11 Questions with… Super 8

Paul “Trip” Ryan of the one man band, Super 8, has been making some of the most melodic psychedelic indie-pop music around! Much of UK-based Trip’s music shimmers and sways into exquisitely crafted ear worms. In addition to his knack for melody, Trip also makes music with a lightness that sometimes hides the melancholy. This back and forth is most welcome in these days of challenge. As a one man band playing all of the instruments, an atmosphere is raised that allows listeners to drop into a musical concoction that does not ever disappoint. Each delicious single and the incredible collaboration with the incredible Lisa Mychols, crackles and glistens with just the right amount of sonic tension. If one were to look up ‘catchy songs’ in an encyclopedia, the entry would simply say ‘Super 8.’

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing music?

Super 8 (Trip): Well first off, thanks so much for taking the time to formulate these questions and for your interest in this music I make. OK, here goes then … I have always loved music! A very early memory of mine was listening to Simon & Garfunkel played in the family car when I was a kid and really connecting with the harmonies and rhythms. Later in my early teens I found an old, beat up guitar in an attic. In hindsight it was a truly terrible instrument with only four (rusty!) strings but, for a few months at least, I actually thought it was the greatest thing in the world! To encourage my enthusiasm my Folks later bought me a better acoustic guitar and, from there, I saved up pocket money to buy an electric one. I’m still ‘wheeling’n’dealing’ musical instruments to this day and still get that buzz that I had as a kid when I get to play a new instrument. In fact, my latest musical instrument fixation is the birthday present I received from my thoughtful wife at Hogmanay – a small bass harmonica. I’m so taken with it I put it to good use straight away – it’s a feature instrument on the new single (‘Out of My Head’). You can see me getting to grips with it in the video.

As for how I started writing music … it’s something I just fell into naturally. It just feels like the right thing for me to be doing in this life. I’ve had no formal training as such, I just try to capture the sounds I hear in my head as best I can with whatever musical tools I have at my disposal at any given time.

Dr. J: What first led to your recording music as SUPER 8? How do you approach production?

Trip: I trod the musical boards in a few local bands growing up in the North West of England. With Liverpool a short train ride to the west and Manchester another short train ride to the east it was an inspiring place to grow up (Warrington). I moved north to Scotland around the turn of the millennium and, borne of necessity without any band mates around, I tentatively started to make music on my own. (I had never sung one of my own songs prior to coming to Scotland – there must be something in the water here!) There was a brief spell at the beginning of the century where I tried the whole ‘band thing’ again but it didn’t work out… so ever since I’ve just accepted that I’m a solo studio artist (read: ‘hermit’!).

That said over the last couple of years as well as keeping my hand in with solo SUPER 8 stuff  I have been collaborating remotely with the LA-based artist Lisa Mychols (more on that later).  As to how I approach production? I’m not the world’s most technical guy I must admit. I’m not interested in the latest ‘must-have!’ fad gadget nor tweaking software for hours on end, I just use my ears until I find sounds that work well together. I play everything you hear on my solo records. Some instruments I can play better than others but I will give anything a go to try to get a tune out of it, whatever works for the song really. At the end of the day it’s ALL about the song!      

Dr. J: Out of My Head is your most recent music, what led to the making of that song? What was the main influence on your songwriting at that time that you wrote this?

Trip: ‘Out Of My Head’ came together really quickly. I had the embryonic idea for it just before Christmas and threw down a rough musical sketch before heading south to England for the festive period. On my return I realized it would benefit from being faster and ‘quirkier’. As I said, I had been gifted a bass harmonica by this point so, after a quick crash course in bass harmonica technique (and discovering you can only blow into it, there’s no sound if you suck!) I attempted to put it to good use right away. The single came together really quickly after that. The wife and I made a quick (daft!) video for it last Wednesday and it was released (via Bandcamp) over the weekend just gone.  As a composer I like it when inspiration strikes like that! What was just a rough idea can become a fully-formed & finished piece with a quick turnaround. I feel I do my best work when I’m ‘lost in music’ and ‘in the zone’ as it were! It’s inspiring and keeps me on my toes. I’m naturally a pretty impulsive person who needs to keep motivated. I tend to tire and lose interest when projects drag on.

As for the main influence for this particular song. Hmm… I hadn’t really thought about it but, now you ask, MAYBE it’s about a love that has been lost? And/or rejection? Or a feeling of being stuck in a certain situation out of one’s control with no apparent clear plan for the way forward. That and the knock-on doubts, personal frustration and disorientation as a result hence the title ‘Out Of My Head’. Or maybe it’s not about any of that and it’s about what book to read next? (I’m currently reading Brian Wilson’s autobiography). I dunno, some songs are hard to explain. They just ‘are what they are’ – a musical snapshot of a moment in time. I personally don’t write a diary so it all has to come out in some way I guess. As you can see, I’m not that great at explaining my songs – I prefer to just let the songs do the talking.        

Dr. J: ‘Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 album was the album you released in 2020 with Lisa Mychols. The songs on that record seem almost purposefully lighter hearted. Is that a correct interpretation of the record? If that is correct, did you intend to create an album that was purposefully more fun?

Trip: Ahh yeah, the debut album with Lisa was great fun – an absolute blast from start to finish! It just seemed to come along at the perfect time (for both of us I think!) It all started with a one-off single (‘Time Bomb’). We had such a laugh making that one (including being cast as clay figures in the video by my talented wife Gill!) that we decided to carry on and see where this 5,000 mile remote collaboration might lead. (Lisa lives in LA, I reside in Scotland so the whole album was made via file sharing. Believe it or not we have never actually met in person!)

Before too long we had what we thought was going to make a strong EP but then we did a couple more songs together and just thought: “Hey! What the heck? Let’s try for a full length album!” We were ping-ponging files back and forth across the Atlantic and just vibing off the whole project. It wasn’t our intention to make an entire Summer-themed album, that’s just the way it came out. We just let the songs inform us as to how THEY wanted to go. All very organic and natural sounding, nothing on that album was forced or premeditated, not written to order, we just went with the flow and within the space of just a few very creative months we had our album ‘in the can’. On its release (via the cool Canadian label: ‘The Beautiful Music’) it received numerous rave reviews with many folk referring to it as their ‘Album of the Summer’. I’m still very proud of that album. It definitely bottled a musical moment in time. Happy days & good vibrations! File under: ‘California/Brit Pop!’  

Dr. J: How did the song ‘All My Worries come together musically for you?

Trip: I have to hold my hand up and admit that I was listening to a lot of Beatles around the time this was written. (Who am I trying to kid, I’m ALWAYS listening to The Beatles!) I guess I just soaked up some extra Beatles vibe around this time and it came out in this song. Again, not premeditated, the way this one panned out is the way this song informed me how it wanted to be. (That said, I admit it IS very Beatles-y-sounding …. to my ears anyway!)

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

Trip: Well, there’s The Beatles (see above – LOL!) but it doesn’t just come from listening to other folk’s music. It’s hard to explain really but I shall at least try …. most of the music I write actually comes to me ‘from within’ … and usually at the most inopportune moments! For example, I’ll be out walking somewhere and “BOOM!” I get a melody or a riff popping into my head and have to scrabble to capture it before it’s gone. (The voice recorder on my phone has helped me remember quite a few songs that would otherwise have been lost!) Another example? I could be mid-shave say and … “AARGGH! Here we go again!” It’s a curse at times but I can’t complain. The most exasperating situation?  At night. I’m a light sleeper and most nights I find it very difficult to get off to sleep – it takes a long time for my mind to shut down! It’s often just when I’m (finally!) in that strange Twilight Zone place between conscious and unconscious thought that “PING!” a new song idea will choose to present itself!  When it does, I either have to: A) wake myself up to capture it somehow or B) just let it slide hoping that, by rights, if it’s good enough then I should be able to just remember it until I wake at a civilized time in the morning, right?

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey in the last few years?

Trip: Again, quite a difficult question as I find it very hard to describe my music ….. it’s more ‘a feeling’. I try not to pigeon-hole the music I make. There’s plenty of acts out there that play to their strengths and tastes as in: “We’re a Ska band!” or “We’re a Power Pop band!” (Whatever ‘Power Pop’ is – ha!) but, for me, I like to mix it up and keep fans of my music on their toes. I like the fact that I can, for example, write a little jazzy bossanova tune with Lisa (eg: ‘Your Summer Theme’) then go from that to an out ’n’ out Rocker with a medieval baroque section in 6/8 timing just thrown in for good measure (LOL!) There’s actually a lot of humour embedded into these songs I write. How would I sum them all up? It’s all just a big pick’n’mix musical melting pot really! As to how my songwriting process has evolved, I’d like to think I’m getting better as I go along here but, that said, I do not wish to get ‘too good’. I like all the ‘happy accidents’ that happen in the studio …. and the things that don’t seem to make sense. If I actually knew what I was doing and all the theory behind it then perhaps these chance moments would vanish and I’m not prepared to take that risk so I’ll just keep doing this while I can and not think too much about the process. So long as making music continues to be a fun, creative outlet for me then I shall endeavour to keep making it.  

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

Trip: Well it’s the start of a new year so we’re supposed to have resolutions, right? Musically speaking I already know I don’t want another year like last year! Looking back on it I got way too distracted with musical commissions and I completely took my eye off the ball (or should that be ‘ear’?) where making NEW music was concerned. So much so that I actually only managed to finish a mere handful of self-penned original songs (which is not like me at all – prior to 2021 I had a reputation for being prolific!) Here now in 2022 I need to turn that around and ‘get back’ to the one thing I feel I’m good at i.e.: being ‘a songwriter’. I hope to have two new albums out in 2022, one SUPER 8 solo and a follow-up with Lisa – watch this space!

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform live? What is your favorite song to perform in general? What makes that song a current favorite in your performances?

Trip: Like I say, I’m more of what you’d call ‘a studio musician’ nowadays. Being a solo ‘one man band’ as it were, I haven’t played a gig in the longest time. I guess my performances these days are on the records I make, what I play into the microphone when I’m multi-tracking a song. I tend to just let the songs do the talking now pretty much! I don’t really tend to have ‘a favourite’. I just go from recording one song to the next really.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

No real ‘message’ as such more ‘a feeling’. That the music I present makes the listener feel good in themselves. Not one ‘thing’ in particular, just ‘a connection’. I write from the heart I guess and just try to be true to my school as it were – to write music that I like and, if I like it, hopefully others might too. ‘Tis a strange and magical thing ‘music’. It’s all so subjective!   

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

Trip: Like everyone, I wish this thing would just disappear and let us all get back to and on with ‘normal’ life as we knew it – we live in hope! In the meantime we have to just keep our heads up and deal with the cards we’ve been dealt here. Musically speaking the one good thing to come out of all of this I guess is that us musicians have realised the potential of making music via file-sharing. I can’t really think of anything else positive to say on the whole ‘Corona’ front! Anyway, stay safe and thanks for reading!

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Trip for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music as Super 8! Click on the links throughout the article to visit his social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions with…’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Trip.

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11 Questions with… Kim Ware of The Good Graces

Drummer turned guitarist Kim Ware has been making emotionally powerful indie folk rock since 2009’s Bring on the Tambourines! Her last full length, 2019’s Prose and Consciousness merged her sense of melody with layered songwriting that pulled the listener into a rich world of Southern culture, meditations on life and efforts to improve ourselves. Kim’s music often raises questions about how we make real lasting relations in our communities. Stand out tracks like ‘Three’, ‘His Name was the Color that I Loved’ and ‘Wants + Needs’ brought Ware’s mature songwriting together with music that allows listeners to feel the experience even if it is for all too brief a moment. Kim has continued to release new music such as 2021’s ‘capital R (single)‘ and 2020’s powerful ‘Stopped Making Plans‘ and ‘Things Will Be Better in the Morning.’ These songs demonstrate her commitment to intelligent musical discourse. It was a real pleasure to correspond with Kim about her music.

1. What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest song, ‘Stopped Making Plans’?

This song had some pretty weird origins that were both very intentional but also very accidental at the same time! I say that because it came to be thanks to an assignment for a songwriting group I’m part of.

We meet on Mondays; it was a Sunday afternoon and I thought, “I don’t have a new song to share tomorrow.” The prompt was “foreign languages” so I simply started by thinking about countries I’d like to visit. My mind went to Germany first; my husband is from there but I’ve never visited. I was thinking about how my friend Andy had also booked a trip to Italy in late 2019 but of course it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I sort of organized those thoughts to be more about plans falling through, and missing loved ones. In the case of the Italy mention, rather than focusing on Andy’s trip I very intentionally thought about Michele Gazich. He plays violin for Mary Gauthier, and though I don’t know him well I’ve met him at Song School in Colorado, and we’re friends on Facebook. Back around last February / March, before Covid had severely impacted the US but was taking its toll on Italy, where he lives, he was posting about what was going on. It was so frightening. That, plus my working for a major digital publisher at the time (which happens to be health-focused), led me to take all this pretty seriously from the very beginning.

It’s been such a mental and emotional drain. I kept thinking it might be something I’d write about but it all just seemed too big. Suddenly, approaching it this way (very indirectly at first) just worked. Once I realized what I wanted the song to capture (the trials of last year, with a focus on plans being cancelled), it came together pretty quickly.

I also feel the need to say before writing it I had just finished reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” for graduate school. In it, he focuses a good bit on hope, and imagining a future, and how important it is to our existence. That seemed to be top of mind – that the roughest part of all this, for me (a natural planner) was adapting to not making plans.

2. In the past you have had strong collaborations, did the coronavirus/Covid-19 situation change how you wrote and worked on the song?

