Soft Kill To Set The Mood For Chameleons Vox

SOFT KILL

SOFT KILL play Echoplex Sep. 10; photo Joanna Stawnicka

Although the headlines and YouTube videos will tell you we are currently in the middle of a 1980’s reemergence, thanks to a number of bands throughout the years, it’s safe to say that 80’s music never really died. Drawing upon the reverberating and washed out textures of the post-punk world, bands within the “post-punk continuum” movement have kept the spirit of the 80’s alive and well. Situated firmly amongst this group of musicians, we find the Portlandian post-punk enthusiasts, Soft Kill.

Having officially entered the scene in San Diego during 2010, they reentered the music scene in 2015, born anew in the streets of Portland, Oregon. Lead by singer/guitarist Tobias V.H., the band resurfaced with Maximillion Avila behind the kit (of Holy Molar, Antioch Arrow and Chromatics fame), and Owen Glendower on synth and bass. The newly assembled outfit went on to record last Choke, an album praised for its masterfully realized vision and production. Drenched in moody, guitar-driven atmospherics and airy, melancholic vocals, this lush soundscape is often punctuated and undercut by the raw power of Avila’s drumming, and driven by the energy and edge of a punk band experimenting with tonality.

While it’s easy to apply the generalized “post-punk” label to the band’s sound, the band really shows little concern for belonging within a genre. Their music is played with the kind of sincerity that gives way to a palpable originality. While they may be retooling a soundscape firmly explored by those who came before, with Choke they have taken the genre by the unique grip of their own hands. Tobias stopped by for a quick chat about the production of this album, as well as what it takes to bring the album to life in concert.

And be sure to catch them September 10 at the Echoplex Los Angeles!

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: Considering how much atmosphere your songs have, how do your songs begin? A riff? A certain sound? An idea? What’s the beginning of the process look like?
TOBIAS V.H.: For me, I normally program a drumbeat and start laying down guitars. I would lay down one or two guitar parts and just streamline and work on the interplay of those two. And from there, I would put a bassline over it after the fact, instead of starting the foundation with drums and bass.

CGL: The vocals on Choke are often washed out to the point of inscrutability. In this regard, how do you write your lyrics knowing most words will be lost in the reverb of your production?
TV.H.: That’s been the only one of our three records with that production approach. It was intentional to some degree, inspired somewhat by Cocteau Twins, with the vocals being an instrument more than a tool to get a certain story across. That being said, it’s lyrically one of the deepest things we’ve done, so people should definitely check out the insert and read along.

CGL: There are melancholic, brooding undertones to most of your music. Would you consider yourself a melancholic or brooding person? Or are you simply attracted to that type of sound?
TV.H.: I’ve lived a very dark life and that lead me down a pretty heavy road most people wouldn’t be able to relate to so musically it fits the autobiographical nature of the songs. There is a lot of death in the lyrics, lot of obituaries for allies who didn’t make it out of the life we collectively chose: drugs, prison, violence and chaos. That being said, I am a fairly upbeat and goofy person, genuinely. The trend of being a depressed, negative asshole doesn’t bode well with me at all.

CGL: I see the word post-punk often ascribed to your band. What does post-punk mean to you and how do you fit into that definition? If not with “post-punk,” or in addition to, how would you describe your music?
TV.H.: Post Punk by definition is all the music that came in the wake of the original wave of ’77 punk. The Cure, Joy Division, Magazine and Bauhaus are all starting points, paving the way for The Chameleons, The Sound, Lowlife and other bands who were a huge influence on us. Because those are our favorite artists it’s easy to just call us that. I just consider us a punk band.

CGL: Given the importance of atmosphere in your songs how do you approach performing live? Do you work closely with the sound engineers? How do you think your music translates to the stage from the studio?
TV.H.: We’ve been lucky to figure out which venues really get what we’re doing, with sound systems and engineers we can rely on. We usually fill the room with a dense wall of smoke, turn up loud and rely on our own lights to convey the overall vibe and backdrop for our songs. I definitely believe we’re a band to see live if you like the records.

Chameleons Vox Return To Perform Script Of The Bridge In Full

 CHAMELEONS VOX

CHAMELEONS VOX play Echoplex Sep. 10; press photo

The Chameleons singer/bassist, Mark Burgess will perform the seminal 80’s album Script Of The Bridge under the guise of Chameleons Vox at The Echoplex on Sep. 10.

