‘There’s only what you have the guts to try.’

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Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, where he studied English and music and trained as an opera singer. In 2018, he released his debut record, “First Thing Tomorrow,” a collection of 10 original, pop/rock songs.

Not your average introduction. This is not an average story.

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In ‘Talking to Myself’ you sing ‘the sun goes down, we are another day closer to dying’. You told me this song is about you talking yourself through this project. What was this project about, for you? And how important was it to finish?

A 48-year-old sports writer putting out a debut record requires some explanation, I know. But there’s only so much I can explain. On one level, this project was the culmination of a life immersed in music, from the piano lessons as a kid, which I quit after a couple of years like everyone; to my music studies at Vanderbilt, where I trained as an opera singer, but was always more drawn to the theory/composition classes; to my dabbling at guitar and piano as an adult, with an occasional sit-in gig with a friend’s band (my crazy day job precluded anything more serious) and lots of drunken hootenanny jams; and of course, to my years spent as an active, insatiable and analytical listener of music.

But on a deeper level – and this is where “Talking To Myself” comes in – it was about challenging myself to take on something I’ve always dreamed of doing (but maybe doubted that I could do well), and seeing it through. I always figured I would try this at some point, but when you get to a certain age, you wake up and realize “some point” needs to be right freaking now. There wasn’t one big event or epiphany, that got me to that point. It was more like a slow dawning. I certainly wish it had happened earlier in life, but I refuse to grant myself the cop-out of saying I missed my calling. As the lyric goes, “There are no callings in life / There’s only what you have the guts to try.” I didn’t have the guts – or the wherewithal — to try it at 18 or 28 or 38.

In the song, you hear the speaker talking to someone as if encouraging them to “follow through or it dies,” and hopefully it sounds sort of inspirational. But by the bridge (“Mirror mirror on the wall behind the bar / Who’s the loneliest by far”), you realize it’s just some guy talking to himself in a bar. In a way, that’s its own sort of cop-out: he spends two verses going all carpe diem on you, but by the end he’s resigned to saying he’ll get to it “someday.” It just seemed more rock-n-roll to do it that way, instead of the opposite. But I know what it meant to me.

The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?

Honestly, just making a real, actual piece of art for the first time in my life, then putting the thing out and having some people listen to it and like it is all the success I needed or wanted. I would have loved to have made back my expenses, but it seems as if that ship has sailed, from a standpoint of people paying for music. (It’s been interesting, by the way, to be involved in two industries – newspapers and music – where the economic model has collapsed due largely to the misguided belief from consumers that online content should be free.) I also would love it if someone saw this and thought, “If this over-the-hill chump-ass sports writer can make a record like this, I can pull off my dream project.” But that doesn’t seem to actually happen in real life, so I’m not counting on it.

Andy Bopp is producing. What’s the story?

I met Andy Bopp through my good friend, the Baltimore-based Americana legend Andrew Grimm, who fronts a band called June Star and is the best songwriter I know. Bopp and Grimm have been playing in each other’s bands for years. Having them both involved was perfect for me, since Bopp’s power pop genius and Grimm’s Americana chops were like the yin and yang of my musical sensibilities. Being in the studio with these two, plus J. Robbins, the legendary D.C. hardcore guitarist/singer/songwriter (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, et al.) who also co-produced and mixed it, was an incredible experience for me.

I never set out to make a power pop record. They were just songs that I thought were pretty good, but I wasn’t hearing a defined, distinctive sound like that. But circumstances led to Bopp becoming the primary producer, and he was like a mad scientist in the studio. We triple-tracked most of the vocals, and Bopp added touches like the “It’s Getting Better,” one-note guitar lick in “City You Left Behind” and some classic-pop percussion. It totally indulged that side of my sensibilities, and I was completely on board. I was thrilled with how it came out. But when we were finished, I was kind of like: Welp, I think we made a power pop record.

You are a writer. Have you always been writing songs?

No, not at all. I went through periods when I dabbled at it, but I never stuck with it. I just resigned myself to the notion I was good at telling other people’s stories in the newspaper but terrible at telling my own in song. Then, maybe four years ago, I built myself a music “lounge” in my basement and started to apply myself to songwriting. I think it’s essential to carve out both the mental and the physical space for yourself to be able to tap into the creative side, and until then I had neither. I still found it incredibly hard to write a good song, but nothing had ever felt more rewarding to me, including writing a book.

Are people, who know you from work, surprised when they hear your music?

Yes and no. I didn’t tell many people about the project – just enough to where there was pressure on me to see it through. But nobody at the newspaper knew until a few days before the record was coming out. My bosses could not have reacted any better. My sports editor was one of the first people to buy it on the day it came out – and then his wife did, too.

At the same time, in my professional circles, my musical ability has always been viewed a cool novelty, and I was well-known, or perhaps infamous, for assaulting hotel-lobby pianos at any major sporting event until security was inevitably called to shut me down. These episodes have led to some epic stories, such as the time Tommy Lasorda sang along with me to Louis Prima songs, and when Dusty Baker tipped me a $50 after Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.

She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mixtape if there is going to be a second date. Which 5 would you put on?

You’re an evil person, Patrick, for limiting this to five songs. But with that said, and keeping in mind the stated mission of securing a second date, I’ll line it up like this:

Waterloo Sunset, The Kinks

Fruits of My Labor, Lucinda Williams

Things, Paul Westerberg

Take It With Me, Tom Waits

My One and Only Love, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

 

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How will you promote First Thing Tomorrow?

