Morning Cincy! Here’s your news today.
Former senator and potential Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum visited the Greater Cincinnati area yesterday to speak at a conference on religious freedom in West Chester Township. Santorum wasn’t shy about mixing in some campaigning, telling the crowd that big government is threatening their freedom to be Christian and that the path forward is electing strong Christian leaders like Santorum himself. He threw out some recent headlines, including one about public schools in New York celebrating Muslim holidays, as examples of ways in which the religious right are being persecuted by pretty much everyone else. In his god, guns, no government stumping, Santorum appears to be reprising his role as 2012 Republican presidential primary runner-up. He came in second to Mitt Romney, a guy who has no weird religious ideas whatsoever. Santorum told the Cincinnati Enquirer he is considering running again for the GOP nomination and will make a solid decision in June or so.
• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBT advocates, has recognized a local nonprofit for its service to LGBT youth. HRC has awarded Lighthouse Youth Services with its All Children – All Families seal of approval, the organization’s highest recognition of competency with LGBT issues for child welfare agencies. Lighthouse, which does street outreach, residential treatment and other programs with homeless and at risk youth, is the first agency in Ohio to receive the award.
“It’s an honor to receive this recognition from HRC as we work to serve this population of young people who are at such high risk of homelessness and discrimination,” said Lighthouse President and CEO Bob Mecum in a statement.
• As a fan of dark beer, and, really, dark beer exclusively, I’ve sat on the bench watching a number of craft brewers pop up around the city. Those brewers are great and all, but hopped-up IPAs are just not my style and that seems to be the rage these days. However, someone has finally heard my cry and now there’s a brewer coming devoted to my love of the dark, chocolaty richness of stouts and porters. Darkness Brewery is planning to open just across the river in Bellevue in September, focused on the tastiest corner of the beer world. I’ll be camped out at the door come grand opening. Founders Eric Bosier and Ron Sanders are currently funding the enterprise themselves but might set up a Kickstarter campaign in the near future.
• Do courts in Kentucky discriminate against addicts by blocking those on probation from taking anti-addiction drugs like methadone? That’s what a federal lawsuit filed by a Kentucky nurse alleges. Stephanie Watson is an opiate addict who is forbidden from taking medication aimed at easing her off the drugs. Watson’s attorneys say that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit targets the state’s Monitored Conditional Release program, which maintains the rules about the drugs, and seeks to have those rules overturned. Officials from the release program have yet to comment on the suit.
• Business groups across the state are signaling they’re not on board with Gov. John Kasich’s tax cut plan, mostly because it includes an increase in sales taxes. Kasich has proposed a $500 million tax cut for the state, mostly achieved by lowering income taxes while raising sales taxes and taxes on specific items such as cigarettes. Many of Ohio’s regional chambers of commerce have come out against the plan, saying it will limit Ohio’s nascent economic recovery. Kasich’s plan has also drawn flack from liberals, who say it makes the state’s tax structure more regressive. It’s also not gotten a lot of love from the Republican-dominated General Assembly, who have signaled they will be making changes to Kasich’s proposed budget.
• Here’s an interesting, and distressing, wrinkle in the ongoing national conversation about police use of force set off by the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. This story explores the little-recognized fact that all the police involved in recent controversial shooting deaths of unarmed black citizens have been remarkably young and inexperienced — all well under the age of 30. While it’s important to realize that a number of systemic issues seem to be at play in the deaths of young men like Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, officer inexperience seems to be an important, and under-recognized, element to the tragedies.
That’s all I’ve got today. You know the drill: tweet at me (@nswartsell), email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment with news tips or general heckling. Whatever you gotta do.
Yesterday, Cincinnati Alt Pop foursome Walk the Moon continued its promotional blitz behind its sophomore major label album, Talking is Hard,
with a performance on Ellen DeGeneres' popular daytime talk/variety
show. After being introduced by DeGeneres as a "great Rock & Roll
band from Cincinnati, Ohio," the group played its single "Shut Up and
Dance" and singer Nicholas Petricca ran into the crowd to rock out with
Coincidentally, another Cincinnati-born band, The Afghan Whigs, appeared on national television the night before, performing "The Lottery" from their latest album on late night's Jimmy Kimmel Live. Watch it here and a web-exclusive performance of "I Am Fire," with a dash of Fleetwod Mac's "Tusk," here. WtM also played Kimmel late last year when the new album was released.
