MaelstroM Returns To Music After Three Decades

MaelstroM; press photo

MaelstroM; press photo

Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic having kneecapped the live music industry, it’s proven to be a boon to the likes of musicians who have seized upon the opportunity to craft new songs from shelter. The most notable of these is Maelstrom.

Beginning in 1988, the metal band played consistently at live venues in the Long Island area of New York and even recorded some demo tracks. The group played live for the last time in 1994 before disbanding.

MaelstroM "Of Gods And Men" album cover

MaelstroM “Of Gods And Men” album cover

Maelstrom has officially come back thanks to vocalist Gary Vosganian and guitarist Joey Lodes being spurred on to complete a task they never accomplished during their intial run: completing an album.

“I turned to my partner Joey and said ‘you know what, this may be the best time in the entire world to release this,’” recounts Vosganian.

Vosganian, though now focused on a career as a graphic artist who specializes in advertising, says the digital release of the album “Of Gods and Men” on May 22 not only owes its creation to the ongoing quarantine effect of COVID-19 but due also to Maelstrom choosing the studio over the stage.

”We have the advantage of not having to tour,” relates Vosganian. “We’re not a touring band really. We really have just been wanting to get this album out for the better part of our lives. It’s been going on 32 years now and, for the one time in the universe or in the world, that being a non-touring band had an advantage happened to be now.”

“Of Gods and Men” is effectively a musical mash-up of new and old. Combining brand new songs along with many of their older ones such as Predestined and Arises, the album is effectively a definitive collection of the songs Maelstrom has created and played throughout their career. It’s an experience that’s sure to please the most veteran of avid metal heads.

Vosganian adds too that the songs on the album are put together in a way to tell an overarching multi-part tale from start to its finish.

“It’s a kind of fantasy story relating in large ways to the differences between dogmatic rules-based religion versus the inherent soul within us and how that is part of a greater god let’s say and that we are each part of god himself.”

Despite now opting to record such music over playing it live, Vosganian still fondly recalls Maelstrom’s early days playing their music live in New York.

“We absolutely loved it. We had a great local fan base. For two years in a row we were the top drawing band at the local club that sort of all the metal bands in Nassau County, Long Island cut their chops called February’s which eventually renamed itself the Hammerheads.”

The club may be familiar to many rock history buffs as it is a noteworthy starting ground for famous musicians like Twisted Sister and Dream Theater. Though such bands found success beyond the club, Vosganian is blunt about the potential reason Maelstrom was prevented from “breaking open” as they did.

“One thing that we regret though, which may have made a difference back then, was that we never jumped into a van and grinded it out. We never did our own tour. We never booked our own shows across the east coast that kind of thing. You know, try to make our way up to Canada. We never did any of that.”

Though Vosganian says that he would love for Maelstrom to somehow play live again, “Of Gods and Men” is a major accomplishment for the once inactive music group. It’s an accomplishment that he wishes to currently focus on sharing.

“The intent is just to get this out to the world in recorded form and to do some stuff beyond digital, to do some hard copy discs, possibly an LP – you know: actual vinyl – and I kind of have a dream of doing this in a book form because each song had its own piece of art and my lyrics are very important to me. I would like to do this as a book with an accompanying disc.”

Beyond that, Vosganian doesn’t rule out the potential of Maelstrom returning to play live saying that such a possibility will happen on a smaller and more accommodating scale befitting for the 49-year old vocalist and guitarist Joey Lodes who, sadly, suffers from a hearing condition.

“For us to play, it’s definitely something that I would want to do more as a specialty kind of thing rather than trying to bang out a tour.”

But, though small in scale, Vosganian promises a show just as entertaining as their album “Of Gods and Men.”

“I’m kind of having a dream of doing 70-thousand tons of metal. I would absolutely love to play that gig.”

Guitarist Tinsley Ellis To Open For Jimmie Vaughan

TINSLEY ELLIS plays The Coach House Mar. 8; photo James Christophe

TINSLEY ELLIS plays The Coach House Mar. 8; photo James Christophe

Blues rock legend Tinsley Ellis makes his return to SoCal playing alongside Jimmie Vaughan at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Mar. 8.

Ellis and his bandmates look forward to the return, especially to The Coach House.

“We have played there several times, we like it very much,” says Ellis. “Concert goers will expect to hear us do songs off the Winning Hand CD as well as some of the older CDs that I’ve put out over the last 35 years.”

Since entering the music industry back in 1975, Ellis has remained a steadfast and active performer in the blues rock circuit whose innovative musical stylings have made him a favorite among concertgoers and music lovers in general.

Ellis owes his continuing musical journey to the blues and rock bands he listened to growing up in Southern California. Ellis also cites bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers as his favorites growing up and are some of his main inspirations.

