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Interview: Chad Perrone

Hi Chad, how have you been?

I’ve been well, thanks for asking.

You just released your new album, Kaleidoscope. Congratulations! Where does the title come from? And how does it represent the album?

My good friends at Pilot Studios here in Boston did the artwork for the album, and they also came up with the title.  I thought I was going to name the album “I’ll Leave You With This,” but during one of our initial viewings of cover art concepts, one of the designs had the title Kaleidoscope on it, which stuck out for me.  When we discussed the title they said they thought the album and its songs took on different meanings depending on where you are at in life when you viewed it (similar to viewing the colored glass in a kaleidoscope).  I loved the concept and so we kept it.

Would you say the album has a central theme? If so, what would that theme be and what made you want to write / sing about it?

As with every record I’ve put together, most of the songs I write have something to do with loss and moving on from that, and Kaleidoscope follows suit.  With the exception of a couple of songs, a lot of the album is centered on the different stages of moving on from a passionate and loving, but ultimately unsuccessful romantic relationship.

Your previous albums (Used To Dream, Wake & Release) were generally well-received and personally I consider them highlights in my collection. How would you say ‘Kaleidoscope’ provides continuity from your previous releases and what did you do differently on this release when it comes to the conception and crafting of the songs?

Sonically, I don’t think Kaleidoscope sounds like anything I’ve ever put out there before.  The continuity would be in the songs themselves.  I think if you listened to the acoustic version of the album, you’ll feel the continuity better.  At the end of the day I’m just a singer/songwriter who writes little pop songs because it’s what I do (and the process is also like “free therapy.”)

Like on your previous albums I noticed there are several songs that portray the highs and lows of personal relationships. Do these reflect personal experiences or are they based on other people’s stories (as well)? And if (some of) the songs are of an autobiographical nature, isn’t it hard for you to bare your soul like that? What makes you want to pour out your heart like that?

You bring up an interesting dilemma that I have endured since I started writing and performing, both for myself and for those that have influenced the music I’ve written.  Everything I write is extremely personal in nature.  While it’s always a bit unnerving to put those things out into the world, I think I would feel more uncomfortable writing songs that were anything but personal.  As I said for the last question, I can’t say that I “want” to pour my heart out and reveal a lot of personal information, but it doesn’t feel genuine doing it any other way.  Songwriting hasn’t always been something that I’ve done for “fun,” as much as something I’ve done for introspection and healing.

The album came together after an extensive crowd funding campaign. Why did you decide to go down that route and would you consider doing more albums this way?

It was something I saw a lot of other musicians and friends do to fund their musical efforts, so I thought I would give it a try.  Overall, it was a great success, granted it’s a lot more work on the backend to fulfill pledges, etc.

Can you tell us a little more about how such a process (with crowd funding) works and how it progresses? And how different is it from a more ‘traditional’ way of going about things?

You start off with a goal/target…essentially a budget for what it will cost to record and piece together the project.  Then you start to price out different incentives/pledges (CD, signed CD, acoustic version of the record etc.)  Until you get to the end, it’s business as usual.  Now at the end of the process it’s a matter of tying up the loose ends, and making sure all of the incentives/pledges are fulfilled.

During the writing and recording, did you ever think certain songs would never get done? And if you deal with setbacks or when you get stuck on a song, how do you deal with that? Can you just move on from a ‘stuck song’ or is it more complicated than that?

Sure, that happens all the time.  We actually set out to record 13 tracks (while only 11 made the record).  In most instances, you shelve a song and come back to it.  Much like anything else, sometimes it just takes some fresh ears or a fresh start to work through a block or setback.  In the case of the two songs that were left off the record, I just didn’t think they fit in the context of the album as a whole.  With that said, one song (“Life In the Past”) made it onto the “Unreleased” album, which was an incentive/pledge item.

On the cover, which is really cool by the way, it says “Chad Perrone presents Kaleidoscope: The music of Chad Perrone, Dennis Carroll & Steve Belleville”. Can you tell us a little more about these collaborators and what their roles were in making this record?

