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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Israel's Lazer Lloyd releases new CD, coming to Chicago





By ERIC SCHELKOPF


After giving up a contract with Atlantic Records and moving to Israel, Lazer Lloyd has been "Rockin' in the Holy Land."

The song is from his new self-titled album, released June 9 on Chicago-based label LL Records. The album also features Kenny Coleman from The Chicago Blues Kings and the album's cover art was done by Chicago-based artist Markus Greiner.

The album's release follows the critically-acclaimed 2013 stripped-down acoustic solo album, "Lost on the Highway," and his 2012 electric CD, "My Own Blues," chosen by the Israeli Blues Society’s for best 2012 blues album.

On his recent tours in the U.S., Lloyd and Coleman have been presenting special performances for inner city kids of all ages in schools and after school programs with stories about overcoming challenges. Earlier this year, they gave a performance for the By the Hand Club for Kids in Englewood.

Lloyd will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 at Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago. He will return to the area on Oct. 26, when he performs at Evergreen Park High School for a benefit for the school's music department, and will perform Nov. 4 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 South Wabash Ave., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to Lloyd about the new CD.


Q: Congratulations on the success of your new self-titled album. The album seems to be extremely autobiographical. Would you say the record is more personal than your previous efforts?

Lazer Lloyd: Well, many of my songs are about my life experiences and that's really the blues. This album covers it in the wider spectrum and I've passed the 30 year mark on the stage so I felt it had been time to do some more of that on a deeper level.



Q: Of course, the album was released on the Chicago-based Lots of Love Records label and the album's cover art was created by Chicago-based artist Markus Greiner. How did you hook up with him? What is it like having a label based in Chicago, the blues capital of the world?

LL: The truth is Chicago came after me and it was just destined that way. I was doing a show actually as a side man in Chicago a few years back when someone from the record company saw me play and was blown away.

They had gone to high school with Marcus. I was not happy with the previous graphic attempts because in my opinion it's as equally important as the music today, so they kept looking until they got to him and he is amazing.

Q: Earlier this year, you and Kenny Coleman from The Chicago Blues Kings - who I know plays on the new album - gave a performance for the By the Hand Club for Kids in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. I know you do performances like that for schools and the like on a regular basis. What do you hope the students get out of your performances and what do you get out of the experience?



LL: When you meet with young people, it's like going out to the forest into nature; it's untouched and you can still feel the pureness of life, you can still believe that the world is a good place and will be better through their inspiration.

I try to open up and share with them how it has been for myself and my people surviving after very challenging experiences while still having love and a true belief in the unity and goodness of the world. I want them to feel the beauty of the music inside; that it can touch other sides of your heart besides the very aggressive music that they are bombarded with on a daily basis.

Q: How did you go about choosing the musicians for the album, including Kenny on drums? What do you think he brings to the table?

LL: It was really a miracle story how we connected with Kenny. My manager was speaking with someone she had maintained contact with and one day this person just told her that she had started working for this blues record company.

From the first time Kenny heard my music he felt it was a great thing and from the first time we met we fell in love as real brothers. Besides the music, we both share a deep spiritual connection and obviously his story is more apparent than mine, but both of us have gone through serious challenges in life and have chosen not to buckle, yet to help strengthen others.

When we are playing together, I don't know how he knows when I'm going to stop and when I'm doing things on the stage, but he has an extra sense that I've never seen. Kenny is truly an amazing musician and person.

Q: On the song "Rockin' in the Holy Land" off your new album, you talk about how you began playing in Israel in the first place. What do you think about being given the title "Israel's King of the Blues?" What is Israel's blues scene like and how have you tried to nurture it?

LL: I really don't like the title because for sure I would never call myself the king and I don't consider myself only from Israel or as representing that - I'm just Lazer. I just happen to be here and connect to many things spiritually that are here and the people, but I connect to many things spiritually around the world and learn and am inspired by many people around the world; but that's the way the newspapers and media started doing it, so certain things you just have to roll with it.

Humility is the name of the game and what we are striving for and what you see in the real blues people, but I can't complain too much because it stands out and has let myself be heard I guess. 



The blues in Israel is really starting to be something serious; many Israeli artists had included elements of it into the music but now you have the blues being mixed with different Middle East sounds.

I like to do that for a little bit in concert, too. People are now understanding - after all the noise and electronics and aggressive arrogant music that has plagued the last 25 years - that with simplicity and heart you don't need all those masks to feel something.

Q: I understand that you walked away from an Atlantic Records deal in choosing to go to Israel. Do you have any regrets about the decision you made?