Very much. In November 2019, the Good Graces played our release show for “Prose and Consciousness.” That was such a wonderful experience, like everything just came together for that show. Little did we know we’d only be able to play a couple more together. I would have loved to have included the folks who played that show with me on this song, but logistically that’s a lot harder to coordinate now. I also moved last summer, from Atlanta (where they are all based) to North Carolina, to be closer to elderly family members. The combination of Covid plus just being in a place where I don’t know as many musicians meant I felt very, very isolated. That’s definitely changed how I work on music now. I wrote the song alone, and then recorded my guitar and vocal tracks at home. I sent those to engineer/producer Jerry Kee, and he added everything else. We’re working on a full album this way. Though it’s not what I would have imagined had you asked me last year how I’d make my next album, it’s working really well.

3. ‘Stopped Making Plans’ is a song that explores the impact of the pandemic, police violence and other social issues, did you set out to address these particular ideas when starting to work on that song?

Not at all! As I mentioned up top, it didn’t start out being about that at all. But, it quickly turned into that. I just wanted to be very honest. Those are the things that took so much of my mental energy and empathy last year. So once I started going there, I couldn’t really avoid them.

4. Many of your songs have addressed the strength or weakness of social bonds – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and the feel of your music? If that is correct, do you intend to write about social bonds and connections or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

That’s so interesting, and really insightful. I put a lot of thought into relationships, I suppose. And not just a-b relationships, but like my place, my role in a given community. How we all “relate”. And connections – that’s definitely something I’ve been very focused on exploring, for years now. All that said though, I don’t think I ever intentionally write about them. I’m very much an in-the-moment songwriter. Something comes to me, and I try to follow it. Sometimes I can shape it into something that makes some sense, but as often it falls by the wayside, I guess to make room for something else. I’m studying to get my master’s in counseling, and social bonds and connections is a big focus there. So I imagine that will continue to come up, either directly or indirectly, in my music.

5. How did ‘Stopped Making Plans’ come together musically for you?

Once I figured out the direction and general melody, the vocal part came together quickly. That tends to be what happens for most of my songs. The guitar part was the challenge. I’d say my finger-picking skills are pretty novice. But I really pushed myself to give this particular guitar part a real “part,” a real presence in the song. Really I thought the recorded version would stay pretty minimal. So I worked really hard to figure out that guitar melody and actually be able to execute it. The bridge was particularly tricky! But finally I got it; it’s a lot different from my playing on most all my other songs which is typically either very strummy and rhythmic, or very very simple, repetitive picking. Anyway, as I mentioned above, once I sent it to Jerry he had a very different vision for it! At first I wasn’t sure about it, but by the end I really loved everything he brought to it (and I still have my original demo with just me – that’s posted on my Bandcamp, too – If I ever really feel like hearing or sharing that more minimal version).

6. Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

I think of songwriting a lot like dreams. I’ve always thought dreams just “mean” whatever you decide they mean, and if you asked someone else, they might have a very different interpretation. To me, dreams seem to mostly just be a way of processing whatever has happened that day. Songs are very much the same. I process through them. I’m not sure I “figure stuff out,” but – when I get it right – I manage to put something pretty complex and challenging for me to even talk about into a 3-or-4-minute piece of art. That is just the coolest thing to me! It’s the single thing I love most about songwriting.

So I guess I’m saying I get inspiration from challenges – but it’s almost never intentional. My mind just always wants to solve problems, I think. Or at least take a complex problem and break it down into something simpler, more manageable. I think it’s my need to do that that inspires me to write songs. It’s my means of processing.

7. How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Set Your Sights (in 2017) to Prose and Consciousness (2019) to your recent music)?

I think it’s always been really personal and honest. That’s sort of the metric for me; sometimes I write for “side projects” and one of the things that makes it a Good Graces song vs. a song for one of those other projects is if it’s so honest that I’d probably be uncomfortable talking about it.

I think that’s been consistent, from my very first song back in ’07 or so. It’s evolved a lot; I guess it’s gotten a little more polished? And I’ve had a lot of different folks contribute to it over the years. They’ve all inspired and had an influence on me, the songwriting, and the final product in one way or another. I do think now I’m starting to veer just slightly from Americana and folk and maybe more towards indie and bedroom pop (which is a place I’m also pretty familiar with, I think my 2014 album “Close to the Sun” was more that sort of style). The southern influence isn’t going anywhere though, I think that’s unavoidable due to my vocals. But working with Jerry here recently, and him adding things like drum machine and keys, has made me realize a sort of different way to present the songs.

8. What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Stop Making Plans?

Jerry and I have about 16 or 17 songs we’re trying to get through this year. I think we’ve finished up 5 so far. I’d like to release a few more singles and then maybe around the fall or so start pulling everything together for an album. But that said, last year taught me to just sort of be more in the moment and not get too married to any one idea or method when it comes to releasing music. I recently launched a Patreon which I’m really enjoying – my focused is shifting just a little from “the next album” to “what am I making this week?” I will always love making albums though, and the format, it’s just that right now it feels like there’s got to be something more, or different from that, you know? One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m pretty burnt out on the traditional way of making and promoting music. It was getting so focused on likes, pageviews, followers, etc. That’s why I like doing things like Patreon. Sure, it’s great if the numbers go up. But for me what’s far more important is the connection I’m making through songs. If I’m even lucky enough to make one. That’s the greatest thing. I’m trying to focus more on little things that remind me of that connection.

Oh! I also recently launched a podcast that sort of talks about these things so I may as well plug that here! It’s called Quarantined With the Good Graces and you can find it on most all the podcast platforms. It’s an interview podcast and I’m releasing a new episode each Tuesday. At the moment, I’m focusing as much on that as I am my songs, and it feels really right to me.

9. What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

It’s almost always “7-Year Sentence (Going to Hell)”. Back in Atlanta, I’d usually have a group of friends come sing the end choruses with me. It was a highlight of our shows, and really cathartic. I tend to sing that song louder and more emotionally than a lot of my other songs, and it always feels really good.

10. What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

That we’re all struggling through this in our own way. If nothing else connects us, I think that does.

11. As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

I’ve really been trying to immerse myself in my new life – my husband and I moved into my aunt’s old farmhouse at the beginning of this year. It’s right beside my dad’s peach orchard. He passed away a couple of summers ago, but being here, right beside everything that was so much a part of him, I feel really close to him. The other day I walked around the perimeter of the orchard; it was soooo cold! But during that time, I thought, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, and exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in this moment. I guess that’s how I’m trying to adapt. By being present and focused on thethings that are important.

I left my day job at the beginning of the year (2021), so I could focus more on school and all this life stuff with the house and my family. So, I’m still sort of trying to figure out what my new life even is. But I’m also doing some things that I wanted to do but never had time to. I took an online improv class through Second City and I absolutely loved it. And I’m currently taking a songwriting class. That’s a little more like “work” for me, which is interesting. But I’m grateful to have a little more time to spend on that now. I’m viewing this time as a transition for me; I don’t feel particularly settled yet, but I feel like that’s starting to come more into view.

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kim Ware for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Kim’s social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Kim Ware/The Good Graces.

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11 Questions with… Jayne Sachs

Some time ago songwriter Jayne Sachs agreed to answer our 11 Questions for this column! We appreciate Jayne taking the time out of her busy schedule to respond to these questions about songwriting, music making and performing. In 2015, she was a Daytonian of the Week!

Singer/Songwriter Jayne Sachs has been crafting songs in the Dayton Music Scene and beyond for several years. Jayne is currently a songwriter at Matt Lindsey Music in Nashville. She is an award winning songwriter with two first place wins in the prestigious John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the country and pop music categories, a rare occurrence. She is also a top winner in The UK Songwriting Contest and the International Acoustic Music Awards in the country category, we could go on and list the extensive recognition for her songwriting skills and techniques but that is not what this column is about. Our purpose here is to learn about songwriting and music directly from Jayne. However, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank her because Jayne has also been very kind with her time agreeing to speak to Dr. J’s classes about music and songwriting.

  1. What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest music?

For the last eight years I have been writing songs for pitching in the Nashville country market. Before this, I was in the indie/alt pop genre as an artist and performer.

When my dad on his death bed (sorry, I always go dark!) asked me about my future in music he asked what publishers do and if I could “get one”. I was pretty sure I couldn’t just “get one” but didn’t know enough about what they do and how I could actually ever get signed by one. I knew that publishers were located in all the music cities, with Nashville being the closest.

After my dad died, I received a letter that he had written to me while he was still alive. He told me how proud he was of my music journey and if I should ever decide to not continue, I should be happy with what I’ve done. Since I had no intention of slowing down I thought back to our conversation about publishers and decided to understand that side of the industry. One thing lead to another and I learned the country genre inside and out and actually ended up getting signed by a long time Nashville publisher. I write daily and turn songs into him for pitching. I wish I could tell my dad.

2. You worked closely with several musicians throughout your career, what led to your collaborations?

The musicians I’ve worked with the most and the longest are my band mates Steve VanEtten, Scott Shiverdecker and Kelly Morelock. I worked with Kelly prior to that with a different line up as well. What lead to that collaboration originally was my need for a live band, but also musicians who could take the songs and help arrange them in cool ways. Each one of these players is an expert on his instrument. Without them the songs would have remained acoustic based, but these guys put muscle behind my singer songwriter diddies.

3. Rain is a personal favorite, so I am curious about it. The song seems different to me from some of your other songs and music. What were you trying to capture with that song?

I wrote “Rain” about the music industry. But it’s a song that can be interpreted in any way that resonates with the listener. I guess I was feeling that the rain I was hoping for would wash the dirt of trying to get signed off of me so I could just feel free.

4. Rain also seems to address some ideas about expressing oneself. If that is correct, did you intend to address that theme?Is there a theme that you find yourself working with in your songs?

If that is your interpretation, then I meant to address it! I am all for the meaning of a song being how the listener takes it, except for my Nashville songs which can’t leave anything up for interpretation. Stuff is very literal in that market. But the theme of Rain for me is breaking out and washing shit off of myself and feeling carefree. I’ve always wanted to dance naked in an alley.. who wouldn’t?! Well maybe not in the bitter winter.. but even…

5. How did Rain come together musically for you?

Rain is on a cd called Velveteen Girl. It was the only project I recorded with musicians other than my mates. I was working with a producer in Nashville, Lij Shaw, and he brought in his friends who do a lot of studio work. My band was on a break at that time as Scott and Steve already had kids and needed some time with their families. I’m proud of that cd and then my band emulated the songs so well once we got back together for live shows.

6. Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

My songs as an artist tend to be dark and somewhat personal, whether they sound more ballad or more up tempo, sad or sarcastic. The song may not be about me specifically, but there is always an emotional bed that the song is lying on that I can relate to completely… the emotion. So to answer your question, the inspiration is the emotion. I may have just heard something that made me tear up, or laugh or feel empathy… and then if that feeling sticks around longer than a minute I may grab my guitar and try to dance with that feeling a bit. Listening to other’s songs that resonate with me is always inspiring. When I hear something I really love, my favorite thing to do is grab my own guitar and write.

7. How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey across your various projects such as your earlier music compared to the music you are making now)?

 Writing for the Nashville market is what I’m concentrating on now but my journey in music started around age 18 at OSU when I started playing out a bit. As soon as I started writing original songs, I always wrote to perform them and then to record them and then to play them for an audience. I left music for a long while to have a normal career, even though I picked TV (a story in itself), but brought music back into my life in my 30’s. That is when I really got serious about writing and finding my true voice as an artist. That’s when I started playing live with a band and my career grew beautiful and crazy fun wings! This continued for years and years until I started writing for Nashville, a total shift in focus.

Learning how to write for the masses was like getting a PhD in neurosurgery. I dove into it with a fierce need to understand It and it’s been no different than learning a very specific skill.. or maybe brainwashing.. not sure! I feel I am a better writer now in general because I understand crafting for marketability purposes, but the trade off is not having the carefree heart as I did as an artist just writing for my project. I struggle to keep “me” in my writing now, but too much of “me” limits the chance of an artist wanting to record it. I’m writing for other artists now who are looking to record songs that resonate with them… and those artists are choosing songs that their audience will like… and those songs are being dissected by their label and team to figure out which ones could become singles and possibly a  #1 on radio. So when I sit down to write now, I am trying to write a hit. And I’m still trying to keep a bit of me in it so I can still somehow relate to the emotion in the song.. but writing it in a way that will appeal to the masses. It’s f’n hard!! It’s the hardest writing I’ve ever attempted. 

8. What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

I’m not sure what is next. I’m neck deep in Nashville. If I drown, I drown… but I’m a fairly resilient human who can dog paddle like an expert dog paddler! I’m extremely goal oriented and the goal is to get a major artist to cut one of my songs. I’m getting closer. Garth Brooks put a vocal on one of my co-written songs but then he ultimately passed on it. I heard that he sent it to another artist who he thought it might be better suited for. But we didn’t hear anything else on it. Ugh!! We were all holding our breaths on that one!

9. What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

Oh let me see… a favorite? That’s hard to pick. I have a song I wrote for the Nashville market called “Somewhere” which I love to perform. I wrote it two years ago. It happened to win The John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the country category which was pretty darn validating.

10. What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

Since my latest music is not for myself as an artist, I would say I hope listeners would still hear “me” in there as I struggle to keep that heart beating while writing in a completely different way.

11. As a musician, how did you adapt to the challenges of the Coronavirus? Is that changing for your now as music events are opening up again?

Since Covid, I’ve been co-writing via Zoom instead of being in a physical room with people in Nashville. I was traveling to music city every three weeks or so but I haven’t been back since the beginning of Covid. During the last year, I’ve done a few sets live via Facebook, so that is new territory for me. I miss the stage greatly. It’s where I honestly feel at home. Now that things are opening up, I hope to do a few shows every now and then.

You can follow Jayne Sachs on various social media including:

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Jayne Sachs for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Jayne’s social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Jayne Sachs.

11 Questions with… Nick Kizirnis

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nThe 11 Questions with… column returns with guitarist, songwriter Nick Kizrinis! He graciously answered these questions about his latest music projects. We want to publicly thank him for taking the time to answer these questions!