But Ellis says one particular performance stands out to him along with going to see B.B. King live. It’s a performance that pushed him to finally get an instrument and become an active musician.

“I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964,” Ellis relates. “I begged my parents for a guitar. I started playing in bands in high school and college. When I graduated from college, I just kept going with it and I’ve been doing it about 50 years now.”

TINSLEY ELLIS; photo James Christopher

TINSLEY ELLIS; photo James Christopher

Ellis has honed his musical style that has earned him a sterling reputation along with the title of “a bona fide worldwide guitar hero” from The Chicago Sun-Times. He also has numerous live appearances on record along with 17 albums to date with the latest being Winning Hand.

Ask him what kind of music he plays that’s helped him achieve such accomplishments and you’ll get a four-word summation.

“Guitar driven blues rock,” Ellis says. “There’s a lot of guitar playing going on and there’s a lot of blues music mixed with rock music.”

It’s an amalgamation that results in superbly composed notes of both Southern-style rock and blues. These compositions are often accompanied by moody, rugged vocals from Ellis that is an iconic trademark of blues musicians like him.

Ellis continues to actively make new music whenever possible. He has little trouble doing so as he remains consistently inspired.

“The songs kind of come to me at any particular time,” Ellis relates. “I may be driving down the road or sitting in my hotel room or I may actually be in the studio when I’m writing it.”
Ellis says he’s especially thankful to today’s technology which makes it even easier for him to create his music.

“Thanks to the cell phone with its recording feature I can just hit record and sing my ideas into my phones. The ideas are never lost so I can write songs wherever I am.”

The biggest reward for Ellis is being able to play his music. Not only do music goers get to enjoy it but so does Ellis. For him, the music he plays is a safe and wonderful means of escaping reality for a while.

“The music carries me away and I hope that it carries the listener away and delivers the listener back safely to the real world.”

Though Ellis has played many performances with just himself and his band mates he has shared the stage with other notable musicians. Ellis says he always looks forward to these performances.
“My favorite performances are the ones where we open for someone, I really like a lot musically and then they call me on the stage to jam with them at the end.”

The list Ellis gives is impressive to say the least.

“Albert Collins, Coco Taylor, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy. I’ve opened for all of them and performed with them during their set. There’s been rock bands as well like The Allman Brothers Band, Government Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Widespread Panic.”

Ellis encourages people to come see him live and who knows? Jimmie Vaughan may even bring him on stage to jam.

Phil Vassar Brings Country To SoCal

PHIL VASSAR plays The Coach House Feb. 13, Humphrey's/San Diego Feb. 14; press photo

PHIL VASSAR plays The Coach House Feb. 13, Humphrey’s/San Diego Feb. 14; press photo

Nashville country musician Phil Vassar brings spirited fun and music to SoCal as part of his current “Stripped Down” acoustic tour. Vassar is slated to play at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Feb. 13 and Humphrey’s in San Diego Feb. 14.

Vassar states that concertgoers are in for a great time!

“It’s just me on a piano and guitar and stories. It’s a storyteller kind of vibe. It’s really fun.”

Though born in Virginia and currently residing in Nashville, a region well-known for being central to country music as well as the filming location of his show “Songs from the Cellar,” Vassar unapologetically boasts of his love for the region of Southern California.

“I’ve played in Southern California so many times. I love it,” he says. “I’ve actually played The Coach House and of course I’ve played San Diego. I’ve played all over. I love Southern Cal, Orange County and San Diego. I love the vibe. I love it there. I love the weather. If I could live there I probably would.”

Musically active since 1997, Vassar has become well-established in the country music genre thanks to his baritone voice but also for his skilled piano playing.

Vassar says his entry into music started off slow but gained speed in large part due to him personally knowing a number of prominent names he met over the years.

“I lived in Nashville so I just started playing music all over town. I started writing a lot and trying to get a record deal. In the meantime, I met a lot of people like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney and Faith Hill and Joe Dee Messina.”

Meeting these individuals and befriending them allowed Vassar the opportunity to pen a number of songs that many of the notable artists he met went on to record. Notable songs he is credited as writing include Collin Raye’s “Little Red Rodeo, ” Tim McGraw’s “For a Little While,” and Alan Jackson’s “Right on the Money.”

Vassar’s efforts not only saw many of his songs soar to high positions in song charts but also an award in 1999 from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

“After that it became a whole lot easier to get a record deal,” Vassar says. “My first record came out in 2000 and I’ve done ten since then.”

Vassar’s music, as is typical of country, can best be described as stories set to song. In fact, Vassar considers himself to be a storyteller and one who uses music to accomplish that. It’s music that he creates through what can best be described as a naturally occurring process.

