Saturday, November 18, 2023

Musicians come together to support Chicago saxophonist Mars Williams


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Innovative saxophonist Mars Williams brought a new sound to the Chicago music scene with his band Liquid Soul.

Now his fellow bandmates along with guest musicians will come together as part of a benefit concert for Williams, who recently passed away after battling a rare form of cancer known as ampullary cancer.

Music For Mars will take place at 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago. The show will feature Liquid Soul (Williams will be there in spirit) as well as the Joe Marcinek Band and Jesse De La Pena.

The show will also feature guest musicians Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band and Chicago musician Ike Reilly. Tickets are available at metrochicago.com.

Proceeds will benefit the Mars Williams Medical Treatment Cancer Fund.

I had the chance to talk to Liquid Soul trumpet player Ron Haynes and keyboard player Frankie Hill about the show.

Q – It is great that so many of the people that Mars has worked with over the years have agreed to be part of the fundraising concert. Did everyone jump at the opportunity to be part of this concert?
 
Yes! Musicians from all eras of Liquid Soul jumped on board as did some special guests who have played with Mars in other bands.
 
 
 Q – How is Mars doing these days? Is he still receiving chemotherapy treatments?
 
Mars stopped chemo before doing the Psychedelic Furs tour this fall. They were not getting positive results from what I understand anyway.
 
He is not well at this time. We are hoping that he hangs in there for as long as possible. I know he has so many other projects he still wants to finish. 

Q – What are the goals for the concert? How are ticket sales going?
 
The goal is to bring everyone together as a tribute to Mars and to raise funds for him and his family to deal his cancer treatment and his current health needs. Ticket sales are strong but we are still getting the word out and will continue to do so right up until the doors open at Metro on Nov 25. 

Q – Liquid Soul was a big part of the Chicago music scene in the '90s. Why do you think the band made so much of an impact and did it surprise you? 
 

When the band broke through in the mid-90s, we were combining hip hop and jazz but not just with loops; there were live players and we had a killer horn section let by Mars Williams, plus the free-style rap genius of Dirty MF. 
 
This took the jazz/hip-hop combo to another level. Miles Copeland, Sting's manager at the time, heard the band and wanted us for his new ARK 21 label, his follow up to IRS Records. 
 
Q – Mars has been a musician who is in high demand. Besides leading the group Liquid Soul, he has played with bands like The Waitresses and The Psychedelic Furs. What has made him such an in-demand musician? 
 

Mars plays monster sax solos and big, fat melodies! Plus he has superior jazz chops. Just listen to the Furs, Waitresses, and Liquid Soul records!

 

 

 


 

 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Acclaimed musician Bruce Cockburn talks about new album, career ahead of shows in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

 

His introspective and passionate songwriting has won Bruce Cockburn acclaim from music lovers across the world.

As he shows on his latest album, "O Sun O Moon," the 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist still has plenty to say. Cockburn will likely perform many of his new songs when he plays Nov. 3 and 4 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln Ave., Chicago, as part of a nationwide solo tour.

The shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at Old Town's website, oldtownschool.org. I had the privilege of interviewing Cockburn about the album and his career.

 

It certainly is. I've had great respect for Ruth and the rest of her gang for years and we've had the occasional opportunity to perform together, which was great.

I take all that stuff with a grain of salt. It is an honor and it feels really good to have people want to sign up for something like that and then perform the songs.

But I don't do what I do to get that sort of stuff. But it certainly is a nice thing.

Q – Have you had musicians come up to you and say that they became a musician because of you?

I don't think I've heard those exact words, but certainly I've heard from people who have said that I had an effect on what they did. That's mostly a third person kind of thing, like it will show up in an article somewhere.

Q – Your song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” came out in 1984 during the Cold War. Do you think we live in more dangerous times these days or equally as dangerous?

Well, it's hard to make that call. I don't think that the world has ever been free of the kinds of dangers that we see around us, other than the environmental one.

