Category Archives: Interviews

Interviews with Rock and Roll artists

David Uosikkinen Chats about Philly Rock and Roll

David Uosikkinen is Philadelphia Rock and Roll.

He burst onto the city and national music scenes as the powerful drummer for Philly’s most successful rock export, The Hooters. Growing up a Philly kid, he’s always remembered his rock roots and is prominently back on the local scene with his new project In the Pocket, Essential Songs of Philadelphia. The project features classic Philly rockers uniting to cover gems from the city’s musical history.

We recently had a chance to spend a bit of time with the generous and effervescent musician.


Cretin: Growing up in the Philadelphia area, how did you get your first exposure to the Philadelphia rock music scene?

Uosikkinen:  There were some local TV shows,  one from Willow Grove Park where they used to show bands that played there.  I saw Sweet Stavin Chain. Woody’s Truck Shop, Todd Rundgren was in that band. The American Dream, they were another great band. Todd Rundgren had the band Nazz and  In the Pocket  covered “Open My Eyes.” There were great, great Philly bands. Then in the Seventies, you had bands like Edison Electric, Good God, Mandrake Memorial, bands like that. They had great musicians coming out of this city and really cool bands that I paid attention to.

Cretin: I’ve only heard of a few of those bands. Your knowledge of the city’s rock history is impressive.

Uosikkinen: Well, if you get a chance look them up. With the internet, you can probably learn about a lot of them. There’s some great stuff on Nazz are out there and there’s probably stuff about Mandrake Memorial and of course, there’s Richie and Charlie’s band The Soul Survivors; they had that great hit with “Expressway,” Woody’s Truck Stop, The American Dream… The American Dream had a big influence on me. I loved the song “I Ain’t Searchin.” They had a song “You Can’t Get To Heaven on the Frankford El,” which became the bridge on The Hooters “Beat Up Guitar.”

Cretin: That’s a cool tribute.

Uosikkinen : We took that from a line that Nick Jameson (from The American Dream) wrote. They had a big influence on Eric Bazilian and me. Nick is still a very good friend today, and he actually produced The Hooters’ Five by Five EP.

Cretin: So when you guys started playing together in the Eighties, you adopted a bit of a ska flavor. Where did that come from?

Uosikkinen: Well the ska influence really came from what was happening with the second wave of the British Invasion. The Clash were integrating their punk thing with reggae and dubbed out kind of music and I really dug that. Selector, The Specials, and The Police were doing that kind of stuff. And, Rob Hyman spent a lot of time in Jamaica, and we dug Bob Marley. So we incorporated those kind of vibes and rhythms into the music we were writing at that time.

Cretin: Were there any Philly influences from that era?

Uosikkinen: There was a reggae band out of Philly called House of Assembly that I paid attention to.  For us in the late 70’s, the one band that broke out of Philly and got signed to a record deal, who I admired were The A’s. That was Richard Bush and Rick DiFonzo.  They got signed to Arista and they were kind of breaking out, if you will. They didn’t have mainstream success, but to me, they were freakin rock stars.

Cretin: And now, Richard sings with you on this project.

Uosikkinen: Yeah, Richard sings every show with In The Pocket, and he sang on the first single “All My Monday’s” which was a song we did with Youth Camp, a band led by Joey Wilson, who I first saw on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert back in 1980. He was another one who got signed, he was working on trying to break out. It never really happened for Joey as a performer, but he wrote some great songs, including one that Madonna performed.

Cretin: When I first heard that your band was going to cover “Change Reaction,” my first thought was that Richard Bush would be a great choice to take the vocals.

Uosikkinen: The guy that sang on this version of Change Reaction is a Philly guy, Ben Arnold.  The line-up I have on “Change Reaction” is Ben Arnold singing, he’s actually touring in Europe right now, but will be back for our show in March; Steve Butler who played in a band called Smash Palace and Quincy, he plays guitar; John Lilly who plays in The Hooters also played in Robert Hazard and the Heroes plays guitar; and Bill Whitman, who is not a Philadelphia guy, but he’s engineered a lot of bands out of Philly he played bass; Rob Hyman plays keyboards and of course, I played drums.

Cretin: Looking forward to hearing this single. I loved the original; in fact I have the 45 in my jukebox today.

Uosikkinen: Well, we took some liberties with it.  I loved the eighties, but this is 2012. I really wanted to deliver a version of the Robert Hazard song with a 2012 twist. You will definitely recognize the song, but we changed the key and kind of took a few liberties with a couple of rhythmic lines. I’m really pleased with it and Bill Eib who managed Robert Hazard was really pleased.  He thought Robert would really have loved it.