This was another idea that the designers (Pilot Studio) helped me to flesh out.  Dennis and Steve are longtime friends and have been integral pieces to every solo record I have done to-date (with the exception of Black Friday).  When I set out to do this album, I had a very specific idea of how I wanted things to sound, and what I wanted the process to be, and how that process would be different than other ways we had gone about doing a record before.  For the first time since I started making music (even since my time with Averi), I felt comfortable collaborating on every aspect of the production and arrangement with other people.  There were instances where Dennis and Steve would do a lot of the instrumentation of a song without me, and even when there were times when I didn’t love 100% of an idea , we would go with it if it was something they both thought worked best.

Also, in the past, we’ve had many different musicians and friends come in and contribute to an album, which while it’s been a wonderfully fulfilling and enriching process, I really wanted to do things differently with Kaleidoscope. For the first time on one of my studio albums, Dennis, Steve and I were the only people to play and sing on the album.

On Kaleidoscope there’s an increased usage of discernible beats and effects compared to your previous work. ‘Feel Everything’, ‘First Move’, ‘If Only for a Weekend’, and ‘Recovery is a Long Road’ for example are somewhat different than previous songs. What was the reason for implementing these techniques?

I had a really bad writer’s block for a long time.  One of the large reasons was that everything sounded the same to me when I would sit down to write on an acoustic guitar.  I was having a hard time coming up with new melodies and phrasings.  So, I started looping drum beats in GarageBand, followed by recording a chord progression on the keyboard/synth.  I would then just sit there and try to come up with as many different melodies as I could to a simple progression.  The result was half of the songs on the album.

The other large reason for the “beats” on the album was that I felt it actually let us be more creative.  We had a lot more control over the sounds and textures on the album, allowing us to experiment with things in ways we hadn’t been able to on other albums.

What lessons have you learned in creating Kaleidoscope and how would you put those lessons to use in the future?

Steve and Dennis understand me musically better than I could explain to you in words.  That is what I learned through this process.  I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t entertain doing a record differently in the future, but it would be difficult to imagine recording something without them.

Is there a song on the album you are particularly proud of? If so, which one and why?

I couldn’t begin to pick just one.  I have something I’m proud of for each song, and for each little thing each one of us contributed.

Which of these songs is the most exciting to play live and why?

Good question.  I’ll let you know when we attempt to play these live as a band (which could be a while).

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Chad. Last but not least, can you tell people why they might enjoy your new record and where they can go to listen to it and purchase it if they like what they hear?

One of my weaknesses as a singer/songwriter is my inability to promote my own music, so I’ll leave the former part of your question to those that have listened to my music and like what they have heard.  I have always said that word of mouth works better than any other promotion out there.

As for the latter half, www.chadperronemusic.com and chadperrone.bandcamp.com.

MarkCrawfordWilliams_SingASongSing A Song

Mark Crawford Williams

2014


A couple of years ago Mark Crawford Williams released “Tryin’ Man” which he describes as a somewhat barebones acoustic americana LP. This record, however, got him the attention of the right people as he now releases his Nashville-based sophomore album called “Sing A Song”. Much like his debut, the album is filled with the sounds of historic American music with influences from the American folk, country and blues scenes.

You will immediately hear the bluesy twang on the title track. Williams has a solid vocal range and musically the song is a tight package that displays skill and insight. Much the same can be said for the modernday honkytonky Catch That Train, which is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It’s old school country made current. It’s down to earth, like country should be in my eyes and it catches your ear. The rhythm and the tempo are perfect for Williams’ vocals and the songs pops.

The pace goes down on Lying Next To Me which is served by piano and shows a lot of restraint until it evolves in a jangly little country-pop tune with some jazzy undertones. It becomes cheeky and playful and while I really like this song I felt Williams’ vocal style favors the previous songs a little more than this one. Tryin’ Man has a classic vibe to it. Especially in the chorus, which has that big sound. On Skeeta Williams turns into a more playful sound again but this time it comes out better in my eyes. The vocals are a little fuller and the rhythm caters to his vocals more which makes this a really cool song. The saloon-y piano arrangement is an instant classic.

The Main Thing never really got going for me. It has a strong vocal performance and there’s a really good interaction between vocals and instrumentals but to me it lacks a certain tension or excitement that lifts it up a little further. The tension, however, is felt on I Don’t Run Anymore which really showcases the vocalist Mark Crawford Williams. You can hear the emotion seep through and it makes me think this song is one of the more personal on the album. The way it builds up in intensity and stays so sincere is really very impressive.

