Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Heavy Blinkers - The Night And I Are Still So Young

The Most Brilliant Pop Album since 1966's Pet Sounds.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Man From Another Place - The Loneliest Cowboy EP

In 1990 there existed a television drama called Twin Peaks. In that show was a character called The Man From Another Place. However, after the show's cancellation in 1992 many years have gone by, but that doesn't mean this obscure bit of television knowledge has gone completely forgotten.

Just recently a musician from Scotland has released his first EP, The Loneliest Cowboy, under the name The Man From Another Place.

What resides inside this 5 song, 16 minute EP is an exploration of the styles of some of the great pop composers of the 20th (and even 21st century). Clearly evident in TMFAP's music is the influence of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson in their prime. Not to say that the songs are not unique in their style, but TMFAP isn't afraid to show his appreciation for the classics.

He describes his songs as "Soundtrack Music To A Lost Film" and I think that is both a good explanation of the premise for the EP, but also a visual guide. The music really could be put to film, as the piano chords repeatedly belt out a melody in a relaxed 4/4 tempo, strings and horns play a melody over it creating complex sounds that are both beautiful and intriguing. The Loneliest Cowboy brings tons of ambition and a well needed new face to the world of orchestrated pop.

This EP is on par with all of the best pop albums I've ever heard (including SMiLE and The Night And I Are Still So Young). With such a great EP, I hope The Man From Another Place can release a full length album with this much enthusiasm and creativity.

I recommend this highly.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Lexingtons - Trouble

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Interview with Scott Schultz from Majestic

For over a decade now one of my favorite bands has been an obscure indie pop outfit from Brea, California called Majestic. Leading the charge from the obscure shelflife records Majestic has released two albums to date and both are classics to those lucky enough to have them.

I was able to sit down with the band's lead singer Scott Schultz (pictured in the center). We talked a lot about the band and also about his latest creation, the Children's TV show Yo Gabba Gabba.

Listen to the whole conversation below!


+ Check out Majestic's Myspace

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ancient Free Gardeners - Innards Out

The Ancient Free Gardeners are a snappy indie quartet from Melbourne, Australia. They just released a single that you can download for free below. It's a very beautiful song and if you liked the band Calico below, you will also really love this song.

Download "Innards Out"

Myspace | Website

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Review: Black Diamond by Calico

Not many people know this, but I have always been a very big fan of ambient music. So when I was offered the chance to hear the new album from Salt Lake City's own Calico, I didn't waste any time delving into the CD.

At about 50 minutes long, all 8 songs are pretty long and (ranging from 2 to nearly 9 minutes) ultra mellow. Black Diamond is an exercise in alt folk pop with a great view for the cinematic side of song writing. Although there are vocals on 6 of the 8 songs, the album seems much more like an instrumental album as the whisper style vocals could be considered an instrument themselves.

As for the music's droney. It's very droney. I'm very thankful I've heard a lot of other music of the same type, because I'm sure anyone jumping into this CD without having any knowledge of the music could be a bit, well, confused. But to it's credit, the music on the album is beautiful. Each chord and rhythm fits perfectly with the atmosphere that the band paints and in addition to that the album is mixed just perfectly.

If you are going to listen to this album, make sure you have your headphones on. This is just one of those albums. It's a beautiful trip taken with music and a solid second release (we know how hard that 2nd album can be).

Calico will also be touring quite a bit in the next few months, so be sure to visit them if they come to your town.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Review: Modulations by Chewy Marble

In 1995 Brian Kassan, then bassist for the band The Wondermints, decided to start his own group Chewy Marble. In the last 13 years Brian and his gang have released 2 albums, their debut self titled album in 1997 and their follow up, Bowl of Surreal in 2001. Now 7 years later their 3rd album, Modulations is upon us.

I have to admit, I have not heard their first 2 albums, so I was pretty much in the dark when I popped this one in. I was expecting something along the lines of the Wondermints style of orchestral pop songs with shining harmonies and polished production. I think it's pretty unfair to compare this CD to anything by The Wondermints because in actuality it is nothing like them. Not to say that it is completely original but the influences of the album are a little trickier to put a finger on.

The opening song, the band's single from the album "She Roxx" plays off as an ode to high school life and crushes on those tough girls we all remember. The pop/rock sound of the song is easily comparable to popular music of the early 90s (when bands like Weezer were just starting to enter the main stream) but doesn't seem quite as convincing as the track could be. Perhaps its the use of words like "Fox" to describe girls or spelling the words rocks as "Roxx". It feels corny.

But fortunately the album does save itself from this false start. The next track Don't Look At The Sun has a much better pop appeal and melody that can be sung along to. In fact, the album flows from this point rather smoothly with the dreamy song cross-hatched world and the summery relaxation that the song Somewhere Else offers.

The album is a very large melting pot of the pop, rock and classic rock genres, creating a sound that can be uniquely refreshing and incredibly interesting at some of the most unexpected times. It's very clear that Brian Kassan has devoted a great amount of energy into this album and at it's best moments Modulations rings with the glory of albums like Led Zeppelin IV and The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle.

The album ends strongly with the folky and heartwarming instrumental Moments which transitions into the ballad at the end of the album, Clutter. I think having listened this far into the album I really turned from a listener to a real fan; Chewy Marble can really write a pretty damn good song.

If you are in the mood for some great 70s classic rock revivalism with that 90s alternative edge, you should head to the link below and give a listen to Chewy Marble's new album, Modulations.

Myspace | Label

Friday, June 13, 2008

Interview: Jeremy Jensen of the Very Most

I wrote about The Very Most and their new album Congratulations Forever a few days ago, but I really don't think that I explained enough how much I really like it. The second album from Boise, Idaho's Very Most is definitely a pop masterpiece and you should go to their myspace and buy it now.

Aside from that, I had a chance to talk to Jeremy Jensen (the band's lead singer and song writer) about the band and his new CD. You can hear our phone conversation below!


Myspace | Website

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Very Most

Have you ever been to Idaho?

I never have, but I hear good things about it. Lots of trees and lots of open space.

But I have one more reason to like it now. A band from Boise called the Very Most.