For long-time Chameleon’s fans, this is a do-not-miss evening of cherished songs such as “Less Than Human,” “Don’t Fall” and “Second Skin” to be performed by the man who penned them.

In the early 80’s UK music scene, The Chameleons were critically compared to the likes of The Cure and Joy Division. But as time has shown, their unique sound and thought-provoking lyrics stand on their own merits.

Concert Guide Live asked Burgess to talk about the early days of the debut album, the importance of a good shower and the upcoming live dates.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: What do you like about playing in SoCal?
MARK BURGESS: I’ve always enjoyed California, north and south, both performing and hanging out. I’ve always had a terrifically warm response, not just with Chameleons but with all the projects I’ve brought there. For me it’s always been a fresh and progressive environment. I find it very stimulating. San Francisco has long been one of my most favourite cities in the world.

CGL: What is it like to perform the first album, Script Of The Bridge in its entirety?
MB: We enjoy it for the most part, although I do still find it strange because an album’s running order is a very different dynamic from a live show. Our albums, especially Script, lend themselves well to it though because they were conceived like a journey from A-to-B, a beginning, a middle, an end with the pace of the songs a factor.

CGL: Why were the songs “Here Today,” “Less Than Human,” “Paper Tigers” and “View from a Hill” omitted in the original U.S. version? Will you be performing them?
MB: Yeah, we’ll be performing the album as it was meant to be heard. The cut version was nothing to do with us, that decision was made by MCA Records in the U.S. without any consultation or consent from the band. We were very, very upset by it.

CGL: Do you find it challenging to “connect” with a song in the same way when you’re singing and playing bass as opposed to just singing and being front man?
MB: No, not at all, because it’s the most natural way for me to perform. It was good from a vocals point-of-view to focus on that for a while, and, besides, my mate Ray was in the band and was a bass player and initially I didn’t want to see him go; eventually though I had to, because I was keen to get back to playing the music with the feel it was meant to have. That was sad for me, but it was either that or leave the band and start another.

CGL: What continues to stick out in your mind when you think back to recording this album?
MB: I think it was just the great time that we had doing it. I mean we should have been really depressed, I suppose. Steve Lillywhite had passed on producing it, CBS had fired us and we were, to all intents and purposes, right back where we started, but we weren’t at all. We were making the record we wanted to make with no compromises. Ideas were flying around, we were laughing a lot and making a great record and we all felt it. I think it was the best time to be in the band on reflection.

CGL: Working with producer Colin Richardson seems like an interesting choice since he is mostly associated with heavy metal music, but, oddly, he seems to have had a real affinity for The Chameleons. What was it like working together and how did this relationship come about?
MB: Well, Colin was the resident engineer at Cargo so we’d worked with him on nearly all the demos we’d recorded there. He liked the band and the music so it was just a natural choice. He understood the music and how we worked and we admired him for the same reasons. At the time he worked on whatever came through the studio. He wasn’t known for any one particular genre, just known for being a very good engineer.

CGL: The Chameleons popularity has grown over the years far beyond any commercial success the band achieved during its initial run. Are you ever surprised at the acclaimed status your music has taken on?
MB: Yeah, I mean it was a surprise. I was more aware than the others I think because I was the first to get on to the Internet when hardly anyone else even knew what it was back in the early 90’s. I found a mailing list run out of Berkeley and an ftp site with my lyrics, gig fliers and stuff. That was a pleasant surprise. Then later with various re-releases and then the huge reaction to the reformation gigs in 2000; but at the time I never honestly imagined people would want to hear me perform this material some 30 years later or whatever. I didn’t envision that at all.

CGL: As a final question, do you have any pre-show routines/rituals?
MB: I need to take a good shower before a show. I mean, I start the working day with one, usually in a hotel or motel, but the pre-show shower is something different. It’s nothing to do with hygiene, it just helps clear my mind and feel fresh for the stage. Some of the smaller venues don’t have them of course and quite often it’s a mad dash across town or whatever to wherever I’m staying so I can do it. I get quite grumpy if I can’t take a shower before a show.

Sing-Along With The Dead Daisies

THE DEAD DAISIES

THE DEAD DAISIES; press photo

The Dead Daisies, a virtual cornucopia of musicians from 70s and 80s rock bands, are finally peddling their songs with headlining shows around the U.S. stopping at El Rey Theatre Aug. 25 and House of Blues/San Diego Aug. 26.