I guess the world has seen climate change before, but not in a way that we're seeing it now and not with the effects on us that we're seeing now, or potential effects. So that's different.

But otherwise, war and mayhem have always been with us as a species. But one thing I think we really have to think hard about is charity and compassion and fairness. 

We have to try to resist the temptation to be drawn into positions of rage and hate.

 

Q – You address some of the problems that society is facing today in your song “Orders” off your latest album. In a previous interview, you talked about the song’s meaning and about the importance of loving each other. Do you see the song as a reminder of that?

When the idea for the song came to me, it seemed like this was something that really needed to be said right now. That and the song "Us All" were ideas that wanted me to put them in songs and put them out there.

That's how it felt.

Q – Is the song “On A Roll” a celebration of what one can accomplish at any age?

I wasn't really thinking about it in term of accomplishments, other than survival. But I suppose that's a kind of accomplishment.

I think of that song as a very personal one and I think other people can relate to it in their own personal way. I mean, anybody who's over a certain age will get that song.

Q – Do you think a song like “To Keep the World We Know” can help convince people that climate change is real?

I doubt it. It might, I guess.

I wouldn't rule it out. But I don't think that's the expected effect of a song like that.

For me, I don't think songs by themselves have that power. If people are sort of sitting and wondering about it or giving it some thought and a song like that comes along, it can push them in the right direction.

But if they're resistant to the idea of climate change, then they're just not going to like the song.

Q – In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The intention is to make the best album that we can. When I say we, I mean me and in this case, Colin Linden, who produced "O Sun O Moon," and whoever is playing on the album. Everybody wants it to be good.

And that's the goal. I make an album when I have enough songs to make an album.

Q – Do you think that a solo tour like the one that you are on allows you to better connect with the audience? I watched a video from your Oct. 11 show at FirstOntario Concert Hall where you ended your show with a new song, “Us All.” It seems like the audience was listening intently to the song.

 

It's been really great, the acceptance of the new stuff. The show is peppered with songs from the new album and people are responding really well to them.

So I'm happy about that. It seemed like just an obvious song to close the show with. 

We spent 2 1/2 hours in this room together and that's a microcosm of the rest of us as well.

Q – On a solo tour, it's just pretty much you and your guitars. Do you think that connects you better with the audience because they are only concentrating on you and your guitars and your songs?

I think so. There are people I hear from who prefer the band shows. They like the energy and stuff like that.

There's elements of a performance that take away from the focus on the song. In the solo situation, it's all on the song.

The attention is on the song and the lyrics. And that's a good thing, in my book.

Q – You've done so much in your life. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Well, the one thing I may or may not ever get around to doing that I would like to do is an album of other people's songs. And I have a small list of those that I might want to record someday.

What I look for is the next idea. It's more about waiting for an idea.

I like touring. It's what I've always done and it's where the songs really become their true selves.

I like doing it, but at this point in my life, it requires more focused energy to get that show done than it used to. I don't have the energy for other stuff very much while I'm doing this or the time, for that matter.

I've got a busy life apart from this. 

It's just a question of waiting. I don't really make plans and I never have.

Q – Because you also have an 11-year-old child, right? That must keep you busy as well, I would imagine.

He's about to turn 12. Yeah, it does. It's part of a generalized life picture that is busy.

 







Saturday, October 28, 2023

Alternative rock band Bluphoria to bring its energetic sound to Subterranean in Chicago

Photo by Jena Yannone


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

It's not surprising that Mark Needham – known for his work with bands like Fleetwood Mac, Mt. Joy and The Killers – would want to produce the self-titled debut album of Nashville-based band Bluphoria.

The band's wildly energetic sound and soulful vocals of frontman Reign LaFreniere are bringing something new to the music scene. As part of a nationwide tour with singer/songwriter Noah Vonne, Bluphoria will perform Nov. 4 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and general admission tickets are $15, available at ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to LaFreniere about the album and upcoming show.