“Most of the time I think I’ll start with a melody or work it on the piano. I kind of get something going. Sometimes I’ll write the lyrics. Sometimes I’ll be sitting on an airplane and write it and then I’ll put the music to it later on. There’s really not a right or wrong way to do it for me. I think I just kind of do it both ways.”

Though he has recorded ten albums to date using this method, Vassar uses live concerts as a gauge to determine whether he has produced the best possible songs he can which is something he is unable to fully accomplish in a studio setting.

“You can’t really tell in the studio. There’s no feedback. You don’t know what’s going on. Whether it’s good or bad. I think having the opportunity to play songs live, you really get a better indication of how your music is or how it’s going to do.”

Additionally, Vassar uses a unique approach for each live show he does. Vassar calls this method as “kind of flying by the seat of your pants.

“I don’t have a setlist or anything like that,” Vassar explains.” I just sort of start playing music, asking people what they want to hear, and I just take requests. That’s what I do for the whole night. That’s basically how I do it. I love doing it that way so the show’s more spontaneous and that’s the way I like to do it.”

Vassar promises those who attend his concerts in Southern California will not only enjoy his shows but he promises he will enjoy playing them too. For Vassar, being able to publically share the music he makes is not just a career but a constant goal that he always strives to accomplish wherever he goes.

“That’s the payoff, you know. I think that’s the most exciting part of the whole deal. I love playing live. I’ve always loved it even before I was writing good songs and doing all that. But playing live, I mean, that’s the way to go. That’s my favorite.”

Sons Of Apollo World Domination Progressive Metal

SONS OF APOLLO play The Glass House Jan. 24, Roxy Theater Jan. 25; photo Hristo Shindov

SONS OF APOLLO play The Glass House Jan. 24, Roxy Theater Jan. 25; photo Hristo Shindov

Progressive metal band Sons Of Apollo is coming to California as part of their current tour promoting their aptly named album MMXX, or 2020 to those who prefer contemporary numbers, which was released on Jan. 17. Concertgoers can catch the supergroup at the Glass House in Pomona Jan. 24, Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles Jan. 25 and the Fillmore in San Francisco Jan. 26.

“They’re going to get a very talented group of musicians doing their best to take over the world as far as what we’re doing musically,” states Jeff Scott Soto, lead vocalist for the band and who grew up in SoCal.

Soto, in addition to having been associated with groups like Journey and Talisman, has been a part of Sons of Apollo since its inception in 2017. Rounding out the band are four other equally recognizable veteran metal musicians: Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.

2020 marks the first time Sons of Apollo have played together live in quite a while due to each member devoting themselves to other various projects and of course creating MMXX: their second album.

Soto promises though their inability to play live is penance they intend to pay off in 2020 in an effort he hopes will be “groundbreaking.”

“When we take breaks like this in-between records, it’s interesting once we get the cavalry back together. But I’m sure, because we now have some history together in touring, it’s going to come together.”

Though a relatively new supergroup, Sons of Apollo has already gathered quite a noted appreciation among music lovers not just for its star-laden lineup but also for its very loud and passionate music that is best described as progressive metal.

“For all intents and purposes, people see us as a prog band,” Soto said. “We do fit into that category of Dream Theater and PSMS from which the band originated. It’s kind of lumped into the prog world because of the musicality side of things.”

As Sons of Apollo is a supergroup, Soto says he and the other members are all equally tasked with thinking up the typically heavy progressive songs they create. Soto does his best to produce his own contributions while also trying not to rudely inject his ideas for songs and styles onto his other bandmates.

“I would never dabble. I would never step into a room when they’re writing a song and say, ‘hey! Why don’t you guys use this chord or play this lick instead?’ Because these guys are masters of their trade and I respect them as much as they respect my end of coming up with melodies and coming up with lyrics, etc.”

Once completed, the creator of the song shares the results around with the rest of the band who are then allowed to provide suggestions. When this process is done and there is a mutual agreement, the song is made.

While recording in the studio is simple, Soto says it’s more fulfilling and challenging to play it live.

“It’s as exciting as much as it is nerve wracking. For those guys, they have the technical. For me, again, I pretty much conform to what I do and how I do it within the context of where I’m singing. But those guys have all the technical side of the music.”

Although Soto is merely tasked with giving vocals to songs, he says that the true burden of responsibility is placed on his other bandmates who have to handle the group’s instruments. He says they are the ones who ensure the songs Sons of Apollo makes are pulled off properly.

“It’s exciting but it’s nerve wracking watching them because the slightest little hiccup in a song can turn into a train wreck because there’s so many time changes and signatures within the context of certain songs. If one person throws it off it can actually throw a whole monkey wrench into the machine.”

