All articles reposted with permission

Larry Keel brings Natural Bridge to V Club Friday

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

The holidays are a time for being thankful, being with family and friends and maybe doing some charity. It’s all these things too for flatpicking guitar master Larry Keel.

Talking over the phone the day before Thanksgiving from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Keel, like many others this time of year, talked about being home for the holidays; thankfulness, charity and family came up right away.

Talk about progressive-yet-traditional bluegrass, touring with his wife and bassist Jenny Keel, and an insurance policy on his near-iconic beard, also came up.

Keel, with his band, Natural Bridge (Jenny Keel: bass/vocals; Mark Schimick: mandolin/vocals) and the help of his brother, and his old friend Will Lee, are playing more than a few charity events over the holiday season.

Keel and company bring their high energy, genre-skipping version of rockin’ bluegrass and Americana to Huntington and Morgantown this weekend. They play The V Club Friday, Dec. 10.

Supporting causes ranging from a domestic violence shelter, to Toys For Tots, to a no-kill animal shelter benefit at the end of the month with his longtime friend and collaborator, the Fredericksburg, Va.-based “one-man jam band” Keller Williams, for Keel, already established as a kind of bluegrass deity for his fiery pickin', it's great to lend his music to great causes.

“It’s wonderful,” Keel said of playing the various benefit shows. “I really want to do as many of those as I can each and every year. It’s just special. I’m just extremely blessed and fortunate to be able take what I do and translate that across to people who are in need this time of year.”

This year has found Keel, like he has for more than a decade plus, playing out at various bluegrass or jam band-type festivals and bringing young and old together with his and Natural Bridge’s music. And like years past, 2010 found Keel collaborating with friends and bluegrass legends old and new and touring all over.

In May, “Thief,” the second installment of the Keel’s work with Keller Williams, was, like “Grass” in 2005, released to much love and critical acclaim, debuting at number one on the Billboard bluegrass chart.

“It was gangbusters right out the chute,” Keel said of Keller and The Keels second release.

Playing with Williams, whether it’s covering other people’s songs on “Grass” and “Thief,” or having Williams produce Keel’s 2009 record “Backwoods,” or playing some dude’s couch like they did for a contest this year, is always great, Keel said.

Learning and playing a few of the 13 cover songs on “Thief” was a fun challenge for Keel.

“He picked out all the tunes and showed us versions of ‘em and we got his arrangements down and went out and performed ‘em,” he said. “A lot of the songs I’d never heard the original versions of, like (Marcy Playground’s) “Sex and Candy.” We’d go out and play ‘em and people would be singing along and I’d be like ‘I guess I’m the odd man out.’ I didn’t even know any of the words,” Keel said laughing. “We just had a great time being spontaneous.”

The most immediate shows were set to be ones with his older brother Gary, and Larry talked about the early influence on him.

“He bought me a guitar when I was 8 years old, and taught me how to play melodies and rhythm guitar and all that,” he said. “After all these years, getting to get back together to play shows with him over the holidays, it’s one of the most special times of the year for me. It’s super special.”

Talking about his exposure to progressive bluegrass and his incorporation of that into his love of traditional bluegrass, Keel explained how it all came together.

“Well, you know, I’ve always loved bluegrass, that’s definitely always been the heart and soul of my music,” he said. “But from an early age I’ve liked all kinds of music. From jazz to reggae to blues and rock and roll, of course. I guess listening to it so much and loving all those different styles, it just kind of crept into my music. Kind of infected it, in a good way, you know?

“I just love every kind of music. Well, most of it. This new country or new rock developed for record sales, it just doesn’t have a heart or a soul.”

Keel and Natural Bridge are joined by Keel’s old friend Will Lee from Keel’s first band, Magraw Gap, formed in the early 90’s.

“Will has come back out on the road with Natural Bridge and will be at the V Club show and at 123 as well,” he said. “We’ve been really excited about that. Will and I have been playing music together for 25 years or more, and there’s a great chemistry there; we read each other really well.”

New music is on tap for Keel and Natural Bridge in 2011, Keel said. The band will be releasing digital downloads of new songs off Keel’s website. And as Keel brings his bluegrass into the digital age, and as the fans change the way the industry works, Keel changes with them.

“It seems like a lot of the bands and the music industry itself has changed so much, just in the last five years,” he said. “People aren’t buying CDs like they used to; people all have iPods or a computer and can pick their favorite four songs off a record for 99 cents apiece. So we’re getting on that train. On my website we’ll have a whole page dedicated to 99 cent downloads where I’ll be releasing a new song every 30 days or so. So we can take our time with, produce correctly and release the real version we want to release, so we can have something fresh out there.”

And as Keel keeps putting his own contemporary spin on traditional bluegrass, looking back, he realizes making music is what he was bound to do.

“I heard a quote one time, some musician once said they can’t see themselves doing anything else,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always known I wanted to do.”

photo: Bright Life Photography

Following a sudden lineup change, The Sword now riding new momentum

The Austin, Tx.-based metal band The Sword performs Nov. 30 at The Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C. The band plays The V Club Thursday night with Karma To Burn and Mount Carmel

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

It’s not every day you find a metal band releasing a record that debuts at number 47 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, then, preparing for a European tour a few weeks later, has its drummer abruptly quit.

But that’s where the Austin, Texas-based metal band The Sword found itself in October.

In 2010 the band (J.D. Cronise: guitar/vocals; Kyle Shutt: guitar; Bryan Richie: bass; Kevin Fender: drums) was opening for and touring with metal legends like Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne, and releasing its third record, the interstellar concept album “Warp Riders” in August on the New York-based independent label Kemado Records.

Talking over the phone from Asheville, N.C., The Sword’s co-guitarist Kyle Shutt talked about the highs and the low point of 2010.

“It was incredibly disappointing,” Shutt said of drummer Trivett Wingo’s decision to leave the band. “I wish it would’ve happened differently. But you have to accept reality and move forward. Now we’re back out here trying to make it up to our fans.”

Now, with Kevin Fender sitting in on drums, The Sword kicked off a U.S. tour Nov. 27, in Baton Rouge, La., and is joined by Morgantown’s Karma To Burn and Columbus, Ohio’s Mount Carmel.

They come to The V Club in Huntington on Thursday, Dec. 9.

“It’s been a blast so far, I can tell you that much,” Shutt said of the first few days of the tour. “It’s been good having some fresh energy.”

“Fresh energy” is a good way to describe what The Sword, together since 2003 and evoking Black Sabbath and Slayer, has brought to metal with its retro-type sound.

“I don’t know for sure,” Shutt said when asked what makes the band’s sound and new record so appealing to metal purists. “We just grew up a little bit, you know? We just wanted to make something that had more of a positive vibe to it; a little less aggressive, a little more tasty. We just try to write the best songs we can and go up there and be ourselves. We’re just happy that a few hundred people show up to our shows.”

Shutt recalled The Sword’s beginning around 2003, forming after playing a Halloween show as a Misfits cover band.

“J.D. and I were in different bands, playing around town, kind of in the same musical circles,” he said. “I played guitar, J.D. sang, our friend Ben played bass, and our other friend Ben played drums.

“After that show, J.D. handed me a CD that said “The Sword” on it, and it was a bunch of songs with a drum machine, just a demo, you know? He was like, ‘Hey, check this out, it’s my new thing I’m trying to do, and if you want to play guitar, let’s do it.’ I listened to it, and I was way into it.

“It was like five songs that made it onto “Age of Winters,” and a few others. Then, Trivett moved to town and he became our drummer. And we did one show with Ben, the original bassist, and that didn’t work out. Then, we were just a three-piece; J.D. sang and played bass, I played guitar and Trivett played drums. And at that show J.D. asked if anybody in the crowd wanted to play bass, come talk to us, and Bryan was there and he asked to join the band,” Shutt said, laughing again recalling that night.

Shutt described the sci-fi theme of “Warp Riders,” based on a story written by Cronise called “The Night The Sky Cried Tears of Fire,” also the name of the final song on the record.

“It’s more like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. A lot of concept records actually have a discernable story that you can follow through the lyrics. This album is more like the theme songs for the story, you know? It really doesn’t have much of a narrative if you just read the lyrics. We were thinking about putting out like some sort of a comic book or like a graphic novel to piece together the whole story, but that was going to be way too expensive,” he said laughing once more.

To help expand the narrative of what the record is about (an archer, Ereth, whose planet, Acheron, has suffered an apocalyptic tidal lock and must restore balance with the help of a mysterious orb and a being called The Chronomancer), The Sword is releasing a trilogy of videos. The band just put one out for “Lawless Lands,” and will release one for “Night City” later.

“The “Lawless Lands” video just came out,” Shutt said. “I think had it as their video of the week or whatever, so that’s cool. I love making videos, to tell you the truth. I wish that there was still an MTV to show them.”

Shutt said while 2010 has been a great year for The Sword, he’s looking forward to even bigger things in 2011, one highlight being getting to play with metal gods Slayer.

“I hope it’s only the beginning, seriously,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul. I’ll go anywhere, play anywhere, fly anywhere. This is what we were born to do.”

photo: Joseph F. Carney III/EarthMusic Photography

Michael Withrow revives The Concept

The revamped Concept is (from left) bassist Cody Gurski, guitarist Brandon Cox, singer and guitarist Michael Withrow and drummer Neil Edwards. The band plays at the Empty Glass tonight.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like many young adults in West Virginia, Michael Withrow decided to leave home in search of better job prospects. For the 24-year-old, though, his employment opportunities were wedded to his musical career.

The singer-guitarist left the Mountain State for Florida in February to join up with his friends in the Orlando (via Charleston) ska band 69 Fingers. His Charleston-based pop punk band, The Concept, had played its final show the month before at The Empty Glass.

Fast forward 10 months. Withrow has come full circle, and the new incarnation of The Concept plays The Empty Glass tonight.

Withrow wasn’t the only Concept member to head to the Sunshine State. His cousin and the group’s drummer, Ross Anderson, also went there to play trumpet in 69 Fingers.

“They were in a rebuilding phase and asked Ross and I to join, so I made the move down there,” Withrow said over the phone.

But after a few fun months in Florida, he came home.

“Everything went fine. I just wasn't satisfied with the job situation in Florida. It had nothing to do with music. The work down there is scarce. I wasn't able to make enough money to live down there, so I came back up.”

At home, Withrow entered his own rebuilding phase, re-forming The Concept in August with an all-new lineup. He recruited longtime friend and Dinosaur Burps DJ Neil Edwards as drummer and added Brandon Cox on guitar and Cody Gurski on bass.

“He [Edwards] and I had talked about it before,” Withrow said. “I actually texted him driving on my way back up from Florida and got to work setting it back up.”

He says that there weren’t any bad blood or chemistry problems with the original lineup; they had just run their course.

“We were practicing and working on new stuff. It was Ross, [bassist] Dave [Cantrell], [guitarist] Bryan [Flowers] and myself. At the time, I was wanting to tour and do more things with the band, and work schedules and conflicts like that for the other guys came up, so they couldn’t do it. We never actually split up; we just kind of stopped playing.”

According to Withrow, the decision to keep the original band name, despite him being the only original member left, was an easy one.

“I wrote all the songs, so it actually never crossed my mind that it would be anything but The Concept,” he said. “The songs I’d written had that name behind it. It was already established.”

It was his experience in 69 Fingers and friendship with the guys in bands like it, The Composure and Punchline that has given Withrow a renewed focus and appreciation of being the creative force in The Concept.

“There was a time when I wasn't focused on The Concept. But I wasn’t ever going to stop writing my own music. When I was in Florida, I was just concentrating on working with 69 Fingers, but the more I worked down there, the more I worked on my own songs and the more I got excited about reforming The Concept.”

While the new Concept is reworking some old songs, they also have new songs to play. And Withrow is very excited about those, as well as the direction the band is going in.

“We’ve been concentrating on playing four older songs in a new way that, I think, sounds better,” he said. “The new material has a bit more of an edge as far as guitars and drum technicality; Neil is an amazing drummer. The newer songs are way tighter, have more ‘oomph’ and better melodies and song structure.”

The new Concept has been getting its collective feet wet playing shows locally, but Withrow is aware that the band will have to leave the state to make a name for itself.

“We’re going to be playing a lot coming up. Maybe we’ll tour a lot in the spring and summer. We’re not going to concentrate on playing Charleston and Huntington as much as playing out every two weeks, doing weekend mini-tours out of town to kind of build up the reputation.”

In the meantime, the band is building its name here, gathering fans of the old Concept and attracting new ones, too.

“I think the crowds have liked it. They have kind of a refreshed look,” Withrow said. “And the more we’re playing out with new material, I hope there will be an even bigger response.”

photo: Bill Hairston


Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights to perform at the V Club

Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights will perform at 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, at the V Club in Huntington

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights have had a pretty good year.

Talking over the phone from Roanoke, Va., waiting to play that night's show then drive all night to New York City, Tyler spoke thoughtfully and honestly about his band. The 24-year old front man has had some practice of late talking to press.

After signing to Atlantic Records and releasing their major label debut “Pardon Me” in April, Tyler and his Northern Lights have seen their star rise quite rapidly.

They come to Huntington today, Nov. 12, for a 10 p.m. show at the V Club.

This year the Dallas-based band has played Bonnaroo and Jimmy Kimmel and garnered national press attention, being interviewed most recently by Spin Magazine.

Tyler said the band, together in its current form for just three years, is taking the success and attention in stride.