I just recently heard from them and listened to their latest CD and it is absolutely gorgeous. They remind me of The Magic Numbers with their boy - girl harmonies, but the arrangements of their songs are much more complex and dense.

Go ahead and take a listen to them (they have some mp3s on their site). Harmonies like these guys have only come so often!

Good Fight Fighting
Sod Off
Spilt, Spilt Milk

myspace | website

The Simple Carnival

Lately I've been spending way too much time in the real world, working and recording music and generally not being online very much. And as good as that may sound, I feel slightly bad because there are a lot better things I could be doing rather than stocking things in a cooler. However, one of the great luxuries I have is to be able to listen to music while I do meaningless repetitive tasks.

The artist I've been spinning the most lately is The Simple Carnival. Coming from Pennsylvania, the Simple Carnival is a one man band led by a genuine pop virtuoso, Jeff Boller.

The Simple Carnival can be compared to bands like the High Llamas and the Heavy Blinkers (or any other orchestral pop band), but Jeff Boller tends to be on the more experimental side of pop, trying out ambient interludes and using more instruments than most musicians have even heard of.

With 3 releases already out and another on the way later this year, I got a chance to talk to Jeff a little bit about his music.

Eric: I love your first EP, Menlo Park. I wanted to know what inspired you to take such an orchestral pop approach (like the heavy blinkers)?

Jeff: Thank you for the kind words about that EP. Menlo Park was an experiment. Whether that experiment was a success depends on who you ask!

Here's how it came together. I was tired with how long songs were taking to write and record, so I looked at alternative methods of creating music, like Album-a-Day ( I thought it might be interesting to see what happened if I recorded whatever I was feeling like for a month. So I worked as fast as I could, with the goal of recording an hour's worth of material that would later be edited down into... something. I wasn't sure what.

What I learned when working on this particular project was that it takes more time for me to write acceptable lyrics than to write acceptable music. So when it came time to piece everything together, I dropped just about all of the songs with lyrics and made the EP mostly instrumental... which baffled everyone who had heard my previous, more accessible songs.

Menlo Park has a strange sort of mood and it captures exactly how I was feeling for those four weeks. But it's not the place to start if you've never listened to The Simple Carnival before.

Eric: Secondly, what kind of equipment did you use to record Menlo Park?

Jeff: There's a current gear list, which is pretty much the same thing I used on Menlo Park here:

For Menlo Park, I used Pro Tools as a giant 4-track, and mixed songs directly through a Mackie mixer immediately after I had recorded it. It's basically a set of very rough demos, where spontaneity was more important than getting a good sound.

On the Me and My Arrow EP (and the upcoming Girls Aliens Food album) spontaneity was still important, but I worked hard at writing the songs and making them sound good as I could make them.

Eric: For your second release, Sonic Rescue League 1, your sound changed a lot (even though I understand it was that way all along), so what made this release so different from the previous (or what made the first EP so different from this one), whichever is more applicable.

Jeff: A lot of the Sonic Rescue League Vol 1 tracks were recorded before Menlo Park, even though Sonic Rescue League came out after.

The reason is because, before I sold CDs/downloads/merchandise, I used to post individual tracks on my web site and get feedback. I wanted to make those old tracks available to anyone who was interested, but it didn't make sense to keep them online forever since I felt like I had moved on a bit. So those tracks became Sonic Rescue League. I'm not even sure what to call that release. Is it an EP? Is it an album? It's 45 minutes long, but it was never intended to be a cohesive album experience. It's basically a mix tape of four years of recordings.

Eric: You definitely can handle both orchestral pop and more simple Beatles styled pop songs, so which style do you like more, or get more satisfaction from?

Jeff: I like to listen to both. But as far as what I like to make, I currently like making music where the song is the focus, not just the production textures. I'm fascinated with the shapes of melodies, I'm fascinated by that intangible thing that happens when interesting music is combined with an interesting concept and well-crafted lyrics.

My goal is to provide something that makes other people's day a little more enjoyable. And it's easier to connect with people when the song is the focus of what you do. We as human beings seem to be hard wired to respond to hooks and melodies and things like that. A good number of us, anyway.

Eric: You made a video for the song Really Really Weird on your Me and My Arrow EP, what was it like making your own video?

Jeff: I could provide a long answer about this, but I already posted one on my blog:

Long story short: I spent $7.25 in materials and put in an insane amount of work. If I ever do something like this again, I won't do it in the same way.

Eric: Finally, what kind of things can we expect from your upcoming full length, Girls, Aliens, Food?

Jeff: The Girls Aliens Food album (and the Me and My Arrow EP) is where I feel like I finally found my voice as an artist. Whereas on some of the earlier stuff I'm kind of throwing things against the wall to see what sticks, Girls Aliens Food has a definite idea of what it is and where it's going. It's a song-oriented album. The tracks flow in a specific sort of way. I'm singing quite a bit on it. There's a bunch of things to pick up with repeat listens.

I don't want to say too much else about the album, as people ought to form their own impressions when it comes out in October. But the response I've received so far from the handful of people who have heard it has been very exciting. I can't wait for everybody to hear it.

If you get a chance you should check out The Simple Carnival's website and myspace below.

Myspace | Website

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rocketship Discography Review

Here is a review of every Rocketship release so far.

Hey Hey Girl EP (vinyl)
A1. Hey Hey Girl
A2. Naomi and Me
B1. People I Know

Recorded in November 1993 and released in early 1994, Rocketship's first release, the 7" Hey, Hey Girl EP was a land mark indie pop release. Modeling himself after ambient and noise pop groups of the day (such as Galaxie 500 and My Bloody Valentine) Dustin Reske was able to release 3 songs that took less than 10 minutes to listen to.

The EP explored with ambient interludes and used the organ as the main instrument to compose the music. He also included simple, but effective vocal harmonies between himself and 2 other female singers. My favorite song on the EP is Naomi and Me; I especially like the "Ooh Ooh Ooh Ooh" choruses with the tambourine. It's a great indie pop release; a true classic.