Walk the Moon will play a hometown show at Bogart's on
April 1 (like many shows on the band's current tour, it has already sold
out), then returns this summer to play the Bunbury Music Festival in
early June (tickets available here).
On Tuesday, March 17, Cincinnati duo Bad Veins will see its latest album, The Mess Remade, released nationally. The 13-track effort isn't an entirely "new" album, but a re-recorded/remastered version of Bad Veins' sophomore full-length, The Mess We've Made, which came out in 2012 on the Modern Outsider label. The record — which features new cover art, as well — comes after some big changes in lead Vein Benjamin Davis' band — the departure of original drummer Sebastien Schultz (who now plays with local Indie Pop group Multimagic), the addition of new drummer Jake Bonta and a new label home, the third nationally-distributed label in Bad Veins' lifespan (its self-titled debut was released on Dangerbird Records).
The Mess Remade is being released on the Dynamite Music imprint, a new company founded by Marco Liuzzo and Mitch Davis (son of music biz legend Clive Davis). The label is partnered with Caroline, which is part of Capitol Records and Universal Music Distribution. Bad Veins are the company's second announced signees, following Pop singer Ryan Cabrera.
The Mess Remade includes two new tracks, "I Shut My Heart Down" and a cover of The Muppets' classic "Rainbow Connection" (Davis performed the song solo to open the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony). The early release of "Rainbow Connection" in January and last month's puppet-filled music video release (premiered at The AV Club) caught some buzz online. The album also features a shorter "radio edit" of the leadoff track "Kindness," as well as the original 5-minutes-plus version.
Here is a video clip for the new "Kindness":
And here's the "Rainbow Connection" clip:
Noisetrade.com has a four-track sampler of Remade available here if you can't wait a week.
Find more about Bad Veins here.
Morning y’all! Here’s a brief morning news rundown before I jet off to some interviews.
The Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations met last night at UC for a sometimes intense five-and-a-half-hour listening session. A large group showed up to listen to expert testimony and to speak to the panel themselves. Perhaps the most charged moment came when John Crawford, Jr., the father of John Crawford III, a Fairfield man shot by police in a Beavercreek Walmart, gave emotional testimony about the need for police reforms.
Among experts presenting were Garry McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, who talked about data-driven policing, Lt. Colonel David Bailey from the Cincinnati Police Department and Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati attorney who played a key role in the city’s collaborative agreement following the civil unrest here in 2001. State Sen. Cecil Thomas also testified about his role in the agreement. About 45 community members signed up to speak, including young activists with the Ohio Student Association, who argued there should be youth representation on the 18-person panel. Most attendees were from Cincinnati, but some drove from as far away as Columbus and Toledo. The panel concludes a tour of four listening sessions across the state. Now the task force, which was convened by Gov. John Kasich in December, will work on a report about its findings due at the end of April.
• A potential Over-the-Rhine neighborhood parking plan continues to take shape. Council discussed the prospective plan yesterday at its Transportation Committee meeting but did not pass anything just yet. Right now, the plan council is mulling would charge about $100 to park in one of 400 reserved spots around the neighborhood. That’s about a third of all the spots in OTR. Those who receive housing assistance would get a deal on the parking plan, however, only paying $18. Only two passes would be permitted per household.
• A bill necessary to move forward with tolling on a potential Brent Spence Bridge replacement is a likely wash in the Kentucky state Senate, meaning it’s back to the drawing board for the $2.6 billion project. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear recently proposed a public-private partnership to fund the 51-year-old structurally obsolete bridge’s replacement, but that requires Kentucky, which owns the bridge, to pass a law allowing public-private partnerships. Some Kentucky politicians, including many Northern Kentucky officials, oppose tolls on the bridge, saying they’ll hurt commuters and businesses in the region.
• Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has garnered another big endorsement in his run against Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2016 race for Republican Rob Portman’s Senate seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the party’s senators, has backed Strickland over Sittenfeld. There was some speculation that Sittenfeld, who is regarded as a promising rising star within the party, would bow out to the more experienced and well-known Strickland when the latter announced his campaign last month. But the younger Democrat has vowed to stay in the race, even as the going gets tougher. Yesterday, we told you that current Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown also endorsed Strickland. Sittenfeld has backers of his own, to be sure, and has raised a respectable $500,000 for his campaign.
• Finally, let’s go national. When something like the following happens, I automatically assume it happened in Florida, and I’m right a distressing amount of the time. On Sunday, thieves there stole a tractor-trailer with $85,000 worth of… mozzarella cheese. That’s a felony level of cheese there, friends. If I had that much cheese, I’d probably swim in it the way Scrooge McDuck used to swim in all those crazy gold coins he had. Police haven’t found the culprits yet, but I have a hot tip for them: Look for the guys making an insanely large pizza.
That’s it. See ya. Tweet at me @nswartsell or hit me on email (email@example.com).
Jess Lamb’s initial performance for the judges on American Idol’s bus tour was undeniably a show stopper. It wrapped up the episode and introduced America to one of Cincinnati’s brightest talents, while also moving her on to the Hollywood round after impressing the judges. Her second televised appearance, a group rendition of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” was considered one of the stronger performances of the Idol Groups round.
That is why it shocked many viewers when she was quietly cut from the show after the performance.
Allegations quickly followed blaming Lamb’s cut on comments that Jennifer Lopez had made regarding the age of some of the contestants, due to Lamb being one of the older performers in the competition (she is only 29). If there’s anything that Lamb would like to set straight it is this: Don’t believe everything you hear. And this is far from the end of the road for her.
“Honestly, I got nothing but really awesome comments from [Lopez]. No bad comments, nothing,” Lamb explains.
Lamb is still unsure as to exactly why she didn’t move on to the next round — American Idol never provided her with a reason — but she does not believe that it was Lopez’s comments or her age that caused the cut. Lamb frequently questioned the editing of the episode and the presentation of Lopez’s comments while discussing the episode and the ensuing fallout.
While the cut was undeniably a blow to Lamb, it is one she is quickly recovering from. In fact, when the episode aired, she wasn’t even able to watch because she was working on one of her myriad new projects at the time.
“I’m busier since Idol than I ever have been. I’m working with Bootsy [Collins], writing with his backup singer, talking with his wife about a project she wants me to work on, preparing for [record label] showcases,” Lamb says.
While Idol’s promised record contract is now out of reach, that hasn’t slowed down Lamb’s work towards her goal of signing with a label and releasing a full-length album. In fact, Idol gave her the exposure that she needed to land on the radar of several big names within the Pop music community. “Grammy-award winner” is descriptor not often connected to people working with local music acts, but it applies in this instance. (Lamb can’t divulge too much information about certain facets of her industry interactions, so vague hints will have to do for now.)
Details are still being discussed and Lamb is still under Idol’s contractual obligations restricting her from signing with any labels before the show is over and a set period of time has passed since its finale. But Lamb is making the best of the time between now and May.
“I’m just trying to do what I’m legally able to do,” Lamb says.
While American Idol continues its search for the next American pop star, Lamb is determined to grow her career using many of the tools that she’s been using for years. She’s constantly attempting to break into new markets, make music with new people and perform for new audiences. The only difference is that she now has a national TV show appearance to help with promotion and publicity. The details of her release from American Idol may be shrouded in a bit of controversy, but ultimately what will endure are her fans’ memories of her performances. It is those memories that will be reignited once American Idol runs its course and Lamb is able to finally take the steps she’s been feverishly working towards putting in place.
And with several months till Idol’s run completes, Lamb has plenty of time to make some very big plans.
