EXCLUSIVE! Dr. Kathryn talks about new album MASKED out later this year!
Roddy Bottum is a man of many talents. A multi-instrumentalist, Roddy might be best known for his bands Faith No More and Imperial Teen. Roddy is also a composer and Sasquatch: The Opera is his first entry on that stage, but surely not the last.
An opera about Sasquatch? What’s the deal with that? It’s been a difficult journey. I had the chance to question on Roddy about it and his other projects. Read it from the man himself.
Mike: Sasquatch: The Opera has to be the most intriguing three-word title I’ve ever seen. I understand the story is about the misunderstood “monster”, but how did you settle on the Sasquatch for your monster? I’m a bit of a Sasquatch geek, and I’m curious if you are too.
Roddy: It’s a character I always identified with. The ‘gentle giant’ aspect of him I kind of created myself. It’s a characteristic I always am moved by in literature and film. Elephant Man, King Kong, Frankenstein… the vulnerability of the misunderstood oaf, if you will. I’m also very sexually attracted to exactly that type.
Mike: Would you ever go on a Sasquatch expedition?
Roddy: I think I could entertain that voyage in a ‘social studies’ kind of way but I would be hard pressed to putting my best foot forward in the hopes of finding the monster. I want to believe. I really do. It’s like being taught religion as a child. I remain sceptical and needing of proof.
Mike: Absolutely understood; I hope one day we find that proof. How would you describe the music, is it a “rock opera”? I have to assume it’s a little different!
Roddy: The instrumentation is timpani drums, drum machine, two synthesizers and two trumpets. It’s not exactly rock but it’s more rock than symphonic. I kind of based the musical vibe all around the timpanis. The grandeur of that instruments spoke a lot in the presentation of the piece.
Mike: Do you perform on stage in the musical?
Roddy: I did, yeah, I conducted the piece and played a synthesizer. The one with the easier parts.
Mike: Did you compose Sasquatch primarily on the keyboard?
Roddy: Yes, first in my head and then on the keyboard.
Mike: I read about the apartment fire you had while in the midst of working on Sasquatch. You had to recreate the Opera from scratch, replace props and costumes? Are you happy with how it turned out?
Roddy: The fire gave me the opportunity to create from a clean slate something that I’d already done before. I like that process, actually. The fire was really and truly one of the worst tragedies I’ve had to go through. The cliche of the open window that happens as a result of a closed one, though. That rang true. Still, though I’m spooked by fire and I can’t eat barbecue or mescal or anything with a smokey after taste. Too soon.
Mike: I can’t even imagine what that is like…I love barbecue. Can we expect another musical from you?
Roddy: Yes, I’d like to create another opera that’s about the fall of a nation. Particularly America in this political climate.
Mike: I’d be into that. Now, I was going to go and see Sasquatch with my mom. She’s in her 70s and maybe a little old fashioned. Do you think my mom would have a good time, or would I regret bringing her?
Roddy: I got some of my best criticisms from people older than myself. I’m 55. I like to think of the themes as universal though there are some elements of incest and drug use that seem to disturb people. How open minded is your Mom?
Mike: She’s pretty cool, I think she can handle it. Could Sasquatch get a CD or DVD release?
Roddy: I honestly like to keep the opera in the realm of ‘shrouded in mystery.’ In keeping with the allure and mystique of Sasquatch, the being, I would prefer that the only people who witness my monster and my music are the ones in the theatre who come to see it. It’s too easy for people to listen to something online. I’m not into the lazy attendant factor of that, if that makes sense.
Mike: It does, I have heard stand-up comedians say similar things. It should be just in the moment. Moving on, can you update us on the next Imperial Teen record? I heard it was in the mixing stages.
Roddy: We just finished the record, mastered it last week and are working on the album artwork. It’s got 10 songs, it’s called Now We Are Timeless and it will come out on Merge Records July 12.
Mike: I hope you don’t mind a little fan-geek questioning. I am a music collector. I pride myself in having “almost everything” for many bands I love, but one “holy grail” item would be a live Faith No More bootleg with Courtney Love on vocals. I have been searching for years…decades! Does such a thing exist or is that era now lost to the sands of time?
Roddy: I believe the only audio recording of Courtney singing with us is on a VHS recording of a daytime public access television show recorded in San Francisco in 1984. Courtney wore a dirty white slip and brought into the studio bags and bags of old flowers she collected from the flower mart. We decorated the stage and lit incense and performed in dashikis.
Mike: If it exists, I will find it one day! Regarding Faith No More, I think Sol Invictus is a fantastic record. Among your best. I usually give the rare “5/5 star rating” to Introduce Yourself, Angel Dust, and King for a Day. Now I have added Sol Invictus to that list. You don’t strike me as the kind of band that puts out albums you aren’t happy with, but the reception to Sol Invictus was overwhelmingly positive. With a few years hindsight, how happy are you with Sol Invictus today?
Roddy: I think it’s a strong record, thank you. I’m glad we were in a position to not have to pander to radio playlist or whatever. We made the record we wanted to make and really didn’t compromise at any stage.