Nick has been involved in numerous music projects. He first picked up a guitar at the age of 12 and one could say that he never really put it down. Some of his earliest music followed the creative playfulness of the surf rock guitar sound. The overlooked band The Mulchmen played an updated surf rock that captured the energy of that style while simultaneously exploring new musical terrain.

Nick has released some tremendous solo work including the incredible ‘Into the Loud’ that expanded on the guitar driven rock genre with a touch of pastiche and a heart full of passion. More recently, Nick has explored the textures of guitar driven melody with elements of jazz and swing in The Nicky Kay Orchestra. Work with several notable Dayton musicians like Paige Beller led Nick to an enthusiasm for adventurous lyrical expression. This led to the expansive latest record, The Distance. A musical work that stretches across rock, folk, Americana, jazz and more. That record includes the contributions of veteran songwriters and performers Kate Wakefield (Lung), Mark Patterson (Son Volt), Tod Weidner (Shrug), “Crazy” Joe Tritschler and Patrick Himes (Bribing Senators, Black Jacket Symphony, Reel Love Recording).

Nick Kizirnis 1 by Jennifer TaylorThe Distance demonstrates Kizirnis’ remarkable skill as a guitarist and a songwriter. Bridging musical spaces that make for an emotional listening experience, the record reveals lessons to be learned about the affairs of the heart. The collaborative process that Nick undertook allowed him to move past any limitations of his own perspective and voice and give flight to songs that drew stories about life, love, loss and the discontinuity of connection that is universal to all of us.

The album begins with the emotional devastation of ‘The Beginning’ in which Wakefield sings powerfully about loss with lilt that has the impact of a million sledge hammers, especially when she sings ‘used to hold me as I slept at night, now I sleep alone’. ‘Way To Me’ counters with an almost hopeful quality that the path back to one another may be difficult and treacherous but is not and should not be impossible. And then ‘The Distance’ patiently takes the listener into the social dislocation of impending separation where the music and the lyrics wrap and twist around one another implying and delivering that sense of falling apart. And that is only the first three songs on this record! Listening deeply to ‘The Distance’ and not experiencing an emotion is simply not possible. The inclusion of a few covers on this collection of songs only adds depth to the ideas explored.

Built by many gifted players over several years, Kizirnis has created an album that bridges different tones, textures and colors that explore the dilemma of love, concern and connection without unnecessary drama.

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest album The Distance?

Nick Kizirnis 2 by Jennifer TaylorNick Kizirnis (NK): I started writing the songs for the album back in 2016 as a challenge to myself to see if I actually could do it. I’d written a lot of songs before, but most of them were actually instrumentals.

I started waking up at 5am every day to write, which turns out to work well for me (I still do it today). Once I had a good routine (coffee, write, more coffee) I found that the work of writing became easier, and then I found other times that I could take advantage of because I was ready. And it became really enjoyable.

At some point I realized that writing for my own singing voice was really limiting what I thought I could do with these new songs. I decided that my songs could be in anybody’s voice, it didn’t have to be mine. Suddenly that limitation disappeared, and everything started coming together.

Around the same time my friend Mark Patterson was in town and we decided to give the songs a try between his tours with Son Volt. Patrick Himes challenged me to just come in and record a song. At that point everything started to move forward very naturally.

Nick Kizirnis Band Live 2 by Chris CosenzaDr. J: You worked closely with several local musicians, especially Kate Wakefield, what led to your collaborations? Can you discuss your partnership with Kate?

NK: After deciding that I didn’t have to sing the songs, I started thinking about where else I could take the idea of removing limits I usually put on myself (that is do it mostly myself). I started asking other friends to come in and play guitars and other parts that I would usually do. I invited Patrick, Tod Weidner, Kate Wakefield and Joe Tritschler see what would happen when they interpreted the songs. While I was still playing a lot on the record, I intentionally took my hands of the steering wheel and listened to what everyone else came up with and let that guide the recording process.

I would work out the arrangements with Mark, then we would record demos of each song, get everything mapped out, and send them to everyone so that they would know what we were going for. And then everyone would come into the studio and recorded what they felt the song should be. It was a great experience to watch these songs evolve as we all worked together.

Nick Kizirnis Band by Jennifer TaylorThe band (or part of the band) would record a few songs, scheduled around Mark’s tours with Son Volt. Kate was also on tour with Lung during this time so she would record vocals and cellos separately. Between Lung and Son Volt, Mark and Kate have never met. Kate worked off my demos or the band’s rough tracks, using them as a reference to build out the melodies and harmonies. Regarding the cello, those parts were always thought of as mood/texture – same as the keyboards Patrick would play later. We ended up with a couple of songs, especially “The Distance,” where the cello and keys created a very heavy mood, which I loved – and which I had never planned for on the original demos. That was one of the many great things about the process. We would build these songs up and then opportunities would present themselves.

The Distance Album Cover Art by Rachel BottingI want to mention here how amazing and generous everyone was, and how grateful I am for the help and support and their friendship. Patrick is an amazing multi-instrumentalist and studio magician and really know how to work with me through the process of making album. Mark taught me all about touring and running a band when I was a teenager, and through his years in Austin is this brilliant “song-writers drummer” … he helped coach me through the song arrangements and that alone was an amazing experience. Tod has been a friend and I’ve long admired his singing, playing and writing. Kate is my favorite singer in the world, and I think she’s an amazing cellist with a really unique voice and also a great songwriter. Then of course there is Joe who has been my friend and musical partner for years. Joe. The brilliance and “effortlessness” in his playing is so inspiring, and I feel very lucky to have played, recorded and travelled with him over the years.

And while I’m at it, I really appreciate Rachel Botting’s beautiful album artwork, Sean Haney’s precise mastering, and Scott Kinnison at ATOM Records who has been releasing my albums since 2000. To have that kind of support is truly amazing and I am very grateful.

Dr. J: ‘Tell Me Tomorrow‘ is a personal favorite, so I am curious about it. The song is catchy and very different than some of your previous music. What were you trying to capture with that song?

NK: Thank you! That song is different, maybe even from the rest of the album. I’m really happy with it. By the time I started that song I was knee-deep into songs about heartaches and heartbreaks, and of course this one was going to the same, but it’s actually about trying to on after a relationship falls apart. So it’s bit stronger – it rocks a bit harder (for me), and as you said, and for some reason it’s catchier. All of the other songs have people who are caught or left behind in their relationships, but this is the first one who is actually breaking free (actually it’s the second, I’ll let you guess who was the first). It was always intended to be the last song on the album, and it actually is IF you think of the last three as more of a coda to the album (which I do).

I did not know that Kate would add a mini-choir to the end of the song. That’s one of my favorite moments of the album, I love the way it works with Tod’s guitar solo. There are a few moments like that on the album where vocals, cellos, keys, and guitars work together and add textures that I’ve always wanted to hear (but didn’t know it).

Dr. J: ‘The Distance‘ also seems to addresses not simply physical separation but social distance. If that is correct, did you intend to address that theme? Is there a theme to the songs on the record as a whole?

NK: ‘The Distance‘ is a collection of songs about the loss of love, separation and emotional distance … but I never thought of the album as having a theme or concept. In my mind I was thinking about how albums by Roy Orbison, Gram Parsons, George Jones and similar artists collected these sad love songs and stories and presented them not as a theme but maybe as a soundtrack for the sad and lonely, maybe as they drive around late at night all alone. I’ve had people tell me as much, which feels nice – oh, not nice, I guess but validating.

Social distance is an interesting observation … all the songs on ‘The Distance‘ deal with relationships ending and people leaving, but also the emotional and social separation of partners and their interactions as they go through these ordeals. Not sure if that’s what you are getting at it, but it seems like everyone on the album goes through it in quite a bit of detail.

Dr. J: How did The Distance come together musically for you? What was it like to collaborate on a video for the song?

NK: I was looking for the chance to collaborate on a music video during the pandemic – obviously all plans were halted, we were all trying to figure out what to do. (Artist/Animator) Katie Marks reached out to me with a treatment for “The Distance” and I loved it. Katie went all out, creating 2,000 images, elaborate puppets and backgrounds, and an amazing storyline that really communicated the song in a new way. It was such a great experience for me and I hope folks will check out the video and Katie’s other work (www.katieannmarks.com) … and hopefully it’s a good example of what can happen when two people get together and trust in each other to make something really exciting.

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

NK: I’ve been listening to music since I was kid – at first it was Elvis, Johnny Cash, Duane Eddy, and then a crash course in jazz, blues and classic rock before I discovered punk. By then I started playing guitar, I was in a band, and I wanted to write my own songs based on all this music that inspired me.

At first it was the sounds that artists made – with their instruments, but later in the recording process. To this day it’s a huge influence. But as time passed, the stories that artist told and how they told them (through lyrics, voice, instruments, recordings, arrangements) really motivated me. I’ve always wanted to figure out “how did they do that,” and that’s led me to listen to many styles of music to better understand and to take away as inspiration.

Sometimes that can result in a very weird mix of inputs – imagine a mix tape with GBV’s “My Son Cool” and the first Trio Bulgarka album and Sleepwalk (Danny Gatton’s version). But I love it all. I love discovering new music and realizing that there’s so much I have yet to hear (and so much amazing music still to be made).

How many times I tried - The Distance music video - Katie MarksDr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey across your various projects such as your earlier music – I am a big fan of ‘Into the Loud’, the Nicky Kay Orchestra, The Distance)?

NK: I have always been interested in playing different styles and exploring different sounds, and so I’ve never stayed in one place too long – I started in Ramones/Replacements punk rock, then Devo/CVB/Robyn Hitchcock/XTC – influenced indie/alternative, and it just kept changing from there, including alot surf instrumental, some rockabilly, and finally what I think I do now, which in my mind is a combination of all these things – but not directly.

I used to write with a band, within a style of a band. Now my main focus is on writing songs that I could perform on my own but could also play in record in other styles with different sounds. It’s a great feeling to not worry if a song doesn’t fit a style or genre for a specific band. I love having a band, I love having friends to work with, but for whatever reason when I get outside of a given group I am more creative and productive. Maybe that will change as I learn to be a better songwriter, which would be fine with me! I’m enjoying the journey, it makes me feel happy.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after ‘The Distance’?

NK: I am very happy with how ‘The Distance’ turned out and how it was received, so now I am also asking myself “what’s next”? I thought I would just keep writing, maybe in the same style, and then the pandemic put an end to any expectations. I didn’t write for a few months, and when I did the songs were very different. That’s fine of course, who knows what songs will become, but it did make me start to wonder where I would go from here. Now I have enough songs to start work on another album, and while I don’t feel it will sound like The Distance, I do think there are sounds and ideas that will be a continuation, or a next step.

I’m challenging myself again – how can I continue to improve? What do I need to learn? Who could I work with to help me progress? It’s all really interesting to me, just to find out what I can explore as a songwriter. Last time I worked alone, then brought in a friend to help with arrangements, and then had more friends really take over the recording, although I was still there to direct. Where could I go from there? What else can I do to experiment?

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

NK: “Cone Back to Me” from The Distance is definitely my favorite. I’ve played it with the band, as well as solo (for the NPR Tiny Desk Contest, as well as live), and we are working on a video for it. It was the second song we recorded together (the first was “The Beginning”) and it turned out so well that I was really encouraged to continue working on the album. I’m very happy with how the song turned out, but really the experience of recording it was a great one. “Slipping Away” is another one, because I get a lot of positive feedback about it (always nice!), I made a fun video for it with Sam Manavis, Mark and I had a great time arranging it, and it just turned out right (I think).

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

NK: Well, this may sound strange considering most of the songs on the album are about the loss of love and the failure of relationships, but through the songs and the way we recorded them I hope the listener will hear that love and every happiness that brings is possible – even when we have some seemingly bad experiences and/or learn some hard lessons. Maybe some of these songs remind people of their own experiences and help them see that here they are, they’ve been able to learn and move on.

(I actually wish those experiences on no one ever, but hopefully whatever people do go through will help them get to a better place in their lives).

Nick Kizirnis Band Live 1 by Andy ValeriDr. J: As a musician, how did you adapt to the challenges of the Coronavirus? Is that changing for your now as music events are opening up again?

NK: The big thing for me was recording at home and collaborating with other friends and musicians virtually. I had recorded songs but never anything I would think about releasing. I had the opportunity to record music for an animated short titled “Darryl” produced by Lydia Kladtis at the University of Dayton. I recorded guitars and sent the tracks to Kate Wakefield who added cello and vocals. We produced three short songs for the film.

That motivated me to record an (unreleased as of yet) acoustic instrumental EP following the same process. Once the record is finished we are going to create a second version with a friend that will be a percussion-based, completely remixed treatment of the same songs. All remote.

That went so well that I started reaching out to other musicians to contribute tracks to some new songs I have been writing. Soon we’ll take my tracks and theirs to the studio and merge them with new in-studio tracks.

I also recorded a song for The Breeders where we were in their home studio, but everything was being edited and mixed at another studio in New Orleans at the same time. It was a really fun experience.

So, I guess being quarantined led me to an opportunity that was always there but I never took advantage of. I’m excited about what else I may be able to do once I’m better at recording and collaborating with other people.

You can follow Nick Kizirnis on various social media including:

Facebook     Website     Instagram    Twitter

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube   Atom Records

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Nick Kizirnis for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Nick’s social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Nick Kizirnis, Andy Valeri, Chris Cosenza and Jennifer Taylor Photography.

your-tuesday-afternoon-alternative-color copy

11 Questions with… Chad Wells

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nWe could not be more excited about an ’11 Questions with…’ column, then we are to have songwriter, guitarist, singer, visual artist, philosopher, tattoo artist/business owner and Revered — Chad Wells! He graciously answered these questions a few months ago. To call Chad a renaissance man is to understate all of his gifts. As with all of the musicians who are so kind to participate in this effort, we want to publicly thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions!

