Lucero developed their unique sound — a mix of Country, Roots, Rock and Soul — in Memphis, Tenn., and provide a big production every night on the live stage. You will hear everything from a three guitar assault to a horn section to steel guitar pinings on the band's ninth (and so far most successful) album titled Women & Work.
CityBeat spoke with guitar player Brian Venable from the road to preview the band's show Wednesday in Cincinnati at Bogart’s.
CityBeat: I wanted to catch up with you guys to try to talk about the show that you have at Bogart’s on April 11.
Brian Venable: Well thank you. I am excited about that.
CB: I actually caught you guys at Orlando Calling this year. That was the first time I had seen the band live. It was an amazing show.
BV: Oh, thank you.
CB: I am kind of sad that the festival is not going to happen this year. They announced last week it wasn’t coming back.
BV: Is it going to be a different “Calling” in a different city?
CB: No, I think it just lost a lot of money. Unfortunately, that happens. It’s a lot of overhead.
I just wanted to start and ask you a couple questions about the album and yourself. I know you had the new album come out recently, Women & Work. Can you tell me the story behind the album name?
BV: I think it just sums up everything sometimes. It was more of a flip or a funny line, like “Hey what’s going on?” “Oh you know, women and work.” You are always doing something about work. You’re at work or you are working, and whether it’s your wife, your ex-wife, girlfriend, soon to be girlfriend, girl you met that night, there is always something involving a woman. I think it is kind of where we are right now. We are always on tour. We are always leaving our wives and girlfriends behind, trying to just make it all happen.
CB: Do they ever come out on the road with you?
BV: Every once in a while we will do a weekend. I have three kids so she can’t get away too much, but she’ll come out for a weekend every once in a while.
CB: Well you guys have a pretty large band to move around.
BV: Yeah, we have the bus right now.
CB: What is the best and worst thing about being on the road for you?
BV: Missing the kids. Everything that you know is at home. Some days it is nice to sit on the porch and hang out. But in the same breath, you play rock shows every night which is awesome and you tour with your friends and you get to see the country. There is good and bad in everything.
CB: I am originally from Tennessee and I spent a lot of time in Nashville and Memphis over the years and the music scene in both of those cities is incredible; there are huge amounts of talent that will probably never be discovered.
BV: That is always the thing with Memphis, there are always great bands that will be together for six months or a year and then they break up. Yeah, that is definitely a true statement on your part.
CB: What is your favorite track on the new album?
BV: I like the “Downtown” song but I also like “Sometimes.”
CB: Can you tell me the story behind one of those?
BV: “Downtown” is like the happy beginning. The night is full of promise I guess. You are getting dressed or you are having a few drinks, you are about to go downtown and hang out and do your thing. Nothing good or bad has happened but anything could happen, and I think that air of optimism is exciting to where we might end up hammered drunk at the police station or I meet my next wife of 30 years, you just don’t know. I think it is just that kind of feeling, where it is happy and a “let’s see what happens” feeling.
CB: You guys just played South by Southwest. Any crazy stories from Austin this year?
BV: Not really so much crazy. We did two shows a day for three days plus interviews and in-stores. It was pretty busy. It was exciting to get to play with Dinosaur Jr. Any chance that you get to play with people you listened to when you were younger and looked up to musically is always a fun thing.
CB: That was one of my other questions, do you have any current musical influences that are giving you inspiration today?
BV: We just did a five day run with Larry and His Flask. Those guys are amazing and really energetic and fun to watch. Todd Beene who plays pedal steel, he is in a band called Glossary. Their songs are awesome and their live show is great. They make good records. We have been really lucky to be able to play with all the people we like usually. We did 15 weeks with Social Distortion. You are able to grow up with a band and then get to see those people who started 30 or 40 years ago still make relevant music and be fresh. It is exciting to know that you can get to a certain age and you don’t fall back and rest on your laurels and still keep pushing.
CB: I love those guys.
BV: Personally, I listen to crazy Southern Metal and Modern Country right now.
CB: What is Southern Metal?
BV: Bands like Black Tusk and Weedeater. There are a lot of bands out of Atlanta, Ga., and Wilmington, NC, and that whole Southern coast has spawned a whole crazy group of bands. There is Coliseum in Louisville and Skeleton Witch in Ohio. They are pretty awesome if you like Metal.
CB: Can you tell me what your writing process is as a band? Do you guys write together, lyrics separately, music later? What is your process?
BV: With the last few records, we have a practice space and a studio space we use upstairs. We will come to the practice with a part or half of a verse or a bridge and a chorus and just a section a lot of the times. Sometimes it is a full song and we work it up but most of the time it will just be a few pieces. We’ll work with Roy and get a tempo going and a pattern going and a groundwork and then we just add our parts while he is working on the words for it. It’s been pretty awesome. This last record, which was fun for us, horns came in after the fact and we put horns on top of the record, so this one we actually wrote with the horns and the pedals, everybody was there helping with writing and arranging.
CB: What can we look forward to in Cincinnati next week?
BV: Eight dudes getting wild on stage unless the night before was pretty hard then it might kind of be the standard. We will do about two hours. We will do a lot of the new songs. We will do the back catalog. We are all going to have a good time just playing music.
The Devil Wears Prada is a true "area band makes good" story. The Dayton-born group is steamrolling through the landscape of Metal all over the world. In the band's short history, TDWP has released four albums while keeping up one of the most active tour schedules around. The group's latest album, Dead Throne, from last year reached the top of the US Indie charts and they are showing no signs of slowing down, joining the likes of Slipknot, Slayer, and Motorhead on the latest Mayhem package tour, which comes to Riverbend next Tuesday (July 24).
CityBeat caught up with lead singer Mike Hranica in person prior to the band's show at Bogart's this past winter, and with rhythm guitarist Jeremy DePoyster by phone just this week to preview the group's return to Ohio. They both are very proud of their Midwestern roots, what it has meant to the band’s success and how it has let the members keep their Christian values at the forefront of their music.