We’re in the home stretch of the album with the final two songs coming up. And Mark Crawford Williams finishes strong. One More Song brings together the influences from classic country and current country-pop in this powerballad. It’s very sincere and warm. Williams reminds me of John Denver a little bit on The Party Ain’t Over. The reflective countryfolk with a hopeful tone is both uplifiting and in its own way quite catchy.

“Sing A Song” suprised me. I grew up listening to a lot of country & western, folk and americana music and much in the vein of the artists I used to listen to as a kid, Mark Crawford Williams is able to present music in a way that is accessible to all audiences with down to earth themes, honest deliveries and clever arrangements. Nothing about these songs is fabricated or too ornate. I don’t know if “Sing A Song” will reach a wide audience but I believe it should. Williams understands the tradition of country music and has the soul of a folk troubadour which makes that he can really get his songs and stories across. I’m hoping you will give this record a try. It may not be the most revolutionary album of the year but it is definitely one of the most pleasant ones.

JasperSlaghuis_BendBend

Jasper Slaghuis

BandBus Records – 2014

Jasper Slaghuis previously played with the band Yukka. Afterwards he chose to step down from the limelight of music life. Recently, working with other musicians and joining Arthur Adam’s Twents Songwriters Guild, he took advantage of the xenogamy of musical influences and expressions in the region. His passion for making music returned and after recording an EP with the Guild he took on the quest of recording a full-length album by himself.

On November 12, 2014, Slaghuis proudly presented his record at the Concordia Theatre in Enschede. And rightly so, because “Bend” is a beautifully crafted singer/songwriter album, containing songs of integrity and passion.

The album opens with the gorgeous title song Bend. Slowly the song increases in intensity and along the way the vocals fill up the holes and it unfolds into a sensitive opener to the album.

Let It Go starts off bold with tons of character and down the stretch it evolves into a relaxed guitar-driven pop tune in the vein of early John Mayer songs. Not a traditional catchy pop tune but it has a certain signature that sticks with you. And in certain vocal expressions Slaghuis reminds me of Adam Duritz in the way that he is able to end words and lines with an emotional touch that keeps resonating.

To my taste the echoing on Better, a piano ballad, is a little over the top. This doesn’t take anything away from the song itself though as it is beautifully composed with emotion seeping through its pores. It’s a classic style pop song of the kind you don’t hear much anymore. It is filled with metaphors symbolizing pain and struggles that are part of love and life itself.

Jasper Slaghuis has proven to be able to strike a sensitive chord. He continues to do this on In Your Sky which may be one of the most impressive songs on the album. Its lyrics are strong and honest and the passionate performance brings out the best. While some may end up criticizing the vocal performance in this song I do believe it is exactly those slight imperfections that create authenticity and achieve the right amount of fragility to make this song shine.

The album continues with a potential radio single, Let Go. It has a nice flow to it and invites the listener to really get into it and even sing along. While it is a strong song that you can’t easily get out of your head, to me personally, it misses that extra dimension I am able to find on some of the other songs.

The next song features a well known metaphor of losing things in the fire. While this metaphor is used in many songs, Slaghuis manages to keep Things We Lost on the right side of the tension balance to keep the song interesting and the slightly folksy undertone aids the narrative which raises this song from good to special.

The next few songs are well-written but might not be the standout songs on the album. Not to me at least. Inside and Here & Now have solid lyrics and clever arrangements but miss those hard to describe elements that leave you with a sense of wonder. A Breeze Like You, however, is another well-composed piano ballad with a calm lead in. After the lead in, the vocals come in and produce a fine teamwork with the warm sound of the keys. As the intensity of the song increases, so does the complexity and the song effortlessly evolves into an anthem, picking up strength. Part of the piano arrangement have a slight Queenesque tone to them which is a nice little feature that adds to the song.