Chad has a lengthy music resume. His time in COH, The Jackalopes, Cricketbows, Wells & Watson and more has given him the opportunity to make some of the most creative atmospheric psychedelic punk rock this side of… well, to be honest these projects are incredibly unique and comparisons just end up showing that the writer’s reach exceeds their grasp.

We have been fans of Cricketbows since their fantastic album, ‘Diamonds‘. That record careens across classic rock to country to an excellent Monkees cover (Porpoise Song) to straight-forward rock and roll (All the Way Down and Kiss Alive) to psychedelic rock (Little Tiny Houses and Landing on The Moon) and tremendous emotional territory in-between all of those genres. Chad’s music has evolved over time from in your face, direct punk made with an eye toward embracing the emotions you are feeling to reflective psychedelia and folk rock in the Wells & Watson duo. And unlike this writer, Revered Wells’ reach is easily within his orbit.

GEA - dr j guest lecturer finals-13If you do not know the music of Cricketbows then I am excited for you! There is significant music discovery in your future. What started as a solo project transformed over several records into a full band. In fact, the excellent ‘Diamonds‘ which was recorded in 2014 with Grammy winning Producer Brian Olive (Soledad Brothers, The Greenhornes) was the first full length record as a complete group released in 2015. The following EP ‘Communion‘ incorporated pop music intro the band’s repertoire in songs like ‘Beat of My Heart‘. During the challenging year of the pandemic, Chad was even able to create a set of dystopian electronic singles under the moniker New Way Vendetta. Check out the 80’s homage in ‘Light as a Feather.’

197532652_1256634581459071_4922346402199669240_nThe latest Cricketbows album ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘ raises the stakes higher. While maintaining the sonic elements of their previous recordings, ‘Raised‘ questions the nature of connections that we all too often take for granted. What is it to speak like ‘Electric Guitars’ as Chad sings in the title track? What does it mean to pretend that you care for others when you really do not (‘Saccharine Sweet‘). Remember when you would listen to music when you were supposed to go to sleep but the thrill of discovery kept you awake? The song ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘ explores the consciousness shaping experience of hearing music that is part of your identity for the first time. Not putting on the cast off identity of your parents and family, but a sense of who you are in music that is not reducible to what others around you are doing. This is so powerful for those of us who had to work to discover music in the pre-Internet era. Even if that experience occurred under the covers when you were supposed to be sleeping. And now when we can hear almost anything at any time in any place, finding music you can call your own is just as life affirming.

Shaped not only by the pandemic but the search for the most captivating melody while still holding the idea of experimentation in their hearts, Cricketbows capture the challenges of identity, social bonds, the faces we show to others and the faces that make us who we truly are as people, as citizens, as family.

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Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest Cricketbows record?

Chad Wells (CW): We started writing the songs that would become the new Cricketbows record around the same time that our ‘Communion‘ EP came out (Fall 2017). I’m kind of always writing and to collect my ideas, I use everything from quick iPhone video and audio recordings, to scraps of paper and napkins. Generally, these ideas make their way to the band slowly – a song at a time – and we work them up in rehearsal, play them live for a while and eventually we feel like we have enough material to record an album and we go do that. In this case, Zachary Gabbard of The Buffalo Killers had Produced our EP ‘Communion and almost as soon as that collection was released, he called us back to the studio to start working on the next release before we had even had time to start really working on any new material. So, the songs for “Raised On Rock And Roll” were culled from existing demos I had laying around in various states of non-completion and we also chose a couple songs that we had been playing live for some time that I had released as Cricketbows before the band really existed. We went into the studio at Howler Hills (Gabbard’s studio) but the sessions didn’t end up on the final album because the songs just didn’t feel like they were fully together yet. So we took the songs on the road, playing as many shows as we could and we continued reworking the demos in our rehearsal space and we hammered them into shape. Once we finally had a tight set of songs together, we went into the Candyland Recording Studio in Dayton, Kentucky and laid down the tracks that would become the album.

Dr. J: In the past you worked closely with your bandmates in Cricketbows, did the coronavirus/Covid-19 situation change how you wrote and worked on the record?

CW: The record was fully written and recorded prior to the Pandemic so it didn’t really affect the writing or production of the album. It did monumentally delay the release of the album and the mixing process had to be done remotely. Whereas in the past we would sit in on mixing sessions with an engineer and sort of have our hands on the board and our suggestions acted upon in real time, in this case we would get mixes from Mike Montgomery  via email, listen and send him back notes about what to turn up, what to turn down, what to EQ differently and things like that.

Dr. J: ‘Raised on Rock and Roll is a song that lists several artists, albums and lyrical imagery from several classic rock and roll songs, did you set out to address these particular artists/musicians/creatives when starting to work on that song?

198296616_331569131788983_7778535060744588242_nCW: I definitely didn’t start with a list or motive to include all of those specific artists, songs or albums. I had the first line “I speak electric guitar, in fire orange and bright blue” which was a nod to the fact that Aarika and I both suffer from or are gifted with a bit of Synesthesia – a condition where sounds may be experienced in the brain as a color or shape or taste instead of just as sound. From  there, I wanted to expand on that line in a direction that talked about how my mind works the way it does because I was raised in a world where Rock And Roll music was not just a backdrop to life, but was an important element of life. We weren’t religious really and we weren’t sports or military people. Everything that a so-called “normal” person might get from those family traditions and lifestyles, I got from Rock And Roll – so I tried to touch on some of the cornerstones and recurring images and symbols of that part of my upbringing. So I reference the “lightning” of “Elvis and Bowie and Frehley” as well as referring to The Beatles as the “Saints” I say prayers to along with nods to everything from Fats Domino to Pink Floyd.

Dr. J: ‘Kentucky Mountain Lady also addresses love and personal connection – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and the feel of the song? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address love or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

CW: I wrote that song after a road trip down to Menifee County, Kentucky with my wife and my Father to visit the final resting place of my Grandfather, Bethard Wells. While we were there, we drove around the area where my paternal Grandparents grew up. The smells of those woods and the beautiful fog filled hollows between the hills and mountains was extremely inspiring to me and left me with a yearning to get back there. I imagined a world where my wife and I could live and love and survive on the fruits of what that land provides. I tried to paint a pretty straightforward picture of that magical area and how the environment itself could be a sort of rural utopia perfectly suited to living a life with someone you love outside the rat race of the city.

Dr. J: How did ‘Kentucky Mountain Lady come together musically for you?

CW: I tend to play with a few alternate tunings and one of my favorites is called “open G”. When a player that’s used to playing in standard tunings, sets their instrument up in an alternate tuning, they tend to find and unlock creative ideas that they wouldn’t necessarily stumble upon in the standard tuning. Chord shapes are different and note relationships between the strings are different.  So I had stumbled across these very jazzy, warm chords that ended up being the verse chords of the song. Open G lends itself to a very country, bluesy, rural folk sound so the sound of the tuning and playing around with different droning patterns with moving melodic patterns was the perfect bed for the song. In hindsight I hear a lot of Joni Mitchell influence in the song and music and it also feels very similar to “Echoes” by Pink Floyd – as does our song “Raggedy Hillside” which is also in Open G.  I think that the experiments with Americana style music by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills And Nash and groups like that have always been some of my favorite music but I rarely wrote anything in that style until Cricketbows came together and we just sort of drifted into that kind of sound together as a band when we started using less distortion and effects and started playing a lot more acoustic music and using very clean sounds.

a0037514624_10Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

CW: My inspiration to create is compulsive. I communicate better with lyrics and sound than I do just trying to talk. I listen to a ton of music and when I hear something that gives me an emotional response, I am often inspired to try to recreate that response myself with my own music. I’m not talented enough as a player to just learn someone else’s song and get the emotional response that way, so I experiment and fiddle about until I find things that speak to me. Also, playing with the players in Cricketbows is so inspirational. I can play two notes and everyone will join in and play along and expand a song into new territories through improvisation that is really amazing. The average listener, just happening upon one of our jam sessions would believe that we had written and rehearsed something a million times because it’s so cohesively fluid – but in reality we are probably playing the thing for the first time.

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from ‘Diamonds’ to the ‘Communion’ EP to the most recent album)?

CW: Cricketbows has always been about being honest. My previous bands were always sort of me playing a character or a role that is about the theme of the band. In Cricketbows I found a place where I could write from my heart and soul and not worry about what the audience might think. As we’ve progressed as a group, I think that we’re developing a sound that is pretty hard to pin down but it’s also extremely recognizable in some way. Our disparate influences come together to form something that’s all at once new and exciting but is also steeped in the traditions of what I can only call “Classic Rock”. Cricketbows is psychedelic but we tend to stray away from the trappings of typical psychedelia. We’re not using silly voices and effects that sound like we’re other-dimensional ghosts. We’re not using a bunch of effects that make the guitars go “WAHWAHWAHWAHWAH”. We’re using ultra clean signals and real voices with minimal effects. It is far more relative to early Elton John, Blind Faith, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac than it is to MGMT. or King Gizzard or whatever modern psych is. I guess in the simplest terms, we’re more like “The White Album” than we are like “Sgt. Peppers”.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘?

198345642_792918058089540_3023201045980744783_nCW: I have no idea how we’re going to move forward with a new record in the current state of the world. I hope that vaccines work and that we’re eventually able to be in a room together again. If not, it’s going to be some interesting home recording stuff. We have been playing around with some cover songs recorded remotely. We released a Black Crowes (“Good Friday”) cover back around the beginning of the Pandemic and lockdowns and it was pretty fun and interesting. We have a couple others in the can that we may or may not release. One is a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” that is pretty fun. Side projects are also a thing. Aarika and I do a couple different projects together that work well as far as remote recording and things like that – New Way Vendetta, a new-wave influenced electro-punk band and Wells & Watson – a darker Americana themed acoustic project. We have plans to release a bunch of stuff under a bunch of different names in the near future. As for Cricketbows, we’ll just be patient and see where it all goes.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

CW: “Ride Or Die” from the new album is my favorite to perform as it has a country-gospel intro with lots of harmony and prettiness and then kicks into a beefed up glam punk song that is a really strong, tight rock song.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

CW:  I think this new music is about honesty and love. Be true and do love stuff!

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

CW: It’s very hard. It’s hard to watch the people who are out trying to play shows and do stuff as if Coronavirus is not happening – or as if it’s worth the risk. We haven’t been in a room together as a band during this whole thing. We haven’t played a note in the same room together as a band in over a year now but I sit at home and watch all kinds of people who are still cramming into studios and onto stages together. I know how little these players get paid to perform. I know how few people are coming out to see them play. Music is my life to the degree that I’ve risked everything to do it. Gone broke trying to do it. Passed on jobs and money and all kinds of opportunities to do other things because the music was more important than anything else. But I’ve seen what the virus has done to friends and members of my family who got it – and if my music was responsible for one single Coronavirus case it would absolutely destroy me. People who are playing shows will say that they’re being careful, but what about the people who might come to your show that aren’t being careful?

So here we sit, not playing any album release shows. Not booking anything for the future and hoping that it’ll all go away. In the meantime, I’m trying to use the time constructively. I’ve learned new recording programs, I’ve learned to do animation that we use in our videos and I’ve focused on a lot of the behind the scenes, nuts and bolts parts of our online presence and band management stuff that usually gets overlooked.

You can follow Chad Wells and Cricketbows on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @cricketbows     Instagram at Cricketbows

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube at CricketbowsOfficial

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Revered Wells for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Cricketbows’ Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Chad Wells and Gabrielle Elizabeth Studios photography.

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11 Questions with… Jeffrey Dean Foster

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nIn our latest installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column, we are excited to feature Jeffrey Dean Foster. We reached out to him a few months ago with 11 questions for this column. He is a gifted songwriter, singer, guitarist and more. We want to publicly thank him for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for us here at YTAA!

Jeffrey has been making some of the most thoughtful and energetic  music being made anywhere over four decades. His music encompasses a compassion that is direct and reflective. Jeffrey is able to create rock, folk, alt-country among other genres that feels inviting and invigorating. His touch with a lyric demonstrates both his fresh insight and a call for recognizing the connection and community that we all have a place we can call home together. Add the swirl of electric guitars, bass, drums and keyboards to the mix and then the music feels like an invocation!

518c4deebc145.imageJeffrey Dean Foster has been making music in a prestigious list of bands for quite some time: The Right Profile, The Carneys and The Pinetops are on his resume! He has had an active solo career as well. The Right Profile was sought after and signed by Clive Davis for Arista Records. In these groups and in his solo work, he has created music that tells stories about the social bonds that hold us together even when we do not feel that comfort. His latest record, ‘I’m Starting to Bleed’ is being released on vinyl this weekend for Record Store Day (on Saturday, June 12 this year). All proceeds from vinyl sales will go to support The Shalom Project based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina – an organization that supports families in need. Chris Stamey, The Veldt and The Backsliders are all releasing EPs for The Shalom Project as well. On July 30th ‘I’m Starting To Bleed’ will be made available on CD and on all streaming platforms.

173672123_5328147950588488_6160351963110197999_n‘I’m Starting To Bleed’ channels an inner dialogue over how to combat cruelty and a loss of compassion. Like so many of us, Jeffrey Dean Foster watched the social protests following George Floyd’s murder and he felt the need to respond to the inhumanity and hostility of that senseless death. ‘I’m Starting To Bleed’ is a musical response to that loss. While wide-eyed and recognizing the challenge in creating change and reimagining healthy communities, the songs on this record move between an almost pastoral, agrarian feel to passionate Big Star and Kinks influenced rock and roll. Several of the songs, while hopeful, carry the weight of the difficult worlds we find ourselves challenged to change and remake.

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Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest music?