CityBeat: I have been listening to your new album this week Dead Throne to get ready for the show. First, I wanted to ask you about one of the songs on it. I guess the song that speaks to me the most was “Mammoth.” Can you tell me the story behind that song and a little bit about it?
Mike Hranica: “Mammoth” was an interesting song. When we went into recording the record, there were only two songs that didn’t have vocals yet. One being “Chicago,” one being “Mammoth” and I wrote them as we were working on the record. When we took “Mammoth” into pre-production, Adam D, who produced the record, totally re-arranged it and it turned out to be one of our favorite songs as well and a favorite of the fans. Lyrically, it was the second to last song I wrote for the record, so I wanted it to be this recap of everything this record deals with, all the issues from idolatry to love loss and all this and tying obviously God into it. That is the idea of the full circle which runs throughout the song and that is the general concept of it.
CB: You mentioned Adam D from Killswitch. What was your favorite part of working with him on the album?
MH: I liked all of it. He is extravagant, personality-wise, and professionally I see him his as very simply a mastermind. I think he absolutely smashes it. I loved what he did with the music, what he did vocally with me, and I loved eating lobster with him every day.
CB: You recorded it somewhere up north right?
MH: Yes, in Western Massachusetts.
CB: You guys grew up here in Dayton. This is a local show for the band. How do you think growing up here in the Midwest influenced the music?
MH: You really see it everywhere, internationally and throughout the states. Music is obviously huge to all cliques, all generations, and all sorts of youths as far as going to school in the groups or the segregations, the cliques of people all have their music. Music is very important to someone young and growing up and I know that really translated to us. I think the Midwest has a big part in it because there is not much else to do. Like anyone else there was BMX and skateboarding and sports and what not, but it seems like a lot of young folks in the Midwest just want to play guitar and go to shows and I know that was the members that make up this band.
Jeremy DePoyster: There are so many bands that are doing similar kinds of things to what we are doing now. When we grew up, especially in Cincinnati, there was an actual Hardcore scene of music and it was bizarre to be playing with them as kids with keyboards and singing and all this stuff. We were this kind of and oddball band and it was exciting because we were just a bunch of kids and into that stuff. It forced us to try and do the best we could and to really have no promise of anything. It was all local. Between Cincinnati and Dayton and Indianapolis and all these places we played growing up, it’s just the Midwest vibe. That’s why I live in Chicago now instead of the West Coast. I like the feeling here. I feel like it is really down to Earth. My wife is from Cincinnati and so we grew up together. It makes you more humble. You don’t have the arrogance that comes with it a lot of times.
CB: So you were in the school band?
MH: Dan and James were. I think those two were the only ones in school bands.
CB: I downloaded “Zombie Slay” last night and played that on the iPad for the first time. I was just curious about you guys getting into gaming and the comic books and how did that all come about and why did you choose to go down that path?
MH: When we did the EP, it was like a weird concept, it is a non-serious concept that we are going to take seriously and with that I think it would be really stupid to not do things in addition to zombie t-shirts and zombie hoodies. We wanted to go outside of that. The comic book was something that came to us right away as well as the game. Unfortunately, it just took a long time to get the game together. It was just stuff we wanted to do.
CB: Do you draw?
MH: Chris draws. The dude that did all the illustrations, actually Kevin Mellon who did the comic book illustrations worked with us on the app as well. We were just curious to get into the app world, the iTunes world, being a bunch of Apple nerds. The game was definitely an awesome first step for us and we are excited to see what else we can do with outside the box marketing products and just giving fans something a little bit different to maintain curiosity and just have a little bit of fun.
CB: What is your favorite game to play, other than Zombie Slay of course?
MH: I have been playing a lot of Zombie Slay. We just did Australia before this tour which is a lot of long flights and I was playing a lot of Zombie Slay. Otherwise, I go in and out. I have an iPad as well and I play games on that. I am not that big of an Angry Birds fan. Everyone is definitely on Angry Birds. I like Veggie Samurai, I play that a lot. Sadly I play a lot of Solitaire on my iPod, like my classic iPod.
CB: What are you guys most looking forward to with the Mayhem Festival?
JD: So many things. We have tried to come a long way as a band. That is always the goal. We have tried to really fine tune the art and harness the sound in the show and all that good stuff. I think that being on the Festival is kind of the next step in the direction of shying away from the Dubstep nonsense, you know, silly autotune wave of things that are happening and get back to Metal which is what we like and what we love and why we write the stuff we do. Slipknot, Slayer, Motorhead and Anthrax are amazing. You can’t beat that stuff. We have wanted to do the tour for a long time but as soon as those names came up, we were like, “Yes. Now. Put us on it.”
CB: You guys have never really compromised your Christian values and you have always had that kind of a theme through your lyrics but you have started touring with more mainstream Metal bands like White Chapel and the bands you just named. There is not always a Christian atmosphere. I cover a lot of Metal music. How do you handle it or does it bother you guys at all?
JD: It doesn’t really bother us. Even one of the guys from Slayer is Catholic. I think it is more of a vibe thing for them more than anything in a lot of those bands. I don’t really feel like it is that big of a deal. Some people sing about politics and some people sing about satanic issues and some people sing about love and all different kinds of things. This is just what we sing about.
I don’t think it really has a whole lot to do with music. I listen to Slayer and I listen to Slipknot and bands whose values have nothing to do with mine but I can still enjoy it and listen to it and have a good time with it. I think that is the vibe we try to bring in. We are pretty respectful dudes.
We generally tour, 99% of the time with secular bands, and we really don’t have a problem with it. I guess we just hope that people will give us a chance which is why it is fun to get out on a tour like this and be able to play in front of people that might have a pre-established opinion on who we are and what we do based on the fact we are a Christian band. They see it and go, “Oh wow. I had no idea it was like that.” It’s kind of cool.
MH: It really is no big deal. We never, ever set out to only tour with Christian bands. We just wanted to, it was always about playing to as many people as possible. The funny thing is, backstage it never really matters what you believe because everyone gets along fine. We get along with For Today really well, both being Christian bands and being people, Christians, normal people. That’s how I think of ourselves, just normal dudes and Christians.
