John 5 has seen almost everything in Rock music. He's toured with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie (with whom he's currently rockin') and been credited on songs from a wide range of artists — from Saliva to Salt n Pepa to k.d. lang to an upcoming collaboration with Rod Stewart. The guitarist has gained the reputation as a musical genius and one of the most action-packed guitarists in the world. He has just released his sixth solo album, God Told Me To, which mixes acoustic Spanish guitar along with Metal riffs.
CityBeat caught up with the guitar player to talk about the new album and some of the darker aspects of what goes into his writing, as well as the lighter aspects help put him to sleep every night. John 5 will take the stage with headliner Rob Zombie this Sunday at Rock on the Range in Columbus.
CityBeat: Can you tell us about the name of your album, God Told Me To?
John 5: The name, it is funny because … I am from Michigan, I am from Grosse Pointe. I was upper class growing up there. I was brought up in a really nice environment and home and I remember the night before I was leaving for California to really give it my shot saying, “I am going to try this. I am going to try to be this musician type of thing.” I remember I was saying my little prayer. I never wished to be a “rock star.” I just wanted to be a working musician. My dreams didn’t even go past a session player or a working musician. It was too far beyond my dreams. That’s kind of what the title means, that kind of thing, but also you can look at in the negative way, like when someone does a horrific murder, they always say, “Oh, God told me to.”
CB: I have read a lot of discussion in your recent interviews about serial killers and even the song “Night Stalker” being written about Richard Ramirez. Do you have an interest in serial killers and the history and stories behind them?
J5: I think it is interesting to me about how the mind works and how someone is wired, how their mind works, how it is completely OK to do these things, which I could never even think of doing something like that. It was always so interesting to read about this or watch documentaries. It is so odd for something like that to happen, so I have always had this little fascination with it — not that I am pro-for that kind of thing or anything but it is just very interesting to see something like that.
CB: I got a copy of the album and have been listening to it today. I love the acoustic Spanish-style versions on some of the songs. I know you are a lifelong learner. Did you take specific lessons around Flamenco or Spanish-style guitar lessons?
J5: Yes, I have always tried to learn, it is what keeps me sane. I love to learn and I started doing a lot of studying of Spanish-style music and really started getting into it and how it is just a completely different form of guitar playing. It is just like if you started speaking in a different language like Japanese or something. It is something that you have to study and work at a lot. That is what I enjoy because I love the guitar so much. Yes, I did a lot of studying and research on that.
CB: What current music is inspiring me right now?
J5: What current music is inspiring? You know what, and this will be a surprise, but I usually am very honest. I have had a little epiphany and this is very shocking. I was watching some movie or something like that and a N.W.A. song was on and I am no fan of Rap music, I really am not because I like the guitar. So I heard this N.W.A. song, I think it was “Gangsta Gangsta,” and I was like, “This is really, really, really good.” It was eye-opening to me and I appreciate it now. I was pretty taken back by it. I would have to say N.W.A. (is a current inspiration), which I can’t believe I am saying but it is the truth.
CB: There are a lot of bands right now collaborating outside their genres. Korn has collaborated with Skrillex and trying to create a lot of different sounds which would traditionally maybe not be in Metal music.
J5: Sure, and I think it is very important for that to happen because of the fact music has to always evolve and if it doesn’t, it has failed. It is good that it is evolving.
Five Finger Death Punch will be one of the headlining acts of Rock on the Range, one of the nation’s biggest Hard Rock and Metal festivals that takes place in Columbus this weekend. FFDP has become known for its “active” show, encouraging crowd participation that can get on the edge of out-of-hand at times. The band released its third studio album last year, American Capitalist, which quickly shot to the top of all Rock and Metal charts.
CityBeat caught up with drummer Jeremy Spencer to preview next week’s Rock on the Range and discuss the grueling nature of the industry (especially as a drummer) and the advice that has driven him to be in the position of leading the rhythm and timing of Five Finger Death Punch. FFDP performs Saturday night on the main RotR stage in Columbus.
CityBeat: I was excited to talk to you because I know you just won the Golden God award for Best Drummer. How was that experience for you?
Jeremy Spencer: It was really great because I am a fan of all those drummers in the category and to be put in the same category was humbling already, and then to win, it was “Wow, this is really cool.” We couldn’t be at the show because we were out on tour. I got a call saying, “You know he won and if you could put together a video for the acceptance that would great.” So I made this really ridiculous acceptance speech video where I dressed up as redneck fans mocking me giving a speech, so I did a multi-character video for winning the award and it was really funny. It is all over the internet in case you get a chance to see it. Everyone got a kick out of it, but overall it was a really humbling experience and really cool.