I’ve always been terrible at self-promotion, and that’s doubly so when it comes to my music. So basically, there will be zero promotion. I don’t have the time or even the desire to play out. We talked about doing one record release show, but two months later we still haven’t gotten that off the ground. I’ve sent the record around to some radio stations, blogs, and what-have-you, and WTMD in Baltimore (my favorite station) played “Talking To Myself” for about a month, which was just about the coolest thing ever for me.

But I already have a possible second record maybe 60-70 percent written, and my only goal here is to convince myself — through positive feedback, encouragement of friends and maybe a few more download sales – to do it again. Otherwise, you’ll see me back at that bar, talking to myself.

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Lindsay Murray’s indie-pop solo project Gretchen’s Wheel returns with her fourth full-length release, Black Box Theory.

 

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Lindsay Murray’s indie-pop solo project Gretchen’s Wheel returns with her fourth full-length release, Black Box Theory. The album builds upon the strengths of 2017’s Sad Scientist and will be released on the Futureman Records label on June 15, 2018 (June 1 on Bandcamp only).

Murray’s songwriting draws upon classic pop and rock sounds without ever becoming an exercise in retro.

That’s all true. Very true. But it’s Lindsay’s voice that sets her music apart. Find out yourself. Listen:

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What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?

I have several answers to this question! 🙂 This was the first time I played bass on my own record, and I enjoyed that quite a lot.

Also, as much fun as it is to build a production track by track and hear it take shape, it’s such an amazing experience to get to hear the song once drums have been added and again once the mix is done (thanks to Nick Bertling, who did both of those things on this album!).

More answers: this is the first album I’m properly releasing on vinyl which is very exciting, and my first “real” music video is currently in the works, too.

The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?

Even when I was making my first record and was fairly naive about the way things work (just four years ago!), I never expected music to be a day job replacement. But even so, I seriously underestimated the challenges in finding and growing an audience. So ever since then, it’s been this weird juggle of trying to raise the bar musically with every release while simultaneously scaling back my expectations of how it will actually perform in the real world.

I’m hesitant to state any kind of “personal success metric” because by saying it I’m afraid I’m ensuring that it will never happen (welcome to my psychology!). Though I will say this because it makes practical sense: if I were to sell enough copies of the LP to cover the costs of making them, that would be fantastic.

Okay, an official Spotify playlist placement would feel really validating, too!

Do you feel part of a community, the power pop community?

Kinda! I made the mistake of thinking that because all my favorite bands and artists over the years have been labeled “power pop” by somebody at some point, any music that comes out of me would automatically fit in that box. I found out pretty quickly after releasing my first record that was not the case! (Or maybe that was just me finding out that the definition of power pop is hotly debated.) But lots of folks kindly accepted me in spite of that, and they’ve stuck with me as I’ve continued to stumble in the general direction of where I want to be as a songwriter, musician, and producer.

Can you still recall the moment music became important to you? What happened?

Music was always a huge part of my life from as early as I can remember, but hearing Matthew Sweet’s 100% Fun for the first time was my personal “eureka” moment. I was 14 and instantly just wanted to do whatever it was he was doing. I had a similar experience about 20 years later when I heard Nada Surf and The Posies for the first time. They woke me up from a very long musical slumber, and I started recording my first album a few months later.

If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?

At this point, it’s hard to imagine doing anything other than my usual (recording in my home studio), because I feel so much more comfortable having nobody else around to hear me butcher the lead guitar solo 15 times in a row. But it would be really nice to find out how much of a difference a studio and pro engineer could make. I’d also probably go completely overboard flying all my favorite people there to play/sing/produce/hang out.

Alternatively, I’d just make a record the way I always do and instead use the unlimited budget for promotional help!

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What’s up for the rest of the year?

I don’t really have firm plans for anything after Black Box Theory. If I do any more writing and recording this year, it will probably be for the “awry” project that I started last year.

I released five mostly acoustic songs as a free digital EP and am considering adding another batch of songs in the same vein and releasing all of them together as a full-length album, but not soon.

So if I release anything in 2019, it will most likely be the full-length version of “awry” and/or some random one-off singles and/or an entirely different project that I haven’t thought of yet. 🙂

LUCKY DAY and the hunt for the perfect tune

‘Lucky Day’ is not only a great record. It’s also an artistic research study. David Myhr travelled the world to work with those who mastered the art of songwriting. In search for the ‘perfect’ tune.

You studied songwriting. What’s the story? And did it change your approach?

Well, to begin with I never actually studied songwriting back in the day. There weren’t any courses like that when I went to music school or music university. I learnt songwriting the hard way through trial and error, together with my band mates in The Merrymakers. And of course, by listening to the great masters. Not until I started to teach songwriting I realised it’s actually something you can learn in some kind of organised form. But the process is still the same. Practice a lot, trial and error, work with others, and again, learn from the great masters. The guide book is out there on Spotify! There’s no teacher, myself included, who can tell you that ”this is how you write a song”. The best I can do is to listen to a finished song and say stuff like ”this sounds a bit complicated” or ”don’t be afraid to repeat that part a few more times”.

What I’ve done during this project is to make the writing of the songs for the Lucky Day album into a artistic research study. Studying the process of songwriting.

My aim is to understand more about how songwriters go about making up melodies. And I’ve made my own process the object of the study, no matter whether I’m writing on my own or together with others. I’ve been recording or filming many many hours in total so that I’ve managed to document in real-time as these melodies were born.

My aim has not been to change my approach. I just want to contribute with some knowledge to the research field (and others who might be curious) about how it is done. More specifically, to try to understand for which reasons some ideas are accepted and other ideas discarded.

Some pretty big co-writers. Can you elaborate a bit on these writing sessions? Share some key insights maybe?