And we both get along with White Chapel just as well, who don’t have the same sort of belief system, but it doesn’t matter at all because we are here to perform what we made and explore the music we have created and that may sound like it degrades your beliefs but it doesn’t. It’s just how it is touring. If anybody really has a big problem with Christians being on the tour, they are the standouts, and not to be too blunt, they are usually pretty ignorant people. We get along with everyone and we have been touring with non-Christian bands since we started and some of our absolute best friends are non-Christian bands.
CB: I was just curious because White Chapel is almost the extreme opposite of what you guys play and lyrically. How did that tour come about or how did you hook up with them?
MH: The first time we toured with White Chapel was early in 2008. I had went and saw them at a show some of my friends were playing and I had been listening to their EP that was out and was “This is the heaviest thing I know of right now.” We are happy to have them on tour early that year and it was smooth sailing. They were “We’re a little bit nervous” and we were “We’re a little bit nervous.” And it was whatever and we just play music together. We just announced a South America tour for next year which White Chapel is on again. When we see them, it is always, “When are we touring together?” It’s awesome to have them back and it is awesome to have all good people on the tour, definitely White Chapel included.
CB: I think there is a misconception about Metal in general. I interview everybody at Rock on the Range and every festival. I have never met anyone that was disrespectful or not nice or who didn’t get along. I think it is a misconception in general.
MH: It really is. There are Metal bands that take the whole evil thing literally, mayhem and these other things. For the most part it is evil music and it needs evil lyrics and that is what they make. They are not killing and raping women in ditches so what does it really matter?
CB: You recently released a video for “Vengeance.” Can you tell me the story behind that song and the video itself?
JD: It’s just a live video from our DVD shoot that we did. We put it out to get the message out of that and spark interest. We put a lot into our live show. Actually we filmed that DVD and that video I think four days before the Cincinnati show. We really just wanted to capture what that tour was in a permanent format so people could see it, not like in a Youtube quality video and stuff. That video is kind of like promoting that and getting it out there. It is one of the more relatable songs that we have off the record.
CB: The DVD you are referring to is Dead and Alive. I know you did a lot of the behind the scenes shooting and editing. Are you a photographer or videographer? Is that kind of a hobby?
JD: It is just something I just started doing as a hobby and a side thing. Then it just gradually turned more and more into something where I was doing every single one of the tours a video for us. Something really important to us is making sure that everything that goes out there with our name on it is coming from us and not from a giant business, corporation behind us but intimately from us. So with the video stuff and most of the photos we put up, we shoot and produce and come out from us.
I feel like the bands that I like and respect the most are the ones that put effort into it instead of writing the songs and handing it in and going, “OK, do what you will with this.” Even with the merchandise designs and the website design, Mike has a massive, large hand in creating. We just want everything that has our name on it to come from us. Being able to do the video stuff ourselves is a really big help in that.
CB: I have seen you guys a couple times play and you have major crowd surfing. The fans really get into your shows. Is there ever any worry about injury or anything crazy happening at the shows?
JD: Yeah, but I guess it just comes with the territory. We grew up going to small shows and hardcore shows in the Dayton and Cincinnati scene which was not a calm, passive scene to grow up in. We are kind of used to it, teeth are all messed up, my face kicked in at a show as a kid and that is what we are used to. There are usually ambulances that come. I think it is pretty easy to be able to tell the areas where you won’t get hurt and the ones where you might get hurt. I think it is a do-it-at-your-own-risk kind of deal. It is part of the style of music and hopefully no one gets too hurt.
CB: What was your highlight of the last tour you were on?
JD: We have done a couple tours. Our fall tour was probably the most exciting one we have done so far. We got to bring massive production out and put on a big show. We just did a small club tour in the U.K. which was real cool and intimate. We did a secondary market tour in the Spring which was really cool because we got to do some “off the beaten path” markets which do a little bit better for us. The people are just more passionate than they are in the big city. We went to South America which was insane as it always is down there. It is a totally different world than it is here. The shows were great. I think it has been an exciting good six months for us.
Really the highlight will be this summer with the Mayhem Fest.
CB: What is the best guitar solo of all time?
JD: Really, I like a lot of the Judas Priest stuff. “Painkiller” solo is pretty up there for me. There is just an emotion that comes from that, that is pretty awesome.
Classic Rock band Styx originated in the 1970’s and enjoyed hits like “Lady” and “Come Sail Away." Today, while they may not have the exact pieces of the original band from the late ’70s intact, Styx travels the globe annually to give a show similar that of its early days, though these days the group is fronted by J.Y. Young.
CityBeat recently spoke with Styx keyboard player and vocalist Lawrence Gowan about his musical influences and what led him to the band 14 years ago. Styx performs at Riverbend Music Center tomorrow (Tuesday) night with fellow classic rockers REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.
CityBeat: First off, have you had any memorable Cincinnati experiences on the tour over the past few years?
Lawrence Gowan: They are all incredibly memorable. The audience there has always been fantastic for us. One of the experiences I remember was the first time we played Cincinnati and I saw that classic fountain downtown. The last couple of times, we stayed on both sides of the river finally now so I have gotten to know a little bit more of the town just by walking around. The audience reaction in Cincinnati is always tremendous for Styx. We are really geared up and really looking forward to the 26th of June.
CB: You were one of the later members to join the band in the ’90s. Were you a Styx fan growing up playing music?
LG: I loved Classic Rock. I loved Progressive Rock particularly and Styx was the only really successful band outside of Britain to make a great mark in that style of music, so yeah I loved the whole genre of music they were playing and I loved the band. Funny enough, I had a long solo career with a number of albums in Canada that were never released in the States but I was always very aware of Styx. I did a couple of shows with them in 1997. There was something in the air that kind of felt like we were going to connect again in the future and I am entering my 14th year with the band now.
CB: When you joined the band, was there any initiation or hazing they put you through?
LG: Yes of course there was. You actually had to cross the river Styx which I don’t recommend for everyone.
