Category Archives: Interviews

Shifting Into Summer: john Shannon’s newest project debuts in Florida

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The Shift

Jack Rabbits

Thursday, June 11

“7th Direction” is an impressive debut EP from The Shift, a New York-based trio whose show at Jack Rabbits this Thursday comes at the end of their first-ever swing through the Sunshine State, amidst a tour that’s taking them from coast to coast. “The tour has been great,” says lead singer/guitarist John Shannon, writing in from the road. “Our starter went out on our van the other day in Alabama but luckily there was a bowling alley with a bar across the street from the mechanic.”

I’ve known Mr. Shannon for nearly a decade, having met through mutual friends at his old Brooklyn loft back in 2006. Our party watched “An Inconvenient Truth” at the Sunshine Theatre one night, with Questlove’s afro partially blocking the view. I first saw him perform a couple nights later, at Manhattan’s venerable Jazz Gallery, playing guitar in the sextet backing ace cellist Dana Leong; it remains one of the ten best jazz sets I’ve ever witnessed, anywhere. He was then leading his jazz group Waking Vision Trio, which put out a couple of excellent albums a decade ago.

From that first initial meeting through the week spent pacing the circles he runs in, he made an immediate and impactful impression on me, not just as a person, but as one of the most prodigious musical talents in a dense, dynamic scene that was then just beginning to be branded as the borough we know and love (and kind of envy) today. His current group, which includes bassist Ben Geis and drummer MJ Lambert, is his newest and most polished vehicle on a musical journey that has already taken him around the country, more than once.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1980, John Shannon’s released three albums under his own name: “American Mystic” (2008), “Songs of the Desert River” (2010) and “Time Was A Lie” (2012). Critics have compared his work to masters like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and Paul Simon; the albums have earned praise in places like Rolling Stone, Minor 7th and Time Out NY. His credits include sideman work with Bob Reynolds, Ben Harper, John Mayer, James Maddox, Lauryn Hill and Hiromi Urehara; he’s also recorded with Gary Go and Sonya Kitchell, whom he also backed on tour, as well as composed music for the FX show “Louie”.

In many ways, The Shift represents the present culmination of careers cultivated throughout the 21st century, a syncretic smash-up of the members’ traditional training, processed through years of long nights working club gigs in one of the most competitive commercial markets in the world. The album was recorded in less than a week, using a mixing board in Brooklyn that had once been used by George Martin to record the Beatles. Shannon writes the lyrics, while his colleagues build the music together.

The New York of their generation is simply not a place where you can last for long unless you’re good, and all three have put in practically a decade, ample time earn the confidence that comes through so clearly on the album. Shannon’s voice evokes nothing so much as mid-70s Robert Plant, while the clean, crisp tonality of the instruments gives it a prog-rock flavor, with the kind of tight, dextrous articulation that one would expect from three alumni of the Berklee School of Music—a school so prestigious that using the word “prestigious” to describe it is practically a cliché in music journalism. “It’s kind of a microcosm of the future music business when you’re there that seems to than move out into the real world—at least it has for me,”  says Shannon, who randomly encounters fellow alumni on a regular basis in his travels.

“If you know you have something strong, unique and a band willing to persevere,” notes Shannon, “you end up in more of a relationship/competition with time than with other bands. If you can use that inevitable pressure involved in the process of getting recognized to be more creative, resourceful and alive, then you are already winning.”

http://shiftwithus.com/

https://www.facebook.com/shiftwithus

http://www.johnshannonmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/john.shannon.9047

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shannon_(musician)

Interview with Maitejosune Urrechaga, from Pocket of Lollipops

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Pocket Of Lollipops/Lake Disney/Legs

Burro Bar, 100 E. Adams St.

Friday, November 29; $5

Pocket of Lollipops have quickly made a name for themselves since springing fully-formed from the burgeoning Miami scene a couple years ago. Their music reflects their shared interests in art and fashion, as well as their shared experiences living in a cultural hub. The band is a duo, consisting of singer/guitarist Maitejosune Urrechaga and her husband, drummer Tony Kapel. There is a very kinetic sound, jangly and propulsive; the music practically vibrates, like a wino with the shakes or a kid about to meet their hero.