Mike: Is that you on vocals in the verses to “Motherfucker”?
Roddy: It is, yes, and thank you for noticing.
Mike: Do you have any other projects cooking currently that you can tell us about?
Roddy: I’m in a band called Nastie Band. Our record will come out in April. It features an 84 year old singer, a pair of identical twins, a drummer and guitarist and many theatrical elements. It’s a performance band, very dark. Another band I’m in is called Crickets. We’re going away this weekend on a writing retreat. Michael O’Neil and JD Samson are both in that band and we liken ourselves to a wobbly dance sound a-la Tom Tom Club. We have our first show in New York in February.
It sounds like 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Roddy Bottum. Be sure to check out the Nastie Band in April, and the new Imperial Teen record Now We Are Timeless in July. Thank you Roddy for the chat!
This audio goes with the text of Eddie’s interview with me in October of 2001. Links to the complete text can be found below, but why read when you can listen? The audio has remained in my dusty archives…until now. This was a great in-depth chat about the band at the time, lineup changes, and the Live Evolution CD that they were currently promoting. Give it a listen from the pre-digital age. Cassette, baby!
- Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I
- Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II
- Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III
- Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV
We don’t need no preamble! If you have ever wanted to know how to write the most unique music reviews that this planet has ever seen, then you need to read on as we pick the mind of the one, the only, Mr. 1537 himself. He is one talented music writer that deserves all the praise you can heap.
M: It is a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. 1537. I understand that anonymity is important to you. It would matter to me too, if I had any sense. How would you like us to address you in this interview?
1537: A simple ‘sir’ would normally suffice, but in order to seem a bit more user-friendly ( I gather the masses tend to like that) you can call me 15 strictly for the duration of this interview.
Actually I sort of ballsed up the whole anonymous thang by using my name as the blog domain; oops, back to spy school for me! I don’t do any social media at all beyond WordPress and I am basically a needlessly secretive dude. I admire folk who can bare their souls in their blogs but that’s not me at all, I let bits and pieces of my life seep through the cracks sometimes but not very much.
M: As opposed to me, who built a cottage industry on the minutia of working in a record store. Now…Lego. You’ve managed to incorporate Lego in your articles’ artwork, in a simple yet innovative and endlessly entertaining way. How long have you been a fan of Lego, and is that longer than you’ve been into music?
15: Well, the Lego came first, my daughter got the Lego DJ figure and on a whim I thought it would look good on the circle of the Flying Lotus LP Cosmogramma, then Sleep Dopesmoker and then I started to look at the possibilities of making relevant figures for relevant LPs. I had a Blogspot thang where I’d managed three reviews years before, but I gradually realised that if you gave people something to look at they might stop by and read my Mighty Rock Words of Power (MRWoP) too.
It took me a while to hit my stride and then when people actually started reading it … wow, it really is the best feeling.
Oh, Lego. Yup, I’ve always loved it, way before I was conscious of music – although I grew up in a very music-oriented household. I used to make elaborate Star Wars games and fantasies up through Lego, way before they had brought out space Lego. You used to have to improvise weapons in those days too, because Lego didn’t believe in promoting weapons as toys for kids.
M: That’s right, you used to have to use the “bullhorns” as guns, until Lego started introducing actual guns in 2005. You seem to have a Minifigure appropriate for every single album review you do, no matter how bizarre or obscure. Presently how many figures do you think you own?
15: I have a couple hundred Minifigures, which is not all of them by a long way, I’m not obsessive about collecting them and there are plenty of gaps in my collection. I love it when they produce a new line and one strikes me as perfect for an LP I haven’t done yet.
A lot of the fun is improvising and putting combos of different figures together. I’ve also drawn on a couple duplicates I have to make an Alice Cooper, a Scott Ian and a Ziggy Stardust; oh and I have also added cleavage to a figure or two along the way; that’s normal behaviour for a 44 year-old isn’t it?
M: I’m not one to judge. What drives your review? Do you start with the text or the visuals?
15: Always the text. I think wordaciously, not visually. I’m a slow writer because I edit it all as I go along, most reviews take me at least 3 hours, with another 40 minutes or so on top for the pictures. If you add in the demands of family life, a really demanding job, a little socialising and even, hey, listening to music sometimes, it all adds up to why I don’t produce as many as I’d like to. There are never any ‘in the can’, I tend to write them, hit publish and go straight to bed, as it’s usually 1am by then. I like waking up to everyone’s comments.
Q: Do you use any fancy-pancy camera or lighting equipment? The images are always very crisp and vibrant, much better than I’ve been getting with my BlackBerry in my home office.
15: Absolutely not. Everything I do is done on my iPhone (the model before the last one – 6 is it?), I’m not particularly good at it, I just take a lot of photos. Shiny, shiny covers are the bane of my life.
What I am pretty good at now, by trial and error, is editing the pictures, I use a Windows App called Fhotoroom and another called KVADPhoto. I have never ever published a picture I haven’t edited for contrast, colour, or cropped and altered etc. Some of my favourites have been very boring photos before I have messed them around.