4-11-2008 (Chicago Lady) suggests a song of a personal nature which is reflected in the tone of the song. It’s a fine song by itself but I feel the song doesn’t quite reach its maximum potential. If only it would come out of its shell a little more it could make quite the difference. To some of you the introvert nature of the track may actually be what draws you to it, so this obviously is a personal observation. You Will Always Play That Part tends to come out of its shell a little more. In a way that reminds me of Cary Brothers, Slaghuis is able to emphasize the vocals during “…how am I suppose to make a stop / when I cannot let you go and / why do you always play that part / is it just ‘cause I love you so…” which strengthens the song immensely.

And that’s where we reach the end of the album. Three is a fitting song to finish off “Bend”. It is a quiet piano tune not unlike other songs on the album. This creates a certain continuity and cohesion to the musical aspects of the record.

“Bend” is an impressive debut that should fill Jasper Slaghuis with pride. Generally the record is clean and polished off which is a strength in itself. Personally, though, I like it when sometimes songs touch boundaries, or even cross them. Those songs that are a little bolder and more expressive are the standout songs in my opinion (Bend, Let It Go, Your Sky, Things We Lost, You Will Always Play This Part). “Bend” is a promise that we can expect even greater things in the future from this man. But for now we have the pleasure to get to know Jasper Slaghuis through his debut album: “Bend”.

MemoryInPlant_AnEpicTriumphAn Epic Triumph
Memory In Plant
Independent – 2014

Meet Memory In Plant, a psychedelic indie rock band from Tel Aviv in Israel. Memory In Plant combines the talents of three music producers (Hamou, Firsel & Cohen) who have a passion for music and experimenting with different sounds and expressions of music. Their first instinct is to do things differently, to experiment and you will see this reflected in their work. The song structures, lyrics and soundscapes are all but traditional and mix psychedelic, electronic and progressive rock elements.

This debut EP opens with Memory Inplant which is certainly an acquired taste as a massive wall of sound hammers on your eardrums until it fades away. Don’t be discouraged though because it serves as an introduction, a lead in to the rest of the EP, much like the intros we used to hear on concept albums in the 80s and 90s.

This Love has a groovy beat, Shame On Me can be described as progressive electronic rock and has a certain playfulness to it. These two tracks aren’t like anything you hear in today’s popular music but in Memory In Plant’s catalogue the songs are amongst their most accessible. And then follows Eyes Up, which is quite weird but in the best sense of the word. It takes you to all these different places but never gets dull and is actually quite catchy. Rainy Veins is a more moody track with sirens and life support sounds and haunting choir singing. Eclectic, at times even minimalistic, mixing the experimental progressive rock from the mid-80s with early 90s electronica and a whole bunch of other influences, it never stays put for too long. It has a cadence to it that really works.

The closer, Any Dancing, is probably the least experimental track on the EP. The twittering and usage of untraditional instrumentation, however, make it surprising. Throughout the song, Memory In Plant takes up the pace, working towards a climax that comes floating down in the final seconds of the song.

Overall, “An Epic Triumph” surprised me. There is a definite concept to it, weaving elements of space, time, humanity and perception together. Memory In Plant show their talent lies in the conceptual part of the music. The vocals aren’t spectacular but that is no objection because the use of clever and original instrumentation aids the concepts and soundscapes of the songs. This type of music is not likely to become a commercial success but there is a vast underground audience into progressive, experimental music. Memory In Plant may take another step or two further away from the middle of the road than most bands in that genre but that is what sets them apart and makes them stand out. My guess is they will steadily carve out a niche audience if they continue to improve on their craft in the same vein.

Interview: Stephen Kellogg

Stephen Kellogg, songwriter extraordinaire, is visiting our fair city, playing in front of a sold out crowd at the Bitterzoet venue in downtown Amsterdam. A couple of hours before he hit the stage, Stephen was nice enough to answer a few of my questions and we had a very pleasant conversation in which he shared his thoughts and experiences as a recording and touring musician and the joys and challenges that come along with the profession.

Currently, Stephen is on the road with songsmith Gregory Alan Isakov, whom I also met on my way out. Not just a very talented musician, he comes across as a really nice and fun guy, so I imagine these two are having some good times touring together. Stephen explained that at first, when he came out to Europe, he was playing solo shows in Ireland and he was basically on his own. This brought along moments of loneliness and it may have reflected in his sets sometimes as those often reflect his current mood. Now that he’s traveling with Gregory and company he can share the experience a little more and Stephen really enjoys it to share it with others and he told me the tour is turning out great so far.

