Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Sunshine Factory - New York - March 2010

Any musician - be it a band or solo artist - who wants their music heard by a wider audience, sooner or later has go on the road. If you truly want the people to know who you are and hear your creations - then you must bring it to them.

So it was the case with the Alabama based band The Sunshine Factory. Having made a great record - it was time to leave home for a short while and bring their vision to a wider audience.

As is often the case (and if you've read any rock band biographies at all) you find out that things don't always go exactly as planned. Such was the case with the above mentioned Sunshine Factory - who's members I had made some preliminary internet-messaging contact with, after I was correctly pushed in their direction by a similarly inclined music afficianado. Yes, I am of course referring to the internet legend Danny Shoegazer.

So, in the midst of their first ever New York area show tour, The Sunshine Factory found themselves needing a place to stay for a night or two, while they played their final area shows. Of course I helped them out! They make great music and turned out to be the nicest people as well.

Here we are in my humble abode, taking our first day actual face-to-face meeting photo.

That's young Ian on the left, world-wise Robert in the center and yours truly (sporting a Sunshine Factory t-shirt) on the right.

Along for the ride was "unofficial" member (though very much officially a family member) younger sister Allie.

Accomodations at Chez Cromwell aren't 4 star hotel high style - but everyone is clean and comfortable. Look we all "surf the internet" together (though on different computers). Robert even read a book. One of my books. My rock biography books. OK, it was the Sonic Youth one (that I'm always quoting from and referencing).

The room is upstairs from where I sleep, so I gave them plenty of space to chill out and sleep themselves.

Though The Sunshine Factory played a number of shows in a variety of locations, the one I attended was their Grand Finale performance at the Bushwick Music Studios in Brooklyn, New York

The band put on a stunning visual and audio presentation.

The actual live show consists of frontman Ian Taylor on vocals, guitar, sound generation and engineering. Robert Taylor writes all the lyrics and runs the live show projections (which are a visual tour-de-force).

Check out the hypnotic drone of "Skin As Smooth As Porcelain"

As can be seen by the video and these photos - it is a brilliant lightshow that accompanies the music.

However its not a constant bombardment of seizure-inducing strobes and flashes. On the contrary, there is an equal measure of cool and delicate introspection.

Ian is a most capable vocalist and guitar texture practitioner. With tone generated backing tracks reflecting the rhythmic sounds heard on the album, the performer is free to deliver vocals and guitarwork with cool precision.

Listen in as The Sunshine Factory present a new song, called "Down":

Without a doubt you can hear a strong My Bloody Valentine influence in the sonic textures and the way the guitars are presented. But it would be lazy and dismissive to simply state that this is all that's going on. The songwriting is structured and detailed, with distinct verse, bridge and chorus segments.

Of course those glorious Fender Jaguar pitch-bends are there. For the uninitiated - the Jaguar has a longer tremolo arm, allowing players to strum chords while simultaneously manipulating it by pushing it towards the body. This causes the chord to dip in and out of tune, often rhythmically in time. Combining this technique with heavy amounts of delay and reverberation effects creates what is known as a 'shimmer'.

Check out the band's final song of the night - their light and heavy masterpiece "Blue Sky"

The Sunshine Factory are a bright, new emerging force in music, with a clear vision of who they want to be. Listen to their album and you will hear a lot more than "just shoegaze" music. Meticulous songwriting covering a wide variety of pop that shows thought and precision in its composition.

For additional information, please follow this link:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sweet Apple - Review Interview

Harnessed by members of Dinosaur Jr. and Cobra Verde, Sweet Apple constructed their debut LP, Love & Desperation, after a family death and long distance communication. Cromwell goes track by track with chief songwriter John Petkovic as the band paves the road to their first live shows during this week's 2010 SXSW music festival in Austin.

Read it exclusively here:

How does one deal with a life changing personal tragedy in their life? For John Petkovic, he writes songs about it and starts a band. It's true that Mr. Petkovic had a substantial history of playing in bands already. Besides the one he fronted (Cobra Verde), he was also an influential member of Guided by Voices as well as playing with legendary Dinosaur Jr frontman J Mascis in one of his side projects - J Mascis and The Fog. After a lengthy illness, John's mother passed away, sending the musician on a cross-country drive in the hope of clearing his head and an attempt to make sense of it all.

