- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Sometimes music artists spend relentless period of times trying to nail the right sound effects, to write the right lyrics, find the right producer or to cut the right vocals in the hope to make their albums a true masterpiece.
Rather fortunately, though, there are still musicians out there able to play a more stripped-down music style, still achieving brilliantly their ultimate goal, which is to bring their music to the masses.
Eric Johnson, the Texan-born veteran guitarist and one of the most talented and versatile blues/rock artists worldwide, has totally and perfectly embraced this concept, by releasing, towards the end of 2016, the very first acoustic album of his career, simply called EJ.
The album is a total revelation for old and new fans of Johnson's music. An eclectic collection of superbly balanced songs, plus some instrumentals and a bunch of covers, the whole executed in such a phenomenal style, a true pinnacle in Eric Johnson's career.
When Bluebird Reviews has the opportunity and the privilege to discuss with the legendary Texan guitarist and singer/songwriter his brand new album, Johnson is affable as always and sounds in a really good humour.
BBR - Hi Eric, thank you so much for talking to us at Bluebird Reviews. EJ, your brand new album, is your first ever acoustic one after three decades in making music. Which criteria did you follow in choosing the songs that ended up being on EJ?
EJ - I just went in the studio and recorded a bunch of songs that I had in mind to record for a while plus a couple of new ones that I wrote and included in the record. I believe I managed to capture, on EJ, the best performances of songs that I played live that I had a good take of. Few of the songs I had in mind, they didn't quite make it, compositionally, so I kind of threw them back in the pond but the ones that I thought were good compositions, I just kind of over-recorded them and looked for takes on which I did a good performance on. I actually have a bunch of more acoustic tracks that I am considering to put on a possible EJ Vol. 2 but I just need to get good enough performances of those songs, because I just want to get the best takes possible on the next album, as I always try to achieve on all my records.
BBR - EJ sounds a bit like a therapeutic album for you to record and something you truly enjoy doing, something that allows you to let your artistry completely break free. What triggered this sudden desire to explore the beauty of playing and recording music in a more stripped-down form?
EJ - Well, playing acoustic it's something that I have always done in my private life which, for various reasons I have never included that much in my electric albums. I guess that, generally, my style of playing nods more towards electric kind of stuff but on this album, I thought that the fans wanted to hear a more stripped-down version of my music. I think that in the last couple of years I have arrived to the conclusion that I want to include more stuff, especially acoustic, on my records, which is something I totally enjoy. All in all, through an album like EJ, I just wanted to be a bit more balanced, musically, with everything I like.
BBR - Your new album features some of the most inspired instrumental tunes I have heard for quite some time, from your own version of that timeless classic that it's Mrs. Robinson to some authentic jewels like Serinidad, Once Upon A Time In Texas and Song For Irene. Have such tracks been composed long ago or are they the spontaneous outcome of your improvisational skills, at the time you recorded EJ?
EJ - Actually, Song For Irene is a song that I wrote in the studio, while I was making the record and I think that it was the last thing I did on the record because it just came to me just like that. For Mrs. Robinson, well, I was looking to find the right way to start the record with and I though that making an instrumental up-tempo version of that classic was the best way to launch off the album. They just came in different times, all the songs. There are probably two or three songs on the album that I actually recorded several years ago, the rest of the album was written and recorded in the last six, seven months prior to the end of the recording process.
BBR - We all know, at Bluebird Reviews, your great love and respect for a guitar giant like Les Paul, to which you paid an artistic homage on The World Is Waiting For Sunrise. It was, though, slightly unexpected to see two Simon & Garfunkel's songs featured on EJ. How much did their music contribute to your artistic growth?
EJ - Well, they are kind of one of the soundtracks of my childhood. I liked to listen and I still do to a lot of folk music. It is something that, despite the fact that I did not include in any of my previous records, it's part of my musical DNA. I grew up listening to these guys, as I did listen to a lot of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and stuff like that, so, in answer to your question, it's something that has always been in the back of my mind because it has been part of my musical formation. The Simon & Garfunkel songs included on EJ are such great songs and I just wanted to work on them with different arrangements, approaching them in a different way. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song, regardless of what flavour you apply to it and how you do it.
BBR - Even when you don't touch your guitar, you are still able to gift memorable music moments to your fans, like that goose-pumping tune that is Water Under The Bridge, executed with just piano and voice. What is the story behind the wonderful lyrics of that song, Eric?
EJ - I think it's a song about not holding everybody or keep tabs on everything. I think it's pointless to do that, it's important to forgive people on stuff of the past and to focus on moving on in your life. Regardless whether we have got a reason to hold on on stuff or not, if you keep going on about this type of things in your personal life, it kind of becomes poisoness to yourself in the end. It's much better and healthier to let it go and move on.