“I try not to put too much stock into the critics; they can be hard on you and can affect how you feel about your music,” Tyler said. “But, I do appreciate it when people give us positive reviews and take the time to listen to our music. We’ve definitely had a really good response from the fans and that’s what counts to us.”

Being on F-Stop Music, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records has been nothing but great for the band, Tyler said; the perfect mix of managing versus meddling.

“They’ve been extremely supportive in everything we’ve done,” he said. “They let us do what we do.

“Now, I can say that there are other artists out there who are being puppeted by the label because the artist doesn’t take it upon themselves to make the decisions. If they don’t do it, or they’re too slow, the label may advise them. There are some instances where the label picks the producer, and the songs for the record are picked by the label. It’s not the label’s fault. It’s just the way I see it. Some people want to blame the label but it’s the artist’s career and their decision. Nobody forces you to do something.”

Touring with bands ranging from ZZ Top and AC/DC to Lynyrd Skynyrd, evoking The Black Crowes, playing big festivals and now with major label support, Tyler and his Lights have definitely broken through this year.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth, a lot of national exposure,” Tyler said. “We started out in Texas, and it was a lot of work. Now, we’re seeing a lot of growth beyond our region, which is nice.”

About half way through their 36-show, 50-day headlining tour, Tyler explained the genesis and ultimate dissolution of the nascent Northern Lights during his time as a student at the University of North Texas.

“We started out in high school, really, then played in college,” he said. “We were all church kids, we were just raised that way. So, we were pretty innocent as far as life experiences. I mean, we had all had romances, but we hadn’t any hard times. We were all just middle class suburban kids who were taken care of well by our parents, so it wasn’t like we had any blues to sing about.

“We were just growing up, making music from the time we were about 18 through 21,” he added. “We loved music and that was the passion we all had, to make good music. But as far as songwriting and relating to other people, I don’t think we did that because we didn’t have a clue. That’s the difference between the old project and now.”

Like so many 21-year olds, Tyler and crew entered their college-age drinking phase, and their music suffered.

“We hit 21, and started drinking and partying, and that kind of changed things,” he said.

“We quit making music and playing together as the band we were. We focused on school, thinking we’d get married and do what our parents want us to do.”

That didn’t last long.

“After a few months of that, I didn’t feel right, so I started writing songs again and playing out,” Tyler said. “Everywhere, just playing acoustic, you know? And people wanted to start hearing the songs. So I made a demo, and people started coming to shows. And the ball started to roll and we started to make some progress.”

Tyler and the Northern Lights, like so many other bands, have a pervasive online presence with social networking sites and their own website. But Tyler, unlike many other 24-year olds, doesn’t post everything he does on Twitter.

“It’s taken some getting used to, for sure,” he said. “I don’t want to be too accessible all the time. That’s something that’s changed within the last few decades. Back in the day you didn’t know what your favorite band even looked like. Now, you’re everywhere. But you can make it work with a balance. The fans appreciate it so I’ll continue to do it personally.”

Tyler said just making music people dig, major label support and critical acclaim aside, is all that matters to the band.

“It’s been a great year, man,” he said. “The main thing I can say is I feel blessed to get to play music as my job. We’re happy to make music that people like. We’re making music for those people. Having the major label support and having people perk up and pay attention is all you can ever ask for.”

photo: Darren Ankenman


Whiskey Daredevils headline a Halloween Hootenanny

Fresh off the heels of a European tour, the Whiskey Daredevils are headed to Charleston to headline Halloween Hootenanny at The Empty Glass Saturday.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Whiskey Daredevils singer Greg Miller said his band’s recent two-week European tour was a piece of cake. It was getting settled back in at home that was hard.

“The tough thing coming home is I wake up in the middle of the night for the first 10 days and wonder where I am,” he said. “I do a mental inventory and think, ‘OK, what hotel is this? Where is the bathroom? Wait, I think this is my house. That means I am in Cleveland. That’s right, I’m back in Cleveland.’”

Miller, whose cowpunk quartet headlines the Empty Glass Halloween Hootenanny Saturday, says the band was quite warmly welcomed across the pond.

“We seem to be really connecting with a group of great fans over there, and they are definitely enthusiastic about what we’re doing,” he said. “After the shows, we would usually go back to the merch table and talk to people that were interested in having stuff signed.”

The band toured Amsterdam, Belgium and Germany.

“To say we are ‘big’ in Europe is a stretch, but I can definitely say we’ve been growing a very loyal fan base,” Miller said. “We know when we play a show, there will be people in the club ready to have a good time.

“There is a good core group of people that hunger for real American rock ‘n roll, and that is what we provide. To see the smiles on their faces when we first kick in is a pretty good feeling.”

The fans aren’t the only ones in Europe who love the Daredevils and American rock. Miller says it’s a different culture there as far as support.

“Europe supports the arts, if you consider us ‘the arts,’ much more than the States. If we play a club in the United States for the first time, it’s not unusual to be greeted by surly employees, have a sound guy snarl at you through sound check and then have some [expletive] room to store your gear while you wander around looking for something to eat.

“When we go to Europe, we roll into the club for sound check and have a small plate of snacks and drinks to greet us. We’ll confer with the soundman to make sure everyone is comfortable with the stage sound. Then we’ll eat a meal cooked by the club or go to a local restaurant where the promoter will sit down and eat with us.

“After the show, we’ll go to the accommodations provided us by the club instead of driving around looking for a Red Roof Inn where we think our van might not get broken into. It’s a level of professionalism that would be great to see here frankly.”

On the tour was the band’s new guitarist, Gary Siperko, who joined last year. He’s also been there for the band’s two 2010 releases: “Introducing The Whiskey Daredevils,” their fifth album, and “The Golden Age of Country Punk,” which finds them getting back to their roots.

“Gary has been coming up with some really good stuff in that vein as he has embraced Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and other old country pickers,” Miller said. “With us, you know that we’ll do something that is not too far removed from American roots, but we’ll try to do it in our own way.

“I felt really interested in what unique things a timeless ‘American’ song had that other music didn’t. I wouldn’t say we wrote any timeless songs per se, but I think we captured a real feel on that record.”

Playing shows, whether in Northern Europe or Northern Ohio, and making music is what the Daredevils are all about for Miller

“I have a need to create songs and do these stupid little projects. It’s what keeps me sane,” he said. “Plus the rush of doing a really great live show is way better than spending your time in a softball league or entering a darts tournament on a weekend.”

photo: Yves Maquinay


Side project sends Demon Beat, Fox Hunt members to Prison

Prison Book Club is a side project for most of its members. John Miller (left) is in The Fox Hunt, and Tucker Riggleman and Adam Meisterhans (middle) are in The Demon Beat. Jeff Birdsall is The Resonators’ ex-drummer.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- John Miller and Tucker Riggleman’s friendship grew out of their mutual love of the Memphis-based alt-country band Lucero.

“I met John in 2005 at a Lucero show in D.C. through mutual friends,” Riggleman recalled. “We’ve kind of been stuck with each other ever since.”

The two currently share singing and songwriting duties in the Shepherdstown-based alt-country band Prison Book Club. They are joined on guitar by Demon Beat front man Adam Meisterhans and ex-Resonators drummer Jeff Birdsall. Riggleman also is in The Demon Beat, and Miller’s other group is The Fox Hunt.

Prison Book Club, which recently finished tracking the follow-up to its debut CD, “Required Reading,” plays The Empty Glass on Friday.

For Riggleman, who plays bass in The Demon Beat, finding the courage to write and sing his own songs grew partly out of his friendship with Miller.

“I was a pretty bad college student, so I’d spend a lot of nights staying up late, drinking and playing music with John. It really helped me come out of my shell as a writer, singer and performer,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get drunk and sing to your friends than to try it out on strangers first.”

Prison Book Club started out as friends hanging out, jamming and getting ready to play a friend’s wedding. The original lineup was a trio consisting of Miller, Riggleman and Demon Beat drummer Jordan Hudkins.

“Tucker and I’d talked about playing in a band together to some extent for several years before,” Miller said, “but those were mostly during drunken nights of playing music together in his basement or apartments. It took a while to actually say, ‘Hell with it, let’s start a band.’”

Meisterhans showed up before the wedding gig and fit right in.

“I hinted that I might want to come downstairs and play some licks while they practiced for the wedding,” he said. “That turned into ‘Sure, I’m not doing anything that weekend. I’d love to play a wedding.’”

“The band didn’t really get started until Adam came in,” Miller said. “He made it all gel together.”

Prison Book Club is a side project for most of its members. It’s a different experience, especially for Riggleman and Meisterhans, whose roles are essentially reversed from their main group. In the Demon Beat, Meisterhans is the singer and songwriter; in PBC, it’s Riggleman (along with Miller).

“When I’m playing my songs, it’s very different,” Riggleman said. “Those are things that I wrote because I needed to get them off of my chest, so of course it’s more personal to me.”

“I really love playing with what’s already going on,” Meisterhans said. “Being in Prison Book Club allows me to solely act as a player and give a more or less outside perspective on arrangement and dynamics.”

The band has a new record due out in the spring. Meisterhans co
-engineered it with The Fox Hunt’s Ben Townsend.

“This record will, hopefully, support the notion that we aren’t your mother’s alt-country rockers,” Meisterhans said. “The songs are better. The parts are better. You can also tell that we’re serious on this one because I’m using a delay pedal.”

Although Prison Book Club is a side project and its members also must dedicate time to their other groups, Riggleman said he’s proud of what the band has accomplished so far. “I think we make the best of what time we do have together.”
Meisterhans said they’re doing it for the right reason: fun.

“I can’t imagine having more fun,” he said. “I could imagine more money, but not more fun.”

photo: Ashley Hoffman


Todd Burge brings his Odd Urges to town Friday

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are few more accomplished, respected musicians in West Virginia than Todd Burge, who Larry Groce dubbed the “dean of West Virginia singer-songwriters.” The 46-year-old “Mountain Stage” staple and West Virginia Music Hall of Fame board member, is much loved for his irreverent, witty -- and sometimes dark -- version of Americana and folk.

Burge was first known for his role in Morgantown rock band 63 Eyes and more recently for his solo work that’s taken him to CBGB’s and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Last year, he formed a new folk-flavored alt-country band, the Odd Urges.

The band -- Burge, Billy Matheny, Rodney Crihfield and Joseph Hale -- released the 10-song CD “Distraction Packed” in March. They play The Boulevard Tavern with Jeff Ellis Friday.

Burge, a Vienna, W.Va. native, has a story not unlike many other West Virginia residents; he and his wife moved away for a while, living in Austin and Pittsburgh, before coming back home to settle down.

On the phone, Burge is honest, thoughtful, open and funny, just like he is on his songs. For someone so highly praised, he dispenses a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, trying to avoid referring to himself as an old hippie, taking praise in stride and maintaining that he works hard at his craft.

“Working my a-- off until I hit a zone,” is how he summarizes his songwriting process. And while it is work, Burge says it's not something he over thinks.

“I think of songwriting as just an improvised, off the top of your head kind of thing,” he said. “I try not to edit myself. I try to write about anything and everything and just be free with what comes out.”

And what comes out, generally, is a lot.

“When I sit down, I think, ‘I’m just going to write something.’ For me, bulk is the answer. If I write enough bad songs, I’m eventually going to write a good one.”

Being in a band has allowed Burge the freedom to write lyrics from a darker character perspective, he says.

“In 63 Eyes, I wrote from this other person’s point of view, and it allowed me to be wicked and not me. [On ‘Distraction Packed’] I had this character in mind, and I was taking him through these phases; he lost his family because he was wrapped up in songwriting. Then he starts dating online, and that doesn’t work out, so he turns to drinking and drugs, then he has an intervention.”

Burge says the change from a solo career is welcome. “It’s enabled me to do songs that wouldn’t work solo. We’re creating new sounds.”

In addition to making his own music, Burge showcases the talents of others with his Songwriter Night series that records live concerts, primarily from regional acts, for podcasts.

It was at a Songwriter Night in Morgantown where Burge first met a young Billy Matheny. “He was like 16 years old at the time, I think,” Burge recalled. “I thought, ‘This guy’s a force to be reckoned with; I need to play with him.’

“I’ve played with some real professionals, and there’s nobody more professional than Billy. He can take my songs and arrange them in ways that are just great. He’s just brilliant in every way.”

Burge gets his own share of high praise, and while he’s appreciative, he doesn’t let it go to his head. His grounded approach to writing, he says, is what keeps things fresh.

“I’m happy that people dig what I do. I’m humbled by it, and blown away by stuff that people like Larry Groce have said.

“I’m never really comfortable, though, and that keeps me motivated. I’m always working hard to do something different, something that is more interesting to myself.”

Known for his “offbeat” lyrics, Burge said his most welcome praise recently came from his wife, Lisa.

“I wrote a new song the other day called,” he paused, clearing his throat, “‘Looking For My Nuts.’ I wrote it after watching a squirrel in my backyard.

“My wife asked, ‘Would you play that in front of your kids?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think I would.’ It suggests something else, maybe, but it’s about a squirrel.

“And then my wife listened to it again, and she said, ‘You know what? Nobody is singing this song, anywhere. There’s nobody that's ever written a song like this. And that’s why it’s a good song, and why you should do it.’