Well for me they’re all ”big” names in the sense that they are great pop writers. And all with some kind of mutual frame of reference I guess.

I haven’t done a lot of co-writing with people outside of The Merrymakers through the years. But back in 2005 when I was in Nashville I realised how simple and joyful it can be when I wrote the melody for ”Looking For A Life” that ended up on my solo debut Soundshine (2012) together with a guy called Ian Eskelin.

We locked ourselves into a little room, exactly the way I imagined Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, and those kind of professional writers would have done it back in the day. I didn’t know whether I was expected to come in with a lot of song ideas or come empty-handed. In the end I didn’t have anything.

Being a bit nervous about this, while he was getting coffee, I started to sing a simple repetitive verse melody. And when he came in with the coffee and heard it, he just sat down and ”responded” with a great chorus melody. The melody was literally done in 15 minutes. It was an important moment because I realised that I could work with other people. So it became a goal for me to do it more.

So it was a dream come true when I did my 2015 co-writing trip working with all these great people, Brad Jones, Bleu, Linus of Hollywood, Bill DeMain, Young Hines, Steve Schiltz, and others.

It was lots of fun and went very easy for the most part! In several of the cases, my co-writer had started on a musical idea which certainly makes life easy! I’ll give you a couple of examples. Bill DeMain had started ”Room To Grow” with melody and lyrics for a great A-part, the same way as Young Hines had started ”My Negative Friend”. My task became to come in, get to know the idea, and contribute with a B-part. Kind of ”filling in the blanks” really. I feel truly honoured and grateful for them sharing those great initial ideas and inviting me in on them. One would have thought they could have kept it to themselves. On the other hand, hadn’t I suggested the co-write in the first place, invited myself and scheduling a day for it in the calendar, those ideas might never have come up in the first place. So one thing I’ve learned is that scheduling co-writing session dramatically increases the probability that there will be a finished song at the end of the day. Thinking about it,  I should do it more often.

With Brad Jones it was a bit different. We did what he calls ”distance writing” meaning sending ideas beforehand back and forth over the ocean. I sent him a few melodic ideas for which I needed lyrical ideas. And in some cases there was a part missing. Like for instance I sent him a simple melodic idea with the working title ”Shitty Day”. Brad said it had something musically and went around with the melody in his head for days. He contributed with a beautiful B-part and wisely suggested to change the title ”Lucky Day”. It felt like a key track and eventually it gave the album its title as well! On the other song on the album which him and I wrote together I had sent him an up-tempo, stompy, piano-pop idea but with very little lyrics, just singing random phrases to give the melody something to lean on. In the chorus I was singing  ”Wait for a moment, wait for a while”. A couple of weeks went by and then it came back in a completely different form. A slow, kind of bossa-nova-ish ballad, with the most beautiful lyric, now with the title” Wait Until The Moment”. He had kept most of the melody, but completely changed the chords on the verse, thrown away a long and complicated pre-chorus, and the result sounded absolutely beautiful to my ears. We talked about this way of working in a filmed interview that I hope to release on my Facebook page during the summer called ”David Myhr in conversation with Brad Jones”. He commented that he kind of prefers ”distance writing” because it allows you go into this ”dream space” when you are on your own. Something that might be hard to do if you’re locked into the same room.

So the other key insight is, there’s no right or wrong way. You can write with others in many different ways.

What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?

It’s kind of hard beating the fact that I was able to bring my good friend, favourite drummer, and co-producer from Soundshine, Andreas Dahlbäck with me to the sessions with Brad in Nasvhille. I was so happy about our collaboration on the first album, not least the way he plays the drums. So I had some kind of ”separation anxiety”. But when he offered to join me it was a no-brainer. To bring two extremely talented producers together seemed like a good idea to me, and it was! We had lots of fun during those days. It was great also to have the brilliant Nashville session guitar player Pat Buchanan with us. It’s such a magical thing to show a few musicians an idea for a song, and then make it come alive. We mostly spent our time in Nashville in the studio. Poor Andreas even slept behind his drum kit. He was like a prisoner. But on the other hand I know him, and he spends most of his days in his own studio here in Stockholm so this wasn’t any different. We did get to see a little bit of Nashville as well which was great! So, apart from being away from my wife, the recording sessions in Nashville was the biggest fun!

If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?

That’s a great question! The funny thing is I would probably do it more or less the same. But adding a few days here and there, and paying all the talented people around me a little bit better. And most importantly not lose a fortune myself while doing it. I would simply make it into my day job!

The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?

When people talk about it twenty years later. This sometimes happens with Bubblegun, the album we made with The Merrymakers together with Andy Sturmer. Lots of blood, sweat and tears – and time and money – go into the making of each album. So knowing that it brings joy to people over years kind of makes the whole thing worthwhile.

What’s up for the rest of the year?

In the first weekend of June I will go to my second home country Spain (my wife is Spanish) and promote the record there and hopefully make an appearance in Madrid. And in the beginning of August I will make a little tour of California with my great peers Linus of Hollywood and Chris Price under the moniker of Melody & Madness. I’m hoping for lots of both! 🙂

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The Bottle Kids are the same!

 

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Classic pop hooks and a twangy guitar. That’s all you need. The Bottle Kids’ second release ‘Let Me in on This Action’ contains 13 power pop delights. Again, that’s all you need.

It’s quintessential old-school power pop ala The Nerves, Paul Collins or The Plimsouls. Wielding an inherently California blend of pop harmonies, swooning melodies, crunchy driving guitars and pleasantly lingering hooks arranged with an auteur’s precision, The Bottle Kids offer a soundtrack equally appropriate for an afternoon daydream, a poolside party with your crush or a long drive down the rocky, windy coast.