Jeffrey Dean Foster (JDF): I never really stopped writing but this past pandemic year did give me some impetus to focus a few things. Having the world kind of stop and be still had it’s good points.

Dr. J: You worked closely with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, what led to your recording with them?

JFD:  I’ve known them for 35 years. Dixon was one of the first “rock stars” that would talk to me when I’d go see his totally rocking band Arrogance. They had really great songs AND they were gloriously loud in the clubs. Mitch produced the very first record that I ever made around 1982. Since then Mitch and Don have been involved in almost every record I’ve ever made in one form or another. Dixon produced a tape that ultimately got my first band [The Right Profile] signed to Arista Records. Mitch has mixed my last two albums (‘Million Star Hotel’ and ‘The Arrow’) They are just trusted friends that I can call on for musical or life advice.

Dr. J: Tell Somebody is a personal favorite, so I am naturally curious about it. The song is compelling and driving musically. The lyrics seem very optimistic. Did you set out to write a song about human connection when starting to work on that song?

JDF: I think I was alone at home one night and some fave musician had just died. That of course is going to keep happening with more and more frequency as time marches on. My last album The Arrow seemed to have a lot to do with mortality and we lost a lot of friends in the years leading up to it. Most of Tell Somebody came really quickly as just a wake up call to reach out to your pals  and loved ones before you can’t.

Dr. J: Headin’ Home also addresses other connection and the comfort of home – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and feel of the song? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address connection, love, and community or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

JFD: Headin’ Home was definitely a product of the pandemic lock down way of life.  I just started playing and singing about homebound snapshots.  It’s a bit of a laugh. I recorded it all real quick and then made an entire video on my iPhone in several hours. It was pretty tossed off but it kind of inspired me to see that I could do that, record something at home that folks might wanna hear.

Dr. J: How did the ‘I’m Starting To Bleed’ record come together musically for you?

JDF: After week after week of police brutality last spring and summer I wanted to get something out of me. I didn’t know if anyone would ever hear it or even if they should hear what a white singer songwriter had to say about any part of the black experience. I thought a lot about that and almost thought that it shouldn’t see the light of day. After talking to some friends I came to terms with it. Michael Kurtz from Record Store Day heard the song and came back with the idea of putting it out as a vinyl EP for Record Store Day. We decided that it would be a benefit for The Shalom Project where I work. I help run a free medical clinic, food pantry and clothing closet there. We even talked some of my other NC friends into contributing an EP for the cause. My old friend Tabitha Soren of MTV News fame had the perfect photo for the album cover too.

IMG_6910Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

JDF: I live out in the woods on a lake and every window I look out shows me some kind of nature and wildlife. I don’t end up writing songs about that wildlife but I think it makes me feel part of something larger than me. A lot of my songs can be pretty internal and puzzling and I like that. The songs that are making up the ‘I’m Starting to Bleed’ record are probably the most straightforward and external that I’ve written. More outward looking than inward.

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from ‘I’m Starting To Bleed’)?

JDF: I’m not the one to tell you much about the songs that I come up with. I’ve think people that I like write songs because they can’t talk about the ideas or emotions in them. I’m totally fine with art not spelling things out for me, whether it’s Bob Dylan or David Lynch.  I’ll tell you one bit of trivia though. When I was writing and recording I’m Starting to Bleed I wanted something almost like a Smokey Robinson song but with a healthy shadow of dread. Of course, I can’t come anywhere close to Smokey but that was something to shoot for.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after I’m Starting To Bleed? You can read an early review from The Big Takeover.

JDF: I have some other tracks already mixed and I’d like to finish a few more and make a new full length JDF album. ‘I’m Starting to Bleed’ feels like a kind of special record. Everything about it could have only happened in this weird time of 2020/2021.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

JDF: Well nobody is performing much these days. I have a song called ‘So Lonesome I Could Fly’ that I’ve probably played more than any other. It’s had a full life, from being covered by Marti Jones to being included in the soundtrack to the Ang Lee film ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’  I still don’t get tired of playing it.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

JDF: Any message that listeners can tune into is fine with me. If they feel anything, you’ve succeeded in some way. I just know that music that affected me during my life just got under my skin and now is just part of me. I mean ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by The Kinks might as well be tattooed on me. It’s that much a part of me.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

JDF: I’ve done some streaming shows that some very professional and careful people having arranged. Playing on good looking stages and filming and recording the happening and then beaming it out to the internet. I have no desire to try and take some dumb shortcut and try and get folks packed into a club scene. I’m comfortable out here in the woods too!

You can follow Jeffery Dean Foster on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @songboyfoster     Instagram at JeffreyDeanFoster

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Jeffrey for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Jeffrey’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Jeffrey Dean Foster.

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11 Questions with… Kyleen Downes

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nIn our tenth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column, we are excited to feature Kyleen Downes. She is a gifted songwriter, singer, guitarist, pianist and ukulele player. We want to publicly thank Kyleen for taking the time out of her schedule to answer these questions for us here at YTAA!

Kyleen have been making some of the most open and energetic yet introspective music in the Dayton Music Scene. She has a clever way with words that inspires listeners while not feeling calculated to produce a particular feeling. Kyleen is able to turn a phrase in a way that is direct and welcoming. Her insightfulness allows a listener to see themselves and their experiences cast with an unfailing honest optimism and generosity of spirit that opens the heart.

a2299765261_10Kyleen has been making music since 2009 when she took inspiration from the social bond of those involved in the Dayton music community.  This sense of attachment and commitment led to 2016’s ‘Maybe Sometimes.’ This first collection of songs from Kyleen demonstrate her range as both a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.  The seven songs on this album stretch across a continuum of personal reflection (‘Things Change‘) to the accessible optimism of finding those splendid moments with those you care about (‘Perfect Ending‘) and the percussive staccato of ‘Talk Like You Don’t Know‘.

a3999839670_10Kyleen’s next record in 2018 was the enthusiastic ‘Friends‘ EP. Kicking off with the driving ‘Exhale‘ and then flowing into the rocker ‘And So It Goes.’ An excellent One-Two punch. The upbeat attitude on ‘Goes‘ pulls one into a happy space. The next two songs, the confessional ‘Six Years‘ and imaginative ‘In Dreams‘, showcase creative guitar work and inventive lyrics. The album demonstrates her humor and continuing evolution as a songwriter. ‘Friends‘ marks Kyleen’s collaboration with producer extraordinaire Patrick Himes. Himes’ analog approach to recording allows the songwriting to stand on its own in a way that digital recording all too often interferes with. Instead of approaching recording the music in an overly serious manner or in a heavy handed way, Downes and Himes establish an accessible palette that still explores deep and real emotion. The delightfulness of the album is a strength. The partnership with Himes will lead her to the most recent album ‘Come On Sit Down.’

a1895125481_10Come On Sit Down opens with the community jam ‘Give Up The Ghost.’ The handclaps and percussion drive this sing along! The next song, the single, ‘Last Drop‘ demonstrates the strength of Kyleen and her band. They can move across genres, styles and arrangements surprisingly easily without feeling contrived. Authenticity is a rare pleasure in popular music. Kyleen’s background in music and as a guitar teacher/instructor are consistently illustrated on this record. The background vocals from a Dayton Power trio of vocalists — Khrys Blank, Amber Hargett and Heather Redman elevate ‘Last Drop‘ into a remarkably evocative ending. All My Life leads the record into personal reflection which is then followed by the poppy Keep Your Ways.’Tiny Little Table‘ courses with an electricity and humor that are distinctive to Kyleen Downes. The album closes with the meditation on thankfulness of In The Dark.’ Consistently, Kyleen’s lyrics are descriptive, accessible and deeply affecting. If you have had the opportunity to see her perform, you know that Kyleen’s stage presence is charismatic.

Kyleen Tiny TableDr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest album Come On Sit Down?

Kyleen Downes (KD): I had written a few new songs in 2018 and started working on them with the band.  I booked some studio time in November of 2018 and unfortunately, the band hadn’t had enough rehearsal prior to going into the studio.

I went to the studio solo and brought in two low-key songs, In the Dark and All My Life. I had initially thought of releasing a few singles but once the band started recording in 2019, the song list began to grow.  So I figured I’d hold out and do a big sha-bang of a full length LP to be released on vinyl (a first for me!) I really liked the idea of combining songs I worked on with the band, with the songs that I fleshed out in the studio with just myself and my producer Patrick Himes.

Dr. J: You worked closely with Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton, Ohio, what led to your recording with Patrick?

KD: Patrick reached out to me several years ago, just to say hi and introduce himself.  Which is a great example of just how cool Dayton musicians are! I knew of his work through Paige Beller when he worked on her live album, Live and a Person.  After seeing her show and hearing that recording, I knew once I had material to record I wanted to work with him.  It’s an added bonus that he records analog, or to tape, because that was a new experience I wanted to try!

Dr. J: ‘Myself’ is a personal favorite, so I am curious about it. The song is compelling and driving musically. Yet the lyrics seem to address loneliness. Did you set out to address the concerns and challenges of human connection when starting to work on that song?

KD: I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this question, it’s almost like you knew my state of mind when I wrote it!  I was spending a lot of time by myself and with my thoughts.  Even after spending time with others I was coming home to just me.  I had recently gone through a very challenging separation after a long relationship.  I was desperately trying to find security within myself, because I was realizing how it can be unhealthy to have it only come from someone else.

Dr. J: All My Life also addresses other connection – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and feel of the song? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address connection, love, and relationships or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

KD: That song came out of strumming chords in waltz time, which I wonder if that made me feel a certain sweetness about it when the lyrics started to flow.  It’s definitely rooted in the sense of connection you feel when you realize you’ve longed for a certain feeling all your life and now that you have it, you must not take it for granted.

Dr. J: How did Myself come together musically for you?

KD: Funny enough, it came to life after opening my front door and hearing a melodic squeak from the hinge.  I hummed it and went down to my basement to harmonize it on the guitar.  Then I let the lyrics flow.  I was so caught up in this song, I wrote some of it while sitting in my personal finance class, haha!  The song was originally an acoustic song, but when I was prepping to take it into the studio, I really wanted to play around with amping it up.  I started by playing it on the electric guitar and then adding some guitar parts.  I heard a song on the radio one day and used that for my drum inspiration.  I’ll be honest, it still feels like a puzzle to me, so I’m really happy to hear it resonates with you!

0019634116_10Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

KD: Through listening to music.  As a kid, I loved singing a catchy song or letting music transport my daydreams.  Then once I started playing guitar, the sound of it inspired me to create different musical ideas.  So often, I will come up with an idea after or while listening to music.  If I connect with the vibe, I like to channel my own version of it.  And undoubtedly if there is a guitar in my hands, I end up playing something that catches my ear and I want to start fleshing it out (which can sometimes lead to late bedtimes, ha ha!)

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Friends to Come On Sit Down)?

KD: I describe my music as sonically approachable.  As I’ve progressed, I’m getting more comfortable with taking risks and I feel/hope my music has become a little more candid since the beginning of my journey.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Come On Sit Down?

KD: I have several thoughts on future projects BUT I know I need to focus on the material first.  There are several songs I am excited to finish.  I think once the music comes to life, the projects will reveal themselves more clearly.  I’ve also lost a few songs along the way because they get pushed aside once a project starts.  I plan on finding them though! (They may have fallen under my couch, who knows!?)

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

KD: I LOVE performing Tiny Little Table, it has SO much fun guitar stuff. I have a looper pedal which allows me to layer different guitar riffs and solo.  I use my looper to harmonize vocals as well, which is a new skill for me.  When I am playing with my band, Six Years will forever energize and empower me!

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

KD: We are all human and we are only human.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

KD: I’ve taken this forced downtime to put effort into my website, creating a virtual store, and performing some livestream shows.  I’ve learned a lot about the different technology available that can help me be more creative and produce new content.  I’ve also been maintaining a consistent newsletter.  I used to get so overwhelmed about writing a newsletter, but now I’m so happy about being able to engage with people, it’s become a fun part of my month!

You can follow Kyleen Downes on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @KyleenDownes     Instagram at KyleenDownes

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kyleen for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Kyleen’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Kyleen Downes and Gary Mitchell.

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11 Questions with… Todd Farrell

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nIn our ninth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column, we are excited to feature Todd Farrell Jr of Benchmarks. Todd is the main songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the Nashville based band. We want to publicly thank Todd for taking the time out of his busy day to answer these questions for us here at YTAA!

Benchmarks have been making some of the most thoughtful and passionate rock and roll of the past several years. Lyrics that elevate the listener to personal introspection rather than confound. Todd’s lyrics about the past, community, connection and challenges of everyday life reached an incredible level with the band’s album Our Undivided Attention in 2017.  The band returned in August 2020 with the exceptional Summer Slowly.

Benchmark’s first album in 2015, American Nights, set the field for their energetic and reflective songs. The album included compelling narratives that were both relatable and organic. The record featured ‘Roman Candles,‘ ‘April Fire’, ‘American Nights’ and ‘Paper Napkins.’ The last song being revisited in 2017 on Our Undivided Attention. As Todd sings on ‘American Nights’ “It was a middle Tennessee Summer, It was 102 degrees, we had everywhere to go and nowhere to be, there’s a million ways for people, to get to where they go, some prefer a ladder, we prefer the road, let’s get out of here while we still can, lets get out of here while we are still alive.” Much like songwriters who capture the experience of being both free and stuck in place at the same time, Benchmarks have a way with feelings of alienation and connection. Their music recognizes that the bond we have between us is fragile and constricting at the same time. The songs on Benchmarks records realize the simultaneous dream and nightmare that comes from carrying along with us where we think we belong.