Hey all! Hope your weekend was great. I spent my Saturday at the Neighborhood Summit, so mine was super fun because I’m a huge dork. If you’re like me and you’re into community building, urban planning, transit, or anything else at all city related, though, it’s kind of like our Midpoint. Highlights included a three-part panel discussion among Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell, activists Damon Lynch III and Iris Roley and other experts talking about how far the Cincinnati Police Department has come since 2001, as well as another set of presentations about immigration in Cincinnati.
Anyway, on to the news. Could labs on Cincinnati’s East Side currently occupied by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health be a new home for the Hamilton County crime lab? County Commissioner Todd Portune says he’s looking into that possibility. Last month, the federal government announced it was providing $100 million to build a new facility for NIOSH to combine the organization’s two labs in Cincinnati into one complex over the next few years. That could free up plenty of lab space for the county’s cramped and outdated morgue and crime labs, currently in a building built in the early 1970s. What’s more, some of that $100 million could go toward renovating the current NIOSH lab so the county crime lab could move in. The idea comes after county commissioners killed a plan to move the morgue, crime lab and other county offices to a former Mercy Hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county for a dollar. Commissioners have said it would cost too much money to retrofit that building for the new offices.
• A statewide task force on police-community relations put together by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the wake of controversy over police shootings is coming to Cincinnati tonight. A public listening session will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Kingsgate Marriott, 151 Goodman Drive, near the University of Cincinnati. City Locals Councilwoman Amy Murray, Pastor Damon Lynch III and others make up the panel, which will produce a report in April on ways to improve relationships between police and community members. Kasich ordered the task force in December in response to nationwide consternation over police shootings of unarmed citizens of color across the country. In Ohio, the August shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart and the October killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground in Cleveland have gotten national attention. Both held toy guns at the time of their deaths, and police say they seemed to pose a threat. But the families of both Rice and Crawford say police were reckless and did not act appropriately. They say the shootings are indicative of a larger cultural problem between police and communities of color.
• As political bickering continues to swirl around the streetcar’s first phase, Councilman Chris Seelbach is pushing the city to work on planning the rail project’s next leg. Seelbach has created a motion in council seeking to spur the city to begin work on plans that would take the streetcar uptown toward the University of Cincinnati and many of the city’s hospitals. The motion directs the city administration to give detailed accounting of how much the next phase of the project would cost and how it might be paid for with state and federal grants. Seelbach has also requested the city refine its process for engaging community members along the route to get better input on the project. Originally, plans for the streetcar treated the downtown loop currently being built and an uptown jaunt as one phase. But then Gov. John Kasich pulled $55 million in state funding for the project, resulting in the current scaled-down scope. Mayor John Cranley, who has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar, has said it’s much too soon to begin focusing on the next phase before the first is even finished. But Seelbach and other supporters say the only way to tap into federal funds and other sources of funding is to have a plan in place and ready to go.
• Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of Ohio’s highest-profile Democrats, has endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his run for the state’s other senate seat, currently held by Republican Rob Portman. That’s not a surprise — Strickland is one of Ohio’s other super high profile Democrats — but it does signal the challenge City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has ahead as he challenges Strickland in the Democratic primary for the seat. Sittenfeld, who announced his candidacy last month, has recently said he won’t back down from the race despite his big name competitor. He’s raised at least $500,000 for his run and told supporters last week that he’s all in for the fight. Though Brown endorsed Strickland, he was careful to praise Sittenfeld in his announcement, saying the 30-year-old has a bright future in politics.
• In the face of issues around execution drugs, a steady number of exonerations of those on Ohio’s death row and other factors, is it time to consider reforming or abolishing Ohio’s death penalty? Many feel strongly that it is, including unlikely conservative opponents to the punishment. Recent delays to executions caused by Ohio’s struggle to find a source for drugs that will end an inmate’s life humanely have renewed calls for the state to reconsider its death penalty entirely. This Columbus Dispatch story takes a deep look into the issue and is worth a read.
