Kenny Wayne Shepherd has brought a youthful side to American Blues music ever since the great success of his first album, Ledbetter Heights,
which went platinum and reached No. 1 on the Blues charts. He was just
17 at the time of the album's release and has gone on to put out several
more successful Rock/Blues albums with his Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band,
featuring Cincinnati's Noah Hunt on lead vocals.
Shepherd has developed a new exciting project called The Rides with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg, a veteran musician who formed The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield in the late ’60s and has written and produced many classics. The Rides are performing at the Ohio River Throwdown, a new Roots music festival, this Saturday at Riverbend Music Center, playing alongside other acts like Tedeschi Trucks Band, JJ Grey and the Mofro, Los Lobos and many other artists. CityBeat chatted with Shepherd recently about his new project.
CityBeat: I saw behind the scenes videos of The Rides recording in the studio together. What was your favorite experience being in the studio with the other two guys?
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Well, the whole thing was a really good experience. Everybody had a really great time doing the record. It’s just very interesting. You look back over the course Stephen's career, and Barry as well, and these guys have made some really tremendous records in their time. They have also been on so many albums and done this for so many years that they have accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge of how to do things in the studio. For me, even though I have had my recording career for 20 years now, I still consider myself to be like a sponge, just trying to soak up as much information as I can. I learned a lot from those guys and it was a really good time.
CB: Where did the name of the band actually originate?
KWS: We were putting our heads together. It went on for two weeks. One of the hardest things to do is to come up with a band name, at least it can be one of the most challenging things to do. A lot of the reasons why it is so hard to do nowadays is because almost every name has been used. Everything we came up with, we would go back home and I would look it up online and do a Google search and someone would have that name and we would start over again.
We spent a lot of the time in the studio between recordings … Stephen and I are both big car guys, I mean we love cars. Stephen and his wife have some of the most incredible cars you could hope to own. I have a pretty cool collection myself. We spent a good bit of time talking about cars and driving and stuff like that. As we were exploring name options for the band, one day we were at Stephen's house and I had driven my 1964 Dodge to his house and we were walking out to the driveway to leave and he just looked at my car and said, “You know we should be called 'The Rides.' ” I was like, “Yeah. That’s cool.” I went home and checked and couldn’t find anybody with that name. So here we are.
CB: What is your favorite car you have?
KWS: I don’t know. I would say right now my 1969 Dodge Charger, and I think it is one of the most beautiful, one of the most visually stunning cars that was ever designed. Probably that one is my favorite.
CB: I have listened to the new album and I really, really love it. What is your favorite song to play on the new album?
KWS: I go through phases when I do a new record like, “Right now this is my favorite song …” and then a few months from now a different one is my favorite one. Currently my favorite is “Can’t Get Enough,” the title track. That song is a great representation of this band and what we are about. It is one of the songs we wrote together. It has great, heavy guitars. It has got really, good lyrics. Even the vocal is nice and raspy and bluesy. There are lots of dynamics to that song and I think it is just really a great representation of who we are as a group.
CB: Typically you are touring with your band by yourself. What was it like splitting singing duties with Stephen?
KWS: I split singing duties, to a degree, in my own band. I have Noah Hunt, who is from Cincinnati, he has been my lead vocalist for 17 years. But over the past few years of my career, I have stepped up here and there to the microphone when I wanted to, and on the last record we recorded, Noah and I sang a lot of songs together. I have kind of started to integrate that idea into my own band even though I tend to let Noah sing most of the songs because he has such an incredible voice and it enables me more to focus more on my guitar playing. There is certainly, in this band, more vocal responsibility for me. I really wanted to do it. It is pretty cool. Like being around Stephen, who is so well known for his singing and vocals, it has been inspiring to me to step up to the microphone and sing more.
CB: I thought I saw Noah at the Peter Frampton show in Cincinnati.
KWS: He was there. He went to the show because we had just been on the road with Peter over the past two months, we had done some shows with him. Noah wanted to go hang out and see everybody when they came through town so he went.