Opening for Pocket of Lollipops at Burro Bar will be Legs, from Orlando, and Jacksonville’s own Lake Disney, one of the many interesting new local bands of 2013. The band was formed as a trio of electronics (Greg Price and John Lackey) and bass guitar (Kareem Ghori, aka “Special K”), set in a Joy Division/Nick Cave sort of mold, but they’ve rapidly breaking that mold, with epic house-party jams that can last for hours.

Even with the holiday season approaching, and a couple really busy weeks ahead (including performances at Art Basel Miami), I was able to ask some questions of Urrechaga, who was kind enough to respond…

SDH: What does the name “Pocket of Lollipops” mean to you, in the context of the band.

MU: Multi-flavor, the options are endless. We can even be a surprise flavor.

SDH: How did you end up getting booked at Burro Bar? Who did you deal with?

MU: James Arthur Bayer III, we played with him at the Loft last time we were in Jacksonville and he reached out to us this past summer so we set something up. He runs the records label “Infintesmal”.

SDH: How would you describe the band’s aesthetic? What is Pocket of Lollipops about?

MU: When the natural and the dream collide. We are punk kids at heart with a love for the avant-garde. I would say we are the kind of aliens you can talk to and don’t have to fear. Or when you find a unicorn on your bike ride home. We do have a specific aesthetic for how we represent our material. Most of it is DIY; I like touching all the shirts, records etc. I will silk screening some of my drawings for t-shirt designs or for our current vinyl.

Sometimes I make things for our shows to give to everyone. It really depends on the setting and how we are feeling. We also like working with other artists. It is cool to see how they represent you. We currently released our video “Open Pirate”, artist Christopher Ian Macfarlane created it. All we told him was we wanted his style of work, and that I wanted an image of a goat, his family had to be in it someplace, I also told him what the song was about but told him that did not have to be in it at all. So we let him have loads of creative freedom. I love the new video. We also did a fan video for “Shelby Apples” like 2 years ago and fans had to take a mask we made download it and draw on them and video tape themselves. We enjoy that interaction with people.

SDH: How many tracks has the band recorded, all together?

MU: 23-25 tracks for sure. We may have one or two random tracks recorded on special cd’s that we give out at shows or sometimes we give free downloads of things we haven’t released if you win a prize from us. We are really into doing one of kind things.

SDH: What are your songs about?

MU: Some are about the education system/parents. Others are about parties. Running around abandoned train stations; Tony and I still do a lot of that stuff any second we can. Some is about dumb conversations you have with people.

SDH: Is there any one song that, for you, epitomizes the sound of Pocket Of Lollipops?

MU: Tony thinks it is “Sewing Circle”, but I think “Angry Kittens”. I think our fans would say “Shelby Apples”or “Cute Chaos”

SDH: How does the songwriting process play out? Is the band a full-on partnership, or does one of you act as the nominal “leader” of the group?

MU: We are both leaders at different time. I write the bass lines and organizes parts, then I share them with tony then he plays drums and I listen to what he does a bit and vice versa, Then I add lyrics that both of us come up with. Usually the ones I can’t sing are the ones he can sing perfect. After we write the song tony composes some digital violins, space sounds, etc. I just tell him some sounds I like and he just writes things. Eventually one of the digital tracks works with the song we are putting together. If it doesn’t work we save it and use it later. IT is a partnership almost all the time, unless we disagree then I just fight for what I want. I usually win, or he lets me win.

SDH: How long have you been married? How did you meet? Does your marriage pre-date the band?

MU: We got married on 11-11-01 I have a crazy thing with numbers. We meet at a third grade bake sale, but became friends later on high school. Yes, the marriage pre-dates the band, the band started in 2009.

SDH: Being in a band is a challenge, and being married is a challenge…

MU: I like challenges.

SDH: What kind of equipment do you use?

MU: Tony plays a Gretsch Drum set and I play an Acoustic 450 Bass/Combo. I use tons of pedals to create different distortion and other effects. All the extra sounds Tony makes are done on a Mac Computer with synths.

SDH: How long are your sets usually?