• Finally, March 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the violent clash between police and protesters in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped fuel new national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act. Thousands visited Selma over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary, which was marked by passionate speeches by both President Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder used his speech to question the future of the VRA, parts of which have been dismantled by recent Supreme Court decisions. Here’s a pretty in-depth New York Times piece about events in Selma over the past few days.
That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet (@nswartsell), e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), comment, send me a telegram or a fax (do people still fax? Is that still a thing?) Here we go. Tweet me about whether you still use a fax machine or even know what a fax machine is. I kind of do.
The movie is based on the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which roughly 150 British and Welsh soldiers faced off against an overwhelming number of Zulu warriors at a mission station in southern Africa. In a lot of ways it’s almost the British equivalent of the Battle of the Alamo — the difference in this case being the British soldiers won their battle, whereas all the defenders of the Alamo died.
Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in the movie. But anybody who has ever seen a “Based on a True Story” movie should be aware of that by now.
To me, some of the best war films out there are not the ones that are overly patriotic and about ‘us vs. them,’ but ones that show us who the people are on both sides or, at the very least, films that don’t broad-brush the other side. With Zulu, we get that. Neither side is portrayed as the hero nor the villain; they’re two powerful forces, in their own way, who duke it out in combat. Both are proven to be worthy adversaries who don’t give up without a fight.
One thing I love about this film is the use of sound. The movie seems to use chats, songs and sounds as a motif about the sides. Probably the most effective use is when the Zulus arrive, coming over the ridge making a huge clatter with their assegai (short spears) and shields. One of the officers in charge, Gonville Bromhead (played by Michael Caine in his first film), says that it sounds, “Like a train…in the distance.” This comparison works rather well. It’s this constant clamor created that gives the audience an idea that the British are up against an almost unstoppable force. And when the near 4,000 Zulus pop up on the ridge, it seals the envelope.
Along with the drumming, the Zulus also have their own war chants which are another form used to intimidate the defenders, but on the morning of the second day the defenders reply with their own battle cry, the military march “Men of Harlech.” I see this as director Cy Enfield’s way of showing that even though these men are in a war against each other, they do have similarities. But the beautiful medleys of the British and Zulus are disrupted with the continuous roar and volley of rifle fire. And at the end of the battle many lay dead; although they are victorious, there’s no cheers to be shouted. But the Zulus do offer a final chant of respect to their worthy adversaries.
At the end, Bromhead is asked by the
more experienced officer John Chard (Stanley Baker) what he thought of his
first action. Bromhead replies with “Sick,” and Chard follows it with, “You’d
have to alive to be sick.” A clever indication of the creative team’s thoughts
There are many other great things to say about the film. The dynamic between Baker and Caine is fantastic, and supporting performances from James Booth as the drunk, petty thief Henry Hook (one of the controversial inaccuracies) and Nigel Greene as the tough but kindhearted Colour Sgt. Bourne are great. The performances from then-Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his people are impressive. Also the cinematography by Stephen Dade is gorgeous, he makes every shot interesting. It almost reminds me of a John Ford Western.
Lots of booze-based, full-weekend events going on. Bockfest and the Cincinnati International Wine Festival Grand Tastings both kick off tonight — one with a goat and the other with a far classier couple, Gina Gallo of the Gallo wine family and her husband Jean-Charles Boisset, of France's Boisset Family Estates winery.
Cincinnatians not only love their beer, they also love to celebrate that they love their beer. They even love to celebrate the celebration of loving their beer. Bockfest, the oldest and largest German-style bock beer festival in the United States, is back to host a weekend of beer drinking, live music, German games, dancing, a 5k run and tons of sausage. The party kicks off 6 p.m. Friday with a parade led by a majestic bock — or to the non-German speaker, a goat — and a Sausage Queen, starting at Arnold’s Bar & Grill and ending with a ceremonial keg blessing at the festival hub, Bockfest Hall (1619 Moore St., OTR). The festivities continue in tents and overflow into surrounding participating venues, none of which will have an admission fee. A free shuttle will run a continuous loop among Bockfest sites all weekend long, taking you quickly from one keg tapping to another.