M: I crop everything, but I wouldn’t know what to do as far as contrast or colour, so kudos to you sir. A two-part question next: What are your favourite reviews that you’ve done, both in terms of writing and in terms of photos?
15: In terms of the writing I rather like this comparison between Andrew Marvell, English metaphysical poet and a Rhino Bucket song about oral sex – it’s even got my voice on it:
I’m also rather fond of doing interviews, that’s been a whole lot of fun when the right person has been on the other side who is willing to engage properly with the silliness of it all. It’s also a nice way to get to chat to bands when you go see them live too. Spencer from MFC Chicken was my first and favourite:
I have too many favourite pictures to pick a post, but these two have to come darned close – ‘Hatting’ Isaac Hayes and my take on The Shining:
M: Ahh yes, The Shining was a personal favourite of mine too. I find I often have to listen to an album while I write, and it can’t be the first listen either. I need a fresh listen in order to capture all my thoughts and pass them on to the weary readers. Your reviews are very different from mine, and frankly far beyond what I’m capable of writing. Do you use the “listen as you write” technique or something else?
15: I try to give it a good listen the night before, or on my way to/from work (an hour-long commute doesn’t have to be all bad) and I listen to bits of it as I write, or if I’m happy I know it enough – I might be writing about something I’ve been listening to in heavy rotation for 28 years (Christ, I’m old!), I have an ambient playlist I listen to when I write sometimes.
M: What else do you need to be able to write? I need to be in my underwear with a cold beverage. No bevvies and no skivvies means no review. I suspect you prefer warm slippers and oatmeal.
15: I need quiet, which is ironic given that most of my favourite music involves bellowing and shrieking. I write at a desktop (hate lap-tops) in the room that also has our biggest TV in and so there can be a certain amount of negotiation involved – it’s often why I write so late into the morning, it’s the only time I can.
Other than that my needs are simple, I prefer non-restrictive trouser ware and that’s it. You really write in your undies?
M: Hey, who’s conducting the interview here? I ask the questions! Is there any one band you really really hope reads your stuff?
15: Nah, although there is a fair chance of some artists tuning in because a lot of the LPs I bought in the late 80’s seem to have only sold one copy, to me – I always try to be pleasant because, you just should be. If I can’t write anything too complimentary I always add in my caveat along the lines of ‘These guys made a far better record than I ever have I’m just a loser boy sat behind a keyboard’.
Larry Miller from Uncle Sam stopping by was wonderful (I own an LP he signed and bit for me back in ’91) and we’re still in touch – I even helped get their debut LP re-released, that was a real buzz.
Oh and (coughs) Mark Wilkinson may have stopped by once too …
M: Do you have any particular influences in terms of writing? I’ve made no secret that in my early years, I was definitely trying to be Martin Popoff, Jr. Your style is unlike anyone I’ve read, but surely that didn’t happen in a vacuum?
15: I had to really think about this one. In terms of the character I write in, the tone of it, a lot of it comes from Stan Lee in those 1960’s Marvel comics – they knocked me for 6 when I first read my parent’s copies as a kid, the jokey references to himself and his fellow writers and artists in ‘the bullpen’; it was very playful and irreverent, that stuck with me.
You could maybe chuck in a bit of Harry Harrison and Douglas Adams, they were and are still, the only humorous writers I truly like and I do try to amuse.
Other than that there were all those fabulous late 80’s Kerrang! journalists, who were informative and, again, playful in the way they wrote – lots of irreverence and in-jokes, they painted their own little world and made it seem like the coolest place in the world to work. I met Phil Wilding at a gig once and was more excited about that than the band (Dangerous Toys).
Oh and I hope there’s enough self-deprecation in there to show I do write in character and I’m not really a megalomaniac with an omnipotence delusion.
M: Sure, sure. I knew that. Anyway, do you ever worry you will run out of things to say about music? Or do you see “1537” as a long-term project?
15: No, mostly because of the format I’ve set up for myself, my blog runs on rails to an extent – jokey title (usually), review of record(s), review count at the end, Lego images. I have enough of the little vinyl buggers that I don’t have to write about the same artist too often, which would fox me – the closest I ever came to a series, like you, Geoff and Aaron do so well, was spending a month writing about artists beginning with a ‘B’ – I found that really tough.
Anyway I’ve got 809 more records to review. Not sure where I’ll take it after that, because the whole point of the blog, apart from being an extended diary for myself, was to make sure I took time out to listen to everything I own properly – I have a horror of having stuff I haven’t heard, it makes me feel gluttonous and despicable.
M: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. The agent who set this up didn’t want me to ask this last question. But the interview is going well enough so I think I’m going to ask it. You’re a Lego man — this is clear. Meanwhile I’m into things that turn into little robots. With all due respect, I think we both know that robots > bricks, but that is neither here nor there. If you could transform into something, what would it be, and why?
I know the only reason you feel safe enough to ask me that is that I am currently orbiting earth at a crucial velocity on my space station, so I shall overlook your mortal impertinence this once. I always wanted to be a farmer when I was little and was totally obsessed with tractors, it was all I ever drew apart from digital watches (they were new then). So the obvious answer is a digital watch which transforms into a big kick-ass Ford County 1164 tractor (I always loved their colour scheme).