MU: 25-30 min…for a bar. For a gallery, sometimes we do 45 minutes-2hours. It really depends on the space and if we are playing with other people.

SDH: What artists have inspired your approach to music?

MU: My approach to music is more how I approach art; I take things I like and start to put pieces together. Tony and I are inspired by so many artists it would be really hard to pick one out. For example, Bjork for the way she can come out in some random outfit, or Brian Wilson how he was a studio nazi, or how Radio Head could sell their cd for whatever they wanted, the rule breakers or makers, whatever you wanna called them. But we are drawn to those who did what they wanted.

SDH: What’s been your favorite music to listen to this year?

MU: Julie Ruin, I just got into and I am enjoying that. Echo and the Bunnymen, Television, Pink Floyd, The Unicorns, Versus, Unrest and Dr. Dre.

SDH: What Basel-related stuff are you guys doing?

MU: We are playing for an opening party for one of the fairs. And I have an art show for a fair that is not a fair, and we are playing it also.

SDH: As a Miami-based artist and musician, what does Basel mean to you, in terms of business? Is it something locals look forward to?

MU: Yes and no. We complain about it and rest before it and always say we won’t do anything that year, and then you feel its presence, and you start saying yes to things, and it’s cool, ‘cuz so many things are going on, and you want to try and see all of it also.

SDH: Do you guys make your living fully through your art and music? Is that something the artists and musicians in your scene are able to do?

MU: Maybe a handful…they may take up an odd job here and there, but some are. But it is a hustle. Tony the other half of Lollipops(my husband) just quit his day job so one of us can put more time into everything we are doing. I also teach high school art for the public school system somehow–I just don’t tell everyone.

SDH: Which is more stressful: being a working musician or being an art teacher?

MU: I tend to look at things pretty positive. I think they both feed off of each other right now. I like going to work with kids; they have a great energy, and it feeds for good lyrics. I would say the stress is when i have a show and I am up till late, and somehow I make it to work the next day ‘cuz i don’t want to be a slack teacher ‘cuz of my other career, and vice versa. I do know a stress: one time we played at some crazy house party, and out of nowhere i saw students in the crowd. That was my two worlds combining. I was not prepared for that.

SDH: Does your status as a musician help you relate to the students?

MU: Yes. They love it. They always ask me why i don’t play our songs in class, ‘cuz i play music all the time with our lessons. I tell them I am there to teach art, not gain new fans.

SDH: What are your plans for 2014, personally and professionally? What do you wish to accomplish next?

MU: We have an artist/music residency in Rhode Island at the end of June at the AS220 Building, so we will also set up a little mini tour on the way. We are releasing another video. Working on a SXSW bill. Making new drawings and songs. Tony is writing another novel, which lends to our lyrical layout. Maybe figure out a way to make it overseas. Make more music and tour some more. I like visiting new places.

http://www.pocketoflollipops.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pocketoflollipops

https://www.facebook.com/LAKEDISNEYBAND

http://lllegs.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/events/595166023874725/605833002808027

[Update: Here’s the video of their set at Burro Bar on the 29th–any video sloppiness is my fault entirely…]

Notes on recent podcasts…

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One of my goals this year, especially during the hiatus from print journalism earlier this year, was to put more time into electronic media–specifically, the wild world of podcasting. Like most of you, I’ve been listening to them avidly; for the record, my two favorites are both pro-wrestling related, of course: The Steve Austin Show, and The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana. Both shows have been highly entertaining, and I dare say, inspirational to my own efforts.

However, my output in the podcasting business has kinda sucked ass so far, in large part because I lack the discipline of Messers Austin and Cabana. My own podcast, “the HullCast“, has been sporadic; I’ve only done a few episodes on the existing platform over the years. I have no idea how to edit sound, and I’ve procrastinated on making the crucial hardware/software/bandwidth investments needed to get it all going at full-speed. (Also, I’ve not designed a logo yet; I had a very nice artist in mind, but I guess she thought I was kidding about the whole “commissioning a logo for my podcast” thing.) So, instead and supplementary to that stuff, I’ve spent a bit of time doing guest-shots on other people’s podcasts, and here are a couple quick notes on the ones I’ve been involved with recently.

