Tris McCall on Wine and Song at Pet Shop

 

Songwriters are a pleasant and accommodating bunch. You don't believe me, and that’s because you’re mixing them up with speed metal drummers, or violin virtuosos. There are temperamental musicians out there, and in an industry that rewards impertinence (showbiz), their occasional bad behavior is salutary. But by and large, they aren’t the ones who are writing the songs. Songwriting humbles a practitioner in a completely different way than hours of scales and finger exercises do. An instrumentalist or a pure singer soon bangs up against limitations imposed on him by his own body. A songwriter reaches limitations imposed only by his imagination, or his will, or his experience, or, in many cases, his morality. Songwriters quickly realize they’re handling dangerous stuff – fissile stuff.  They proceed with care. 

Photo Gallery: Jeff Muench from the Feb. 27, 2018 Wine and Song Event

This helps explain why songwriters gather in circles. Circles are protective. Sometimes it’s the audience that needs sheltering, and sometimes it’s the writers. Brendan Hartnett laid down guidelines for the participants at Wine & Song at the Pet Shop Underground on Tuesday – three songs apiece, two originals and one a cover, on the broad theme of a keepsake or an item meant to preserve a memory – and the songwriters he gathered into his circle followed his rules pretty scrupulously.  Nobody played two, or four, or casually disregarded the writing prompt: they all had something to say on Hartnett’s subject.  Whenever they strayed from the assignment, they apologized – half to the crowd, and half to the host.  The performers, including Harnett, were more than a little apologetic for the emotional tone of the material, too. These were sad songs, mainly: about sick relatives and fractured relationships and fights with friends.  As the veteran Montclair musician Michael Reitman pointed out, most of the listeners in the Pet Shop basement were songwriters, too. They all had blood to let and ink to scrawl. They could count on their peers to understand the struggle, and what had motivated them to take to their guitars, and to microphones in basement spaces.

That urgency bled over into the choice of covers. Most of the songs picked by the musicians at Wine & Song were emotionally fraught.  Hartnett picked one of Bob Dylan’s saddest early songs to play – “Boots of Spanish Leather”, a painful tale of misunderstanding and disillusionment between lovers, one that frames the keepsake as a kind of disappointing romantic compromise.  Hartnett, who likes to wrap his supple voice around rueful, whiskey-soaked, 3 a.m. material, was right at home here; better still, he worked out a pleasantly doleful acoustic guitar arrangement that showcased his skill without ever getting too flashy about it. Jonathan Andrew, a Red Bank artist who is currently best known as a member of Christina Alessi and the Toll Collectors, but who has long been an intelligent and literate songwriter in his own right, picked Elliott Smith’s emotionally brutal “Waltz #2”. Andrew often sings in a hushed, gentle voice reminiscent of Ben Gibbard, but here, he laid Smith’s acid verses bare, and did nothing to cushion the hammer-blow of the chorus.  

As renditions of Smith’s material go – and there are a lot of them – this one was illuminating. It was a version that could only have been done by a writer: somebody who had given a lot of thought to notes and chords and melodies, and had tried to figure out how words, and the sentiment they contain, might fit in to the compositional architecture of a song. Unsurprisingly from a circle of songwriters, the Wine & Song participants picked covers from masters – Bayonne’s Michael Rodgers, for instance, tried his hand at a solo electric guitar rendering of “Bennie And The Jets”. (He read the lyrics off his phone and scrolled while the crowd sang along; nobody minded.)  But they were also careful to select songs that framed their own compositions, and put their writing into perspective.  This was true of Hartnett, who allowed the shadow of “Spanish Leather” to fall over a Dylanesque song of his about a favorite keepsake (an ivory owl, if I got that right); it was true for the silver-voiced Gina Tolentino, who closed her mini-set on a cautious but optimistic note with a version of Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “Look Out Mama”; and it was equally true for Reitman, who foregrounded his traditionalism right away with “Hesitation Blues”, a classic associated with Hot Tuna, but which has roots going all the way back to W.C. Handy. 