The tour doesn’t mark Stephen’s first appearance in Europe. He played some headline events when his latest album “Blunderstone Rookery” hit the shelves and toured with Josh Ritter and Milow previously. But all those visits were in the past 13 months, so he’s still discovering the territory here. And he’s trying to really enjoy his time here, taking in all he can. I asked him if he’s experiencing differences between the shows he plays back in the US and the shows he’s playing over here, taking in account the sort of venue he’s playing in. He answered:

There are differences. When I listen to music myself, all I care about is the words. The genre doesn’t matter; I can get into country, rap, hard rock, anything as long as the words speak to me. Knowing that about myself, when I’m up on stage, all I think about is [delivering] the words. It may also be because I’ve been touring with great artists but I feel like the audiences in Europe really give you a shot, they are attentive. They listen when you need them to listen and give back when you want them to give back. In the US, sometimes, it feels like you have to win [audiences] over first; before they give you a shot.

We started talking about Stephen’s music a little more, in particular about his latest record: “Blunderstone Rookery”. As you may or may not know, the title is a reference to the book ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens. I asked him if this was done on purpose, which I assumed it was. Also, I wanted to know why he’d picked that title and how it relates to the actual record.

I love that book. I read it twice, some parts even more than that. In moments of my life that I look for guidence [I keep coming] back to it. Almost like some people use the Bible, to look for answers. In the book Blunderstone Rookery is David’s childhood home, which at first he loved but then turned into an unhappy place and as a grown up he made his peace with it. I really liked that metaphor as [I would say] it’s the overriding theme of the album.

This lead to a conversation about books and inspiration derived from books, still somewhat in the context of “Blunderstone Rookery”. First off Stephen recommended ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck and ‘With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln’ by Stephen Oates. To me it seemed like he may connect to characters or people that display a certain journey because many of Stephen’s songs feel like (part of) a journey to me. So we discussed this:

You know, a good story is great but if it helps you find your way that’s something special. I’m not necessarily looking for a journey but if I feel authenticity; ‘this is how it is’ and it gives me insight. Without sounding too cliché… life is a trip we’re all taking but we all end up in the same place eventually. I think about this a lot, about how in the end we all die. For all people’s good or bad intentions [and endeavors] everybody ends up in the same place. Almost every day, when I wake up, I realize that I might die that day. But not in a dark way but I ask myself: what would I need to do if this were my last day [and not leave anything unfinished].

The conversation turned a little philosophical here but essentially, realizing that life is finite and giving yourself the opportunity to live your days consciously is a way of allowing yourself to fully experience life and not take it for granted. This concept is still playing around in my mind after my conversation with Stephen because I think it can be a very powerful thing. We circled back to “Blunderstone Rookery” after that and how it came together.

I’ve always written what’s happening in my life. In the past I wrote about girls and I thought: is this all I’m ever going to write about? Now I have a family and I’m raising kids so I tend to write more about that. About the struggles of life, the dreams of my youth. How sometimes dreams come true but you don’t realize it or you start realizing that some dreams may never come true. Both of which are scary things to come to terms with.

As a metaphor he mentioned that as a 10 year old he had a dream of becoming Bon Jovi. Not to say that’s the only thing he wants his life to amount to but it serves as a good example. At some point you realize you aren’t going to be the next Bon Jovi and that even if you get to play similar sized events it will probably still be different and you have to face reality. Also, Stephen told me that the band he used to play with for over 10 years (Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers) needed a break and so they ended up in this hiatus but Stephen was still “in love with music” as he called it himself. He just didn’t have the same gang to share it with. On top of that, he lost a number of people close to him and it almost felt like the bottom was falling out of his life. But in his heart, Stephen is an optimist, so he was looking for a way to express everything that was going on. And this all came together in “Blunderstone Rookery“.

In the wake of “Blunderstone Rookery”, Stephen Kellogg is also looking to the future and recently started a PledgeMusic campaign to fund his new recording project “South West North East“. Stephen patiently explained to me what his plans are.

My music has different aspects. A little country, folk, some rock and occasionally some pop. People often think that you’re going in a certain direction when making a record but I wanted something different. I wanted to really feel something.

