Eytan Mirsky -Lord, Have Mirsky! (Q&A)

Eytan Mirsky chooses on Lord, Have Mirsky! deliberately for a richer, more extensive sound palette. It is not unrecognizable. The combination of his voice and the subjects he sings about makes his music unique, doesn’t it? Well, let’s ask and find out.

Your arrangements are different. Did that happen organically, or was it a conscious choice?

I wanted the arrangements to be different from my earlier albums. I don’t want to keep repeating the typical power pop arrangements. That’s not even what I like listening to most of the time. Even on the last couple of albums, I got away from that, but I took it even further this time. So we have horns on a few songs, pedal steel on another, more piano.

 

How did Lord, Have Mirsky! come about?

The album just evolved over the last couple of years with the thought that I wanted to do different things. As far as the title goes, it’s something I had in mind for the last year or so, and it seems to represent the style of music and also the humorous side of my personality.

Your sound is so unique that you have created your own genre. At least I think so, do you think so too?
If yes, how could we name it?
If not, to which other artists do you feel connected?

My own genre? So it would be like Adam Ant had Ant Music? So I guess it would be Mirsky Music. Or if you want an adjective, it’s Eytanic! I don’t know if I have created my own genre, though I appreciate your saying so. I think it’s just that I would like to transcend genre.

If you project a strong enough sense of yourself in the music, then you can do anything and still sound like you. That’s what I like about Nick Lowe, who will mix in a little of different styles. Or Jonathan Richman, who evolved over the years, but you always know it’s him.

A lovely portrait as cover. That must have been a conscious choice?

Yes, it was a conscious decision to put my picture on the album. I had my pictures on my first few albums, but then I got tired of seeing my face! I figured it was easier to do my Mirsky Mouse drawings and use those. But now I realized that so few people put their pictures on the cover anymore. So I figured I would go against the trend. And, again, maybe it’s good to flash some personality. Also, I’m not getting any younger. By the next album, maybe I won’t want to show my face anymore!

Somehow Don’t Be Afraid feels like a huge song. Ever wondered what would happen if you dropped that one in Nashville?

“Don’t Be Afraid” was inspired by some Doug Sahm music I was listening to. A friend of mine did try to pitch it to a pretty big group that does Tex Mex music, but they passed. I really wouldn’t know how to get it to anyone in Nashville. But sure, I’d love it if someone covered it.

Nice, that a saxophone solo is allowed again?!

Are sax solos too much? I had a couple before: “Everyone’s Having Fun Tonight” and “It’s a Jungle Out There.” The way the song evolved, we were going for a Sam Cooke and Van Morrison feel, so the sax seemed like it could work.

You’re Getting It on Me is almost impetuous. Was there a direct reason to write it?

“You’re Getting It on Me” was a title given to me in a Secret Santa exchange by my friend Tim King. I got the title without knowing who came up with it or what it was supposed to mean. I then created the story of what I imagined the words meant. It ended up being one of the more aggressive numbers, if that’s what you mean by impetuous!

Groovy Movies – Psychedelic Barbershop (Q&A)

Recently Psychedelic Barbershop was released on vinyl. NICK CARLISI and MATT RENDON deliver a whole herd of incomparably beautiful Garage Pop songs.

Nick Carlisi talks about how that came about.

How did Psychedelic Barbershop come about?

I’d been wanting to record with Matt Rendon (The Resonars) at his Midtown Island Studio for years. When we finally made it happen, it was going to be just a few tunes, not an entire album. There was no real end goal. Just an excuse to finally record with Matt.

Usually by the time I go into the studio, I have all the songs pretty much completely worked out. In this case, we were having so much fun that we just kept adding tunes that weren’t totally finished yet. We just worked on them a bit and tried to turn them into fully fleshed-out songs. I like to think we succeeded. I’d say half the cuts on the record were fully formed when I showed up, and the other half, we finished in the studio.

The first song is called 123456789. It looks like you wanted to prove something?

Ha! That was kind of my attempt to write a “Sesame Street” or “Schoolhouse Rock” song. Those old animations were really cool, and the songs were usually great.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being too silly with a song like this or “That Lucky Dog”, where we oink and bark throughout, but whatever. It’s better than taking yourself too seriously. Plus, it’s a good song to kick off a live show with. You start counting, and people think the song is going to kick in at 4, but you just keep going…

I can imagine that the Garage Pop sound is almost a lifestyle; it’s so convincing, so natural.  Or am I exaggerating?