Founded by songwriter / guitarist David Lowy in 2012, the musical collective currently includes vocalist John Corabi (Mötley Crüe / Union), bassist Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy / Whitesnake), drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake / Billy Idol) and lead guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake / Dio).

Although the inspiration for the band name may seem a bit morbid, (it came about when the original lead singer discovered he had heart issues and a doctor said, “you got to start taking care of yourself or you’re gonna be pushing up daisies”), the music and live show are all about having fun.

“The thing is, when you listen to a studio record you check out the songs and it’s all about the songs,” Aldrich reasoned. “But, when you hear a live record you really get to know the personality of the band behind the songs.

“We have a lot of fun and that’s what our show is all about, having fun together with the audience, the people involved in the show, singing with us. We definitely have a lot of interaction with the crowd. It’s fun.”

THE DEAD DAISIES

THE DEAD DAISIES; press photo

As the newest member of the group, joining a year ago, Aldrich hit the ground running contributing to both a studio album and a live album, while also playing over 100 shows around the world.

“We jumped right into writing the last studio record and then we toured a lot last year,” Aldrich said.

“While we were on tour it got to the point where we were just really kind of firing on all cylinders and decided to record and then ultimately release the live stuff. So, it’s been a whirlwind but it’s good.”

The band co-wrote Make Some Noise together, something Aldrich discovered he really enjoys. As a member of Whitesnake, he and David Coverdale wrote over 30 songs together, spending weeks coming up with stuff and making decisions before giving it to the rest of the band.

“But it’s actually easier when you have five people together plus a producer,” Aldrich admits. “Everyone has a vested interest in the musical ideas so everyone puts their best forth and then the producer basically says, ‘I like this, this, this and this…’

“When there’s more people involved and everyone is interested in it and everyone is part of the band it makes for a good product.”

The live setlist primarily features songs that were penned once Aldrich joined the group but, there are a couple of songs from Revolucion and a song from the self-titled debut album which originally featured Slash, as well as a few rock-n-roll covers.

One of Aldrich’s favorite songs to play live is “The Last Time I Saw the Sun”.

“It’s a song that I do a slide tuning for and it’s just got a good groove to it,” Aldrich noted. “It’s got a nice kind of rock-n-roll sing-along chorus. But I also like “Make Some Noise”, too, because it’s really simple and people definitely respond to it.

“But we basically are supporting the live record. We want people to go away and when they hear the record they go, ‘oh that’s how the night went for me, too. It was a fun, sing-along. I remember the set’.”

The guys in the band were all friends before they started working together and get along great. They hang out together on the road, eat together, joke around a lot, and give each other space when needed.

“Everybody has different things they’re into, for example, Brian Tichy has to find a Starbucks coffee or else it could ruin his day,” Aldrich chuckled. “Fortunately, Starbucks is pretty much everywhere.

“We were in Argentina and for some reason the map on the phone would say there was a Starbucks and we would walk up to it but there wouldn’t be one, it would be some other coffee place. We didn’t want other coffee, we wanted Starbucks.

“So, we kept walking. We walked for miles and miles for probably an hour and a half. I don’t know how many miles, but we walked. We kept getting directions, ‘it’s just around the corner’. Finally, we found it and we took a picture. It was raining and we took a picture of us looking triumphant when we found the Starbucks.”

Be sure to get your tickets and come out to support The Dead Daisies on one of their first headlining shows in the U.S.!

The Alarm Summer In America

THE ALARM

THE ALARM play The Casbah Aug 15, The Coach House Aug 16, The Canyon Aug 17; press photo

The Alarm have been crazy busy in America this summer with a ton of live shows including dates on Vans Warped Tour as well as their own headlining gigs not to mention a new documentary.

“It’s great, we love being on tour and playing our music,” founding member, Mike Peters said. “We’re lucky to be alive and playing music in 2017.”

With a multitude of dates in SoCal such as The Casbah Aug. 15 and The Canyon Aug. 17, it’s The Coach House on Aug 16 that Peters has a great affinity with in Orange County.

“It’s a special place in some ways ‘cause it’s where the last Alarm gig with the original lineup took place,” Peters recalled. “The audiences have come with all the changes that have gone on and rallied round and supported me as a solo artist and have been there for me. It’s a bit of a home away from home.”

This time The Alarm is performing as a full band with Peters’ sons helping the crew with the show and setting up equipment.

“They’re on the summer holidays and they’re both musicians,” Peters mentioned. “They’re having an amazing time. They’re loving it.”

