Friday, July 28, 2006

ROCK, SOUL ... And a frontman called J. Po

With The Neighborhoods, Quarter Ton And Change, and the Joe Mazzari Band
Sat., July 15, about 8 p.m.
Area Venue, 3 River Lane, Newport
Tickets $25


Some musicians clam up if you try to get them to talk about their influences.

But John Powhida, the 40-year-old frontman of Boston's rock 'n' soul powerhouse The Rudds, lights right up if you start talking about some of his heroes. Whether you mention Prince or Todd Rundgren, the man known to his friends as J. Po is not afraid to admit it.

"It's two things - rock and soul," Powhida said last Friday when we met for a between-band beverage at the Middle East in Cambridge, Mass. We probably could have carried on for hours, but we kept the chat quick because Powhida was there that night as a fan rather than a performer. Wigged rockers the Upper Crust, one of Powhida's local faves, were set to headline after Rudds cohort Andrea Gillis had turned in a scorching, soulful blues rock set with an eight-piece combo in tow.

Powhida, an Albany ex-pat who said he has been musically inclined since he "was a little kid," moved to Boston in 2000 specifically to make the Rudds a reality.

"I'm a late bloomer," Powhida said. "I put a capable and potent band together to capture whatever ideas I had."

The vision has since yielded two albums and a solid roster of Boston-area all stars in their own right. Bass player Tony Goddess spent years with the band Papas Fritas and is an established producer; for years lead guitarist Brett Rosenberg has fronted his own act, the Brett Rosenberg Problem, and was recently hired to tour with Graham Parker's band; drummer Nathan Logus is involved with the Boston band Baby Ray, and like keyboardist/instrumentalist Dave Leib, gets a lot of work as a studio gun-for-hire. Gillis joined the fold as a singer after she was hired to help the Rudds work on their second album, 2005's "Get The Femuline Hang On."

"She was incredible and she's got soul," Powhida said. "She's a great singer and songwriter and I had to utilize her strengths."

The band is currently in the process of working on its third full-length record. "It's all over the map," Powhida offered. "It's even crazier than the last one. There's a rap song."

Compared to the band's 2003 self-titled debut disc - which was co-produced by Mike Gent of garage pop stalwarts The Figgs, yet another one of J. Po's heroes - "Femuline" certainly saw more of Powhida's various tastes making their way into the brew of full-throttle, Cheap Trick-inspired power pop. Straight-up rockers, like "Astrological Sign Choker" and "Hot Child" were balanced with tunes that bore the mark of the band's taste for funk acts like Sly and the Family Stone and blue-eyed-soul pop like Darryl Hall and John Oates. When I said that I also detected some similarities to the later material of Urge Overkill, the Chicago-based band whose noise punk origins would give way to slick, precise, occasionally-tongue-in-cheek power pop gems, Powhida agreed.

"I'm glad you mentioned that," he said. "I think Urge Overkill were one of the two great American bands (of the 1990s): Urge and The Figgs. (Urge Overkill's) Nash (Kato) and Eddie (Roeser) are great American songwriters. They're very deep. 'Exit the Dragon' (Urge Overkill's swan song double album) is a masterpiece. They had a sense of humor, too."

After the upcoming Area gig, The Rudds are slated to open for and later take the stage as backing band for Bebe Buell - the rocker and model perhaps best known as Liv Tyler's mom. It would mark the first time The Rudds will play Rhode Island, but Powhida was clearly thrilled that he'd have the chance to share a bill with the Neighborhoods.

"Minehan is one of my rock idols," said Powhida, who first saw the band back in 1984. "I became hooked. Dave Minehan is an absolute star. They broke up at the height of their powers."

Neighborhoods story - Newport Mercury - 7/12/06 - full text

There go The Neighborhoods
The 'depravity factor' may be gone but the reformed Boston legends still have cause to celebrate TIM KELLY observes

With The Rudds, Quarter Ton and Change, Joe Mazzari Band
Sat., July 15, 8 p.m.
Area Venue, 3 River Lane, Newport
Tickets $25

There's no place like home away from home.

That seemed to be the sentiment for The Neighborhoods, at least. Now enjoying a second heyday since they split in the early '90s, the brash, mod-infused Boston rock band was quite amped for their upcoming return to Newport during a rehearsal session last week.

"I don't have jitters about Newport at all," sweat-drenched singer/guitarist David Minehan remarked after the trio had banged through a dozen-odd 'Hoods staples in a dank practice space in the shadow of Fenway Park. Minehan, the 47-year-old proprietor of Woolly Mammoth Sound - which recently relocated to Waltham, Mass. - was sharing his thoughts with this writer as well as Wally Arsenault, a longtime 'Hoods fan who was the executive producer of the band's 1984 eight-song record "Fire Is Coming" (Mustang Records).

"I think it's going to be one of those shows where it's like, 'Hey, I remember you!'" longtime bass player Lee Harrington added.

To be sure, the Neighborhoods never had to worry about getting the fans out in Rhode Island. They played countless gigs throughout their initial career - which stretched from the late 1970s into the early 1990s - at Newport clubs like Harpo's, One Pelham East and the Blue Pelican, as well as numerous Providence haunts.

"Newport is a f***ing trip," Minehan said. "It's such a dichotomy: big money mixed with no money. But the bond that ties is the depravity factor."

The "depravity factor" is something that the Neighborhoods will decidedly not be taking part in this time around. Minehan has been clean and sober for the past 15 years. While Harrington, a 44-year-old lawyer by day who is married with two sons, and current drummer Johnny Lynch, a 29-year-old kit pounder who does IT sales for a living, are willing to kick back a beer or two, the hard-living days for the Neighborhoods are long a thing of the past.

"For all of our... flirtations with indulgences, we managed to minimize the damage at an early age," Harrington said.

The Neighborhoods reformed within the past two years, have since played a handful of shows - including a set at last year's Boston Music Awards, where they were presented with a Hall of Fame title, as well as a March set in Austin, Texas, as part of the South By Southwest festival - and are putting the finishing touches on a record of new songs. The label Rykodisc is also slated to release a live CD this fall from the "final" Boston 'Hoods show in October of 1992 at the late, great Kenmore Square rock dive The Rathskeller.

