Expect The Unexpected When Cold Showers Comes To Town

COLD SHOWERS

COLD SHOWERS play SPACE Jan. 18 and The Echo Jan. 19; photo Robbie Simon

Hailing from Highland Park in Los Angeles, Cold Showers has been bringing their singular vision to the world for the last seven years. And remain steadfastly dedicated to that, in both their live shows as well as studio productions.

One of the driving forces behind this is their dedication to perfection. In the words of guitarist Chris King, “I want people to know that when they come to see us, they’re going to see a band that’s…. prepared, for lack of a better word. We put a lot of thought into our live set; we have now like a mix of live instrumentation, and sequenced electronics, and layers of samples.

“I guess the one thing I want people to come away with when they come to a show, is they can hear that thought and detail was put into everything. We aren’t a band that likes to roll out of bed and see how it goes. My personal philosophy is if we don’t think we are about to have the best show we’ve ever had, then we should just stay home.”

It’s also impossible to know what you’re going to hear from them next.

“We are a little more raw live than on the record,” King points out. “We add tons of parts to the songs live that aren’t on the record. ‘Only Human’ has been one of our favorites to play; that’s one where we added stuff, there’s a lot more like noisier guitars and stuff that we do live that isn’t on the record.”

That unpredictability is due to how Cold Showers approaches studio as well as live settings. According to King, “When we write all of our records, ever since the beginning, it’s never been…we never think about how are we going to pull this off live. It’s always writing a record is one process, and let’s make this record as good as possible, no compromises for every single part. When we finish the record, it’s a whole new thing to start figuring out how we are going to do it live…’cause different things work better in the live setting.”

Even those backstage never know what might happen when the band is around. King details one particular reason for that, “I don’t know about the other guys, but I really like to get adrenaline and blood flowing; so I will try to find a spot backstage to shadowbox. It’s a full body exercise and it loosens me up. It looks crazy, I mean I’ve been walked in on. I feel like backstage it’s random people, and it’s definitely embarrassing when it happens, but then I don’t care.”

Yet, even though there is a heavy dose of experimentalism running through their sound, King adamantly cites pop music as being a huge influence on the group.

“Pop music, actually, is what I would say is the most overarching widespread influence over all of us. We’ve always been trying to push I guess how far we could take songs and be experimental; but underneath it all, have pop songs. All of us grew up liking pop music, I grew up loving all the old Phil Spector girl group stuff. And a lot of our favorite bands that are in genres some people would say are closer to us, like postpunk or whatever categories; the best ones, the ones that I listen to that hold up, they wrote pop songs.

“As we have been working these last couple of years on the record, a lot of the things we have been listening to collectively are The Knife which has been a big influence. PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, those really pop up out of my head.”

Cold Showers gaze is firmly fixed on the future, gearing up to hit the road with some surprises in store.

“That’s really the reason for this tour,” King explained. “We wanna try out new songs; we have at least three, hopefully even more that we will have ready to play on the road and test them out. And then bear down in February and March and record a new record.”

See them for yourself, when they play SPACE in San Diego Jan. 18 or The Echo in Los Angeles on Jan. 19.

The Subdudes Entusiastic Return to SoCal

THE SUBDUDES

THE SUBDUDES; press photo

The Subdudes and their well-seasoned New Orleans sound makes a return to Southern California playing The Coach House Jan. 11, The Rose Jan. 12, and Sweetwater Union High School Jan. 13.

Lead bass player Tim Cook says he’s especially looking forward to returning to California to effectively end the group’s belated leave of absence from the area.

“We haven’t played Southern California for several years so we’re really looking forward to coming back, especially to places like The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano because we had a lot of fun always playing at that venue.”

Founded in 1987 in New Orleans, The Subdudes still continue to play just as passionately as they did during their debut at the famous Louisiana music venue Tipitina’s. Cook though has been with the group since 2014 but has had no issue fitting in quickly.

“We’ve been having a lot of fun playing these last couple three years. Everybody’s getting along, you know, when you’re in a band, that’s always a good thing. So we’re having a good time playing.”

