend Club, as they’re known — that has kept the band going all these years, lead singer Jerry Only said in a phone interview before a Dallas show on the day before Thanksgiving. The Misfits’ music never got much radio play, but it was always relevant to their fans, he said.

“It’s out there, even though it’s not really extremely visible to the eye. It’s something that’s well known, well-established,” Only said. “(The fans) kind of tend to hold on to it and make it their own. We have one of the most loyal fan bases out there.”

Only was the band’s original bassist, but he took over lead singer duties following a lengthy legal battle over the rights to the band with former lead Glenn Danzig, who left the group in the early 1980s. Since reforming in the mid-’90s, the new incarnation of the Misfits has released three albums, appeared in films and continued to tour.

“I think that we’re a very well-rounded package. We have a little bit of everything. The sound is unique, (so is) the material and the way we do what we do,” Only said. “I think that’s one of the things that have allowed us to float through the changing of the musical guard.”

Only said the band plans to take a few years off soon to work on new music and prepare a new show.

“We’re not looking to become big commercial success. But at the same time, we are looking to become a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “I’d love to go head to head with Iron Maiden and hold our own.”

Plus, Only wants to spend time with his 2-year-old daughter, who, unlike other children, isn’t scared by his make up, spiked leather stage outfit or his trademark hairstyle. “She doesn’t even notice it,” he said.

So as a part of one iconic band, what does Only think of the much-discussed exploits of Guns N’ Roses, a band that has covered Misfits songs in the past? Guns N’ Roses this month released “Chinese Democracy” after years of anticipation.

“I don’t buy the hype. I could give a (blank),” he said, adding that any band that takes that long to put out an album is just out for money. The Misfits’ 1983 album, “Earth A.D.,” for example, was recorded in about six hours, Only said. “I’m out there playing and taking it to the kids every day,” he said. “We’re out there beating the streets and making it real.”

Link: Official Misfits site.

Categories: guns n roses · hilton head · interviews · ted leo · the misfits

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: Just what the doctor ordered

September 26, 2008 · No Comments

(The Guide, 9/26/08) — When your trusty yet vigilant and skeptical Guide staff first heard a rumor about Ted Leo coming to Hilton Head Island, a contest immediately arose to see who in the newsroom believed it least.

No one here wanted to fall prey to what was certainly an apocryphal story, that a political powerhouse who once earned comparisons to punk royalty Fugazi and the Clash would soon be slashing his way through the manicured landscape of Hilton Head.

We were never so happy to be wrong.

It turns out that Leo’s actually been to Hilton Head many times (though not to play music), and has fond memories of it. But when Leo and his band the Pharmacists return to the island Oct. 2, on tour with Against Me! and Future of the Left, it will be a day for the history books. Here’s why:

Question. We did a little bit of research, and we think this may be the first punk show in Hilton Head history.

Answer. I used to go out with someone who lived on Hilton Head. I used to actually go down there a lot and visit her and we’d hang out and see shows in Savannah.

But there was one night where some ska band that I actually knew from New York was playing at like some crazy frat bar, and we went. And I remember her being so freaked out, like, ‘God, this is so weird, there’s actually a band that’s not like the String Cheese Incident or Widespread Panic or something that’s playing here.’

Wow, but I would have figured since then, that since there are kind of ‘punk’ shows everywhere, I’m surprised to hear that I’m the first.

Q. How does that feel?

A. It’s exciting. It’s auspicious. I had no idea.

Q. What’s it like going from a big tour with Pearl Jam back to playing little clubs?

A. It’s not that awing to be on a big stage. In fact, it’s usually not that fun.

In the middle of the Pearl Jam tour, we had some days off and we threw in some of our own shows. So we went from playing the Verizon Center in D.C., which is like 18,000 people, to playing a 200-capacity art gallery in Richmond, Va., and you know, that was kind of actually more fun. I hate to limit our ambitions, but it feels much more at home.

Q. So you still prefer the smaller venues?

A. Our tours are always kind of up-and-down like that, to a certain degree, and that also is really nice. It’s like you go from playing at Metro in Chicago to the aquarium in Fargo, N.D.

It’s a nice way to keep things in perspective, I guess is what I’m trying to say. The Fargo show can be just as fun, and almost feel like more important in some ways.

Q. You guys have been around for a while, and have a big following. Do you still enjoy introducing new people to music when you’re in strange places?

A. Definitely. I don’t think we play any different in those circumstances, whether it’s somewhere relatively new or whether it’s somewhere we’ve been a million times. What it actually enables us to do was kind of change our set list up in ways that we normally wouldn’t. It’s not like a total hometown crowd. In a weird way, it gives you a little more freedom to be a little looser in your choices.

Q. Do you ever edit your own Wikipedia page?

A. No (laughs). Should I? I don’t look at it. I don’t really want to know what people are saying about me on there. I think the last time I looked at it was probably two years ago, when I first realized there was a Wikipedia page for me: ‘Oh, wow, that’s interesting. Hmm, that’s not true. Oh, that’s true, I guess.’

I think things like that are better. Unless it’s meant to be some kind of professional resume that I have specific things that I want to be mentioned on it, I would prefer to just let people do that if they want to do it.