LL: Well we need to set the record straight and people in the press like to tell it as they would think it makes the best story. I had a showcase with Atlantic Records and they were interested in me and had me make more demos; I was meeting with Toby Moffett from the A&R department and we were deciding whether to have me go down to Nashville to be produced by Gary Tallent, the bass player from the E- Street Band (Bruce Springsteen) who was now producing.

We were in discussion of where we should break the project from but I was not yet signed, I was in the process. That's when I had this strange turn of fate where I ended up in Israel. 

I'm pretty sure I would've been dead by now because I was really pushing it hard in all the areas that blues rock musicians push it and probably I would have been seriously ill from one of those areas without further detail needed. Life is surfing and you never look at the wave you could've caught; your only focus is on the next wave you can catch, no regrets.

Q: As I understand, you attended a Master Class taught by B.B. King while you were earning a degree in music from Skidmore College. What did you learn from him and how did his death affect you?

LL: I saw on TV a master class by B.B. King in the middle of college while I was heavily into my 12-hour practicing sessions learning every Wes Montgomery and Lightning Hopkins song possible. He told the story of the importance of being a good person to be a good musician, and that changed my life.

I started getting into Buddha and started spending more time investigating exactly what it means to be a good person even though I felt I was not a bad guy, but the fine details of what it really means to be a human, so I started to search out more.

B.B. for me was the essence of the blues, of really giving over the powerful emotion while at the same time being extremely humble and light on his feet to make people happy on and off the stage, which for me is extremely important.

I have met some disappointing famous musicians who are very different on and off the stage. So many players today are playing so many notes so fast, but B.B., with just a few notes, said it so much deeper and real.

Yet if you understand how great a musician he really was - and his playing was not simple at all - and there are many recordings of things that he did that no one is able to reproduce. 

And it's not simply just the way he makes his tremolo melodic; he was very, very advanced, but would only do it if it would really fit what was needed; he would never do anything just to show off.

He knew how to be a great guitarist, which was really his greatness and that was the same thing with his personality. 

His death has me searching to see if there's anything real left and it is not easy to find, even though there is a lot of talent. It's hard to hear music where there is no ego involved.

I met this great player and person who had backed up Lightning Hopkins for many years, his name is Bernie Pearl out in California. Also this guy Ronnie Stewart, who is a great blues musician and historian and has taken me under his wing and showed me some real old blues cats who have the same flavor and showed me the culture inside in a good way.

Q: The phrase "Keep the Blues Alive" is a currently popular adage. What do you see as the future of the blues across the U.S. and the world?



LL: I see the blues is spreading quickly and many are turning to it for some truth in soul-searching. Everyone has their own opinion about what the real blues is; I think with all the showing off and other plastic stuff going on within the scene, there is still plenty of real stuff happening if people want to find it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ship and Shore Blues Festival to showcase blues and more


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Those wanting to attend a blues festival this summer with ties to blues royalty need look no further than the Ship and Shore Blues Festival, which will take place Aug. 8 at Lions Beachfront Park in New Buffalo, Mich.

As part of the festival, Precious Jewel Taylor will perform a tribute to her aunt, the late Koko Taylor, Queen of the Blues. In addition, Shirley King will be part of a tribute to her father, the late B.B. King.

The festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and tickets will be sold at the gate. A full schedule of performers is available at the festival's website, shipandshorebluesfestival.com.

I had the chance to talk to festival producer John Moultrie, who also is publisher of iRock Jazz, about the festival. 


Q - Great talking to you. In putting together the lineup for this year's festival, what were your goals?

I wanted to bring world class blues musicians to New Buffalo and that's what we did. We have a Grammy award-winner and two Blues Hall of Fame inductees.

Q - What do you think separates your blues festival from other blues festivals? I'm not sure what separates us, but what makes us distinctive is our national brands partners and our interactive components.

Ford test drives, Chrysler shuttles, Harley Davidson JUMPStart, Game Truck, Curious Kids Discovery Zone and Musical Instrument Petting Zoo.

Q - I see that Karisa Wilson, who is from Michigan, is on the bill. She seems to be a musician who is on the rise. What were some of the reasons you wanted her on the bill? 

Karisa is a multi instrumentalist who also sings. She's won several awards in different genres of music and is considered a rising star in Grand Rapids.



We also have Hank Mowey on the bill. He is another Grand Rapids rising star.

Q - The festival also features artists who are connected to blues legends, such as Precious Taylor, the niece of the late Koko Taylor, and Shirley King, the daughter of the late B.B. King. Do you see them as helping carrying on their legacy and perhaps helping to educate people about their music?