Along the route will be a traditional fish fry at Old St. Mary’s in OTR and a “veenie” vegan sausage roast outside Park + Vine. The festivities continue into the outdoor tent venues, and overflow into surrounding participating venues, none of which will have an admission fee. A free shuttle bus will run a continuous loop among the Bockfest sites all weekend long, taking you quickly from one keg tapping to another. To get a taste of history to sample with your beer, there will be tours of the city’s historical breweries and underground tunnels, plus a Bockfest Heritage Series at the Woodward Theatre, with speakers, presentations, displays and stein collections. The third annual Bockfest 5k run takes off from Bockfest Hall 10 a.m. Saturday to benefit the Flying Pig Marathon charities — a great way to burn off all that beer. Grab a “Continental Bockfest” of Amish chicken, hot bacon sauerkraut slaw and plenty of German sausage noon-2 p.m. Sunday at Bockfest Hall, before dancing the night away at a traditional German folk dance … or at least until all the beer runs out. Friday-Sunday. Free. Full schedule of events at bockfest.com.
Event: Cincinnati International Wine Festival
If wine gets better with age, it makes sense that the Cincinnati International Wine Festival would too. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the three-day fest is made up of winery dinners at local restaurants and grand tastings, plus a Saturday charity auction and luncheon at the Hall of Mirrors. The fest, which is a nonprofit, has raised more than $4.2 million for local charities during its lifetime. And if you can do good while imbibing samples of more than 800 wines from around the world, what’s better than that? Most winery dinners are sold out, but tickets are still available for Grand Tastings on Friday and Saturday, which allow expert and beginner oenophiles to taste rare, new and exciting wines while chatting with winemakers. Read our cheat-sheet for how to get your grape on here. 6:30-9 p.m. Friday; 2:30-4:30 p.m. and 6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday. $65-$125. Duke Energy Convention Center, 525 Elm St., Downtown. winefestival.com.
Film: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
For part two, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel continues along the same path, with a wistful, unfulfilled ache that lingers in each character, some moreso than others.
Douglas, having jettisoned Jean, pines for Evelyn. The two spend their days working through their retirement in Jaipur, and their evenings engaged in a most understated courtship. Norman, on the other hand, has settled down quite comfortably with Carol (Diana Hardcastle), a fellow pleasure-seeker, while Madge has a pair of eligible suitors hooked, but has an itch that neither is quite able to satisfactorily scratch for her.
Muriel and Sonny have the most obvious big-picture storyline, thanks to the burgeoning success of the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Sonny wants to expand but needs an infusion of cash and support, so the pair heads to the U.S. to negotiate with a branded chain headed by Ty Burley (the exquisitely bearded David Strathairn) who agrees, in principle, but sends an anonymous scout to check on things before making a final decision.
Of course, the secret inspector is slated to arrive just as Sonny’s in the final stages of planning and executing his wedding to Sunaina, so there are the typical examples of mistaken identity and botched plans that must occur along the way before the happy ending, right? Check.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is all about the innumerable chances life offers, and the fierce fighting spirit that burns in us no matter the age or situation in which we find ourselves. Intriguingly, that spirit, this time out, replaces the exotic location, and with new beacons (in the form of Richard Gere and a much better used Lillete Dubey as Sonny’s mother) presents a worthy second stay that could open the door for even more — not at all unwelcome — visits down the road. Opens wide Friday.
The Glorious Sons are a strong up-and-coming act out of Canada (Kingston, Ontario, to be exact) with a Rock sound that’s a little rough around the edges, just the way they want it.
The band isn’t trying to fit into a cookie cutter world of the music industry but deliver an authentic sound that connects with audiences. The Glorious Sons are currently on a U.S. club tour, but one listen to their new EP shows big things are on the horizon. They are currently touring with 10 Years, Otherwise and Luminoth. The tour comes to the Thompson House in Newport this Sunday (tickets/more info here). Get on the bandwagon early and come out to enjoy a night of great Rock music.