I’m going to record 4 songs each in different parts of the country, each with a different co-producer and different musicians and different surroundings. I thought to myself, what would I like as a fan and I came up with the idea of music released throughout the year in digestible pieces. And as a musician it gives me a chance to work with different people [to keep me on my toes and keep things fresh]. This is new ground for me too.

I asked Stephen why he chose to do this via the PledgeMusic campaign and he told me how previously he worked with a label and while he has no regrets whatsoever, he doesn’t necessarily own his own music of the past decade and streaming revenue is still finding its way so it’s not always a reliable manner to provide for your family. Instead he chose to take matters in his own hands realizing it gives him a chance to get his record funded while keeping an eye on his financial reality. He wanted fans to be able to get involved but making a record is still costly so he needed to find a win-win situation. And PledgeMusic offered a very accessible and easy platform for it.

As we started talking a little more about the new project we tackled the subject of songwriting and the creative process.

At first you just write. You write a batch of songs and then you figure out who you want to work with. After that, you try to match the songs to the people and go from there.

One of the people that Stephen will likely be working with on the new project is singer/songwriter/guitarist Josh Kaufman. Stephen sent him 20 songs and in the end there were 2 songs that Josh liked, so they started with those and are currently writing another song together.

To me, this project is as much about the process than it is about the product. If I would only be able to make 1 more record for the rest of my life, I probably wouldn’t be working with Josh Kaufman. Nothing against Josh but he thinks way more out of the box than I do and sometimes we work like oil and water. But because we’re only doing 4 songs it works out well. And because we’re not looking to create a radio single it gives me the freedom to experiment a little more.

After that Stephen asks himself what’s missing. He wonders what else he can explore. Touring with Gregory Alan Isakov, who is known for being able to paint a picture with his songs while being quite sparse with his words, Stephen got inspired to try his hand at that as well. Generally, it is not Stephen’s style but he shows he isn’t afraid to color outside the lines and challenge himself. He may even end up recording the ‘West’ installment at Gregory’s barn in California. Ever since Stephen is performing alone he’s much more involved with the people he meets and it has led him to new inspirations and collaborations. When he was performing with band, he wasn’t as involved with this part of it but recently it has been a significant part of his metier.For some reason we entered the topic of food and we talked about the annual BBQ that Stephen Kellogg hosts. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Annual SK Family BBQ, I asked him to tell us a little more about it.

One summer, 5 years ago my band and I were trying to play festivals but we couldn’t get booked to one. At the time I was reading Willie Nelson’s biography and it mentioned his 4th of July picnic. So I started thinking: what would I like to do with my favorite artists? I’d like to have a barbecue and hang out. So I invented this event around that idea. We play music and just hang out. Some lesser known songs, acoustically on the first day and then the second day we play tug-of-war or have a balloon fight and we have burgers and ‘dogs and we play a normal electric show. Initially I did this with the band so last time I had to make a tough decision if I was going to keep doing it and that is when I decided to bring in my actual family and encouraged people to bring along the people they love, whoever they may be.

I told Stephen that I thought this was really cool and that it really shows the spirit of art, and music in particular because in its core, music is about sharing something of yourself with others, about making connections. And events like this show the person (or the people) behind the music and (at least to me) add to the meaning of said music. So personally, it would make my appreciation for an artist and his/her/their art even bigger. And in that light, I thought that if you really think about it, it’s a little remarkable there aren’t more artists and bands who participate in events like this. Because to my knowledge, the annual SK BBQ is pretty unique. Stephen mentioned that for some musicians are apprehensive in doing things like this because you will have to show the real you during an event like this. You may get tired or sweaty and you can’t have a ‘mask’ on all the time. You have to let your guard down. And not everyone may be willing or able to do that. It’s a great thing that you get to share your life with others but it can also be a little frightening.Finally we discussed the balance between being a touring musician and also being a father and family man. Because I imagine it must be hard at times, especially when you are far away from home. Stephen had this to say:

It’s tricky. I won’t lie about that. When my daughter was born it was really hard but my dad gave me some advice on the matter. Everyone who decides to start a family will have that challenge. I don’t think it’s that different from a ‘regular’ office job. With long hours and coming in early you can easily get lost in a job like that too. When I come home, whether I’m [really] tired or not, the first thing I need to do is give my kids some energy, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or so. So the balancing of touring and a family costs a lot of energy but in the end it is all worth it. And it doesn’t really matter where you are. When you’re away you’re away but in some places you feel more comfortable than other places. In Southern California, for example, it feels very far away from home. I’m not really a beach, sunshine and palm trees kind of guy. I like the grey; I need a little bit of rain.