Conceived as the musical vision of frontman/songwriter/producer/engineer Berkeley native, Eric Blakely, The Bottle Kids embody the best of both “then” and “now,” combining Blakely’s deep roots in early 80’s power pop with a keen sense of songwriting and production for a refreshing, innovative and stubbornly irresistible sound.

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You sing: ‘Let’s put some power back in pop. Don’t let those guitars ever stop.’. It is not only about the guitars, is it?

 

In a way it is. It is a nod to my favorite guitar players in Power Pop. I mention Larry Whitman and Bill Pitcock IV in remembrance of them. But it is more a playful way of saying don’t forget to put some big guitars on the song. Talking to myself more than anything else.

 

 

The younger days seem to be an important inspiration for this record. Everything was better in the old days or were you (just) reflecting?

 

I was reflecting on all the records that excited me most certainly. The period for me was from 1976 to the mid 80’s as far as Power Pop goes. Though I like a lot of things after that. But as I write I seem to tune it to that period.

 

Classic pop hooks and a twangy guitar, that’s what is setting you apart. Does that make sense?

 

I hope it does. I hope to achieve that. I think that is the formula for any good Power Pop record.

As I was living in Austin, Texas for many years I think the mix of Country and Rock guitars have influenced me in the “twangy” part of my playing.

 

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Never tempted to add a 3-minute guitar solo?

 

Ha! Good question. Yes, and I have done so on stage live, stretching out solos if the mood and crowd are up for it. But for the most part, I think a great song can be 3 minutes or less, so I tend to try to make the solos serve the song rather than take over the song.

 

‘I Miss Her Goodbyes’. Parts of that song remind me of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger. Was she an Oasis fan? 😊

 

I am sure she would be! As we all know Oasis draws heavily from the Beatles, so she is probably a Beatles fan first. The chord progression does have an Oasis vibe to it indeed.

 

If you write songs, does the power pop style comes the most naturally?

 

I think I can tap into that state of mind effortlessly as so many Power Pop records excited me in my formative years, it feels natural to me.

 

Can you elaborate a bit on how ‘Let Me in on This Action’ came together?

 

The Bottle Kids project was a happy accident. I was in my studio just recording drums to write songs to. Just a simple exercise to write. I would sit and play the drums imagining music in my head. When I started writing to them it just sort of fell into place and I thought I might have an album here. I decided to create an alter ego, The Bottle Kids. That was the first Album, Such A Thrill.

I decided to do another album and put a bit more forethought into it without changing the creative process.

I recorded a bunch of drum tracks and wrote to the ones that inspired me. I waited a few weeks to listen to the drums to have a bit of objectivity then wrote to the ones that spoke to me. If there was a slight ” mistake” on the drum part I would play to it rather than ” fix” it.

Let Me In On This Action is the result of the same process but with more intent from the beginning.

Michael Simmons is back! So, shut up, drink your Boddingtons and listen to First Days of Summer.

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With the release of First Days of Summer, power-pop veteran (sparkle*jets u.k., Yorktown Lads) Michael Simmons delivers his first album of original music released under his name in 20 years. With his demanding day-job in education, there are only a few days each year where the pressure is off. It’s these first days of summer when, just maybe, some songs might pop out. The first three came in late June 2015, and two more in late June 2016. As June of 2017 rolled around, he was so enamored of the idea of putting out new music that seven more songs came in the space of a week, and suddenly he had an album!

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What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?

 

 

Most of the time I was the only one there, but it was fun adding the parts I can’t do like the horns. But the most fun part is making something out of nothing and hearing it for the first time.

 

She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mixtape if there is going to be a second date. Which 5 would you put on?

 

I’d start with “Do Your Best to Care” and then be bold and say “Let’s Fall in Love” and “Bucket List”. Beyond that, I dunno… ‘Fuzzy Green Hat’ perhaps? Maybe the title track to round things out.

 

The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?

 

 

Never. But it exists, and that’s enough.

 

Can you still recall the moment music became important to you? What happened?

 

My earliest memories are of playing records. I probably had records before I could walk. It’s all I’ve ever really cared about and that hasn’t changed.

 

Which is the song you wish you had written every time you hear it? And why?

 

“Cruel to be Kind” by Nick Lowe. Such a great but simple song and a killer vocal.

 

 

If you could tour the world with 2 other bands, who would you ask to join?

 

Sloan. And I wouldn’t mind being in ELO either.

 

If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?

 

Abbey Road studio 2 with Dave Gregory on guitar, Darian Sahanaja on keyboards, McCartney on bass, Giles Martin in the booth with Jeff Lynne listening in, and the other peeps I normally play with taking turns. I would try not to play a note.

 

 

Every family birthday, same story. Again, you have to explain what kind of band you are in. What’s the story this time for aunt Jenny and uncle Clive?

 

Shut up and drink your Boddingtons, Clive you git.

 

 

What would change if Disney would call and tell you they are going to use your song in their next movie?

 

I’d get a bigger house.

 

What’s up for the rest of the year?

 

Work, mostly. But who knows, a song might come out during the first days of summer. It’s been known to happen.

 

The Electric Stars, and the look, the sound, the feel, the colours, the production & the vibe!

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Rock Revolver’s review says it all:

“Hailing from Manchester’s competitive music scene, The Electric Stars are a psych rock’n’roll group with slick guitar riffs and bold catchy lyrics embedded into each of their songs. Their debut album Sonic Candy Soul is appropriately named, as its sweetness is the prominent thread linking tracks together.”

