Goo Goo Dolls have come a long way since they started in 1986 in the crumbling rust belt city of Buffalo, NY, where the band was probably started for no better reason than to kill time, make some music and hopefully get a few free beers from the clubs where they were lucky enough to get a gig. They have stayed together for over two decades and continue to create hits on the music charts. Their current single “All That You Are” is getting serious radio play and is featured in the newest installment of the Transformers franchise, Transformers: Dark of The Moon.
CityBeat spoke with vocalist and lead guitarist John Rzeznik about tour life, longevity, and the future of the popular group.
Heart introduced a fresh, rebellious sound in the early 1970s when a particular voice was truly needed. That timeless voice belonged to singer Ann Wilson. In a time when the female frontwoman was just gaining steam, Heart found their identity in theirs. To this day Wilson embodies the band’s sound and message. She helped make it possible for generations of others to find their voice in Rock & Roll.
The band's legacy was celebrated on a grand scale this year when Ann, her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, and the rest of the Heart family were inducted into the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the likes of fellow legendary groups Rush and Public Enemy.
CityBeat had the privilege of speaking with the legendary vocalist in advance of Heart's performance Saturday at Riverbend Music Center. Audiences can anticipate hearing classics like “Barracuda” and "Crazy on You," as well as fresh music off of the 2012 album Fanatic, which nicely continues the Heart legacy. Don’t miss the finale with Jason Bonham (opening the show with his Led Zeppelin tribute) joining them on stage.
CityBeat: What was the highlight of your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year?
Ann Wilson: The highlight of my (RRHOF) induction this year was standing beside Nancy at the podium. That was a feeling of great pride I will never forget.
CB: What is the most number of days you have gone without playing music?
AW: I have gone months sometimes without playing a guitar, but never a day goes by where I don't sing.
CB: What does your ideal day look like these days?
AW: Sleep in late, have a great pilates/yoga workout, hang out with my kids and their kids, cook dinner, meditate, sleep with my dog nearby.
CB: If you could trade places with someone for a month who would it be and why?
AW: I guess I couldn't do that. I don't envy anyone else that much!
CB: You have seen music recording formats change from vinyl and 8-track to cassette, CD and MP3 through the years. Do you feel like music sounds better or worse with the use of technology?
AW: Music definitely sounds worse to my ears because of digital technology. There is a hard, brittle sound to it. Analog music sounded warmer and deeper, though maybe not as " perfect." Auto-Tune makes me crazy because it removes all individuality from a person's voice. Everyone ends up sounding anonymous. The imperfections are where the soul is, I say leave them in. Leave in the humanity.
CB: How did the latest tour come about with Jason Bonham? Any favorite tour stories from the current tour?
AW: Many people saw the Kennedy Center Honors show on TV or YouTube and loved the tribute to Led Zeppelin. The management was listening and everyone agreed it would be a beautiful idea. We've only done two weeks so far, and it's been amazing. No train wrecks yet!
CB: Do you journal or take photos over the years with special tour memories. How do you document your stories and memories?
AW: We record every night and have photographers on sight. Occasionally I will blog, but I am usually pretty wound up after a show. Maybe this will be the year I take up a journal. A person can't count on their memory forever!!
CB: Does it ever get tough being on the road with family? How have you handled it for so many years?
AW: Yes, the road is rough. Traveling and performing together takes a lot out of you and sometimes things do get emotional. We are lucky to have each other for support. I don't know how I would have made it all these years without Nancy's love, strength and sense of humor!
CB: Are you working on new music while on the road?
AW: My head is full of new songs at the moment.
CB: What can fans looks forward to when the tour hits Cincinnati?
AW: The show in Cincinnati will open with Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, Next will be the heart show, after which there will be a finale consisting of about 30 minutes of Zeppelin songs with Jason Bonham and (Bonham's guitarist) Tony Catania joining in.
While I’m not quite a junkie, I am fairly addicted to the “33 1/3” book series from publisher Continuum. If you’ve yet to hear about the series, the books are each dedicated to one specific album that has gained some sort of notoriety in the music world. The records chosen are mostly cult favorites with a few influential blockbusters mixed in. Of the 60 books written so far (each by a different author), the series has covered Pet Sounds, Songs in the Key in Life, Exile on Main St. and Led Zeppelin II but also lower-selling but no less influential recordings by the Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian, Guided By Voices, DJ Shadow and Sonic Youth. (For a great overview, pick up one of the two Greatest Hits volumes released by the publisher.)
