Since 2002, I have contributed to the following publications & websites:
The Portland Phoenix (Portland, ME)
N’East (Portland, ME)
The Philadelphia City Paper (Philadelphia, PA)
Origivation (Philadelphia, PA)
two.one.five (Philadelphia, PA)
Philadelphia Metroblogs (Philadelphia, PA)
Return of the Kings: Rustic Overtones at the Mercury Lounge (The Phoenix (ME, MA, RI) 12/12/07)
The tiny room in the East Village shook from top to bottom for almost an hour on a frosty cold New York night last week. Rustic Overtones came to town very relaxed, satisfied, a conquering army. They numbered nine in the white As Fast As van: the original seven (no extra horns or strings,) DLo, and soundman Jim Begley.
The venue was the Mercury Lounge, a little past the Bowery on the Lower East side. Not a big room like the ones the band had played during the glory days of the late nineties; venues like the Wetlands and Irving Plaza. At the Mercury the cover was only ten bucks and the lady at the door reading Time made sure to ask who you were there to see.
“Rustic Overtones,” I said.
She grunted and made a check mark under their name. It looked like I was number twenty.
The tally didn’t include the sixty suits on the guest list though, cats from the Velour Music Group. The small NYC label had wined and dined the band earlier. Eric Krasno, a member of the label’s biggest act, jam band/soul-shakers Soulive, was at the show, and enthusiastically told that crowd that yeah baby-
“The Rustic Overtones are back!”
And through the crowd the seven members of Rustic: Spencer, Gutter, Tony, J Ward, Zoidis, Noyes, and Roods made their way to the stage. They jumped right into “Light at the End,” the title track off the new album and the newer album, which Gutter announced with a grizzled casualness, will be re-released nationwide on Velour in March.
The crowd was excited!
They cheered and clapped!
A couple dudes up front we’re totally into it and jumped up and down like zealous Bosstones for the entire show. Displaced Mainers down in the big city, they got especially fired up for the older tunes, “Combustible” with it’s spaced out mid-section, and “Smoke,” which closed the show with a mega thunderclap. Like the Asylum shows over Thanksgiving, the Overtones included a tasty little nugget of the Zeppelin barn-stormer, “Kashmir” into the end of “Smoke.” The room looked to be shaking physically, and the knock-the-walls-down passion of Gutter’s vocals shoved the white bricks back with every yell. The bricks didn’t stand a chance, these yells had been lying in wait for a while now.
Back in the day, at the massive State Theater shows, Rustic was larger than life, even though I’d run into Gutter at 7-11 or Tony at the Drum Shop. They were the rock stars of Portland and it just wasn’t the same after they called it a day in 2002. The new bands were good, the new material was true rock n roll you could be proud of, but in the sometimes smoky, sometimes tipsy, sometimes empty halls of the Portland music scene, the foundation had cracked.
Like dorks we all talked and speculated about when the reunion might happen. Most people felt the rift (whatever the rift may or may not have been) was irreparable and there was no chance. Some people just believed it would happen, and a good number of people really didn’t put that much thought into it. There was the As Fast As show one night at the Big Easy when Gutter, then of Paranoid Social Club, jumped on stage to help sing, “Skin the Cat.” And there was when Spence played keyboards on PSC’s tune, “Gangster.”
Then there was summer. And a summer in Maine is an amazingly ideal time for a great many things. But it’s the best for bringing old friends back together.
Last summer and with Rustic Overtones, that is what happened. Watching them a little over four months after that big old throw down in July, I realize that I’m watching something that makes complete and absolute sense. I know it. They know it. Begley knows it. I asked him what he thought of the show, all he could do was laugh. All the band could do was laugh. Here was this big important rock show, the showcase for the new label, and Roods and Spence spend the majority of both “Hardest Way Possible” and “Carsick” laughing at each other. During “Gas on Skin,” the horn section swayed back and forth like a doo-wop group and what’s a killer Rustic show without an awkward handstand on the B 3 by Spence.
Matt, the dancing Overtone from Bath, was a sweaty mess after the show. He stood wide-eyed, with a large smile across his face.
“They’re going to get theirs,” he said. “I’m so happy for them. They’re doing what they should do.”
“It’s great to see them back together,” Chad from Windham added.