Vans Warped Tour has a certain reputation of bands and genres that at first glance seemed at odds with a group such as The Alarm. However, the audiences have been very receptive and they’ve increased their social media followers.

“It’s been a challenge, of course, but we’re still a modern band and can mix it up,” Peters explained. “It’s breathed a lot of life blood into the group.

THE ALARM

THE ALARM

“Seeing how young bands play and react in modern times has been good for us. It’s never good to re-tread old ground. It’s always great to take up challenges. And I’m sure the Vans Warped Tour will really inform the future of the group and keep us relevant. It keeps us in the modern context which is what we always strive for.”

For a band that first toured America in 1983, creating a 25-minute set out of their huge wealth of music required great discipline.

“It’s a really good opportunity for us to get together and think about how we put our music across and I think we came up with a great set,” Peters said. “We get 11 or 12 songs in, a really good representation of where we came from. It comes over great as far as I’m concerned.”

Peters often refers to a 1976 Sex Pistols concert and hearing “Anarchy in The U.K.” as inspiration for wanting to learn how to make music himself.

“I got a guitar from a guy that my sister was going out with and he showed me how to play a couple of chords and I never looked back,” Peters recalled. “I just played along to records in my bedroom and tried to go see bands when I could.

“I grew up on glam rock – David Bowie, Marc Bolan and TREX, Slade, Sweet, those kind of bands in Britain. And when it became Punk rock it was The Clash, The Pistols, Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Buzzcocks. The purest song would be a three-minute punk rock single, that was what I loved the best.”

Today, the songwriting is inspired by his life and what he’s been through. Both Peters and his wife are Cancer survivors and he has been living with leukemia for 21 years.

“Music has kept me strong, kept me one step ahead of the disease and allowed me to become a father and a musician. I have a charity called Love, Hope, Strength, we give a lot back through that to society and like I said, I’m very lucky to be alive and play music in 2017.”

When it comes to the actual songwriting, it’s usually the music that comes before the lyrics. But it’s all jumpstarted by a phrase.

“Somebody says something to you or you read something or hear something and that triggers something in your imagination that makes you want to say something and that becomes the title and then the lyrics flow from there.

“I think after you have a phrase then the music instantly follows. You can hear it all in your imagination straight away just because you’ve given birth to it.”

Following the exposure Peters has enjoyed being around a lot of modern bands and seeing a little bit of what’s going on with the next generation, Concert Guide Live was curious what sort of advice he had for bands starting out today.

“Stay off the internet. Go underground. Do it with posters and aim at your own audience. Don’t try to be global before you become local.
“If you’re gonna make it, you’re gonna make it. Don’t be on the internet a lot. You’re better off staying off the grid. Be punk rock, go underground, you go dark, people will find you.”

METALLICA: A Tale From The Photo Pit

METALLICA

Kirk Hammett/METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Metallica. The name says it all. Coming live to Southern California in my favorite town, San Diego. I’ve been a longtime fan of this band since 1983.

You can’t imagine the thrill it was to get the approval to shoot and cover the show. Not knowing what to expect from the venue (Petco Park) or the band, I was as ready as I could have been.

Kirk Hammett/METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield/METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Driving to downtown San Diego I went early knowing there were going to be 50,000 plus fans going to the outdoor area. After I parked, I walked around the city until it was time to check in.

At the venue, I met up with a couple of friends and fellow photographers that were also covering the show. Once we had checked in and received our credentials, we waited to be escorted to the floor to shoot the opening bands Gojira and Avenged Sevenfold.

METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

James Hetfield/METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Then as we waited for Metallica, the excitement was growing for all of us. When it was time to walk back down to the photo pit, my fellow photographers and I fist bumped each other as if we were going onstage.

The lights went down and we heard Metallica’s signature intro theme song starting to play, “The Ecstasy of Gold” from the movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

The band opened their set with “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” sending the crowd into a frenzy while towering video screens over 100 feet high showed the band playing.

The most difficult thing about photographing Metallica was working with the stage that goes into the center of the crowd, known as The Snake Pit (where Metallica fans stand in the middle of an opening of a ramp that goes into the crowd). The Snake Pit ramp was at my eyelevel, which is pretty high, but for a big stadium area it’s common.

METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Lars Ulrich/METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Getting to shoot the first three songs, “Hardwired”, “Atlas, Rise!” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was challenging, but rewarding. After the shoot, I had to remove my camera from the premises before I could go back in to watch the rest of the show.

Metallica had a great mix of new and old songs. During a new song, “Now That We’re Dead”, all four band members played a Taiko drum (Japanese style drum) solo.

For the song “One” which is known for opening with battle sounds, pyrotechnics and fireworks were added to the war sounds that went around the stadium. Such a great visual for the fans.

METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

Robert Trujillo/METALLICA; photo Reuben Martinez

But playing classics such as “Master of Puppets” and “Fade to Black” it was obvious they were crowd favorites. Everyone was singing word for word. It was great watching the band play these songs, which still hold up, and watching the crowd react. It just made the experience even more enjoyable.

The band finished with “Seek & Destroy” from their first album Kill ’em All. As they left stage the crowd knew they were coming back. Obviously, a huge band in a huge venue, they had to please. And they did.

First song of the encore was a classic thrash song from the early days, “Fight Fire With Fire”, followed by two radio favorites, classics “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman” as well as a huge firework finale.

Metallica has over 30 years as a band and they still sound great and are great musicians. Solid as ever, the WorldWired Tour continues with SOLD OUT shows until May 2018. This band has made their mark on music and influenced many in the industry. And the joy of capturing it on camera is absolutely one of the highlights in my life.

The Sweet To Sweeten SoCal

THE SWEET

THE SWEET play The Canyon Aug. 12 and The Coach House Aug. 18; press photo

The Sweet shall soon be coming to sweeten Orange County’s music scene. The iconic Glam rock group invites music lovers old and new to come and listen to them when they play live at The Canyon Aug. 12 and The Coach House Aug. 18.

While it might be viewed as a fun excursion for concert goers, Steve Priest, the founder for the group, not to mention its lead vocalist and bass player, also views the event as a standard business venture.

“We’ve played there before so we’re going to play there again,” Priest states in a serious tone.

Founded in 1968, The Sweet has established itself as one of the leading innovators of Glam rock. Musically, Priest says its best described as “hard rock with a pop feel.”

But what truly makes this style of music well-known is its trademark visual style of outrageous garbs, hairstyles and platform shoes its performers don. The Sweet became one of the first groups to utilize this flamboyant style when performing live and for music videos. Their unique fashion and musical style helped influence further artists and made glam rock a staple for much of 1970’s.

Today, the music style of The Sweet remains intact but the classic flamboyant look has been replaced with a more contemporary style: something Priest admits he’s glad of as he no longer has to tolerate wearing platform shoes.

“They were a pain in the butt and it was very easy to fall over on stage,” Priest recalls. “They were like wearing diver’s boots.”

Besides its look, The Sweet’s lineup has also changed. Priest’s group is the fourth and latest incarnation which was formed in 2008. Besides Priest himself, the group includes Richie Onori (keyboards), Joe Retta (drums), Stevie Stewart (keyboards) and Mitch Perry (guitars).

Priest is proud of his current lineup and happily proclaims that they live up to the legacy of the group’s initial and most famous lineup of himself, Andy Scott, Mike Tucker and Brian Connolly.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been with the first band,” Priest says. “But this band performs as well as I could possibly expect.”’

Priest adds that the most ideal place to hear their music is still at places that adhere to the old phrase of “the bigger, the better.”

“We enjoy playing places like the Canyon Club, but we also like doing festivals in the summer.”

Crowds still love hearing the Glam rock of Priest and his bandmates. This is not just due to nostalgia but also due to the genre finding newfound popularity within the 21st century. Classic music from the genre is being reintroduced in all sorts of different mediums which Priest hopes continues.

“Resurgence in popularity is always a big plus so, what can I say, I love the idea.”

The Sweet itself has been privy to this resurgence when their most famous song “Ballroom Blitz” was featured in the trailer of the 2016 film “Suicide Squad”. Another of their iconic songs, “Fox on the Run”, has also helped revitalize the group. This is due in large part to its attachment to the recent box-office smash hit “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”.

“The producer of Guardians of the Galaxy [Kevin Feige] is a big fan of ours and he liked the song,” Priest reveals. “He didn’t use it in the movie but he used it in the soundtrack.”

Though not featured in the actual movie, the song’s use in an official trailer for the film, not to mention its official soundtrack album, caused it to spike in popularity. “Fox on the Run” rocketed up to #1 on the iTunes Top 40 U.S. Rock Songs chart and became one of the most downloaded songs last December.