The tomes vary in approach, with some offering strictly historical examinations, some more about the author’s personal relationship with the album and others a mix of both. Chicago-based writer and music industry vet Bob Gendron has written what will likely be the only Cincinnati-connected album in the series, telling the tale behind Gentlemen, the major-label debut and relative breakthrough album by The Afghan Whigs. I would argue that records by Over the Rhine and The Ass Ponys, among others, deserve the 33 1/3 treatment, but they’re likely not well known enough to pique the publisher’s interest. I’d also argue that my personal favorite Whigs’ album, Black Love, should get a book, but the chances of having two Whigs stories in the series are just as slim.
Gendron mostly plays historian, telling the story via research and numerous interviews with the prime players, including all of the Whigs (drummer Steve Earle included), Sub Pop employees (Gendron himself used to be one) and other friends and industry connections. He also does a fantastic job of recreating the state of the Whigs at the time, a band of tight friends on the brink of major success yet also inflicted with drug issues and internal and external squabbles.
The story of Gentlemen is bookended by the tale of the band’s beginnings and their breakup, all the way up through last year’s greatest hits album. There are a lot of interesting tidbits and revelations. Gendron gets singer/songwriter Greg Dulli to talk about his serious relationship with the mysterious “Kris,” the dissolution of which led to the album’s tortuous, heartbroken tone. Other fun facts: Dulli recorded several of the album’s lead vocal tracks in one night while flying on coke and trying to impress a girl; Steve Earle was booted for several reasons (alcohol abuse, meddling girlfriend, creative control issues, ego conflict); and labelmate Linda Ronstadt was allegedly furious about the album’s cover (depicting a young boy and girl lounging on a bed), apparently under the impression that it was a naked bellybutton away from being child porn. It was also interesting to read that one of the band’s main friends at Elektra Records was feeding information to the nasty, slanderous 'zine Fat Greg Dulli.
Gendron gets to about every detail of the album, from the cover art’s original inspiration and liner notes to the songs’ inspirations and recording. But he doesn’t just relay facts. He also talks about Gentlemen as an artistic statement, carefully dissecting and describing the individual songs’ and the general album’s mood, cause and effect. Not only does Gendron’s book offer the last word on Gentlemen, it also shows what a compelling story The Afghan Whigs’ entire career remains.
For Whigs fans or even just those who were around Cincinnati to witness the band’s rise from little underground touring unit to soulful, seductive Rock machine, the book is a fascinating remembrance. For those who’ve never even heard of the Afghan Whigs, the story is universal and dramatic enough to be read as a novel (save the music-critic-y song dissertations).
The story is so good, in fact, that it would be great to see Gendron expand it beyond the 113 pages of this book. As his Gentlemen proves, the Whigs are deserving of a long-form biography that tells the band’s complete story. Who knows? Maybe Gentlemen: The Movie isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility.
Too bad John Belushi isn't around to play Greg. And Jimmy Page is too old to play Rick McCollum.
— Mike Breen
David Hebert was the man shot and killed last night in Northside by police. But most who knew him wouldn’t recognize the name. Hebert, a beloved, longtime local musician and local music supporter, is far better known by his nickname, Bones. An expressive drummer, in the ’90s he was the rhythmic foundation for local bands like AMF and Shoot the Gift, as well as other Rock and Punk bands.
The effect My Morning Jacket has had on live Rock music in America over the past several years is hard to deny. Spawned from the fertile Louisville music scene, the band’s legendary live show is an electrifying experience for all who attend. At the end of May, MMJ put out its sixth studio album, Circuital, which earned a career-high first-week entry into the Billboard Top 200 album chart, bowing at No. 5. Bo Koster, MMJ keyboardist since 2004, joining the band during the gap between its major label debut, It Still Moves, and the wildly diverse Z. CityBeat spoke with Koster about the band’s Cincinnati stop Wednesday at PNC Pavilion with Neko Case, as well as My Morning Jacket’s memorable live performances and passion for local record shops.
In advance of The National’s highly anticipated free performance this Thursday at Fountain Square, I had the opportunity to talk with the lead singer of the band, Matt Berninger. The concert is part of a rally in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, donning the title “Vote Early, Rock Late.” It will feature political speakers and buses to take people to early voting locations, as well as two bands — Dayton natives The Breeders followed by Cincinnati’s own (though they live in Brooklyn now) The National. And, of course, there will be “plenty of Rock & Roll and beer,” as Berninger succinctly puts it. (UPDATE: The National's management says they are unsure of what times the bands will play, as of now. The only sure thing — both will play between 5 and 9 p.m.).
Berninger explains that the concert came together rather innocently; they simply wanted to show support for their candidate of choice. Initially the thought was to play a benefit concert, but as it all evolved, a rally seemed more appropriate, both in terms of what the band really wanted to accomplish and the nature of Obama’s campaign.