Ask Cook what his favorite places to play at are, Cook takes absolutely no sides. Wherever he and his still vibrant group of bandmates play is always fun.

“No matter where we’re playing, we’re real appreciative to the venue owners and the venues that have survived over the years to especially give us older guys, and our fans who are older, a place to go play and a place for our friends and fans to come and hear us.”

The Subdudes, a name play on the word “subdued,” are well-known for their unique take on roots rock. Blending the blues of both New Orleans and Louisiana, folk, country, soul and gospel, the group can best be described as an auditory sampler plate of all the best song stylings often associated with the Southern United States.

Having grown up listening to such genres, Cook says that it seems natural for him and his bandmates to not discriminate in finding a way to streamline such stylings into a deftly composed combination others can enjoy.

“When we write a song I don’t think we’re actually thinking about, ‘well, we’re going to make this one a country song’ or ‘we’re going to make this one a soul song or a rock song.’ Some of our songs rock out, some of them lean into country, and some have a gospel tinge to them just because of the singing.”

It’s an amalgamation remaining just as fresh with concertgoers as when first heard back when The Subdudes started playing it. Even today the group thrives off live concert events which remain just as lively, energetic and motivating as when the group started playing in 1987.

Such a good vibe doesn’t just go toward concertgoers but also reverts back towards the band as Cook points out.

“When I get off stage and somebody comes up and says ‘oh, thank you so much. You made me so happy tonight,’ I just feel like it’s such a blessing that we get to do this still. Even after all these years we can still go out and make people happy. That’s our job.”

It’s an occupation that never gets old to Cook and his fellow Subdudes who continually look forward to sharing their unique brand of music to concertgoers. Cook doesn’t discriminate in regards to the specialness of each of their live appearances.

“All the shows we do, from the smallest venue we play, like a little listening room, all the way up to something like Jazz Fest where there’s like 50,000, I just think there’s no one particular show or place. They’re all special to us.”

Even while the present keeps the Subdudes busy, Cook says he and his bandmates are already looking towards the future. 2018 he says will see an expanded set of songs played at each concert.

“We’ve got 10 CDs to pick from and a few handful of songs we haven’t been doing that we’re looking at bringing into our song list.”

But what Subdude fans can look forward to most of all is a brand new album: their latest one since 2009. Cook says that it will be much more unique than their previous releases however.

“We’re actually looking at recording a couple of covers. It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do: make a 45 of a couple of songs from groups that influenced us that we can put our swing on.”

But for now, Cook simply says that concertgoers to their upcoming shows can look forward to one thing in particular.
“Just a lot of enthusiasm,” he says with a joyful laugh.

Metal Allegiance 2018 Anaheim Assault

METAL ALLEGIANCE play HOB/Anaheim Jan. 25; photo Reuben Martinez

METAL ALLEGIANCE play HOB/Anaheim Jan. 25; photo Reuben Martinez

As NAMM 2018 approaches, the anticipated annual metal assault of Metal Allegiance is also returning to Anaheim, this time stopping at HOB Jan. 25.

The group has just revealed details for their upcoming concert which will include the introduction of Overkill’s Bobby Blitz and Armored Saint’s John Bush to their lineup.

The core four of David Ellefson, Alex Skolnick, Mark Menghi and Mike Portnoy have been working on their second full-length album and all four are expected to be part of the Anaheim show in January. Joining them, and the two newly announced guests, will Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda, Slayer and Exodus’ Gary Holt, Testament’s Chuck Billy and Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser will all be chipping in for the fun.

The night will also feature support from Nuclear Blast labelmates Wednesday 13 and the Musician’s Institute-formed band Superfix.

METAL ALLEGIANCE play HOB/Anaheim Jan. 25; photo Reuben Martinez

METAL ALLEGIANCE; photo Reuben Martinez

Mark Menghi comments, “SoCal should prepare for a full thrash assault. We’ve assembled a band that includes some of the Bay area’s finest mixed in with the East Coast thrash attack while adding a sprinkle of L.A. and a dose of Brazil. This show is going to be a no-frills, no-bull shit throw down. With all that’s going on in the world, down to our personal lives, a statement needs to be made and thrash is in all of our hearts, so no better place to do it than with our friends in Southern California.”