The group has another upcoming accomplishment with next year marking their 50th anniversary. Besides celebrating with live performances, Priest reveals that he intends to make such a memorable occasion more memorable by creating a new studio album: the first since the group’s previous 1982 studio album, Identity Crisis.

“We’re going to try and write a new album, CD, or whatever you want to call it and see how that goes,” Priest states firmly.

Royal Blood Darken SoCal With Three

ROYAL BLOOD

ROYAL BLOOD play Observatory/Santa Ana Aug 13, Observatory/San Diego Aug 15, The Wiltern Aug 16; photo James Christopher

The walls will be shaking once again at The Observatory/Santa Ana Aug. 13, The Observatory/San Diego Aug. 15 and The Wiltern Aug. 16, when ultra-heavy, two-piece Royal Blood take the stage in support of their recently released How Did We Get So Dark?

With fans in high places like Jimmy Page, Howard Stern, Foo Fighters and the Arctic Monkeys, it’s hard to believe Brighton’s own Mike Kerr (vocals / bass) and Ben Thatcher (drums) made their first demos a mere two years ago. The name-dropping of the above titans does provide an insight into Royal Blood’s sound, a combination of all of Zeppelin’s most thundering moments, the melodic thrashery of Foo Fighters and the sharp, English sexiness of Alex Turner and company.

Friends since their mid-teens, Kerr and Thatcher joined up on a whim in their mid 20s, upon Kerr’s return from time abroad in Australia. The story goes, Thatcher picked Kerr up at the airport and the two listened to riffs and snippets of songs Kerr had written, which Thatcher loved. The duo fleshed out four songs and played their first gig that very same night.

This break-neck pace has become par for the course in the burgeoning career of Royal Blood. It wasn’t long before they were playing to crowds of 30,000, and opening for Arctic Monkeys at Finsbury Park for what was only their third show in London. All this occurred before the release of their self-titled, debut album, which was released in August of 2014.

Royal Blood is an impressive exercise in showing-off just how dynamic a two-piece can be. Songs like “Figure It Out,” “Come On Over” and “Loose Change” charge full-steam-ahead with Kerr’s distorted bass filling, then annihilating, any hole left by the lack of a lead guitar player, while Thatcher’s syncopated, machine-gun sound serves as the bedrock foundation for their ultra-rhythmic, yet melodic, style.

Their self-titled debut album was well-received by music fans and critics alike, and prompted more praise from Jimmy Page who said, “Their album has taken the genre up a serious few notches. It’s so refreshing to hear, because they play with the spirit of the things that have preceded them, but you can hear they’re going to take rock into a new realm – if they’re not already doing that. It’s music of tremendous quality.”

How Did We Get So Dark? took the band up a few more notches, hitting No.1 in the U.K. upon its release and selling out shows across the U.S.!

Read 2015 concert review: Royal Blood Concert Review

Trip Out To Heron Oblivion

HERON OBLIVION

HERON OBLIVION play The Constellation Room Jul 27, The Echo Jul 28, Pappy & Harriet’s Jul 29, Space Bar Jul 30; photo Alissa Anderson

It was two years ago that I first experienced Heron Oblivion aptly sending minds into ecstatic, musical oblivion.

I was making my way through the overstuffed halls of The Observatory during its annual Burgerama festival when I noticed that I had a gap in my schedule. So, I found myself wandering amongst the unfamiliar sound waves of bands I hadn’t heard of, in search of musical respite. As I pushed and squeezed my way within hearing distance of The Constellation Room, a swirling frenzy of musical sound suddenly filled my senses. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I knew I needed to experience it. I entered the room to find Heron Oblivion.

The magnificent flurry of Noel Von Harmonson and Charlie Saufley’s concurrent guitar solos, Ethan Miller’s chest-rumbling bass, and Meg Baird’s all-encompassing crash cymbal crescendoed into a tonal mountain, which the band then brought crashing down with expert grace. As the musical dust settled, Baird’s ethereal, crystalline voice cut through the newfound silence. It was a timbre so sonorous and beautiful that I was taken aback at first; I had not expected such a voice to follow such gritty intensity. But whatever dissonance I was perceiving was immediately welcomed, the resulting dynamic a novel and mesmerizing one.

Needless to say, by the end of the first song, I had already taken out my schedule and circled the band three times over with red pen.