I think each of them support their family's legacies by performing and telling stories through their music.

Q - Chicago Women in the Blues also is part of the lineup. All these artists already have a commanding force individually. They must really put on energetic show when they get together.

This a must see performance!! They put on a four hour non- stop show.


This is almost unheard of these days. Individually they are band leaders in their own right, but collectively, they are your blues dream band.

Q - You also publish www.irockjazz.com. What are you trying to do with the website? 

Our goal is to document the music, artists, stories and culture.  We are now broadening our coverage into other genres like blues and other forms of music.
           
Q - The phrase "Keep the Blues Alive" is a popular phrase. What do you see as the future of the blues across the country? 

Blues has the same issues sustaining itself as jazz. The greats are passing on and clubs / venues are scarce. Music innovation, broadening the audience.. younger, more marketing and rebranded messaging would help.

Blues is here to stay period! The future is bright and we're doing our part keeping the music alive by exposing new artists and great ones to New Buffalo at our festival.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chicago band Audio Content working on new album, will perform July 25 at Debonair Social Club


By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
On its latest album, "Mostly Right...All The Time," Chicago band Audio Content strived to write the most honest album it could.

The members of Audio Content are currently working on the band's fourth album. Audio Content will perform July 25 at Debonair Social Club, 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

Flocks & The Lookout and Sarah Eide & The Borderland Band also are on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10.

I had a chance to talk to Audio Content lead vocalist Derek Drake about the band.


 
Q - Great talking to you. The band released its EP "Mostly Right...All The Time" last year. What were your goals for the EP and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the album's name?

The single motivation when we set out to write "Mostly Right...All The Time" was "challenge." How can we do  better than "Come Home," our previous album?

https://soundcloud.com/audio-content

We challenged ourselves to write and record the album to a click. We generally write with lots of dynamic, so the click posed a tremendous challenge.

On a personal level, I wanted to be honest. No bullshit. No beating around the bush.

The title sort of just came about during a conversation we were all having. It is about the Challenge we as men have.

We think we are right, when most of the time, we are just full of shit.

Q - How do you think the band has evolved since first forming? How would you describe the band's chemistry?

The synergy we have when approaching new material is hands down unlike any other creative experience I've had. I can tell almost immediately if a song will work.

It seems like Ravi and Tim write material. Many of our earlier songs I wrote in less than 30 minutes. My thinking at the time was what it written is written.

Now I take my time. I challenge myself to not suck. So far, so good. I think. 


Q - Tell me about your upbringing. Was it hard growing up gay in a strict religious household? How do you think your experiences have impacted your songwriting? 

I was born in a small little town called Ford Heights. It's south of the city, close to the Indiana border. 

My parents had me at very young age. My mom was 13 and my dad was 15 when they got pregnant with me. So in a way I grew up with my parents.

My grandmother was very strict and extremely religious. Every day I was in church. Literally, every day.

I wasn't allowed to listen to "devil" music. The Cranberries' album "Zombie" changed my life.

I was a freshman in high school when I heard it for the first time. From that day on I would listen to "those stations" trying to hear that song.

As a result, I was exposed to other songs. The songs I write typically have some element of spirituality or religion. There are many "gospel" songs on our album.

The song "Atonement" from the album "Come Home" is gospel. That was about me getting over one of the pastors molesting me and the things that happened to me post that experience.

Everything I write is something I have experienced or has happened around me. My grandmother told me once, "why go to hell for a preference?" I had to go through exorcism to get rid of my gay demons.

The pastor that participated in the exorcism is the one that was giving me his gay demon. The song "We Go On" is the by product of that situation. Gospel.

My family has since come around. My grandmother, though still a heavy Bible banger, doesn't take issue with who I am.

Q - What do you think of the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding gay marriage? Do you see it as another step toward equality?
  
My husband and I were married back in 2012. We have a 5 year old. This ruling validates our existence in the world of family and parenthood.

Prior to this, if we wanted to move to another state, we would have to consider our family not being able to exist without modifications. This is BIG. Imagine someone telling you that your family doesn't matter.

I think the progress we have made is bittersweet. To think that in a 2015 America, people are finally allowed to marry another adult. That is crazy to me.

The part that is most disheartening is that it wasn't a unanimous decision by the court. To think that there are judges sitting on the highest court in the land that believe, legally, my husband and I should not be married but my friend that is on his third marriage is all good...blows my mind.

Q - The Soundgarden influence is strong in the band. Why do you think that band has had such an impact on Audio Content's music?