 

Jason Edge talks about the psych and the rock and roll. And about the look, the sound, the feel, the colours, the production & the vibe!

 

What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?

 

Making Sonic Candy Soul was great because we basically invented the band in the studio. The whole thing was in our heads, the look, sound, feel, colours, production & vibe. The Electric Stars were created in Vibe Studio! If that’s not fun then what is?

 

At what point, during writing, rehearsing, recording, did you knew you were on to something special?

 

We knew as soon as we had written the songs that it was going to be quite something because they were very strong! Songwriting in this band is still the key, although if you switch on the radio these days it would seem like everyone else disagrees..

 

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The music industry has changed a lot (or so they say). What did it bring you? And what not?

 

The Industry today is knackered. It has no interest in nurturing talent. It is obsessed with stats and likes and hits online. Artists have a very short shelflife and TV creates the next pop puppet from a conveyer belt of blandness. So, rubbish really!

 

The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?

 

Success to me is satisfying your soul. I know if we have written, recorded and released a good song. If we are happy that is success. If our fanbase agrees, then that is the holy grail for a band releasing original material.

 

Do you feel part of a community, the power pop community?

 

Community. Yes! To be honest we have a strong bond with an older audience because we write classic songs. Some of our material is very 60’s vibed, some more of a 70’s glam power pop style but if you dig real songwriting The Electric Stars will float you off brother!

 

Can you still recall the moment music became important to you? What happened?

 

The moment music grabbed me… . Easy, my parents always had Radio 1 on in the house. This is when it was cool not the shitstorm it is now. I grew up with the good stuff. Stones, Bowie, Beatles, Kinks, Eagles, Dylan, ELO & Elton. How can you not be hooked by rock n roll when it’s that good!

 

Which is the song you wish you had written every time you hear it? And why?

 

So many mannn… Haha OK, I’m on the spot. I wish I would have written Jumping Jack Flash. The greatest rock n roll 45 of all time

 

What’s up for the rest of the year?

 

For the rest of the year, finish off the new album, gig like crazy and write more new songs.

 

 

Chris Church on song structures, harmonies and melodies.

 

 

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Last year Spyderpop released Chris Church’s Limitations Of Source Tape. It was received with praise. A lot of praise.

I Don’t Hear A Single wrote:

The beauty of Chris Church is that there is an energy that flows through his songs. Whether they are slowed down or move apace, there’s never a disappointment. Fall Into Me and Something Completely bears classic Matthew Sweet comparisons but the trippy Psych Pop of Ostinato has hints of Michael Stipe.

That was all true. Now let’s talk songs, song structures, harmonies, and melodies. Vinnie Vincent. And more.

 

She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mixtape if there is going to be a second date. Which 5 would you put on?

 

Admittedly, my very happy more than 12 years with my beautiful wife Lori may have dulled whatever mixtape manifesto wooing skills I may have ever possessed, but I have done many and always loved making them, especially back in the cassette days.

Here are 5 songs that I feel pretty strongly about… today (haha)

 

Raspberries “Tonight”

Marshall Crenshaw “You’re My Favorite Waste Of Time”

Vinnie Vincent Invasion – “No Substitute”

Chocolate Genius – “All Good”

White Animals – “You Started Something”

 

Do you feel part of a community, the power pop community?

Yes, I have always enjoyed different genres of music, but powerpop is definitely my favorite. The song structure, the harmonies, and when it’s done the way I like it best, the melodic but loud guitars are all irresistible and clever components that I continue to love and revisit.

So yes, I feel like I’m truly a part of the power pop community. Now if I could just convince them (haha)!

 

 

Can you still recall the moment music became important to you? What happened?

 

Absolutely, it’s a very clear memory. I was very young, maybe 6 or 7 and started learning how to use my parents’ record player. There was a 45 of The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought The Law” I eventually played. When I heard those ringing guitars on the solo, I was transfixed.

I don’t even think that record belonged to them, as it was the only thing I remember them having that could be called rock and roll, but I am glad it was in the stack. In some ways, I guess I have always chased the feeling that moment created for me when getting lost in some great musical passage takes precedence over everything else at that time.

 

If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?

 

I’m very fortunate to have Scott Cornette, a knowledgeable and very good engineer, as a co-conspirator and best friend. I’m also lucky to have Lori not only as my partner in marriage but as an increasingly helpful part of my music, especially on “Limitations Of Source Tape”.

I had never stepped away and let others take control with some of the producing and all of the mixing before, but that’s exactly what happened with this album. There were several mixing sessions at Scott’s studio when I was cooking for all of us while he and Lori worked.

So, I guess to answer the question, I would take whatever budget I would get and apply it to procuring fine food ingredients and wine… and don’t tell Scott, but maybe some updated kitchen utensils. (Haha)

 

What would change if Disney would call and tell you they are going to use your song in their next movie?

 

I would go from doubt about the entire Disney operation to completely expecting and preparing for their imminent expedient demise…but not before I cashed the check!

 

Thrift Store Halo: after all, it’s about POWER and POP!

 

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THRIFT STORE HALO is:

Frank Gradishar (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar & Songwriting), Scott Proce (Drums) and Lance Tee (Guitar, Backing Vocals & Songwriting)

Thrift Store Halo (“TSH”) is an American Indie Power Pop band hailing from Chicago, Illinois. Originally formed in 1994, TSH released one EP and one LP before taking a near-20 year break in 1998; the band returned in August 2017, with a new, six-song EP, “POP-ROCKET”.

On April 20, 2018, the trio released a new, two-song, double A-side single, “Every Time With You” b/w “Concrete Sky”.

