Brad Cox and Skitzo Calypso

In five days from the time of writing this, it will have been five years since I attended my first and only Skitzo Calypso concert. A few months following that performance, I would have the opportunity to interview frontman and singer-songwriter, Brad Cox, for the first time. Over the course of these last five years, the group has peaked its head up here and there, putting out singles and an EP, but otherwise laying low. In their stead, Cox had been keeping busy with a project entitled We Love The Underground, which I have followed intently. But now, as The Underground are on a hiatus, Calypso has returned with a new song, entitled “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” and teased news of more studio work in progress. Once again, I have the distinct honor of speaking with Brad about his current happenings.

Brad, Skitzo Calypso’s first album Join The Cult came out in 1998. Now, marking the 20th anniversary of that release, the band has released a new single with more material on the way. What can you tell us? Had this reunion been in the works for a while, or is it just remarkable timing?

The reunion kind of happened to us. It’s all been a relatively fate-driven event. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that music happens when it’s supposed to happen. The unnecessary trademark debacle really wasn’t what lit the fuse, nor was it the timetable [20 + years]. Basically, as one project was disbanding, certain elements unfolded [almost in tandem] that made this one possible. One of the things I really wanted to convey on this record was the dark side of dream-chasin’ and/or success depression. You can have it all and still feel just as isolated and empty as you did when you started; until you tend to whatever negative elements lurk inside you, you’re never really going to be finished. To that end, and to loosely quote Steven Tyler, ‘how many years will you waste doin’ what you’ve always done to get what you’ve always got?’ That’s the question this album will explore.

Unlike previous singles that have come out throughout the last few years, the band has made it quite clear that this isn’t a one-off get-together. In fact, there’s a new album in the works. Can you share any details about it with us?

Sure. The goal with this effort and whatever it ends up being is to bring it all home – that includes bringing in some of the people that made it all possible. We recently completed a track with Cherry Teresa, who was a big part of the band [2001 – 2004]. It may seem like a small window of time, when you consider the band’s existence, but it was a very impactful period [for us] and she was very much a part of that. We also brought in our former bassist [Zeke Johnson] for a rather thunderous track. To the point you were making, about ‘making it clear that this isn’t a one-off get-together’, we’ve been very conscious about making sure people realize that we’re not just going to record a song and dip back into obscurity. So, we’ll be releasing snippets, pieces of artwork and announcing shows along the way. The goal is summer [2018].

This reunion is stage-bound soon?

Yes! June 2018ish.

What most excites you about the music you’re making right now?

A lot of times, you reflect on what you’ve done and can find yourself dwelling in that headspace, but I really feel like I’m not only growing as a person, but also a musician and that a page has turned; it’s possible to reflect and move forward, with your eyes only occasionally glancing into the rearview mirror. I have a clearer vision for where I’m going and it’s fueling a ton of new ideas. None of us wanted to be tied to the past. One of the things that turns my stomach is watching bands who try to rewrite their catalog and release the same music they did when they were kids; like they’ve become so hogtied to their brand that they can no longer see why they started making music in the first place. Along the way, their souls just died. For us, it’s just the opposite. We may even alienate some of our diehard fans, but that’s been the trajectory we’ve been on since the late 90’s. This time, we’re really going to push that envelope and test the patience of our ‘fans’.

Tony Correlli, your longtime producer and collaborator, added synths to “…Emerald Sky.” While not an official Calypso member, will we see more of him on the record?

The intro riff of that tune started with something Bryan [Holmes, guitar] had been fidgeting with and will be tasked with performing live. I brought in the initial verse/chorus progression. From there, we literally just started throwing riffs around [in messenger] and forming the bedrock of what became “Reaching for an Emerald Sky”. Pat [Sise, guitar/bass] had a big part in deciphering and adding to those ideas and structuring the tune out. Gary’s [Holmes] instincts on the drums brought it all home. We just decided it would be more of a departure to introduce different elements – we wanted to explore that. That said, Tony has a way of translating our ideas when we’re not always able to explain ourselves. Whether he’s a prominent figure in the band or not, he’s always a huge player in the end-product and I anticipate you’ll be hearing more from him as the process unfolds.

While on the subject of Tony: how did that relationship form and become what it is today?

Well, back in 2002ish, we found ourselves looking for a new producer. The producer I’d worked with on the first couple albums was charting a new course [in music], so we began exploring our options [as well]. At the time, one of my good friends had recommended John Grant of Secret Sound Studio, which is where we recorded the bulk of ‘The Shattering’. He did a great job capturin’ the feel we were goin’ for, but we still found ourselves curious to see who else was out there. From there, we recorded the majority of the next record, ‘Between the Lines & Beyond the Static’ with Drew Mazurek – another excellent Baltimore-based producer.

At some point [in all of that], John Grant and Tony Correlli had joined forces. During a session in 2008 and after returning to John Grant for ‘Burning Down an Empire’, Tony Correlli was filling in for John [one night] and got us a final mix for a track called, “Until My Heart 5tops Beating”, which actually wasn’t officially released until this past year [on Ghosts: The Beyond]. Sidebar: It was marked with a ‘5’ because it was originally intended to be featured on a follow-up album called, ‘The Skepsis of the Fifth Sun’ – a teaser written across the bottom of the ‘Burning Down an Empire’ shirts. That theme was later re-explored. Anyways, we were ecstatic with how it turned out [with Tony], so we started booking regular sessions, recorded a couple one-offs [together] and before we knew it ‘Ghosts’ was haunting our catalog.

Tony moves efficiently. He’s got a really good pulse on modern music and tones. Moreover, he’s extremely helpful, understanding and fair. We’d always see each other at these Father/Daughter dances…so, overtime, we found a permanent home with The Deep End studio. That said, I still had a great dynamic and friendship with John Grant, so when I first started recording the We Love the Underground albums, I enjoyed working with both John and Tony. The cool thing is, Tony has a lot of the We Love the Underground presets in his keyboard, so having him out LIVE is always a pretty simple transition. I’d expect the same opportunity will exist with Skitzo Calypso.

About a week ago, you shared a photo mock-up done by David Weston Gregory Jr., based on the original Join The Cult ‘Girl Afire’ artwork designed by Mike Sacrey. Does this indicate anything about the direction of the new album’s potential artwork?

It does. She’s always represented a seductive muse – an irresistible attraction that draws us in and will inevitably destroy the lives of the people around us and inevitably lead to our own damnation if we don’t learn how harness it and keep our wants in perspective; this could be a worldview, a religion, a passion, a dream or whatever. We’ve already married themes from The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland into the writing of this work, so it seemed appropriate to bring her back. She’s kind of like our ‘Eddie’ [Iron Maiden].

In the mock-up, the Girl Afire is carrying court papers, and you’ve recently been embroiled in quite a legal debacle yourself. To summarize your situation: a rapper in California issued a trademark complaint against your use of one of the words in your band’s name, and said you couldn’t use it any more, to the point that CD Baby wasn’t willing to support you. Can you tell us more about what has occurred with that since we last spoke, as Skitzo Calypso is obviously moving forward?

Right now, we’re going through the process(es). We’ve secured a common law trademark in the State of Maryland and have applied for a federal mark. It’s all relatively asinine. It just shows how petty people can be. And, we figured, well, whatever, we’ll do our due diligence; still, the individual is following us around the web and trying to block our registration. The irony is, I chose the name [in 1996] because it seemed ridiculous that anyone would ever challenge it or want anything like it – it’s not like I called the band a derivative of ‘Earth’, ‘Wind’ or ‘Fire’ or ‘Black’ ‘Stone’ or ‘Cherry’. Truth be told, Skitzo Calypso is not a great band name – it’s a marketing faux pas – but, it’s our band name [all the same]. Plus, in 1996, people weren’t really using Google to search for the availability of band names. To give this perspective, this individual was 7 when our first record dropped. Plain and simple, they didn’t do their homework.

