Chatting About Pre-Beatlemania British Rock ‘n’ Roll with Ex-Mod Bryan Rogers

In this article, I chat with my friend Bryan Rogers, self identified ex-mod, about his time growing up in and around the music of London, England, in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, where he experienced the birth of rock ‘n roll in the UK first hand.  This was before Beatlemania, so pre-1963…

Bryan Rogers was born on the 10th December, 1940, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England.

Here he is around age 2.

These were the pre-British Invasion days, and Bryan was there in person as bands like The Beatles, The Stones, and many more started playing small dance halls and theatres in and around London, before heading off to America to make it big.  

Venues like the Locarno Ballroom in Swindon, the Lyceum in London, McIlroys in Swindon, The Locomotive Pub, Farr’s, Gaumont State Kilburn Ballroom, and so forth…these were places that Bryan would frequent to listen to these rock ‘n roll groups, whether they played live, or a DJ was there playing records so the teens could boogie-woogie, as it were.

All this was happening around the same time that American rock legends like Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and many others were coming over to the United Kingdom to find new fans in the youth of England, and influencing those British bands who would later “invade” America.

In speaking with Bryan over the years, I’d heard tell of his adventures in and around jolly old England (particularly London), seeing all of these bands and having some first hand encounters with a few of them.  

Finally, I had a chance to sit down with Bryan Rogers, and chat with him on the topic of early rock ‘n roll in England in the early 1960’s, and what all went down back then – the way it was.

Bryan is, by nature, a curious cat, and usually cats live perilous lives, but this cat has fortunately survived to relate his tale to me, who was very interested to hear about his (mis)adventures and dirty deeds over across the pond.  

Hope you all enjoy our chat, and if you have any comments or stories of your own, please leave them below!


On 50’s music and the 1960 British pop music charts

Bryan: So back in the ’50’s, it was mundane music compared to what it is today, like Doris Day and Frankie Laine …for Chrissakes!  

And then there was The Shadows, who were the back-up group for Cliff Richards…they recorded a tune on their own called “Apache”, which was a knock off of an American group.

Anthony Newly was another English film star who became a singer, and then there’s Shirley Bassey…

Who else we got here?  <scanning the pop music chart from 1960> Roy Orbison’s in there with “Only The Lonely”.  

Presley started to pop up around then too.  Lonnie Donegan, Emile Ford and the Checkmates.  Cliff Richards and the Shadows again, yeah.  The Everly Brothers…these people are slowly coming on…yeah, these are the British, not the American charts, mind you.

And then there was people like Tommy Steele, who wanted to be American, like Elvis Presley, but he never was.

YTMS: Tommy Steele, never heard of him.  Was he really famous?

Bryan: In England, he was…he was on a merchant ship, and he learned how to the play the guitar, so he sung a few songs…became a big hit.  Because people like Bob Dylan were on the go, right?

YTMS: So he was a troubadour kind of guy?

Bryan: He was a folk singer…

YTMS: Big changes in music between 1960 and 1970…

Bryan: Yeah, the whole British Invasion happened.  The Animals, Freddy and the Dreamers, The Kinks, and all those groups.  I think The Animals come from Newcastle…

Seeing Rock Bands in the Early 1960’s (Pre-Beatlemania)

YTMS: When you were growing up over there in England, you saw a lot of these groups when they first came up?

Bryan: Yes, at the local dance hall, on a Saturday, they’d come and play, and we’d dance to them.

YTMS: What was the place called?

Bryan: The Locarno Ballroom, in Swindon.

YTMS: Locarna?

Bryan: Locarno.

YTMS: How big was it?

Bryan: Probably …

YTMS: 1000 people or so?

Bryan: Yeah.  I’d also go to the Lyceum Theatre, in London, just off the Strand, in the center of London.  It was all mainly records there.

YTMS: Just records?

Bryan: DJ’s, yeah.

YTMS: Any bands there?

Bryan: No.

YTMS: Ah, it was just a dance club, not really a venue for live bands to play. 

Bryan: Right.

YTMS: So where did you start seeing actual bands play, and when?

Bryan: Most of the people from that time, most of the bands…like The Undertakers, that was one of ’em…because of the success of The Beatles and The Stones, bands started coming around to the dance halls to play.

Some of these groups found success, like Freddy and the Dreamers.. I didn’t really like them, but there you go.  Uh, who else?  There was the Dave Clarke Five.

YTMS: They were a rock group?

Bryan: Yeah. “Bits and Pieces” was one of their songs. <sings a snippit of the song> “Glad All Over” was another one of their hits.  They come from Tottenham area of London.

YTMS: So they played at the Locarno? 

Bryan: No, but I saw them play in Tottenham.

YTMS: You’d travel around to see bands play?

Bryan: Oh yeah.  When I was livin’ in London, I had a scooter, and I’d tour around to the different city halls, dance halls…

YTMS: How far would you go to see a group?

Bryan: Half way across London.

YTMS: Really?

Bryan: Yeah, and London’s a big place.

YTMS: Just scoot on over?

Bryan: Yeah, Seven Sisters Road… just down the road from the stadium, there was a pub on the corner… at the pub, they’d have these dances, play all these pop songs…

YTMS: You were big on the clubs at the time around there?  You and your friends?

Bryan: Yeah…we’d hang out at Baker Street, which is in the book about Sherlock Holmes.  22B Baker Street. 

I used to go to a club called Farr’s.  F A double R apostrophe S, Farr’s.  We were about 14 or 15 then.  So we’d go there, and we used to have tailor-made suits.

YTMS: Really?

Bryan: Ok, here’s the scoop.  My friend Dennis and me.. Dennis lived down the road from me.. and he says, “Bryan, do ya want a job?”  Paperboy…I said “Sure.”  We had to walk two miles up the road, to this place called Ellington’s.  We go straight up Carlton Vale, and if you’d continue up Carlton Vale, at the end is a T junction, and that’s Abbey Road.  THE Abbey Road. 

So, prior to coming to Abbey Road, on Carlton Vale, we turn right on Maida Vale I believe it was, and we’d walk along there, and turn left, across from Maida Vale underground, and there was Ellington’s.  So, we were paid to mark up the papers, like, everybody in England had the morning paper.  We’d get the address for some apartment building, or “mansions” as we called ’em, take a Daily Mirror paper and a Women’s Own magazine, put them together, write the address down, fold them, put them aside, and a paper boy or girl would come and take them. 

So we used to mark up the paper rounds, and we also had a round of our own.  Now, let’s put it in dollars, it’ll be easier to understand.  They were pre-paid, say, 50 cents a week to deliver papers…

YTMS:  Ok…

Bryan: Dennis and I would get, say, 3 dollars a week to mark up the papers every morning to deliver a round, and our own round as well.  A suit back then, it used to be guineas, would be, say, around about 17 dollars for a tailor made suit.  So we were makin’ 3 bucks… what do you think we’d spend our money on?  Sharp linen.  So when we’re 14, we’d save our money.  And another thing, we’d have a con game going.  We’d go around to all these different apartment buildings, or mansions, that we knew were the other paper boys’ routes… knock on the door every Christmas, tell ’em we were the paper boy…

YTMS: <snickers>

Bryan: …and they would give us a tip.  Maybe 50 cents or a dollar. 

YTMS:  That’s pretty good…

Bryan: So that used to go towards our suit fund.  Twice a year we’d have tailor-made suits!

YTMS: Wow!

Bryan: Yeah.

YTMS: You bought more than one I guess…had a whole wardrobe full of ’em?

Bryan: Yeah.  Dennis had some overcoats made, but I never got those.

On Becoming A Mod

YTMS: What were you guys like you called? 

Bryan: Mods.  We had the short hair.

YTMS: You were trying to be a mod on purpose?

Bryan: We never thought about it at the time, but yeah.  We’d pick up some shoes, they were tapered.  Pointy, tapered shoes.  Fake crocodile skin…We had flared trousers…

YTMS:  Yeah…

Bryan: …with a little slit on the side at the bottom.  And maybe 2 or 3 covered buttons going up the seam on our jackets.  Single or double breasted, covered buttons, as well.

YTMS: Hm…This is what it was like to be a mod.  Any other defining characteristics?

Bryan: We had short jackets.

YTMS: Does that mean you were cool? 

Bryan: Yeah, we were with it. 

YTMS: Tough?

Bryan: No, no, no.  We had our own little clan, and we’d gyrate together, at these dance halls.

YTMS: Yeah, yeah.

Bryan: Now, if there’s any “teddy boys” around, or “rockers”…

YTMS: Is that what the other guys were called?

Bryan:  Yes. Now, they wore jackets down to their knees…black velvet collars…and had really tight jeans on.  And they had these boots called “chukka boots”.  They used to have crimped soles about that thick <gestures>, black or dark blue.

Bryan: So imagine – big pairs of boots and long jacket <laughs> with hair down back, like Presley, you know.. a D.A. .. Tony Curtis, you know.. film star.. he had that down there, and that was called a duck’s ass.  Parted down the middle, it all come down.. <gestures> and then a quiff over here <gestures>…So they were teddy boys, yeah.  And if we ever met… it was a punch up.  Sometimes, we’d get on our scooters, and we’d drive down to Bornemouth or Brighton..south end, that’s on the coast…and we see any rockers, it them or us.. we’d go for it.. like Quadrophelia. 

YTMS: Did you go looking for ’em?

Bryan: Nah.

YTMS: Were you worried about seeing them?

Bryan: No, there was usually more of us than them.

YTMS: Were there a lot of fights? 

Bryan: Just now and again, not that often.

YTMS: People get stabbed?

Bryan: No, no. But, prior to that, the teddy boys…they used to have razor blades, put them in their collar, or in their hat.  That was their weapon of choice – a razor.

YTMS: Sounds dangerous…

Bryan. So I come in at the end of the teddy boy era, basically, and at the beginning of the mod era.  Which was good…I prefer to dress smart than scruffy with messy hair.

YTMS: Did that work better with the birds?

Bryan: The birds, yeah…

YTMS: Did the girls like rockers or mods better?

Bryan: The mod girls liked the mod boys and same with the rockers.  You could tell by looking at somebody who was who.

YTMS: Did mods and rockers ever get together.

Bryan: Probably…well… I doubt it.

YTMS: So for bands at that time, who did you see?

Bryan: Prior to going down to the town Swindon where the Locarno was, I told you before I went to the Gaumont State Kilburn.  It could hold 4000 people. 