What came out of that journey was the genesis for John's latest musical project - Sweet Apple. I was fortunate to have obtained an advanced copy of their album and have spent some quality time listening to it all. The band consists of Mr. Petkovic's Cobra Verde fellow guitarist Tim Parnin, Witch bassist Dave Sweetapple (for whom Mascis also plays drums for) and the indie legend J. Mascis himself (mostly on drums, but also contributing timely and instantly recognizable guitar licks and background vocals). I caught up with John Petkovic in a recent phone interview, in hopes of finding out what the source of these songs were, and what the bands present plans are.

John Petkovic of Sweet Apple – Interview:

Q: "Do You Remember" is the first single off your debut album. Can you break down who does what on this?

John: I play guitar and do the singing. I also wrote the lyrics. J. Mascis plays the drums and also adds a bit of guitar. Dave is on bass and Tim chips in with some guitar parts as well.

Q: "Hello it's me" is a central lyrical hook, just before the title line. Do you know the Todd Rundgren song by the same title?

John: I'm familiar with the song, but it really wasn't a reference point for this composition.

Q: One lyric goes "what happened to the songs you played for me?" - what is this in reference to?

John: It’s not what you might think - that I’m talking to someone else. It’s more along the lines of me having a conversation with myself – referencing the fact that I’m “breaking up” with myself, if you can follow that train of thought.

Q: Sure. Bob Dylan once gave the same explanation for "Like A Rolling Stone." He once said that he was "singing that to himself." OK, the next song on the album - “I’ve Got A Feeling (That Won’t Change)” is quite good. You can really hear the full band’s contributions, and not surprisingly, J Mascis sound is quite apparent on drums, some guitar soloing and background vocals. In particular his drawled response to your “come on, come on” where he then goes, “I got a feeling that won’t change”. Did the two of you sit in a room together and write this song?

John: Actually I wrote, pretty much, most of it. When I wrote that vocal response you mention, I told J ‘I wrote this great part for you. It’s in your own particular style. He said to me ‘I don’t sound anything like that’. [Laughter] But, I was thinking of him when I wrote it.

Q: So, the lyrics are all yours here?

John: Yeah, I pretty much wrote that one right from my home. The opening lines are me just reacting to what’s in front of me. “Staring out the window, watching cars go by” – and then the first part I gave J to sing – “I wish I could drive away”

I also hear keyboard synths. When it comes in its a bit of a surprising texture - you might not expect it on this kind of a song.

John: Yeah, we wanted to add some keyboard textures to our sound. We didn't want it to fall into that grungy alty band cliché, where it can only be noisy guitar, drums and bass.

Q: I understand that a lot of the songs came out of you very quickly. That after you had your initial meeting with Dave and J, that you literally wrote a number of songs on your drive back to Cleveland from Massachusetts.

John: Yeah, the songs "Cant See You," "Crawling Over Bodies” and "Good Night" were all songs I wrote right away after J suggested I should.

Q: The song sounds very 'live in the studio' - like it was literally done in one take. Was it?

John: Well, what I did are, for the most part. Tim and I put the initial tracks together at home in Cleveland. Then I sent these tracks to J in Amherst, and he added his parts there. The same for Dave's bass. So, we've actually never really played together with this band yet. Though J and Dave play together in Witch, Tim and I have played together for a while and I played with J in his band J Mascis and the Fog, and I also contributed to some of his solo albums.

Q: But you're going to be playing together soon.

John: Yes, were playing our first live shows at SXSW and then we'll be coming to New York on April 20 for our record release show.

"Flying Up A Mountain" has got a nice stomping riff. The lyrics appear to be of a somewhat tongue-in-cheek autobiographical sort.

John: It's not even all that tongue-in-cheek. Sure, lines like "I wasn't born I was de-attached" take a bit of artistic license. But it's true that "I popped out way too soon, cause I couldn't stand it inside"

Q: You also mention being a pyromaniac and a baby marxist.

John: I was those things. Growing up Serbian in Croatia, we had Marxist influences in our lives. But I ultimately rebelled against everything at one point or another.

