Tears for Fears Smiling Through

TFF_HurtingTears for Fears is one of those bands with a perfect debut recording – in their case 1983’s The Hurting.  Arriving near to Peter Gabriel’s 3rd album, it also echoes some of Kate Bush’s iconic The DreamingThe Hurting had an additional angle – it made fantastic new wave dance music typified by “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Change.”  The dynamics of that work were further demonstrated to all in videos sporting angular dance moves from Curt Smith (bass, vocals) and Roland Orzabal (guitars, vocals).  The debut was re-released recently in a crystal clear pressing, including all the b-sides, concert audio, and a DVD of the live show called In My Mind’s Eye recorded on the supporting tour from December 1983 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon theater

What made The Hurting special for me was its darkness – the use of synths to create the complexities described in the lyrics – the somber, moody “Ideas as Opiates” and the triumphant “Memories Fade”interspersed between the more radio friendly hits.  Childhood memories and primal scream therapy turned into sound via lots of the black keys.  B-sides with new songs such as “Broken” held for their sophomore release hinted at more of the same to come.

But as the group moved to record their second album they made a key decision about their future.  Their sound mellowed out – more guitars, less synth and a more accessible record overall in Songs From the Big Chair (1985) which was a massive success in both the US and UK.  Mega hits “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” seemed to be on every new wave and pop radio playlist.  The aforementioned “Broken” was turned into an abbreviated live version driven by Roland’s guitar and stripped of the synth and drum loops and interrupted by the happy song “Head Over Heels.”  Great album but a marked shift to light from the darker earlier sound.

By the third Tears for Fears record Seeds of Love (1989), there was even a more pop and jazz feel with the addition of Oleta Adams (Keys, vocals) on “Woman in Chains” and a Beatlesque “Sowing the Seeds of Love” to lead things off.  With “Advice for the Young at Heart” I felt the band had moved on to an excessively softer pop plane.  This album also brought the band additional success, but the marked shits in tone from record to record left fans like me behind and reduced their appeal over time.  After these initial works the band split, Roland took the helm to do two more albums and they re-teamed for two more, now reportedly working on their seventh album overall.

TFFNevertheless I’ve always had fond memories of this group as have so many, and it was with decent expectations that we queued up to see them play at the Fox Theater in Oakland California on September 24th 2014.  And, the show was indeed a decent pop concert.  Both Roland and particularly Curt were in fine voice – hitting all their high notes, along with one backup singer who sounded fabulous. The band worked it’s way through several tracks on each of their first three albums, along with a couple newer ones, and a cover of an Arcade Fire song.  On both this cover, and their earliest work from The Hurting, the band softened the more dramatic, desperate sounds to go along with their more pop friendly work. So yes, we got “Mad World” and even “Memories Fade” but we got them a bit stripped of their original darker dynamics.  So, for those expecting soft pop sounds with a smile, all was well, and the show would be considered a success.  For this viewer who hoped for a bit more dark to go with the light, I’ve got the new box set of The Hurting, so that those memories don’t fade too far away!

Rocket Scientists Planning New Launch

6PAN1TErik Norlander (keyboards), Mark McCrite (guitar, vocals), and Don Schiff are the core members of the progressive rock band Rocket Scientists. The group’s first album was 1993’s Earthbound, – since that time the band has released a number of albums and videos over the years each building on a legacy of quality prog art.

Earlier this year they released a fantastic EP called Traveler on the Supernatural Highways that is part of a broader album coming soon from the band. The EP consists of one long epic instrumental work – the multi-part title track, followed by a smoking hot version of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” If this recording is any indication, the new album is going to be their best yet.

I spoke to Erik and Mark this August at his home studio in remote Placerville, California just west of Lake Tahoe. We were surrounded by many vintage and modern day keyboards, and started with a question about his use of these instruments:


Erik_keysD: Although you use these vintage keyboards on your own work and on Rocket Scientists albums they all still sound so contemporary – how do you achieve that?

EN: I’m not really a collector – I just like classic keyboard sounds, and the best sounds I can get.  If you’re a guitar player, no one is going to think twice about you playing a Les Paul Goldtop- it’s a classic guitar that’s been around, what, 50 years?  But then if I play a synthesizer that’s that old or even 20 years old – suddenly I’m “going vintage.”  Actually I’m just going for great sounds, and I happen to love the Minimoog and Rhodes sounds from the 70’s and my Hammond organ, which is from 1939.

