John Lancaster brings "Hell on Earth" to V Club Saturday

photo: Laura Dial

On the heels of releasing “A Penchant for Hell on Earth,” their third record in five years, John Lancaster and his band (L-R: Mac Walker, Lancaster, Josh Adkins, Barry Smith) will perform at The V Club Saturday night with opening acts Floraburn and Sly Roosevelt

Reposted with permission from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

You could say things have kind of slowed down for John Lancaster in the two decades since he was fronting the Huntington-based melodic hard rock band Chum.

Between then, you know, the 90’s, through bands like Guru Lovechild and Earth To Eros, it’s been Lancaster’s own labor of love to front a rock band. With help from old friends he’s not only now released three solo records in five years, but has a rock band he has fun playing shows with.

“Overall, we don’t play out a whole lot,” Lancaster said over the phone. “We do what we can, we kind of have other things going on. We do enough to keep us all somewhat sane I guess,” the singer-guitarist said with a laugh.

Lancaster will bring his atmospheric (apocalyptic?) melodic hard rock band (Lancaster; Mac Walker: guitar; Barry Smith: bass; Josh Adkins: drums) to The V Club Saturday night, where they’ll be joined by Floraburn and Sly Roosevelt.

But just because there aren’t a lot of shows may not mean things are slowing down creatively for Lancaster.

Since releasing the debut full-length, “Phantom Moon” in 2010, following that up with the six-song EP “Crash Test In Progress” in 2012, Lancaster’s studio project has congealed into a band, has opened for acts like Byzantine, Karma To Burn, and Dream The Electric Sleep, and released the six-song concept EP “A Penchant for Hell on Earth” in January.

“You know, this whole thing originally started with the idea that this was going to be a studio project,” Lancaster admitted. “When the first record was coming together, I had the idea of all these different friends coming together and coming in to play on different things.

“But there was really no intention for it to be a live thing. But after “Phantom Moon” was released, I was missing playing out at the time, so I thought ‘Why not put together a solid band to play some of these songs live?’ I wanted to kind of keep the songs alive on some level.

“So we started doing that, and that’s where it’s been ever since,” Lancaster said of the project. “We’ve got three releases now; the first full-length and the two EPs. We kind of take our time with the recording side of things, and we do everything ourselves, so that gives us the opportunity to take our time with the recording.”

Breathing life into the project as a live band has been made easier by working with longtime collaborators Walker and Smith, who recorded and mixed the new EP.

“I love working with Mac,” Lancaster said with emphasis. “I’ve known him for a long time, and I’ve played with him in various projects for years. The same goes with Barry; we did a project together back in the early 90’s, then we did Earth To Eros. But with those two guys, there’s a lot of history there, and I love working with them.

“But back to Mac, our guitar tones seem to mesh really well, and our styles seem to compliment each other really well, and that’s really nice. When I present these songs, it’s just in demo format and it’s just my guitar, so, it’s nice to add these other guys and their playing styles to what I have. It kind of breathes life into the songs.”

Lancaster said that from “Phantom Moon” to “A Penchant for Hell on Earth,” what began as a studio project has become an actual rock band.

“One thing that was different in the process on that record, was, on the previous two records, definitely on the first record, and pretty much the second one, was that a lot of those songs, I’d already written them and demo’d them myself, and then showed them to the guys, and from there we recorded them.

“So, the difference with the latest record is we worked on those songs quite a bit in rehearsal. This latest record sounds more like what we sound like live. The vocals are more aggressive on this record, and I think that’s because when you’re working on vocals in a live environment, it definitely pushes you more. The difference in the process made the end product something I’m really proud of.”

While not meant to literally be about Hell on Earth, obviously, Lancaster said it may not be a surprise the new EP plays like a concept album.

“The interesting thing is that it wasn’t meant to be a concept record, but it totally plays like one. I’ll admit that and I’m happy that it does. It does have the same themes lyrically throughout, which is more or less, letting go of things that you can’t control, and moving forward, you know?