"We knew we were going out, so making it a more positive, kind of celebratory master stroke felt like the thing to do," Minehan said. "It was the good old Rat. It all began and ended there. When you hear this record, you will remember the dankness. It sounds like the Rat. It's stamped Dank! The live album is an absolute validation of why we were such road animals."

These days, the typical Neighborhoods live set is a solid cross section of the band's multi-single, six-album catalog which saw the band gradually morph from a taut, young, mod punk-inspired outfit - the original band was in its teens when it formed - into anthemic hard rock heavyweights. Minehan described the forthcoming new material as a coalescence of all of the respective eras.

"Our feet were in both camps at all times," Minehan said, citing bands like Wire, the Clash, the Jam and Motorhead as big Neighborhoods influences. "We grew up on dinosaur rock (as well as) the punk and post-punk. Power pop, too. It's always kind of been there, that anthemic, adrenalized kind of way of saying it. We're not really doing much of the cock rock (though)."

"It's all cock rock," Harrington countered. "Just as anyone who has picked up a guitar."

Minehan met Lynch a few years ago during a Woolly Mammoth recording session and would later endorse for the drum seat in former Mighty Mighty Bosstone Joe Gittleman's pop punk band Avoid One Thing. When Gittleman folded the band to work in Los Angeles for SideOneDummy - the label that released most of Avoid One Thing's output - Lynch inherited the fabled space. Minehan said that Lynch, who he described as "full of piss and vinegar," has played an important "kick in the ass" role in the latest incarnation of the Neighborhoods.

"John's been our research department," Minehan said. Since Lynch joined, he has been poring over old demos and unreleased recordings and has pressed the band to take some of them out of mothballs - some of which Minehan no longer remembers the titles - for at least one last live go-round. Upcoming 'Hoods shows will certainly not be a pure nostalgia act; they now mix about a half a dozen new songs into the sets as well as little known rarities, like cuts from the unreleased final album "Last of the Mohicans."

"I just want to play things that don't bore me," Minehan said.

"The songs aren't as precious as they used to be," Harrington said. "There's no political importance to (choosing songs) anymore. If people want to hear a song, we play it."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Black Clouds story - Newport Mercury - 7/5/06 - full text

How to be a successful garage punk band from Providence: GET OUT

Should be interesting ... Guitarist/singer Dan Blakney says Black
Clouds won't hit the stage until close to the end of Jake's
anniversary bash after enjoying free whiskey and beer. CONTRIBUTED

Sat., 7-8, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Jake's Bar & Grille
373 Richmond St., Providence
No cover


A recent Monday night at Charlie's Kitchen had all the makings of
a bad joke: Six yuppies walk into a bar ...

While there wasn't a punchline per se, the hasty exit the
unsuspecting revelers made when the (mostly) Providence-based band
Black Clouds went crashing into their first trashy garage punk
number definitely made for quality visual comedy.

"There was a little of that going on tonight," Black Clouds
guitarist/singer Dan Blakney said with a laugh a few minutes after
his band's live set at the Harvard Square haunt. "Getting the
people out who don't belong there is as important as getting the
ones who do to stay."

Black Clouds were the opening slot on a triple bill that has
become something of a Monday night tradition for fans of
slash-and-burn, unadulterated rock 'n' roll. Local fare - like
Boston's criminally unreleased Tampoffs, who headlined that night
- tends to be the common denominator, but it is not surprising to
see an out-of-town underground giant, like the Reigning Sound, pop
in for a set at Charlie's. The middle slot on this particular
night was shaken loose by the Wisconsin band Hue Blanc's Joyless
Ones, a four-piece with a recent release on the Goner Records

Blakney, a 39-year-old welder/fabricator by day who lives in
Somerville, Mass., and 29-year-old drummer/singer Matt Puckett, an
Illinois ex-pat who works as a collision repairman and lives in
Providence, said that the band has gotten a bit more attention in
Boston since they formed a couple of years ago than they have in
Rhode Island. It wasn't long after Black Clouds sent out a
four-song demo of Providence practice space recordings - with
Mitch Murphy and Itai Halevi from Boston's Triple Thick at the
soundboard - that they started getting invites to perform on
Boston-area radio shows, like the "Pipeline!" program on MIT's
WMBR-FM and "Coffee N' Smokes" on Tufts' WMFO. Boston, home to
bands like The Konks, The Curses, and The Turpentine Bros., also
happens to be a city with an arguably more robust garage punk
scene than Providence.

"The noise stuff is really big (in Providence), and metal is huge
there," Puckett said. "If we were a metal band, we'd be going over
like gangbusters."

Although Black Clouds do get on Providence bills fairly regularly
- "mainly AS220 and Jake's," Blakney said - you are probably less
likely to catch them live at a Providence club than at
word-of-mouth loft parties in Olneyville, like a recent one during
which they opened for In The Red Records legends The Country

"I consider our Providence gigs more like a PawSox kind of thing,"
Blakney said.

Sonically speaking, Black Clouds - which is rounded out by
guitarist Glen Quinette, 38, of Providence - have a bassless
two-guitarist/one-drummer dynamic most instantly comparable to The
Cheater Slicks, a trio of underdog maniacs who left Boston years
ago for Cleveland. If the stars align, Black Clouds just might end
up attracting some likeminded national attention. They have a new
7-inch single set for release on a yet-to-be-named Providence
label, recorded last winter by Jack Younger at his Basement 247
studio in Allston, Mass. When pressed, however, the Black Clouds
members tend to be laid back about their aspirations.

"I personally don't set lots of ambitious goals and whatnot for
the music," Blakney said. "There isn't a big audience for what we
do and I don't spend too much time looking to convert the
unappreciative. You can't push a rope."

"We plan to shop around for some labels and see if we can get
someone to help us put something else out," Puckett said in a
follow-up email. "Plus we hope to do some recording of our own.
Then, when our full length LP comes out, we can tour the country
and abroad, drinking, rockin', fuckin' groupies, blowin' up amps
and shattering eardrums, the whole shebang! That'll rule."