“We’ve been doing Metal Allegiance shows in Anaheim at the end of January almost every year and it is always THE metal event of the year,” adds Mike Portnoy. “Each year the show gets bigger and better and I look forward to another metal extravaganza in January!”

“The January gathering of Metal Allegiance friends in Anaheim has become an annual tradition, with each concert promising a special lineup and set list that’s different from before,” comments Alex Skolnick. “This time around, we have an abundance of fresh original material to add to the mix, as well as familiar classics, and it’s always a fun time. Join us if you can!”

John Bush says, “Real excited that I’m jamming with the Metal Allegiance guys for the upcoming show at the House Of Blues. I’m breaking my cherry! See you all there.”

David Ellefson states, “It’s time for our annual Metal summit in Anaheim. With new songs and album in the works we’re looking forward to bringing the tribe back together to celebrate all things Metal in January!”

“I always look forward to playing with all my brothers and sisters involved in Metal Allegiance. But! The show that I look forward to playing with them the most every year is The Metal Allegiance show in January in Anaheim! Always an amazing set! Always special guests! And always a guaranteed unforgettable night for everyone on stage, and in the crowd! Once again, I am honored, and excited to once again be a part of it!” comments Mark Osegueda.

“I’m very happy to jam with MA again in January 2018,” adds Andreas Kisser. “Always great vibes with amazing musicians and playing the music that inspired all of us to be metal warriors today! A lot of fun! Long Live Metal Allegiance!”

“We are really excited and looking forward to being a part of this year’s Metal Allegiance show in January 2018,” says Wednesday 13. “This will be such a different audience for us, and we are excited to be included alongside such legendary musicians. It’s gonna be a great show.”

Banditos Visionland Visit SoCal

BANDITOS

BANDITOS play Moroccan Lounge Jan. 31 and SPACE Feb. 1; photo Nicole Mago

Birmingham, AL-via-Nashville band Banditos recently released a new album Visionland and, in support, they’ll be playing Moroccan Lounge Jan. 31 and SPACE Feb. 1

After spending much of the last two years on the road, relentlessly showcasing their critically acclaimed 2015 self-titled debut album, the six bandmates of Banditos regrouped in late 2016 at Plum Creek Sound Studios and democratically poured out sonic influences and emotionally charged personal experiences for their new album Visionland.

Produced by Israel Nash and Ted Young, the Birmingham/Nashville-based group’s second full-length has one foot firmly planted in reality as the other tip-toes in and out of mental complexities, self-perception and altered-state illusions. The results are revealing, exhilarating and profound.

Banditos "Visionland" cover art

Banditos “Visionland” cover art

The album-titled track reveals these defining, cohesive thematic intricacies. Visionland is named after the defunct $60 million theme park that was built in the late ’90s near some of the band members’ childhood homes in Bessemer, Alabama. The park was shut down after only five years and the schizophrenic glimmer of hope it offered local residents connects to a greater overlying optimism for life present at the album’s core, an eerily relevant theme in contemporary complex times. Jeff Salter’s sweeping guitar strums swell at the song’s intro, lifting through the murky haze into the warm and sunny clarity of a duet between singer Mary Beth Richardson and singer/guitarist Corey Parsons.

The members of Banditos first met playing in various punk and rock ‘n’ roll projects around Birmingham at D.I.Y., all ages venues. In 2010, Parsons and Pierce began busking around town and were soon asked to perform at their favorite local bar. Without a full band, they invited friends Randy Wade (drums), Salter (guitar), and Richardson to join them. Danny Vines (bass) joined the band later.

Tribute To Tributes: Queen Nation

QUEEN NATION

QUEEN NATION (Queen Tribute); press photo

Although it’s no longer possible to go see the classic line-up of the British rock band Queen due to the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, tribute bands across the globe have stepped up to help others experience the influential musical group in its prime. One of these bands is Queen Nation.