“That pleased me, because if I can keep doing that, doing different things, for me and for others, I’m content with that. Doing that is a constant struggle that I enjoy.”

photo: Andi Roberts


Bad Employees werk well together

The Huntington-based electronic rock duo Bad Employees (Andy Rivas and John McComas) have made a name for themselves since starting out in 2005

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Talking to Huntington’s Bad Employees over a video chat, it was easy to pick up on the duo’s chemistry, and, the chip on their shoulder they feel as a local electronic rock duo.

Together since 2005, Andy Rivas and John McComas, friends since their days as classmates at Huntington St. Joe, have been working hard making a name for themselves at Huntington bars like Shamrock’s Irish Pub and The V Club.

Bad Employees play Shamrock’s Saturday, September 25 with Morgantown indie rockers FOX Japan.

Rivas, the techno-influenced studio technician, and McComas, the guitarist and singer, have formed, as Rivas called it, “a Kraftwerk-rock and roll mesh,” and have been winning fans the hard way.

With their format; a synth dude, a rocker guy, and a video projector, it wasn’t easy winning fans over originally, McComas said.

“People, especially in less urban areas, don’t want to like you off the bat because they don’t see a drum set,” he said. “It’s been like that since electronic music started. Depeche Mode were booed a lot in England, early on. Human League had their equipment spit on.”

“Yeah they’d throw fruit or vegetables at their stuff so they had to put glass over it,” Rivas added.

“We never had anything like that happen,” McComas said. “But people sometimes would walk out, or shake their heads.”

Rivas said verbal abuse wasn’t rare in those early days. “Some people would just straight up talk s--- to us while we were setting up!”

A more recent, contemporary comparison to Bad Employees might be the recent collaboration between techno stars The Chemical Brothers and psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips.

Rivas described his feelings seeing those two acts together.

“It was cool because I was like ‘Yeah, we’re on the right track,’ but it sucks because people don’t pay much attention to the little guy.”

“The little guy,” in this case being Bad Employees, can trace their formation to a trip the pair took to see Chemical Brothers in St. Louis in 1999.

“We were both blown away,” Rivas said of the experience. “I was mystified and curious as to what these guys were doing. I’d never seen anything like it. Then when I came back, I had saved up some money and bought an Akai MPC sampler/sequencer/drum machine.”

Between 1999 and 2005, Rivas honed his skills, and McComas played drums. While they hung out and jammed together, it just wasn’t the right time to form a band.

Since 2005, they’ve established themselves in Huntington. Branching out for shows in other parts of the state, though, hasn’t been easy.

“We get put to the side quite a bit, compared to some of the more straight ahead rock acts,” Rivas said, speaking carefully and deliberately. “And I’m still amazed how difficult it is for us to get shows booked in Charleston, Morgantown, or Shepherdstown. We’ve played with a lot of these bands, they know who we are.”

“The club owners will say, ‘We don’t want you because you don’t sound like the other bands.’ Or the promoter will say we’re too different,” McComas said.

“We’ve basically stopped trying,” Rivas said with obvious frustration. “It was easier for me to book a show in New York City than it has been to book one outside of Huntington here in West Virginia.”

Rivas said a goal of Bad Employees is to simply pack up and take their act to New York City.

But in the meantime, Rivas and McComas have been working on songs for a follow-up to their debut CD, “Looking For Werk,” drawing inspiration from their recent DJ sets.

“We realized we loved it when people would start dancing,” McComas said. “We’d get out in front of our equipment and start dancing with them. Now we’re getting even more into dance oriented music. Still putting our own spin on it, and actually more pop than we were before.”

“And, we’re not really DJs,” Rivas said. “Most people in electronic music start out as DJs and then move into producing. For us, it’s the opposite. It’s way more exciting when it’s something you made, as opposed to playing someone else’s record. It’s like, ‘Yeah, we made this.’”

So not only have they made good music together, they’ve made a name for themselves since those initial shows, overcoming the hecklers, McComas said.

“We were so nervous, and we overcame, nothing broke down. We didn’t mess up, and we celebrated. It was a great feeling because we realized we could pull this off.”

Reiterating their dedication and seriousness about their music (“a fun way of being serious,” McComas said) and their unique combination of techno and rock, McComas said it’s special.

“I feel like any musical idea or creative spark can be realized,” he said. “I can wake up with a melody in my head, and within a week we can make it happen with our combination of instruments.”

“And usually,” Rivas jumped in, “take it a lot further than what we’d initially imagined.”

photos: Taylor Kuykendall


Byzantine: Back From Oblivion

Chris Ojeda, pictured during a performance at the Blue Parrot in Charleston, and his band Byzantine will perform today, Sept. 18, on the Loud and Local Stage at X-Fest, at Harris Riverfront Park.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Chris Ojeda is at a different stage in his life now. Talking over the phone, the singer and guitarist for Byzantine explained where he is now, compared to a few years ago.

Byzantine, the Charleston-based metal band, achieved wide critical acclaim for its progressive, melodic version of thrash, signed to a record label, toured all over the United States and Europe with big name metal bands, then, promptly dissolved after releasing its third record, “Oblivion Beckons” in January 2008.

In the years since, Ojeda became a proud parent of a little girl and started his own home improvement business.

Now, Byzantine itself is in a different stage, with a new lineup and a refocused energy as an unsigned, local band. The group finds itself headlining the “Loud and Local” second stage at X-Fest today, Sept. 18, at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington.

After Byzantine’s reunion tour of West Virginia in March, the band members promptly found themselves at a crossroads.

“It was either break up or keep going,” Ojeda said.

They kept going.

With lead guitarist Tony Rohrbough living in Charlotte, N.C., bassist Skip Cromer in Pennsylvania, and the band having learned the hard way the economics of touring and the red tape that comes with being on a record label, Byzantine and Rohrbough decided to go their separate ways.

“It was very businesslike, and kind of cold,” Ojeda said of the e-mail exchange between Rohrbough and the band. “We rarely talked because he lives in Charlotte. We had his blessing, though, so we’re going to continue with it. We’ve already caught hell about it on MySpace; some kids were tearing us apart about it. But what they don’t realize is, we’re not signed, we’re just a local band now. If we want to keep changing parts out to have a band, we’re going to.”

Enter Split Nixon guitarist Brian Henderson.

Ojeda explained how Byzantine drummer Matt Wolfe helped bring the lead guitarist for the Ashland, Ky.-based band into the fold.

“Matt told me a couple of months ago when we knew we were looking for a new lead guitar player, he said, ‘Man, every time I get around Henderson, he’s playing [Byzantine songs] ‘Justicia,’ ‘Jeremiad,’ he’s playing ‘Hatfield,’ He knows all these songs by ear. And that was a really big step because we knew it was going to be tough for someone to learn Tony Rohrbough’s parts. But with Brian knowing a lot of the rhythms and being such a wonderful guy, he was a great choice.

“Right off the bat he knew three songs from start to finish, without even practicing. It was like ‘One, two, three, four,’ right straight into it.”

Ojeda said that despite the differences in sounds and styles between Split Nixon and Byzantine, Henderson really is a perfect fit.

“We’ve always known he was a phenomenal guitar player,” he said. “A lot of people listen to Brian in Split Nixon and think ‘OK, he kills it, but can he play the fast heavy metal stuff in Byzantine?’ The answer is yes. He’s actually a tried and true metal head.”

But Ojeda had his own weight still to pull in Byzantine, enduring a “24-month heavy metal writer’s block.”

“After “Oblivion Beckons,” we kind of hung it up, and I focused on the family and the business. It just felt like I was writing crap. And I thought, ‘God, what’s wrong with me? Do I need to be signed to write heavy metal?’ Now we're writing again, but I don’t know what happened.”

While Ojeda admitted the possibility of a fourth Byzantine album exists, signing to another record label? Maybe, maybe not, he said.

“We’ve not even talked about the label thing together, but economically, it’s the best way to get your record out to people. We definitely want to do a new album on our terms. We want it to sound as good as the last couple of albums but we won’t have the same budget.

“So I don’t know if we'll sign a one-off deal with a label or just sell it out of our cars,” he said laughing.

Regardless of how or when Byzantine puts out new music, or what the critics say, Ojeda said he loves his band and its fans.

“Sometimes I take for granted that I’ve been in this band. I think, you know, everybody’s in a metal band that tours and has great fans, and then I think ‘No, they’re not,’” he said laughing.

“But I’m super thankful and blessed,” he added. “I can go to my day job and have nobody ever recognize me, then I can go to X-Fest and play in front of a couple thousand people.”

Unveiling the new Byzantine at X-Fest is something all the guys are looking forward to, Ojeda said.

“I’m super, super stoked,” he said. “I’m nervous. Actually all of us are nervous. A lot of time people expect the band headlining the second stage to blow everyone else away and sound just as good as bands on the main stage. I don’t know if we can pull that off, but we’re going to try.”

photo: Ian McNemar


Black Knots finding new life as a three-piece

Huntington’s Black Knots (L-R: Greg Gatlin, Jerry Lee Queen, Jason Church) return to action this Saturday night at Shamrock’s Irish Pub

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- Anyone who’s ever interviewed Black Knots singer and bassist Jerry Lee Queen knows that you’d better be recording it. Don’t even try to dictate his responses; even the most seasoned reporter would have difficulty keeping up.

Queen talks about his band in about the same fashion as they play: a mile a minute with, to borrow a phrase, undisputed attitude. Answers to individual questions turn into short stories about the Knots, and long-winded rants and/or diatribes about the state of rock and roll these days.

It’s Queen’s own integrity and love for rock ‘n’ roll that has kept the Huntington-based Knots together since 2001. The group will play at 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, at Shamrock’s Pub, 2050 3rd Ave., Huntington.

Despite a few lineup changes, Queen and guitarist Greg Gatlin have formed the nucleus of the Knots for the past six years, releasing “Hellbent To Kick It Out” in 2007 and “Guitarmageddon” last year.

Now, the band, influenced by the likes of Danko Jones, Zeke, and Turbonegro, has downsized into a three-piece.

But, the Knots are still sitting on their third record, “None More Fresh,” waiting on a good time to release that, and are working on a fourth full-length in their spare time.

Queen described the Knots redefining themselves as a three-piece.

“Greg and I, we made a decision after losing (Captain) D and then Bobby (Balboa). We’re changing the general idea of the Knots into a three-piece. So there’s no more worry or trust issues that reflect badly on me and Greg.

“We’ve always written songs planning on there being two guitars. Then, when you start breaking that down, there’s nothing more asinine than writing and recording something you can’t play live. It hurts to watch. Rock and roll live is what it’s supposed to be all about.

“Now, instead of writing songs assuming there’s going to be a rhythm guitarist, we just write knowing we don’t have to count on one being there. So there’s not a chance on things being hollow.”

The longtime Knots fans are still there, too, Queen said.

“As a three-piece, we’re getting a lot of love lately. People are like, ‘You’re still going?’ But it’s like that because we have such a solid base.”

Jason Church, the Knots’ new drummer, has been a breath of fresh air, Queen said.

“Our new drummer is killin’, he’s someone who really seems to want to put the work in.

“(Captain) D played with us for about six years, so someone new coming into a band with a catalog and on a label, it can be intimidating. But Church kills, he’s awesome.”

Queen said having their own label, Oil River, has always been an asset for the Knots, despite any lineup changes.

“The big thing with us, the thing that has kept us going is, we’re completely self-sufficient. We don’t have to pay to record, why? Because we own our own gear.”

And Queen said rehearsal space isn’t a problem, either.

“We practice at Knuckles Sandwich, downtown. Since I own the restaurant, after all the businesses let out, we just move some chairs, set up and jam. It’s great.”

And as for the Knots’ sound, what once was old is new again.

“The whole metal indie thing cracks me up. For the longest time we caught a lot of crap about having tappin’ and big leads and double harmonizing stuff. So now it’s like ‘Dio’s cool again? It was always cool to us, whatever.’”

The Knots are well into their fourth album, Queen said, having fun rocking out.

“Right now, we’re having a whole lot of fun, the new guy is super stoked. It’s just been fun like it hasn’t been for a long time.

“People have counted us out for so long, they’re like ‘Oh, the Knots will never die,’ but it’s what me and Greg love to do. At the end of the day, if you ain’t smilin’, you ain’t rockin’.

“We never tried to be something we’re not; we write party anthems and play songs about having a good time because that’s what we’re about, you know?”

And it’s his friendship and working relationship with Gatlin that has helped make the Knots what they are, Queen said.

“Greg is my brother. He means the world to me. We play, we work; we take it very, very seriously. Realistically, I’m in my favorite band. I put “Hellbent To Kick It Out” in the other day and was like, ‘God this album rocks.’

“This is my world. This is my band. I’m 29-years old. I’m at peace. Good rock and roll, it never gets old.”

photo: Most Exalted


Local “gutter-folk” quartet The Buttonflies founded on a fib

The Buttonflies got their start when Andrea Anderson lied to Dave Frazier (top) about her banjo skills during an open mic in Huntington. That was two years ago, and the band, now a four-piece, is going strong.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Buttonflies, a local folk group and thrice-monthly staple of The Empty Glass, got their start by way of a little deception.

It’s not rare for someone to lie about themselves to impress someone, and that’s exactly what Andrea Anderson did upon meeting Dave Frazier at The Java Joint's open mic night in Huntington a few years ago.

“I tried to impress him by saying I had a banjo - but I couldn’t play it at all,” Anderson said. “I started learning how to play banjo behind his back because I felt left out when he would play music.”

“She lied to me, and told me she could play the banjo,” Frazier said. “We became really good friends, and the next thing I know, she’s amazing at the banjo.”