CityBeat spoke with frontman Brett Emmons to discuss the grind to get to where the band is today.
CityBeat: I know you are on this tour with 10 Years and Otherwise. How did this tour come together?
Brett Emmons: Our agent put the offer on the table for us back when we were on tour with Airborne in Canada. I am not really sure how it all came together but we knew if we went on tour with (10 Years) in the States, they wanted to come on tour with us in Canada. We have a pretty big draw in Canada whereas nobody really knew us in the States before we started this tour. So we sat down for breakfast and started talking with each other and we decided we were going to do the tour. We looked forward to it and two months later we were on the road with 10 Years.
CB: I recently listened to the album this week and I have to be honest, I think it is one of the best things I have heard in a long time and I have specific questions about some songs on the album.
BE: Thank you.
CB: One of my favorite songs on the album was “Amigo.” Could you tell me a little bit of the backstory behind that song and how it came about?
BE: One thing when you are writing tunes, at least for us, it follows like every other song, a loose story with a lot of feelings. When I start writing, I never know what the ending is going to be like or what the song is going to completely look like. I know what the song’s direction is going to be but I never start the story at the end. It is about my time in Halifax when I was there a couple years and there was a particular person that I was hanging around with a lot and writing a lot of music with. It’s about his fall from grace during the time I was hanging out with him and my fall from grace as well. It is about watching someone with so much potential self-doubt themselves and losing it all because they were scared.
CB: You brought up writing the lyrics. Can you talk about the band’s process and how you put the songs together and write together?
BE: We all do help with lyrics, too. If there is a lyric that is not covered right, everybody has their input; there are five guys and five guys who think they are songwriters and so you are never really short on ideas.
Usually somebody will bring something to the jam room and we will either be jiving with it or not jiving with it. What happens, someone will start playing something or singing something and somebody else will join in and a third person will join in and you will have five guys trying to whittle this broad thing into a song. Other times it may start with a bass riff or playing. We don’t have an equation for it and I don’t think we should. It is basically about spontaneity and just people working together doing their thing. Everybody has their job and everybody likes to do it. It comes pretty easy right now. Who knows? I imagine when we are 40 we will be dead tired.
CB: The thing I felt was interesting about the album was all the songs sound different. Sometimes I get albums and every song sounds the same, basically. I thought it was unique that, song to song, there was a different flavor you would get while listening.
BE: Yeah. That is what we thought, too. A lot of bands tend to use digital songs now and try to find what their sound is. We just rock and roll. We didn’t know what we wanted to sound like or what we wanted to be. We are just five guys playing instruments trying to write songs and whatever way they come out is the way we want people to hear them.
When you listen to the Stones, not every song on a Stones album sounds the same. If you think about that, nowadays, I feel like too many people are trying to fit themselves into a genre rather than finding out what happens.
CB: When did you know that this is what you wanted to do for your career?
BE: In high school I was asked to sing for a band and I didn’t know how to sing. I couldn’t sing worth a shit and I started singing with that band. They kicked me out of the band because they wanted a real singer. I bought an acoustic guitar and I took one of my favorite songs and I practiced it for months. I practiced singing it and I practiced playing it until my voice sounded good enough. Then I put a band together and we beat (the band I was kicked out of) in the Battle of the Bands and I won best singer at the show. For the first time I put together a song and started singing and realized how fun it was and I could be myself. When I started writing songs, I could put myself on paper and give myself a sound and words. That’s when I realized I wanted to do it.
Growing up my brother (Glorious Sons guitarist Jay Emmons) was in a band, a guitarist in a band. I grew up watching him play my entire life. When I really started playing, we started jamming together. It was always a dream of ours to throw a band together and play music together for a living. We didn’t know it would be this good but we just wanted to pay our bills with music and write songs. That has ended up happening and we are pretty happy.
CB: I have been talking to several bands that have siblings that play together. Are there any issues with that, being with your brother all the time?