Founded in 2004 in California by Dave Hewitt, the vice president of entertainment at The Canyon in Agoura Hills, Queen Nation has striven for 13 years done their utmost to capture the look, sound and style of Queen.

However, given the emphasis placed on giving great performances, Queen Nation’s tireless efforts to perfectly capture Queen’s unique music are not easy. Mike McManus, who plays the role of Queen’s legendary guitar player Brian May, admits that is quite task.

“I think because with the instrumentation, obviously Freddie Mercury’s vocal range, the harmonies and the song writing, it’s really difficult to pull off. I think, as a musician, it’s probably some of the most challenging music to perform.”
It’s even more herculean as McManus and his group do their utmost to emulate everything about Queen specifically during their iconic run during the 80’s.

“We wanted to make people who had seen Queen back in 1980 to kind of give them the feeling they were seeing that all over again. We try to do the same outfits they wore around the same time and the same mannerisms. We want people to kind of revisit the classic Queen concerts.”

QUEEN NATION

QUEEN NATION (Queen Tribute); Big Time Photo

The group is so devoted to replicating Queen’s trademarks it even goes so far as to actively promote audience participation.

“We try to get them involved as much as possible. We encourage singing along. We tell them right at the beginning of the show that ‘we’re not going to do all the work. We want to hear you guys singing loud and clear,’ and it usually works.”
McManus says the effort is worth it. To him it is an honor to commemorate a group whose music and efforts were invaluable in helping him and his bandmates becoming musically active.

“I always said that if I was ever going to be in a tribute band that the only one that I would ever would be to Queen because they’re my favorite band. They’re the reason that I started playing guitar and making music in the first place.”

The group’s efforts for 13 years have not only become “second nature” but made the group of the most prolific Queen tribute bands in the United States. The group has this year enjoyed a very busy schedule for instance.”

“Our first year together we did five shows and now this year we’re ending the year off with I think like 97 or 98 shows,” reports McManus.

That is in fact the norm for the group. McManus says that he expects the group to attain more just as much, if not more, appearances next year.

“We’ve already got 45 shows lined up for 2018. It’ll probably be closer to a hundred shows again next year.”

It’s also helped the group play to great fanfare at local music venues and county fairs but high profile venues too such as Angels Stadium and Las Vegas Hilton. Yet no matter the locale, one thing McManus and his group love more than sharing their love of Queen at such venues is being able to meet fellow Queen fans.

”I could sit here all day and go over how lucky we’ve been as a touring band to meet some of the greatest people you’d ever want to meet.”

For example: McManus specifically recalls playing at the 5th Annual Rock Against MS Benefit Concert & Award Show in Los Angeles last year. Not only did the group headline along with legendary groups such as Foreigner and Whitesnake but equally iconic musicians who grew up with Queen.

“Nancy Wilson from Heart was there, Scotty Hill from Skid Row, Steven Adler from Guns ‘n’ Roses, Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains. It was a big star-studded charity benefit and they all loved Queen, just like we did.”

It’s that kind of love for the music of Queen that looks to keep the members of Queen Nation busy for some time McManus says.

“The beauty of this music is that it goes from generation to generation. We have families come to see us every year and we watch their kids grow. We’ve made some really good relationships over the years with our fans and we hope to continue that.”

Just as Queen Nation shows no sign of stopping in helping preserve the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, neither will their music which McManus states firmly will keep going on indefinitely.

“They’ll be playing Queen when you and I are both long gone,” McManus said.

Cash’d Out: Live! Authentic! And in SoCal!

CASH'D OUT

CASH’D OUT (Johnny Cash Tribute); press photo

Sadly, not too long ago we lost the great Johnny Cash. Fortunately, however, we have San Diego based Cash’d Out – a band who continues to bring us the sounds and styles of the legendary artist. Existing for eleven years now, they have traversed the country countless time and earned the praises of fans and critics alike for being “the next best thing to Johnny Cash.”