Now, The Buttonflies, together for just over two years, are a four-piece with their own version of irreverent “gutter folk.” They’ve become a staple of Charleston and Huntington’s music scenes, including hosting The Empty Glass acoustic open mic nights the first three Mondays of each month.

This week, they have another gig at the Glass, where Anderson helps run sound part-time, today and play at Shamrock’s Irish Pub in Huntington Friday.

“The Glass is like our home,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of support there, and we feel very comfortable on that stage.”

It was at the Glass where Anderson and Frazier, as a duo, cut their musical teeth after The Buttonflies went through some initial lineup changes.

“We played as a duo for a while, and started hosting open mic at The Empty Glass, which in some ways solidified our vibe as songwriters,” Anderson said. “I got over my stage fright, and we learned how to behave like professionals, mostly.”

The Buttonflies also include Max Venoy on trumpet and Mike Knight on bass. They were originally a six-piece band. Downsizing to four forced Anderson and Knight to split drum parts. Now she plays kick snare and he kicks on suitcases in lieu of a bass drum.

“Mike and I fell pretty naturally into the alternating foot drum thing,” Anderson said, “but it’s not always easy to wrap our heads around it. If you stop to think about the fact that you’re playing two instruments at the same time and singing, you might miss a beat.”

After settling on their lineup, The Buttonflies continued playing, either at area bars or some of their favorite coffeehouses.

“We try not to swear as much at coffeehouses,” Anderson admitted. “We actually stopped writing swear words into songs because of a coffeehouse gig.”

Frazier says sometimes stuff happens, though.

“Sometimes, I can have a really foul mouth. If I’ve been drinking, there’s no doubt that I am going to drop an f-bomb or tell a dirty joke or heckle the crowd,” he said. “I don’t really do that in coffee shops, just out of respect, but in a bar, I know everyone there is old enough to handle it, so I let it all fly out.”

“The bar crowds seem to like being sworn at,” Anderson added.

Frazier says he's glad Anderson lied to him about her banjo skills a few years back because, if not for her initial ruse, The Buttonflies wouldn’t exist.

“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I don’t care what anyone thinks because this band is for us. We all need this in our lives.

“If people like it, that’s spectacular. If not, I’m sorry but we’re still going to be doing it until we aren’t happy doing it anymore.”

photo: Chris Lusher


They Will Surface: Hyatari returns to The V Club 8.31

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

There aren’t many bands around that sound like Hyatari. The Huntington-based “drone” four-piece, together for about six years, returns to Huntington Tuesday night for a rare show at The V Club.

But what makes Hyatari’s sound so unique? On its two releases, 2005’s “The Light Carriers” and last year’s “They Will Surface,” Hyatari plays what could be called a down-tempo version of heavy, plodding, yet melodic, atmospheric metal, without any vocals.

Made up of Chum members, bassist Chris Tackett and guitarist Mac Walker, with DJ Brett Fuller (aka Charlie Brown Superstar) and recently added drummer Jude Blevins, getting the guys together is an event in itself. About a year ago, Tackett moved to Lexington for work, Blevins lives in Pineville, West Virginia and Walker and Fuller live in Huntington.

“I don’t think we get together nearly enough,” Tackett said. “It’s not cheap to run back and forth, but we make it work. Rehearsing is tough because we have to re-learn the songs, because they’re so long. Ultimately, I’d like to spend that time writing new material, but we have a good time when we do get together.”

Tackett said that Hyatari has some new material under its belt, and is shooting to release a new CD in 2012. It’s a long, slow process, kind of like the band’s sound.

Hyatari, influenced by bands like Sleep and Neurosis, gained some notoriety and critical acclaim in the drone genre right from the start.

“We kind of went out on a limb with the first record; we knew we were pushing the envelope,” Tackett said. “Usually those efforts go unnoticed. So any recognition we’ve received has been an unexpected surprise. The doom/drone genre has really sort of caught on over the last few years, but back then nobody was really doing it. If they were, I didn’t know about it.

“The drone aspect of Hyatari is a direct result of three guys in a room with loud amps and no drums; that’s how we came up with a lot of that early material.”

Tackett said the sound is something more nebulous than set in stone.

“On “They Will Surface” we never did what we intended to do, which was a whole album with no drums and more of the quiet, trance stuff. We decided we couldn’t make a heavier record than “The Light Carriers” so we tried to shake it up a little. Some of that material made it on the record, but what we ended up with sounded more post-rock than I wanted it to. I think on the new record we’re going back to the dark, brutal heaviness.”

Walker, Tackett’s longtime friend and band mate, described the songwriting process for Hyatari.

“Actually, most of the material originates with Chris,” he admitted. “My contribution really is to bring to life the musings of a frustrated guitarist disguised as the bass player.

“Writing instrumental music is pretty challenging in regards to generating interest with the listener. You don’t have anything out front to draw them in. A lack of vocals forces the songwriter to take an approach that they normally wouldn’t with a typical song structure. Hopefully the end result is interesting, and it’s able to stand on its own.”

Fuller, the DJ and “noise” guy in Hyatari, provides the ambience and atmospherics that help make Hyatari’s sound unique.

“We wanted Brett involved because we all think alike, we’re good friends, and he brings different ideas to the table,” Tackett said. “He has the freedom to wing it and call up any kind of sounds he wants in the moment.”

For a few years, Hyatari was known to employ a drum machine. About two years ago, they welcomed Blevins into the fold.

“I think we were all a bit apprehensive to bring in a fourth element,” Fuller said. “Chris, Mac and I have known, lived and worked together, been through a tour together; we know each other pretty well by now. I think there was a question whether anyone could come in and be a fit both personally and professionally. It took about five minutes to realize there wasn’t going to a problem with Jude. Not only did he get along with the rest of us famously, he’s one the best drummers I’ve ever heard.”

“It took us about two seconds to say ‘This is our guy,’” Tackett added.

Despite the distance separating the band members, and their involvement in other musical projects, they all said they consider Hyatari a top priority, and since they’re all friends, fun.

“I just recently realized that this process began in 1987 when Chris and I first started hashing out bar chords on amplified metal strings in my parent’s attic,” Walker said. “For me, it’s as fun now as it’s ever been.”

“Yeah, I never really think about it, but we’ve been making music for like twenty years,” Tackett said. “We wanted to do something different when we started, and that’s what we did.”


Black Seas: Dana White & Friends Can’t Stop Now

Black Seas (L-R: Dana White, Bobby Midkiff, Dwayne Hinkle, Cody Gore) looks to follow up on the success of Holden Caulfield, and represent Huntington

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

“Oh, hey I just walked in the garage and realized my PA was still on from last night’s practice,” Dana White noted, talking on the cell phone about his new band, Black Seas.

White answered questions on his day off. But it’s been a rare day off over the past few months for White, the ex-Holden Caulfield and current Black Seas singer, as he is now the proud parent of a baby boy.

So, White doesn’t have all the time in the world to dedicate to rehearsing, touring and shows. But White says his wife, Brooke, who played bass in the original incarnation of Black Seas, Heart Holds True, is super cool when it comes to him being in a band these days.

“Brooke has always been real supportive of me. She’s wanted to see every band I’ve ever been in succeed. But it does change things a little,” he said of parenthood. “I have to think about ‘How are we going to do this when we go out of town? ‘Is Brooke going to be okay with watching Christian?’

“We actually had a show the day after Christian was born,” White said. “Normally I wouldn’t have agreed to that; the show was supposed to happen before, but he came early.

“It was a house show and it was like five minutes from the hospital, and I kept telling everyone, ‘Call me when the band before us starts playing,’ and lucky enough for me Brooke and the baby were asleep, so my sister and me get in the car and rush to the show.”

It’s just one example of how White has to manage his time and his daily life now as a parent.

Few, if any, West Virginia bands over the past decade have been able to develop and sustain the loyal fan base the way Huntington’s Holden Caulfield did, both in-state and all over the country. After eight years, though, the members of Holden Caulfield went their separate ways.

But White and his good friend Bobby Midkiff, who played guitar in Holden Caulfield, weren’t ready to stop. Now, White leads Black Seas with Midkiff and ex-Most Ill members, bassist Cody Gore and drummer Dwayne Hinkle.

Black Seas plays Shamrock’s Irish Pub in Huntington this Saturday, August 14.

White said Black Seas, together in its current formation for a few months and influenced heavily by Mastodon, is working hard to get its name out, be it at a bar, or some dude’s house.

The band has begun working on a concept record titled “Destined to Never Feel at Home” about White’s own hometown of Huntington.

Lyrically, from Holden Caulfield to Black Seas, White said writing about his life and hometown is what it’s all about, the good and bad.

“This EP is about living around this area all my life. And it’s time to do a little more, and see a little more, but this is still home. It’s about watching the decline of our town. On the surface, if you drove through here ten years ago, and you drive through here now, it looks like things are getting better.

“But then, you start comparing the crime rate between just five years ago and now, and it’s dramatically worse. And it’s because of the influx of drug dealers from certain cities, mostly Detroit, it’s no secret, everyone in this town knows it.

“It just kind of like goes into; there’s this problem, we need to fix it, and we have to fight for our home. But it comes back to it’s mostly our fault because we didn’t do anything about it before. ‘Oh my gosh!’ And it kind of just ends there.”

You can hear one example of how important Huntington is to White and Black Seas on their song “Long Live The Jewel City,” on the Black Seas MySpace page.

Black Seas enlisted engineer and co-producer Ethan Howard from Black Bird Studios in Nashville, who has worked with Kings Of Leon and Rush, to work on the new album.

White said he knows that Black Seas is not Holden Caulfield, but regardless, he’s still awed that the fans are still there.

“We’re doing it for the love of the music and making friends. I don’t necessarily want to be as big as Coldplay, but if I could play music for a living, my gosh, I’d love that.”

And, ever the fortune cookie aficionado, White described what one made for Black Seas might say.

“Things might get horrible, but you can’t stop trying.”

photo: Chris Moore/Obsolete Images


Aaron Fisher sails his Ghost Fleet to the Blue Parrot Friday

Local alt-country/rock group Ghost Fleet is (from top) Jason Bays, Aaron Fisher, Derek Thompson and Nathan Shrewsbury. The band lists Tom Petty and Drive-By Truckers as big influences.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After so many years sitting behind the drums and filling in on guitar, Aaron Fisher is finally the captain of his own ship -- or at least his own band, Ghost Fleet. He’s drummed for years and played in bands like Dog Soldier and with Mark Bates and the Vacancies, but now he’s out front, singing and playing guitar in the recently formed alt-country/rock band.

Fisher, an accomplished studio engineer and producer at his 101 Productions in Sissonville, now gets the chance to write and arrange his own songs.

“Right around the start of the new year is when I got sick and tired of trying to track down a singer that was cool and would come to practice and wasn't a diva and could sing songs that I wanted to be a part of.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’ve always wanted to sing in a band, and I’ve been playing a lot of guitar, so I’m just going to go ahead and step out and do it -- and if it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t’, but so far it’s worked. I’m really happy about it.”

Fisher and Ghost Fleet have been playing area shows regularly since the start of the year and are finishing up work on their debut EP, “Jesus Is From Texas.”

The band plays the Blue Parrot on Friday.

When it came time to record, you could say Fisher knew a guy, but just because he was recording his own band, it wasn’t a cakewalk. Fisher admits that his obsessive tendencies nearly took over.

“Typically, it’s not as bad as it’s been this time around,” he said. “Usually, I’ll just nitpick the mix.

“At this point, I'm writing the songs, recording all the music and mixing; I’m doing everything, and trust me, it’s not by choice. I’d much rather go to someone else. This whole self-produced thing is overrated.

“I think the reason a lot of bands self-produce is just the cost of recording,” he said. “It’s the same story producing your own music.

“It’s a nightmare for me, because I keep wanting to go back and re-hash or fix something. The process goes from, ‘In two weeks, we’ll be done’ to ‘In a month, we'll be done,’” he said laughing.

Ghost Fleet is Fisher, guitarist Jason Bays, bassist Derek Thompson and drummer Nathan Shrewsbury. While the songs are Fishers own, he says it’s his bandmates that really make them work.

“I’m shocked at how easy it’s been for me to manage the singing and the songwriting,” he said. “I come in with an idea of what I want, and those guys just get on board and make it really great.”

Fisher said he'll have pre-mastered sampler versions of the new EP to pass out Friday. He’s looking forward to the show because he says the Blue Parrot is a place Ghost Fleet has been well received.

“The Parrot is always a great place to play. I have a feeling this show on the 13th is going to be pretty big; there’s Live on the Levee that night, with Bud Carroll and Jeff Ellis, so the styles are really going to mesh. I’m expecting a nice crowd for our show.”

The performance is just another highlight in what Fisher feels like, in terms of his music and his band, is a high point in his life.

“I feel like an artist, instead of just a drummer or a rhythm guitar player. In the past, I was the guy everybody called to play drums. I’ve just been driving the nail into someone else’s house, you know? Now I’m creating something from scratch, like an actual artist. It’s all happened so easily. Now I’m just waiting for that writer’s block to come.”


Back From Ireland & Scotland, The Fox Hunt Still Won't Slow Down

The Martinsburg, W.Va.-based band The Fox Hunt will perform at 9 p.m. today, July 29, at Shamrock's Irish Pub in Huntington. The band consists of John Miller, Matt Kline, Matthew Metz and Ben Townsend.