Buy here

 

Frank Gradishar is today’s spokesman.

 

 

At what point, during writing, rehearsing, recording, did you know you were on to something special?

 

By the time drummer, Scott, and I reformed Thrift Store Halo in 2016, after a nearly 20-year hiatus and enlisted Lance to play guitar, I had amassed a sizeable backlog of songs. Lance was the original bassist in Material Issue and was featured on the band’s landmark “International Pop Overthrow” album.  So when we went into the studio just a few weeks after Lance joined, to record what would become the “Pop Rocket” EP, I had a bunch of tracks ready to go. We chose four pretty quickly and Lance presented two of his unfinished song ideas – just chords – which he had sitting around, and I took those and wrote lyrics and melodies. Those two tracks became “(Love By) Misadventure” and “Let’s Not Wait” – two of my favorites on the EP.

 

I had never sat down and crafted lyrics and melodies to an existing song structure before, but I liked the challenge. In the past, I always wrote chords, lyrics, and melody at the same time and then brought finished songs to the band, and we would collectively work on arrangements.  While I really didn’t sit down and collaborate, with Lance, per se, at first, the results of the recording were solid and it felt very natural.

 

With the new two-song single, Lance and I actually sat down together for the first time and wrote a song sitting across from one another, which was quite enjoyable – bouncing ideas off each other in real time. The result of that pure collaboration was the song, “Every Time With You”, which came to life pretty quickly, and pretty easy. I was really excited about the energy of that song straightaway.

 

As for the flipside of the single, “Concrete Sky”, Lance had had the chords tucked away after his last band, The Lupins, passed on it – thank God! When he played it for me, I was really intrigued, so I quickly set to work writing lyrics and the melody. After we recorded it and mixed it, I really felt my verse lyrics – and the way I sang them, in almost a whisper – really lacked something. I was very disheartened because I just knew what I was doing just wasn’t going to help people connect with the song; it felt flat. So, I re-wrote the verse lyrics and then sat down with Lance to rework the melody, and went back into the studio to re-track the verses. The result was really exciting. I really felt we had achieved a really strong song; emotional, melodic, dynamic and well arranged.

 

Taken together, I think the single is very representational of where we’re at, at the moment.

 

 

The music industry has changed a lot (or so they say). What did it bring you? And what not?

 

It has changed. When Scott and I started out in the mid-1990s with Thrift Store Halo, everything was different – Lance would concur, I am sure. It was a lot of work, wasn’t it? We used to need to hire a photographer, get band pictures taken and printed, generate a mailing list at shows, print out postcards for shows, lick stamps, mail them out, send out CDs to clubs, radio, and press. It was a lot of work and it cost a lot of money! Worse, the process for everything seemed to take forever…it took months – or longer – to get a response or a review, or, as was more often the case, a rejection! There were no MPs, no websites, really, and bands seemed to exist in their own little bubbles.

 

Now, the whole game has changed, in many ways for the better, I think. The internet changed all of it – Facebook, streaming, websites – it’s so much easier connect with radio, reviewers, bloggers and like-minded people. I think that helps create and instill a sense of community, not just among power pop lovers, but the bands themselves. We can send out music via email now so we really can get the music out faster, and in turn, make more connections. That part’s great. It’s a bit sad that the fixed media aspect has really died – killed in part, I suppose, by the likes of Napster and iTunes.

 

Another bummer nowadays is it is much harder to get people out to shows – there’s just too much vying for people’s attention. But streaming has meant more and more people can find our music and listen, and really, that’s what it’s all about. The fact the royalty rates on Spotify and Tidal are quite low is unfortunate, but honestly, I’m just very happy people are listening.

 

I still insist on doing some things the old-school way; we still make CDs of every release, we concentrate a great deal on cover art, and we still have buttons and stickers made…I still believe in having something to hold and own. And of course, we are still aligned and associated with the same indie label here in Chicago, Pravda Records, and Pravda Music remains our publisher, just like back in the 90s, which in my mind was crucial. I love having a good team of people around the band.

 

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The meaning of ‘success’ has changed over the years. When will the new release be a success?

 

Given how crazy life can be, especially as we get older, I tend to think that each of our releases is automatically a success just by virtue of the fact that they actually got written, recorded and released!  I got back into the game after almost 20 years off! I wondered if anyone would remember Thrift Store Halo or if anyone would care that we were back. Not to mention that we are all busy with careers and families, so our time is a precious commodity. We do this because we love doing it. Lord knows we’re not going to get rich from this and we’re lucky to break even, so success with this band – as it is in many aspects of life – is what you make of it.

 

That being said, we are truly blown away by the support and the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received since reforming and releasing new music, especially when considering it had been almost 19 years between releases! It’s meant the world to us. Since last year, our songs have charted over 240 times on various indie charts, including 34 Weeks on the Radio Indie Alliance Overall Top 40, and we have been played on 75+ radio stations around the world. That’s so cool! We’ve also received really nice reviews on various power-pop websites and blogs which is really encouraging.

 

One thing which has also stood out for me is that on Spotify, as of April 19, 2018, the day before we released the new single, we averaged 625 monthly listeners, which I thought was pretty awesome. Then, within 10 days of the release of the single, we were up to over 1,500 listeners…and within a few days of that, we were over 2,200! The single had been played over 1,900 times! Considering we are a no-name indie band, that’s really exciting. We’ve actually amassed over 80,000 total plays on Spotify, which really surprises me. I’m thrilled – it won’t buy us a pizza – but it’s still great. Funny, I always thought we were successful in the 1990s because we had songs on “Smallville”, “Party of Five”, MTV, and almost got signed to a major label…but honestly, knowing our songs are getting played somewhere every day, and are added in indie charts, that’s more important than anything else. And hell, we’ve opened for The Zombies…so I’d say we’ve been successful!