Currently, Cash’d Out is Douglas Benson on vocals, George Bernardo on drums, and Stephen Rey on bass. But what got this band started in the direction they have taken? “I just like the way he sounds, number one. I like the stories that he tells. I like the man that I’ve learned about and what kind of a man he was. Plus, I can kind of sound like him a little bit”, Benson explains with some humor. ” I put an ad in the San Diego reader, and a few people answered it. One guy I ended up hooking up was Kevin Manuel who became our guitar player. And we formed the band from there. Actually, now I’m the only original member who’s left. But my business partner/drummer/backing vocalist George Bernardo, him and I run it now. And he’s been with me for about ten years now, I guess.”

The first step was like nearly every band, i.e. how long should we play, what songs should we learn, etc. “The first song I learned was “Cry, Cry, Cry” or something like that, it was real simple. We had probably had about fifteen songs to play, maybe, the first time we played. I think it was about a half hour of music,” Benson recalled to the best of his ability. “I remember it was my cousins wedding reception. He got married the same day; we went to dinner, and after dinner he brought the wedding reception party over to the little venue we had booked already. Cuz I didn’t know, that was a last minute thing he did…So it worked out pretty good, we had a pretty good sold-out show.”

As they began to play show after show, Cash’d Out began homing in on exactly what it was they wanted to do. Johnny Cash has an extensive career thus it is not easy for a band to reference all his material in a single show. Thus, the band chose to primarily focus on and combine two areas of the Man in Black’s career: The Sun Records/early Columbia sound and the energetic performances showcased on the prison recordings done at Folsom as well as San Quentin. While these are the most popular eras of Johnny Cash’s music, this was not the reason Benson chose them, “Those are my favorite years. The Sun and Columbia years were my favorite years of Johnny Cash music. So, obviously, that’s where I wanted to start. Why not start from the beginning, as much as possible?”

To date, the oft-quoted number of songs in the bands repertoire is 150, but factors along the way point to a different number according to Benson, “Yea, I probably have learned closer to 300 songs out of the 3600 he wrote and stole. Probably due to, like, personnel changes, and the bass player and guitar player here and there. And the time allotment. Most clubs don’t want you to do a three-hour show anymore. When we first started out, that was what we were doing every time…We try to keep it to 90 minutes and if they want to hear an encore, we have plenty of songs we can do in the encore.”

It is this dedication and authenticity which has garnered them so much praise over the years. Cindy Cash saw Cash’d out and was so moved she gave her father’s locket to Benson; Lou Robin, a longtime Cash manager, stated that closing his eyes at their shows was like “going back in time.” It doesn’t even stop there, since Benson even received the honor of playing one of Cash’s guitars and the official Johnny Cash website endorses them.

One of the most fascinating examples of this was when longtime Cash drummer W.S. Holland sat in with the band for a session. “He was at a show, we did a thing for Bill Miller, owner of JohnnyCash.com…Before he moved to Nashville, he used to live up here in Corona. There was a Fender guitars education center and he used to live kinda close by. And they had room and asked him to do a kind of make-shift Johnny Cash musuem. He set that up in there for awhile, and having us come up and sing at shows, and events, and stuff. And one time, W.S. Holland just happened to be up there working, you know, doing drum classes for kids and stuff like that. And we asked him if he would mind sitting in on a couple songs. After drumming all day, I figured he was gonna be tired. But he sat in and did three hours straight with us after he had been working with the kids all day. He’s got alot of fire still left in his blood, and it was alot of fun. Real pleasure working with him.”

Cash’d Out is still going strong, with ambitious plans for the future. There are tentative plans on going in the studio with musician Jackson Taylor and doing some Smiths’ song, in the spirit of where Cash left off with songs such as his cover of “Hurt.” In addition, they have just recently released a live album of their own as well.

Dream Syndicate Still Got A Groove

THE DREAM SYNDICATE

THE DREAM SYNDICATE play the El Rey Theatre Dec. 15; photo Chris Sikich

The Dream Syndicate will wrap up 2017 on the west coast stopping at the El Rey Theatre Dec. 15 before heading up to San Francisco. They’ll be playing select songs from their history along with many from their current record How Did I Find Myself Here?

“We’re playing a lot of the new record because we’re really excited about it and also it fits in with the older stuff really well,” Steve Wynn said.