Reposted From The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

A lot of people would love to visit Ireland and Scotland, see the sights, and maybe spend some quality time in the pubs.

The four guys in the Martinsburg, W.Va.-based string band, The Fox Hunt, spent a few weeks touring over there recently, making friends and fans on what could be called a working vacation.

John Miller, singer and guitarist for the band, had just been back a few days, and was ready to talk about the trip - the highlights and the headaches.

The band returns to Huntington today, July 29, for a show at Shamrock's Irish Pub.

So many of the songs on The Fox Hunt's latest CD "Won't Slow Down" are about life on the road, and now, they have the experience of flying.

"Suffice to say I didn't like the idea of it before, and I hate it now," Miller admitted.

But the flying was definitely worth it, he said.

"We had a great time," Miller said. "The first week, after rehearsals with The Henry Girls, with whom we were collaborating for the Ireland shows, we'd go out and drink or stay in and play Monopoly Deal. We got to go to a few really great pub sessions and play with some incredible musicians; a great experience."

It's been a good year for The Fox Hunt. The band released the CD in the spring and played Mountain Stage not long after that.

While The Fox Hunt has been making fans all over thanks to its old time fiddle-centric mix of bluegrass, country and roots music, it was a different crowd across the pond.

"The reception was quite good," Miller said. "We got the chance to play for a lot of great, responsive listening audiences. Quite different from the bar scene we'd gotten used to, so it was a bit intimidating at first."

Aside from the shows, there's the scenery. And the guys in The Fox Hunt, "total tourists" as Miller described them, got to soak it in.

"During the day when we'd get to a town we'd often run around and see the sights," he said. "Scotland's history and structures were amazing to see. The castles in Scotland, as well as the beautiful landscape in the Highlands, were two highlights for us. We spent a lot of time rehearsing and staying at a B&B (bed and breakfast) in County Donegal in Northwestern Ireland, which is a truly beautiful part of the world with a magnificent coastline and relaxed, friendly country folks, with whom we fit well."

Then, there's the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing.

"Learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car was difficult," Miller said. "Two of us, I won't name names, busted the hubcaps on the left side of our rental car on curbs. Not a highlight I guess."

Miller said the guys managed to squeeze in a little partying.

"One of my favorite nights was after our last Ireland show in Letterkenny," he said. "We had been drinking in the green room of the theater we were playing, then all went across the street to a big bar to see this great band, The Pyros, play. That was probably one of the wildest all around party nights, we missed our stay at the B&B in that town and had the festival get us a hotel downtown, which we, most of us, made it to."

The interweaving history of the Scots-Irish, Appalachia and bluegrass was something that became even more apparent to Miller and the guys in The Fox Hunt in Ireland.

"It's special to us that we got to go over there and play with people who share the same kind of respect for traditional music there as we have for old time music here," he said. "We even shared a few tunes in common; some tunes came from Ireland and eventually adapted to old time styles of playing them. Overall it's a history I don't think we considered very much until we got to go over there and see it firsthand, play with people, and share our music."

Miller said that on the whole, life on the road in The Fox Hunt is pretty good.

"Any band that really hates touring is in the wrong business," he said. "It's a necessary evil and if you don't embrace it, not only will you miss out on a lot of wonderful life experiences, but you probably won't be able to take it anywhere. It's certainly a lifestyle, sometimes incredible, sometimes not so much. But there are those of us who, if we tried to quit doing it, would be pretty miserable. So we keep doing it for better or worse."

photo: Brian Muncy


Sissonville native returns to his ‘Roots’

Jonathan Glen Wood moved from Sissonville to Louisville, Ky., 14 months ago. He’s back in town Friday for a concert with John Lilly and Sasha Colette at LiveMix Studio.

Reposted from
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jonathan Glen Wood seems country enough; he loves whiskey, moonshine, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, although not necessarily in that order.

The 31-year-old Sissonville native and Louisville resident brings his version of country and folk to LiveMix Studio on Friday for a singer/songwriter showcase, “Roots to Boot,” with Olive Hill, Ky.’s Sasha Colette and Charleston’s John Lilly.

Getting the three performers together for an evening show is a great idea, Wood says, and performing with Colette and Lilly isn’t so bad either.

“It’s nice to play an early show and be able to invite folks out who normally wouldn’t make it due to late bar starting times,” he said. “Sasha’s great; I’ve played with her a few times now, and her songs continue to grow. I’ve known John for a while now; he’s one of the greatest singers and songwriters in the country. This show is a dream for me.”

Wood moved from West Virginia to Kentucky in May of last year after years of wanting to do it.

“It just got to a point where I knew I had to do it or I’d end up going crazy,” he said. “I was so frightened to leave the security that I’d built in West Virginia. It took me a few months to really prepare my mind to make the decision my heart had wanted to make years earlier.”

Getting started in songwriting also took some time for Wood.

“I’d always sung and written poetry but never really had any interest in learning instruments,” he said. “My dad bought me a guitar when I was 13, and it got placed in a closet for seven years. One day, I borrowed a Hank Williams album from a friend, and everything made sense. I pulled the guitar from the closet and called up Robin Kessinger for lessons. Through Robin, I also met Jenny Allinder, who is another huge inspiration. Both Robin and Jenny really pushed me to sing and write.”

For Wood, like many other artists, songwriting is his release, his way of getting out his stress and frustrations. That might be why his songs are less than happy.

“The hardest thing for me to do is write a happy song,” he said. “Anything I try and write that’s happy just feels canned and corny to me. Everyone that has inspired me from the beginning has been tortured.”

While in town, Wood plans on recording some songs for a vinyl 7-inch and catching up with friends and family. Vinyl only? In today’s digital age?

“I’m pretty vinyl-centric, and my old soul tells me that it makes sense to have vinyl-only releases,” said Wood, who works at the renowned Louisville record store Ear X-tacy.
His idols, Hank and Merle, are pretty old-school, too. Wood says that Merle Haggard, who he recently saw perform in Renfro Valley, Ky., is one of his biggest songwriting influences.

“I can’t imagine how it must feel to have been writing for such a long period of time. His body of work is just so vast,” Wood said. “It’s always fantastic to get to see him.”
Such a massive song catalog makes it tough for Wood to choose his favorite Haggard tunes.

“Picking a favorite Haggard song is tough,” he said. “My rotation of favorites changes with the addition and subtraction of life conditions. Currently, the three that I’m spinning the most are ‘Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,’ ‘California Cotton Fields’ and ‘No Reason to Quit.’

“Why these are currently my three favorite is sort of a mystery. I’m not pining for an old love, and I’ve never even been to California. The third may make the most sense; I really have no reason to quit.”

photo: John Rott


For John Lancaster, the fire has just begun

Singer/songwriter John Lancaster is no stranger to the local music scene as he's performed in multiple Huntington-based bands. He's released a new solo album called "Phantom Moon."

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON — John Lancaster is no stranger to the Huntington music scene.

So, when it came time to record his debut solo CD, the former singer/guitarist for Chum, these days married with kids, didn’t have time to mess around.

He enlisted an all-star lineup of guest musicians both near and far and used available technology to record the heavy, melodic, richly textured 14-song “Phantom Moon.”

Lancaster, more recently in Huntington bands like Earth To Eros and with his old Chum friends in Hyatari, said he has been looking forward to releasing the CD. Answering questions over the phone thoughtfully, yet excitedly, you might even say he’s tired of talking about it.

“It seems like this project has been in the works for so long, and it’s really been a small circle of friends who’ve even heard anything off of it,” he said. “I’m excited to get it out and put it in someone else’s hands for a change, you know? It was a lot of fun to make though. I’m curious to see what people think about it.”

There’s already been praise for “Phantom Moon” on social networking sites. Songs like “Liars” and “This Fire Has Just Begun” have been well received, and Lancaster said it’s appreciated.

“It’s exciting. It makes me want to get it out even sooner. When I post certain songs on ReverbNation or MySpace, people don’t get a sense of the whole thing, though. It’s cool, though, to give just a little taste in advance, especially since I’ve been talking about this record so long, like ‘I really have been working on this, I swear,’” he said, laughing.

He worked on “Phantom Moon” with some big names from the Huntington music scene and beyond, including Bud Carroll, Matt Wolfe (Byzantine/Scrap Iron Pickers), Jude Blevins (Hyatari/Satchell), and old friends and band mates Barry Smith and Rusty Knight from Guru Lovechild and E2E.

“It’s an honor,” Lancaster said of the lineup. “When you get a little older, you don’t have a lot of spare time. But with technology you don’t have to book a studio and arrange everybody’s schedule; they can work on their own time, and e-mail me the tracks.

“People like Dug Pinnick from King’s X, he’s not from around here. It was probably my favorite part of the whole project, getting to work with these people,” he said.

Another neat experience for Lancaster was being his own boss when it came to writing, allowing his more authoritarian tendencies to take over.

“I liked the fact that everything was my decision. It must have been the control freak in me,” he said, laughing again. “I knew that I had to do the best I could with it, since it’s my name on it.

“I used the opportunity of doing the solo record to try to blend whatever influences were hitting me at the time,” he added. “Sometimes, when you’re in a band, you’re like ‘I want to try such and such,’ and it may not fit, because you’ve painted yourself into a corner with a kind of label for your music.”

Lancaster spent long hours recording on his “modest” setup in his basement, as his kids have taken over the attic where he once recorded, he noted with amusement. A few of the songs that make up “Phantom Moon” grew out of, and branched off from, his more recent work with Smith and Knight in Earth To Eros.

“I started demoing stuff with the idea that I’d maybe do a solo record, maybe two or three years ago,” he said. “And, I sat on some for a while, because at the time we were doing the Earth To Eros thing. When that went down, that’s when the idea for a solo record really started to surface, because I was like ‘I’ve got all these songs here.’”

From the basement, the nascent songs were taken to Route 60 Music in Barboursville, where Smith added bass and recorded main tracks.

“With the technology, you can record pretty much anywhere, so we took advantage of that,” Lancaster said.

He applied the same do-it-yourself recording ethic to starting his own label, High Fidelio Recordings.

“In this day and age, the idea of having a record deal is not appealing to me,” he said. “That’s why I started High Fidelio, to put my own material out on in the future. We’ll see what happens with that. It’s fun.”

With all the time and effort Lancaster and friends put into “Phantom Moon,” and the anxious wait to get it out and the uncertainty of what the future may hold for him, musically, Lancaster said that’s what it all adds up to for him: fun.

“Playing music, originally I did it for fun,” he said. “Now, it’s kind of come back to that.”

photo: Laura Gregory

Lancaster on the web:
You can hear more from artist John Lancaster at, and The album is available at and Route 60 Music in Barboursville.


Undead Transylvania pogo punk band invades Huntington

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

If there’s one thing The Renfields know about, it’s horror movies.

That, and turning their favorite horror flicks into catchy punk rock songs.

The undead Clarksburg, W.Va.-based “Transylvania pogo punk” (horror-based punk music where the listeners dance up and down) outfit comes to Huntington Saturday, July 10, for a show at Shamrock’s Irish Pub with a new CD and a re-animated lineup.

You can say that on their new release, “Stalk and Slash Splatterama Part 2: Exploitation Extravaganza,” they’ve taken on more of a death metal or thrash sound. But, just because there's a werewolf in the band, you won’t catch The Renfields at the new “Twilight” movie.

“Absolutely not a fan of the ‘Twilight’ series,” said singer-guitarist Vincent Renfield in a telephone interview. “It’s not horror. It’s some sort of romantic fairy tale for teenage girls.

“Without a doubt, vampires playing baseball is (expletive). We’re not big vampire fans. There are no vampires in The Renfields, and never will be. Of all the people in Transylvania, vampires are the most whiny and least desirable to be around, kind of like emo kids here in the states.”

While bands are known to write songs about their favorite kinds of rims, Satan or who they want to be president, all of The Renfields’ songs are about horror movies. That, and life as an undead teenage punk band growing up in Transylvania.

Fitting into a particular music scene with their fun, horror-themed punk rock stylings and onstage costumes has not always been easy for the band. But Renfield said that events like the Zombie Walk at West Virginia University and horror conventions like HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati, and Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland are and will continue to be friendly environments for The Renfields to play.

“Whenever we go to a horror event, I always feel like that’s our scene,” he said. “When we can walk around and meet people in horror shirts, they understand the lyrics, and they get the music, they understand exactly where we come from. If there’s anything I focus on, it’s the lyrics, and making them relevant to the movies and including as many quotes from the movies, and having little “in” jokes; it’s always cool.”

While The Renfields were originally more influenced by the fun and catchy punk sounds of bands like The Ramones and The Mummies, more recent influences include King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, Renfield said, explaining the harder, scarier tone on the new CD.

“I wanted to reflect the tone of each film in the songs, and just being that it was the exploitation genre, it came out more death metal or thrash or whatever,” he said. “When I sat down to write “New York Ripper,” it’s violent, with over the top gore, and in my mind I wanted the song to make me feel the same way when I watch the movie. Trying to make every song fit the movie and make it feel like another aspect of watching the movie instead of fitting lyrics into the standard four chords.

“We didn’t intentionally try to get heavier, I just think it was based on the subject matter,” he added. “I thought it was kind of cool we could go the opposite way, away from the past punk sound.”

The Renfields’ love of all things horror includes playing extended samples of the movies in between and inside of their songs about the same horror movies. It's a total package, he said, one that they’ll never stray from.