Tuesday’s show was promoted and co-presented by Mike Kuzan of The Latest Noise: this very website.  Though Kuzan has been one of the busiest guys around Hudson County lately, it’s apparent he’s not an empire-builder. Instead, he’s a fellow musician who is genuinely fascinated by what his peers are doing.  Like Hartnett, he leads with his affability.  Most impresarios strain to be larger than life; this one keeps things on a human scale. He opened the evening with a Jack White number that imparted some of its nervy attitude – though none of its aggression – to his two following originals, including a plainspoken baseball-themed tribute and memorial to an uncle with a brain tumor.  Those who attended the most recent Latest Noise showcase at White Eagle might recall that Kuzan dedicated the night to that same sick uncle.  That's twice now that Kuzan's music made me cross my fingers, hard, for somebody I didn't know.  Songs: they're powerful.

Wine & Song drew from the same pool of rootsy, friendly musicians who made Kuzan’s night at White Eagle a popular success. This is a coherent community, and it has a straightforward stortytelling aesthetic and a relaxed, unpretentious ethos. Yet some of the performers at Wine & Song exhibited compositional daring that I didn’t see at White Eagle Hall. That stands to reason: if you get a turn on the biggest stage in town, you’re probably going to foreground your most crowd-pleasing material. Still, I reckon that Catie Friel would come across as unusual in any context.  The Ridgewood singer and guitarist was, for me at least, the revelation of the night. She covered a song entirely in Greek, and then played an Irish folk song of her own invention – which struck me as an audacious thing to do, but I’m an obnoxious rocker, and I respond to audacity. Her last song was a yarn-ball of blues, unraveled note-by-note, and pulled apart to maximum tautness.  Somehow it reminded me of Jane Siberry and early Talking Heads, though I’m pretty sure she intended neither. Friel has ideas to burn, and ideas are the most important currency to any songwriter, but it’s also apparent that she’s working with a wide scope.  The most persistent knock made against singer-songwriters is that they can’t see past their mirror.  Friel has her window open, and she’s looking out. 

Friel’s songs were ambitious; those of Kristen Erin were downright idiosyncratic. While everybody else brought a guitar, Erin sat at a piano; while her peers drew mostly from folk traditions, she clearly has an ear for far-off-Broadway theater.  Her sense of harmony and time was hers and hers alone, which is something I always like to encounter: music, I think, is at its best when it’s a conduit for personality, and the most interesting personalities are the ones that don’t conform to expectations. A distinguishing characteristic of this musical community, Jonathan Andrew told me between sets, is its gender balance. I believe him.  I’m not sure Friel or Erin would have been properly appreciated in those Guyville pop-rock scenes we both remember from Hudson County in the ‘90s and early ‘00s.  Times have changed, and definitely for the better. 

Alas, Kirsten Erin was, quite literally, self-effacing: she played in front of an enormous stand covered with sheet music.  It was hard to see her lips move as she told her stories, and I’m not sure there’s a campfire in North America where that sort of thing would work.  I do understand – these artists are writers first, and they’d like the songs to speak for themselves.  Quite often they did.  Wine & Song is meant to be a relaxed event – a low-key conversation in which everybody is welcome to join.  Yet the sentiment in the songs was neither simple or blithe, and I often found myself wishing that a few of the performers would do more to underscore the drama of their storytelling. Just as I did at White Eagle Hall, I came away from the evening with the sense that many of these performers believe that showmanship gets in the way of the intimacy they’re hoping to cultivate.  It doesn’t.  It’s an essential part of the pop-rock experience, and it was used to great effect by the artists they appreciate most.  My guess is that we’ll see more demonstrations of charisma from these musicians as they get more comfortable in front of audiences – and once they start to discover how well it works. Yes, even for songwriters. 

 

John Roccesano (Silver Horse Sound) on the release of Project BWQ's American Ghost

 

We did it. We finally did it. Project BWQ has finally closed the door on the making of its debut album American Ghost. It’s been recorded, mixed, mastered and approved. Today, the entire body of work, 14 tracks in all, is available for streaming and purchase. This is a milestone for Darryl Joo, songwriter, singer, musician; it’s a milestone for Silver Horse Sound, the recording operation founded less than two years ago by myself, Max Feinstein, and Ben Scott; and it’s a milestone for the Hudson County music scene, which now has enough traction that it can literally fill White Eagle Hall. I don’t want to sound too hyperbolic, but it’s clear that we’re all onto something.