However, Soto assures that the band will do their utmost to avoid that when playing their three shows in California and beyond.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic! All three shows! The entire tour! The entire year!”

Sons of Apollo’s current tour, which currently lasts until April, will not only see the group tour North America but also Europe and South America. Soto hopes that, should the five men garner enough attention during that time, they will hopefully extend the tour a little longer.

Soto says that is the 2020 goal of Sons of Apollo: a musical world domination.

“That’s the bottom line – we’re hitting ’em with what we’re doing and make ’em want more and from there we’re hoping that they’re gonna want more.”

Dirtwire To Treat SoCal To Psychedelic Swamptronica Experience

DIRTWIRE play Teragram Ballroom Nov. 30; press photo

DIRTWIRE play Teragram Ballroom Nov. 30; press photo

Dirtwire, a band that has garnered both praise and fans for its uniquely surreal and experimental music with heavy psychedelic overtones, is coming to the Teragram Ballroom Nov. 30.

David Satori and Mark Reveley, two of the group’s members, look forward to seeing fans at the show.

“Concertgoers can expect a show of unexpected curiosity and musical exploration from trans-global influences and west coast underground based music mash-ups,” says Santori.

Dirtwire began to be musically active in 2012. However, the group truly began years earlier.

Electric River tour admat

Electric River tour admat

“We originally met at Cal Arts,” Reveley recalls. “We all studied music there. Composition, world music and we took a number of trips around the world on musical walkabouts and journeys and collected a lot of really rare instruments that we’ve incorporated into our set, into our music.”

Reveley says that the desire wasn’t until the trio spent time at the famous Burning Man music festival that they were inspired to embark on a career in music.

“We spent a lot of time at Burning Man in some of the early years out in the playa and we fell in love with electronic music out there. So, this group is kind of like a fusion of our love for performing world music instruments with electronic music.”

The music that Dirtwire produces is quite the concoction to be sure blending not only instruments from around the world but a very unorthodox approach that’s quite the task to classify genre-wise.

“We call it swamptronica and we try to exist outside of genre but we’re definitely within the bass music scene, but we try to extend beyond that,” says Reveley. “Electro-blues is another one that’s like easy for people to get their heads around.”

But while the band is hesitant to define its music genre-wise, it is not as afraid to admit to one key ingredient that has helped make music that’s not only been played at a variety of live venues but has appeared on a total of six albums: psychedelic drugs.

It’s an ingredient, Santori says, that was used in the band’s latest album, Electric River, which was released just last month.

Dirtwire; press photo

Dirtwire; press photo

“A lot of the time we take psilocybin mushrooms and do more of a ceremonial recording session and then improvise and then take those improvisations on the magic mushrooms and then cut those into songs.”

This is a practice that has been in effect since the beginning of the band’s formation. It’s one that Reveley says has not only benefitted him personally but has been instrumental to making Dirtwire’s music.

“We’re just partaking in our experiment of that experience and seeing what happens. It has been a very powerful tool for me personally, and I know the other guys in the band as well, to open our minds and explore different melodies, you know, different sounds.”

But while this approach may work well in a studio, Santori adds that playing their creations live requires quite a significant amount of adaptation in order for it to work in that kind of setting.

“A lot of music is very heavily produced and a lot of it created in the studio. So, when we go to a live setting, we have to relearn our parts and relearn what we wrote sometimes on different instruments when we play it live.”

Reveley explains that the use of different instruments is another problem but one that makes for a unique experience at each of their shows

“Some of our instruments don’t travel well. They might be too large or too delicate. So, we’ll have to sort of re-orchestrate and rearrange the tracks and that makes for a cool take on things. They exist uniquely in the live domain. It’s not a one to one. It almost ends up like being an interpretation.”

Despite challenges like these, finally being able to play their music in a live setting is something all members of Dirtwire always enjoy.

“It’s really, really exciting,” remarks Reveley. “That’s when we feel like we really bring it to life and give a new take on what existed in a more private, isolated space and it becomes communal. The audience becomes a part of it.”

Beyond the group’s upcoming appearances at the Teragram Ballroom and beyond, Santori says that he and his fellow bandmates are looking to still play but take time to make even more music.

“We’re just looking to making new music. We’re excited about releasing new music in a different way than we normally have. Basically, that’s it: making music and shows. That’s sort of our life and now we have a little break so it’s going to be more on the music creation side for a little bit.”

Arch Enemy Imports Swedish Death Metal To SoCal

ARCH ENEMY play Observatory/Santa Ana Oct. 24 and Hollywood Palladium Oct. 26; press photo

ARCH ENEMY play Observatory/Santa Ana Oct. 24 and Hollywood Palladium Oct. 26; press photo

The metal strains of Arch Enemy shall soon be coming to the Observatory in Santa Ana Oct. 24 for a headline show with Thrown Into Exile.