For the time being, Black Clouds seem content to pick up shows as
they can get them; according to Blakney, the band "did a bandit
trip to Montreal" for a show recently, and they hope to make a
return to New York for a gig by the end of the summer. Black
Clouds' next scheduled local appearance is part of the Jake's Two
Day Anniversary Spectacular on Saturday, July 8, a gig that
Blakney seemed to be dreading due to the prospect of free booze
for bands; they're not scheduled to play until second to last out
of nine bands Saturday night.

"They're saying we're going to get free whiskey and beer," Blakney
said. "We've gotta find three shopping carts before we play this
gig, because that's what we'll be playing out of."

ZOX story - Newport Mercury - 6/26/06 - full text

Success hasn't spoiled them yet

Targeted serendipity. It started with that self-fulfilling
prophecy Zox guitarist-vocalist Eli Miller made in high school. Then inspiration came from a certain monosyllabic last name. From left, Dan Edinberg, bass and vocals, John Zox, drums, Miller and Spencer Swain, violin and vocals. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY LAURA BARISONZI

With Virginia Coalition and Alexi Murdoch; Heather Rose on the
Festival Stage
Wed., 6-28, 7 p.m. Gates open 5, Festival Stage music starts at 6.
Newport Yachting Center
America’s Cup Avenue, Newport
$15 advance, $18 at door


Warped Minds and Rusted Wheels: an apt title for the summer plans
of Providence’s Zox.

That is what the violin-laced, ska-peppered rock band has dubbed
their upcoming tour, which has them spending most of June darting
from city to American city as part of the Vans Warped Tour before
they head off for the rest of the summer — both stateside and at a
couple of European rock festivals — supporting Rusted Root. Zox
also recently signed with the indie label Side One Dummy Records,
which just reissued the band’s self-released sophomore album,
Reached by phone recently, 26-year-old Zox singer/guitarist Eli
Miller said that SideOneDummy is a welcome home for the band,
which has put out two records, achieved some commercial radio
airplay thanks in no small part to WBRU-FM, and garnered a
hard-working reputation by virtue of their relentless willingness
to travel since their initial inception as a college party band.

“When we put out The Wait in the fall of 2005 we started to get a
lot of attention (from labels),” Miller said. “The two presidents
of (SideOneDummy) flew out to New York in September and came to a
show and they offered us a deal right there. They had done a lot
of research and were super enthusiastic.”

Considering the diverse blend of hybrid punk acts SideOneDummy has
in its stable — from the heavily Irish-traditional bent of
Flogging Molly to the raunchy klezmer of Gogol Bordello to the dub
infusion of Bedouin Soundclash — the label makes sense for a band
like Zox, who fuse myriad influences into their sound. Miller
concurred, but said that the signing had as much to do with
practical considerations as it did stylistic ones.

“They just seemed like a really good company,” Miller said. “They
were small enough to give us a lot of attention, which was
important to us.” Miller added that SideOneDummy tends to seek out
“good live acts with a lot of word-of-mouth support, personal
contact with fans, and the DIY thing.”

The “DIY thing” — do it yourself — is something that has been part
and parcel of Zox since they formed in the early 2000s, when
Miller and most of the band were still undergrads at Brown
University. Zox put out its first two records, Take Me Home and
The Wait, on their own Arno Records label, handled booking, and
controlled the artwork and pretty much every other aspect of a
career that allowed all of the band members to leave their day
jobs behind three years ago.

For The Wait, Zox was assisted in the studio by the legendary
Mitch Easter. Easter founded the band Let’s Active back in the
early 1980s, but his rightfully earned status as a rock icon is
mostly due to his production work. Easter helmed the first couple
of records for R.E.M. — who were then mere jangly college rock
peers of Let’s Active — and throughout the ensuing decades went on
to lend his board skills to notables such as Marshall Crenshaw,
Game Theory and The Connells, plus plenty of lesser-known greats
like The Individuals, The Loud Family, Motocaster and Providence’s
own Velvet Crush.

“(Easter) was so cool,” Miller said. “Just very down to earth,
very understated. In a very important way (producers like Easter)
show you what they know by not talking too much.”

In addition to Miller, who writes most of the material, Zox
includes two other Brown alumni: bass player/keyboardist/ vocalist
Dan Edinberg, 25, from the Boston area who majored in music, and
drummer John Zox, 26, the initially reluctant namesake for the
group, who has an engineering degree. Rounding out the four-piece
is violinist/vocalist Spencer Swain, 25, a classically trained
player who attended the music conservatory at Purchase College in
New York. He joined the band after answering a newspaper
classified ad Miller and Zox took out seeking a violinist
interested in classical music, punk and reggae.

Did Miller have any idea when Zox originally formed that they
would end up making music for a living?

“No,” Miller answered bluntly. A San Francisco native, he said his
old friends now laugh at him because when he was in high school,
he gave a speech to his senior class titled “When I Grow Up, I
Want To Be A Rock Star.”

“It was an ideal, but not something I considered seriously,”
Miller said.

Miller said the epiphany that made him want to start playing music
came from his high school D.A.R.E. officer, who “was an incredible
guitar player.” Miller walked into the classroom one day and
witnessed the officer playing the opening notes of Guns N’ Roses’
“Paradise City” on an amplified electric guitar and was instantly
blown away. He went home that day and told his mom he wanted a

Miller described the musical tastes of his youth as “an even-keel
mix of classic rock — AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Doors — and a lot
of the West Coast punk rock,” bands like Lagwagon and Operation
Ivy. He would go on to form his own bands for the duration of his
teenage years. “I started writing songs really quickly, writing
lyrics, original music,” he said. “I was always looking for other
musicians to play my songs.”

Original material — particularly the fluid batch of tunes from The
Wait — is what audiences should expect if they go see the Zox
live, but Miller said the band occasionally throws in a cover by
one of their heroes like the Pixies, the Beatles, the Police, or
Iggy and the Stooges. There also might be a new song or two thrown
in for good measure, but the focus, he said, is going to be on the
latest album.