The Side Hustle Podcast is the brainchild of my good friend Walter Gant; it spun off from “The List FM” podcast (currently on hiatus), which he was a regular on, and I an occasional guest. Walt’s day-job is taking to bigger and better places (namely, Orlando), and it appears that he’ll be passing the torch to me after his departure. So, preparatory to that, I did a guest shot on August 16. This episode also features regular panelists Cody Barksdale, Sarah Hatfield and Willis LeRoy.

The Pretend Radio podcast is run by my friend Devin Clark, and its focus tends to be on the world of stand-up comedy. I’ve been a guest on his show a couple times, which is interesting because I’m not a comedian (although I’ve been accused of it on occasion). Chris Buck is always there with me, as well, and the most recent episode (recorded August 4) also included the delightful Kris Niblock. (We are billed as “Kris Niblock and friends”, which is hilarious in many ways.)

The Ali B Variety show is hosted by Alicia Bertine, one of the most interesting and inspirational people I’ve ever had the opportunity to know. She touches on a variety of topics, including health and wellness, politics and affairs of the heart. She was kind enough to invite me on the show on August 13; we mainly discussed cancer and birth defects, and their relationship to the use of depleted uranium in Iraq, as well as our shared disdain for genetically-modified foods. It sounds really heavy, but it’s actually pretty funny–indeed, probably funnier than the stuff I did on the other two shows, which was supposed to be funny. That says something about me, but I don’t know what. Again, when I find the link to that show, I’ll put it here.

Random links to recent Folio Weekly stories…

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Folio Weekly logo

As you know, I took most of the first half of the year away from print journalism, for various reasons best saved for a podcast elsewhere (thanks, Meggybo!). But I’ve been back in the saddle this summer, returning to Folio Weekly, where I’ve been writing on a regular basis since summer 1997. Just wanted to take a quick moment to post links of the recent stuff I’ve done, for the benefit of all my little Hull-A-Maniacs who aren’t in Jacksonville and can’t read the print edition. So, here ya go…

*Canary In the Coalmine (june 26): http://folioweekly.com/Songbirds,5663

*“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” (July 10): http://folioweekly.com/There-Will-Be-Blood,5915

*Black Kids (August 14): http://folioweekly.com/Not-Just-Kids-Anymore,6544 

*Mick Foley (August 21): http://folioweekly.com/A-Hardcore-Humorist,6681

Notes on Scared Rabbits, PopNihil, etc.

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Track list and flyer…

Scared Rabbits/Burnt Hair/Vase/Cyril/Andy Borsz/Vile Wine

CoRK Arts District, 2689 Rosselle Street

Friday, August 9, 9pm

Artist Morrison Pierce has been performing and recording as “Scared Rabbits” for nearly a decade, but Darkness To Black marks the group’s first official full-length release. Although he’s already sold couple dozen copies of the album to friends and patrons, its formal debut occurs as part of an event being held at CORK on Friday, August 9 featuring five other bands. (They will also be doing a release party at Rain Dogs on the 22nd.) I met him there, a few days ago, to listen to the album and talk about its development.

While a number of talents have been involved in Scared Rabbits shows over the years (most notably Jay Peele and the late great Brian Hicks), the current incarnation as documented on the album features Pierce on vocals atop instrumental production by Chance Isbell, who’s been involved in the project for about a year. It’s just the latest multimedia collaboration between the two, both men are visual artists by trade, and both fixtures in the CORK scene from practically its inception.

Morrison Pierce, occupying his studio

The album was recorded entirely on four-track tape, and was culled together from hours of material, which will eventually spawn further albums. Tracks range from 2:21 to 12:44, and the overall noisy freak-out vibe is tempered (however briefly) by moments of genuine beauty. For me, highlights include the opening track, “America Loves You”, a tour-de-force running nearly 12 minutes, built around vocal samples of politicians’ overly sunny spin on what the artists view as a society in economic and moral decay. And then there’s the simultaneously  offensive-yet-funny “Lesbian Chicken”, which is the closest thing they have to a radio single—though really not that close.