To this day, there is still only one Skitzo Calypso in the marketplace. Meanwhile, there are literally 100’s of rap, rock, metal, DJ, punk artists, etc. running around with some variation of said ‘word’ in their name and this individual acknowledges that – yet, it’s been used as the sole catalyst for challenging us. It’s like, ‘So it’s our fault you knowingly chose a generic name for your project and lack the slightest bit of common sense to think that that might make it difficult to cut through in the digital age?’ It would be one thing if it wasn’t so common and we hadn’t existed for 22 years, but it’s all rather short-sighted. Why? Well, whether this individual succeeds in having our music yanked from various online platforms [because they can’t arbitrate] or blocking our trademark, it isn’t going to erase our digital footprint – over two decades of videos, blogs, reviews, past show listings, free streaming services, etc. won’t just magically disappear. I guess, what’s more, what’s the point? You’re a local artist. In this game, you win more bees with honey. If the person was savvy, they’d try to find a way to network. Plus, if your fans/friends aren’t buying your records, it’s certainly not because of us [or the laundry list of similar bands out there] – it’s because your product isn’t in demand or your marketing is poor. That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the reality of it. But, it’s cool, I lived in Hollywood – I get the mindset. But, wait, aren’t we all stars in god’s sky? Please. Just ridiculous – all of it.

To go out a little into left field, Skittles: When did that start and what is it all about?

That started in about 2006ish. It was just this thing that happened – I suppose because of the ‘Skit’ and ‘Skitzo’ part of the band name; that, and because I’d made it publicly clear that it was my favorite candy. Over time, people started bringing bags of Skittles to shows and tossing them on stage – some bands get roses, we get hard candies.

Is there anything else fans should have on their radars?

Well, Joe Ruggiero and I had started a project called The After Midnights. But, when we finally got around to releasing the material we quickly realized that time wasn’t on our side. He’s got his bands – I’ve got mine. I think, at some point we’ll see that project get longer legs. It generated a ton of interest in a short period of time. And, it’s cool, it’s a poppier departure from some of the other projects and something I feel has a lot of potential.

While the spotlight here is certainly on Skitzo Calypso, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another effort which has taken up much of your time. We Love the Underground is on hiatus, and a wonderful compilation called The Skeleton Key is now available with some previously unreleased material. I’m really curious to know: Is there any update as to the status of this other great band?

It’s resting. In short, and to come full circle, music happens when it’s supposed to happen. We’ll have to let time do its thing, wait and see…

Purchase ‘Reaching For An Emerald Sky’ at: iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp

For more on Skitzo Calypso, visit:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Bandcamp

Alternate fiction: Otherwise Perfect

Jesse and Wes are college seniors and best friends who have seen each other through it all. But when tragedy strikes Jesse’s family during the holiday season, his severe depression returns and threatens to tear their friendship apart. Wes is determined to save Jesse’s life no matter what it takes. But how do you show someone what their life is worth?

When I first set out to write this story, I almost did not go through with it. I did not think it would ever have a market, and after lots of researching, I realized a market for this story didn’t even exist. This was actually my wake-up call to write the story and publish it myself.

Why doesn’t this book have a market? This is a question that plagued me for a long time, a question I didn’t have a real answer to. It was fear, I decided in the end, fear of talking openly about mental illness, even though it affects one out of every four people. As a society, we are taught to hide from it. It’s one of those things “you don’t talk about.” Most people would rather talk about religion or politics than utter the word “suicide.”

So, why did I decide to write a story with a main character suffering from depression? Because it is more common than we think it is. Millions of people live with depression every day, but they keep it hidden because that’s what they think they have to do. Depressed people are the same as “normal” people. As human beings, we all want love, acceptance and happiness, and we all deserve it. We all deserve to have our stories told.

While I was writing this story, I asked myself, “What would happen if this character who is depressed tried to commit suicide?” The first answer that popped into my head was disappointing; his friends would likely stop talking to him, not want to be associated with him, or worse, pretend to care. But then I realized that it’s not what I would do. I would listen, be supportive, and most importantly, be present. I created a support system for my character because I believe that’s something everyone should have in their life; true friends.

This is a story about friendship. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about unconditional love, and what it can overcome. While it may never be mainstream, I feel that this novel has the capability to reach not only those who have experienced mental health issues, but the general public as well. I am incredibly proud of this story and I believe it has an important message that I want to spread as far and wide as I can. Perhaps there will always be a stigma around mental health, but I want to do everything I can to break that stigma through fiction.

Jenna L. Hughes

Otherwise Perfect is available in ebook format (Kindle) and paperback. For more information on the novel, reviews and author information, please check out the links below.

Interview: Brad Cox [“Children Of The Program”]

Going on four years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad William Cox, vocalist for the bands We Love the Underground and Skitzo Calypso, and now author of a novel entitled “Children of The Program” (review).  Additionally, he’s released an album with the same name, and has just completed work on the sequel to that book, called “Children of The Program: Edge of The Fifth Sun,” which is available now.

Brad, it’s a joy to speak to you again.  Let’s jump right into the first question. The “blank page” is a constant struggle for artists of all kinds, but which was more daunting: the blank page of the first novel, or of its sequel?

For me, the first novel was much more difficult, for a variety of reasons.  Being that “Children Of The Program” was intended to be a trilogy, getting started was incredibly daunting.  It’s such a complex story.  In hindsight, the first book is almost the appendix in the series, as it lays out all the ground work and ‘rules’ of The Program.  It’s littered with characters and details.  The new novel is much more linear.  There’s not a ton of bouncing around, like before.  I also tried to make it possible to read the second one without having to read the first, which was a challenge.  So, the ‘blank page’ of the 2nd novel was just like continuing the story – the only real challenge was making it accessible as a first read.

We all know about movie soundtracks, but you and your bandmates in We Love the Underground wrote a novel soundtrack.  Was this always your intention, and did it meet your expectations?

Yes.  It exceeded my expectations.  I tried doing this years ago, but it didn’t pan out, mainly because my writing wasn’t up to par.  The book was called, “Fire in the Hands of an Angel.”  First off, Patrick Sise, Eric McCullough, Joe Ruggiero and Gary Holmes are amazing people and musicians – I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to work with.  We’re all tight, like brothers.  No one bats an eye at tackling bigger projects.  I started recording it, as a solo project, with “Leaving Tonight,” but as the story evolved and I began discussing the concept, everyone was fully on-board.  Eric and I tackled “Back from a Suicide” and then dug into “Paint the Desert with My Heart”, a nod to the Painted Desert.  Much like the novels, the challenge was making the songs accessible, apart from the novel.  If you read the novel, great, it’s that much more fun.  But if you didn’t, that’s OK too!


The last song of the Children of The Underground album is a 12-minute monster entitled “The Creationist,” which makes an appearance on the recent _Intrinity EP along with two other songs: the newly written track, “The Survivalist,” as well as one from Mouthful of Graffiti, “The Isolationist.”  Is this a musical prelude to the new novel?  And would you be so kind as to elaborate on the EP’s title?

_Intrinity can act independently from “Children Of The Program” or in tandem. It follows the life of a struggling artist.  “Children of the Program” does the same, through Neco, but the story around him is obviously much broader and science fiction oriented.  With _Intrinity, there’s the innocence of wanting to create [The Creationist] and the pull from above that forces you forward, followed by the desire to keep your dreams alive [The Survivalist], followed by an inevitable fall [The Isolationist] – in short.  “The Creationist” was included on “Children of the Program” because it’s a chapter in the new novel and because the bird of life [in the book] is referred to as The Creationist or ISIS [not that ISIS].  Its name is derived from the Egyptian god of magic and fertility.  But, as a trilogy of songs, you don’t necessarily need to pair ‘em with the novel to enjoy it.  Creation is a large theme in the first novel.  In some ways, it re-imagines some of the Christian stories.

I don’t want to spoil the first novel for those who have yet to explore it, but I do want to touch on aspects of the story.  Firstly, the twelve characters of the book originate from locations around the globe, though the furthest East it seems to go is Israel.  Within the book, this is based on autonomy, but how did you decide on the origins of these individuals?