Cretin: When Robert played cover songs he always put his own touch on them, too.

Uosikkenin: Yeah, exactly.  Robert was an amazing guy. He was really, really good.

Cretin: So looking back at the early eighties, was it a competition between The Hooters, Robert Hazard, The A’s and Beru Revue, or was it more of a brotherhood.

Uosikkinen: Back in the eighties, I think it was somewhat competitive.  We were all friends and we were all very cordial, but I think everybody was trying to get ahead. To break out of Philadelphia, so close to New York City, it was a challenge. We always had a challenge of building a fan base, and it was almost as if some of the hard core fans picked sides back then.

Cretin: For sure.

Uosikkinen: But, I think it was a healthy competitive thing.  Interestingly enough, from Hazard’s band, Rob Miller joined The Hooters and then John (Lilley) joined to play guitar; and they both played with Hazard. And, we were all such big fans of The A’s. They were playing a lot of gigs as part of that pop-punk thing which we all dug.  Their audience was exciting; the audience was as great to watch as the band.

Cretin: And, now we get a chance to see all of those guys on the same stage.

Uosikkinen: They’ve all become good friends to me.  That was the thing for me about doing In The Pocket – I had an opportunity to work with them in this capacity, and I thought “why not do a project where I can record songs of bands I really dug?” I mean who makes the rules for these kinds of things? I called Richard and he was like “Yeah, I like to sing.” I called Greg Davis from Beru Revue he said “Yeah, I love to play guitar.” Everyone I’ve asked to do it has come around to do it. Eric (Bazilian) who lives in Sweden these days; when he comes to town, he plays. It’s been a great experience for me because everybody I’ve asked has wanted to do it.

Cretin: I wish I was still in that area. These shows sound great.

Uosikkinen: The shows are awesome. If you go t my Facebook page, there’s a quick little clip of Tommy Conwell and TJ (Tindall of Edison Electric) playing “Work Out.” It’s rockin’ man. It’s TJ, Tommy and Greg Davis playing, it’s ripping.

Cretin: Greg Davis is a great guitarist.

Uosikkinen: He’s a monster guitarist. He can play anything. He’s incredible. And, he’s a nice guy, too.

Cretin: You moved to Southern California for awhile.  What drew you back to Philly?

Uosikkinen: I lived there for 20 years, and as life would have it… My marriage was dissolving and I was spending a lot of time in Philadelphia and I met somebody and that relationship got better and better, and she was in Philadelphia, so here I am.

Cretin: So it was love, and I thought you were going to say that you missed the old Philly music scene?

Uosikkinen: I did. That was part of it.  It was comfortable for me to come back to Philadelphia because a lot of my friends are here. I had a relationship, as well and that made things a little easier.

Cretin: Can you share the connection with Settlement Music School? Where did that originate?

Uosikkinen: The connection there came from Dallyn Davey. I knew about Settlement Music School, but she’s the one who told me to check out what they were doing.  In today’s economy, schools and programs that support the Arts are one of the first things to get cut. And we liked the things they do that allow people to study music, without requiring auditions, they help with money to get to the school, and they introduce people to the arts. We bring attention to the school and donate a portion of the proceeds and we think it’s an amazing organization.

Cretin: What is Dallyn’s role?

Uosikkinen: Dallyn is one of my  partners in organizing the project, and she is my girlfriend, by the way.  Also, I should mention Steve Acito who does all the documentaries and videos for In The Pocket. Steve has a big part in the whole visual side of In The Pocket, and Dallyn basically manages the project. We brainstorm and all three of us help implement all the pieces. So far, it’s been working really well. It’s been good.

Cretin: So, back to “Change Reaction,” why that Hazard song for this release.

Uosikkinen: “Change Reaction” was always one that really popped for me. I loved the riff. When we were tracking it I realized it sounded like an old song by The Outsiders, “Time Won’t Let Me” that I always dug that. It had this cool riff. To me, it was really this clever pop song that Hazard had wrote. He had a lot of great songs, but when I narrowed it down to song that I wanted to do, that is the one I had the most connection with.

Cretin: So, what”s next for In The Pocket?

Uosikkinen: I’m not sure what will be next. We had some great punk bands out of Philly: The Stickmen, The Dead Milkmen; and we had the whole Philly International thing, I was a big fan of the song “Back Stabbers;” and I don’t have any chicks on the project. It’s not necessarily a song that a girl sang in the beginning, but maybe the next record has a girl singing a song that a guy sang, and I always wanted to do an A’s song, too. Also, I’m a big fan of Tommy Conwell. I don’t know what will be next, but their definitely in my queue.

Cretin: Any parting thoughts on In The Pocket?