For as much recording as I do, full length albums are not a common practice. And a full length concept album over 67 minutes is a rare beast, and generally discouraged. That would have to be some rather compelling music in the age of Spotify, right?

I can’t decouple myself from being the second-closest person to Project BWQ’s American Ghost. Like all full-length albums I’ve recorded, it’s impossible not relive the experience of making it on each and every listen. At times it was essentially a full-time job to bring Darryl Joo’s brainchild to life. Long days, late nights, lots of coffee, lots of experimenting, lots of second-guessing every move. But within all of that is some of the deepest music I’ve ever had the privilege to record and perform.

I met Darryl Joo one year ago, May of 2017, in the same room at Silver Horse Sound where we would record 99% of the American Ghost album. Mike Kuzan of The Latest Noise brought in Darryl and a crew of musicians for a live recording of “Sleepwalkers.” It was a smooth session; meant to be quickly cobbled together for a psychedelic songwriting competition. Shortly thereafter Darryl, Mike and I met again at Silver Horse to discuss recording a full-length album; around 14 songs. I was delighted at the prospect of a steady stream of work coming my way (business was slow up to that point). But I did warn Darryl upfront, “Rule number one of recording: However long you think something is going to take, multiply that by 3.” I was mostly right.

Darryl’s a down-to-earth guy, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and remarkably gifted. He took to this challenge with a lot of patience and organization. This was a massive undertaking; involving a cast of musicians from the Hudson County music scene and Darryl’s inner circle. We worked two or three days a week beginning in June, 2017. That summer I played drums on a majority of the tracks and Darryl recorded his guitar parts and vocals. As the months went on the more the guest players would add their parts, some written out by Darryl and others improvised on the spot. To record so many of our friends and colleagues was a dream I expressed to my business partner Max Feinstein just months earlier, and here Darryl was making it a reality. The same magic that brought people together in our live scene was happening in the studio.

As the songs got more and more fleshed out I began forming an attachment to the music and the lyrics. Darryl was expressing and creating a musical identity that was deeply introspective and emotional; that much was obvious. But he also has a gift of translating those thoughts into the right notes and chords (VERY specific notes I might add). I felt my role in this was beyond capturing sounds; it was treating every layer of this musical anatomy as a vital component in this body of work. Can guitars and drums tell the whole story? Sometimes. But other times you have to look for extra texture and get extra weird (that part’s my favorite). It’s a delicate balance of having fun, but keeping it appropriate. And I think we pulled that off. There’s not a note out of place on American Ghost. Every sound and every silence was heavily scrutinized right up to the final day of mastering.

I’ve heard this album a thousand times and I plan to listen to it a thousand times more. I’m thrilled with what Darryl and the rest of us have accomplished. I know Project BWQ is a personal statement for Darryl, but I think he and we know now that it’s more than that. And it ranks among the best our music community has to offer. The 14 tracks on American Ghost range from pop to prog, rock to jazz, signal to noise, and all things in between. It’s a smart album. It’s a beautiful album. It takes itself seriously but can shake an ass all the same. I hope its more accessible elements will inspire repeat listens, which will reveal all of its complexities and subtleties until listeners identify with it on a molecular level. Quite plainly, American Ghost is what music is all about.

 

Release Spotlight: 'Take To The Skies!' by Forget The Whale

'Take To The Skies!'  by Forget The Whale

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'Take To The Skies!' is the 3rd release from the Jersey City band Forget The Whale.  Mike Kuzan talked with Alishia Taiping (lead vocals, bass) Dan Pieraccini (bass, keys, vocals), Peter Durning (guitar, harmonica) and AJ Zienowicz (drums, vocals) about their latest release, recent shows and a bit about the Jersey City music scene.

Kuz:  Let's hear about "Take To The Skies!"

Alishia: It's our 3rd EP, there are four tracks on it.  The first 2 EPs were pretty versatile, we draw from a lot of different genres and we have different tastes in music between the four of us. That comes through with what we write.

AJ: That's the fun part about what we get to do, we all have our own styles, but all our specialities come out when we write our own songs.  We are all involved in the writing, if I come from a drummers stand point and bring a beat to the band, we'll jam then escalate that to several different points of what it feels to us.  We all get to express ourselves and our individuality comes out in this collective mind. 