MM: It’s similar to how many people are into pressing new music on vinyl because they like the sound of vinyl, and it’s not like that’s retro – it just sounds a certain way.

EN: That’s exactly it – I’m not trying to go retro, I’m not trying to sound like Yes in the 70’s – I love that – but I don’t want to do that again – I want to make new music, and when I make new music like the Galactic Collective with all these instruments, I go for sounds that seem current.

There’s an interesting thing about bass sounds I use like the modular Moog bass.  I recently got to know Michael Boddicker who was a major session guy in the late 70’s and 80’s – played keys on Michael Jackson’s Thriller – tons of films, he’s on a million things.  We were talking about big Moog sounds and listening to some of my stuff and he said, “those great big stereo basses you do – we couldn’t do that in the vinyl days – the lathe wouldn’t cut it with the modulation that low.”  That’s why the Moog bass on a lot of those older albums doesn’t sound as big as what I’m doing now.

D: I never hear a shrill keyboard sound out of your stack.

EN: We work hard to not do that!

D: The guitar sounds very fresh and the drum fills are so tight

Erik_Mark_RSEN: I think our generation is unique in that late 70’s and 80’s prog music went in a more metal direction, and then you had Dream Theater which is really on the metal side – so that became part of our musical vocabulary.  I guess like any artist, you pick what you like and don’t like – we take some and leave out the rest.  No Swedish death metal voices here.

MM: Its almost like prog music split up – what retained the “Prog” label was the more metal sounding work, but I hear a lot of progressive influences in things like Radiohead, and for some reason, that hasn’t attracted as much of the prog audience.  Crowded House is one of my favorite bands – they are kind of Beatlesque, but they also have a lot of elements you’d hear on old Moody Blues records – I see it as all part of the same legacy.

EN: Greg Stone back in the KLOS days said the first prog album was Sgt. Peppers, and I agree with him.  I think it was released the month before I was born!

D: Erik, how much work does it take you now to dial in the sound you want for a solo or for a particular song – a lot of fine-tuning and effort?

EN: The smart-ass answer is it takes 47 years to dial in that sound!  I can do it very fast now but only because I’ve spent my whole life learning how this stuff works and how to dial it in.  It’s about building up sound libraries – digital instruments and analog instruments like this [points around his studio] and knowing exactly how to set an envelope.  Last night we were working on this track, and Mark said I should do some Buchla modular sound effects, and I went directly to get that sound.  It wasn’t a question of “let me load up 50GB of sample libraries and go through them all, or let me pull these 10 instruments out of their cases and see what might make this sound.”  Fortunately, I go right to it and know how to achieve it.

Erik_A6This instrument here – the Alesis Andromeda – which I helped design – was really the first truly analog polyphonic synthesizer of the modern era.  You started with the Minimoog, then we got into instruments you could play polyphonically – instruments like the Prophet 5 and the Yamaha CS-80 and the Oberheim keyboards and that grew and grew until digital became more practical to use, and then you started putting samples into keyboards.  Eventually by the mid to late 80’s, analog synthesizers completely fell out of favor.  I remember buying 3 Minimoogs from a rental house in LA for $300, which would now be worth 30 times that.

By the end of the 90’s I pushed to make a new modern analog polyphonic synthesizer.  The guy who owned Alesis, a guy named Keith Barr who passed away a few years ago, he was the designer of the famous MXR guitar pedals, like the Phase 90 and the Distortion Plus, the little MXR stomp boxes that you see on every guitar player’s pedal board for the last 30 – 40 years, and he was an amazing analog designer.  I convinced him to design some analog chips needed so it could fit in a smaller keyboard.  So we built this Alesis analogue keyboard – and that’s actually how I met Bob Moog and his daughter Michelle.  When I had the green light to do that project, Keith was designing the chips, but then we needed an analog design engineer to design the circuit boards, and I said, “let’s get Bob Moog.”  He was already building the new Minimoog Voyager at the time, and I didn’t know about that, so he was not able to work on this project, but he was able to advise from a distance!

The Wall

D: Erik, when is “the wall” needed as opposed to one of your smaller Moogs?

EN: Functionally there is very little it does that a modern synthesizer can’t do – it is modular by nature which means you can patch it together in ways that you can’t patch a Minimoog or Moog Voyager, but that generally just gets you bizarre sounds – Dr. Who sounds and things like that.  For the actual musical tonal sounds, the difference between the modular Moog and any other synthesizer is essentially just quality.  There’s something about the discrete electronics and the build quality and the hand wiring and all that voodoo.

Erik_Wall1There’s multiple voices – multiple sounds at one time that are possible.  It has a little sequencer built into it – I can also send it sequences from the computer – more modern stuff which I do all the time, and you can play it by plugging in any keyboard into it via its MIDI interface.  I do have the original Gate / CV which was the original way to interface a keyboard to a synthesizer – so even the keyboard was modular – just a controller – telling the synthesizer what note to play and how long to play it.  You can do that from a keyboard, from the instrument itself, from a sequencer, so I do all of the above.  It’s set up to do 4 sounds or voices at a time.  For example, live, I’d have one voice that would be sequenced, one that would be for a lead sound, one for a drone that I would set up. I wired it up so I could trigger the drone from the modular itself – the whole idea of a drone is you have just one note that you hit and you let it go on while you do your spacy intro or break-down. Walking up to this big wall of synthesizers and triggering that sound is fun to do in concert as ultimately it’s a show – you gotta be involved.

You can also see the blinking lights, which I had custom built, which helps tell the audience when that instrument is being used.  Otherwise it’s just a big black wall with wires coming out and the sound could seemingly be coming from anything.  When I’m going to a keyboard and soloing and you see the lights on the modular come up then suddenly you know I’m playing it – this engages the audience in the instrument.

Erik_onhermajestyssD: At what point do you decide on an acoustic instrument vs. a keyboard sound?  For instance, the horns on “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” are real.

EN: I think there is a time to use electronic instruments and a time to use acoustic. And when you are doing a James Bond song, you have to use real brass!  I’ve got great brass sounds – as good as any keyboard player, but when we were going to do that track I thought – I’ve got to have real horns.  I worked with these guys on the album Hommage Symphonique, which was a covers album – it has a version of “Conquistador,” (by Procol Harem) and we used them again.  When it came time to do “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” there was no question we had to have the horns.  Mark had been a fan of that song as long as I’ve known him.

MM: When we did the UFO theme, I was like “dude, another sci-fi song? Can we do a James Bond song this time?”   Lana also covered “You Only Live Twice” and “From Russia With Love.” Don’t get me wrong – I love the sci-fi stuff too, but I’ve been a fan of Bond music since I was 5!

D: Mark, for your instruments, do you collect guitars, or focus on a few?

MM: I find myself going more for the acoustic guitars.  I have a really old Martin guitar that I love, and a beautiful Guild 12 string – I just got a baritone acoustic Taylor.  I went to see David Gilmour for my 40th birthday and was surprised that a lot of the slide guitar on “Breathe” and so many others was him actually playing the lap steel, so I went out and bought one.  I was really torn – the collector in me wanted to get and old 50s Rickenbacker or a Supro that looked like a toilet seat but I listened to the newer Chandlers and decided I’d rather have something really clean and really hi-fi.

EN: I bring out my old Guild when Mark flies up here from LA to record.  It wasn’t an expensive guitar, but it’s one of those magical ones where everything is just right on it.  It’s not pretty, but it sounds great.

MM: I have a 16 year-old daughter who plays in bands, so lately I’ve been buying basses for her – she’s got nicer ones than me now.

Erik_SH3D: On the latest Rocket Scientists EP – the long piece “Traveler On the Supernatural Highways” – how did you guys put that track together?

MM: It started out as part of the album we’re working on now and there were pieces of this track that we were trying to figure out as far as what the sequencing would be on the record – and it became obvious that all these instrumental pieces belonged together and so we decided to split it out and get that out there first.

EN: Originally we wrote them as movements of a larger piece, and on the full album we thought about doing “part I” then a vocal song, then “part II” then another vocal and so on – and it just felt jerky going back and forth – it sounded better as one epic symphonic piece.  We decided to put it together as one thing.  If we put that on a regular album we felt it would overshadow the album or itself be overshadowed – we did not set out to do an EP, but that’s how it came out.

MM:  The project started when we realized that 2013 was the 20th anniversary of our first album release so and we wanted to do something to honor that.  We decided the best way would be to make a new album… though we kind of missed our deadline!  The Supernatural Highways EP and the album we are working to complete now are all one album really – recorded last summer – we just ended up with over 2 hours of music which would not fit on one album.  The first bit is out now and the rest will fit on the coming album, which at this stage has no title.

[Ed note: watch the band playing this new track “Traveler on the Supernatural Highways” live, in studio, on You Tube is an excellent way to become more familiar with the band, their style, and immense capability as purveyors of quality prog music.]

D: When is the new album expected?

EN: We plan to release the full album this year not too long from now.  Mark is doing the last bit of tracking – some harmony vocals [points out vocal booth.]  Then I’m going to mix it – then over to mastering engineer, Maor Applebaum.  He’s turned into a major guy – the “new thing” for our kind of music – he’s done Billy Sherwood, the new Yes, some metal – he’s just awesome.  He will latch onto something and won’t let it go – saying for example, “Erik I can work with this but you really need to change the mix because the bass is doing this in the wrong way – I can master better if you give me the right mix!” I really appreciate that quality.  So, this goes over to him soon.

MM: I’m really excited about the new record!

Erik_DonD: Don Schiff couldn’t be here today – what can you tell me about Don?

EN: Don Schiff is the third element in the Rocket Scientists machine. His style and approach are a big, if not obvious, part of the band’s sound. Don comes from a jazz background. His father was a sax player and band leader, and Don cut his teeth in the music business by being the house bass player at The Las Vegas Hilton … which ironically is where the “Raiding the Rock Vault” show now plays, the Vegas show that featured my old band mates, John Payne and Jay Schellen. Don played with every major act that came through the Hilton including Elvis – yes, really! He learned the vital role of the bass in all different styles of music, how it can make or break the groove. Don also loves classic Motown and what I would call “vintage pop R&B” stuff like Blood, Sweat and Tears and early Chicago. So you inject that approach and influence into a band like Rocket Scientists, and the results are really unique. We’re a prog band that grooves! Oh, and of course Don plays these wonderful, bizarre instruments from genius inventor, Emmett Chapman: the Chapman Stick, the NS/Stick, and now the new “half-fretless” NS/Stick that he is using all over these latest Rocket Scientists recordings. You can see that one in the “Traveler on the Supernatural Highways” video on YouTube. Half of the neck is bright stainless steel, so it’s easy to spot that bass!

Erik_GregD: Another musician on the record who also jumps to the fore is drummer Gregg Bissonette.

EN: Gregg Bissonette is from Detroit, and he started out playing with Maynard Ferguson, the jazz legend, and then from there, he did the natural thing and joined David Lee Roth’s band!  Since then he’s just become one of the most in demand drummers in the field.

MM: He did the Supernatural record by Santana as one of his big things – he did the last ELO record and toured it, Joe Satriani, James Taylor, a ton of those Baked Potato gigs, etc.

EN: It’s easier to figure out who he has not played with!

Erik_MarkD: Mark, who are some of your influences?

MM: I think of myself as the Adrian Belew type that pulls a prog band in a pop direction – Beatles, David Bowie – Neil Finn is one of my heroes along with Jon Brion, Wendy and Lisa from Prince’s band, and all of Steven Wilson’s stuff.  Actually, I met Steven at a festival show Rocket Scientists played with Porcupine Tree back in 1999 and I’ve helped him out with some guitar gear over the years.  I’m a big King Crimson and UK fan, along with Sylvian / Fripp.  I have 3rd row center seats for the upcoming Crimson show in Los Angeles!

D: Mark, what are you going for in your vocal delivery and how have you developed your style?

Erik_ODaysMM: I’ve never really tried to articulate it before, but I guess I’m just going for honesty and emotion.  It took me a long time to really find my voice.  When I first started singing, I equated a great vocal with great pitch, and was pretty disconnected from the lyrics I was singing. When Erik produced the vocals for our first album “Earthbound,” he helped me to focus more on vibe than pitch and helped me to find a much stronger delivery, but something was still missing. While I liked those vocals, I didn’t think they sounded like me.  I befriended Kevin Gilbert around that same time and his biggest criticism was that I was over-singing and should consider using way less vibrato.  I started experimenting, but really didn’t like where I landed on the “Brutal Architecture” album – the vocals were honest, but they were too stark and I think they were ultimately a bit weak.

Neil Finn
Neil Finn

After that, I played for a while in a side project called River with an amazing singer named Pat Meyer, and also began playing in Lana Lane’s touring band. They’re both simply born with an amazing natural gift and I learned a lot just from watching them operate. I finally started focusing more on dynamics and tuned into a style I’m comfortable with on the third Rocket Scientists CD “Oblivion Days,” which I have stayed with ever since.  I’d like to think I’m borrowing bits from Kevin, Neil Finn, Justin Hayward and Buck Dharma.

Erik_RS_VideoD: How do you guys decide when something is going to be Rocket Scientists or an Erik Norlander solo track or something better for Lana Lane?

EN: The answer is astonishingly simple.  When Mark and I work together, it’s Rocket Scientists.  When we do a Lana Lane album, it’s very vocally oriented and centered around Lana. We write the songs that way, and create the production that way.  My solo stuff is really just me – writing and arranging by myself.  The other musicians are almost session musicians.

MM: I think it’s also a mindset – you think about it differently when you are creating for another medium or a different band.  I’ve written a lot of things for Lana, in general I always have an idea of what the final product is going to sound like. By imagining her singing it in my head, the writing just goes a certain way.

The new EP has been out now through the summer and comes highly recommended.  Again, expect an album shortly that will be the Rocket Scientists best yet, full of the kind of driving, modern progressive music one would expect from these talented musicians. A supernatural highway well worth traveling.

Paula Frazer and Tarnation

Paula_3Paula Frazer is a singer/songwriter and recording artist whose work is characterized as “alternative country,” or “electric folk.”  Her voice is absolutely gorgeous – in the vein of a Emmylou Harris or Shawn Colvin, and very modern.  Her lyrics touch on themes of love and loss.  Her music and her own playing demonstrate very eclectic, refined tastes.  Paula’s recording history includes solo works and releases under the name Tarnation or Paula Frazer and Tarnation – all of which are essentially Paula and her many friends and collaborators.  She released three records as Tarnation during the 90’s on the Nufsed and 4AD labels, then released four more records since the turn of the century as Paula Frazer solo or plus Tarnation (full discography here). Paula spent part of the last several years playing with Skystone and is about to release a new EP this September with a complete album next March.

Paula_CornershopPaula has also been a guest on recordings by numerous friends and contemporaries.  A personal favorite is her vocal on Cornershop’s “Good to Be on the Road Back Home Again” from 1997.  I’d only just recently been introduced to her work, and have fallen for her many beautiful, sometimes haunting recordings.  I had the chance to talk with Paula in her Victorian era San Francisco home this week surrounded by her instruments, crafts and a weaving loom.  We started by discussing her many live performances, and her love of playing live in almost any setting:

D: How do you decide on the venues to play?

Mostly through friends, but it’s a funny as it changes so much.  The bookers seem to change and move around – so I’m always calling and asking “Do you know anyone at this venue?”  We play many diverse sites, and even are happy to play at a party – hang out talk to people, play some songs.  Our music works well for that – I have a pedal steel player, David Cuetter, and another fellow, Jacob Aranda, who sings with me and plays mandolin and guitar and I play guitar and we trade off acoustic and electric.  It works out really well.

Paula_1D: As a working musician, you used to go from release, to concert, to release, but it seems now you are moving ahead as part of a community

Yeah, its always been that way – we were talking about Tarnation and what people think is Tarnation vs. my solo stuff – its really the same because I’ve always played with different musicians – whoever is available.  Sometimes musicians can play in town but they can’t go on tour because they have a family or something or there’s not enough money involved – just different things – people can’t quit their jobs and go on tour – or people move away.  So Tarnation was never really a set band – every record had different musicians playing on it.  I started out playing solo as Tarnation, then with a couple of guys who moved on, then others – I kept changing the lineup.  It’s always been like that.

D: During the early days of Tarnation, Gentle Creatures was released on the 4AD label and that continued with Mirador in 1997 with the addition of Warner Bros in the states.  What was going on at that time?

I did play some shows under the name Tarnation with some people and we played at the Great American Music Hall, and we met David Katznelson from Warner’s who liked us but was not ready to put us there without development – so he talked with 4AD about doing the first record and then combined their efforts on the second.

D: I was thinking about that word “development” when labels used to be able to take time with an artist over multiple releases – seems less common today.

Paula_GuitarsIt still happens but it does not seem as frequent as in the 90’s – there are still some development deals with labels, but its not like it used to be. A lot of things are coming into play with that – lack of CD sales, attitudes about “music should be free” and “artists should have a day job.”  I don’t know where it’s going but it still feels like the laws have not caught up to the technology – there isn’t a lot of protection for artists and musicians these days or even a lot of support.  In the 70’s there was a lot of art everywhere – still happens, you can go downtown and see a sculpture, but not like it was.  So it seems to have trickled out of fashion – even getting music and art to be taught in school is difficult now.

D: Then there were three records on the Birdman label – was there some development work on your behalf there.

Paula_2David Katznelson who worked at Warner/Reprise and first saw me play, also had Birdman Records – he talked to 4AD about me.  He and Mark Koselic (Red House Painters) talked me up – a few people at the time helped, which is wonderful when people do that.  David worked out the deal with 4AD and Reprise.  After that he continued to put my records out on Birdman – he left Reprise and moved up here and had a family and so Birdman faded back after awhile.  It’s hard to sell physical media anymore.

D: How is iTunes working as a way to get your music out there?  Are the economics similar or very different from selling physical media?

Paula_GIJaneI notice that most of what I’ve made as come from soundtrack work – licensing – and it seems how so many people make a living now.  I’ve played on several soundtracks – most fun was “The Breakup” with Keifer Sullivan and Bridget Fonda as they flew me down to LA to play along with the film.  Also I played a track for the film G.I. Jane which starred Demi Moore. I have not seen a lot of money from downloads, because I think a lot of it goes to recoupables – I don’t owe money out of pocket but did have expenses from touring and those things – I hope it’s going to that.

D: During the last 5-7 years there has not been a full album release – what’s been your path?

Paula_SkystoneMuch of this time has been playing with Skystone.  We never toured or released a record other then a song on a compilation for Northern Star Records.  We played together for a couple of years – me, Brock Galland (guitar/voice) and Royce Seader (drums.)  Royce more recently moved to New York.  The thing that was cool about Skystone was we were playing more heavy sounding stuff but I was still singing the same way I did in Tarnation – just louder!  It really made my voice a lot stronger.

D: What music or musicians do you like out there today?

Paula_DrumsThere is a band called Prairie Dog which is Sara Beth Nelson – I love her music and seeing her play.  Tom Heyman, I love his stuff – we’ve played together and he plays all kinds of instruments.  I like Sea Dramas a lot – they are great – a lot like Magnetic Fields.  Ryan Fuller from Fort King was on the bill at a recent Virginia City show.  Aaron Embry, Tim and Nicki Bluhm – all favorites. On the national front, I listen to a lot of ‘70’s music but not as many new bands.  From the past there’s Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, Karen Carpenter, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, the Wilson sisters from Heart, and… Ennio Morriconi – I would love to sing on any of his soundtracks. Milton Nascimento is a Brazilian player who plays psychedelic jazz and other forms – the records and arrangements are wonderful.  I would like to sing with him – he’s still out touring.  I would love some day to sing with the Brendan Perry, the lead singer from Dead Can Dance – he has a great voice.  So many people I would love to sing with are gone – maybe we will eventually project holograms and then be able to again!

Part of the reason I like the older stuff is because with newer material the mastering has become so blasted out – it’s bass-ed out, blown out – too loud. It’s just not easy to listen to for my ears – I like the way we used to do it with analogue equipment.  Paula_analogWhen you make a modern record you have to put it at a certain level so it can play up along side all the new productions –otherwise the volume isn’t stable.

D: How does your compositional process work?

There been a few times where I have a concept and I sit down and write it down and write music to it, but more typically I write the music, and then the concepts and words after.  Mostly its love songs, or “lost love” songs,  except with Skystone when I was writing about UFO’s and mystical things.  Skystone sounded like Heart, who I was influenced by, plus Siousxie and then we did some stuff that sounded like Hawkwind!  I love Gong and Hawkwind.

D: What’s been happening more recently and what’s next for you?

Recent things include – Fresh and Only’s just came out with a record that I’m on – they are really good – people love them. I was on a Greg Ashley recording last year. I’m always singing on people’s stuff – might do one with Jeffrey Luck Lucas soon.

Paula_InSomeTime_CoverI am working on a new album for next year – looking to put out an EP called In Some Time with three songs this September – the three tracks on the EP are:

– In Some Time –

Paula Frazer – Vocals, guitar, Bass, Greg Moore – Vocals, Sam Foster – drums, Jesse Jackson – Guitar, Thomas Heyman – pedal steel, engineered by Desmond Shea, Paula Frazer and Nigel Pavao, mixed by Nigel Pavao, mastered by Alex Oropeza

– On The Way Back Home –

Paula Frazer – Vocals, guitar, percussion, Greg Moore – Vocals, Sam Foster – drums, Jesse Jackson – Guitar, Adam Thompson – Bass, engineered by Jay Bronzini, Desmond Shea, Paula Frazer and Nigel Pavao, mixed by Nigel Pavao, mastered by Alex Oropeza

– Distant Star -
Paula Frazer – Vocals, guitar, Bass, Percussion, Donny Newenhouse – drums, Jesse Jackson – Guitar, engineered by Nigel Pavao, mixed by Nigel Pavao, mastered by Alex Oropeza

– Songs Written by Paula Frazer
Tarnation Publishing BMI
Art layout by John Borruso

The release date will be 9/23, with Pre-Orders starting on 9/16.  The full album titled What is and Was is planned for a March release and I’m looking at labels for that release now.

D: I’ve listened to the first three tracks from the record, and would describe them as being in the same neighborhood as with Paula’s last release Now It’s Time.  More pretty and melancholic electronic folk that’s soothing while also being interesting throughout. One difference is in Paula’s vocal delivery – it’s stronger, more up front in the mix – a likely result of the time she’s spent on the louder side of rock most recently.  Expert, crafted musicianship, and even some flute!  Highly recommended.  Also if you happen to be in Los Angeles, here are a couple of upcoming dates:

– Sept 19 at Taix – 10pm
Taix French Restaurant
1911 W. Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Phone: (213) 484-1265

– Sept 20 at HM157 – 8 pm
Historical Monument No. 157
3110 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90031
Phone: 562-895-9399

Kate Bush Before the Dawn

IMG_1127I had one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences last Friday night August 30, 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo Theater in London. Here, I witnessed the third of 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she is putting on after 35 years absence from the stage. As the night’s proceedings and this week’s media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame!

Kate Bush played her first ever concert tour back in 1979, at the age of 21, after releasing her first kate_livetwo albums. She demonstrated right at the start that she was not just a prodigy on piano, and a writer and singer of the highest caliber, but also that she was a performance artist – turning what were generally short pop songs into spectacles complete with dance, costumes, props and what amounted to musical theater. Fortunately there is a video available that captures a portion of that historic show.

Unfortunately for fans all over the world, Kate did not tour again until this month. In the intervening years she released increasingly complex, rewarding work, much of it considered challenging “progressive rock” – work that was crying out for proper live performances – which it seemed would never arrive. Consider the music and lyrics on The kate_bush_ticketDreaming (1982) or The Hounds of Love (1985) for instance, or Aerial (2005) which hold within stories and musical adventure second to none. What we did get from Kate, particularly during the ‘80’s were stellar music videos – in their own right artistic marvels that also stoked the fire for a live experience. I for one always vowed to travel any distance if a show was eventually planned, and in fact did fly from San Francisco to London with my beloved two days ago full of expectations and hope for a show that might be staged with the kind of dramatics that would match her innovative music.

==spoiler alert – read on only if you are not attending the upcoming shows==

== also, find photos of the show itself elsewhere – we kept cameras off by request==

poster, ticket, brochure and tee!

As performed Friday, Kate’s show was a spectacular success. It was divided into three parts with intermission and encore. She played most of 1985’s masterpiece The Hounds of Love, and 2005’s Aerial along with several other tracks, all found on her post 1985 releases. Part I of the concert began with a short set of six songs beginning with “Lily” from The Red Shoes (1993) continuing with the title track from The Hounds of Love and also doing the hit from that album, “Running Up That Hill”. She included “Joanni” from Aerial, and “The Top of the City” from The Red Shoes ending this first segment with “King of the Mountain” again from Aerial.

Kate was herself adorned in fine cloth, barefoot, and smiling ear to ear fronting her band of incredible musicians and backup singers, who were lined up in a row behind and beside her, with a modern concert light rigging above. This short first segment hewed to a rather standard concert format, Kate fronting her band, generally standing and swaying in place, warming up her still pliant, beautiful voice. It was almost surreal to see her in the role of lead singer after all these years – in this visually simple setting, she and the band sounding brilliant, but without much of anything else going on to accompany them.

kate_houndsFor those expecting more theater, any fears that this would be the dominant format for this show were quickly alleviated while the sixth song faded away, as percussionist Mino Cinelu came to the fore spinning an object on a tether as the sounds of a storm brewed and he seemingly pushed the band’s risers backward to reveal a huge stage. A projection screen, full of stars, then came down to hide the stage. A video began, portraying a craft lost at sea and an astronomer trying to convince the coast guard there was a craft that needed rescue in the murky seas.

Thus marked the beginning of part II which consisted of “The Ninth Wave” –one of Kate’s most daring works, and which comprises the second half of The Hounds of Love. We were treated to that entire song cycle, presented with costumes, stage craft, props, a rigging above the audience resembling a helicopter, video, and a tremendous performance by musicians and vocalists alike. The idea was to present “real events on the screen in the form or pre-filmed footage” while “nightmares and delirium took place live on stage.” Costumes ranged from frogmen in diving gear to very effective skeletal fish that came in and out of the proceedings. During “Under Ice” a form of light on the stage floor depicted Kate’s character under the icey waters and after she realizes “It’s Me!” frogmen cut the ice and lift her out. During one particularly brilliant segment, the ocean’s surface was depicted by laser lighting, on which seemed to float a crooked living room in which two of the backup singers (one being Kate’s son Bertie) portrayed the family of the lost woman, Kate then appearing as if a ghost singing the segment “Watching You Without Me” to interrupt their television program.

Near the end of “Wave”, Kate was carried away by the crew, through the audience, there to finally escape her watery entrapment, and return to center stage with lights up, engaging the band and audience through a jubilant and touching version of “The Morning Fog” coda. The impact of the story ending in this celebration was intensely emotional, and the audience responded in kind, standing and cheering for this happy ending to “The Ninth Wave.”

IMG_1126During the intermission, the curtains were lit with pink light and the image of a single feather projected – in retrospect cluing us into the fact that Aerial would be featured next. In fact, after an intermission, Kate and band returned to perform the second half of Aerial called “A Sky of Honey.” Kate says in the booklet that the staging for this was harder to envision – the story being about the connection between light and birdsong, saying “It’s also about the observer. Us, observing nature. Us, being there.” Now the band was occupying stage left, and room was made for a grand piano, which Kate played to begin the “Prelude.” A huge Moorish door descended on stage right, through which an ingenious wooden puppet – an artist’s model, controlled behind by a black clad puppeteer, emerged. This boy puppet would be featured throughout this piece, as an evolving character, witness to the beauty and wonder described throughout the sections of the song cycle.

Also featured was Bertie as a painter – as Kate says “somehow responsible for the sky and the events that happen on stage – a kind of ‘Pan’ figure.” kate_aerialIn this really amazing segment, Bertie “painted” a cloud-covered scene on a digital canvas in tandem with a huge backing screen drop showing a similarly clouded sunset. The brush triggered colors and changes to the image on the “canvas” as the larger backdrop slowly evolved as well. This made an absolutely beautiful centerpiece for the vocals and delicate sounds found within this work. The piece also included more time for Kate to work the piano, to sing in a call-response phase with birdsong, and eventually to don the feathers and wings of a bird and rise above the stage. Eventually the puppet became a wooden boy and found his way out of the scene back through those Moorish doors. All of this was imply stunning in its execution.

After a bow and departing the stage to endless applause, Kate returned solo to play an encore beginning with “Among Angels” from 50 Words for Snow (2011) and finishing with “Cloudbusting” from Hounds, which brought the audience to their feet to clap and sing along and end the show in a massive display of audience affection to match the spectacle we were privileged to witness.

kate_doug_hamThe focus of the concert being the two major narrative pieces – “The Ninth Wave” and “The Sky of Honey” – one dark, the other light, made for more theater than just song, and was a truly inspired choice. Sure there were some attendees grousing that she did not play her early work including the “hits” such as her first, “Wuthering Heights” but as it turned out the alternative was far sweeter. In fact for this state-sider, the show focused on her most creative material, even if my favorite, “The Dreaming” did not figure into that this time. 

Was it an “Once-in-a-lifetime” experience? I’d give that an unequivocal “yes” – it was beautiful, magical, and emotionally impactful to finally see this amazing artist perform her work live, with a level of production befitting her art, and with an audience of her adoring fans, this gem of Britain.



The band:

Guitar: David Rhodes (also Peter Gabriel’s guitarist, Random Hold – oh, and Blancmange!)

Guitar, Bouzouki, Charango: Frissi Karlsson (of Icelandic band Mezzoforte)

Bass: John Giblin (many fusion, prog collaborators, and bassist on almost all Kate’s albums)

Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Programming: Jon Carin (long time Pink Floyd collaborator who most recently played on “The Wall” tour)

Keyboards, Accordion, Uilleann Pipes: Kevin McAlea (many collaborations including Barclay James Harvest, he also played Kate’s first tour)

Percussion: Mino Cinelu (many works including Miles Davis and Weather Report)

Drums: Omar Hakim (also Weather Report, Sting, and Dire Straits work)

The chorus included Kate’s son Albert McIntosh (Bertie), who also sang lead and acted in several passages. Also in the chorus were Jo Servi, Bob Harms, Sandra Marvin, and Jacqui DuBois. And, there were a series of actors and stage hands that were part of the presentation – all adding to the fabulous, unforgettable evening.