Chance Isbell, setting that trap…

The evening also sees the release of new product by the local Popnihil label, whose founder Matthew Moyer will be performing as Burnt Hair with Trenton Tarpits. “The genesis of popnihil was really just a dissatisfaction with the creeping, all-consuming digitization of the parts of popular culture that I liked best (music, books, magazines),” writes Moyer, “and a realization that if I truly valued the physical artifact and truly wanted to stand against a sterile future of mp3s and ebooks, it was time to put my money where my mouth was and help make tangible, physical objects. popnihil began with Jason Brown and I making collaborative zines, and I started releasing cassettes soon after, just to get the music of Keith Ansel/Mon Cul out there. Since then, I’ve released a number of other tapes by Jacksonville-area musicians operating on the harsher fringes of sound. And zines, always zines.”

For Moyer, who spends his days toiling at the Jacksonville Public Library, and certain nights hosting “Lost In the Stacks” for WJCT, popnihil has been a labor of love for the music, and his friends who are involved in making it. The CORK show will function in part as a showcase for that whole scene, a scene whose potency has only increased over this long, hot summer. “The product being released this Friday includes the new cassette by Voids, ‘Burial In The Sky’,” he writes. “Voids is the project of noise prodigy Jon Thoreson, and it’s really his most fully realized work yet. Beautiful, spare soundscapes give way to discipline-and-punish grind. And he collaborated with members of NON, Swans, Chelsea Wolfe, and Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show. No foolin’. Then there’s the debut demo from local garage savages The Mold. They make a mighty, blown-out racket with just keyboard, bass, drums and snotty (oh so snotty) vocals. Fourteen minutes of pure juvenile delinquency on a snot-colored cassette, that repeats on the other side. Just like ‘Reign In Blood’ does. They’re not going to be a local secret much longer. And I need to give another mention to the new Game Show tape, which came out at the end of July. It’s Josh Touchton and Zach Ferguson’s severely damaged hip-hop project. It’s kinda the line in the sand between people who say they like weird music and people who REALLY like freaked out music. Also the new popnihil music zine is coming out, if I can get it together in time. And, of course, the last remaining copies of tapes by Encounters and Beach Party will be on offer.”

So, that’s up to a half-dozen new recordings available that night, not to mention whatever else the other bands bring with them; Moyer “handpicked all the bands for Friday’s lineup,” and is far better equipped to describe them than I: “There’s the aforementioned Voids for starters, as this is the their tape release party. Burnt Hair, my coldwave/goth project with Trenton Tarpits of 2416/MREOW, will play a set. Vase (formerly Mohr) is John Ross Tooke’s project, first show of 2013, and it will be full-on overcast industrial nightmarescapes. Andy Borsz from the noise juggernaut Slasher Risk (and new Jax resident) is going to play a rare solo set, and you never what to expect from him. I’m excited that some friends from Austin are going to play this show as a one-off: Cyril is the solo endeavor of Aaron from Weird Weeds, and it’s just evil electronic hypnosis, and Vile Wine is a collaboration between Aaron and Sheila from No Mas Bodas/Suspirians, and it’ll be total armageddon, for certain. Closing out the night will be cult volume abusers Scared Rabbits. What will they sound like? Who will be in the band for the night? One never knows….”

https://www.facebook.com/events/618494358185002

 

Show flyer

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

August 9, 2013

Interview with Alessandra Altamura, author of “Music Club Toscana”

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Music Club Toscana: Music time stories, by Alessandra Altamura. Piombino, Italy: Edizioni IL FOGLIO. 192 pp. www.ilfoglioletterario.it

"Music Club Toscana" cover

It was mid-afternoon in late March when the postman’s knock interrupted my nap. (Being in journalistic exile leaves much room for napping, and other forms of self-reflection.) The package I signed for had ten stamps on it—five depicting the Terme Di Bonifacio VIII, and a row of five up top depicting the late singer Nino Reitano (1944-2009)—totaling 12.50 Euros, the equivalent of $16.07. Interesting: I hadn’t even opened the package yet, and I’d already learned something! That was to prove a useful omen.