BBR - How many different guitars have you been using on EJ?
EJ - I mostly used a 1981's Martin D45 and I also used a Ramirez Classical and a Silvertone Acoustic on Song For Irene.
BBR - Texas is America's holy land for guitarists, either born and bread there like you or people like Billy Gibbons or adopted one like Lance Lopez, Omar Dykes or Mike Zito, just to mention few. Have any of you considered, one day, to join forces and take on Tour the cream of Texas guitar players?
EJ - Oh, boy, that would be real fun! We should call the project T3, rather than G3, wouldn't that be just fantastic!
BBR - Eric, in November 2016 you finished your Solo Acoustic Tour around the Statest with a fabulous hometown concert at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. Is there any plan, so far, to tour the EJ album also in Europe and the rest of the world?
EJ - We are currently discussing the possibility to extend the Tour even out of the States but it's all about to manage and fit it with my current schedule but I would be really up for it. I'd love to go back in places like Europe, for example, I have such fond memories of that part of the world and the fantastic crowds over there.
BBR - George Gershwin once stated that "True Music must repeat the thoughts and inspirations of the people and the time". What thoughts and inspirations does the EJ album carries within to describe where, right now, Eric Johnson and his music are?
EJ - I guess that what I am trying to do right now is to be more sincere, more honest, genuine and spontaneous. Most of all, trying to make people feel more inspired and lifted through my music. I don't know if I am succeeding in making people feeling that way, but that, believe me, is my ultimate aspiration.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Celina Dasneves)
The story of a musical turnaround. That is, perhaps the best way to describe what happened in the last 6-7 years of life of the Canadian collective No Sinner, from being on the casp of calling it a day to make a massive come back with a brand, ballsy and beautiful new album, the 2016's Old Habits Die Hard.
Colleen Rennison, No Sinner's band leader, has been through a very long journey with the band so far in her career, a true Thunder Road, paraphrasing a famous song. Despite all she has been through though, since their 2014's well received debut album Boo Hoo Hoo to the new one, an album that sees the sound of the band turning more into rock territories, Rennison looks happy and very satisfied when talking to Bluebird Reviews at The Borderline in London, UK, about their new album. "Boo Hoo Hoo did actually come out in 2011 but just released by the label in 2014. I would say that Old Habits Die Hard reflects more our true sound and who we are, as a band and as we have always been sounding live on stage. Boo Hoo Hoo was written with an acoustic guitar, with one friend on a kitchen floor while Old Habits is more on what No Sinner is all about and it was a great shame that the album was not released earlier. I feel, in some ways, that Boo Hoo Hoo misrepresented who we are as a collective because the songs on the new album have been ready and played many times before on stage since 2011. A lot happened since Eric (Campbell, the band ex-guitarist) and I were together in the band. There were good times and less good times and sometimes it felt like everything was falling apart but, in the end, it's great still to be here. This European Tour that we are just due to complete has been a splendid experience for myself and the band. To get to play overseas, where you may think that not many know our music and then to be overwhelmed by so many people attending our shows, buying our records... Man, that is such a gift. It shows that people really care about us and our music, which is great".
A sound that has certainly changed a lot, since the departure of Eric Campbell, with a new line-up that make the No Sinner's sound more primitive and powerful. "I would say it's definitely raw, heavier and more real than what it used to be on our first album. I think it's a matter of connecting between musicians, rather than how good you may be as a musician. When Boo Hoo Hoo came out, after we agreed on the album's release, although the songs were fairly old for us, the band fell apart and we felt that we didn't give a damn about No Sinner anymore. There was a lot of tension between all of us at the time but I couldn't let go the whole No Sinner project because the songs that ended up on Old Habits were already there. With the new band, it felt refreshing to me to play those songs and to feel different and exciting vibes and a new found enthusiasm with the new guys in the band because we really connect with one another. We have such a ball all the time we are together and play, I just love these boys. I think you can sense how well we do get on by watching and hearing us playing live on stage. You get a real sense of a band giving it all every time, a true cameraderie going on stage. I cannot wait to start writing new material with the boys because there is finally the feeling that No Sinner is a strong musical entity and that was something I have missed for a long time".