TRACTOR-TRON 1537 Lego/Transformers crossover set coming soon
Thanks again to 1537 for the chat. We’ll leave you with a suitable music video…”Rockin’ is Ma Business”…and business is good!
This is an exciting time for fans of live music in Kitchener-Waterloo. Part of this excitement is NUMUS (New Music Now) which is embarking on its 30th season of adventurous, artistic music performances. From their own website, “NUMUS showcases established and emerging talent from across Canada and the globe in Waterloo’s world-class venues. Diverse musical genres, traditional and experimental instruments and scored and improvised elements come together to create unique concert going experiences that capture the fluidity and relevance of contemporary music.”
To go with this 30th anniversary, NUMUS has selected a new Artistic Director, whom I have managed to secure an interview with. Kathryn Ladano is very busy these days, but fortunately I had an inside track to getting hold of her. This is what she had to say about NUMUS, new music, and the 30th year.
1. Let’s start with a basic question, since the majority of my readers are not from Canada – what exactly is NUMUS?
NUMUS is a presenter and producer of cutting edge contemporary music concerts in the community of Kitchener-Waterloo. By contemporary music, I primarily mean music by living composers within the Western art music tradition, however, we do move beyond that as well. For example, this season we are also featuring freely improvised music, music that blurs the line between composition and improvisation, and this Sunday we’re featuring Korean improviser-percussionist and vocalist Dong-Won Kim with guests.
2. You have said that NUMUS has “has put Kitchener-Waterloo on the new music map”. Can you describe what “new music” means to you personally?
To me, new music simply means compositions from the Western art music tradition written within the past 50 years or so. While many consider new music to be anything written after 1900, I consider it to be newer than that. This is music that needs to be better supported by the public. It’s different, and can be challenging for your average listener, which is why symphony orchestras for example have a hard time moving forward and getting their audiences to readily accept this type of music being programmed. The alternative, however, is music that is literally hundreds of years old, and while that music is great, there is also great music being made here and now. This is the music I’m interested in listening to, performing, producing, and presenting.
3. This year is NUMUS’ 30th, but your first as artistic director. What pressure does that add, if any?
NUMUS has an impressive list of past Artistic Directors (Peter Hatch, Glenn Buhr, Jesse Stewart, Jeremy Bell, and Anne-Marie Donovan), and it is intimating to be following in the footsteps of those individuals. I personally find that more intimidating than properly celebrating our 30th year. Plans are in place to celebrate this milestone though, and these include bringing back each of the previous Artistic Directors to curate a unique program throughout 2015. I will also be curating a celebratory program, and I think all of these concerts strongly reflect the strengths and artistic personalities of each of NUMUS’ Artistic Directors.
4. You have said that you would like to reach out to a younger audience. What do you think will attract young people to the shows?
This year, NUMUS has officially added a side series to its programming called The MIX Music Series. Tickets for this series are about half the price of our main series tickets, and the series itself focuses on improvisatory music and emerging artists. I am hopeful that this series will really resonate with younger audiences as many of the artist we present in the series will be very recent post-secondary graduates just starting to embark on their careers. There are also very few places where young audiences can regularly support emerging artists outside of educational institutions. I feel that the MIX Series has the most potential for growing our younger audience base and getting these people out to experience high quality, affordable live music.
5. Affordable is a plus. But what appeal will NUMUS offer to open-minded rock fans and musicians in the KW area?
Any open-minded music lover will find something attractive in NUMUS’ 2014-2015 program offerings, whether it be multi-media concerts that celebrate music and film, a world-class percussion quartet, a concert of improvised vingnettes with guitar and electronics, or a concert featuring a new instrument called the reactable (a digital sampler with a tangible user interface on an illuminated tabletop) that also features video projections and recordings from the Voyager golden records.
6. Wow, is that cool! That’s definitely something I’m interested in hearing. Now, you have stressed that you believe in support for young artists. What support did you receive when you were starting out?
It was difficult when I started out, and I really had to be very proactive and create a lot of my own opportunities. I was at a huge disadvantage in that I played a relatively unpopular instrument (the bass clarinet) without a lot of traditional job opportunities, and I also wanted to focus on new music and free improvisation. I had a lot of support from the educational institutions I attended, and I also received a couple of grants early in my career which allowed me to study with Lori Freedman in Montreal, and also do my first mini-tour, performing new music pieces I studied in grad school. Both of these opportunities led to new connections and helped me to advance.
7. Lastly, can you please share your spice cookie recipe?
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
extra sugar for dipping
- Cream sugar and butter. Blend egg and molasses with the creamed mixture.
- Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture – mix well.
- Put dough in refrigerator until firm (about 1-2 hours) – or put in the freezer if you are pressed for time – this makes the dough easier to form.
- Take small amounts of dough, form into balls, and roll in sugar, Place these on an un-greased cookie sheet about 2″ apart.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes at 325F – they should be moist and chewy.