Uosikkinen: We’ve got our show on March 13th (at World Cafe Live). If people go to SongsInThePocket.org, there’s five songs, they’re 99 cents each. Download them and check out the videos. And, I’m just thrilled to keep the project going, and I appreciate all of the support.

Links:

Check back with us in a few weeks for our quick and casual RARA’s six-pack with David, or follow us on Twiiter to make sure you don’t miss it:


Rock On – Cretin

Fred LeBlanc Interview, Part 2


We continue with our conversation with Cowboy Mouth founder and front man, Fred LeBlanc.

You can read Part 1 of the Interview here: Cowboy Mouth’s Fred LeBlanc

Cretin: The first time I heard about the band, my brother told me about the show and how unique it was with the drummer front and center on the stage.  He said it worked, and obviously he was right.

Fred LeBlanc:  It’s something I always knew about myself.  I had a certain vision for the way I saw myself and the things I could do.  There are certain things I’ve had to adjust to make the whole drummer/front man thing work. I sit on a riser, so I’m not taller than anybody, but I’m not shorter either. I play with only one symbol and a small drum kit so people can see me.  There’s more of an eye contact approach, and that really works.

Cretin: Sure, that helps build that connection you have with the crowd.

Fred LeBlanc: Exactly. And, it also let’s me set the tone and pace of the show. If I feel something isn’t right, I can change it right away, or if the energy gets intense, I might speed up a little, but hey, it’s rock and roll, ya know?

Cretin: It’s more fluid, and your shows are definitely fluid.

Fred LeBlanc: All of the best rock and roll moves in and out, in and out. These days when you listen to radio, everything is so perfect. There’s no swing to it. Put on headphones sometime and listen to Sticky Fingers or Beggars Banquet from the Stones. It’s a mess, guitars are out of tune, drums speed up and slow down but you know what? It works, because it’s human. It moves, it interacts with itself. It’s an organic beast.

Cretin: You’re right. It was raw passionate stuff, whereas a lot of today’s stuff is over-produced, and devoid of passion.

Fred LeBlanc: Yeah. I’m not one to say that all music needs to be recorded on one microphone through a Victorolla.  I use pro tools, too.  It’s the standard, but at the same time you have to remember to master the machine and not have the machine be your master. I try to communicate an idea, an emotion, so that the listener experiences those same things. With music, a straight line is not always the shortest path.

Cretin: You and John Thomas Griffith have been together for all fifteen years, how did that pairing come about?

Fred LeBlanc: It’s funny, because I started Cowboy Mouth with two other musicians and we had rehearsed for two months, and it was just terrible. I was about to give up. Nothing was clicking at all. Nothing against the other musicians; we just weren’t compatible. I got the idea to call Griff in and gave him a couple of songs and he learned them fast. Literally, within three seconds we went from really sucking as a three-piece to really being great as a four-piece. It was really that instantaneous. It was one of the wildest moments of my life. I was like “Did everybody else hear that?”

Cretin: Good stuff.

Fred LeBlanc: I love playing with Griff. Lord knows we’ve had our ups and downs over the years. I’m sure as much as we both love each other, there are just as many times we drive either other nuts and want to kill each other. That’s just the nature of bands. He and I, we play well together. We both play with a lot of force. We’re the same kind of players, which is really good. The band that we have now with Cass and Matt is one of the strongest we’ve ever had. We’ve never had a bad version of this band, thankfully.

Cretin: What’s next for the band? We’ve heard rumors of another studio album being close to fruition.

Fred LeBlanc: I’m almost finished it. I have a studio here at the house and have almost all of the tracks done, and I just need to tweak it a bit and hope to have it out in the next month and a half. You’ll have to check out our website and Facebook page to see how we do it; we’re going to try something a little different this time.

Cretin: Sounds interesting. We’ll keep an ear out for it.

RARA’s Six-Pack. Six fun, mindless questions

You’re favorite Saints player ever ? Man, that’s like choosing your favorite child. I’d have to say Steve Gleason. He was always this happy get back to the earth guy, who sort of stumbled into football. A really cool guy. The first year after Katrina, the Saints made a great run. Cowboy Mouth had played outside the stadium before the first game of the season, and I was predicting we’d go to the Super Bowl. Early in the game he blocked a punt and I always say it was that moment the Saints fortunes turned around.

He’s a great guy and he’s been diagnosed with ALS. He’s started a foundation that people should look up, and give to, if they possibly could. (Editor: check it out here: Steve Gleason Foundation)

Your favorite city to play in? New Orleans. I’m biased, what can I say?