“It was our idea, but there have been so many people pitching in and helping along the way,” Berninger says. “No one is getting paid here, so it was really exciting to see so many people take the time to make this happen.”
The National’s fundraiser for the Obama campaign developed in a similarly organic manner. Shirts depicting Obama’s face accompanied by the song title of what has become a familiar show-closer for the band, “Mr. November.”
“About nine months ago, that song came (up during a show) and I dedicated it to (Obama),” Berninger remembers. “And it wasn’t until about halfway through the song that I realized just how perfectly it fit, in terms of both mood and timing. That night, Scott (Devendorf, bassist from The National) and I decided to make a T-shirt and a week later we had a box to sell. I think it all happened in the midst of four hours, and since then we’ve been able to raise about $10,000, with all proceeds going directly to the campaign.”
The band — whose song "Fake Empire" was used in a film about Obama showed at the Democratic National Convention — returns to their hometown of Cincinnati in the midst of one of the most significant presidential elections in history. Southwest Ohio – with its conservative reputation and rising liberal and progressive presence -- stands as arguably the most hotly contested location in the election.
“The thing I’ve always loved about the political landscape of Cincinnati is that you have it all,” he says. “You have extremely conservative Cincinnatians and you also have very progressive lefties and often you have that all in the same family. I don’t quite have the same conversations now, being in New York, that I used to in high school or around my dinner table in Cincinnati. And that’s the healthy thing about being there, is that those conversations are happening, truthful, and among people that, at the end of day, you truly respect and love.”
There is no hint of pessimism in Berninger’s voice. Rather, he sounds truly enthused about the opportunity America has to elect a candidate like Barack Obama, a man whom he believes embodies the most admirable qualities.
“There is an intellect, compassion and empathy to (Obama) that doesn’t seem fake,” Berninger says. “I want the best of us to be in the White House. I want the cream of the crop of American thinkers to be making decisions for me, and (decisions) that are going to affect me, my family and our future. I want the smartest guy in the room and the groundswell of support Obama has gathered shows that people see that in him.”
The National have recently wrapped up their tour in support of the critically-acclaimed album Boxer. They have written approximately 10 songs and returned to the studio to begin recording their follow-up. No word yet on a release date.
— Dave Tobias
(All photos by Keith Klenowski)
The hard work local experimental Rock/Soul/Pop/Prog/Glam oddballs Foxy Shazam have put in on the road the past couple of years is starting to pay off big time. Recent Foxy news includes everything from the impending release of the band’s major-label debut for Sire Records to gigging with Courtney Love in the U.K. to collaborations with Rock legend Meat Loaf.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Marcus Mitchell, aka local Hip Hop artist and inspiration Skandal Da Ruckus Man, passed away this week after a battle with leukemia. In tribute, here is an interview with Marcus from March 2005, written by CityBeat contributor Mildred C. Fallen, from our archives. Check next week’s issue of CityBeat for more remembrances of the fallen Cincinnati music supahero.
To dub Marcus D. Mitchell a “big man” doesn’t necessarily state the obvious. In some cultures, “big man” also translates as a local personality who speaks on behalf of his people, commences rituals and parleys with other “big men.” And facing foes, big men fight for honor.
In 2000, Mitchell, better known as Skandal (or Skandal Da Ruckus Man), flew to New York to freestyle on BET’s 106 and Park and contended with other unsigned MCs on HBO’s Blaze Battle. Today, the self-described juggernaut of Supapowers has been reincarnated as an industry ghost writer and producer after someone attempted to rob him of his ambition last spring.
While he was away, thieves carted away his studio equipment and masters. Although his property never resurfaced, he feels he knew the thief’s motive.
“Damn monkeys!” he declares, still affected. “Whoever stole it was doing it to get at me personally, because they didn’t touch anything else in the house, not even money. It was Easter Sunday, at that! Man, they know they goin’ to hell!”
Depressed and unable to produce tracks or record vocals, Skandal bounced back after supportive colleagues bartered their efforts.
“A lot of cats just saw the opportunity (to barter) and was like, ‘You ain’t got no equipment? Man, I been wantin' to do beats with you for years,’ ” he says.
Producers Fame and DJ Scott pitched in and donated many of the tracks heard on Vet Game, his first in a series of mixtape compilations to be distributed through the internet. Presented by Hall of Justice Entertainment and co-sponsored by Supapowers cohorts CJ the Cynic and Da Kid, Vet Game tongue-lashes antagonists, reprimands local radio and guides listeners of a tour of the Queen City, pointing out its idiosyncrasies.