Another double feature for y’all boys and girls. First the Record Store Tale, then the review…
RECORD STORE TALES Part 177: Hot On the Heels of Love
The record store had begun selling Brent Doerner’s Decibel, the first solo album by the ex-Helix guitarist on consignment. My buddy Chuck hooked me up with a copy. I opened it up, and lo and behold — another buddy of mine, and one of my best customers, was playing guitar in Brent’s band! I have talked about Shane Schedler in the past, he was a great guy and I was glad he had hooked up with Brent.
I met Brent at a Helix gig at Molly Bloom’s, told him about how I knew Shane from my store, and this led to our first interview, which I published a while ago on this site. I did numerous other writing jobs for Brent over the years as well.
Anyway, we shot the shit for a couple hours, just talking about music. He was very passionate about songwriting, particularly lyrics. Sometimes he would come up with a catchy song title or interesting phrase, and try to write lyrics around it. He was heavily influenced by the lyrics of Burton Cummings, from The Guess Who.
“I like the fact that Burton Cummings kind of sang in riddles,” said Brent. “You could listen to the song 100 times and try to pick the meaning out of the sentences. And therefore, it doesn’t have a high burnout factor. When I’m writing, that’s the big challenge. I don’t want it to have a burnout factor.”
“I worked really hard at getting unique titles…I want unique titles so I can have unique songs,” he told me.
Chatting away, Brent told me of some future song ideas. “I really want to write a song called ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’,” he said. At first, I was quiet, and kind of confused. Brent seemed to be waiting for my reaction.
“Brent,” I said, “You already have a song called that.”
“No I don’t,” he answered, and then paused. “Really?”
“Yeah you do. It’s on one of the Helix live albums,” I told him, trying to not embarrass him!
“Really? Which one?” he asked me.
We were in his basement, sitting at this beautiful bar. He had a small CD tower down there in the basement, with a complete selection of every Helix album he’d ever appeared on. I studied the tower and spotted the album I was looking for: Live! In Buffalo, which was recorded in 1983 but not released until 2001.
“Right there…Live! In Buffalo,” I said, “you have a song on there called ‘Hot On the Heels of Love’, that you sang, but as far as I know Helix never recorded a studio version of it.”
Brent grabbed the CD and looked it over. Sure enough, there it was. “Hot On the Heels of Love” is track #9.
I guess this shows that a good song title is a good song title no matter what. But it was also the first time that LeBrain schooled a member of Helix! (It was not the last time!)
Onto the review!
HELIX – Live! In Buffalo (2001 Dirty Dog Records, recorded September 29, 1983)
Right from Vollmer’s first “Let’s rock!” at the beginning of this CD, Live! In Buffalo kicks you in the face and doesn’t stop until the end. Only one ballad (and barely a ballad at that, when performed at this volume), this concert sounds like it was a real sweaty affair. Helix were at the top of their game in ’83, hot on the heels of No Rest For The Wicked and “Heavy Metal Love”. This album is loud, there are no overdubs, this is a pure rock concert with no frills. The music is broken up with the occasional (breathless) intros by Vollmer, but then it’s right back into the high-octane rock. Incredible to think this album was recorded in the middle of the day!
Sometimes I’ve felt that a good bootleg is much better than a well-recorded live album. There’s no fakery on a bootleg, and there is no fakery here. This was recorded for a radio broadcast, and miraculously the tapes were in good enough shape to release as a CD.
Helix opened with the title track from their current album. “No Rest For the Wicked” is pounding, Fritz Hinz on the skins, pummeling them into submission, Brent on backing vocals while Vollmer seemingly shreds his own vocal cords. This version is faster and heavier than the album version, as is every song on Live! In Buffalo. Even a melodic rocker like “Let’s All Do It Tonite” has more bite.
Brian’s on stage raps are from the Paul Stanley school of thought. For example, “White Lace & Black Leather”.
“This next song is about those ladies that you meet that got lots of class. Lots of class…elegance. When it comes to etiquette they’re at the top of their class…you’ll never find them with the fork on the wrong side of their plate. You dare never tell a dirty joke to this lady because she’ll get up and leave the table. But you get that same lady home, that very same night, get her back to your place, get her behind closed doors…she’ll turn out to be a moaner every time! This is called ‘White Lace & Black Leather’!”
Elsewhere, a grizzled “Ain’t No High Like Rock and Roll” combines catchy licks with a driving melody. A lot of these early Helix songs are among the best tunes they ever wrote. Yet unfortunately, they are seldom if ever played anymore. Thankfully, this album exists to remind us how great Helix can be.
Historically, this is also cool for a couple reasons. One, some of these songs had yet to be recorded on a studio album, such as “6 Strings 9 Lives” and “You Keep Me Rockin'”, which would turn up on the next album. As mentioned in the above Record Store Tale Part 177, one tune was never released on a studio album at all. That is Brent Doerner’s “Hot On The Heels Of Love”, sung by Brent (don’t forget he also sang “Billy Oxygen”, one of Helix’ first hits from the debut album). It is a gritty fast rocker, with a memorably galvanic riff.