“I’ve got some (new) songs definitely that I’ve been working on,”
Miller said. “We won’t be getting into a studio until early next
year, maybe next spring, depending on how the tour schedule goes.”
Rounding out the interview, Miller was asked if Zox might be an
elaborate ruse to put off joining the real world.

“There is an element of that,” Miller conceded, but added that he
has come to believe that “real life” can be defined in many ways.
Making a living as a musician, for Miller, is just as valid as
working 9-to-5.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Miller explained.
“We’ve worked really hard at it. What is great is it’s ours. We
make all the decisions. We don’t have to answer to anyone. That’s
something we all really relish, being able to go out every night
and play rock music for a living.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Everclear story - Newport Mercury 4/26//06 - full text


Art Alexakis turns to music to cope with the emotional weight of personal bankruptcy, a divorce and his mother's death.

'Different vibe.' Art Alexakis, Everclear's only original member, leads the band's evolution toward a different sound band and the search for a new label. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Wed., 4-26, 8 p.m.
Edwards Auditorium, University of Rhode Island, Kingston
Tickets $10 public, $5 students


Art Alexakis is still living with some ghosts. He's also still making rock music as a way to deal with them.

Everclear, the Portland, Ore., band that spent a better part of the 1990s as commercial alternative radio darlings, remains Alexakis' musical outlet today. Some things have changed in recent years, though; the band is no longer on the major label Capitol Records, Alexakis is the sole original member, and the group is continuing to evolve beyond the brash, three-piece guitar rock sound that characterized its earliest output.

"It is Everclear," the 44-year-old singer/guitarist said during a recent phone interview. "They're still my songs. There's a different vibe. If you go to the fan sites, the overwhelming response has been positive. And I'm sure there are people who come to the shows wanting to hate us (now), but after they see us they are walking away believers."

While the band continues to play its old material at live shows, Alexakis said that he feels a need to incorporate folk, soul, vintage r'n'b - "the real r'n'b", he stressed - and singer-songwriter influences as he writes new material. "I am the type of person that gets bored when bands repeat themselves record after record," Alexakis said. "All it is is (a) lack of imagination."

The band recently completed the seventh full-length Everclear album, "Welcome To The Drama Club." "This is my early '70s Stones record," Alexakis said. "It's really raw. It sounds live because most of it was recorded with a live band. That's a lot different than sitting down with ProTools."

The album has yet to be released - the band is currently trying to secure a label, according to Alexakis - but the title is indication enough that Everclear remains a vehicle for some of the personal catharsis that characterized Alexakis' previous records.

"Can you tell I just went through a divorce?" Alexakis asked with a laugh. "I'm still kind of dealing with the fallout - emotionally, physically, financially."

In addition to the divorce, which Alexakis said led him to declare personal bankruptcy last year, Alexakis lost his mother three months ago after a long battle with cancer.

"That was the elephant in the room the whole time that we were recording," Alexakis said. "This album is really about relationships - denial, sadness, depression, anger, grief, letting go. It's a record I had to make. I couldn't not have made it. I had to get this out, otherwise, I would have probably ... imploded."

The current lineup of the band includes Sam Hudson on bass and vocals, David French on lead guitar, former Everclear drum tech Brett Snyder on drums, and keyboardist Josh Crawley, who brings B3 organ, piano, and clavinet to the mix. While none of these guys played on the Capitol releases, Alexakis said it doesn't feel like "the new Everclear lineup" anymore.

"We've been playing together for two years and three months now," he said.
Alexakis, who lives with his 13-year-old daughter Annabella, said that the maturity of the current lineup has helped them click.

"These guys are all well into their thirties," said Alexakis. "There's no drinking problems, no drug problems. All but one of them has children. We're all pretty much family guys, which brings a different vibe to it."

The URI show is what Alexakis described as a "one-off." The band is scheduled to fly to Hawaii for a show in Honolulu on Friday, then they're back home to their families. While it's not the life of fame and fortune that Everclear once enjoyed, Alexakis said, he still makes enough playing music to not need a day job.

"The one-offs are what pay the bills and the ex-wives," Alexakis said. "I don't make a lot, but I'm getting by."

Aloha story - Newport Mercury 3/29/06 - full text

Greetings from Aloha

Happy to meet Aloha. Say hello to an ear-pleasing fresh sound from, from left, Matthew Gengler, T.J. Lipple, Tony Cavallario, Cale Parks. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOGRAPH BY SHAWN BRACKBILL

With The First Annual, Cutlass & The Hot Sexest
Sun., 4-2, 3-6 p.m.
Behind the Student Union, Roger Williams University, One Old Ferry Road, Bristol
Free and open to the public


The word "aloha" often is used as a greeting. In the case of the band Aloha, that's what they hope to be doing on their current tour.

"We're trying to expose as many people to us as we can," said Tony Cavallario, Aloha's 28-year-old singer/guitarist/keyboardist. Cavallario was escaping the 30-degree chill in his tour van outside a Lexington, Ky., club last Tuesday evening when reached by phone. The prog-infused indie rock band would be sharing the stage with the band Swearing At Motorists later that night, part of a club sweep it was doing to warm up for a 50-odd date U.S. tour in support of its upcoming fourth album, "Some Echoes" (on the Polyvinyl Records label).

While the band has hit the road extensively - albeit randomly - since its inception in 1997, Cavallario said that this is the first time Aloha has focused on taking the band to the next level, career-wise.

"When we play live, we're always full throttle... (but) what we're doing is finally following the advice that the indie rock industry has given all along," Cavallario said - namely, record an album, release it, then tour in support of it. "The alternative would be to sit back and hope someone happens to decide that we're the next big thing. By 'next big thing,' I don't mean that we're expecting to become the next Pearl Jam. I mean an art rock band that sells 20,000 copies (of the new record)."