CB: What is the favorite guitar you have ever played?
KWS: The one I am most attached to is my 1961 Stratocaster. It is the first Strat I ever got.
When you are a guitar player you hear this story about how there is this one guitar that is your soulmate. There is one guitar out there that was built for you. You know it the minute you pick it up and start playing it. Some guys go their entire lives trying to find it. I found this guitar when I was just 15 years old. The minute I picked it up, it fit me like a glove. I did everything I could to get it, I couldn’t afford it at the time, then later on, the following year, it was in Los Angeles at the Guitar Center. Then I came back a year later and it was still there. I still didn’t have the money to afford it, but I decided I wasn’t leaving the store without it. I told my Dad, he was like “We gotta go.” I’m like, “I’m not leaving without this guitar.” Between him, the guy at my record company, my A&R guy, my music attorney, they decide they would split the cost up on their credit cards as long as I agreed to pay them back. I did. That guitar has been with me ever since. It has toured the world with me and been on every record I have ever done. It is just my baby.
CB: That is a great story. I have interviewed so many guitar players and nobody has talked to me about their soulmate guitar before.
KWS: Yeah, well, it really is. I don’t know about those guys but there is a bond between me and that instrument. I feel like all guitar players have their go-to instrument and there should be a really solid connection between them and the instrument.
CB: Social media has become invaluable with marketing music and musicians. When you are on the internet, in general, where do you spend most of your time?
KWS: I am a creature of habit and repetition when it comes to browsing the web. I have a couple of sites I look at every day. I go online and get my daily dose of the news. I usually go to AOL, because half of their stories report the news and the other half are like looking at a tabloid magazine. They have some really weird stuff they put up there.
I have a couple car enthusiast websites, like there is a website called Moparts.org which is for all Mopart Car enthusiasts. I love the Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth brands, so I am a Mopart guy.
I am also obsessed with the new Tesla Electric cars. I have been browsing their forums a lot educating myself on their technology and stuff. I am kind of a geek when it comes to cars and all things mechanical.
CB: Can you tell us what the fans can expect from The Rides' live show in Cincinnati?
KWS: We just rehearsed, we just had four days to rehearse for this tour and none of us had played any of these songs since we recorded the album back in December. So I guess with my schedule with my band and Stephen and his band, we had a very narrow window of opportunity to prepare for this tour.
We are basically going to do the album and throw in a few songs from my catalog and Stephen's catalog and stuff that Barry wrote that other people recorded. The whole goal is to be loose and have a good time and just play music together. They’ll hear a little bit of my stuff, a little bit of Steven’s stuff, a little bit of Barry’s stiff, then they’ll hear the whole (Rides) record.
It was sometime back in September that I stumbled upon the story of Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry, and her piece in The Guardian about the unfortunate realities she faced as a female musician. Only days later, I heard the stories of classical composers wearing their own diadems of misogyny. All these forces were crumbling away at what I once believed to be the most progressive industry we had at our hands.
With such revelations came a personal desire
for truth at a closer proximity. I honed in my lens and turned it on the state
of our own music scene, and the circumstances of female musicians in the Queen
I may have stumbled a bit the first time I saw Molly Sullivan perform. It could have been the champagne. It could have been the wine. It could have been the sheer, uprooting shock of such a sneakily sultry voice filling all the quiet corners of a room.
It was 2011 and the setting was a birthday party at the neo-historic Marburg Hotel, and local heroes Shadowraptr had just finished their set in the basement — a lush and operatic performance of their usual brand of psychedelic Prog-Rock, with Jazz sensibility. They didn’t disappoint with an expectedly raucous presentation, and we didn’t back down as an ever energetic crowd. It was in a quiet aftermath, among friends and fellows just as imbibed as our beer-soaked shirts, that I wove my way through a hallway maze and sauntered into a living room with an organ against its back wall. At its helm sat Molly Sullivan.