 

Q – Of course, your self-titled debut album was produced by Mark Needham, who has worked with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Mt. Joy, The Killers and The 1975. What do you think he brought to the table?

Mark had so much experience that was just super helpful for us when we went into the studio. He really just gave us the confidence to try everything.


That was just a big help with our process and just making the songs the best they could be.

Q – To have somebody who has been involved with so many notable bands, was that an honor to have him involved with this project?

Yeah. It was honestly surreal.

Getting to hear some of his stories as well, really just enriched our whole studio process and honestly made us feel pretty good about where we were. He told us about how The Killers were really new too when he worked with them.

Things like that really made us feel more confident about the album we were making.

Q – Did you have any specific goals when you sat down to make the album and did you accomplish them?

We wanted to make an album that was simultaneously dancy and a good road trip album and just something we could be completely proud of in the future as well.

I feel like we accomplished that. I feel like our songs are pretty strong and I'm proud of how they turned out.

Q – I know the band formed right before the start of the pandemic. That must have been pretty interesting.

The second the pandemic hit, we were able to sit down and really write songs and not necessarily write them for a crowd, but write them for ourselves. So the pandemic helped in that sense.

It did take away the live shows though, which was a bummer. 

Q – I understand an intern from EDGEOUT Records was at one of your house shows which ultimately led to the band signing to EDGEOUT / UME / UMG in January of 2021.

Apparently he had been to a couple of our house shows. He reached out to me one night and that's how it started.

He explained that he loved the music and that it was perfect for this label. He offered a great opportunity that I don't regret.

Q – I know the band was formed in 2019 after you moved to Eugene, Oregon to study film at the University of Oregon. And I understand you met two of your current bandmates at the University of Oregon.

As far as not pursuing a career in film, was this a good backup plan?

I still love film and being in that world. Right now, I feel as though music is my calling at the moment.

And luckily, the two kind of go hand in hand. So I intend to explore that.

But yeah, I met two of my bandmates at the University of Oregon. Dani Janae lived in Oregon as well and she interviewed me for a podcast and that's actually how we met.

It's been great. 

Q – I imagine the Nashville music scene is different than the scene in Oregon. What made you want to move to Nashville?

Well, we recorded our album here. And we met a lot of the community while we were out here and we just felt it was a great next step for our professional careers.

I wanted to be surrounded by musicians that inspire me. The industry is here and the local scene is here and there's not like this weird fight between the two of them.

They kind of go hand in hand. Everyone helps each other out.

It's just a very welcoming place. That's mainly why I came out here.

Q – Is it living up to what you envisioned as far as the music scene?

Yeah, definitely. One-hundred percent.

Q – I know that Bob Marley and Sam Cooke are a few of your musical influences. How did they influence your music?

I think a lot of their influence comes from just the tone and the timelessness of their music. I love that aspect about them.

And also just their life stories as well. It's inspiring in the sense that both those people went through so much and created such beautiful work.

Whenever I'm feeling down, I remember them and it drives me. There's a juxtaposition between the two.

Sam Cooke made the music that needed to be made at that time. And Bob Marley did the same, but with more political tinge than Sam did.

But there's still a level of defiance in Sam Cooke's work that is just inspiring. For the most part, he made the music that he wanted to make.

And I'm a big proponent of just writing what comes to your heart. That's what I find inspiring about those two guys.

Q – Do you think they continue to influence your music?

Definitely. I listen to both those guys every day, pretty much.

And I hope that someday I can write as well as Sam Cooke or Bob Marley. We'll see.

Q – I'm sure you've heard your vocals described as soulful. Is that how you view your vocals?

I'd say so. I feel like it just comes mostly from my background.

My mom is a great singer. She's got a very soulful voice.

I sang in church choirs back in the day and I've been listening to soul my whole life. So I just feel like it comes naturally.

Q – It is a timeless genre, maybe because of all the emotions that are expressed in soul music. It's so honest and true.

Q – There does seem like there is a meaning behind the band's name.