"Art rock" is probably the most concise summation of the Aloha sound. At the core is a four-piece rock band - guitar, bass, drums and keyboards - but the tunes are highlighted with vibes, mellotron, organ, marimba and Casio, and band members aren't afraid to play around with unusual time signatures. There are moments on "Some Echoes" when it's clear that these guys have at least one Yes album among them, but they never come off as rank imitators of the prog genre, especially in terms of the excess, sonically and otherwise. "We don't go on stage wearing capes," Cavallario noted with a laugh.

Deep down, Aloha makes adventurous pop songs, and the 10 cuts on "Some Echoes," which clocks in just shy of 40 minutes, hint at the variety of influences at play. On one tune, you might be reminded of the psychedelic post-punk of bands like XTC, on another you may detect an affinity for '60s pop along the lines of the Beach Boys, and on yet another you'll realize why it makes sense that they've been compared in the past to singer-songwriters like Rufus Wainwright.

"We all appreciate jazz and instrumentally intense music," Cavallario said. "A lot of what we listen to is for education as much as enjoyment. We are definitely scavengers in that sense."

Over the years, Aloha has developed a reputation for improvisation, but Cavallario said that the songs in their live set are not going to stray the point where they are unrecognizable.

"We try to stay pretty faithful to the songs," he said. "A lot of the improvisation happens when we're going from one song from the next. There's definitely room for new things - you need to have some flexibility when you're playing the same songs night after night, otherwise we're going to get bored as shit."

For Aloha, putting together a tour is slightly more of a logistical challenge than it might be for a local act that scrapes up some dough, piles their gear into a van and hits the road. Cavallario, who often works for newspapers, lives in Rochester, N.Y. Bass player/co-founder Matthew Gengler, 31, lives in Cleveland and is pursuing a library degree. Drummer/keyboardist Cale Parks, 26, calls Cincinnati home when he's not recording or touring with indie giants Joan Of Arc and Cex. And keyboardist/marimba player/drummer T.J. Lipple, 28, lives in Arlington, Va., where he runs the recording studio Silver Sonya, along with Chad Clark of Beauty Pill.

"It's hard to leave our lives and spouses behind," Cavallario said. "But when we get in the van, there is definitely a brotherhood that we've developed from playing together. The fact that we're focused on a goal this time, it feels like work, it feels like being productive.

"I love to play live," Cavallario said when asked if he had a preference when it came to touring versus recording. "I am totally comfortable on stage. But it's sort of a fleeting thing. You play a show and then you move on. Recording is forever. The gravity of that is what gets me. Recording is where Aloha can really make our mark. It's a great feeling to make a record."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Aloha story - Newport Mercury 3/29/06

Here's the link to the advance piece I wrote on the band Aloha for the Newport arts paper Mercury: click here. These guys have a free gig at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI on Sunday afternoon. Cool band; they've been around for several years now but the first time I ever heard them was when an advance of their forthcoming fourth full-length, Some Echoes (on the Polyvinyl Records label), landed in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago after my editor, Janine Weisman, convinced me to give them a listen. Suffice to say I wouldn't have written about 'em if I didn't like 'em.

The story will be up for the next week. When Mercury takes it down, I'll post it here in its entirety.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Brunt Of It story - Mercury 2/1/06


With Mustache Ride
Wed., 2-1, 9:30p.m.
Gillary's, 198 Thames St., Bristol
Cover $2


If you aren't familiar with the hardcore punk scene that put Newport on the map during much of the 1980s, you don't know the Brunt Of It. And if you think it's dead and gone, well, you obviously don't know Boo.

For Brunt Of It, a band that Newport native Eric Barclay de Tolly - known to most as "Boofish" - helped form in 1995 when he was living in San Francisco, things are getting busy these days. They released their second CD, "Certain Uncertainty," last November and the growing interest in this punk-ska band has them playing live more than ever before.

"It's becoming worth it now," said Barclay de Tolly, 37, the band's singer, who has been involved in the local music scene since he was in high school. The band is "tight as hell now," he added. "Most weekends we're actually out doing something."

There have also been recent distribution talks with the European hardcore label I Scream, a recent slew of gigs in Boston, Connecticut, and Maine, and they are now seeking a manager to line up a full East coast tour for later this year. The band is slated to warm up New York hardcore vets Murphy's Law on Saint Patrick's Day in New York City.

So what exactly keeps a guy like Boofish, who owns Middletown-based high-end construction business BDT Builders, in touch with his inner punk rock child?

"This is where I find my soul," he explained. "There's a lot of great things that I have in my life, but I've gone many years where I wasn't playing (music) and getting up on stage, and there would be a big hole. My life is empty without it."

Barclay de Tolly's music involvement dates back to the early 1980s. While he cut his teeth as a bass player and singer with bands like Positive Outlook, Step Forward, and Fast Forward, he developed more of a reputation as a scene booster throughout the 1980s. He helped arrange some of the first all-ages hardcore shows in Newport at the late, lamented Blue Pelican jazz club, now an annex to Community Baptist Church on Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Boulevard. In addition to the local bands on the Pelican bills, young punk fans were treated to Boston acts like Gang Green, New York acts like Youth of Today, and nationally established legends like 7 Seconds.

In the late 1980s, Barclay de Tolly started the Ravers, the still-ongoing local reggae act. The Ravers grew in popularity locally and started getting shows at colleges in New York and elsewhere, but conflicting goals within the group convinced Barclay de Tolly to quit and eventually relocate to San Francisco. "My horizons are always a lot broader than Newport, Rhode Island," he said.

Hoodlum Empire, a west coast ska punk band with a fairly established local following, ended up taking on Barclay de Tolly as a bass player. Vocalist Rob Rock was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1994, but the band soldiered on with him until one night in May 1995 when they were supposed to warm up then relatively unknown No Doubt. Rock never showed up. He has been missing ever since.

"I saw him go crazy," Barclay de Tolly offered frankly. "He tried all kinds of drugs to become normal again, but nothing worked. He was very similar to me and was someone I spent a lot of time with. I have tons of friends (in San Francisco), but he was one of my best friends. It is definitely eye-opening to see how fragile someone's mind can be."