CB: You are a classically trained pianist.
LG: Yes I am.
CB: How do you think that better prepared you to be in a Rock band?
LG: I always find that Classical music inspires or makes its way into a lot of the melodic content of some of the best Rock music. The moment I heard “Eleanor Rigby”, with the Classical string quartet playing through that song, I realized the profound connection between both styles.
Both styles are not very afraid to be very grandiose when they need to be and cover a great emotional spectrum. It’s funny, I remember reading (that) Elton John and Rick Wakeman particularly had gone to the Royal Academy in London, and in Toronto they have the Royal Conservatory which is the same pattern, the same message of teaching so I wanted to go through that. I really love it and I still do. Before we go on stage every single night I am backstage playing some Classical piece just to get my chops together and get my head ready for the show.
CB: You had mentioned and you were a pretty large solo artist before you joined the band. What was the biggest transition from being on your own and being in other bands to being in a band like Styx?
LG: Learning to play with others. It’s a completely different dynamic when you are a solo artist and you have got the band behind you. You have a string of hit songs that you are responsible to play every single night and it all kind of falls on your shoulders.
With Styx, I love this as well because it is a break from that entirely because I am on stage with five other frontmen who are all very capable of commanding the stage on their own. We trade off on who is up front in every single song, and even within a song there may be several sections where section after section the strongest dynamic on stage is being traded off. I love that and it is a completely different thing. I love just being the keyboard player at some points in the band. It’s great.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
LG: In my life? Well, let me see now — yeah, I guess a couple of times sure. When I made my second solo album, I got a chance to record at Ringo Starr’s home near London, England, in Ascot, England. It was the house where John Lennon had recorded “Imagine” and when I went to the door the first day with the producer — it was a home studio there he was letting us use — (and) he actually answered the door. I remember finding it difficult to bring words to my mouth which usually isn’t that hard of a thing for me to do. That was quite an experience. I remember it took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t in a scene from A Hard Day’s Night but actually talking to a guy in his house.
CB: There is a lot of debate now about Rock music in general and how it has changed so much. Other forms of music are coming to the forefront. Do you think Rock & Roll music is a dying art?
LG: That is a tough one, isn’t it? I have heard that kicked around most of my life. I think we can agree now that Rock music was the big musical statement for the last half of the 20th century, the electrification of music and the fact that Rock makes such a gigantic sound and changed what people embraced as popular music. I don’t think it is going to ever go away now because we have history on our side. There has been 50 years of it or more so I think it is a style of music that is going to continue to evolve and to dig into different areas.
I think you can trace a lot of the newer things you are talking about, trace it back to that gigantic statement that Rock was in the last half of the 20th century and I think it will be embraced and loved my millions for years to come because just like people still love Jazz or they love Country or they love Classical music or Ragtime; it is a style of music and a way of performing that I can’t see it entirely slipping off the planet any time soon.
CB: Do you keep journals or any kind of history of the tours over the years, memorable things for you?
LG: The best history I kept for a number a years was every night at the end of shows I took a Polaroid picture on stage or took three or four of them and tossed some of them out to the audience but I’d keep one for myself. My wardrobe case is stuffed with all these Polaroid pictures because we have played over 1500 shows together since I joined the band. That is a fantastic journal. You know what they say about pictures and words. They do tell a huge story over the course of time. It is funny, last night in Kansas City at the end of the show when I am reaching down and shaking people’s hands and somebody threw a picture up at me of the first year I was in the band and we had a great laugh backstage after because we realized there are old pictures of us now together. It was back when we did a little acoustic set in the middle of the show. My best documentation of the shows is that collection of Polaroids.
CB: I am a music photographer so I have got years of histories of bands and it is, I think, the best way to tell a story.
LG: It kind of is. I like putting my thoughts on paper very much but that usually morphs into becoming a song. I find that just what pictures evoke and the flood of memories you can get from them it can be astounding every time you look at them particularly when you are in a heightened state like being on stage in front of 10,000 people, the feeling of that moment is well captured.
CB: Any regrets over the years?
LG: I think like any human being there are things you are going to regret I suppose but it is a useless endeavor because they all kind of amount to where you are today and I like where I am today so I really can’t waste much time on that. I am sure one day on my death bed I will think, “You know, maybe I could have been a hockey player.”
CB: You guys are playing over a 100 shows a year, huge amounts of time on the road. Are there any plans to slow down?
LG: Not really. There is such an insatiable demand for Styx to play around the world and I have got my solo shows back up and doing a number of those in Canada every year. I think I enjoy it now more than I ever did and I am in a band of like-minded people. We have no plans to do that. We plan to keep pushing as hard as we can for as long as we can. Really, the only real question for us is how we find time to make another full album and we are kind of coming up with novel ways of being able to come up with that at present.
CB: I know Ted Nugent is on tour with you guys this time and he has been very vocal all the time about political views and gotten in trouble the last few months. Do you have any election picks for us this year?
LG: As the only Canadian that is involved in this whole thing, I think that is the easy way to duck out of the U.S. political debate and the hot question. I have a feeling that it is between Obama and Romney. That is my big prediction.
CB: What can the fans expect from the show next week?
LG: We are going to ram as many Styx classic hits at them as we can in the hour and 20 minutes we are playing. We will also throw in one or two of the album cuts from The Grand Illusion. We noticed there are songs on that record that were never singles that have become great favorites of a lot of the audience so we like to include one of the more unusual pieces in the show as well.
CB: What do you do on your down time on the road?
LG: Well I usually, myself, I like to do something to keep myself in shape so I am always doing a bit of yoga. Although I am the keyboard player, I am a huge guitar lover so I am usually practicing my chops in the hotel room. We also do all the social media things like Facebook and our website. They need to be looked at every few days just to see where things are and I love to go for walks around cities. That is one of the things I enjoy about Cincinnati. As I said, the last couple of times, walking across that bridge across the river is one of my favorite pastimes in that city. I am a walker.
CB: It is amazing how much time you spend on Facebook and the internet that is lost doing those things.