The Canadian artist, prior to the release of Old Habits Die Hard, has been working with producer Ben Kaplan, somebody that has worked a lot with bands in the past with robust rock imprints and our website is wondering whether his work as a producer has shaped the songs of the album in a different way, in comparison to how they were originally created. "Not at all. Ben Kaplan had very little to do with the album overall. We had the opportunity to select a couple of producers for the album but in the end, we went for Ben because he was there and available at the time that our record label gave us the financial "go ahead" to complete the recording. I feel kind of bad that the album did not reflect exactly Ben's vision about a rock album but all that I wanted was to get it finished. At that stage, I did not even have a band, there was just myself and Ben in the studio and, not having any producing experience, it was a great relief for me to have somebody like Ben being there and helping to finish the album. Completing and releasing Old Habits almost killed me and perhaps, the overall sound of the album it's not exactly the one I intended in the first place, but I am glad it's done and it is out there. I couldn't allow myself to walk away from a body of work that carried through my twenties without finishing what I started back then. No way".
The No Sinner's band leader is one of the most versatile, talented singer/songwriters and performers around. Through the new album, one may appreciate even more the beauty and the power of her beautiful voice, something that she might have discovered to have from the early stages of her career. "I didn't think that my voice was that fabulous in the beginning but I started singing when I could walk and talk, you know, it was just something I was doing naturally in my everyday's life. I don't think it was a proper discovery but, I can surely tell you that I knew I had a good voice before anybody else knew it! (wink)".
Old Habits Die Hard introduces, among the many qualities of the record, also a witty side to Rennison's songwriting style through the closing track of the album, Mandy Lyn. The song is robust, thunderous and wild and sums up perfectly the philosophy of No Sinner as a band but does really Mandy Lyn exist or is she just a fictitional character? "We wrote that song even before Boo Hoo Hoo came out. The story behind it is true and it was referring to when myself and Eric went on a crazy road trip with this photographer, Mandy Lyn, actually a very good photographer. She is a F&%$ing bitch but she really is a great photographer! She was starting flipping out while we were in a hotel in Reno, she was losing it and starting to have an episode. Eric and I, at that point, we did not really know what to do so we started playing this song that we made up on the spot, a bit like an improvised nursery rhyme. After that episode, our relationship changed and she ended up doing some really crazy things in her life. We added to that song this Zeppelin's typical 70's sound and turned this made-up nursery rhyme into a song and added in the lyrics all the bullshit that the relationship brought between me and her after that episode. As I said, Mandy is a very talented photographer, a firecracker and a very serious person but she can be a bit of hard maintenance, when we were hanging out together. To cut it short, the song is about somebody that was a friend of mine in the past and no longer is".
One of the virtues of Old Habits Die Hard is the ability to carry, throughout the album, the sound of different decades of rock and roll. "You know, due to the fact that this is an album that has been released through a long period of time since its creation, I guess that, as many musicians do, you just go through different phases and stages. I remember that there was a period where Eric and I listened to a lot of Prince's records, or periods in which we were either hooked on David Bowie's stuff, or Allman Brothers or Joe Cocker, it varied. You can feel that kind of musical schizofrenia throughout the album and, in the songs of Old Habits, I can perfectly see the different influences we went through to during the last 6-7 years. When I listen to the record now, it's like I am almost hearing many different people and different sides of myself and Eric, our musical metamorphosis. You don't realise how much you change, as a person, the kind of evolution you go through especially in a crucial time of everyone's life, like the twenties are and this record is the perfect demonstration of the musical journey we went through".
Whilst Rennison was in the process of having Old Habits Die Hard released by her record label, she was offered the opportunity to record a solo album, See The Sky About To Rain, a delicate and eclectic collection of Canadian folk and country music covers, a challenge Rennison truly enjoyed a lot. "Well, it was a cool challenge for me because I had to dive into the Canadian songbook. When you have people like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young or The Band, for example, with such rich repertoires, that was never going to be an easy task to deliver. It was a true discovery, for me, to find out songs that I have never heard before, like Leonard Cohen's Why Don't You Try. I must confess that we tried to cover Chelsea Hotel but it didn't really feel right because we wanted something a little more obscure that would have represented the work and the nature of this great artist. Either than that, some of the songs on See The Sky About To Rain are more related to my childhood, something that I would have always dreamt, since I was a child, to be able to sing one day and put on a record. Blue Wing (by Tom Russell), is such a personal and powerful song for me because it reminds me of the only place where I have ever heard of that tune, which was the back seat of my dad's car. I have absolutely loved making this record. Funnily enough, this album was supposed to be released even before Boo Hoo Hoo but because my record label had to delay the release of our debut album, as a consequence, also See The Sky's release was postponed".