There are some other live offerings out there by Helix, such as Half-Alive and the promo-only Live At The Marquee, but this one blows them all away even though it was just for a radio broadcast. One of my favourite live albums, and one of my favourite Helix CDs.
NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES:
Part 178: Some really kooky movie makers…
September 7, 2012: Once again, things are getting exciting on Planet Helix. If the new single / video “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup” wasn’t enough, there’s also the new anthology, Best Of 1983-2012.
Lead vocalist and founding member of Helix, Brian Vollmer talked to us about these releases, some special upcoming dates, and a lot more.
The new single seems to be off to a good start, according to the song’s co-writer, Sean Kelly. Brian filled us in.
“Sean’s from North Bay [Ontario], and he told me we’re getting airplay up in North Bay on that song.” The video is also doing well: “We’re up over 5000 hits now, and we’re hoping that the video goes viral. It’s early in the season…there might not even be an NHL season this year!”
Oh Brian, don’t get me started on Gary Bettman!
The collector in me was excited about the vinyl release of the single. It’s also going to be on the anthology CD, but the vinyl is designed for collectors in mind.
“I had initially wanted to do vinyl on the Christmas album [A Heavy Mental Christmas], but when we wrote this song, I thought that we’d do vinyl because it’s a collector’s item. It’s kind of a novelty type of thing, and I think that it’ll appeal to not only Helix fans but also Toronto Maple Leafs fans. They might like the vinyl just to have in the rec room up in the bar. We sell it for $19.99 so it makes a great stocking stuffer for people.
“We did it on green vinyl too, to fit in with the season somewhat, and when we go through that pressing we’ll probably change colours.” Just FYI Brian: my wife, Mrs. LeBrain, is really hoping for blue!
“We’ve been trying to write a Leafs song for a couple years,” adds Brian. “We had the working title of ‘I’m Bleeding Blue & White Tonight’. And we never quite got the song together. And then we did a radio session, where we were finishing off [new song] ‘Axe to Grind’, which is also on the anthology album.” Brian was then supposed to meet up with Travis Wood, of the band Whosarmy (from the TV show Cover Me Canada, which Brian also guested on incidentally).
“I didn’t want to go too early, and just sit around at the restaraunt. So we started fooling around and all of a sudden, within a couple of minutes we wrote ‘All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup’. The song was recorded within two weeks.” The hilarious video was done right after that. I forgot to ask Brian if any Habs fans are offended!
All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup
You can buy the single on the green vinyl in a bundle with a T-shirt and the new CD, Best Of 1983-2012. “The Best Of album I just put out has a lot of tracks that you wouldn’t normally hear [on other best of albums] by Helix. Stuff like ‘Animal Inside’ off the Vagabond Bones album. ‘Get Up’ and ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ from The Power of Rock and Roll album.”
Coinciding with these releases is the forthcoming Heavy Mental Christmas tour.
“Yes, we just added another date in Cornwall. We have seven dates, mostly through Masonic temples, legions, moose halls, through southern Ontario. It’s a multi-media show. We’re taking out screens, so there’s some video segues between songs, other times there’s still pictures with Christmas themes…some of the cameras that are places strategically around stage are broadcasting whatever member might be doing a solo during the song.”
You may want to consider getting your tickets now, as these shows are special indeed, and feature a new lineup. Not only will you meet the new Helix guitarist, John Claus, but “also Sarah Smith. Sarah Smith is a great London [Ontario] artist, she’s got two CDs out now under her belt, she’s a great addition to the show. Just a smiling, very talented person. She’s on with us instead of Kaleb [“Duckman” Duck, guitars]. Kaleb really didn’t want to do Christmas songs! Initially, we were going to go with one guitar player, and then I thought of Sarah.”
This turned out to be a good decision, according to Brian:
“I always walk out of our Christmas practices with a big smile on my face. I love playing the material, and it’s really fun with this group of people, to do these songs. I wouldn’t want somebody to do any of my projects that wasn’t totally into it.
“It’s a labour of love. We’ve been working on this show over a year now.”
“Setting up the website, and the tickets, and the halls, and putting together the show, learning the show, and getting the multi-media involved.” But it is truly a labour of love, and you can tell by the amount of work that Brian and the band has put in so far.
I mentioned new guitar player John Claus. As previously reported, longtime axeman Brent Doerner will be leaving Helix at the end of September 2012. Brian helps shed some light on this lineup change, and what bringing in a new member does for the band.
“We have two more dates with Brent at the end of this month. One’s at the Rockpile in Toronto, the other’s at the Masonic Temple in Stratford. That’s a multi-media show as well. Tickets are going fast for that one, I think a lot of people want to come and see Brent before he goes.
“Brent’s been in the band since about 1975. No hard feelings with him leaving at all. He just wants to pursue video production, and in fact, Brent will still be involved on a creative level with the band, helping us do our videos.
“I tell everyone that Brent, when he initially came back to the fold, he was only going to be here for six months, and he ended up staying three and a half years! He definitely was better than his word, and stayed for a long time. So I’m really grateful to him for that.”