Rounding out the compilation are appearances from Trina Holidai and Michelle Hollis, Piakan, Science, Donte (of Mood), Hi-Tek and J-Wiz.
“As far as the bangers, look for ‘Get Stole On’ and ‘Spell My Name Right,’ both produced by DJ Scott. ‘The Wrong Nigga’ talks about the break-in on Easter, when I was at Mom’s gate eating a plate,” he says. Thunderous vocals set violators straight as they detonate: “Y’all ain’t do nothin’ but put Skan/Back to ’96 with the hunger pangs.”
Reloading, “The Big Payback” unflinchingly fires direct hits at local black radio and venue promoters for lack of support. On the other hand, he shouts out Big Kap of New York’s influential station, Hot 97, for giving “For the Queen” 30 spins in a week, and says the exposure opened doors for him to sell songs to other artists, which subsidized his upcoming CD, Vigilante World.
“People don’t understand; you’ve got to invest in yourself before that big record deal comes,” he explains.
“For the Queen” traces Skandal’s roots back to Woodward High School “Bomb Show” performances and huddling in rhyme-ciphers against out-of-towners on Fountain Square.
“Before all the fightin’ and shootin’ started, we defended this city against all outsiders,” he says. “It was like something out of the movie Highlander.
“(Cincinnati) always had a beast,” he continues, naming warriors who fell into obscurity. “Regan used to be the most feared in a MC battle; he passed the torch to me and Clips (J-Wiz). Now Ill Poetic is the beast.”
“I used to really, really admire (Skandal),” says Ill Poetic, a solo artist and half of the duo Definition. He met Skandal following the Blaze Battle. “He was battling at Top Cat’s and I was amazed that Zone (the other half of Definition) knew him. He was just one of those people I kept hearing about.”
Although the HBO Blaze Battle episodes are available on DVD, Skandal laments, “Ain’t no honor in battling anymore, so now songwriting is where it’s at. There’s money in it. Cats who are known for their battle rep often aren’t known for making hit records.”
Skandal hopes his upcoming release, Vigilante World, will change that.
“I got the formula,” he says. “The problem is that nobody is rockin’ the (Hip Hop) heads and the streets at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with making good music that people who don’t make music can jam to.”
Having hosted local battles, he observes that today too many MCs lack originality and rely on trading insults to win battles.
“(There) was a time when you could murder ‘em with style,” he says. “Now, you only get response from the crowd when you say a punch-line, which is what I don’t like about battling anymore."
Skandal cites crowd-judged battles and MCs who deliver pre-written raps as the demise of the art form. He also emphasizes that styles differ from region to region.
“A lot of New York rappers spit written (verses) in battles and call it a ‘freestyle.’ And in the Midwest we call freestyling right off the top of the head,” he explains. “We used to listen to the New York style, not knowin’ they was spittin’ writtens in a freestyle, and we thought New York was just ‘cold wit’ it’ off the head.”
But since New York MCs assumed the precedent for battling, Skandal says he and his friends used New York as a benchmark in the beginning until they crafted their own niche.
Endearingly, he refers to his friends Supapowers as “stand-up guys I’d take a bullet for.” But of everyone, his mother is his best friend.
“She gives me an insight to things that you can only get from experience. I’m a true mama’s boy and if anybody got anything to say about it, come holla at me,” he says.
His weightiest ambition is to appeal to the female market and he’s slimming down because he feels that MCs like Notorious B.I.G., Big Punisher and Heavy D were merely lucky to be seen as sexy.
“They were rarities,” Skandal says. “When you’re fat, I don’t give a fuck, people are biased. I wanna have the whole package, not just the skills. I wanna have the whole market on lock.”
American Ska legends The Toasters perform a free show tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. Showtime is 10 p.m. and — sorry, kids — you must be 21 or older to get in.
The band was one of the leading inspirations behind the "third-wave" Ska explosion of the ’90s, but the band actually began 30 years ago, influenced by the 2-Tone Ska movement in the U.K. The Toasters blend of NYC Rock and 2-Tone made them cult heroes in the Ska underground, as did the band's D.I.Y. approach; founding member (the sole one in the current lineup) Robert "Bucket" Hingley formed the influential Moon Ska Records in 1983 to release his own albums, as well as those by acts like Mustard Plug, The Slackers and Hepcat. The label's various compilations also gave a boost to up-and-coming, non-Moon acts like Less Than Jake and No Doubt.
Here's The Toasters' first music video, for the tune "Radiation Skank" off of the band's debut release, 1985's Recriminations EP (which was produced by British singer/songwriter Joe Jackson; he is to The Toasters what Elvis Costello was to The Specials).
And here is "Modern World America" off The Toasters' 2002 release, Enemy of the System.