Why Popstars Can't Dance (comp)
5. Your New Boyfriend
6. Like A Dream

After their first EP Rocketship were signed to Slumberland Records and appeared shortly after on the compilation album Why Popstars Can't Dance. Dustin Reske wrote 2 songs for the compilation and appeared as tracks 5 and 6. The songs themselves molded into each other via a nice ambient interlude, but both tracks sound extremely different. The first track "Your New Boyfriend" is a wonderful pop song with an amazing bass line telling the story of an ex-girlfriend who continues to torment the character of the song by riding bikes past his house with her new boyfriend and generally appearing happy without him while he suffers at this cruelty. I love the way this song is sung and the great backing vocals by the girls (who appeared in the previous EP).

The next song, Like A Dream, is much more ambient and droney with a repetitive chorus and more experimentation in sounds than ever before. It's not that its a very bad song, because it certainly isn't, but I do feel that this song is more of an experiment in sound and probably just a chord progression too good to do nothing with so he had to include it kind of deal. However, this song did mark a change in Rocketship's sound that was going to happen in the future.

Honey, I Need You EP (vinyl)
A1. Honey, I Need You
B1. She's Gonna Make Me Cry

Rocketship waited over a year to release their second 2 song EP. Recorded from June - August 1995 the Honey, I Need You EP is probably one of Rocketship's most underrated releases (especially 13 years later). Both songs took a turn for the dramatic with the mood of the songs suddenly about heart break, loneliness and betrayal. However, the music on this release got more creative in it's use of instruments and organs. The song She's Gonna Make Me Cry is also in 3/4 time.

This is my favorite Rocketship EP. I love the song She's Gonna Make Me Cry. It's probably one of the most perfect ballads ever recorded by anyone ever. If you can ever get a hold of this album (or just buy it online) you absolutely should. It's a lost jewel.

A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness (CD)
1. I Love You Like The Way That I Used To Do
2. Kisses Are Always Promises
3. Heather, Tell Me Why
4. Let's Go Away
5. I'm Lost Without You Here
6. Carrie Cooksey
7. We're Both Alone
8. Friendships And Love

All through 1995 Dustin Reske and the rest of Rocketship had been working hard at finishing their debut full length album, and when it was released in January 1996 what an album it was! A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness is an album of pure ambition chronicling it's creators emotions and sentimentality. It has as much devotion and creativity put into it as Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper combined with the D.I.Y. production to still keep it cool. Everyone song on the album flows into one another to make one seamless recording that dares you to skip a song.

Rocketship had come full circle from all of it's previous releases, including everything they had experimented with so far, including but not limited to ambient interludes, organ driven melodies, male-female harmonies and extreme sentimentality. The songs on the album are all well written, crafted works of art and Dustin Reske's expertise at recording and production make the entire album sound great. It's pretty impressive to think that everything on this album was made without even touching a computer.

My favorite track on the album is Heather, Tell Me Why. Listen to it and you will probably know why.

Rocketship/Henry's Dress Split
1. It's Gonna Be Soon

Shortly after their full length album, Rocketship appeared on a split CD with another Slumberland band, Henry's Dress. The song they contributed, It's Gonna Be Soon, is stylistically different from the songs that were included on their last album, abandoning the indie pop style and choosing a more relaxing style of song with quiet distorted guitars and an optimistic view of love as opposed to the more negative songs that appeared on the last few releases. Rocketship also seemed to have lost it's female singers for this song and has just Dustin singing on it.

Double Agent Compilation
1. The Love We Could Have Had

Dustin Reske next appeared on a compilation album for Double Agent Records accompanying singer Rose Melberg for the song The Love We Could Have Had. The song is a little hard to digest at first, because of the intensely distorted guitars and the very "trebley" production. But after listening a little longer it becomes obvious that this is another great pop song with wonderful hooks and great male-female harmonies. It's nice to have considering how extremely rare this is.

Get On The Floor 7 inch (vinyl)
A1. Get On The Floor (And Move It)
B1. All The Pleasures

In 1997 Dustin Reske was all alone; the band Rocketship had dissolved and it was now Dustin Reske all by himself. So what did he decide to do? Well, he did what anyone would do...he made a dance song. Rocketship's venture into the world of club music is a bit clumsy and unconvincing with the song Get On The Floor being almost whispered behind a rather odd dance beat with whistles and tons of reverb. However, after a while I did realize this actually is a really good tune and really makes me smile. However, it's not really enough to actually get me moving, but it does improve my mood, and thats what counts.

The B-side, All The Pleasures plays out like a psychedelic trip with some freaky flute music and repetitive cymbal hits behind some kind of guitar feedback. The song is also unnecessarily long and kind of uninteresting and probably uninspired. Dustin Reske really loves ambient music, and he is not afraid to submit his listeners to it. It's probably a good idea to skip this track unless you are high as a kite.

Beikoku-Ongaku Magazine v.9 (comp)
1. All That I Know

In case you don't know, Beikoku-Ongaku Magazine is one of the most influential indie culture magazines in the world. It's published (i think) once or twice a year and always comes included with a compilations CD. In 1997 the Rocketship song All That I Know was featured in issue #9's compilation disc. The song is one of my favorite's from Rocketship and is stupid impossible to find. This song continued to shift Dustin Reske further and further away from his indie pop roots and toward a more ambient, experimental path that had it's hits and misses. Fortunately this song was a big hit and includes the female backing vocals he had been lacking on the previous release (although they are mixed rather quietly). If you ever find this song, make sure to hoard it!

Capsule Giants/Rocketship Split
1. Love So Estranged

Entering 1998 Rocketship came in contact with a small record label called Cardinal Records and did a split with a band called Capsule Giants. I looked around and I really couldn't find anything about either the record label or the other band, but Rocketship's contribution to the split, Love So Estranged is one of my favorite songs from Dustin Reske. For a long time I really loved the song (and I still do) because of the great drum beat and electronic bass lines that were crafted for the song. The song remains in true Rocketship form with organ based melodies and ambient drones, but the more hip hop edge of the song and amazing lyrics make this one of my favorite Rocketship songs. Again, this song is harder to find than clouds in the Mariana Trench.