Concertgoers can also enjoy the Swedish death metal group as direct support on the Amon Amarth: Berserker Tour at The Warfield in San Francisco Oct. 25 and the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles Oct. 26. Special guests also include At The Gates and Grand Magus.

Arch Enemy has played consistently and without any hiatus or breakup since beginning in 1995 in the city of Halmstead. Michael Amott, the group’s lead vocalist and guitar player says that the group has undeniably staked their musical claim outside of Europe and has come to enjoy traveling the world, specifically in the United States, as their regular occupation.

“We play all over the world, every corner of this globe. So, for us it’s a regular thing to go play shows away from Europe. We’re a European band and we’ve been touring in the states for many, many years. It’s great.”

Amott adds that, having played around the world for so many years, he has come to note that the music scene outside of Europe tends to be the same.

“I think there are more likenesses than differences. The fans worldwide all share this passion for this music that we play. Once we’re up on stage and playing, I think it’s all the same, you know what I mean? It’s just a bunch of people enjoying the music and the good atmosphere.”

In addition to receiving praise from fans and critics for music that blends classic metal with some noticeably progressive elements, Arch Enemy has produced an even number of 10 studio albums. Will To Power is their latest and one the group continues to promote since its release in 2017.

Amott describes Arch Enemy’s death metal as being “heavy, melodic and exciting” and cites all manner of heavy metal influences. But he gives special credit for the group having grown up in the metal music scene of Sweden. It’s a combination that was a major factor in crafting Arch Enemy’s aggressively powerful sounds.

“I come from a scene with like death metal, thrash metal, street metal kind of stuff. So, it’s kind of the speed and heaviness of the death metal with a lot of classic heavy metal influences as far as melodies and guitar arrangements and harmonies and stuff like that goes.”

The usually action packed music Arch Enemy creates typically starts off on a surprisingly very somber beginning.

“It usually starts with like a guitar riff or a guitar melody and I just build it from there,” Amott says. “Some songs write themselves in like ten minutes and the others take ten months to finish. There’s really no set form on how we put it together. But usually the writing I’ll do together with our drummer Daniel and we do the demos and stuff like that.”

Though the group often takes time to craft their music, it’s a terrific process with an always wonderful payoff says Amott.

“I love the whole process of making music, putting it all together, writing it, producing it, mixing it. It’s a very exciting process of course from idea into a full-blown song or album. But I think the most rewarding thing is obviously getting on stage and playing for the fans and seeing them sing that song back to you. They’ve been listening to it and they’ve learned the words and the melodies and everything. That’s probably the most rewarding thing is to see how the songs have connected with the fans.”

While often grateful to be able to analytically fine tune their music in the studio, Amott and his fellow Arch Enemy bandmates never fail to enjoy the herculean task of delivering high quality shows whenever they play their impassioned and heavy brand of music live.

“You’ve got one shot so it’s a lot more, how should I say, a high-pressure situation. But I think we all in Arch Enemy really thrive on that. We love stepping up our game and delivering our best every night.”

Arch Enemy will continue to do their best on their current U.S. tour which culminates at the Oct. 26 appearance at the Hollywood Palladium. Amott and his bandmates not only intend to keep busy playing live music but will finally craft some new music.

“We do another European tour after this and then there’s the holidays and everything. Starting next year, we’re going to put a new record together. It’s time to go back into that creative mode and into the studio and stuff like that.”

Big Wreck To Showcase Canadian-American Rock In SoCal

BIG WRECK; Press Photo

BIG WRECK; Press Photo

Canadian-American group Big Wreck again returns to Southern California to share their music for those obliging to come listen to some authentic rock. The four-man group plays at Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles Oct. 20 and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco Oct. 21 as part of their current tour celebrating the release of their latest album …but for the sun.

Ian Thornley, who has been the lead vocalist and guitarist for Big Wreck since it became active in 1994, says concertgoers can expect a mix of both new and old.

“We’re focusing pretty heavily on the newer material on the new album, but we’ve been tempering the set with some old favorites as well. I think at this point we’re five or six shows in so we’ve found a pretty good mix.”

Though known for being more recognized in Canada’s music scene, Big Wreck actually began life in the United States, specifically in Boston at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Thornley says the group began as most bands usually do.

“We were students at Berklee College of Music here in Boston actually. It was just sort of like-minded music tastes that basically struck up a friendship and then it turned into a band. It’s a long story but that’s the gist of it.”

However, though the group’s beginnings began in the United States, their notoriety as a musical group is more grounded in Canada where the group enjoys noticeably more appearances and more airplay for their songs than in the States.