“As protective as I am about the samples and keeping them intact, I am about making sure our songs are about horror movies or Transylvania,” he said. “I want to make sure that that we stick to what we’re doing. A lot of times bands get to the place where they’ve done whatever it is they’re singing about and they get pretentious or sing about something ridiculous. But for us, horror is the cause. If we’re ever gonna ever organize a rally, it will be to protest some awful horror movie remake.”

So, after turning what was a one-man operation, recording songs on a four-track with a drum machine in mono, Renfield said the band is where it will always be, on the couch watching horror flicks, and making music in true punk rock fashion.

“I don’t know if it has to do with setting your goals ultra low,” he said of the band’s journey. “I don’t know really how to play guitar or really know much about music. It’s my basic rudimentary skills, and wearing pumpkin makeup just to get out of the crypt or the basement.

“There were no expectations or anything, we just wanted to play songs about our favorite horror movies.”


Mark Bates returns home for Empty Glass, Live on the Levee shows

Hurricane native Mark Bates is in Charleston for two shows this weekend. The singer/songwriter will be playing shows with his former band, Lonely Town.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Forbidden love. Disillusion. Isolation. Losing your way, and finding your way back home.

These are a few of the themes permeating Mark Bates’ recently released 11-song Americana album, “Down The Narrow.”

This weekend, the 22-year old Hurricane native returns to West Virginia from Nashville, where he moved in July of 2009, for a pair of shows in Charleston. He’ll get to catch up with family and jam with his friends in his former band, Lonely Town.

In recent months, Bates, who lists Townes Van Zandt as one of his main influences, has played shows in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis and last weekend, the city that influences him the most, New Orleans.

“I actually just got back into Nashville this evening from New Orleans and will be heading to Hurricane tomorrow morning,” Bates said Sunday night. “We played a neat venue on Saturday evening near the Garden District. Everything went really well until they refused to pay us at the end of the evening. After some careful persuasion, they took care of us.”

Bates said that New Orleans has indeed put a spell on him.

“I always end up in New Orleans when I’m trying to generate movement in my life. The city has this raw energy that is intermingled with tragedy, sin and some of the finest music in the world. You can walk down Bourbon Street and see hookers standing outside waving the lost in, or you can take a trip to the swamp and see some of the most beautiful topography and wildlife imaginable. Like most of my favorite things, New Orleans is a contradiction. It’s a creative gold mine.”

Traveling across the country to all these shows, Bates has been getting to know his car a little better.

“I’ve put 10,000 miles on my car in the past two months, so the Prius and I have a pretty healthy relationship together,” he said.

In addition to inspiration following Bates all over the country, calamity seems to, as well. He was in Encinitas, Calif., near San Diego, for the Easter Day 7.2 magnitude earthquake and got hit by the recent Nashville floods.

“We had a few feet of water in our basement and lost our hot-water tank, but other than that we were unscathed. A lot folks weren’t as fortunate as we were. It was pretty tragic to drive through some of our bordering neighborhoods; a lot of ruined houses and livelihoods.”

Ruined lives, sin and tragedy are what seem to influence the characters in Bates’ songs the most. Although his lonely days in Sissonville (where he wrote the songs for “Down the Narrow“) are in the past, that painful well of creativity will always be there, he said, like the devil on his shoulder.

“It’s like a wild dog that someone’s fed once or twice. It may disappear for a few months, but it always comes back. Everyone has creative low points, but it’s a constantly shifting platform. I wait my turn, and it always comes back around for me.”

photo: Ryan Newman


Slater-Wilmoth (FOX Japan) vs. Glenn Beck Friday @ Shamrock's

FOX Japan (L-R: Andrew Slater, Sam, Pete and Charlie Wilmoth) play their first Huntington show Friday night at Shamrock's Irish Pub.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

People who’ve been in bands know all about the chemistry, drama, egos and potential for volatility. But being a literal band of brothers has helped make the Morgantown-based indie rock outfit FOX Japan a productive, long distance operation.

Charlie, Sam, and Pete Wilmoth got an early start on their musical careers in their hometown of Wheeling. Charlie, the oldest brother, recruited Pete on drums and later on, the parents bought them a drum set and a 4-track. Even later on, the fourth Wilmoth brother, Andrew Slater, finalized the lineup.

Now, Charlie lives and teaches in San Diego, and will graduate in a few months from the University of California San Diego, with the hope of moving back East, closer to the band.

The band collaborates over the web, with Charlie sending rough mp3 versions of nascent songs to the members in Morgantown. No drama. No egos, Pete Wilmoth said.

“That’s the great thing about being in a band with your brothers, and I include Andrew in that stock: We’re able to circumvent a lot of the passive-aggressive nonsense that goes on in many bands and just talk straight to one another.”

“We’ve had our share of disagreements, but that’s an unavoidable byproduct of everyone’s level of engagement with this band,” Sam Wilmoth said. “If we weren’t fighting a little bit about what direction we should move in, I’d start to get concerned and wonder if we should even be playing music at all.”

That chemistry between brothers helped transition the band from an indefinite hiatus a few years ago, as the oldest Wilmoth brother focused on his field of study in grad school.

“I had spent several years working on composing classical music and being really consumed by that,” Charlie said. “And whenever I went to a rock show, I thought, ‘Eh, I could do that,’ but I didn’t pursue it, because that’s just not where my head was, even though I was writing songs privately, at home. Eventually I’d been out of college for a couple of years and I realized that if I was ever going to do this rock thing I knew I could do, that I’d have to get going.”

With influences ranging from Talking Heads and Bad Religion to Pavement and hip-hop lyrics, FOX Japan has indeed got things going of late, releasing its third record, “Reenactment,” in late February. The band is doing a steady string of shows in West Virginia and Ohio over the next few weeks.

They play Shamrock’s Irish Pub Friday, June 11.

Since 2005, FOX Japan has evolved from a self-described “nervous, jagged pop format” with obvious lyrical references to politics, consumerism and religion, into a band with a more developed, more mature sonic palette.

The band’s growth as a unit, especially when it came to recording, didn’t just happen overnight, Charlie explained.

“I don’t think we really had the ability to say what we wanted, and didn’t understand what was possible,” he said. “I also thought that I could sound however I wanted and then the mixing engineer would make it sound awesome by magic, and that’s not really the way it works. We’re a lot savvier about those things now.”

He gave kudos to Slater’s band mate in Morgantown’s It’s Birds, Brian Spragg, who recorded the new CD. “Brian Spragg did a great job with it. I think it’s a record we’re still going to be pretty happy about in five years.”

Remember, these are four guys with classical music backgrounds, so, yeah, they have discerning ears when it comes to their own output. Not only musically, but lyrically.

Speaking of obvious political references, there’s the entirely fictional song “Glenn Beck” on the new CD, with an animated video you have to see to believe.

FOX Japan - "Glenn Beck" (NSFW) from Andy Pickens on Vimeo.

“Oh, we were definitely hoping that would go viral,” Pete said of the video. “We sent it to Huffington Post, Dan Savage; no dice. Concerned friends kept telling me that we might get sued. I remember thinking how great that would be for the band. We’d end up on Colbert or something.”

Or some kind of watch list.

“I don’t know if it went viral,” Charlie said, “but it did get well over 5,000 views between the censored and uncensored versions and did appear on several well trafficked sites. A lot of political sites were reluctant to pick it up, but a ton of people did see it.”

“A lot of people who I really care about have told me how much this video horrified them,” Sam said. “While my initial reaction to this news is discomfort, it only takes me a few minutes to view this as a good thing. Glenn Beck IS horrifying.”

Throwing dirt in Beck’s eye was just fine with them. “FOX Japan has always been about defiance, at least to me,” Charlie said.

Pete summed up his excitement for the current productive period for FOX Japan.

“There was no FOX Japan to speak of for a long time,” he said. “I remember not even playing drums except for maybe a few weeks a year. But it all came together, and I’m sure as hell grateful for that.”

photo: Nikki Rotunda


Twenty years on, Clutch still going strong

Clutch (L-R: Tim Sult, Neil Fallon, Jean-Paul Gaster, Dan Maines) returns to The V Club Friday night

Reposted from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Over the course of the last twenty years, a sea of bands have come and gone, from the good to the great. Some have burned out, some faded away.

Only a select few can say that they’ve been able to make a day job out of it, are at the top of their rock game, and still happy to be making music.

Clutch is one of those bands that have not only persevered, but, after starting in 1990, the Germantown, Maryland-based band has made and kept diehard fans with their own version of blues-infused stoner rock, releasing as many records (nine) as they’ve had labels, all the while keeping its original lineup intact.

To help celebrate their fans, the band (Neil Fallon: vocals; Tim Sult: guitar; Dan Maines: bass; Jean-Paul Gaster: drums) recently released “Live At The 9:30,” a two-disc DVD containing Clutch playing their self-titled 1995 record at their iconic hometown venue in Washington, D.C. Included also is the documentary “Fortune Tellers Make A Killing Nowadays,” with Clutch footage from back in the day.

Guitarist Tim Sult explained over the phone how special the 9:30 Club is to the band.

“Back when we started, we really just wanted to play local shows around the D.C. and Baltimore area. So, for us to get to play places like d.c. space, which is on the DVD, and to get to play places like the 9:30 Club were really the only reason we started the band in the first place.”

“It really was specifically chosen. You know, that’s our hometown club.” Clutch was scheduled to play the 9:30 Club’s 30th birthday party Monday, with Henry Rollins hosting.

Sult recalled the early days of Clutch, and how cool it is to see the old tour footage.

“Lots of driving. We did lots and lots and lots of driving back then. The early tours were, you know, a learning experience. We did a lot of growing up on the early tours, that’s for sure. Early on in touring, the main problem is you have to go out on tour for years and years and not make any money, you know?”

“But there’s never been a documentary style video of the band. So, that’s something that we wanted to capture, not for ourselves, but it’s what people want to see.”

Seeing fans and members of bands like System of a Down and Fu Manchu praise Clutch in the DVD was pretty awesome, Sult said.

“It’s the greatest thing ever. Just hearing other bands perspectives, and the fans perspectives on the band. You can do interviews all day long, and you can read interviews with members of Clutch, but I think it’s just more fun to hear their perspectives.”

Another promising development for Clutch has been the formation of their own label, Weathermaker Music, which now releases music from Clutch and its instrumental side project and second face, The Bakerton Group.

As mentioned earlier, the band hasn’t had good luck finding a label.

“We’re really happy,” Sult said. “It seems to be working out for the better, that’s for sure. Of course, we don’t run it ourselves, we’ve hired someone to do it,” he said, referring to former Atlantic and Columbia executive Jon Nardachone.

Sult said the business end of dealing with labels wasn’t the only problem, there was the whole making music thing.

“We’ve always been lucky enough to have total creative control on labels we’ve been on in the past. Labels have wanted, like, radio songs, which is a song in a proper arrangement, from us. But, we do that naturally. So, I don’t know what major labels were thinking when they signed us back in the day.”

As Clutch prepares to go on tour with The Bakerton Group and another band Sult plays in, the Silver Spring, Maryland-based reggae-tinged stoner rock outfit Lionize in tow, Sult said he’s ready to play three straight sets, no worries.

“Honestly, the more I play, it’s actually easier. Like, Lionize is a good warm-up for The Bakerton Group set, and that’s a good warm-up for the Clutch set. So, by the time the Clutch set comes around, we’re feeling really good.”

In addition to the new DVD and tour, Sult said Clutch fans can look forward to re-released versions of the three records released on DRT, and the follow-up to last year’s “Strange Cousins From The West,” sometime in mid-2011.

“We’re working on new material right now. I mean, I’m actually at our drummer’s house, and we’re working on new stuff.”

Clutch fans should definitely be looking forward to catching The Bakerton Group and Clutch at the upcoming Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival June 10-13 in Manchester, Tennessee, Sult said.

“That’s going to be awesome. We’re doing the Bakerton Group set, then we’re doing the Clutch set, as well as a half-hour Clutch acoustic set. That’ll be something new for ‘em.”

And Sult said Clutch was looking forward to kicking off the tour Friday at the V Club in Huntington.

“Oh, the West Virginia shows have always been great. I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad show in West Virginia since we started playing there. It’s always good to come back. The people definitely party pretty hard down there. If we have a show on Friday or Saturday night, it’s always chaos.

Summing everything up, Sult said Clutch, after all these years, is in as good a position as it’s ever been, and they’re nowhere near being finished.

“I think the future for us looks better than it ever has. I’m definitely proud, and surprised. I didn’t think Clutch would last this long, but I’m sure glad it did. We’re in it too deep, we can’t give up yet.”


Karma To Burn back in West Virginia with “Appalachian Incantation”

Legendary Morgantown instrumental stoner rock trio Karma To Burn (L-R: Rob Oswald, Will Mecum, Rich Mullins) returns to West Virginia with “Appalachian Incantation”

Reposted from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch

You could say that before Karma To Burn could reunite, one or more members had to get reformed.

Morgantown’s legendary instrumental stoner rock trio, together since the mid-90’s, abruptly disbanded in 2002 when bassist Rich Mullins admittedly allowed a heroin addiction to take over his life.

Now, Karma To Burn (Will Mecum: guitar; Mullins; Rob Oswald: drums) has been back together for over a year, and returns to West Virginia this weekend with “Appalachian Incantation,” its first CD in eight years and first on the Austrian-based metal label Napalm Records.