LG: It is a nice way, it is an easy way, depending on how you treat it, to feel like you can engage with people you really don’t have the opportunity to with the shows because we are too busy getting ourselves back to the tour bus afterwards. We can shake a few hands. It is a way to kind of feel a connection to people on a human level where we happen to be in a career that it is hard to do that just because of the demands of the day.
CB: Are any current bands influencing you now or what are you listening to?
LG: There are so many things I have listened to lately, I heard a fantastic band from England recently called Everything Everything. Todd, our drummer turned me onto them. I like Keane. I like them being keyboard players. I like My Chemical Romance, I kind of dig that band a bit. There is a Metal band I really like called Children of Bodom. That is the kind of stuff I have listened to lately.
The inaugural Kanrocksas Music Festival took over Kansas City's Kansas Speedway last weekend, with headlining performances by Eminem, Muse, The Black Keys and many others. Impressive and well-organized in its debut year, the festival is being called a mini-Lollapalooza, as many of the same bands performed as they made their way to and from the Chicago fest (held the same weekend). Along with Eminem's epic performance, Bowling Green, Ky., AltRock sensation Cage the Elephant was an energetic highlight. The band's current tour in support of Thank You Happy Birthday (featuring the hit "Shake Me Down"), kicked off in Cincinnati in March when CtE also became part of Cincinnati Reds history, leading fans through the first "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" of the season on opening day. CityBeat sat down with lead guitarist Lincoln Parish and rhythm guitarist Brad Schultz (pictured) before they took Kansrocksas' stage to talk about that Cincinnati visit and more.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra combines a night at the symphony with an in-your-face Rock concert experience and is best known for its holiday-centric shows, with grand musical scores and massive light and production pieces that stimulate your visual senses as much as your auditory ones. The project began in 1993 and has evolved into one of the biggest holiday tickets across the country. It's also something of a Cincinnati tradition, as the group usual performs in the area come the holidays. CityBeat spoke with Al Pitrelli last week in advance of TSO's appearance in Cincinnati today at U.S. Bank Arena, with shows at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
One of Cincy’s more popular Pop Punk bands has decided to call it quits. But first, they're giving fans some new music and one final blow-out show to remember them by.
The quintet Loudmouth has played well-attended gigs regularly around town for the past half decade or so, eventually becoming headliners of self-booked multi-band shows at places like Madison Theater in Covington. Tonight, the group returns to the club for its farewell show and the release party for its final album, the eight-song Future Boredom.
The band is splitting because guitarist Mike Ulanski took a job teaching English in Abu Dhabi.
I sent Loudmouth a few questions about their experiences as a band in Greater Cincinnati and their individual plans moving ahead. The tight knit group of pals got together and answered them as a band.
CityBeat: You guys have your last album coming out at the farewell show. Tell me a little about Future Boredom. Was it material you were working on before you decided to split or did you know you were splitting and went in the studio to record these final tunes?
Loudmouth: The songs were written or were in the process of being written before Mike announced that he accepted the job offer, but we all knew this was our last record when we went into the studio. The toughest decisions we faced were which songs to record, and how many we could afford to do without sacrificing the quality of each songs production. Tim and Mike were writing lots of songs at the time, but their styles were heading in two different directions, which can be seen on Future Boredom.
The songs weren’t written about the break up, but they were recorded as if they were the last songs we’d ever do, which means we couldn’t afford to leave anything unsaid. Between Eric Tuffensdam’s (Moonlight Studios) expertise and our previous studio work with him, we definitely got what we wanted out of this record, a definitive and uncompromised collection of our best written songs.
CB: You guys had a great run of about four or five years. What are you most proud of from your time playing around the area?
LM: We’ve been fortunate enough to share a stage with just about every one of the bands we grew up idolizing, but opening for NOFX takes the cake on moments that we’ll remember forever. The proud moment there was that the 2000 people crammed into the Madison Theater didn’t boo us off the stage like NOFX crowds are prone to do.
But besides that, we have a lot to be proud of, and more importantly a lot to be thankful for. None of the amazing moments we had as a band would have existed without the help of some amazing people. Frank Heulfeld and Kevin McNamee with the Madison Theater, and before that the Mad Hatter, Rome and the Clifton Heights Music Festival (which we’ve only missed one since the beginning of the festival because we were on tour), Rich and the entire Southgate House staff, Adam and CincyPunk Fest, the staff at the Madison Theater, who among other things, talked the cops out of arresting Tim seconds before we hit the stage, Chris Joselyn and Brian Carothers for all their help booking tours.
Above all else, and we mean this with all sincerity, the thing that makes all of us proud and grateful is the support we’ve gotten from day one. We’ve never, not exaggerating, played a show where people didn’t dance by the end of our set. We came up in an age where kids were too cool to dance at shows, and we’ve watched so many great bands play killer sets to a bunch of stone faced hipsters gently bobbing their heads in jaded approval. Those kids got pushed to the back of the crowd when we played, and we couldn’t be more proud to have that kind of effect on people. All that dancing and moshing and shouting of our lyrics translates that people get it, and what’s more, they actually like it, and nothing is more gratifying then having that kind of connection with your friends and fans.
CB: Anything you would have done differently?
LM: Tour. Tour all the time. We did three tours; the last one to Florida was our most successful, but touring would be the No. 1 priority if we could do anything differently. We probably could have been more business savvy and networked a little more, too.
CB: What's been the low point?
LM: The worst show we ever played happened at the Blue Rock Tavern in Northside. There were a lot of people out that night and we were headlining and everything that could have gone wrong did. The P.A. kept over heating, it was 900 degrees and Mike’s guitar broke four songs in, and there was no replacement. We had to just stop. It was embarrassing and people got pissed.
Moving out of Loudhouse and losing that as a place to party and throw shows was also a bummer. We had to pay for a practice space again, we lost our afterparty, which had become a huge part of our shows, and, of course, we couldn’t invite a bunch of awesome bands to play the basement. The Bike House died shortly after that, and it seemed like Cincinnati’s basement scene sort of dried up all at once. We went from a city who had an entire weekend fest dedicated to basements to having no real basement venues to speak of. That was definitely a bummer.
