We Love The Underground at Baltimore Soundstage (Aug 17, 2017)

Sweat was beginning to trickle down the side of a brow.  Anxiety…nervousness…it was apparent in the eyes of all those who gathered ‘round.  Time was running out.  Suddenly appearing – as if apparating into existence – a man hoisting a tray of tacos and quesadillas.  Rapture coated those previously dread-filled eyes, as We Love The Underground dug into its pre-concert meal, voraciousness overtaking their anxiousness.

“It’s 8:25!” one exclaimed.

“What!?” exclaimed guitarist, Eric McCullough, scrambling for his phone to discover it was merely 8:10, a decent 20 minutes until they were all set to take the stage.  His narrowing eyes pierced his fellow guitarist, Patrick Sise, who had initiated the panic, before all involved burst into a chuckle.  A light ribbing of one another seems to be the norm amongst these partners in crime.

With tacos eaten and quesadillas quite finished, we hurtled out of the restaurant near Baltimore Soundstage, sprinting across the street between herds of cars and rushed in the doors.  Now, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing We Love The Underground perform quite a bit throughout the years, ever since attending their second-ever concert together at The Circuit in Essex, MD back in 2014.  They’ve come quite a long way since then, and each set has seen them grow exponentially in both talent and ambition.  August 17 was no exception, with vocalist Brad Cox belting out high notes and the group debuting a brand new song entitled “Sevens,” along with plenty of older fan-favorites.  Despite being an opening band that night, you could see the delight upon the faces of those in attendance, and quite a few people rushed forward to shake the band members’ hands following the closing notes of their half-hour set.

Needless to say, if you’re given the chance, don’t miss this great act. And make sure to get those tacos to-go.

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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

We Love The Underground in Baltimore

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We Love The Underground resurfaced last Thursday at Angel’s Rock Bar in Baltimore to grace listeners with a collection of songs from their back catalog, including a few from their recent album, Children Of The Program.  Though enticed by the bar’s free taco hour, the audience was sated by the group’s performance, garnished with an abundance of passion and intensity.  This was my second time seeing the ensemble, featuring Brad Cox [vocals], Eric McCullough and Patrick Sise [guitars], Joe Ruggiero [bass], Gary Holmes [drums], and a special appearance by producer, Tony Correlli on keys.  Though they impressed me previously, their latest performance was tighter than I’d experienced in the past.  I think it helped that I’d given the songs time to settle in too, as I found myself singing along as I snapped the photos below.  They also pulled out a surprise, performing AFI’s “Girls Not Grey.”  While I’m hardly a fan of that band, I admit that the song is a catchy one, and We Love The Underground brought an energy to it that electrified the crowd and myself.

The band, which opened the Monthly Mayhem concert, performed alongside others like Violence In Vanity, From Nothing, and Bridge To Divide.
Buy Children Of The Program (album) at: iTunes | Amazon
Buy Children Of The Program (book) at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

For more on We Love The Underground, visit:
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CD Review: ‘Children Of The Program’ by We Love The Underground

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It’s been two and a half months since I finished reading “Children Of The Program” by Brad W. Cox. I was transfixed by the web of intrigue that he painted for the reader, but was also curious as to how he’d perform the next piece of the puzzle. Not only had Cox authored a page-turner of supernatural proportions, but a companion soundtrack to boot. My mind was reeling, trying to figure out how someone could possibly construct a soundtrack for words on a page. These last few weeks that question has been answered, and I’ve had the pleasure of digging into that musical collection.

I’ve debated with myself over how much of the story I should disclose to you wonderful readers, as some of you may not have had the pleasure of reading this novel. Worry not! Even if you haven’t had time to read book, you can absolutely listen to this album and enjoy it for what it is: some damn good music! I also wouldn’t be concerned with this release spoiling the narrative for those who intend to listen first and read later. But for those of you who have read the novel and are curious how true to the story Cox and his cohorts stick with the lyrics, I’d say you can certainly notice the broader strokes that are required considering how much material he had to condense to just 48 minutes of music. Of the 12 characters that take turns having their story told in the book, only the main characters are really focused on here, with most tracks appearing to skip back and forth between different perspectives to progress the narrative. Looking closer at certain lines, we find wonderfully colorful details that add hints of the over-arching theme like a cleverly constructed mosaic.

Children Of The Program is incredibly diverse, containing elements of hard rock, nylon string guitar, heavy metal, and even electronic music. “Hallway Of Souls” pairs perfectly with Chapter 1 of the novel, serving as a haunting symphonic overture, leading into the appropriately titled follow-up track, “Is This Hell?,” an energetic exclamation sure to pull you in. So much of this music is anthemic, like a call to arms, that it’s difficult not to get swept away in tracks like “Back From A Suicide” and “Kids In The Park,” the former touching on the mystical gathering of the twelve, while the latter serving as the antagonist’s rise. Cox and crew show a softer side on “Paint The Desert With My Heart,” which features some beautiful guitar playing by Eric McCullough, along with a poetic spoken word bridge. On the other hand, “Cadence Of The Sun,” features almost robotic verses, with a chorus that just POPS!  “Antibody” ventures into the realm of heavy metal with a back-and-forth dual guitar solo that would make the Iron Maiden boys proud. And boy…the closer! “The Creationist” is a 12 minute epic that appears to be a divine dialogue with the antagonist as the final pages of the book play out. The framework of ascending and descending waves of synthesized notes combined with the supple bass, the exquisite percussion, and the guitar notes that fly by like shooting stars, create a truly grand display.

In my review of We Love The Underground’s last release, Mouthful Of Graffiti, I stated that Cox “continues to impress me with his songwriting abilities and the intensity he instills in each moment that’s been captured.”  This remains true here, but now I have to add Eric McCullough, Patrick Sise [guitars], Joe Ruggiero [bass], Gary Holmes [drums], and Tony Correlli [synths] to that list.  They have poured the totality of their beings into this album to provide it with a synergetic aura, and it shows from start to finish.  I haven’t felt this invigorated and connected to a release in longer than I’d like to remember. Children Of The Program is not only a great album, not only a great adaptation of a fantastic novel, but is a truly brilliant, emotional work of art.

Purchase Children Of The Program at: iTunes | Amazon

For more on We Love The Underground, visit:
Official Website

Book Review: Children Of The Program

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Landscapes of torment and suffering flood the imagination.  A blinding white release for a few fortunate souls.  A new life carried upon the wings of birds after lifetimes of death.  Indigo eyes look towards the future.  Author Brad W. Cox has a way with words.  I’ve known this for years, being transported to otherworldly dimensions through his colorful lyrics and their musical accompaniment from bands like Skitzo Calypso and We Love The Underground.  But in Cox’s debut written work “Children Of The Program,” he has embarked upon his most ambitious undertaking to date.  Colorful and filled with mystique, it has all the makings of a page-turner.

The back cover states: “A murderous cult threatens the enlightenment of tomorrow, as 12 strangers, plucked from various parts of the world, are awakened and brought together by a divine calling.”  An enticing tagline, to be sure.  I recently finished this book and I was honestly impressed.  Balancing such a cast of characters as Cox has done here, and giving each of them enough personality to make them feel real, is no easy task.  Admittedly, certain characters carry more weight than others, which helps keep the story moving at a steady pace.  Most noticeably is Neco, who is the only member of the 12 who is portrayed in first person narration, providing an easier avenue for emotional connection.  In his most dire of moments, I found myself extremely curious as to what his future held.  I carried that same interest for the antagonist of the work, who is equal measures enigma and allure.  While I found the person’s motive strange, it stands as a testament that different people are driven by different forces.  We are dynamic animals, which Cox has tried to portray in vivid strokes.

What is it about this book that makes it worth reading?  While the characters are pleasant, the main focus is the story.  Though there is a slight lull after the introduction, as each player in this game has to be fleshed out, it builds up into a web of intrigue.  Twelve strangers, drawn together by a supernatural force, embark upon a unified mission that is quickly staggered by malcontent.  It features love, conspiracy, and more than one murder most foul.  This novel takes the idea of “the children are our future” to a new extreme.  Join Neco and his 11 cohorts as they embark upon one hell of a ride, from the Painted Desert to the corners of the Earth, in order to save the world.

P.S. – We Love The Underground, the band fronted by Cox, is set to release a companion soundtrack that will share the same name as the novel.  That album will be ready in time for the release party on 1.23.16.  If you are in the Baltimore, MD area, be sure to join them!

Buy “Children Of The Program” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

You might be interested in our previous interview with Brad Cox.

For more on Children Of The Program, visit:
Official Website
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Facebook – Brad W. Cox
Facebook – We Love The Underground
Facebook – Skitzo Calypso