Guy Mitchell was in that early list here <from the 1960 hit parade>.  Singin’ the blues, we went and saw him.  When I was a young kid, every time I’d go by this theatre, I’d see Louie Armstrong would be advertised, Ella Fitzgerald, all the jazz people, yeah.

YTMS: Did you check them out?

Bryan: No, we were too young.  Maybe 10 or 11.

YTMS: Not interested?

Bryan: No.  And then we went up and we saw Guy Mitchell.  We went and saw Bill Haley.  I’ve told you this in the past.

Barging In On The Platters

And then, we saw The Platters.  You’ve heard of them?

YTMS: Yeah.

Bryan: So we said, let’s see if we can get in backstage and see them. Well, lo and behold, the first door we tried – it opened.  You don’t usually… We pushed on the door and it opened.  As we walked in, The Platters were there, as close as you are…there they were!  I thought the girl was pretty.

They stood and looked at us, we stood and looked at them.  Nobody said a word.  Then somebody goes, “Hey, what the f*** you doin’ here, get the f*** out of here!  And we were gone!

But…not only did they have this little stage at the state theatre, but they had this little dance area…and Gene Vincent came in…and he sung there.  Be Bop A Lula.  And that was another person who I told you before that you are aware of…The Beatles liked him.  They all followed these guys.

YTMS: This is pre-Beatlemania?  ’62?

Bryan: Maybe a little before that.

YTMS: Did you ever end up seeing those big British bands.  The Beatles, The Who?

Seeing The Beatles

Bryan: No, never followed The Who.  I saw The Beatles and The Stones in Swindon. It was like an Eaton’s store, and they had a restaurant on the second floor…and on a Monday night, they used to have groups there.  Or lone singers…and this was prior to The Beatles becoming famous, they were there…The Rolling Stones another week.  Long John Baldry was there. He was there, he was talking to this guy, he had a woman with him, and I was there with my friend Dave…and we could hear everything they were saying, we were standing by the bar…

YTMS: Didn’t you tell me some weird story about this guy?

Bryan: Yes, I did.  So after a long conversation, this guy says to Long John Baldry, “Who’s the girl?” and Long John Baldry turns to the girl and says, “What’s your name again?”  <laughter> So, all these singers at the time, they all knew one another… they used to meet up.  Elton John got his name…it’s allegedly said… they were lovers, Elton John and Long John Baldry.  I heard this many years later, on the radio.. and…they split up, Long John Baldry dumped Elton John.. his real name was something like “Jimmy”…

YTMS: Reggie…

Bryan: Reggie something-or-other, yeah yeah…so, he changed his name, and because he liked Long John Baldry, he called himself John…this is the rumour, anyway…where he got Elton from, I don’t know…but it’s been successful for him.

YTMS: Yeah…

Long John Baldry Reuinion (Many Years Later)

Bryan: So, fast forward to a few years ago in Cambridge. There was a bar over by Soper Park and Highway 8.  There was a little blues bar in there. 

YTMS: The Cave?

Bryan: No, that little plaza with the pizza place.  Around the corner, they had a blues bar.  And Martin says to me, cause he was workin’ there…he says, “Dad, come, Long John Baldry’s here! Why don’t you come and see him?” So I went and saw him…he had this hat on, he always had this thing for a hat… and long hair now…When he was at Swindon, he wasn’t wearing a hat when he was talking to that guy and that gal, and he had short hair…blonde hair…he was a tall guy, about 6’4″, maybe taller. That’s why they called him Long John, I guess.  He was in this blues bar here and Cambridge and I went to see him…And, as he walked towards the dressing room I went to speak to him…

YTMS: He didn’t remember you, did he?

Bryan: No, no…I just wanted to say “Hey, I saw you in Swindon!”, but he just poo-poo’d me away and went into the dressing room. So Martin spoke to him after the band were done for the night. He said “Yeah, I remember Swindon, yeah” But I didn’t know he was gay ’til Martin mentioned it. 

YTMS: Really?

Bryan: I had no f***** idea. 

YTMS: He came to Cambridge (Ontario)?

Bryan: Yeah, he came and sung in that bar.

YTMS: Wow.

Bryan: To me it’s the end of the road if you’re singin’ there.  But, he was known by a lot of people. 

YTMS: Yeah, he was famous.

Bryan: Yeah…I’ve got all these books here about all these different musical groups, and now and again they’ll cross paths. 

McIlroy’s in Swindon

YTMS: So what was that place that was in Swindon, the restaurant?

Bryan: Yeah, on Monday nights it was a dance club, and during the day, a restaurant. One night, we saw Jerry and the Pacemakers.  The place was called McIlroy’s.

YTMS: Was this a cool place to play?

Bryan: Yeah, and it probably held about 500 people.  And a lot of the performers came there just when they were getting famous, or prior to.

YTMS: The Stones played there?

Bryan: Yep. This was before they were locked in a room and told not to come out before you write a f***** hit song.

Bryan: If you look up McIlroy’s in Swindon, you’ll see some of the flyers of the Beatles and the Stones.

YTMS: You were allowed in to this place, at 14, 15? 

Bryan: Yeah, there was no booze.  Actually, maybe there was.  You used to be able to drink at the Locarno.  I was 19 or 20 then.  But you could drink when you were 16…there were no drugs back then.  No one talked about them, and they didn’t even really exist to us.  The only people doing drugs were the groups – the Beatles and the Stones.  In the circle of people I moved with within London, and within Swindon, we didn’t do drugs.  We didn’t have a clue.

YTMS: Probably for the best…

Bryan: I remember…I used to hang out with a guy named Eric Heaton.  We eventually had an apartment between us, and had all the birds over.  We had a friend, Willie, who used to hang out at Locomotive pub in Swindon. 

Eric used to go there more than I did.  One time, we finished drinking in there, they closed the bar.  Willie says “Come on boys, let’s go back to my place and have some carrot wine.” “No,” i said…I’d had some of my mother’s homemade wine, knocks the s*** right outta ya. “No, no,” he says, laughing like a crazy Irishman. So we go back to his place and have some carrot wine, on top of all the beer we drank.  Then we staggered up the hill, until we got to the flat we were livin’ in.  I laid on the bed, and the f***** room was goin’ round and round.  Then I had to throw up, so I fell off the bed, got on my hands and knees, and crawled round to the bathroom.  Oh, that carrot wine!

YTMS: I never heard of carrot wine.

Bryan: Brutal.  So those groups back then, we’d watch them, and after a while we’d dance to them.  They were pretty cool.

YTMS: Were you a fan of the American bands when they came to England?

Bryan: We might have seen a few of them.

Jerry Lee Lewis – No Encore?

YTMS: Didn’t you say you saw Buddy Holly?

Bryan: Buddy Holly was when I lived in London, and went to the Gaumont State Kilburn. 

Like I said, the first guy we saw was Guy Mitchell. “Singing The Blues” – that was his big hit song.  After that, it was Bill Haley and the Comets, and then Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and then there was Jerry Lee Lewis. I checked on this – he only sung in three concerts, and that was it.

YTMS: In the UK?

Bryan: Yeah, the press gave him a hard time, cause he had married his 13-year-old cousin. But I read many years ago in about 1980, in the Penthouse or Playboy, I was reading that, and here’s an article on Jerry Lee Lewis, and then there was a paragraph about Jerry Lee singing at the State Kilburn, and it said we boo’ed him off the stage, because he married his 13-year-old cousin.  It wasn’t because of that.  We listened to him…he did his bit, and here’s the reason why we boo’ed him…

YTMS: Why?

Bryan: Why do you think?

YTMS: He sucked?

Bryan: No, he was fabulous.  It was because he left the stage, and wouldn’t come back and do an encore.  NO ENCORE.  And another guy that would not play an encore was Roy Orbison. When I used to ride my scooter around London with my pals, we’d see tour posters with Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers…

But you know, they were the best of times, the 60’s, and all those groups.  There wasn’t 1 group, or 2 groups…we used to have parties at my house, with my parents. 

After the British Legion closed on a Saturday night, people come over and we’d play records like Little Eva “Locomotion”, The Beatles, The Stones, and whoever else was popular at the time. 

They were good parties, they really were, and then we’d sit around and play cards afterwards, drinkin’ my mothers’ home made wine.  Then I’d get up and say “Holy f***!  It’s broad daylight!” and everybody’d be gone…


And so concluded my chat with ex-mod Bryan Rogers.  Stay tuned, we may yet chat again!  

Read about Bryan Rogers’ life story – http://imnotadoctorbutillhavealook.com

Unique Guitar Picks Created by Some Dude’s Pesopicks Stuart Brady

Before I get to my talk with Some Dude’s Pesopicks creator, Stuart Brady, I want to say a few words about the humble guitar pick.

If you play guitar, you probably know there are picks of all shapes, sizes, colors, thicknesses, designs, etc. 

You might even keep several guitar picks handy, and stop by the local guitar shop regularly to re-stock.  Picks are usually kept at the front of store and sold for under a dollar, near the other relatively inexpensive musical accessories like guitar strings, capos, etc. 

For such a small object, guitar picks are certainly an important part of guitar player’s setup.  They help define the sound, even though they don’t generally get a lot of credit.  

Guitar players can get rather particular about their picks, the more they develop a certain sound.  It is at this point that guitar players start to notice the different characteristics in the picks they like or dislike, and their preferences get more particular.

Some players want picks that have a grip, others like ’em smooth.  Some want them thicker, others want them paper thin.  Some like gimmicky picks that are covered in logos and designs, others like them with no symbols on them in just one color only. 

The type of pick you use depends on your own playing style more than anything, and that can take time to develop.

It’s worth mentioning, for the sake of beginner guitar players out there, that the type of pick does contribute something significant to the sound that’s being produced by the guitar. 

That said, guitar picks, for the most part, are made of plastic and many players don’t think about them much.  You just buy 10 for a dollar as you’re making other purchases, and if you drop them on the ground and lose them, many would say “Who cares?”

But some picks you might not want to lose.  

Pesopicks

The thing is, not all picks cost $0.25 and look cheap and shoddy.  Some guitar picks are worth showing off.

Enter: the Pesopick.

These unique picks are made from actual Mexican pesos by a dude by the name of Stuart Brady, AKA Some Dude.  In fact, his business name is Some Dude’s Pesopicks.