Shortly after that Sam Duff left the band and the months leading up to and following that time were pretty rough. We practiced in a moldy closet sized room in the back of the Mad Hatter, we weren’t sure who was going to play bass, how we could afford to tour; it was a cold wet winter and things were just all around crappy.
CB: Can we expect future musical projects from the Loudmouth members? Any concrete plans as of yet?
LM: None of us will ever stop playing music, but where, how and with who is bound to change. Tim, Adam Bret and Chris have already talked about their next project and things are in the works.
Mike will be playing acoustic Journey covers at an open mic in Abu Dhabi to pay rent.
CB: What can people expect from the last blow out concert from Loudmouth?
LM: You’ll have to come to find out.
Tonight's 9 p.m., all-ages show features a great support bill: The Frankl Project, Horsecop, Situation Red and The Milky Way Persuasion. Tickets are $5.
Visit www.loudestmouth.com for more on the group and to sample some tunes.
Five Finger Death Punch will be one of the headlining acts of Rock on the Range, one of the nation’s biggest Hard Rock and Metal festivals that takes place in Columbus this weekend. FFDP has become known for its “active” show, encouraging crowd participation that can get on the edge of out-of-hand at times. The band released its third studio album last year, American Capitalist, which quickly shot to the top of all Rock and Metal charts.
CityBeat caught up with drummer Jeremy Spencer to preview next week’s Rock on the Range and discuss the grueling nature of the industry (especially as a drummer) and the advice that has driven him to be in the position of leading the rhythm and timing of Five Finger Death Punch. FFDP performs Saturday night on the main RotR stage in Columbus.
CityBeat: I was excited to talk to you because I know you just won the Golden God award for Best Drummer. How was that experience for you?
Jeremy Spencer: It was really great because I am a fan of all those drummers in the category and to be put in the same category was humbling already, and then to win, it was “Wow, this is really cool.” We couldn’t be at the show because we were out on tour. I got a call saying, “You know he won and if you could put together a video for the acceptance that would great.” So I made this really ridiculous acceptance speech video where I dressed up as redneck fans mocking me giving a speech, so I did a multi-character video for winning the award and it was really funny. It is all over the internet in case you get a chance to see it. Everyone got a kick out of it, but overall it was a really humbling experience and really cool.
CB: You guys just made another trip to Kuwait as well. I know it is really important to the band to support the troops. What was your most memorable experience this time around?
JS: We got to hang out with the troops a lot during the day and talk to people and we do extensive signings for them. The shows were pretty crazy. They don’t get a lot of entertainment over there so they are really excited when we get to come and play. And it is exciting for us too because they are such huge supporters of the band so it is the least we can do to give back to them because they sacrifice so much to be away from their families. It was very cool.
The only thing that wasn’t cool is that there is an 18-hour plane flight to and from Kuwait. That is the only brutal part but the rest of it was incredible.
CB: I actually did see some of the YouTube videos from the shows over there that were posted and they looked like they were crazy with the crowd surfing and the moshing and they really go into it.
JS: They really do. They get after it. It’s insane, like I said it is all pent up energy so they really get after it.
CB: I have listened to the album since it came out but in a lot of the recent songs there is serious hardcore drumming action. How do you stay in shape and how do you condition for that kind of hitting?
JS: I do a lot of stretching. That is the thing I didn’t do much growing up but now as I am getting older I have realized that stretching is vital. It is almost like doing yoga really. I use hard foam rollers to roll out my muscles and get the knots out. Stretching is key; any drummers that are doing this I would recommend doing that starting as young as you can. I also don’t party anymore. I try to take care of myself. I try to eat things that are relatively healthy. So that is pretty much what I do.
CB: I think that is a misconception for a lot of people. I talk to a lot of bands from a lot of different genres and I think people think the road is a continuous party and for some bands it is, but for a lot of bands it is about having a healthy lifestyle because it is so grueling.
JS: It really is. We are kind of like athletes. We have to get up there and perform for 75 minutes sometimes or 90 minutes and it takes a toll on you physically. We are not playing Pop music. It is pretty aggressive. It is physically demanding.
When we started out, we definitely participated in that party lifestyle. I am one to try it, but if you are going to be successful and have a long career then you can’t get wrapped up in that stuff. Rarely does it work so I figured it was time to treat this like a job. It is a job but it is a great job.
CB: Let’s talk about Rock on the Range. I have seen you play there before a couple years ago. It is always a good time. Is there anything that you are looking forward to specifically around that show?
JS: Last time, we had one of the biggest crowd surfing experiences that Rock on the Range had ever experienced and it is well documented on YouTube. So we will see how crazy the fans can get there this time. We certainly enjoy it. Every time we play there, it has been great. And you know, all the other great bands, and hanging out with our friends, it has always been a positive experience and I look forward to getting back there and doing it again this year.
CB: I was there last time. I am a photographer so I am always down in front for the beginning parts so it is always a little sketchy with the crowd surfing for us.
JS: Absolutely, you might want to wear a helmet or something.
Everclear has joined forces with other acts that may be best described as ’90s Rock and Pop groups for the Summerland Tour 2012 to get rid of the stereotype and prove their music still resonates today. Everclear saw its biggest fame with the release of the 1995 album Sparkle and Fade and the chart topper “Santa Monica.” The band has continued representing its West Coast roots and just released its eighth album, Invisible Stars.
CityBeat spoke with Everclear frontman Art Alexakis and discussed the Summerland tour. We also made Alexakis face a lighthearted game of quick-fire questioning which led to some very comical and real responses. Everclear will be performing at the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend tomorrow (Wednesday) alongside Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Marcy Playground and Lit.
CityBeat: You guys have been out on tour for a few weeks since June. What is the craziest band on the tour?
