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.

Thunderpussy Brings Rock To SoCal

THUNDERPUSSY play El Rey Theater Jul 17 and Belly Up Jul 19; photo Meredith Truax

THUNDERPUSSY play El Rey Theater Jul 17 and Belly Up Jul 19; photo Meredith Truax

Thunderpussy, the all-female rock group known for their unique vibe comes to Southern California this month as part of their summer tour. The foursome shall play Jul. 17 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and Jul. 19 at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.

Bassist Leah Julius says she looks forward to playing with her bandmates at the El Rey Theatre.

“It will be our first time playing L.A with our new drummer. It’s also one of the bigger rooms we’ve played in L.A so we’re really looking forward to that. The last couple of times we’ve been through we’ve played at the Viper Room. So, it’ll be nice to play a new stage.”

Julius has played on many stages beyond California with the group. Seattle, where the group began in 2013, still holds a special place in her heart.

“We all met through the Seattle music scene,” Julius began. “It’s a pretty small, tight-knight community up here and we were all playing in different bands and different instruments as well. And then Molly (Sides) and Whitney (Petty), the guitar player and singer of Thunderpussy, started the project and sought me out and then sought out a drummer. Kind of the rest is history.”

The name Thunderpussy started there, too.

“It embodies exactly who we are: strong, powerful, feminine. You hear the name and immediately it gets people curious, gets people talking and that’s always something you want in a name. People will remember it easily. So, when the name came about and what we were doing matched it pretty perfectly we just ran with it.”

The music Thunderpussy plays, Julius admits, is itself a kind of love letter the group has to the music they grew up with.

“We get a lot of our influences from like 70’s rock and roll. We love Zeppelin and, you know, all the classics. But we like a lot of modern music. We like a lot of pop music. So, it’s kind of a mix between Zeppelin and Beyoncé and all of the stuff we like.”

The group is none the less unique in itself playing songs ranging from rock out fare though sometimes even more mellow fare. These songs are the brainchildren of Sides, the group’s vocalist, and guitarist Petty.

“Generally, Molly or Whitney will bring in an idea to the table or sometimes even a finished song or parts of a song,” says Julius. We work together as a group to create the beast that then becomes the song.”

The group’s debut studio album that’s aptly named Thunderpussy came out just last year along with their first EP album Greatest Tits. Both proved easier said than done to make according to Julius not to mention their music in general.

“It’s a continuous struggle and aside from the stuff we have to jump through, just to get our music made and heard. Once it’s out there we deal with so much vile backlash on social media through hateful, sexist, misogynistic comments that you really have to have a thick skin to want to keep on going.”
Worse still, it’s an industry still largely dominated by males: something Julius credits for their ongoing hardships in producing music.

“It’s a boy’s club through and through especially when once you get really higher up into the major label realm where we’re at. You know, there’s a way that things have traditionally been done and there’s a way that rock bands who are all males have traditionally been marketed and sold.”

The group still perseveres and for Julius it’s worth it just to be able to share their rock and roll ballads with others, especially on a live stage.

“When you finally get up there and the lights are on and you have your instrument and playing with your fans it’s kind of like the best release at the end of the day and that’s why we do it cause that moment when you get on stage and you get to play with each other. There’s nothing better.”

It’s an effort too that still comes with surprising rewards.

“We recently got to join forces with Mike McCready from Pearl Jam and Chad & Josh from Red Hot Chili Peppers and performed some rock & roll covers and performed some Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen live with those guys for a charity show in Seattle and that was a really incredible experience to be standing on stage playing with some of my heroes.

Julius highly encourages concertgoers to come to the group’s shows as she promises they are in for a good time.

“Check out to see where we’re coming this summer and we’re hopefully buckling in and making another record and getting it out to everybody as soon as we can. We want nothing more than to release some new songs live for everybody.”

John Paul White Brings Countrypolitan To Orange County

JOHN PAUL WHITE (and his band) play The Coach House Jun. 11 and Troubadour Jun. 14; album cover

JOHN PAUL WHITE (and his band) play The Coach House Jun. 11 and Troubadour Jun. 14; album cover

John Paul White comes to Orange County as part of his current tour celebrating the release of his latest music album The Hurting Kind. SoCal Concertgoers can listen to the acclaimed Grammy Award winning musical talent of White at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Jun. 11 and the Troubadour in Los Angeles Jun. 14.

John Paul White says he looks forward to these appearances.

“The synergy is pretty spot-on right now and I’m really proud of that and anxious for people out that way to see it in person.”

White himself eagerly cannot wait to return to California in general, too.

“I love my home state of Alabama but there are so many things about California I dearly love. I love the weather, the people, the weather, the food, the progressive nature of the state.”

He quickly adds with a chuckle he especially looks forward to the food.

“I actually eat plant-based nowadays which is really hard down in Alabama. They’ve found a way to put ham in just about everything.”

But it’s being able to share his music with others that he honestly looks forwards to in California.

John Paul White; press photo

John Paul White; press photo

“The best part of all is the people because the shows that I play in California have a definite thankfulness for us having traveled so far. I get it from people after shows, ‘thank you for driving all this way to play a show for us.’ That warms your heart and makes you want to do it even more because that’s the only reason to get out of the house is that kind of connection.”

White admits though he didn’t get into music for the sake of music.

“The way I got into it was just trying to meet girls, to be honest. Once I started figuring out the reaction from the other sex when I would sing, I thought, ‘this is what I want to do for a living.’ Later on in life I started digging down below the surface as I started writing songs and figuring out what made me click.”

White would be able to achieve a contract writing music for a musical label in Nashville for approximately 10 straight years before being granted the opportunity to play music himself. White says he doesn’t at all view this long wait as being tedious but educational.

“I learned everything I know about the craft of writing songs. It was an invaluable education for me as an artist to learn all the ins and outs of the bones of a hit song. I still use those things to this day.”

Since becoming a music artist in 2008, White’s performances and dynamic countrypolitan music have earned him praise from critics and music lovers. His songs have even been featured in shows and movies such as The Hunger Games and The Firm.

His most famous period of musical work was between 2009 and 2014 when he teamed up with fellow musician Joy Williams to form the Civil Wars: a musical duo that won four Grammy awards. Since the duo disbanded in 2014, White’s worked solo. This has better allowed him to make music on his terms.

White says he strives to be empathetic to the tastes of his audiences though.

“I have learned the hard way not to create a dish I think other people will like because I cannot possibly guess what anybody else is going to like. So, my entire M.O. is to please myself and pray that there is a bunch of people out there that like the same things that I do. As long as that’s the case, I’ll still have a job.”

For White, playing his songs live is always a great reward.

“I’m intensely proud of these songs and so when I get in and I start singing, I’m consciously doing this, I try to remember that feeling I had when I wrote them. That feeling I had when I played it back for myself, for my wife or for a friend. I never want to just go through the motions and let muscle memory move onto the next song. When that’s the case I’ll go home. I’ll go play with my babies because I miss them all the time.”

White hopes it never comes to that as he plans to continue singing and making music beyond his current tour.

“I’ve got a ton of songs that I feel in the back of my brain trying to beat their way out and so I think it will be kind of rinse and repeat. I’ll tour this record for a while, but I’ve got songs wanting to be born and so I would expect I’ll make another record and keep doing that the rest of my life.”