Brunt Of It was formed in San Francisco shortly after Hoodlum Empire's demise, largely an effort by Barclay de Tolly to keep Rock's vision alive by writing songs around a pile of Rock's lyrics. The first incarnation of the band lasted until Barclay de Tolly moved back to Newport in 1996. It wasn't long before he started an East coast version.

The cast of characters that has come and gone through Brunt Of It - like drummer Doug Ernest and guitarist Adam Alechio (both former Ravers bandmates), not to mention bass player Fred Abong (a Positive Outlook alum) - is a testament to the crew of friends that has incestuously populated the local music landscape, both hardcore and otherwise, since the early 1980s. Vicious Circle, Positive Outlook, Civil Death, Verbal Assault, Step Forward, Fast Forward, the Throwing Muses, Belly, Primitive Ritual, the Ravers, Two Guys and Another Guy, One Ton Shotgun, Backwash, Mother Jefferson, the Motormags, and, of course, Brunt Of It would all turn up in a game of "Six Degrees of Separation from Boofish." At the very least, it all begs a family tree.

The most recent Brunt Of It lineup includes longtime drummer and former Kingpin member "Slim Jim" Colleran, 36, of Middletown, Colin Harhay, 35, of Gloucester, Mass. - the original bass player who recorded the band's first disc Safety Margin - and ex-Vital Remains guitarist Aaron Weinstein, 36, of Newport. Weinstein had signed on recently as a second guitarist, but the five-piece version of Brunt Of It returned to four with the amicable departure of longtime guitarist Bill Cote.

The recent rise in popularity the band has seen can be credited partly to old school punk rock networking. All the recent Boston shows, for instance, have come thanks in no small part to the friendship Brunt Of It developed last year with Boston's drunk punk kings Darkbuster. "They've given us tons of gigs," Barclay de Tolly stressed. Darkbuster, in return, have been able to make some inroads here.

Barclay de Tolly is also quick to mention the role that the Internet has played in helping Brunt Of It spread the word. The 22 songs Brunt Of It has available for free on have gotten over 20,000 downloads and nearly 60,000 plays at last count, and their Myspace profile - now with over 2,600 contacts - is "multiplying like freaking locusts," he said.

"It just makes us really wanna keep going on," he added. "We get these emails from people saying, 'We're sick of all this emo crap. You guys are exactly the band we've been waiting for.' Kids are responding to it. I don't think they realize how much that means to us. It makes me at 37 still get that urge to play."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Newport skate park initiative is ON

My brother Eamon has sparked a move to get a new concrete skate park built on the site of some long-unused tennis courts in our home town. I've attached the story on their first meeting with the Newport City Council. Obviously, they still have a lot of work to do (this IS in the preliminary stages), but Eamon has gotten 400 people involved via a petition and gotten the, uh, wheels rolling (sorry -- I stopped short of saying "gotten 400 people on board", but it just didn't make sense to say "gotten the ball rolling"). City approval remains in question, and fundraising plans (to cover building costs, lessen city liability, etc.) are not yet finalized.

Still, I think it's a good cause, and I'm not just saying that because I gave Eamon his first board for Christmas some 18 years ago. I can't skate to save my life these days (though I did put together a cruiser deck recently...) but Eamon and many others have stuck with it, which is a testament to the fact that skateboarding isn't just "for the kids" anymore -- you don't need to see Lords of Dogtown to understand this. The kids, though, will benefit most if this project comes to pass. I can't imagine what it would have been like to have this level of support for skateboarding when I was 12; I got my first ration of shit for skating on the street from a cop within the first week of getting my first board (it was a mini-Caballero with Trackers and Powell IIs for those taking notes). The resistance to the sport still sadly exists, so continued support for outlets like skate parks remains crucial.

If you or anybody you know would like to help with this initiative, feel free to pass this blurb along.

Here's the story on the first Newport City Council meeting from today's Newport Daily News. I will post info on upcoming meetings as it becomes available. Read on:

Skateboarders try to get officials on board for park

By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff

NEWPORT - Newport skateboarders envision a modern skate park behind the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, a park with an enclosed bowl set in the ground and a street course with curbs, pipes, a pyramid and other obstacles.
Sam Batterson, owner of Breaking Ground of Providence, which specializes in the construction of poured-concrete skate parks, developed the conceptual design and presented it Wednesday night to six of seven members of the City Council. Only Mayor John J. Trifero was absent.