Of course, there will be long, spur-of-the-moment, psychedelic jams, too, something the band is known for, with the eleven-minute title track being Wynn’s current favorite song to play live.

“I think right now that’s my favorite one because I’m always surprised,” Wynn admitted. “I don’t know where it’s gonna go and it’s exciting. It’s thrilling to be on stage and really not know what’s going to happen next. Usually it works and when it does work it’s a rush. It’s an adrenaline feeling that’s fantastic.

“And the great thing is when you take chances in front of an audience you can feel the tension. And when it works I think everybody is relieved all together. I think audiences respond to that. That you were there for a moment that never happened before and will never happen again. It’s almost like the audience is in the band with you, “come on, you can do it,” and then you do and it’s great!”

Although The Dream Syndicate played live and released several records throughout the 80s, they eventually broke up until re-uniting in 2012. Yet over the years Wynn continued to play Dream Syndicate songs in his solo bands and now he’s having fun reinterpreting them.

“These days we’ll take an older song and find new ways of doing it,” Wynn mentioned. “That’s kind of fun.”

How Did I Find Myself Here?
is like finding a favorite shirt and it still fits perfectly. The new songs compliment the older tracks seamlessly although they were written recently and specifically for The Dream Syndicate. Wynn approached the songwriting in the same way as when the group first started out which meant “finding a groove and digging deep,” as he put it.

“I think the thing that we did when we started out, which we’re doing again now, is we’re using a lot of repetition and simplicity and grooves and just hypnotic approaches to music,” Wynn explained. “It’s something that we’re known for and it’s fun to write that way. It’s surprisingly hard to write a song where nothing much happens because you have to find ways to build the story without a lot of chord changes.

“In my solo work sometimes there’s a lot more verse, chorus, bridge, hooks, chord changes, all those kinds of things – pop songwriting. The thing about The Dream Syndicate, for everything that people say they were, a guitar band or a feedback band or this or that, we’re really a groove band. All the way from Days of Wine and Roses to the new album.”

Reaching fans in a more intimate or personal way has always been an important part of touring and being in a band for Wynn, starting long before the internet, up to and throughout the rise of social media.

“I’ve always tried to find a way to connect with fans beyond just “here’s our show, see ya later,” Wynn revealed. “In the 80s I used to write postcards to every fan that would write to us. It sounds crazy, but I did that. I meet people all the time at shows who will say, ‘you wrote me a postcard.’ That’s probably true.”

During the mid-90s when he first became aware of the internet, Wynn started a tour diary, writing about the tour every day on the road.

“I thought it was a fun way to kind of reach the fans and at the same time glorify the touring life and also demystify it,” Wynn recalled. “I would write about what we ate on road stops, who we met along the way and stories that happened. And this was before of course social media. Before Facebook and twitter, etc. It kind of trained me early on how to be finding ways to reach fans more directly.

“I appreciate the people that make the effort and stuck with us all these years. It’s the least I can do. The great thing now is it’s easier. Writing a postcard, you had to buy a postcard, put a stamp on it, and now you just type a few things and “click” you’re there.”

Psychic Temple, one of Wynn’s favorite “new” bands, will be the opener at the El Rey.

“They put out a record this year called Psychic Temple IV that’s probably my favorite record so we’re really excited to have them on the bill.”

Tower Of Power Take Their Large Musical Sound On The Road

TOWER OF POWER

TOWER OF POWER play The Coach House Dec. 17; photo Tina Abbaszadeh

The iconic Tower of Power returns to its birthplace of California as part of its tour stopping at The Coach House Dec. 17.

Emilio Castillo, both one of the group’s founders and one of its lead musicians, looks forward to coming back to California.

“California’s where I started the band. We started in Oakland, California in 1968 so we’re very popular there. We’ve played all over the state many times and we always look forward to it.”

Tower of Power remains one of the longest running musical groups having played for a staggering 49 years. Though its members have changed numerous times, their blissfully sweet trademark horn and vocal-based music remains intact.

The music the group plays is typically considered soul music. However, Castillo says that what he and his group perform goes beyond that genre.