As she would come to tell me nearly three years later, “Going back to when I first started playing out as a singer songwriter, I always felt this extreme pressure and insecurity of being a female musician…whose music was tending to be more on the delicate side of things, an emotionally driven side of things. It required a little stillness from the crowd.”
But back looking back on that night in March 2011, stillness was inevitable. Warm from wine and an approaching spring, the handful of us that sat in the living room did so with an active passivity. But even as heads lolled against neighbors’ shoulders or against the walls at our backs, there was an intensity in every pair of eyes that I glanced into; all were watching, focused, as Molly struck a chord and then another, taking us through the coziest part of the evening with two or three ballads of life, lovelorn.
It was an intimacy that couldn’t have escaped those of us even if it had tried, and only a brief, drunken sampling of where Sullivan had started her story, rising to the ranks of the recognized, respected and regaled. Before that, she was front woman for the electronically infused No No Knots and a few months after that, she would play out as a solo artist with a backing band, making a stop at The Heights Music Festival and a New Year’s Eve show at the Southgate House Revival in 2012, before a brief hiatus kept her choruses hushed.
Sullivan admits that a lot of the anxious cogs of her earlier years were weighed on heavily by being a female musician in a primarily male-dominated scene.
“I feel like it’s a lot
easier for men as artists,” Sullivan Says, “generally, because you have the
potential to be the heartthrob, and also it’s not necessarily a sissying thing
to go to for a guy. So I feel like there’s more of an audience inherently built
In the later months of 2013, however, she re-emerged, armed with a loop-accentuated sound and a solo confidence that she speaks fondly of. Crafting songs, sonically clad with vocal layering and solid to the string guitar work, Sullivan took her one-woman symphony on the Cincinnati circuit, to high acclaim — winning the solo artist bracket of FB’s local “Last Band Standing 2013” battle of the bands, and earning herself a spot on one of the participating MidPoint Music Festival stages.
Sullivan had dedicated time to playing earlier shows in spots she would normally not perform, in venues and around crowds she would normally not consider being her primary audience. She says she found new courage in taking these risks. Though initially unsure about even participating in the event at FB’s, Sullivan came to find her hesitation was unnecessary.
“I made some assumption about the clientele there – it’s kind of known to be like a bro bar,” Sullivan explains. “I was thinking, ‘They’re not gonna get my art.’ That ended up not being true.”
When asked about the
progression of her performance presentation, Sullivan says, “I think I’ve
actually come to learn — just by doing it when I’m in a bar and everybody is
silent — just like recognizing that there’s something captivating about the
simplicity and the emotion of being present with your songs. It’s a really
empowering thing when people are dedicated to listening and joining you in that
Sullivan also recognized the power of community, and the part that earnest encouragement from within the Cincinnati scene played in her career as a musician. One pillar in her support group is claimed by The Daughters of The Midwest, an ensemble stage set of premier, female musicians dominating the Cincinnati area.
“I’ve definitely kind of
geared my energy towards being supportive of other female musicians,” Sullivan
says, “supporting Kelly (Fine), Mia (Carruthers), Maya (Banatwala). And now
that I’m back out there again, because of the support that I’ve been shown.”
“I think it’s a really powerful thing to have a female musician community to support each other,” she continues. “And as soon as I got back into it, it made it a lot easier to go with the flow and be excited for people wholeheartedly.”
And looking outside of the just the female musician community, Sullivan vehemently recognizes the support of Cincinnati as a whole. Sullivan expresses an appreciation for her time playing with The No No Knots, as well as the support she received from the members of Cincinnati’s Marburg Collective. As she explains, "There’s mostly positive reinforcement floating around. There’s kind of this really solid to the earth community here that exists that wants to support."
She admits that what hides outside of Cincinnati is what scares her most. We traded stories and conversations about recent revelations of ignorance and misogynistic skeletons in some of contemporary music’s most renowned scenes, tales of classical composers saying woman have no place in conducting pieces.