The band followed American Nights with the stellar Our Undivided Attention. The album opens with the evocative ‘This Year’ and launches into the poppy ‘Frames’ and then the other eight songs explores the emotional terrain of life, challenges of making and touring music and revisiting the ups and down of childhood and friendships. The album closes with the optimistic and impactful ‘Next Year’ with the chorus we need to hear: ‘I know next year, things will be better.” The lyrics are extraordinarily descriptive, clever and absorbing. Recognizing that we are our own worst enemies and coming to terms with that in a way that is not dismissive remains the lyrical superpower of this band. 2018 led to a split release with Bud Bronson and The Good Timers that included The Good Fight.’ Almost two years later, Benchmarks released their latest record, Summer Slowly.

With Summer Slowly, the band explore nostalgia, regret and memory using elements of punk and rock and roll to convey introspection and reflection without compromise. The swirl of the guitars, the passionate drumming, and innovative bass lines come together to musically support the themes and narratives that are the heart of the lyrics. The songs are not about stories, they are about feeling and understanding our experiences. A welcome indie rock sensibility emanates from this record.

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest album Summer Slowly?

Todd Farrell (TF): I started writing this record before the last one (Our Undivided Attention) even came out. I was on the road with Two Cow Garage a lot, and kind of unsatisfied with much I was doing musically. I wasn’t very satisfied with the last Benchmarks record, and I felt like I was limited in what I could do with Two Cow. After walking away from that band, I took a guitar gig on a tour with my friend Sammy Kay supporting the Creepshow for 6 weeks in the US and Canada in the Fall of 2017. On about day 4 of this tour, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, which made an already long tour even longer. I did a lot of thinking and soul searching on that tour, trying to figure out what makes me happy, and what wanted to do, and what kind of father I wanted to be for my kid. Simultaneously, watching the continent change from Summer to Fall from a van window influenced a lot of the imagery and shaped the overall theme. I was also listening to a lot of music that may be outside the normal realm of what people probably associate with this band… lots of black metal, synthwave, dark pop, etc. I loved the textures and melodrama to it, and wanted to apply those moods and sounds to what Benchmarks does. I also wanted to embrace playing big dramatic guitar solos again. All of this sort of came together at the same time, and when I got home from that tour, I had a good outline of what I wanted to do with this record.

Dr. J: What is your approach like in the studio? What are your biggest challenges when creating new music? What is the biggest reward for you when making new music?

TF: Because we record ourselves in a very limited environment, the studio process can take… some time. We recorded the drums in a cabin west of Nashville, and the rest of it in Jack’s (drums, co-producer) bedroom. I know a lot of people joke about the DIY thing, but we literally built an amp box out of plywood and foam, and a vocal booth out of PVC pipe and moving blankets. Part of the studio approach was literally “making” a studio with power tools in my garage.

Because of this, our biggest challenge is probably knowing when to stop. Because everything other than the drums was an overdub, it meant we could add a thousand guitars to a part if we wanted to. We set some rules early on though… no more than 3 guitar tracks at once, unless it’s a guitar solo. The other challenge is just time. During the time we made this album, band members got married, had kids, worked their jobs, moved, changed jobs, not to mention going on tour and playing shows and dealing with other band and life related issues. Trying to be a good partner, parent, and friend while trying to handle making a record is incredibly challenging.

However difficult, finally getting this one out has been incredibly rewarding. There’s, of course, all the superficial stuff like blogs putting us in their “Top 10 of 2020” etc, and I would be lying if I said we didn’t read that stuff. We do, and it’s really amazing that people responded to the record in a way that influenced them to set it in such high esteem. More importantly, I’m very proud of this record because it very clearly captured a moment in time for me. This is something I will be able to show my children, if I never make any music ever again, and say “this is what your dad’s art sounded like”. I think I finally said (both lyrically and musically) what I wanted to say in a full record. The timing of its release was also interesting. The messages in the songs (very much about change) came at a time in this country where we’re dealing with the pandemic, experiencing a new surge in the fight for racial justice, and all the other socio-political issues happening all at once. People were able to relate and find comfort in the songs while dealing with a very real and at times terrifying reality, and I’m very proud and happy that people were able to feel some sort of sanctuary in it.

Dr. J: Technicolor is a powerful song for those who seek human connection away from the technology that we use every day; did you set out to address the concerns and challenges of social connection outside of screens when starting to work on that song?

TF: “Technicolor” is one of my favorite songs on the record for many reasons. Of course, the technology aspect is there. I was (and am still) having a love/hate relationship with social media and my phone. If I had the guts, I’d switch to a Nokia brick and go about my day, but I realize I have other needs and uses for a smartphone and all the things that come with it. I still don’t really have an answer, other than deciding that my happiness is not determined by how many Spotify plays my band gets, or how many likes a post gets, or even how many tour dates I’m able to post about. If I had a manager, they would hate to hear this, but I’m happy to just be able to make music and not feel the need to push it into people’s faces. If people like it, they like it. I’m not here to force my friends to consume my art just because they’re on the same digital platform that I am. I just want to make cool shit, put it out there, and hopefully it makes someone out there feel good.

Dr. J: Summer Slowly seems to address themes related to isolation and the vulnerability of community – whether self-imposed or a result of social lives that we do not stop and think about. I am thinking songs like The Good Fight, Technicolor, Our Finest Hour, Holding on to Summer, The Price of Postcards all raise questions about connection and community, would you say that a fair interpretation? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address how we are connected to one another or did the songs evolve from other concerns?

TF: Absolutely. I think we take for connections and relationships for granted in effort to achieve some sort of social status. I think we’re pretty conscious of it too, but we don’t really care because we’re all starved of true companionship and interaction, so we need the endorphin rush of the “like” button. As I said previously, I am certainly guilty of this too.

Dr. J: How did Our Finest Hour come together musically for you?

TF: “Our Finest Hour” started as an effort to write a Japandroids type song. I wanted something with a quick drum beat and a very anthemic chorus about good vs evil, etc. The key change guitar solo is one of my favorite moments on the album. I was playing it in my living room on an acoustic guitar shortly after the 2016 election, and the women’s marches and the immigrant marches were starting, and the lyrics sort of came from my thought process on what I want to say that might help the cause, and what I want to say that might actually hurt the cause because of who I am. I wanted to make very clear that as a straight, white, male person who wants to be considered an “ally”, I did not want my words to take the place of those who are less privileged than I am. I just want to try my best to fight, but be conscious of those I’m fighting for, and have conversations with them before I just open my mouth. It was difficult to construct the words to properly convey what I was trying to say, but I think I at least got close.

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

It’s a cliché answer, but life and the human experience. I think the most interesting stories aren’t necessarily about these big and bold characters or events that everyone has heard about, but everyday thoughts and emotions. Lyrics usually stem from a conversation, or a phrase of some kind that I overheard and made me think about what it means. The music comes from an emotion or feeling, and wanting to fully unpack it into riffs and melodies.

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Our Undivided Attention to Summer Slowly)?

TF: The band has a lot of inside jokes as to what kind of music we make, like “arena emo” or “blackened pop punk” or “post orgcore” etc. I think Our Undivided Attention is an interesting experiment in us trying to figure it out. I think half of that album fits nicely with what we do now, and half of it sort of missed the mark for what we were trying to do. At current, we’re a rock band because we play distorted guitars and bass and drums. There are pop elements, there are punk elements, there are Iron Maiden guitar solos and Taylor Swift hooks (I mean, we wish). With this album, we tried to sort of throw the parameters out the window and just make cool music.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Summer Slowly?

TF: At current, I think I’m going to take a break from Benchmarks. With the pandemic still in full force, there are no tours or shows to happen anytime soon, so I’m going to take the opportunity to focus on some different projects. I’ve sort of unintentionally started an internet melodic black/death metal band, so I’ve been demoing that. I have a lot of songs that don’t necessarily fit into the Benchmarks format, so I may try and put them together and release some solo material. After it took so long to construct this album, I want to try and do something completely different and just put out as much music as I can, as it comes up, regardless of how it fits together genre-wise. If I write a metal song, I’m going to record it and put it out there. If I write a folk song, I’m going to record it and put it out there. No sense of waiting anymore. Hopefully we all survive the next year or so, and maybe I’ll be ready to put together another full-length Benchmarks record.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

TF: This is a hard one, because Summer, Slowly contains so many of my favorite songs, but almost none of them have been performed live, and certainly not since the album has been out. On the Our Undivided Attention tour cycle, we often closed with “Next Year”, and it was really fun to have the anticipation build to the crescendo of that song. It’s a fitting parting song, and usually some of the other bands and members of the crowd would jump on stage with us and sing the lyric “I know next year things will be better”. It sort of captures the intention of that song. We’re here, and things are loud and noisy and messed up, but we’re all together.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

TF: What I hope we capture in our music is a sense of belonging and companionship. We’re not the best band out there, but we’re not in it to be the best. Whether it’s aggressive or contemplative, we just want to make music that makes us feel good, and hopefully makes the listener feel good too.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

TF: What I hope we capture in our music is a sense of belonging and companionship. We’re not the best band out there, but we’re not in it to be the best. Whether it’s aggressive or contemplative, we just want to make music that makes us feel good, and hopefully makes the listener feel good too.

You can follow Todd Farrell and Benchmarks on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @benchmarksmusic     Instagram at benchmarksmusic

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Todd for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Benchmarks’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Todd Farrell/Benchmarks.

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11 Questions with… Kyle Melton

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nAfter a hiatus of a few months, we return with our eighth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column. We resume these articles with an interview featuring Smug Brothers‘ songwriter, guitarist and singer Kyle Melton. We want to publicly thank Kyle for taking the time to answer these questions!

Smug Brothers have been a prolific and active band without sacrificing quality. The vision for Smug Brothers is reflected in the interests, lyrics and approach that Kyle Melton has crafted for the group. The development of this band parallels the songwriting focus.

Smug Brothers begin in 2005 with the exciting debut record, Buzzmounter. This record featured the driving Valentine Chapel. In the beginning the band’s music was written by Darryl Robbins [The Motel Beds, Overthought Musik‘s numerous side projects] and the vocals and lyrics were created by Kyle Melton. Over time, Smug Brothers transformed into a cohesive band adding several musicians and artists into its indie rock sensibility.  The eventual addition of Ex-Guided By Voices and Swearing at Motorists drummer Don Thrasher on drums and percussion and the departure of Darryl Robbins transformed the band. The addition of guitarist Brian Baker [Brat Curse] and then Scott Tribble added sonic texture to the group’s sound. Several talented bass players have participated in this project over the years including Marc Betts, Lurchbox’s Larry Evans and the current bass playing of multi-instrumentalist Kyle Sowash [The Kyle Sowashes]. While additional lineup changes have influenced the sound over the years, the vision for the project has stayed true to an imaginative concept for the most impactful and concise indie pop sound.

SBBMThe band has been incredibly active from 2005 – 2019, releasing several excellent Midwestern indie rock album including the fantastic On The Way to the Punchline, the powerfully inventive Woodpecker Paradise and the amazingly accessible and catchy, Disco Maroon. In a just musical world (do not hold your breath waiting!), Disco Maroon would have produced top 40 singles with ‘Hang Up’ and ‘My Little Crowd Pleaser.’

In 2019, with the record Attic Harvest the band released its first record on vinyl — which is an important achievement. The group also released Serve A Thirsty Moon in that same year which speaks to their productivity! And to add more fuel to the idea of productivity — in the past challenging year because of the pandemic — the band was still able to release two terrific EPs, Room Of The Year and Every Surface Under Heaven and the single ‘Flame Verbatim.’ 

Originally formed in Dayton, Ohio and then Smug Brothers HQ relocated to Columbus, Ohio, Smug Brothers  have released some of the most catchy, interesting and melodic Midwestern indie rock and roll in… well, the Midwest and beyond. 

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a2655189097_10Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing the latest album Room Of The Year?

Kyle Melton (KM): Much of Room of the Year, as well as ‘Flame Verbatim’ and Every Surface Under Heaven, was written between fall 2018 and fall 2019. I was working from home during that year and had a guitar handy a lot of the time. We whittled down a batch of about 100 songs to 30 or so that we liked best, then set to work recording in December 2019 and got the 12 songs that appear on these three EPs before COVID-19 hit and we couldn’t get together to work on any more.

Dr. J: What is your approach in recording? What are your biggest challenges when creating new music? What is the biggest reward for you when making new music

KM: For these three most recent single EPs, we stuck with our tried-and-true method of Don [Thasher] and I getting in a room together and hashing out a rhythm track to build off. With the COVID-19 situation this year, we had to figure out how to get [Kyle] Sowash to record his bass parts from where he is. Scott had done a lot of work from his place and sent it over with Serve A Thirsty Moon, so we had that dialed in. For us, the biggest challenge is making time to get things done. As you get older, there are a lot more obstacles to getting music done than when you’re 25. I think there are levels of rewards: when you know you have a good basic track with a good energy you can build up, when everyone’s parts get added and the picture becomes more complete, when you add the extra touches to flesh it out, when you have a final mix/master that is what is going out. The whole process is still just such a buzz, really.

Dr. J: Freshman Zephyr is a fascinating song. There are some of the classic elements of the band and some exciting experimentation. In particular, for me, the use of electronics/keyboards adds an unexpected dimension to the song. When I expect a guitar part to come into the mix, a keyboard/electronic part does instead. Did you set out to explore a more expansive sonic feel when starting to work on that song?

KM: We’re always trying to figure out how to expand what it is we sound like, so I think Freshman Zephyr is in that lineage a bit. Scott really turned us more toward adding keyboards in a way we didn’t previously, so that’s largely his contribution. We rarely set out to do anything more than whatever the song asks us to do, really. It’s usually pretty obvious if something is going to work for a song or if we need to push out past ourselves to figure out what the song needs. And we typically know when we’ve found something we all like.

Dr. J: Room of The Year seems to address themes of existence apart from the technology that we have become Sbrosso comfortable using without asking what it means to be so dependent. I am thinking Radiator One, Good To Know Your Axis and Freshman Zephyr lyrically raise questions about technology. Would you say that is accurate? What themes were you addressing?