I don’t want to spoil anything either, but one thing a lot of the readers figured out [quickly] was that the 12 characters of the first book were modeled after the 12 Tribes of Israel.  So, if you take the first letter of each of their names, you can match ‘em up with a corresponding tribe.  I intertwined a lot of Greek and Egyptian mythology into the book, as well.  So, Icarus was placed in Greece.  Simon Peter was modeled after Simon the Sorcerer and so on.  In most cases, their locations suited the personality I was developing for them, their relevance to my personal life or due to their direct historical ties to a location.   All of the first and last names were scrutinized over.  For example, the bird of death is Than, which is short for Thanatos, the Greek personification of death.  I’d be here all day if I went into each character.  But, I’m sure if you dig in, you’ll figure a lot of it out.  Some things are best left in the shadows…

Developing one personality completely is quite a feat, but you took on twelve to varying degrees.  Who did you have the most fun creating, and who was most challenging?

Dez was hands down my favorite.  I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s such a complex character and clever.  I had nightmares about him as I was creating him and other readers have suggested that he’s popped up in their dreams.  Some have even said that they couldn’t continue reading the book because of him – so, I think I hit the nail on the head with that character.  My character [Neco Baal] was challenging because I was forced to be honest with myself and share a lot of aspects of my personal life.  There are many autobiographical chapters.  They say write what you know, so that’s what got my engines turning.  But, the most challenging character was likely Grayson, because I didn’t realize how instrumental he was going to be in the book until the story began unfolding – that’s when I really got a grasp of his significance.  He’s so ordinary, yet important.  It’s like trying to make vanilla ice cream into rainbow sorbet.  And, I simply can’t leave out the bird, Petey.  Scratch what I said, he might be my favorite.

There’s a good deal of antagonism in the first book, and I’ll admit it came from a direction I wasn’t expecting.  Will the second installment in this series establish a similar cadence of opposition?

The second novel has quite a bit of antagonism, yes – oh, and mysticism.  As you’ve probably noticed in a lot of the Skitzo Calypso artwork, my back tattoo or some of my general points of conversation [online and in blogs], I’m very into Aztec, Mayan and Hopi mythology.  It’s fascinates me.  To be as vague as possible, I tied some of those mythologies into this book.  Actually, Skitzo Calypso’s Ghosts was originally going to be a full-length album called The Skepsis of the 5th Sun.  It was written on the bottom back of the Burning Down an Empire T-shirts, featuring The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa [also referenced in book 1] on the front.  But, when the band lost a key member, we ended up going in a different direction and just doing the EP.  Through these books, I’ve tried t’ tie all the album themes in, one way or another.  That said, I don’t think people will have guessed where this story is going to take ‘em, but the artwork from the first book foreshadows it.  The actual Children Of The Program have a large role in book 2, which I couldn’t get into in book 1 without starting the next installment; it just would have been too much.

With regards to the Hallway of Sorrows, in which our protagonists find themselves at the beginning of the book, does reincarnation always have to come in groups of twelve, or can it occur piecemeal to reach The Program’s objectives?

This is an excellent and important question, due to the complexity of book 1.  Yes, the reincarnation must come in groups of 12.  So, if you know how the first book ends, you’ll be able to infer where The Program currently stands.  Those selected and die without fulfilling The Program are recycled.  Those who complete their mission enter The Beyond [a spiritual nirvana of sorts].  When they’ve all died, or satisfied their calling, the spots of those who entered The Beyond are backfilled through way of the Lottery of Souls and The Program resets.

The first book made some headway towards The Program’s original goal, but there’s still much work to be done.  How much of would you say the new book focuses on old faces versus following developments of the Crystalline?

There were so many characters, even considering the outcomes of some of those in book 1, that you’ll have plenty of familiar faces to follow.  But, there is a heavy emphasis on the Crystalline.  You’ll be happy to know that Petey might make a reappearance.

Is it possible to cheat The Program, either in life or in death?

Anything is possible – but it’s best I leave it at that.

“You either steal their hearts or you capture their imagination.” So, how has the response to your first writing-effort been?

Amazing. People have been incredibly supportive.  As you know, the first run of books needed a little clean-up, but no one really seemed to mind or noticed.  When you’ve spent upwards of a year working on something, everything is magnified.  But, when people are just chillin’ and readin’, I think they tend to overlook a lot of things. The feedback and excitement for a 2nd book has made writing it even more worthwhile.  Suffice it to say, I can’t wait to share “Edge of the Fifth Sun” with planet Earth!

 

Purchase “Children Of The Program” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Purchase “Edge Of The Fifth Sun” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Purchase the album(s) at: iTunes | Amazon

For more from Brad Cox, visit:
We Love The Underground: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
Skitzo Calypso: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Killthrax Tour: The Fillmore

“Are you shooting the Killthrax show on April 3rd?  You really should,” encouraged a fellow photographer at a show a few months back.  And boy, am I glad I did!  With a line-up of The Devil Wears Prada opening for a co-headlining tour of Killswitch Engage and Anthrax, I knew this concert at The Fillmore Silver Spring, MD would be one I’d regret missing.  And so, with my fingers crossed, I contacted the publicity representatives for both headliners in hopes of ensuring a slot in the photo pit.  Triumphant, I stand before you with the shots and experiences you see below.  If you don’t care to read further, just know this: see this show!

The Devil Wears Prada: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | iTunes

A stuttering emission of lights rained down upon the backs of the band members in sync with the blasts of the bass drum, while TDWP raged on stage.  Unfortunately for me, and my fellow photographers, all those lights silhouetted these fine fellows from Dayton, Ohio, resulting with fewer shots for you fine folks, but a great experience for those in attendance.  Throughout the performance there was an ominous air that gave way to sheer brutality as the band flowed in and out of songs.  Often, looking up, I couldn’t even see the eyes of vocalist Mike Hranica, aiding that eerie nature of the performance.  But a raucous applause at the final chord of their set made it apparent how well received this band had been.


Anthrax
: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | iTunes

Admittedly, one of the main reasons I wanted to make this show was to witness the greatness of one of the Big 4 Of Thrash, the New York-based band, Anthrax.  And they did not disappoint!  Loading up a riser in order to set the drums at yet an even higher altitude, the group transformed the stage into a battleground of thrash metal.  The core of the setlist came from the band’s seminal 1987 album, Among The Living, opening with that same one-two punch of its title track and “Caught In A Mosh,” diverging into the well-known “Madhouse” from Spreading The Disease, with a fair helping of their newest album, For All Kings, thrown in.

Throughout the concert, bassist Frank Bello ran, jumped, and rampaged across the stage like a loosed animal; guitarists Scott Ian and Jonathan Donais riffed and ripped; and drummer Charlie Benante – quite at home behind the kit – chewed bubblegum and slammed the skins with a combination of savagery and zen.  Vocalist Joey Belladonna incited the audience with his immense enthusiasm.  He threw guitar picks into the audience on countless occasions, making me worry that the guitarists might eventually be in need of one and find their supply sorely depleted.  During “Madhouse” he even commandeered one of the photo pit cameras and began his own aspiring concert photography career.  As the band left the stage, it felt like the whole night must be over, because it seemed impossible that another act could follow as the cheers of “Anthrax!” echoed on and on.


Killswitch Engage
: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | iTunes

Despite how dearly the audience relished Anthrax, tonight’s headliner had yet to perform.  Killswitch Engage’s stage setup, by comparison to the former’s, was quite minimalistic: four black backers with KSE logos, a few spinning lights, and the band.  But don’t think for a moment that this proved to be a deficiency for these fine fellows from Massachusetts.  Captivating the audience from their first song, “Alone I Stand,” the opening track from their latest album, Incarnate, they pulled out hit after hit that kept the crowd chanting the lyrics.  The circle pits went on for so long, that as the show stretched towards its conclusion I could plainly see the energy dripping off the participants and getting lost in a puddle of sweat on the floor.  One of the most memorable moments for me was the group’s well-known cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver,” which exuded power into the concert-goers.  And a KSE show wouldn’t be complete without outlandish comments from resident comedian, guitarist Adam D., sporting a sweatband with “TRASH” written across it in black sharpie.  “This next song is not about assholes!” he screamed before launching into “Rose Of Sharyn,” and later joked about having to end the show so they’d all have time for some much needed masturbation.  “The tour can’t go on without it!”