Sullivan acknowledges being weary of “the whole, big wide world,” with such possibilities floating around in clouds of reality.
“Cincinnati scares me in its
own ways,” she says. “Almost what scares me more is beyond what’s Cincinnati,
just the competitiveness that can be fruitful if you’re successful in the game.
And I think part of me has been afraid of success, because with that success,
you know what’s gonna come: it’s gonna be that banter online, all those
anonymous people hemorrhaging bullshit…Why bother?”
Even with such uncertainty for outside markets, Sullivan exhibits an insight and strength that propels her forward, even more so because of her acknowledgements of the bad that can come with the good. She says she’s learning to navigate her way around “the hemorrhaging bullshit.” Her awareness of everything that can dampen an otherwise well lit stage is what makes her voice so definitive on the conversation about the regressive mentality of misogyny that can still exist in our present day music-scape.
There exists within Molly Sullivan a partnership between community appreciation and individualistic impetus. She acknowledges the power of community backing, saying it’s a “powerful thing to have a female musician community to support each other.” And she recognizes the groundwork that’s been laid out in years past.
“We’ve seen the rise of a few
female fronted bands come through,” Sullivan says, “and people are more willing
to be excited for that and support it.” (She cites the Seedy Seeds and Wussy as
pioneers for female musicianship.) Sullivan is aware of where we’ve been and
where we are. But what’s more, she’s ready to take us to where we need to be.
And she’s ready to do that with a self-made spirit.
“I’m getting to a point where I don’t give a fuck really,” Sullivan says.
It was with a new impetus
that she’s approached her musicianship. “I’ve grown stronger as a female
musician,” she says. “Now I’m just kind of like, well, if you don’t want to
listen to it then fuck you, you don’t have to be here. It took me a long time
to get to that point, and I still kind of have some insecurity about it. But
most of the time I’m just like, ‘Molly, grow a pair, get over it.’ ”
Sullivan also explains the intentionality behind her current solo-set performances. Much in the same vein of playing in new venues, under possibly uncomfortable lights, she exhibits a drive to explore her boundaries, and expand past her limitations.
“I’ve chosen to do these
things by myself,” she says. “If I’m going to play with a band later, I need to
be OK playing solo first. It’s been really empowering, doing all of that.” She proves herself to be relentless and,
though hurt, unscarred by the outside forces of misinterpretation and
It’s with a knowing, weathered paddle that she navigates these future streams. And it seems she couldn’t be more pleased with the direction she’s headed.
“So far, it’s been really
lovely being back.” She takes a moment, at the end of our conversation, to
reflect out loud. “Would you look at that? I did that. And I don’t need anybody
else. I’m all about collaboration, but it’s really good to know that I don’t
need anybody. I’m capable.”
CityBeat met with drummer and instrumentalist Josiah Wolf (Yoni’s brother) at The Comet and spoke to him about Cincinnati, his new projects, upcoming shows and WHY?’s latest albums.
CityBeat: Cincinnati is your hometown. You and Yoni grew up here?
Josiah Wolf: I was born in Philadelphia but came here when I was, like, two. So yeah, I grew up here. I lived here all of my formative years…left when I was around 21.
CB: I saw that WHY? is nominated for the “Indie/Alternative” category for the Jan. 26 17th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEAs). How does it feel to be nominated?
JW: I don’t ever expect to win those things, but it’s nice that we’re on the radar of the city. We were nominated last year too and went down to The Madison. I think [the CEAs] have gotten bigger. It’s cool — it’s kind of a way of getting the music community and art community together.
CB: Do you interact with some of the local bands here?
JW: Uh, never, no. [Laughs] Just kidding. Yeah, I’ve met some good friends here and some good bands here. I’ve met a lot of people through WHY?’s other drummer Ben Sloan — a lot of his friends that he went to school with. They have a collective, The Marburg Collective, and they play at The Comet every Monday.