Q: You also sing that you "ran on a broken leg" and "burned down the house." And that your Dad tried to "beat the devil out of " you "but couldn't because "the devil was inside that house". Despite being embedded in a uptempo rock number, these appear to be somewhat revealing lyrics.

John: I didn't really have a great emotional relationship with my Dad - it was more of an intellectual one.

Q: Which brings up to the big hook and the title line stating that even though you are "flying up a mountain" you still feel like you are "crashing down. " Is that how it feels for you these days?

John: Yeah, the song kind of expresses how all of these things that are a part of my past - my life's history - have just flew by me. And how at one point, anyway, it all just feels like everything is crashing down around me. But I think I'm ok now [laughter].

Q: “It’s Over Now" is one of my favorite songs on the album.. This one kinda reminds of that Ronnie Lane/Ronnie Wood era of the Faces.

John: Ah ,that's great you would say that. We love the Faces from that era. Our bassist Dave is a bit Faces guy and he pushes us to do the song like this.

Q: I think music fans are partial to "heartbreak" songs anyway. It plays to the overemotional needy child in all of us. Along with the great early 70's Faces sound, lyrics like "the glass we drank out of is smashed across the floor" tells the story of a relationship that was once good - but now no more.. "Cause it gone" is the emotional refrain. It's just as much a part of life - that feeling of "gone" - but it seems to have the same impact on you regardless of how old you get.

John: Absolutely. Even though this song may have stemmed from personal things in my life, I think the theme of loss and separation is something that people can always relate to.

Q: "Maybe settling on settling" is a great lyric. So is "I can see in your angry eyes that you want to start again".

John: Hey, thanks. I try to present my thoughts and feelings in the best way I know how. I'm always glad to hear that other people are getting it too.

Q: "Can't See You" is the song where you sing "I drove and drove and drove and drove. And drove and drove and drove and drove."

John: I wrote that one right after the meeting with Dave and J - where J said I should start writing some songs for a new band we could all be in.

Q: The hooky refrain that goes "But I-I-I-I-I-I - can't see you" has the same feel as The Electric Light Orchestra's "but I-I-I-I-I-I never seen nuthin' like you" hook.

John: Ha. Good point of reference. Once again, this wasn't intended, but I see what you mean by that.

Q: Great guitar outtro that sounds like J. Mascis.

John: Yeah, you can't mistake that sound.

Q: "Hold Me I'm Dying" is another fave of mine. A straightforward stomping number. "Smooth as milk and filthy clean." Do you consciously put together words that are opposite in meaning?

John: Not necessarily. I see what you are referring to - filthy and clean are two sides of a spectrum. But in the context of the song you should be able to get the meaning.

Q: Oh, for sure. Moving through the album now, "Blindfold" starts off ominously, with it's rubbery born-on-the-bayou guitar lick, fuzz-buzz bass and jungle-drums tom tom thump. "I see the eyes in your tears," is odd opening lyrical twist. "But can you see the fog in my head?" is the immediate follow-up question. The guitar chords and thumping drums have a Black Sabbath-like power to them. Was this intentional?

John: Yeah, we wanted to go total power-heavy rock on this one. I'm glad you dig it.

"Somebody Else's Problem" is shaped somewhat like the lo-fi recordings Sub Pop released back in their early days of the 1990, when you had to subscribe to their limited edition vinyl singles release club. With much of the output being side projects from people like Thurston Moore and J. Mascis - as well as their producers (who were also musicians as well) like Don Flemming - those records were relatively clean sounding, giving the appearance (most likely correct) that they were recorded quickly. I'm impressed with the diversity of sound on this album. Was that your goal from the start?

John: It seems like it appears that way now. I think an album evolves in the recording - oftentimes well after the songs have been written.

Q: Lyrically, the sentiment is relief at finally being free from a bad relationship. "cause your somebody else's problem - thank God you ain't mine - cause I might be in jail right now, but killing you ain't worth the time," and "I know you feel the same way about me." It's amusing to hear peppy hand claps backing a song surrounding this subject matter.

John: Yeah, its a song that deals with breaking up with someone and not having to deal with their problems anymore. That in itself can be very liberating.