Dan: From a marketing point people buy songs now, they don't buy full albums anyway so every song might catch a different demographic of people who could like it.

Alishia: I don't think we were every particularly worried about having a sound for a particular set of songs. They are tiny little short stories, they are relatable on maybe a theme not in a sound.

Kuz:  And how does that translate to your live performance when mixing multiple style and sounds?

Pete:  It does translate well, in the beginning we weren't sure how people would react to it.  If we're able to offer variety of music, style and genres throughout, while retaining our persona on stage, and connecting the songs through the four of us.  I think that's what working well for us especially more recently. 

Kuz:  Where did you record "Take To The Skies"?

Dan:  That was at New Record Studios with Rubin Nizri, mastered by Nicholas Ciavatta.  I might have mentioned that we had additional players, the horn players from Penniless Loafers, Nathan LaRioux violin player. 

Pete: This one was definitely more collaborative, Rubin was the 5th voice.  The other 2 EPs were our visions and our songs.  We wanted to get another artist looking in and see what that person saw instead of just our ideas.  It worked out great in the studio, we got some great suggestions.

Dan:  It was a step forward for us adding some new instruments and players.

Kuz:  How was that process working with outside musicians and producer?

AJ:  Rubin would refine the process to the point where we were able to express ourselves without over expressing.

Dan:  In some cases he changed the whole vibe of parts, if you listen to Ghost, the bridge comes out as a smooth, blues-rock thing, but it was actually a much harder part to begin with.  He did the same thing with the vocal stuff with Alishia. 

Alishia:  Yea, for the live show I perform with a vocal processor to add harmonies to certain parts of the song and that's what I'm used to hearing.  At the studio you get to break down your harmonies and add other vocal tracks.  There are whole parts that were written in the studio because I was able to lay down the lead track and then play around it and add more dynamics to the song.

Kuz:  Did you find that stuff came up while you were in the process of doing it or did you have those ideas prior?

AJ:  The historical thing with our band is our songs aren't necessarily set in stone, during our live shows we add new intros, some nuances, extensions of the bridges and we keep developing them.  

Kuz:  Can you talk about the the cover art?

Dan:  It's about the first song and title of the EP, it's like you are on this airship but you are fighting for the wrong side, your with the empire if you will and you decide you don't want to be part of that anymore so you take to the skies and make a thrilling escape on the airship.

Kuz:  What do you think of the new venue FM?

Alishia:  We played FM on March 30, it was an awesome turnout, a great show, a lot  of energy.  We really fine tuned some showmanship, small moments that we could play up on stage that seemed to translate well.  We had been there several times before we played, it's exciting that JC has a venue again like this.  Practically every place we used to play no longer exists, it's so sad to think about, but it's exciting as this seems to be a new home for live music and a place to go.

Kuz:  You guys have also played Groove of Grove a couple times. Can you talk about that? 

Alishia: Yea, we played it three times so far and we headlined the last one in September.  It was really exciting.  

Kuz:  Anything specially you want to talk about the EP?

Alishia:  The third track, is called Ghost, it's one of our newest songs.  Take to the Skies and Ghost we wrote at the same time.  Ghost has a different sound then we have tried before.

Pete:  The song came together quickly.  It was over the course of one practice it came together then we wrote the bridge chords in a day.  The song came together in one or two rehearsals. 

Dan:  It's pretty tongue in cheek, its about modern dating in the internet age and uses a lot of lingo that's probably going to be out of date soon (laughs).

Kuz:  Thanks for taking some time to chat with us about your latest release!

 

 

Spotlight Series Interview with Doug Gillard of Guided By Voices

 

Guided By Voices at White Eagle Hall

Guided By Voices are performing at White Eagle Hall on Wednesday, April 18.  The Latest Noise previews the show for the latest Spotlight Series interview with guitarist Doug Gillard.

Doug Gillard (Lead Guitarist Guided By Voices) Photo: Ana Luisa Morales - Own work

Doug Gillard (Lead Guitarist Guided By Voices) Photo: Ana Luisa Morales - Own work

Formed in 1983 by Robert Pollard, Guided By Voices have released a staggering amount of music in the past 35 years including 25 studio albums and Pollard has written over 2,000 songs in his career.  The latest release 'Space Gun' is sonic journey reminiscent of David Bowie's space oddities and odysseys.  