Garden of Delights (CD)
1. We Took The High Road
2. Butterflies
3. Carved By Winds And Water
4. Artesian Wells
5. Furness
6. The Deadly Fisher
7. Jewels From Many Lands

It was pretty obvious that Dustin Reske had been itching for about 5 years to make an all out ambient record, and that is exactly what he did in 1999 with his second full length album, Garden of Delights. The album has 45 minutes of ambient swells and chill tracks to fall asleep to or get stoned to, or whatever it is you want to do. It's sort of weird to listen to this album for fun, but it is still a very polished release and clearly some of the best ambient music in the world. The album experiments with backwards guitars, bongos and lots of pads and swelling patterns all designed and carefully executed. This was the 26th release from the now defunct Drive-In Records, it was also Rocketship's 6th record label.

Cookbook Compilation
1. Pretty Sara

In Japan there used to be a record label called Eenie Meenie Records. It seems after Rocketship's appearance in the Beikoku-Ongaku Magazine Dustin was able to land a song on a compilation released in 2002 called Cookbook. The song, Pretty Sara, seems to pick up where Rocketship left off 3 years earlier. The song has the typical Rocketship distorted guitars and organ melodies that Dustin Reske had been perfecting for 10 years. I particularly like this track though! The lyrics to the song are great, "She wants a rich merchant, and I have no land..."; it's clever analogies like this that always blow my mind wide open and leave me jealous as hell. Pretty Sara is a great song, but unfortunately it's extremely difficult to find.

The Way Things Change 6 (comp)
1. I Wanna Be Your Guy

A small label called Red Square Recordings from Flagstaff, Arizona included Rocketship on their compilation, The Way Things Change Volume 6 from 2003. Rocketship included the song I Wanna Be Your Guy, an extremely sleepy ambient track that loops over itself and includes some very echo-y lyrics sung solo by Dustin, telling an unknown girl that he would, indeed, like to be her guy. The song itself is pretty bland until the newly added horns add some spice at the end. Overall, this is a pretty good song, but not really as inspired as some of his other compilation songs.

Rocketship/Trace Split
1. The Quad
2. James, That's All Over Now
3. You'll Regret It Someday
4. Never Gonna Let You Go
5. Post-Work Comedown

After his appearance on The Way Things Change 6, Rocketship rebounded with their first truly inspired release in over 4 years. Rocketship's 2003 split on the Omnibus label with Trace had 5 songs and every one of them were really good. From the exciting opener the Quad, to the first female lead song, James, That's All Over Now, the split EP finally feels like a real Rocketship release. The third song You'll Regret It Someday comes off as slightly odd, but still remains enjoyable until the 4th song Never Gonna Let You Go comes on. I absolutely love that track! The song is so catchy and has so much to offer without even mentioning that it's just a fantastically well written song. You really can't go wrong with that track.

The Split comes to a great end with the appropriate Post-Work Comedown. It really is just that too...a relaxing ambient track that makes a perfect closer to the album. This split EP is actually one of the easier Rocketship releases to get a hold of (thanks to Ombibus making it available on many online retailors), so I would strongly recommend getting a hold of it. It was so amazingly refreshing to hear a Rocketship comeback EP that reminded me of their older releases.

Homemade Hits, Vol. 2 (comp)
23. Rocketship's Got Something

After the great Split CD released 2 years earlier Rocketship resurfaced in 2005 on the Kittridge Records compilation Homemade Hits, Vol. 2. However, it seems as though Dustin Reske took a big step backwards in creativity and instead chose to experiment with more electronic noises and strange Fruity Loops patterns and even used some hip hop samples (I have no idea where they came from). It's so extremely bizarre to hear this "song". I almost hate to call it a song because it never really goes anywhere. You expect the absurd clicks and beeps to suddenly transform into a viable piece of music at some point...but it just never happens.

Rocketship's Got Something is a pretty big let down and is really nothing more than 2 minutes of beeps and blips (not the good kind).

Here Comes...Rocketship (CD)
1. The Scene Section
2. You're Too Young
3. Oh! Woe Is Me
4. The Foxes' Teeth
5. No More Tomorrows
6. They March In Line
7. The Passersby
8. I'm Gonna Take Your Place
9. This Modern Livin'
10. Good Intentions?
11. Noose and Saddle Blues
12. Our New Track

When I first heard that a new Rocketship album was coming out, I was naturally excited, but when I heard that it was the true sequal to 1996's A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness, I was ecstatic! So when the album came out in 2006 I was a bit mystified to not hear any sounds like the Rocketship from 10 years ago. Instead, Here Comes...Rocketship is filled with the electronic experiments that Dustin had been releasing for years. Fortunately this album has much, much more to offer than that. The opening track to the album, The Scene Section is an extremely dense song with tons of layers of instruments, synthesizers, backing vocals, drum beats and guitars. The song is also extremely fun and catchy, something I hadn't heard in nearly a decade from Rocketship.

The album also uses the acoustic guitar for the first time and has 2 ballads, the rebellious You're Too Young and I'm Gonna Take Your Place. Both songs show off Reske's song writing and singing in a simple way, proving what a great song writer he is, regardless of genre or style. The album also features a track with sound clips from a symphony perfectly pasted over a hip hop style drum beat, creating one of the most powerful songs of the album. The Foxes' Teeth also had a video made for it that I posted a few weeks back.

Overall, the album is very good. Dustin Reske really proved himself capable of pulling together an entire album together again of good stuff and made the album very diverse while doing it. The girls are back, the fun is back and his production skills are so top-notch now you can't even call this Lo-fi. You should head over to his label's website and pick it up. It's free to all, but pay what you can (sort of like Radiohead).

While Rocketship and Dustin Reske have (probably) released a few more songs than this and have been featured on other compilations...this pretty much covers it. Trust me. Since 2006 I know Dustin has been producing other groups' albums and working with the nonstop co-op, so I'm sort of hoping a new Rocketship release will be out sometime soon! I also really hope maybe 1 person enjoys reading this, because I just spent a good 4 hours on it!

- eric

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Interview: Carlos Valderrama of Fitness Forever

A couple months ago I wrote about one of my favorite groups from Italy called Fitness Forever (here). Now, a couple months later Carlos Valderrama (the composer behind the group) has agreed to do an interview with me.