No Sinner are from Vancouver and the sound coming from one of the biggest cities in Canada has certainly gone through a lot of changes and evolutions through the years, something that Rennison has lived on her own skin too. "Definitely, the city has moved on a lot. As for many other parts of the world, Vancouver too has certainly felt the positive impact of social networks like Facebook, for example, which has allowed many artists to be able to make their music available to millions and millions of people. That includes No Sinner too. As a band, through those social platforms, we had the opportunity to connect with people and for them to find out about us and our music. It has been a true game changing for us as No Sinner, for all Vancouver's artists and for thousand of musicians around the globe. We have now this amazing social DIY tool that allow us musicians to expose our music and spread it directly to the masses. This is certainly, in itself, a massive step ahead not just for the future of music but also for the freedom of creativity of many artists. Sometimes, through this new media platforms, you don't even need to be very good as a musician to be popular and to make your own niche in the music business, as long as you are cool and interesting for the people out there. You can pretty much create your own profile as a musician because the Worldwide Web allow you to do so, avoiding to go through sometimes painful processes within the music business. In that way, you can maintain your integrity as an artist because you won't have anyone breathing on your neck and just shows your artistry in full without limitations. Steps forward for music independence like these are always very welcome".
It's always refreshing and exciting to meet Colleen Rennison. The canadian artist carries into the songs she writes her strong personality, both as a woman and as a performer. Before parting company with Rennison, Bluebird Reviews asks the Canadian artist how much does music give to her emotionally every time and how much does she feel she is giving back to music through her artistry. "Music means life to me. It's such a big part of who I am, I need it like I need water or oxygene to be able to live. If I don't get the chance for a long time to belt out and express my feeling by singing my songs, I kinda get crazy, I feel like I am exploding, it's the way my body works, I guess. Music gave me a lot, it gave me my friends, these awesome guys in the band, the opportunity to travel the world, it gave me freedom. As a consequence, I always try to treat music with respect and approach it with integrity and honour, for the gift that I have been given. I always try to be as honest as I possibly can in my songs and write them from my heart and soul. I never try to sell an image of myself that is not the real me, because I don't want to bullshit anybody. What you see is what you get".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
When Warren Haynes, Woody Allen and Matt Abts decided to convene in June 1994 at Tel-Star Studios in Bradenton, Florida, to work on what it supposed to be the debut album of a side project that would have allowed themselves to bring their alt-rock influences to a new level, they were far from imagining that such sessions would have generated one of the most successful music machines in the world, the Gov't Mule.
Those sessions though, never saw the light of the day until now in 2016, when Warren Haynes, frontman and band leader of Gov't Mule, finally decided to give justice to what can be considered the musical genesis of the band by releasing this material that captures perfectly the essence of three highly talented musicans and the excitement of the early days of The Mule.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
You need to go to Iceland to understand what makes a country like that so magical and the people living there so truly unique and open-minded. The darkness of their landscapes, the majesty of their glaciers and even the feisty, cold winter wind that blows from Rejkjavik to Eskifjordur is all part of one of the most special countries in the world.
All those aspects certainly must make an impact on the artistic creativity of the Icelandic people, given how much this country has gifted the music scene with artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros or Emiliana Torrini, just to mention a few of them, through the last four decades.
When in 2007 four young teenagers from Rejkjavik, Kjartan Hólm on guitar, Guðfinnur Sveinsson on guitar too, Elvar Jón Guðmundsson on bass and Jóhannes Ólafsson on drums (then replaced by Andri Freyr Þorgeirsson) got together to record in few hours their debut album, totally instrumental, called Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (meaning Rise and Shine, the Sun's Up...), nobody would have expected the impact that their sound made not just in their native Iceland but in many countries worldwide. Their music is instinctive, raw, travelling in the same way a locomotive may do, with sonic acceleration and deceleration executed with the heaviness of an experienced rock band and the ethereal fluidity typical of the Icelandic music sounds. The band decided to call themselves For A Minor Reflection.
Opening for Sigur Ros in their 2008 Tour, gave the opportunity to the band to have global exposure in the music business, something that allowed them to create a more sophisticated second album, a year later, called Höldum í átt að óreiðu" (Heading in the direction of Chaos). Their second record did, commercially, very well too and the band continued their career as For A Minor Reflection until 2013, by releasing the live EP Live At Iceland Airwaves.
The band, although not officially dismantled, has stopped their activity since that live album and the band members have all gone for separate ways, getting involved in new music projects but still maintaining a great relationship and, who knows, maybe the doors open to the future for another release as For A Minor Reflection.