Councilman Charles Y. Duncan requested the workshop after Eamon Kelly, a city resident with 18 years of skating experience, collected more than 400 signatures on a petition asking for the park.
In the audience were almost 40 skateboarders who crave an easily accessible area to skate in near the downtown area. The MLK Center is on Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Boulevard, and the skatepark would be built on a paved area that extends from Edward Street to Tilden Avenue.
The city opened a skate park at Easton's Beach in 1999 that cost $66,500 to build, but it never really caught on with the skateboarders, Kelly said.
"It's on a beach and anytime the wind is blowing, it fills with sand," he said. "The seams and cracks in the concrete are terrible."
The sand and relatively small size, 4,800 square feet, makes it difficult to skate on, he said. The seams between the concrete sections are filled with rubber, but that pulls out and wheels can get caught, he added.
"The people in the company that built it were not skateboarders," Kelly said. "They didn't know what skateboarders want."
The Easton's Beach skatepark also is difficult to get to from Newport neighborhoods, because kids have to skate down the hill of busy Memorial Boulevard to get there, or have parents drive them.
More than one skateboarder said when he skates in the street, police tell him that is not allowed. But when he skates on the sidewalk, police tell him that's not allowed either.
The city youth told council members that the Easton's Beach skate park probably attracts more kids from Middletown that it does from Newport.
The new proposal seeks to improve on the existing skate park. The paved vacant area behind the MLK Center is about 6,600 square feet, and the grassy area right next to it of the same width would add an additional 2,350 square feet. That would bring the total close to 9,000 square feet.
Batterson has credibility with skateboarders for his skate park designs. He built skate parks in Jamestown and Providence that are popular.
"The comments are that the parks are pretty good, for 4-foot parks," Batterson said. That is the maximum height of the walls and ramps in those parks.
"Newport with its surfing and skateboarding history, wants to have a good park," he said. "For the kids to be happy, it should be at least six feet."
The area would be excavated, so the walls would be largely below ground level.
The problems
Batterson said his proposed park for Newport would cost about $200,000. That price could go up if drainage was a problem.
That price tag was a problem for council members.
Councilwoman Colleen A. McGrath noted that the city is facing costly water, sewer and road infrastructure upgrades and repairs in the coming years.
Susan Cooper, director of the city's Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, said for the park at Easton's Beach, Pepsi-Cola Co. donated $25,000 and the parents and skateboarders raised another $5,000, leaving the city with a balance of $36,000.
Mike Richardson, a co-owner of Anchor Bend Glassworks, said he would be willing to donate labor and "hit the streets" to do fundraising for the new project.
"It would be nice to have a spot everyone could go to," he said. "I've been skateboarding since I was young. Whenever I'm not working, I'm trying to relive my youth."
Money, however, isn't the only potential problem the council sees.
"It's a densely populated neighborhood and skate parks can get loud," said Council Vice chairwoman Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.
"I can't imagine the calls for service we would get from that area," Patrolman Kevin Parsonage told the council. "I don't think many people would like ramps 20 to 30 feet from their homes."
But the skateboarders argued they already skateboard on the pavement at that location, and neighbors have not objected.
Skateboarders also argued that it's an activity that ends at sunset.
"You can't skateboard in the dark," said one young man.
They noted that basketball games take place on the adjacent court and that the MLK Center is already the site of many other activities.
"The skate park should be central to Newport somehow," Patrick Doyle said. "That's key to us. We know land is scarce, but the MLK Center presents itself."
The lot behind the center is city-owned parkland.
City officials also are concerned about liability and insurance costs.
Napolitano said the city had to pay a higher premium to extend its insurance coverage to the skate park at Easton's Beach.
Cooper said insurance companies in the past have required walls at skate parks to be no higher than 4 feet.
"There might be less injuries at a four-foot park because it attracts less people," Batterson said. "People here want a park that is going to put Newport on the map."
Councilman Duncan said another meeting would be scheduled, with representatives of the MLK Center and residents of the neighborhood to be invited.

Copyright 2004 - 2001. The Newport Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

two new posts

Not counting this one, that is.
Passing a bit of time so I figured I would put up the two latest things that I have written for the Mercury. They follow below.
I'll put some of the accompanying art up once I figure out this blasted photo editing feature. Jaqueline Marque shoots good work.
I'm considering posting these in their entirety on my myspace page. I am tempted to just put the links here to generate a little traffic this way.
Read on and tell me what you think. Feedback is a good thing.

Sasquatch & The Sick-A-Billys - from 1/18/06 Mercury


With Demon Truckers
Sat., 1-21, 10 p.m. Doors open at 9.
Area Venue, 3 River Lane, Newport
$8 cover


Sasquatch and the Sick-A-Billys are a band on a mission.

That mission, according to 32-year-old singer/guitarist Dave "Sasquatch" Caetano, "is to save f***in' rock 'n' roll."

The way to salvation for this Providence band slated to make its third Newport appearance at Area Venue Saturday night is a countrified blend of full-throttle, balls-out rock 'n' roll. Caetano's outrageous onstage antics- he's been known to set his pubic hair on fire and vomit on stage - tops off the Sick-A-Billys' energized, unmistakably rockabilly-infused sonic stew.

"It's gotta be done that way," Caetano said. "That's what rock 'n' roll should be about. I tell people it's OK to say 'F*** you' to your boss, it's OK to say 'F*** you' to people. Somebody's gotta be the asshole that says it. I'm just trying to take that fascist stress off of people's shoulders."

The Sick-A-Billys sound, which they've been fine-tuning for more than three years now, has earned them stripes among the psychobilly (read: fusion of punk and rockabilly) camp - not to mention opening slots with the likes of Reverend Horton Heat - but none of the band's members is comfortable with the concept of playing to the constraints of a single sub-genre.

"It's definitely a bastardized version of rockabilly," said Natalie Courville, a.k.a. "Miss Natalie," the band's 26-year-old drummer. Courville, a tattooed "hardcore kid" (as she put it) and Slayer enthusiast, grew up in Connecticut and played in punk and metal bands before becoming a Sick-A-Billy just about two years ago.

Upright bass player Johnny "Custom" Viveiros, 27, a Cranston resident who grew up in Warwick, never heard of the term psychobilly until he joined the band, though he'd taken to the rockabilly image - the "shirts with dice on them, the creepers."

"Most psychobilly bands, to me, just sound like punk bands with upright bass," Viveiros said. "I think we have different influences. I bring a little more punk (to the sound), Natalie brings the hardcore, and Dave brings the Frank Zappa-psychedelic-metal-bluesy mishmash or whatever you want to call it to the table. A lot of Dave's riffs are metal riffs with a twang."

Caetano, originally from Pawtucket, was a dreadlocked metalhead with a fairly omnivorous musical appetite before moving to Texas for two stints during the 1990s, but he credits a live Wayne "The Train" Hancock performance for turning him on to twangy sounds. "I just fell in love with it," he said, referring to the guitarist's trademark "hillbilly swing."

With a self-released CD, "Burning Miles of Sin," a win last spring in WBRU's Rock Hunt, and some increasingly aggressive and extensive touring under their belt, Sasquatch and the Sick-A-Billys are on the brink of another monthlong, Tasmanian devilesque spin around American clubland with dates booked everywhere from Pennsylvania to Texas. Perhaps an elaborate ruse to escape as much of New England winter as possible, Caetano has named it the "Cold as a Bastard Tour."

They also happen to be in distribution negotiations with the roots rock-purveying label Yep Roc, who could very well be getting both their first disc and the yet-to-be-released, 17-track follow-up - which is on the brink of its final mastering stages - out to record stores and radio stations everywhere in the coming year.