Labeled as a “supergroup” of sorts, the band features a group of artists coming together from a variety of other groups. As a band, they somehow combine psychedelia’s tendency for sudden shifts, sprawling soundscapes, and “trippy” sound effects (see: wah pedal, tape echo, etc.), with the distortion and face-meltery of hard rock, and the lyrical archetypes and vocal melodies of traditional folk. In a time of infinite access to music, it is all too refreshing to hear such a unique combination of sound and emotion.

Sitting down with Concert Guide Live to speak about the nature of that combination, Von Harmonson recently gave us the inside scoop on the band’s recording history. What follows will surely add an extra layer of appreciation to your listening experience, when you inevitably jam out to their self-titled album later today.

Heron Oblivion

Heron Oblivion self-titled album cover

Concert Guide Live: Having seen you guys play live, I feel like the chemistry you all share is what really makes the experience. Do you remember the moment you realized you had found the right bandmates?
Noel Von Harmonson: So, we got together, and for like the first six times we played together we didn’t really play a song. We just turned on little digital recorders and let loose. A lot of these pieces ended up being 20 minutes long or something, and some of them were kind of cool jammy things based around a riff. And some of them were just completely abstract in terms of tones, timbres, feedback, noises and drums and stuff.

It wasn’t until maybe a couple practices later, we’d listen back to some of the stuff that came out of these jams and there was this one thing that would like kind of resemble a song. Like, if we took that riff and put it with another riff we would have kind of a song thing.

So, then we were like “What if we wrote a song?” We did that, and then shortly thereafter, we were like, “Meg do you wanna try singing, too? Because I know it’s kind of crazy being a singing drummer.” And for me, the minute that she started singing to the music that we were playing, it clicked. I thought, “We’re onto something here.”

CGL: How would you describe Meg’s vocals within the context of Heron Oblivion’s music?
NVH: Brilliant, amazing.

CGL: Agreed.
NVH: Well, we knew Meg’s singing from her older projects. We knew that she had, and I’m sure I can speak for all of us, one of the most beautiful singing voices out of anybody contemporary that we know. Whether or not that was going to fit anywhere within this squally, guitar-based, not really aggressive, but loud sort of environment, we weren’t really sure. But we took some nods from influences we all sort of had in common and put the pieces together, theoretically.

We didn’t do this in a conversation, mind you, these were all subconscious, telepathic conversations that we had while playing together. So, we made sense of [our jamming] and consciously made room for the vocals so that the guitars and stuff could get out of the way and feature Meg’s vocals. Without making it too much of a cookie cutter formula though, where it’s like “loud part, quiet part, loud part, quiet part.” So sometimes we have Meg singing over the loud parts, which is obviously a lot easier to pull off on a record than it is live. But she’s got a really strong voice, too. So, if the house mix is dialed in right, I think she can still come out over the top of all those guitars we’re beating on and swinging around.

CGL: Your first record has that same raw, live feel to it. I have to imagine you guys were playing live together in the studio. Why was it important to you to do it this way?
NVH: The reason why we did that is because it simulated the way that we rehearsed. A lot of our music will have energetic momentum that comes and goes and that’s a lot based on being able to hear each other in that moment. Also, having eye contact, being able to throw a head nod as a cue or something. Just a lot of stuff that’s very inherent and only comes with playing live in the same room. More importantly than all of that, it also captures the essence of — and that’s what you’re talking about — us four playing together, at once, in a room.

Rather than trying to split that up into separate tracks — which is so awkward and disjointed — we wanted that cohesive vibe. Even though I don’t like to use the word vibe. We wanted it to sound like a unified piece of rock machinery, hopefully semi-well-oiled and tuned up and still a little rickety.

Be sure to witness the divine intensity for yourself, at any one of their four stops in the SoCal area: The Constellation Room Jul 27, The Echo Jul 28, Pappy & Harriet’s Jul 29, Space Bar Jul 30.

Colin Hay And His Band Of Immigrants Embark On SoCal Driving Tour

Colin Hay

COLIN HAY plays Belly Up Jul 19 & 20, The Coach House Jul 21, Wiens Family Cellars Jul 28, Microsoft Theater Jul 29; photo Sebastian Smith

With a string of soon to be sold out shows in and around SoCal, Colin Hay is at the top of his game as a solo artist. Once the lead singer for 80s group Men At Work, well-known for their inescapable song “Down Under”, Hay has continued to sing and write while touring the world.