If you have a chance to see any of these bands live, whether on this tour or a future one, you’d be wise to do so.  Each pulls out all the stops to the delight of those in attendance.

Alter Bridge / Nonpoint – The Fillmore Silver Spring

You know those moments when you realize you underestimated the situation?  Those times when it clicks a little too late that you may not have taken all the factors into account.  Recently, I had the pleasure of a moment just like that – arriving to see Alter Bridge on “The Last Hero Tour,” supported by Nonpoint, at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD on February 10, 2017.  As I exited the parking garage, with the venue just a block away, my eyes fell upon a line which stretched all the way down and around the corner…5 minutes after the venue doors had been scheduled to open.  Taking my place at the rear of the crowd, myself and others joked that we wouldn’t all be able to get in and would be turned away when we finally arrived to the door.  We inched forward in spurts, others still filing into line behind us, keeping the queue wrapped well to the opposite side of the block from the venue entrance.  I found out then that there was a band, Weapons Of Anew, scheduled to start playing at 7:20.  Halfway around the block and it was already 7:25.  By the time I made my way inside the concert hall it was about 7:50, with the first band finishing up their set and packing their equipment.  I’m not sure any photographer arrived in time to shoot that first set.  Needless to say, if the show wasn’t sold out it certainly felt like it!


Nonpoint:
Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

I’m a pretty recent Nonpoint listener.  I had heard of them for several years, but never gave them a listen until guitarist B.C. Kochmit joined the fold.  I followed his work with another fine band, Eye Empire, and knew his addition to this act would be something to witness.  If you’ve heard their latest album, The Poison Red, you know I’m not mistaken.  He brings talent to an already bustling band, infusing his sense of groove with their own.  The result is amazing!  While I wasn’t familiar with all the songs performed that evening, a few caught my ear.  Perhaps what astounded the audience most, outside of the band’s extremely energetic stage presence, was their rendition of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.”  Unexpected, to say the least.  The other thing that caught my attention was the consideration each of the members gave to their fans.  Towards the very beginning of their set, bassist Adam Woloszyn noticed two small children in the front row (right behind where I had planted myself to begin photographing) and handed them both a guitar pick, followed in turn by Kochmit, and a drumstick apiece from Robb Rivera.  The look of enthusiasm in those children’s eyes and the pleasure it brought to the band set the stage for the rest of their awesome set.


Alter Bridge:
 Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

I used to get made fun of by my friends because, while I didn’t find the entire catalog to be of interest, Creed had certain songs that really hit me.  I found that it was more the rhythm section that captured my interest than anything else.  So years ago, when I discovered that same rhythm section had gone on to form Alter Bridge, I was ecstatic to check them out.  Five albums later, I’d certainly glad I did.  This was my first time seeing the ensemble in concert, but boy, did they deliver!

Drawing on from the full power of their catalog, they reached all the way back to One Day Remains; then spent a good bit of time on Blackbird, including the lengthy title track; hit my favorite from AB III, “Ghost Of Days Gone By”; and made deserved stops on Fortress, answering the written request to play “Cry Of Achilles.”  Of course, given the nature of the tour, they wowed us with tracks from The Last Hero, opening their set with “The Writing Is On The Wall” and making room for “Show Me A Leader” during the encore.  What astounded me most though, was the guitar duel between Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti, as I hadn’t witnessed a full-on solo battle live for years.  I know I wasn’t the only one stunned by the ferocity of the playing, and everyone left that night feeling quite sated.

Don’t miss your opportunity to see either of these fine groups tear up a stage near you.

Interview: David Judson Clemmons on ‘Generation Vulture’

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David Judson Clemmons has had quite an extensive career.  He began his musical journey as a member of the duo, Ministers of Anger.  Then he was the frontman of the great, but short lived, prog metal band called Damn The Machine, featuring ex-Megadeth guitarist, Chris Poland.  But since the mid-90s he’s commanded an array of musical projects, including The Fullbliss, his own solo effort, as well as the subject of today’s conversation, the band which bears his name: JUD.

Check out our interview with Clemmons as we discuss his new album, Generation Vulture (review), the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and what he’d do if he was President Of The United States.

Generation Vulture, out Nov. 17th at:  iTunes | Amazon | From The Band [physical]

For more on David Judson Clemmons, visit:
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Interview: Massimo Usai of Confrontational

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Italy’s CONFRONTATIONAL recently released its first full-length album, entitled A Dance Of Shadows.  This has been labeled as synthwave, as well as dark retro wave.  I’d label it as addictive! I’ve been a fan and follower of the band’s mastermind, Massimo Usai [Max], for quite some time, so when this LP arrived, touting the names of some very esteemed musicians, I dug in with great anxiousness.  I haven’t been the only one.  It seems that a ton of people have fallen for Usai’s newest effort, and for good reason.  Coming off of the Done With You EP, Max has created a truly cinematic, captivating experience.  I sat down with him on Dec. 1 to discuss this creation, the involvement of his cohorts, as well as the band’s well-received performance at France’s Synthzilla Festival.  Join us, won’t you?

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First and foremost, Max, I want to congratulate you on Confrontational’s new album, A Dance Of Shadows, which was released on Oct. 1!  I’ve heard it, I’ve reviewed it, and I love it.  How has the reception been thus far?

Thank you for taking the time to check it out, Barry! Honestly, so far the reception has been absolutely mind blowing. I’m really grateful and honored to see the album being part of more and more collections on Bandcamp as each day goes by, and the YouTube version of the album hosted by NewRetroWave is already well over 18,000 views (at the time of this interview) since the initial upload on Halloween. Messages of praise are coming in from all over the world… I couldn’t be happier, really!

You’ve garnered some impressive attention: NewRetroWave gave you some love, as did Metal Sucks, which has been hosting an exclusive full-album stream.  What do you think it is about this album that has attracted such different audiences?

They all did, along with Bloody-disgusting.com, MetalRiot.com, TerraRelicta and Drive Radio and I am extremely grateful to all of the people involved. I think first and foremost the contributions by Cody Carpenter, Monte Pittman and Darren Travis certainly played a big part in raising interest. Secondly, the songs on the LP are very direct, have pretty big choruses and they showcase a wide array of my influences, which might have also helped. After years spent honing my craft through several projects, I finally found my dimension and I’m very comfortable with how I do things sonically. My unrestrained love for the 80’s is now something that works within the current cultural climate, which made way for the tracks to get noticed within the beautiful synthwave/retrowave scene. My metal roots probably also played a part, I think…

You’ve said that “the old ways stopped working, so I became confrontational.”  Can you tell us about the origins of Confrontational?

I was being labeled that way by some people in my ex-band, for apparently wanting to cause distress by addressing issues I saw in the way the band was operating. We were actually not operating as a team at all, so I honestly confronted them with the hopes and expectations I had for that project. I did it face to face, looking straight into their eyes, with all of the passion that I’ve always brought to the music. Apparently, that was wrong to do. I realized then that things had to change for me to be able to make what I really wanted to do with my songs. A number of things had to also work differently in my everyday life, and since quitting that band a lot has changed in my life. It has been weird. I embraced confrontation as a catalyst for positive change. I started questioning a lot of aspects in my life. It’s been a really tough time, but I’d never go back… this is who I am now.

There’s definitely a cinematic feel to the progression of A Dance Of Shadows.  If you would, tell us about your inspiration, both musically and lyrically, for this effort.

Music and lyrics are together as one throughout all of the album, really. Most of the songs came about in pretty much their final form, the most notable example being LIKE A CURSE – which really wrote itself  upon waking up after a certain morbid nightmare I had. I’ve always been inspired by the works of my fave film makers, George A. Romero and John Carpenter, and around this time I’ve explored the work of two other incredible directors, William Friedkin and Michael Mann. I’ve been a fan of all of them for a long while but never before did I take the time to study them as in-depth as I did during these last months, while writing the album. Being exposed to their films made me realize I had something to say about certain things. So I went on and tried to convey those atmospheres into songs, in the most direct way I could.