After this, Stephen had to set up the stage and soundcheck, so I thanked him for taking the time to answer my questions and let him get on with that. It was a real pleasure to take to you, Stephen and I hope the show was a massive success and I can’t wait to see you return to our little country next year!

Islands

Bear’s Den

2014 Communion / Caroline







After the release of two impressive extended plays, British nu-folk-folk outfit Bear’s Den recently dropped their official full-length debut. The album is called “Islands” because the songs themselves can be seen as different islands in a greater whole. On it, we can hear the band’s banjo-infused, folk-inspired indie sound, though it may, at times, be less folky than their track record would lead you to believe. Bear’s Den holds its hands on the reins and doesn’t go off in predictable climax-choruses or veer off into anything too experimental. After a number of years of honing their craft, the band found their niche and it shows on “Islands”.

The record starts off with the cinematographic Agape. Both lyrically and sonically the song provides you with an image. When you listen to the song and close your eyes, the scene will almost instantaneously appear in front of you. Combine this with Andrew Davie´s comforting vocals and you have one heck of an opening track.

On The Love We Stole Bear´s Den proves that repetition isn´t  always a bad thing. The continuity in the arrangement that lies underneath subtly carries the song, just like the waves that surely but steadily carry sediment to the coast. Thanks to this, the song maintains a strong character, because at times the vocals can get a tiny bit muddy, which distracts from the lyrics. In conclusion, The Love We Stole is a good song, but there are even better songs on “Islands”.

Current single Above The Clouds of Pompeii is one of the highlights on the record. Bear’s Den is known for their literate, cinematographic way of songwriting and this song is indicative for that. Right from the start when Davie sings “We built our home on the slopes/Pompeii beneath/She lay above” to “So my father and my son/As you end what you’ve begun/You’ll lie patient by her side/roses red come lillies white”, the song just reads and listens like a movie scene. The gentle tone of the song guides you through the scenes and the chorus invites you to sing along (“Don’t cry/Hold your head up high/She would want you to”). I’m not sure if today’s market is ready for it yet, but this song would deserve to become a massive radio hit.

Isaac is another standout song on this very strong record. Its fragile vocals are perfectly accompanied by the fragile banjo and guitar. At times the song comes across as a plea and at the same time it is infused with encouragement and hope. In contrast to popular bands like Mumford & Sons, Bear’s Den doesn’t fall into the trap of repetitive songwriting. When you listen to a full Mumford & Sons album, you can almost predict how a song is going to progress. While their songs, individually hold up easily, listening to the same trick over and over can sometimes be a little much. Bear’s Den prevents this by showing restraint. Instead of going off into the seemingly inevitable banjo explosion, the band keeps things small and sincere, which gives the song enormous power.

This middle part of the album continues on a high note with Think of England. Sonically, you can detect a little change here, as percussion and drums step to the foreground a little more. What stays, is the band’s knack for ‘painting songs’. Once again this song progresses like scenes in a movie. The drum arrangements form a canvas on which the guitar arrangements and the vocal tone tastefully create a slight dissonance. This serves as a sonic enhancement for the song, much like a backdrop on which a painting is mounted. What I also really enjoyed was the introduction of horns to give the song more body.

Magdalene was one of two songs (the other was Above the Clouds of Pompeii) that immediately nestled itself in my head. Right from the start the melody grabbed a hold of me and I was humming along, bobbing my head to the melody. The combination between arrangement and vocal sound is tastefully done and while the song comes across as rather simple, it isn’t. And therein lies the strength of this song. The questions of life, love, hope and faith are relatable ones and in combination with the relatively catchy nature of this song, I could see this doing well on certain radio stations.