Busting with oozing sentimentality the Mainers, one wearing an I am CYY t-shirt, started for the door. Rustic headed for the bar, for the back room, and for an old friend in the crowd. They shook hands when they were supposed to and ducked outside for cigarettes when they could. At the end of the night, they were out on Houston Street packing up the trailer. Down the street a couple of drag queens were getting kicked out of a cab and down the other way, a gal in green tights peddled a three-wheeler down the sidewalk.
Catching Up with the Bouncing Souls (Origivation, October 2011)
Bouncing Souls are not in the habit of planning for the future. They are not a band that has any plans beyond the current dates they have booked and the record they are currently writing. Summed up simply by bass player and resident tattoo artist Bryan Kienlen, “we’ve never been huge future-planners. We just sort of go through life and do what we want, do what we feel.”
This disdain for looking forward has not stopped Kienlen and his band mates from reflecting on the band’s past and this year, celebrating their twenty year anniversary. This is no small feat for any band, regardless of their popularity, musical style or steady aversion to planning for any of those years. With all of those years under their collective punk rock belts, the Bouncing Souls- proud sons of the skateboarding side of the Jersey Shore — are showing no signs of slowing down.
And even if they were, they certainly have not made any plans for doing so.
The Bouncing Souls came together in the early 1990’s; all friends attending Ridge High School in Basking Ridge — a small town in central New Jersey. Spending so much time together, the band became a natural extension of the good times they had hanging out. Along with Kienlen, there was vocalist Greg Attonito and guitarist, the Pete. Bouncing Souls’ current drummer Michael McDermott joined the band in 2000; the last lineup change they have gone through.
“We didn’t have a giant priority about starting a band,” Kienlen says from his home at the Jersey Shore while watering a couple Jersey tomatoes he has growing on his deck. “Our big priority was having fun. One thing led to another; started learning songs, playing covers and playing parties. We’re pretty much the same high school party band we started out as.”
When it came time to release an album, the Souls decided to start their own record label, Chunksaah Records, formed in 1992. The name is a tribute to the friend of theirs who lent them the money needed to release the album. It was an easy way to get their music out there and control this music.
“We just wanted to get our music out. That’s the plain and simple story behind it.”
In 1996, after scores of house parties and sweaty, basement shows, Bouncing Souls signed with Epitaph Records, the popular punk record label based out Los Angeles. Chunksaah Records came with them. Bouncing Souls are still on Chunksaah and the label currently operates out of Asbury Park, New Jersey, having put out over 50 releases by the Souls and other bands; mostly friends of theirs. Kienlen admits that the Bouncing Souls themselves are not nearly as involved in the day to day operations of the label as they used to be, realizing that they aren’t the greatest businessmen and needed someone with a better head on their shoulders to run it.
“I couldn’t give you a ten year plan for Chunksaah Records,” Kienlen says. “I have no idea.”
The last album the band released on Epitaph was the “Gold Record,” released in 1996. After that release they simply just decided to do something different, to go back to their do-it-yourself roots. Since then they have released four EP’s and one full length, “Ghosts on the Boardwalk.”
This summer, Bouncing Souls are marking their twentieth anniversary with the ambitious All the Unheard Tour, an idea that is an extension of their most recent Home for the Holidays home stand at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, a yearly tradition for the band. At this year’s home stand, they played all eight of their full length records in four nights- playing two records a night. It was a huge success and always looking to do something different, the Souls decided to take the idea on the road. The tour visits eight cities for four nights in a row and like the Home for the Holidays home stand, features the band playing two of their records each night. The response to the tour, according to Kienlen, has been great and each night finds the Bouncing Souls reaching all different kinds of fans on different nights. Being a band that has been around for so long means you have fans from different eras.
“Our catalog spans such a broad range of years, a lot of people have a particular record that is special to them. Because that’s when they and their friends were going to shows.”
The tour has had a positive effect on the band too, giving them the chance to really look back as to what has made the Bouncing Souls the band they are today.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Kienlen says. “We’re in the process right now of writing a new record so it also helps us- giving us a lot of perspective on the Bouncing Souls.”
Bouncing Souls’ fans are a diverse bunch and not easily described by Kienlen even if he wasn’t distracted by his Jersey Tomatoes- “the best in the world!” This is just a byproduct of being around for so long, touring so much and being so reliable during all of it. The Bouncing Souls have not changed their sound, their style or their way of doing business — this is something Kienlen says that their fans positively respond too.