“But, without getting into each song, it does have sort of a conceptual vibe to it,” Lancaster added. “I didn’t really mean it to, but it has part one at the beginning and part two at the end, so it kind of wraps the idea up at the end and gives you an intro and then concludes at the end. So it does have a conceptual feel.”

Lancaster said despite the Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify pages and social media platforms, getting the music out these days, compared to the 1990’s is easier. Getting people to shows? Sometimes, not so much.

“On paper, you would think, in this day and age it’s perfect for getting your music out,” he said after an exhausted sigh. “But there’s just so much out there, and I think a lot of people just aren’t as excited about hearing new music or seeking out new bands that excite them, at least not like they used to be. We’re definitely in different times now,” the 42-year old Huntington music scene veteran said with an understated laugh.

“You’d think with the technology you have, you’d just be able to promote yourself better, and you have the possibility to, but I just think it’s a lot harder to get people to come to shows now. Everybody has their reasons why they think that is, and there’s not one specific reason, I think it’s a lot of different reasons. Umm, I don’t know. It’s definitely a different time. And it’s not just around here, it’s everywhere.

“I was having a conversation the other day with somebody, and we were both talking about how we just hope it’s one of those cycles that’ll come back around. You see how that works, you know? It’ll be really hot for a while then it’ll die off. Then, at some point, it’ll come right back. Hopefully that’s how this’ll turn out.”

Moving forward with his band into 2015, with his old friends backing him up, Lancaster said he not only is looking forward to playing The V Club Saturday, but just having a good time playing shows.

“I have a family and help run a business, so obviously my priorities lie there. But music is still important to me and it’ll be important to me until I’m long gone. I think I look at getting out and playing shows differently. Like, I appreciate it more, you know? I don’t get to do it as much as I used to. In a strange way I enjoy it more and appreciate it more.

“You know, I’ve just tried to approach this whole project with the idea that it needs to be fun. If it’s not fun, just don’t do it. It’s not worth it if it’s not fun. We’ll play a gig somewhere and there’ll be five people there, and we’ll still have a good time.”

John Lancaster, Floraburn, Sly Roosevelt
WHERE: The V Club, 741 6th Ave.
WHEN: 10 p.m., Saturday March 21
COST: $5
INFO: www.vclublive.com
ONLINE: www.johnlancaster.com


Darrin Hacquard and Ben Townsend talk about "Signs and Wonders"

Leave it to Darrin Hacquard and Ben Townsend to, if nothing else, have fun in the snow. Bandmates in The Fox Hunt, the pair, now both calling Elkins home, with help from the rest of The Fox Hunt guys, pulled off no small achievement in recording Hacquard’s solo “psych country” debut “Signs and Wonders,” released in February on Questionable Records.

Talking over the phone together about the record, and preparing to take Hacquard’s project to 123 Pleasant Street with The Fox Hunt Thursday night veered more into what they each hope Elkins, and West Virginia can be: wild and weird.

“Well, uh, drinkin’ a lotta beer, for sure, and playin’ some old time music,” Hacquard summed up when asked how he was holding it down with heavy snow falling.

“We’ve got some friends in town and we’re just making the best of it,” he added. “As far as old time music, it’s just about the best scene you’re gonna find in the country.”

Hacquard said that, while his roots are in old time music, both he and Townsend were/are looking to shake things up in Elkins.

“I’m from Hocking County, in Ohio. It’s a part of Appalachia. The music I guess, I have a deep connection with it, and I believe it goes back to, it’s connected to the landscape, and the culture, and where you’re from. It was also a part of my family, so I connected to it in that way. It just makes sense to me, something that old, to keep it going. But, really, it just sounds right.

“But as far as a weirdo rock scene, we’re trying to get that going as we speak. That’s what I’m interested in.”

Making the best of things (and keeping things weird) with his friends is just how the 13-song “Signs and Wonders” got done, to hear Townsend, who performed on and engineered the album, tell the story.

“You’re talking about playing old time music? I don’t know, I came back here so I wouldn’t have to think about it so much. Like, you can go anywhere and get experimental, but like, here, I kind of came here, like Darrin was saying, some of the best players in the country, and in the world, a lot of them live right here in Elkins. I came down to hang out with my buddies, who I consider to be some of the top musicians in the old time world.

“But I came down here to get away from that,” Townsend added. “Or at least to get away from the idea that I needed to do that everywhere. So, there’s a good solid foundation of old time music, from which I hope we are able to continue to do creative, and experimental, and visionary things. But I think that while it’s great to have a foundation in the past, it doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time there.”

Hacquard said enlisting Townsend, The Fox Hunt guys, and talented dudes like William Matheny to help on the record made it more special.

“I’m proud as hell of it. I’d like more people to know about it, but I’m just glad to have it for my own accomplishment, you know? I wrote the first couple of songs like five years ago, and they kind of trickled in over the last five years but my vision for them was pretty much what you hear on the record. I didn’t have to look very far to find the people that could make that happen.”

Making it happen proved quite the challenge, recording in “The Doodio” as it is known, Townsend said.

“We used to live in this house in Martinsburg that was my granddad’s house. Darrin and I had lived there, some of The Fox Hunt guys had lived there over the years, it’s really been kind of a rotating cast. We used to call it The Doodio and I guess we still do, but there ain’t much of it left. So, John [R. Miller] and I had been playing in The Hackensaw Boys for two years, and I’d been living in Richmond, and I hadn’t seen the house. It had been vacant for like three or four years or something. And I had this wild or stupid idea to, we were financially necessitated, to go in there and record. So I took all my gear up -- we couldn’t lock the doors or anything, so somebody had to stay there all the time -- and there was black mold all over everything, just fucked up, man, you know?”

“There were Wolf Spiders,” Hacquard added.

“Yeah, there were Wolf Spiders everywhere, and it looked like some sort of rodents had gotten in and kind of tore up everything, and the ceiling was falling in. So we just decided that it would be a great place to make this record. We cleared all the shit out of the sink, and we got a cooler, and we filled the sink and the cooler up with ice and beer. Darrin got a bunch of Kombucha on his food stamps, and a half gallon of vodka and some groceries, and we sat up there for four days and just tracked them all out.

“The power wouldn’t work, so we couldn’t run a bass amp, the power wasn’t strong enough to run it. We had everything all plugged in and I had everything all mic’d up. We tracked everything out, and I took it to my house in Winchester, where I was living at the time, and I did all the overdubs. Then, Darrin and I got back together at the house in Martinsburg and mixed the thing. It definitely was a trial by force, you know? Computers died, just about anything that could go wrong did.”

“We almost lost the whole thing,” Hacquard recalled with more horror in his voice than when describing the spiders.

“Almost, and more than once,” Townsend noted. “I spilled a beer on my laptop and fried it. But it’s those inconsistencies in life -- you don’t have to have everything to make a great record. I think sometimes our limitations are what allows us to really thrive. I think the attitude around that record was just like the record itself, there were some ups, there were some downs, you know, that’s life.”

Townsend said he’s both impressed with Hacquard’s songs and proud of pulling the record off, despite the challenges.

“Oh shit, dude, I think it’s awesome,” he said of the experience. “I get pretty crazy in the mixing situation, and can tend to be a little bit of a perfectionist. We’d set a mastering date and we were coming up on it and I was stressing out about it, and I’m talking slight changes. Darrin, though, had the wherewithal to just be like ‘This is done. It has to go out,’ you know?

“We didn’t even have a room to monitor it in. We’d just burn the CD off and go listen to it in the car. Usually I have a really good setup, and that’s kind of what I’m working on down here, is getting my setup back together. I mean, we didn’t even have a set of speakers to listen to the thing on. And I don’t say any of that because I think it’s an interesting story. I think the record sounds awesome, I think the songs are awesome, the performances and the energy, I just think it’s all right there.”