 

Do you feel part of a community, the power pop community?

 

I really do, yeah. I find most of those in the power pop community to be very welcoming and supportive; they’re excited to listen to new power pop music. All the power pop chat sites on Facebook are great, as are internet blogs like Power Popaholic, Absolute Power Pop, Ice Cream Man, Startrip in Japan, Power of Pop in Japan, PopRock Record in the UK, Broken Hearted Toy in Chicago, Power Pop News, and of course, SweetSweetMusic. Power Pop radio shows and stations have been hugely supportive of us too, which is incredible; Chasing the Essential, The Secret Weapon, The Power Pop Show, Pure Power Pop, Ice Cream Man, Rick’s Records, Radio Candy Hits, Pop Dreams on Radio Dio in France, and many others, have been playing our songs, which is so cool! I think it all helps instill and strengthen our connection to the scene as a community.

 

Power pop people seem to collectively have very good taste and seem to get what we’re doing, even though I think we might now be considered a bit more fringe because we have incorporated some more modern elements to the music now and we’re not necessarily traditionalists. We’re not afraid to add loops, samples and other odd little things here and there, to make the song better. But really, regardless of the sweeteners, the songs are what matter, and it’s still power pop to me.

 

I listen to all types of music, but power pop is the genre I love the most and the style in which I naturally write. Now, my definition of power pop might not be completely in tow with a purist’s definition…I include everything from the originals like Raspberries, the Knack, Big Star and Badfinger but I’ve expanded my views to include everyone from The Spongetones, Material Issue, Fuzzbubble and Jellyfish, to Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Jam, Del Amitri, Velvet Crush, The Gin Blossoms, Smithereens, Teenage Fanclub, The Boo Radleys, The Bluetones, The Strypes and Catfish and the Bottlemen.

 

To me, if a song is short, catchy, concise, melodic and has harmonies, chunky guitars and strong dynamics, then it’s power pop. There is nothing wrong with producing pop music that rocks…I am not a huge believer in limiting admission or entry to the genre to just bands which emulate and sound like The Beatles or the Kinks…it’s not just jangle-pop. We’re not scared to turn up the volume and add some distortion. After all, it’s about POWER and POP!

 

If the budget was unlimited, how would you record the next record?

 

If the budget was unlimited, I would focus on making a full LP again…12 to 14 tracks, instead of just an EP or a single. I would love to release an LP on vinyl, too. I’m not sure I would enlist anyone other than Kevin Mucha to engineer and co-produce, even though we could afford a “big name” producer.  Kevin’s gets us, understands our approach and shares our vision; he’s one of the team; one of the family. But I would consider hiring Ed Stasium or Jack Joseph Puig to co-produce with Kevin. AND I would definitely be up for a change of venue and insist we fly to London to record the album at Abbey Road or we could also track at Jack Joseph Puig’s studio!

 

 

What’s up for the rest of the year?

 

It’s amazing to think 2018 is almost half over! Where does the time go? We are becoming – for better or worse – less and less of a live act, although we just played the IPO Fest in Chicago in April, which was fantastic! At this point, the plan is to start pre-production of several new tracks with an eye on getting back in the studio in September to start a new EP. Being in the studio is really the main focus for us now.

 

We are now just starting to go through the backlog and to 5 or 6 tracks to concentrate on. I am currently finishing up lyrics on a few tracks; several are in contention and ready to go. I am looking forward to sitting down with Lance and Scott soon to finish up the parts and sequence of the tracks and play them through a bunch of times to really hone the arrangements. Then it’s back to Coerce Recording with Kevin to record.

 

I really enjoy each step of the process of releasing new music, but for some reason as soon as the new release is sent out into the world, I almost immediately start thinking about the next EP or single…maybe another LP someday…  The drive to stay fresh, to keep pushing and keep on creating new music is what it’s all about for me. It feels so good to be back and to be excited about the process again.

 

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Sunshine Boys: straight out of Indie pop/rock Paradise.

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‘Sunshine Boys’ sounds like a less rootsy Del Amitri. Or a very poppy REM.
YES, true, they sound as if they come straight out of pop/rock paradise.
And, oh, by the way, ‘Sign of Life’ is the ballad of the year.
Listen here.
Jackie, Dag and Freda tell about recording ‘Blue Music’ and the songs they love.
 