On John Claus, who will replace Brent:
“He plays piano and guitar. He sings, so he’s a great addition to the band. Nice guy, great personlity. Whenever we hire new people in the band, we don’t want any ego trips. So, to get someone who has a nice personality and just a good human being is a nice thing to have.” John will join the band completed by longtime members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, on bass and drums respectively.
The piano aspect will come into play for future shows. Brian reveals that he and John will probably perform “Dream On”, the Nazareth cover, from Helix’s Wild in the Streets album, as a duo during upcoming Helix concerts. “And the Christmas shows, we’re doing ‘Hallelujah'” says Brian of another piano-based cover to look forward to!
It’s great to see Helix continue forward through the years. Brian has worked hard, starting in the 1970’s as an indi artist, and now today continuing down that path. Once again the band is behind their own music releases, selling it themselves. Brian has nothing but praise for the team he’s surrounded himself with in recent years.
“I write with Sean [Kelly] nowadays, he’s a great writer, nice person to work with. Aaron Murray is my producer, he studied from Danny Broadback, who won a Juno for Engineering. And Danny studied with Jack Richardson, who as you know produced Alice Cooper and the Guess Who, and all sorts of people.” Brian adds, “Moe Berg [The Pursuit of Happiness] sometimes comes in to write with us, Sean and I.”
Thanks to Brian Vollmer for updating us on all the new happenings on Planet Helix! Try to get out to see the Heavy Mental Christmas tour, and get tickets while you can!
Buy the new Helix single, album, and other stuff:
Audio of our chat below!
Kathryn Ladano, known to Dave FM listeners as the sister of LeBrain (from Stump LeBrain Week), chimed in yesterday with some insightful words about music in general. If you’re a fan of improvised music, you may have heard Kathryn jammin’ on the bass clarinet on two continents!
We sat down and asked her 10 questions about music. Check out the final five below.
6. What do you think about the state of popular music today? Is the quality declining or improving over the last 20 years?
I think much popular music today is crap, and by popular music, I mean the stuff we’re hearing on the radio today. There are plenty of really great bands and artists out there, but we’re just not hearing them because they’re rarely played on commercial radio. I think it’s safe to say that the quality of popular music over the last 20 years has really declined. I think there was a time when certain artists were more concerned with evolving their sound and exploring new territory, and today it seems to be predominantly about just creating commercial hits. I think a lot of bands are also guilty of milking their success by trying to keep replicating the same album over and over without putting much care into diversifying or experimenting. However, that being said, i’m not sure we can place all the blame on commercial artists. Record companies obviously want to make money, and i’m sure a lot of artists are discouraged from trying anything different. Ultimately though, how many bands today have a series of albums in which you can hear a very clear, deliberate change and evolution in sound and style? Not very many, and definitely not Nickelback!
7. What do you think the role of computers should be in music today? Some people feel they rob the music of a live feel, due to the ease of making corrections and adding tracks.
I actually think computers can play a very interesting role in music today. There are some interesting programs out there such as Max/MSP which allow a performer to combine their acoustic sound with the electronic and be able to manipulate it on the spot. I think this can create a lot of interesting sonic possibilities and can really enhance a performance. I’ve played around a little with electroacoustic composition, such as my piece “Open Strain”, and I think for me, the joining of live, acoustic sound, and processed, or pre-recorded electronic sounds is what I enjoy the most, both as a performer and as a listener. That being said, I have been to concerts in which all you’re watching is someone sitting at a laptop, and visually, it’s just not very interesting. When I go to a live performance, I want to see the artists displaying some kind of expression, and sitting at a laptop just doesn’t do it for me.
8. What popular bands today are carrying the flag for intregrity in music?
Radiohead is for sure doing this. Their sound has evolved so much from their first album to their last, and you can tell that they are actively exploring new territory and are not simply concerned with producing commercial hits. I think it’s great that they have maintained such an impressive level of success and popularity too – obviously there is still a large market out there for more progressive music that perhaps record companies are neglecting to acknowledge. People will always disagree about what you should be more concerned about – creating music for yourself, or creating music for the public. For me personally, I think I create for myself first, and the bands I admire the most are the ones that appear to also take that approach.
9. Is it possible to make a living simply out of creating music anymore? Or has that day come and gone? How does one do this as a viable living?
It is, but it certainly isn’t easy. Times have definitely changed though and artists are relying more and more on social media to promote themselves. You don’t need a record label anymore to release a CD, and many artists are doing their own recordings and promotion. There are a lot of great sites out now too that help promote independent artists such as reverbnation and soundcloud which allow artists to build their fan bases gradually without big money behind them. Also, I know of several artists who are funding their albums with fan donations. I think the big problem though is time. It takes time to promote yourself and tour, and get your name out there – and it’s difficult to have both an income and the necessary time to work on your craft. People do it though. Ultimately if you’re determined enough and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, I think it can be done.
10: Some bands like Radiohead have taken the unusual step of giving away albums (In Rainbows) for free digitally. What do you think this does to the value of music? And do you prefer have an album digitally or physically?