I don’t know. Yeah, I mean, I just love this kind of music. I love a catchy tune. I love vocal harmonies. I’ll listen to Beach Boys or Hollies isolated vocal tracks, and it just blows my mind. I definitely studied that stuff.

Breaking down harmonies. Listening to Beatles records and trying to figure out what John’s part was, then Paul’s and then George’s. That taught me how to do it myself. I still get a thrill when I record a three-part harmony, as I add each new part and listen back and hear it come together. It kind of gives me chills.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Matt Rendon?

Matt’s amazing. He not only produced but played drums and sang backups on every track and played multiple instruments throughout. I always say, “if The Who was one guy, it would be Matt”.

He can pretty much do it all. If I was working out a harmony and I couldn’t find the third part, he’d be like, “this is it”, sing the part, and it was always right. If I was tired of playing bass after a long day, I’d be like, “Matt, can you just do it?” and he’d nail it.

Any time he had an idea for a tune, it was always spot on. Pardon the pun, but we’re very “in tune”, musically. Plus, he’s just an all-around good dude.

Real Eyes is so gorgeous.  Was there a specific reason for writing it?

Thank you! It was kind of inspired by the psychedelic experience. When you’re able to see the world in a way that you just realize how beautiful everything is and really appreciate it all.  Y’know, real hippy stuff!

Whenever I would have that experience, I would tell myself to not forget that realization once I come back to the real world, but it’s easier said than done.

The Courettes – Back in Mono (Q&A)

Flavia of The Courettes describes Back In Mono as a garage band-meets-girl groups-wall of sound album.

The Brazilian/Danish duo, formed by Flavia and her husband Martin, receives rave reviews because their songs are rock solid and authentic; the love for a powerful melody and catchy chorus is evident.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

F: The first time we went to a studio to play the four songs we’ve written to The Courettes.

How did this record come together?

F: The whole concept started when we wrote a Christmas song some years ago. It was the first time we wanted to make a Wall of Sound sounding recording. Then the whole “Back in Mono” concept came together; a garage band meets girl groups wall of sound album.

It took a lot of time to dig all the cool songwriters of that time, write the songs, rehearse, build our own studio, our own echo chamber, find the right producer (Søren Christensen from Denmark), the right person to mix it (Seiki Sato from Japan), studio sessions, Wall of Sound overdubs, and there it was. We’re so proud of the result; it´s our best album so far, a milestone better than the other two.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

F: I guess we never asked for opinions on the new songs!

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

F: For us, “Back in Mono” is already a success, in the way it works really good as an album, a concept album mixing garage rock, girl groups, and wall of sound. But of course, it’s so good to receive so many great reviews in media all over the world. And if with this album our music can reach more people, that’s also a big success.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

F: To keep writing songs and lyrics, of course, but also to observe the world, acknowledging your feelings and other people’s, and keeping sane and giving a meaning to this craziness we call life.

As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

F: No, definitely not comfortable. There’s a lot of vulnerability putting your heart into something so other people can have a good time, make a judgment, or take it for granted. Playing live, for example, there’s a lot of vulnerability doing that, again and again, each night. You’re singing a song about the death of someone you love, while some people are there sipping their beers, trying to score, or looking at their phones, for example.

You can pick three co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

F: John Lennon, Bert Berns, and one of the songwriting trio Holland-Dozier-Holland.

For me, John Lennon is the greatest songwriter in rock history, with amazing and surprising musical choices and solutions, with a great text imagery and wordplay.

Bert Berns is a master of writing pop pearls and lyrically delivering complicated themes in a very “popish” approach.

And Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote most of the Motown 3 minutes pop masterpieces. So, a lot to learn with any of them!

What’s the gig you will never forget? And why?

F: The show we played the very day after I gave birth to our son Lennon. It was such a touching, magical, and freeing experience. What an adrenaline rush!

Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text, or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?

F: “Back in Mono” has many lines I’m very happy about. “The end awaits behind the door, tell me what’s life worth living for”, “If I knew that time would run so fast, and happy ends, don’t ever really last”, are two good ones who make you wonder about choices in life.

When was the last time you thought, ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

F: A new song called “Rough Like That”. What a hit! Coming out in June.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

F: “Good Vibrations”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Be My Baby”, “River Deep, Mountain High” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

F: It’s absolutely one of the things I most appreciate doing in life. When it all goes well, and there’s this bond between band and audience, it is transcendental, then it all makes sense.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

F: Catchy melodies, Wall of Sound production, and killer guitar riffs.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why?