Kuz of The Latest Noise chatted with lead guitarist Doug Gillard to discuss the band's recent albums, their current tour, the challenges and rewards of working with a prolific songwriter and how to balance it all. 

Kuz:   Hey Doug, thanks for taking time to chat with The Latest Noise.   To give you some background, The Latest Noise serves as a platform to help musicians and fans of music in the Tri-state area connect and grow their following.  A lot of the musicians I'm connected with are in multiple bands and are co-existing in multiple projects.  As the guitarist for both Guided By Voices and Nada Surf, do you have any advice on how to balance working on more than one music project at a time?

Doug:  The last couple of years has been the first time for me to have to juggle two bands that have large followings.  We have the understanding with Nada Surf, that if I can't be with them they will operate as a three piece.  With Guided By Voices, I can't just say to them, "I'm going to sit this one out" because I'm the guitar player.  You are always shifting gears but it's not bookended with constant shows.  In Guided By Voices there is always ongoing recordings, so your head is in one record recording-wise, but then you have to learn the set for the record coming out right now.  Even before I re-joined Guided By Voices, in New York or anywhere really, there was tribute shows that I'd take part in, so I'm used to have multiple things going on.  I think a lot of musicians are like that now. 

Kuz:  Right, seems like more now a days bands that take a break to have solo projects or to keep things fresh.

Doug: A lot of musicians have friends who ask them to be part of thing and just don't say no, they know it's for fun. 

Kuz:  With Guided By Voices there are so many albums, how do you balance the tour and the live music, are you drawing from the history or the more current music?

Doug:  We draw from the history, songs throughout Bob's career, including some of his solo albums.  We are playing stuff from the new album mixed with the old stuff.

Kuz:  When you are approaching an album working with someone so prolific how does the process change?

Doug:  The process for the last two albums (Space Gun, How Do You Spell Heaven) has been the same.  Most of us live in the New York area, we'll get Bob's demos and record the music here.  Then Travis Harrison (engineer) and one or two of us will go to Dayton and record Bob's vocals there and come back and mix them.  That seems to be a process that Bob enjoys and that he trusts the work that we do.  For 'August By Cake', it was more of mishmash,  he came to New York, he had some songs that he hadn't finished in Dayton.  Each member recorded a couple of solo songs.  It might be different next time, but right now that's the formula that he has in place.

Kuz: You guys had a short run in December, was that a warm up for the bigger tour or just one off shows?

Doug: Yea, those were just one off shows, we made the New Years shows very long and played some old chestnuts that we don't usually play on tour. 

Kuz:  What have you heard about White Eagle Hall?

Doug: I've heard some nice things about White Eagle Hall, I heard it was once a gym and now the floorboards are part of the balcony.  I'm happy for New Jersey and that side of things.  Even Manhattan is getting low on affordable clubs to go to.  It's a rent issue.  I'm really glad for the folks of Jersey, that something is located in Jersey City.  Asbury Park has things happening there but I'm happy that there's something in the Hoboken and Jersey City area.  I'm longtime friends with Todd Abramson, all the folks at FMU over the years and let's not forget about Monty Hall.  Monty Hall is great, they have some neat things there.  It's a small world, I first played Maxwell's in 1986, Ira Kaplan was our sound man, I think he had Yo Le Tango going but I first met him way back then. I'm really looking forward to seeing White Eagle Hall and playing there!

Kuz: Great! Thanks for taking time out to talk to The Latest Noise.

Doug:  Best of luck, hope to see you at the show.

 

 

SILVER HORSE SOUND SPOTLIGHT: JOHN ROCCESANO & MAX FEINSTEIN

This interview is part 1 of 2 and covers Liam Brown, Kirk & Kuz, Brian Lawrey and Viktor.digital

Interview  part 2 of 2 and covers Terra Electric, Ross Sandler & The Love Network and Project BWQ

 

Listen to the music!

Liam Brown

Kirk & Kuz

 

 

Brian Lawrey

Viktor.digital

Artist Spotlight: Ross Sandler Live! At White Eagle Hall

Ross Sandler

Funky, soulful and from the heart. Ross brings it together whether its rock to reggae or funk to softness and does it all with soul and love.