Throughout this release we see guest performers, such as Monte Pittman (Madonna, ex-Prong); Cody Carpenter (Ludrium), son of John Carpenter; and Darren Travis (Sadus).  How did you happen to get involved with these fine musicians?  Furthermore, how did they end up playing the part they did on these particular songs?

I’ve been a huge fan of all three of them, directly or indirectly, for quite a long time. Monte Pittman‘s work with PRONG has always been a fave of mine and I was blown away by his latest solo album – THE POWER OF THREE. That album made me feel sane during really tasking moments of my life in 2014. Monte is not only a true guitar hero (the biggest of our generation, if you ask me), but also a killer singer / songwriter and a very generous human being. LOST THEMES, the Carpenter family masterpiece, is a highlight of John’s decades-long career and made me discover the talents of Cody, which I further explored through his solo project LUDRIUM. Cody is an incredible talent: a stellar musician, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and an author of really compelling songs. He’s also a real gentleman. And Darren Travis… well, what can I say about an absolute hero of mine? The first time I heard him sing on A VISION OF MISERY was total epiphany. I was 18 years old at the time and I felt he was speaking directly to me, of my experiences. Somehow we connected in person, and we have been friends since 2002. They are all incredibly inspirational persons. All of the collaborations with these beautiful people took place because of the way we connected through music – I got in touch and they liked my ideas enough to be a part of the album. I feel blessed and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for making it happen. They really made the album what it is.

You released a music video for “To Live And Die On The Air” earlier this year.  The Romero influence here is quite obvious, but can you tell us about how the music and the images came together as they did?

I had the idea for the song while watching TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. by William Friedkin for the first time ever. I just heard the main section of the song playing in my head during a certain part of the movie that had no underlying score to it. My brain just heard these sounds come together, so I had to pause the film to get on my DAW (digital audio workstation) and write the parts. It was amazing. The day after that, I was listening back to the main structure and almost instantly got the idea to pair the music with a single pan shot filmed in slow motion, and that’s when the rest of the clip came together in my head. I’ve been working on it for more than five months with some incredible people, and I am very proud of the final result. It is filled with small references to not only George Romero, but John Carpenter and William Friedkin as well, as I really wanted to pay tribute to their influential work.

At one point, Crazed Pixel Comics was working on a Confrontational-inspired comic.  Any news on that and if there will be a collaborated effort between it and the band?

I found out about Crazed Pixel Comics via Alex Murd’s incredible re-imaging of MARTIN, which was posted on a George Romero fan page on FB. We got in touch and expressed mutual respect for our works, exchanging ideas, thoughts and playlists. She came forth one day to let me know how much she enjoyed DONE WITH YOU, my first EP, and she went on to show me this amazing comic that according to her was completely inspired by the songs on the EP. You can actually find the digital version of the comic here.  When I first read it, I must admit it felt as if somebody cracked my skull open to take a look into some of my most intimate thoughts – and coincidentally, some of the stuff I obsess about. I’m not sure how, but Alex captured a good portion of my psyche, re-arranged it and filtered it through ink and paper. I guess that’s what happens between artists who are fine tuned on the same range of frequencies… I’m blown away each time I read it. She’s a very talented author, I am a big fan of her work. We have been talking about the possibility of doing something together, and personally I would love to make it happen. Fingers crossed!

Not only is A Dance Of Shadows available digitally, but you have also made it available through a limited edition CD and cassette tape.  There’s even a limited edition poster!  I know that there has been a resurgence of love for vinyl records, but what drew you to make a poster and cassette edition?

Cassettes are definitely back, big time. Just ask METALLICA. I wanted to spice up the interest for collectors worldwide and have a chance to do something that I’ve actually wanted to do since starting out on music around 1998 (but that’s a whole different story). It was interesting to come up with the artwork for the different layouts and I wanted this to be a special occasion. It’s a very limited run of 50 copies, personally signed and hand numbered. As for the poster, the cover by BRANCA STUDIO (Barcelona based masters of doom) looks so damn good that it just had to be done. It conveys the perfect cinematic aspect and feel to the music. And I figured, with the digital album priced at 5 euros, you add 2 more and get a physical copy of something that looks gorgeous. Why not?

These days I’m trying to find out if there might be label interest to also release a vinyl edition. But it’ll have to be under proper conditions. If that won’t happen, I’ll try to get it done via crowdfunding after all of the tapes and CDs will sell out – it shouldn’t take long now at the current rate.

Confrontational participated in the Synthzilla Festival on Halloween in Lyon, France.  What was it like to perform your material there and how was the reception?

Simply mind blowing, the very best performance of my entire life! The crowd was beyond amazing, incredibly receptive, totally into the tracks. I’d stare down the mic and see people singing together with me – it’s something I’ve never had the chance to experience before in such a capacity. A very humbling experience. The club was packed, the sound was flawless, the other artists on the bill were really friendly and professional. The staff was so great, the organizers are some of the sweetest people on Earth and they treated us like long-time friends. It was so beautiful and I just can’t wait to perform in France again, hopefully very soon.

 

What does the future look like for Confrontational?  Tours, releases, and music videos?

As far as touring goes, we need to spread the word out there before taking the band out. There has to be some sort of notion of the music existing, for us to be able and book some shows. We’ve been blessed with the invitation to SYNTHZILLA and I’m trying to see if we can get booked into similar situations. Every little bit of help is vital, so I’ve been asking all of the new listeners to share pics of the LP on their social media to help spread the word. People seem to genuinely care about this music, so it’s really exciting to work together towards this common goal!

Right now I am working on the MAKING OF clip for TO LIVE AND DIE ON THE AIR, and it should be ready quite soon. I’ll also resume work on more upcoming videos soon. Finally, I’m also working on new songs – I can’t seem to stop doing that. I got 8 new track ideas and a working title for a new release. But I want to take my time before entering the studio again… I don’t want to rush it.

Thank you so much, Max, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me!  If you could say just one thing that you think would convince a skeptic to check out your music, what would it be?

DARK RETRO WAVE. Isn’t that enough?  Thank YOU for having me here and for your time, Barry. It’s been a true pleasure, as usual!

Buy A Dance Of Shadows: From The Band

For more on Confrontational, visit:
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Interview with guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal

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B#: I normally go into a spiel about the person I’m interviewing, giving people a bit of background on with whom I’m speaking.  However, I thought I’d try something different this time.  If a stranger walked up to you and asked, “Who is Ron Thal?” how would you reply?

I’d point both my thumbs at my face and with a big smile, yell “THIS GUYYYYYYYY……”  Haha, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m the guy that wakes up, pees, eats breakfast, and starts his day like everyone else. Others may see something else…  unless they’re watching me do all that. Well, if I’m described by what I do, I make music and try to make life a little more colorful for anyone in arm’s (or ear’s?) reach.

[Ron has released 10 solo albums, [at the time of this interview] was part of rock band Guns N’ Roses, has toured and played guitar for Lita Ford, and produces/mixes/records for countless others.]

B#: Your new album, Little Brother Is Watching (check out my review here), was released at the end of February this year, your first solo release since your last digital single release in 2011, and your first full album release since Abnormal in 2008. Have you been saving the new songs up for this album, or did they all hit you at once?

There were a few songs I was keeping in the fridge for the right time, waiting for the right home for them. When the writing began with a new album in mind, everything found its place. Writing began in December 2013 thru July 2014, recording was May 2014 thru Jan 2015.

B#: You’ve released quite a few studio albums in your career.  However, as I mentioned, for around a year you were releasing digital singles on a monthly basis instead of as a full-length. With Little Brother Is Watching you returned to the full album method. Have you found that one way is better than the other?

Both have their pros & cons. With an album you’re waiting for a big pot to boil, where continuous singles keep a constant simmer going. It makes more sense to go physical (CDs, vinyl) with a full album. With singles, each song can be accepted as its own short story, where albums might be more expected to have a concept or binding thread throughout the songs. Each has its charm, and it’s great that we have choices, options as to how music is shared.

B#: The title of the album is a reference to George Orwell’s seminal work, 1984, and the title track certainly makes a powerful statement about peoples’ use of technology in today’s world. What do you think will become of the world which sees Big Brother pitted against Little Brother?