Check out his witty, tongue-in-cheek replies to questions about social media, his first live performance ever, the poet Robert Burns and more.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: You have a string of dates coming up, hitting the nooks and crannies of SoCal, what do you like about playing here?
COLIN HAY: Well I love living in California, and have been here for almost 30 years, so it’s nice to play at home. And, this is a driving tour. You can drive right to the gig, and wheel your gear in, on the day of the show, instead of having to drive to the airport, and take your shoes off and lift your arms above your head, you know the drill. And, I get to play with my fabulous band of immigrants.

CGL: Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to do music and perform it in front of people?
CH: When I was 14 and singing in a band at a local social event, a girl came down the front, and watched me sing. She gave me a curious look of interest. Need I say more?

CGL: What can you recall about your first live performance – and where/when was it?
CH: On the Fairstar ship, on the way from the UK to Australia in June 1967. There was a talent contest, I didn’t win.

CGL: What sort of a setlist will you be playing for the fans?
CH: Old songs, new songs, and those in between.

Colin Hay

Colin Hay; photo Sebastian Smith

CGL: What do you like to do right before you go onstage?
CH: Well, unlike boxers, I like if possible, to have some kind of erotic experience before I go onstage. It rarely happens, but whenever it has, I’ve always had a good show. Failing that, I do some vocal warm ups.

CGL: What are your thoughts on social media and the 21st century in general, regarding the music industry?
CH: Social media is part of everyone’s lives it would seem, and it’s important to have some some kind of relationship with it. I drop in and out, I seem to not have too much time to devote to it personally. I like to daydream a lot, and look at the clouds, the white fluffy ones, as opposed to the one that holds all my digital information.

As far as the music industry is concerned, there are many factions vying for, and trying to figure out how to carve up the somewhat diminished revenues from album sales, digital streaming etc. It remains to be seen, and is still in process. It can be strongly argued that artists and the creators of music are not receiving their fair due, but then again, this could always be argued, right from the beginning of the commercialization of art. We shall see.

CGL: Since you have been a writer for numerous years, I imagine you could come up with an interesting reply to “If you could be anyone other than yourself, living or deceased, who would it be and why?”
CH: Perhaps Robert Burns from Ayrshire, the Scottish poet, who lived at the end of the 1700s, and wrote a vast amount of brilliant poems and songs. He was also loved by a number of women in his full yet short life. Dead at 37.

He was ahead of his time, and to quote a verse from his poem “To a Mouse”
“I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!”

More true today than it ever was.

CGL: As a final question, what other interests do you have outside of music?
CH: Staying alive for as long as possible, certainly for as long as I can remember how to get home.

CGL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CH: Not a thing, I think I’ve said enough.

If you don’t already have a ticket get one now for any one of these local shows: Belly Up Jul 19 and Jul 20, The Coach House Jul 21, The Cave Jul 22, Wiens Family Cellars Jul 28, and the Microsoft Theater Jul 29.

Portugal. The Man Rebels For Kicks

PORTUGAL. THE MAN

PORTUGAL. THE MAN play HOB/Anaheim Jul 27, Palladium Jul 29 & 30; photo Maclay Heriot

In a perfect world, Portugal. The Man’s catchy single, “Feel It Still”, would be the song of the summer, blasting out of car radios, iPads, retail playlists, etc. It’s short, sweet, and makes you want to hit “repeat”, kick up your heels and shake your booty.

With six previous albums to draw from as well as music from their latest release Woodstock, you don’t want to miss one of their upcoming SoCal shows – Jul 27 HOB/Anaheim or Jul 30 Hollywood Palladium (Jul 29 at the Palladium is already sold out!)

Woodstock is their long anticipated followup to 2013’s Evil Friends which featured the songs “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” (with Haim on backing vocals) and the title track “Evil Friends” which was prominently used in a Taco Bell commercial.

During this gap between albums, the band wrote tons of songs and tried to make an album called Gloomin + Doomin but they just couldn’t quite put it together. So how did they remedy this situation? They threw it all out and started over!

This time it worked naturally, with John Hill (In the Mountain in the Cloud), Danger Mouse (Evil Friends), Mike D (Everything Cool) and long time collaborator Casey Bates involved. Apparently, the title is a nod to an original 1969 Woodstock ticket stub owned by vocalist John Gourley’s father.

So, pick up the new album, grab a ticket to one of the upcoming shows, and put your dancing shoes on. The Summer 2017 Tour is here!