Inside the envelope was a fresh new copy of the debut collection of 22 short-stories by Alessandra Altamura, an Italian-born literature teacher who turns 40 this November and graduated from the Liceo Classico Macchiavelli and the University of Pisa. The contents were pleasant, but of no surprise; I’d been waiting for it for a few days. Altamura, the author, had sent it off from her home in Lucca (near Pisa), in Tuscany in the great historic country of Italy on March 12. Two weeks days to travel across the Mediterranean, the European continent and the Atlantic Ocean seemed quite reasonable.

I was looking forward to seeing it for myself, and I was in no way disappointed. Music Club Toscana: Music time stories is a labor of love in the most literal sense; it combines her dual passions for music and her own native culture. Translated from the original Italian, the writing is vibrant and briskly-paced; the text moves fast over 192 pages. The book’s contents are like its packaging: smooth, compact and colorful. Speaking as someone who no longer makes regular practice of reading much fiction, I enjoyed the book immensely. After reading her book, I got the chance to briefly interview Ms. Altamura via email from New York City, where she arrived to begin her book tour last week.

SDH: How long did it take to write this book? Where did the idea come from?

AA: I wrote my book in a few months, less than one year, but I collected the material for these stories [over] my whole life. The idea comes from my love for music, especially live music. I have many friends who are musicians, also my brother plays the guitar. Other than that, music clubs are full of stories and characters.

SDH: Are your characters all real people, all fictional, or a combination?

AA: Some characters are real, with their real names, some are fictional and some are a mix of reality and fantasy.

SDH: What kind of music do you like?

AA: The first story was born in a club in Florence where my friends usually play, then came all the others. In the book there are many kinds of music, because each person needs a different kind of music. Personally I prefer jazz, the great songwriters and in general a music that makes people meet and think.

SDH: Which of the venues did you visit first?

AA: I visited first the places closest to my town. Lucca, Pisa, Florence. Then I went to the farest, like Siena, Arezzo or Grosseto, just to have a complete vision for my book.

SDH: Which venue in the book is your favorite?

AA: My favorite venue and also my favorite story is the one that takes place at Le Murate, that was the prison of Florence before becoming a club.

SDH: Tell me a bit about the lady who translated the book into English…

AA: Shayna Hobbs is a friend of a friend, who lived some time in Italy and taught me English. Now they live in Georgia and they will host me after Florida. oh, this is a funny thing, because each story is translated from a different friend. So in English there are really many characters and voices. Then a lady read it to see if there were mistakes. Maybe there are still some mistakes, because we did all quickly when I was leaving to London, but the English version is a proof that my friends love me…

SDH: Do you plan to write more books? Have you decided on the topic yet?

AA: I think to write another book, with stories that take place all over the world. In fact I’m trying to travel and know better other countries.

SDH: Who are your favorite Italian musicians?

AA: My favourite Italian musicians are the big songwriters, who are also poets: de Andrè, Fossati, Guccini, De Gregori and others. I went to the concerts of many of them and I liked much, but I’m sorry, because I never listened to a concert of de Andrè, before he died.

[She will be at Chamblin’s Uptown, in downtown Jacksonville, on Sunday, July 21 to sign copies and give a presentation on her work. If you’re into travel literature or jazz, it’s well-worth checking out.]

sheltonhull@gmail.com

July 19, 2013

Notes on Gene Krupa: “Dial M For Music”, 1967

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May 11, 1937: Krupa sweats through his suit as the Benny Goodman band challenges Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Some estimates suggest that between 4,000 and 20,000 people went in, through and around the venue that night…

Multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu did epic work with Gene Krupa in the mid-’50s, following up from Charlie Ventura in the ’40s. Parts of this were in the old DCI VHS on Krupa (which, like the whole series, never went digital); so was the session with Sid Catlett on “Boy, What A Girl!” For some reason, after 20 years, the full videos of both find their way online, entirely unrelated–in this case, thanks to Shu’s children. Here Krupa, a devout Catholic, lays it down for some teenagers in Chicago, and basically does a shoot interview; truly essential stuff. He’s 58 here. If Krupa were a wrestler, he’d be Lou Thesz