Art Alexakis: The craziest band on the tour? Crazy in which way? My band has probably got more time with therapists. Does that count? I don’t know. I’ve got to tell you, every band is crazy in their own way. The Sugar Ray guys are just knuckleheads because they are playing ’80s music and ’90s Punk and singing it at the top of their lungs before every show. Lit are the party dogs. The Gin Blossoms are just old school pros and sweet guys and we are just a bunch of knuckleheads. I don’t know. It depends on what time and what day you are looking.
CB: I have been listening to your new album, Invisible Stars. My favorite song on the album was “Santa Ana Wind” and I wanted to see if you could tell me the story behind that song.
AA: It’s funny because that is one of the co-writes on the record. I had wanted to write a song about moving back to L.A. and I don’t force things. If it doesn’t come, I don’t force it, because it always sounds disingenuous when you do. A friend of mine, David Walsh who is in a band with my old bass player, came by my studio just to hang out a little bit. I remember him sitting there and he picks up the guitar and goes, “I got this music that I just can’t figure out a melody or words to it” and he just started playing it and I just started singing the melody. Within two hours, we had a song.
I took it home that night and finished it, finished all the words and got all the nuances and then we went in and recorded it a week later. It is my emotional favorite song on the record, it is definitely my favorite, even though I love all the songs. I am really proud of this record, but I am glad you like that song. That song means a lot to me. It’s weird because when I turned that song in, no one was talking about it as a single. I was kind of disappointed, but since the record came out, it has been the No. 1 song people write me about on Twitter and … Facebook. That is the No. 1 song, I think, that and “Jackie Robinson” is probably neck and neck. I am glad it resonated with you. I like that a lot.
CB: You guys have had produced major hits. I grew up with your music and love you guys. When you are writing, do you know when you have a hit?
AA: That is a real good question. I think a lot of people would be hesitant to answer that. I know when a song writes itself. I don’t know if you are familiar with my song “I’ll Buy You a New Life,” but that song basically wrote itself in like two hours and “Santa Monica” kind of wrote itself like that, and “Santa Ana Wind” kind of wrote itself like that, and “Jackie Robinson.” I had the idea for it in the music but I didn’t write the lyrics until later, but when I wrote them they came out in like about an hour.
Songwriting is the creative thinking. The craft part is easy for me but the creative parts, you can’t control it.
CB: There are definitely political tones on the new album, and I know you can be political at times. We are heading into a big election. Are you planning to do any campaign work or work with any candidates?
AA: No one has asked me. I am a tried and true Democrat and a huge fan of Barack Obama, was in 2008 and still am. I think he has done a great job. He is trying to climb a mud hill uphill, straight uphill, and he is doing it. It’s a hard job. I sure as hell wouldn’t want that job. I’ll campaign if people ask. It’s not like I go out of my way. I am political because I believe everybody should be political. It is our role. It is one of our key responsibilities; it is like falling in love or working or eating. Voting is so important. I feel like it is our right and our obligation as an American. I have always felt that.
CB: You guys are going out with all of these iconic ’90s bands and touring. What do you feel is the state of Rock music today?
AA: I don’t know. That’s a big, kind of $10 dollar question I don’t have the answer to. From my perspective, one of the reasons I wanted to start this tour, the reason I called Mark (McGrath of Sugar Ray) to get involved and be my partner and do this thing with me was I felt there was a need for this. I was talking to a lot of people who felt very disenfranchised by contemporary Rock and Pop and felt a huge connection with the ’90s era more than from a nostalgic point of view. This type of guitar Rock resonates with them and resonates with me as well. I think those are the people that are picking up on our record. We aren’t on a major (label). We don’t have major promotion. It seems like they are picking up every week which is bizarre because they usually go down at first. It just shows me, especially the way word of mouth on this tour has been, that my hunches were right. This isn’t nostalgia. This is a valid connection with people and music. People still feel excited about it and have a great time, and I think that is what it is all about.
CB: I just got a new table game and I have “Lightning Round”-sort of type of questions for you.
AA: You just what type of game?
CB: It’s a table game. You pick it up and ask questions. You should get one for the bus. Have you ever ran away from home?
AA: Have I ever ran away from home? OK. Yes. You should do your homework, missy.
CB: I know. I did. That is why it is kind of funny that I drew that one first.
AA: That is why you were laughing when you asked the question, you already knew the answer too.
CB: Sort of. What habit would you like to break?
AA: I can’t say what just came to mind.
CB: Yes you can. We print anything. That’s the point of this. Don’t think.
AA: The habit I want to break is my aversion to world peace. That didn’t work, did it? The habit I’d like to break is hitting on my drummer. I think it bothers him, makes him feel uncomfortable.
CB: I thought you were going to say getting married or something along those lines.
AA: I see where you are going. Maybe it is getting married to women half my age.
CB: That may be a good habit to break.
AA: I see. Just live with the band.
CB: Have you ever been fired?
AA: Yes. I have been fired, several times.
CB: What adjectives do you hope describe you at 75?
AA: Alive. Is that an adjective? That’s not really an adjective, is it? Virile. Exciting. It’s a working dream. It’s not that far away. 75 is probably a long way off for you; it is not that far off for me.
CB: I’m not that young. I’m 36.
AA: You’re not that young? You’re older than my wife but you are younger than my ex-wife.
CB: What is your best excuse when pulled over for speeding?
AA: To be honest with you, I never make an excuse. I always come clean and I always get off. “I have no excuse officer. I was speeding. I was just excited to go where I want to go. I broke the law. I’m sorry. Give me the ticket.” I never get a ticket. The truth is good but being in a multi-platinum band probably helps too.
CB: I’ll try it but I don’t think it will work as well for me.
AA: When girls say that, they try to cry. My ex-wife, beautiful, she was beautiful, she was an actress and she would try to cry and get away out of tickets and she always got the ticket.
CB: I don’t cry. I just try to make up an excuse and that doesn’t work either. I am the worst driver.
AA: I believe you.
CB: What is the most unusual gift you ever received?
AA: My wife now, when we were dating, gave me the gift of a party on my birthday that was like a role playing game, you ever done that?
CB: I have done murder mysteries.