Bluebird Reviews meets one of the main creative forces of the band, guitarist Kjartan Holm, to talk about the career of such a seminal band like For A Minor Reflection, in proximity of the 10 years since the release of their debut album. Holm has just released a new album with his new band called Tofa, a highly interesting post-rock music project. the album, their third as Tofa, is called Teeth Richards and, despite the pressure for the ongoing promotion of Tofa's new album, Holm kindly accepts to take us through the history and career of an extraordinary collective like For A Minor Reflection.
For A Minor Reflection - 2007 circa
BBR - Kjartan, welcome to Bluebird Reviews, so good to talk to you. For A Minor Reflection is one of the most original instrumental rock band of the last 10 years, recognised as such by the worldwide music press since your debut in 2007. Was the choice of creating music through instrumental suites a deliberate choice for the band since Day 1 or were you initially thinking of adding a singer to the band's line-up but then things just changed?
KH - Well, originally we thought about having vocalists in our band but, as we started playing together, we found ourselves increasingly more comfortable just being an instrumental rock band. So yes, initially we had other plans but when we realised that we were feeling more comfortable expressing our music in that way, we said "Hey, this is the way that works for us, let's keep it that way". Funny, when I think about it, because currently I am working with a band that includes vocalists and I feel very comfortable as well working with music in that way. I just enjoy exploring different sides of music and have an open mind. I think it helps me, as a musician, to be constantly challenged.
BBR - Your debut album Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (Rise and Shine, the Sun's Up...) sounded so immediate. It was the work of 4 creative forces improvising on the spot and able to carve music in continous movement, with changes of tempo that then defined the band's style for years to come. Who have been yours and the band's music heroes that fired up the extraordinary creativity that the whole band express in their sound?
KH - It's interesting that, within the band, we all liked different type of music. I remember, back in those days, to be listening to a lot to artists like Blink 182, mainly that kind of College Rock Music. Gudfinnur instead was very much into Coldplay, Andri liked a lot of metal kind of stuff while Jon was listening to a lot of material of the English band The Smiths. As you can see, none of the bands I just mentioned had anything to do with the music that we were playing, which is kind of ironic. We shared though, within the band, a common love for the sound of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and given how different were our music preferences, our inspiration was really coming from many different musical directions. Which is what helped our sound to be constantly on the move, rather than being static, which is not the type of art making we wanted to create. We just plugged in and away we went. As you said, our music was really a genuine combustion of four musicians carrying their own backgrounds, amalgamating them and creating something that we thought it was truly unique, back then.
BBR - In 2010, on the back of the huge impact of the 5000 copies that your debut album sold, you recorded the follow up to Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft at Sigur Ros' studio in Iceland, in Sundlagin and mastered the new album, Höldum í átt að óreiðu" (Heading in the direction of Chaos) in Los Angeles. Given the more substantious budget you had at the time, do you feel that your second album shaped up the band's sound in a slightly different way or was the album just a natural progression of the band's musical path?
KH - I think that the way our sound shifted, on our second album, was due to the fact that it was planned in the recording, rather than doing it in the same way we did the first album. As you were saying, the success of our first album, touring a lot, partly with Sigur Ros, made possible that we could get the right financial platform on which we could build our second record. Whilst the first album was written in two months and recorded in just about 5 hours, in a garage, with a raw sound, full of improvisations and somehow also mistakes here and there, (if you really listen carefully to it), the Komin Á Loft album was instead super clean, in a way. Recording in a proper studio, with fantastic equipment, made certainly an impact on the way our second album sounded. You are certainly right about the fact that working in a proper environment changed the shape of our sound but I also thought that, because we wanted really to give to it a proper stab, like other bands out there were doing, we might have sounded a bit too refined, borderline commercial. In retrospective, I enjoyed much more working instinctively on the music in a more raw way as we did on our first album, because it's the same way I like to work right now with Tofa. In my opinion, it also captured more the essence of our art as a collective, while on the second one we were colouring our sound a lot more, by building some layers on top of our music and making it sound far too polished for my personal liking. We spent three months in L.A. making that album and that timeframe sounded like an eternity for someone like me, used to write music and record it on a much faster pace. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy working on music adopting many different approaches, including the way we did on the Komin Á Loft album but the way we sounded on our first record was more a clear mirror of my idea of making music.
BBR - The band has not recorded new material since the 2011 EP and there has not been a new release from FAMR since the 2013 live album Live At Iceland Airwaves. Is the band planning to surprise their fans with a new album anytime soon, to celebrate your 10th anniversary together?