I don't know if it's so much that particular band and their influence on us as much as it is the era that Soundgarden was most influential on the music scene. We are all over 35, so we grew up during a time when bands really used melody and sonic talent to create songs. 

We are very much driven by melody and mood, and I believe that is where the comparison to Soundgarden might be strong.

Q - What are the pros and cons of being an independent band? Do you think the positives outweigh the negatives?

The obvious pros to being and independent band is we call the shots on the type of music we make and the image we put out. There is nothing like being in control of your own product.

The con to that end is having a vast support system to take care of the daily grind of getting that product out into the ears of the listener. We're all family men, so making the time to write, practice and improve is a valued commodity.

We come ready and prepared. The majority of the time. We know that our time is valuable so we use it wisely.

I think that is a huge component of being independent. No one is making you do it. We do it because we love it.  


Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think Audio Content fits into it?

The Chicago music scene is  very diverse. In just looking at the bands of our friends, there is punk, metal, rock, pop rock, blues, alt-rock, avant garde and some questionable sounds. 

https://www.youtube.com/user/AudioContent1

The thing that makes the Chicago scene great is that there is room for everyone. I just wish original bands got as much love on the scene as the cover bands.

Audio Content is just as diverse. With influences in gospel, rock, pop and classical we fit right into the conundrum of the Chicago scene.

Q- What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

In the short term, we are preparing for upcoming shows and finishing up album #4. Long term, we continue to work on the stage performance. Always be changing.

Are the transitions fluid? Is there continuity between the songs? Does our set tell a story or is it all over the place?

When people leave our show are they thinking to themselves, "Damn that rocked!" These are a few of the questions we have to ask ourselves.

Success lives in the answers. If we can come to practice every week, play these songs and still fall in love, we have achieved what we have set out to achieve.

Rock good and hard.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chicago band Farkus to perform new songs at Cubby Bear show



By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
Chicago band Farkus is not the type of band that can be labeled.

The band is just as comfortable playing hard edged songs as they are a folk song. The band has been writing new songs, and will debut five new songs when it performs July 17 at the Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison St., Chicago.

Vandalay, PJ & Soul and Skippin' Rocks are also part of the bill. The music starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $7 in advance and $10 the day of the show, available by going to www.ticketweb.com. 

I had the chance to talk to Farkus frontman Tony Maguire about the band.
 

Q - Great talking to you. I understand the band has been writing new songs. How has that been going? Will you be playing a lot of new songs at the Cubby Bear on July 17?

Great talking to you as well. Thanks for the opportunity.

For the last six months or so, we’ve focused primarily on writing new material. It’s been going great.

We have more ideas than we’ll ever be able to use for our next record, but it still takes a lot of work to distill these ideas into completed songs. We will be debuting five new songs for our Cubby Bear show that we’ve been anxious to finally perform.

Q - What should people expect from the new album? In sitting down to write a song, what comes first for the band, the words or the music? Is it a collaborative effort?

We’re definitely taking more chances and covering some new territory. One song is very ambient, another with a really funky groove, and a good ol’ fashion Americana style rock tune.

We even have an unabashed pop song titled “Until Tulum,” but we’ve spiced it up with some Latin influenced rhythms and a jazzy chord progression. We joke that it sounds like Santana meets Steely Dan.

The new arrangements we’ve been working on give us more opportunities to jam and improvise live, which is a strength of the band I don’t think we’ve exposed enough. Some of our best moments at our rehearsals are just jamming on a chord progression or a vamp someone introduces while we’re waiting on someone else getting a beer.

Writing is a very collaborative process for us, but it happens in a variety of ways. Typically Brian (Gillham, guitarist) or I introduce a riff to the band and we jam on it trying various approaches. I experiment with some vocal melodies using complete gibberish for lyrics.

After everyone has an idea of the song, we work on our parts individually and then regroup. Often we’ll find that ideas we have worked on independently work well together and we start developing the arrangement.

On occasion, I will come with a song almost fully fleshed out or I’ll have a lyric or melody I will work with Brian to write some chords around. 

Q - When did you make the video for the song "This Happens Everyday" and what was that experience like? What was the idea for the video?

We filmed the video for “This Happens Everyday” in January of this year. Our friend Bubs, who filmed our “Ally of the Enemy,” video wanted to expand from having a video of just the band performing.

We listened to the record together and discussed potential ideas for each of the songs. “This Happens Everyday” already had the makings of a video built into the story of the song’s conception.


I took about a month long road trip to the West coast and back a few years ago after I was let go from a project I was working on that was abruptly cancelled. I figured I may as well make the most of the time off, so I just packed up the car and hit the road.

I camped, couch-surfed, and stayed with some friends along the way. I toured some national parks, saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and met a lot of amazing people.

I wrote the song in the process and recorded it originally in L.A. with Dave Rieley, who produced our album, “Thought You Should Know.”
 
We decided to just recreate that trip and it was a great excuse to escape the Chicago winter for a week. It obviously wasn’t practical to bring the entire band, but luckily our bass player, Kevin (Coyne, was able to join us.

He has a cameo as the hitchhiker in fact. The three of us flew out to Vegas, rented a car, and just made it up as we went.

It’s basically a very well documented vacation. We had a blast.

Q - It seems like you guys are just as comfortable playing harder edged songs as "Ally of the Enemy" as you are playing more stripped down songs like "This Happens Everyday." What is the band's approach to making music? Who or what are your biggest musical inspirations?

We don’t have much of a set approach and don’t set any boundaries for ourselves. That’s why you’ll end up hearing a hard rock tune and a folk song on the same album.

We write music that we enjoy and as a band we have wide variety of influences.

We share a lot of favorites as a band such as Rush, Pearl Jam, Tool, and Primus to name a few, however, individually, we all have a plethora of personal influences.

After we wrap up a practice, we usually spend some time playing some music we want to share with the other band members. Kevin will jam some Melvins or Tomahawk, Brian will treat us to some Guthrie Govan guitar mastery or lately Megadeth, Dave constantly reminds us of some overlooked classics from bands like Black Sabbath or deep cuts from someone like Smashing Pumpkins, and I’m usually pushing whatever band I’ve seen lately, such as Faith No More, since they just came through town.

It’s a great exercise to examine the songs together and helps to spark our own ideas. 
 
Q - How did the band get together in the first place and how do you think Farkus' music has evolved over the years? Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

I had been playing guitar with Brian since high school and I was visiting him at U of I back when the Bears were playing there for a season. Brian and I were playing some songs at a party and Dave (Durdov) introduced himself and mentioned he played the drums.

I got together to jam with Dave back in Chicago and when Brian was back from college, he joined up with us and our bassist at the time, Matt Kircher. Kircher eventually left the band when he started his career as a doctor.

We were looking for a new bass player and I had heard great things about Kevin, who Brian and I also went to high school with. Kevin came by to jam with us and we immediately knew we had found our new bass player.

Our music has evolved quite a bit. Our earliest material consisted mostly of songs I had written as solo acoustic guitar pieces before the band had even formed or in its infancy. 

Then having a band opened up new possibilities to me as a songwriter. Eventually we began collaborating on the music more and more as we gained experience jamming together.

This increased our musical palette exponentially. Each band member also spends a lot of time working to further develop their abilities, which has helped speed up the evolutionary process. Fun new equipment we pick up along the way always helps too.

There isn’t really much of a meaning behind the name.  Farkus is the bully in the movie "A Christmas Story," who Ralphie overcomes in a fit of rage.

During the scene the narrator says, “Farkus, what a rotten name.” With an impending gig we were offered, we needed something and we wanted it to be short and simple.

Our friend, and fellow local musician of Mazes, Pat Cavanaugh, tipped us off to the name, actually.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it?

Chicago has such an abundant music scene which is great although it can make it very tough to pin down a “scene” at all.  There are some obvious trends towards the folk or indie sound for instance but aside from that, it is hard to find much cohesion.

We find ourselves in a weird state of limbo. We’ll get billed with indie sounding bands one night and then some really heavy bands another, but we’re too heavy for the former and not heavy enough for the latter.


I also don’t know of any other bands that will do a cover of a band like Living Colour or Rush without trying to be ironic.

We’re not concerned, though. As our friend Neil suggests we must put aside the alienation.  “All the world is indeed a stage and we are merely players; performers and portrayers.  Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage.”  (hint, hint)

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals? 

In the short term, we are focused on finding more opportunities to gain exposure in Chicago. It’s such a huge market that we don’t feel the need to pack ourselves in a van and start driving across the country until we’ve penetrated the market here sufficiently.

We’d really love to get a chance to play a street festival, for instance. We’ve been very fortunate to have a good consistent base of fans that come see our shows, but it can be difficult to find new ears when most of the people coming to your shows are coming because they are already familiar with your music.

In the long term, we’re continuing to write new music and planning to have a new release ready relatively early in 2016. We have been kicking some ideas around of hitting some other cities in the Midwest.

Short weekend trips where we hit two or three cities for instance. We’ve also done a couple of private shows in our practice space and they turned out great.

We’d like to do this on occasion and invite other bands to join us.  In the meantime, we’re just going to continue having a blast creating music together.