KM: Sure, there are flashes of coming to terms with technology in a lot of what I write. I think it’s just so prevalent in our current lives, that kind of thinking is going to be part of what I’m talking about. I have a very love/hate relationship with technology, as I’m sure a lot of us do. But I think we’re all working to find where we strike a balance between the benefits and whatever our humanity is. Where is your axis, you know?

Dr. J: How did Freshman Zephyr come together musically for you? How does that compare with Good To Know Your Axis?

KM: I think those songs have very different base identities: Freshman Zephyr is more in the pop house and Good to Know Your Axis is more in the postpunk range. So, from that standpoint, we would work on them with very different ideas in mind; you can’t really do the same kinds of things with both of these songs. We built them up in a similar way, but the four of us have developed a good unspoken language of what different types of songs would ask you to do.

Dr. J:  Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

KM: I always have the itch to make music. The struggle is getting it down on the phone or on tape in a timely fashion. The inspiration is everywhere, really. Listening to what other people are putting out is always inspiring. Going back and digging on things I’ve heard countless times but finding one new nuance, that sets off an idea. Things people say on TV or the Internet or in a text message. All of it has potential to trigger me to get to work.

a0679371235_10Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Attic Harvest to Serve A Thirsty Moon to Flame Verbatim and Room of the Year)?

KM: I have to feel some kind of energy from the connection between the words and music to get things going. I tend to write words and music separately, so when I try and put them together, I’m hoping there is a cool thing that happens. And there’s a big range, so that’s helpful. The biggest thing for how I work and how we’re able to function as group from Attic Harvest up through these new EPs is sharing demos in advance with the group that gives us a better idea of what we can work on and a sketch of an idea. When Don and I started playing together back in 2008, I would just throw a song at him totally cold and we’d come up with something. He has a little more advance idea now, which he says he likes a lot more. I think a lot of how I put songs together is fundamentally the same as I’ve done for a long time: pick up a guitar, throw some words out, and see what comes together. I raise the sails and hope for a strong wind to get us somewhere new and interesting.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Room of the Year?

KM: It’s hard to predict what we’ll be able to do in the next year, as COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. We have some things we’ve already started working on, so we’ll have to see what we come up with next. I think we’re all game to approach things a little differently, since we’re just not really able to do things the way we normally would.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

KM: Well, we didn’t get to do any shows this year, so this isn’t really a current view, but Investigative Years [from On The Way To The Punchline], Reminding Penumbra [from Attic Harvest], and Hang Up [from Disco Maroon] have always been very enjoyable for me. They all have different things going on, but they’re fun to sing and the band typically gets a good headwind going behind each of them.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

KM: I think there’s a hopefulness in this most recent batch of songs. Always keep looking for new ways to engage yourself and the world. Remain open to possibilities. The world is a lot more than most of us realize. Enjoy the ride, you know?

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

128173312_10157765610728404_8864351974159478428_oKM: Not playing shows has been a real bummer this year. First year since I started playing in bands in 1992 that I won’t do a single gig. But there’s always time to work on music and I’m grateful the four of us figured out how to work remotely to keep the ball moving. I miss “the Brothers,” but we did a Zoom call recently just to have a hang. That’s what band practice is like in 2020.

You can follow Kyle Melton and Smug Brothers on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @smugbrothers     Instagram at smugbrothers        Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kyle for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Smug Brothers’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos care of Kyle Melton.

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11 Questions with… Kailynn West

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nThe seventh installment of 11 Questions… comes courtesy of Kailynn West of Tiny Stills. It is difficult to separate Tiny Stills from her vision!

In 2015, after an unexpected situation left an opening on a national tour with Anthony Raneri and John-Allison Weiss, guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Kailynn West stepped in at the literal last minute to finish the tour with her power-pop project Tiny Stills.

LA-based Tiny Stills have released some of the most engaging and catchy emotional indie power pop beginning with a series of terrific songs and albums including the excellent “Falling is like Flying” from 2014 and the independently released “Laughing Into the Void” in 2018!  Recently, the band has released a series of compelling and catchy singles!

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104164797_1857630154373724_1517628563165917919_oTiny Stills arose from intense personal experience as a direct response to West’s experience being held up at gunpoint in 2011 and as a way to work through the inevitable social fallout that occurs so often after traumatic experiences.  Tiny Stills craft honest and intense songs with powerful guitars and inescapable melodies that pay homage to early ’90s and 2000s indie and pop-punk. At the end of the day, Tiny Stills and the music they make is an effort to remind you that even the worst days have a silver lining, that at the very least you are not alone in an overwhelming world.

a4066922409_10Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest released song, “Craigslist Bed“?

Kailynn West (KN): It started as inspiration after a most recent breakup. I had to move out of my apartment and start over. Specifically – I didn’t have a bed. The apartment I now live in (a garage, with a bathroom, literally.) came with a bed that the previous tenant left. I was otherwise going to look at craigslist beds because I didn’t have one at the time, but I ended up just keeping this one. It all worked out! But it was definitely the inspiration behind the song.

Dr. J: Tiny Stills evolved out of a personal experience for you, can you describe that experience and how it shaped the formation of the band?

KW: I was held up at gunpoint in about 8 years ago in Los Angeles. After that, I had a hard time relating to people and connecting. People couldn’t understand what I was going through, rightfully so, and I was dealing with coping with trauma and PTSD. I lost a lot of friends and my social circle during that time, and so I started writing music to try to work through some of the pain I was feeling trying to function. Tiny Stills was originally a solo project, that has morphed into a band. I’ve found that sharing
my story helps me connect with people, so I try to write honest songs.

Dr. J: “Craigslist Bed” is a meaningful song for all of us who deal with challenging relationship and the breakup of relationships; did you set out to address those concerns and challenges of when starting to work on that song?

KW: 100 percent yes. Particularly the bed, and do have a key ring with a million keys on it and I don’t really know which ones I need to keep at any given time.

a1000195355_10Dr. J: A previous song “Everything is Going Great” is a powerful song for the current moment we all find ourselves in today. Do you think that is a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics? Can they apply to the world today? Or would you say the focus should be more internal to the individual?

KW: I think songs are meant to be interpreted however feels best for the listener. For me, this song was about an internal battle of trying to pretend everything was OK, but I do think that’s a very universal experience, and definitely applies to today- mostly because the title of the song is sarcastic!

Dr. J:  How did “Everything is Going Great” come together musically for you?

KW: It came together pretty fast. I actually do a “song origin” on my patreon where I break down the different levels of demos- from the very first voice memo, with different lyrics and melody, to the demo we took into the studio, to the final version. It evolved pretty naturally, but it did start in a different place than where it ended up.

Dr. J:  Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

KW: I have something I need to get off my chest.

a4048710410_10Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from the album “Laughing Into the Void” to the current single “Craigslist Bed“?

KW: I’ve gotten better at self editing. With “Laughing Into the Void” I wrote a song and it was done. Now I go back and I’ll rework the chorus multiple times until it says exactly what I want it to say, or until I can’t get it out of my head. “Craigslist Bed” originally had a completely different Chorus! I do a “song origin” breakdown of that one on Patreon too. I’ve just gotten more critical of my writing and where I want the song to land.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after “Craigslist Bed“?

KW: We have new music coming out basically every month. Our next two singles are coming out August 7 and September 25th. They are two songs that were meant to be on the EP we were originally planning on releasing on our EP in April 2020! The second single is called “Resting in Pieces” and the third single doesn’t have a title yet!

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

KW: My favorite song to perform right now is “Small Talk” because it’s a straightforward fun pop/rock song and when the band comes in live, we feel huge.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

KW: That just because you’ve failed at something, it doesn’t make you a failure.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

a2642919434_10KW: I’m spending time working on myself. It’s leveled the playing field – No one can tour. We only have our songs now. I’m honing my craft and trying to elevate my work so it’s more than just noise. I think you have to practice being honest with yourself, and this is one of those difficult times when no one can really ‘look away’ we can only look at the problems we’ve created for ourselves as a society. I don’t like saying that we’re going to ‘get a lot of good art out of this (quarantine/the COVID crisis)’ because artists are under the same kind of pressure everyone else is, and our industry was collapsing years before COVID. Touring was one of the last ways musicians could make money. Artists can’t survive on streaming royalties- please directly support the artists that you like if you want them to continue making music. Between the death of album sales and now touring, we sure could use a break. I just want to survive this in more ways than one.

You can follow Kailynn West and Tiny Stills on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @tinystills     Instagram at TinyStills     Links     Spotify    Bandcamp

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kailynn for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Tiny Still’s Bandcamp page! Thanks again! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos care of Kailynn West.

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11 Questions with… Charlie & Amanda Jackson

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nOur sixth installment of 11 Questions with… features one of the best songwriters in the Dayton Music Scene! Charlie Jackson burst onto our consciousness with his solo record ‘These Days’ (released in late 2015-early 2016) that featured some of the most well crafted, mature and relatable songs about the problems of real life. Wanting a broader sonic textures for his songs, Charlie recruited Denny Cottle, Ricky Terrell and Brad Bowling for ‘Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway‘ which released their eponymous titled record in 2018. A terrific EP called well… ‘EP’ followed roughly a year later.  Anyone who has had the good fortune to be able to attend some of those lives shows know that Charlie was often joined on stage with his amazing vocalist spouse, Amanda, who added not only vocal harmonies but some fantastic singing of her own to those songs and a series of classic country covers. In a more just world, these songs would be at the top of the country charts!

We especially wanted to catch up with Charlie and Amanda as they are preparing to release their first record together. The release show will be happening on July 25th at the Yellow Cab Tavern which has done a terrific job of continuing to be a safe source for local music during the pandemic.

As always we wish to extend our heartfelt appreciation to Charlie and Amanda who took time out of their busy schedule to answer 11 questions for our readers/listeners on YTAA! We appreciate learning about how these terrific songs came together.

a0726141733_10Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you both started recording your latest record, The King & Queen of Dayton Country?

Charlie & Amanda Jackson (CAJ): We actually first started recording in Feb 2019 after just having our first show in Dec 18. After both of us (understandably) had some issues, we decided that we (and the songs) weren’t quite ready to be in the studio yet. So, we practiced a ton, and played a lot of shows and got more familiar with the material. In November of ’19 we went back in with Patrick, but the songs had all changed and evolved enough that we just started over from scratch. We had two full sessions in Nov, then another in January with Patrick and David Payne, and then a final one near the end of February with just David at the helm.

26239520_2226642254027923_4918144062901090525_nDr. J: You have worked closely with Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton, Ohio for several years, what first led to your recording with Patrick? How has that relationship shaped your music?

CAJ: Yes, Patrick mixed the first Railway record, and he had done such amazing work with so many artists in Dayton, I knew I really wanted to work with him in a broader capacity. We had hung out with Patrick quite a bit at shows and the Slovak Club so he had heard us play, and got to know us on a personal level. We had talked with him about what we would want a potential record to sound like, so we already had a head start toward making the album we really wanted.

a1952434078_10Dr. J: The King & Queen of Dayton Country is a very different record than E.P. and Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway, how do these records compare? What influenced your work on each of them?

CJ: The two projects definitely have quite a few similarities and differences. The work I did with The Heartland Railway is far less country than this new album. My writing has always leaned more on the country side, but while working with the guys in the Railway it took more of a rock vibe to it. I have said before, we were a rock and roll band playing country songs. This new project certainly leans more toward a classic country/americana sound. Amanda and I both listen to a LOT of old country music. Like, the old stuff from the Sun Records days, 50’s and 60’s country. Stuff like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Patsy Cline. This really influenced our sound more than it did for the Railway. I have always been a big proponent of letting things progress organically.

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With the Railway and with this new album. I don’t try to tell the other players what to play or how to play it. I’ve told all of them, that I’m not going to tell them how to play their instrument when they’re better at it than me. I didn’t have a bullet-pointed list of what I wanted, or where and when I wanted it. I let them feel it out and flesh it out. I could’ve said I wanted a straight Nashville sounding Tele lead guitar on the album, and it probably would have ended up sounding very Merle Haggard and I would have loved it. By stepping back and letting Casey breathe with it, he gave the lead guitar a very Knopfler-esque quality that I wouldn’t have asked for, but I absolutely dig. My songwriting across all three releases, I think, hasn’t changed a whole lot, I feel like I’ve evolved as a writer but every release combines new material with songs that I’ve had for a decade or more, and they all seem to fit together nicely. Amanda and I are even breathing some new life into some songs I wrote about 13 years ago, and they’re turning out great. Its all about letting it breathe, and seeing where it can go.

GEA - drjwudr 3.28.17 finals-51Dr. J: ‘Call This Home’ – the first single from The King & Queen of Dayton Country – addresses forms of love and support that someone finds at home – is that a correct interpretation of the title? If that is correct, did you intend to address how difficult it is to make a loving home or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

CAJ: The song absolutely reflects love and support found within a partner. We didn’t intend to address difficulties in making/keeping a loving home. Every partnership requires communication and work, but when love is there, it is just there. We do fuss at each other and we playfully argue but in our 17-years of being a couple we have never truly fought. Our love and communication have kept the big blowouts at bay.

Dr. J: How did the song ‘Call This Home’ come together musically for you?

CJ: I wrote the chorus first; I had no idea what direction I wanted for the verses yet. I told Amanda I wanted her to write her verse. She (of course) told me that she couldn’t write a verse, but then started sending me lines. They were just some insight to how she feels and how she thinks. I used those lines to craft her verse. Her verse was written before mine. But this was the first song that Amanda really had a hand in writing.