AA: This was a murder mystery, but this was cool because I was a Columbian drug lord and she was a Columbian drug lord and we became partners in killing and murdering and it was awesome. It’s a game. It’s awesome.
CB: I love it. Obviously, I am playing the table game with you right now. I like games.
AA: I think you are making this up off the top of your head.
CB: I am not. It is called Table Topics: Questions to Start Great Conversations. Any crazy Cincinnati stories from the past?
AA: Oh yeah, but I am not telling them to you.
AA: I have some really good Cincinnati stories. Just because.
I will tell you one. I was in my room and I was at some posh hotel and I was fooling around with some people and I hit the door and … I got that, what’s that called … Staph Infection.
Five Finger Death Punch is one of the most popular Metal bands in the world. The band has a catchy, melodic sound that resonates with its crowds and the band's songs have become arena anthems across the country. Five Finger continues to tour on its third studio album American Capitalist. Currently, the group is out headlining the Trespass America Festival with the bands Trivium, Pop Evil and Killswitch Engage.
CityBeat was able to spend some time with the band’s lead guitarist Jason Hook to discuss, among other things, the band’s feverish tour schedule and the effect it has on the band members' relationships, as well as what makes the music so addictive. The Trespass America Festival comes to the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend tomorrow (Wednesday) night.
CityBeat: What has been the highlight of Trespass Festival so far?
Jason Hook: Well, the first show was awesome. We opened the show on Friday the 13th just outside of Denver. The place was almost sold out, packed. We had all of our friends, family, record label, managers and agents with us. It was a massive party (and) it was day one. It was awesome, really awesome.
CB: Who leaves the biggest mess backstage at Trespass?
JH: The biggest mess? As far as what, a hot mess or just messy?
CB: It could be either.
JH: I’ll give both to Ivan (Moody, Five Finger's frontman).
CB: OK, I wouldn’t picture that.
JH: Well you don’t know him as well as I do.
CB: Is it true that he still throws up before he performs?
JH: I haven’t seen that lately but it might be because I tend to steer clear of him a little bit more than usual because of that. But he does do that. That is not an urban legend.
CB: You consistently are having these hits with huge sports and military following. What is really the formula for creating a modern day Rock anthem?
JH: I think that you have to keep things simple. People like a really consistent beat, something that has a good thump to it. Obviously, an easy to follow storyline or a relatable storyline and as many hooks as you can get into each section of the song for example the intro, the verse, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the bridge, the solo — all those are sections — and if they get too long or drawn out or too complicated or the resolution set too high for the listener, they just miss out and it will go over their head. A big part of having an anthem is having something that is simple enough that many people can grab it easily like “Rock & Roll all night and party every day.”
CB: Does the band ever write songs for a specific audience?
JH: Not really. Most of us in the band have a background where we grew up listening to heavy bands but bands that were also on the radio. That reflects in the music we make. None of it is really contrived. We just do what we like. Fortunate for us, it catches with a lot more people. Once you try to do something that is not honest, it is really hard to repeat it. You are always chasing or guessing what to do. It is better to know what you like to do and just do it.
You always have the crazy crowd surfing at the shows, the biggest Rock on the Range crowd surfing in history. Do you ever worry about fan safety?
JH: All the time. All the time. It freaks us out. I see people getting beat up pretty good out there, especially the people in the very front row because people crowd surf up from behind them, they can’t see that these 220 pound guys are being launched forward and the people in the front row are the last people that these heavy people land on their heads on the way into the pit. You get a lot of people getting smashed, and they have no idea it is happening until it happens.
I keep saying, “Is there something we should do to discourage this? Should we say that we want people to be careful and keep your eyes open?” I do see a lot of people getting hammered, and it freaks me out. We are always thinking about it.
CB: How do you stay friends living in such close quarters and being on the road almost all year?
JH: How do we stay friends? We stay away from each other. The only way to control how we all get along is to make sure there is a good amount of separation. You need a little bit of on and a little off.
For example, we get hotel rooms. The band gets hotel rooms. We get them every other day. The hotel rooms are essential and it doesn’t matter what it costs to have everybody be able go and have their own private space to go make phone calls, answer e-mails, relax, watch the TV program they want to watch, whatever. The off is just as important as the on because if you get too much together time all the time, then you are likely to have the engine run a little hot, you know what I am saying?
CB: Who in the band is more likely to get into a fight backstage and who is more likely to get laid?
JH: I don’t really want to focus on the fighting, but as far as the sex part of it, I would say, all the girls like Ivan. The rest of us are just sort of swinging the bat. They all seem to want to get to Ivan. So I would say answer "A"—my final answer — Ivan.
The thing is, to chase girls around, which is also to chase the party or stay up, all these people show up and they want to hang out with the band. This is their big night out. The problem is, if we participated in everybody’s big night out, then we end up having 42 or 55 nights in a row, and it is physically too hard. Imagine having 45 New Years Eves in a row. What kind of shape would you be in after that?
CB: Yeah, bands now are a lot more, I don’t want to say mellow, but you can’t sustain (that type of partying) for long periods of time if this is what you are going to do.
JH: God knows we have tried it. We don’t want to hurt the band. We don’t want to hurt the tour. We have a responsibility to not only talk to people during the day but to play in front of these large audiences, and I don’t want to go up there hung over and feel like crap and be fuzzy and making mistakes. It’s very hard. It’s OK when you are a club band — nobody cares; “Get me another beer.” Everyone is drunk anyway, but now we are talking about playing in front of 15,000 people at 9 o’clock at night and it is a business now. It is for real.
Popular Indie Folk/Rock group The Decemberists believe that life as a musician means continual evolution and, over the course of a career, any band worth paying attention to will pursue a sound, a direction of great adventure. The Oregon-based group has spread from West Coast bars to packed theater-sized venues throughout the country. The band — whose recent LP, The King Is Dead, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart — has collaborated with members from My Morning Jacket, R.E.M. and even the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
CityBeat spoke with bassist Nate Query in advance of tonight's Decemberists' show at Riverbend's PNC Pavilion about the new album and tour, the upcoming break the band will be taking and where the band is headed.