The music that has earned Big Wreck such recognition in the great white north is something that Thornley, when asked, has a hard time explaining.

BIG WRECK; Press Photo

BIG WRECK; Press Photo

“I’ve never really tried to. It’s rock and roll, I guess. There’s some rocky elements, there’s some bluesy elements, there’s some heavier elements and there’s even pop elements. But I would hope that it comes across as authentic. That’s the best I could hope for. “

Ask him some of the musical influences though and he is happier to oblige in answering.

“Hundreds,” Thornley says. “A lot of stuff from the 70’s. There’s Pink Floyd, there’s Led Zeppelin, there’s Genesis, there’s The Who and even Dire Straits and The Police. We have a lot of influences that run from Supertramp, Bruce Springsteen… too many to mention.”

Although the band has many fans and are popular in Canada, which ultimately led to a contract with Warner Canada, Thornley says he feels Big Wreck has yet to achieve global mainstream musical recognition. But he admits he’s fine with that.

“I’m still waiting for that one. I don’t have a plan B. Just stick to your guns, keep at it I guess, you know and then hopefully you can carve out a living. It’s a humble one but I mean if you’re in it for the right reasons I don’t think it really matters how big or successful you are. I mean, everybody wants a little more than they have.”

Thornley is always appreciative of the support Big Wreck gets and especially whenever the group comes to play in the United States and adds that, surprisingly, there is very little difference between playing in Canada.

“Like a lot of the U.S. shows for us, the crowds tend to be a lot smaller than they are in Canada. But the fans are rabid I guess because we don’t get here that often. We don’t play the U.S. not nearly as often as we do in Canada and so I tend to find that the fans are great. The shows are, like I said, smaller but there’s a great appreciation from the fans for us making the trek.”

Beyond the group’s upcoming appearances in Southern California and the rest of their tour, Thornley says Big Wreck intend to take it easy.

“I mean we’ve got a pretty good rhythm of writing and recording and touring. So, it’s probably going to be more of that once this tour is done. I assume they’ll be a few more shows here and there. But for the most part, I’ve a newborn son I’d like to spend some time with. I have a daughter I’d like to spend some time with. It’s going to probably be a lot of home life and a lot of song writing.”

Messer Brings High Quality Rock To SoCal

MESSER plays The Cave Sep 13, The Canyon/Agoura Sep 14, The Coach House Sep 15; photo Glitch Mob

MESSER plays The Cave Sep 13, The Canyon/Agoura Sep 14, The Coach House Sep 15; photo Glitch Mob

Texas-based Messer returns to SoCal as part of Scott Stapp of Creed’s “The Space Between the Shadows” tour which also includes hard rock group Sunflower Dead. The tour wraps up at The Coach House Sep. 15 before heading East.

Dereak Messer, the group’s lead vocalist, promises people who attend are in for an excellent time.

“They are going to see a performance like no other. We bring high energy to our shows. We’re known for our quality of sound and just a lot of energy. We love to meet our fans so we’ll be hanging out all night long at every one of those shows trying to meet every person who would like to meet us.”

Messer adds he genuinely enjoys being able to play shows in California whenever he and his bandmates are offered the chance to do so.

“We have a great time every time we’re there. We usually record in the Silver Lake area right outside of Hollywood so we’re out that way quite a bit and we have a lot of fans out in California.”

Messer reports that the tour in general has proven to be incredible so far especially as they have been able to accompany Scott Stapp.

“This guy is a true professional,” Messer says. “His new album has been amazing. He’s playing it every night and the crowds are just eating it up. Being that he’s such an iconic face and a voice out there for rock music, it’s just been great to learn from him every night and just become good friends with the guy.”

Sunflower Dead has also proven to be stalwart musical companions too.

“They are a good high energy band too,” Messer admits. “They’re a little bit more of a metal band than we are. Great guys though, so they’re super cool.”

Being able to accompany other notable musicians is quite an accomplishment for Messer which formed in 2009. The group has become established as playing rock music albeit with what Messer describes as “an alternative sound to it”.

He adds too that the group makes an effort to emphasize a specific musical setup at each show to ensure those who attend their shows don’t just hear their music but feel it too.

“We tune our guitars and everything to a certain frequency that actually manipulates the way you feel when you come to our show. It’s kind of crazy. It’s one of those things you have to experience.”

The group’s music is also designed to be empowering with positive messages intertwined. Songs like “Make This Life” that are featured on their first and so far, only studio album Messer, features light though heavy backing instrumentals and motivational lyrics.

“Our music has a positive message,” Messer states. “It’s got beats. These are songs that will hopefully stand the test of time and people will be listening to 30 or 40 years from now.”

Being able to play these songs and see live concertgoers respond favorably to them is something Messer says is always a great reward for him.