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

Charlie Jackson 1CJ: I can draw inspiration from just about anywhere, but my biggest muse has definitely always been Amanda. In the love songs (even if they aren’t autobiographical) I use her as the focal point of the love itself. For the sad songs and the heartbreak songs I recall back to our times apart in the rockier years of our early relationship, or I look at what I now know I would be missing out on if that love wasn’t there. Now, with this new level where I’m writing songs about her and for her to sing, she’s even more of a muse than she already was. Not just lyrically, but even the way I arrange the music revolves more around her. I write in keys that showcase her as much as possible. When I can coax her out of her shyness and get her to sing out, especially in her higher register, she has this natural vibrato in her voice that is just beautiful.

0016080444_100Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from These Days to Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway to The King & Queen of Dayton Country)?

CJ: Ok, first let me just say that I think it’s hilarious that you even put ‘These Days’ in with the others. Those are really just demo tracks, at best. I really didn’t know what I was doing with any of the 4 home recorded albums I released.

Anyway, I like to think of my music as honest and relatable. I try to lean more on being clever, I don’t usually delve deep into poetic symbolism and imagery. It’s a little stripped down, a little raw. Maybe it draws from the years in Punk Rock, but I like to get to the point and make it clear. I like to tell a story.

96112891_2270047886637202_1346419578112049152_nDr. J: What is next for you musically? Do you have plans to record again with The Heartland Railway? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?

CJ: Up next, I’m really looking to record a solo record. I don’t know how many songs yet, more than likely just an EP. I want it to be much more stripped down, kinda like Nebraska, or Southeastern, or Cheaper Than Therapy. Not much more (if any) instrumentation than just me and an acoustic. Kind of a ‘back to basics’ approach.

Amanda and I also already have several songs on deck for a second Charlie & Amanda release. Some brand new, some of them are songs that I wrote at the very beginning of my journey into country music writing. We really have the advantage of the fact that before the Railway got together, I already had 4 self-released albums worth of songs in my back catalog. Amanda has taken over the duties of figuring out which of those lend themselves to a duet format, and figuring out who should sing which verse, changing pronouns so it makes sense, etc. So, we have plenty to call back on.

I’m really focusing as much as I can on this project. We have been practicing with the other players and I’m loving the band format with Amanda in the mix. That being said, while a Heartland Railway show in the future wouldn’t be off the table, I really see this project, with Amanda at my side, is really the direction I see myself moving forward.

47574998_1930907883884539_3649514156148654080_oDr. J: What is your favorite song to perform with Amanda? What is your favorite song to perform with the Heartland Railway? What makes it a current favorite in your performances? Do you enjoy Live Streaming?

CJ: My favorite song with the Railway, definitely ‘Sugarbeet‘. Such a fun song to play, plus it has like 4 guitar solos in it. Just a barn burner.

With Amanda, from the record, my favorite would have to be Oasis. I love the way our harmonies intertwine on that one. My favorite one to sing with her, however, would have to be one of our new ones named Carolyn. She really belts it out, it’s a whole lot of fun. Once the world opens back up, I promise it will be a regular addition to the set list.

I do enjoy Live streaming to a point, but I really miss the interactions. That was one of my favorite parts of the show. Hanging out, laughing, raising a beer. There really is no virtual replacement for that.

96255009_2270047959970528_8107203026961301504_nDr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

CAJ: Laughter and love. Its really something when you not only share a household, and share love, and share a life with your Partner, but now sharing our music together, and sharing it with others. Being a little bit vulnerable and sharing some of the truths about life and love that we’ve learned. It really helps you connect. We’ve heard people say that our voices blend so well together, and we like to believe that it’s a direct result of us trying to be so in tune with one another on every level, that it really comes forward in our music. We are not overly private people and we share real life within our songs, some of the real-life issues are hard ones that we deal with every day or issues we have overcome. We hope people can look at those and understand that regardless of what life throws at you there are always ways to help you move forward in life. One of the ways to get through muddy situations has always been, and will always be, love and support. We offer that to each other and others.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

CAJ: It’s a really weird time. Especially for those in the entertainment industry. Amanda and I are lucky that this isn’t our regular gig. We don’t depend on our music to help finance our daily life. Amanda works from home, so she hasn’t missed a day over the virus, my work has been a little spottier than usual, but I’ve still worked more than I’ve been off.

We have definitely missed the shows and all of our friends through all of this. Now, on the cusp of releasing out debut album, with the Covid numbers getting worse, we are definitely afraid that our release show won’t happen the way we have planned, and that certainly bums us out. But we are healthy, and we have each other. So, we can’t complain too hard.

Thanks again to Charlie and Amanda for taking the time to answer these questions! All pictures and images courtesy of Charlie & Amanda Jackson.

Charlie & Amanda on Facebook   Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway on Facebook

Charlie & Amanda on Bandcamp

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11 Questions with… David Payne

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nThere are always those key individuals in any town who give of themselves to help make the music community stronger. David Payne is just such a fixture of the Dayton Music Scene!

Since he arrived with the achingly beautiful solo albums, ‘21‘ in 2009, he has spun a series of tales about life and music. David recognized the vibrancy of the Dayton music scene with an album of cherished covers ‘Dayton, Ohio‘ in 2017. That same year he released another solo record ‘Cheaper than Therapy‘ which spoke to the powerful healing that lies in making music.

David’s latest solo record ‘Orange Glow‘ was released last year. And that is not the half of his musical productivity. With Kent Montgomery, Tom Blackburn and Matt Oliver — The New Old-Fashioned — he released a stellar debut in 2012. Low Down Dirty Summer Nights was released by the band in 2015. And the captivating energy of the band was obvious to the crowds at their shows. In 2018, the band shared their most recent impressive collection of music, Smalltown, Midwest, USA. Of course, a slew of singles and a fantastic shared ep with The Repeating Arms, Hilltops and Highways is also part of the music that David has been involved in creating.

a2100498429_16Most recently he has released an EP of local music covers with his partner Heather Redman called ‘Stay at Home‘. Their two voices glide and slide along as if they have been singing together their entire lives.  Listening to their interpretation of these songs is a joy.

As always we wish to thank David for taking the time to answer these questions! We appreciate his answering these questions for our readers/listeners on YTAA! We cannot say this enough — thanks again for taking the time!

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started recording your latest record, Stay Home (with Heather Redman)?

David Payne (DP): Well, when the stay at home order went into effect Heather and I both started missing our friends and the Dayton music scene immediately. I had just finished up my first month of running my own sessions at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton when this all started and I really wanted to keep working.

So, I gathered the small amount of recording gear I had at home, Heather and I both picked a few of our favorite songs written by our friends, and started recording some covers.

We didn’t think of it as anything other than a fun project that would keep us busy and that our friends might enjoy. The response we’ve gotten has been a totally unexpected and very pleasant surprise!

Dr. J: You have worked closely with Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton, Ohio for several years, what first led to your recording with Patrick? How has that relationship shaped your music?

a3300088116_10DP: Well, The New Old-Fashioned started recording with Patrick back in 2011 or 2012. I had met Patrick back in 2006 and was a big fan of his old band, Flyaway Minion. By the time TNOF was ready to start recording, Patrick had relocated to Nashville and was running the studio down there. I heard he was looking for bands to record and it seemed like a really good fit for what we were doing. I was a big fan of his previous work like the Minion records and Shrug’s Whole Hog For The Macho Jesus to name a couple, so I was excited to get to work with him.

Patrick has helped shaped my music in just about every way you could think of. When I first started going to Flyaway Minion shows, I was 18 and hadn’t been to very many shows at all. Before then my idea of what a modern rock and roll band was we’re bands like Green Day and Weezer. This huge, most likely unobtainable, pipe dream. What Patrick and Flyaway Minion showed me was there were rock stars right here in my home town and that I could make classic records and play killer shows right here in Dayton.

69872267_2877973685565015_8034193719710187520_nThe other most important thing I learned from Patrick is that we can make classic sounding records the way our heroes did. Modern recording is very convenient and while I think that’s mostly a good thing, it’s easy for the romanticism of making records to get lost in the convenience. Everyone has their own way of making records and every way is valid, but the way we make records at Reel Love helps capture all the things I enjoy about making records. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with and study under Patrick. He’s taught we almost every thing I know about making records, which has become something I’m very passionate about. I’m forever grateful for that.

Dr. J: Stay Home is a very different record than Orange Glow (your last solo record), how do these records compare? What influenced your work on each of them?

DP: Orange Glow is a very personal record that I made with Patrick at Reel Love and making it was a very cathartic experience. Stay Home was recorded for fun at home on my iPad and is all songs written by our friends. Ha ha!

I’d say personal experience and Willie Nelson we’re probably the two biggest influences on Orange Glow. The pandemic, the subsequent shutdown, and the infinitely inspiring Dayton music scene were what influenced Stay Home.

Dr. J: ‘Outta Town’ addresses forms of self-doubt or concern with a band or a relationship lasting – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address overcoming doubt or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

DP: Yeah, I’d say that’s accurate. I wouldn’t say I was trying to address overcoming that doubt as much as I was just trying to express how the doubt made me feel. I guess it just kinda ended up that way do to the reflective, sort of tongue in cheek angle I took when writing it.

Dr. J: How did the song ‘Outta Town’ come together musically for you?

DP: Orange Glow is a pretty heavy record. I was at the tail end of a really difficult period in my life when I was writing those songs. I was reflecting a lot and feeling a little self isolated. I wanted to write a song that still dealt with those feeling but from a hopefully more humorous and lighthearted way. I wanted it to be a brief moment of levity in an otherwise serious record. I think bringing in a bunch of my rowdy friends to sing on it with me helped drive that idea home. We had a blast that day too!

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

DP: Of course it can come from anywhere, and often unexpectedly, but I think conversations with people are where I get the most of my inspiration for songwriting. It could be a whole in depth discussion or sometimes just one thing someone said that sticks with me.

a0785063098_10Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Cheaper than Therapy to Orange Glow to Stay Home)?

DP: That’s a tough question to answer and probably best left to outside perspective, but If I had to describe it, I guess I’d like to think that first and foremost, it’s honest.  As far as the sound goes, I think it sounds a lot like where I’m from. My own personal take on what the Midwest sounds like, I guess.

I don’t know that my process has really changed that much other than I’ve gotten a little better at it, I hope. Although, I do look to outside perspective a lot more these days.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically as a solo artist and as a member of The New Old-Fashioned? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Stay Home?

DP: I’m always writing, and although I haven’t found the shut down to be a very creatively inspiring time, I have written a handful of things.

a3987746246_10We’re almost done with the next New Old-Fashioned record which is a companion EP to our last record, Smalltown, Midwest, USA. It’s a couple songs from those sessions and a couple new ones. We’re excited to get it out, whenever it seems appropriate to do so, I guess. Kinda hard to know what to do right now.

As far as solo stuff goes, I tend to plan that out a lot less than I do with the band. That stuff seems to kinda just happen. I’ve got a few things that I’ve written recently that are more personal and I’ve also been working on some more character driven, concept sort of stuff that’s leaning a little more towards traditional country. Anyway, we’ll see what comes of any of that, but I’ve got some wheels turning.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances? Do you enjoy Live Streaming?

DP: Favorite song to play with the band is Kid 2000. It’s just got a lot of energy, it’s relevant, and it’s just fun to play. All Over Now, from the first TNOF record is always fun too and has been a staple in our live set for years. It’s one of Kent’s songs, so he sings it and I just get to play Chuck Berry riffs and goof off with Tom and Matt. Ha ha.

Whatever I’ve written most recently is usually my favorite thing to play solo, but a fun one to play from Orange Glow is, What I Mean To You. The finger picking is fun and it’s my only solo song with an actual guitar solo!

I really have enjoyed the live stream stuff I’ve done, but it sure doesn’t beat playing in front of people. I feel like it was fun for a few weeks, but it got kinda old pretty quick, for me at least. The comment sections are always fun on those.

11823081-1143573845671683-4996563248581076865-oDr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

DP: I hope ‘Orange Glow‘ helps someone going through heartbreak know that a lot of people understand what that feels like, that they’re not alone, and that there might just be a little light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re in that space, it’s hard to believe people when they tell you it’s gonna be OK. I think songs that express how you’re feeling can be really helpful in hard times.

With Smalltown, Midwest, USA, the grandest hope would be that it might make someone show a little more empathy for someone who has it harder than them. I suppose a more realistic hope is that people that do work hard to show kindness and empathy, know that they’re not alone and that we stand with them. I like to think that record is ultimately about trying to understand people.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

As a musician, if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve adapted very well at all. I’ve never been very good at digital media or promoting and distributing my music online, for better or worse. Hats off to those who are!  I’ve always enjoyed the classic approach of trying to make records that sound timeless, then playing the songs live in front of people, and hopefully selling enough copies to make the next one. Rinse, repeat. That model was already dated and out the window before the pandemic. It’s kinda just dead right now and who knows when we’ll get it back. That’s the hard part. I have been able to continue to do some work in the studio, although not as much as I’d hoped to being doing this summer. I am optimistic that when the time comes, people will need live music more than ever.

From a personal standpoint though, it’s forced me to slow down, and spend more time with my fiancee and our little girl. Which has been great! We’ve gotten a lot of family time we wouldn’t have had otherwise and I think it’s made me a better partner and Dad.

a2033241784_16My entire identity has been wrapped up in being a musician, performer, and songwriter since the moment I got my first guitar. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. So, I guess I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crises trying to figure out who I am outside of music.

I miss playing loud sweaty rock shows and seeing my friends. I can’t wait to get back to that, when it’s safe to do so.

Until, then I’ll just keep holding on tight to my family, writing as much as I can, and enjoying the brief time I do get to spend with friends in small groups. I can’t wait to see everyone at the rock show and give out a bunch of sweaty hugs. I hope everyone takes good care of themselves and each other in the meantime.

Thanks again to Mr. David Payne for answering our questions! All pictures used courtesy of the artist.

David Payne on Bandcamp    The New Old-Fashioned on Bandcamp    TNOF on Twitter

David Payne on Facebook    The New Old-Fashioned on Facebook    Magnaphone Records

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