F: “Hop The Twig”, the new version of “The Boy I Love” and “Misfits & Freaks”. These are good examples of our sound and show our influences from girl groups, garage bands, surf music, power pop, and Motown.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

F: The Beatles and The Ronettes. No need to say why, isn’t it?

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

F: It’s always pleasant to hear we sound like a full band, although we’re only two on the stage. When people also realize we put a big focus on the songwriting and create an original musical blend, we really appreciate it.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?

F: When you did all your preparation before entering the studio, but a great backing vocal, guitar solo, or new text line just kicks in through the door at the moment you’re recording—pure magic.

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

F: We are a band doing what we love, navigating through the business sharks, out of the mainstream charts but occupying more and more space and getting more and more people on board on our void.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

F: Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, and Darlene Love.

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now, or is it just beginning?

F: I love working in the studio and playing live; both are fun. The record is done, the music is out, time to work on another album!

Lund Bros – Across State Lines

Chris and Sean Lund have released another great record with Across State Lines. Immaculate Heavy Power Pop.

Chris explains to Sweet Sweet Music that he can therefore brag a little about the new songs. He is right. 

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

As far as the new record goes, it has to be the initial reaction which has been very good and the response very rapid.  Really nice. 

Historically speaking, we realized we had something special when back in the early 90s, Sean and I ditched the front-man singer idea as these folks never seemed to interpret the songs I was writing at the time the way I wanted to hear them.  So, one day we were sitting around goofing off at my mom’s house in the living room with just an acoustic guitar and started singing some Beatles songs we both knew.  Instantly, we were able to harmonize.  At that point, we started doing the vocals ourselves.  It became more harmony-based singing with the still crunchy rock backing, making us unique among many of the other bands at the time. Many bands either don’t try or are not able to do tight harmony funnily enough.

How did this record come together?  

This record came together as a result, or rather in spite of, a geographical distance between my brother Sean and myself.  We worked independently out of our home studios and decided to put together a record.  I was quite surprised how nicely all the tracks flowed together and seemed to be derived from the same artistic palette.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I can only speak for myself here.  Not until after the record was finished – just to see what tracks people might have as favorites and/or what songs might be go-to tracks for radio podcasts and such. 

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?  

Success would be selling several thousand records or more in the short run, be it compact discs and/or maybe later some vinyl.  Streaming isn’t as exciting aesthetically as it’s not the entire artist’s vision like a complete record. We are influenced and consider ourselves to be making “Album Rock” – though the tracks still can stand alone as singles, the big picture is ideally more important.   

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Great, though it often occurs in spurts. 

As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

I’m very confident these days.  Besides, my lyrics tend to be conscience streaming a lot of the time, which leaves room for some interpretation from the listener.  I don’t write too many rants.  Sean has a little more of a storyteller approach, but I suspect he’s pretty comfortable with what he’s expressing. 

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

One of the last gigs we did before the Covid pandemic shut down the clubs happened to be a really good one.  It was at the Spanish Ballroom in Tacoma, WA.  A charming theatre and stage, good sound, great response, and an energetic performance.  One of my former guitar students played bass for us, which was cool.   

Lyrics are too often taken for granted.  What is the line of text, or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember?  And why?

It’s got to be a line from my anti-tech screed on the new record.  The song is called “Killin’ Me,” and the line goes:  “High Speed is over-rated when they now ask you to do –  twice the work you used to – now you’re feeling F-ing screwed”.

When was the last time you thought, ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

I think that a lot, but still waiting.  Ha Ha

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

The push and pull communication and rapport with the audience and the release of nervous energy in a positive way. Also, just hanging out after the show is a real blast.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

The songwriting.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, I feel it’s very strong.

Suppose you were to introduce your music to new listeners through three songs. Which songs would those be and why?

Enjoy the Fire off Loser for its raw power, acid guitar, and psychedelic groove.  Come On off International Pop Overthrow for its big hook chorus and vaudeville time-change.  Perhaps for the softer side, I like Power Lines off IPO for its Byrds-like harmonies and lyrical analogy. Those songs are perhaps good touch-points or introductions to our music.

If you could tour the world with two other bands, who would you ask, and why?