Q. Anything else you want to say about the tour?

A. Just psyched to go back to that beach.

Categories: interviews · ted leo

Billboard moment

September 16, 2008 · No Comments

I had something published on Billboard.com today. Ted Leo, you’re a class act all around. Also, I had to send an e-mail that began this way to my managing editor yesterday.

so you may or may not have a random and very confused sounding punk rocker on your voice mail today…..

It was a very odd day. At some point today, maybe I’ll actually focus on covering my beat for the publication that actually pays me on a regular basis. No promises.

Also, Reason No. 2 in the Four Weeks of Ted Leo, our effort to fill a local club with at least a respectable number of curious audiophiles.

Categories: billboard · e-mail · interviews · punk · ted leo

Exceptional Publicity

September 8, 2008 · 4 Comments

Effing. Fantastic. Just got this e-mail back from Ted Leo’s folk:

From: Touch and Go Quarterstick
Sent: Mon 9/8/2008 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: Ted Leo comes to the posh rock

Hey T -

GREAT to hear from you. Teddy isn’t really doing press but I’ll make an exception for you! Hilton Head needstaknow! )

Will 9/15 work for you?

That’s right: Ted Leo isn’t doing interviews, but they’re making an exception for the small newspaper on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Because, even though it may kill us, reducing our bodies to chunky ash residue that will be used to fertilize the fairway of the 8th hole at Heron Point, we’re going to force this place to accept the punk. LEARN IT. KNOW IT. LIVE IT.

If I can quote the ever estimable Jeff Vrabel: “EAT (poo), PITCHFORK

Also, even if they didn’t set up the interview, I still have his cell phone number in my phone from our interview two years ago. Stalker much? Maybe a little. But I’ve never called it, not even drunk.

Categories: interviews · ted leo

The Gospel According to Gallagher

July 4, 2008 · No Comments

I swear I will write about other things besides Gallagher on this blog. Someday.

(As originally appeared in The Guide, 7/4) — Gallagher wants to be known as more than the Smashing Comedian. This is why we spent the first 10 minutes of our interview talking about anything other than comedy, watermelons or his upcoming performance on Hilton Head Island.

Gallagher was in Atlanta on Tuesday, you see, trying to meet with Mayor Shirley Franklin to discuss his proposal for a “family reunion resort,” a place specifically designed for families to visit and reconnect. (He did manage to get in a three-night stint at the Punchline, an Atlanta comedy club, as well.)

OK, there was some talk about smashing: smashing atoms. Gallagher also had plans to meet with physicists at Georgia Tech to talk about some of his subatomic particle ideas, and he does have several. America dropped the ball on doing research into the atom after World War II, he said. Why in this time of energy crisis, he wants to know, isn’t America looking at atomic energy? “Isn’t it America’s tradition to be the pioneer?” Gallagher said.

As for helping people understand electrons, protons and the dangers of CT scans or cell phones, he’s got ideas for subatomic particle action figures and Pokemon-type cards to help kids get interested.

If all this sounds a far cry from the on-stage persona of Gallagher — the long-haired, striped-shirt melon smasher who brought prop comedy to new heights before Carrot Top even sprouted — it really shouldn’t. His stage show is zany and goofy, but it also includes some modicum of social commentary. The whole Sledge-o-Matic thing became his trademark, but underneath the watermelon bits and pound cake (”I guess it does!”) was a critique of consumerism. Free thought is his call to action, and he spent part of our interview railing against people who follow blind trends or submit to the corporate mindset.

“People think I’m odd because I have passions. That’s what’s missing today in everyday life,” he said. “If you’re smart or kind of passionate about an idea, they think you’re kind of silly. Americans are supposed to be individuals who want to express themselves.”

To that end, Gallagher still does about 100 shows a year, in between making online environmental videos under the name Uncle Earth and working on other film projects. “I’m working my way down,” he said. But, he says, at least he can work on some of these side projects at each stop.

“I like traveling. I don’t mind having a deductible reason to fly to these towns,” he said. He’s been to Hilton Head before early in his career, as a roadie for musical comedian Jim Stafford, who played a small bar in 1974.

In his heyday of TV specials, Gallagher poked fun at the absurdities of culture and language, asking, for instance, why we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway and why cargo goes by boat but a shipment goes by truck. He said he’s evolved his act over the years because comedy always must surprise.

“Comedians have to push the envelope of what’s acceptable to get a rise out of the audience,” he said. “People are so stimulated these days, so it’s hard.”

He cited a few examples of such overstimulation: kids with their underwear hanging out, girls with gaudy tattoos and parents who buy cars larger than members of the military drive.

“That’s what I do: I poke at people and show them what they’re doing. I’m supposed to be an uninvolved third party that gives them a fresh view of their life.”

The props are still part of the show — and he has the ones he’s used over the years stored in Los Angeles. He makes his own Sledge-o-Matic and has several of them stashed in airport baggage (”I think baggage handlers recognize its my luggage and keep it”).

His hallmark smashy-smashy bit also is still part of the show, but now he lets kids or other audience members come up and swing the mallet.

“It was the next step to take,” he said. “They want to say that they not only came to the show but they got to smash. You’ve got to change with the times. You’ve got to add new and exciting things.”

Categories: gallagher · interviews · subatomic particles

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