CB: Aside from WHY?, I know you’ve been working on some other projects, such as Dream Tiger with your wife, Liz. Can you tell me about that?
JW: I’m doing stuff for myself right now that is only in infancy. Some of that might be music I release myself or I might collaborate with Liz on it. Some of it might become WHY? songs. I have a lot of tracks that are in their beginning stages.
CB: So with WHY?, do the members work on music individually and then come together?
JW: Yeah, we do that a lot of the time. Every record is different, though. Like with the last record, Mumps, Etc., Yoni worked on almost all of that by himself. With the Golden Ticket EP, I did all of the music on that. Yoni wrote the songs on the piano and then he sent me the tracks and I put music around it.
CB: How is it different to do your own stuff versus stuff for WHY? or Dream Tiger?
JW: WHY? is kind of Yoni’s band in a way even though we’ve had times of collaboration. It’s my band also but he’s the main guy. Dream Tiger is Liz’s band. [Laughs] In both bands, I kind of take a side role. The difference is working with my brother versus working with my wife. They’re different but both are good in my life. Lately, I enjoy working by myself in a way, as far as coming up with ideas.
CB: You’ll be playing at The Comet on New Years Eve with WHY? for your last show of the year. How do you feel about that?
JW: I love The Comet. It’ll be a fun, low pressure show for us. I’m excited about it. I’d say that intimate shows [are] my preference.
CB: Which of your albums is the band’s favorite to perform? I know at the Fountain Square show this summer, you guys played a lot from Alopecia, which is one of my favorite albums. How do you choose which albums to play?
JW: Right now we’re focusing on the new record, Mumps, Etc. We do most songs from that but, yeah, we do a lot from Alopecia. Some Elephant Eyelash. We don’t really do much Eskimo Snow right now. The Alopecia songs do lend themselves to the live performances better than some of the other ones — they are more exciting songs in a way. For some reason, the Eskimo Snow songs are a little more difficult to pull off live [but] we do a couple.
CB: So Mumps, Etc. came out last year after a three-year break. How would you say the band’s sound has evolved in that latest album? And since then?
JW: That record was mostly Yoni as far as the arrangements go. He didn’t play a lot on it but the rest of us got the parts he arranged and learned them and embellished them a bit. The goal was to get a very clean, large sounding record with minimal instrumentation — not too cluttered. I think we did pretty good with that. When I listen back to the instrumentals, it’s clean, and that’s what we were going for. Nowadays, the newer stuff that we’re working towards is a little more homemade — a little more experimental. We’re trying to get back to some of that stuff and get away from being in a big studio. Next up, we’re going to record more at my house in my basement studio.
CB: And then there’s the September EP Golden Tickets from this year on the Joyful Noise label. It is a described as “a collection of personalized ‘theme songs’ for and about seven specific WHY? fans who were Internet stalked.” Can you tell me a little bit more about that project?
JW: It first came about through our web store three years ago, I believe, right around this time. We had this one t-shirt that was a misprint. All of the other shirts had a certain color but one shirt was gold. It was like a test print. Somehow we came up with this idea: How about we put up a contest online and say whoever gets the golden shirt will have a song written about them. And the first guy who bought the shirt — it was Hunter Van Brocklin, the guy — was sent the shirt and we wrote a song about him. That’s how it started. From there, we did another merch contest and then we kind of got away from the merch contests and did more of a charity after the Japan [tsunami]. We did an auction where whoever gave the most to the benefit got the song written about them that month — that was the golden ticket. So every month, it became a little different.
CB: When the fans found out about their “theme songs,” how did they react? Creeped out? Flattered? Shocked?
JW: Everybody liked it! At least nobody expressed a [creeped out] sentiment. Maybe some people were creeped out [Laughs], but people seemed to like it a lot. People wrote us about it. We were lucky; all of the people we selected were really cool people. If you’re going to put your information out there on social media, we can write a song about it. It’s all public information. We had a good time doing it. Yoni would send me the tracks and I would make the music around it. It was just a fun little project.