Which is the song you wish you had written every time you hear it? And why?
Jackie:
I can’t limit this answer to a single song, so here are today’s top five:
“One True Love” – Semisonic
That perfect bridge plus Carole King! Dan Wilson can do no wrong as a songwriter, and John Munson is one of my favorite bass players.
“Red Dragon Tattoo” – Fountains of Wayne
Delightful wordplay and impossibly catchy. I love the way the melody on the line “I’m fit to be dyed, am I fit to have you?” is different every time it comes up.
“Sing Me Spanish Techno” – The New Pornographers
I could easily pick a dozen of their songs, but this one always tops my list. The lyrics are typically inscrutable, and I just adore the bridge on this one.
“Vertigogo” – Frisbie
I love the way this song always sounds like it’s on the verge of careening off the rails. Tremendous harmonies and virtuosic bass playing from Eddie Carlson – his ridiculous bit coming out of the bridge makes me laugh delightedly.
“Vanity Mirror” – Redd Kross
Something of a deep cut, I just love the sound of this one.
Dag:
“In Your Bright Ray” – Grant McLennan
He’s such a songwriting hero of mine. I love a million songs of his and this one hit me this morning. His death just gutted me.
“When The Poor Can Reach The Moon” – The Chills
I’ll listen to this song seven times in a row, and it moves me every time. Not only is it a marvelous song but it’s a manifesto.
“PF Sloan” – Jimmy Webb
There’s so much going on in here, and a new bit of it seems to reveal itself every time I listen.
“Surf’s Up” – The Beach Boys
I think this is Van Dyke Parks pleading with Brian Wilson not to let drugs and their accompanying madness overtake him.
“Better Things” – The Kinks
Please don’t make me choose a favorite Kinks song.
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If you could tour the world with 2 other bands, who would you ask to join?
Jackie: 
The New Pornographers and Sloan
Dag: 
I might choose Sloan, too! I think their fans would like us. What about Yo La Tengo, Superchunk, Juliana Hatfield, Buffalo Tom, Dawes, Neko Case, Belly or The Woodentops? Maybe The Shins have some room on their bus? We’re very well behaved, for the most part.
At what point, during writing, rehearsing, recording, did you know you were on to something special?
Dag: 
Right away! We were brought in as a trio to help some friends of ours with a couple of shows, and when we played their songs, I think the three of us immediately felt a musical connection. And then when we reconvened at our first practice working on our own songs, the connection was ever deeper. It sounded like “us” instantly.
What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?
Freda:
I loved everything about being in the recording studio with Jackie and Dag—we share a get-down-to-work ethic and were always productive, collaborative, and harmonious. But the most fun moments for me were when the basic tracks were finished, the pressure was off, and we experimented with overdubs: handclaps, tambourine, backing vocals, most of those tracks were freer, looser. Figuring them out together and recording them felt more like play than work.
She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mixtape if there is going to be a second date. Which 5 would you put on?
Freda:
1. We Five “You Were on my Mind”
2. Hank Williams “Hey Good Lookin’”
3. The Lovin’ Spoonful “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”
4. Herman’s Hermits “Something Good”
5. Big Star “Thirteen”

Phil Yates’ bittersweet symphony is called Party Music!.

And the record had just been released.

And it is great! Smart, smart Power Pop.

Read all about it.

What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?

 

As I was going into the studio with the Affiliates to record Party Music!, I did it knowing that I had accepted a new job in Chicago. I had yet to break the news to them. We were still a band based in Burlington, Vermont. While breaking the news to them after recording the album was bittersweet for me, I had a blast bashing out these tunes with the guys. I played with Raph (Worrick, on bass) and Kevin (Stevens, on lead guitar) for seven years and Jake (Blodgett, on drums) for five years. I love those guys. Any new musicians I play with as Phil Yates & The Affiliates have to fill Raph’s, Kevin’s, and Jake’s giant shoes. Normally I find recording to be a tedious process. Knowing that this is a document of possibly the final batch of tunes I get to play with those guys made the process more fun and full of love. Plus I got to play through a Marshall stack in the studio. My normal amp is a Vox AC-30. It made me feel like I got to channel my inner Paul Westerberg in the studio. Always a fun thing to do!

She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mixtape if there is going to be a second date. Which 5 would you put on?

 

Oooooo. I love this question! Sloan’s “Bells On” would have to be on the list. In fact, I think I have put that on quite a few mixtapes and CD’s. Big Star’s “Kizza Me” would be kind of cool to put on there since you can never have enough Big Star on a mix. “Kiss Me On The Bus” by The Replacements is a rare sweet song from the band. It’d be better to put that one on instead of “Gary’s Got A Boner.” Maybe Prince’s “Kiss” would be fun. I am a die-hard Elvis Costello fan. I would wrap up the mix with “Everyday I Write The Book”; however, just to make it more hard hitting, I would use the alternate version that is found on the bonus disc of the Rhino reissue from 2003.

Do you feel a part of a community, the power pop community?

 

It’s weird. I have always joked that my ceiling as a musician would be a cult musician in a cult genre. When I was based out of Vermont, I felt that other musicians liked my songs. There were a few bands that my band got along with swimmingly. There was a bit of a community. Unfortunately, I never felt it translated to the rest of the Vermont area – music fans and what not. It caused me to have a chip on my shoulder and write a song like “One Man’s Trash (Sour Grapes)” for the Party Music! Album. As far as the power pop community goes, I do feel like people in that scene have started to notice my songs and my band. It feels good. I think having Keith and Futureman Records in my corner goes a long way in feeling more at home in that scene.

If you could tour the world with two other band, who would you ask to join?

 

Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. A world tour? The first one would be Guided By Voices, mainly so I can see them crush it on stage every single night. Also, having a liver is overrated, right? Oh, the drinking on that tour. The other one? I would want to share the joys of playing with GBV every night with one of my favorite bands from the Burlington, Vermont scene. That band is Black Rabbit. If you don’t know them, check them out. Black Rabbit. Burlington, Vermont. I’d be more than willing to be the opener for that global tour.

The meaning of “success” has changed over the years. When will the new record be a success?

 

I’m a realist. I’m 42 years old. I have a day job (teaching at a university) that most days I enjoy. I’m married with a family. I don’t see music being such a financial windfall for me where I’ll be doing this full time as my only source of income. That said, what would be a success for Party Music! in my mind? Not having copies of the vinyl and CD taking up precious space in my basement. But seriously, at the end of the day, I want the listeners of the album, no matter how many or few of those listeners there might be, to think that they are listening to an extremely solid collection of ten songs that they would want to listen to years and years and year from now. If the financial windfall does come my way, count me in! So long teaching!

Listen