Regarding current bands who are well-known, it would be The Struts and The Darkness – relatively well-known bands who could give us a leg up perhaps and are stylistically similar.  I like their music as well, of course.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

We were called “Tacoma’s Badfinger”, which, of course, made me smile as I really respected their songwriting and musicianship.  Admittedly, they are a big influence for me. 

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

Outcasts, really – or maybe a cult thing.  I’ll bet a lot of purveyors of Power Pop and hook-based guitar rock feel that way these days.  

The record is done, the music is out.  Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

Just beginning.  Once again, I feel completing a record brings with it a little bit of bragging rights.  This reminds me of a time when I was wearing a shirt that I did as promo merch for my solo record a couple years ago.  This gal at the table says, “You’re such a narcissist.  I should just make a shirt with a picture of myself and wear it”.  I thought for a moment and replied, “Well, you’d have to make a record first”.  

Lannie Flowers – Flavor Of The Month

FLAVOR OF THE MONTH is both a completely new collection and the long-awaited physical media debut for the songs that made up Lannie Flowers’ celebrated and groundbreaking March To Home Singles Series in 2019 all newly remixed by Lannie himself.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke with the King of Southern Spiced Quality Pop about surfing a creative wave, Tommy Keene, The Kinks Kronikles, and how FLAVOR OF THE MONTH came to be.

The intro (and outro) to Don’t Make Me Wait is so beautiful and delicate. How did it come about?

I was going in to remix these songs and wanted to do something a little different if there was, in fact, anything I could do without messing them up too much. So, I found some parts in the song that I could use. Then I just manipulated them around in Pro Tools until I got something I liked.

The new record is a compilation of singles that you released a while ago. The end result sounds like a whole. Luck or hard work?

Probably a little bit of both. Although, there was some hard work going on while I was doing them. I was working these songs with some musicians in Nashville, while working on the songs for “Home” with the guys I play with here in town. So it was a busy time.

Then when COVID hit, I spent a lot of time remixing and adding things to these songs.

All the songs are so good. Did you feel like you were surfing a creative wave when you wrote them?

Looking back on it, I guess I kinda was. I don’t think too much about what I’ve done. More on what I’m in the middle of at that moment. But those things do come in spurts for me.

Tommy Keene never seemed to miss a beat and wrote so many solid, beautiful, powerful songs where the guitar sound was recognizable. It’s meant as a compliment, or do you think it’s strange if I compare the quality of your music to his?

No, not at all. I am totally honored and flattered. I love those records—especially the early ones.

What place do you occupy in the music industry?  

Any place they’ll let me! Ha! I really haven’t given that much thought. I write, perform, record, produce. So, a little bit of everything. Not very good on the promotional part of it, though.

As a listener, it is wonderful when you listen to an artist who seems to have something to prove. What more would you like to prove, or are there other forces that trigger your creativity?

I don’t know if I’m really out to prove anything. I try not to force anything. Creativity just comes to me at different times and in different ways. When I was younger, about every other time, I listened to The Kinks Kronikles. I would write a song. Or if I had a good or bad relationship, that would give me ideas for songs. As I get older, I just try to pick up on things going on around me that might trigger an idea for a song.

Chris Church – Darling Please (Q&A)

Darling Please didn’t seem good enough when Chris Church recorded the songs over a decade ago. Fortunately, last year he took the time to polish and refine the ten songs, and the new result, recently released by Big Stir records, is great. GREAT!

You recorded ‘DARLING PLEASE’ over ten years ago. What happened?

I was unhappy with how it sounded at the time. I shelved it after printing up a few copies with Darling Please on the cover and not my name. There were personal factors that weighed in, including the recent passing of my brother, and the disappointment with the sonic quality may have influenced my decision to leave it alone. I decided to revisit the possibility of saving it in 2021, which turned out to be a rewarding experience for me.


You said before about this record: “It was and is dedicated with love to my late great brother Mike Church, who’d passed not long prior to my decision to start this project.”. I guess the recordings at the time and the release now are an emotional roller coaster?

Mike had been the drummer on almost all the music I’d made up to that point; I was, at the time, stubborn enough to play the drums myself as some sort of tribute to him, even though I’m not a good drummer, and fortunate to know several great drumming friends who would have helped me out. I guess there’s some level of catharsis, but mostly I’m just happy, thanks to Big Stir Records, that it’s actually out there.

For me, Bad Summer is the stand-out track. Can you tell us something about the creation of this beautiful song?