KH - We were just discussing this the other day, it would be really fun to do something about it together next year. There are some logistic issues, though, due to the fact that we are now all living in different countries and we are all focusing on our individual projects with other bands. All that I can say is that we are not making any new music at the moment but we have a lot of unreleased material that we have accumulated through the years. It might be possible that, should we be able to find the time to get together and work on this yet unreleased material, one day we may release it on a new record but, at the moment, we are all focusing strictly on our own projects. To be honest with you, the material for a new For A Minor Reflection album could be already there to be released but, call it maybe being lazy or any other way you want, at the moment to work on a new For A Minor Reflection album is not our priority. We will see what happens in the future, anything is possible.
BBR - Kjartan, we are aware that the best part of the tunes written by the band came from your inspiration. What does help you to put you in the right state of mind when it comes to create new songs?
KH - When we made the first album, all the songs came from a very emotional part of ourselves, as a band. You know, coming from a country like Iceland where the weather is never really great and sometimes it's a bit depressive, it kind of triggered the state of mind that brought us to record the album in that way. I guess you may call it "atmospheric", in terms of general mood but I felt it was very simple and straight forward, in its lyrics. The second album was a bit more warm, not just in term of sound but about the style of the lyrics too. As I said before, we tried to apply to our sound a bit more colors that might have somehow, influenced also the general mood on the album. Thinking about your original question on writing songs, I guess that the real answer to you would be that I really don't know precisely what my state of mind was, when I wrote the songs on both the studio album. Maybe there was just an unconscious wish to express my happiness to be alive through the songs! (chuckles).
For A Minor Reflection - 2009 circa
BBR - Yourself and Andri, your drummer, are currently involved in another side project with a different band, right now, Tofa. How different is the sound of such bands from the For A Minor Reflection's one?
KH - It's a lot different from the FAMR's one. The current project in which myself and Andri are involved to, as you said, it's called Tofa. It is certainly full of energy, very noisy, almost brutal in its rawness, that's for sure! (chuckles). We record our songs ourselves in the way we like the most, without pulling any strings or spending too much time on mixing or adding any trickery. We have just released our third album, called Teeth Richards and, in comparison to FAMR's music style, with Tofa we have vocals through our singer, Allie Doersch. The songs are much shorter and faster and it took me a while before getting used to leave time for somebody within the band to sing, rather than blasting my guitar all the time. But in the end I got the nag of it. (chuckles).
BBR - Kjartan, in the last 10 years the music industry has suffered the biggest blow ever in its history. How difficult does it get, nowadays for young artists to self-finance and produce themselves and therefore to be able to express their artistry?
KH - I remember when we started as For A Minor Reflection. There were certain more opportunity for artists and bands to make records and travel abroad to tour, back in those days. As you said, nowadays everything is much more complicated. There is no more money left in the pot of the music industry, therefore everything is becoming much more, like Do It Yourself kind of attitude. It's definitely much harder to try and impose your art, within the business but it is not impossible. Just keep believing in yourself and do things on your own, a bit like I am doing right now with Tofa. I like to believe that there is always a way that things in music, as in life, work out in the end, as long as you keep investing in yourself and in your art.
BBR - Iceland is a magical country that has been so finely described through all its most favourite muses. Sigur Ros express through their music its nature and beautiful sceneries, Bjork all its different otherwordly, natural colours and Emiliana Torrini its mood, through delicate vignettes of Icelandic's daily life. Which of Iceland's many values do For A Minor Reflection carry through their music?
KH - Difficult to say. My first instinct would be to say that there is a certain connection with nature, as it often happens with Icelandic music in its globality. I remember when Sigur Ros released that splendid DVD called Heima, where their music was expressing all the different colors and movement of the Icelandic life. I feel that, at the same way, For A Minor Reflection's music, through its waves of alternated heavier and softer interplay within our songs, captures that same kind of vibes, although in our own way. Personally, the first thing that For A Minor Reflection's music makes me think of are the streets of Rejkjavik, the colors of the houses, the people, the vibes of our capital city.
BBR - The music genre that For A Minor Reflection has been labelled with has been often defined either as avant-garde rock or post rock. To the eyes of Bluebird Reviews, your music is just the natural chemistry between 4 skilled musicians. On an average, how many hours of jamming and music improvisations the band needs to record on tape, before deciding which material get chosen for any of your records?
KH - Well, believe or not, we never did a pre-recording session on any of our albums, to try and find the right mood for any new material we wish to record. We just plugged in and go. When we felt we had something we all liked the sound of, we were just going for it without thinking too much, just going for it. A very simple approach, perhaps old fashion, some might say but that is what worked better for us.
BBR - Kjartan, Bob Marley once said: "One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain". Has music ever served you as a healer in any moment of your personal life or in your career as a musician?