Favorite Cover Song: A band out of Athens called Five-Eight. They did a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I Can’t Stand It.” They’re great and they’ve been around as long as we have. Their lead singer, Mike (Mantione) has one of the most under-heard voices in rock. He’s an insanely talented guy, and they’re a great band.

If you could share the stage with any one band, past or present? The Clash or Lee Dorsey.  That would be fun. (we proceeded to have a long conversation on The Clash, and both clearly agree they’re one of the greatest rock bands EVER)

Favorite local bar in New Orleans? I’m a big fan of Carrollton Station. Great vibe in a good little neighborhood, it’s easy. That’s my favorite place. It’s not a typical New Orleans bar, it’s away from The French Quarter. There’s places like Le Bon Temps Roule which is a good bar. The Balcony Bar is great, too.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever signed after a show? An infant. I signed his forehead “Trouble maker.”

Rock On (Are You With Me Edition) – Cretin

A Few Minutes with Fred LeBlanc – The Patron Saint of Mardi Gras

The moment these guys take the stage, you know you’re in for a special evening. They’re synonymous with New Orleans Rock ‘n Roll and their shows are a little bit different than the typical rock show. Cowboy Mouth performances are energetic, passionate and powerful experiences, driven by the heart and soul of the band, their front man, drummer Fred LeBlanc. Yup, that’s right, their drummer is front and center, belting out vocals, leading the band and energizing the crowd all while wailing away on the drums; and damn, it really works.

LeBlanc and lead guitarist/vocalist John Thomas Griffith have been together for 15+ years, playing straight from the heart rock ‘n’ roll and impressing throngs of fans with their one-of-a-kind performances.  They do it all with an unabashed connection to their beloved New Orleans, where they’ve basically become the Unofficial Band of Mardi Gras. If Cowboy Mouth is the Rock Band of Mardi Gras, Fred LeBlanc is surely The Patron Saint.  We were able to carve a few minutes of his studio time to chat about the band, his city and Cowboy Mouth’s unique connection with their fans.

Cretin: When rock music fans think about the New Orleans music scene, typically the first band they think of is Cowboy Mouth. Is that something you’re proud of?

Fred LeBlanc: Yeah, I’m definitely proud of that.  My whole career I’ve been trying to show that you don’t have to go to a big media center to make a living in music. But with the advent of the web and all of the other advances over the last ten to fifteen years (it’s easier). I tend to look at being in the music business like owning a small business. I’ve always found that it’s better when you’re that exotic visitor from out of town.

Cretin: Yeah, rather than being one of many in a large market?

Fred LeBlanc: That’s tough trying to come in and mark out some of somebody else’s turf. It’s always better to be a visitor, to go somewhere and get out. And it helps if it’s from some place colorful like New Orleans. Growing up I didn’t really have a sense that New Orleans was so different. It’s not until you’ve traveled around that you realize there’s no po boys in Atlanta, there’s no red beans and rice in Norflok, Virginia. New Orleans tends to celebrate its highs and lows. Our ability to laugh at ourselves for the things that are both positive and negative about the city is a unique spin on life.

Cretin: For folks from New Orleans, including Cowboy Mouth, you seem to wear your emotions right there for everyone to see, whether it’s joy or sadness.

Fred LeBlanc: You know, we played a show in New Orleans last Sunday at The Mardi Gras festival and before we played “I Believe” we mixed it with an older song I wrote called “The Avenue.” It was written right after Katrina. I didn’t want to write anything angry or pointing fingers, I wanted to write a song that was like a musical arm around the shoulders to say “Hey, this is bad, but everything will be okay.”  Coupling that with “I Believe” on this tour shows that we’ve been to the bottom, we’ve been to hell and back, and we got back due to our faith in each other as people and in our community.

Cretin: You’re right the city’s recovery came a lot from inside the community.

Fred LeBlanc: That’s kind of like the whole Cowboy Mouth idea. In the song “I Believe” it’s about how faith above everything else can bring out the very best of you in terms of strength.  It’s the act of having faith and what that creates inside the human spirit to make us go above and beyond.

Cretin: So, getting back to Katrina, you guys had some personnel changes right after Katrina. Did that event have any impact on the way you approached music and your shows?

 Fred LeBlanc: No, I think it reinforced what we did. We had some personnel changes after Katrina, but those were coming long before Katrina anyway. Keeping a bunch of musicians focused is a very difficult thing, because musicians by definition tend to follow their own muse. We’ve had people in the band who’ve wanted to go do their own thing, and that’s fine. When people part it’s never pretty, but you need to wish them the best and move forward. You go through all of the crappy emotions, but eventually time heels everything… It’s just life, and you learn as you go on.