“It’s soul music but it has a very original flavor to it. It’s not soul music in the sense of what you hear on the radio so much. It’s very original sounding. It has to do with our writing style. As I say, highly exciting up-tempo music and highly emotional.”

Castillo though writes out most of the song compositions for the group but always makes it a habit to show his work to them.

“When I write songs, I know exactly how I want them to turn out and then I show them to the band. Of course, I glean from them any of the great musical ideas that they put forth.”

This is where the true team work takes place as Castillo and his group routinely work out how each song will be played at each of their live showings.

“From the drummer, I get a rhythmic idea. He might say ‘let’s hit this accent on the 16th before one then hang it all the way ‘til two and then come in,’ and then I’ll go back to him and say “that’s a great idea. But let’s hang it ‘til the upbeat of one.’ We’ll go back and forth like that with these ideas. It’s like chipping away at a sculpture until it comes out the way you want it.”

With a whopping 10 members, ideas within Tower of Power are not only in large supply but are essential in providing “a large musical sound” according to Castillo.

“We have five horns and a lead vocalist that stand at the front of the stage and we’re backed by a four-piece rhythm section. Everything is very carefully arranged.”

The results show. To date the band has recorded over 20 albums, still receives critical praise from critics and a loyal fanbase. That fanbase not only includes older fans who grew up with their music but young fans too, in both North America and abroad.

“There’s a venue in Aarhus, Denmark called The Train. It’s a night club and when the people come they’re all kids like 25 and under. They know all the lyrics and a lot of times they pogo while we play. We feel like The Beatles when we leave the stage.”

One fan sticks out the most to Castillo: Aretha Franklin. Castillo recalls discovering her fondness for Tower of Power back in March 1971. The band was then opening for Aretha Franklin at the legendary Fillmore West during the recording of her album Aretha Live at Fillmore West.

“When I was standing in the doorway of the dressing room, she came and she wanted to get through. The dressing room was packed so I turned sideways and she kind of wedged in to get through. We found ourselves nose to nose. She looked at me and said, ‘Tower of Power: my favorite band,’ and I just melted.”

Such admiration is what keeps Tower of Power going. With the group’s 50th anniversary looming, he and his fellow bandmates are already looking to repay that support.

“We’re now in the planning stages of doing a live showing in Oakland, California June 1st and 2nd at the Fox Theater celebrating 50 years of Tower of Power. And it’s going to be a very special concert. We’re going augment the band with strings next to vocals and have guest horn players and singers.”

Castillo says that the celebrations won’t stop there either.

“We’re also releasing two brand new albums,” Castillo adds. “They’re already finished. We cut 28 tracks and they will all be released in May of next year.”

For the present, Castillo promises that people can look forward to the promise of a fun time.

“They’re going to look forward to a highly exciting typical Tower of Power show.”

The Madcap Energy Of The Butcher Babies Arrives In SoCal

BUTCHER BABIES

BUTCHER BABIES play the Observatory Dec. 11; press photo

Now on tour behind their latest release LILITH, L.A. based Butcher Babies are dead set on bringing their unique blend of fierce energy and raw emotion to the world.

Butcher Babies gestated from the friendship between frontwomen Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, who were in a punk-metal cover band together. In Shepherd’s own words, “Carla and I were in a band together about a decade ago – it was a punk/metal cover band – and we decided that we wanted to start something original and fresh, on our own.

“So, we quit that band and created Butcher Babies as an ode to Wendy O. Williams. She has always been a huge inspiration for us, and we used to cover the song “Butcher Baby,” so we decided to kind of neo-model the band after Wendy O and the Plasmatics. And here we are eight years later.”

Just like their inspiration, Butcher Babies bring a wild show that is strangely addictive.

“It’s just craziness, I guess you could say,” Shepherd explained. “You know, there’s a lot of raw energy that comes from the entire band. It’s not just the two girls up there. We have been a band for eight years and our energy is incredible onstage. The energy is insane.” And there is plenty of what makes a metal show great, i.e. “a lot of crowd surfing, a lot of moshing, a lot of circle pitting.”