“I believe our fans appreciate the way we do things as much as the things we do,” Kienlen says. “In other words, we don’t get up there and preach politics. But the way we conduct our lives and the band as a business, I think sort of is a political statement in and of itself.”
Kienlen believes Souls’ fans also respond to their lyrics; lyrics that are written “from a deep point.”
“We write from the heart,” Kienlen says. “It strikes a common chord with people.”
Bouncing Souls have taken the road less traveled since the get go, having bucked radio airplay and MTV. Back in the mid-90’s, MTV was changing the way we looked at punk rock and in turn, altering the motives for those looking to start punk bands. The music channel was out on the prowl and star-making, courting bands and being courted by them. It was one of the first times that you could be a punk rocker and also be a rock star, something that wasn’t really true before. Bouncing Souls would have no part of it. They weren’t looking for fame or money- the things that MTV was offering up in bunches. It wasn’t why the started the band and kept at it. They were old school in that respect, having the audacity to play punk music because it’s fun, not as a means to make money.
“I think that Bouncing Souls’ fans appreciate some of our D.I.Y. ethic; our steadfastness to some of the true values of punk rock.”
After wrapping up their All the Unheard Tour, Bouncing Souls are heading over to Europe for a few shows before returning back to the friendly confines of the Jersey Shore to get back to work on the new record. The hope is to have it done and ready for release in the spring of 2012. As for after that, there are no definite plans and nothing in the books and there are no plans for world domination. For the Bouncing Souls there is the moment they are in, the stage they are on, the song they are ripping through and the road they are traveling. Bouncing Souls don’t do plans, only punk. It’s worked for twenty years. It’ll probably work for twenty more.
Show Review: Japandroids at Johnny Brenda’s (two.one.five, June 2012)
It was hot out, close to 300 degrees and the air was oppressive- like student loans or credit card debt. Everything in Philadelphia smelled like sweat and thunderstorms. People walked slowly, trudging through the humidity and the cab had the air on, but shit, not nearly enough. The night would end with a cold shower. It was a guarantee. How hot would Johnny Brenda’s be? Sweltering probably- one of those nights where every beer you order is accompanied by water, your very own Batman & Robin of inebriation and hydration.
Japandroids, the raging rock duo from the wilds of Canada, were in town. It was sold out. The opener was the Canadian rapper Cadence. Canadians are so polite, but how are they at rocking and rapping? How would they handle the heat? No jokes about hockey and no jokes about the heat and the night should go along just fine.
Start with the music bumping in the downstairs bar of Johnny Brenda’s because it’s more than worth mentioning. It was amazing. I don’t know who the DJ was, but his penchant for 90’s R & B jams was absolutely delightful and I haven’t seen Future Wife smile that much in a while. Everyone downstairs was smiling. Montel Jordan will do that I guess. Follow it up with Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony, Janet Jackson and 112 and we have a river dance mash up of hipster euphoria. It was hard to leave, but there was work to be done. They wouldn’t let you upstairs unless you already had a ticket or were on the list. It’s cool, we’re certified. With each step, the temperature rose.
Cadence was in the middle of his set- easy to spot not only because he was the one on stage rapping, but because he was the one black dude in the middle of a white dude convention. But man, homeboy was aggressive and his rapping had personality. He seemed lost in his music, deep within his own little world as he spat out rhymes with ferocity and swagger. His DJ, who Future Wife felt looked like Napoleon Dynamite, barely moved but he didn’t have too- his beats and music provided more than enough movement. The heat was creeping in, but Cadence wouldn’t be stopped. He’s from Montreal, far away from the sopping humidity of a summer night in the mid-Atlantic and as the sweat poured off of him, he kept on going- song after song of brutally melodic and wildly stomping hip hop. The crowd was receptive and in the corner, both members of the Japandroids stood, taking in and enjoying the rapper’s set. We will have learned at least one thing, Canadians stick together.
After Cadence, it was the Japandroids. Looking at their stage set up and assuming their set is going to be loud is like looking at dark, heavy clouds and assuming it’s going to rain. Guitarist Brian King’s rig consists of two Fender amps, two Marshall amps and a large Ampeg. A lesser man would be scared, I was curious. The amps loomed in the corner of the stage like a gang of thugs in a dark alley- they looked like trouble. But then King seemed like such a nice guy and he spent what seemed like five minutes introducing himself and drummer David Prowse, thanking the crowd for being there and proclaiming the evening to be not just any evening, but a battle between Friday night and the heat.