I really hope you'll enjoy this one. The debut album from Fitness Forever, Personal Train, is nearly finished and its really the perfect time to do an interview with them (before they're off playing world tours). Carlos is a wonderful guy with an equally wonderful Italian accent.

Eric: I know you have played with other groups, so what made you decided to start Fitness Forever?

Carlos: First of all, thanks thousands for doing an interview with me Eric! I've been waiting for this moment since I was born.

I've been playing with many bands before Fitness Forever...all kind of music, from hardcore punk to indie-rock to shoegaze, even kind of "Cruise ship music" (kind of Bee Gee-sy).

But since people in my last band, the amazing VALDERRAMA 5 cared a lot about eating, I realized I was starting to gain weight; that's when I decided to start up the "Fitness Forever" project. The first recordings were in May 2007 and now I've already lost about 2 kilos! *That's about 4.4 pounds*

Eric: Is it just you writing the songs for the group, or do any of the other members contribute anything creatively to the music?

Carlos: I'm the producer, main songwriter and arranger and definitely the one who has in mind how the song will sound at the end of the recording (so it's my fault if everything is so creepy), but there are 2 more musicians in the band who have a main role in recordings and arrangements: Big Tony (keyboards) is also an orchestral conductor and was very, very important in writing the string quartet's scores, while Scialdone (bass and guitars), apart from being a bass and guitar master, is really half of the band, we decide together...well, almost everything!

Last but not least, the ultra cute and beautiful Paster. I believe that her sweetness and her gentle voice is the soul of the band.

We work like production teams used to work in the 60's. We spend almost the whole day in the recording studio, everyone has their own role and we work friendly together in order to produce the happiest record ever!

Eric: How do you end up getting signed with EMI records?

Carlos: It's fun! They just listened to some songs on Myspace (God bless Tom :-D), they asked for more, they liked the stuff and then I just got signed!

Eric: After the release of your single "Mondo Fitness" how do you feel about your upcoming album?

Carlos: Everything I know, every single song I've played, every love story I've had, every single second spent on the beach...they were all kind of cut/pasted from my soul to this record. I don't know if it's enough to make this a great record, but surely, I did everything I could to record the best album I could. *insert shy smile here*

Eric: Could you explain a little bit about the new album; How you're recording it, what the songs are about and when it will be released?

Carlos: We are recording it in a small studio in Napoli, in the south of Italy (the place where pizza was born!) owned by Big Tony and Scialdone on a digital mixer, but we're trying to use as much analog stuff as we can, from pre-amplifiers to compressors, reverbs, synths and echoes...

Lots of strings, backing vocals, trumpets, guitars, synthesizers and percussions were recorded. It wasn't a choice, it's just the way I heard the songs in my mind before recording them.

I'm a kind of lonely person; I feel a bit uncomfortable with people and I definitely have my own world where I live in every day, so my songs are about a strange kind of happiness I feel when I see people happy. They (the songs) talk about someone relaxing on a lonely beach in September, or about what a guy who falls in love with an anarchist may do to earn her attention. Stuff like that!

Eric: Could you talk about your influences a little bit? What sort of bands do you want your group to sound like, or just ended up finding their way into your music?

Carlos: Brian Wilson, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Circulatory System, Free Design, Joao Gilberto, John Carter, Billy Nicholls, La Casa Azul, Frank Zappa, Serge Gainsbourg, Junior Boys, Peppino Di Capri, Stereolab, Scott Walker, Burt Bacharach, Lilys, The Heavy Blinkers, Super Furry Animals, Supergrass, My Bloody Valentine, Olivia Tremor Control, The Who, The Beatles...all of them are geniuses; amazing people who changed my life.

Eric: Your music actually makes me think of the Gymnopedies by Erik Satie (you can hear the first one here They were actually the first ambient/lounge songs. Have you heard them?

Carlos: WOWWWW! That's a great compliment Eric! Satie is amazing...being compared to such magnificent music just makes me blush.

Eric: I wanted to ask about your fitness image. Do you really care that much about fitness, or is it just some kind of gimmick?

Carlos: Well, actually, we spend too much time sitting at the mixing desk, but I'm actually leaving for 2 weeks to Formetera soon, so maybe when I come back after some swimming and sunshine I'll be able to answer your question better.

Eric: I know you can speak fluently in English and Italian, but all your songs are strictly in Italian. Do you have any plans of writing any songs in English?

Carlos: Well, I actually wrote songs for 15 years in English, but then I realized it didn't work because English spoken by an Italian is sort of awkward sounding to people from the USA and England...if not just plain funny because of our Italian accent. So I decided that if I really wanted to speak to people, I had to write songs in Italian (which is actually much more difficult than writing in English, because of Italian words. Every Italian songwriter will tell you the same!)

But I also feel that since I listen to a lot of music sung in English or French or Portuguese, Icelandic or Norwich, I also figure that people from other countries may find my music interesting and lovely, the same way I do listening to songs in their language.

Eric: When your new album comes out will it have distribution in the United States?

Carlos: I don't know yet, but I will definitely ask some American labels if they are mad enough to spend money on a guy who writes songs about taking vacations in September!

Eric: Finally, what do you plan to do after the release of the new album? Are there any plans for any tours or anything like that?

Carlos: Well, after spending months recording I'd love to finally take the stage and spread the message of being in shape with Fitness Forever to the whole world!

Since we're still only a 4 member group, we need much more people on stage to perform the songs live, but we're already asking around for a female string quartet dressed in Olympic swimsuits!


I want to thank Carlos Valderrama and the rest of Fitness Forever for being so cool! You can check out their music by going to the link below!

Myspace | Label

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Interview: Jason MacIsaac of The Heavy Blinkers

Just yesterday I had the chance to talk with Jason MacIsaac, the man behind one of the most gorgeous pop bands in the entire world, The Heavy Blinkers. For over 10 years The Heavy Blinkers have been releasing beautiful pop albums that have put them in the top tier of indie pop bands world-wide. Their music is often filled with tons of layers of instruments and vocal harmonies, not to mention brilliant song writing and production. The only other band in the world that comes close to their style is England's own The High Llamas.