When listening to When You Break I couldn’t help but picture a baby turtle trying to get out of its shell. The song starts off with a ‘constricted’ (by lack of a better word) first minute but then it starts to open up and turns into a modern indie-folk song that constantly envelopes itself in a shroud of mystery. A couple of times it scales down a little just to break out of its shell again. And very slowly the intensity of the song increases as does the tempo until the very end where the song comes to a calm conclusion.

Stubborn Beast is a pretty solid song but it wasn’t quite as memorable as other songs on the record. The lyrics, once again, paint a picture, which I really like and which is indicative for Bear’s Den but for me the song doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the ones previously mentioned.

We then reach the oldest song of the bunch. Elysium was written around 3 years go but never sounded quite right. The song has very touching lyrics but the band couldn’t make it work initially. They revisited the song and with the addition of horns it grew out to something alltogether different. The lyrics have that wonderful, magical ability to instantly connect to the listener. You immediately feel this song as it literally speaks to you. It builds up subtly and the addition of the horns (thanks to fellow musician and friend Marcus Hamblett) gives the song a rich character and resonating impression that fills up the space between the emotive words/sounds and the willing listener. A perfect example that a song can shine if the pieces fall in the right places.

The album ends with Bad Blood. We get to hear some thrilling vocal harmonies, so do I really need to say more? Well, lets. The song goes on for 5 minutes but if it were twice as long, I’d still hardly notice it would take up that much time. There isn’t a distinct part of this song that makes it stand out but the way it navigates to/through the listener makes that this song is perfectly suited to close out “Islands”. It will leave you with the burning desire to quickly hit the repeat button.

Reverend Henry & The Pharisees

Reverend Henry & The Pharisees

2014 Independent release





Reverend Henry & The Pharisees is a project fronted by singer Henk van den Brink and guitarist Chris Gerretsen. The two go back a long time but never got around to creating an album together. After a few years of turmoil, the two got back together and promised each other that an album was going to happen. Henk, Chris and a number of befriended musicians delivered on that promise with “Reverend Henry & The Pharisees”.

The gritty, rootsy rocker Mary opens the album and shows what it is going to be all about. Infused with classic tones of American blues, rock & roll, folk and soul, Mary blasts out of your speakers. You can feel the tension, passion and energy that makes up this strong opener.

You hear the term ‘Heartland Rock’ (most often associated with Springsteen, CCR & Petty) sometimes. Honest, straightforward music that connects to the everyday man. Reverend Henry & The Pharisees continue in this same tradition. Ditchy is in the same corner as Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Crowes, while If You Don’t Mind is a little bluesier, grabbing back to Mayall & Haggard but the sound comes across more current.

Under My Skin is a typical rootsy rocker which fits the raspy vocals to a tee. No polish, nothing fancy. Because of that (not despite of it) the song stands strong. And then we reach the highlight of the record, Cracks & Stains. This Claptonesque mix of pop, rock & blues starts off with an impressive guitar intro that lasts about a minute. Then the vocals kick in and everything seems to fall into place. You can hear the imperfections, the pain, the hurt but also the subtle hope and longing. It is here that Reverend Henry & The Pharisees show that music isn’t always about being crafty or being surprising. If you can write and perform real songs that have something to say and if you can perform them at the top of your abilities and pour your heart and soul into it, you will outdo most everyone else. Which is exactly what they did on this song.

The record continues with a mix solid rock & roll (Jaded, Tomorrow), horns-infused soulrock (Tonight), garage rock (Pack Your Things and Go) until we hear the closer Spotless Sally, which surprised me at first listen because it mixes in some oldtime honkytonk and jazz. You don’t hear this much anymore in today’s popular music even though it makes for a very interesting basis in folk-rock music which is more popular than ever. The jumpy nature of the track, accentuated by the piano and the light character of the vocals ends this record on a high note.

Reverend Henry & The Pharisees isn’t a likely candidate to reach commercial success, which is a shame. The album is filled with 10 strong songs and a number of stand out songs (Mary, Cracks & Stains, Pack Your Things & Go, Spotless Sally) and will likely appeal to listeners of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Black Crowes, Rosemary’s Sons, Mayall, Allman Brothers, etc, but shouldn’t be limited to it. The basis of the songs may be traditional, in no way do these songs sound dated.