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Don't Stop

Release date: 2016

Ross Sandler is a Jersey City singer/songwriter. His background as a dancer influences his music where groove and heart and paramount. Funky and soulful, rocking and soft--Ross explores the gamut of emotions. His music is a reflection of life when upbeat tunes like Hello, Soul Matters and Have To explore how self love and self doubt co-exist. The ballad, I'm To Blame, explores despair surrounded by hope. Mixed and recorded tightly by John Roccessano at Silver Horse Sound and mastered at Friggin Fabulous by Nick Ciavatta this album pops. Ross plays the guitars and does most vocals, but appearances by John Roccessano, Tom Mullaney, Alex Heitzenrater, Joe AllOne, Maxwell Feinstein and Abby Rae provide a half hour of fun music. Don't Stop is a savvy and unique blend of old school with new style, and pop music may just be coming in Ross' direction. This is unlike anything you have heard. Ross hopes you love it!

 

 

Kuz interviewed Ross on 3/18/18 to discuss the 4/27 White Eagle Hall show, his album 'Don't Stop', his musical journey and the current state of music on the scene.

Some Songs You May Know and Some You May Not (Bob Dylan)

 

Some Songs You May Know and Some You May Not (Bob Dylan)

II'm starting a new weekly series called 'Some Songs You May Know and Some You May Not' the idea is that I'll pick an artist/band and curate a 12 song playlist that will come out every Friday.

Here's the first one:

12 Dylan songs that could be an introduction to Dylan, could be a selection of the best songs ever written or could be the worst singing you ever heard. You decide.

~Kuz

 

Announcing The Latest Noise Artist Development Workshops

 

The Latest Noise Artist Development Workshop: Booking gigs and promoting events effectively

MARCH 10, 2018.  12pm - 3pm NONLINEAR STUDIOS.

The Latest Noise is hosting an artist development workshop on Saturday, March 10 from 12pm to 3pm at Nonlinear Knitting Studio (195 New York Ave, unit 3E, Jersey City)

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The workshop is lead by Mike Kuzan (Kuz) of The Latest Noise.The goal of this workshop is to teach musicians how to grow their music career and create new opportunities. For this workshop we will teach you how to book gigs and then how to present the event effectively online to get people out to your show. Gerry Rosenthal (www.gerryrosenthal.com) is our very special guest and will give us his valuable insight on booking gigs from his years of experience and success.

Creating A Life In Music

1) MUSIC + GIGS = Foundation

This is the necessary part of the equation, the music has to be good and you grow as a musician and increase your exposure to fans when you play gigs.  This is work but shouldn’t feel like it.

2) CONTENT + SOCIAL = Awareness

This is about capturing and displaying what you and your music is about to an audience.  The content should be consistent and created with purpose.  It should be released with intention and with goals.  This is work and it sometimes feels like it. 

3). FANS + MERCH = Growth

This is how to support your ability to make music and play gigs.  Developing your voice as an artist and/or a band is the key to engaging your fanbase and allowing them to invest in your growth.  If they see something in what you are doing they will support you... if you let them.  This is work and will feel like work. 

When you find a way to align all three of these things you create

A Life in Music. 

 

Workshop Schedule

12:00pm-12:15 - Meet and Greet / Coffee

12:15 - 12:30 - Introducton with Kuz: "Booking more gigs"

12:30-1:15 - Discussion: Mike Kuzan and Gerry Rosenthal will have a discussion on booking gigs and cover topics such as reaching out to venues, what to ask for, creating the right setlist, what to do to get asked back, how often to book a show and a whole lot more!

1:15 - 1:25 - Break

1:25-2:00 - Walkthrough with Kuz: Mike Kuzan will show you exaclty what you need to create for an event, using free and easy to use tools available online. It is encouraged for you to bring a laptop so you can follow along and create your own content! He will also cover strategies to use to get people out to your event and how to use the insights from previous events to make your next event stand out even more!

2:10-2:40 - Q&A with Mike Kuzan & Gerry Rosenthal, here's your chance to ask specific questions about your bands strategy, social media, website and anything else you'd like!

2:40 - 3:00pm - Closing remarks and networking

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Saturday March 10, 2018 from 12pm - 3pm. Tickets are $30.