“Let’s let Friday night win,” he said to loud cheers.
Then the music started and stating the obvious right off the bat, it was loud. We probably could have heard the entire show from our South Philly apartment. King’s guitar sounded like three guitars stacked on top of each other having a pillow fight. From the get go the balcony shook and the Japandroids unleashed their unyielding and maniacal organized chaos. The first song was a warm up song according to King and on most nights, it’s followed by him cranking up all five thousand of his various volume knobs. Not tonight, though. He said it was the first show of their tour where he was forcing himself to listen to the sound guy and not immediately throw away everything they had run through a sound check. Smart move, a veteran move. It’s the musician’s equivalent of a trust fall.
“Adrenaline Nightshift,” from the new album Celebration Rock was next and Johnny Brenda’s seemed to explode as the crowd leapt up and down, sang along, threw their fists in the air and Instagrammed the shit out of what was happening. It like we were in the middle of a food fight, just without the food and the energy level of King and Prowse was Goddamn admirable. Prowse’s motor was magnificent and King used every inch of his half of the stage. Any poor son of a bitch playing bass would have had to do so from the bathroom. There just wasn’t any room for him, both in terms of physical and musical space. Whereas in recent years, the Black Keys have started filling out their sound with touring musicians, I can’t see the Japandroids ever doing that. They seem to fill the space better than the Keys, but that could largely be due to the volume. It was fucking loud, man; like questioning whether or not I was too old to be there loud. Loud is awesome, but isn’t necessarily better- especially when definition gets lost in the process.
Even with a gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you a word King was singing and while a guitar player might have been able to decipher exactly what he was playing, there was no way an average person could. It was a brilliant wash of sound- for better or worse.
But the crowd didn’t seem to mind and in fact, they seemed to flat out not give a stone cold flying fuck. This was a religious experience for them and an exercise all of your demons and truly let each and every one of your ya-ya’s out kind of rock show. Downstairs a mosh pit started to break out and I started wondering about the structural integrity of the balcony. I loved the interplay between King and Prowse, showing a kin ship on stage that most band’s dream of having. They poured every ounce of energy that they had into each song. What the hell do these guys do after a show? They either pass out from exhaustion or go run a marathon fueled by pure adrenaline. It’s one of the other. I definitely can’t see them kicking back with a beer.
“The House That Heaven Built,” the lead single from Celebration Rock, seemed like the evening’s high water mark and the walls of Johnny Brenda’s shook with the call and response back and forth between the band and the crowd, both of whom were completely drenched in sweat. The heat was overtaking us all, as was the smoke machine and combined, a near-apocalyptic vibe embraced the room. It became hard to see as red and blue smoke engulfed the crowd- must have made it hard for the Instagrammers and Tweeters and Facebookers. As the visibility decreased, it seemed like volume increased- along with hysterical chaos creating a cathartic, end of days dance party- foreshadowing of the massive thunderstorm that welcomed everyone back into the real world once the show was over.
As lightning illuminated Girard Avenue and thunder claps rumbled above us, rock show beads of sweat glistened on everyone’s foreheads. Japandroids are either destined for bigger rock stages or years of intimate shows like the one we all just witnessed. Either way, they will not fade away like the stage did amidst the smoke of the over-worked smoke machine.
What they are doing is purity and purity doesn’t run, man. Purity just keeps on keeping on. Purity won’t be denied. And as long as purity is allowed to cross the border, purity will continue to keep fueling the Japandroids and their bombastic live shows.
Enter the Drgn King: a profile of Drgn King (two.one.five, May 2012)
Dominic Angelella fiddles with a twelve string electric guitar. Ritz Reynolds puts on a jean jacket. This is happening at their studio- located in an unassuming and gritty building in South Philly, in between Mummer Town and the Delaware River. Outside there are people pushing grocery carts and dudes working on motorcycles. This is the home of Drgn King.
Drgn King- spelled that way for a reason. Maybe a couple reasons depending on how long the conversation lasts. Google “dragon king” and a sugar rush of sites devoted to Dragonball Z and ancient Chinese myths appear. Google “Drgn King” and Angelella and Reynolds appear- one with long hair, one with short and collectively with funky tunes. One is from the suburbs of Philly, one is from down Baltimore way. Old news though, because now it’s all about Pennsport, Google searches, homemade music videos and Drgn King.