A lot of my songs are maybe lyrical amalgams or something, but that one is uncomfortably actual. Maybe that’s it. I always liked it, but I still don’t think it’s properly captured. It will have to do. I’ve considered re-recording several of the Darling Please songs for albums I’ve made since, but it just feels like they’re all part of a standalone thing I didn’t want to mess with.


Were Lindsay Murray’s beautiful backing vocals added later?


Lindsay is a friend and a great artist; everyone should check out her albums. They’re all listed as Gretchen’s Wheel, and I’m honored to get to collaborate with her. Her newly recorded backing vocals and Nick Bertling’s mastering job put some things in a new light and gave me the confidence to put the album out.


And, believe it or not, as I’m writing the question about Lindsay and Bad Summer blaring through the house, my oldest son asks if I’m listening to a song with Phoebe Bridgers singing along. More teenagers should hear your music, Chris. How do we do that?


Tell them I’m Harry Styles.

Tom Shotton – Forever Home (Q&A)

There is considerable renewed interest in Singer-Songwriter Pop and Soft Rock, so characteristic of the 1970s. Tom Shotton’s Forever Home is for Gilbert O’Sullivan, Christopher Cross, and Chicago fans, to name a few. While listening to Forever Home, it became clear to me that when a songwriter uses these styles, there is nothing to hide. You will have to come up with only good songs, and a refreshed version of what once was. Et voila!

It seems you knew exactly what sound you wanted when you entered the studio? 

At the beginning of the recording process, I didn’t have any clear idea about whether it would be an album or just a few tracks. My main intention was just to get the ball rolling again in terms of making music cos I’d taken a few years off and had mostly just been playing drums for other bands. I did know that I was consciously writing songs that were attempting to create intimacy with the listener, so I tried to bear that in mind from day one. I wanted it to sound like it was recorded in a warm room on a cold day! 

And it was easy to grab?

Yeah, I know the kinds of sounds that I’m looking for and which instruments and gear to use in order to achieve the intended vibe. I’d not written for individual string players and a horn section before, so that was a nice new experience. 

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?

The horn section all recorded their individual parts remotely, and then we just plonked them into the track. When we first played back the song ‘Back Home’ with all the horn parts in, it sounded like Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears or something – it was just unreal, and we had them super-loud and upfront. That was pretty magical. 

How would you describe your place in the music industry?

Honestly, I’m probably more of a consumer. Since I was 12 years old, I’ve always made music either as a player or a writer or both but tend to give very little thought to it playing much role in anybody else’s industry. I have my own little micro-industry now, and it’s nice to be making music and records. That’s about it!

The record is done and released. Getting it heard is not that easy, or is it?

I’m pretty good at promoting my stuff in my own idiosyncratic DIY manner, and I’ve been fortunate enough that a few people have checked it out and offered some kind words about the record. I’m putting it into some carefully selected record shops, which is a nice thing to do cos I love record shops. I’m glad they still exist!

Tom Curless – Person of Interest

“Almost Ready for the Future” was one of my favorite records of 2020. Its follow-up, “Person of Interest”, released last week, is even better. The songs Tom Curless writes gain in strength, power, and expressiveness with every release. Take “Something for Nothing”, Bob Mould or Rick Springfield would be king if such a melody came to them. But it didn’t. It blew to Tom Curless and, trust me, that’s no coincidence.

On Bandcamp, ‘Person of Interest’ is described as ‘a rocking effort’. What is the most significant difference for you compared to ‘Almost Ready for the Future’?

The main difference between this one and the last one, “Almost Ready for the Future”, is that it is 100% me, just starting with a basic idea/structure and overdubbing like mad. The last album was primarily recorded with my band, the 46% (Chip Saam, Ron Vensko, and Ron McPhereson) live in the studio and then adding stuff here and there.

This one was more of a one-man show which can be a lonely endeavor but still gratifying in a different way. I called it more rocking as, for some reason, most of the ideas were somewhat aggressive electric guitar riffs or chord things; I mean, Scare Tactics that kicks off the record is one of the most aggressive tracks I have ever done, and it was fun to record!

I think I hear some Bob Mould influences, but it looks like there are so many more. Who are you influenced by, or, maybe better, inspired by?

I am definitely influenced by Bob Mould, no question, I absolutely adore both Workbook, and I think Copper Blue by Sugar is a masterpiece, the heaviness of that combined with the melodic sense and amazing tunes, really love it. Michael Lucas, who mastered the record, told me he heard Andy Summers, David Gilmour, and Alex Lifeson (he must have meant 80’s Alex Ha!) in my guitar work, and it’s a fair cop, those three loom large for me. I like a bit of atmosphere.