I think the two brothers will always function side-by-side. I think the bigger battles will be over structure vs. chaos.

B#: One of the weirder songs on the new album is entitled “Cuterebra.” The music is haunting and the lyrics do their best not to put the listener at ease. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this tune?

The song compares the life cycle of a parasitic fly to that of gossip, how the seed is planted under the skin, feeds and grows its wings. I wrote the song on tour a year ago wandering the stairways of a hotel in Buenos Aires, it’s some of my favorite lyrics…

B#: You’ve been endorsed by Vigier Guitars for a long time and have used a wide variety of their models. Simply watching the ‘Making Of’ videos for the new album, one can see that you don’t stick to just one. Are there certain tones that you’re trying to achieve that make you reach for a particular guitar?

When I want something more organic I go for the Vigier ‘G.V.’ guitar, the Vigier ‘Bfoot’ signature guitar is great for hi-energy soloing, the ‘Flying Foot’ guitar gets nice resonation due to the chambers for the wings. And of course there’s the ‘DoubleBfoot’ fretted/fretless, my favorite..  🙂

 

B#: We decided to take some questions from the fans. GuitaristicNY, from your BumbleForum, would like to know about your favorite movie score. Also, if you could rescore any film, which would it be and what would it sound like?

Close Encounters Of the Third Kind. Re-scoring a film, never thought about that, hmmm… I can’t say, too many possibilities…

B#: Mirta Rosangela tweets, “Why do you have a beard when you’re already so handsome?”

You’re gonna get such a hug, you!

B#: I have a friend with a beard that would be worthy of a nod from Billy Gibbons, and have noticed that people have strong reactions to facial hair. Have you noticed a difference in how people have treated you as you’ve gone through the phases of beard growth and style change?

It’s not the length of the beard, it’s the grooming. If you’re ungroomed, people are rude.

B#: Devin Heemstra asks: What were some of your favorite practice routines/licks as a young guitarist that you used to improve certain skills?

Playing sloooowly to a 40bpm metronome click, trying to lag behind each beat. Nothing tougher than that for a hyper young shreddy kid…  builds discipline.

B#: Speaking of practicing, you’ve contributed quite a few lessons to JamPlay.com, teaching people how to improve their skills at guitar. How did you get involved over there and are there plans for you to give any more lessons?

I did about 20 lessons, and 4 ‘song breakdowns’ where I show how to play the songs ‘Vomit’, ‘Guitars Suck’, ‘Guitars Still Suck’ and ‘Spaghett.i’ It’s a fantastic site. I’d do more if I can come up with more things to teach! Haha…

B#: You’re a lover of spicy foods, and have even come out with your own line of hot sauces in conjunction with CaJohns in Columbus, Ohio. My wife, Kristen, is a huge fan of hot sauces and spicy foods as well. She’s wondering, do you have any plans on releasing a new hot sauce flavor?

I have lots of ideas for new flavors, just gotta convince CaJohns to let me back into their kitchens!

B#: Speaking of hot foods: what’s the hottest thing you’ve eaten as of this point and what was your reaction to it?

A pepper known as the ‘Carolina Reaper’. Created by Ed Currie, it’s the hottest pepper on Earth, holds the world record. He’d give me bags of them and I’d bite off little slivers of them until I was all spaced out…

Photo by Catherine Asanov

Photo by Catherine Asanov

B#: Vegard, from the Bumbleforum, asks do you have a role model when it comes to honesty in music?

John Lennon, Harry Chapin…

B#: Your biography tells of your early days of music, your desire to play bass guitar and how the music store told you the law required you to play guitar for two years before moving onto bass. While you do play all the bass tracks on your new album, do you feel like they did you a favor or vastly undermined your bass player potential?

I’d have to hop onto another plane of reality and check out the alternate outcome. I think it worked out the way it was meant to.

B#: What was the most enjoyable part of the new release’s recording?

I enjoyed doing the backing vocal harmonies. And doing the ‘Making Of’ videos and sharing the process…

B#: You’ve made it a habit of using your skills for good causes. You’ve played a Navy Seals Benefit concert, “Rock Against Diabetes” for diabetes research and a children’s hospital, not to mention quite a few others. How do you usually find yourself involved in these events? 

Just from meeting people and talking with them. It’s always personal. When I travel I try to include these things whenever possible, visiting Autism schools, and fundraising to help children.

B#: You’ve created a band with twin brothers Jon and Vince Votta and bassist John Moyer (of Disturbed). It even features vocalist Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver)! How would you describe this release and when can we get our ears on it?

To me it sounds like grungy metal, with a lot of stellar vocal melodies. Should have an announcement about the release date very soon  🙂

[Edit: Release date for USA: June 2nd / Europe: June 8th]

B#: You’ve been helping out Darryl McDaniels (DMC from Run DMC) and Generation Kill (feat. members formerly of Exodus, Pro-Pain, and more) in a collaboration they’ve been doing. A song entitled “Lot Lizard” was just released, described by yourself a one “nasty, nasty song.” How has that project been going and can you give us any more information on it?

We’re having a blast with it! Just finished another song, a real sports anthem. Everything is sounding great. Love making music with these guys!

B#: You’ve just released a new solo album, are about to see the Art Of Anarchy album drop, and are contributing to a rap metal collaboration. Is there anything we’ve missed, or simply haven’t been told about yet? 

Corfu Rock School.  Spend a week with me on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu, we spend the first half of the day working on guitar studies, spend the afternoon at the beach and sightseeing, a chef making lunch and dinner, in the evening we work on songs and then hit local pubs and play gigs, jam all night…  It’s August 1 – 8, more info at www.CorfuRockSchool.com 🙂 There’s also a contest run by the German music company ‘session’ where First Prize has tuition accommodations and airfare from Europe paid, all who enter the contest get 10% off tuition. Here’s detailed info from my newsletter…

B#: Assuming your schedule was miraculously open, how would you fill the time?

Making music. I love what I do, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing  🙂

B#: Thank you, Ron, for being so gracious with your time. Is there anything you’d like to tell everyone before you get back to your busy world? Don’t forget to floss? A recommended showering schedule? The proper way to wire an out-of-phaze guitar pickup?

Thank you all for *your* time, everyone! Appreciate you checking this out, thanks! Hope to see you all soon!

Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal

 

For more on Bumblefoot, visit:
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Brad Cox of Skitzo Calypso & We Love The Underground (8/17/13)

All photos used with permission from Brad Cox.  Header photo: original by Kristina DeSantis.

Brad Cox is a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and frontman for a number of bands, including Skitzo Calypso and We Love The Underground.  He’s had his hand in writing and releasing over a dozen albums from the mid-1990s all the way to the present.  When I first met him, it was at a concert in Baltimore earlier this year with Skitzo Calypso.  His energy was contagious, and even though I wasn’t familiar with any of the band’s songs, I couldn’t help but watching what he’d do next.  Exploring more of Skitzo’s music, as well as his newer solo project, We Love The Underground, I have discovered just how talented and tenacious Brad Cox is.  That’s why I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for Better B#!

Take a few minutes and get to know this fellow a little better.  You’ll be glad you did.

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I’d like you tell us the story of Brad Cox. How did you begin this crazy adventure in rock n’ roll?

In a nutshell, I grew up in a very religious household, so rock n’ roll became my escape.  From a very young age, my parents really didn’t want me listening to certain types of music; I naturally became drawn to it.  At 18-years-young (August 10th, 1996), I packed my little red Toyota Tercel and left for Los Angeles, California with an acoustic and some clothes; this is what my heroes  did.  I followed suit.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but each  moment was pulsating with energy, excitement and fear –  everything was surreal and amplified.  It made me feel alive; I’m still drawn to these types of gambles.  The first Skitzo Calypso song I recall writing was a song called, “Blinds.”  So, from there, I just started writing lyrics, like a diary.  When I returned home, I began putting music and arrangements to these muses.