Cretin: I think that’s why you connect so well with the crowd. A lot of the lyrics and themes to the songs are things people can relate to, even people who’ve never seen Cowboy Mouth before.

Fred LeBlanc: Well, thank you. When I formed the band, my goal was to create something kind of spiritual. I grew up Catholic.  I wanted to believe, but it was all about “you’re an original sinner, you’re terrible,” and then the things that took place with some of the priests; it shook your faith. I had a friend of mine in New Orleans, I’d sneak out of the house on Sunday morning because they had a black Gospel church and these people were just going to town, dancing and screaming, raising a ruckus, and they all left in the best mood, feeling great as a community. I left thinking “I want to do that.” And, I wanted to bring that to rock and roll.

Cretin: The Gospel roots definitely come through in your shows.

Fred LeBlanc: I wanted to bring that energy to rock and roll without limiting it to a certain religious message.  As far as religion goes, the worst thing you can do is limit the almighty.  I tried to write about things that everybody goes through, you know, “write what what you know.” It was not trying to make grandiose statements, it was more “Hey, this is what I’ve been through. Here’s how I got through it. Isn’t it great to be alive?”

Cretin: And, a lot of people resonate to that.

Fred LeBlanc: They seem to. I’ve been doing this 22 years, so obviously I’m doing something right. I also think that with Cowboy Mouth, I get a lot of attention for being the front man. It’s not about me just saying “Ain’t I wonderful, Ain’t I the shit?” No, I take all of that energy the audience is enthusiastic to give and I just focus it back on them.

Cretin: I’ve tried to describe Cowboy Mouth shows to people who have never seen the band nor know the music very well. It’s hard to compare to any other show, but I say it’s a combination of passion, good music and almost a feeling of togetherness, which no one else can replicate. It’s something unique that you guys do really well.

Fred LeBlanc: When people leave a Cowboy Mouth show, they feel good.  How much these days is designed to make people feel good about themselves? Look at mass media, it’s designed to keep us scared. A Cowboy mouth show is a celebration of yourself.  I’m not really into the status thing or trying to play cool. I have no problem of being looked at as some kind of musical court jester, because at the end of the day, the court jester is the only one who can tell the truth to the king.

Cretin: You mention how your shows are different; there are other drummers who play huge roles for their bands: Don Henley, Dave Grohl and Phil Collins, but none of them do it the way you do. You’re the only guy who is front and center. Was that something you drove?

Fred LeBlanc: I got tired of sitting in the back and watching guitar players butts who weren’t better singers. I thought “I’m a better singer, why am I in the back? My songs are more hooky and better than that guy’s songs.” The truth of the matter is I kind of just got tired of it. I got tired of the whole “You’re just a drummer shut up.” I had put together a nice backlog of songs, and I quit the band. As good as the band was, it was really just a crazy drug psycho-fueled, wild hayride, but I needed to get away from it. It got to the point where I needed to do something because this is killing me. It wasn’t just killing my body, it was killing my soul.

So, that’s it for part one. We’ll have part two posted on Fat Tuesday as we continue our chat with the Patron Saint of Mardi Gras...

You Are Lovedrug – A Chat with Michael Shepard

Lovedrug has taken a novel approach to funding their upcoming album release. The Alt-Rock veterans have been sharing their distinctive sound for nearly a decade, but now they’re taking a creative new approach that re-defines Indie music. Michael Shepard, the engaging and talented front man stopped by the farm to share the I AM LOVEDRUG experience, as well as to chat about a few other things.

Cretin: So, before we get into the I am Lovedrug experience, can you explain the group’s name? I’ve heard that it is not a reference to an aphrodisiac, but more about your passion for creating music?

Michael Shepard: You’re correct. It’s funny, a lot people do think of it as we’re slinging ecstasy or something. That’s not really what our M.O. is. It was really a time when I had gone through a lot with my old band and decided to get out of the game and spend some time away from music. I realized it was something I couldn’t escape. My passion or whatever that inner desire is that exists in people when they have something they know they should be doing. It’s just something you can’t walk away from. The name is really derivative of that concept. The love for something sort of drags you along whether you want to or not.

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Cretin: You guys went the major label route and had some ups and downs. Now, you’re taking a novel new approach with a Pledge Music campaign.  How did you choose that route, is it something new?

Michael Shepard: I had never heard of the concept until a friend of mine went through a Kick Starter campaign to raise money to record her album. I thought it was really fantastic how the fans could get involved and help the artist.  I thought it was a wonderful concept so we started doing research and found several sites that do a similar thing. Some are more geared toward businesses, others are for the arts.  Kick starter is about anything you can imagine.  Pledge is strictly music. The inner workings are a bit different and made the most sense for us and where we’re at.