“It’s amazing every night to see the people’s reaction. People come up to me afterwards and tell me how much they were moved by the songs. That means everything to us.”

Likewise, the group’s music has helped bring them in contact with other notable music groups in addition to Scott Stapp and Sunflower Dead. Messer specifically cites Pop Evil as one of the most memorable groups he and his fellow bandmates have been brought into contact with.

“We’ve toured with Pop Evil a bunch. We’re good friends with those guys. The other night, Leigh, the singer, showed up at our show with Scott Stapp. He showed up afterwards and we hung out. And then the next night he brought me on stage, and we did one of his songs, ‘Trenches’ together.”

No matter who they are playing with and wherever they are, Messer says they always seek to make their performances stick in people’s minds.

“We’ve played so many shows. Every one of them we try to make memorable. You know what I mean? We try to make sure that it’s one of those nights that everyone’s going to remember.”

Beyond Messer’s current tour, the group intends to continue playing and even producing some new music as well.

“After this tour we’re going to finish up and take a small break,” reveals Messer. “But then we’re going to dive right back in to recording some new music. We’re going to throw some ideas together and hopefully have some new music out.”

Sunflower Dead Brings Heavy Aggressive Rock To SoCal

SUNFLOWER DEAD play The Canyon/Montclair Sep. 7, The Canyon/Santa Clarita Sep. 8, The Cave Sep. 13, The Canyon/Agoura Hills Sep. 14 and The Coach House Sep. 15; photo Janelle Rominski

SUNFLOWER DEAD play The Canyon/Montclair Sep. 7, The Canyon/Santa Clarita Sep. 8, The Cave Sep. 13, The Canyon/Agoura Hills Sep. 14 and The Coach House Sep. 15; photo Janelle Rominski

Sunflower Dead, a native SoCal band, returns to their home state as support on Scott Stapp of Creed’s “The Space Between the Shadows” tour. The tour is scheduled to play a series of local shows including The Coach House Sep. 15. Fellow rockers, Messer, are also support on the tour.

Front man Michael Del Pizzo says Messer has proved to be great musical compatriots.

“We just met those guys about a week ago and they’re putting on a phenomenal show and the crowd every night is responding amazingly to them,” Del Pizzo said. “I’m just getting used to their sound and I’m loving it so far.”

Del Pizzo says that, as a fan of the iconic band Creed, hearing Stapp sing live has been a treat for him.

“I’ve been a Creed fan since they started so it’s a pleasure for me to see him do those songs every night including his new songs” Del Pizzo revealed. “I love it.”

Del Pizzo and his fellow Sunflower Dead bandmates have been playing since 2012. The group officially broke into music with their independently recorded and self-published album aptly named Sunflower Dead. The group was able to break into mainstream music thanks to the radio showcasing of songs from their second album It’s Time to Get Weird.

The music Sunflower Dead plays is an undeniably major factor for the group’s success which is described by Del Pizzo as being “heavy aggressive.”

“We sit right between heavy rock and metal and lyrically it’s very emotionally weighted,” Del Pizzo explained. “Something you can connect to.”

This is showcased by songs like “Turn Away”, one of the band’s most popular singles released just this year. That song in particular deals with the subject of suicide. While the sound backing up the song’s lyric are heavy, the lyrics in it are aimed at encouraging people not to give into the urge to end their lives but do their best to muster on.

Powerful songs like that are something that are made naturally according to Del Pizzo. He says that song composition in the group is open ended and dependent largely on mutual consensus in regard to their creation.

“There’s no one specific way we do it,” Del Pizzo admitted. “Everyone in the band is kind of open to inspiration. So, when it strikes, we go with it. There’s no egos, there’s never been egos involved in the writing process in this band. We just kind of go with whoever has the best idea.”

Del Pizzo says that both the songwriting and recording processes are the easiest tasks for the band. Being able to play those songs live is always a challenge but a rewarding one.

“Playing music live is taxing because you’re trying to figure out everything you did in the studio and how to represent it live correctly,” Del Pizzo said. “We’re not a band that uses backing tracks or anything like that. We just go out and play just the four us. We play a representation of the album live but once we get it down it’s incredible.”

Sunflower Dead "Turn Away" Artwork

Sunflower Dead “Turn Away” Artwork

Sunflower Dead has to date played numerous concerts, gone on multiple tours and produced a total of three albums with their latest album C O M A seeing a release just last year and whose songs continue to top active rock charts.

Del Pizzo admits it’s hard to pick some of the most truly memorable they’ve experienced. But there are two that stand out the most to him: playing live at the O2 Apollo in Manchester with Korn and touring with Hellyeah before the death of Vinnie Paul.