While in California, I had a band called Ananda with now-professional surfer, Sharon Schaffer.  She was a mover and a shaker actress, living in Playa del Rey; she had a hell of a voice.  My step-brother put us together, but it fizzled out pretty quickly when I was fired from Tower Records for trying to unionize the store with a couple o’ friends.  Before we  met, I was told, ‘Your singer is the woman who gets burned in the subway toll booth in Money Train’.  So, I was instantly impressed.  But, post-Tower, she didn’t really want much to do with me; Tower Records was a rite of passage for any up-and-coming group and I had soiled our chances of utilizing it as a stepping stone.

My father was also a musician and had a miniature studio in our basement; he’d let me experiment.  There was a song on a cassette tape called, Guitars that Rule the World called, “I Understand Completely” by Paul Gilbert.  I was mesmerized by the  guitar work and began writing guitar compositions without lyrics.  I was probably 12 or 13-years-young at the time.  Over the years, I began realizing just how accessible writing and recording my own music could be and began seeking out ways to do it.

Somewhere along the lines I found a certain comfort level with darker music and  themes; I guess it made me less accessible and therefore shielded me  from judgment.  Most of the music was cynical, jaded and angry; the  themes were typically centered around society and my snarky perception  of it (including but not limited to: peer groups, initiations, the seven deadly sins, judgment, drug abuse, self-destruction, mass media impact and revolution).  Being that I was releasing demo records annually, it also became a running diary of my life.  My upbringing, blended with my personality, inevitably brought to light a lot of juxtaposed ideas about society and religion; I guess I had a lot of inner conflict.

I loved bands like Faith No More, Guns n’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, etc.  The music had to move me, but it also had to have a brain.  I can totally fall in love with mindless rock n’ roll, but I really can’t bring myself to write it.  It’s just not me.

Anyway, fast-forward 10 Skitzo Calypso releases and 100’s of shows later and that’s the gist!

Both of your bands’ have unusual and interesting names. First there was Skitzo Calypso, which you started in the mid-1990s, while We Love The Underground developed just a few years ago. Where did these names originate and why did you decide to use them?

To me, Skitzo Calypso means ‘Psychotic Paradise’; I just found a fun way of saying it.  Being that a lot of the musical themes were centered around social changes/issues, I felt this was a fit.  In the liner notes of the first CD, Join the Cult it says, “What is Psychotic?”  It was answered in the follow-up CD liner notes with the word, “Reality.”  That was my mission statement; perhaps I was pointing out the obvious, but if you stop and look around, our  world has lost it.  The first record, Join the Cult, was about our tendencies to be drawn to certain peer groups – a group of individuals we feel share the same ideals.  Premeditated Acts of Stupidity covers  just about all of those groups (via genre hopping) and focuses on the rules we follow and the compromises we’ll often make to fit in.  The whole record is tongue-in-cheek.

If you think about it, the only thing crazy about people is the world they’re asked to live in.  It’s mind-boggling how people keep their lids on at all; it’s actually a miracle.  We’re pulled in a million directions [daily] and even more so now: we have social media documenting our every move (sometimes willingly, sometimes not), we have the ability to create alter egos, which require a bit of management, we answer 100’s of emails daily, we have the pressures of work, family,  friends, etc., we have often-unacknowledged social pressures, psychological disorders, temptations – you get the idea!  It’s maddening.

I can confidently say I have absolutely nothing figured out, although I may posture as if I do.

After years in the club scene, I realized that I really liked the escape it provided.  Sure, I was often in my own world and selling it to anyone  who was willing to listen, but there was also certain understanding amongst my musical brothers, sisters and those who hung out; we could be anyone or anything we wanted to be, albeit ‘for the moment.’  So, I can confidently say We (do) Love the Underground!  It’s a place, time and mentality that we simply can’t allow ourselves to let go of.  As  Mick says, “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind!”  There are so many people, as you get older, who gave up or are simply aggravated and want nothing more than for you to join in their misery (cult).  They are often beautiful people, who just got beaten down by life and want a way out.  I think it’s important to keep the free spirit alive; it creates hope!

 

It sucks you in; before you know it, it can become your identity. “

 

Our first encounter was when Skitzo Calypso opened for Eye Empire earlier this year in Baltimore.  One of the first things I noticed was your voice, which is  very recognizable and unique. How did you develop it?

In the beginning, much like most singers, I just assumed people naturally could or couldn’t sing; I had no idea how much time, work and discipline it would actually take.  It wasn’t really an issue in the beginning because I was screaming or singing in monotone voices, but as the music  evolved, I wanted to carry my vision to the next level.  I spent two years working with Steve Whiteman of the 80’s rock band KIX.  He was/is an inspiration.  He’s got an amazing voice.

After years of performing live without vocal lessons, I learned how to  project and really use a wide-mouthed and dramatic approach, in order to hear myself over the monitors and convey my sincerity; this became a  part of my everyday singing voice and may be why I sound like I have a slight accent.  It’s not always evident, but it’s just the way I sound and a voicing I’m comfortable phrasing in.  Some of the grittier vocal techniques were curbed, when we were playing nearly a 100 shows a year because I was trying to protect my voice; it naturally got grittier without techniques, but typically I take very good care of it and sing  pretty clean, which isn’t typical for a hard rock outfit.

 

Skitzo Calypso’s most recent release is entitled Ghosts, a hard rockin’ EP from 2012. Tell us about the concept behind that one. Are we talking about metaphoric ghosts of the past, haunting us endlessly, or about some supernatural  forces?

After years of writing, I truly believe that we are not just writers, but  receivers.  In what capacity, I really don’t know; it was also a metaphor to how we were feeling as band.  We were lost and not really active; some of the material was even written years ago, so in that sense, the songs were just never given a platform and were like ‘Ghosts’, always hanging around without a voice.  It’s a self-reflective EP, as are many of the records.  People don’t realize it, but the more people who connect with your music the more responsibility you have in making sure your message is clear; you don’t want someone vibing, in a dark place with an a-skewed perception.  “The Gift” is like that scene in Superman II where he willingly gives up his powers; in a lot of ways.  I know I’ll never be done or allow myself to quit writing.  That will in-fact be an “Endless War” of inner conflict, always searching for some sort of resolve.

Photo by Russell Tracy.

Photo by Russell Tracy.


Considering that you’ve been with Skitzo for over fifteen years, you must have some stories to tell!  Can you give us a glimpse of the lows and highs you’ve had along the way?

I think the low is my inability to recall a lot of it, which might also  be the high; it wasn’t even the shows themselves that were incredibly  insane, it was the after parties.  On and off stage, due to unique circumstances which  allowed me to really sow my oats, the parties were seemingly endless and nightly.  I had a blinking pair of Christmas lights in my basement;  when they were on, it was go time.  So, I’d have people showing up all  hours of the night.  So long as they brought something or someone  entertaining, we’d keep the party going.

In the earliest days, I had no perception of myself or how others might be perceiving me – I was in my own sick sad little world, acting out my  fantasies or what I thought they should feel like, while trying to push  the envelope.

It wasn’t until years later that I started cutting up old videos and discarding all evidence.  The band was a train wreck, literally.  I would often be exasperating these indulgences pre-show; the audience was at the mercy of my psychology. Typically my voice was thrashed and the shows were hit-or-miss, which may be hard to believe considering I’ve gotten my act together [for the most part].

The shows were ridiculous; anything we could do to distract people from what they were actually hearing seemed to be our M.O.  People would get up on stage and start rave dancing; none of it was planned,  but it was all a part of the Skitzo Calypso experience.   We’d throw  pornography into the crowd, there were blow-up pool animals being crowd surfed, Super Soakers – you name it!  Everyone was partying with each other, on and off stage; the stories, drama and unknowns began piling  up, making each show questionable.

In 2011 you established We Love The Underground, a new project to serve as a personal musical outlet. On the debut album, The Day The Devil Fooled The World, you dealt with some very emotional subjects. What was it like making  this album? And considering that you worked with some of the same bandmates as in Skitzo, how was it different than anything you’d written with them?