KH - So many times. I listen to music, daily, a lot, until it gets time to go to bed at night, just to give you an idea. I can listen to stuff like, say from Bizet to Rihanna because for me there are no bridges with music, I can listen to either pop music or classical one without having to compromise with any of them. Every genre, every style creates a different connection with my emotions and it really doesn't matter what the musical source is or where it comes from. Music is certainly the best therapy I can think of. Well, perhaps that and some beers too! (chuckles).
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Every music fan knows exactly what to expect at an Andy Frasco And The U.N. concert. A music party made of two hours of pure entertainment, fun, excitement and, most importantly, great music played by highly skilled musicians. But the party doesn't exactly finish when the live show ends, because Andy & Co. would spend every single night some quality time with their fans, chatting to them and having few drinks together in an afterparty that would last until the wee hours of the morning.
Fresh from releasing a brand new album called Happy Bastards, a record that sees Frasco and The U.N. approaching a more mature and compact sound in comparison to their previous records, the band leader is living one of the most prolific moments of his career, both as a songwriter and as a musician. When we finally manage to talk to Frasco, one can immediately detect the reasons why the artist from Los Angeles is so much loved and respected by fans and fellow musicians. His presence, his friendly attitude and great personality would be able to spark the brightest light anywhere in the world and in every occasion.
(Photo by Jeremy Scott Photography)
BBR - Hi Andy, thank you for taking the time to talk to us at Bluebird Reviews. Happy Bastards, your new album, is a record that reflects the joy of life in many different ways. How long did it take for you and the U.N. to write the songs and record the album?
AF - As you may know, we do something like 250 shows a year in many countries, including the States, of course. Due to this busy schedule, we wrote this album while we were on the road, during few days off we had or through any window of opportunity we had. I would say that it took about a year to record something like 40 tracks, which we then knocked out to 12. I tried then to write almost a song per day and I think it took almost three weeks to get the best songwriting I could put down for the album. Hopefully we managed to do what we do best, which is to try and bring some happiness to the world through our music.
BBR - Do you generally plan very much in advance the making of a new album, in order to allow you to take the time you need to write the music and the lyrics or are you one of those artists that likes to work under pressure and get the album done almost on Deadline Day?
AF - Fundamentally, I like to get it done, no matter what. Every time I am in a studio, I just like to crack on and power through because if you overthink anything, that won't get the best out of you, as an artist. I rather like the immediacy of the moment and to follow my instinct. I try to give to a song a couple of stabs and if the tune is still not there, then I move on and maybe come back to it on a later stage. I am just a kind of guy that doesn't like to overthink, as I said, on the whole recording process. I just like to make music and record it, which is something that I am still learning how to do in the best way possible. I am certainly not as comfortable in a studio as much as I am in my live shows. On every album, I feel like I am getting better and better on making and recording music and I hope that Happy Bastards proves me right, in that respect. All that I want to achieve, through my music, is to get people out to come to our shows, to give it all as an artist on stage with the band and try to make people enjoy life for a couple of hours, forgetting the whole world outside for a little while. Then, if they like what they hear, they may get interested to buy the album, which means that I have done my job well.
BBR - How much has the sound of the band moved forward on Happy Bastards, in comparison to the critically acclaimed Half A Man album?
AF - I think Happy Bastards is a lot more mature of any of the albums I have ever done before. I really focused a lot on the lyrics and on the overall groove of the record. I didn't want just to make a record talking about beautiful senoritas (chuckles) but also focusing on things that become more relevant and meaningful for me as time goes by. It's kind of moving forward as a person, as I grow older and starting to get over the fat parties! (chuckles). I guess I felt ready, on Happy Bastards, to write songs that meant something a bit deeper to me and about the moment I am living right now.
BBR - This is the second time, in your career, that you worked with music producers in the making of an album. How much of an impact has made to your music formula working in particular with Rick Parker, which has been working predominantly with rock artists?
AF - It was like night and day for me. Here there is this guy, Rick, that has been there all his life making records with the cream of the music business, providing me another set of ears and showing me another side of that great art that is music. It's good to have somebody you can trust and able to make you put your ego away for few seconds by bringing his own experience in the recording process. It's something like a life experience for me, working with people coming from different music backgrounds, because it helped me to grow up as a person too. Trusting people has always been very hard for me and I have never liked the idea of allowing people to take control of the steering wheel, especially when it comes to music. But with Rick was different and, as I said, working with him has certainly improved myself as a musician and also on a personal level. I am twice grateful to him for the great job done on the album. I dedicated all my life to work, ya know. I didn't start playing music until I was 18 and I knew I had to catch up quickly with the rest of the music business if I wanted to be really successful, which it may explain a bit more why I might have been reluctant, throughout my career, to trust and let somebody else helping me out. I found this time around not to be solely in control, especially when there is music involved, something extremely powerful in my progression as a songwriter and as a human being.