I like your lyrics, and I keep coming back to Street Kids because of some of the triggers that you built in there. Do the words come easy?

I am so happy you like the lyrics because that is the hardest part for me. The music always comes first, and then I try to get a vibe from the music to write a lyric. Sometimes a snippet will come to me, a line here or there, and then I run with it. Street kids is me trying to be a little like early The Clash, and thinking that way the lyric came pretty fast, the theme being I want the younger generation to wake up and live more in the moment, stop taking all their cues from social media and have their own strong opinions. OK, I can get down from the pulpit now, phew!

Something for Nothing. That’s a special one. It’s not infinitely hard to imagine this should be a huge hit. Did you think that too when you wrote it?

A huge hit would be nice! Hell, a minor hit would be nice! Ha. This one came to me one night; it must have been one of those good nights because it felt like it just appeared. The verse is obviously Zenyatta Mendatta, and then it runs smack into Pete Townshend in the chorus!

I was thinking it may be a bit too rip-off, but then I came up with the words and the melody on top, and I thought, hold on… this is pretty cool!

Then when I got the mix back from Nick Bertling, who did a FANTASTIC job, BTW, I cranked it up in the car and thought, I really like this!! This is a cool track. Did I really do this? If you start feeling like that, you know it is one of your better efforts.

The songs are out, and you probably know you released a great record. Or is it not that easy?

You are too kind. I never feel that way; I mean, I am proud of it for sure, and I put a ton of time and sweat into it but usually, by the end, I have heard the songs SO MANY times that I totally lose perspective and wonder if it is any good? It’s probably because I am sick to death of it…but it turns around when I can send the finished product out into the world, and people hear it with fresh ears. I am so glad you like the record!

Photo by Rick Warhall

Ryan Allen – I’m Not Mean (Q&A)

I’m not afraid to try new things, tweak old things, or do whatever I want in order to keep making new art.”, says Ryan Allen.

Being productive and not becoming predictable at the same time is not given to everyone. Ryan Allen manages to do exactly that, and he surprises with four wonderful jangle pop songs. “I’m Not Mean” is the first Pop-must-hear of 2022.

Did you start with the idea of ​​writing some jangle pop songs, or did it just happen?

I’ve been toying with writing something with a little more lightness to it, but wasn’t exactly sure how to approach it. Then I stumbled upon a podcast (shoutout The Vinyl Detroit Podcast) that had an interview with one of the founders of Sarah Records. That kind of kickstarted me going down a Sarah rabbit hole, which also led to listening to a lot of similar bands like Black Tamborine, Aislers Set, the Pale Saints…stuff like that. Even some newer bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Crystal Stilts.

So yeah, I was just kind of drawn to wanting to make some very breezy, jangle-y, reverb-drenched simple pop songs. As usual, once I had the inspiration, the songs came fast and basically wrote themselves.

Where or How did you find the story for ‘To Be A Journalist’? The guitar sounds so SO beautiful here.

I majored in journalism in college and worked for a free arts & entertainment magazine in my 20s, so I’ve always had an interest in the practice. Now, however, journalists are basically replaced by “media personalities” who push the agenda of whatever network they are affiliated with, seemingly with little oversight.

This song kind of digs into that concept a bit, essentially saying that it’s easy for anybody with an opinion to just start blathering on about whatever they want in a pretty public forum, and how there are some pretty clear consequences when these media personalities decide to lie or stretch the truth for what boils down to monetary gain. Then I set all that depressing drivel to a cheery pop song. Haha!

It looks like it is easy for you the switch between genres?

I mean, no matter what type of sound I decide to tackle, it’s always going to have a focus on lyrics and melody. So to me, it’s all the same at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s going to be more punk-influenced, sometimes I’ll lean more pop, sometimes it’s got a shoegaze angle, or other times it’s hearkening to something super aggressive.

I think the most interesting creative people are ones that aren’t held back by people’s expectations of what they are “supposed” to do, and instead follow whatever their next muse is to the end. I’m not afraid to try new things, tweak old things, or do whatever I want in order to keep making new art.

The title song sounds intense and close?

I wouldn’t say it’s “intense” as much as it acts as more of a reminder. I’m pretty introverted and don’t get my energy from being around a lot of people…so social distancing works for me (haha).