I hope you'll enjoy hearing from one of the most intelligent and (in my opinion) under rated artists in the whole world.

Eric: First, thanks for agreeing to do the interview. I first found your music when your video for "Try Telling That To My Baby" was posted on the band Majestic's myspace and since then I have been a huge fan, but I really don't know much about the Heavy Blinkers. Could you explain how you started the band and what members are in the group?

Jason: In the late-nineties, about seven months after having moved to Toronto with my Pixies-esque band, I decided that I wanted to make a brand new musical project with an emphasis on classical orchestration. At the time, this project was going to be called Theremin. I imagined it as a six piece, consisting of a female vocalist, tremolo guitar (me), and string quartet. THIS was my original vision, anyway.

When I moved back, I started writing and doing 4 track demos in my apartment. It soon became apparent to me that to express the songs the way I thought they needed to be served; I would need a full band arrangement. While looking for a recording studio in which to record these new songs, I happened upon Andrew Watt (co-founding heavy blinker) and his recording studio. I invited some people who had been recording in his studio to play here and there on the record. Months later, when I was accepted to play in a pop festival in Halifax, it was obvious that I needed a live band. What began as a solo recording project eventually grew into the heavy blinkers as a quintet. The classic heavy blinkers as the world knew us from 1998 to 2004 was as follows:

Jason MacIsaac: vocals, guitars, keyboards
Andrew Watt: vocals, keyboards
Ruth Minnikin: vocals
Trevor Forbes: bass
Greg Fry: drums

Eric: What is it like living in Nova Scotia? It's only about 6 hours from Massachusetts (where I live) but I know it's a world of difference. Could you explain how life in Halifax has inspired you and your music?

Jason: On a conscious and lyrical level, there are three things about Halifax that informs my writing. The first is the bitter winter. The second is the Atlantic Ocean, and the third is the phenomenon of living somewhere with four distinct seasons. My lyrics, since day one, have been littered with imagery, and metaphors about these three topics. Halifax is a city replete in history and ghosts, and I touch on these elements quite a bit on the soon to be released 5th album HEALTH.

Eric: Your first 2 albums have a slightly different sound than your latest releases; they sound much more shoegaze and twee influenced. What kind of situation was happening in the band during the writing of these two albums and how do you feel about the albums now, a decade after their initial release?

Jason: The first album Hooray for Everything was a very transitional record for me. It saw me slowly eschewing my old influences in favour of my even older influences. I was trying to consolidate indie rock and loud crunchy guitars with the more pastoral music on which I was raised. The Beach Boys references became even more slavish on the second album SELF TITLED. My memories of making that album are the fondest that I have of making any record. The five of us were in a studio that was ostensibly under a bridge. We just made tons and tons of music until the wee wee hours of the morn. On the first album, I called all the shots for better or for worse. With the second album, and for the first time, I had this tribe who all cared about the same thing. It was a really great environment. We were this brand new near-virginal band, but with an engineer (Andrew) in the band, and a lead songwriter (me) who already made most of his worst mistakes on the first heavy blinkers record, we avoided so many sonic and artistic pitfalls. We played live off the floor to tape, and we overdubbed endlessly.

A decade later, I would say that I am starting to warm up again to Hooray For Everything. For years I couldn't listen to it (the instrumental END OF SUMMER SUITE notwithstanding). I have never really had an interest in being a singer, I just did it if no one else was around. If I could go back and re-record the songs with Ruth on most of the material, it would better serve the recording.

As for SELF-TITLED, there are some really good songs on that album,. Again, I think the beach boys thing was a little heavy handed in some areas, but I think this is very natural thing. I think the older you get, the more your influences become less obvious until such time that they are merely unconscious points of reference that become expressed in some arcane fashion.

Eric: I started to get into your music around the release of the albums Better Weather and The Night And I Are Still So Young. You wrote some absolutely genius songs like I Used To Be A Design and Filtered Light. How on Earth do you even write something that good! Honestly, explain to me how you write your songs and all the amazing orchestral things that you add to your music.

Jason: YOU ARE TOO KIND!!!! I used to be a design was written after listening to Bob Dylan's song Shooting Star from the album Oh Mercy. The first line "I used to be a design, but now I'm a tree" came from a book of poetry written by elementary students. I would like to take credit for all the chestnuts, but in the case of FILTERED LIGHT, Andrew wrote most, if not all of the music to that, and I merely contributed lyrics.

I write all of my songs on piano. This is one of the key differences between my songs and those of most guitar players. People will argue with me endlessly about this, but unless you are Antonio Carlos Jobim or something, you can more easily establish new voicings and chord progressions on piano than on guitar. When I stopped writing on guitar and started writing on piano, EVERYTHING changed. I felt like I had been writing with oven mitts on for years. It was as if I thought I was a painter and then someone gave me a camera, and a light switch went on above my head. I am very theoretical when I write, and with the piano, it is all laid out there for me.

As for the orchestral flourishes, I kind of just hear them. I know many people who, when asked about a song that they've written, say "I just dreamt that song" or "I pulled it out of the air, fully-formed" etc. I'm not that guy! I have to work my ass off for every chord. However, I do think I have a producers' mind, and once the song in question is written, I feel that (for my material anyway) I know just what will hit the spot. That aspect comes to me without any sweat or labour. Many times, while listening back to my piano and vocal only demos, I think that I have heard a horn or a string section. I will rewind it, to see what I had actually heard, and there is nothing there at all. It is as if my brain is arranging in real time. I know this all sounds ridiculous and self-aggrandizing, but it is a phenomenon that happens often enough, that I don't ignore it. It is most likely signals from space, being transmitted through my fillings, but I will chalk it up to being a gift.

Eric: You also made a video for the song Try Telling That To My Baby. How did you end up getting in contact with Fluorescent Hill and how do you feel about the video?