Q: "Dead Moon" has a near "Beach Boys' feel to it. With a percussion track that mimics the beats one of those vintage player-organs that used to also double as a piece of furniture in one of your friends grandmother's house, the vocals are delivered in dreamy Brian Wilson falsetto chorus.

John: We love that sound so wanted to do at least one song that had this kind of feel.

Q: "Crawling Over Bodies" brings back the raspy-throat vocals for the verses, only to return to falsetto sweetness for the chorus which recites the songs title. The guitars are full and crunchy, with proper trash-can-n' thump drums. There is a sweet interlude with sinewy guitar solo. The songs subject matter seems to delve in possible drug abuse and all the pitfalls that come with that.

John: Being in a band for as long as I have, you are bound to run across this sort of thing. When I sing "I gotta leave you, you gotta leave me too" its one of those universal vibes that most people can relate to.

Q: "Never Came" is almost blues-metal-into-progrock in it's approach. Centered around an amped-up blues riff that Jeff Beck might enjoy, the drumming matches the intensity with crisp press rolls and power snare accents. Guitar riffs dual their way through two separate solo areas and you can tell this one could very well be a live show highlight.

John: We certainly would like that. Hopefully our live show can be something that people will enjoy.

Q: "Goodnight" is downright poppy compared to many of the previous songs on the album. The chorus is big sing-along type affair where you could image it pumping out of bar jukeboxes as the well-oiled patrons sing along as they shoot pool and shoot the breeze with each other. The center of this song, however, plays some heavy riffs, just to make sure no one thinks its all radio friendly pop.

John: Thanks. Yeah, we tried to cover a lot of different styles of music on this record and hopefully we achieved that.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Telenovelas live - February 27, 2010

I consider it my good fortune to have attended the Saturday night, February 27, 2010 debut show of new Brooklyn band The Telenovelas. In truth, I was more than just an "attendee" as I found myself pressed into duty as van driver and equipment transporter (otherwise known as a "roadie"). My friend and fellow journalist Lindsey Lawless is this band's bass guitarist and backing vocalist, so I was more than willing to help out wherever needed.

The show was held at Tommy's Tavern on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. A venue where some of Brooklyn’s best underground shows are presented a few times a week at this three-decade-old bar.

After loading in and setting up the equipment, Lindsey and I headed down the street to grab some food at the nearest Deli. As we are both cat lovers (each having our own at home) we were delighted to discover this Deli had their own cute furball, dutifully roaming the isles.

Lindsey can't resist holding this pure white beauty

The Ice cream is safe with this ferocious guard on the watch

Snacks in hand, we headed back to Tommy's as the showtime approached.

As you push through the saloon-style swinging doors into the stageless back room area, you come face-to-glistening-face with the band moments away from playing, all under a pulsating lightshow.

Lindsey looked radiant in a black and white ensemble. The bass guitar she plays is a hollow-body affair, allowing her to squeeze copious amounts of feedback out of, when needed.

Linds isn't just another pretty face with a good sense of rhythm, however, as she additionally shows a knack for background vocals (and sometimes even taking the primary lines) that is reminiscent of Bilinda Butcher of the legendary My Bloody Valentine.

Positioned centermost is guitarist and vocalist Flemming Larsen who originally hails from Denmark. Flemming is a most capable guitarist, who has master the pitch-bend/whammy bar skills necessary to produce the particular sound this bands is offering.

Slotted all the way to the leftside of the stage was guitarist/vocalist Richard San Luis. Richard provided a steady fusillade of guitar bursts and vocal stylings that stradled the line between careful practitioner and off-kilter madman.

Richard gets intimate with his microphone

Flemming and Lindsey provided a rhythmic propulsion that was in equal parts delightful and risk taking.

The thunder from down under was provided by the occasionally malleted hands of drummer Kevin Kahawai. Any band worth it's salt has a real, live drummer. Canned rhythms sound exactly like that - canned. Kevin had the right feel for the sonic forays this band embarked on.

Listen in as The Telenovelas bring their particular sound to life:


Lindsey wants to tell you a thing or two about a thing or two

Listen once more - the band's big finale of the night:

After the show we all hung out at the bar, telling stories, laughing and having drinks together. The bar tender was sweet and very cool.
I have high hopes for the Telenovelas in the coming months!