Before KTB could reunite, it took a difficult phone call between Mullins and guitarist Will Mecum to straighten everything out.

“Talking to Will for the first time on the phone was totally nerve-racking,” Mullins admitted over the phone. “When you’re with someone every day for nine years, and then seven years go by, it’s really crazy.”

Mecum said Karma To Burn’s indefinite hiatus was for the best.

“It was something that had to be done,” he said over the phone from Los Angeles, where Mullins and drummer Rob Oswald live. “There were a lot of personal problems within the band; chemical dependencies, things like that. If we’d have kept going the way we were going, I guarantee that one of us, if not all of us would not be here.”

As painful as clearing the air might have been for him, Mullins agreed.

“You can’t change the past. But looking back on it, I realize I’d be dead right now.”

“All of us got our act straightened out and we definitely have a lot more clarity with what’s going on right now,” Mecum added.

Despite all the time off, Mecum said the band is stronger and more popular than ever, and admitted to a bit of bewilderment to KTB’s increased popularity, domestically and overseas.

“We’re received better now than we were back then,” he said. “I don’t know if it took time for people to catch up or what. The tours that we’ve done and the attention that we’ve been getting is tenfold what it used to be. I don’t understand it, but I’m goin’ with the flow.”

“It all goes back to my theory of either your band has to break up or someone has to die in order for your band to get somewhat popular.”

KTB and friend Daniel Davies, front man for the L.A.-based band Year Long Disaster, have had a kind of cosmic convergence of late; not only did Davies (son of Kinks guitarist Dave Davies) join KTB on vocals for a song on the new CD, Mecum and Oswald join Mullins in the current YLD lineup.

Mullins said that KTB is looking forward to recording even more with Davies.

“Doesn’t it seem weird that we’d get back together with a singer?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s really special because they’re all my friends,” he added. “It’s great to be able to combine it all, and there’s a lot of talent when you put the four of us together. I don’t see any limits to what the four of us can do.”

In addition to the collaboration with Davies, KTB recruited Kyuss singer John Garcia to sing on the new record. Mecum said KTB likes the change of pace working with a singer.

“Most of the instrumental stuff, when we write it, it’s four bars of this, four bars of that, then the bridge. It goes by really quick because you have to keep people’s attention.”

“With the vocals, you can actually play a verse, a chorus, maybe several times, and you need to for the vocals to breathe. That style is a little bit different, as opposed to kind of constantly punching people in the face with riffs. You have to let parts of the song breathe and let the vocals take over. I think it worked out really well.”

The synthesized KTB and YLD lineups recently enjoyed a tour of Europe, where KTB is much loved, and geopolitical calamities followed the bands.

Mecum said Karma To Burn got to spend an unexpected extra night at the Roadburn Festival in Holland.

“We turned volcano friendly because there was a bunch of flights cancelled due to the volcano eruption, and the dust clouds over Europe. So they asked us to stay, and we got another show out of it.”

The European tour wrapped up nicely in bankrupt Greece. “I hate to use the cliche ‘We’re big in Europe,’ but we go where people want us to be,” Mecum said laughing. “It was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on.”

Where local fans of KTB want them to be is back in West Virginia, with the new CD. Mecum said the band wouldn’t be what it is today without the local support, and are looking forward to playing the V Club Friday night.

“As far as letting people know that we’re from West Virginia, we’ve made it a point to do that. And as far as the Huntington scene goes, we wouldn’t be what we are today without it. We actually got bigger down in Huntington in the 90’s than we did in our hometown. We did well in Morgantown, but we’d go down to Huntington and have huge shows. We wouldn’t be where we’re at today without breaking into that scene and having those people behind us.”

“The three towns, Morgantown, Charleston and Huntington, they all rallied behind us, and it will never be forgotten. Not a lot of bands get a second chance like we do, and it’s much appreciated.”


They Put a Spell on You: Wizards of Ghetto Mountain land recording spot with Steve Albini

Huntington-based Doom band Wizards of Ghetto Mountain (L-R: Garrett Babb, Chuk Fowlord, Bob Caution, Jim E. Toledo) play the V Club Friday night.

Reposted from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Fear. Shock. Relief. Excitement.

All of these words describe the response the guys in Wizards of Ghetto Mountain had when hearing that renowned producer and engineer Steve Albini would be recording their debut album in July.

The story of how the Huntington-based “Doom” metal band, together for than less than a year, fresh off making a two-song demo for their Pittsburgh-based label and preparing to record a full-length with Bud Carroll, got studio time with Albini, who has famously worked with bands like The Pixies, Slayer and Nirvana, has to be read.

“I suggested it to our label rep just as a complete shot in the dark,” Singer Chuk Fowlord explained over phone. “He was like ‘Why would Steve Albini want to record your band?’ And I said ‘One; we’re from West Virginia, two; we’re awesome, and three; we’re called Wizards of Ghetto Mountain. Sounds like a winner.’”

Montage of the band rocking out in doom fashion; slower tempos, deeper guitar tunings and fuzzier tones, with heads, of course, banging.

“A couple of weeks went by, and he calls me,” Fowlord went on, “and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ And he’s like, ‘It’s a go.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ And he says, ‘We’re going to do the record with Albini.’ And I dropped the phone and almost passed out.”

The Wizards (Fowlord: vocals; Garrett Babb: guitar; Jim E. Toledo: bass; Bobby Caution: drums) are scheduled to take their version of stoner rock and doom metal into Albini’s Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago in July. Wow.

Drummer Bob Caution recounted getting the phone call.

“When Chuk called me at school with the news, he was in such hysterics I thought either Garrett or Jim had been killed in some horrible accident,” Caution said. “So I was greatly relieved and then massively excited when I found out that we were gonna be recording with Albini.”

“Like Bobby said,” Babb followed. “Chuk called me in hysterics, gasping for air, freaking out; he sounded like he was crying. I thought something terrible had happened to Jim or Bob. Then he told me about Albini. I didn’t believe him…it still rattles me that we have this amazing opportunity.”

The Wizards have been making moves at whiplash speed. They’ve got on Ulja Factory, a Pittsburgh-based label, played several shows with bigger-name, regionally touring stoner and hard rock acts, mainly in Huntington, made a few fans, and now, landed a highly coveted recording session with one of rock’s best producers.

Keep in mind this band hasn’t been together for roughly eight or nine months, and has played maybe twenty shows. They practice every Sunday at a friend’s house, maybe a nod to Black Sabbath, one of their biggest influences.

Toledo said that, regardless who produces their record, people who will like their version of music would probably like it anyway.

“[Albini] isn’t going to make people like your music who aren’t already predisposed to liking that sort of thing.”

“If you’re great, that’s going to come through, whether it’s Steve Albini, Phil Spector, or one of your friends on a 4-Track. It’s on us to be a great band in the studio when it comes time to record, and if that happens, then the music will sell itself regardless of who produced it.”

And Caution said that, regardless of who records the Wizards, they’re still going to rock.

“People who like stoner rock and doom metal are gonna like this album,” he said. “We’ve crafted an appealing sound.”

“I don’t like to brag, but we’ve got a really powerful thing going on here…it shows every time we hit the stage. I think Ulja Factory did help speed the process, and I’m eternally grateful, but this band is going places no matter what the circumstances.”

Babb kind of summed up the shock value of how fast things appear to be moving for the Wizards. “If you would have asked me about this stuff going on when this band started, I would have said you were a nutbag. I suppose we’re doing something right!”

“Honestly I feel this is the best music I’ve ever made,” Fowlord said. “I’ve been in bands for 10 years. There’s something special with this band; each time we play live we’re getting better. Good things are happening.”

“I can’t wait to see what this is going to sound like,” Toledo said of the debut record. “As for now, we’re saving and planning. That’s the only way off Ghetto Mountain.”

photo: Jimbo Valentine


On the Road Again: Unknown Hinson returns to the V Club

Unknown Hinson, Bubba Bruce and Tiny Kohrs return to the V Club Saturday night, with or without the party liquor.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

“Have I met you before?”

The voice on the phone, with its thick Southern drawl, was instantly recognizable; the self-proclaimed “King of the Country Western Troubadours” thought he recognized my name for some unknown reason.

I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad that we’d never met, still, I was talking to Unknown Hinson.

Talking to Hinson at 2 p.m. on a weekday afternoon from his home office outside of Charlotte, North Carolina is nothing like hearing Early Cuyler, the wild redneck squid he plays on The Squidbillies, or the delightfully trashy, over-the-top dark parody Hinson character he (Stuart Daniel Baker) has cultivated since 1993.

He probably hadn’t even touched any party liquor.

No, for Hinson, quite graciously granting, politely and professionally doing interviews is all part of the very serious business he’s in; writing self-anointed “chart-toppin’ hits,” making his own version of honky-tonk psychobilly, recording records and touring.

He returns to Huntington for a show at the V Club Saturday night.

There’s not much to write about Hinson that hasn’t been covered already; his father was listed as “Unknown” at birth, working as a carnival barker, he was framed for murder and did 30 years in the pen.

“I was in solitary a good bit of that time. So I had a lotta solitude. And I think every writer needs solitude; if they’re gonna write a book or a song, they gotta be able to concentrate. But I ain’t bitter about it, ya know. It’s a big chunk of your life, but I feel like I’m makin’ up for lost time pretty good.”

He’s achieved cult celebrity status, making fans ranging from Marty Stuart to Hank III. He’s as famous for his appearance as he is for his musicianship, stage presence, and hilarity. Ventriloquist? Yes. Vampire? Not so much.

“The vampire thing, yeah I like to kina dance around that, ‘cause, it’s not something I try to cultivate.” He’s known to carry a little snub-nose revolver, but, “not for any ill intent,” he said.

“I like to fire it from time to time; it’s kind of a stress reliever. Some people like to jog or whatever ya call it, some people like to work out, I just like to fire my gun, it relaxes me. I don’t ever shoot at nothing or nobody.”

And, despite what you see in the motel pic above, Hinson says bassist “Tiny” Kohrs and drummer “Bubba” Bruce aren’t all that rowdy on the road. Really.

“They kinda tame, really. I do enough hell raisin’ for all three of us.”

One bit of a scoop for Hinson fans is that he’s working on a new CD that should be out “hopefully by late summer.”

All you really need to do to get Hinson off on one his famous tangents is to mention the state of Country music these days, and his place in it as “Kang” of the Country Western Troubadours.

“I like to think I play real Country Western music. What you hear on the radio nowadays, mainstream Country, I mean, that ain’t Country Western by a long shot. All that is, is formulated, fabricated, cookie-cutter kind of stuff. I can’t really tell one artist apart from the other one, I mean, whether it’s a man or a womern, I can’t tell. I mean, it sounds like every other record you hear on the radio, in a convenience store or gas station.”

“All I see’s a bunch of pretty boys in cowboy hats and tight jeans and thousand dollar cowboy boots, wearin’ a little ol’ Mack-Donald’s microphone around they chin, and dancin’ around a stage. I mean, to me, that ain’t Country Western music. That’s a Ice Capades mess.”

What if someone else started calling themselves the king?

“It wouldn’t bother me, because number one, I know they’d be a liar and a fake. I’d probably just laugh at it.”

Known as a romantic, Hinson said that no husbands need worry about bringing their wives to the show Saturday night.

“I never had no trouble, and I ain’t lookin’ to have no trouble. Womerns, you know, they come out and they swoon and all, and that’s good. But the man, they the ones that take ‘em home, not me, so they the ones that get lucky.”

But ladies, Hinson said he’s not married. “I don’t see nobody serious or nothing. I got to keep movin’ ya know.”

One thing that sets Hinson apart from other famous musicians is his propensity to stay after every show to meet his fans.

“Without my fans, I wouldn’t have a job, so by all means, they come first. That’s why after every show, I stay there to the last person. If they think enough of me to want me to sign an autograph or take a picture, I’ll be glad to stay. They’re what it’s all about.”

Hinson though, despite the carefully constructed and cultivated persona, is a lot like the normal musicians you see and hear all the time, hoping to touch listeners through music.

“I think a Country Western troubadour is somebody who’s got to sing from the heart about a real life mess they’ve lived through.”

And all that time in solitary may have helped not only him, but his fans too.

“I think that’s what being an artist is; if you can’t make this mess easier for yourself, you have to do it for other people, and hopefully they see things your way. And when they do, it makes it all worthwhile.”

photo: Aeryk Pierson


Attack Flamingo proving to area's music scene that Christians rock

The Christian rock band Attack Flamingo will have a CD release party Friday, April 30 at Shamrock’s Pub in Huntington

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

When you hear the phrase “Christian rock” you might think of watered down, over-the-top, milquetoast music. You’d be surprised to find a Christian band that actually rocks, playing in local bars.

For Huntington’s Attack Flamingo, faith is the driving force behind the music, sure. But these guys really do rock.

Evoking Muse and Radiohead, the band is set to release “Exit Anthem,” its new 10-song CD, tonight, April 30 at Shamrock’s. It is following up on the widely heralded 2008 debut CD “No Star Could Be As Large,” which deftly and subtly wove the message of its faith into high-energy, techno-tinged rock.

For singer-guitarist Sean Knisely, honestly packaging his faith into creative, attractive songs is something he puts a lot of thought into. He’s keen on not turning potential fans off by being preachy.

“I think when you’re writing songs, whatever your hope is in is going to show through,” Knisely said. “I want to be genuine and honest in songwriting, and I want to say something significant. However, I don’t want to turn people off by saying ‘Watch out, this is Christian music here; are you sure you still want to listen to it?’”