I think Radiohead wanted to try something different in response to the changing music industry. When that album was released, I went out and purchased a physical copy without a second thought. I personally still much prefer to have a physical album in my hands. I continue to go out and buy them and build my collection. Yes, I use itunes and own digital music, but the vast majority of my digital music collection is duplicated in physical form. I have very conflicting ideas about all of it. On the one hand, I think Radiohead offered their album for free as a way of countering piracy and trying to control the value of their music. But on the other hand, it takes so much time, energy, money, and resources to create one track which is only valued at 99 cents on itunes. As a buyer, i’m happy to pay that small amount to get a song that I want, but as an artist, I only receive 75 cents or less when someone buys one of my tracks. It’s worth it if people buy your tracks constantly, but in my genre, that just isn’t reality. I make more selling copies of physical CDs, but that isn’t what most people want anymore. *
Kathryn Ladano is a name you might not have heard before, unless you caught Stump LeBrain Week on Dave FM, or you’re a fan of free improvisation. She’s the sister of LeBrain, is a world-class bass clarinest player, but originally came from a rock background. We sat down and asked her 10 questions about music. Check out the first five below.
1. What were your earliest musical influences? I know you listened to a lot of John Williams, pop music, and hair metal like Bon Jovi. How do you go from that to a 10 minute improvisation on bass clarinet?
My earliest musical influences really don’t have a lot of impact on me today in terms of my professional career. I mean, I was into the 80’s hair bands and pop music for the most part growing up. However, it’s true that movie music really spoke to me and I was intrigued by the connection between music and visual images. This is true of 80’s music videos too actually, and I would often (and still do) picture images in my mind when I hear a song. For movie music, I was fascinated by the fact that a certain musical treatment could greatly enhance the emotional impact of a movie scene. I didn’t really understand why, but the idea of it really made an impression on me. As a teenager, I realized that it was the “weirder” soundtracks in particular that affected me the most. For example, the opening music of Planet of the Apes did such a great job of making you feel like you were on another planet, and it’s still one of my favourite examples of movie music. However, I think the soundtrack that affected me the most and opened my ears the most was 2001: A Space Odyssey. In particular, the compositions by György Ligeti — Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna, Requiem, etc… I think that early exposure to highly dissonant music and seeing how brilliantly it could enhance a scene in film really opened my eyes and my ears to the experimental, and Ligeti is still one of my favourite composers today.
2. As a listener, what type of LeBrain reader would be likely to appreciate your music? Is there a track on [your album] Open that is more accessible than others?
That’s a difficult question to answer. If I speak very generally, I would say probably readers that enjoy progressive rock and more avant-garde music would enjoy the album. I tried to throw in everything I could because I wasn’t sure when i’d have a chance to make another one, so the album features a fairly wide variety of sounds and styles. The most accessible tracks are “Something I Can’t Know” (a jazzy sounding trio for bass clarinet, piano, and drums), and “Art Show” (a more upbeat sounding trio for bass clarinet, guitar, and drums). However, the track that has gotten the most airplay is “Further Reflection” (a duo for bass clarinet and percussion that features a very atmospheric opening and minimalistic ending).
3. What do you think about “jam bands” such as the Grateful Dead or Deep Purple who often would go up on stage and improvise for 20 minutes with no script?
I think the concept is fantastic! Essentially, this is what we do as free improvisors. You pretty much throw musical genre out the window and just focus on sound, using your ears as your guide. I also really admire bands that can come up with a meaningful and interesting improvised piece that lasts as long as 20 minutes as it can be very difficult to do. When there is no script and no plan, the form and the personality of the piece can be difficult to find, and the more players you have, the more directions there are to take the music. Granted, bands like this don’t always succeed at creating a successful 20 minute improvisation, and it can be a lot for an audience to absorb, but the basic idea of making it up on the spot and just using your ears and your instinct to guide you is something I would welcome more of in popular music.
4: Bands that do 20 minute jams were extremely popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but today they are not mainstream anymore. Why do you think that is?
It seemed that there was a lot of musical experimentation and exploration happening in the 60’s and 70’s and for some reason, much of that stopped in the 80’s. I think audiences changed and they wanted different things in their music. Today, I really wonder how audiences would respond if more artists started incorporating long jams and improvisations into their music. It seems that it’s not something that people want anymore, and it’s too bad. Popular music has changed and I think audiences no longer expect the unexpected – most people just want to hear their standard three chord songs – unfortunately that seems to be all the modern ear is capable of absorbing. Music and popular culture moves in waves though, so I’m hopeful that at some point more experimental live performances will come into fashion again.
5. What should the role of visuals be in live music?
I am personally very intrigued by this concept and that of interdisciplinary art in general (mixing more than one art form together). I think visuals can greatly enhance music as I said before regarding film music, and it’s an area that I have been exploring a lot lately. For example, last year I directed Wilfrid Laurier University’s Improvisation Concerts Ensemble in a performance of a live, improvised soundtrack to the classic silent film Nosferatu. The ensemble created musical pieces within the context of the film that was unlike anything they had done before without visual imagery. I think adding visuals opens doors to new ideas and greater creativity and allows a musician to react and respond to something other than just what they’re hearing.