BE: No. We argue a little bit because we are brothers and the most open with each other. He has always been my best friend and my rock. I grew up with him, taking advice from him, basically worshipping the ground he walked on. We are best friends. Playing in a band with your brother can go one of two ways — you can be assholes to each other or be real and good to each other, which is what we do, even though we are assholes sometimes.
CB: You said earlier you played one song over and over, what was that song?
BE: It’s a song called “Wheat Kings” by Tragically Hip, it’s a Canadian band. I’m not sure you would know them but they are Rock royalty, maybe Canada’s favorite band of all time within country. They come down here and play but in Canada every show they play is in a sold-out stadium.
CB: One of the songs on the album is “The Union,” which is also the title of the album. It seems to have a social and political message. Was that on purpose?
BE: No, not really. I’d like to clear this up, so I’m glad you asked. A few people get a bad taste in their mouth about the chorus: “I’ll never join the union because I never wanted it easy.” When you listen to the song it is just a metaphor for life and growing up and wanting to be different and still wanting to question things and question society and be the dirty little kid that you were when you were young and not caring about what people thought. There are some ties to the subject a little bit. My father’s shop was almost shut down when we were younger by a union. It was kind of an ode to him because he was able to maintain his shop without the union. He went from having 10 employees to having one employee. We went through some hard times but he was able to keep the family together and keep the shop up and running and to this day provide a comfortable life for us.
It is not a political stand against any union in any way. It is about growing up and not doing what everyone wants you to do.
CB: A lot of bands are collaborating now and playing together. I know you guys are just starting out but is there anybody you’d like to do a dream collaboration with?
BE: I’d love to pick Bruce Springsteen’s brain a little bit. Words, mostly. He is one of my favorites of all time. That is a huge dream though. In Canada, we collaborate with people like The Trews and heroes from that country and it would be cool to see what it would be like to write with Kings of Leon or bands like that. Mainly, we are more focused on collaborating with each other. Everyone in our band knows what we want. We work well together. I guess it would be fun to collaborate with (KoL’s) Caleb Followill or The Tallest Man on Earth or someone like that but, again, these are big, big pipe dreams.
CB: You mentioned The Trews. I know you worked with (Trews guitarist) John-Angus MacDonald on your first and second EP. What was that process like and why did you choose him? I recently talked to Godsmack and they were talking about the role of their producer and that he keeps the peace and how they really trust and listen to him. Why did you choose MacDonald and how did you work together?
BE: When we chose him … he chose us actually. We were playing a competition and we won it. He was one of the judges and came up to me after the show and said he wanted to see what it would be like to produce one of our albums. My brother grew up going to Trews shows and we were all fans of The Trews. Basically, that was the most excited I have ever been in my entire life. It felt like our shot and it really was. He took a chance on us. We got into the studio and we started playing our tunes and listening to him and fighting with him a bit too on things.
We didn’t really look for a producer. At the time, I don’t think I even knew what a producer did. I had never had a producer on any of my albums before and I never really made an album that had cost any amount of real money. We got in there and he showed us the ropes of what it was like to work in a real studio. We let him go off when he had a good idea or a good pass. When I felt like what he was doing was against my vision, I’d take a hard stance and he’d have to prove me wrong or he’d listen to me. He was really the guy who found our band and took a chance on us. He is the reason we are doing this for a living right now. We love the guy and he has been so good to us. He is one of our best friends. He took us on tour. It has been such a great experience with him.
CB: It sounds like you guys are excited to be on the road. What is your craziest tour story so far?
BE: It was on our first tour in Canada. It was in late November, just before December. The snow was falling and it was starting to get really cold. The bus we were on broke down on the highway and was unfixable. We had to rent a U-Haul truck because it was the only thing that had a hitch on it and we weren’t going to leave our trailer that had all our gear in it. For two weeks, we slept in the back of a U-Haul moving truck while two people drove, in the Canadian cold. It was a tough couple weeks, but then again, we knew stuff like that was going to happen, if you spend your life on the road, especially with your vehicles. But you get over things like that. When we finally got off the U-Haul, we were home in Kingston. It made being home that much better.