Emotional intensity is prominent at shows, especially during the more melodic numbers. Shepherd recalls performing “Thrown Away” (one of her favorites), “It’s all melodic. It’s slow. It’s a beautiful song, but there’s so much emotion that goes through it. It’s really cool seeing the same people who were just throwing down in the pit – they’re in the front row, singing the lyrics. There’s been times where men are crying, singing that song with us. So, it’s a really unique experience to play that song.”

Creating moments of connection with audiences like this is one of their favorite aspects of playing live shows. “The crowds, though, really make it,” Shepherd explains. So is taking the audience for a turbulent ride.

“One of my favorites is “Gravemaker.” I absolutely love that song, and it’s so fun to play. It’s an emotional rollercoaster the whole time.”

This madness begins during the pre-show rituals. “We sacrifice many children,” declares Shepherd. “I’m just kidding. Carla and I like to get ready together, so we will sit in the back of the bus and blast old school hip-hop. And do our make-up together and get dressed. But before we go onstage we have a chant that we do, and we have done it at every single show that we have played.”

That camaraderie is at the core of Butcher Babies. “We all hang out and we are all good friends,” Shepherd revealed.

“We have known each other almost a decade; we go to movies together, we go to bars together…But we all enjoy each other’s company and its actually pleasurable to hang out together.

“I think that’s one thing a lot of bands should do more, if they don’t. Because I think that creates a team mentality, and first and foremost, we’re best friends. And then we’re bandmates. And that is how it has been from the beginning….and so I think that’s been part of our key to success is the fact that we do respect each other.”

An atmosphere like that plays a vital role, both on and off the stage. “It’s hugely important, you know, for the chemistry you have on stage, the chemistry you have in writing music together,” Shepherd said.

“All five of us have a hand in our writing and you want to have that mutual respect for each other when writing because then people aren’t going to feel like….like if you go into a writing session, and someone feels like they can’t speak up because they are embarrassed about sharing their ideas, that is hugely detrimental to the band.”

All of this combines into a heady mix that is Butcher Babies. Having been around for nearly a decade, playing all over the globe, and with three studio albums now under their belt, they are gearing up for even more world domination.

“It’s been a crazy wild eight years,” Shepherd mused.

“We are pumped about the movement of the band and can’t wait to see what the next eight years hold. So, thanks for taking this rollercoaster with us!”

Catch the Butcher Babies playing their last show of the tour, at the Observatory / Santa Ana Dec. 11.

ALBUM REVIEW: Shakra “Snakes And Ladders”

SHAKRA "Snakes & Ladders" cover

SHAKRA “Snakes & Ladders” cover

Snakes and Ladders, the excellent new album from Swiss hard rockers Shakra is their eleventh (!) studio release. Now, after 11 albums many bands might become complacent and be accused of phoning it in. But not Shakra, these guys still sound like they mean it.

Maybe it’s because this is the second release to feature the return of lead vocalist Mark Fox, but they have pulled out all the stops, sounding energized, lean, mean and ready to take on the world with a top-notch collection of hard rockers that almost demand you to pump your fist and bang your head.

SHAKRA

SHAKRA; promo pic

The album kicks off with “Cassandra’s Curse” a dark and brooding rocker that features everything Shakra shines at, namely heavy riffs, a catchy chorus and studio production that makes the music jump out of your speakers.

Title track “Snakes and Ladders” takes off right out of the gate with a melody that wraps itself around your eardrums and never out stays its welcome as it boogies along like a finely made Swiss watch. Featuring a killer guitar solo that manages to be speedy and melodic all at the same time, this track is a real highlight.

Shakra’s new album has been thoughtfully constructed to bring out the best in both their performance and their sound, but without losing any of the energy and excitement that great rock-n-roll demands. This is rock-n-roll that’s turned up to eleven – but with an eye always focused on melody and song craft.

The bottom line is, these songs are so catchy that they almost issue an ultimatum to sing along, and that’s a testament to the quality of song writing on display. The twelve tracks on Snakes and Ladders show a band that has arrived at the party ready to rock and with no intention of taking any prisoners. Highly recommended.