Jason: As I recall, Fluorescent Hill got in contact with us. When I saw that they had worked with Badly Drawn Boy and Sixtoo, I was sold. We had already hand drawn a video for the song "You can heal", so we had already delved into the animation world before. I think they did an absolutely amazing job. I think one of the great things about this video, and this is likely Fluroescent Hill's genius, is that it embraces all of the imagery that people who didn't quite understand us at the time, used to describe us. "Your music is like candy for my brain" or "Sugary sweet pop-confection". I mean we heard that ALL the time. So, in the same way that the movie HEAD embraced the Monkees manufactured image, this video was so over the top that it became subversive. I talked to them just a few weeks ago about shooting another video for us for the new album.

Eric: I know you've come across hard times recently as Andrew Watt and Ruth Minnikin have left the group. If you can, could you explain what prompted their departure and what you have been doing since (as far as trying to reform the band, or just going solo).

Jason: Initially, Andrew had some family issues that he needed to address. In the long-run though, the main issue is that he is a business owner, and he has responsibilities that preclude him from just picking up and leaving, or devoting his time to the band in the way that he wanted. Andrew co-owns one of Halifax's most successful recording studios, and it (rightly so) requires his constant attention. Without Andrew in the band, other members just didn't feel it was the heavy blinkers anymore. I wholeheartedly support everyone's decision, but it takes some getting used to nevertheless. As it stands now, myself and David Christensen (blinker since '05ish) are the only active members. I am sure that we will all be in the same studio or stage again at some point, but for now, and at least with the new album, it is a bit of a solo/duo endeavor. In a way, it has come full circle. I don't think the music will suffer terribly; it will just evolve into something different. David is a genius arranger/composer/musician, and he and I have worked on many non heavy blinkers projects in the past, and we work fast and intuitively together.

Eric: You've also been working on the Heavy Blinkers 5th album, Health, for quite a long time. How is the album turning out and will there be any sound clips of the band coming soon?

Jason: Health is the album that refuses to be released! It is going well, but it is so unruly and complex, that it has taken forever. To be fair, there have been giant chunks of time where nothing has been done on it at all, but it has been a battle, to be sure. It is 25 + songs and is heavily orchestrated, so it's not like going into the studio and just bashing it out with guitar, bass and drums. The amount of layering is obscene, and while computers have made my musical life a dream, it has also slowed down the process as well. I am now able to make everything as close to perfect as I can envision it. I am always conscious of not sacrificing feel for precision, and am attempting to have both with this album. The last thing I want is for the album to be technically perfect, and lifeless.

So much time has passed that I feel like I am producing someone else's album now. There is an air of objectivity in my decision-making at this point that was heretofore missing. I am not precious about these songs anymore, because they feel as if they were written by someone else. If something isn't working, I have no problem radically amending or rejecting it. In the past, I would walk into a studio with the exact number of songs, and we would record them, and that was that. I have grown up a lot since then.

It is a very theatrical album, and it plays like a musical. There are plenty of band moments, but overall, it is more like musical theatre than an indie-rock record. We have Sondre Lerche singing one song, Sean O'Hagan from the high llamas sings another and plays guitar. It sounds positively lovely.

I have been thinking of putting up some demos or rough mixes on our myspace, just to show everyone that I haven't been golfing for three years.

Eric: I know you've also been busy with writing film scores and musicals for a lot of other people. What kind of stuff have you worked on so far and where can we see/hear some of it?

Jason: I have been scoring for a Halifax based theatre troupe called Zuppa Circus for almost ten years now. Dave and I most recently scored their play Penny Dreadful and won BEST SCORE at the Nova Scotia Theatre Awards, so I was very pleased. I had never won an award in anything before in my entire life.

Earlier last year, Dave and I also produced the debut album by sometimes heavy blinkers touring vocalist Jenn Grant.

And I just finished producing the debut full length by an artist named Brent Randall. I think you would really love him. He looks like Harrison, sings like Dylan, and writes like Nilsson. The album isn't out for another month or so, but you can hear a bit of it on his site here:

I am currently in pre-production with an alt-country band called The Prospector's Union, and we go in the studio to record that E.P. in a few weeks.

Eric: Lastly, what do you have planned for the future with the Heavy Blinkers and with yourself? Any new side projects or art exhibits you want to share?

Jason: Well, once HEALTH is on the shelves, I have to start finding a way to bring it to people's towns. I really want to tour heavily to support this album, and I am trying to find a way to bring as many musicians as is possible, for as little money as is possible. In terms of side projects, I would like to do some more film scoring, and it has always been a dream of mine to score a dance piece, so maybe this will be my year. It is hard to tell, everything takes longer than I think, and I still have a day job that consumes a large part of my week. As always, The Heavy Blinkers will continue to be my main priority, and as soon as the albatross ( I mean this lovingly) that is Health is off my back, I can start releasing the other songs that didn't make it to that album. I would love to produce a Glen Campbell comeback record…can you make that happen?


While I am not entirely sure if I can help out with that Glen Campbell comeback record, I did go as far as to email Glen Campbell's publicist. I wonder if they'll ever write me back?

Anyway! Thanks to Jason MacIsaac for being so great. Check out the Heavy Blinkers music below.

Myspace | Website | Label | Jason's label | The Heavy Blinkers Blog

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Hi there everyone. I wanted to write a little bit today about one of my favorite pop groups of all time, Bikeride. In case you don't know about them, let me bring you up to speed.

They were formed in Long Beach, CA in 1994 (Their third show was the Aquabats first show ever) and have released 5 albums of perfect pop. Their first album HERE COMES THE SUMMER burst on the scene and established them as the kings of sunshine pop. I still love tracks like Stupid 44, The 4th of July and Iron Feather.

After this album followed 3 more, which were all acclaimed by the likes of the LA Times, OC Weekly, Amplifier Magazine and Rolling Stone Magazine. THIRTY-SEVEN SECRETS I ONLY TOLD AMERICA, SUMMER WINNERS, SUMMER LOSERS and MORNING MACUMBA were all amazing pop records that ventured into genres like Bossa Nova, synth ambience and folk pop while always being completely enjoyable.

(An interview with Bikeride while recording The Kiss)

Their last album, THE KISS was released in 2007 and was Bikeride's darkest and most experimental album. It became an instant indie pop classic with songs like She's Radioactive, Your Lips and You and Siamese Twins. But before you could even get excited for their next album Bikeride's lead singer, guitarist and song writer, Tony Carbone passed away from melanoma on March 6th, 2008.