It's a juxtaposition, where the music itself sounds happy and upbeat, but the lyrics have a little tinge of sadness or vice versa. We kind of describe it as being depressed at a party.

Q – And as far as your guitar playing, it seems like you are influenced by Lenny Kravitz.

I'm very influenced by Hendrix and Lenny of course and Gary Clark Jr., that whole sector of guitar playing. 

I like how messy it is and it translates soulfully. The same way I sing, I want to play as soulfully as possible.

Q – Would you like to tour with Gary Clark Jr. someday? That seems like that would be a good bill.

I would love to tour with that guy. He's great.

Q – Do you have any goals with this tour? What would you like to accomplish?

I just want to have a good time and get our name out there. I'm excited to be playing music as much as possible and hopefully get some notoriety so we can tour with Gary Clark Jr. or somebody like that.







Sunday, October 22, 2023

Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge talks about band's new album ahead of Chicago show


 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

 

After first forming in 1966, legendary UK band Soft Machine continues to explore new musical horizons, as evident on its latest album, “Other Doors.”

The band will perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago. Also on the bill is Chicago band Marbin.

Tickets are $40, available at ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Soft Machine longtime guitarist John Etheridge about the new album and upcoming show.

Q – Great talking to you again. We last spoke in 2018 about the band's latest album at the time, "Hidden Details."

In June, the band released the album "Other Doors." Do you think you are opening other doors with your latest album?

Yeah, yeah, I hope we're opening other doors. I think "Other Doors" is a really good title for anything that is connected with a project like Soft Machine. With the Soft Machine, you're not necessarily going through the main door.

 

You're going through some side doors, you're going through a door in the roof, you're going through a door up in the underground passage. Soft Machine is the conjunction of what you might call mainstream music making with a kind of what you might call obliqueness.

Now, we're not completely oblique and we're not completely mainstream. It's the two things.

That's why "Other Doors" is a good title I think. The title of this album does mean something to me.

It's a very special band. When you put on your Soft Machine hat, as it were, you have a feeling about music making.

Q – You joined Soft Machine in 1975. What did you try to bring to the band when you first joined and what do you think you're bringing to the band these days?

Initially, my job was to promote the album "Bundles," which featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and play something following what he had done. He left the band suddenly.


It was very keyboard heavy, so that all I ever played were solos. And then when we reformed in 2004, my contribution was much more fundamental. 

The reformation was comprised of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and myself. There were no keyboards.

And that was very, very special for Soft Machine to not have keyboards. It gave me a huge amount of freedom, harmonically, to play all sorts of things.

Over the years that we've been reformed, I've developed I would say a much more kind of creative style in the band. Because we're not keyboard based any more, it will sound original, it will sound new.

We do some of the old tunes and they don't sound anything like they did, which is good. That's very important.

If we play the old music, it's because we can bring something of ourselves to it. Otherwise I wouldn't be interested.

I'm not interested in being a tribute band at all. We're not a tribute to ourselves because we're playing 50 percent new music.

It really is a creative enterprise and I'm really proud of it and I enjoy it a lot. 

Q – You talked about the band still being creative. Is that why you've stayed with the band for so long?

Yes. I played with French violinist St├ęphane Grappelli for a long time.

And that was brilliant. That finished in the early '80s.

For about 20 years, I was running my own groups, being the leader. One of the beautiful things about Soft Machine is that it's a melding of people together.

If you mention to me the guitar players, for instance, that you really enjoyed, they'll be people who somehow connected to something that connects to you when you listen. There are loads of players throughout my life I've enjoyed.

You have to be humble. Anybody who's any good is humble.

Because they know it's a delicate and beautiful thing that's sort of fragile. It's something to be thankful for if things are going well.

Q –What would you like people to get out of your music?

The point of playing music is that you've got to create in the room a kind of circle of energy so that the people in the room are taken on a journey somewhere.

If somebody is listening to music, they want to receive some indication that it's going to take them on a journey.