Here is the Pesopickdude himself standing with the late great Bill Paxton.

Stuart makes a living producing these Pesopicks by hand in his home state of Texas, home of some of the greatest guitar players of all time. 

He started making Pesopicks decades ago, in an effort to create a more durable, unique type of guitar pick that creates a deeper, richer sound.  They have other benefits as well, such as outlasting the person using them.

We were lucky enough to talk with Stuart about his prized creations.  We just had to get the lowdown on them straight from the source. 

Enjoy our Q&A with the the Pesopickdude!


What are Pesopicks?

Pesopicks are authentic Mexican pesos handcrafted into guitar picks.

How durable are these things?

They will last forever…the first one I made is owned by my best friend and is over 40 yrs old.  He still uses it everyday…they are heirlooms.

What do you like about the metal on metal sound?

They make your stringed instrument a little brighter and louder, creating awesome pinch harmonics…they are super fast due to less friction than other picks.

How much does a Pesopick cost?

They start at $50.00 and go up in price depending on type of peso and the work done to it.

What’s the difference between a Pesopick and your typical $.050 plastic guitar pick?

They don’t wear out and they wont harm strings…kinda of a nickel on nickel thing.

Is it true that Billy Gibbons has a soft spot for these picks?  Also, why does he like them so much?

Yes, Billy Gibbons loves them and I am currently making him a large order of them now. I believe he likes them because of the tones they create plus the mystique of the peso as a pick.

Who’s the intended audience of these types of picks?

The intended audience is anyone that wants to improve their technique and tone.

How long does it take to make one of these babies?

It normally takes me about an hour to complete one single pesopick…but I do about 30 to 50 in stages.

Do you ever run out of stock?

Sometimes I do run out of stock…but not for long…I have a lot of contacts.

How unique is each pick, would you say?

Each pesopick is unique, but they are consistent with the shape and size of a regular fender 357 style pick…they are never the same because of dings, dents and scratches on the face of the coin.

Do you use any other coins these days besides the peso?

Sometimes I’ll make a pesopick with a lire or shilling, or any cool high quality metal coin large enough.

Are they only good for rock music?

They work excellent on any electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or bass guitar without harming the strings.

Where can people get them?

They can be had by contacting me on Facebook at this time…however, a website is in the works and should be up and running soon.

Check out the Pesopick Facebook page!

Zack Vex of ZVex Effects on Boutique Guitar Effects Pedals and More – Q & A

When it comes to boutique guitar effects pedals, and guitar effects pedals in general, the rabbit hole goes deep.  And the deeper you go, the more shiny new pedals you’ll encounter, but, the thing is, they’re not all gonna be good (obviously). 

On one hand, a boutique effects pedal might – and really should – indicate that its creator knows more than a little bit about the mechanics of guitar pedals, down to some really uber specific level of detail.  And quite often, they do know their stuff – certainly more than the average consumer and even more than some manufacturers. 

That said, not all boutique pedals are worth spending your hard-earned money on.  For instance, despite performing some cool function, some lack aesthetic value (AKA they’re ugly).  And then, there are those pedals that look cool but don’t function properly.

The ideal situation is a boutique line of effects pedals that have both the look and the functionality to satisfy even the pickiest players. 

Enter Zack Vex of ZVex Effects

Image Source – Gear Patrol

Zack has some skin in the game by now, having designed a wide array of music gear, and more than a few really kick ass effects pedals. 

These pedals have found themselves being used by some of the biggest names in the music world, from Beck to Bootsy, to Nine Inch Nails, Steve Albini, My Bloody Valentine, Tame Impala, Radiohead, Jack White and the list goes on and on. 

These artists see, or rather hear, something in Zack’s pedals that they can’t get elsewhere, and so they are become part of these artists’ rigs. 

And so, we have the good fortune of being able to grill Zack about his pedals and other aspects of his business.  Lucky us!  Here’s our Q & A with Zack Vex, enjoy!


Q: How did you get into making your own guitar pedals?

I built my first one in 10th grade. My brothers had used my cousin’s Jordan Bosstone with their Gibsons and I loved the sound of that, and when I discovered that an older student at my high school had re-housed one I realized I could build a guitar effect for fun, so I made one from a circuit project in Popular Electronics magazine and sold it to that student for $10.

Q: When did you turn your love of making pedals into a business?

I was a recording engineer/producer in Minneapolis from 1984-1995 and when I developed tinnitus, I took a break and started making pedals for myself. I took one (the Octane) to a local store, Willie’s American Guitars in St Paul, and Nate the owner ordered three on the spot. It was completely unexpected. So I built him three pedals and suddenly I was in business. I made 16 Octanes between June and November of 1995 and then Nate asked me to design something new, so I created the Fuzz Factory that night, and it’s my best selling product to this day, out of more than 40 active products.

(Here’s a quick demo video of the ZVex Octane 3 from ProGuitarShopDemos on Youtube – Ed.)

Q: I’m assuming you grew up in some sort of artistic environment, based on your output.  Is this a fair assumption?

My brothers both played guitar and one played upright bass, so I started playing cello in 5th grade and was eventually first chair in high school. I loved music and electronics more than anything else, so they made a great combination for me. My mom was a housewife with four kids, a former secretary, and my dad was a math teacher in middle school.

Q: How long does it typically take to design a single pedal from the drawing board to being able to use it?

Sometimes it takes overnight (Fuzz Factory), other times it takes several years (Lo-fi Loop Junky). I never know. The brass sculpture device called the Candela Vibrophase took a few months from conception to operation. The Super Hard-On was a one-afternoon design.

(Here’s a demo video of the Zvex Candela Vibrophase courtesy of EytschPi42. – Ed.)

Q: How do you come up with your ideas for the function of a pedal?

Sometimes it’s need (the Super Hard-On was definitely based on my experiences as a recording engineer) and other times it’s just sheer creativity (Candela). Often it’s expansion of previous ideas (the Double Rock) or adaptation of the sound of another pedal (Instant Lo-Fi Junky based on the sound of the Lo-Fi Loop Junky).

Q: The visual element of your pedals is very strong.  Do you come up with that as you’re making the pedal itself, or is that taken care of afterwards?

After, always.

Q: You have a number of different types of pedals.  Is there a “type” of pedal that you enjoy making more than any other type?

Over time I’ve shifted toward devices that are particularly unusual. There’s a lot of things that never made it to market, like my candle-powered portable tube amplifier (for camping, perhaps). Right now I like working on weird things more than anything, but out of sheer practicality I have had to introduce vertical versions of my most popular pedals just so people can fit them on pedalboards better.

Q: You seem to have a lot of famous admirers who use your gear, and each of them seems to have their favourite that they use as part of their rig.  Are you ever surprised as to how certain people implement your pedals into their sound?

Not really. Except for Matt Bellamy (turning FF knobs during performance and incorporating retuned squealing into the melody) and Alan Sparhawk (who uses the Octane to get this texture I’ve never achieved myself) most performers use sounds that are similar to the demos we make at the shop.

(Here’s a video from back in the day of Alan Sparhawk of Low playing with sound and using some Zvex pedals. – Ed.)

Q: Your pedals themselves seem to be the result of some experimentation on your part.  Do you feel the same way about the people who use your pedals – that they should experiment?

Sure!

Q: How durable do you feel your pedals are?

We try to make them pretty sturdy. When they come back for repair we study what their weaknesses are and redesign them to solve any problems we identify. Now that most musicians use pedalboards, physically pedals are pretty well protected during travel.

Q: Do you have a favourite of your own pedals, or are they all like your children and you can’t choose a favourite? 🙂

Candela Vibrophase and the the newer Vibrophase pedal, by far, right now.

Q: You seem to have fairly far reaching distribution.  How long did it take to set up that network?

We’re not done yet! 23 years so far, in June of 2018.

Q: Is this all you doing this??  No, it can’t be…

At the shop, working our way from west to east, the offices are Erik, Charles, Lisa, Fran, Tommy, Ali, me and Tracy. Outside the shop there’s Dan, Shoua, Mike, and Kris, and someone whose name escapes me at the moment. Beyond that there are tons of people who are outside vendors… I couldn’t begin to identify all of them.

Q: At what point did you integrate “design your own custom pedal” into your business?

Are you talking about the Inventobox? That did not sell. We’ve only sold a handful. It was not a good idea… maybe for a school or something.

Q: How strong is your affection for things that contain tubes?

I think that they’re wonderful for driving speakers. I only use tube amps for audio of all types, except in my car or in PA systems.

Q: What would you want people to know about your pedals that they might not already know? (ie. they are built for zero G environments)

We use a lot of pure gold leaf for decoration on some of the hand-painted units. We buy lots of strange things off Etsy and Ebay to decorate with as well. Some of our paint processes include floating the pedal enclosures in water. Lately I’ve been experimenting with explosive processes.

Q: How does someone get their hands on a catalog of yours?

I’m sure you can get the 2018 NAMM catalog from Erik or Charles by writing to sales at zvex.com.

Q: I see you have some warranties in place, as well as a FAQ for common problems, but I see you also do repairs.  That’s pretty cool of you to offer that.  I take it that part of offering that is to make sure, on your part, that repairs are rarely necessary (hence always aiming for the highest quality product possible). True?

We have lifetime warranties on our hand-painted products (my lifetime) and two year warranties for other products if you register them with us (on the website). All sorts of things go wrong with pedals. Bad power supplies can blow them up, water or beer can short them out, they can be crushed by the band van, get their knobs kicked off by steel-toed boots… who knows! We’re here to help. We’ve even done a warranty repair on a woolly mammoth that was destroyed by a basement flood and lost under a washing machine for more than a year. It was completely destroyed inside by corrosion, but we replaced everything after cleaning up the box. The paint job was interesting at that point but the customer wanted to keep its patina as proof of it’s destruction.

(Here’s a cool demo video of the Wooly Mammoth pedal from Thiago Consorti over on Youtube. – Ed.)

Q: Does your rig have any pedals that aren’t made by you?

Sure! I have a few pedals that have been part of my collection since the early 80s. The Pearl PH-44 phaser and EH Attack-Decay come to mind. I’ve always loved the Big Muff Pi and I have a couple of chrome ones with black and red silkscreen, and I occasionally use the POG and HOG and have modified both for external voltage control. I’ve got an MXR green analog delay (with AC cord) and an old grey ROSS compressor, an MXR rack mount analog flanger-doubler, and I used to have one of those MXR touch-knob pitch shifters but I replaced it with a BOSS half-rack thing that sounded amazing in reverse mode but after I blew up a bunch of them with too-tall signals I gave up on that unit. It actually couldn’t take a Big Muff Pi signal without frying after a few hours, sadly. I have a Pearl Octaver that was modded extensively by Chuck Zwicky so that the high octave is mind-blowingly bright, and in the opposite direction, a Maestro Octave Box which I modified with a twist-tie (that’s right, a wire twist tie like you find at the grocery store) that has the most glorious unpredictable sub-octave shakiness. I used to use that with a Fuzz Factory when I jammed with John Kuker, who died a few years ago, sadly. Strange story about John… he was the drummer for the Breeders for a few months many years ago, and they practiced in Minneapolis, and John asked me to audition to be the guitarist and I passed because I was too busy with my company to tour. He was adamant that I’d be perfect for the band because of my weird chords and strange sounds. The choices we have to make, right?

Rock on!

The Different Types of Electric Guitar

When they first appeared, electric guitars were thought to be just a gimmick. However, it didn’t take long for them to completely take over the mainstream. With that said, not every guitar is the same. Knowing the difference between various electric guitars can be pretty important especially if you are looking to start playing this instrument. Since there is so much information out there which can be quite confusing, we have decided to create a short guide for your convenience. By the time you are done reading this article, you should have a firm grasp on the most important types of electric guitars and how they affect one’s tone.

Solid Body VS Semi Hollow/Hollow Body

Even though semi hollow and hollow body guitars are extremely rare these days, that wasn’t the case back in the early age of electric guitars. A hollow or semi hollow guitar is one whose body isn’t made of solid wood. Instead, you have chambers similar to that of an acoustic guitar, but much smaller. The difference between the semi hollow and hollow guitars is in the size of those chambers.

Aside from being much harder to manufacture or build by hand, these type of guitars also require a higher maintenance. In most cases they come with complicated bridges and tailpieces, all of which need to be fine tuned to perfection.

Semi hollow and hollow guitars are used mostly in Jazz these days. The reason for this is their quite unique sound which incorporates the added gain of an electric instrument with the rather delicate sound profile of an acoustic instrument. With that said, these traits are both a benefit and a flaw depending on which genre of music you are interested in playing.

Here’s a sample of the sound of a hollow body guitar, with a version of Autumn Leaves by Ryan Stewart.  Nice!

Up next – solid body guitars.  Solid body guitars represent the next level of guitar’s evolution and are the most popular choice today. The very first commercially successful solid body design is said to be Fender’s Telecaster. However that is if we disregard Rickenbacker’s Frying Pan lap steel model from 1930s.

Single Coil Or Humbucker Electronics

Now that we have that classification out of the way, lets talk about something that will actually be of consequence to you specifically. When first entering the world of electric guitars, most newcomers are blissfully unaware that there is a difference between single coil pickups and humbuckers. As a matter of fact, chances are that they don’t even know what these terms mean. Don’t worry, we are going to get that sorted out in a moment.

Single Coil Pickups

Single coils are the oldest type of magnetic pickup used on guitars. The name ‘single coil’ is pretty self explanatory. If you were to take one of these pickups apart, you would find a single coil of wire wrapped around several (depending on the number of strings) permanent magnets. When you strum a cord, or pick a string, that vibration is passes through the magnetic field of the pickup and is ‘picked up’.

There is more to this but since this is not a physics class, lets move on. The main benefit of single coil pickups is their clarity and precision. This is why you mostly see them being used for Blues, Jazz and Rock.

However, keep in mind that single coils aren’t without flaws. For starters, they aren’t too great if you are a fan of heavy distortion. That is not the worst of it either. Single coil pickups suffer from what is called ‘single coil hum’. In essence, a single coil pickup is an antenna that is prone to picking up signals it should but also shouldn’t pick up. This is especially present in affordable single coil pickups and can be extremely annoying.

Humbuckers

A humbucker was partially designed to kill the noise and be much less prone to interference than a single coil. What a humbucker does great is meaty tone, especially if you are a fan of heavy distortion.

The fact that even the cheapest humbucker will be quit compared to a mid level single coil tells a lot about why these are so popular. If you are just starting out, we definitely suggest that you look into guitars that have humbuckers on. You will have a much easier time dialing in a good sound and you won’t have to deal with too much noise.

Here’s a great video by Darrell Braun that talks about the difference between single coil vs. humbucker.  Check it out.

Active VS Passive

Last but not least, we need to mention active and passive electronics. The difference between these two comes down to whether or not a pickup is using an auxiliary source of power. Most guitars these days are still passive for a variety of reasons. Something like a Fender Stratocaster or a Gibson Les Paul still come out of the factory with passive pickups installed.

So why do active pickups exist?

Somewhere down the road we have figured out that if you infuse the signal with gain on the guitar’s end, before it reaches the amp, that you can get pretty interesting results.

In most cases, the benefits include a clearer, sharper and much more powerful tone that is simply more consistent. This is why guitarists who play metal really like to their active humbuckers. The amount of distortion and gain these can take is impressive.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that passive pickups are bad or inferior in any way. Passive pickups are much more expressive and delicate, thus allowing you to be more creative. On top of that, passive pickups are much cheaper, which is definitely a factor when you are just starting out. In the end, these are just different tools for different jobs.

Here’s a great video by Charlie Parra talking about the difference between active and passive pickups.  Check it out.

Final Thoughts

The categories we have listed above are the most important ones you you will run into when choosing an electric guitar. Arguably, there are many more categories and sub categories out there, but those require a much deeper discussion. Either way, with this info you should be able to figure out what to get and what not to get depending on your taste in music and your abilities.

Stefano Nomakills Interview

Hey guys, Coconut here.  Today I had a chance to interview one of my guitar heroes of recent times, the genuinely talented one man thrash-a-thon, Stefano Nomakills, or N-O-M-A, who hails from Orléans, France.  He is most often seen rocking out in his room with hair flailing madly.

Nomakills, or N-O-M-A, has been posting videos on Youtube for over a decade now, and he’s someone that I came across randomly while journeying down the Youtube rabbit-hole watching guitar covers of different stuff.  Once I saw a few of his guitar covers, I was blown away.  Not only can he play, but he gets right into it.  It is something that I as a guitar player enjoy watching – authenticity.  To my knowledge, N-O-M-A is known by his fans of being kind of a no bullshit guitar rocking guy who can really tear through just about any guitar-based music he wants, from Nirvana, to Dream Theatre, to Periphery, to Meshuggah, and the list goes on and on.  

Here’s a sample of some of his playing, straight from the NOMAKILLS Youtube Channel.  This is a recent video he has posted covering Nomad by Sepultura.  Sick as usual.

Of course it is also worth noting that N-O-M-A is a musical group (with Cici Addams of Sassy) with 16 albums to its name by this point.  They are all available over on his NOMAKILLS Bandcamp page here.  Each album is fully conceived and self-produced, so that’s also something that I respect and find very inspiring.  He has appeared playing his band’s stuff on television, and for many live gigs.  I hear traces of stuff like KMFDM and Meat Beat Manifesto in his original music, but maybe that’s just my delusional mind.  Here’s a clip of his band N-O-M-A playing live in 2016.

So yeah, it is with great pleasure that I present you with my little interview with N-O-M-A.  I should mention that this interview is unedited and completely in it’s raw form.  No spelling or grammar fixes.  I just ask what I ask and he gives his answer.  Fuck editing! 🙂

Coconut:  You got a lot of albums. And the styles change sometimes, but there’s a consistency to them…the industrial edge, the electro elements, the fun nihilism.

N-O-M-A: Yes I love industrial/black and thrash things and the alternative grunge and punk things …. So depends on the mood of the day , every songs are a part of the mood I have the day I do it .

Coconut: Played any crazy live shows lately?

N-O-M-A: Sadly not , i hope to redo some gigs soon .

Coconut:  Do you have a lot of gear to get this sonic assault or is it more minimal for the making of these albums?  Like how do you go about making an album? Do you just grab a couple guitars and a few other things or do you whip out absolutely everything and use it all?

N-O-M-A: I use everything most of the time , I like changing guitars on each track , just for fun . I change my recording method in every record .

Coconut:  Where do you do your vocals? In a booth? At the edge of an active volcano with a really long extension cord?

N-O-M-A: No no , i’m my room , at home:)

Coconut:  Have your rig / recording gear changed a lot over the years? Has it grown, shrunk, been stolen, etc.? I see there’s quite a few guitars, which I can understand. Fate has chosen thee.

N-O-M-A: Yes I ve sell some guitars but still having a lot , a fender army , and some other brand these last years , story to change (musicman , ibanez, schecter, prs …) My favorite guitar are fenders

Coconut:  What was the age where you realized you must shred in the name of Jesus?

N-O-M-A: 12

Coconut:  You produce this crazy stuff yourself? Who’s your Mutt Lange (producer / hit maker)?

N-O-M-A: YES ! I do everything : audio , visual … I dont’ have a mentor concerning production , I do the best I can learning by myself

Coconut:  Do you have a favourite NOMA album?

N-O-M-A: I have hm … 16 records ? My favorite are probably the first one , as drunk as fuck, blank generation … I like my « punk » albums more than my metal ones . But in every records there are song I dig a lot . Every song is a small chapter of my life

Listen to this one on N-O-M-A’s Bandcamp

Coconut:  You’ve been on Youtube for a long time now (over 10 years). What’s new these days when it comes to Youtube? Got lots of haters?

N-O-M-A: People say nice things most of the time , I probably have 98% of nice message , no haters in general . Maybe cause I m not faking it .

Coconut:  I first discovered you through your many covers of stuff like Nirvana and Metallica. How long did it take you to learn Incesticide for instance?

N-O-M-A: Incesticide was part of the very first album I learn , all the nirvana and metallica was learned in the mid 90’s , so yes , i took many hours to learn them , dont know how many , but a lot .

Coconut:  Do you still like making Youtube videos or has the love died by this point?

N-O-M-A: I have less time for youtube , and yea … after 800 videos , quite everything is said , I want to focus more on my own music , I still do covers sometimes , but youtube becomes a too big dump

Coconut:  Are you aware of the Noma Super GT Snow Racer?

N-O-M-A: hahahaa

Coconut:  What kind of recording setup do you have for your Youtube vids? Ie. camera, mics, software,

N-O-M-A: I use a zoom Q3 HD cam (and it s dying ) , i begin with a phone that capture both image and audio , now I record the sound in the soundcard with my amp miced, or axe fx 2, in ableton live

Coconut:  You’ve got a new album, Silence. How’s that going?

N-O-M-A: Sadly , this record need more promotion I think , i have spend a lot of time doing it , but people dont really gives a fuck . With luck I do albums for myself , first .

Coconut:  What’s up with Sassy these days? (N-O-M-A’s other project with Cici Addams)

N-O-M-A: Sassy is composing a new album , i hope we will  record it soon .

Check out Sassy on Bandcamp

Coconut:  Nice logo. Who designed it?

N-O-M-A: I do the visuals

Coconut:  There is some enjoyable nihilism on your albums. Do you enjoy a good bout of nihilism?

N-O-M-A: You feel nihilism ? Maybe . I hate people since I’m born  globally , so maybe that’s it .

Coconut:  Anything else you’d like to add?

N-O-M-A: Thanks to all the people who enjoy noma and my youtube videos . And thanks to you for the « interview !

Here’s one more for the road, folks…

Interview with Sarah Jane Curran of The Violet Stones

Today I spoke with Sarah Jane Curran, an alternative rocker and lead singer for the band The Violet Stones out of Sydney, Australia.  I came across her music recently on Youtube (where she goes by Sarah Jane Music) and was impressed at all of the material on there, from original songs she’s written herself and with her band, as well as vlogs, live cuts, and a ton of cool covers of everyone’s favourite grunge rock classics (including weird B-sides and deep cuts).

Not only is Sarah a talented songwriter, but she can sing and pull off a number of different styles.  Her channel is gaining momentum as I guess people like me stumble across her looking up old and new grunge style rock and metal, and her following grows as her band The Violet Stones do more gigs across Australia.  A new album is also in the works.  Here is our conversation which touches on a number of topics from this to that (and even *that*).  Hope you dig it!

YC: Hey Sarah, how’s it going tonight?

SJM: It’s going pretty good thanks!

YC: Cool cool.  So how’s the Australian music scene these days?

SJM: I don’t really have anything to compare it to honestly but I’ve just started playing around the scene last year and I think it is struggling a bit (mostly around the Sydney area). Although with bigger artists, I think it’s pretty good but it’s harder for smaller acts to get a following around here.

YC: Who’s big there now that everyone loves from the rock world…ermm.. Jet?

SJM: haha I don’t really hear about them tbh. But there’s this one band in particular called Tired Lion and they’re probably one of my favourite bands at the moment but they’re from Perth & I watched them gain more and more people at their shows every time they come back and they have a pretty decent following in every state I think.

SJM: Other bands that are big are bands like Violent Soho & Dune Rats. I guess that’s the sort of genre that is dominating the ‘alternative’ music scene at the moment. (Heavily influenced by grunge).

YC:  Silverchair are done right? They’re like classic rock now i guess.. but they’re like a year younger than me so I remember when they came out I was like who are these little geeks?  That was the second wave of grunge… post Cobain

SJM: haha the early Silverchair albums are probably a huge influence of Australian ‘grunge’. I’ve seen soooo many bands trying to be them

YC: And meanwhile they just wanted to be Helmet

SJM: If they were still around I’m sure they’d be one of the biggest bands here

YC: I think they were always slightly misunderstood in that they were more like Helmet than Nirvana but people just saw them as a mini Nirvana in the 90s

SJM: Yeah I never thought they sounded too similar to Nirvana but that’s what they’re sort of known for (for being the Australian Nirvana). My dad calls them ‘Nirvana in Pajamas’ hahahha

YC: awww.. cute.  they’re a solid band.. I heard Daniel’s solo album and i thought it was half decent, even though it was like not rock at all as i recall.  First few albums were pretty ass kicking.  So your band.. is playing shows and such?

SJM: I actually saw Daniel Johns live! Yeah we are playing shows, and actually in the middle of recording our first album

YC: Daniel has a killer voice and rocks some mean riffs…anyway…How’s that going? I’m listening to Sheets of Denial.. pretty good for a demo…

SJM: It’s going pretty good, we’re getting our name out slowly amongst the Sydney scene. Thanks!

YC: I mean it sounds like not really a demo…how did you record that one?

SJM: We practice with an electric drum kit and plug our guitars straight into a console and it comes out into headphones that we all wear (so basically we can practice without making a lot of noise). And that demo was actually made I think the night we made the song, cause we record the songs so that we remember what we did ?

YC: Yeah. i can relate.. it’s easy to forget stuff…so wait that song has electronic drums?  nahh

SJM: yeah it was recorded on an electric kit haha

YC: so what made you want to learn like 8 million covers?

SJM: hahah I guess in my early teens when I was just getting into Nirvana I decided to learn a lot of the songs cause you know, being able to play your favourite songs is pretty cool. So I did that and my friends and family were encouraging me to post them on youtube and I eventually did and people actually wanted more! I still post them because I guess it forces me to still learn songs even if I don’t feel like it and I guess it’s good for me to listen and try out new things with the covers

YC: lol yeah that makes sense…i mean having people pay attention helps motivation

SJM: yeah definitely hahah

YC: i’ve learned a lot of covers, but i can’t seem to get up the motivation to post them on my channel…i just post originals that no one listens to ? but you probably are aware that youtube’s algorithm kind of craves the stuff you’re doing.. ie. covers of famous songs…that’s how i came across you i think.. i was randomly looking up people covering Alice in Chains songs…

SJM: hahah yeah it really sucks how no one really cares that much about originals unless you’re already known for something else. Yeah, I guess thats part of the reason I do them still.  Cause of course I don’t wanna always wanna do covers, I much rather play my own songs

YC: i’m in a band with a guy that actually despises doing covers. like, i’d be game to be in a covers band if it was cool covers.  but he’s got a real hate for covers bands. cause it pushes original bands out of venues. he has a point i think

SJM: Yeah and theres a real market for cover bands over here.

YC: but people want covers…it pays the bar’s bills and shit

SJM: Yeah guess so, but it sucks. It’s really a hard market to break through in with your original music

YC: but your channel seems to be doing really well from what i can tell

SJM: Doing better than I ever expected like I had no idea what I did right

YC: well i do internet marketing for a living, so i know what i think you’re doing right

SJM: what did I do right then? hahah

YC: well…for one, youtube likes consistency. so you keep doing the same thing in the same format and that’s something youtube likes .. or like, the robots that control youtube. most people are unbelievably retarded and inconsistent

SJM: hahah yeah i knew that consistency was important, thats why I try upload once a week

YC: google / youtube likes to see a really consistent thing happening.. same look, same room, person, blah blah

SJM: ah cool thats good to know

YC: like if you’re too scatterbrained, and everything looks crazily different, youtube will be like “sorry bro”…it’s just like a theme, and also you’re not pissing off the family friendly part of the algorithm…and you’re a girl

SJM: True

YC: so the millions of freaks out there like girls as a rule…i’m not trying to say anything sexist lol but i mean.. it’s not my fault the world is sexist ? there’s probably some marketing thing where people trust girls more or something

SJM: No I know what you mean and I totally agree like I think people can’t get over the fact that a girl is singing and playing guitar on a System of a Down song. I think like 80% of my audience are dudes as well. think thats what my youtube stats say

YC: yeah.. it makes sense. well the other thing is musicians are notorious for not understanding marketing. it’s just not part of their mentality. so for instance the fact you can even interpret youtube stats .. or even know they exist. people in bands could give a fuck about that shit and when they do look at it, they don’t know what the fuck to make of it, and musicians from older generations are double screwed cause they just don’t get technology as it is today

SJM: hahah I think I’m very on top of things and very organized. Like I keep my band in order and I used to be the only one posted anything to our facebook page (they’ve started contributing more recently). my dads one of those people who doesn’t understand how to advertise or anything. 

YC: yeah my band has a FB page but even i hate using it

 

SJM: it gets tiring but Facebooks been pretty good for my band. but I don’t think it does much for my youtube channel besides advertising and such

YC: i think it’s cool you have a really well rounded social media thing going on.. even on your youtube, you have the vlogs too, originals, covers, live shit

YC: it’s basically a sign that you and your band have your shit together

SJM: hahah I guess so

YC: so who are your biggest influences? i guess you’re big into Nirvana

SJM: yeah well I don’t really listen to them much now, but they’re basically my roots

YC: you’re covering b-sides and whatnot.. so not like.. average fan of Nevermind type thing. i notice with Nirvana you kind of sing the stuff he screams

SJM: um yeah. It’s because I can’t scream at the moment. I really want to though

YC: well you have the kind of voice that might get wrecked if you scream your lungs out

SJM: yeah I have tried and every time I do it, my throat hurts and thats not suppose to happen. But I got really into Korn recently..And other bands System of a down, Incubus, Hole, Foo Fighters, Tired Lion.

 

 

YC: how do you go about learning a korn song?

SJM: well its way more difficult since the guitarist use a 7 string so I basically find the tabs and have to transpose it into a way I can play it in standard

YC: yeah i was thinkin.. this isn’t standard. Who are some of your favourite players? like.. did you learn Korn because you’re obsessed with Fieldy? Fieldy crush?

SJM: haha nope I have a young Jonathon Davis crush. nah but I really love their songs and melodies and how its still heavy

YC: ah i see.. yeah chicks dig Jonathon

YC: I see your Cranberries cover got some traction eh

SJM: It did only after Dolores death though

YC: right.. yeah. who’s your fav guitar player at the moment?

SJM: I don’t really have favourite guitar players to be honest. I focus more on people’s ability to write songs and melodies

 

YC: yeah i feel ya on that.. it’s more about songs. so to tie it back to your album for a sec, when’s it gonna be done?

SJM: the bands album?

YC: yeah..

SJM: Should be done by the end of the year. We’re doing it diy so it doesnt really have a deadline or anything

YC: is there kind of a goal you have with this album? ie make it the heaviest fucking album of all time

SJM: We just want to get our stuff out there and have something to give to people when they ask us if we have an album or EP. Like we get asked after gigs often if we have anything released and we have to say no

YC: man.. you have nothing? for someone who records so much shit and does so much youtube, you should at least have something…….

SJM: That’s what we’re doing now hahah I guess because we didn’t know how we were gonna go about it like we’re broke and so we needed to find a cheaper option to record and we found it eventually. and we have demos and stuff out, enough to keep people somewhat interested

YC: so what do you give people? a USB? with demos? or nothing

SJM: Nah we don’t give them anything, they can just check out stuff online if they really wanted to

YC: hm well then!  one more question – what are you recording stuff with ie. software?

SJM: We’re using Sonar X1. Basically my dads helping us out a lot with this and we’re just using what he has. We recorded the drums in a church and we had to set up everything from scratch and that was very interesting haha

YC: So you’re tracking things one by one, not doing live off the floor. that’s cool though, sounds like fun

SJM: nah we don’t have the set up for that and yeah it’s kinda good not having a deadline but also we just want it done. we kinda just want this album out of the way so we can start our next one because we like the new songs a lot more. just gotta do guitars, vocals and the mixing/mastering.

YC: Awesome.  well it was cool to talk to ya.  thanks for taking the time

SJM: yeah dude, thanks for the chat!

Jane’s Addiction – A History of The Band that Pioneered Grunge and Alternative Metal

Jane's addiction

Jane’s Addiction is an American rock band created in the mid-1980s in Los Angeles, consisting of Perry Farrell (vocals), Dave Navarro (guitar), Stephen Perkins (drums), and Eric Avery (bass). They significantly influenced alternative music in many ways great and small, and the band is widely regarded in alternative circles as a pioneer of grunge and alternative metal. Their most popular songs include radio staples “Jane Says”, “Been Caught Stealing”, “Mountain Song” and “Just Because”, but they are generally not considered a pop band. 

Jane's Addiction band members

L.A.’s Favourite Sons

Jane’s Addiction took influence from the hard rock of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as funk, which really set them apart from the pack. In particular, their music calls upon the spirit of bands like Led Zeppelin (to name one big influence) in terms of monster riffage.  At one point in time, the band came across more like a California hippy drug damaged surrealist version of some of the 60’s and 70’s biggest rock bands, who, to be fair, were pretty drugged out to begin with.  Additionally, they often used world music stylings in their music (a la Zeppelin) and for this are often considered a precursor to the crossover genre that birthed alt rock, along with Boston’s Pixies and a number of other rock weirdos.

Jane’s Addiction combined all these different styles of music with semi-religious sacral symbolism, giving them a pagan vibe that made them seem uniquely “culty” for lack of a better term.  They were decidedly freakier than many of the L.A. bands of the 80’s when they arrived on the scene, and this oddness made them different from normal shredding rock bands of the time.

Album covers, song lyrics and concert performances often displayed sexual representations based on home made artwork, and for this reason some covers were censored. The albums are still available in censored and uncensored versions.

Nothing's Shocking album

Read our review of Nothing’s Shocking


History of Jane’s Addiction

The band emerged in 1985 from the cast change of Perry Farrell’s first band, Psi Com. He initially sought a new bassist, whereupon he met Eric Avery. However, Psi Com broke up before the band made an appearance with Avery. Soon after, Avery’s sister introduced the two to drummer Stephen Perkins, who in turn brought in a guitarist, Dave Navarro.  The band quickly fell into place.

Jane's Addiction

Navarro was a former band colleague of Perkins’, and it was Navarro who made the name suggestion “Jane’s Addiction” in reference to a roommate of Farrell’s. Two years later, the band released the Triple X debut album Jane’s Addiction, which was followed in 1988 by Nothing’s Shocking

janes-addiction-triple x debut album review

Read our review of Jane’s Addiction’s Triple X Debut Album

After the release of their second studio album in 1990, Ritual de lo Habitual, the band decided to break up and started a farewell tour in 1991, featuring some of the band’s friends, goth greats Siouxsie and the Banshees and metal-funk hybrid Living Colour.

Ritual de lo habitual album cover

Read our review of Ritual de lo Habitual


Lollapalooza

From this tour, the first Lollapalooza was launched. Lollapalooza has since become a popular alternative rock festival – legendary, in fact. 

Read: Holla at Lolla – Lollapalooza and How It Has Evolved

One of the reasons it became such a big deal is because it was the first major outdoor rock festival to invite all manner of rock acts into its midst, from metal, to rap, rock, and on and on.  Bands who would never be seen together were here all on the same bill.

Porno for Pyros / Red Hot Chili Peppers

Singer Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins soon started the project Porno for Pyros, whose success, however, could not rival that of Jane’s Addiction. The other band members went on to some smaller projects.

Guitarist Dave Navarro joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1993 for five years. The resulting album One Hot Minute sold moderately, but there were murmurings that it was a failure, due to it not out-selling their previous mega-hit album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  Of course, we all know that One Hot Minute is an amazing album and a special entry into the RHCP catalog with great tracks like “Warped” and “Aeroplane”, carrying that distinct Navarro vibe.  Be that as it may, Dave Navarro eventually left the band and returned to his “home base” of Jane’s Addiction in time for their ’97 reuinion.

In 1997, the band gathered together for a few live performances with Michael “Flea” Balzary of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, as Eric Avery had long since left.  They also released an album of unpublished studio and live recordings.  

In 2003, the band reunited with Chris Chaney on bass, releasing the album Strays for a successful reunion before disbanding once again. “Just Because” was their first single, and they played the shit out of it for a while to promote the album.  The song “Superhero” from this album snuck in to popular culture and became the title song for the American television series Entourage. 

2008 saw the original lineup embark on a world tour. They then released their fourth studio album, The Great Escape Artist, in 2011. In 2016, Jane’s Addiction was finally and deservedly nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…although they’re still not in it!!!

Alice In Chains – Band History and Profile

Alice in Chains is a band from Seattle, Washington. Formed in 1987 by guitarist Jerry Cantrell and singer Layne Staley (RIP), this is one of the most acclaimed hard rock / metal bands of all time, beloved by fans everywhere, and considered part of the Big Four of legendary Seattle bands, alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

Musical Style

The musical style of Alice In Chains includes dark and heavy rhythms, but, whereas your average metal band might involve more of what you might call yelling and/or screaming, AiC is actually very melodic and tonally rich and varied, with many different guitar effects being employed at one time or another. This variety in their overall sound makes the exact musical classification of the band, in terms of which genre they belong to, difficult. That said, the band is generally categorized by the media as “grunge” (and who trusts the media these days? right, no one), which is a designation the band generally don’t associate themselves with.  However, to be fair, and by their own admittance, AiC are generally more inspired by heavy metal from the 1970’s, containing elements from the heavy hammering riffs of Black Sabbath and the more melodic hard rock elements close to the musical style of Led Zeppelin, including intricate and hypnotic rhythms, intertwined with softer compositions over the course of an LP, and often enough they have been known to go straight up acoustic style (ie. their famous Unplugged album, Sap, Jar of Flies, etc.). Harmonized vocal lines are another distinct feature of the group, which puts them in line with several other categories of music, such as soul and pop rock bands from yesteryear.  The point is, you never know what you’re going to get.  You might get brutal riffs, you might get…strings.

The group gained international fame with their breakthrough album Dirt, and the first promotional single from the album, Would?, became one of the most popular staples of hard rock in the 1990’s.  The album, for those of us who know it well, is one classic after another, but it did include other “big” songs as well such as Rooster, Down in a Hole, Angry Chair and Them Bones, which get airplay depending on the station you listen to.

The group has more than 25 million albums sold worldwide, including 14 million in the United States.  After their breakthrough release with Dirt and their rise to glory around the world with mosh pits filling up quick, AiC’s albums such Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains (self titled album with the three-legged dog, aka Tripod) went on to reach the top chart rankings in the US and abroad. Jar of Flies is the first EP to reach top of the charts for this type of music, which is to say, a hard rock band treating their audience to a softer sound for the duration of an entire disc. The band also received several Grammy’s over the years for a variety of their hard rock performances. Grammy’s, while they mean practically nothing to hardcore fans, are a somewhat ironic touch to a band that touches on such perilous issues as they do.

The band never officially quit, but when the singer Layne Staley died in April 2002, they understandably suspended their touring and recording activities until 2005, when Staley was replaced by singer William DuVall.  It was a devastating time for the band, their families, and fans, but of course the public was glad to have them come back when they did.  Anyway, let’s delve into the band’s history and go from there.

Formation and Beginnings (1984-1989)

In 1984, Shorewood High School students Johnny Bacolas (guitar), Zoli Semanate (guitar), Byron Hansen (bass), and James Bergstrom (drums) formed a glam group named Sleze. The singer position was handed over to a Meadowdale High School student, Layne Staley (originally a drummer himself), who attended an audition for the vocalist position at the urging of his step-brother Ken Elmer.

Now…get a load of this!  It’s Sleze playing live in 1985 at Lakeside High School, and it’s posted on Johnny Bacolas’s own Youtube channel.  I say give the guy a sub, c’mon!  This is just gold.

After the formation of the group, the group began jamming in the garage of Bacolas. In 1986, guitarist Nick Pollock joins the group, and the band is renamed Alice N’ Chains due to concerns that calling the band Alice in Chains would conjure images of female bondage, which the band had reservations about being linked to at the time.

Bacolas has described the band’s early music as a mix of glam and thrash metal, which it clearly was. On stage, band members wore makeup and latex outfits, as was a common popular style at the time. The musical style of Alice N’ Chains was strongly inspired by the compositions of the group Poison, and similar glammy bands at the time. The band’s most famous song that came from this time period is the song Queen of the Rodeo (appearing later on Facelift), composed by Staley and Jett Silvera, which would be revitalized by Alice in Chains in its classic formation not long after. 

Here’s an actual video clip of Alice N’ Chains from 1986.  Wow.

The group went on to record two demos a year later, attempting to solidify their sound. The first of these demos is recorded in 1986 at the London Bridge Studio in Seattle, produced by Tim Branom.  The demo is recorded for 1600 dollars and limited to only 100 copies. The second album is recorded in 1987 in a home studio but self-produced by the group. During concerts, the band often performed covers of bands such as Armored Saint and Slayer. Later that year, the musical project was officially dissolved.  Guitarist Nick Pollock forms, with members of Mistrust, the group My Sister’s Machine in 1989. Staley, at this point, moves into a rehearsal space called Music Bank, we he lived for a time.

In 1987, Diamond Lie guitar player Jerry Cantrell saw Layne Staley’s band Alice N’ Chains play at Tacoma Little Theatre, and took note of Layne’s powerful voice.  Not long after, the two bump into each other at a party and hit it off, and a then-homeless Cantrell moved in with Staley at the Music Bank. 

It was at this tumultuous time that many things happened quickly.  At this time, Cantrell’s band Diamond Lie broke up, leaving Jerry to start looking to put together a new band.  Jerry looked to his new friend Layne as a potential member, but Layne suddenly decided to join a funk band and was trying to bring Jerry into that band, rather than start a new band with him.  At this same time, Jerry, through Layne, was introduced to Sean Kinney (drums) and Mike Starr (bass), two old friends who had been in bands since they were kids and had an excellent musical rapore.  After hearing Cantrell’s demos, Kinney and Starr joined up with Cantrell and started trying to find a singer.  Clearly, they had their eye on one Layne Staley, but Layne was busy trying to persuade Jerry to join the funk band, which he did, so long as Layne would sing in Jerry’s new band with Mike and Sean.  That arrangement of double duty didn’t last long, and, after Jerry brought in a male stripper to sing in his band, which Layne witnessed, he finally broke down and joined the others to form the classic lineup of what would soon be called… wait for it…

Alice In Chains

It wasn’t long before this new band started playing the club circuit throughout Washington State, stretching 15 minutes of original material that they had into an engaging 45 minute set. The group played a few concerts under different names, such as Lie Diamond, which was a variation on Cantrell’s previous band, before finally opting for the name the former group of Staley had flirted with – Alice in Chains, to the dismay of anti-bondage advocates everywhere.

At one of these early AiC concerts, a local promoter by the name of Randy Hauser discovered the band and offered to fund a demo for the band. In a strange turn of events, the day prior to when the group were to record at the Music Bank studio in Washington, the police closed the studio for what was then considered the largest seizure of cannabis in the history of the state of Washington.  The band was not to be deterred, and did a demo elsewhere, which was eventually dubbed “The Treehouse Tapes”. 

There was a second untitled demo, which took 3 months to make, but it only retains posterity on the bootleg Sweet Alice.  However, this first Alice demo (Treehouse Tapes), completed in 1988, was picked up by Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver, who also famously managed Soundgarden (one of the Big Four). Curtis and Silver presented the demo to Columbia Records representative Nick Terzo, who loved it and then immediately scheduled a meeting with the label’s president, Don Ienner, to get his opinion on what he considered to be a potential “next big thing” with Alice in Chains. Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Ienner signed Alice in Chains to Columbia in 1989. The band also recorded another demo, which was untitled, over a period of three months in 1989. This recording can be heard on the bootleg Sweet Alice.

Facelift and Sap (1990-1992)

In terms of emerging metal bands, Alice in Chains was talented and had enough cross-genre appeal to become the label’s new favourite act, and so it wasn’t long before their first EP, We Die Young, was issued in July of 1990. 

The single of the same name came out at this time as well, and was a hit among metal fans everywhere thanks to ample radio play.  The band was beginning to gain traction, and so the label pushed for the band to record their first LP with Dave Jerden in December of 1989 at London Bridge Studio in Seattle.  Having worked with a number of notable musicians and groups, including Herbie Hancock (Future Shock), Red Hot Chili Peppers (self titled), Brian Eno (My Life In The Bush of Ghosts), and Talking Heads (Remain In Light) to name a few, Jerden was more than ready to work his formidable studio magic with this hungry new band who came in with a ton of songs and ideas on how they wanted to sound.  Sean Kinney despite having a broken arm, recorded his drum parts and then dunked his arm in ice water between takes.  It’s worth noting that the Seattle scene had not yet “blown up”, and it was an album like Facelift that basically served to get everyone excited about what was going on in the Seattle scene, and the “sound” that was beginning to emerge.  It was a combination of talent, frustration, and, presumably, bad weather.

Here’s a little look at what was going on in studio for the Facelift sessions.

Facelift was unleashed onto the public on August 21, 1990, and climbed to position #42 on the Billboard charts. 

Despite its current legacy, the album did not immediately move millions of units.  In fact, it took six months to sell 40 000 copies.  That is, until “Man in the Box” was added to MTV and entered regular rotation during the day. 

This TV hype pushed the song up to a respectable 18 on modern rock radio, which was then followed up by Sea of Sorrow, to slightly less acclaim, although no less a good song.  No matter, Facelift had redefined what hard rock could be, and thousands of units were selling everywhere in the US.  It was right around this time that grunge-mania was beginning to take hold, with AiC leading the charge along with Soundgarden, followed by Nirvana and Pearl Jam a year later.  While all of this was happening, Alice in Chains was beginning to make the rounds and get known, playing shows with some of the biggest bands and artists in rock at the time, such as Van Halen, and Poison (their once heroes), not to mention Extreme, and even shirtless wildman Iggy Pop.  This served to grow the AiC audience, and the band was then added in 1991 to a tour that included Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax (Clash of the Titans), and, although they gained some new fans, they were broadly rejected by metal purists who probably were looking for a more of a speed metal thing.

Here’s an MTV feature showing all the bands talking about these gigs.  At least they didn’t get boo’ed off, right?

Once Alice came off that tour, they decided to strike while the iron was hot and go into the studio to record demos for their upcoming full length.  But, as it happened, they ended up recording Sap, which was based on an actual dream of drummer Sean Kinney who literally dreamed up the EP.  It ended up being an acoustic affair, and this lead to Sap being the bands second EP, coming out in March of 1992.  When Sap came out, Nevermind by Nirvana was kicking ass and taking names on Billboard, which then lead to an increased exposure of Alice in Chains, who had managed to first stir the boiling cauldron of angst only a year before.  As Seattle-based bands all began to see more sales, Sap was certified gold in just a couple of weeks.  The EP featured a few special guests, including Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, and even Ann Wilson of the band Heart came in to do some singing.

At the peak of grunge, Cameron Crowe released the movie Singles in 1992, in which AiC appeared as the house band at a bar.  On the soundtrack for the film, the song Would? was provided by the band to the soundtrack, which then received an MTV Video Award in 1993 for Best Video in a Film. Would? is one of the band’s staple songs, as fans know.

Here’s the band performing It Ain’t Like That in the film Singles as the good old “bar band”.

Dirt (1992–1993)

At the beginning of 1992, the band once again hit the studio to record their next official LP.  Fresh off the road, the band was clearly dealing with some major issues involving addiction, which informed many of the songs on the forthcoming album.  It would seem that the only way the band could exercise their demons was through performance, and many of these new songs came through this way.

Once September of 1992 rolled around, it was then that Alice released their second full album, which was called Dirt.  This was, and is, hands down the band’s best received album, a culmination of everything the band was working towards at this time, and it was well received by both fans and critics alike, being acknowledged as a front to back masterpiece of darkness and emotional turmoil, not to mention blistering performances by each band member.  Dirt hung around on the charts for years, and is widely played on radio stations to this day.  It was at this time that Layne broke his leg ATV’ing and had to be put on crutches for when they were added to Ozzy’s No Mour Tours tour.

Here’s Alice in Chains playing at the Hollywood Palladium in LA, December 15th, 1992.

At the outset of 1993, Mike Starr departed Alice in Chains to supposedly return to family life, although drugs were apparently a factor in his departure and there has been talk of a “firing” that occurred.  It was then that Mike Inez entered the fold, formerly of Ozzy Osbourne’s band.  With the addition of Inez, two songs were recorded for 1993’s Last Action Hero film soundtrack, which were “A Little Bitter”, and “What The Hell Have I”.  It was at this time that the band took their last major tour with Staley, including stops on the Lollapalooza festival.

Jar of Flies (1993-1994)

With Inez on board, Alice in Chains embarked on a huge world tour, solidifying their reputation as a world class hard rock band.  After they got off touring, their plan was just to hit the studio again as they are wont to do with some acoustic guitars and see how things develop.  The result of their jams in this new scenario actually went quite well – so well, in fact, that once the record company heard the results, they were floored by this new direction the band had taken, combining their earlier acoustic work with the grandoise song structures of Dirt to create something entirely different, that no one could have predicted.

January 25, 1994 saw the release of Jar of Flies, which amazingly was put together in just one week, and came in on Billboard charts at numero uno.  True to form, AiC broke a few more rules by having their EP be the first EP ever to top the Billboard charts, and it was also their first release that dominated the ranks so quickly.  Columbia Records, was, no doubt, quite pleased.

Moving 2 million units in the first year of it’s release, Jar of Flies was not only a fan favourite, but a critical smash, causing various media outlets to gush over the dark and brooding, and yet wonderfully put together batch of songs that included future radio staples, I Stay Away, No Excuses, Nutshell, and Don’t Follow. 

It was clear by this point that not only could AiC write an epic rock song, but they could write a classic campfire tune that would have guitar geeks retuning their guitars and perking up their ears in the same way that Led Zeppelin elicited with their mysterious and exotic tracks years before.  The other Seattle Big Four bands were obviously taking notes, with Nirvana releasing their classic MTV Unplugged album in November of that same year.  No one band could lay claim to recording acoustic tracks, as that’s rather ridiculous, but there was definitely something in the air around this time that saw various hard rock bands stripping down and issuing their more sensitive side to the public.

As you might expect, too much of a good thing always has its downside, and Alice in Chains actually broke up briefly around this time, as the band wasn’t communicating very well.  Their rigorous schedule was getting to them, and it was causing some problems.  Fortunately, this wasn’t a permanent condition.

Mad Season and Self-Titled Album (1995–1996)

In 1995, the group Mad Season was formed with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, The Walkabouts’ John Baker Saunders on bass, and vocals by Layne Staley.  They were called a “grunge supergroup”, and they recorded and released only one album called Above, featuring album art by Layne Staley.  This album got some radio play, with their single “River of Deceit”, a slower paced, melancholy, but still catchy and highly emotive song.

Bad Animals Studio located in Seattle was and is a studio ripe with cool bands going in and out, particularly around this time period of the early to mid 1990’s, and landmark albums including Soundgarden’s Superunknown and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy were recorded there. 

Visit Bad Animals website here

Come April 1995, Alice in Chains visited the studio and worked with Toby Wright, a producer known to work with such heavyweights as Slayer and Corrosion of Conformity.  The eponymous release by AiC came out November 7, 1995, and landed squarely at number 1 on Billboard, spawning several singles, three of four featuring Jerry Cantrell on lead vocal duties.  These included Again (Staley singing), Grind, Heaven Beside You, and Over Now.  The album sleeve featured a three-legged dog on the cover, symbolizing Layne being consumed by drugs and effectively absent from the band’s creative process.  Once again, critics praised the album, as it was dark and harrowing, but brilliant in the same way that Dirt was, only a different chapter.

Although they appeared on Letterman with Layne to perform the song Again, the touring days of Alice in Chains in their current formation was basically ending, as they were no longer able to do their previous worldwide tours as they used to.  Layne was in the grips of addiction, and it was feared that he would become yet another casualty of drug abuse, which was turned out to be what happened years later.  Meanwhile, Got Me Wrong from Sap made its appearance on rock charts, as it was featured in the Kevin Smith indie classic film Clerks, and giving another shot of life into a band that was slowly (or quickly depending on how you view it) dying. 

Here’s the scene from Clerks that has Got Me Wrong in it.  It’s towards the end.

In April of 1996, despite rumours of rampant drug use, the band managed to muster a classic acoustic set of songs through the MTV Unplugged format, leading to a new album and media focus on the band.  Featuring all of their hits from different eras of the band’s existence, they played newer songs like Heaven Beside You, as well as Got Me Wrong from Sap, and several cuts off of Jar of Flies and Dirt.  It also went up to number 3 on Billboard, and a home video came out as well of the full performance.  The band was sounding particularly good that night, and so fans became optimistic that the band might see a full tour or more creative output in the near future. 

The band did briefly tour with Kiss, who were reuniting at the time in their original configuration, but in July, Layne overdosed on heroin, and, although he was able to recover, it was a close call.

Here’s a performance of Alice in Chains playing live in mid-1996, in Kansas City.

Silence (1996-2002)

There was no announcement that Alice in Chains had called it quits, but the relationships between the members were become tenuous all the same, with Layne becoming severely depressed after the surprising death of the woman he loved, Demri Parrott, due to infective endocarditis. 

Layne, as everyone knew, loved Demri, as she was beautiful and artistic spirit, and the two almost got married at one point.  She even was said to have introduced Layne to heroin, years ago, which of course was the “catch” of their relationship.  All good?  Not entirely.  When she died suddenly, Layne was despondent, and became a hermit.  His drug abuse increased, and the band went silent for a while.  Layne described the time as “walking through hell”.  Meanwhile, Jerry, the creative dynamo of the band, went on to release his first solo effort called Boggy Depot, featuring the other two members of the band, Mike Inez and Sean Kinney.  Fans were wondering, where was Alice?

As the millennium came to a close, Alice in Chains did manage to record two brand new songs with Layne – Died, and Get Born Again.  These were included on Music Bank, the AiC box set, which was chock full of never before heard tracks.  Around this time, Nothing Safe emerged as well, which was subtitled Best of the Box and gave people a sampling of what was on the box set. 

A live album, fittingly called Live, came out in December 2000, the band’s first full live album.  All of this made it seem like Alice in Chains was still in the game, when they were, in fact, not.  At least, not in the form they were before.  Relationships were strained, and drugs were still messing with them collectively – not just Staley, as the media mainly focused on him as the singer.  Still, Jerry held on to hope that the band could make a comeback someday, and said as much in public, as he finished his second solo disc, Degradation Trip.

Death

Layne was found dead in his condo on April 19th of 2002, but he had apparently been dead for two weeks, having died on April 5, which was eerily the same day as Kurt Cobain.  Reports said that he died of a speedball, which is a potent mixture of cocaine and heroin.  Mike Starr stated when he was on Celebrity Rehab that he was with Layne shortly before his death, and was convinced by him not to call 911, and, high on benzos, eventually left him that night when he died not long afterwards.

Here’s Chris Cornell talking about a bunch of stuff – death, dreams, and Layne.

Comeback (2005-2008)

You can’t keep a good band down, apparently.  In 2004, a tsunami disaster in southern Asia prompted Sean Kinney to organize a benefit concert for its victims, and he made calls to his former bandmates.  In addition, he reached out to friends in the music community, and as a result, Alice in Chains featuring Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez, and guest singer, Damageplan’s Pat Lachman played for the first time in 10 years in Seattle at the Tsunami Continued Care Relief Concert.  Maynard from Tool was there, and Ann Wilson from Heart also was there.  This event sparked a rekindling of the old fire between the bandmates and Alice in Chains, after making a few calls to management, was back!

Here’s an audio clip of Alice in Chains playing Them Bones with Maynard on vocals.  Awesome!

While Jerry Cantrell was touring Degradation Trip, he met William DuVall, singer for Comes The Fall, who opened for Jerry, but William also served to sing Layne’s parts for AiC songs Jerry performed on tour.  It’s easy to realize what Jerry saw in William, who was and is a powerful vocalist in his own rite.

Here is one of Comes The Fall’s original songs with William singing, called Beautiful Destroyer.

Obviously, making a full comeback was not an easy thing for Alice in Chains to do.  They were unsure how to proceed, and they’ve stated many times that they were not doing it for the money, but for the love of the music.  Since there were still three of the four members of Alice in Chains left after Layne’s death, it seemed only fitting to continue, and Duvall was an able vocalist who could do the job, although no one was interested in making him the next Layne. 

Here is William performing Rooster with the band in 2006 at Rock Am Ring.

As Jerry has explained before, they could just call it quits as certain bands they look up to have done (ie. Zeppelin), where a member dies and the band dies with it.  In AiC’s case, the desire to rock out was just too strong, and the songs still needed a voice and were relevant to the fans.  In any case, differences were put aside and Alice in Chains was once again ready to rock.

Recent Albums

In 2009, a new album called Black Gives Way To Blue came out in September of that year.  The album was a tentative step towards integrating William into the band, with Jerry and William co-singing many of the albums tracks together.  Elton John, who was in the studio at the time, stopped by and played piano on the album’s title track.  The album featured new singles that were immediately embraced by rock radio and fans including Check My Brain and A Looking In View.  Grammy nominations for both songs came their way.  Your Decision and Lesson Learned followed as album singles.

Here’s the video for Your Decision.

There were mixed reactions, as one might have expected, to the band’s return.  Many opinions were tossed around as to the  motivations behind the band’s return, with fans taking everything very personally, as they often do.  Replacing a one-of-a-kind singer?  Impossible.  That said, the band was very open about how they arrived at this point in their career, and explained over and over that they are musicians and that Layne probably would have encouraged them to continue, and, who knows, he might even have enjoyed having Elton John appear on the album.  God only knows what Layne would have really thought, but, as the band’s new momentum grew and grew, the fans can only imagine that he would have approved and is still somehow part of the music that they continued to make.

In 2013, AiC released The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, which contained the singles Stone, Hollow, and Voices.  In true Alice in Chains style, the album was released and immediately charted high on Billboard once again.  The band was really back this time.  Last time was no fluke.  Fans dug the album overall, as did critics, and the band resumed their previous touring schedule that took them around the world in 2013 / 2014.  It was a resounding success.

Here’s the video for Voices.

Now, in 2017, a new album is brewing and fans can only wait and see what the band comes up with next.

Visit Alice in Chains’ website here

Johnny Marr and the Healers – Smiths Guitarist Creates His Own Psychedelic Sound

Johnny Marr and the Healers

About Johnny Marr and the Healers

Johnny Marr and the Healers

Johnny Marr and the Healers is an English alternative and indie rock band. As the name suggests, it was formed by Johnny Marr, ex-Smiths’ guitarist, in 2000. After the Smiths, Marr further showcased his talent in many projects including Electronic and The The. Consequently, people became interested to see what solo projects he would embark on. The British press was excited and interested at the formation of the band in 2000.

The band consists of none other than drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, Cavewaves guitarist Lee Spencer, ex-Kula Shaker bassist Alonza Bevan, and of course, Johnny Marr as guitarist and lead vocalist.

The Healers’ Psychedelic Sound

From the first few guitar strums of the song “Bangin’ On”, you will be drawn into the mystery and atmosphere of the song. The bewitching voice of Johnny Marr on top of the electric guitar and interesting instrumentals gives the song a feeling that is alluring and moody. It was released as a single in 2003 and reached #78 in the UK. If you’re wondering who this song belongs to, the answer is Johnny Marr and the Healers.

It was a little while before Marr assembled all the members of this band, since he wanted to choose the members “by chemistry”. He wanted to make sure that all of the members would go well together (and they do). Marr spent many months writing songs before a European tour with Oasis. After the tour, the band released their first EP, The Last Ride.

Boomslang

Their debut album Boomslang was released in 2003 with all vocals and lyrics done by Marr. “Boomslang” is the name of a type of venomous snake that lives in the trees of tropical and southern Africa. In South Africa, the name of this snake has become an idiom: “I got boomslang” means to get caught up in something, much like a Boomslang snake in a tree.

Boomslang album

The album received mixed reviews, including some positive feedback, as well as some that was only lukewarm. The Rolling Stones said the album “shimmers with elements of T-Rex and traces of the Stone Roses – it’s got all the atmosphere of a great rock record, but not the guts of one.” But does an album always need to have “guts”? I think this album gets along find without them.

The album contains the 2001 single “The Last Ride”, which you can listen to here.

The album also included the song “Down on the Corner” which was promoted by a live performance on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn in 2003. Like other songs on the album, “Down on the Corner” features melodic lyrics by Johnny Marr sung to harmonious guitar.   

The song “Something to Shout About” is a gentle ballad peppered with notes of guitar, synthesizer and an instrument called the melodica. The result is a warm, sweet song. The lyrics are a juxtaposition of sweet and unassuming phrases filled with familiar sentiments and questions.

The Future of Johnny Marr and the Healers

A second album was originally scheduled to debut in 2005. In 2007, however, Marr stated that at the moment, the band is on the side burner. He is currently working on other projects, as are Starkey and Bevan.

I think the most pleasant surprise about Johnny Marr and the Healers is the chance to witness Marr as a singer and songwriter after having known him as the guitarist of the Smiths. After all those years with the Smiths, who would have thought that he was also a talented and admirable singer? His voice handles all their songs well, from the slower, gentler tunes to the faster-paced ones.  He’s been known to cover Smiths’ tunes from time to time, in case didn’t know.  

 It will be exciting to see if Johnny Marr has anything new in store for Johnny Marr and the Healers, or if there are other projects on the way.  Stay tuned!

Johnny Marr