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.”