Hacquard said he’s glad that friends and fans like the album.

“You know, a certain number of people would have bought it whether they liked it or not,” he said. “But it’s cool that people actually like it. Some of these songs, I take a risk putting what I think out there. People know me as one person, and I share some of my struggles and some of the weirder aspects of my personality on the record. I’m a little surprised that people are rolling with it so much, but I’m glad that they are.”

Townsend said that Hacquard, everyone involved in the making of the record, and area bands as a whole have something to be proud of, and it is something they are glad to be a part of, being from West Virginia.

“I’ll chime in on that stream of thought. I’m not sure if it’s a good way to say it, but I think that’s the overall view too in the state, that like, there’s a big reception when we’re doing something that’s more traditional. Then you kind of have to like guide people along for the other side of things.

“That’s a big part of why I came back here, specifically to this area, because a lot of people that are into old time music in Elkins, are also into some other creative aspect of music, or art, or life, all those things. What led me to this wasn’t having a closed mind and being interested in one style of music, it was being open to just about anything. I think what we’re really hoping to do is push the bar, like ‘Yeah, sure, you can play old time music, and that’s great, but what do YOU have to say?’ Let’s all encourage each other.

“How many cool bands are in West Virginia right now? You mentioned Horseburner, everything Bud Carroll is doing, The Demon Beat, when they were going strong, there’s just a ton of creative people in West Virginia, and I came back because I wanted to be a part of making the world know that.

“To hell with, ‘Let’s move to L.A. and play old time music,’ let’s move to West Virginia and make it happen here.”

--- Signs and Wonders and The Fox Hunt perform Thursday, March 12 at 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown.


Seven Year Itch: Tucker Riggleman debuts new single, announces new solo effort "Burn Out Too Bright"

Photo: Renzo Velez

Before he was in The Demon Beat, Prison Book Club, Bishops or RHIN, Shepherdstown’s Tucker Riggleman was doing acoustic stuff by himself. Roughly seven years after starting down his own musical path, Riggleman will release his seven-song sophomore effort, “Burn Out Too Bright” on translucent yellow cassette March 24 on Twin Cousins Records.

Tucker took some time to talk about the debut single, “Signal” and bringing the solo material to fruition with friend and longtime collaborator Paul Cogle…

“Burn Out Too Bright” was essentially seven years in the making. It was that long ago that my only other proper release, “Let You Down”, became the first Big Bullet Records project that was completely handled in house. That feels like a lifetime ago, and a lot of really great things have happened since then. I was very lucky to be a part of some awesome bands with some of my best friends throughout that time. During that span, and especially once Bishops got up and running, it became easy for me to forget about my solo material that got me started down this crazy path. Even though I am the songwriter in Bishops, my solo material has remained a separate entity throughout the years. This particular batch of songs covers that whole seven year span --- some were written that long ago, while the single “Signal” is my newest solo song.

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While The Demon Beat, Prison Book Club, and Bishops received the bulk of my focus during that stretch of time, I continued writing songs that didn’t fit with any of those projects. I would play them alone in my room, at the occasional open mic, or keep them hidden in notebooks. I finally set aside a couple of days to track some of them for posterity’s sake with my good pal (and founding member of Bishops) Paul Cogle this past October. I went in with a bunch of ideas, but ultimately kept it incredibly simple. All of these recordings are one take with no overdubs. It is just me in a room with a guitar, the way all of this started. I thank Paul as always for being an amazing producer, and knowing just what the songs and the performer need to make the record be its best.

The result is an intimate collection of songs that were written on the sideline of my twenties, in which a lot of good and bad things happened, just like in anyone else’s life. This is what I was writing when I wasn’t out touring and playing loud music that I love with the people that I love, and I’m glad that it is now available for anyone to hear.

The release show for “Burn Out Too Bright” is 3.27 at Gene’s in Morgantown with guests John R. Miller and Tyler Grady, and it can be pre-ordered by clicking on any of the conveniently placed TCR links.