Before Tony died I was fortunate enough to talk to him (if only for a brief moment), but I didn't really know him and neither can I understand the things his friends and family are going through. But as an admirer of his music the main question that now stands is "What is going to happen to Bikeride?"

Well, I think we all know the answer. Bikeride wasn't the kind of band that could replace someone as irreplaceable as Tony (who they themselves called the Heart of Bikeride). Even still, its an empty feeling knowing that someone who gave me so much happiness through his music is gone. I asked a few of Tony's personal friends and band mates to say a few things about Tony and what has been going on with Bikeride and a couple were nice enough to write me back, so I'm going to post their quotes here.

"Tony was great. Kind and friendly, funny and talented. He had style and he was smart. He helped my company with the "Julius & Friends theme song" and I helped him make buttons for Bike Ride. I was a fan of his and I felt we had mutual respect.

It's hard thinking of him as gone. When we did that benefit for him, I helped with the auction but I arrived after he had gone home (early due to his declining health) so I missed him. I never got to personally show him my support and ultimately never got to properly say goodbye. My wife and I miss him."
- Parker Jacobs (of the band GOGO13)

"It has definitely been a tough few months. We (bikeride) have been trying to figure out how to handle everything. We're probably going to do a collective press release, website/myspace update, etc. But we need his wife's input and we're giving it a little time. We're also trying to figure out what to do with the ~30 songs we have that are in various stages of completion..." - Adam Deibert (Bikeride's Bass Player)

| website | Tony's memorial page

It's always a shame when a major celebrity musician passes away, but when it's one of the little guys; the ones who put their hearts right there on the music to their fans it's always a lot harder. I'm going to miss Tony and Bikeride a lot, but I'm very glad their albums are still there to listen to over and over.

- eric

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Monthly pop music wrap up

Woah! It's been over a MONTH since I've written here! Wow. The days just go by! I blame my new job and my obsession with recording music for this. But I now bring you the MONTHLY POP MUSIC WRAP UP! All you need to know about the world of pop music for this month. (sort of)

In case you don't know yet ROCKETSHIP is still offering their 2 latest albums and a few songs all for free on their label's WEBSITE. This is extremely recommended.

The new smash hit by Paul Steel is almost out! Go and listen to some songs and get ready!

The new Sweet Diss and the Comebacks album is getting closer to coming out every day! Make sure you visit the myspace and keep the pressure on their resident genius, Nate Reinauer!

Derek White and the Monophobics just release their debut album and it EFFING RULES. Seriously check these guys out. They're a smile.

The extremely gorgeous Italian pop band, FITNESS FOREVER have revealed another song from their upcoming album! It's so great. Carlos Valderamma is a genius and I get so excited to hear his music.

lastly, WEEZER is finally releasing their new album. The second self titled Weezer album is expected to be more like their last 3 albums and less like the first 2, but I'm still excited for it to come out. You should go to their page and wet your chops!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Karl Koch Inerview

Hey everyone, I just wanted to give you a heads up about a really good interview with Karl Koch, the webmaster of Weezer's website, and a close friend of the band. If you like the band Weezer, I think you'll really dig this interview.

Support your independent music bloggers.

Karl Koch Interview

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Nelson Bragg - Day Into Night

There comes a point in every long standing band's career where its members feel the need to break out and start a solo career. All the members of KISS did it, Led Zeppelin did it (except for their ill fated drummer, John Bonham, of course) and The Beach Boys did it too.

Most notably is Beach Boy Brian Wilson's solo career. Since 1988 Brian Wilson has been releasing a string of solo albums to great reviews. However, Brian Wilson scarcely played live until assembling his own live band to accurately play his complex instrumental and vocal harmony sections featured on his studio albums. For almost a decade Brian and his band has been touring the world performing Brian's works including Pet Sounds, Smile and his latest work That Lucky Old Sun.

All of the members of Brian Wilson's live band are incredible musicians, each with their own background and musical history. You may recognize Nelson Bragg as one of the percussionists of the band, frequently performing behind Wilson and surrounded by an arsenal of drums, cymbals, tambourines and various other instruments. But besides Bragg's gig with Brian Wilson he is also a member of several other bands in the pop scene including The Wondermints, The Now People, The Quarter After and Cloud Eleven.

Despite Bragg's extremely busy schedule he still managed to go the route of so many band members before him and release his first solo album, Day Into Night, at the tender age of 44. As with any album from an accomplished musician and multi instrumentalist, Day Into Night shines with great song writing, fantastic harmonies and a maturity that often takes artists decades to develop.

Initially, the album sounds very similar to artists like Barenaked Ladies and other pop folk fusion groups, but after several listens the album begins to show Nelson's more obvious influences, namely the Beach Boys and the Beatles. In fact, there is a cover of George Harrison's "Dark Sweet Lady" on the album that remains very true to the original (although I've always HATED the steel guitar).

All of the songs on the album work around an acoustic guitar and catchy vocals by Nelson Bragg and while it is obvious that a lot of thought and effort was put into the album, both in writing and recording, the album's major flaw is just how similar the songs really are. The songs on the album run the gamut from slow, aching ballads to mid tempo light pop songs that just seem to melt into each other without any indication that a new song has begun or end.

Perhaps the most exciting song on the album, Tell Someone, despite having a great key change in the middle of the song, still seems to drag on and then finally returns to more balladeering. The album ends with the down tempo song Turn The Darkness Into Gold, a great song reminiscent of 70s style acoustic pop but the track left me feeling disappointed by the overall gloomy feel of the track and ultimately, the whole album.

Day Into Night is a great first release from Nelson Bragg and clearly shows off his talent as a song writer and solo artist, but the songs on the album just don't have enough diversity to make listening a very enjoyable experience. I suspect that Nelson Bragg's masterpiece is not quite here yet, but his first album proves that he has the potential, and hopefully will, blow the pop world away.

Click here to listen to Day Into Night or learn how to buy it.
Myspace | Label