The Yep Roc roster includes the likes of Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers and Reverend Horton Heat. Both bands - and Reverend bass impressario "Jimbo" in particular - helped encourage Yep Roc to take note. "Those guys pushed for them to take a look at us," Viveiros said.

While lineup changes were frequent in the early days of the Sick-A-Billys and the band seemed more like Caetano and a revolving cast of characters fleshing out his singular vision, Sasquatch and the Sick-A-Billys have developed into a group effort. Viveiros said that Caetano handles most of the lyrics and comes up with the basic guitar parts, but the rest of the band has a say in the finished product.

"We've definitely sped up a lot of stuff," Viveiros said, referring to some of the band's older material. As for new songs, Caetano welcomes their input. "When it comes to the music and arrangement, it's all of us," Viveiros said. "Do 200 shows a year and you're going to get tighter," he added.

"The three-way relationship, musicwise, is like nothing else. We feed off each other like nobody's business. It's awesome. I've never had that in a band before," Courville said. "All three of us have a pretty strong work ethic when it comes down to it."

While they all have busy lives outside the band, Courville said, they're all dedicated to dropping everything to go on the road, rehearse, or put in studio time. "It's part of our lives and we love it. It wasn't always easy at times, but since then it's become a part of us."

Caetano's in-your-face stage presence has earned him some apt comparisons to Jello Biafra, the similarly-left-of-center former singer of politicized punk legends the Dead Kennedys. But he says the vomiting and self-immolation are subliminal things that happen maybe once a year. There are a number of factors - including how much he's been drinking.

"It gets people's attention. It's an expression of how sick to f***ing death I am of the world. (But) I'm not a novelty act. I've got these songs, so maybe that's what I need to focus on."

One thing the audience at the band's Newport show this weekend can expect is an energized set. "We always play like it's the end of the world," Courville said.

Pat Downes Q&A - from 1/11/06 Mercury

What he got


Sometimes the best way to make your own music is to join a band devoted to someone else's songs. That's the case for Newport native Pat Downes, who quit his day job last fall to hit the road with Sublime tribute band Badfish, formed in 2000 by a trio of University of Rhode Island students. Downes' involvement in music started when he picked up a saxophone at age 9. He played in school bands from grade school into college and was a longtime member of Jiya.

When did you join Badfish?

Actually, it was the end of October, I was in another band out of Boston, Suspect, and we ended up opening for Badfish, and then they asked me if I wanted to come up and play a song. Then after that, they said "Hey, if you learn how to play some keyboards, too, we'll give you a job."

Oh, that's right, because you're a sax player.

Yeah, so, I didn't even know how to play the keyboards, but they said if I learned the parts for their songs, then they could give me some work.

Was Suspect another cover band?

No, it was original music.

What's it like to go from an original band to a cover band?

You find a way to put your own spin on it so you can still keep it creative and fun. Definitely the benefit is you can go to the show and everybody knows the words to the songs. It's weird. It's like you're just basically leading a big sing-a-long. Everybody's already into it and knows what's going on. So that makes it fun. But I'm still writing original stuff on the side, because that's part of the art, you know? I couldn't support myself on my original music when I was doing just that. This is my only job now.

So you don't have a day job anymore?

No. That's why I'm home right now. When we're on the road, that's all I do. And then when I come home I play three shows a week and then have the rest of the week off. I'm doing the whole singer-songwriter thing, so I play guitar and sing. I have my own stuff that I work on. I played drums for a while in a band, and I play bass.

What is the original material that you guys have been working on like?

It's pretty much under the same blanket as the Sublime style music. Just like a rock-reggae thing. We're trying to write towards what our audience would like.

Would you do it under the Badfish name, or would you do it under a different name?

That's still under debate. It's still early. It's definitely being thrown around a lot.

Were you a big Sublime fan before you joined Badfish?

Yeah, I knew all the stuff. I definitely wasn't listening to it as much as I do now, but I was definitely a fan.

I really doubt you saw them back in the proverbial day...

No I did not (laughs).

Can you describe your main audience? And what's your average draw?

For age, we don't play at colleges, but just college towns, it depends on the place. We play clubs that hold usually on average 500 or 600. They usually sell out. They do really well. The biggest show we played ... House of Blues in Atlantic City a few weeks ago, and that sold out. That was 3,000 people in New Jersey. We actually sold it out twice, once over the summer and once a few weeks ago, so that's our big show. It depends on the market, too.

Does it tend to be mostly college kids who are going to your gigs, though?

Yeah, for the most part. When it's an all ages show, we get a lot of really young kids, maybe as young as 14. Which is really cool, because they weren't around when the whole Sublime thing was going on. If we're playing somewhere like Lupos where the crowd's all ages, it'll be 14 to like almost 40. The 21 plus shows are a little more mellow. Not too many mosh pits, because that's all the young college and high school kids.

When you're not making music or playing out, what kind of music do you listen to?

It's everything. I'll go through listening to some real heavy stuff. I'm kind of into that band Avenged Sevenfold, like melodic metal, and anything like that to Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, that type of music. Just the whole spectrum.

Do your bandmates look the part and everything? I wouldn't imagine the singer would get SUBLIME tattooed across his back.

No. Actually, people that come to the shows do, though. It's crazy. People try to come up on stage and show off their (Sublime) tattoos. It's nuts. But I think that's another reason why people come to see us. We're not trying to imitate anybody. It's just us up on stage. The whole image thing, that was (Sublime's) thing. There are lots of cover bands that do that, try to look the part.

Like an AC/DC cover band that has the guitar player in the schoolboy outfit.

Exactly. (But) if you sound like it, you don't really need to do it.

Do you have any advice for younger people interested in getting into music? I think it's pretty remarkable that at age 23, you're able to make a living just playing music.

I was very fortunate, even in the bands that I go around in. The kids who are opening up for us, the local bands, are still very young, but most of the touring bands, I haven't really ran into anybody my age too often. A piece of advice? Just keep selling yourself, put yourself out there. Play where you can when you can, because that's the only way people are going to see you, the only way you're gonna get noticed.