Del Pizzo remembers playing with Paul and that the legendary musician undeniably adored being able to play along with Sunflower Dead.

“The last time we toured with Hellyeah, on the last day of the tour Vinnie came up to me and wanted to get a picture with me,” Del Pizzo recalled. “The whole time he’s taking a picture with me – we’re doing like a bunch of shots – he’s singing one of our songs to me. So, for me to have one of my idols take a picture with me and, not only that, sing one of my songs to me, that’s pretty amazing.”

Events like these and the popular reception the group’s heavy but inspirational style gives Del Pizzo and his bandmates the fuel they need to keep playing and creating music both in their upcoming appearances in SoCal and beyond.

Del Pizzo says that Sunflower Dead is already looking ahead to a busy future.

“We are currently looking to our next tour and working on our next single and writing a fourth record and just moving forward and building Sunflower Dead up.”

Pepper Bring Spicy Hawaiian Reggae-Rock To SoCal

PEPPER play FivePoints Amphitheatre Aug 2; photo Keith Zacharski

PEPPER play Five Points Amphitheatre Aug 2; photo Keith Zacharski

Pepper, a music group known for their uniquely Hawaiian style of rock-reggae, soon returns to Southern California. The three-man band is scheduled to play live at the Five Point Amphitheater in Irvine on Aug. 2 as part of their current tour celebrating the release of their latest album Local Motion.

Yesod Williams, the drummer for the group, says returning to Southern California to play is always terrific for him and his bandmates.

“We moved to San Diego in 1999 from Kona where we were all born and raised and started the band,” he explains. “So, it’s like a second home. It’s a big melting pot of fans and friends and family ‘cause we have so many friends and family that live around Southern California as well.”

Formed in 1996 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Williams joined the band after Bret Bollinger, vocalist and bassist, and Kaleo Wassman, the other vocalist and lead guitarist, approached him at a party after learning of his skilled drum playing. The group has remained together since and has consistently maintained their current line-up.

For the group’s appearance at the Five Point Amphitheatre, Williams says that, as with most of their shows, he expects nothing but people enjoying themselves and their music. As such Williams says he doesn’t expect any problems at the venue.

“It’s just going to be a super rad family vibe. That’s the rad part knowing our fans are ohana.”

To those unfamiliar with the term, “ohana” is a Hawaiian word typically used to describe blood relatives or a strong connectedness between people.

“As far as the people go there’s no real difference in the vibe of the shows whether it be in Hawaii or the mainland. It’s only the surroundings that are different because the ohana is so strong.”

The music Pepper plays is a big part that plays into this aloha spirit. The group’s music Williams says is a combination of two musical stylings: reggae and rock.

“In a nutshell it’s reggae-rock with a Hawaiian flavor. We self-proclaim it Kona dub rock,” Williams says, “We’re just playing good old high energy rock music with a reggae flair to it.”

It’s a flair-filled combo that has helped the group thrive in the music industry since officially becoming musically active in 1997. The group has in addition to playing multiple live events produced eight full-length studio albums filled with upbeat and stylish melodies.

Songs the group produces start off as very simple concepts before becoming songs according to Williams.

“Usually it’ll start with Bret or Kaleo having an idea, whether it be a guitar melody or vocal melody, but usually starting with a guitar. Then we’ll take it into our studio, and we’ll play it together and that’s in a nutshell how it’ll become a Pepper song.”

Their latest album, Local Motion, will have its songs played live at places during the Five Point Amphitheater during their tour. However, Williams says, that Local Motion he feels is one of the most unique and special ones they’ve produced to date in which they thought up the idea for a song but gave it over to their musically talented friends.

“For this album we did it a little differently. We did the initial part where we came up with the idea on an acoustic guitar and a little vocal idea and then we gave it to our friends. They gave us Local Motion.”

Concertgoers who go to the group’s appearance at the Five Point Amphitheater and beyond are not just listening to various music pieces written by Pepper’s three bandmates but that of their friends as well which results in a different and more unique Pepper concert.

For Williams, no matter the music being played, whether by his bandmates or by other friends, being able to share is a guaranteed thrill.

“That’s the best in my opinion. That’s when the songs come to their full life. Because you never know what’s going to happen until you actually play it in front of people because then it’s just like different things happen in the heat of the moment and the energy and the adrenaline that’s going when you play in front of a crowd that’s reacting to it.”

Beyond their appearance at Irvine, the group’s current tour will last until Aug. 25 ending at the Santa Barbara Bowl. What can music lovers expect from the musical representative of the aloha spirit after that?

“More music definitely,” states Williams. “We’re going to be doing some different versions of the songs that we have on Local Motion already so keep looking out for that and then we’re going to be planning another tour coming up here to support the record.