Check out WHY?’s website for more information about the band.
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.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra combines a night at the symphony with an in-your-face Rock concert experience and is best known for its holiday-centric shows, with grand musical scores and massive light and production pieces that stimulate your visual senses as much as your auditory ones. The project began in 1993 and has evolved into one of the biggest holiday tickets across the country. It's also something of a Cincinnati tradition, as the group usual performs in the area come the holidays. CityBeat spoke with Al Pitrelli last week in advance of TSO's appearance in Cincinnati today at U.S. Bank Arena, with shows at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
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.
Volbeat has been headlining huge shows in Europe for nearly a decade and now they are bringing their Metal sound to the States. In the position of up-and-comer again, they bring their high level energy to American, which has translated into sold out shows across the country. Currently Volbeat is touring on its new album, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies.
CityBeat was able to catch up with new band member and former Anthrax lead guitarist Rob Caggiano in preparation for the band's upcoming show in Cincinnati to discuss the transition into a new band and his broad musical influences that have helped him evolve since childhood. He definitely has brings a strong, veteran presence to a band that was already rising to new heights. Check out Volbeat headlining the Rock Allegiance Tour at US Bank Arena this Sunday with HIM, All That Remains and Airbourne.
CityBeat: Could you tell me about the moment in the studio working with Volbeat on their new album that you realized you really could be in the band or it would be a good fit?
Rob Caggiano: They had asked me to be a part of it two weeks into the process of recording. So it was pretty early on into the whole thing. I think it really stemmed from the first meeting we had when they called me initially when I left Anthrax and put the press release out there. A couple days later I flew to Denmark and sat down with Michael and went over the tunes and then ideas for the new record. We ended up collaborating and making music together. It was such a fun vibe and such a great chemistry. I think that was kind of a catalyst for everything else.
CB: I saw you guys at Rock on the Range for the first time playing together. It was really amazing. What was your favorite Rock on the Range moment this year?
RC: We definitely had a really good time during our show. It was a lot of fun. Rock on the Range, to me, is one of the coolest festivals here in the States. It seems like America is catching up finally with what is going on in Europe with these outdoor festivals. Rock on the Range is very well put together, very organized, just very pro and well done. It’s always a good time. I did get a chance to see Lamb of God play, about half their set and that was killer. It was great to see Randy back up on stage.
CB: Has there been any hazing or initiation since you joined the band?
RC: Not really, I was doing all the hazing. It has been pretty cool, pretty seamless, the whole transition. The way it went down, it was very organic and felt very comfortable from the beginning. It has been cool. We are having a blast.
CB: I know it must have been a difficult decision to leave Anthrax which had been your job for the last 12 years. What were the factors for moving on?
RC: I just had this feeling of being stuck. I just felt like I was on a conveyor belt, doing that for so long. I still love those guys dearly and they are like my family. I just wasn’t happy. It got to the point where I just wasn’t happy and I was questioning myself and what I am doing here. What are we doing? What’s going to happen in the future? I just came to the conclusion I needed a change.
I think the main part of the problem was that Anthrax was never a creative outlet for me. By no choice of my own, that was just the way it had been. I think after all those years my heart wasn’t in it anymore and I needed something different. It was definitely an emotional, difficult decision to make but it was something that needed to be done.
CB: What is your favorite guitar solo to play on the new Volbeat record and out on tour?
RC: I have two favorites. I enjoy playing the “Lola Montez” solo and the “Doc Holliday” solo.
CB: I know you have been producing for several years helping out bands and doing Anthrax and Volbeat records. Do you ever see yourself stepping out of Rock or Metal and producing other genres? There are a lot of collaborations happening right now with different genres of music.
RC: Absolutely. I never saw myself as a solely a Metal producer. To be honest, when I am at home, I don’t really listen to Metal. It’s probably because it is what I do all the time. My influences are really varied and I listen to so many different albums and genres of music. I just consider myself a musician. I put 100% of my heart into whatever I am working on. With all these different influences, I can definitely do a lot of different things and have done a lot of different things in the past.