(Photo by Jeremy Scott Photography)
BBR - Good Ride is, for me, one of the most inspired songs of the album. The song incorporates different music elements and shows a different side of you, a slighty more melancholic, in comparison to the happy and loud Andy Frasco we all know and love. Is the song autobiographical or purely fictitional?
AF - Well, I'm a total narcissist and that song it's certainly autobiographical (laughs)! As I was saying before, I am conscious that I am going through some changes in my life, as years go by and I am constantly trying not to be or sound as selfish as I might have been before. In that respect, Good Ride shows a little more linear side, a bit more mature side that some might call a little more pessimistic. To tell you the truth, it is mostly about the realization of how important is to support yourself as an individual and your mental health, even when you have a really bad day.
BBR - You have been studying all the different angles of the music business since a very young age, as somebody working behind the scenes at first and now as a musician. How much has the whole music circus changed in the last 10 years worldwide, in your opinion?
AF - I think that the exact time when the whole system started crumbling big time was back in 2006, when all the big labels crashed. Realizing that no one was buying any albums anymore prompted me to change the course of my career within the business, focusing about becoming a musician myself and touring extensively. That really changed the game for me, because touring incessantly for 10 years, as I have done, proved to be the best thing for me and the band to do. After all, we are essentially a live band, therefore touring is the perfect ground for us. It's hard enough to be in a rock and roll band nowadays and if you want to survive in this business, you have got to work your socks off, get your hands dirty and try to scrap your living at the very best of your abilities. Which is something that we try and do every time we are on stage and we hope that the people realize how much hard work we put into our shows.
I grew up in L.A., dreaming to become a pop singer for a while until I said to myself: "F?&k this, if you guys think that I am not cool enough, then I can chase the dream in my own way". The next day I hit the road and it all started from there. If I can teach anything to anybody about re-building the music industry, I could gladly show them that you can still make a living out of this, purely by throwing yourself fearlessly into it and get on the road to work your ass off, because nobody will come to you and help you in any way, financially or by helping you to make music videos. How could you make up a career out of one viral video is unthinkable, a career is something that takes time and hard effort. I guess that one positive aspect of this great mystery about the music business right now is the fact that it is like a No Man's Land. You can be able to re-write the odds, re-write the rules within the business anytime because nobody has got a clue of what the hell is going on right now with the music industry.
BBR - Were your parents very much into music and did they encourage you in any way to become a musician when you were a kid?
AF - No, they were just all about business. My dad's a real estate broker and my mother is a half jewish, half italian lady very focused as well on making a good living and they wanted me to become an accountant. In my head, all I wanted instead was to create a record label and run it for about three years until, one day, something totally unexpected happened. I saw a concert of an Irish artist called Damian Rice, which changed my prospectives in life forever. I left college and the next day I bought a van, hired several musicians on the spot, in every town I was playing to back me up in my performances. Because in my mind I wanted to get as good as Damian Rice. I just wanted to make music that would inspire people, exactly like Rice's music inspired me.
BBR - You are in Tour right now around the States, then a brief stop in Europe then back again in the States. Is there a plan for a Happy Bastards World Tour in 2017 ?
AF - Oh yeah, I think we are really starting to blow up big time outside America, especially in Europe. The United States is still a very steady ground for us but Europe this summer was a real blast. We were playing for crowds of five or even ten thousands people per night and I saw the reactions of the fans, it was so overwhelmingly great. On an average, we tour five different countries three times a year and I spend my entire life between airplanes, hotels and vans. But I love it so much that it's something I wanna do until the day I die.
BBR - How much do the sounds present on Happy Bastards frame exactly the musical journey you are on right now?
AF - I would say definitely a good 80 per cent, because our sounds and our live performances are in constant evolution and growth. I can reveal to you that, before we go into the studio next year and make a new record, we are going to release via Ruf Records, our label, a live CD and DVD of a show we recorded in Germany. We will see how that works with our fans and their reaction, all I can say is that we had so much fun recording it. My gut feeling tells me that we are getting stronger and better as a band each time we play together, either in a live show or in a studio. I am confident that, next time we will be talking, you and I, should you ask me the very same question again, I'll tell you that we have reached the 100 per cent because I can just feel it. I am a perfectionist and I just have this vision in my head of what we can do, as a band. The day we can emulate that vision in its entirety on a CD format, that will be the day we will finally be unstoppable. Trust me, that day is really close!
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato