Skitzo Calypso: Revived & Live!

When I began doing concert photography, one of the first shows I covered was at the House Of Rock, north of Baltimore, in 2013. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I were there to see Eye Empire perform, but there were a slew of openers to test our lenses out on first. One of those bands, it so happened to be, was Skitzo Calypso. In fact, I distinctly remember holding the door open for Brad Cox and company as we were making our way into the restaurant, unaware of who it was until later that night. So, how wonderful is it that five years later I had the honor of photographing their return to the stage, not to mention getting to see several other great acts alongside them, at Transcendent Events’ Halloween show on October 27 at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore?

Rise Among Rivals: Facebook | Twitter | iTunes | Amazon

One of those acts is a fairly new band called Rise Among Rivals, whose debut, self-titled EP only dropped in June. Yet, it was very clear from the moment they took the stage that they possess a large and enthusiastic fanbase. And I can understand why: they deal out a heavy-yet-catchy band of hard rock, and it’s executed extremely well. Throw in the fact that they’re all extremely animated individuals, and you have a set which is not only fun to listen to, but watch to boot.

Skitzo Calypso: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Bandcamp

Skitzo Calypso’s return to the stage — after a two year absence — was well received. Particular highlights for me were two songs off their recent release entitled A.L.I.C.E., “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” and “The Tortured and the Hare,” both of which exploded with energy and drove the band and the crowd forward into the night. Of course, I state that as someone who was pressed up against the stage, banging my head to the rhythm of Gary Holmes’ bass drum. Still, looking around and making sure not to headbutt anyone as I lost myself in the music gave me a decent sense that I was not alone in my enjoyment. One person who was definitely enjoying himself was bassist Tyler Garrett, who was like a man possessed the entire night. He’d scream to the sky and fall upon the floor, all while keeping the foundation in place for the dual-guitar assault of Patrick Sise and Bryan Holmes as they ripped through track after track. Part way through the set, frontman and vocalist Brad Cox took a moment to speak from the heart about the late Chris O’Rourke, former Skitzo guitarist and friend, and dedicated their song “Until My Heart 5tops Beating” to his memory. Though obviously an emotional moment for him, he carried on in his usual manner, literally sweating energy and belting out note after note. Fans were enjoying the show so much that, by the time the end arrived, the band had to convince them to leave. Reluctantly, they dispersed, but certainly happier than they arrived after having received a healthy serving of rock n’ roll, not to mention a bag of Skittles in standard Skitzo Calypso fashion.

‘A.L.I.C.E.’ by Skitzo Calypso

Album cover not finalized.


A Skitzo Calypso concert was my first exploration into the world of Brad Cox, and what an introduction it was!  Immediately after discovering the band, I found their website and downloaded several free songs, many of which would later appear on Ghosts II: The Beyond.  But not long after that, they went on an indefinite hiatus.  Vocalist, Cox, and drummer, Gary Holmes, turned their efforts towards Skitzo’s sister band, We Love The Underground, which I quickly grew to love.  But now, as the latter group has decided to take a sabbatical, the former group has re-emerged with a series of teased songs and a forthcoming EP entitled A.L.I.C.E.  I was lucky enough to get my ears on the new tunes in all their glory.

The first song, “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” wastes no time, bum rushing the listener with cascading key strikes from producer Tony Correlli.  Guitar chords chisel out a path alongside the vocal melody, leading us up and up towards a chorus that, by the end of the song, begs to be heard again.  Though the EP is named after the heroine from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (or Through The Looking-Glass, if you prefer), the inspiration for this song bears quite a different name, and the lyrical content here plays off her story beautifully.

Next is “She’s Not Coming Home,” with twinkling guitar notes draping vocals that trudge forward.  The rhythm section almost provides a move-a-lator of sound from which Brad’s words push forth.  This song marks a darker turn for the record, but features one heck of a stunning solo!

“The Broken Part Of You” is the central slice to this work, and I freakin’ love its bass-intensive intro.  Cox explores multiple vocal approaches here, providing a varied listening experience.  The dark clouds from the last song are still surrounding us, but we’re not going down without a fight.  “Now you’re broken too” he screams into the night.

“Eulogy Of Me” is a lengthy atmospheric piano piece, courtesy of Calypso-alum Cherry Teresa, where the vocals sits close to your ear.  It’s finally here where the skies begin to clear and hope emerges, showing us a bright future awaits.  Cellos and violin additions add strikingly to the dichotomy of light and dark, and a guitar solo emerges out of a scene occupied sparsely by piano notes, captivating us and leading us back to meet the rest of the band.

The final piece of the puzzle is “The Tortured And The Hare,” which features former bassist, Zeke Johnson, launching full blast from the onset.  Though not necessarily a fast song, it is unrelenting, tugging the listener along for the ride.  The killswitch on Brad’s voice adds intensity to the song.  Here’s where we give way to the Wonderland analogies, with white rabbits aplenty.  We chase them from one landscape to another, perhaps an homage to its inspiration, but they never go too fast to lose us, continually putting us through our paces.

There’s no place like home, and that’s where we find Skitzo Calypso: at home in their element.  This little EP is filled with big hooks, but the meat is in verses.  Cox fully commits himself to each moment and there’s never a doubt that every word sung is important.  The dual guitar attack of Bryan Holmes and Patrick Sise is beautifully choreographed and it’s great to hear the Holmes brothers together once again.  A.L.I.C.E. allows us to share in this foursome’s rock n’ roll insanity only briefly, but it’s an adventure that you’ll be happy to repeat.

For more on Skitzo Calypso, visit:
Official Website

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

The right to a name in the music industry with Brad Cox.

I have the pleasure today of speaking with Brad Cox, frontman of Baltimore-area rock bands We Love The Underground, Skitzo Calypso, and Niki Thunders.

Brad, all those bands must take up quite a bit of your time.  How long have you been making and releasing music?

I started writing and recording music in high school with a good friend and inspiration, Mr. Dave Pace.  I’ll never forget the first recordings or people that helped give me a lil’ push on the back [when I needed it most].  I started recording the first Skitzo Calypso album in 1996 – the first track, “Blinds” was penned in a Best Western on Santa Monica Boulevard – the things you’ll never forget.  So, to answer your question, about 23 years.  Even before Skitzo Calypso, I was releasing cassette tapes under various names/aliases/monikers and guesting on a range of local projects.

I’ve heard that you’ve been having trouble recently concerning a copyright or trademark issue surrounding the band Skitzo Calypso.  Could you fill us in on the details?

So, it’s simple, and I hope my fellow local/regional friends can learn a little something here, and that’s that online vendors, such as, but not limited to:  Etsy, Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby [and beyond] will not adhere to common sense, arbitrate or defend you in any capacity – essentially, contract law has tied their hands.  They won’t even talk to you.  Try finding a phone number for iTunes legal, I’ll wait.

In short, last Saturday night, November 4, I received a trademark complaint from CD Baby stating that a rap artist in California trademarked one of the words in our band name and that we were no longer allowed to use said word in our releases: Burning Down an Empire, Between the Lines & Beyond the Static, and The Shattering.  Due the complainant’s obvious neglect to challenge our other works, it became clear that the he was simply targeting anyone and everyone with said word in their name.  I’m reluctant to even identify which word [it was], because I don’t want to give this person any more attention than he deserves.  This isn’t the behavior of an artist or even a savvy businessman, it’s an act of harassment, by exploiting the vulnerabilities of online communities and contracts.

I think my good friend and drummer of Skitzo Calypso/We Love the Underground said it best: ‘You don’t make a name for yourself by trolling the web or buying a word, you do it by putting on solid musical performances and writing and releasing the best music you can.’  He’s correct – if anything this claim just points to the depths of the claimant’s insecurity and lack of actual substance.  On its face, it’s a false trademark infringement claim, which I now have the burden of unpacking.

The law is explicit: ‘First to Use’ not ‘First to File’.  His profile on the US Patent and Trademark Office website identifies:  FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20150120 [IE:  January 20th, 2015].  His trademark also only covers live performances, video production and audio production; it doesn’t state prerecorded audio.  Aside from the fact that his trademark is completely invalidated by our ‘First to Use/First Use in Commerce’ history, via financial records, tax filings and other such trails of our existence, the online vendor [who caved to an unreasonable ‘takedown request’] will not get involved.  They basically leave the burden on the seller to absolve the issue with the claimant.  So, literally, anyone could say anything, and your product is coming down until an agreement is reached between you (or your lawyer) and the claimant.

What have you tried thus far to resolve this conflict? 

I reached out to the individual and tried a very human approach – I explained our situation, our history, catalog and passion for music, with a request to withdraw his complaint from iTunes.  It took him a few days to respond, but he basically stated, ‘As an active musician, there are just too many bands with this particular word in their name.  I hope you understand.’  Great, I’m glad that you chose something so generic, that you feel a need to hold other peoples’ music hostage – so, basic!  Well, that’s fine, but if he did his homework he’d realize that there’s also a metal group in California that could trump his claim and get his product booted.  I’ve done a lot of homework on this guy.  He has zero legs to stand on and will be met brashly with attorneys.  It’s not really about Skitzo Calypso, it’s about standing up for ourselves [and others that may fall victim to such attacks] and for what’s inherently right.

To put this whole thing into perspective, our first album dropped when this individual was 7.  Our first documented online sales [from CD Baby] date back to 2003.  That doesn’t include the duplication of records and other various products that pre-date the convenience of online platforms.  It appears my only recourse is to follow the proper channels and to lawyer up.  Plain and simple, the longer this goes on, the more potential sales we’re losing and fees that will pile up.  It’s lose/lose for this individual.  They say you catch more bees with honey – if he wasn’t so short-sighted, he’d realize that artists working together [on a local/regional level] can have a mutually beneficial outcome.  The world’s a much smaller place in the age of digital media.

From the sound of it, this could easily happen to any musician or band.  Do you have any advice for others based on your own experience?

Don’t be bullied.  Don’t back down.

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

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
Facebook – Children Of The Program
Facebook – Brad W. Cox
Facebook – We Love The Underground
Facebook – Skitzo Calypso

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.


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