CB: What are you listening to right now? What is influencing you?
RC: My favorite record right now, if we are talking about new bands and newer records, is this band called The National. I think (they're) phenomenal.
CB: They are actually from Cincinnati.
RC: Yeah, it seems like they are doing pretty well all over the world. Their new record is phenomenal. I think it is just great, the production is amazing, the songs are great. I have never met the band. I had heard the name but I had never heard the music. We were doing a record signing in Copenhagen and I asked one of the girls at the store what was her favorite record, what should I check out, what came in that is the new hot record. She said to get the new National record. I said “Ok, I’ll give it a shot.” She was right. I dig it. I like Lana Del Rey too.
CB: Do you ever plan to sit down and write your Rock biography?
RC: Maybe one day down the road. I don’t know if I’m ready yet.
CB: I’m sure you have plenty of stories. What is your craziest tour story with Volbeat right now?
RC: It really isn’t that crazy on the road with these guys. It’s pretty mellow. It is a very focused thing. We do our show … the thing about being on tour, especially with Volbeat, we are headlining a lot of these festivals in Europe so we are going on late. We get there early at these festival sites and have a whole day of nothing. It is kind of boring just waiting to go on stage. Nothing really crazy has happened yet but I will keep you posted.
CB: I am shocked you haven’t seen crazy things at the European festivals with fans.
RC: I guess it depends what you call crazy.
CB: Yeah, your idea of crazy may be different than mine. You may be like, “That’s totally normal.”
CB: What was the name of your first band?
RC: My first band ever was when I was 14 years old. We were called “Wild Heart.”
CB: Do you keep in touch with those guys?
RC: Kind of. I saw the other guitar player recently in Florida. He has been a friend of mine forever. The rest of the guys I have not spoken to in a long time.
CB: Do you play any other instruments?
RC: Yeah, I play drums. I play keys. I do our programming when I need to. I just make noise basically. I can pretty much get anything to sound decent. As a kid, I started out playing drums so that has always been in my heart. I went to the guitar from that.
CB: Your parents were supportive of the drums in the house?
RC: Well they bought them. Yeah, my parents were huge supporters of my music. My Dad is really into the music thing. It was definitely a very healthy atmosphere growing up for creativity and inspiration. There was always music around which was cool.
CB: I started hearing about Volbeat and listening to Volbeat about two years ago when they were just coming to the U.S. Obviously they are huge in Europe, beyond headlining. What do you think is the biggest difference so far in the U.S. shows and the European shows?
RC: In the U.S. it is very much on the rise, the shows over here are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. With them, we did two legs, two U.S. legs and every show was killer. Back in 2010, that is when I first met these guys with my other band, The Damned Things, they took us on tour. That’s when I first heard the music and met the guys and became friends. Even that tour was sold out every night. It was an awesome tour. Volbeat is definitely on the rise in America. In Europe obviously it is crazy. It is just a really good feeling all around. There is a lot of excitement about this band and the new record, just good vibes.
The inaugural Kanrocksas Music Festival took over Kansas City's Kansas Speedway last weekend, with headlining performances by Eminem, Muse, The Black Keys and many others. Impressive and well-organized in its debut year, the festival is being called a mini-Lollapalooza, as many of the same bands performed as they made their way to and from the Chicago fest (held the same weekend). Along with Eminem's epic performance, Bowling Green, Ky., AltRock sensation Cage the Elephant was an energetic highlight. The band's current tour in support of Thank You Happy Birthday (featuring the hit "Shake Me Down"), kicked off in Cincinnati in March when CtE also became part of Cincinnati Reds history, leading fans through the first "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" of the season on opening day. CityBeat sat down with lead guitarist Lincoln Parish and rhythm guitarist Brad Schultz (pictured) before they took Kansrocksas' stage to talk about that Cincinnati visit and more.
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.