Cretin: looking at the website, iamlovedrug.com, it looks like you had a great response to it.

Michael Shepard: We really did.  It was above and beyond our expectations.   We raised enough money to record our first album and everything that we were shooting for we got, and it was all thanks to the fans that pledged through that site.  It worked 100% – more than 100%, we were ecstatic.

Cretin: I was looking over some of the things you did and some of them were off the wall. Answering machine messages, postcards from the road, standard stuff like autographs and liner notes, but then I saw you had an afternoon of bowling thrown in there. Where did those ideas come from?

Michael Shepard: Yeah, haha.  Well some of them we thought up, and our manager was sort of cooking up some of those schemes.  Bowling was mine because I love to bowl and thought what a better way to celebrate an afternoon than to hang out with someone who digs our music and go bowling.

Cretin: I thought that was out of the box – an awesome idea.  Was there any one item greatly appreciated by the fans or that had a great response which really surprised you?

Michael Shepard: Well, yeah, the biggest response was for cover songs. We got so many requests for covers because it was not an astronomical price(it was only $150). It was something that if someone wanted to donate kind of above and beyond, but not crazy they could get this cover song option.  We were shocked at how many responded to that.  It was a challenge, because they would pick the song, we’d do it the way we do it, personalize it and send it to them.  We got songs all over the map to cover which was a challenge to me personally, but a lot of fun, too.  That’s why the tail end of all that we put together The Best of I Am Lovedrug CD which is actually just  a compilation of  some of those cover songs so that everyone could hear how they turned out.  It was a lot of fun.

Cretin:You guys were offering videos at a reasonable price too weren’t you?

Michael Shepard: Yeah, that was another option we had. In retrospect we probably should’ve shortened it a little bit more just  because of the amount of work that went into it we were shocked when we have tons and tons of cover songs to record, but it was worth it, at the end of the day it was all worth it.

Cretin: I was talking to Eric James of The Last Royals and I asked him what his favorite cover song ever was and he picked your cover of “Pure Imagination.” I first thought “someone covering Willy Wonka? That’s insane.” But it was really cool; you put your own spin on it, an interesting approach to the song.

Michael Shepard: Thank you, we really enjoyed doing that one.  It was actually our guitar player’s brother who requested we do that one. It was sort of a little poke because Jeremy Gifford, our guitar player is a huge Willy Wonka fan – one of his favorite films of all times.  So we were pretty excited to cover that one.

Cretin: During that whole event was there one song other than “Pure Imagination” that you really enjoyed recording for one reason or another.

Michael Shepard: Oddly I really liked the way “Nights In White Satin: turned out, we did that, too and it sort of pulled on my heart strings. I can’t even explain why. It just sounded a lot more melancholy than I meant it to sound, but very cool and is actually one of my favorites.

Cretin: That’s an interesting choice. I grew up with an uncle who is a huge Moody Blues fan so I listened to that music a lot when I was a kid.  Is that cut on your The Best of I Am Lovedrug record?

Michael Shepard: Actually I don’t think it made it on there.  There were a bunch we had to choose from and it was a collective choosing to figure what should go on and what  shouldn’t. It didn’t quite make the cut, but it still remains my favorite.

Cretin: Very cool. I’ll definitely look for that. (I did look but could not find a copy anywhere, but there are a slew of very creative covers on the album). Going back to your approach on the forthcoming album; in the past you were with Columbia then before that you were with Militia Group but now you’re really on your own.

Michael Shepard: Yeah, we’re really doing everything ourselves. It’s us and our manager. It’s a lot different than when we started out.

Cretin: Different in a good way or bad way? I imagine it’s a bit of both?

Michael Shepard: It is a bit of both but mostly positive. I’d say 90% is positive actually just because there is no red tape. There is always a certain amount of waiting room effect. “OK, great you turned out a record now sit out here while we do our thing,” and things seem to get sort of lost in the cracks and its unfortunate but when you’re working completely independently like we are now there is more freedom to make decisions like we did to connect directly to fans and say “hey we want to make a record, we need your help or we want to cover a Moody Blues song and throw it up on the internet.” We can do these things and there are clever ways to propel ourselves.  There’s a little bit of freedom that’s lost when you’re dealing with a label.  It’s been a blessing honestly, maybe in disguise at first, but we really enjoy the freedom now.

Cretin: It has to be rejuvenating to go through that process and do what you think makes sense. It’s really all riding on you guys and your manager whether this album makes it and the album is successful.

Michael Shepard: Absolutely. Not that there was finger pointing before, but you only have yourself to blame. We know that if we’re giving 100 percent and working hard, there’s no way the ball’s going to get dropped unless we drop it. Really that whole concept is so indicative of where we are at right now as a band.

Cretin: A new approach?

Michael Shepard: Yeah, everything. We’ve been a band for ten years now, but at the same time, this feels like our first album. We feel like a new band, and that same energy is still there and I feel like it’s becoming even more intense and bubbling up like it used to when you first strapped on a guitar and start a band for the first time. That feeling can kind of wane, but fortunately for us, we’re at a point where we’ve rejuvenated ourselves.

Cretin: So, now that you’ve been doing this for ten years, any major shifts in the way you approach things?

Michael Shepard: There’s been a lot of changes.  The way we approach writing is a lot more relaxed now. A lot of the pressure used to be on me, just because I was working with musicians that were hired to be on call and it wasn’t much of a band but more a solo thing, whereas now it’s way more of a collective effort. The group of guys in this band all put their equal input into the creative process and it makes for a much more enjoyable song in the end.

Cretin: Sounds like you’ve now got a band with a lot more passion about what they’re doing?

Michael Shepard: And it translates in all kinds of ways. It certainly translates live, because inevitably someone is just going to play more passionately when they had a part in the making of what you’re playing.

Cretin: So, I noticed “Pink Champagne” off of your recent EP will be on the new record.  Are there any other songs we’ll be familiar with?

Michael Shepard: There will be a couple. The songs “Ladders” and “We Were Owls” were on the EPs and they made the record, and then there were a whole bunch that we hadn’t released that we wanted to save for the final album.

Cretin: Tell me about directing the video for Dinosaur, the first single from the new album.

Michael Shepard: I went to film school during my break from music.  That video was a short story I had kicking around for awhile so I thought it would be fun to bring it to fruition via a Lovedrug video.

Check out Lovedrug music on iTunes

RARA’s Six Pack (six quick mindless questions):

Cretin: You grew up fairly close to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  When you are inducted, who do you want making the induction speech?

Michael Shepard: If he’s still kicking around, Billy Corgan. I was a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, One of the first bands I heard that really turned my world upside down.

Cretin:  Your favorite cover tune?

Michael Shepard: That’s a tough one. One that always made me chuckle was The Deftones cover of Freebird. That was pretty hilarious and awesome.

Cretin: What’s your high score in bowling?

Michael Shepard: I’m very proud to say my high score was 269.

Cretin: Do you have a favorite city where you like to play?

Michael Shepard: I could name dozens that I love to play.  The ones that stand out are Chicago, I love playing Chicago, and we always get fantastic responses playing in New York. And, actually Nashville which is one of the many reasons we moved here.

Cretin: Of all the bands you’ve toured with over the years, who left a lasting impression?

Michael Shepard: We’ve toured with some fantastic bands, and some not so fantastic bands, but we won’t name those. We got to play with The Killers a long time ago before they were big and that was cool. They were really nice guys.

Cretin: What’s your favorite roller coaster?

Michael Shepard: Probably still The Magnum at Cedar Point. Not the tallest one any more, but it scared the living shit out of me when I rode it.

Cretin: Thanks for visiting with us and best of luck with the album.

Michael Shepard: Thank you. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has helped us out and pledged along the way. I know it’s been a long process, but I wanted to thank everyone for their patience, and let them knwo the record is going to be out by March.

 

Eric James of The Last Royals Visits RARA’s Farm

Featuring infectious melodies and riveting vocals, The Last Royal’s are riding high on the recent success of their addictive alt-rock hit “Crystal Vases” from their self-titled EP.  They’re currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on their eagerly anticipated debut album, tentatively titled Twistification.  Along with Mason Ingram, Eric James make up this dynamic new band. James, the lead singer and the creative power behind the songs on the EP, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with us.

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Cretin: I first heard you guys on Sirius XM’s AltNation, when they played “Crystal Vases.” How did you guys get that break? Were you targeting AltNation?

Eric James: We had signed with, Ooh La La Records, and their radio promoter was targeting college and FM specialty radio.  Regan, who’s a great DJ as well as the program director at AltNation heard the song and actually tracked me down personally through Facebook. He loved the music and just simply wanted to work it because he liked it. They just started playing it; it caught on and they got good feedback from listeners and that’s where we’re at.

Cretin: The characters in your songs seem real, and you can feel a real connection to them. Is there anything autobiographical in the lyrics?

Eric James: It’s all real; from living around Manhattan for the last four years. Crystal Vases specifically I had in mind an Upper East Side type of woman. Nothing in any of the songs was directly from a friend or acquaintance, but it’s all real characters.  I’m sure you kind find a match somewhere in this city of 4 million if you looked hard enough.  I love to weave story telling with my own sentiments in that Dylan style where he’s singing about the Jack of Hearts and all these characters and you’re wondering if he actually encountered these people.

Cretin: You mention Dylan and in other interviews you reference other acts from the 50’s to the present. It sounds like your musical background is pretty diverse, any piece of that background that has most influenced you?

Eric James: Everybody kind of grows up listening to what their parents listened to. My dad was a Beatles guy through and through. The musical pop elements were implanted in my brain as a young kid through the Beatles.  Lyrically speaking I feel it was Dylan who always explored the most territory.  He had that way of challenging people with hard concepts through whimsical lyrics (pauses) and also through whimsical melodies. Ultimately I feel that’s what my favorite bands do. It’s sort of the beauty of rock music. You can sing a very depressing line or very hard concept and put it with a beautiful major melody and somehow that juxtaposition is a beautiful thing.

Cretin: The way your band does that reminds me a bit of the Smiths from back in the 80’s.

Eric James: They were great at that.

Cretin: More recently, Foster The People’s “Pumped up Kicks” is kind of like that: a whimsical song with dark lyrics.

Eric James: I listened to that song for months before I realized what he was saying, and then I read the lyrics and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Cretin: On the EP, all of the songs are very different.  Do you have a personal favorite, or any one style that you really enjoyed more than the other?

Eric James: I love the remix of Backseat, the Crayon mix. It’s real off the cuff.  It reminds me of the fact that one of the great qualities of being a musician is that you get to recreate these songs night after night. I have a bad habit of altering songs as we go along and the band learns them. Some of the label people don’t like that I keep doing that, but I can’t seem to stop.  The fact that made the EP was a big win for me.

Cretin: Are we going to hear any of these songs on the forthcoming album?

Eric James: We’ve re-cut “Come Take My Hand” and nobody has heard it yet as it’s still being mixed and we remixed “Backseat” in a whole new way. “Crystal Vases” will remain the same, as it seems to be working. And we’ll also have seven or eight new tracks. Almost everything is done, still working vocals and synths, but we’re getting there.

Cretin: Will we see this album before the end of the year?

Eric James: We’ll be done and in our hands in a few months, and then it’s up to the record company. It depends; the sooner the better for me.

Cretin: What’s the attraction to playing those older analog keyboards?

Eric James: It’s that those instruments are so volatile. We literally don’t know what it’s going to sound like day to day, because the circuits are constantly changing with the weather. It creates an excitement, a sense of newness. It’s a living art, and if we don’t capture the sound this hour it could change, or be a sound that does not inspire us.

Cretin: Being from Philly, have you ever heard the Hooters?

Eric James: I know Eric Bazillian a little bit. We were going to collaborate on something, but it never worked out.  I wrote a song with their keyboard player and I know the band, but I don’t know the music real well.

Cretin: They were famous for using a melodica.

Eric James: Yeah, that’s great stuff. We use an old thrift store air organ that’s out of tune. It’s actually what we used on the Backseat Lovers remix. It’s a 1970’s toy air organ that cost me about $20.

Cretin: OK, let’s wrap this up with some quick questions.  Do you smoke two packs a day?

Eric James:  (laughs) Absolutely not, I do not smoke.

Cretin: Favorite place in NYC to see live music?

Eric James: Rockwood Music Hall. It’s always free and for that reason you see a lot of musicians every night.

Cretin: You have a teepee as your EP Cover Art, as you were shooting for the TP-EP theme, did you ever consider a roll of toilet paper instead?

Eric James: (laughs) No, our hope would be that some crazy fan a few years from now would make a version like that.

Cretin: You guys have some great covers on your website: EMF, OMD and Prince. Is there one cover form a different artist that you really enjoy?

Eric James: I have some friends in a band called Lovedrug– they were doing a kick start campaign to raise some money to record a full-length. Someone who donated money asked them to cover a song from Willy Wonka a song called “Pure Imagination.” It was amazing, and I love the idea of throwing the wackiest song possible at a band and seeing what they can do with it. I was inspired. (It is cool and different. Check it out: Pure Imagination)

Cretin: When your album comes out you hit it big and you’re doing the festival circuit next year, who are you ready to share the stage with?

Eric James: We’ve talked about Arcade Fire sort of being the top of the game right now. Why not shoot for the top?

Cretin: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Eric James: I just want people to know that I’m thrilled that the music is getting out there and we feel very blessed to be staying alive and doing this music. We hope to become great songwriters someday and keep it coming.

To hear or purchase Last Royals music visit one of the following websites:

Check out my recent interview with Lovedrug’s Michael Shepard