But in all seriousness, sometimes I probably come off like a jerk or “mean” when I don’t intend to. It’s just that I get very quickly drained by social interaction, to the point where I sort of check out or say/do things that may seem insensitive….when, in fact, I’m very sensitive and compassionate. It just doesn’t always come off that way. So this song is sort of my plea to those around me to just be patient and understand the often-misleading plight of the introvert.

For every four songs you release, how many do you reject? Or is that not the way you write songs?

I knew I wanted to do something very short and concise for this project and didn’t want to go too overboard with it, so I just wrote these four songs and capped it. But I’m constantly writing.

We have a new Extra Arms album in the can that will come out this year, and I’ve got another 30, or so songs demoed that I’m just waiting to unleash on the rest of the band members for whenever we feel like working on new stuff. Obviously, some of those will get rejected, and in fact, there are a lot of songs that don’t see official release (which you can listen to via my “Rchives” release from 2020 here.

You are very productive. I can imagine some more music is in the making?

Always. As I said, we have a new Extra Arms album coming out in 2022 – most likely in late spring/early summer – that I’m extremely excited about. I think it’s the best record we’ve ever done as a band. The songs are really joyful, upbeat, and super catchy for the most part. I wanted to make a really fun and powerful rock record that was easy to listen to, and I think we achieved that. So look out for that one soon!

Thrift Store Halo – Enemies With Benefits (Q&A)

Enemies With Benefits, a 3-song EP by Thrift Store Halo, will be released on CD and via all streaming platforms on 2.18.2022.

Thrift Store Halo is an Indie Power Pop band hailing from Chicago. Yet their classic Power Pop sound is often compared to English greats such as Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, Graham Parker, and Nick Lowe.

Frank Gradishar (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar & Songwriting) explains how the new songs came about.

How did this record come together?

Well, it’s been an interesting few years since our last EP, in 2019.

Obviously Covid has changed everything, and on top of that, our guitarist and my co-writer since 2016, Lance Tawzer (former Material Issue bassist/Lupins guitarist) took a new job heading up the Abraham Lincoln Museum here in Illinois, and moved house several hours away. With that move, we basically decided to end our tenure, which had been, very fun and exciting. It was an amicable split and we’re still very good friends. Lance still does our artwork, and I always like getting his opinion on my new music.

Initially, with Lance’s departure, I had actually thought that maybe it was time to shut the operation down for good, and just end it. But last summer, my partner in crime, Scott Proce (drummer), thought the time might be right to try and reform Thrift Store Halo as our original trio. We had previously contemplated that back in 2016, but it didn’t work out; that’s when we joined up with Lance.

So in July, 2021, Scott and I went into a little studio and just started playing again with Brent Seatter, our original guitarist who appeared on our first EP in 1996 and our 1998 LP, World Gone Mad. Brent is a really gifted guitarist and as soon as we got into a room and started playing with him, it just felt right. Having played together for so many years back in the 1990s and briefly in the summer of 2016, it’s as though we share a form of telepathy or intuition, which made it all very comfortable, for lack of a better word. Everything just kind of fell into place, very quickly.

I had such a back log of songs, and we had a few tracks from the 1990s, two of which, “Not Too Late” and the rather experimental track, “Shelter”, had been written back in 1997, so we had plenty of material to choose from and it was rather easy hitting our pace.

Then we called Kevin Mucha, the fourth “member”, who recorded, produced, mixed and mastered all our release from 2017 through 2019, and he was really keen on working with us, so we got to work recording finally in October, and we are really happy with how everything sounds. Likewise, our old friend Kenn Goodman of Pravda Records/Pravda Music Publishing here in Chicago is like family, and he has been such a great ally and he was very happy to help us get the record out and to the “masses”. It feels great to be sitting here and looking forward to another new release!  

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

The meaning of success certainly has changed! Honestly, I think the fact that I’m surrounded by friends and musicians who are still actually interested and excited to make music with me, record the songs and release the songs is a success in and of itself! Considering that I had seriously considered calling it a day, I feel really happy just to be answering these questions about a new release!

Now, back in the day, success for me, was definitely measured more by label interest, big gigs at the bigger Chicago venues and by getting our songs on TV and FM radio, and, of course, getting reviewed in magazines. We did quite well in the late 1990s on all those fronts, especially with TV placements; we had songs on some relatively big US shows, like Party of Five and Smallville.