It was similar to Skitzo Calypso; Skitzo Calypso wasn’t collectively ready to move on with recording and writing new music and I was.  I had a lot of blood to spill and needed a new outlet to do so.  While I still wrote the lion’s share of skeletal structures for the Skitzo Calypso  project, We Love the Underground was back to being a solo experience.   The music was a little more dramatic and a lot more personal.

In 2008, I started a side-project called Niki Thunders, which was a  punk/glam rock project.  ‘Niki’ for Nikki Sixx and ‘Thunders’ for Johnny Thunders.  It was one of my favorite projects because I allowed myself  to write the music [as an alter ego], which I’d have otherwise had a  difficult time writing; I still adore the magic in that music.

When that project was liquidated to flesh out Skitzo Calypso’s 2008 release, Burning Down an Empire, I lost that outlet.  I tried to revive it,  but it simply got too confusing to distinguish, hence We Love the  Underground; it also seemed silly to record new music for a project I  knew wouldn’t have a distribution outlet; so, again, songs I intended to be Niki Thunder’s songs found their way onto We Love the Underground  CDs.

The first Niki Thunders EP, Club Kids contained 4 of the tracks on the  Burning Down an Empire CD.  I thought the name We Love the Underground embodied the heart and feeling of the Club Kids EP but on a less fantasy-driven plain.  So, We Love the Underground is  essentially the unlikely marriage of Skitzo Calypso and Niki Thunders,  musically.

The Day the Devil Fooled the World was hard to make because I had allow myself to say  a lot of things I’d have otherwise used metaphors to  convey; I really didn’t want to remain anonymous in my songs, which  forced me to take ownership of the ideas, which is largely the case on  Mouthful of Graffiti.  There are songs on Mouthful of Graffiti that  might even get me into trouble, if the right people asked.

“There are so  many beautiful and talented people who simply don’t have anyone believing in them; if they did, they’d finally see all of the gifts they have to offer, which would certainly make the world a better place.”


Speaking of which, your brand new album, Mouthful Of Graffiti by We Love The Underground, sounds to be divided into sonically heavier and lighter sides. Was this intentional  on your part, accidental, or am I just imagining things?

It wasn’t intentional but it was coupled to be.  I recorded a few heavier tunes in the beginning and then coupled those songs with the post-recorded heavier songs, which seemed to tell the full story.  It seemed to work out and “Endless War” was a nice way of closing that chapter.  “Burn’d Paradise” is a foreshadowing of things to come.  I told my wife I’d buy her a house in Malibu when we first started dating.  So, there’s a story there, as well. “Take Me” is kind of the odd ball, and was originally a Niki Thunders tune; “Eclipse” comes full circle to tell the story of a guy who romantically falls in love with heading back to California.  The girl is the sun or California and the guy is the moon – I already told you, I like dark themes!I will move back to California someday; it’s just a matter of when.

 

You’ve said that the artwork and title of this new release refers to social  media and peoples’ ability to “create digital versions” of themselves,  eclipsing their true identities. Do you think this could just be a  by-product of the times and technology to which we’ve gained access?

It’s absolutely the by-product!  It’s eclipsing, for sure.  Mouthful of Graffiti, being that everyone has a platform, a thousand things to say and a million digital intentions.  The back artwork was a nod to Poltergeist, as it features a little girl with her hands pressed  against a laptop filled with static, instead of a television.  It sucks you in; before you know it, it can become your identity.  If you end up liking your persona moreover your self, it can get out of hand.  It’s definitely a distraction and has a powerful way of blocking out reality.  The front artwork is just a musician staring into an eclipse.

 

On the new disc there’s a song entitled “Come, Destroyer!”  However, on the opening track, “Fits of Rage”, you also talk about a “destroyer”.  Are these two one-in-the-same?  Who, or what, are you referring to?

It’s actually pulled from a Biblical passage from Job 15:21; I don’t see it as a religious song, moreover a very applicable message.

The verse is:  “Sounds of terror fill their ears as the destroyer comes upon them!”

The ‘destroyer’ [to me] is the truth.  At some point the truth calls us all out into the light and obliterates us with judgment and forces accountability.  The truth is, I lost a lot of my heart and self in Cali, which is why I reference it and really want to return.  Over the years, more and more reasons seem to be drawing me back, which is why it’s  mentioned on “Fits of Rage”.

But, in “Come, Destroyer!” it references a psychological meltdown I had in June 2012; it was essentially a nervous breakdown, which lasted about  two months.  I was totally losing it, which tends to happen (at least) every 5 years, once I have enough to process and transcend; I wanted and needed answers and was willing to walk into the light, even if it meant mental annihilation.  We’re all accountable to each other, and we’re  all sent here with that responsibility, even if a few hearts get broken  in the process.  So, that is the ‘Destroyer!’  Call it God or whatever you want; it’s the truth.

 

This recent release is the first of yours that I’m aware includes harsh vocals, such as those found on “We Light The Way”.  Is this something new for you and, if so, what caused you to include it?

It’s not; I used to sing large portions of songs in that voicing.  During  the earlier shows, my vocals may have even been considered hardcore (by  early 2000’s standards); I just steered away from it because I was able to find less destructive techniques to express those raw emotions.  But, sometimes it’s the right sound.

Photo by Olivia Clark.

I feel as though you  write songs for the disenfranchised. Many of your songs start out downtrodden before exploding in a kind of optimism and rebirth.  Would  you consider yourself the voice of the underdog?

I would.  I’ve always felt like the underdog, myself; I’ve proven to myself what hard work and tenacity can accomplish, albeit exhausting.   If I can give anyone that inspiration or hope, I will.  There are so  many beautiful and talented people who simply don’t have anyone believing in them; if they did, they’d finally see all of the gifts they have to offer, which would certainly make the world a better place.  We are obsessed with putting people on pedestals, while giving them all of the money and time they need to become professionals.  This creates the illusion that they are deserving of such adoration and a pinnacle,  which their minions would never reach; therefore, many people don’t even try.  I want people to feel a certain connectivity; I’ve been to the  depths – I get it.  It is a ‘Long hard road out of hell…’  But,  there’s a way out and it starts with modesty, hard work and risk (a lot of risk).  The moment you think you’ve peaked,  your dreams will die.  The thing is, I still don’t think I’m ‘good  enough,’ but that’s ok… that just means I’ll keep climbing.

 

In a recent blog, you let us view a small window of how Mouthful Of Graffiti was written, which included a few drinks and hotel-room isolation. Can you  expand on how you go about your writing process? And how do you  determine that a song is for Skitzo or the Underground?

Ha!  Yeah, I resumed writing Mouthful of Graffiti at this hotel in NYC called the Indigo; that song became “Indiglow”.  I don’t always write boozed-up in hotel rooms, although I would welcome that opportunity, if someone would be willing to fund it.  The inspiration comes when it wants; I really don’t have much of a say about it. Luckily with the iPhone, I always have a portable way of recording  myself.  Sometimes I’m in the shower, sometimes it’s 2am and I’ll wake-up, sometimes I’m eating – you get the idea.  But, there  are also 100’s of songs that no one hears, when they finally hear the 10-12 I choose to record.  I had really felt pretty stale and tired,  prior to tapping that particular musical vein in New York.  Once I did,  it was like an avalanche; that’s typically how it goes.

Just for kicks, I’m curious: How often do you get told you resemble Jon Bon Jovi (and do you ever go along with it)?

It happens often; I don’t mind, because the guy is obviously considered attractive; so, I’ll take the compliment, but I’m not a fan of his music, which makes it tad annoying.  Plus, my sister is obsessed with the guy, so that’s just weird!  If someone said I looked like Sloth from the Goonies, I might have an issue.

 
What can we expect from Brad Cox in the near future? Any Skitzo Calypso or We Love The Underground news?

There may be a very quick follow-up to Mouthful of Graffiti; the vein is  still open and there were a few songs I had wanted to record for MOG,  but I had to shut off the valve at some point.


Thank you so much, Brad, for speaking with me. Do you have any words of advice for everyone out there?

Take chances…a lot of them!

 

For more on Brad Cox, visit:
Skitzo Calypso Official Website
Skitzo Calypso Facebook
We Love The Underground Official Website
We Love The Underground Facebook