On “Exit Anthem,” after the intergalactic search for God on the space-rock concept debut CD, the band is back down to earth with a message of propaganda and persecution straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.

“There are countless lies in our culture amplified by the media bombarding our eyes and ears every day,” Knisely said. “If spiritual warfare is real, then it only makes sense that culture would suppress the truth. A big part of our culture thinks that the hope we have in God is foolishness, but everyone understands the idea of an oppressor holding back truth from the people, so I think it’s interesting to portray it from that angle with a propaganda theme.”

The artwork for the rollout of “Exit Anthem” resembles vintage Stalinesque Red Army agit-prop, and Knisely says he’s interested in people interpreting it all for themselves.

“Some people will see it from a government perspective and think that we’re anarchists or something, and some will see the spiritual side of it.”

The band got the creative juices flowing writing and recording the songs that would make up “Exit Anthem.”

“I enjoy the process of talking through what we’re going for,” Knisely said. “But it’s also fun to take a musical idea and run with it until it kind of becomes apparent what the song needs to become.”

“I would say the biggest difference in making this album was the way we wrote songs as a band; a live collaboration,” added drummer Sam Hodge.

The band spent the majority of the year-long recording process in Knisely’s room, going over how they wanted the songs to sound.

“For ‘No Star’ I didn’t have a place in Huntington yet, so we were recording on the go all over town,” Knisely said. “We typically think of lots of things to add or tweak, and since it’s all done at my place and doesn’t cost us anything, we spend a lot of time reworking things.”

They not only spent a lot of time on writing and production, they’ve been working on transferring the energy from the creative process into their live shows.

“One thing we really want to begin working on is creating a show experience,” keyboardist Joey Spurgeon said. “Many bands put on great concerts musically, but don’t entertain. We have to learn to be entertainers just as much as musicians.”

“We like to make sure the live show has a different sound than the album, otherwise, what’s the point in seeing us live?” Hodge asked rhetorically.

Compared to the largely electronic rock sound of the debut, for “Exit Anthem” Attack Flamingo expanded its instrument base to broaden its sound, using acoustic guitar, banjo, violin and mandolin on a few songs.

The guys are looking forward to getting out, playing shows and making more fans. And, regardless of what people believe, the members think there’s a message in their music for everyone.

“I think the album is a statement about the current state of things: Everybody is plugged in to the physical world, literally, and this is about breaking away,” Hodge said.

“‘Exit Anthem’ is basically the idea of leaving the world of self and superego behind,” Spurgeon summed up.

“I’m really happy with the way it all turned out,” Knisely said of the entire process. “I think the other guys would agree that we feel better than ever about the band.”

photo: Boekell Photography


Huntington musician Sir-Boy to release online music to CD

Sam Hodge, a former center snare in the Marshall drumline and current drummer for the Huntington-based electro-rock band Attack Flamingo, recently made his 12-song glitch-pop CD "A Fantastic Booty Machine" available online, and will soon release it in physical form, under his alias of Sir-Boy.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Sam Hodge definitely has things in perspective.

The 26-year-old Huntington resident was recently minding his own business, driving down Route 60, when someone pulled into his truck and totaled it. While he was unhurt, something really bad almost happened.

"It almost caused my photo shoot with Attack Flamingo to be postponed," he joked.
Hodge, a former center snare in the Marshall drumline and current drummer for the Huntington-based electro-rock band Attack Flamingo, recently made his 12-song glitch-pop CD "A Fantastic Booty Machine" available online, and will soon release it in physical form, under his alias of Sir-Boy.

He explained the idea behind the CD title.

"I envisioned holding a remote control, pointing it at people and making them dance," he said.

Hodge started the journey down his own electronic music rabbit hole as a teenager in 2001.

"I kind of just fell into it playing around, chopping up some wav files," he said. "At that time, stuff like Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin and Prodigy were artists that really got me interested in what I do now. I figured out that I could be in complete control of the sound I was a part of."

Regardless of who he was emulating or who his influences were, like so many musicians, Hodge found solace and catharsis in making music.

"The important part about my early electronic music career is that it got me through some very difficult times and allowed me to hatefully express much of the pain I was feeling," Hodge said. "It was really amateur, but original at the same time."

After going through his initial goth/industrial phase and winding through an IDM (intelligent dance music) period under the moniker spoonPhase, Hodge evolved yet again into what he's now calling Sir-Boy, making what he calls "Poptronica," a hybrid of drum and bass, IDM, experimental and electronica.

Hodge has also been staying busy recently as a member of Attack Flamingo, as it gets set to release its new CD "Exit Anthem" at the end of the month. He said joining the band helped him further refine his solo sound.

"Being in Attack Flamingo caused me to be a bit more conscientious of the music I was making," he said. "Having a classical music education background, I've been able to employ sounds that make sense. It caused me to really analyze the tracks from a musical, creative and high-quality production standpoint."

Making his sound make sense live at area venues, switching from the bedroom to the stage, is harder than it looks, Hodge said.

"You can't just open your media player on a laptop, double-click, and put your headphones on," he said, distinguishing himself from DJ's who just play CDs live.

"There's a lot of preparation involved before shows," he added. "What's hard to deal with is people don't realize all the hard work you've put into your music in the studio at home. They think that it's all pressing buttons. Well, playing a piano is pressing keys. Learning electronic instruments, effects and tricks, and using a computer to also implement changes in music is just like learning an instrument -- a very large instrument with millions of parameters of change."

One of Hodge's parameter of change in his live act is using the unique Theremin-type technology to bend live effects and sounds with air.

While Hodge said his live act has been received well for the most part, being just one person can have its drawbacks.

"I get forgotten somewhat," he said. "I'm just one person with only my friends to relay and promote the music to. There isn't five guys with five different sets of friends and contacts. That's the hardest thing about being solo; getting people to pay attention."

But he said he accomplishes just that with his live act as Sir-Boy.

"People seem to be entertained by my stage energy and the sheer thrill of getting hit in the chest with the pounding sounds I put out there. At shows, people ask me for an album and I offer them burned CDs with a couple tracks to tie them over."

So, for those people, look for his "Fantastic Booty Machine" to be the fix they need.

"The sound is something I feel is only slightly off-center from mainstream pop music," Hodge said. "I think it has potential to be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people as long as they give it a try."

For more information, visit

photo: Taylor Kuykendall


Rising stars: Retro rock trio to make stop at Huntington’s V Club

The Shepherdstown, W.Va.-based band The Demon Beat will perform at 10 p.m. Saturday, April 24 at the V Club in Huntington.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- No two towns in West Virginia seem farther apart than Shepherdstown and Huntington. For The Demon Beat, Baltimore and D.C. are just a stone’s throw away from their hometown.

Evoking The Who, with its loud, distorted, catchy, retro-garage rock style, front man Adam Meisterhans’ soulful, guttural, lovelorn wailing, and a handful of CDs released to critical acclaim near and far, no band in West Virginia has seen its star rise as fast as this trio has over the past two or three years.

And, hey, they love playing Huntington, and return for a show at the V Club on April 24, with their friend Bud Carroll. And compared to where they’ve been recently, the drive to Huntington isn’t so bad.

The band (Adam Meisterhans: guitar, vocals; Tucker Riggleman: bass; Jordan Hudkins: drums) recently went to Austin, Texas for shows at the uber-fest South by Southwest.

“It was pretty cool,” Meisterhans said. “It gets a little annoying with all the self-important a--holes walking around, but I saw J. Mascis, which was awesome.”

For most up and coming bands, playing SXSW would be huge, and for them, it was, but, they’re taking it in stride.

“I think we’re all pretty level headed and modest about it,” Riggleman said. “It’s just like anything else: You have to work for it. We’ve put in the work and we’ve seen a little bit of a result. That’s all you can ask for.”

They’ve been making moves on their own, focusing on the music one show at a time, whether it’s Austin, New York City, or Lancaster, Pa. Meisterhans, when asked to pin down reasons for the band’s ascension and why people love their version of rock and roll, had a few ideas.

“I think there are a fair number of people interested in going back to some of the older artists and digging into where this comes from,” he said. “For some people it’s genuine and for others it just seems fashionable to wear a Zeppelin t-shirt. I think all that has a little to do with the type of people that get into what we do, but I think the touring has just as much to do with it. I think they both coincide with the attitude and work ethic we have towards music.”

Together for about five years, The Demon Beat embodies the do-it-yourself rock n’ roll work ethic; they record in Adam’s basement, Jordan handles CD artwork, and they release the music on Tucker’s label, Big Bullet Records.

They put the music first, and don’t worry about labels, for a few reasons.

“We can do whatever we want and don’t have to answer to anyone,” Meisterhans said bluntly.

“We don’t have to give anyone any money,” Riggleman added.

“At this point, the music industry is a sinking ship,” Meisterhans added. “So it seems more prudent to do your own thing and let the chips fall where they will.”

Meisterhans said that, whether or not they get a new CD out this year, where the praise comes from or where they play, making the music and writing the songs are what’s important for him.

“It’s cool when people like what you do, but I view it artistically and if you’re not loving what you do and trying to make it better in every way, then any acclaim is really just people talking,” he said. “I’m going to be in my room either way, playing along to Howlin’ Wolf records and trying to write as well as Pete Townshend, so people can either pay attention or not. It’s not going to make any difference to me.”

One person whose opinion does matter to Meisterhans is that of Huntington’s Bud Carroll, whom he called “a kindred spirit” in rock and “super generous” with all else.

“As far as guitar players go, I’ve yet to know or see anyone play who could match his intensity, tone, or ability to switch between styles, and lead a band,” he said. “Pretty unbelievable. He and I share nerd-dom about fuzz pedals, recording techniques and cool guitarists. I think he’s had a positive impact on my perspective about playing and recording.”

And as far as the drive to Huntington, Riggleman said that the response they get makes it all worth while.

“It continually blows my mind how well we are received in Huntington,” he said. “We have great relationships with both Shamrock’s and the V Club, and try to alternate our shows between the venues. Last time we played Shamrock’s the PA breaker blew so the vocals weren’t coming through and we couldn’t even tell because of folks singing along. Great town; people love to party there.”

Photo: Brian Scott


Billy Matheny will bring his solo act to Shamrock's Irish Pub on Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rock phenom Billy Matheny among top West Virginia acts coming to play Shamrock's Irish Pub

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

When Billy Matheny walks through the door at Shamrock’s Thursday night, people who don’t recognize him might not instantly peg him as a rock and roll phenomenon. But that’s exactly what the 26-year-old Morgantown resident and WVU student is.

Matheny, with his bookish looks and diminutive stature, comes to town solo (without his backing band the Frustrations) as one of the most talented and busiest rockers around. But don’t think that he’s doing solo shows to pocket all the door money for himself.

“Well, there are literally hundreds of dollars to be made each in the world of indie rock,” he deadpanned.

There are more personal and practical reasons for doing solo shows, he said. “I like doing solo shows because it’s nice to strip things down from time to time, but I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t miss the power of working with the whole band.”

Matheny and his band, the Frustrations (Haley Slagle, Adrian Larry and Woody O’ Hara) have been working on the follow-up to 2007’s stellar high-energy Americana CD “Born of Frustration” and should have it out later this year, Matheny said. He said they returned to Mark Poole’s Zone 8 studio in Granville, W.Va., to cut the record.

Matheny, in addition to his work with the Frustrations, plays bass in Poole’s band Moon, helps out his longtime friend Todd Burge with the Odd URges, plays with Morgantown’s Love Me Knots, has focused his attention in recent months on his work with the critically acclaimed Athens, Ohio, indie rockers Southeast Engine.

“The first time I saw Southeast Engine in 2006, it was one of those love at first sight situations that people get sometimes with a band they are really into.”

Matheny said that SE Engine just finished work on a new “rustic” and “rural” feeling album in Athens, (“...basically a song cycle about Athens during the Great Depression,” Matheny said) will stop in at the Rock Island, Illinois, “Horseshack” studio for a recording session on the widely heralded Daytrotter website in May, and will embark on a West coast tour with Deerhoof in June.

And he had nothing but praise for SE Engine singer/songwriter Adam Remnant.

“Adam is a very gifted songwriter with an amazing voice who really has a talent for bringing a whole room together behind the music and the band. He’s really a phenomenal front man.”

Takes one to know one.

But with all the new music and bands he’s involved with, Matheny said it doesn’t feel like work. “There have certainly been times where I’ve been forced to cut some things back. It doesn’t feel overwhelming as long as you really like the music you're playing.”

He said he was looking forward to playing with both Shepherdstown’s Prison Book Club and the Bud Carroll Band at Shamrock’s.

“I’ve known Bud since we were both in high school. I’ve followed and respected him forever. I think he’s West Virginia’s best guitar player. He’s kind of like our answer to Eric Clapton. Pre-1970 Eric Clapton.”

“Prison Book Club was definitely a love at first sight thing as well,” he went on. “The Demon Beat and The Fox Hunt are both incredible groups and Prison Book Club have a great sound, they have great songs...they’re just one of those total package deals.”

And regardless of whether it’s with his backing band or solo, Matheny said he loves the response he’s gotten on past trips to Huntington.

“My two favorite places to play are Morgantown and Huntington,” he said. “So much of live music is communication between the audience and band, and the audiences in Huntington are always really receptive and active participants. I love playing for West Virginians most of all.”

photo: Todd Burge