The sound of Drgn King:
“Brian Eno and the RZA hanging out,” Angelella says. Reynolds nods in agreement.
Drgn King- they recently expanded to four members with the addition of bassist of Julie Slick, who according to Angelella is “the illest bass player in the city” and drummer Joe Baldacci. Angelella plays guitar, keyboards and sings while Reynolds does the producing.
Drgn King: music videos inspired by the Beastie Boys, live shows inspired by the Flaming Lips, musical upbringing inspired by the Roots.
Ritz Reynolds is a busy man. He is not just one of the dudes behind Drgn King, but also a sought after freelance music producer who has done work with the Roots, Black Thought, Mac Miller and more. Reynolds is the Philly native of Drgn King, having grown up in the lush, tree-lined streets of Ardmore and learning about music from his big brother; everything from Wu Tang Clan to Nine Inch Nails and eventually the Roots. It was all about the Roots for Reynolds and was a dream to work with the Philly legends some day. It was, as time progressed, a pleasure to work with the Philly legends, which he’s been doing since their album, Rising Down and has continued to do so up through their most recent release, undun. He bounces back and forth between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He promises to make those Drgn King live shows if he can.
Drgn King- a good drunk conversation helped get things started.
At the Piazza in Northern Liberties a few years back, Angelella told Reynolds he wanted to rap for him. Both had known each other from traveling in similar circles and jamming with similar people- people like Dice Raw and Nickie Jean. But at first glance the pairing was an odd one- the rock n roller Angelella and the hip hopper Reynolds.
Angelella is the one from Baltimore and the one who came to Philadelphia to attend University of the Arts. Upon arrival, he got out there; determined to play as much music as possible- a sideman, a solo act, a member of multiple bands, bands with amazing names like Elevator Fight. In those first couple years, Angelella got around.
“I tried to play with everybody,” he says, “just to figure that (what kind of music he wanted to play) out.”
After that conversation at the Piazza, Drgn King hunkered down in Reynolds’s studio- recording music. There are live shows once or twice a month, but for the most part, Drgn King is a science experiment and Angelella and Reynolds are the mad lab coats behind it. Their debut album is done; it’s in the can. It’s mastered and everything. Drgn King are sitting on it though, currently trying to figure out how to release it. A handful of songs from it are out there, released via the band’s Bandcamp page and one or two, accompanied by music videos. The most popular one so far is “Holy Ghost,” directed by David King, and was released late last summer. The tune Reynolds admits, “is a very likable jam” and the video features Angelella and Reynolds walking the city streets, joined by friends and passer-bys. All that is missing is a fish eye lense, but the Beastie Boys’ influence is clear.
“Those Beastie Boys’ videos,” Angelella says, “were the best thing ever when I was in high school, middle school.” He is the proud owner of the Beastie Boys Criteria Collection, a DVD of all of the band’s music videos.
Also in the Drgn King pipeline is an EP of covers, which may or not include a D’Angelo tune, and a hip hop influenced mix tape. The mix tape raised an initial concern for Angelella, who worried that it might throw fans off; fans who may have been introduced to Drgn King through the “Holy Ghost” video. Reynolds was unfazed though. It was what Drgn King was about- this desire to be unattached to any particular genre and do what they wanted. Drgn King was about making their musical style a musical style all of its own. There would be big drums, but there would be pop. There would be some hip hop, but there would be some rock. At times, it may even sound like a good old fashioned Spaghetti Western.
There would be Drgn King.
There is a live show that may also include a projector or a television; the presence of a visual element. For Drgn King, the live show should be an experience. It should be experienced by the audience in a way that they are involved; be made part of the show, but not through sing-a-longs or clapping in unison.
“Being so fucking on,” Angelella says of the crowd, “so excited about being there.”
There is a Reynolds sighting, carrying a briefcase containing only a tambourine at Johnny Brenda’s.
There is another appearance by the Philly rapper, Asaad, who both members of Drgn King believe is the best young rapper in town.
There is Drgn King, not a Chinese myth, a Chinese restaurant or a Chinese, crazy cartoon.
It is Drgn King, original rock music from down South Philly way.