CB: You guys just made another trip to Kuwait as well. I know it is really important to the band to support the troops. What was your most memorable experience this time around?
JS: We got to hang out with the troops a lot during the day and talk to people and we do extensive signings for them. The shows were pretty crazy. They don’t get a lot of entertainment over there so they are really excited when we get to come and play. And it is exciting for us too because they are such huge supporters of the band so it is the least we can do to give back to them because they sacrifice so much to be away from their families. It was very cool.
The only thing that wasn’t cool is that there is an 18-hour plane flight to and from Kuwait. That is the only brutal part but the rest of it was incredible.
CB: I actually did see some of the YouTube videos from the shows over there that were posted and they looked like they were crazy with the crowd surfing and the moshing and they really go into it.
JS: They really do. They get after it. It’s insane, like I said it is all pent up energy so they really get after it.
CB: I have listened to the album since it came out but in a lot of the recent songs there is serious hardcore drumming action. How do you stay in shape and how do you condition for that kind of hitting?
JS: I do a lot of stretching. That is the thing I didn’t do much growing up but now as I am getting older I have realized that stretching is vital. It is almost like doing yoga really. I use hard foam rollers to roll out my muscles and get the knots out. Stretching is key; any drummers that are doing this I would recommend doing that starting as young as you can. I also don’t party anymore. I try to take care of myself. I try to eat things that are relatively healthy. So that is pretty much what I do.
CB: I think that is a misconception for a lot of people. I talk to a lot of bands from a lot of different genres and I think people think the road is a continuous party and for some bands it is, but for a lot of bands it is about having a healthy lifestyle because it is so grueling.
JS: It really is. We are kind of like athletes. We have to get up there and perform for 75 minutes sometimes or 90 minutes and it takes a toll on you physically. We are not playing Pop music. It is pretty aggressive. It is physically demanding.
When we started out, we definitely participated in that party lifestyle. I am one to try it, but if you are going to be successful and have a long career then you can’t get wrapped up in that stuff. Rarely does it work so I figured it was time to treat this like a job. It is a job but it is a great job.
CB: Let’s talk about Rock on the Range. I have seen you play there before a couple years ago. It is always a good time. Is there anything that you are looking forward to specifically around that show?
JS: Last time, we had one of the biggest crowd surfing experiences that Rock on the Range had ever experienced and it is well documented on YouTube. So we will see how crazy the fans can get there this time. We certainly enjoy it. Every time we play there, it has been great. And you know, all the other great bands, and hanging out with our friends, it has always been a positive experience and I look forward to getting back there and doing it again this year.
CB: I was there last time. I am a photographer so I am always down in front for the beginning parts so it is always a little sketchy with the crowd surfing for us.
JS: Absolutely, you might want to wear a helmet or something.
Hunter Hayes is one of the fastest growing, most unstoppable forces rising in Country music. At just 20 years old, he recently released his debut self-titled studio album featuring the hit single “Storm Warning." In less than a year of truly being a part of the Nashville music scene he has found himself on tour with superstar acts Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts and he will be taking the main stage at the CMA Music Festival next month in one of their nightly concerts in front of 70,000+ in attendance.
CityBeat spoke with Hayes by phone recently and discussed his uniquely introspective writing and recording process as well as his passion for the fans that come out to each of his shows. Hunter will be performing at Bogart’s Friday night. It's a great opportunity to see an act that could be headlining stadiums and arenas very soon.
CityBeat: What made you decide to play all of the instruments and parts on your debut album? Do you plan to do this again on the next album?
Hunter Hayes: There is this part of my brain that I got from my Dad that is really technical, that loves technology, I guess, like fixing stuff — not fixing stuff as much as messing with it. I think that became an outlet for me. The more time I spent making music and writing the more I loved the technical side of it.
One Christmas, I asked for a 8-Track recorder and I got it and I didn’t come out of my room for like three years after that. I literally learned more instruments and spent all my time on this machine making demos and I just started building my own recordings. I didn’t know for sure but I felt inside that was the only way these songs were going to become completed and it became a way of working.
I continue to write during that process. When I moved to Nashville, I started songwriting and every time I would write a song with somebody I’d go home that night and I’d start working up a demo. It just became a way I love to work and now is the only way I know how to work. I have sat in a studio across the looking glass with some of the most phenomenal musicians in Nashville and I sit there and I am a very shy guy, naturally. I am naturally very reclusive so when I get nervous around songwriters, I am very intimidated and I don’t share my thoughts a lot like I probably should. I kind of defer to someone else. So we decided to do the record this way because they knew I was comfortable working that way and there is something cool that happens when you start recording the song playing all the instruments. It is a very minute thing but you will notice the consistency in the emotion.
And by no means do I consider myself a professional player of any of the instruments I played on the record but I guess I was fluent enough to get where my mind wanted these songs to go with what I wanted to hear for these songs. I was able to translate it from the same heart I wrote the songs.
CB: What is your favorite song you have ever written and why?
HH: Oh God … to put it in perspective for you, we had 70 songs I wrote specifically for this record that we were considering. So, it is nearly impossible to pick a favorite.
I have to say I was really fortunate because I had a big say in what songs went on this record. I actually picked all but one. This one song on the record, it is not that I don’t love it, but it is so out of character for me, I was worried about putting it on the record because I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea, because it is a very bitter song.
I chose the songs on this record carefully but emotionally. I am definitely attached to every single one of them on this record. I could say that I love everything — “Wanted” “Love Makes Me” “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and “Storm Warning.” I was very adamant about having a song like “Faith,” I wanted “Cry With You” on the record. I’m close to all the songs on the record.
I think my favorite song I have ever written is probably the one I wrote yesterday and that is always the case. Any time I write a new song, I am jazzed about it for like 24 hours and then I am over it and want to write another one.
CB: That makes sense. How does it feel to be one of the main acts at LP Field at CMA Festival this year?
HH: It’s unbelievable. Last year, I was stoked to just play on a stage in front of the Bridgestone Arena. It was a great turnout and everybody knew my name, which was amazing. I had just wrapped up six weeks on the radio tour. The song had literally just started playing on the radio and there were already tons of people singing along to “Storm Warning” that day and that blew my mind. It was a time lapse thing. I started my radio tour with this big full band showcase in Louisiana. And we initiated it with this full band big showcase for all the industry to come down and make a day out of it.
Then I went out by myself on this radio tour. I would go to these stations. I would literally bring a little mobile studio and I would build “Storm Warning” for them, and they would get their own version of “Storm Warning” by the end of the day. We did that for six weeks straight. I went home only one day, for Mother’s Day. It was just this crazy schedule.
Fast forward six weeks ahead, I come back to Nashville to play my second ever full-band gig with the band and we were playing to a crowd that was singing along to almost every song. It was really impressive and it was just mind-boggling. It is amazing what a year can do.
I am grateful that they considered me for this spot on LP Field. I have sat in the audience to watch shows there many times so it is really cool to be a part of it this time on the other side.
CB: I have seen your show several times. One of the things that always strikes me when you play is that the girls love you. Have you had any crazy fan experiences?
HH: No, not really. I will say we have a lot of fans that we see many times, a lot of repeat fans, which always makes me feel good. When someone sees a show and wants to see another one, that makes me feel like I am doing something right.
It is so funny, they will come up during the autograph signings and say “I promise you I am not stalking you.” I am like “I don’t mind! I am honored that you have taken the time to come to more than one show.” There is this one girl who has driven thousands of miles and she is always almost apologetic about it, and you don’t even know how much that makes my day. When I see her car in the parking lot and I know she is coming, that makes me feel like I am doing something right. It literally gives me a feeling I can’t describe to you.
We have a lot of fans that are doing that. We have a lot of them who have met at our shows and have become best friends and they go everywhere together now. I just feel this unity at our shows, especially the "Most Wanted" shows, the headlining shows I get to do. They are smaller venues right now and they are growing. Tonight we are doing like 1,000 seats or something like that, but it is amazing this close feeling I feel with everyone in the room. I get to chit-chat with them during the show and goof off with them and it is fun. It is a blast. I am glad to say I have fans.
The first time lead singer of The Dukes Are Dead, Lucas Frazier, eagerly told me about his band, in between puffs of a hastily smoked cigarette while on a quick break from the coffee shop where we both worked, I’m pretty sure I said, “Aw! That’s so cute.”
Three years and a lot of hard work later, The Dukes Are Dead are far from cute. Stoic. Diligent. Loud. Confident. Any number of adjectives, but unequivocally, definitely, absolutely, not cute.
Oh sure, they’re an attractive bunch. All slender and tangle-y-long-haired fellows, TDAD are four young men with serious, hungry ambition and serious, twinkling eyes. Randy Proctor, the prodigious bassist for this band, is perhaps the most vivacious, and assertively business-like.
I sat down with the gentlemen of The Dukes Are Dead to discuss their current role as the musical accompaniment for The Know Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, about the tumultuous and yes, bloody, life of the seventh president of the United States, running through May 12. (Read CityBeat's review here.)
“I was hanging out at MOTR one night,” says Proctor, his red curls all hip length and slightly mussed after a Saturday night performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, “getting really drunk, and Eric Vossmeyer, the production manager — he also does Fringe Festival — I overheard him talking about Fringe Festival and he says it nicer than the truth is, but, I was drunk, and kind of being cocky, and I guess I just felt like interrupting his conversation and telling him what he should do at one certain part of the production and this, this and this with the poster, and [I was like] ‘I’m in a band’, and I was being kind of cocky and he was like, ‘Oh, ok, thanks. Wait. You’re in a band? Why don’t I get your number?”
Proctor speaks quickly and efficiently, dropping anecdotes and inflection all over the place.
“And then I had no idea what he was talking about, and I called him up and we went to MOTR and he told me, ‘I like your ideas, but I’d like you to be in a musical with your band.’” Proctor relays. “I thought it was really wacky, and I was not too keen on it at first, actually, and then he just kind of described it to me, and then he told us he was going to pay us, which was cool, and then it just kind of won [us] one by one over to the idea of it. And then the wheels went into motion from there.”
Like Proctor said, TDAD was slightly hesitant at first to agree to being a part of the production.
“It was a lot of time. It was a lot of time that pretty much cancelled [us out of] being able to do anything [else],” says Luke Darling, lead guitarist for TDAD. “We were trying to do big things, and then this came up, so it was very cool, it seemed like a cool idea and like a lot of fun but that was the problem, was time. But we decided we did have time. We had enough.”
Rehearsals began a month and a half before production started, and TDAD quickly adjusted to the different setting and atmosphere.
“It was really fucking hard and stressful. They gave us all the sheet music, they gave us a CD, and basically we had to teach ourselves how to play these songs in, like, a week or two,” Frazier says matter-of-factly. He’s sitting one chair over from me, drinking a Moerlein, with Proctor, Darling and drummer Dave Reid sitting in the row directly behind us.
“Through this process, I think we all have learned tons of shit when it comes to playing music and understanding music. Like, I mean, just chords we’ve never played before, time signatures, key changes, all sorts of stuff that we’d never really attacked as The Dukes Are Dead, all of a sudden we were faced with,” says Frazier.
“And it wasn’t like, ‘Well I don’t like this, let’s just change it’, it was them telling us, ‘Play it like that.’ And they gave us this CD and this music, but then we get into this practice space and all of a sudden there’s all these lines and there’s these, like, times where we’re just playing the same thing over and over and filling the space, and having to get quiet and loud and everything’s fluctuating and changing and it’s just completely different from anything we have ever done before. And it has made us much better musicians, whether we like to admit it or not.”
The intensive rehearsal schedule is best explained by Proctor: “[At one point there were] two weekend days in a row, where we did twelve-hour days back to back, which means we worked a total of like fourteen days in a row [besides] the weekend. And we all have other jobs, too.”
But TDAD is nothing if not diligent and pervasive, and their smoking, blazing Rock and Blues-infused style made itself evident during rehearsal.
“I think that’s unavoidable,” says Darling. “We’re all particular tone snobs in our own way, to our own liking, and we were told to turn things down very far. Because it needed to be done. It’s a guitar-tech-nerd thing. I think tone’s the only reason it’s different.”
Proctor chimes in. “I think we got, three different times, formal requests to say, ‘take your volume down, you’re rocking a little bit too loud for the house.’ I’m proud of that. I think it’s cool that they had to tell us to turn it down.”
“It sucks to turn it down, but it makes sense,” says Frazier. “Because the music is not the most important thing. The vocals are.”
As lead vocalist for TDAD, Frazier has an especial appreciation for the way in which the story must be told.
“[The musical's actors] have to be heard above everything else, because they tell the story. The music is extremely important, but it’s still second to what they’re doing.”
Showmen of a different variety, TDAD performs emphatically, exuberantly at their own shows, with Frazier exuding a magnetism that is firmly in the realm of broody young lead singers. During BBAJ, TDAD is relegated to an elevated platform on the right side of the stage, mostly in dim lighting during the production. Learning to take a backseat was “so weird”, says Frazier. “When I’m on stage and I’m playing in a Dukes show, there’s that connection [with the audience]. [We know] we’re [all] having a good time. But this, they’re hardly ever looking at us, because we’re just playing the music. They’re performing. It’s very interesting to take a step back and really focus on what [I’m] doing. And increasing…”
“Dexterity,” inserts Darling.
“Right, exactly,” continues Frazier. “It’s just a chance to practice and focus and think more about it, because no one’s looking at you. It’s nice. It really is.”
With the spotlight off them in the musical arena, TDAD is eager to get back to their daily grind of performing, writing, recording and being a band.
“I think through this experience, it’s put us all in the mindset of [being] even more determined to do what it is we really want to do,” says Frazier. “Not that we’re not enjoying ourselves here, and we’re very grateful for the people around us, and this is a wonderful experience, but after this, it’s time to get back and hit it even harder than before.”
“This production’s here because some other guy went out and wanted to make music and change the world that way. It’s our turn to do the same thing.”
The coming summer of 2012 holds a lot in store for the gentlemen of TDAD. They will be embarking on an extensive tour, in cities “as north as Chicago, as south as Nashville, as west as St. Louis, and as east as Washington, D.C., and a lot in between” Proctor notes.
“We want to let people know that we’re going to be taking this and then going on out and expect to see us doing some bigger things. More content is going to be on it’s way, and we’re only going to get bigger and stronger and more incredible as time goes on.”
The Dukes Are Dead will continue performing in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson through May 12, and their next show is on June 15 at MOTR Pub.
Rise Against is the epitome of Punk Rock in this era. They are as far from the status quo from society as bands get, yet record for a major label. Part of the group's mission is to promote progressive issues, both socially and politically. Rise Against recently released its sixth album, Endgame, which features the hit single “Make It Stop” (the video for which was nominated for a MTV Video Music Award last year).
CityBeat spoke with bassist and original member Joe Prinicipe in anticipation for their upcoming show in Cincinnati. They discussed the bands writing process and how they incorporated their socially active direction in their music. Rise Against will be opening Riverbend's PNC Pavilion for the summer this Saturday. A Day to Remember and Title Fight also perform.
CityBeat: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I know you are one of the original band members. You guys have been out on it for about 13 years from when you started. Where do you see yourself in 13 more years?
Joe Prinicipe: It’s hard to say with this business but I would say definitely still involved with writing music and performing. Rise Against has no intentions of breaking up. We would like to follow the same career paths as bands like Bad Religion and Social D that are going on 25 or 30 years and are still making relevant music. I hope that’s where I end up.
CB: I saw you last year with the Foo Fighters when you opened up in Columbus. I was wondering if there were any fun and crazy Foo Fighter stories on tour.
JP: It was pretty awesome when there were a group of protesters, I think we were in St. Louis, maybe it was Kansas City, and they were protesting the Foo Fighter show because they did that funny promo video where they were showering together. So this group came out, this very homophobic religious group. They were protesting and the Foo Fighters came out (before the show) dressed provocatively and they were out on a flat bed truck and performed and tried to play as loud as they could to overshadow, overpower the protestors. It totally worked and it was awesome.
CB: They seem fun to be around in general and don’t take it too seriously.
JP: Totally and they are all about enjoying what they have because being on the road and being away from your family is hard enough so you might as well make the most of it.
CB: Your music has been called protest music in the past by the Chicago Tribune and I just wanted to ask about your process to write lyrics around a cause. How do you choose a cause to support and then develop a song around it?
JP: (Singer/guitarist) Tim (McIlrath) writes all the lyrics and the process is very simple. He is just writing what he feels for that day. He writes from a personal perspective on life in general. That’s why our records are not just political, there are socially aware topics, there are environmental issues, there are songs about relationships and how hard it is to be away from our families when we are traveling. We always write music first and he will hear the tone that the music sets and he has a journal, and he will flip through the journal and see if something fits and if not he will write what he thinks will fit the music and that is how it has always been the last 12 years.
CB: Were you guys influenced at an early age or did something happen to you that kind of made you take your music toward this activism tone or did you have a kind of defining moment?
JP: No, it’s just seeing punk rock music. It’s just the nature of punk rock that seems formed as a reaction to the glam era of the 70’s. It’s just a reaction to that so it’s always been about that. It’s all we know. It was something that we didn’t even discuss. It was just kind of a given the direction of Rise Against was going to be that and we are kind of carrying that torch. Bands like Minor Threat and the Bad Brains were definitely singing for change whether it was singing against homophobia or social issues, but that’s kind of what the unspoken goal that the band has always had.
CB: What is the biggest way your music has been able to make a difference or make a change?
JP: I would say the effect that “Make it Stop” has had on young kids. Kids in high school trying to get through it all. We have gotten so many e-mails that the song is helping them through the hardest time of their life and that is incredibly rewarding. I would say “Make it Stop” stands out as that.
CB: Your new album came out last year in the spring. Do you have any new music in the works?
JP: No, we still have a whole year of touring on Endgame. I think I always have song ideas in the back of my head and so does Tim. It’s kind of an ongoing thing anyway. We won’t actually have anything, officially new until the end of 2013.
CB: Do you have any crazy Cincinnati stories from the past or any fond memories?
JP: Not really. Cincinnati is Bogart's, right?
CB: It’s Bogart's and this time you are at Riverbend which is outside.
JP: That’s right. The only thing I recall is from Zach our guitar player. His old band played Bogart's and someone was shot like 20 feet away from him. That’s really it.
CB: I think you are in a little safer place by the river this time. I have this new game and it’s a table game with quirky questions and people just give their first thoughts around it, so I have been experimenting with this a little and I have three questions from this game for you. The first question is what skill do you possess that most people don’t know about?
JP: Let’s see, nothing hidden, although I am a complete coffee snob and I have an espresso machine at my house and I take that very seriously. It has to be perfect. I have to time all my espresso shots as they come out of the machine. So I guess that.
CB: So you make the perfect espresso, that’s your hidden talent.
CB: What is under your bed?
JP: Actually nothing because my wife is a neat freak so nothing can be on the floor.
CB: If you are on the bus it is somebody else sleeping under the bed in the bunk.
JP: As far as the bus goes, our tour manager is usually in the bunk below me so I have him snoring …
CB: What song would you pick to sing karaoke?
JP: I’m really bad at karaoke, oddly enough.
CB: You don’t have to be good. I don’t think that’s the purpose of karaoke.
JP: That’s true. I don’t know maybe something from ’80s Pop like the Go-Gos or Duran Duran.
CB: What can the fans expect from the show in Cincinnati?
JP: Just high energy, just come and sing with us and have a good time. It is all about interacting with our fans and just everyone singing along. We are all there for the same reason. It is a good way to let off some steam from the week prior. Just come out and have a good time.
Lucero developed their unique sound — a mix of Country, Roots, Rock and Soul — in Memphis, Tenn., and provide a big production every night on the live stage. You will hear everything from a three guitar assault to a horn section to steel guitar pinings on the band's ninth (and so far most successful) album titled Women & Work.
CityBeat spoke with guitar player Brian Venable from the road to preview the band's show Wednesday in Cincinnati at Bogart’s.
CityBeat: I wanted to catch up with you guys to try to talk about the show that you have at Bogart’s on April 11.
Brian Venable: Well thank you. I am excited about that.
CB: I actually caught you guys at Orlando Calling this year. That was the first time I had seen the band live. It was an amazing show.
BV: Oh, thank you.
CB: I am kind of sad that the festival is not going to happen this year. They announced last week it wasn’t coming back.
BV: Is it going to be a different “Calling” in a different city?
CB: No, I think it just lost a lot of money. Unfortunately, that happens. It’s a lot of overhead.
I just wanted to start and ask you a couple questions about the album and yourself. I know you had the new album come out recently, Women & Work. Can you tell me the story behind the album name?
BV: I think it just sums up everything sometimes. It was more of a flip or a funny line, like “Hey what’s going on?” “Oh you know, women and work.” You are always doing something about work. You’re at work or you are working, and whether it’s your wife, your ex-wife, girlfriend, soon to be girlfriend, girl you met that night, there is always something involving a woman. I think it is kind of where we are right now. We are always on tour. We are always leaving our wives and girlfriends behind, trying to just make it all happen.
CB: Do they ever come out on the road with you?
BV: Every once in a while we will do a weekend. I have three kids so she can’t get away too much, but she’ll come out for a weekend every once in a while.
CB: Well you guys have a pretty large band to move around.
BV: Yeah, we have the bus right now.
CB: What is the best and worst thing about being on the road for you?
BV: Missing the kids. Everything that you know is at home. Some days it is nice to sit on the porch and hang out. But in the same breath, you play rock shows every night which is awesome and you tour with your friends and you get to see the country. There is good and bad in everything.
CB: I am originally from Tennessee and I spent a lot of time in Nashville and Memphis over the years and the music scene in both of those cities is incredible; there are huge amounts of talent that will probably never be discovered.
BV: That is always the thing with Memphis, there are always great bands that will be together for six months or a year and then they break up. Yeah, that is definitely a true statement on your part.
CB: What is your favorite track on the new album?
BV: I like the “Downtown” song but I also like “Sometimes.”
CB: Can you tell me the story behind one of those?
BV: “Downtown” is like the happy beginning. The night is full of promise I guess. You are getting dressed or you are having a few drinks, you are about to go downtown and hang out and do your thing. Nothing good or bad has happened but anything could happen, and I think that air of optimism is exciting to where we might end up hammered drunk at the police station or I meet my next wife of 30 years, you just don’t know. I think it is just that kind of feeling, where it is happy and a “let’s see what happens” feeling.
CB: You guys just played South by Southwest. Any crazy stories from Austin this year?
BV: Not really so much crazy. We did two shows a day for three days plus interviews and in-stores. It was pretty busy. It was exciting to get to play with Dinosaur Jr. Any chance that you get to play with people you listened to when you were younger and looked up to musically is always a fun thing.
CB: That was one of my other questions, do you have any current musical influences that are giving you inspiration today?
BV: We just did a five day run with Larry and His Flask. Those guys are amazing and really energetic and fun to watch. Todd Beene who plays pedal steel, he is in a band called Glossary. Their songs are awesome and their live show is great. They make good records. We have been really lucky to be able to play with all the people we like usually. We did 15 weeks with Social Distortion. You are able to grow up with a band and then get to see those people who started 30 or 40 years ago still make relevant music and be fresh. It is exciting to know that you can get to a certain age and you don’t fall back and rest on your laurels and still keep pushing.
CB: I love those guys.
BV: Personally, I listen to crazy Southern Metal and Modern Country right now.
CB: What is Southern Metal?
BV: Bands like Black Tusk and Weedeater. There are a lot of bands out of Atlanta, Ga., and Wilmington, NC, and that whole Southern coast has spawned a whole crazy group of bands. There is Coliseum in Louisville and Skeleton Witch in Ohio. They are pretty awesome if you like Metal.
CB: Can you tell me what your writing process is as a band? Do you guys write together, lyrics separately, music later? What is your process?
BV: With the last few records, we have a practice space and a studio space we use upstairs. We will come to the practice with a part or half of a verse or a bridge and a chorus and just a section a lot of the times. Sometimes it is a full song and we work it up but most of the time it will just be a few pieces. We’ll work with Roy and get a tempo going and a pattern going and a groundwork and then we just add our parts while he is working on the words for it. It’s been pretty awesome. This last record, which was fun for us, horns came in after the fact and we put horns on top of the record, so this one we actually wrote with the horns and the pedals, everybody was there helping with writing and arranging.
CB: What can we look forward to in Cincinnati next week?
BV: Eight dudes getting wild on stage unless the night before was pretty hard then it might kind of be the standard. We will do about two hours. We will do a lot of the new songs. We will do the back catalog. We are all going to have a good time just playing music.
Honeyhoney is an up-and-coming group out of Los Angeles that offers a soulful, folksy sound that has led to comparisons to The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. A combination of Suzanne Santo's strong voice and banjo/fiddle playing and the voice and guitar of Ben Jaffe, honeyhoney's sound (despite the comparisons) is a unique hybrid that has been intriguing audiences since last October's release of Billy Jack and the subsequent relentless touring.
The pair spoke with CityBeat by phone to promote Saturday's performance in Cincinnati at Bogart's (in the club's "Front Room"). (Click here for more info.)
CityBeat: I picked up your latest album in the fall when Billy Jack was released and I love it. I saw you were also previewed in Country Weekly in the fall and I just wanted to ask if you consider yourself a Country band.
Ben Jaffe: We don’t but that is kind of a genre that has been thrown at us now, of course, not in a bad way. I should have said "tossed gently to us" and we caught it. It has been a kind of interesting opportunity because we have had a lot of trouble aligning ourselves with a specific group. Everyone says “It sounds like this” or “not enough this” or “not enough that.” I think we are really happy to be embraced by Country people and we love to play in front of them, but I don’t think we call ourselves a Country band.
CB: It’s actually a hard genre to break into. I cover all kinds of music and it’s one of the harder types of music to get the fans to rally around you.
BJ: Completely. And it’s such a citadel, there is a real industry around it so I think that explains why it is tough to make a wave and whatever little ripple we are making is cool and we like to pursue it. Actually, it is interesting, Jamey Johnson was at one of our shows the other day and he expressed some support for us and we might play some shows with him so it kind of seems like it is pulling us in, like in Godfather: Part II.
CB: Would you modify your sound or your songs to adapt to Country music?
BJ: No. How it works though is the more you listen, the more you can integrate subconsciously. This record that we released most recently, both of us got obsessed with Hank Williams. I don’t know if it is out of respect or out of interest, (but) there are songs on the record that are straight Hank Williams rip-offs. I don’t see it as adapting to fit in to a genre or section but the more you get exposed to it, you can’t help but integrate it because it is great music.
CB: Can you tell me a little about the song “Little Toy Gun”?
BJ: That came out a while ago. That was something that I actually recorded on my own separately before the band, and when we got together, eventually, it became part of our set. It was the one that the label believed in, so we made this crazy video which was an amazing experience. Kiefer Sutherland directed it and we had a trailer. We were like movie stars for 20 minutes. It is one of those songs that has stuck around. People still reach out to us to use the song.
CB: You guys are on the Coachella roster, correct?
BJ: Yes ma’am
CB: That is pretty exciting in itself. What else exciting do you guys have coming up this summer?
BJ: We are opening for a guy named James Morrison who is doing a tour in May. Then we are playing this thing called the Sasquatch Festival that Tenacious D is playing. So we are accomplishing some of our, highest, loftiest goals to play with Tenacious D. This could be our shot. Sheryl Crow has asked us to open up a few dates. All of this has been happening really recently. It has been really crazy. Then we are playing at the Newport Folk Festival and then hopefully after that we will become addicted to hard drugs and our careers will be over.
CB: We will find you in an alley somewhere in L.A.
BJ: (laughing) Yeah
CB: I have a couple funny questions. I have been playing this table game where you pick out questions to answer. Some of them are funny so I am going to try them out on you guys.
CB: What was the last thing you bought at a drive-thru window?
BJ: Oh, God. (asking someone else) Hey what was the last thing we bought at a drive-thru window? They don’t allow vans through the drive-thru a lot of times so I guess it was at the bank ATM.
CB: So money?
BJ: Yeah, cash.
CB: What is your favorite dirty movie?
BJ: My favorite dirty movie, like pornographic film?
CB: It doesn’t have to be, it can go either way.
BJ: Yeah, we are mainly streamers. You can say that. I would say either Dark Side of the Poon or Wild Things Part 3. At this point can I hand you over to Suzanne?
Suzanne Santo: Hello Amy.
CB: I ran him off with some of my questions I guess.
SS: No, I think he was more looking forward to me answering any more pornographic questions that you may have.
CB: No, I got a new table game so I have been trying out some of the questions.
SS: What is your table game called?
CB: It’s a cube of cards that you get and you put it on the table and you have people pick a card out and they have to answer a question.
SS: OK. Have you played Dirty Jenga, that’s fun too?
CB: No I haven’t. I have to look that up.
SS: It’s not dirty-dirty, like totally inappropriate. It’s like “Bite the ear of the person to your left” or “Make an orgasmic noise.” Each block has a dare written on it.
CB: You not only have to take the block out but you have to do what is written on it. Nice.
SS: It is kind of a “do it yourself” kind of game so it is at your discretion what you want the blocks to say. So if I were you, I would choose my company wisely.
CB: I wanted to specifically talk to you about growing up in Ohio. I know you are from Cleveland and the Midwest. How did growing up in Cleveland or the Midwest influence your music?
SS: Well, to be honest with you, I wouldn’t say that the Midwest has influenced my style tremendously. Well, that’s not true because there was a lot of music growing up. I grew up in Strongsville which is 25 minutes South of Cleveland and there is definitely adjacent farmland that is not very far, within a mile or two.
When I was in L.A. about a month ago, I met Drew Carey at a diner. I went, “Hello Drew, my name is Suzanne from Parma, Ohio, and I just want you to know that I love you.” I said, “I think you are the greatest and I love what you do for Cleveland.” I tweeted at him later in the day and he retweeted my tweet and I was, “That’s it. I’m done. I have achieved my goals.”
I guess there were Country elements I grew up listening to but my family owned an Italian restaurant and they played a lot of Jazz music like Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and that kind of thing. There was definitely a Jazz influence from the get-go, I love Jazz with a true, infinite passion. It never ends, is what I meant to say. I grew up with a lot of that and Country music, it was mainly Pop Country that I was hearing here and there but I really got into Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline and that kind of stuff later, after I had already left Ohio. When we started our band in L.A., we frequented Nashville and every time, we got a little bit deeper into classic Country like Johnny Cash.
CB: Do you have any fun Cincinnati memories from playing or being around town?
SS: We played Bogart's once and I remember being really excited.
Freekbot features Freekbass (a.k.a. bassist/singer Chris Sherman of Funk crew Freekbass) and Tobotius (a.k.a. Tobe Donohue, producer and founder of world-renowned turntable crew Animal Crackers) in an Electronica/Dance/Groove duo configuration.Freekbot makes its Cincy debut at The Mad Frog in Corryville this Saturday. Showtime is 9 p.m. and admission is $10. MC/DJ Firecat 451 opens the show and famed keyboardist Razor Sharp Johnson (P-Funk, Bootsy’s Rubberband) will sit in with the duo.
We recently chatted with Sherman via email about what fans can expect from Freekbot and what the duo has in store for the future.