For this record, I think it’s already a success because it actually got made! Now, the rest is gravy! Having people actually checking out the music is the best part. Thankfully, in this day and age, I feel blessed that there is such a strong and supportive online scene surrounding power pop and that we can share our music and interact with other artists remotely and via streaming. There are so many great indie internet radio stations out there, and we have been blessed to be supported by so many. So really, I am utterly content and happy with what we have done and what we are continuing to do!

How great is the urge to stay creative?   To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I write constantly. It’s just what I do. In a way, I suppose it is very therapeutic and cathartic. Not that my songs are necessarily autobiographical, but I love trying to tap into an idea or emotion and weaving it all into a cohesive 3- or 4-minute song.

I am always striving to perfect my particular brand of songwriting. I am amazed sometimes at what jumps out when I sit down with my guitar and start humming over some chords. I seem to go someplace else entirely, where it just flows out and writes itself. I wish I could figure out how it all happens, but then again, I worry I would lose the ability if I did.

With Lance, he would send me, in most cases, complete musical ideas, with verses, bridges and choruses, and I would develop the melodies and write the lyrics on my own. Sometimes we would sit together and write, which was also very cool. But, I wasn’t really needing to develop songs from scratch, as I had been doing previously. That was a unique challenge, trying to write lyrics for the someone else’s chords. But it was a fun exercise and I think we crafted some very good songs with that approach.

Now I am back to bringing in songs I wrote from the ground up, so to speak, into a group setting, where the songs will be reassessed, modified, and almost always, very much improved upon from my original ideas. I do not demo, not as such; I simply sit down and sing as I play guitar into my iPhone. I have toyed with the idea of getting a nice little home studio set up, but I think I know that if I do, I will begin to get too set on my ideas of what songs should sound like and I would risk being too dictatorial when it comes to fleshing out arrangements in the band. I don’t want that to happen.

I want the band to remain collaborative, team effort in terms of arrangement, feel and approach for the songs. While Scott and Brent might not write the lyrics or the original chord structures, they do rework them and force me (sometimes kicking and screaming) to develop the songs into their final arrangements, which I think, is very important. I trust the, and their musical instincts.

Put another way, it’s as though I “write” the blank coloring book, and then Brent, Scott and I color in the lines together to create the final picture. I really dig our approach. I might write songs, but those songs aren’t just mine. They belong to the band. That’s also why I share all royalties equally.

I have over a 150 songs in the vault – or cloud as it may be – at this point. Now, 85% or more of those songs might never see the light of day, but that’s alright. I like having the ability to throw open the doors to Scott and Brent and say, pick what you think are songs we can arrange and to see where they end up!

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

We’re not much of a live band anymore, for many reasons, but, without a doubt, the most memorable show we played was opening for recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and British Invasion icons, The Zombies.

We opened for them at a “sold out” show in Lincolnshire, Illinois, in July, 2012, and it was incredible. It was such a pleasure getting to meet them, and see them, up close at soundcheck, and of course, during their set, which was stellar! They were very gracious and humble; true British gentlemen. And they were, and still are, so well-oiled, and full of energy. It was infectious! I remember having a great conversation after the show with the late Jim Rodford (who had been in the later-era Kinks and of course, Argent), who was playing bass for the band; he was full of great stories and was really, such just such a lovely guy.

Another show which stands out was a festival show in Wisconsin, back in 1998, opening for Eric Burdon – another British Invasion hero. The main memory of this show was when Eric’s drummer for that tour, the legendary Aynsley Dunbar, found his way into our dressing room while we were out walking around the fest; we returned to find him there after he drank every last beverage that was in the fridge! 

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Great question – and a tough one! I would have to include:

1. “What Now” by Something Happens. From this awesome Irish band’s 1990 album, “Stuck Together with God’s Glue”, produced by the brilliant Ed Stasium.

2. “New Mistake” by Jellyfish, off their second album, “Spilt Milk”. A perfect power pop song.

3. “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub, off their first LP, “A Catholic Education”. It’s perfectly grungy and provides perfect insight into what a great band they were destined to become.

4. “God Speed” by Velvet Crush, off the band’s 1998 “Heavy Changes” LP. Brilliant. 

5. “This Better Be Good” by Fountains of Wayne of their 2007 release, “Traffic and Weather”. It’s just a fun, and catchy song, with some excellent guitar work.

If I was allowed a 6th, I would certainly include “Still Breathing” by Green Day – love the lyrics, the attitude and the sound…Power-pop-punk?! Yes, please!